As we take a look at the current pilot shortage wreaking havoc on the readiness levels of tactical aviation DoD-wide, it’s important to see how we got from “there” to “here.” How does this happen? How do you go from being a young, twenty-something fighter pilot fresh out of your basic course to being willing to walk away from the career you always wanted barely a decade later? It’s a slow, insidious process, and it might look like this.

Picture it:

You’re twenty one years old and just picked up a coveted pilot slot in the United States Military. It’s what you’ve dreamed about and worked toward your entire life, and after commissioning, you realize that dream has finally become a reality. It’s 2006, and the world is at war with terrorism – three years into Iraq and five years into Afghanistan. You are ready to make a difference.

You show up at pilot training and meet twenty other like-minded individuals. They will become your best friends for the next fifty four weeks and possibly your entire career. The excitement is palpable as you attend your first briefing.

Pilot training is hard, they tell you. Twelve hour days, studying, flying, and finding time to stay in shape to endure the forces on your body. You have to put forth your best effort, but you can’t do it alone. Cooperate to graduate. It’s a team effort. Help your buddies and they help you. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

So you do exactly that. Phase I is strictly academics and survival training. You learn the physics, the rules, and the procedures. You learn how to survive an ejection and you get the first look at the systems of your new aircraft. You and your newfound friends study and work together to pass.

A T-6A Texan II, the primary training aircraft for the USAF in its Undergraduate Pilot Training program, takes off from Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, Texas. (Photo by Curt Jans)

Hitting the flightline, your hard work finally pays off. You get your “Dollar ride” in your first military aircraft. You can’t believe you’re getting paid to do this job. Your friends all celebrate with you.

The next few weeks are grueling. Six AM stand-up being grilled in front of your peers on what you would do in an emergency situation starts every morning. There are more tests, both flying and academic. You learn to balance study time with sleep and fitness. You spend extra time in the simulators helping struggling classmates and reviewing lessons learned.

You go through the highs – soloing, passing checkrides, and flying formation and aerobatics for the first time. And you go through the lows – busting rides, having to “sit down” during standup, and watching your friends struggle. Throughout it all, you’re told to focus on the mission. Cooperate to graduate.

Phase II draws to an end and track select night happens. You manage your expectations with the needs of the Air Force. The people with the highest scores track fighters, some happily go to heavies, while others select helos and C-130s. Your class suddenly goes from 30 to 7 as you move to T-38s.

Wash, rinse, and repeat from Phase II, but this time, the expectations are higher. You band together and get through it, once again experiencing the highs and the lows.

At the end of the year, you finally reach graduation night. Assignments are passed out. You are excited to fly the Mighty Viper. You’ve been in love with that airplane since childhood.

Graduation night happens. Your parents, friends, and family are beaming with pride as you pin on your wings. You walk away with several awards – Distinguished Graduate among them. Your hard work has paid off.

The hard work continues. You are just barely an apprentice in your craft – the art of killing people and breaking their things. Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals is even tougher than UPT. You’re taught how to be a wingman – sit down, shut up, take notes, and only talk to ask questions. No one will coddle you this profession. If you don’t like it, well, the world needs ditch diggers too.

Two T-38C Talons from Euro-Nation Joint Jet Pilot Training (ENJJPT) cruise high over western Texas during a training sortie. (Photo by Curt Jans)

You survive IFF and go to SERE. You learn how to Survive, Evade, Resist, and Escape capture. The enemy sees you as a high value target. You have information that they want. They will torture you to get it. You learn how to survive in the wilderness until the good guys can get you, or, worst case, how to retain your honor as a POW. America is depending on you.

You lose fifteen pounds, but you get through SERE. The centrifuge is yet another test. Nine Gs sucks, but it sucks even worse in a spinning torture machine. You fight for the career you’ve worked so hard for, knowing that if you fail, you will never see that Viper. You get through it and are cleared to go to your B-course.

