Good news for U.S. Air Force retirees: The service has expanded plans to not only welcome back retired pilots into active-duty staff positions, but also combat system officers and air battle managers.
To help alleviate its manning shortage, the service is encouraging retirees from the 11X, 12X and 13B Air Force Specialty Codes to apply for the Voluntary Retired Return to Active Duty Program, it announced Wednesday.
It could take in as many as 1,000 former airmen.
"Officers who return to active duty under VRRAD will fill rated staff and active flying staff, test, training and operational positions where rated officer expertise is required," said VRRAD Rated Liaison Maj. Elizabeth Jarding of the Air Force's Personnel Center.
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"We can match VRRAD participants to stateside or overseas requirements where they'll fill critical billets that would otherwise remain vacant due to the shortage of rated officers," Jarding said in a service release.
Airmen who are currently in rated positions in those specialties but have already put in their retirement orders will also be welcome to extend their service in the VRRAD program, the release said.
The program expansion comes as the Air Force faces a growing deficit of 2,000 pilots, or roughly 10 percent of the total pilot force.
Previously, the VRRAD program -- one of many efforts the service is making to ease the shortage -- accepted only the 11X career field and remained limited in scope, said Air Force Personnel Center spokesman Mike Dickerson.
"The program was limited by law to a maximum of 25 participants and for a maximum 12-month tour, which limited officers to serving in non-flying staff positions," Dickerson told Military.com on Wednesday.
Active-duty tour lengths have now increased to a minimum of 24 months and a maximum of 48 months, he said. VRRAD participants will deploy only if they volunteer, unless they are assigned to a combat-coded unit, the release said.
"Many who inquired expressed interest in the stability afforded by a longer tour. In addition, longer tours also afforded the potential to utilize these officers in flying as well as non-flying positions, providing more time to requalify and be effectively utilized in various airframes," Dickerson said in an email.
To date, the 2017 VRRAD program has approved 10 officers, and five have returned to active duty, he said.
"We anticipate that will continue with the expanded authorities," Dickerson said, adding the officers currently in the program could expand their tour lengths.
Some of the criteria for the expanded VRRAD program have changed: Eligibility applies to rated officers who received an active-duty retirement within the last five years or those in the window to retire within 12 months of their VRRAD date of application, the personnel center said.
Airmen must have previously served in the ranks of captain, major or lieutenant colonel, and must be under age 50. Those who are 50 and older may be considered on a case-by-case basis. Previously, the criteria applied to those age 60 and younger in those ranks.
"Applicants must be medically qualified for active duty and have served in a rated staff position within 15 years or been qualified in an Air Force aircraft within 10 years of application for flying positions," the release said.
Officers who retired for physical disability reasons are not eligible to apply.
The personnel center will accept applications for VRRAD until Dec. 31, 2018, or until all openings are filled, the release said. Those who return to active duty will not be eligible for the service's aviation bonus nor promotion consideration.
The Air Force last year asked for expanded authorities for its retention shortfalls. As a result, in October, President Donald Trump signed Executive Order 13223, which allowed the service to recall up to 1,000 former pilots.
The Air Force has said it does not plan to force anyone back on active duty involuntarily in any capacity. Officials said at the time they would work through how they could best use the executive order to voluntarily recall pilots.
Officials said additional VRRAD application procedures and eligibility requirements can be found on the VRRAD page of the AFPC public website.