More than 1,300 airmen are leaving active-duty military service early this year, as the Air Force looks to balance out its overstaffed career fields.

As of June 17, 1,339 officers and enlisted airmen were approved to retire by Sept. 1, separate by Sept. 29 or participate in the Palace Chase program, said Air Force spokesperson Maj. Holly Hess. Palace Chase lets active-duty members transfer the remaining time in their military commitment to serve in the Air National Guard or Air Force Reserve.

In total, 853 people opted for retirement or separation and 486 people chose to move to the Guard or Reserve, Hess said.

In December, Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, announced that the active-duty Air Force had grown to around 334,600 people, about 900 more than the goal it wanted to hit by September 2021. That’s also around 7,500 more people than congressionally funded jobs in the active force.

Facing its highest retention rate since the 9/11 terror attacks, the service in January began offering waivers for early retirement and transfer via Palace Chase in fiscal 2021. As of mid-April, nearly 800 airmen had asked to leave active-duty service; by the end of May, that number had nearly doubled. The Air Force stopped taking waiver requests on May 27, indicating it had achieved its goal.

“These voluntary programs helped balance the size of the force while providing flexible options that met some of our [airmen’s] needs and goals,” Kelly said last month.

To apply for early departure, airmen must have spent at least 20 years on active duty, the service said. Officers must have at least 10 years in active federal military service after commissioning.

Service members who receive service commitment waivers must repay the government for portions of bonuses they haven’t yet earned, special pay, education assistance and other financial incentives, according to the Air Force.

Palace Chase participants do not have to pay back unearned bonus money, but the service will recoup education costs once members finish their time with the Guard or Reserve.

Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.

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