Like the rest of your training, the B-Course is focused. You meet guys with war stories. Guys who have dropped bombs on terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some reservists who fought in Desert Storm and Kosovo. You realize that the warnings and cautions in the flight manuals are written in blood.

You get to the vault and study. In part, because you want to do well, but also because you realize that your brothers and sisters depend on you to know how to react to that SAM site or MiG. It’s about survival, and serving your country proudly.

Once again, you excel. You graduate in the top of your F-16 class. It’s the best job you’ve ever had. You can’t wait to finish MQT and get to the mission. That’s all you’ve known so far in your short career. Fly. Fight. Win. And you just received the best training in the world on how to do exactly that.

You get to your squadron, and the mood changes slightly. Some of the old hats show signs of wear and burnout. You ignore it, going back to what you’ve been trained – study in the vault. Focus on the mission. Shut up and learn.

A newly mission-qualified F-16C pilot with the 100th Fighter Squadron checks over the maintenance log prior to launching for a Green Flag sortie at Nellis AFB, Nevada in late 2012. (Photo by Scott Wolff)

You finish Mission Qualification Training and become a Combat Mission Ready Wingman. You keep studying in the vault, but one day you realize that your job is much more than that. The squadron is deploying soon. Your readiness items are out of date.

So you chug through the Computer Training. You need to turn circles green, so you start at the top. Eight hours later, you’re complete. It was mind-numbingly painful, but you don’t care. You’re ready to go to work in the sandbox.

You show up in theater and get more briefings. Don’t go anywhere without your reflective belt. Make sure your PT shirt is tucked into your shorts like Steve Urkel. Don’t put a magazine in your M9 pistol unless the base gets overrun. It’s silly, but you don’t care. You’re young. The mission is more important.

Four months later, you come back from your first deployment. You’ve dropped bombs, shot the gun, and saved good guys on the ground. You can’t wait to go back.

As your career progresses, you move jobs from Weapons to scheduling. You get through the Flight Lead Upgrade Program. You’re flying as much as possible, sometimes 20-30 sorties per month. You’re learning from the best and loving every minute. But as your career progresses, the culture slowly starts to change.

Your promotions from O-1 to O-3 are pretty much guaranteed. You go to the Aerospace Basic Course and realize that the rest of the Air Force has no real clue what you do. Half of them can’t even pick a Viper out of a lineup.

A group of young F-16 wingmen and their flight leads step to fly during Red Flag-Alaska. (Photo by Scott Wolff)

You get back and keep flying. But as you pin on O-3, you’re told that you need to go to Squadron Officer School. No problem, you’ll make time. It’s just a few weeks of correspondence, right?

Not so fast. Your non-pilot peers go in residence, and that’s who you’re competing against. You need to do it by correspondence and then get selected for in-residence. You need to volunteer and do wing activities outside your job. Maybe you should organize the wing Christmas party to help your chances?

You go to Squadron Officer School (SOS). You play flickerball and think it’s embarrassing that you’ve been reduced to this while flying for the world’s greatest military. You do well, but you want to get back to flying. Ten weeks out of the jet to learn what you already know is ridiculous and is nothing short of a dog and pony show. You’re tired of listening to speakers drone on about nothing.

The mission creep gets worse. You soon realize that the military doesn’t care about your tactical prowess, or how you successfully defended your notional home base in that 4 v 16 yesterday. They only care about checking boxes. Why haven’t you completed your Masters degree yet? Why are you behind on your Sexual Assault Response CBT?

You’re a warrior. You don’t care about any of that and decide that flying the Viper is more important. You volunteer for more deployments. You become an Instructor Pilot and get selected for Weapons School. You graduate Weapons School at the top of your class as a distinguished graduate and are asked to return as an instructor.

As your friends are all getting tagged to fly UAVs and white jets, you somehow manage to stay in the Viper for three assignments, capping it off with an assignment at Nellis as a Weapons School Instructor Pilot. At the end of twelve years, you’ve dropped bombs in three different theaters, become an expert at your craft, and taught others how to do the same.

