Enlisted airmen will be able to swap assignments under a new program launching next month, offering some service members flexibility on where they're stationed across the country and what roles they're given.
The Air Force Enlisted Swap Assignment Program, which becomes available June 1 for airmen, will allow senior master sergeants and below to discuss and search for roles that may be available to trade.
It's the latest quality-of-life issue the service has tackled as it reworks numerous policies amid a historic recruiting crisis. Earlier this month, the Air Force announced another policy that would give airmen who just joined the military a chance to retrain into another job as a way to keep them from leaving the service.
"Just like our recent policy change authorizing retraining, this is one of the many initiatives we are rolling out to ensure we are able to retrain the talent we need on the bench," Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass said in a press release. "Building the force of the future requires us to look at our personnel policies and balance them with an integrated approach to ensure we maintain the highest standards of readiness."
The new swap program starting next month was first pitched by Bass, the service's senior enlisted leader, at the Air and Space Force Association's Air, Space and Cyber conference in September.
Details of the program were vague when first pitched last year, and specifics have now been ironed out ahead of the launch next month.
The Air Force Enlisted Swap Assignment Program is available to senior master sergeants and below who can find a match for the same career field with the same Control Air Force Specialty Code; skill level; grade or projected grade; special experience identifier, as required; vector, as required; and security clearance, as required.
Airmen must start the swaps within 90 days from their assignment selection date. They can't have adverse quality force indicators and "must possess the same permanent change-of-station eligibility, such as time on station, tour length and retainability," a press release detailing the June 1 start date said.
The service had a similar version of an assignment swap program in the past.
An Air Force press release from 2007 first informed service members they would need to look for fellow qualified airmen in the continental U.S. whom they could switch with. The switch would, ultimately, have to be approved by commanders.
But a decade later, the program was shut down, according to a 2017 Facebook post from the Air Force Personnel Center. Officials said the program was being underutilized and favored airmen with larger paychecks.
"It was found that less than 5% of airmen were taking advantage of this program, and it was ultimately deemed unfair," the 2017 post from the Air Force Personnel Center announcing the change read. "With the burden of expenses for moving locations falling on the airman, some airmen of higher rank could afford the move, while some younger airmen could not."
To make swapping assignments more financially equitable, the new policy "will not require airmen to pay for their relocations," according to a memo detailing the guidelines.
When the previous program was in place, airmen used blogs and even newspaper ads to market career swaps.
In the press release announcing the new program start date, officials told airmen they "are reminded not to use open online spaces to post assignment information, personal contact and other sensitive confidential information to maintain operational security."
The Air Force is using its internal MyVector discussion forum to post about potential assignment swaps, though the service admitted in its press release that the system has frequent issues.
"The program application on MyVector isn't perfect, but it will evolve throughout the year," Alex Wagner, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, said in the press release.
Airmen can apply for swaps through the "My Application link" on MyVector, according to the release.
"We aren't waiting for the perfect system to be built, and I'm glad to see this program come to fruition," Bass said.
The release of the new swap program comes after the Air Force barely met its active-duty recruiting goals last year and has pivoted to fixing numerous quality-of-life issues and barriers to serving in the military through policy changes.
This past March, the service was projecting a 10% shortfall for this year -- 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.
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.