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The window for most airmen to apply for early retirement closes on Wednesday.
Officers and enlisted airmen with at least 15 years of service have through March 26 to apply for Temporary Early Retirement Authority, popularly known as 15-year retirements. Eligible airmen’s applications must include the commander’s coordination and a signed Statement of Understanding to be considered complete. Incomplete applications will not be processed.
Wednesday marks the first major deadline under the Air Force’s sweeping force management program, which could cut up to 25,000 airmen over the next five years. Most of those force cuts could come this year, according to Air Force documents. The Air Force hopes to use voluntary retirement and separation programs such as TERA and voluntary separation pay as much as possible to minimize the need for involuntary programs such as retention boards and reductions-in-force.
Two recent rule changes mean a small number of enlisted airmen are newly eligible for TERA and some officers have another avenue to voluntary separation.
In a March 13 update to the rules governing the enlisted TERA program, the Air Force said it is expanding the ranks that are eligible to retire early. Under previous rules, only staff sergeants and above were eligible for early retirement. But the revised Personnel Services Delivery Memorandum now makes airmen basic through senior airmen in all career fields eligible, as long as they have a High Year of Tenure date of July 31 or later, and as long as they have more than 15 and less than 20 years of total active federal military service.
However, that change will likely affect few airmen. According to Air Force statistics, 73 airmen from E-1 to E-4 have between 15 and 20 years of service.
Another March 13 update to the rules governing the officer TERA program said that officers who are ineligible to apply for TERA, but wish to separate, may apply for separation under the process spelled out in AFI 36-3207, “Separating Commissioned Officers.”
In a “Chief Chat” video posted online March 20, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody called rumors that too many people have applied for voluntary retirement or separation “all fiction.” As of the day Cody recorded the video — March 12 — the Air Force had had about 11,000 voluntary retirement or separation applications, about 5,000 of which were eligible to be considered. The others will not be considered.
“Not in any way, shape or form have we had too many people volunteer,” Cody said. “Quite the contrary, people are really looking for answers to, are we still on track, where are we going, and they’re concerned about their vulnerability.”
Another airman asked Cody how to keep airmen motivated and focused as they face force cuts that could end their Air Force careers or — if they remain — leave them having to pick up the work of departed airmen.
Cody acknowledged the current turbulence and uncertainty create anxiety and stress among airmen, but urged them to not lose sight of the importance of their mission.
“Our Air Force is still doing what our nation needs us to do every single day,” Cody said. “We still have people in harm’s way, and we need to stay focused. What I would submit to our airmen and to our Air Force, and their families, is that we are considering everything we are doing with them in mind, and their families in mind. These are very difficult decisions. They are not decisions we would like to have to make, they are decisions we have to make.”