But that’s not good enough. Your Officer Performance Reports don’t fill up the required white space that the Comm officer you’re competing with does.

Despite having been a mission commander responsible for the success of 80 ship packages encompassing a wide array of mission sets, and being able to effectively and efficiently integrate platforms and effects as a Weapons Officer, you don’t have enough “leadership experience” as those who babysit 10 or so 18 year old airmen.

An Instructor Pilot in the F-22 Raptor Division of the USAF Weapons School taxis out for a mission during the Advanced Integration Phase of the curriculum. (Photo by Scott Wolff)

In the eyes of the Air Force, flight leadership doesn’t qualify as “leadership” in the dynamic environment that we operate in. For pilots, that’s a given. You lead your fellow pilots into combat consistently and professionally. But hey, since you haven’t volunteered for enough extracurriculars, or gotten that Masters, you’re not really a leader. Nevermind being at the top of your career field; you’re still passed over.

By now, the mission creep has gotten extreme. The military trusts you to correctly identify friend or foe with a $40 million aircraft and not start World War III, but you can’t be trusted to not drink and drive, not rape, not kill yourself, or log into a computer without sending China all our secrets.

The culture has changed as well. The camaraderie that you learned in pilot training is gone. Roll calls and socializing after work are frowned upon. Security Forces camps out in front of the Officer’s Club, hoping to snag a drunk pilot. Squadron commanders are fired without cause, leading you to question the integrity and spine of senior leaders for not standing up for people being thrown under a bus. In twelve years, the military has shifted from encouraging the mission to trying to downgrade pilots as much as possible.

As you look at your options, you realize that the military doesn’t care about you. You’re just a number. Time to look out for your family. You hang up that G-suit and head to the airlines. Your friends have all made the switch, and you see it as a welcome relief. No more ancillary BS.

Just show up and go up and make a lot of money.

Coming up next Thursday: And Now There’s a Shortage of Pilots


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  1. I think the point is: people are missing the point. The same people who say that warrior culture in the military is ruined, are the same people who ruined it. They never stayed in long enough to become more than themselves, to become leaders, and to implement everything they’ve learned into a policy that revolves around the warrior spirit. Instead, the careerists who stay in fill up those billets and proceed to bring about the policies that affect military (and the fighter pilot) unit cohesion, camaraderie, and combat readiness.

    Most of all, you’re officers. Officers first, career field second. Lead, balance, manage. Plenty who’ve came before us have managed to be tactical experts and warriors in their MWS, and still succeed as leaders. Case in point: Gen Goldfein, Hawk Carlisle, etc. I believe that if many of our peers who have “hung up that G-suit” have stayed in a couple of years before all of this, they would have found a way to negate the BS training and institute policies to bring back the warrior spirit.

    We’ve always fought the careerists. We’re losing, and the wrong people put on O-6 and above, then become our commanders. Now, the layers of BS are too sick, and it’s all because of many our predecessors who’ve called it quits too early before they themselves can be in positions to maintain our fighting spirit and readiness.

    I hope my opinion may have shed some light as to what could very well be the problem. I am likely wrong however, I still don’t know much of anything yet.

  2. Spoken like a true fighter pilot.

    “In the eyes of the Air Force, flight leadership doesn’t qualify as seemingly leadership in the dynamic environment that we operate in is taken for granted.”

    First off this ^…is a horribly written sentence.

    Flight leadership doesn’t give you the tools you need to be a commander (especially not a legal commander on G-series orders). Flight leadership is tactical in nature and covers a limited scope. All of those other “distractions” you mention, like military ball planning, or community engagements, or squadron duties NOT including flying are the things that prepare you for real leadership. Why? Because they force you to interact with people from different backgrounds, experiences, careers and opinions than your own. These are skills you’ll need to develop to be a DO…a Sq/CC…a Gp/CC…and a Wing Commander and so on…not flying and chumming it up with your like-minded buddies on your tactical endeavors.

