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RETRAINING: Where there is a will, there is a way

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Staff Sgt. Derrek DeHerrera, 561st Network Operations Squadron vulnerability remediation supervisor, works on a central processing unit while visiting his old office, the 21st Communications Squadron, on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Jan. 27, 2017. DeHerrera went to Korea as client systems, retrained into cyber systems operations, and was stationed back at Peterson. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rose Gudex)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Staff Sgt. Derrek DeHerrera, 561st Network Operations Squadron vulnerability remediation supervisor, works on a central processing unit while visiting his old office, the 21st Communications Squadron, on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Jan. 27, 2017. DeHerrera went to Korea as client systems, retrained into cyber systems operations, and was stationed back at Peterson. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rose Gudex)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Staff Sgt. Derrek DeHerrera, 561st Network Operations Squadron vulnerability remediation supervisor, works to image laptops with his old office, the 21st Communications Squadron, at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Jan. 27, 2017. DeHerrera retrained from client systems to cyber systems operations, a similar career field, to broaden his knowledge and skill set. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rose Gudex)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Staff Sgt. Derrek DeHerrera, 561st Network Operations Squadron vulnerability remediation supervisor, works to image laptops with his old office, the 21st Communications Squadron, at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Jan. 27, 2017. DeHerrera retrained from client systems to cyber systems operations, a similar career field, to broaden his knowledge and skill set. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rose Gudex)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Sometimes the call to serve is so great, an individual may accept a career that wasn’t their first or second choice, or even on their wish list at all. In some cases, the Airman ends up excelling and enjoying what they do. Others may want to gain a new skill set.

For Airmen who want to pursue a different career field, there is a chance to retrain into another which may be better suited to them. There are many options and resources available at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, including a career assistance advisor.

The first thing to know is most career fields have a specific retraining window, said Master Sgt. Matthew Heenan, 21st Force Support Squadron career assistance advisor. He asks prospective retrainees when their date of separation is and tells them to subtract 13 months, which is when their retraining window opens. It closes eight months later.

“It’s a great retention tool for the Air Force so Airmen aren’t getting out after four years,” he said. “Just because an Airman doesn’t do well in one career field, doesn’t make them a bad Airman or mean they can’t continue to serve.”

There is a caveat which allows a retraining window to open once an Airman reaches the halfway point of their enlistment, if they are retraining into a critically manned career field, Heenan said. If that is the case, the Airman’s window does not close until the date it would have closed if they were retraining into a normally-manned career.

To view a list of what career fields are critically manned and other useful information, Airmen can go to myPers on the Air Force portal and click on “Retraining” on the left side column. A link to the “Retraining Shortfall Requirements List” under the “Tools” header provides a list of Air Force Specialty Codes with quotas often difficult to fill or specific retraining challenges.

Just because a career field is on the shortfall list, does not mean positions are available, Heenan said. Airmen need to look through the “Online Retraining Advisory” to get an accurate representation of what is available, which AFSCs are balancing manning and which ones are hurting for talent. The list is updated in real time.

For Staff Sgt. Derrek DeHerrera, then with the 21st Communications Squadron at Peterson and now with the 561st Network Operations Squadron here, it wasn’t about getting out of a career he wasn’t proficient at or enjoyed, but rather to expand his skill set. When he received an assignment to Kunsan Air Base, Korea, DeHerrera submitted a package to retrain into cyber systems operations.

“I wanted to expand my knowledge as far as communications is concerned,” he said. “A lot of what I had experience in was end-user and I wanted to experience more of what was in the back shops.”

DeHerrera worked with a career assistance advisor while in Korea, who was excited to see someone able to retrain into a career he wanted and use the program as it was intended. DeHerrera said it was a learning process and he wants to pass on any information he can to those who come after him.

“If you have a certain history or interest within the career field you want to go into, express that in the comments (of your package),” he said. “If you have questions, go to the career assistance advisor or education office because it will help a lot to get information.”

Back at Peterson AFB, Heenan works with Airmen who want to retrain on a daily basis and while he enjoys it, he said he needed to find a way to better accommodate the need.

“At the end of a wing commander’s call, I put a plug in and said the retraining quota list came out and there were 1,673 jobs available -- I told them to come see me,” he said. “At the end of the brief, I walked back across the street to my office and had seven Airmen waiting to see me.”

As a career assistance advisor, Heenan said he will never turn anyone away, however there had to be a better way to help Airmen more efficiently. He designed and implemented a retraining tutorial as a professional development course in fall 2016. It is designed not only for Airmen, but also supvisors, other NCOs, senior NCOs and even officers.

“I want them to come take the class so they can educate the personnel back in their sections,” he said.

The biggest advice Heenan has for Airmen interested in retraining is to reach out for advice, from him, from other people who have retrained and people in the career field that interests them. The impact Heenan and others like him have on Airmen is what drives him every day.

“My primary AFSC is security forces. Over there I only got to mentor and affect security forces personnel,” he said. “When I got over here, I affect every single career field the Air Force has – every single one.”

If a certain career field isn’t working out for an individual, the Air Force wants to help those Airmen continue to serve in a path that is more fitted to the individual. Retraining allows that to happen and also helps the Air Force balance the enlisted career fields.

For more information about retraining, call the Peterson career assistance advisor at 719-556-9226 or visit the myPERS website.

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