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Air Force charts new course for 2009 force shaping

by Staff Sgt. Monique Randolph
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

6/12/2008 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Air Force officials here currently are deciding how to carry out force shaping plans in the coming year following an announcement by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates Monday to halt personnel cuts.

Active-duty end strength was projected to decrease from 328,600 to 316,600 by the end of fiscal 2009.

Stating his desire to ease the burden reduced staffing has created for some Airmen and their families, Secretary Gates told Airmen at Langley Air Force Base, Va., he intends "immediately to stop further reductions in Air Force personnel."

"This is good news for our Airmen," said Col. Chuck Armentrout, chief of the military force policy division at the Pentagon. "We'll have the resources we need to carry out the mission requirements of the required force."

The halting of force reductions does not mean those officers and enlisted members already in the pipeline to separate will be required to stay, Colonel Armentrout said.

"We're not talking large numbers here," he said. "We're talking about staying where we are [in terms of personnel numbers] for 2009, and then increasing slightly to 330,000 in 2010."

While force reductions will be halted, other force shaping measures are still necessary to balance the force, Colonel Armentrout said.

The first step for Air Force manpower and personnel is to identify the skills needed in the increase to 330,000. Simultaneously, the Air Force will be focusing on ensuring Airmen who are in overage specialties are retrained into shortage career fields.

Officials are also looking at the possibility of initiating a cross-flow program for junior officers -- beginning with a small test group -- to explore the possibility of retraining officers currently in overage career fields.

The personnel increases that do take place will be targeted toward new and emerging missions, and high-demand areas," said Colonel Armentrout.

"Obviously, there will be no reduction in force, voluntary separation pay or selective early retirement boards for 2009, but we will continue to shape the force using other force shaping tools already in place," he said. "We'll continue programs to retain people in the 'in-demand' skills, retrain when possible and target accessions toward those skills."

Secretary Gates' announcement came just earlier this week, but "as specifics become clearer, we'll have a better site picture [of how we'll proceed]," Colonel Armentrout said.

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