The Air Force is revising rules for deployments, physical fitness tests, promotions, and more in 2022. Here’s a rundown of what’s ahead.
New Deployment Model
In an interview with Air Force Magazine in August 2021, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. outlined a new force generation model for the service, based around a 24-month cycle divided into four six-month phases.
The four phases—Available to Commit, Reset, Prepare, and Ready—are aimed at standardizing the process for deployments across the Air Force, Brown said. Under previous force generation models, the service was often stretched thin with high demand and little downtime or readiness, especially after two decades of war in the Middle East.
The move to a new deployment model coincides with the Air Force’s increasing emphasis on agile combat employment, the concept of multi-capable Airmen deploying and operating in disparate locations as needed. To support ACE, Brown said, units need to have a standardized deployment process to be as interoperable as possible.
The goal for the new force generation model is to reach initial operational capability in fiscal 2023, which begins in October 2022. But the shift has already begun and will continue through 2022 as major commands such as Air Combat Command, Air Force Special Operations Command, Air Mobility Command, and Air Force Global Strike Command transition squadrons to the new cycle.
Exact details on what the Space Force will do, however, remain to be seen.
New PT Model
The Air Force introduced a revamped physical fitness test that went into effect Jan. 1, 2022, with alternate exercises to the classic 1.5-mile run, pushups, and situps. Now, Airmen can choose between:
- A 1.5-mile run or a 20-meter high-aerobic multi-shuttle run (HAMR).
- One minute of pushups or two minutes of hand-release pushups.
- One minute of situps, two minutes of cross-leg reverse crunches, or a forearm plank held for as long as possible.
One option that’s not on the table is a 1-mile walk that was previously previewed by Air Force leadership. In a Facebook post, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass wrote that the walk was removed “until we are able to standardize the VO2 measurement equipment across every installation.”
In 2021, the Air Force released reviews and reports showing that female Airmen and Airmen from racial and ethnic minorities often faced disparities in discipline, promotions, and opportunities in the military, as well as instances of interpersonal violence.
Air Force Undersecretary Gina Ortiz Jones has taken particular interest in this issue, pushing for the service to conduct further analysis of the disparities facing women of color in the Air Force. She and Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall have framed the issue as a readiness problem—lower-level Airmen don’t always trust their leaders, which prevents them from serving to their full potential.
Kendall has also tied these reports to the ongoing issue of suicide, saying Airmen need to be able to go to their commanders if they are struggling and seek help.
A 2021 Pentagon report found that the total number of suicides across the services increased in 2021, but the rate of suicides per 100,000 individuals did not increase by a statistically significant margin from 2019 to 2020, assuaging some fears that the COVID-19 pandemic would lead to a surge. Suspected suicides did decline through the first part of 2021.
Several major changes are coming for the Weighted Airman Promotion System in 2022. First, potential NCOs taking the Promotion Fitness Examination will no longer face 100 knowledge-based questions. Instead, they’ll have to answer 60 knowledge questions and 20 “situational judgment test” questions.
For the situational judgment questions, test-takers will “read the description of a situation relevant to their potential rank and duties, examine four possible responses to the situation, and then select the most effective and the least effective response,” according to an Air Force press release.
The Air Force is also changing how it evaluates Enlisted Promotion Reports. While up to three years of EPRs will still be considered, the service will no longer weight point totals based on the number of EPRs evaluated, a practice that leaders said sometimes unfairly disadvantaged more experienced Airmen.
Now, for their most recent EPR, Airmen will receive 250 points for a “Promote Now” recommendation, 220 points for “Must Promote,” and 200 points for “Promote.” And for Airmen with only one eligible EPR, that will be the extent of their score.
But Airmen with a second EPR can receive anywhere from 10 to 20 points based off the promotion recommendation they received in that review, and Airmen with a third EPR can add an additional five to 15 points.
The new system also eliminates any point value for the “Not Ready Now” recommendation and does away with the “Do Not Promote” recommendation entirely.
