KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Starting in September, most airmen deploying under the Air Force’s air and space expeditionary force structure will spend an extra month in the field, the service’s senior leader announced last week.

The permanent change to the deployment length starts with airmen in AEF cycle five, who will deploy for 120 days instead of 90 days, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper wrote in his “Sight Picture” policy letter released Friday. That means most airmen in the first cycle will spend the Christmas holidays in the field.

The longer deployments reflect greater demands on the Air Force since Sept. 11, 2001, Jumper wrote. “Simply put, the demands on our deployable forces have not diminished and are not expected to decline for some time.…”

“Further, the Air Force Component Commander in the Central Command area of operations has asked us to deploy people for longer tour lengths to allow greater continuity for expeditionary commanders in the field,” Jumper wrote.

The Central Command area of responsibility includes the Persian Gulf region.

The extended tour length reflects a new rotational requirement for nearly 20,000 airmen, about three times the demand prior to Sept. 11, 2001, Jumper wrote.

Europe-based airmen took the changes in stride.

Master Sgt. Malik Sultan of the 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron at Spangdahlem Air Base will be among the first airmen to deploy in September under the new rotation schedule.

“It’s not surprising to me,” Sultan, 38, of Compton, Calif., said Tuesday. “Our force size is getting smaller and our responsibility is getting larger.”

The hardest thing to deal with, Sultan said, will be being away from his wife and five children, the youngest of whom is 5.

Some airmen already are accustomed to longer deployments. Last year, Master Sgt. Kelly Leslie of the 435th Mission Support Squadron at Ramstein Air Base deployed for four months to Kirkuk, Iraq. She was part of an extended AEF “package” meant to help sustain forces for the war.

“Compared to what Army guys went through in Kirkuk, with 12-to-15-month deployments, four months was a cakewalk,” Leslie, 38, of Sandford, Mich., said. “I just think the higher-ups wouldn’t put us on something like this if it wasn’t necessary.”

At policy meetings in late May, Jumper asked leaders of the service’s major commands to make recommendations on the extension. The announcement comes just three months after the Air Force had returned to its regular 90-day AEF rotations, after two rotations were increased to 120 days to cover needs in Iraq.

The AEF cycle will change from 15 months to 20 months — meaning airmen will be eligible to deploy for four months and then have a 16-month training cycle. Airmen will still be expected to deploy once during the cycle, although some airmen in stressed specialties, such as security forces and pararescue troops, may face longer deployments, Jumper wrote.

Senior Airman Mauricio Leon of Ramstein’s 568th Security Forces Squadron is in one of the stressed career fields. Leon said he expects that the 120-day rotation length won’t affect him. Leon, 24, of San Diego, deployed last year to the Middle East for eight months, including four months at Tallil Air Base, Iraq.

“The orders always say 90 days to 120 days, but usually we go for up to 180 days,” Leon said. “You never know when you’re gonna go home.”

To ease the burden on the force, Jumper wrote, he asked commanders to expand the pool of deployable airmen in each AEF. The Air Force now has 272,000 airmen qualified to deploy, or about half of the total force of 553,893 airmen.

As of June 1, 28,371 airmen were deployed worldwide, including 18,075 in the Central Command AOR, Air Force statistics show.

The new rotation schedule may cause some hardships on Reserve forces, Jumper’s memo said. The Air Force Reserve Command fills AEF needs with volunteers, and some may only go for two weeks or 30 days, depending on their civilian jobs, Air Force Reserve spokeswoman Col. Audrey Bahler said Tuesday.

About 20 percent of all airmen deployed worldwide are in the Reserve or Air National Guard.

Jumper said airmen should remember that every troop is part of the AEF and must be prepared to deploy.

“This evolution of the AEF is not a temporary adjustment. More appropriately, it is a recognition of the new demands around the world for air and space power,” Jumper wrote.

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