Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright last week confirmed the service is considering extending the high year of tenure of staff sergeants from 15 to 20 years of total active federal military service — and possibly some other enlisted ranks, too.
During an all-call at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany Friday, Wright said he’s a strong supporter of extending the maximum amount of time E-5s can serve on active duty without a promotion before they have to be separated. Wright said such a change to so-called up-or-out rules could help retention in high-value, undermanned career fields.
“Absolutely, it’s a good idea,” Wright said. “No promises that it’ll be done quickly, but I think this is the right thing to do at this point in our Air Force. Hopefully, we can retain some of that experience, certainly in some of the career fields like maintenance and some of the other areas where we’ve been bleeding out for a little while.”
Today, airmen in approved, mission-critical jobs can ask for their tenures to be extended one to two years, though that does not happen frequently. Last July, the Air Force approved a list of 106 enlisted career fields eligible for tenure extensions in jobs such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, nuclear, cyber, special operations, and maintenance.
However, Wright stressed the decision hasn’t been made yet. The Air Force first has to finish analyzing data and other research to make sure the second- or third-order effects of such a change wouldn’t create too much of a headache.
For example, he said, if staff sergeants stay in the Air Force longer without separating or advancing, that will naturally mean fewer promotion opportunities for senior airmen to make E-5. The question is, will that create a promotion logjam, where large amounts of E-4s can’t advance?
Wright said he thinks the effects will be minimal, but he wants to make sure first.
The Air Force is also mulling extending technical sergeants' high year of tenure from 20 to 22 years, and possibly also senior airmen, who now have a high year of tenure of eight years, Wright said.
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.