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Retention boards: 1 in 4 airmen will be told to leave

Jun. 2, 2014 - 08:44PM   |  
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The Air Force's first enlisted retention boards are two weeks away from convening — and they could end the careers of roughly 4,000 airmen.

The Air Force's first enlisted retention boards are two weeks away from convening — and they could end the careers of roughly 4,000 airmen.

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The Air Force’s first enlisted retention boards are two weeks away from convening — and they could end the careers of roughly 4,000 airmen.

Nearly 14,600 airmen — senior airmen through senior master sergeants in certain career fields — are likely to be considered by the retention boards that will begin June 16, according to the Air Force’s latest eligibility matrix, dated May 19. About 28 percent of them could be told to separate or retire.

Tech sergeants alone will make up nearly half the cuts, with 1,899 now deemed overmanned, or 47 percent of the total number of overmanned airmen.

The boards, which will meet at the Air Force Personnel Center’s headquarters in San Antonio, Texas, will review vulnerable airmen’s evaluations, decorations, an Enlisted Retention Brief and an Enlisted Retention Recommendation Form to rank airmen and decide who will be retained — and who will be made to separate or retire.

By July, the board will decide which senior non-commissioned officers will not be retained, and their senior raters will give them the bad news. The remaining enlisted airmen will learn their fates in August. Master sergeants and senior master sergeants who are not selected for retention must retire Dec. 1; senior airmen through technical sergeants who are not retained must separate Jan. 31.

The retention recommendation form, or ERRF, could be the key to vulnerable airmen’s chances of staying in the Air Force. Those airmen’s unit commanders — or in the case of master or senior master sergeants, senior raters — were told to review their evaluations, decorations and career briefs when filling out the ERRF, and then make a recommendation of “retain,” “consider,” or “do not retain.”

And the airmen facing the board need to double-check their ERRF to make sure it’s accurate — right now. If the ERRF contains wrong information that needs to be corrected, a senior rater or unit commander must make those changes no later than June 2 through the Stop File process, according to the December memo outlining the rules for the retention board.

Those airmen should have received a copy of their ERRF no later than May 17. If an airman has not yet received his ERRF, the memo said, he should contact his unit commander, squadron commander or senior rater to get one.

The ERRF must contain one to three comments on why an airman should or should not be retained in the Air Force. And senior raters or unit commanders must rank airmen within career fields and again within grade to identify which are the most necessary to retain, and which are least necessary.

The looming retention boards have weighed heavily on thousands of airmen’s minds since the force management programs were announced in December.

During a May 28 troop event at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, Defense Sec. Chuck Hagel even got a question from an unidentified service member who was worried about retention boards.

“As we downsize — and I know that’s part of what’s in everybody’s mind — we will do that on a glide slope that’s responsible, that won’t hurt anybody,” Hagel said.

The Air Force originally said it expected to cut up to 25,000 airmen over five years to help it deal with the sequester’s budget cuts. But in a May interview with Air Force Times, Air Force Sec. Deborah Lee James said the force management programs would largely be finished by the end of 2015. It is better to get cuts over with quickly, James said, and not leave airmen worrying year after year that their jobs will be in jeopardy.

“We’re going to do it as quickly as possible and get it behind us,” James said.

But in a piece of good news, the number of enlisted airmen at risk of losing their jobs involuntarily has plummeted in recent months, as airmen flocked to voluntary force management programs such as Temporary Early Retirement Authority and voluntary separation pay. The Air Force’s January force management matrices listed 18,336 enlisted airmen who were overmanned and likely to be cut in fiscal 2014.

And one retention board — for chief master sergeants — was scuttled entirely because the Air Force cut enough chiefs through early retirements and other retirements to meet its end strength goals.

Air Force officials have repeatedly said they hoped to use voluntary programs such as TERA as much as possible to avoid the need for involuntary programs such as retention boards and a new enhanced Selective Early Retirement Board.

In some cases, that is happening. The chiefs board was originally planned to begin June 10, and consider chiefs in 45 different career fields. But by March, the number of chiefs facing the retention board was down to 12, and in April, only two were left. On May 27, the chiefs board was canceled outright.

Thirty-eight enlisted career fields and ranks have been dropped from the list of jobs and ranks eligible for voluntary force management programs. Another 32 enlisted career fields and ranks have been dropped from the involuntary matrix, the Air Force said.

