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ARLINGTON, Va. — Beginning March 5, active-duty airmen will have only a three-month window during which they’ll be eligible to re-enlist, instead of the current 12 months, Air Force officials announced this week.

The window will open three months before an airmen’s term of service expires, according to Master Sgt. Maria Cornelia, the Air Force’s chief of retention and bonus programs at the Pentagon.

“We’re asking our members to make this life decision a little earlier,” Cornelia said in a Thursday telephone interview.

Historically, the Air Force has expanded and contracted its re-enlistment window to match the force’s retention situation, Cornelia said.

The new window may change back to 12 months “if retention is very, very poor,” Cornelia said. “But right now, retention is healthy.”

No one will be “grandfathered” under the new policy, according to Air Force spokeswoman Judy Grojean at the Air Force Personnel Center, Randolph Air Force Base.

If any airman is now in his or her 12-month re-enlistment window, they can re-enlist “until March 4,” Grojean said.

After that date, the clock resets.

Airman would then have to wait until three months before their projected separation date before they are once again eligible to re-enlist, she said.

In fact, the Air Force is in the middle of something of a retention bonanza, with 67 percent of its first-term enlisted force re-enlisting in the first quarter of fiscal 2004, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Stephens.

That’s even higher than the fiscal 2003 first-termer retention rates, which were 61 percent, Stephens said Thursday. The service’s retention goal was 55 percent.

In fiscal 1999, just 49 percent of first-term airmen re-enlisted, followed by 53 percent in fiscal 2000 and 56 percent in fiscal 2001, Stephens said. (All three years had the same 55 percent goal.)

Stephens attributed the current retention boom to a poor economy and “an increased sense of patriotism.”

In part because of high retention, however, the Air Force now has too many people: 16,600 more than its Congressionally authorized end strength of 359,000 airmen.

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

But shrinking the re-enlistment window is not an attempt to bring retention rates down, Cornelia said.

“We’re not trying to discourage re-enlistment,” she said. “We definitely don’t want people to think that. Every airman who wants to stay, we want them to stay.”

Instead, the shorter window addresses another current Air Force issue, which is too many airmen in some jobs while others are critically understaffed, she said.

Shortening the window “helps us get a better picture of where we are” in terms of which Air Force Specialty Codes face shortages, and which would be overfilled, Cornelia said.

That knowledge allows officials to adjust personnel programs such as selective re-enlistment bonuses, career job reservations and retraining to keep the service appropriately staffed, Cornelia said.


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