Army airmen, set to leave the army, are told they owe 3 more years instead

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Hundreds of Army aviation officers who were set to leave the military are being retained for another three years of service after they say the branch quietly reinterpreted part of their contract amid retention and recruiting issues.

The change has sparked an uproar among the more than 600 affected active-duty commissioned officers, including some who say their plans to start families, launch businesses and begin civilian lives have suddenly been derailed.

«Now we are completely in limbo,» said a captain who had scheduled his wedding thinking he would be leaving the army this spring.

That captain and three other active duty aviation officers who spoke to NBC News spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

As part of a program known as BRADSO, 2008 and 2020 U.S. Military Academy or Army Cadet Command cadets were able to apply for a branch of their choice, including aviation, by agreeing to serve an additional three years on active duty.

For years, the Army allowed some aviation officers to serve those three years simultaneously, rather than consecutively, along with the roughly seven or eight years of contract service.

In a phone call with reporters Thursday, Army officials admitted that «bugs» in the system, which they noticed a few months ago, led to the discrepancy.

«We are fixing those bugs and are in communication with unit leadership and affected officers,» said Lt. Gen. Douglas Stitt, G-1’s deputy chief of staff, who is in charge of policy and personnel.

“Our overall goal in correcting this issue is to provide predictability and stability for our Soldiers while maintaining readiness across our entire force,” Stitt added.

In letters the Army sent this month to affected airmen as well as members of Congress obtained by NBC News, the branch said it «realized» after conducting a «legal review of this policy» that the BRADSO requirement of three years must be served separately.

“This is not a new policy, but we are correcting record-keeping oversights that led some officers with an applied BRADSO to separate from the US Army before being eligible,” the letter said.

Thursday’s media roundtable came after more than 140 aviation officials came together to demand answers after learning one by one that they were being denied downloads due to BRADSO’s outstanding obligations as of last fall.

More than 60 of them signed a letter to Congress describing how the Army had misled them for years about the exact length of their service contracts.

“It’s been this unanimous surge of emotions and frustrations,” said another Army aviation captain, who is newly married and wanted to start having children.

He called the reversal of a precedent an «injustice» to an already burnt-out department that is still regularly deployed despite the end of the longest war in US history.

«Yes, the war in Afghanistan is over. There is still a great demand for Army aviation,» he said, heading for another deployment. «We have units still in constant training or deployment rotations. They’re not acknowledging the human aspect.»

The newlywed said it has been difficult for him and his wife to accept a three-year delay in starting a family.

«That was the big kick in the gonads,» he said. «We wanted to start having kids and we can’t anymore. It’s a stressor we don’t plan to deal with.»

Documents obtained by NBC News entertainment officials received conflicting information about his service obligations.

In an email sent on September 1, 2022, an Army Human Resources Command career manager told an officer that his service obligation runs concurrently. But when he sat down with a manager last week, he said he didn’t get the same clear answer.

«It’s demoralizing,» said the officer, who has been living apart from his wife for years because she couldn’t commute to work. «This is not the life we ​​thought it was.»

A former aviation captain, one of the last to leave the military without fulfilling her BRADSO requirement back-to-back, said she had «a lot of panic attacks» after learning the military considered her among those who left before eligibility.

«It’s a great relief that I’m out, but I’m very sorry and sorry for the others,» said the former officer, whose discharge request last April was granted.

She asked to remain anonymous for fear of being put back into service, as her nearly 2-year-old daughter cooed beside her.

On Thursday, Army officials said that at least 20 aviation officers were discharged without fulfilling their BRADSO duties consecutively, but they would not recall any of them to serve retroactively.

Stitt said the Army needed a few more weeks to fully understand the scope of the problem, including how many officers are affected.

Maj. Gen. Tom Drew, commander of the Army Manpower Command, told NBC News that he would personally handle case-by-case reviews of officers who had planned milestones, such as weddings.

All branches of the US military struggled to meet their fiscal 2022 recruiting goals, NBC News previously reported. The Army recruited 45,000 people last year, falling slightly short of its target, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said in March as officials launched a rebranding campaign to appeal to young people.

Affected officers believe that these recruiting difficulties, but mainly retention challenges, led the Army to revise its interpretation of BRADSO.

In 2020, the Army extended the length of service for new aviators from six years to at least a decade, citing rising costs and requirements for aircraft as the primary reason.

Prior to this change, the Army said it had increased its airman incentive pay for the first time in 20 years to «help balance the number of pilots across ranks and stay competitive with the civilian market.»

Aviation officers are tasked with commanding flight platoons and leading operations using Army helicopters. But the vast majority take care of administrative work and no longer fly, which had been a great advantage of their job.

It’s a big factor in their decision to leave the military after their contract ends in favor of becoming pilots for major airlines, several officials said.

Those leading the fight say they are prepared to take it to court.

«We are captains. We are commanders. We are leaders. We’re not just going to say stand down, we’re going to serve. It’s not right,» said one of the officers.

«They thought we would just accept our fate,» he added. «Clearly, we didn’t.»

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