As it tries to solve a coronavirus-driven overmanning problem, the Air Force is offering active-duty airmen the opportunity to volunteer to leave service early or switch to the Reserve as part of an expanded Palace Chase program.
And now, you can find out whether you might be eligible.
The Air Force last week said airmen who have active-duty service commitments may be able to apply for waivers to get out early or to serve out the rest of their commitment in the Air Force Reserve.
Typically, enlisted airmen switching to the Reserve as part of Palace Chase must serve two years for every year they have left on active duty, and officers must serve three years. But under the Air Force’s expanded program, eligible airmen will only have to serve one year for every year of service left.
Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, told reporters last month that the service in 2020 saw the highest retention in nearly 20 years. That is likely because the economic crash caused by the pandemic lockdown led some airmen to cancel or delay plans to retire or separate, he said.
But that retention spike led to a serious overmanning problem. By December, the Air Force already had 900 more airmen than it hoped to have by the end of fiscal 2021.
So, service officials announced voluntary force management programs to trim the ranks. No involuntary programs are scheduled this year, Kelly emphasized.
“These voluntary programs will provide airmen with flexible career options while helping the department maintain the size of its force,” Kelly said in an emailed statement Friday. “We have to bring in the right number of airmen each year to sustain the force throughout the continuum of service and keep the size and shape of the force balanced for the future, high-end fight.”
Matrices posted on the non-public MyPers site, which were obtained by Air Force Times and current as of Jan. 22, list the career fields experiencing potential overmanning, which would be eligible for the voluntary force management programs.
Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Leah Brading said in the Friday email that the Air Force does not have a goal for how many airmen it hopes will accept the offer for active-duty service commitment waivers or expanded Palace Chase. She said that 23 officer career fields, and 219 enlisted jobs, will be eligible.
The matrices show which ranks in which enlisted career fields — and for officers, which year groups in which ranks — are potentially overmanned and could be eligible for force management. The enlisted matrix shows 12,631 possible overages, and the officer matrix shows 1,161 possible overages.
The enlisted career fields with the most potential overages include 3P0X1 security forces, with 924 airmen in the E-1 through E-3 grades and 630 E-4 airmen listed as possibly being overmanned, for a total of 1,554. Security forces is by far the largest career field in the Air Force.
The matrix also shows 463 possible overages in the 2S0X1 materiel management career field, 334 possible overages in the 4T0X1 medical laboratory career field, and 293 potential overages in the 4A0X1 health services management career field, among others.
On the officer side, the greatest overages could come in the 21R logistics readiness, 38F personnel, and 17X cyberspace operations career fields.
The matrices note that the numbers could fluctuate, based on the Air Force’s needs, and specific career fields, grades or year groups could be taken out of the program with little or no notice.
The list of enlisted career fields that could be eligible for force management can be found here.
The matrix of eligible officer career fields can be found here.
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.