Nine in 10 airmen opted to stay in the Air Force in fiscal 2022, marking another year of higher-than-usual retention since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Slightly more officers continued their service than enlisted airmen, 93.1% to 89.4%, according to service spokesperson Tech. Sgt. Deana Heitzman. That’s on par with retention rates over the last six years.

Retention tends to fluctuate by fractions of a percent. After an abnormal spike in 2020 of about 1 percentage point — equaling more than 3,000 active duty airmen and guardians — numbers are falling but have not returned to pre-pandemic rates.

“While there may be some impact from COVID-[related] decisions; it is too early to make that correlation,” Heitzman said.

The fields that kept the most people last year were electromagnetic spectrum operations and the Air Force Band, she said. Two medical fields — orthotics and nuclear radiology — retained the fewest.

To entice people to stay, the Air Force will again offer bonus money to those who sign up for additional service. Those incentives can total as much as $360,000 for enlisted airmen over the course of their career.

Critics say that tactic wastes money without addressing the underlying reasons why airmen leave. Service officials are trying to tackle those factors, too.

For example, the Air Force has rolled out changes to its pregnancy and parenting policies that offer service members more job flexibility while raising a family. It relaxed certain dress and appearance regulations that are seen as outdated and unnecessary, and now allows enlisted airmen to opt out of professional military education without punishment.

Military spouses are seeing new perks, too: They can now be reimbursed for the cost of job certification or licensing after getting orders to move to a new state.

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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