The Air Force on Thursday will start offering enlisted airmen the chance to move their job somewhere new, a new policy that aims to give troops more control over their careers and keep them in uniform longer.

Under the “enlisted swap assignment program,” announced last fall, airmen at the rank of senior master sergeant and below can offer up their spot at a particular base by posting on the Air Force’s internal MyVector talent management portal and chatting with others who show interest.

If two airmen in the same career field, at the same rank and skill level — and with the same array of other factors like security clearances and special experience — want to trade spots, they can ask the Air Force Personnel Center to swap through MyVector.

The initiative is targeted at:

  • Airmen who want the flexibility to move for personal reasons, like being closer to family
  • Airmen in large career fields who can work anywhere, like security forces and civil engineering
  • Airmen seeking a change of scenery after spending several years at one base.

For instance, if a B-52 bomber engine maintainer at Minot Air Force Base wanted to leave North Dakota, they could trade places with a fellow Stratofortress maintainer at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana.

Airmen looking to swap must start the process within 90 days of receiving their next assignment. Both service members must be in good standing, have served at their bases for the same amount of time, and be otherwise eligible to change installations.

“We aren’t waiting for the perfect system to be built, and I’m glad to see this program come to fruition,” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass said in a May 26 release. “This is one of the many initiatives we are rolling out to ensure we are able to retrain the talent we need on the bench.”

The changes come as the military suffers from acute recruiting troubles. As airmen leave the service without replacements, those difficulties threaten to leave key fields like maintenance severely understaffed. About 10% of enlisted airmen who were eligible to leave in 2022 opted not to renew their contract.

Service officials have sought to offer airmen a marketplace where they could have a say in their next career move, like openings on a job board in the commercial sector. Airmen are typically assigned new positions based on the service’s needs, with opportunities to ask for a career change along the way.

In one recent step toward that goal, the Air Force is allowing its more than 100,000 first-term airmen — those serving under the initial four- to six-year contract they signed to join the militarys — to apply for a new job in any career field where more than 10% of the positions are unfilled. That opportunity begins Thursday as well.

As both initiatives get up and running, the Air Force asked troops for their patience with often finicky internal software.

“The program application on MyVector isn’t perfect, but it will evolve throughout the year,” said Alex Wagner, the Air Force’s civilian personnel chief. “We understand the frustrations with our IT infrastructure, which is why it’s important for you to provide feedback to the team to make them better.”

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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