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Sequester threatens retraining, re-enlistment opportunities

Nov. 21, 2013 - 04:22PM   |  
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Enlisted airmen could have considerably fewer opportunities to retrain this year due to the sequester.

In a Nov. 8 email obtained by Air Force Times, the Air Force Personnel Center said that “due to the impacts of sequestration and in preparation for FY 2015 retraining programs, please be advised of the potential sudden decrease in FY 2014 retraining objectives.” The subject line of the message was “Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 Retraining Advisory Decrease.”

AFPC confirmed the contents of the email, but was unable to say how many retraining opportunities there might be this year and how many may be cut.

Retired Gen. Billy Boles, former commander of the Air Education and Training Command, said in an interviewthe training reductions could particularly hit hard airmen whose re-enlistments will be denied unless they train into another career field.

“Those are the ones that have really come down to tight choices,” Boles said.

And the Air Force’s expected staffing cuts — which are being forced by the sequester and could eliminate 25,000 airmen over the next five years — could be driving these retraining reductions, Boles said.

“It’s been this way for a long time now, they’re doing selective re-enlistments in many skills, because it doesn’t make sense to let people re-enlist into skills that are overmanned,” Boles said. “For every person in an overmanned skill, you have a vacancy in an undermanned skill, and that ain’t good.”

Retired Col. Terry Stevens, a former Air Force personnel expert who worked at AFPC, said the size of the retraining reduction will probably depend on how bad this year’s sequester cuts are, and whether Congress can come to some agreement to replace part of those cuts.

“If they take a pretty big hit in that training budget, it could cut just about all of the voluntary retraining,” Stevens said. “You’ve got mandatory retraining coming in, including basic military training, tech school training, pilot training — those training dollars have to be left alone. It’s going to kind of put [enlisted airmen] on pins and needles until they get a firm decision on the budget. If they don’t get that budget fixed, there‘s going to be a lot of things that’s messed up.”

Boles said the retraining reduction could prompt some to leave when their enlistments are up.

“If I had two choices [for retraining], and one I really liked, and they took that away, then there is no way I’m going to be somebody in an undesirable duty location,” Boles said. “Airmen are going to have to look at the numbers and maybe recalculate their odds” of being able to retrain into a desired career field.

One staff sergeant, who asked that he and his base not be named, said he’s unsuccessfully been trying to retrain out of his current job in medical administration for the last four years. He fears these retraining cuts could further worsen his chances at moving into a more interesting career, and is considering moving to the Air National Guard or leaving the Air Force entirely.

“We get preached to from higher-ups, chiefs and everybody, that they want us to excel in our careers, but whenever we try to [by retraining], we get stomped,” the staff sergeant said. “I feel like I’m not being utilized to my potential. I didn’t want to leave active duty, but I’m at a point where I feel I will contribute more” by moving to the Guard.

Stevens said the overall effect on retention could be limited.

“They’ll lose a few,” he said. “You can almost bet on that. It’ll impact retention a little bit, but whether it will make a statistical difference? I don’t know.”

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