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ARLINGTON, Va. — The number of Air Force specialties that rate a re-enlistment bonus will jump from 37 to 88 for fiscal 2009, service officials said.

As of Sept. 15, about 17,500 airmen will be eligible for a Selective Reenlistment Bonus, of which, the Air Force hopes 9,800 re-enlist, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Richard Y. Newton III in comments e-mailed to Stars and Stripes.

The bonuses are tax-free if an airman re-enlists in a combat zone, said Newton, deputy chief of staff for manpower and personnel.

In another change, the cap on re-enlistment bonuses has been raised from $60,000 to $90,000, said Lt. Col. Ken Sersun, who works for Newton’s office.

And airmen in critical specialties, such as tactical air control parties, will see their award multiples increase, and the bonuses will be extended to airmen with between 18 and 20 years of service, Sersun said.

Typically, airmen with 18 years’ experience tend to retire after 20 years, so the reenlistment bonus is meant to keep airmen in critical skills beyond 20 years by having them sign four- or six-year contracts, Sersun explained.

The Air Force faces a shortage of airmen with 20 years of experience in certain career fields, such as explosive ordnance disposal, he said.

"Even if they’re not doing the mission we need them to train and mentor folks on how to do the mission," Sersun said.

With the Air Force growing again, the service is more than doubling what it spends on re-enlistment bonuses from $46 million to about $140 million, he said.

The cash infusion comes after the Air Force cut back on spending for re-enlistment bonuses this fiscal year, Sersun said.

At the time, the Air Force was focused on cutting its end-strength to 311,000, separating airmen both voluntarily and involuntarily. The service has since announced an end to further personnel cuts.

Airmen who re-enlisted prior to the most recent changes in the bonus program are not eligible for the bonus, Newton said.

Changes to the Selective Reenlistment Bonus program typically last for an entire fiscal year, but the Air Force can make changes as it feels necessary, he said.

"The Air Force would provide at least a 30 days’ notice of any reductions/deletions," Newton said.

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