Issue Date: August 23, 2004
The big AFSC shuffle
Thousands of airmen face a tough decision soon: Switch jobs, retrain or say goodbye Air Force
By Rod Hafemeister
Times staff writer
SAN ANTONIO — Air Force leaders want thousands of enlisted airmen to move out of overstrength career fields and retrain into new ones over the next year as they reshape the force.
If you’re a second-term airman or career noncommissioned officer, notification should already have come your way if you’re one of the more than 3,000 NCOs vulnerable under the fiscal 2005 NCO Retraining Program.
The Air Force wants 1,098 of you to retrain into a new career — either voluntarily or involuntarily.
If you’re a first-term airman whose enlistment expires during the next two years or so, and you’re in an overstrength Air Force Specialty Code, you may have to compete for a relatively small number of slots to re-enlist. And if you don’t get one, you’ll have two options: retrain or get out.
In July, more than 1,250 first-termers found themselves on a waiting list for a handful of re-enlistment slots — and 53 faced the decision to retrain or separate. In coming months, hundreds more will face a similar situation.
Here’s what you need to know before making a tough decision:
NCO retraining program
In late July, Air Force leaders announced their goal is to retrain 1,098 NCOs in fiscal 2005. The fiscal 2005 NCORP started Aug. 3 with notifications going to vulnerable NCOs and Phase I — the voluntary phase — runs through Sept. 30.
If goal isn’t reached, Phase II will kick in. At that point, selected NCOs will be told what AFSC they are going to retrain into — and they’ll have no choice.
That’s a major change from the 2004 program, when NCOs selected for involuntary retraining were given a chance to request into which AFSC they would retrain, said Tech. Sgt. Bettina Johnson-Roscoe, noncommissioned officer in charge of enlisted retraining at the Air Force Personnel Center.
“If they haven’t volunteered under Phase I, they will not be given a grace period,” she said. “They will get an AFSC for retraining.”
Officials have notified about 3,000 NCOs that they are being considered for retraining. The 3-to-1 ratio leaves room for those found exempt and, officials hope, provides a large-enough pool to fill most requirements with volunteers.
“They’ve been notified, ‘You are vulnerable,’” Johnson-Roscoe said. “You could be on that list and we’d never touch you.”
Other key points include:
• Time on station. NCOs are prioritized based on how long they have been in their current assignment. The longer, the higher they are on the list.
• Special duty. Besides retraining into another career field, NCOs can request a special-duty assignment, such as first sergeant or recruiter.
• Multiple preferences. If an NCO volunteers for retraining, he can list up to five AFSCs in order of preference. But certain AFSCs can only retrain into certain others — for example, security forces senior master sergeants can only retrain into the paralegal or contracting fields.
NCOs can check their status on a secure section of the Personnel Center Web site or with their local military personnel flight. The local MPF also is the place to find out which AFSCs are available for retraining into, and whether you are qualified, said Chief Master Sgt. Alvin Diaz, chief of the Skills Management Branch at the personnel center.
Phase II, if necessary, will kick off sometime after Oct. 1, based on the results of Phase I.
“We’d rather not go to a Phase II, but if we don’t get enough volunteers, we’ll have to,” Diaz said. “But we’d rather that they make their own career decisions.”
The Air Force has long had an NCO retraining program, but for several years it was strictly voluntary.
In 2003, the program changed from a three-phase to a two-phase program, with much more emphasis on moving NCOs from overstrength to understrength career fields.
NCO retraining is receiving a bigger emphasis both because of higher retention rates and the Air Force’s need to ensure the right mix of skills as it also reduces personnel by about 20,000 before the end of fiscal 2005.
“We’re retaining more people than we thought we were going to retain,” said Reese Lang, chief of trained personnel requirements on the Air Staff. “Consequently, some skills obtained overages because of the good retention. Retraining is an effort to try to balance by moving NCOs from overage skills to shortage skills.”
A different approach
Unlike other services, which promote enlisted members based on vacancies in specific career fields, the Air Force is committed to “equal promotion opportunity” — giving each career field about the same percentage of NCO promotions in a given year.
But because the Air Force promotes enlisted members on the basis of merit regardless of specialty, over time career fields that have a proportionately smaller need for more senior people, or which enjoy higher retention rates, become overstrength at certain ranks.
One of the most striking examples is security forces, which because of its structure requires a disproportionately greater number of low-ranking airmen compared to other AFSCs.
