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Re-up, retention bonuses for select few, budget documents show

Mar. 11, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Operation Enduring Freedom
Spending on retention bonuses for special tactics and combat rescue officers is slated to increase by 50 percent between 2013 and 2015. (Tech. Sgt. Dennis Henry Jr./Air Force)
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Competition for bigger, but fewer, re-enlistment bonuses will be much tighter this year and next. And retention bonuses will be more plentiful for airmen with critical skills such as intel, according to budget documents released Tuesday.

But the budget plan also shows clear signs of the drawdown from war — less spending on special pays and more spending for separation and early retirement incentives.

The Air Force spent more than $232.5 million on re-enlistment bonuses in fiscal 2013, according to the documents. But that amount is expected to drop to $179.3 million this year — a decline of nearly 23 percent — and remain flat next year.

The number of enlisted airmen receiving the first part of their re-enlistment bonus payments will fall by more than half this year — from 7,776 in 2013 to 3,644 in 2014 — and stay around that level in 2015.

However, airmen who do manage to snag one of those bonuses will find them much sweeter — the average initial re-enlistment bonus rate will go up from $11,310 in 2013 to $14,913 this year, and up again to $19,023 in 2015.

And after a steep decline in 2013 spending on retention bonuses for critical skills, the Air Force hopes to restore some of those bonuses in coming years. In 2013, the Air Force spent about $7.3 million to retain airmen in vital career fields such as contracting, special tactics and combat rescue and social work — a steep decline from the $23.2 million and $18.5 million it spent in fiscal 2011 and 2012, respectively. In 2014, the service expects to spend nearly $14.4 million on critical skills retention and $13.6 million in 2015 — a dramatic increase from 2013, but still well below previous years.

The Air Force is planning to restore critical skills bonuses to retain intelligence officers this year, which were dropped in 2012 and 2013, according to budget figures. The Air Force has budgeted $5.7 million to retain intelligence officers in both 2014 and 2015, the same as it spent in 2011. Spending on retention bonuses for contracting and special tactics and combat rescue officers is also slated to increase by 41 percent and 50 percent, respectively, between 2013 and 2015.

Pilot retention bonuses are expected to drop from $70.7 million in 2013 to $63.8 million in 2014, before rising up to $66.6 million in 2015.

And with the war in Afghanistan due to end at the end of this year, the Air Force is also winding down the amounts it has budgeted for hostile fire pay and hardship duty pay. Hostile fire pay will drop from $61.1 million in 2013 to $3.6 million this year, and to $3.4 million next year. Likewise, hardship duty pay will drop from $29.3 million in 2013 to $5.6 million this year, and then to nearly $5.4 million in 2015.

In another sign of the war’s end, the budgeted amount for family separation allowances for airmen on temporary duty for more than 30 days in locations where they cannot bring their families will also decrease sharply — from $51.5 million in 2013 to $13.4 million this year, and to $12.2 million next year.

Overall, special pays will drop from $716.2 million in 2013 to $571.4 million this year, to $565.3 million next year.

However, the Air Force’s planned budget for separation and early retirement — voluntary and involuntary —payments provides a glimpse into how it expects the current force reductions will shape the service.

The Air Force plans to spend $230.6 million on officer separation payments in 2014, and another $255.8 million in 2015 — more than seven times the $36.1 million it spent in 2013.

Enlisted separation payments will shoot up from $69.1 million in 2013 to $437.9 million in 2014, and again to $783.4 million next year — a more than 11-fold increase. The number of enlisted airmen receiving separation payments will increase from 2,232 in 2013 to 17,925 in 2015.

In all, the Air Force will spend over $1 billion on separation payments next year.

This year, the Air Force expects to pay $81.6 million to 560 officers taking Temporary Early Retirement Authority, or 15-year retirements — one of the keystone programs of the ongoing force management effort. Another 1,137 officers will receive $108.8 million in voluntary separation payments this year. The Air Force has not budgeted for TERA or voluntary separation pay in 2015, suggesting the service does not expect to offer these programs again next year to officers.

And the Air Force plans to pay 2,500 enlisted airmen $188.9 million in TERA payments this year, and 4,200 enlisted airmen $320.6 million in TERA payments next year. The Air Force has also budgeted $120.7 million in voluntary separation payments for 2,928 enlisted airmen this year, but none for 2015.

The Air Force is planning to pay $245.1 million to 3,246 involuntarily separated officers over the next two years — mostly in 2015.

And another 12,057 enlisted airmen are expected to be involuntarily separated in 2015, costing the Air Force $410 million.

But elsewhere in the budget documents, the Air Force said that “if demand assumption proves incorrect and additional active forces are needed ... these reductions are reversible within one year.” The Air Force said it would use increased accessions to reverse these cuts.

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