    Aircraft are easy, they do what you ask of them. Your peer pilots who you work with when you’re leading your flight are of a similar mindset, of course they’ll tend to lean towards your own biases. Officership, though, is a set of skills that expands well beyond that. And you should be expected to develop those skills equally if you expect to be a commander.

    • That is cute. You think people are promoted based on leadership ability…

      Try again. Its kissing up, box checking, and a willingness to throw your friends under the bus that gets you promoted in the USAF.

      • Bullshit.

        This is salty thinking.

        What is cute is pilots crying for more cockpit time and not realizing that that time out of the rest of the force, whether Navy, Air Force or Army, means that they don’t get the experience and opportunities that others do.

        The best thing that could happen is a pilot track. Promotion based on experience but with no expectation that there is a g-series future for you. This way people that want to fly can do so, but they should expect that others will do the leading once we break outside of the CGO/FGO scrum.


      • Of course not.

        You’ll note the characteristic lack of condescension and arrogance in my writing.

        Without resorting to more ad-homoneim…

        The GOOD leaders, pilots included, don’t have the attitude displayed in this article…and in the comments. The proud few that rail against the promotion system…probably should just stay in the jets anyhow.

        • Copy. Wholly unqualified to be a part of this discussion. You may return to being closed for training while the people at the tip of the spear work this problem out.

          • Copy.

            Thank you for proving my point.

            You stay at the tip of that spear. The hand guiding it will continue doing the real work.

            Peace Mr. Pilot.

            The “Other” People

        • Your problem is you wouldn’t know a “True” leader if you saw one.

          Keep polishing that Al Bundy Shue Clerk of the Year award.

    • Fighter Scholar on

      Your contempt for the value-creating proposition of our service is a solid example of why war-fighters are leaving. Since you’ve confused “leadership” with “management,” I also suggest this attitude is a good example of why our service has zero credibility on the joint stage. How can anyone respect the opinion of a military officer that has no respect for the military aspect of his job? While we’re on the subject, why would anyone join the Air Force if they hold such dismissive views of the “Air” or the “Force?”

      • I have no contempt for pilots. I have a lot of trouble with pilots who rail against the system rather than LEAD their way towards fixing a retention problem.

        I didn’t confuse leadership with management. The irony if your using the term “value proposition” in a discussion about what you claim is leadership aside…the focus of my comments are on the development of skills that allow LEADERS to make people want to follow them. The contempt displayed here, by pilots, towards the rest of the service(s) components is a clear example of what many other communities in the Air Force are emphatically against: Being led by people who have no idea what the vast majority of the Air Force does.

        • Nate,

          Thank you for the discussion (and also the point-out on the error above).

          The first part of my article was intended merely to paint the picture of the current climate from a pilot’s perspective – specifically from the perspective of someone (generically) at the top of their game tactically who has to make the decision at the end of their commitment.

          As was pointed out in the intro to this series, pilot retention is a real issue. What we’re trying to do here is have an open discussion of the WHY and then talk about ways to fix it.

          That will be the next part on Thursday. In the next article, I discuss ways to fix it that can help in both the long and short term. It had to be broken up into two articles because, well, no one wants to read a 5000 word dissertation in one sitting.

          Anyway, thanks for reading. Obviously a lot of people disagree with your comments (myself included), but I respect your discussion on it.


        • People aren’t required to “Want to follow” a leader. It’s quite thebopposite, and this simple statement shows why Shoe Clerks don’t make good leaders.

