US Air Force Introduces Indefinite Enlistments for Enlisted Personnel


The US Air Force has moved to a new system of “indefinite enlistment” for airmen with at least 12 years of service.

Introduced on 18 November 2019, the new system officially called the Non-commissioned Officer (NCO) Career Status Programme will be a game changer for thousands of active-duty enlisted airmen.

How Does it Work?

Previously when airmen hit 12 years of service they would have to sign on the dotted line every four years or so.

The process will be similar to that for officers, the US Air Force said in an announcement on 30 October 2019.

Airmen with 12 years of service who want to remain in uniform will sign one last re-enlistment contract on or after November 2019 when the program takes effect, and
then fall under the new NCO programme.

This will be the last contract of their careers.

What about Separation Dates?

Personnel will no longer see a date of separation in their records until they are within 12 months of their high year of tenure date.

Upon promotion, the date of separation will automatically be updated to the new rank’s high year of tenure (HYT) date.

What about Service Commitment?

Airmen will not incur an active-duty service commitment to re-enlist under the NCO programme.

However, like officers, NCOs will continue to incur service commitments when they:

  • Receive selective retention bonuses (SRB);
  • Are promoted;
  • Attend service schools;
  • Undergo a permanent change-of-station (PCS) move; and
  • Other events.

What about Retention Bonuses?

The US Air Force suggests SRB’s will not be affected that much by the new programme.

However, there will be some administrative changes to how they are processed.

In the past, these bonuses were tied to re-enlistment but
because airmen will no longer re-enlist for specific periods of service after 12 years, bonuses will be offered in a different manner.

The US Air Force will offer SRB’s to eligible NCO’s based on their Air Force specialty code and their applicable zone, or a grouping of years of service.

Airmen with between 10 and 14 years of total active federal military service fall in Zone C, and airmen with 18 to 20 years are in Zone E.

On a monthly basis, the Air Force Personnel Centre will notify airmen under the NCO Career Status Programme when they are eligible by directly sending them a message via myPers.

If they are interested, they will complete their application electronically.

Airmen must agree to an active-duty service commitment of at least three years, but no more than six years, in exchange for the bonus.

Their requests cannot exceed their HYT or authorised HYT adjustment.

To be eligible, Airmen must not only be in a qualifying Air Force specialty code, but also be performing duties in that skill at the time of their request.

Airmen no longer performing duties in the bonus specialty are subject to termination and recoupment of unearned
portions, said a leaked memo on the subject.

What about Retirement/Separating from the Service?

The separation process for enlisted airmen under the programme will also work similarly to that of officers.

Personnel can apply for separation before their HYT date, with an effective date of no later than 180 days from the date of request.

HYT dates for NCO’s and senior NCOs are currently:

  • 20 years for staff sergeants;
  • 22 years for technical sergeants;
  • 24 years for master sergeants;
  • 26 years for senior master sergeants; and
  • 30 years for chief master sergeants.

The new system is similar to how the US Army currently operates.

The Benefits

  • Personnel who wish to remain with the Air Force do not have to keep reapplying.
  • Reduction in paperwork and increased efficiency.
  • Simplification of managing NCOs’ careers as one of the biggest benefits of the programme.
  • According to the personnel centre’s web site, more than 10,000 re-enlistment contracts in fiscal 2018 would have been eliminated if this programme had been in effect at the time.


Losey, S. (2019) Indefinite Enlistments Take Effect. Air Force Times. 18 November 2019, pp.8.


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