Air Force plans to reduce ranks by 3,700

By JEFF SCHOGOL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 17, 2009

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Air Force plans to cut 3,700 airmen, saying the mix of a poor economy and good retention has swelled its ranks beyond manageability.

The service will trim 2,074 officers and 1,633 enlisted airmen from its ranks through “voluntary and involuntary early separation and retirement programs,” an Air Force news release said.

Congress has allowed the Air Force to exceed its authorized end-strength of 331,700 by up to 2 percent, said Col. Joan Garbutt, chief of the Air Force’s force management division.

But in order to maintain that cushion and get more airmen into critically needed career fields, such as manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft pilots, the service needs to reduce personnel in certain overstaffed career fields, Garbutt said on Tuesday.

Air Force officials were loath to use the word “cut” to describe the move because while the Air Force is reducing personnel, it is not eliminating positions.

The service is moving up the separation and retirement dates for enlisted airmen with fewer than 14 years and more than 20 years of service, who are either ineligible to re-enlist or have already indicated that they intend to leave the Air Force, Garbutt said.

The Air Force is also looking at either separating or re-classifying airmen who fail to complete their initial skills training, she said.

Retirement-eligible lieutenant colonels and full colonels in certain Air Force Specialty Codes will also be allowed to retire with two years’ time in grade instead of three, Garbutt said.

The service will also waive active-duty service commitments for officers who have undergone a Permanent Change of Station move, but officers overseas are only eligible if their separation date is after the end of their deployment or overseas assignment, she said.

The Air Force has been fluctuating between growing and contracting in recent years.

A few years ago, the Air Force cut airmen to draw down to 316,000 in order to free up money for more aircraft, such as the F-22.

But Defense Secretary Robert Gates halted the personnel cuts after he fired the Air Force top civilian and military leadership in 2008.

The service then decided it needed to grow to 330,000 because it needed airmen in areas such as the nuclear mission and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. As recently as January, the Air Force was seeking to bolster its officer corps by calling on retired or separated officers up to 60 years old.