    • Deuce Dufresne on


      Read the following with an open mind and let’s take this journey together…

      With regards to flight leadership, at the high end of how we train and fight, it actually fits into the logical progression of preparing you for the leadership positions you described, more so than what you named the “so called “distractions” that you mentioned”. Being able to effectively and efficiently integrate firepower, capabilities, and effects across domains (and therefore different backgrounds, experiences, careers, and opinions) is what we do as mission commanders. This requires not only a detailed understanding of employing your own MDS and formation, but the intricate details of how everyone else operates and how to tie everything together and leverage capabilities across platforms. Flight leadership progresses from a 2/4-ship flight lead on up to being a mission commander in charge of a large package of aircraft and capabilities (50-80 as mentioned in the article). Most fighter pilots upgrade to mission commander after being a seasoned flight lead (Captain), and either prior to or after upgrading to instructor pilot.

      The leadership generally referred to as flight leadership starts on the ground in mission planning. Being able to command the planning cell and lead the different personalities, each with their own view on how the mission should be executed while staying on timeline and putting together a coherent, lethal, efficient, survivable, and safe game plan to execute is an art and human experiment like no other. It all hinges upon leadership. If you’ve never had the opportunity to be a fly on the wall during a WIC integration mission planning cell, or even a Red Flag mission planning cell, I’d implore you to take the opportunity. The result of the planning cell is the primary plan with its associated contracts, and contingencies for when the plan’s assumptions change or are exceeded. This leadership is then translated into the mission brief where the mission commander and package leads brief a very complicated endeavor in a fashion that everyone in the room (not just pilots mind you) can understand. Airborne, the mission commander, package leads, flight leads, and individual operators are now responsible for the execution of the game plan and maneuvering in relation to the enemy. It’s about taking charge and giving direction to forces as required when things change, fallout happens, etc. As you can get an appreciation for this, it’s not remotely close to “chumming it up with your like-minded buddies.” The leadership continues through the debrief where the mission commander is responsible for developing a detailed understanding of what happened, what went wrong, and how to fix it for next time.

      Your comment of “aircraft are easy, they do what you ask of them” is therefore factually incorrect. Air superiority is simply not an American birthright. It is earned, through leadership, hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. Aircraft simply don’t take off and win our nation’s wars without leadership. At the tip of the spear, this is flight leadership, plain and simple.

      Outside of what I just described, flight leadership (to include mission command) and ability in an individual’s MDS builds credibility. It takes years for a fighter pilot to develop credibility within the community and is an important aspect of leadership as people naturally follow those with credibility. It doesn’t mean that you necessarily need to be the “ace of the base,” but fighter pilots need to have credibility in the primary mission to be effective as squadron commanders, and even as wing commanders. I’m certainly not arguing that it’s the only attribute necessary for those positions, simply that there is more to it than you previously thought. Fighter pilots do have the opportunity of leadership positions within the squadron (flight commander, weapons officer, etc) and outside the squadron at the group and wing level as well.

      If you’re ever around Nellis I’d be more than happy to chat more about this, how the operational world works, or how to solve world problems over a beer at the club. Otherwise, don’t be shy and drop by whatever operational squadron you have at your base and ask questions.



      • Deuce,

        Open mindedness is a two-way street.

        Everything you said about gaining credibility is MDS agnostic. EVERYONE has to do the things required of their career field well to gain credibility. The fact of being a pilot doesn’t garner you any more credibility than any other officer striving for command. The details you describe before, during and after your mission are not leadership functions, they are the technical requirements of your career field.

        The above comments about joint credibility are a key example of the misunderstanding. Perhaps in the operations side of the house it may be true that the AF is under-represented. But J3’s aren’t the only spot on the chart to fill. Air Force J1’s, 2’s, 4’s, 5’s and 6’s are very well represented in all COCOMs, at the joint staff, and in the OUSD. Deputy CCs and CCs in three of the nine COCOMs have all been held recently and consistently by Air Force leaders. It just seems that, after long while, some of the other career fields have discovered how to develop their pathways more effectively. It isn’t a post-pilot apocalypse…it’s just that the Air Force has gotten better about development across the career fields. And if you’re talking about joint…you’re also competing against the best in all the services…it’s not surprising it’s a hard row to hoe. Figuring out how to get there seems like a personal challenge levied upon all of us, not just pilots.

