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Bailout Bailout Bailout

Posted by Jolly on September 14, 2015


From JOHN Q PUBLIC, by Tony Carr, 12 Sept 2015


Fighter pilots are bailing out of the Air Force, and no one knows what to do about it, least of all the generals.

Got my hands on an email sent last week by Maj Gen Tom Deale, Director of Operations for Air Combat Command (ACC), to operations group commanders across the fighter community. Both in form and substance, this email reveals and illustrates a huge but deliberately obscured problem gripping the corporate Air Force (“corporate” used in the pejorative sense here).  It’s the latest evidence of an institutional crisis being actively hidden, and which, as a result, continues to deepen with potentially dire consequences to national defense.

Year after year, the USAF finds itself in worse shape. Year after year, generals ask the field to explain why great people are bailing. Year after year, the answers are rendered, and senior management ignores the answers, finding them exceedingly inconvenient. 

That disclaimer having been rendered, here’s some more old wine in a new bottle. Analysis after.

—–Original Message—–

Sent: Wednesday, September 9, 2015 12:22 AM

Subject: ACTION: Fighter Squadron [Quality of Life] inputs to CSAF


BLUF: CSAF has asked AF/A35 to gather your inputs for immediate actions the HQ staff can take to improve QoL and reduce the additional duty workload in our fighter squadrons to help support fighter pilot retention.

BACKGROUND: The AF is currently 520 fighter pilots short and the shortfall is growing by approximately 170 fighter pilots per year.  The FY14 and FY15 bonus take rates are at approximately 45% which is slightly lower than previous years.  While the guidance to AFPC has been to keep operational units and FTUs manned at 100%, our test squadrons are manned at 85%, fighter staff billets are filled at less than 50%, and UPT fighter billets are being filled at less than 30%.  The Air Force is currently considering efforts to increase fighter pilot production, but there is not a silver bullet that will solve the fighter pilot short fall in the near-term.

DISCUSSION:  AF/A35 would like to quickly gather your inputs to improve [Quality of Life] (e.g. civilian scheduler, PEX, or STAN/EVAL manpower) IOT present recommendations to Air Force Senior Leadership at the Rated Manning Summit on 17 Sept. As part of the ongoing Fighter Enterprise Tiger Team, A35 has a weekly telecom and would like to invite fighter OGs to call in next Thursday 10 Sept at 1200L EST.  

For medium to far-term considerations, CSAF has directed an AFSO 21 event to look at how the Air Force mans, trains, and equips the fighter enterprise, and the Air Force policies that impact [Quality of Life] and retention.  


1) Provide recommendations via email for immediate near-term actions the HAF staff can take to increase QoL and reduce the additional duty workloads in our fighter squadrons NLT 1600 on 11 Sept.  No special format required (word doc or bar napkin acceptable).   Send them to the AF/A35 POCs: Lt Col Jason Cockrum and Lt Col Chris “Lude” Kibble.

2) Provide OG representation from across the fighter community during the 10 Sept Fighter Enterprise Telecon.  The Telecon is from 1200-1300 EST on Thursday 10 Sept, the call in number is: (XXX) XXX-2077.

This is good news for our fighter community.  Expect more information to follow as the Fighter Enterprise AFSO 21 team stands up.  The team will be looking for your continued inputs to help improve the fighter force.

I look forward to hearing your recommendations.

Very respectfully,


Maj Gen Thomas Deale, USAF
ACC Director of Air and Space Operations

What triggered this latest staff seizure? 

Well, beyond “CSAF said so,” it’s not clear. But rumor has it a recent spate of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) assignments levied on the fighter community catalyzed a proportional spate of separation requests. After several years of watching the RPA community devolve into a slow-motion train wreck, most fighter pilots (and most pilots in other weapon systems, for that matter) have little taste for a 3-year detour through a community that wantonly and unashamedly grinds participants into a fine powder before shuttling back to their home communities … where the work they did is little appreciated and they’ve fallen irrecoverably behind peers in career progression. Oh by the way, three years is a ballpark figure, since the personnel system has zero integrity and breaks tour length promises as if tending to a bodily function.

Then again, maybe Deale and ACC are finally coming to terms with what many of us have been predicting for a long time. Kick a dog enough times, it bites back. But that only applies to dogs. Fighter pilots don’t have to be here. Rather than bite back, they’ll just find someone more deserving of their loyalty. They’ll have little trouble finding work elsewhere, and they know it. Why aren’t they taking the bonus? Because when the bullshit reaches a certain level, there’s not enough money in the world to make it electively endurable.

