AF Readiness - A Non-Rated Lieutenant's View of the Retention Problem

September 28, 1998

Comment: #196

Discussion Thread:  #195 and personnel retention problems


[1] Lt. XXX, email response to Commentary #195

The email below is a response to #195 is from an AF Lieutenant assigned to the Pentagon. He is an ROTC (scholarship) graduate and expert in computer science and information technology. He is the type of officer the AF (and the Defense Department) needs to keep, if it plans to fight on the electronic battlefield, envisioned by the "information dominance" theories being propounded by high priests of the revolution in military affairs.

Unfortunately, he is leaving the AF for many of the same reasons as our pilots. His impending departure is one more symptom of the growing wedge between the leaders and the led (remember Adm Gehman's arrogant distinction between big "R" and little "r" readiness, see #129).

But of course, information suggesting leadership problems, like that in this message and that in #195, is merely anecdotal and easily dismissed by the central planners in the Pentagon and the politicos in Congress, who will not let it interfere with their plan to throw money at the Pentagon.

After all, they can use some of budget to bribe people like this Lieutenant into staying (it won't work according to him). Under the mask of putting people first, Congress and the Pentagon could then continue the real game of using the bulk of the "readiness windfall" to buy high cost cold war weapons that don't work for threats that don't exist, or grossly over-priced versions of weapons systems we do need, like C-130Js [see Comment #154], while continuing to downplay or ignore the emerging Fourth Generation threats that do exist.

Chuck Spinney

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Reference #1

An AF Lt's Response to #195

Subject: Re: AF Readiness - Plummeting Pilot Retention Sets Stage for
Crash—A Cry From the Field

My officer that separated most recently left not because he didn't want an AF career (he was promoted to major with his 'P'), but because he knew the AF did not appreciate his service.

(regarding separating 33xxx's...) this guy is right on the money! It is principally my reason for ditching the AF after completing my ROTC commitment of 4 years. I do appreciate what financial assistance the AF provided to allow me to attend one of the nation's top Comp Sci schools. I can live for a (long) time without appreciation, but when faced with meager opportunities to grow and utilize my skills or derive a sense of achievement, what point is there in staying? I have no intention of letting myself become non-competitive with the private sector or to let my talents rust away. Bone headed decisions by the top echelons in AF IT or ill-advised forays into paranoia ("digital Pearl Harbor" et. al. by certain clue on challenged persons), only further the sense of hopelessness.

While a tour at the Pentagon can hardly be the best place for a junior LT, I have seen more than enough technical incompetence (the only thing the matters in our jobs) among my peers to be sick. Neither do I feel I have much to offer a service so bound by tradition or petty infighting that it actively works against creative minds with initiative.

I do not like the "it's your turn to get a bad deal and you'll take it or leave it" mentality that seems to pervade the Personnel Center.  It seems that even in cases where we might help ourselves, we only dig the hole deeper. Perhaps this manning crisis will eliminate some of the >incremental thinking that seems to plague our personnel system.

Amen brother! I'm very pessimistic on AFPC (AF Personnel Center) altering it's role as the USAF's #1 worst enemy. Why is it so hard to use market principles? Oh, I forgot. This is a bureaucracy, flexibility is verboten, initiative ruthlessly squashed. There is a price (not necessarily just cash) at some point where people will be agreeable to unfavorable assignments. But this requires a marketplace. Markets can not be legislated, neither can they be strictly controlled. I can't see civil servants giving up their penchant for control any time soon. As far as I care, AFPC can take their precious "career advancement tracks/plans/guidelines" and shove them.

The AF will never win a bidding war with the air lines or silicon valley from a monetary standpoint, but they could at least try not making the AF such a frustrating experience. When faced with salaries twice or three times as high as my current pay, is it any wonder why junior officers (WITH THE SKILLS) jump at the first opportunity? In a market system, resources and talent migrate to those who can pay or at least offer "good value." I believe we are seeing very clearly that the AF is simply non-competitive. Unfortunately, it is not a matter of simply letting the AF go out of business and die like any normal corporation. There are national security implications to say the least. I shudder to think of the day when the 33XXX field is staffed exclusively by those also-rans still left in the ranks.

About the only thing the military is good at is attracting bright young people with meager resources, giving them the chance to attend fine schools or learn valuable skills (flying, diving, adv. mechanical maintenance). Once equipped for gainful employment in the private sector they cut and run. Maybe that was the CinC's master plan - convert the military into one big job training / placement center to feed the maw of private industry. It's worked like a charm wouldn't you agree?