And AFPC continues to process applications for voluntary separation.

More than 1,600 officer and 7,000 enlisted airmen applied for voluntary separation pay before the program’s window closed May 1. So far, 4,359 airmen — 3,427 enlisted and 932 officers — have been approved for voluntary separation pay. As of May 22, 105 voluntary separation pay applications were pending.

In May, the Air Force held its first Quality Force Review Board. Airmen not selected for retention by that board must separate by Sept. 29, or retire by Oct. 1. Results of the board are expected in mid-June.

Who's facing the boards

The Air Force will call 14,595 enlisted airmen before retention boards to eliminate 4,028 positions in overmanned fields. The breakdown by rank and Air Force specialty code:

Senior airmen
AFSC Overage Estimated eligible
1A2X1 18 68
3D0X1 93 109
3D0X3 3 30
3D1X3 59 193
3D1X5 26 37
3D1X6 28 45
3E4X1 5 114
Total 232 596
Staff sergeants
AFSC Overage Estimated eligible
1A1X1 21 165
1A2X1 116 320
1A9X1 73 135
1U0X1 80 154
2A6X2 59 515
2A7X1 41 149
2F0X1 77 475
2G0X1 11 125
2M0X1 10 94
2M0X2 10 79
2P0X1 1 114
3D1X3 97 579
3D1X6 31 100
3D1X7 11 109
3E0X1 43 239
3E0X2 32 199
3E1X1 83 247
3E2X1 106 323
3E3X1 98 287
3E4X1 22 247
3S3X3 4 37
4A1X1 1 171
4D0X1 18 38
4E0X1 14 191
Total 1,059 5,092
Technical sergeants
AFSC Overage Estimated eligible
1A1X1 49 150
1A4X1 8 180
1S0X1 15 55
2A6X2 12 252
2A7X1 3 71
2A7X2 7 59
2A7X3 38 192
2A7X5 3 57
2F0X1 126 224
2P0X1 21 61
2S0X1 191 548
2T0X1 30 129
2T1X1 118 148
2T2X1 76 355
2T370 179 241
2W0X1 89 412
2W1X1 68 540
3D1X3 12 288
3D1X6 19 61
3D1X7 1 42
3E0X2 28 121
3E1X1 19 114
3E2X1 57 152
3E3X1 53 139
3E4X1 42 123
3N1X1B 2 5
3N1X1H 2 3
3N1X1J 2 6
3N1X1L 4 8
3P0X1 491 1,176
3S3X3 5 67
4A1X1 4 62
4A2X1 1 57
4B0X1 31 100
4D0X1 7 8
4E0X1 19 100
4J0X2 1 33
4R0X1B 17 21
4Y0X1 38 101
5R0X1 11 60
Total 1,899 6,521
Master sergeants
AFSC Overage Estimated eligible
1A1X1 2 72
1A6X1 3 15
2A0X1P 7 13
2A671G 46 78
2A6X1H 21 24
2A6X2 75 107
2A6X3 7 13
2A6X4 16 33
2A6X6 9 72
2A7X1 12 14
2A7X2 6 8
2F0X1 23 83
2S0X1 14 174
2T0X1 7 40
2T1X1 33 50
2T2X1 14 96
2T370 37 49
2W0X1 7 155
2W1X1 83 121
3D1X1 50 77
3D1X3 9 95
3D1X6 7 19
3D1X7 3 11
3E0X1 18 21
3E0X2 19 26
3E1X1 14 23
3E2X1 4 20
3E3X1 7 30
3E4X1 18 27
3E7X1 8 29
3N1X1A 2 3
3N1X1B 1 2
3N1X1L 1 2
3P0X1 135 292
4A2X1 5 18
4D0X1 2 7
4J0X2 2 6
4N1X1D 52 82
4P000 1 2
4P0x1 4 15
4V0X1 3 4
4Y0X1 13 28
7S0X1 3 51
Total 803 2,107
Senior master sergeants
AFSC Overage Estimated eligible
1C6x1 2 19
2A690 5 61
2A691 8 31
2A6X2 4 29
2T2X1 3 27
2W0X1 3 51
3E490 5 28
4P0x1 1 8
4R090 2 9
7S0X1 2 16
Total 35 279

Source: Air Force

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