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Making E-5 won't be a ticket to retirement starting in 2013. That's the word from Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Roy, who revealed tough, new high-year tenure rules for E-4s, E-5s and E-6s in an interview with Air Force Times. He warned of a "high probability" that the Air Force will continue to shrink in 2013.
The new high-year tenure rules also will require thousands more E-3s and E-4s now in the ranks and planning on full careers to work even harder to make the cut for promotion at every opportunity up the chain.
"We need to make some adjustments; that's the bottom line," Roy said. "We understand that as our model projects out into 2013 we're going to be over end strength if we don't make some adjustments."
Staff sergeants will take the hardest hit. Instead of being allowed to stay in until reaching the 20-year mark to qualify for retirement pay and benefits, they will be forced out at 15 years beginning in October 2013. Technical sergeants will no longer be allowed to stay until they reach 22 years; they will be forced to retire at 20 years. And E-4s — senior airmen — must be promoted before they reach eight years of service, instead of 10.
The change means staff sergeants will not be able to reach retirement unless they get promoted before they have served 15 years as of Sept. 30, 2013.
In all, 1,676 will be forced out, according to Air Force projections. About 1,000 others will be grandfathered in, under an exception that will allow staff sergeants with 16 years in by the Sept. 30, 2013 deadline to stay until retirement.
The goal in announcing the high-year tenure changes for 2013 almost two years ahead of time, Roy said, was to make sure the airmen affected by the new rules have time to push hard for promotion. Airmen will have two test cycles to get promoted and avoid the ax.
"Airmen are in control here," Roy said. "They can promote themselves out of this situation, that's the punch line to this."
Roy noted that less than 1 percent of staff sergeants — about 280 — will be forced out by the high-year tenure changes. Among the other 1,676 who likely will be forced out by October 2013: 957 tech sergeants and 439 senior airmen.
Personnel officials at the Pentagon would not comment on what their end strength projections were for 2013 because ongoing budget negotiations and the recent failure of a congressional debt reduction committee had left everything in flux regarding appropriations.
In addition to the new programs Roy announced, the usual array of force management tools will also be in place for 2013.
The service intends to use involuntary date of separation rollbacks, including for those who have been given a reduction in rank or a suspended reduction in rank. Voluntary programs will include active service commitment waivers, Palace Chase transfers to the Guard and Reserve, and Blue to Green transfers to the Army.
The service's benefits package for airmen forced out includes: involuntary separation pay; another opportunity to apply for the GI Bill; hiring preferences for non-appropriated funds jobs with the Air Force (such as moral, welfare and recreation jobs); permissive temporary duty policies relating to relocation running up to your separation; 180 days of extended medical care after separation; and two years of commissary and base exchange privileges.
In addition to the high year tenure changes, Roy announced restrictions on re-enlistment on as many as 20 Air Force Specialty Codes from a range of career fields.
The career job reservation program requires first-term airmen in the affected AFSCs to vie for a limited number of re-enlistment slots for their AFSC.
Roy said he knew asking airmen to retrain would be hard but said they should keep their eye on why they signed up for the Air Force in the first place.
"You go to basic training before you go to technical school," Roy said. "There is a specific reason for that. … You are a United States Air Force airman prior to being a radio control operator or a heavy equipment operator.
"Bottom line is if the member doesn't make a choice and we're forced to make the choice then there may not be room for that airman to reenlist in that AFSC. That's something airmen need to understand."