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Stepping stones to success 5: Retraining

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jacob Barreiro
  • 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
(Editor's note: this is the fifth in a series of articles that will provide young Airmen and supervisors with advice to help make their careers in the military a success.)

If water-cooler talk and kvetching is any indication, there are a lot of people in the world not satisfied with their jobs or looking for a change.

How many Airmen have felt they would be better suited doing a different job? How many have joined the Air Force and been given a different job than the one they imagined? How many have gotten the job they want only to find, after several years of working, that it wasn't what they initially expected? How many simply need a change? How many think they can benefit from seeing more of the Air Force?

Feelings of apathy, disinterest, boredom and tedium can overcome even the most dedicated of workers, and for Airmen looking to buttress their career with a change of scenery, hope comes in the form of the retraining programs offered by the Air Force.

For Staff Sergeants Angelica Farias and John Perez, both 19th Medical Operations Squadron mental health technicians, retraining gave them an opportunity to transfer from their jobs in maintenance to the medical career field.

"I worked at the aerospace ground equipment flight," said Perez. "We worked on the ground equipment for the aircraft, heaters, generators and all the maintenance (equipment) for the aircraft."

Farias said she worked on the hydraulic equipment on planes. Both are recent retrainees and said, while they enjoyed working their old jobs, they were excited at the chance to retrain.

"I tried applying for this career field (mental health) as a first term airmen, but didn't get it," said Perez.

Being rejected for retraining didn't dissuade him, said Perez. He continued to scan the annual list of career openings and applied for the job he wanted until he was accepted.

The feedback Farias heard about retraining was mostly cautionary, she said. Most of her peers warned her it was an arduous process with a very low success rate, but, after nearly seven years working on aircraft hydraulics, she disregarded their warnings and tried anyway.

"I kept hearing from everybody else that retraining was one of the hardest things to do, that nobody would get picked up for it," said Farias. "I figured the worst they could tell me was no, so I put in the package, and the next thing I know, I got picked up."

The two mental health technicians agreed that a lot of the "hear-say" that is perpetuated about retraining and its purported difficulty is due to a lack of understanding. A lot of people simply don't know enough about it to give good guidance to young Airmen, they said.

"I think a lot of people hear these old wives tales about it," said Farias. "It can intimidate some people from starting the process, but it's really very easy."

Perez said that his supervisors and peers tried to give him what help they could, but the pursuit for answers often got diverted amidst a ferocious operations tempo.

The Air Force Instruction 36-2626, Airman Retraining Program, governs the rules of retraining for active duty Airmen that meet quality standards. Readers of this series may also remember that the best time for enlisted Airmen to retrain is during their first-term and having an understanding of the Career Airman Reenlistment Reservation System program will give them guidance on when to retrain.

The CAREERS window is a nine-month time frame in which first-term Airmen may apply to retrain to any job they choose. Window for four-year enlistees is from 35-43 months and the window for six-year enlistees is from 59-67 months. This timeframe can be the first and only time an Airman has an opportunity to hand-pick their career.

Staff Sgt. Jonathan Carl, a 19th Aerospace Medicine Squadron bioenvironmental engineering technician, said he didn't necessarily think of retraining until a mandated non-commissioned officer retraining program got released. He admits that retraining was never in his career plans, but now that he's had to do it, he's happy he got the chance.

"It's always good to see other things," Carl said. "That's one thing about the Air Force, it's really broad. There's a lot of opportunities for you to do many different jobs. After I heard I was retraining, I was really looking forward to it, to get the opportunity to learn some new skills."

Carl, who formerly worked in munitions, said retraining as an NCO was a challenge for him after working more than five years at his previous job.

"It's tough, but it's sink or swim," he said. "You have to already have some of the leadership principles down. People will look at you for leadership. You want to contribute and you want to be good at your job."

Retraining has given him a broaden understanding of the Air Force, said Carl. Airmen should consider retraining so they can see something different or to pursue their personal goals.

"I wanted do something I was better suited to do," Perez said. "I feel like I'm a better people person rather than anything else. I loved my previous job, but I feel like I'm helping people more-so by dealing with them directly."

Retraining can also bolster a resume for future employment outside of the military, Perez said.

"I like what I'm doing now and it's something I want to pursue later on outside of the military," he said.

Carl also said that retraining has given him the chance to buttress his resume for when he eventually joins the civilian sector.

"My old job was so technical and the new one gives me flexibility and a chance to interact with more people," he said. "There's more things in my new job that gets civilian accreditation and translates better to work outside of the military."

With all the opportunities and benefits retraining provides, it's a shame that people don't learn early on about retraining, said Farias. The opportunities are out there but if Airmen don't ask questions or find out for themselves their chance may pass them by.

"I had to look into the retraining AFI myself," she said. "A lot of people don't know that if you retrain outside of your first term your choices are limited."

Applying for retraining after a first-term involves a lot of variables. Typically Airmen in their second term or beyond may have to limit themselves to critically undermanned careers.
While the three retrainees said they liked their first jobs in the Air Force, retraining has been a positive impact in their careers.

"It definitely has had a positive impact," said Perez. "It's nice to see what's behind the scenes at the clinic. A lot of people come in and don't know what happens behind the scenes. Seeing how busy it is and how hard everyone works at the clinic has been an eye-opener. It gives me a greater appreciation of what other people do in their jobs. It's been really positive because it's definitely something I want to pursue, and be proficient at and work towards."

In addition to having a positive impact on their careers, Farias and Perez said that retraining played a necessary role in their decision to continue serving in the Air Force.
"I liked my job, but I was getting a little burnt out doing the same old thing," said Farias. "I was at the point where if I didn't get my package approved I would have separated. The change of pace and learning new things has re-energized me a little bit."

Retraining didn't play a factor in his decision to continue serving in the Air Force, said Carl. However, it did give him a lot of opportunities and helped his career as a professional and a leader.

"I feel retraining made me a little broader," he said. "It's given me a look at the bigger picture. At my job we go out to all the work centers on base, so I get to see a lot of what the Air Force is and learn how it works. It's also given me an appreciation for what other people do."

Pay no attention to hear-say or water-cooler talk about the difficulty of retraining, said Farias. Nobody should be discouraged from trying to pursue their ideal career, and any action towards that goal is better than no action. It's also imperative that Airmen wishing to retrain understand their windows of opportunity and remember being educated is the most important thing.

"Explore your options," said Carl. "Don't just pick any old job because it sounds cool. Anybody who wants to retrain I encourage them to contact that agency and to look into it and see if it's something they really want to do."

An old cliché states that if one loves their job, they will never have to work a day in their life. The Air Force can't promise that their Airmen will never have to work or their career will always be easy, but by utilizing the Airmen Retraining Program, they can at least have a chance to choose their own career path.

(Editor's note: Airmen wishing to learn more about retraining can consult their base's career assistance advisor or view the PDF of the Airman Retraining Program AFI 36-2626 at