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March 26, 2010—The good news is that the Air Force's retention rate stands at a 15-year high despite an incredibly robust operations tempo. The bad news—if one wishes to call it that—is that USAF has thousands of airmen above its allowed active duty end strength ceiling who would choose to stay on if given the choice.

Unfortunately, the Air Force doesn’t have the luxury of retaining them all.

In fact, so the Air Force can meet its authorized and funded end strength threshold of 332,800 airmen in Fiscal 2012, the service leadership on March 25 instituted a new wave of force-management measures—some voluntary, some not—to thin the ranks of officer and enlisted members between now and the end of Fiscal 2011.

"We are talking about a magnitude of several thousand folks in '10 and '11 who will be departing our Air Force," Brig. Gen. Sharon Dunbar, director of force management policy on the Air Staff, told reporters on the eve of the announcement.

As of Feb. 28, the Air Force had about 335,500 active duty airmen.

Dunbar said these steps are projected to affect two percent of the service's officers (1,373) and 1.6 percent of the enlisted corps (4,376) through Fiscal 2011. Additionally, they will reduce officer accessions by 737 and enlisted accessions by 2,681 over that period, she said.

These measures, which build upon initial actions taken last November, also aim to correct overages in certain career areas and shortages in currently stressed fields and emerging sectors by reshaping the force within that ceiling, said Dunbar.

"We've gone to great lengths to figure out how to deliberately size and shape the force so that we are operating within that constraint," she explained.

The voluntary separation measures will allow personnel to leave the service immediately, while the non-voluntary ones will commence this summer with departures targeted for no later than April 2011, according to service officials.

Dunlap said most of the officer reductions would come in Fiscal 2011.

Last November, when the Air Force launched voluntary force-management measures, the belief was that they might be enough to reduce the active duty end strength to the Fiscal 2010 authorized level of 331,700.

But those actions have not resulted in the hoped-for drawdown, said Dunbar. In fact, between Nov. 9 2009, and March 18, only 80 officers and 574 enlisted airmen had voluntarily separated, according to Dunbar's office.

As of result of this and the high rate of retention due to the sluggish economy, the Air Force projects that it will be about 4,800 airmen over the Fiscal 2010 end strength ceiling come October. If nothing more were done, it would not meet the Fiscal 2012 level of 332,800. (Note: the Fiscal 2011 authorized active duty end strength is 332,200.)

"It is imperative for us to take action now. We need to make the adjustments in order to comply with our responsibilities to operate within our end strength ceiling," said Dunbar.

The emphasis of the new measures is on minimizing the impact on airmen currently serving.

"We are trying to limit the amount of people whom we put out of the Air Force by delaying those who come in," USAF spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ann Stefanek told the Daily Report March 26.

The measures are also designed to help those who are separating with their transition.

"We are going to be ramping up all of the transition-assistance planning," Dunbar said.

This includes helping qualified airmen move into some of the 20,000 vacant civilian positions that the Air Force needs to fill over the next several year, she said.

It also entails assistance for those departing the active force that wish to shift to the Air National Guard or Air Force Reserve. And it also entails support for those who wish to take advantage of the educational opportunities offered in the post-9/11 GI Bill, she said.

 (See Air Force release)