The Air Force will move to a new system of “indefinite enlistment” for airmen with at least 12 years of service on Nov. 18, service officials confirmed Friday after a leaked memo appeared online Wednesday evening.
Under the new system, airmen who hit 12 years time-in-service will now automatically have their enlistments extended to their rank’s high year of tenure mark. They can apply to retire once they become eligible, or separate before becoming retirement-eligible, when they wish, as long as they don’t have an active-duty service commitment.
Airmen who are promoted will have their service extended to their new rank’s high year of tenure. This will eliminate the need for airmen to re-enlist, if they want to remain in uniform.
“Career airmen are consummate professionals who have demonstrated their commitment to service," said Air Force personnel chief Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly in a statement. "They play a crucial role in developing the next generation of airmen. With this adjustment, we’re providing them the associated flexibility to make individualized career decisions.”
The Personnel Services Delivery Memorandum dated Oct. 21 was posted on the unofficial Air Force amn/nco/snco page Wednesday. Capt. Carrie Volpe, an Air Force spokeswoman, confirmed it is genuine, but noted that it was a draft memo used to communicate personnel changes to force support squadron commanders and military personnel flight leaders in advance of a policy change.
Those changes are ongoing, she said, and service officials had tentatively planned to announce the policy change Nov. 5. They are now considering an earlier release date.
The change represents a significant shift in how the Air Force manages its more experienced enlisted airmen and is similar to how the Army operates.
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright first floated this idea publicly two years ago, suggesting it could reduce paperwork and unnecessary administrative burdens on airmen who want to stay in anyway.
When Wright first started discussing this in 2017, the Air Force was considering making 15 years of service the point where indefinite enlistment kicks in.
“Every four years, I’ve got to go through the ’Yeah, I’m still here’" process, Wright said at a conference in Orlando, Florida, in October 2017, shortly after he himself re-enlisted. "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.”
The selective re-enlistment program will continue for airmen with 12 years or more of service.
Airmen serving in the NCO Career Status Program may request receipt of an authorized Selective Retention Bonus no earlier than 30 days prior to meeting their eligibility requirements, according to the draft memo.
The Air Force Personnel Center will notify all airmen eligible for an SRB. Those who choose to accept the bonus — and the active-duty service commitment that goes with it — will complete their request online. As usual, airmen must not only be in a qualifying Air Force specialty code, but also be performing duties in that skill at the time of their request.
“Airmen should expect to serve their full commitment in the bonus skill,” the draft memo states. “Airmen no longer performing duties in the bonus specialty are subject to termination and recoupment of unearned portions.”
Airmen may request at least three years, but not more than six years of bonus entitlement, not to exceed the airman’s high year of tenure or authorized HYT adjustment, the memo states.
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.