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Air Force ramps up transition assistance for flood of separating airmen

Apr. 9, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
CMSAF and AF/A1 Testify before the HAC-Personnel
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody told lawmakers the Air Force is taking steps to make sure all separating or retiring airmen attend Transition Assistance Program courses. (Scott Ash/Air Force)
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The Air Force is ramping up its Transition Assistance Program to help handle an unusually high number of airmen expected to leave the service in the next few years, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody said Wednesday.

Cody told the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on personnel that the Air Force’s Airmen and Family Readiness Centers usually process 32,000 to 35,000 departing airmen each year.

But due to the sweeping budget cuts known as sequestration and other structural changes, the Air Force has had to launch a force management program that aims to cut 25,000 airmen over the next five years. Lt. Gen. Sam Cox, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, told lawmakers the Air Force must cut 16,700 active- duty troops to get the end strength down to 310,900 in fiscal 2015.

And that’s going to mean TAP — which offers pre-separation counseling, Veterans Affairs Department benefits briefings, a Labor Department employment workshop, and a capstone review that verifies airmen are ready for life in the private sector — is going to have to handle many more airmen than normal.

Cody said the Air Force is taking steps to make sure all separating or retiring airmen attend those courses. Those steps include offering more courses at each installation, increasing class sizes, coordinating with partnering agencies to add more courses when necessary, providing service members and their families more information about TAP, and contacting airmen to get them to sign up for TAP.

“As we manage the reductions to end strength, we must continue to focus on support for our airmen transitioning to the civilian sector,” Cody said.

Most TAP courses are mandatory for all departing airmen. However, some airmen can be exempted: those with at least 20 years of active- duty service; documented civilian employment; acceptance to an accredited career technical training, undergraduate or graduate degree program; specialized skills that require deployment within 60 days; and wounded warriors enrolled in an approved Education and Employment Initiative program.

This year’s force management effort has 18 voluntary and involuntary programs. Cox reiterated that the Air Force wants to use voluntary measures as much as possible to minimize the need for involuntary separations.

But next year’s end strength reductions “will require a more aggressive approach in our [force management] programs,” Cox said. Next year’s force management programs will include Quality Force Review Boards for enlisted airmen, and enlisted retention boards for senior airmen through chief master sergeants. Officers will also face force shaping boards, reduction-in-force boards, and enhanced Selective Early Retirement Boards.

Cox also told lawmakers that the Air Force will focus on holding onto the best airmen with the right skills balance to meet the service’s current and future mission requirements.

“As the Air Force becomes smaller, it is ever more important to retain our highest-performing airmen,” Cox said.

Cody said that an upcoming Airman Comprehensive Assessment feedback form, which will be released in the next few months, will help guide enlisted airmen toward meeting their performance goals. The feedback form will help airmen and their supervisors have “a deep, meaningful conversation” about their goals, and will include a self-assessment, a detailed evaluation of their current performance, and specific questions that aim to provide airmen feedback on how they’re doing.

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