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Bonuses, service commitments and more: Here’s how the Air Force’s new indefinite enlistment will work

The Air Force’s new indefinite enlistment system — officially called the Noncommissioned Officer Career Status Program — will be a game changer for thousands of active-duty enlisted airmen.

But how exactly will it work when airmen hit 12 years of service and no longer have to sign on the dotted line every four years or so?

The process will be similar to that for officers, the Air Force said in a Wednesday announcement. Airmen with 12 years of service — who want to remain in uniform — will sign one last re-enlistment contract on or after Nov. 18, when the program takes effect, and then fall under the new NCO program. This will be the last contract of their careers.

They will no longer see a date of separation in their records until they are within 12 months of their high year of tenure date. Upon promotion, their date of separation will automatically be updated to their new rank’s high year of tenure date.

In a follow-up email, Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Carrie Volpe said that airmen will not incur an active-duty service commitment to re-enlist under the NCO program. But like officers, NCOs will continue to incur service commitments when they receive selective retention bonuses, are promoted, attend service schools, undergo a permanent change-of-station move, and other events, Volpe said.

Selective retention bonuses won’t be affected that much by the new program, the Air Force said in the release. But there will be some administrative changes to how they are processed.

In the past, those bonuses were tied to re-enlistment, Volpe said. But because airmen will no longer re-enlist for specific periods of service after 12 years, bonuses will be offered in a different manner.

The Air Force will offer SRBs to eligible NCOs based on their Air Force specialty code and their applicable zone, or a grouping of years of service. Airmen with between 10 and 14 years of total active federal military service fall in Zone C, and airmen with 18 to 20 years are in Zone E.

On a monthly basis, the Air Force Personnel Center will notify airmen under the NCO Career Status Program when they are eligible by directly sending them a message myPers. If they’re interested, they will complete their application electronically.

Airmen will agree to an active-duty service commitment of at least three years, but no more than six years, in exchange for the bonus.

The separation process for enlisted airmen under this program will also work similarly to that of officers, the Air Force said in the release. They can apply for separation before their high year of tenure date, with an effective date of no later than 180 days from the date of request.

High year of tenure dates for NCOs and senior NCOs are currently 20 years for staff sergeants, 22 years for technical sergeants, 24 years for master sergeants, 26 years for senior master sergeants and 30 years for chief master sergeants.

One of the biggest benefits of this program could be how it simplifies managing NCOs’ careers. According to the personnel center’s web site, more than 10,000 re-enlistment contracts in fiscal 2018 would have been eliminated if this program had been in effect at the time.

“What we are saying to our airmen is, we hear you,” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright said in the release. “We recognize your commitment to a profession in the Air Force, and we’re going to manage your service commitment in a way that provides you with reduced paperwork and increased efficiency.”

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