Pregnant candidates, both civilian and military, can now apply to the Air Force’s Officer Training School without needing a waiver, the Department of the Air Force announced Sept. 30.
If selected, the candidate will then have between six and 14.5 months after the pregnancy to either pass a physical fitness test or get a qualifying physical, depending on whether the candidate is an enlisted or civilian selectee, and then start training. Those wishing to start training less than six months after their pregnancy can apply for a waiver.
John A. Fedrigo, principal deputy assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, authorized the policy change in an Aug. 17 memo. Prior to that, female Airmen, Guardians, and civilians who were pregnant and wanted to apply to OTS needed a waiver for up to 12 months postpartum.
Undersecretary Gina Ortiz Jones highlighted the policy to reporters this past March during the AFA Warfare Symposium as part of her push for a broader review of Air Force policies that are gender-biased and present barriers to female Airmen and Guardians’ careers.
“We’re in a race for talent, and our policies need to reflect that,” Jones said in a statement. “This policy change will ensure we’re able to fully tap into the talent amongst our force as well as those looking to join us.”
The policy change marks the latest effort by the Air Force to offer pregnant Airmen more opportunities. In 2019, the service cleared some pregnant aircrew members to keep flying without needing a waiver; and all pregnant Airmen to keep flying with a waiver. In 2020, it began testing a maternity flight suit.
Yet despite those changes, initial reports indicated that relatively few pregnant Airmen took advantage of the loosened restrictions, and earlier this year the Air Force sought to clarify and amplify the policy.
It is not yet clear how many women will take advantage of the new OTS policy, but Capt. Frances Castillo, a member of the DAF Women’s Initiative Team, said in a statement that the previous rules “kept or delayed hundreds of women from competing” for a commission.
The change comes as the Air Force is trying to boost its recruiting numbers, especially among underrepresented groups. In August, the department unveiled new “aspirational” goals for diversity in recruiting, calling for OTS and other officer commissioning sources to increase the proportion of female candidates to 36 percent.
According to data provided by the Air Force, commissioning sources such as the U.S. Air Force Academy and Air Force ROTC have typically averaged around 30 percent for female applicants. Data for OTS candidates was not immediately available.
The total USAF officer corps is 22.6 percent female, according to the latest data.