The Air Force recently announced nearly 1,000 noncommissioned officers must retrain next year out of their overmanned specialties and into jobs that are undermanned.
It’s an annual event: First the call for volunteers, the warning that if not enough NCOs step up, airmen will be forced to either change specialties or get out.
The Air Force has used the NCO Retraining Program since the 1980s as a “force-shaping” tool to move about 1,000 NCOs per year into shortage specialties. Officials say this is the best way to put airmen where they’re most needed.
But it begs the question of whether, especially in this time of fiscal austerity, it’s wise to invest tens of millions of dollars training and grooming airmen in certain specialties and then — just as they reach midcareer and are highly experienced and valuable — start them from scratch in different jobs.
The financial costs are huge. Most NCOs who retrain will go to technical school on a temporary duty assignment at a cost of $123 per day. If all 970 were to go through just 90 days of training, the TDY costs alone would amount to about $11 million. Add to that the fact that airmen in more than half of the 34 overmanned career fields collected thousands of dollars in bonuses this year to re-enlist into those jobs.
Like the practice of promoting airmen to overall openings instead of individual specialty needs, this can’t be the most efficient way to manage the force. The Air Force should review NCO retraining and other policies that maybe worked in the past but no longer make sense.