Tired of active duty? Air Force offers options to get out or transfer to the reserves

The easy out you've been waiting for.

Tired of active duty Air Force-ing? You could be in luck: the branch is offering limited service commitment waivers, which allow airmen to retire or separate early; and expanding its existing Palace Chase Program, which allows eligible airmen a chance to transfer out of active duty and into the Air Force Reserve or Air National Guard.

The Air Force announced the new options on Tuesday as the service contends with a retention high, since many more airmen than usual elected to stay in the Air Force amidst the economic crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The branch was supposed to grow by about 900 airmen in 2020, bringing the total to 333,700 active-duty airmen, Federal News Network reported. Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services, said the service wound up about 900 above that benchmark. Offering better incentives might help the service offload active-duty airmen as the branch faces possible budget cuts under President Joe Biden. 

“Voluntary force management programs provide Airmen with flexible options to retire, separate or affiliate at times that suit their personal circumstances and allow the Department of the Air Force to balance certain specialties to ensure we meet the needs of the high-end fight,” said Col. Richard Cole, chief of the military sustainment and transition program division, in the branch’s announcement on Tuesday.

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Airmen have from Wednesday to April 2, 2021 to apply for the programs. Here’s the breakdown:

Limited Active Duty Service Commitment waivers:

  • Allows eligible airmen to retire no later than Sept. 1, 2021, or separate no later than Sept. 29, 2021.
  • Retirement-eligible enlisted airmen must have at least 20 years of total active federal military service under their belts, while officers must have at least 10 years of total active federal commissioned service before the requested retirement date.
  • Enlisted airmen could use the waivers to reduce commitments invoked by permanent change of station, date estimated return from overseas curtailment, and senior noncommissioned officer promotions.
  • Officers could use the waivers to reduce commitments invoked by PCS, DEROS curtailment, tuition assistance, direct accession, and extended active duty ROTC and OTS.
  • Airmen approved for a waiver have to repay the government for related unearned portions of bonuses, special pays, education assistance, and all other monetary incentives. 

Extended Palace Chase Program

  • Allows Airmen in select specialties and grades to transfer from active duty to an Air Reserve Component, which includes the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserves.
  • Usually, enlisted airmen who transfer via Palace Chase have to serve double the time they had left active duty in an ARC, while officers served triple. This year, it’s a one-to-one exchange for both enlisted and officers.
  • Airmen released under the expanded Palace Chase program don’t have to pay back unearned bonuses. Recoupment of education costs will also be deferred as long as the airman fulfills their Palace Chase obligation.

If you’re interested, you should probably apply sooner rather than later. The Air Force is processing applications on a first in, first out basis. Also, an airman’s eligibility could change with manning and mission requirements, Cole warned. Plus, the Air Force did not specify in its announcement how many slots were available for the waivers and expanded Palace Chase program.

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David Roza

David Rozacovers the Air Force and anything Star Wars-related. He joined Task & Purpose in 2019, after covering local news in Maine and then FDA policy in Washington D.C. He loves hearing the stories of individual airmen and their families, and he also holds the unpopular opinion that Imperial stormtroopers are actually excellent marksmen. david.roza@taskandpurpose.com Contact the author here.

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