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Air Force colonels nearing mandatory retirement can remain 3 more years

Air Force Col. Joe Brandemuehl, commander of the Wisconsin Air National Guard's 115th Fighter Wing, salutes as President Barack Obama boards Air Force One following a visit to Madison's Wright Middle School in Madison, Wisc., Nov. 4, 2009. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Vaughn R. Larson, Wisconsin National Guard)

The Air Force has given a late Christmas present to colonels approaching the 30-year mandatory retirement mark.

The service announced late last week that selected colonels nearing mandatory retirement may voluntarily choose to remain on active duty for three additional years.

The move is one of several measures the Air Force has taken in recent months to deal with a shortage of field-grade officers — majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels — and pilots.

A sweeping promotion change that went into effect last month allowed captains to advance to the rank of major as long as they were recommended for promotion and had an unblemished conduct record.

The Air Force’s latest attempt to retain field-grade officers currently affects 50 colonels who are line officers and who face a mandatory retirement between Feb. 1, 2018, and Feb. 1, 2019, the Air Force said in a statement.

Across all the military services, most colonels not selected for promotion to one star must retire after 30 years of active commissioned service.

The Air Force will convene a continuation board this month to assess the records of the 50 line officer colonels, who would otherwise be forced to retire.

All eligible officers will be offered the opportunity to remain on active duty for an additional three years, the Air Force said.

The officer’s chain of command will notify those selected for continuation. Eligible officers were to be notified by Dec. 31, the Air Force said.

“It can take 21 years to develop a line officer to become a colonel who may then serve up to 30 years,” Col. Jeff O’Donnell, Air Force Colonels Group director, said in the statement. “And as the Air Force is growing end strength, we need experienced leaders to serve and lead across the Department of Defense.”

Just under 1 in 10 Air Force jobs for field-grade officers — whose main job involves commanding troops — are vacant, while about 1 in 4 nonrated field-grade officer jobs are unfilled, the Air Force said in September, when it announced 100 percent promotion rates for eligible captains.

The Air Force is also facing a shortage of about 2,000 pilots. It is trying various incentives, such as bonuses and the promise of less non-flying-related administrative tasks, to entice pilots to remain on active duty rather than take jobs in commercial aviation, which typically offer higher pay for fewer hours.

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