Enlisted airmen and guardians in more than 60 career fields can earn some extra cash this year by extending their time in the service — a much broader retention push than in 2021.
The Department of the Air Force will dole out hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonus pay to troops who reenlist by Sept. 30 to work in 63 specialties with particularly high turnover or exorbitant training costs, from Chinese and Russian language experts to satellite and radar operators.
After seeing unusually high retention at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the Department of the Air Force is beefing up its incentives for people to stay. Bonus pay dried up between 2016, when the Air Force offered extra money to 117 career fields, and 2020, when just 37 specialties were eligible. Forty fields were eligible under the program’s most recent update in 2021.
Members of the Air Force and Space Force can earn up to $100,000 in each of four periods of time over the course of their careers: when they have served between 17 months and six years; six to 10 years; 10 to 14 years; and 18 to 20 years. They’re allowed a total windfall of $360,000 over the course of their career.
Bonuses are tallied by multiplying one month’s base pay by the number of years an airman chooses to reenlist, and multiplied again as much as fivefold depending on how urgent a career’s staffing needs are.
This time, service officials have added jobs like cyber warfare, Farsi language analysis, cyber intelligence and fighter maintenance, while others — including human intelligence — have dropped off the list.
Special operations airmen are still in high demand, from pararescuemen to combat controllers, as well as explosive ordnance disposal crews. The Air Force is again offering early career commandos five times their base pay, and slightly less for special operators between six and 20 years of service.
Airmen and guardians can reenlist for up to four years, or 48 months, at a time.
The Air Force currently has upward of 260,000 active duty enlisted airmen; the Space Force is growing to around 4,000 enlisted guardians this year.
The Biden administration’s fiscal 2023 budget proposal likewise seeks to cut nearly 6,000 military billets next year, though it’s unclear how many airmen could be out of a job as a result. Those positions largely belong to airmen whose airframes may leave the inventory, though troops can be reassigned to other billets as needed.
This latest round of retention bonuses arrives on top of a similar slate of enlisted recruitment incentives announced in April. The Air Force’s recruiting efforts are challenged by private-sector pay and flexibility, a global obesity epidemic and less interest among young Americans than in decades past.
As of May 3, less than 1% of the active duty enlisted force — 351 airmen — had been separated from the Air Force for refusing vaccination against COVID-19 as well.
“As we roll up our sleeves in the battle for talent, we’ve got to remain competitive as we go after our next generation of airmen,” Air Force Recruiting Service commander Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas said in a press release last month.
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.