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Air Force Culture Change Pressed By New Secretary

Heather Wilson2

By Debbie Gregory.

New Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson thinks the Air Force has too much bureaucracy, too many regulations and too many people stuck doing busy work. And she wants to breathe some fresh air into the branch.

The Air Force is currently facing a crisis-level shortage in fighter pilots as well as an aging fleet, and the Rhodes Scholar is looking to improve all aspects of the service branch.

Wilson, 56,  feels that this may happen by relieving airmen of undue bureaucratic and training requirements, which many believe has driven Air Force pilots into commercial aviation.

Wilson’s attitude is: “Let’s not try to tell them how to do everything. Let’s tell them what to do, and let them surprise us with their ingenuity.”

The Air Force has 660,000 airmen, but is struggling to keep up with its demands. Wilson is advocating for adding additional aircraft and people.

The Keene, N.H. native was recruited for the job by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, a science and engineering university where Wilson served as president.

“Heather Wilson is a leader for all seasons,” Mattis said in a statement. “She distinguished herself as an active-duty Air Force officer and as the president of a university. Her experience in Congress and the private sector made her the ideal choice to lead the Air Force.”

Wilson was one of the first women to join the Air Force Academy when classes were opened up to women.  She graduated in 1982 from the Air Force in Colorado Springs. She had secured a slot in flight school, but was surprised to learn she also had been accepted as a Rhodes Scholar.

She earned her doctoral degree at Oxford University. She worked as a planning officer at the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and at the Pentagon.

“To me, I work for General Mattis and the United States Air Force, and I am here to serve the Air Force and organize, train and equip the Air Force and make sure it sustain combat operations in air and space,” she said. “My role is to focus on securing that, and that’s what General Mattis has asked me to do. That’s a mission that can and am happy to do.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Air Force Faces Shortage of Fighter Pilots

fighter pilor shortage

By Debbie Gregory.

The loss of highly trained and experienced pilots from the U.S. military to the private sector is a legitimate worry. And the U.S. Air Force says its deficit of fighter pilots is growing.

At the end of fiscal year 2016, the Air Force was short 750 fighter pilots, up from 511 at the end of the previous year.

“The health of the fighter pilot community is bad,” said Lt. Gen. Chris Nowland, Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements (AF/A3). “Recruiting and getting people on to fly is not a problem,” he added. “If you look across the Air Force, the quality of the individuals coming into the Air Force are some of the highest we ever had. That goes for the enlisted and officer force.”

The past 25 years of continuous combat operations has taken a toll on the Air Force fighter community. Compounding the problem since fiscal 2014, losses of fighter pilots have exceeded the Air Force’s annual production capacity.

The Air Force is tackling the problem of capacity.  There is a lot of infrastructure associated with ramping up pilot numbers.

The Air Force and has started several initiatives to fix problem areas with a threefold approach: reducing the number of fighter pilot requirements, increasing retention of pilots and increasing the production of new fighter pilots.

Much of the impact on the military flying community stems from the draw of commercial airlines, who have been hiring at an increased rate the past three years.

“There are three pillars that a lot of people focus on when considering staying in the military; quality of service, quality of life and monetary compensation,” said Col. Jason Cockrum, the AF/A3 director of staff. “Nobody in the civilian sector can compete with quality of service. What Airmen go out and do every day for our nation, you just can’t get that anywhere else.”

He continued, “So we are focused on improvements related to quality of life and monetary compensation. We are not going to be able to compete directly with the airline industry on the monetary piece, but we are focusing on how we can ensure the other two pillars offset any differences offered by the civilian sector.”

Air Force Fights to Retain Pilots

fighter pilot

By Debbie Gregory.

The Air Force is scrambling to head off what could be a major exodus of fighter pilots for the private sector. This would worsen an already-serious shortfall of fighter jocks. And if the Air Force can’t hold on to its front-line pilots, that could have dangerous repercussions for the United States’ ability to fight and win wars.

The acute shortage of fighter pilots could grow even worse, with nearly a third of all jobs becoming vacant in the coming years, senior service officials said.

Retention is also a major issue. The current goal is to try to retain as many pilots as possible in the short term, but there is a lot of completion from commercial airlines who are hiring thousands of fighter pilots.

According to Air Force Secretary Deborah James, the “quiet crisis” of the fighter pilot shortage is the most serious manning shortfall the Air Force is currently facing.

James is looking to Congress for the ability to boost financial incentives to recruit and keep pilots. She and Gen. David L. Goldfein, the service’s new top officer, attributed the shortfall to a wave of hiring in the commercial airline industry, high demand for air power keeping pilots deployed and away from their families, and a reduction in training while at home prompted by heavy usage and budget constraints. Civilian airlines are hiring about 3,000 to 3,500 pilots annually.

James and Goldfein said they want to improve pilots’ quality of life and their military service conditions, including training and housing.

The Air Force currently can pay pilots an extra $25,000 per year after they complete their initial service contract, which concludes 10 years from the completion of pilot training, a number that has not been changed in 17 years. The Air Force has proposed an increase to $48,000 per year, and a proposal in the House would boost the figure to $60,000.

Pilots at commercial airlines Delta, American and United can earn over $200,000 after just a few years on the job. In the Air Force, when flight pay and basic allowance for housing are factored in, captains and majors with a decade of flying under their belts, earn salaries of roughly $100,000 to $120,000. A $25,000 annual retention bonus makes up a little of that pay gap, but a $48,000 bonus would go a lot further.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.