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Another shock wave rippled through employee ranks Thursday as commanders asked for early retirement applications to hedge against an unknown number of job cuts next year.

It is the second such request in three years, and workers already nervous about their future are preparing for the worst."We've heard rumblings on this for a while, but it's still really tough to swallow," said Scott Blanch, president of the base's labor union. "We're just looking for a fair shake out here."

About 350 employees of the base's Air Logistics Center will lose their jobs Oct. 1 as part of a reduction-in-force announced eight months ago. Thursday's request does not affect that layoff.

Base officials don't know how many jobs will be cut in the next fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1, 1994, through Sept. 30, 1995. However, Air Force Material Command projections indicate as many as 3,000 civilian workers at Hill will get pink slips by 2001.

About 12,000 of the base's 16,000 employees are civilians working at its Air Logistics Center.

How accurate are the layoff numbers?

"So many things could change between now and 2001. We don't even know solid figures for 1995, let alone seven years out," said Hill spokeswoman Barbara Fisher. "They could be under- or overstated."

The AFMC projections were given in June to national leaders of the American Federation of Government Employees, which sponsors the union, Local 1592, at Hill.

Since then, Department of Defense leaders in Washington, D.C., have issued a directive to "expand and accelerate" cuts mandated by Congress. No one at the base level seems to know exactly what that means in terms of numbers.

But the president of the union that represents employees at all AFMC bases says the June numbers given them by Air Force Material Command officials haven't changed.

"That doesn't mean they won't . . . you know how political things can get," said Jim Davis, speaking from Warner-Robbins Air Force Base in Georgia.

Chief among the events that could change everything will be the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure hearings. Hill will compete directly against the Air Force's other four air logistics centers. Department of Defense officials have said they want to close at least two air logistics centers.

Hill will accept the early retirement applications from Oct. 3 through Nov. 4. Fisher said 2,380 employees are eligible for regular or early retirement. If any accepts an early retirement, they will be paid up to $25,000 and receive monthly retirement checks.

"I realize our plan for offering incentives creates questions for many of you about job security and what the future holds for us all. I'm committed to keeping you informed as I learn additional information," Maj. Gen. Lester L. Lyles wrote Thursday in a letter to employees.