        If you’re ever outside of Nellis I’d be happy to chat more about how the operational world works, and why it’s more than what pilots do on a day-to-day basis. I’ve spent plenty of time in several different operational communities both in and outside of the Air Force, my understanding isn’t lacking. The fact of my not working in a cockpit doesn’t warrant the immediate dismissal of any perspectives I might have on the topic, as some of your comrades here would suggest.

        Maybe don’t be shy and drop by the Med Group, or SF shop, the MX Sq or the intel shop and find out what they’re doing that’s working so well to get them all ahead.


        • This is a textbook example of Dunning Kruger – a shoe clerk that has never made a tactical decision in his life lecturing pilots about leadership from what he read in a textbook and experienced while organizing a Christmas party. YGBSM.

          I’m sorry, Nate, but you are part of the problem. You just don’t know what you don’t know. It’s quite alright to ask questions and learn, but what you’re doing here is just ignorant.

          A weapons school instructor just offered to show you his side of the fence, and your response is to claim to teach him “how the operational world works” ? Seriously? If that’s the case, please, enlighten us with your “operational” resume.

          • You know nothing about me. The assumptions and ad-hominems are misplaced. Your constant devaluation of anything I have to say is just dismissive, and fortunately for you, I know don’t represent the attitude of most of your community…I’M sorry if you feel threatened that an outsider had an opinion on a topic you’ve already decided on. Maybe the internet isn’t the place for you if you’re so easily ruffled by a contrary thought.

            Fortunately there are others here who are willing to have an actual conversation instead of insult.

            What actually happened was that a weapons school instructor made a lot of assumptions about my background, and what I do and do not understand. And suggested I educate myself. I merely suggested that he do the same. If he’s worth his salt, and is as open minded as he claims, he’ll take the response in a much more mature manner than you did.

            But as you’ve made abundantly clear, my office isn’t a cockpit…so clearly I’m unqualified to exist in your world.

            I’ll continue happily being a part of the problem though.

          • Spoken like a true shoe clerk.

            I can’t decide what you’re most upset about.

            The fact that fighter pilots as a whole are more valuable than shoe clerks.

            The fact that almost all fighter pilots are true leaders.

            The fact that the Air Force actually needs more fighter pilots and could do without as many shoe clerks.

            Or the fact that no one really cares about what you think.

    • “Flight leadership is tactical in nature and covers a limited scope. All of those other “distractions” you mention, like military ball planning, or community engagements, or squadron duties NOT including flying are the things that prepare you for real leadership.”

      This is quite possibly the dumbest thing I’ve ever read. Military ball planning? Community engagements? Seriously?

  3. The original author is spot on from a person who has experienced this first hand. Why is it that the military expects us to be life-rs and when we bail at the end of our “committment”…we are then looked at as a failure to stick it out and lead. The military had an artificial grasp on pilots hanging on till retirement…not taking care of your people(across the board) has led to a mass exodus…and we are simply trying to tell our story to provide an insite as to why the military has lost this option of retention.

  4. Airline Pilot on

    “You hang up that G-suit and head to the airlines. Your friends have all made the switch, and you see it as a welcome relief. No more ancillary BS…..Just show up and go up and make a lot of money.”

    This made me fall off my chair laughing…

  5. Soon to be Airline Pilot on

    First I’m a pilot… Navy tacair, so I’m pretty sure that makes me more qualified to speak on this than a shoe clerk. You can thank Joint UPT at Vance for my ability to speak air force as well as I speak Spanish.

    The way I see it, unless there are drastic changes to retain talent in the force (read quality and quantity, not just quantity) we are going to lose air superiority. If we lose the air, we will lose any and every future battle, and there aren’t enough shoe clerks in the world to change that fact.

