Now Enlisted Airmen Can Stay in Uniform Longer

Faced with a recruiting shortfall, the Air Force is loosening its “up or out” rules, adding two years to the maximum time in service at every enlisted grade up to E-8.

The new High Year of Tenure (HYT) limits go into effect immediately, although Airmen have been able to ask for extensions for the past year. The Air Force confirmed the changes, which were detailed in a memo leaked to Reddit this week. The new rates:  

GRADERANKOld High Year of TenureNew High Year of Tenure
E-1Airman Basic810
E-3Airman 1st Class810
E-4Senior Airman1012
E-5Staff Sergeant2022
E-6Technical Sergeant2224
E-7Master Sergeant2426
E-8Senior Master Sergeant2628

The added time gives Airmen the option to stay and continue to compete for promotion, rather than face a deadline to leave. To opt out of the extension, Airmen facing HYT limits between Dec. 8, 2023 and Sept. 30, 2024 must ask for and receive approval prior to their original HYT date of separation or by Feb. 16, 2024, whichever comes first.  

Airmen already approved for separation or retirement under the original HYT rule will automatically have their HYT extended. 

“The Air Force is taking proactive action to fully leverage our Congressionally authorized end strength and HYT extensions maximizes the retention of experienced talent to enhance mission effectiveness,” an Air Force spokesperson said. 

Enlisted retention remains strong at around 89 percent in fiscal 2023, down only slightly from the highs of the COVID-19 pandemic and largely in line with historical trends. But the Air Force finished fiscal 2023 about 10 percent short of its Active-Duty recruiting goal, and the lingering effects of record-high retention have slowed promotion rates in the noncommissioned officer ranks. That’s pushed more Airmen up against their HYT limits.

Air Force officials say they need to rebalance the force to ensure the force is sized for effectiveness and that Airmen gain the experience needed to take on leadership positions. Extending HYT will give more Airmen another shot at promotion and the Air Force time more flexibility to keep the experienced Airmen already in the force.