Air Force Halves Bonus-Eligible Job List as Retention Levels Reach Record Highs

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 Airman sits with Xxuthus, a military working dog, at Hill Air Force Base.
Staff Sgt. Paul Bryant, 75th Security Force Squadron, sits with Xxuthus, a military working dog, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, March 4, 2020. (U.S. Air Force/Cynthia Griggs)

The Air Force announced Thursday it was slashing in half the number of specialties eligible in the Selective Retention Bonus program for fiscal year 2021 because of record-high retention levels.

Thirty-seven specialties are eligible for bonuses in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, compared to the 72 that qualified in the previous year. The Air Force offered bonuses in 115 specialties for fiscal year 2019.

The bonuses are intended to improve retention of experienced airmen and space professionals in "stressed career fields" or in those that have high training costs, the Air Force said in a news release.

"Overall retention levels are at record highs and manning within many of our career fields is healthy," said Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, in the news release. "This reduces our requirement and opportunity to utilize retention bonuses to the same extent."

The Air Force expects to pay out more than $55 million in bonuses this year, a drop from the $150 million spent the previous year.

The fiscal year 2021 program goes into effect Jan. 5.

Service members in jobs that were on last year’s list but are being cut for 2021 have until Feb. 4 to receive bonuses under the previous rates if those service members are eligible for reenlistment, the Air Force said.

"We are giving members advanced notice of impacted [specialties] this year given the challenges associated with COVID-19," said Kelly, referring to the illness caused by the coronavirus. "We want to ensure our members have the right information and enough time to make informed career decisions."

Among the eligible specialties are Russian, Korean and Chinese language cryptologic analysis; pararescue; special reconnaissance; security forces dog handler; and cyber systems operations.

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