    Call me part of the problem, but I’m getting ready to show up and go up, not because it’s a magical answer because there are downsides to airlines. I’m doing it because that’s the way to provide the best life for my family, and the Navy has no desire to even try to be competitive with that.

  6. Nate,

    Thanks for your perspective. I agree that just because someone is a good fighter pilot doesn’t mean they have demonstrated the skills to be a good leader. Leading a homogeneous group of like-minded thinkers doing something they love isn’t a universal test of leadership skill, but it is A test, and it is hard. Weathering this challenge creates people that are proud of what they do and what they have earned.

    Some of the reasons for the fighter pilot shortage are due to toxic leaders rising to the top, despite the fact they are strong fighter pilots. I think a lot of this is driven by HPO’s continuing to be HPO’s despite the fact that someone guessed wrong when they put them on the list.

    I think a lot of pilots can’t figure out why they are told they are special, then are not treated as such. “Why do spec ops guys get to wear whatever they want and I can’t? We are both the best at what we do.” This apparent disparity between intent and action drives people crazy.

    Once people realize what the AF finds important and the cause of this disparity, they either adapt or move on. Those who move on feel they’ve been lied to, short changed, or bamboozled. They make a lot of noise when they leave.

    Or they leave anonymous insulting posts, calling you a clerk, implying you aren’t a thinking human and to think different is to be dumb. I hope they eventually adapt or leave sooner rather than later, the rest of us are trying to work within our means to make things better.


  7. So, I’m not sure what AFSC covers Shoe Clerk, I’m assuming maybe base supply?

    If the “tribes” were able to get over their sad stories of how put upon they are, you’d see the issues tend to be Air Force wide. MSG officers feel like they’re passed over for awards and promotion because Pilots are automatically more valuable; Pilots feel like they can’t fill up OPRs and 1206s like MSG officers because they’re off planning Christmas parties and whatever pejorative terms you might have. We all hate the queep, every AFSC is losing its best and brightest because they’re tired of the BS. If the quality personnel across the board were retained, you’d start to see more of the BS disappear as the intelligent ones finally made it into the positions where they could fix things.

  8. The best thing that could happen is people like you coming to grips with the actual mission of the Air Force (hint: it’s flying) and returning to Air Force Ball planning with the realization that your bullshit extra curricular activities are not leadership building. You have no idea what you’re talking about, you’re wrong, and frankly I’m embarrassed for you.

  9. Soon to be Airline Pilot on

    This goes back to my original point that quality needs to be retained, and quality has a price. To get someone to sign on to not only deal with but fix the BS and enjoy the PITA that’s going to be the incentive has to far outweigh the benefit of showing up and going up.

    While it is possible to run against the grain with the leadership, it generally doesn’t go well these days and this is exactly what it’s going to take to turn this problem around. Maybe Chip can eloborate as to how he’s doing working within his means.

    Oh and Chip, your support of the young padawan is endearing, but you aren’t doing him any favors shielding him from the reality that it takes $40 million to make a fighter pilot and it takes about $69 to make a shoe clerk. Your attempt to “work within your means” to fix this problem that is likely well above your pay grade is also great on paper like communism; well that or you are at a pay grade that created this mess to begin with. At this point my bet is that you are BD in planning this year’s Christmas party, after all it’s only 5 months away! I bet you are working on your masters on your free time, and have every qual in the book too. Heck, you are probably the second coming of Chuck Yeager and Ghandi with a sprinkle of Einstein. Your ambivalence to reality is only fuel to the problem not a solution. If the very essence of the national defense crumbing before your eyes doesn’t get you motivate to not adapt to the status quo, I’m not sure how you think you are going to change things.

    Finally am I special? You are GD right I’m special. Every time I go out alone and unafraid I’m entrusted with the tools to wreak havoc and destruction abound, but to have the precision and discretion to not start WW3. If you can’t appriciate that it takes a special kind of individual to do what a fighter pilot does, then look at history and basic physics to show you not everyone has what it takes. You should go to bed at night thanking every one of us, because clearly you don’t have the stones to be one of us.