The email seems to acknowledge this by making Quality of Life its subject, and it seems to further embrace it by touching on possible fixes to squadron life. This isn’t about clubs, golf courses, libraries, or “resiliency.” It’s about the unsustainability of self-sustainment. You can have excellent fighter capabilities or you can have unsupported, and therefore self-supporting, fighter squadrons. You can’t have both. Once the choice is made to forego excellence, most airmen will want no further part of the USAF, and the best ones — those most committed to excellence as a core value — will be the first to leave.

Then again, this is nothing new. It’s been a problem since the Air Force allowed its personnel officials to persuade it on the merits of trading 40,000 personnel authorizations for the chance at more modernization money. The cash never materialized, but the people were instantly gone, and for good. They weren’t stripped from staffs, they were robbed from squadrons, leaving operational warfighters to take on roles as financiers, training managers, clerks, program administrators, deployment coordinators, equipment custodians, and countless more. Basically, what had been done for decades to directly support flying operations was done no more, and the work was pushed onto the backs of those with a duty to remain professionally prepared to engage the enemy. This burdened everyone with a massive and perpetual distraction from core duties. Then, the Air Force — by its own hand and through a constant moral failure to push back the hands of others — added tons more non-negotiable requirements to slate, “gifting” self-sustaining squadrons with useless and bug-ridden computer systems proxying for the people it had heisted.

Now, it behaves as though any of this is a shock. It shouldn’t be, and least of all to Mark Welsh, whose track record with similar fly-for-presence staff efforts dates back years. In 2010, while commanding US Air Forces in Europe, Welsh was shown a particularly well-crafted and hard-hitting “Dear Boss” email written by a departing fighter pilot. Perhaps remembering how his own generation had struggled to break the corporate addiction to bullshit in the post-Vietnam years, Welsh sent a query to the field — very similar to the email above — asking fighter pilots to tell him their troubles. They told him their troubles, which are by now a familiar refrain. To his credit, Welsh listened. To his discredit, he didn’t do anything meaningful to fix the issues. Not then, and not when he became Chief of Staff.

I suppose that’s not entirely fair. He did two things. First, he put in place a policy that formally removed the previous de facto requirement for officers to chase pro forma graduate degrees in their off-duty time in order to be retained and/or promoted. He also told the personnel system to fix squadron administrative support. But years down the line, neither of those initiatives has put a dent in the quality of squadron life problem he inherited, which in fact has continually worsened. It’s not mysterious why. He simply didn’t go far enough in either of these cases or in the myriad other ways necessary to address the deep-seated problems manifesting themselves.

Will this time be different? Only if ACC and Welsh take meaningful action on the inputs, no matter where they lead. This might mean, among other things, scaling back deployments (yes, there are many deployments that continue because no one has the moral courage to challenge them), slowing down assignments, rooting out the commodity-driven human resource mindset on staffs, sustainably restructuring career progression models, weeding out the bureaucratic underbrush of functionally driven training and compliance requirements, restoring direct support to squadron leaders, shoring up the endemically crippled communities across the force that continually drain vitality in efforts to prop them up, and policing abusive and dishonest conduct by senior officers. Basically, Welsh has to commit to combating and rooting out bullshit. Fighter pilots have every right to be skeptical that he’ll do so given the trajectory of the last three years since he took over as Chief. 

Then again, solid inputs may be hard to come by given not just the track record of previous “efforts” but the telltale formulation of this request. Note how the call for inputs narrows the field of permissible inputs. Note also how it gives recipients less than two days to gather information and respond. Finally, note how it advances the laughable pretense that an AFSO21 “improvement initiative” stands any chance of generating anything remotely useful. This is at once a joke and an abdication of a core Air Staff and Chief of Staff responsibility. One can’t help but sense apathy given these features.

Deale ends his email with an upbeat tone. Can’t blame him, but it signals panic rather than confidence. Given the persistent lack of leadership this email demonstrates, this might be one of those rare occasions where panic is appropriate.



Posted by ViperPilot on
And the pendulum swings. Don't you find it ironic that just a few years ago, the AF was either RIFing or non-promoting rated officers out of the Air Force due to downsizing/overmanning? We've all seen this time and time again. Give it another 5-10 years and there will be an overage/excess again. That or the Airlines will slow/stop hiring.
OH, and let me guess, there is no shortage of Fighter Pilots in the LTC/COL ranks...only senior captains/junior majors? Any shortage of O-5s wanting a Squadron Command?
Posted by ViperPilot on
Second thought.. Give em a bunch of $$$ and a 15 year commitment...that would do it. I'm not talking little $$...BIG $$. How about a $75,000 or $100,000 a year bonus? They'd way or the other.
Posted by Jonesman on
Second. $100k/year lines up with our expertise, work ethic and ability to get the J O B done regardless of obstacles.

