Facing a shortage of air crews, the U.S. Air Force announced a test program it hopes would allow the service to retain pilots.
Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson discussed the program during a visit to Scott Air Force Base on Friday to meet with Air Mobility Command.
“We’re looking at retention, as well as producing more pilots,” Wilson said. “It’s better if you retain.”
At the end of September, the Air Force was 2,000 pilots short, Wilson said. She said 30 percent of pilots said they want the option to fly only, and not be on a track for a leadership position. The Air Force has been losing pilots to commercial airlines.
“Not everyone wants to prepare themselves to be a squadron commander,” Wilson said. “This would allow some pilots to choose to just plan to be in the cockpit. It may mean they may not end up being lieutenant colonels at the 20-year point or something, but they could have a meaningful career in aviation, committed to mastering aviation and not necessarily becoming the commander.”
The test program is for personnel who have been in the service for 11 to 13 years and have the rank of major.
“We heard our pilots, we listened, and we’re doing something about it,” said Gen. Carlton Everhart, II, commander of Air Mobility. “While long-term solutions to build experience are necessary, we cannot wait. This is an immediate effort to keep an initial cadre of our talented pilots flying while offering the stability they’ve been asking for. This is about Air Force leadership listening to the needs of our Airmen and making timely decisions to retain capability, revitalize squadrons, and deliver the right warfighting effects.”
During the visit, Wilson, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, wouldn’t comment directly on the recent headlines at Scott Air Force base involving Colonel John Howard, who previously commanded the 375th Air Mobility Wing, and faces sexual assault and sexual misconduct charges.
Wilson also said the Air Force has been working to reduce sexual assault and other sexual misconduct.
She said the Air Force is implementing a program that empowers bystanders to help prevent incidents of sexual assault, explain how bystanders can intervene and help someone get out of a situation to make sure they stay safe.
“We continue to have very strong response mechanisms to sexual assault and to investigate to support victims,” Wilson said. “We also want to see a reduction in the incidents to sexual assault.
“I think the Air Force has a better prevention and response mechanism to sexual assault and sexual harassment than most institutions I’ve been affiliated with,” said Wilson, who has served in congress, worked in the private sector, and been president of The South Dakota School of Mines & Technology.
Among the other issues local leaders always try to prepare for is the possibility of another base realignment and closure process in the future.
“There’s not a base realignment and closure authorization in last year’s defense bill and the defense department didn’t request one,” Wilson said. “It does over time make it difficult to adjust infrastructure in a normal way any company and honestly all the other federal agencies do. You can’t do that in the military without a round of base realignment closures, because that’s the law.”
Wilson said the Air Force has added two factors when considering adding missions to a base or for any possible realignment process.
“First is the quality of the public schools, airmen care about the schools for their children. An airman is four times as likely to have a college degree in the community in which they live. They’re highly educated and value education for their children,” Wilson said. “The second is reciprocity for licensure for family members.”
Reciprocity would be helpful to military families where both parents work.
Wilson gave the example of a military family having one spouse licensed to be a teacher in one state, but is transferred to another state. The spouse who is licensed as a teacher may have to wait a year to get a new professional license in the new state.
She added the same could apply for other professions that require licensing such as nurses, certified accountants, therapists or real estate agents.
“There’s a lot more jobs that require professional licensure today than there were in 1950 and it’s an issue for families,” Wilson said.