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New guidelines on technical school are giving little leeway for new recruits who fail in their initial skills training classes. Officials have also reduced the number of jobs airmen can reclassify into if they washout of technical school and put a time limit on getting reclassified.
If a trainee can't be reclassified within five days of a reclassification package landing at Second Air Force, Detachment 1, the airman may be considered for voluntary separation, according to a February memo signed by Maj. Gen. Leonard Patrick, commander of Second Air Force.
Making it even harder for these airmen to reclassify into another career field, the Air Force eliminated two of the six career categories — overmanned categories 5 and 6 for a total of 47 jobs — as options for airmen who fail to make it through their technical school pipelines.
Only categories 1-4, with 87 jobs between them, are options for reclassification, with category 1 as the highest priority.
“This is an ongoing program. We have kids who are washing out of training all the time,” Chief of Air Force Accessions and Training Division Tina Strickland told the Air Force Times March 29. “We're always trying to look at the career fields we reclassify them into, and it's based on the health of the career fields. We don't want to reclassify them into career fields where there will be too many in the career field and we'll just have to spend more money looking for other options to get them out of the career fields.”
Richard Ecks, chief of training and requirements division for enlisted accessions, said having airmen who wash out cost money. “We wouldn't want them sitting around for six months waiting on a class date because there is a cost to that, too,” he said March 29.
It's all part of the Air Force's attempt to meet its fiscal 2013 end-strength goals of shrinking the force to 329,460 by Sept. 30, Patrick said. The service must trim the force by about 3,340 enlisted airmen to leave under voluntary programs. An additional 4,300 airmen could be forced out by May 31 under date-of-separation rollbacks — early outs for airmen who are not likely to re-enlist for a variety of reasons.
Patrick's memo outlines the implementation of guidance provided by Headquarters Air Force in early February that also emphasized that reclassification of enlisted trainees is not a right.
“Once efforts to sustain the airman's success in their initial AFSC have been exhausted, commanders must ensure reclassification recommendations are prudent since reclassification is the exception rather than the rule, and not an entitlement [emphasis in original memo],” Patrick said. “Separation is warranted for trainees who lack aptitude, exhibit disciplinary or motivational problems for which there is appropriate documentation.”
Strickland said in a Feb. 6 memo that recruits must be made aware it is their responsibility to complete the training pipeline for their original AFSC. “Trainees who fail to meet academic, performance, conduct, bearing, medical, physical or other standards may be separated,” she wrote. “Ensure trainees understand the potential consequences of elimination and that reclassification is not an entitlement.”
“We recruit these kids and send them to training to do a specific job and learn a skill. Sometimes they can't do that and sometimes it's through no fault of their own,” Strickland said March 28. “Sometimes we have to make the decision to let them go because they may not have the scores that would qualify them into the specific career fields we need them to go if they don't make it through the first one.”
Strickland said having airmen at training bases waiting to go to school not only costs the service money, but it also leaves opportunity for these airmen to get into trouble.
As the Air Force gets smaller, Strickland said that offers fewer opportunities for those who struggle in tech school.
In fiscal year 2012, more than 29,000 airmen went through enlisted technical school, according to Headquarters Air Force. In the last three years, the average attrition was just under 4 percent.
The Air Force defines attrition as a student who is a loss for the service for any reason, including training deficiencies, medical conditions and disciplinary problems, according to Brig. Gen. Gina Grosso, director of force management policy. Since the new guidelines were implemented in February, there have been 203 separations and 679 reclassifications.