Airlines want fighter pilots and many of my bros are being treated very well and being compensated extraordinarily well.

$100k/year indeed, it's about time fighter pilots are treated right.

When "it" hits the fan and experienced fighter pilots have all punched, we'll unfortunately be in a world of hurt.
Posted by TigerLilly on
I did not know it had reached quite this level within the FP community. It appears that all the lessons learned during the Vietnam era have gone by the wayside once again. It truly saddens me to read this report.
Posted by Plug on
I don't want to bad mouth the USAF, but..... I recall once (probably as we were promising the base ops officer to never return to that base with our Phantoms) I saw an office in base ops that had a sign... something or other management office. This was the late 70's.

As a Marine I thought a management office in the military was odd. From my experience of 7 years in the back of a Phantom in the USMC, 20 years at Texas Instruments and teaching math in a high school, the last thing most organizations need is more management. My sense is that the Air Force is always managing. And the rest of the military is following fast.

You can't keep people who are passionate about their jobs with money. You need to let them pursue their passion. Saw that theme over and over. Now teachers are leaving in droves because they are being managed. And not always, but generally, the managers are almost never leaders.

I fear for this country if we ever have to fight a real war. The damn political correctness has choked us near to death.
Posted by wroberts1956 on
This goes back to when Gen Ryan publicly stated that you had to be BYZ and/or a FWS Grad to command...saw WAY too many BTZ never reach the "increased resposibility" prediction and the result is the mediocre GOs we see today (Along with the fact that the talent pool is horribly depleted by the cream punching out)'s the self-licking ice-cream cone of mediocrity promoting more mediocrity and the result the best leave and dregs get promoted...Oral
Posted by Duke on
wroberts1956 hit it on the head. Good statement. Not to say the others are wrong, but Roberts is right on!
Posted by ViperPilot on
All good comments indeed. Though I reiterate. Give them enough $$$..and they will stay. Though NOT where DoD wants to go and we all understand why. Case in point. Those of you that got out before retirement. Would YOU have stayed for a $200,000 a year bonus till 15 years? Oh HELL ya would be the answer I think. Sure, would never happen, but if it did...problem solved!
Posted by PaulKimminau on
My comment would be: Think back to when you went to the Officers Club with your buddies, had a few beers, told some jokes, and actually had fun. Then think about when the Upper Echelon decided maybe that was not a good idea. Then the added women to the mix. Then you had to take the duffer book out of the Squadron. Then you couldn't even use the F… work because it might offend someone. Then it got to be OK to be queer. (Boy am I glad I got out before it became mandatory.) Hell, I don't have to go on any further. You get the point. Once it wasn't fun any more, why stay. PK
Posted by Springer on
Well here we go again. Didn't we do this back in '79 and it was called "Aircrew Concerns Conferences?" In fact there was a secret AF Academy paper done how someone with 18 yrs of service could resign, go to the airlines and do better financially. Welch was a Tweet IP during that time and should be well versed on why pilots were bailing then and how it is even worse today. There were no bonuses and when they would not listen to us, my base, Bergstrom, had the highest DOS rate in the AF.

I pulled the handles and never looked back, currently enjoying a great airline fact am typing this on a flight from London back to the US in business class. Best decision I ever made.
Posted by NiteriderCommander on
Yes we did. I was a participant at that one at Langley AFB. Sat right next to General Creech as a matter of fact. He did not like my comments about the lack of integrity in the senior officer corps of the USAF.
Posted by pilothugh on
Well things they have changed. After I retired in 1984 I was lucky enough to obtain work as a line pilot with Northwest Airlines. In my semiannual travels from Minneapolis home to our home in Fort Myers we would try to overnight in both Scott and Maxwell. I could remember from my days in C & S at Maxwell the O Club was crazy full. When we stopped several years there was a promotion party for the Majors could have thrown a rock and not hit anyone. It was sad. Also why can't the Air Force seek out old retired guys like me on a contract and let us fly the drones. I had almost 20 more years of flying left in me. And airline flying's is a good life. It is a wonder anyone stays in.
Posted by Plug on
I left the USMC in 1981. At the time I could have stayed and got a year's pay bonus, $30K at the time, paid over 4 years. But after 7 years, a good chunk of it in operational squadrons, I could not weasel out of orders to FAC duty. That would be close to 2 years in the USMC. Then I most likely would have gotten orders to AWS (mid level school) for a year or so.

Then, probably, maybe, back to operational units as a senior Captain. Then after a couple of years to group staff jobs.

