Want a Promotion? Bring New Recruits into the Air Force or Space Force

U.S. Air Force recruits sworn in at Barksdale Air Force Base.
U.S. Air Force Col. Scott Weyermuller, 2nd Bomb Wing commander, swears in new U.S. Air Force recruits at the 2023 Defenders of Liberty Air Show, Barksdale Air Force Base, La., March 25, 2023. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class William Pugh)

Airmen and Guardians can now receive promotions and medals for getting people to sign up to join their services. The move comes as the Air Force grapples with its toughest recruiting year in recent history and projects a 10% shortfall in its active-duty ranks.

Two new programs, which also apply to the Space Force, aim to "incentivize all airmen and Guardians to inspire the next generation to serve," according to a Thursday press release.

In March, the Department of the Air Force started an effort to research what barriers exist to service amid military-wide recruiting woes. It said in the news release that the new initiatives "serve as a cost-effective instrument for referring candidates and increasing enlistments."

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The first program is called the Stellar Talent Acquisition Recruiting Referral, or STARR. It allows enlisted service members through senior master sergeant and officers up to lieutenant colonel to get an Air and Space Achievement medal for referring three enlisted applicants to ship off for basic military training; a service member may earn up to two medals this way.

But any enlisted member, as well as an officer up to the rank of colonel, can receive the medal if they hit a higher threshold of referring five applicants who end up departing for basic military training.

The second program, called Stripes for Referrals, allows airmen and Guardians to be promoted up to the rank of E-2 if they refer two enlisted candidates to the Delayed Entry Program or Delayed Entry Training. They can be promoted to E-3 if they double that number and recruit four enlisted candidates to those programs.

Both airmen and Guardians need to use the Air Force's "Aim High" smartphone application to submit the referrals to receive proper credit, the news release said.

While the Space Force, which falls under the Department of the Air Force, is not faced with the same woes as its sister service, that hasn't stopped it from also trying new recruiting methods.

The service redesigned its recruiting website late last year, offering an interactive video game-like experience in which visitors can initiate a rocket launch and deploy a satellite.

The Army took on a similar incentive effort earlier this year, offering soldiers a new recruiting award if they helped bring people into the ranks. Military.com reported this week that the Army recruiting ribbon has been given out to 104 soldiers, according to internal service documents. In addition to the awards, at least 58 soldiers have been promoted as part of a new policy aimed at motivating troops to pitch military service to their community.

The Air Force, after barely meeting its active-duty recruiting goals last year, announced in March it was projecting a 10% shortfall for this year. That's the equivalent of around 5,000 people, nearly the total of all the airmen at the 366th Fighter Wing stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.

The Air Force Recruiting Service has pointed to numerous headwinds that have made it hard to bring in new members, such as low unemployment. Additionally, the Pentagon has released recent studies showing that only 23% of U.S. youth are eligible to serve right now, due to obesity and other issues.

An April 4 email from Air Force Recruiting Service commander Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas, which was leaked on social media and has been verified as authentic by the service, detailed a dire shortfall in several career fields and predicted nearly 3,000 jobs that could see vacancies.

Thomas estimated that there could be "1,800 empty maintainer jobs, 700 empty defender jobs, 300 in munitions and 100 in fuel" if the recruiting environment doesn't get better.

"In the coming years, our brothers and sisters in arms will be asked to carry the burden intended for teammates who never joined our team," Thomas wrote. "Airmen will almost certainly be asked to work longer hours, cover more shifts and make sacrifices in their personal lives to meet the mission demands essential to our national security."

Earlier this year, the Air Force announced a new feature on its "Aim High" smartphone application that allows anyone to submit information on a person's behalf, and the service will forward it to a local recruiter in hopes of getting them to join the ranks.

"The new feature allows anyone who has the app to play an important role in filling the uniformed vacancies in our force," Capt. Michael Bambarger, the Aim High app functional manager, said in a January press release. "No longer does a military member approached in public have to refer someone to the local recruiting office, or a friend or family member have to convince someone they know who's interested in joining the military to seek out a recruiter."

But when the new app feature was rolled out, it didn't appear that it offered any way to screen or verify that the person whose information is being submitted wants to be contacted by a recruiter and is truly interested.

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at thomas.novelly@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

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