And when those people are promoted, that can quickly lead to too many bosses for too few troops.
As of Aug. 9, the personnel center retraining Web site was showing that officials wanted 50 staff sergeants, 75 technical sergeants, 30 master sergeants and five senior master sergeants to retrain out of security forces and into other fields.
In fact, the 30 security forces NCOs were the only master sergeants being asked to retrain in fiscal 2005, according to the Web listing. And the five senior master sergeants were among only 14 E-8s programmed to retrain out.
In contrast, some AFSCs have a greater need for midlevel NCOs than junior troops. And while restrictions on re-enlistments can reduce the number of NCOs in overstrength AFSCs, only retraining can fill shortages.
Special investigations, for example, wants to add 50 staff sergeants and 100 technical sergeants through retraining.
When they first revitalized NCO retraining in 2003, Air Force leaders predicted even larger numbers would be retrained in 2005 than the current goals.
“We had to take into account several things. … Retention was a big part of it,” Lang said. “We also had to take into account that we’re taking a big accessions cut in FY ’05.”
Air Force leaders have cut recruiting for fiscal 2005 by 11,000 recruits but are still finalizing details. “Some of the skills that we’re retraining out, we wanted to retrain out more,” Lang said. “But because we’ve had that accessions cut, we don’t want to really hurt them.”
Vulnerability listings by grade and AFSC are posted on the Web and will be updated weekly on the personnel center's site at www.afpc.randolph.af.mil/enlskills/Retraining/retraining.htm.
The first-term career job reservation program is the iceberg of retraining — what you see is only a small part of the whole.
Until April, first-termers could simply re-enlist as long as they were approved by their commander. But as part of both force shaping and force reduction, officials resurrected career job reservations for all first-termers. They restricted 29 AFSCs, with limited quotas for how many airmen could re-up.
As the program kicked off, most of the 29 constrained AFSCs had only one or two re-enlistment quotas from June through September.
As a result, of 1,318 airmen eligible in July to apply in the constrained AFSCs, only 11 were approved for re-enlistment, while 1,254 were on the waiting list for available quotas. Another 53 were outside the eligibility window and must either retrain or separate.
“We implemented this late in [fiscal] ’04 and most of these folks have a (date of separation) in ’05,” Diaz said.
The career job reservation windows are 35 to 43 months of service for four-year enlistees and 59 to 67 months for six-year enlistees. National Call to Service enlistees have a narrow eligibility window of 35 to 38 months of service.
But because the eligibility and waiting lists “float” — changing every month — and because the fiscal 2005 numbers are not out, officials say it’s impossible to predict yet exactly how many airmen will be allowed to re-enlist in a given AFSC, how many will apply for and be accepted into retraining, and how many will separate from active duty.
“The [fiscal] ’04 program was severely limited because, number one, it was effective for only part of the year,” Lang said. “Number two, we were trying to get the maximum effect.”
“It’s not necessarily that we don’t want to re-enlist them in that skill,” said Cody Huffman, enlisted skills manager at the Air Staff. “It’s that we don’t need as many airmen in that skill, so they can retrain if they choose and continue serving in the Air Force.”
Officials are working on a revised list of constrained AFSCs and monthly quotas, which they will have out by Oct. 1, Huffman said.
He predicted quotas will in many cases be higher in fiscal 2005 than they were initially.
Officials recommend first-termers apply for their job reservation as early as allowed, even if they are not certain they intend to re-enlist.
And if they are in a constrained AFSC and low on the waiting list, officials recommend they seriously consider applying for retraining before they drop off the waiting list, five months before their separation date.
As in the NCORP, first-termers can list up to five AFSCs, in order of preference, in their retraining application.
First-term airmen should take questions to their local MPF, Diaz said.
Extensive information on the career job reservation program, including the list of constrained AFSCs and the July 27 message, also are available on the personnel center Web site at: www.afpc.randolph.af.mil /enlskills/Reenlistments/CJR.htm.
Air Guard isn't the only one facing this in the coming year. FY 05 has my Army Guard unit switching to MP and trucking from TOW anti-tank. They only offered us the MP possibility when 99% of the company said we'd never go trucking.
The USAR is going heavy on 88M and MP's also, I heard one RRC is taking all non=mosq soldiers and sending them to 88M school.
Always preparing to fight the last war!
This the military's version of the business world's right-sizing. They've got too many people doing the wrong things.