Pregnant people can now apply for a spot in the Air Force’s Officer Training School, a change aimed at admitting more women into the officer corps, the service announced Sept. 30.

Previously, the Air Force and Space Force barred pregnant enlisted airmen, guardians and civilians from starting the commissioning process until 12 months postpartum. Waivers were available for those who wanted to submit their application earlier.

Now, people can apply while carrying a child and head to training six months after their pregnancy ends — no waivers needed.

“This policy update … unequivocally shatters the glass ceiling that has kept or delayed hundreds of women from competing for a [Department of the Air Force] commission,” said Capt. Frances Castillo, an advocate for revising the guidance. “Highly qualified candidates will no longer need to choose between advancing their careers or growing their family.”

Air Force Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Manpower and Reserve Affairs John Fedrigo authorized the update in an Aug. 17 memo. The policy change applies to civilians, active duty enlisted airmen and guardians, and those in the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard.

The department can still make exceptions for those who are accepted into OTS and want to begin training earlier than six months postpartum. But if an applicant can’t pass a physical or a fitness test in the first 14.5 months that they are no longer pregnant, they’ll lose their spot at OTS.

It’s one of several steps the Air Force has taken in recent years to remove cultural and bureaucratic hurdles facing female applicants and service members.

Air Force Under Secretary Gina Ortiz Jones noted the issue to reporters earlier this year, after reviewing paperwork from an enlisted woman who needed a waiver to apply for OTS.

“Why would somebody applying to be an officer need to submit a waiver just because they’re pregnant?” Jones wondered.

Of the nearly 65,500 Air Force and Space Force officers on active duty, about one-quarter are women, according to Air Force Personnel Center data. Just 7%, or about 1,000 female officers, are pilots.

The Air Force hopes to recruit an officer applicant pool that is 36% women, up from its 30% goal in 2014. While not all recruits will end up commissioning, that’s still a stretch from the 23% of female officers currently in the service.

“We’re in a race for talent, and our policies need to reflect that,” Jones said in a Sept. 30 release. “This policy change will ensure we’re able to fully tap into the talent amongst our force as well as those looking to join us.”

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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