In keeping with their efforts to improve branch-wide diversity, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) Air Education and Training Command (AETC) announced interim changes to their dated height standards for Career Enlisted Aviators (CEAs).
The updates come as the result of preliminary information gathered from an ongoing anthropometric study that the Air Force began last year. The study’s aim is to provide the Air Force with current and accurate data on what is physically necessary for specific Air Force Specialty Codes (AFSCs). The revised height restrictions, effective immediately, are seen below:
The Air Force announcement will make CEA positions available to a significant portion of recruits entering the enlisted ranks, particularly women, without the need for a waiver. This comes less than a year after a similar order that removed the requirement for pilots to be over 5’4″ or under 6’5,” the same standard that was applied to enlisted aviation careers.
The Air Force saw the need to update their requirements that were based on a 1967 study that observed almost entirely white male pilots. Much of that old study evaluated the subject’s ability to reach controls while in a seated position, which does reflect operational requirements for many modern CEAs.
“The former policy was not applicable to career enlisted aviators, as the vast majority of CEAs move throughout the aircraft for the duration of the duty day,” said CMSgt Philip Leonard, the Air Force’s CEA career field manager.
The new measure is a boost to the inclusion of women in the armed forces, most notably minority women. Monday’s statement from the AETC cites data from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics that says 43.5% of U.S. women aged 20-29 (including 74% of African Americans, 72% of Latino Americans and 61% of Asian Americans) are under 64 inches tall. This compares with only 3.7% of American males of the same age.
The Air Force has approved 87 percent of the height waivers it has processed since 2015, but many applicants may not be aware of the likelihood that they’ll be approved, or may be discouraged from applying in the first place when they see they don’t meet the requirement, as noted by Stephen Losey of Air Force Times. Expanding the range for eligibility without a waiver encourages the spirit of diversity the Air Force is setting its sights on.
“We’re really focused on identifying and eliminating barriers to serve in the Air Force,” said Gwendolyn DeFilippi last May. DeFilippi is assistant deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services. “This is a huge win, especially for women and minorities of smaller stature who previously may have assumed they weren’t qualified to join our team.”
35% of Air Force aviator careers are enlisted personnel. The interim revisions open up those fields to a much more diverse pool of candidates. Women under 5’4″ can now serve without a waiver as in-flight refuelers, flight engineers, flight attendants, aircraft loadmasters, airborne mission systems operators and airborne cryptologic language analysts, among others. The study that precipitated the shift in policy is expected to be completed by fall of 2022, and should give the Air Force more actionable data to remove unnecessary restrictions on service members of smaller stature.
“We must implement change with a sense of purpose and with the Department of Defense’s strategic position in mind,” added Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, AETC commander. “Enacting this meaningful change ensures the type of agile, lethal and diverse force we need to be.”