Air Force Implements Policy to Ease Strain of Yearlong Deployments

As we’ve reported here recently, the Air Force has been taking steps to reduce the burden of deployment being placed on airmen — something that is consistently listed among the primary reasons they choose to separate from service. Those steps are now becoming more concrete, as evidenced by a policy change signed a few months ago and amended earlier this month.

Declaring that current expeditionary sourcing processes are “degrading quality of life,” the measure makes two key modifications, each designed to reduce the strain on airmen — specifically rated officers.

First, it instructs personnel offices working to assign officers to valid 365-day deployments to begin sourcing actions no later than one year before first movement will be required. This is designed to increase notification time for those involuntarily selected to deploy for a year.

This is long overdue, and should be official policy for all yearlong deployments. For years now, 365 non-vols have been getting notification with only weeks or maybe a couple months of notice. This reflects an inept personnel bureaucracy waiting until a few scant months prior to a deployment to start figuring out to how fill it. There’s just no excuse for treating people this way. Notification should be at least as early as a deployment is long.

But this is less a solution and more a good start. Ideally, these requirements would be filled 3-4 years in advance, with the next several fills always known. This would not only give officers and families more time to prepare for and adjust to the reality of a year apart, but would also give personnel agencies a stable forecast, getting them out of perpetual crisis mode.

With enough planning built into the process, personnelists could get new levers into their hands to help fill these slots. Early notification and guaranteed follow-on assignment to a preferred location would be powerful motivators capable of vastly reducing involuntary selection for a remote. These measures would also reduce uncertainty and risk in the rated personnel forecast, something the service could use to help stave off future shortages like the one currently threatening its viability.

The second measure is even more substantial. When selecting officers for deployment, officials are to consider not just prior remote tours, but any deployment of greater than 45 days. “[I]f the rated officer has returned from a deployment (45 days or more in duration) within the last five years from the sourcing date, the officer would be ineligible for tasking. If all available officers have deployed in the last five years, select the officer with the earliest deployment or short tour return date.”

This does something officers have been requesting for at least decade: it takes notice of the residual tempo in their community when deciding whether it’s their turn for a remote.

Under legacy sourcing criteria, an officer with a 1-year remote to Korea 15 years in the past followed by 15 straight years of deployment-free service would be less vulnerable to an involuntary remote than an officer with a remote 16 years in the past who has deployed an average of 200 days per year every years since.

Legacy rules were developed during the Vietnam era, when anything less  than a year away did not qualify as hardship. The post-9/11 environment has driven home just how grinding life can be without a remote tour. Airmen in select communities such as ISR, special ops, and mobility are constantly away from home, and yet find themselves slapped with a remote tour ahead of those in other communities with comparatively relaxed tempos.

The new sourcing criteria take better notice of individual tempo, substantially reducing the risk of someone getting hit with a yearlong remote on the heels of a series of shorter but no less arduous deployments.

Here’s a copy of the sourcing policy memo:

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These changes could have a significant effect on rated retention, which is the number one personnel goal of the service at this moment. In particular, the consideration of deployments in remote tour selection criteria will remove huge numbers of officers from immediate vulnerability for involuntary selection. This will persuade many of them to stick around.

Let’s hope the Air Staff has moved on to the next task: reducing the actual number of remote tours, many of which are manifestly unnecessary.

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