Why are pilots leaving AF? 

July 28, 1998

Comment: #156


[1] Response to # 155 by Senate Staffer (Attached)

[2] Response to # 155 by former Special Forces EM with combat time in Vietnam (Attached)

Comment #155 was a thoughtful response 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.

The comments referenced introduce additional perspectives on the problem of trust and leadership.

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Reference 1

Response to Comment #155 by Senate Staffer to Comment #155

I completely agree with these insightful comments. There may also be some data available that tends to support this thinking. Last May members of the Senate Appropriations and other committees visited troops in the Gulf and Bosnia. They found severe morale problems in the Gulf but not in Bosnia. Three explanations were offered: 1) charismatic, involved military leadership in Bosnia; while the leadership in the Gulf was not directly criticized, it wasn't praised as it was in Bosnia by the troops (who met with the Senators without their commanding officers in both places), 2) the troops in Bosnia did not complain about the nature of the mission, while the ones in the Gulf did, (i.e. they questioned why they were there and the policies behind it), and 3) rotation policy; in Bosnia its wholesale units left in tact; in the Gulf its bits and pieces from all over.

The inversion of these troops reaction compared to the great minds inside the beltway is interesting. Here, Bosnia is controversial; the Gulf deployments are much less so. It's a good example of those who think of themselves as the elite being out of touch with the "victims" of their policies. When was the last time that Madeline Albright or Bill Cohen met with the troops -- without commanding officers and without cameras? I don't know, but I'll wager it was never.

Reference 2

Response to #155 by a former Special Forces EM with lots of combat time in Vietnam

An interesting point of view (one I Agree with). It also raises a point I would like to elaborate on.

First, flying hours, In order to safely and efficiently (complete various missions) fly high performance air craft you need lots of time. 15-20 hours a month is totally insufficient for safe flying. Needs are somewhere around 35 hours per month. And most of that time needs to be developing and maintaining skills such as low level flight (the nonsense of Desert Storm with a minimum floor of 10,000+ feet AGL is not typical for combat flying). Could one reason have been lowering proficiency prior to 1991??

Your Idea of a study of US military should cost about $25 million (from an independent outside group) and should cover mission, personnel and procurement. If someone is really interested in reforming DOD and increasing mission capabilities, then a truly independent study would be very helpful. In fact this should be an acid test of a reformer.

Second, the complaining about OPTEMPO is not the problem, as you well know. The problem is too few aircraft, too few crews and too few support personnel for the number of missions that the service "leadership" has agreed to. The current procurement problems, on which you speak so eloquently, are only one of the "leadership" failures. The other major one is missions.