Commentary

April 5, 2013

AF faces retention problem

Lt. Col. SEAN ROUTIER
21st Fighter Squadron

The Air Force is facing tough times. Sequestration is forcing many of you to work overtime to run “what if” drills, cut mission essential training, forgo any real ability to plan and prepare for a potential civilian workforce furlough. Yet, we have a bigger problem and the impact will be felt for years to come.

The Air Force is facing a retention problem in some vital career fields and we must confront the factors causing many of you to choose to leave. The mission is always first, but to complete the mission we must focus on the people who execute it. Hopefully, you choose to be one of those that stay and fight.

To stay in or get out is a very personal decision. There may not be a single factor that would solve your dilemma; it may be a combination of several small indicators that are making you think twice about staying in.

To those who’ve made up their minds and cannot be swayed by any means, we thank you for your service and wish you the best. To all of the others, take a moment to remember why in the first place you wanted to be part of the greatest Air Force in the world. You are part of an elite team that does not have a civilian equivalent. You sweat alongside people who have a duty concept and the drive to do the right the thing, the right way, the first time. There may be several factors that are causing many of you to question whether or not you want to give your oath to serve once again.

Some may have lost confidence the Air Force will hold up its end of the agreement. Some may be considering a career elsewhere, where one can have a more stable lifestyle. There have been past decisions and policies that the senior Air Force leaders set forth with best intentions, but ended up having undesired second and third order effects. Those effects have had a significant impact to the morale and confidence of Airmen. The latest example of “what not to do” is the Air Force’s decision to attack tuition assistance. Other examples include the discussions months back in the Air Force Times about potentially cutting back on retirement pay and medical benefits. It is easy to see how the decision to stay in for 20 years may be a difficult one if an Airman loses confidence that retirement and other benefits will not be there at the end. Even though the journey to make required fiscal cuts is unpleasant, ultimately our leadership arrived at the right decision for our Airmen.

Is one of your factors ops tempo? Ops tempo encompasses much more than just the downrange deployment. It includes your primary job, assigned additional duties, TDY requirements, project officer responsibilities, advanced academic degrees, etc. The Air Force is asking a great deal from our Airmen. The Air Force asks all of us to give it all we have and, in return, gives us limited time to rest and recuperate. It’s not because we are not valued. It’s because there are great demands on our Air Force and our country and it brings to the forefront the very meaning of our core value of service before self.

For me personally, I considered all of the same factors as each of you when making my decision to continue to serve in the world’s greatest Air Force. I came to the conclusion that while there were some things that didn’t make me happy, there were also a great number of things that I could not part with yet. I still love what I do. I thrive on being part of something bigger than me. I love being on a team that was filled with other people who put service before themselves, are trained professionals, are determined and refuse to accept failure as a course of action. I also keep the faith that ultimately we will get it right. Sometimes our initial understanding doesn’t make sense, but I sleep well knowing there are always smart and dedicated Airmen trying to adjust the course of the situation. Hopefully, you will choose to be one of those airmen.




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