Tweaks are also being made to the DAF’s prom otion boards. The Air Force and Space Force will have separate schedules, with the USSF considering promotions from sergeant to master sergeant in May, followed by major through colonel in October, and senior master sergeant and chief master sergeant in November. The Space Force is also shifting to selection boards for all noncommissioned officers.
The Air Force, meanwhile, will have its promotion boards for chaplain, colonel, and some lieutenant colonels meet several months earlier than they did in 2021, “moving the colonels’ promotion boards earlier in the year to better align with the colonel assignment process,” said Col. Scott Arcuri, Air Force Selection Board Secretariat chief.
The Air Force is also establishing a new board to consider candidates for lieutenant colonel in the cross functional operations developmental category—the new category is for Foreign Area Officers who now have their own Air Force Specialty Code.
Dress and Appearance Changes
The Air Force significantly changed its grooming standards in 2021, allowing women to wear longer ponytails and braids, loosening restrictions on how far their hair is allowed to extend side-to-side, permitting men to grow their hair to 2.5 inches in bulk, and making it easier for men to obtain shaving waivers by letting medical officials authorize waivers instead of only commanding officers.
The service also made a few seemingly simple but major changes to its dress and appearance standards, allowing Airmen to put their hands in their pockets while standing, as well as to use their phones or take a drink while walking.
On the uniform front, the Air Force unveiled new PT gear, which will be available later in 2022, followed by a four-year transition period.
For service dress, the Space Force will continue to solicit feedback on its prototype uniform, with the potential for wear-testing starting in 2022. The Air Force, meanwhile, might have an issue with its service dress, as the Defense Logistics Agency recently announced it is expecting limited availability of uniform items starting in the third quarter of fiscal 2022, around April. Looking to proactively address a potential uniform shortage, the Air Force has already started issuing fewer uniform items to some BMT graduates.
USAF Hasn’t Approved a Single Religious Exemptions To COVID-19 Vaccine; Up to 10,000 Could Be Forced Out
Air Force and Space Force commands turned down more than 2,000 requests for religious accommodations to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate without approving one, the Department of the Air Force said in December. Another 8,636 requests were still pending before Christmas.
When religious accommodation requests are denied by their major command or field commands, Airmen and Guardians may either appeal the decision to the Surgeon General of the Air Force or start the process to separate or retire, if eligible.
As of year end, 135 appeals had been filed, but none had been approved.
According to Department of the Air Force Instruction 52-201, a Religious Resolution Team of commanders, chaplain corps personnel, medical providers, judge advocates, and other subject-matter experts work to evaluate religious accommodation requests before making a recommendation to the commander. As part of that process, a chaplain conducts an interview with the person seeking the exemption.
DAFI 52-201 contains a checklist for chaplains to consult as part of that interview, asking chaplains to evaluate whether the person’s beliefs “seemed honestly, consistently, and sincerely held” based on five factors:
*Requestor is credible (consistently keeps tenets, practices, etc.).
*Requestor’s demeanor and pattern of conduct are consistent with the request.
*Requestor participates in activities associated with the belief(s).
*Other persons supporting the claim are credible.
*Request is supported by letter(s) of verification or endorsement from an organization espousing the beliefs, which are the basis for the claim.
According to a memo signed by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, service members whose religious exemption requests are denied at the MAJCOM/FLDCOM level have just five days to exercise one of three options:
*Start the COVID-19 vaccination process.
*File an appeal with the Air Force Surgeon General.
*Request to separate or retire, “if able, based upon the absence of or a limited Military Service Obligation.”
Once an appeal is denied, the five-day clock restarts. Under the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, those booted from service solely for refusing the vaccine will be discharged under honorable or general under honorable conditions.
Department data indicates 95.7 percent of Airmen and Guardians are at least partially vaccinated. Among the unvaccinated, about 2,000 have medical exemptions and another 2,200 have administrative exemptions. Members who remain unvaccinated and without an approved exemption will not be allowed to deploy or PCS to a new assignment.