The Air Force brought on 33,645 new airmen in fiscal 2016, including enlisted, officers, chaplains and health professionals, the most since the Vietnam era.

In a Thursday release, the Air Force Recruiting Service called the number of assessments "historic" and said they helped the Air Force build its end strength from roughly 311,000 to about 317,000 personnel.

And the 31,761 enlisted airmen recruited last year smashed through the Air Force's previous projections.

Originally, the Air Force set a goal of recruiting 28,000 new enlisted, which would have been about 4,000 more than in fiscal 2015, when it recruited 24,137 enlisted. But after recruiting boomed in the first half of the fiscal year, Brig. Gen. Brian Kelly, the Air Force's director of military force management policy, said in April that enlisted recruitment was likely to hit 30,600. By August, Kelly was eve more bullish, predicting enlisted recruitment would top 31,000.

That means enlisted recruitments grew by nearly 32 percent over the past year.

The newly recruited enlisted airmen included 236 who were prior enlisted, from any of the U.S. military services, said recruiting service spokeswoman 1st Lt. Erin Ranaweera.

Ranaweera also said the Air Force brought on 1,162 officers, plus another 692 health professionals and 30 chaplains.

The end strength increase was the Air Force's first since fiscal 2010, when it grew from about 333,400 to 334,200.

The Air Force is in the midst of a rebuilding process after steep drawdowns in 2014 cut nearly 20,000 airmen. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James wants to grow the service's end strength further next year, by about 4,000 more.

But in a Sept. 23 interview, Air Force personnel chief Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso said the current budget proposal is short the roughly $145 million needed for that kind of growth. Without more money, end strength will likely stay flat in fiscal 2017, she said.

James is still considering using her authority to move money around from other programs to pay for more airmen, though it's far from clear whether she will go that way.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

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