For years, airmen on extended year-long deployments — and their families — have had a hard time planning for their next assignment after they return to the States.
But now, a new policy aims to make their lives easier by allowing them to request their follow-on assignments before they even go overseas.
As of Nov. 1, active-duty airmen who have been selected for a 365-day extended deployment can apply for an advance assignment up to 16 months before the projected date by which they’re expected to report to their follow-on assignment, the Air Force announced Wednesday.
The new policy means that before airmen go overseas for a year, they can have their permanent change-of-station orders finished and in hand, the Air Force said. That allows their family members, if they want, to move early to the next assignment location.
It will also give airmen time to out-process from the base that is losing them, and give them the option to request to move directly from their deployed location to their new assignment, without having to return to their old unit first.
“This change gives our airmen the opportunity to make decisions that will provide greater stability to their families while they’re deployed,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein said in a tweet Wednesday. “It will help give them the peace of mind they need to focus on the mission.”
Roughly 400 airmen go on 365-day deployments each year, the Air Force said.
Until now, most airmen on 365-day deployments had to be deployed for at least 60 days before they were told about potential next assignments, and orders were not published earlier than 120 days before their new reporting date. The Air Force said this made it hard for airmen and their families to plan for the future.
“This change recognizes the need for us to increase stability and predictability for our airmen and their families and helps our airmen focus on their mission while deployed,” Air Force personnel chief Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly said. "The ability to receive an assignment prior to departing for an extended deployment allows airmen to make decisions that are good for them and their families.
This change represents an expansion of advance assignment eligibility. Last year, the Air Force allowed airmen who volunteered for a 365-day deployment and met certain time-in-station requirements to apply for an advance assignment.
The idea for this change came from a working group, convened last year by the Air Force Personnel Center, which studied 365-day deployments and how to better accommodate airmen who go on them.
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.