Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright on Friday suggested the service move to a so-called “indefinite enlistment” system that automatically keeps senior enlisted airmen in until they decide it‘s time to leave.
Wright, speaking at the Airlift/Tanker Association Symposium in Orlando, Florida, said that shifting the re-enlistment process could be a way to reduce paperwork and administrative tasks that unnecessarily keep airmen busy, according to a release posted on the Air Force’s website Monday.
According to the release, Wright ― who has been in the Air Force nearly 29 years ― told the crowd that he’s got to arrange to re-enlist soon after getting back to the Pentagon, which drew applause.
“Don‘t clap,” Wright said. “Every four years, I’ve got to go through the ’Yeah, I’m still here’ [process]. Now, it’s a time-honored tradition, I love it, but I think we’d like to get to once you hit your 15-year mark, then you’re an indefinite enlistment ― you’re good until your high year of tenure. I believe at 15 years of service, most of us are plugged in, dedicated and ready to roll.”
Wright said that, if such a program went into effect, airmen could still receive selective re-enlistment bonuses, and the Air Force would ensure airmen have the right active-duty service commitment.
Chief Master Sgt. Katherine Grabham, Wright’s assistant, outlined in an email how the program might work.
Airmen who hit 15 years time-in-service would automatically have their enlistments extended to their high year of tenure mark, which varies by rank, Grabham said. They can apply to retire once they become eligible ― for example, at 19 years and one day for those who are planning to retire at 20 years. And if an airman wants to separate before becoming retirement-eligible, as long as they don’t have an active duty service commitment, the Air Force would allow them to do so.
If an airman gets promoted, their service would then be extended to their new rank’s high year of tenure, Grabham said. But again, they would have the option of retiring, when eligible, or separating, as long as they don’t have a service commitment.
Grabham said this is similar to how the Army handles enlistments, although the Army begins automatically extending enlistment at 10 years of service.
The change would be a time-saving measure for airmen, Grabham said. She said recent re-enlistments meant two weeks of sending paperwork up through the chain of command and multiple trips to personnel offices, which is typical for most airmen.
Grabham said that despite the program’s name, it does not mean airmen will be “locked in” to the Air Force indefinitely if they don’t want to stay.
Wright is still working with the Air Force Personnel Center and Air Force personnelists at the Pentagon to make sure the program is done right, Grabham said.
“There are still a lot of moving parts to be worked out, but it is definitely on his list of things to get after to help airmen save time (and help the Air Force save man hours) where we can,” Grabham said. “It‘s a little thing, but his thought is that if we add up the little things and multiply them by the number of people it affects and the number of agencies involved each time, it starts to add up quickly.”
Wright also said that the Air Force is close to cutting the paperwork needed to nominate airmen for service-wide awards. Today, a nomination requires 27 bulleted accomplishments, the release said, but Wright said they’re working on getting it down to 16 ― 12 job performance bullets and four “whole airman” bullets.
“That gets us to the point where 80 percent of what you‘re evaluated on is your job and primary mission, and 20 percent is the other things that we ask you to do as airmen,” Wright said.
Wright hopes that major commands and other units follow suit and cut the requirements for their own awards.
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 Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.