Money is good, its a prerequisite, but having the 25 tons of aluminum strapped to your ass on a frequent basis is why I believe most flyers stay, or leave.

Damn, I remember training in Pensacola in the 70's. 25 cent drinks, CO's buying, drinking with the students and instructors, songs, learning all about Naval/Marine Corps aviation. Long gone. Sad
Posted by StuM on
PK has it right. When the fun stops, Fighter Pilots will go to where there is still a chance to have a good time. In 1987 TAC formed a "Retention Team". I arranged a meeting between BubbaDean and the then CG 2MAW, Zorro Dailey. Why do the Marines not have this problem? Bubba Dean asked. Because, Gen Dailey answered, in the Marines we don't think mission accomplishment and fun are mutually exclusive! The other elephant in the room is one
of trust. When the Captain cannot trust his Colonel to protect from some zealot who wants him punished for burning a piano or reading Playboy, the Capt will find a new boss. PC is killing us!

Stu the Bhagwan
Posted by Plug on
I smiled when I read a couple of comments about folks who talked about being on some conference. It took me a while, after all I am a Marine, but eventually I learned that when someone in a position of higher authority (than you or the assembled crowd) asks 'what's wrong?, how can we improve things?' ..... what they are really asking is please, please, please reinforce what we are doing is right, I am wonderful and you are thankful to be here. If you answer in any other way, oh my! Not a good career move, in any career.

