The Air Force on Monday announced that airmen in some special duty or instructor positions will have a year cut from their current tour lengths.

Military training instructors, military training leaders, Air Education and Training Command technical training instructors with an Air Force specialty code that has a T, J or X prefix, and stateside professional military education instructors will now serve tours of three years, instead of the previous four-year tour.

The Air Force said in a release that the shift is designed to improve airmen’s resiliency and to renew the service’s focus on operational readiness.

“The Air Force is committed to returning our experienced and professional workforce to their operational career fields and reducing the unique stressors associated with these special duty tours,” Maj. Gen. Timothy Leahy, commander of the 2nd Air Force, said in the release. “The decision to reduce tour lengths is about increasing our readiness and lethality while growing today’s airmen for the force we need.”

The change to three-year tours goes into effect immediately for airmen who begin serving in one of those four positions on or after July 1. Airmen who began serving in one of those positions from July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019, will have 30 days to decide whether they want to keep their original four-year tour, or switch to three years.

Airmen who began serving in those positions before July 1, 2018, or who are serving in overseas tours, no matter when they began, will serve their full four-year tour.

Because it takes so long to train and certify airmen to serve as recruiters, the Air Force said their four-year tours will not be reduced. What’s more, it’s critical for recruiters to build and maintain community outreach efforts over time, the Air Force said, which is why service leaders feel 48 months is the ideal recruiter tour length.

In the release, the Air Force said that career field managers expressed concern that longer tours might lead to problems with retention, loss of operational expertise, and burnout related to those assignments. A January 2019 survey of career field managers found “unanimous feedback” supporting a move to shorter, more manageable tour lengths for those four special duties.

The Air Force said it also factored in thoughts from five training wings when it considered the tour reductions. Another 2019 survey of military training leaders and military training instructors found that while airmen in developmental special duties had positive experiences with those jobs, they began to get burned out around the three-year mark. Many survey participants reported challenges maintaining a work-life balance, including shift work, professional demands, and responsibilities outside typical duty hours. The time spent away from their operational career field was another primary stressor, those airmen said.

The Air Force also studied how other services handle these tours, and found that in-service instructors and drill sergeants served three-year tours. Army training special duty assignments are also now only two years, with a highly selective third-year option.

MTIs oversee basic military training for tens of thousands of Air Force recruits each year. The Air Force’s roughly 120 military training leaders then train about 30,000 new airmen, who have recently graduated from BMT, on how to transition from BMT to their first duty station.

The move is part of the squadron revitalization initiative launched by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein, the release said. It also ties in with recent changes AETC made to its Basic Military Training curriculum, and a reduction in computer-based and ancillary training requirements.

“Our military training leaders and instructors are crucial to building a stronger, ready and lethal professional force,” Leahy said. “The airmen who serve in developmental special duty positions are the epitome of professionalism and represent our Air Force core values. The Air Force needs passionate leaders committed to the development of our airmen, so to those who serve in these demanding roles, you have spoken and we have heard you. We owe it to you to make this change.”

This is the biggest change to developmental special duty tour lengths since 2015, when the Air Force altered how first sergeants’ tours worked. Previously, first sergeants served a three-year initial tour and had the option of requesting a second three-year tour. But the 2015 change lengthened initial first sergeant tours to four years, and then gave first sergeants the option of extending their tours by one or two more years. This change was made because the Air Force realized it was losing talented first sergeants just as they were hitting their stride.

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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