Air Force Invites Back Retirees To Fill Critical Manning Shortage

The Air Force is reimplementing a program to bring back officers and enlisted Airmen in an effort to stem an ongoing staff shortage in a wide range of career fields.

The Voluntary Retired Return to Active Duty Program (VRRAD) will restart Feb. 8 after a three-year hiatus: the program was last active from 2017 to 2021, according to slides shared on Reddit and the Facebook page Air Force amn/nco/snco. Air Force officials confirmed the slides appeared to be authentic. 

“The VRRAD program is a strategic enabler to embrace experienced talent, tapping into a valuable resource of retired members to fill critical roles to close the gap against our peer competitors,” Lt. Gen. Caroline Miller, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services, said in a Feb. 7 statement.

The program allows for up to 1,000 retired officers or enlisted troops to return to Active Duty. The deadline for applications is Jan. 31, 2026, and the period of service is limited to 48 months. Retired applicants selected for Extended Active Duty can expect to return to active duty about four to six months after applying. 

Airmen who return to Active Duty will return to their retired grade, the slides explained. They will be ineligible for the aviation bonus, promotion, and SkillBridge, a transition program that helps service members prepare for civilian jobs. VRRAD participants will deploy only if they volunteer or are assigned to a combat-coded unit, but they may be subject to permanent changes of station or assignment. 

Early reactions on social media were unimpressed with the lack of perks for returning to service. The return of VRRAD marks the latest effort to mitigate an ongoing staff and recruiting shortage in the Air Force. Other recent efforts include:

The regular Air Force missed its recruiting goal by just under 11 percent for fiscal 2023, but Alex Wagner, assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower and reserve affairs, said in December that he is “cautiously optimistic” about this year’s enlisted accession goals.

“Lack of familiarity is the most important thing,” Wagner told members of the House Armed Services Committee. “What’s important to realize is that once people become familiar, they want to join, they understand the benefits of service, they understand the opportunities—whether they be educational, financial—they understand the community, being part of a team.”

On the officer side, VRRAD is taking applicants who retired in the grade of captain through lieutenant colonel. While all members who meet eligibility can apply, the Air Force is targeting these specific career fields:

  • 11X – Pilot
  • 12X – Combat Systems
  • 13B – Air Battle Manager
  • 13H – Aerospace Physiologist
  • 13M – Airfield Operations
  • 13N – Nuclear and Missile Operations
  • 14X – Information Operations/Intelligence
  • 15X – Operations Analysis and Weather
  • 16X – Operations Support
  • 17X – Cyber Operations
  • 18X – Remotely Piloted Aircraft
  • 19Z – Special Warfare
  • 21X – Logistics
  • 31P – Security Forces
  • 32E – Civil Engineering
  • 35P – Public Affairs
  • 38F – Force Support Officer
  • 61X – Scientific/Research
  • 62X –Developmental Engineering
  • 63X – Acquisition
  • 64P – Contracting
  • 65X – Finance
  • 71S – Special Investigations

On the enlisted side, the Air Force wants applicants who retired in the grade of staff sergeant through senior master sergeant. All eligible members can apply, but the focus is on the following career fields:

  • 1C171 – Air Traffic Control
  • 2G071 – Logistics Plans
  • 2T377 – Fleet Management & Analysis
  • 3F071 – Personnel
  • 3P071 – Security Forces
  • 4A271 – Biomedical Equipment
  • 4E071 – Public Health
  • 4N071 – Aerospace Medical Service
  • 4R071 – Diagnostic Imaging
  • 7S071 – Special Investigations
  • 8R000/8R200 – Recruiter