I can vouch its the same in the military as industry and teaching. All the same. Think about it. The people in charge made things bad, why would they think you know better? Did they ask you how things ought to be done in the first place?
Posted by NiteriderCommander on
You may have the wrong impression about the 1979 Retention Conference. We had 35 O-3s, about half with DOS. We had 4 days of breakout sessions to discuss retention problems and offer solutions. Interestingly,
the chief of TAC personnel gave us a list of things to consider-none of which seemed relevant to us. So we kicked him out and came up with our own list. I had no idea how I was selected to be at the conference until 5 years later. The person in charge of selecting all of us(fellow fighter pilot) rigged the deck by selecting guys he felt would tell the truth. Most of us walked out with our heads high.
Posted by Plug on
NC, apologies if I came across as insinuating any one trying to improve things is bad. Not my intention at all. What I have seen, way too many times, is upper echelon people sensing or knowing something is not right, asking those in the 'rank and file' what ought to be fixed. More often than not, again, in my experience, the result has been a lot of hot air and gum flapping. And not much improvement. In the worst case I have seen retribution for those asked to be honest and then slapping them around for their honesty. I think pretty much anyone who has flown fighters is gonna give you a pretty straight forward answer. I know a few guys who I wouldn't trust as far as you could kick them but that was a rare exception.
I just read the SecNav is chastising a panel who found that USMC combat units with women assigned are not as effective as those with just males. I would not chose sides in that debate but the SecNav gets an answer he does not like so the result is blame the investigators. Perfect. I guess the 'good news' is that nothing ever changes.
Posted by NiteriderCommander on
I flew in the Air National Guard for 11 years after 10 on active duty. First 8 years was a breath of fresh air, then same active duty attitudes began to flourish. Finally got time to leave. Greatest group of fighter pilots I ever flew with though.
Posted by Seagull on
Many years ago there was a "career broadening" opportunity to leave flying to become a cone head . Can you imagine the kiss of death having your OER written by a career cone head. I always said that the Generals did not understand the fighter pilot because to become a general you had to behave in a manner that was quite unlike a decent fighter pilot. I knew guys who got promoted ahead of me who crashed the frigging airplane through their incompetence but had sponsors so they got promoted anyway. We fly because it's fun, the generals just don't get it.
Posted by XF4driver on
I agree with all who have said that when flying fighters stops being fun it is time to leave. Unfortunately too many upper echelon ranks look at that "fun" idea and presume that I, the professional fighter pilot, is immature and needs some staff desk time. Such desk time to include courses on management and PC. Not for this guy.
Posted by Plug on
Ya know what's interesting? When the fan is hit by the sh... who ya gonna call?
Posted by messkit on
When you don't trust the folks you are working for, it's time to bail
Posted by Duke on
Hard to believe, but things are getting worse. And I was a fighter pilot sent to SAC :( coming out of Vietnam as a Major. The excuse from personnel was that SAC was short of experienced pilots. Believe me, flying with SAC is as bad as fighters pilots hear it is, if not worse!!!!!!!!!!
Posted by JFrisby on
It’s disturbing to see all the lessons we learned recovering from Vietnam and the success of Desert Storm gone to waste. As a former Fighter Pilot, Bomber Pilot, Instructor Pilot, Scope Dope, staff puke, DCO and Wing Commander with two Service provided MA's and two Joint tours, I don't buy the whining about degrees or additional duties taking away from developing the required professional skills to be good in your job - suck it up. SAC sucked? So did TAC, ADC and ATC, so what? I see a lot of BS and whining here. Yes we've been subject to lousy management and lack of leadership. I blame McPeak's rule of three times BLZ to become a CC since that caused promoting guys without giving them time to gain the operational experience they needed to be a good commanders. So now we have a bunch of senior officers that became politically correct in order to survive and be promoted without the judgement that comes from learning it the hard way. I destroyed an O'Club stag bar and did a lot of other stupid things but survived because my commanders understood and gave us the opportunity to do stupid shit and learn from it. The PC environment forced on the military by politicians who don't know, don't care, and don't give a shit except to impress their idiotic social engineering on us is destroying the very fiber of what it takes to be a Warrior. How could they know, we've become a society separate from the rest our country who are too busy shopping. Get rid of the idiots running the country and start over.
Posted by JOLLY28 on
Very interesting and, for the most part, absolutely true and precise forensic comments. But I read nothing that addressed the "fix" until the last post by JFrisby who tapped in a few nails. I'm a former enlisted Navy guy who got inoculated with the "I'm going to fly" virus at the age of 17 while part of a carrier's crew. I did it the hard way and didn't complete USAF pilot training until after age 28. (Just to add some insight as to my perspective today.) The closest I got to be a fighter pilot was flying the great T-38 for six months during pilot training. It just added to my admiration and respect for pilots who flew fast movers for a living, regardless of branch of service. But having flown for SAC during the height of the "cold" war, on airborne alert with enough destructive power to vaporize small countries, or flying combat rescue in the "Jolly Green" rotary wing machine in Vietnam, I learned that we pilots were mostly all WARRIORS and the code of the warrior is not limited to fighter pilots alone. And more to the point of this discussion, we all were subject to the lack of planning, support, leadership, and warrior spirit exhibited by politicians and many of the uniformed upper echelon of the services. Most of us could care less about how much we were paid as long as we got the equipment and support from our service and could take care of our families; it was the joy of flying and the pride we took in successfully doing our assigned jobs, whatever they were, that was our greatest remuneration. And clearly, by the way, there were two types of officers who roamed the halls or the decks: the warriors and the "politicians". The last thing a warrior aspired to was a tour in "sin city" DC. The "politicians" couldn't wait! So, guys think - who were the people who made the decisions in Washington? And who decided where the unending cuts would come from. A real leader wants to stay with the troops who get it done. The leaders in Washington have other objectives. And the few who still had the warrior heart were forced out. We're approaching the "bail out" stage not only for fighter pilots, but for just about every dedicated stiff who made this country great: teachers, police, military warriors, factory workers, doctors, nurses, judges and many other professionals. We need to get politically active and get rid of the "p.c." infected people who run the country today or we won't have one to leave to our kids and grandkids. The problems noted in Fighter U go well beyond fighter pilots and squadrons - they affect every "doer" in the country. My best to you all.
Posted by Lyndy33 on
I'm an old guy but just found this web site. Why are all the comments and stories from 2015-16? "The force is shot to hell" is not a new song. KMAGYOYO is not new. If you want to feel sick and understand WTF is going on, read "Thud Ridge". This is just a continuation of the McNamara efficiency feces. If you ask me, part of the problem is standard air refueling. Who wants to set in a fighter boring holes for more than an hour and a half? Emergency air refueling, Thank God, normal air refueling sucks. I'm surprised there are any fighter pilots left except for the few kids who listened to stories from old fighter pilots but that was a different world and those kids soon learn the difference.
Posted by Squirrel on
What about bringing back the enlisted Pilot programs? I.E. Flying Sargeants or something along those lines, to fill the billets for Drone operations and support aircraft? Just my humble opinion.
Posted by ftrpilot on
Well, it appears the Pentagon figured out that the O-3's thru O-6s couldn't be beat on any more and have given up trying to retain any loyalty. Even the Guard has a difficult time retaining flight officers. Hopefully the Covid endemic will attract some of the younger officers to hang tight on any moves into the major carriers.
So they started integration of Artificial Intelligence with the DARPA project this year along with the Air Combat Evolution (ACE). This will begin the final broom sweep of Combat Squadrons as we know them. There will be the rare combat veteran who will be the awe of the O club. When he's gone there will be nothing but AI post graduate who let's the box dictate his defensive or offensive battle plan. The overhead Angel flight will battle it out like a huge combat war game.
Throw a nickel on the grass'
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