By Col. Mark S. FuhrmannJuly 13, 2018
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Washington -- One of the foundational aspects of America's military strength is the ability to project forces anywhere on the planet at the time and place of our choosing. Rapid Global Mobility represents the fastest, most agile way to achieve that objective, with our strategic airlift fleet and personnel at the very heart of it.
Aircrews thrive on this diverse and rewarding mission as they traverse every continent in support of our nation. However, since sequestration, significant reductions in manning in the active-duty C-17 Globemaster III enterprise, including the loss of two active-duty flying squadrons, have had an impact. Remaining crews must operate at a pace challenging to sustain without future changes. In its current form, this environment wears out our most important resource, our people.
Fortunately, leadership at all levels of the Air Force acknowledge the problem and are working hard to address the retention crisis. There is a consensus that the high demand on mobility aircrews and loadmasters in the C-17 community impact the quality of life in the Air Force; while opportunities, predictability and pay in the civilian aviation industry further depletes the force.
The Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower and Personnel Services, Lt. Gen. Gina M. Grosso, in her House panel testimony on efforts to recruit and retain the best talent, addressed these existing challenges.
"As you're aware, our most stressed operational career field is aviation," Grosso said in an April 13 Department of Defense article. "As of October 2017, our total force pilot shortage was approximately 2,000 with the largest shortage, 1,300, in our fighter pilot inventory."
She proceeded to highlight the fiscal 2019 budget funds increased pilot production capacity, and initiatives designed to improve pilot retention by addressing the assignment operational tempo and quality of life issues.
As the commander of the 62nd Operations Group, I have relied on the innovation and creativity of our amazing Airmen to help effect immediate change. Additionally, group and wing commanders across the C-17 community are taking purposeful steps to solve problems that most directly affect our aircrews.
To make that difference, we first started by reducing demands on our team. The Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein has taken steps to "revitalize the squadron" by allowing commanders to eliminate activities not directly tied to mission and providing manpower for administrative activities. As a stopgap measure, we have arranged contractor support that starts this month, to provide squadron commanders administrative continuity in key areas until civilian personnel are hired into the units.
Next, we are focused on realigning the enterprise to a more sustainable model that is compatible with our reduced force structure. Over the last nine months, efforts with Air Mobility Command and United States Transportation Command have created more time for aircrews and units to train and restore quality of life by capping the number of missions validated.
There is also an effort to better accommodate quality of life concerns by encouraging long-range planning to better balance mission demands with personal and professional requests. Individuals are encouraged to plan their training, upgrades, deployments, professional development, missions and major life events, in direct coordination with supervisors, to map their next year and beyond. Given the nature of our business, there will be deviations from even the best plans, but long-range planning can provide an 80 percent solution for most of the force, allowing us to greatly improve the quality of life for our Airmen and their families and restore vitality to our squadrons.
Although these and other efforts are being implemented, challenges still remain. Among the most daunting challenges for leadership in AMC is, ironically, the shortage of fighter pilots. To address this shortage, taskings for undergraduate pilot training instructors have increased to bolster student throughput in an attempt to rebuild the Combat Air Forces. Further, aircrews faced an increase of over 230 percent in demand for airdrop crews to support the Army's Airborne Corps' requirements.
Despite these challenges, we are confident in the ability of our Airmen to continue to embrace innovation and implement initiatives that make the difference. It is our Airmen, through direct feedback and engagement, who provided solutions to very dynamic issues, which are being systematically addressed at all levels in the Air Force.
There is work to be done, but we have a culture that faces challenges head on and always rises to the occasion. Our mission provides intangibles such as camaraderie and a sense of purpose that cannot be rivaled. Our Airmen know they are part of the world's greatest, most capable Air Force.
This is why we are successful, and leadership will continue to move mountains to protect that culture. Our hope is when the time comes for our Airmen to decide whether or not to continue their service, after they weigh their experiences and options, they recognize that Air Force leadership values them above all else.