Why are pilots punching out of AF?

July 28, 1998

Comment: #155

Discussion Thread:  #s 149, 152, 153

I received the attached message from a woman with long experience in the defense industry, a close observer of military reform, and a student of the late military strategist and theoretician, John Boyd (Col. USAF Ret). It is written in response to Comment #153, specifically the survey data tabulating reason's why pilots are leaving the AF. This data was submitted to the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee by the Air Force. The author's comments, together with those of the Senate staffer in #153, point out why survey data has to be treated VERY carefully. Often the stated reason for leaving the military is only the first layer of the onion.

As I have said in many early messages, I believe the most significant issue affecting personnel readiness and morale is related to a growing wedge of mistrust between the junior officers and enlisted ranks on the one hand and the senior officers on the other. My conclusion is based on hundreds of email anecdotes and discussions. It is simply impossible to think that leaders of a large bureaucratic organization like the Air Force (or Army or Navy) would submit a survey to Congress addressing questions about leadership and trust during the height of the budget season.

Any veteran of combat (and now perhaps viewers of the first 40 minutes of "Private Ryan" as well) will tell you that the breakdown of trust is a prescription for disaster in the chaotic terror of combat.

I have an idea -- Perhaps Congress ought to heed Defense Secretary's Cohen's objection to being force fed $400 million worth of unwanted, high-cost C-130J's [see # 154], and return $395 million to the taxpayer [in accordance with Newt Gingrich's policy of reducing the oppressive burden of government], while using the remaining $5 million of the savings to commission an independent, reputable, outside agency, like the National Academy of Sciences, to do a comprehensive, scientifically sound investigation of perhaps the most serious problem facing the United States military forces.

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Attached Message:

Chuck, Everything I have read about the USAF reducing Optempo to retain pilots had verbage along the lines of "fewer deployments, fewer exercises, fewer inspections". There is a list of exercises that have been CANCELLED for the year or DELAYED. Also verbage about letting people rest after they get back from a deployment. The reason this makes no sense to me, is because I assume that fewer exercises and fewer deployments also translates into less flying time. But every USAF pilot I ever knew lived just to fly. Even if we assume that the "join the military so you can have a great career" craze has bred a different type of warrior, by which I mean one less dedicated to BEING a warrior than my own peer group (now retired out), I still can't buy that they wouldn't want the opportunity to fly. But the things I hear in snatches have to do with WHAT they are doing when they are deployed - the KIND of flying they do (racetrack patrol patterns by the hour, as opposed to developing proficiency). What is alarming is that the initiatives chosen by the USAF to reduce Optempo may be the very worse thing to do in terms of developing readiness. I just have a nasty suspicion that it is the nature of the Optempo, not the amount or pace of it. The nature of it also including things like the sheer frustration of maintaining Optempo with broken down equipment. What is chilling is that only a couple of years ago the pilots were blaming their poor retention rate on a lack of flying hours. Now its this thing called Optempo. So I am back to my original question which was "Just exactly what aspect of Optempo is the REAL problem?"