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AF Needs To Reduce Size By 16,600
By Lisa Burgess
Stars and Stripes
Pacific Edition

February 5, 2004

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 about downsizing.

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 fields.

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, Keasley said.

"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 www.afpc.randolph.af.mil/retsep/shape.

Sound Off...How feasible is it for Air Force personnel to cross over to the Army? Join the discussion.

This article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.

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