ARLINGTON, Va. — Facing manning excesses, the Air Force has announced it
needs to get rid of 16,600 airmen over the next 18 months.
Soaring retention rates and stop-loss orders have boosted the service's
manning levels beyond the authorized end strength of 359,000, Air Force Chief
of Staff Gen. John Jumper said in a Jan. 29 message to the force.
As a result, "By the end of [fiscal] 2005, we should reduce the size of our
active force by 16,000 people, and we must reshape the force to correct
existing skill imbalances and account for a new range of missions in the global
war on terrorism," Jumper said in his message.
The actual number is 16,600 personnel, according to Maj. Dawn Keasley, the
Air Force's chief of retirement and separation policy.
Those airmen must be gone by Sept. 30, 2005, the end of the government's
fiscal 2005, Keasley said in a Tuesday telephone interview.
Service officials have developed a phased plan that includes a number of
enticements for airmen to find other options, including the offer to waive
service for anyone who wants to join the Air Force's reserve components.
"The goal is not to have to do RIFs," as involuntary layoffs, or "reductions
in force," are known in the U.S. government, Air Force spokeswoman Jennifer
Stephens said in a Tuesday telephone interview.
"We're trying our hardest not to make [leaving the service] a mandatory
thing," Stephens said. "That's why we're doing [the downsizing] in phases."
But if too few airmen raise their hands, officials "will consider other
options," Keasley said.
Air Force officials said they are trying not to repeat the service's 1990s
downsizing process, which reduced the active duty force by nearly 40 percent —
from a Cold-War high of 608,000 to today's force.
To manage that drop, the Air Force used buyouts, RIFs, and selective early
retirements across the force, with no regard for which career fields might be
disproportionately affected, officials said.
As a result, "the service has been trying to deal with manning shortages in
some career fields ever since," Keasley said. "We've learned a lot of lessons
since then. Force shaping is designed to do a very smart draw-down."
That "smart" drawdown means airmen in highly stressed career fields aren't
eligible to take part in many of the Force Shaping programs, including those in
29 officer and 38 enlisted specialties such as pilots, navigators, air battle
managers, aerial gunners, fuels specialists, nurses, and first sergeants.
On Tuesday afternoon, Maj. Gen. Roger Brady, the Air Force's Deputy Chief of
Staff for Personnel, released a message outlining how the service intends to go
The first "stage," which opened Feb. 4, gives airmen until March 12 to submit
applications for a number of special programs, including waivers for early-outs
and moves into the reserve components under the "Palace Shape" program.
Some of the "Force Shaping" program initiatives are less voluntary than
others. For example, airmen who fail to complete technical schools will be
allowed only to leave the Air Force or reclassify into short-manned career
There's another catch: airmen must apply for the program of their choice,
"and an application is not a guarantee that it will be approved," Keasley said.
Airmen won't learn how their applications fared until at least early May,
giving Air Force officials time to assess the success of their first phase,
Keasley said. Once the service has a handle on how many airmen they'll need to
cut in the second phase, officials will announce a new round of initiatives,
"We're shooting for the June time frame" for that round, she said.
One idea under consideration for future phases, Keasley said, is to make the
Air Force's loss the Army's gain.
The Army has the opposite problem: It recently was given another 30,000
soldiers by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to do its job.
Officials from the two services are discussing ways to "open the door" to
airmen who might be interested in coming into the Army, Keasley said.
"We've got a few different options available" that could come into play once
the initial round of applications is analyzed, Keasley said.
But she was unable to offer details.
"It's just an idea," Keasley said. "There's dialogue going on [between the
two services], that's pretty much all I can say."
The complete list of 'stressed' career fields that are excluded from many of
the waivers is to be posted at
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