The 42-Year-Old Airman: Air Force and Space Force Raise Max Age for Active-Duty Recruits

U.S. Air Force recruits board a bus during a base tour at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.
U.S. Air Force recruits board a bus during a base tour at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Aug. 10, 2023. (Airman 1st Class Mariana Tafur/U.S. Air Force photo)

Under a new policy change, active-duty Air Force and Space Force applicants can join up to the age of 42 -- meaning the services are now willing to take the oldest recruits out of all the Department of Defense military branches.

A screenshot of a notice to all air missions, which was first posted on the Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook page where airmen share inside information, read "the entry age limit has changed from 39 to 42." Leslie Brown, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Recruiting Service, confirmed the memo's information to and said the policy went into effect Tuesday.

"The Air Force made this change to align with [Department of Defense] policy," Brown told on Thursday. "This opens the aperture to allow more Americans the opportunity to serve."

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The new change applies to active-duty airmen and Guardians, both officers and enlisted, Brown added, saying the intention was to give those recruits an opportunity to "to serve a full 20 years since the retirement age is 62. "

The increase in the enlistment age comes nearly one month after the Air Force announced it missed its active-duty enlistment goals for the first time since 1999. Other services have also taken the same approach in recent months.

In November, the Navy raised its maximum enlistment age from 39 to 41, citing the need to "widen the pool of potential recruits, creating opportunities for personnel who wish to serve, but were previously unable due to age."

The sea service's change made it the Department of Defense branch with the oldest potential recruits, but now that distinction goes to the Air Force and Space Force. The Coast Guard, which falls under the Department of Homeland Security, also changed its maximum enlistment age to 42 in November. 

In fiscal 2023, which ended last month, the Air Force missed its enlisted active-duty recruiting goals by 11%, getting only 24,100 of the enlisted airmen out of the 26,877 it needed. reported this month that of the five Defense Department service branches, only two met their active-duty enlisted recruiting goals for fiscal 2023 -- the Marine Corps and the Space Force, by far the smallest services and with the lightest recruiting burden.

The Army, Air Force and Navy all fell short. Every service -- with the exception of the Marine Corps, which squeaked by, in some cases by just one person -- missed some element of its target numbers, whether from the reserve, National Guard or officer goals.

The Air Force Recruiting Service has been working hard to reverse the trend this fiscal year, issuing a variety of policy changes and new initiatives.

Those included offering medals and promotions for recruiting; streamlining the naturalization process so recruits can become citizens during basic military training; offering reserve bonuses for prior-service airmen; reinstating the Enlisted College Loan Repayment Program; allowing certain tattoos on the hands and neck; and even permitting some recruits who test positive for THC -- the psychoactive component in marijuana -- a chance to retest under a new pilot program.

While those programs did contribute some new recruits and added much-needed numbers this past year, officials believe more progress will be seen in 2024.

Brown told that the Air Force has already filled all of its job requirements for October, the start of the fiscal year.

"We are cautiously optimistic, though, as we head into FY24," Brown told last month. "We've seen some positive trends, such as the positive growth of our DEP [delayed-entry program], which is double what it was this time last year.

"It's still lower than we want it to be, but we are continuing to see increases," she said.

Editor's note: This story was updated to include the Coast Guard's recruitment age requirements.

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at Follow him on X @TomNovelly.

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