Air Force Shortens Enlisted Special Duty Assignments, Citing Burnout

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Hernandez, 433rd Training Squadron instructor, and his basic training flight, practices for the graduation parade ceremony, Dec. 12, 2018, at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sarayuth Pinthong)
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Hernandez, 433rd Training Squadron instructor, and his basic training flight, practices for the graduation parade ceremony, Dec. 12, 2018, at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sarayuth Pinthong)

Airmen who volunteer for special duties including military training instructor, military training leader and technical training instructor will soon see tour lengths cut short.

The service on Monday announced that airmen in these enlisted special duties, as well as Professional Military Education (PME) instructors at the Noncommissioned Officer Academy, will have their tour duty length reduced from four to three years as part of an effort to get airmen back to their own career fields faster.

"The Air Force is committed to returning our experienced and professional workforce to their operational career fields and reducing the unique stressors associated with these special duty tours," said Maj. Gen. Timothy Leahy, Second Air Force commander, in a release. "The decision to reduce tour lengths is about increasing our readiness and lethality while growing today's Airmen for the force we need."

Beginning next year, any airmen who have committed to one of these special duties stateside will see a three-year assignment. For TTIs, those with prefix "T", "J", or "X" in their career code will see the change, the Air Force said.

Related: Air Force Unveils New Changes to Officer Special Duty Assignments

Airmen serving in a special duty assignment between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019, "will have 30 days to either accept a three-year tour or opt to keep their original four-year tour," officials said in a release. "Airmen assigned to one of the targeted [special duty assignments] before July 1, 2018, or in an overseas tour, will finish their original assignment."

Officials said the decision to reduce special duty assignment length was prompted by a January survey where leaders voiced concerns about retention fluctuation, loss of expertise in the field and burnout from additional tasks. The survey indicated "assignment fatigue" began to increase around the three-year mark of an airman's special duty tour and contributed to a "challenging work-life balance" in an airman's life.

"The Air Force needs passionate leaders committed to the development of our airmen, so to those who serve in these demanding roles, you have spoken and we have heard you," Leahy said. "We owe it to you to make this change."

In April, the service announced it was making fundamental changes to its special duties in the officer corps. The Air Force unveiled an updated special duty selection program in an effort to reform how the service manages talent across the force. The program now calls for officials to nominate and select airmen through a board review process. An airman's special duty assignment could then be considered during an upcoming promotion.

For officers, available special duty assignments include instructor positions at the Officer Training School, and within Reserve Officer Training Corps, the Professional Military Education program and Air Force Academy faculty. They also include jobs that have a functional "T-prefix" Air Force Specialty Code, or formal training instructor positions within initial skills training or formal school houses.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @orian0214.

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