The Air Force's "base of preference program" will end next month, delivering a blow to career enlisted airmen and their families who were trying to plan where they would be stationed stateside.
On June 1, career airmen -- those who have been in for at least four years -- will no longer be able to apply for the program, known by its acronym BOP. Air Force spokeswoman Laurel Tingley said the end of the initiative is, in part, a cost-saving measure.
"We anticipate the Air Force will save approximately $8M annually which will allow us to operate within the projected FY23 [Fiscal Year 2023] budget," Tingley said in an emailed statement.
But officials have also claimed the program didn't work as planned.
In a leaked screenshot circulated online of an April 26 memo -- which officials have confirmed as authentic -- Chief Master Sgt. Claudia Carcamo, the Air Force's chief enlisted manager, said many airmen weren't getting their preferred duty station when going through the program.
"The BOP program has historically matched less than 30% of applicants to their desired location," Carcamo wrote.
Approximately 4,500 career airmen apply annually, according to Tingley. The top duty stations requested were mostly in the American South.
MacDill Air Force Base, Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field in Florida, as well as Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina and Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, were the top requested installations.
Will Grimsley, the secretary of South Carolina's Department of Veterans' Affairs, which also lobbies for military bases in the state, said the Air Force's decision hurts skilled airmen who are trying to plan their lives, some of whom might pick the state as a place to retire after service.
"I'm not really sure why they're making this decision," Grimsley told Military.com. "It's not a guarantee. It may hurt retention, and it may influence an airman's family too. I'm not sure why we'd want to exclude anybody."
The program will now be available only for brand-new airmen, who can put down their preferred bases after getting through initial training.
In 2018, the Air Force expanded the base of preference program to career airmen. Prior to that, service members would note their base of preference but wouldn't necessarily know whether there were vacancies or if their specialty code was in demand at a particular installation.
The expansion allowed airmen to have more reasonable expectations when deciding where they would relocate their families and to determine whether they had a shot at transferring to a certain base in a preferred state while planning their careers.
The program will continue to accept applications until May 31. Tingley said there are other avenues for airmen to move to a preferred location.
Airmen can search Equal Plus Advertisements, a portal that shows jobs available at certain bases, or by taking on a Developmental Special Duty -- special jobs such as first sergeant, instructor or career assistance adviser.
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.