Air Force’s pitch to retirees: Come back! No bonus or promotion, though

by Braxton Taylor

The U.S. Air Force is opening a program today to allow up to 1,000 retired officers and enlisted personnel to return to active duty amid manning shortages.

Dubbed Voluntary Retired Return to Active Duty, the program would allow retirees to serve for up to four years. 

But VRRAD has already drawn skepticism online because it offers few incentives: airmen who rejoin will be ineligible for the aviation bonus or promotion, will return to their retired grade, and be required meet physical fitness standards, as well as be subject to PCS moves, according to slides from the Air Force Personnel Center that were posted on social media. The service has confirmed the authenticity of the slides. Airmen also can’t use SkillBridge, which helps troops shift to civilian jobs. 

The Air Force originally launched VRRAD in 2017, when it was struggling to retain pilots. Now the service is reviving the program after missing its annual enlisted recruiting goal for the first time in nearly a quarter-century and as officials project a shortage of 4,300 personnel under the current authorized end strength.

“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.

But retirees likely won’t jump to rejoin the service through this program unless it ups the incentives to leave their civilian lives, according to Ryan Haberman, a policy analyst with the RAND Corporation.

“Asking retired officers and senior enlisted individuals to come back to active duty status in a billet that is likely far away from their new home of record for a maximum of 48 months is tough. It certainly seems to be asking a lot from individuals without offering many benefits—like increased pay or being able to select a location to work at before rejoining,” Haberman said. 

The Air Force said applications must be submitted by Jan. 31, 2026, and applicants can expect to return to active duty “anywhere from 4 to 6 months from their date of application.”

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