"...do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..."

"For the good of the Air Force, for the good of the armed services and for the good of our country, I urge you to reject convention and careerism..."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Maxwell AFB, April 21, 2008

"You will need to challenge conventional wisdom and call things like you see them to subordinates and superiors alike."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, United States Air Force Academy, March 4, 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Temp Reading Making it Up the Chain - And it's Not Good

My last blog post concerned the Reduction in Force (RIF) and the Voluntary Separation Pay (VSP) program that has recently concluded, and the outrage that has been generated among much of the Air Force rated force. More than 50 negative comments were posted to the story released on the official Air Force website. A Facebook group was created concerning the VSP Program. Letters of complaint have been to sent to Congressman, there is talk of legal action, and according to participants at a well known online Air Force pilot watering hole, some leadership is starting to see the looming manning crisis that is coming and committing to take action.

Apparently General Welsh, USAFE Commander, sent the following mass email out recently:

To USAFE Fighter Pilots

I need your help. During a recent 4-star meeting, we talked about what appears to be a pending fighter pilot shortage. The AF's rated personnel management folks are projecting a 300 fighter pilot shortfall in FY13 that could grow to over 1000 by FY21. They also told us that the fighter community's bonus "take rate" is 10% lower than the rest of the rated community. Obviously, many of you are leaving, or thinking about leaving, the Air Force for other opportunities. If you've already made the decision to do so, then please accept my sincere thanks for your service and best wishes for every success in the future...it's an honor to have served beside you. My concern is not that you've made the choice to pursue a new path, but that we don't really understand why you made the choice.

You may have heard the story about a Captain fighter pilot who wrote a letter to the Commander of Tactical Air Command a couple of years after the end of the Vietnam War. The letter started "Dear Boss, Well, I quit" and went on to list the frustrations that he and his peers were experiencing. I just read a more recent version, written in 2009. It's attached to this note. If you believe the author, some things may not have changed much in 30 years.

Our Air Force is in a dynamic state of change and its leaders need to know why some of their most talented, highly trained people are leaving. As we transition to a 5th Generation fighter force, we simply can't afford to lose front line fighter pilots at our current rate.

I understand that it's a busy time to be in the Air Force. The fighter community is faced with an increasing ops tempo, fewer fighters, less flying, more non-flying jobs and an unclear career sight picture. My gut feeling is that this combination contributes to good people leaving, but I doubt these are the only factors. I suspect some of the issues raised in the Dear Boss letter are also in play. But, most importantly, I don't know for sure. And I don't believe AF leaders can make smart fighter pilot force management decisions until we do.

Interestingly, we also have a fighter WSO shortage which will persist for the next few years. But the longer term trends for that career field are positive. That's clearly not the case with fighter pilots and I want to know as much as possible about what's causing retention to move in the wrong direction.

So, I have a favor to ask. I'd like to hear your thoughts on what is driving fighter pilot retention down. You can send them directly to my CAG at [removed]. They'll strip names off the inputs, then pass them to me, unedited. I'm looking for the ground truth as you see it, not the filtered, watered-down "this is what the boss wants to hear" truth. Once I've seen it all, I'll give you some feedback...including what I plan to do with the info.

Let me close by saying "Thank You" to you and your families for all of your hard work and sacrifice. You, and so many other great Airmen in so many career fields, are the reason we're the world's greatest Air Force. But no matter how good we are, we need to get better. When your job is to fight and win your Nation's wars, you can never be good enough. I will do everything in my power to make USAFE more combat capable; that includes trying to keep our best fighter pilots on Active Duty. If you think "best fighter pilot" refers to you, please let me know what you think. If you don't, this note isn't for you.

In my experience, pilots are counting the days until they can get out of the Air Force. I've even heard half-hearted dreams of escaping to South America. Many feel they are in a job with long hours located where there is no hope of getting married or having any meaningful social life. They look at long commitments after pilot training and are scared they will end up single, unfulfilled, and old. If they're already married, they want more time with their families. They're tired of the ops tempo. They're not concerned about flying for the airlines, they just want out. They're tired of the politics, the quality of leadership, silly promotion requirements and hours spent crafting performance reports that are all but useless and time consuming. They're done with brass escaping accountability, double speak, and different spanks for different ranks. They're tired of not being able to believe the words that come out of the mouths of their leaders. They're tired of support being cut, and non-flying tasks being put in their laps after a long shift of flying. They look at the end of the tunnel and are not convinced they will be taken care of, if they continue to serve. Many anticipate a stop loss, because they know what leadership apparently does not, that the Air Force will be hemorrhaging rated combat experienced talent in the very near future. Most agree that the Air Force should have seen it coming.

They know they have signed the dotted line, and will serve out what they agreed to. But what they are making clear to any who will listen, is they will not be around longer than required.

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