An aircraft phase maintenance specialist with the 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron works on the wing of an A-10 Thunderbolt II at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. (Capt. Raymond Geoffroy / Air Force)
At least 8,751 airmen’s jobs are no longer on the chopping block this year, according to the latest charts obtained by Air Force Times.
The new charts, dated March 28 and posted online April 3, show the Air Force now estimates it has 10,018 enlisted airmen in overmanned career fields that must be cut this year, whether through voluntary measures such as early retirements or involuntary measures such as retention boards. That is 45 percent less than the estimated overages of 18,336 enlisted shown in previous charts, which were dated Jan. 23.
Air Force Times also obtained an updated chart on the officer force shaping boards, which shows the number of eligible first lieutenants and captains in the Line of the Air Force and LAF-Judge Advocate categories has dropped from 979 to 546 — a reduction of 44 percent.
“After recalculations and taking into consideration voluntary separations and retirements, it was clear that personnel reductions were no longer necessary in some [Air Force specialty code] year groups,” Air Force Personnel Center operations division chief Col. Joe Atkins said in an April 3 release.
Large swaths of the enlisted ranks have dropped off the retention board eligibility chart. More than 200 career fields have at least one rank that is marked “closed,” indicating those groups were originally notified they were at risk of meeting the enlisted retention board, but are no longer because no overages exist. Of those, roughly 100 have been entirely removed.
In an April 3 release, the Air Force said already-approved retirements and separations were one factor that allowed them to reduce the number of airmen who must be cut. So far, the Air Force has approved 2,636 Temporary Early Retirement Authority applications and 750 voluntary separation pay applications, and expects more will be approved soon. Another 221 officers have been separated through a December Selective Early Retirement Board, and more than 90 were cut through the first round of date-of-separation rollbacks. In all, roughly 3,700 airmen have so far left or have been selected to leave the Air Force under force management.
But the Air Force said it has also made “adjustments to the overall manpower requirements.” Last month, the Air Force put its processing of voluntary retirement and separation applications on “pause,” in part to give it a chance to take another look at its force requirements. Lt. Gen. Sam Cox, deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, said at the time that the Air Force was going rank by rank, year group by year group, and career field by career field to figure out where it needed to make adjustments.
The Air Force is also taking steps to make the force management process more transparent to airmen. It has added a force management button on the Air Force Portal, my.af.mil, that includes the latest program details such as eligibility matrices.
“From initial notification and implementation, we’ve discussed the dynamic nature and fast pace of our force management programs,” Cox said in the April 3 release. “With volumes of available information, necessary real-time adjustments and national-level budget uncertainties all colliding, it is understandable that we have sincere angst in our force. While the heightened concern is natural and reasonably expected, we want to help mitigate it with a consistent effort of communicating to our airmen.”
The Air Force also is not planning to hold another reduction-in-force board or SERB for officers in fiscal 2014, according to an internal email posted on Reddit March 26 and later confirmed by an Air Force Times source.
However, the enhanced SERB is likely to return next year during the second round of force management programs, the email said. The enhanced SERB, introduced this year, looks at early retirements for colonels with two to four years time-in-grade, lieutenant colonels who have been passed over for promotion once, and retirement-eligible officers between the rank of captain and colonel. Traditional SERBs look at colonels with at least four years time-in-grade and lieutenant colonels who have been passed over at least twice.
Most airmen who are eligible for involuntary programs this year, but escape without being separated, will not face the second round of involuntary reductions or separations next year, the email said. The only exceptions to this double jeopardy rule will be enlisted airmen with negative quality indicators who will appear before the Quality Force Review Board, and possibly officers who are eligible for the E-SERB.
Next year’s force management cuts “will be significantly less except for QFRB,” according to the email.
The email said the second round of force shaping planned for 2015 will contain similar voluntary and involuntary measures as this year, except for the officer RIFs and SERBs. The Air Force wants to review the numbers on force reductions before deciding whether to hold another E-SERB next year, the email said, but a second E-SERB “more than likely will occur.”
Officers in the 13N nuclear and missile operations career field — which has been rocked by an ongoing cheating scandal that exposed deep morale problems — are also no longer targeted by involuntary separation programs, the email said.
Reprieve for security, A-10
Security forces airmen in the 3P0X1 career field are most likely to breathe a sigh of relief. The old chart showed overages of 3,992 security forces airmen. But now, those estimates have dropped to 1,947 — a reduction of 51 percent. After security forces officials learned they could lose at least 15 percent of their total career field, they raised red flags to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh and other senior leaders. Security forces leaders said the initially planned cuts would seriously jeopardize security at bases around the country, and pleaded for the cuts to be reduced. The security forces career field is now projected to lose about 7 percent of its 26,035 airmen.
Other career fields are also seeing reductions to their original, steep cuts. The pavements and construction equipment career field overages, for example, are dropping from 420 — or 21 percent of its total force — to 267, or 14 percent. Aircraft armament systems overages have dropped from 689 airmen, or 10 percent of its force, to 377, or 6 percent. The RF transmission spectrum overages have dropped from 616 — or 17 percent — airmen to 400, or 11 percent. And fuels dropped from 528 overmanned airmen, or 15 percent of its force, to 455, or 13 percent.
And airmen who work on the A-10 Warthog are also receiving a reprieve this year, due to a congressional restriction on A-10 reductions. The original chart listed 463 airmen in the avionics test station and components, tactical aircraft maintenance and fighter aircraft integrated avionics career fields related to the A-10 that were overmanned and due to be cut this year. The revised chart eliminates all of those cuts except six staff sergeants in the avionics test station and components field. Those remaining staff sergeants are likely to work on other planes.
Airmen who maintain or work on avionics for F-15s, F-16s, F-22s and remotely piloted aircraft have also been taken off the overmanned list.
Not all fields are seeing reductions. The materiel management career field overages, for example, increased slightly from 490 airmen to 496.
AFPC has said the force management charts are subject to change and are updated periodically. AFPC also has said the numbers are for general information and that airmen should get specific details from their military personnel section or AFPC, and that each airman must confirm his actual eligibility by contacting his unit leaderships and military personnel section.■