NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Enlisted airmen will eventually be able to trade job assignments in an effort to offer troops more career flexibility, the Air Force’s top enlisted leader said here Wednesday.

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass also announced several other policy changes in her keynote address at the Air and Space Forces Association’s annual conference outside Washington.

The Air Force is starting to hash out the details of how the swaps would work. Airmen could volunteer to take the place of someone else chosen for a particular assignment, or trade upcoming jobs among one another, the service said.

Enlisted airmen other than chief master sergeants, or E-9s, can take advantage of the program. To trade jobs, airmen must hold the same Air Force job and special experience codes, and have reached the same grade and skill level.

“We are in the early stages of establishing the assignment swap program,” Air Force Personnel Center spokesperson Toni Whaley said Wednesday. “We are working with our partners to build out the process and identify business rules to make the program more inclusive with minimum restrictions.”

Whaley didn’t say when the option may become available.

Enlisted airmen will also get at least four months after returning home from an overseas deployment to readjust to life in America, Bass said. That can ease pressure on families to quickly find a place to live, and avoid putting airmen back to work before they are reunited with their household goods.

The Air Force will also issue final decisions during that same four-month period on where returning airmen will work.

Bass wants to make it easier for those who pause their regular jobs to spend time as military training instructors and leaders, as well as enlisted recruiters, to return to those careers.

She intends to clarify the process for how deployed airmen with pregnant spouses can ask to come home and start a new job; clear up confusion about the paperwork needed to base dual-military spouses in the same area; and start sending up-to-date information on assignments to local support staff.

And the Air Force will allow airmen seeking an emergency transfer, such as sexual assault victims, to move regardless of how long they were at their base. Airmen acquitted of sexual assault claims in court-martials can request expedited transfers now as well.

“Big kudos to our airmen … who came from across our Air Force to look at assignment policies, to dissect that 571-page [Air Force instruction] to identify and make recommendations that will make assignments better for all of us,” Bass said.

As for the Space Force, officials are trying to bake personalization and flexibility into the assignment process as the newest service matures.

“Choice and control are important to people,” Chief Master Sergeant of the Space Force Roger Towberman told reporters at a roundtable on Wednesday. “Blanket policies — in particular, across a small group of people — one, aren’t necessary, and two, can be not all that helpful.”

Military space missions are spread across fewer installations than those of the Air Force. Some are as far-flung and remote as Greenland or Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. That can complicate matters for guardians with children, for instance, or who would prefer to live somewhere other than the major military space hubs in the continental United States.

Towberman said listening to people’s preferences and concerns can lead to happier troops without sacrificing military capability. The service is learning how to have those conversations, one grade level at a time.

“The early returns are, ‘Wow, you called me up. You asked what I wanted to do. You cared about what my family wanted. And then you worked with me to find a way that the Space Force gets what the Space Force needs, and I felt like I was invested,’” Towberman said. “The mission is getting done, readiness is high and morale is high.”

Related issues, like how long a guardian should be required to stay in their job before moving to a new unit, are still under discussion.

It can be easier to put down roots while serving in the Space Force, Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond added.

“There’s a Colorado hub, a California hub, a Florida hub and a New Mexico hub,” he said. “Because of that, you can stay in one spot ... and still develop in your career field.”

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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