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Air Force Pink Slips More Than 400 Officers

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Members of the U.S. Air Force stow their bags in a plane at al-Asad air base in Iraq's western province of Anbar November 1, 2011, before flying to the U.S.. U.S. (Reuters)

The Air Force is laying off 436 captains and majors as part of a multiyear program to adjust its staffing levels after its retention rate hit its highest level in 16 years.

Although the cuts are aimed at meeting congressionally mandated targets, they are not related to the $450 billion that the Pentagon will slash from its budget over the next decade, officials told FoxNews.com.

The Air Force must limit its workforce to 332,800 officers and enlisted airmen by the end of this fiscal year, or Sept. 30, 2012. As of October, the workforce numbered 329,000 people. But the reductions are based on projections made at the beginning of the fiscal year and monthly numbers wildly fluctuate, officials told FoxNews.com.

The layoffs were made by the Reduction-in-Force Board, which reviewed the records of 8,832 officers.

“The objective of the board was to retain the best-qualified officers according to the ‘whole-person’ concept used in promotion boards,” the Air Force said in a press release.

A spokeswoman for the Air Force told FoxNews.com that the Air Force is now on pace to meet its workforce target by the end of the fiscal year and no more layoffs will be necessary, barring any unforeseen circumstances.

Air Force officials attribute its high retention rate to a sluggish economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down and the stability and benefits of working in the military.

The 436 officers getting the pink slip – 367 captains and 69 majors – will receive full separation pay and six months of medical benefits after they leave in March 2012. The Air Force says it will offer those officers support through family readiness centers and veterans’ benefits seminars.

The announcement comes as the Pentagon braces for $450 billion in cuts over the next 10 years that were part of the deficit-reduction deal President Obama struck with Congress in August. Panetta has said that the $450 billion in cuts won’t threaten national security, but he warned U.S. lawmakers last month that any more than that would.

The deficit-reduction deal struck over the summer led to the formation of a so-called congressional Super Committee to find $1.2 trillion in savings over the next decade. If the 12-member panel fails to reach a deal by Thanksgiving or Congress rejects it, $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts will be triggered across the board, with half hitting defense.

Air Force officials told FoxNews.com that it’s not clear how those cuts will affect the Air Force because they have await the president’s annual budget.