Air Force officials announce tour length changes

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Airmen stand in formation during a Military Training Leader course graduation ceremony at the Levitow Training Support Facility on Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., May 30, 2019. The MTL course is responsible for training approximately 120 MTLs per year. Those MTLs are then responsible for training approximately 30,000 Airmen in 49 different locations that fall under Air Education and Training Command. (Air Force photograph by Kemberly Groue)

After listening to feedback from Airmen and career field managers, Air Force officials are reducing targeted special duty and instructor tour lengths to create a more ready and resilient force.

The tour length reduction from four to three years for military training instructors, military training leaders, Air Education and Training Command technical training instructors with prefix “T”, “J”, or “X” and stateside professional military education instructors was announced July 1, renewing the focus on increasing operational readiness and improving Airmen resiliency.

“The Air Force is committed to returning our experienced and professional workforce to their operational career fields and reducing the unique stressors associated with these special duty tours,” Maj. Gen. Timothy Leahy, Second Air Force commander said. “The decision to reduce tour lengths is about increasing our readiness and lethality while growing today’s Airmen for the force we need.”

All special duty assigned Airmen serving as MTIs, MTLs, TTIs or stateside PME instructors on or after July 1, 2019, will receive a three-year assignment. Airmen already serving in one of these positions on or after July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019, will have 30 days to either accept a three-year tour or opt to keep their original four-year tour. Airmen assigned to one of the targeted DSDs before July 1, 2018, or in an overseas tour, will finish their original assignment.

Due to the length of time required to get Air Force recruiters trained and certified, the tour length reduction does not currently impact recruiting assignments. Building and maintaining community outreach efforts are critical to Air Force recruiting success, making 48-months the ideal recruiter tour length according to Air Force leadership.

Restoring readiness is one of the Air Force’s top priorities. The tour length change addresses readiness by responding to career field managers’ concerns over retention, loss of operational expertise and assignment-related burnout. The unanimous feedback from a January 2019 survey of career field managers’ supports a move to a shorter, more manageable tour length for MTIs, MTLs, technical and PME instructors.

“This change is about ensuring we are creating additional opportunities for professional development, establishing a more resilient force and returning trained Airmen, with newly acquired professional and leadership training, back to their specific operational specialty,” said Chief Master Sgt. JoAnne Bass, Second Air Force command chief. “Reducing special duty tour lengths optimizes Airmen’s experience and performance both during their career-broadening experience and their operational career field reintegration.”

Input from across five Air Force training wings was factored into the decision to reduce tour lengths. A 2019 survey of MTLs and MTIs indicated that while DSD Airmen reported positive experiences with their career broadening positions, assignment fatigue began to sharply increase around the three-year mark. Survey participants cited a challenging work-life balance including shift work, professional demands and responsibilities outside typical duty hours and the time away from their operational career fields as the primary stressors.

Additionally, a review of across other military branches found that in-service instructors and drill sergeants served three-year tours and Army training special duty assignments are currently restricted to two years, with a highly selective third year option.

The move supports Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein’s squadron revitalization initiative and is part of a recent series of AETC transformations including Basic Military Training curriculum changes and a reduction in computer-based and ancillary training requirements.

“Our military training leaders and instructors are crucial to building a stronger, ready and lethal professional force. The Airmen who serve in Developmental Special Duty positions are the epitome of professionalism and represent our Air Force core values,” Leahy said. “The Air Force needs passionate leaders committed to the development of our Airmen, so to those who serve in these demanding roles — you have spoken and we have heard you. We owe it to you to make this change.”