Air Force asks retired airmen to return to duty as personnel shortage lingers

The Air Force wants to welcome back up to 1,000 retired airmen over the next two years to stem critical staffing shortages, the service recently announced.

Officers and enlisted airmen may apply to the Voluntary Retired Return to Active Duty Program through Jan. 31, 2026, an Air Force statement said.

Those selected can expect to return to active duty within four to six months from the date of their application.

The program is a way to tap into the experience and talent “of retired members to fill critical roles to close the gap against our peer competitors,” Lt. Gen. Caroline Miller, deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, said in the statement.

Retirees may apply to fill vacant jobs only and candidates would serve no more than four years at their retired grade. They would have to meet physical fitness and other military standards.

Returning airmen could be asked to move depending on mission needs, according to an Air Force Personnel Center slide briefing posted Tuesday on the unofficial Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook page.

An Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon on Wednesday confirmed that the slides were authentic.

Airmen who decline would have their contract terminated, according to the briefing. Returning retirees would deploy only if they volunteer or are assigned to a combat-coded unit.

Enlisted applicants must have retired in the ranks of staff sergeant through senior master sergeant, the Air Force statement said. While retirees from all career fields are eligible to apply, particular needs include air traffic control, public health, special investigations, personnel, security forces and recruiting, among others.

Returning officers are limited to Line of the Air Force retirees in the ranks of captain through lieutenant colonel. They’ll primarily fill vacant rated staff, active flying staff, Officer Training School, Squadron Officer School and Jeanne M. Holm Center academic staff, according to the statement.

The Air Force accepted retired pilots back into the service between 2017 and 2020 under a similar program.

The service’s official retiree website hadn’t been updated to reflect the changes by midday Wednesday, but soon will include information on eligibility and the application process, the Air Force said. It can be found at

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