Air Force Halts Force Shaping to Reassess Options

Air Force calls temporary halt to early retirement application processing

The Air Force has temporarily stopped processing applications for early retirement and voluntary separation to re-assess the costs and gauge the impact on crucial job categories.

The "strategic pause to all force management programs" will give the Air Force time to consider possible changes in the structure and the eligibility criteria for the force shaping program, the Air Force said in a release.

The Air Force has been counting on early retirement and voluntary separation to meet much of the demand under the Congressional sequester process for a projected reduction in ranks of about 25,000 airmen worldwide over the next five years.

The other services also face drawdowns, and the uncertainty in the ranks on how the reduction goals will be reached - whether by voluntary or involuntary separation - was causing anxiety for military families, said retired Air Force Col. Mike Hayden, director of Government Relations at the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA).

"Drawdowns are always bought ugly," Haden said. "It is expensive to put these programs together," and they are more expensive when they are voluntary rather than involuntary, Hayden said.

There is also the problem in drawdowns that "if you open the floodgates too wide, you can gut certain career fields and you don't realize it until it's too late," Hayden said.

In the case of the Air Force and its early retirement plans, "complex strategies are rarely perfect from their inception, but evolve as new information and feedback allows them to be refined and improved," Lt. Gen. Sam Cox said in a Air Force statement.

"The same is true of the Air Force's current force management programs," Cox, the Air Force deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services, said in a release.

During the "strategic pause," Cox said that eligible airmen could continue to apply for the Temporary Early Retirement Authority (TERA) -- or 15-year retirement - and also voluntary separation pay programs. They have until March 26 to apply for TERA, and until May 1 to apply for voluntary separation pay, Cox said.

In a message sent to major commands on March 4, first reported by the Air Force Times, the Air Force Personnel Center (AFPC) said that the processing of applications for TERA and voluntary separation pay was being held up "while sustainment requirements for projected force reductions are further reviewed by the Air Force."

The TERA and voluntary separation programs are among 18 force management programs the Air Force has employed in the effort to trim the ranks ahead of the across-the-board cuts that would come from sequester.

"Today, in some specific categories, the applications are being fully processed and approved," Cox said. "For other categories, we are very close on final programmatic decisions and delegated decision authorities, which will allow us to finish processing applications and begin notifying airmen of the status of their applications," Cox said.

"When we first announced our force management programs, we noted the dynamic environment would certainly result in changes as we balance being responsive to Air Force needs with remaining fair, understandable and transparent for our airmen," Cox said.

However, the processing delay appeared to be putting the career plans of some airmen on hold. At a breakfast meeting with reporters on Tuesday, Undersecretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning acknowledged many airmen are confused.

"I think certainly there's a lot of angst out there about what the future holds for the Air Force and for individual airmen," Fanning said.

The TERA and voluntary separation programs have thus far worked out well for the airmen who took them and the Pentagon in its effort to reduce the size of the force, the commander of Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada said Tuesday.

More than 400 airmen from Nellis and Creech Air Force Bases in Nevada have already taken voluntary separation, and another 1,000 airmen were expected to take voluntary separation this year, said Col. Barry Cornish, the Nellis commander.

We anticipate we'll have a smaller Air Force in the future, and we only want an Air Force that's big enough for us to maintain a high state of readiness," Cornish told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@monster.com

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