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A decades-old policy allowing airmen to refuse an assignment and leave the Air Force is being revised.
The "7-day option," which has been in place since 1959, gives enlisted airmen with more than 19 years of service and officers who have passed their initial service commitment the opportunity to turn down a permanent change of station, professional military education or a 365-day temporary-duty assignment within seven days of the tasking, provided they set a firm separation date that falls within a year's time.
The Air Force intends to revise the policy to force officers to leave the service within seven months.
And although officials are saying little, enlisted leaders also have discussed the possibility of eliminating airmen's ability to turn down a yearlong, temporary-duty assignment in support of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The policy has been revised at least eight times over the years, said Letty Inabinet, chief of assignment programs and procedures for the Air Force. It is not clear when the current revision will be approved.
The 7-day option has received growing attention in recent years as more airmen have been tasked with 365-day TDYs. Use of the option almost doubled in 2003 and shot up again in 2004, when 767 enlisted members retired and 957 officers retired or resigned their commissions. The numbers declined somewhat in 2005, when a total of 1,120 enlisted and officers left service under the policy — but that was still well above pre-Iraq war levels, according to data from the Air Force Personnel Center.
Senior enlisted officials discussed the policy, including the possibility of eliminating the option for yearlong TDYs, at a meeting in April. But there is no current initiative to revoke the option for 365-day assignments, said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Rodney J. McKinley.
"We are an expeditionary Air Force and every airman must be ready to deploy when tasked," McKinley told Air Force Times in an e-mail. "We are in the middle of a war. We are organized, trained and equipped to fight. The intention is for airmen to meet their deployment tasking."
Chief Master Sgt. Paul Knox, the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape career field manager, was more blunt:
"I think dropping the [7-day option] for a 365-day TDY is a no-brainer and the right thing to do," he said in an e-mail. "If a 365-day deployment is where the USAF needs my talents as part of the team protecting our nation, I stand ready to ruck up, move out, and draw fire as directed."
Only enlisted airmen with at least 19 years of total active service and officers — at any experience level — may opt out of a new assignment, and only if they would incur an additional active-duty service commitment longer than the amount of time left in their commitment.
For example, an officer 3½ years into an initial five-year commitment could decline a PCS that would result in an additional two-year service commitment. However, that same officer could squeeze in a 365-day tour in Iraq and would not be able to decline.
Eligible airmen have seven calendar days to decline an assignment, starting with the day they receive their formal notification of the tasking. To decline, the airman must submit the proper paperwork to separate or retire.
Enlisted airmen who decline an assignment generally must leave the Air Force on the first day of the seventh month following the assignment notification date or the first day after their active-duty service commitment is completed.
Officers through the paygrade of O-5 who decline an assignment similarly must request a date of separation no later than the first day of the 12th month following the assignment date. If they already have at least 19 years of active service, they may also request a separation date on the first day of the first month after they have completed 20 years of active service.
Colonels or colonel-selects declining an assignment must retire no later than the first day of the fourth month after the assignment notification. General officers can't use the 7-day option.
The Air Force is the only service with such a generous policy. The Navy offers nothing similar, and while Marines can decline in limited situations, officers must leave the service within a month of their would-be reporting date. The practice is deeply frowned upon among Marines, Corps spokesman 2nd Lt. Joshua Diddams said.
The Army did not respond to queries by press time.
If an airman declines an assignment, there's no sitting around, lame-duck style, Inabinet said.
"In our policies, we say that if they still have service retainability to fulfill another event, we can send them," she said. Generally, airmen using the option continue in their current jobs and help to train a successor, she said. But they could be sent on a four- to six-month AEF deployment.
Asked if there was any stigma associated with leaving the service through the 7-day option, Inabinet did not disagree.
"Obviously if we select you, you have the option to go," she said. "If you're eligible to decline and exercise your 7-day option, we don't really ask the reasons why. We don't ask if it's remission, if it's personal reasons."
For airmen who choose to leave the Air Force when tasked with a wartime 365-day TDY, the question is especially pertinent.
"I can't really say whether they're ditching a 365 or not," Inabinet said. "We just know that folks are exercising that option, and they can under the 365-day rule, just the same as with a regular PCS."
A force-shaping version of the 7-day option, which began in 2006, ended on March 31, 2008. In order to move officers out of the service faster during the drawdown, the policy was amended so officers would have to leave within seven months of their assignment date, or as soon as they had completed 20 years, the same as enlisted airmen. Personnel officials are working to incorporate that timetable into the permanent policy.
The number of airmen who have exercised the 7-day option in the past two years has remained steady, Inabinet said, though officers who exited under the force-shaping version were not counted among those refusing assignments.