Over the Hill at Age 42? Not for Air Force Enlistment

Over the Hill at Age 42? Not for Air Force Enlistment
Photo by Master Sgt. Devin Doskey/Air Force

This article by Jennifer H. Svan originally appeared on Stripes.com. Stars and Stripes serves the U.S. military community by providing editorially independent news and information around the world.


Forty is the new 30 when it comes to the Air Force and Space Force.


Men and women as old as 42 can now pack their boots and bifocals for basic training, under a policy change that gives the two services the highest age limit for recruits of all the military branches except the Coast Guard.


The previous maximum age for Air Force recruits was 39, a change authorized in 2014, when the service raised its enlisted accessions age limit from 27.


Raising the cutoff by three years aligns the Air Force and the Space Force with the maximum enlistment age allowed by the Pentagon. It also comes amid a recruitment crunch.


[IN DEPTH: 2023 Military Recruiting]


The Air Force announced last month that it will miss its active-duty recruiting goal by about 10%, its first recruitment shortfall since 1999. The service fell about 2,700 applicants short of its fiscal year 2023 goal of 26,877.


An Air Force memo dated Tuesday that was posted on the service’s website outlines the policy change for both officers and enlisted members.


Comments posted Thursday on the Reddit Air Force channel poked fun at the idea of “middle-aged” recruits.


“42?! Dudes will be enlisting at the age I’m eligible for retirement!” said one comment.


“Just in time for the mid life crisis Dodge Challenger!” said another.


[RELATED: Navy Misses Annual Recruiting Goal by More Than 7,000 Sailors]


But the Air Force isn’t the only service opening the door to graying enlistees.


In November 2022, the Coast Guard raised its maximum enlisted age from 35 to 42 and increased the maximum direct commission aviator age from 34 to 36.


The increases in the upper age limit were among other new eligibility standards approved to make it easier to recruit qualified candidates in a tight labor market, the service said at the time.


That same month, the Navy raised the maximum age for recruits from 39 to 41 to help with similar recruiting struggles. The Army accepts recruits up to the age of 39, though it may grant waivers for people as old as 45. The Marine Corps’ cutoff age is a spry 28.


[RELATED: After Criticism From Top Officer, Space Force Has a New Mission Statement]


In 2006, Congress changed the maximum age for all enlisted military recruits from 35 to 42. From 2007 to 2016, the Army’s maximum enlistment age was set at 42 to sustain demand for the surge in the war in Iraq, according to a paper by the Rand Corp. think tank.


Published in April, the paper suggested that the Army should consider raising the maximum enlistment age again to boost recruitment numbers.


Previous Rand studies found that compared to younger soldiers, older recruits have higher qualification test scores and higher levels of education, and also are more likely to get promoted and reenlist.


One of those studies compared recruits ages 25 to 35 with those in their teens. Another study, however, did not specify what ages qualified as “older” and “younger.”


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