JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. — The Aircrew Crisis Task Force hosted a two-week aircrew retention summit here as part of a holistic approach to improve readiness and capacity by increasing retention of experienced aviators Aug. 14-25, 2017.
The summit brought Air Force aviators together along with subject matter experts, or SMEs, to identify ways to encourage aircrew to continue active duty service when their initial service commitment expires.
“This is a chance for us to come together as a total force across multiple platforms and major commands to look at what we can do to change policies, procedures and laws to make it easier for folks to continue to wear the uniform,” said Lt. Col. Langdon Root, the Aircrew Crisis Task Force summit lead.
This summit is one of seven lines of effort being taken by the Aircrew Crisis Task Force to address the overall aircrew shortage the Air Force is facing today. The task force was established in March 2017 and already has seen solutions begin to take shape.
“Task force initiatives are moving quickly. We have the first increase to the aviation bonus since 1999,” said Root. “The career enlisted aviators are getting the first increase in bonus pay since 1998 this fall. Additionally, the chief of staff committed to putting 1,600 commander’s support staff members back in the squadron starting in the fiscal year 2018.”
Air Force members who elect to depart the military after their service obligation are given the option to take an exit survey. The survey asks a series of questions primarily centered around why the member has chosen to separate. Attendees of the summit split into groups to look at the most common reasons aviators have indicated on the survey as to why they made that decision.
“We brought in representatives from every MAJCOM with aircrew equity plus the Guard, Reserves and Air Force Personnel Center,” said Root. “During their time here, they will be broken up into working groups to look at nine areas the force has told us is a retention concern for them.”
The first week of the summit focused on pairing SMEs from those identified areas with the aviators to ensure all proposed solutions were balanced with political and monetary realities.
“We brought in about 20 subject matter experts who have great expertise and situational awareness in one or more of the working group areas. They were available to answer questions from the other 50 volunteers,” said Root. “The subject matter experts bring joint and coalition perspective to ensure we bring bold and coherent solutions to the chief of staff of the Air Force. If we do it well, it will expedite the timeline for the chief of staff’s decision.”
After the teams worked through the topics and proposed solutions, they briefed a panel of seven generals from Headquarters Air Force, Air Mobility Command, Air Combat Command, U.S. Special Operations Command and Air Education and Training Command to get senior leader perspective before bringing these solutions to the Air Staff in Washington, D.C.
“As a major with nine years of service, my commitment is almost up and I’m at a crossroads where I will have to decide if I want to go to the airlines or continue my service for the military,” said Maj. Kaelin Thistlewood, a 4th Special Operations Squadron pilot stationed at Hurlburt Field, Florida. “But this was a very productive week. It went great. We had about 20 (captains) all the way up to (colonel) in here with their hands in the problems of the Air Force that cause aircrew to separate.”
The aviation industry is growing. Airline industries are hiring and technology advancements are expanding the job market for remotely piloted aircraft. However, the Aircrew Crisis Task Force feels the Air Force still provides unique opportunities unmatched by outside agencies and summits like this one assist leadership in ensuring the Air Force stays a step ahead in terms of job satisfaction.
“Aviation is booming right now, and it is a really good time to be an Airman,” said Root. “There are options. There are other opportunities that will provide a wonderful life for you and your family outside the military. However, what the Air Force has to offer and what we need to capitalize on is that there’s no force like the Air Force. We get to fly the best aircraft on the planet, be a part of the best team and the most tactically lethal force in the history of aviation, and we take care of each other like family. Although we will never be able to match the monetary compensation the airlines or civil sector can pay our highly skilled aviators, there are things we can change to ensure we offer a superior quality of service and quality of life.”