Air Force cuts number of occupations available for reenlistment bonuses as retention flourishes

The Air Force is making good on its goal to slim down on its diet of airmen after seeing extremely high retention rates.

A little more than two weeks ago, the Air Force’s top personnel officer, Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, said the Air Force will start to take measures to steady its manning levels. Now, in response, the Air Force is slashing the number of occupations eligible for a reenlistment bonus by close to half.

In 2020, 72 jobs within the Air Force were able to get some extra cash if they reupped their contracts. That number will now decrease to 37 in 2021.

“Overall retention levels are at record highs and manning within many of our career fields is healthy,” Kelly, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, said in a release. “This reduces our requirement and opportunity to utilize retention bonuses to the same extent.”

The reenlistment program is designed to improve retention of experienced airmen and space professionals.

The Air Force attributes the high retention numbers in part to the economic environment around COVID-19.

Occupations that will still receive bonuses include a handful of pilot and maintainer positions, para-rescue, contracting, mental health services, some cyber positions, surgeons and explosive ordnance disposal.

Occupations that fell off the list include special mission pilots and cyber warfare operators.

In total, nine specialties were added and 40 were taken off the list.

“Manning levels have, in some cases, exceeded our requirements,” Kelly said earlier this month on a call with reporters. “In many areas, we probably don’t need as many offerings for the bonuses and opportunities for those retentions incentives as we’ve had in the past.”

The Air Force plans to spend about $55 million of retention bonuses in 2021.

For end strength in general, the Air Force was supposed to grow by about 900 to 333,700 active duty airmen in 2020. Kelly said the service met that goal, and it actually ended up about 900 above that benchmark.

“Over the last five years, we’ve been able to build back about 23,000 members back into the inventory to…