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AF Trying To Avoid Involuntary RIFs
Lisa Burgess
Stars and Stripes
European Edition

March 8, 2004,

ARLINGTON, Va. With a March 12 deadline fast approaching, only some 1,250 airmen have asked the Air Force for an early out under the first phase of a "force shaping" project to eliminate 16,600 airmen from the force over the next 18 months.

And more than half of those who have had offered to leave early have had their applications disapproved, according to statistics provided by Air Force officials.

The Air Force must cut thousands from its personnel roster because soaring retention rates and stop-loss orders have boosted the service's manning levels beyond the Congressionally authorized end strength of 359,000 airmen.

Those airmen must be gone by Sept. 30, 2005, the end of the government's fiscal 2005, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper said in a Jan. 29 message to the force.

Hoping to avoid involuntary layoffs, which are known in the government as "reductions in force," or RIFs, Air Force officials have devised a multistage plan to entice airmen to leave of their own accord.

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, and gives the Air Force a better sense of what steps will need to be taken before September 2005.

But as of Feb. 27, only 1,247 airmen had submitted applications to leave early, including 51 officers and 1,191 enlisted airmen, Air Force spokeswoman Jennifer Stephens said Thursday.

"The early-out program is off to a slower start than we had hoped," Stephens said Friday. "However, leaving the active-duty force is a big decision, so people may be taking time to research their options to make the right decision for themselves and their families."

Applications from 18 officers and 651 enlisted were disapproved, while seven officers and 282 enlisted airmen had been approved, Stephens said.

Applications from 26 officers and 258 enlisted were still pending, Stephens said.

The applications are approved and reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and approval largely turns on whether a particular job field is under- or over-manned, Stephens said.

The "majority" of unsuccessful applicants were mostly airmen who perform jobs that have spot shortages in some ranks and the applicant happened to be of that rank, Stephens said.

After the March 12 deadline arrives, Air Force officials plan to take a couple of months to analyze where the first phase succeeded and where it failed, Maj. Dawn Keasley, the Air Force's chief of retirement and separation policy, told Stripes on Feb. 4.

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 that will probably begin in June, Keasley said.

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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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Copyright 2004 Stars & Stripes. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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