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