Air Force Resorts To Recruiting Retirees Due To ‘Critical Manning Shortages’


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Micaela Burrow | Daily Caller News Foundation

February 7, 2024


The Air Force will open its ranks for up to 1,000 retired airmen to return to the service to fill critical positions in a new policy change announced Wednesday as the service struggles to fill the ranks.

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall reactivated the Voluntary Retired Return to Active Duty Program, allowing retired Air Force officers and high-ranking enlisted personnel who served in high-skilled positions to reapply, according to a statement from the Air Force.  The move is “an effort to leverage the talents” of military retirees and push the bar closer toward mitigating the Air Force’s “critical manning shortages” the statement read.

The “program is a strategic enabler to embrace experienced talent, tapping into a valuable resource of retired members to fill critical roles to close the gap against our peer competitors,” Lt. Gen. Caroline Miller, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services, said in the statement. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Air Force Begs Troops Booted Over COVID-19 Vax To Come Back)

The Air Force is soliciting retired officers ranking from captain to lieutenant colonel to serve as pilots, to fill roles at Officer Training School or Squadron Officer School, and to serve in other areas where the Air Force lacks personnel at those ranks, according to the statement. Former enlisted personnel at the ranks of staff sergeant through senior master sergeant are also invited to apply.

Recruitment struggles emerged in full force for the 2023 fiscal year and show no signs yet of abating. Recent policy changes suggest retention — which affects how many troops reach the higher ranks — may be a problem as well.

In December, the Air Force modified its “up-or-out” policy that automatically booted certain service members if they failed to achieve a promotion within a specific time frame, reported. Enlisted airmen can stay in the same rank two years longer before leaving or being promoted.

Earlier that year, the service shelled out massive bonuses, up to $50,000, to incentivize experienced pilots to stay in.

The opening for up to 1,000 retired officers or enlisted personnel to rejoin will remain open for nearly two years, running from Feb. 8, 2024 until Jan. 31, 2026, the Air Force said. Those who do rejoin can expect to return to active duty within 6 months of applying.

Airmen can serve in active duty for no more than two years in any vacant position, the statement read.



In fiscal year 2023, the Air Force failed to meet its recruiting targets for enlisted personnel and officers in the active duty, Reserve and National Guard components.

Estimates from Sept. 18 showed that the Air Force achieved only 89% of its goal for new active-duty officers and enlisted troops for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, Air Force spokesperson MSgt. Deana Heitzman told the Daily Caller News Foundation at the time. The projected total active-duty shortfall was about 11%, while the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard both missed their goals by more than 30%.


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