The Air Force personnel pendulum is again swinging upward, with leaders introducing programs to grow the ranks with new airmen as well as keeping current ones in the service even if they hit their high year tenure mark.
The Air Force on Monday announced several new programs intended to grow the force, including extended High Year Tenure to select airmen and a new prior service program that might also net former Army, Navy and Marine Corps non-commissioned officers.
"While we are working to increase our overall number of airmen, we particularly focused on adding mid-level experienced airmen in some of our currently undermanned specialties to help meet mission requirements immediately," Brig. Gen. Brian Kelly, the director of military force management policy, said in a statement.
The higher manning levels are prompted by increased Air Force mission requirements in the fiscal year 2016 budget. The Air Force intends to raise its overall strength to a minimum of 317,000 next year, Kelly said.
That increase follows reductions that saw total active duty strength drop from 327,000 in 2014 to just 307,000 as of March 31, 2015.
Officials say the greatest needs are in critically undermanned specialties such as nuclear, cyber, intelligence, remotely piloted aircraft and special operations.
Retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Robert L. Frank, chief executive officer of the Air Force Sergeants Association, said the Air Force is doing what it must to meet immediate mission requirements after paring down the force because of sequester cuts.
"We see this as direct correlation to the box Congress put them in with sequestration," he said. "You can't hire that experience [with recruiting alone], you have to grow it ... We can add new accessions but you need experience."
To be sure, the Air Force will be increasing its accessions -- in both the enlisted and officer fronts -- but the programs detailed by the Air Force on Monday and Tuesday show how it intends to complement the new force goals by drawing on current and former airmen.
The Air Force will allow airmen ranked E-1 to E-7 who are facing separation because they're reached their high year of tenure -- which means these airmen have served as long as allowed in their current rank and are not being promoted.
Under the program, airmen in 35 Air Force specialties may apply for high year of tenure extensions of between 12 and 24 months. Approval requires the approval of their unit commander or civilian leader, the Air Force announcement said.
Extension applications will be accepted starting June 1 and end next May 31, according to the Air Force Personnel Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph in Texas.
Airmen with a high year of tenure date of Sept. 30 or earlier must apply for an extension at least 30 days before their current separation date, unless they are already within 30 days as of the program announcement, AFPC said in an announcement Tuesday.
Those with a high year of tenure between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 must submit an extension application at least 60 days before the separation date.
Airmen reaching the end of tenure between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2016 must submit an application at least 120 days before their separation date, according to the personnel center.
The Air Force also intends to hit its manning goals by offering active duty assignments of up to three years for airmen in the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard who qualify in the selected AFSCs.
The Air Force has yet to release exactly which pay grades and AFSCs are being targeted for the Voluntary Limited Period of Active Duty Program. Those who do come in under the program will get the same benefits as active-duty members, such as qualifying for the Post 9/11 GI Bill, while on active duty, according to the personnel center.
Under a Direct Duty Prior Service Enlistment Program, airmen separated from the active duty Air Force or either air reserve component -- as well as current Reserve or Air Guard members -- may also apply for an active duty assignment.
The program is open to senior airman-through-technical sergeant who are fully qualified at the 5- or 7-level in one of the designated AFSCs.
The prior service program also is open to former Army, Navy and Marine Corps members who served in a career field equivalent to one of the specialties targeted in the fiscal 2015 program.
The program does not include a reenlistment bonus.
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