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The Air Force’s first enlisted retention boards are two weeks away from convening — and they could end the careers of roughly 4,000 airmen.
Nearly 14,600 airmen — senior airmen through senior master sergeants in certain career fields — are likely to be considered by the retention boards that will begin June 16, according to the Air Force’s latest eligibility matrix, dated May 19. About 28 percent of them could be told to separate or retire.
Tech sergeants alone will make up nearly half the cuts, with 1,899 now deemed overmanned, or 47 percent of the total number of overmanned airmen.
The boards, which will meet at the Air Force Personnel Center’s headquarters in San Antonio, Texas, will review vulnerable airmen’s evaluations, decorations, an Enlisted Retention Brief and an Enlisted Retention Recommendation Form to rank airmen and decide who will be retained — and who will be made to separate or retire.
By July, the board will decide which senior non-commissioned officers will not be retained, and their senior raters will give them the bad news. The remaining enlisted airmen will learn their fates in August. Master sergeants and senior master sergeants who are not selected for retention must retire Dec. 1; senior airmen through technical sergeants who are not retained must separate Jan. 31.
The retention recommendation form, or ERRF, could be the key to vulnerable airmen’s chances of staying in the Air Force. Those airmen’s unit commanders — or in the case of master or senior master sergeants, senior raters — were told to review their evaluations, decorations and career briefs when filling out the ERRF, and then make a recommendation of “retain,” “consider,” or “do not retain.”
And the airmen facing the board need to double-check their ERRF to make sure it’s accurate — right now. If the ERRF contains wrong information that needs to be corrected, a senior rater or unit commander must make those changes no later than June 2 through the Stop File process, according to the December memo outlining the rules for the retention board.
Those airmen should have received a copy of their ERRF no later than May 17. If an airman has not yet received his ERRF, the memo said, he should contact his unit commander, squadron commander or senior rater to get one.
The ERRF must contain one to three comments on why an airman should or should not be retained in the Air Force. And senior raters or unit commanders must rank airmen within career fields and again within grade to identify which are the most necessary to retain, and which are least necessary.
The looming retention boards have weighed heavily on thousands of airmen’s minds since the force management programs were announced in December.
During a May 28 troop event at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, Defense Sec. Chuck Hagel even got a question from an unidentified service member who was worried about retention boards.
“As we downsize — and I know that’s part of what’s in everybody’s mind — we will do that on a glide slope that’s responsible, that won’t hurt anybody,” Hagel said.
The Air Force originally said it expected to cut up to 25,000 airmen over five years to help it deal with the sequester’s budget cuts. But in a May interview with Air Force Times, Air Force Sec. Deborah Lee James said the force management programs would largely be finished by the end of 2015. It is better to get cuts over with quickly, James said, and not leave airmen worrying year after year that their jobs will be in jeopardy.
“We’re going to do it as quickly as possible and get it behind us,” James said.
But in a piece of good news, the number of enlisted airmen at risk of losing their jobs involuntarily has plummeted in recent months, as airmen flocked to voluntary force management programs such as Temporary Early Retirement Authority and voluntary separation pay. The Air Force’s January force management matrices listed 18,336 enlisted airmen who were overmanned and likely to be cut in fiscal 2014.
And one retention board — for chief master sergeants — was scuttled entirely because the Air Force cut enough chiefs through early retirements and other retirements to meet its end strength goals.
Air Force officials have repeatedly said they hoped to use voluntary programs such as TERA as much as possible to avoid the need for involuntary programs such as retention boards and a new enhanced Selective Early Retirement Board.
In some cases, that is happening. The chiefs board was originally planned to begin June 10, and consider chiefs in 45 different career fields. But by March, the number of chiefs facing the retention board was down to 12, and in April, only two were left. On May 27, the chiefs board was canceled outright.
Thirty-eight enlisted career fields and ranks have been dropped from the list of jobs and ranks eligible for voluntary force management programs. Another 32 enlisted career fields and ranks have been dropped from the involuntary matrix, the Air Force said.
And AFPC continues to process applications for voluntary separation.
More than 1,600 officer and 7,000 enlisted airmen applied for voluntary separation pay before the program’s window closed May 1. So far, 4,359 airmen — 3,427 enlisted and 932 officers — have been approved for voluntary separation pay. As of May 22, 105 voluntary separation pay applications were pending.
In May, the Air Force held its first Quality Force Review Board. Airmen not selected for retention by that board must separate by Sept. 29, or retire by Oct. 1. Results of the board are expected in mid-June.
Who's facing the boards
The Air Force will call 14,595 enlisted airmen before retention boards to eliminate 4,028 positions in overmanned fields. The breakdown by rank and Air Force specialty code:
|Senior master sergeants|
Source: Air Force