The other evening, I had a chance to chat for a few minutes with a young man I first met about ten years ago. At the time he was awaiting assignment after washing out of F-15 training and was told he would be going to EC-130H aircraft at Davis-Monthan. He had been a navigator before pilot training, had been among the top of his class in pilot training, and wanted to go someplace where the mission would be more exciting then just flying in circles.
We had chatted about a new aircraft AFSOC was just beginning to the field and he was very interested. The U-28 is a light corporate aircraft we have adapted for battlefield surveillance. My feeble attempts to get him an assignment went for naught, but he met someone who was flying the aircraft, and they introduced him to the Squadron Commander who was able to get his assignment changed.
Our commanders do a great job of telling everyone how important they are, but at the end of the day we make little effort to care for anyone other than those who seem preordained to be Generals. At one point we had gone so far as to change the assignment codes for pilots and navigators on the staff so that anyone but a Special Ops pilot or nav could apply. The argument was there were too few SOF aircrew to release them from the flying jobs. Consequently, they are now coming up for promotion to senior ranks and do not compete with their peers who have had the opportunity to expand their skills.
We wonder aloud why we have problems with retention and experience and look everywhere but at ourselves. Every General I’ve worked for has had an agenda, every one sets goals and objectives, some want new aircraft, others think we can do everything ourselves, others believe we need the latest technology available. We universally mourn the loss of warriors killed on the battlefield or in training, but we place the burden of the war on the shoulders of our young airman until they can no longer take it. For the lucky this leads to a choice between their careers and their families, for too many it is a choice between life and death.