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WASHINGTON — With retention so high that the Air Force is now over-strength, service officials are eliminating Selective Reenlistment Bonuses for three-fourths of currently eligible jobs.

The 2004 SRB list released by the Air Force this week has 42 specialties eligible for extra cash. The 2003 list, by contrast, offered bonuses in 146 specialties.

But if they act fast, airmen who were counting on bonuses can still get them, even if their bonus is reduced or specialty eliminated in the new list.

That’s because although any new or expanded bonuses on the 2004 SRB list became effective March 30; the cuts and reductions don’t take effect until April 30.

“So anyone [whose specialty was] reduced or removed has until April 29 to re-enlist and still get that bonus,” said Senior Master Sgt. Maria Cornelia, chief of retention and bonus programs at Air Force headquarters.

But on April 30 that window closes, Cornelia said in a Wednesday telephone interview.

SRBs are authorized in 0.5 increments, or multiples, and in three re-enlistment zones for people with between 17 months and 14 years of service.

The 2004 list’s Zone A, which applies to airmen re-enlisting between 17 months and six years of service, has nine new specialties and 19 reduced bonuses. Eighty-six specialties were cut.

In Zone B, which applies to airmen between six and 10 years of service, officials added eight specialties, reduced 18, and eliminated 80.

In Zone C, which applies to airmen with between 10 and 14 years of service, officials added one specialty, decreased four, and removed 32 from the list.

Cornelia acknowledged that some airmen might be taken aback by the drastic reductions.

“It is a significant change,” she said.

However, “members should understand the intent of the SRB program,” Cornelia said. “It is not an entitlement.”

Instead, “the SRB program is a direct reflection of our retention and the health of our skills,” Cornelia said.

“Back in the late 1990s and early 2000, we missed our accession goals, retention was very poor, and so the list began to grow,” Cornelia said. “Now our retention is looking great, so it’s time to reduce the bonuses.”

Air Force retention is so high, in fact, that the service now has 16,600 more people on the payroll than authorized by Congress, which limits the service’s end strength to 359,000 airmen.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper announced in January that the service had just 18 months to pare down the force to meet its authorized level.

“We don’t want airmen to look at the list and say, this AFSC is more important than mine,’” Cornelia said. “Every skill is important to the Air Force mission … . We just can’t justify” bonuses when a specialty is adequately staffed, she said.

Bonuses are capped at $60,000. But most airmen get significantly less than the maximum — in 2003, the average bonus was $10,000, Cornelia said.

Eligible airmen receive half the bonus up front, and the rest in equal installments that are paid on the anniversary of the airman’s enlistment date.

In 2003, the Air Force gave out 14,183 SRBs, at a total cost of $142.8 million, Cornelia said.

The service has set aside $96 million for new bonuses in 2004, she said.

Click here for the Selective Re-enlistment Bonus list.


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