Op-Ed: 'Family First' Approach Key to Addressing Pilot Shortage

A girl smiles as she hugs her father during the return of the 17th Airlift Squadron on Sept. 4, 2013, at Joint Base Charleston Air Base, S.C. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rasheen Douglas)
A girl smiles as she hugs her father during the return of the 17th Airlift Squadron on Sept. 4, 2013, at Joint Base Charleston Air Base, S.C. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rasheen Douglas)

Gen. Carlton Everhart II is head of the Air Force's Air Mobility Command.

The Air Force faces an ongoing pilot shortage. This is not the first time the Air Force has been in this position, and as long as there is a market for highly-trained, professional, disciplined Airmen it will not be the last.

Air Mobility Command pilots are particularly attractive candidates for employment. Our Airmen fly the same types of aircraft as the major national and regional airlines, making for an easy transition if they elect to leave the service. With 1,600 mobility pilots eligible to separate from the service over the next four years, we need to address this issue and maintain the right number of Airmen in our Air Force cockpits.

As we pursue solutions and seek improvements, AMC is planning to quickly put into place initiatives that demonstrate short-term progress. I'm also committed to improving our Airmen's quality of life in ways not entirely within the Air Force's or Air Mobility Command's span of control.

I believe we've done a good job of getting feedback from within on this matter. More than 700 Air Mobility Command Airmen offered suggestions for improvement. An area that we have not fully accounted for is the family perspective. One thing is increasingly clear: if Airmen stay or elect to depart the service, it is usually a family decision.

Regularly moving to different duty stations creates family disruption.

When our children change schools like they change clothes, it can add stress. Moving from a school district that is meeting a family's needs to one that does not creates discontent and sometimes drives military families to either home school, pay for private school, or settle for what is available. In any case, this impacts the quality of home life and becomes a burden of service.

Service before self is one of the Air Force's Core Values -- a concept all Airmen hold dear and live by. However, that should not mean sacrificing quality of education for our children. In some instances, Airmen elect to live 50 or more minutes from an installation to ensure education and stability are not compromised.

Part of enhancing quality of life for our Airmen is ensuring our military children have access to quality education. I think we can do better. I've already communicated with elected officials and local communities about the need for further partnering to enhance education in areas surrounding military installations.

There is genuine concern and interest in making improvement. I expect our wing and installation commanders to continue these efforts locally to advocate for their Airmen and families.

Additionally, we need to ensure quality employment options for spouses, working to ensure professional licenses transfer between states. Starting over is difficult enough, but being asked to put your career on hold by marrying into the Air Force is not acceptable. If we don't fix this, more talented Airmen and families will vote with their feet.

This is what we are also doing immediately within Air Mobility Command. While not all changes will be immediate, we're moving out on the following:

  • We are looking to identify unnecessary deployments and then eliminate them. We are working with U.S. Transportation Command, AMC's combatant command, to evaluate all AMC deployments to ensure Airmen are being used effectively and only when necessary.
  • We will more accurately measure time away from family and temporary duty/deployment tempos. We know Airmen are working much harder than the Department of Defense or Air Force metrics are taking into account. We're working across the Total Force -- Active Duty, Guard, and Reserves -- to develop a model to more accurately capture this data. We are also looking at ways to make life more stable for Airmen and families by making assignments longer and providing enhanced ability to meet family needs where the assignment system allows.
  • We want to add more mobility Airmen in the assignment management system. Adding more mobility Airmen at the Air Force Personnel Center will improve system-wide insight into AMC missions and demands. Having more mobility Airmen in AFPC will help ensure personal circumstances are better understood. This could also help to introduce enhanced flexibility into the assignment system.
  • We are pursuing an Aviator Track. I'm advocating for an aviator track, where the overwhelming majority of time spent is flying. This would impact a small number of AMC pilots initially. There are still a few things we need to coordinate with Headquarters Air Force on this front, but this is something that we are actively pursuing.
  • We are reducing additional duties to best focus on the core mission. I am in the process of fully manning the AMC squadron command support sections to enable Airmen to focus on their core missions. I've communicated to wing commanders that AMC will only enforce additional duties that are absolutely required and necessary.

The mobility machine is always churning hard and I have a dedicated professional team working across functions to ensure we move out and get after what is required to demonstrate to our Airmen that they are valued and their inputs have been heard.

We are working closely with community partners to ensure our families have the resources and opportunities required to succeed where the Air Force needs them. Those I've met with have expressed genuine concern and interest in helping us get to where we need to be.

We will continue to work to earn and maintain the trust of our Airmen and create enhanced quality of service and life for our service members and their families.

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