The Air Force needs about 3,500 officers to serve in instructor and recruiting special duty positions — and to find them, the service is moving to a nomination and selection process similar to that for enlisted airmen.
In addition, the service is planning to cut the number of lines that raters fill out on an officer’s promotion recommendation form from nine to two, and later this spring or summer will announce plans to split up the Line of the Air Force category into more competitive categories.
Until now, the Air Force has relied on volunteers to fill instructor and recruiting positions, which include commanding recruiting squadrons, teaching at career field-specific training schools or instructing Reserve Officer Training Corps units.
But airmen who do those jobs haven’t always been rewarded or properly recognized in the past, Air Force officials acknowledge. So the service is planning to offer more incentives for these jobs — and to switch to a process where officers are nominated to serve in these jobs, similar to the 2013 shift for enlisted airmen in developmental special duties.
“Being an instructor or recruiter helps to shape the future force, but in the past, we have not rewarded officers who do this important work,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said in a Thursday release. “We gave it lip service. We’re changing that."
The Air Force will still ask officers to volunteer for recruiter and instructor duty, Air Force personnel chief Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly told reporters in an April 3 briefing at the Pentagon. But commanders and senior raters will also identify additional officers with the right experience and character for those jobs, and then nominate them. Both the volunteers and nominees will be reviewed by a central board, which will then prepare a smaller, final list of candidates from which recruiters and instructors will ultimately be chosen.
Kelly said the Air Force wants commanders and senior raters to nominate about 15 percent of their officers who are eligible, such as officers who are coming to the end of their assignments and must find a new job.
The window for officers to apply for special duties will be open from April 15 to May 24, the Air Force said in the news release. Officers who are interested should log onto MyVECTOR and update their initial preferences, the release said. Senior raters must endorse their officers to be submitted to the central board.
Filling these positions with the right officers is especially important, Kelly said, because the future of the Air Force depends on recruiting, training and developing new airmen in the right way.
“All airmen have a responsibility to nurture and develop the next generation of airmen,” Kelly said. “You want people that are going to inspire and represent the Air Force in the manner that you would want."
Maj. Nick Mercurio, an Air Force spokesman, said officers could serve as instructors at training schools for their specific jobs, such as intelligence career fields. Pilots could also volunteer or be nominated to serve as T-38 instructor pilots, he said.
Other instructor jobs include positions at Officer Training School, professional military education and Air Force Academy faculty jobs.
The Air Force will offer incentives to officers who serve in these jobs, such as deployment exemption while serving in those jobs, two-year assignments if possible, follow-on assignment preferences or — in the case of ROTC instructors — the chance to serve at their alma mater, if they want to return to their old stomping grounds.
Serving in those jobs will reflect well on airmen’s records, giving them a boost when it comes time to face a promotion board, he said.
But, Kelly stressed, these officers will not be “voluntold” to fill these jobs. They will have the opportunity to provide input, as they do for other assignments, and the Air Force will consider what they want, Kelly said. But at the end of the day, he said, the Air Force has to get these jobs done — so they still might be selected, even if it’s not their first choice.
“I think our airmen understand that they’ll get selected for duties, and they’ll do their best regardless of where they’re assigned,” Kelly said.
The Air Force hasn’t always placed enough value on these jobs in the past, Kelly acknowledged. As a result, officers got the unintentional message that serving in them would be a hindrance to their careers and shied away. That’s why the Air Force is offering incentives such as follow-on assignment preferences to encourage airmen to sign up.
Officers will pick up skills — such as enhanced communication, speaking and instruction abilities — in these duties that they’ll carry forward when they return to their regular jobs, he said, and that will make them even more valuable.
The Air Force isn’t necessarily looking for commanders to nominate their top echelon of officers, Kelly said — just the ones it thinks will be the right fit to be instructors and recruiters. And it’s going to have to trust commanders to pick the right people for these jobs and not hold back stellar officers because the commanders think they need them elsewhere.
If central boards don’t think they’ve gotten the right slate of officers, Kelly said, they will go back to commanders and ask for more.
“Not everybody is going to be a good instructor,” Kelly said. “Not everybody is going to be a good recruiter. … We give our commanders a lot of responsibility, and we’re going to count on them to balance the needs of the overall Air Force, versus the needs of their wing.”
The number of positions for these jobs is not changing, Kelly said, and the Air Force is not offering additional special duty pay to officers, which enlisted airmen in special duties can receive.
Line of the Air Force changes
Kelly said the Air Force is planning to break up the LAF category to provide different career fields with the opportunity to develop officers in their own unique ways and that provide the best fit.
The Air Force already has several competitive categories for specialized officers, such as judge advocates, chaplains, nurses and medical professionals. But the LAF category contains a wide variety of officers who don’t fall into those other categories — everyone from pilots to acquisition officials to public affairs officers.
This means that some officers in that broader LAF category are put at a disadvantage, Kelly said. Sometimes, they have to develop in ways that are better suited to other jobs so they can stay competitive when it comes time to face promotion boards.
For example, Kelly said, if acquisition officers had their own competitive category, they could be allowed to stay at one base longer to provide more continuity within the program on which they’re working. Acquisition officers don’t have as many command opportunities as some other career fields, he said, but they’re still very valuable officers. Giving them their own category could allow for that to be considered at promotion boards.
Kelly said the Air Force hasn’t yet decided how many new categories for LAF officers will be created. The Navy has about 25 to 27, and the Army has about four or five, he said. The Air Force will probably end up closer to the Army’s number.
When asked if pilots would get their own, unique category, Kelly said that officers who develop similarly would, logically, be grouped together.
Promotion form changes
Kelly also said that the number of lines on the promotion recommendation form will be slashed from nine to two to avoid senior raters sending unintentional messages while trying to fill all the lines. For example, he said, if a rater recommended one airman attend developmental education and that another airman attend joint developmental education, boards sometimes interpreted that as a subtle boost for the airman recommended for joint education.
“In a nine-line, there was a lot of creative writing to take up room,” Kelly said. “The promotion board doesn’t select who goes to what assignments, who gets to be squadron commander, developmental education. Yet lots of information on the nine-line form were talking to those things, which created unintended consequences.”
Besides limiting the amount of space to write on the new form, Kelly said the Air Force will provide more guidance on what should be included and what should be left out.
Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.