That's nothing new. The Air Force was pretty much in the same boat at this time last fiscal year. But, as part of the Air Force's required downsizing (see related article), the Air Force has announced that they will accept about 11,000 fewer new recruits next fiscal year. In years past, the Air Force has recruited about 35,000 new recruits per year. For Fiscal Year 2005 (October 1 2004 through 30 September 2005), the Air Force will only be accepting about 24,000 new recruits.
According to sources in the Air Force Recruiting Command, this means it's going to be much tougher to join the Air Force in the foreseeable future.
"We're still going to accept highly qualified applicants, who show a strong desire to join the Air Force and are willing to be very flexible when it comes to job assignment," one Air Force Recruiter told me. "The biggest change is going to be that we can afford to pick and choose among applicants. I expect fewer waivers to be considered, and those who aren't willing to be very flexible about taking what jobs are available, are not going to be able to enlist during this period."
Traditionally, the Air Force releases about 40 percent of their specific job slots to job counselors at MEPS to use as "guaranteed job" enlistment contracts, and reserve about 60 percent of their slots to hand out in basic training for individuals who enlist in one of the Guaranteed Aptitude Programs.
Until at least October 2005, applicants can expect fewer guaranteed jobs to be available, and can expect a much longer waiting time in the DEP, before they can ship out to basic training.
For the immediate future, the job selection process at MEPS has changed. Except for a few hard-to-fill slots such as Linguist or Combat Controller, applicants processing through MEPS will list several job choices (including guaranteed aptitude areas), and will then enlist in the DEP. Periodically, jobs will "drop" to the Air Force Recruiting Squadrons, who will then match the "waiting lists" to the "job drops." An applicant may spend several months in the DEP before he/she knows what job/aptitude area they are enlisting in, and when their shipping date will be.
Under current rules, anyone can request and be discharged from the DEP, so there is no obligation to take the job one is assigned to. However, several sources have informed me that there aren't going to be any "second chances." As one recruiter put it, "If an applicant is assigned to a job or aptitude area that was on their list, then changes their mind and doesn't want the job, they can, of course, refuse and be discharged from the DEP. But, they're not going to be allowed to try again -- at least for the next year or two."
"To sum it up," another recruiter told me, "If you want to join the Air Force in the next year or two, you're going to have to be highly qualified, very patient, and very flexible when it comes to job choices."