The Air Force will try to resize the number of airmen
Faced with burgeoning retention, the Air Force let hundreds of airmen out in early 2021. Now the service must stabilize its workforce amid budget and personnel conflicts.
The active-duty Air Force numbered around 334,600 in December 2020, about 900 more than it wanted in September 2021. It has let about the same number leave or join the Air National Guard or the Air Force. Air Force Reserve ahead of schedule.
When September 30 arrived, the active-duty air force numbered nearly 330,700 airmen. That’s about 3,600 more than Congress funded in 2021 and 2,400 more than the requested service for 2022.
Ironically, the Air Force met its service-wide staffing goals for the first time in five years, while still running out of specialties like pilots.
Officials are juggling issues of staffing understaffed fields, staying within their congressional-funded capacity and triggering unvaccinated troops.
About 6,900 active duty airmen and guards who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 were fired as of December 21, 2021. More than half were awaiting religious exemptions, although none of these waivers were granted to January 4.
Others asked to leave rather than roll up their sleeves. Service spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said the Air Force is not tracking requests for separation or retirement, only actual departures.
About 5,700 active-duty airmen separated or retired in September and October 2021 – after the vaccination mandate took effect, according to Air Force Times data obtained in November. But there is no clear trend when we compare this number with the same months every year since 2018.
It remains to be seen how many of the 6,920 unvaccinated and non-exempt members will be vaccinated or ejected. The service said it wouldn’t be a problem.
“We continue to meet our recruiting goals and don’t expect mission impact due to rejections,” Stefanek said.
Rachel Cohen joined the Air Force Times as a senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has been featured in Air Force Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), The Washington Post and others. .