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What are the Requirements for Air Force Retirement?

By Tamsen Butler
Updated: May 17, 2024

The requirements for Air Force retirement can vary depending on the service of the personnel. While people who consistently serve 20 consecutive years of active duty normally are eligible for retirement, the rules can change for personnel who spend some time within the National Guard or Reserve. A break in service can also affect the retirement requirements.

Twenty years is the magic number for retirement from the Air Force, although select personnel can choose to stay longer if they are eligible. In order to retire at 20 years, enlisted personnel must have achieved the rank of at least Staff Sergeant, which is also referred to as an E-5. Officers must first fulfill their initial service requirement and serve a total of 20 years before they can retire. Both enlisted personnel and officers must request retirement, which is oftentimes referred to as "putting in papers."

The rank of the service member can have an effect on retirement as well. The higher in rank an Air Force member is, the longer he or she can serve before retiring. For example, a Staff Sergeant has no choice but to retire at 20 years, but a Chief Master Sergeant, who has a rank of E-9, can serve up to 30 years before putting in papers for Air Force retirement.

Age restrictions also apply for some military retirement pay. Active duty personnel who retire will immediately start receiving retirement pay benefits after any terminal leave has been used. National Guard and Reserve personnel may not be able to start getting retirement pay benefits until they reach the age of 60.

It is important to keep in mind that the various forms of discharge prior to 20 years of service are not the same as Air Force retirement. Many people who must leave the service as the result of a medical discharge refer to themselves as medically retired, but this is not an accurate statement. The correct term is medically discharged. Requirements of an actual military retirement from the Air Force include the minimum 20 years of service.

Work performance and behavior can affect Air Force retirement as well. For example, personnel who are facing administrative action or incarceration may be prohibited from retiring from the Air Force until the matter is resolved. As with most things within the Air Force, however, there are exceptions and waivers for every rule, including the rules of retirement.

Air Force members who are nearing retirement should consult with the Military Personnel Flight (MPF). This office consults with personnel to confirm eligibility and to provide information regarding the paperwork that needs to be filed. The closer an Air Force member is to retirement, the more important it is to make sure everything is in order for retirement eligibility.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By nextcorrea — On Dec 17, 2012

I was in the Navy and my wife was in the Air Force.

Her retirement benefits are significantly better than mine.

If I could do it all over again, I would have gone into the Air Force. I could have done basically the same work that I did in the Navy.

By chivebasil — On Dec 17, 2012

I recently talked to an Air Force recruiter. He talked to me a lot about different service obligations and also gave me some info on retirement. Can you trust the recruiters? They are kind of salesmen. Are they telling me the truth?

By Belted — On Dec 16, 2012

I met some guys in a bar a few years back and all of them had served in the Air Force. They told me that of all the branches of the armed service, the Air Force was the best one to go into because they offered such generous retirement benefits.

According to these guys, you could retire pretty quickly with a generous compensation and benefits package. Their advice always stuck with me. Has anyone retired from the Air Force? What was your experience like?

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