  10. “Soon”…I’m not sure if you read my comment, but I am confused on why you thought I said you weren’t special. I said you aren’t treated special, and that what you do is hard. And it has obviously made you proud. I’m proud too, and I do thank you for your sacrifice and service and wish you the best in your next career.

    Hit me up on the global if you want to continue to hide behind our anonymity. Last name as shown, at Luke, TRS.

  11. If the SOF community faced the exact same problems as the fighter pilot community right now we would be in a national emergency. Maybe we should reduce the street to fleet training to 18 months like the lowest tier special operators do. Throw more candidates at the problem and it will go away… oh, wait, a multi-role fighter attack aircraft costs more than a black rifle, i had no idea. I might agree that “real leadership” includes convincing different people to accomplish a common goal, if wet don’t have experienced pilots to fly these national assets than everything else will fail. This comes from a Marine who firmly believes that every Marine is a rifleman but who also believes that flight qualifications are grossly undervalued because the people who make the rules lack a shared experience with the pilots who are affected by their short sightedness.

  12. “What actually happened was that a weapons school instructor made a lot of assumptions about my background, and what I do and do not understand.” – 18 Jul

    “Spoken like a true fighter pilot.” – 17 Jul

    Is someone else making assumptions about background, and what is and is not understood?

  13. I dunno, Nate. I hear a healthy dose of condescension and arrogance in your writing.

    You seem bright but as you mention elsewhere in this thread I don’t know much about you or your background. Nor you about mine, but I think that our backgrounds don’t matter much. I’ll debate you on the content of your comments and line of thinking, not with name calling or labels.

    “Flight leadership doesn’t give you the tools to be a good commander.” Agreed, wholeheartedly. Some of the best flight leads – tactical capability that is – I’ve met are selfish assholes, and selfish assholes rarely make good commanders. But flight leadership is a necessary ingredient to be a good commander of a flying unit. You cannot properly lead flying squadrons, groups or wings if your Airmen look down on your airmanship.

    “Flight leadership is tactical in nature and covers a limited scope.” Strongly disagree, especially when talking about flight leadership in a combat environment. Your individual decisions can have strategic effects. Good flight leads fully comprehend the entire conflict and war effort at hand. How you drop the bomb is tactical. Deciding whether you are the best asset to drop the bomb, or if another asset is better suited and who to work with to make such a change is operational. Whether to drop the bomb at all given ROE, the current LOE and JFC objectives is strategic. And a young Captain Flight Lead will deal with all that on a single mission.

    “All those other ‘distractions’… prepare you for real leadership.” Firmly disagree. They prepare you for real management. If you succeed or fail at military ball planning, Christmas party planning, etc. nobody dies and nobody’s life is saved. A good manager can recreate last year’s Christmas party without the leadership spark. But you don’t invent the iPhone without some serious leadership chops. Somewhere in the middle might be organizing the first airshow ever for a base with a $2M budget and no blueprint to run off of. A good manager might pull it off. A good leader could make it a smashing success – but he’ll have to manage his people well to do it. Fighter pilots don’t always get good opportunities to practice management, especially managing average and below average employees – an essential skill set to lead large swaths of people, but it’s understandable that we’re not lining up voluntarily for opportunities like that. Practice managing a technician who hates his job, or practice leading a four-ship of steely-eyed warriors into combat – which would you prefer?

    “They force you to interact with people of different backgrounds, experiences, careers and opinions than your own.” On an average day, a fighter pilot does exactly that with (by quick counting) at least 8 *significantly* different AFSCs who are experts in their fields and vary from weather forecasters to JTACs to ATC to intel to ABMs, and so on. Add in civilian career types and that number is higher. This isn’t ballwash – I’m talking real, substantial interaction, direction, teamwork and lesson learning. We have and operate in a large teamwork environment that is not well understood by players outside of it. Our days are not so relegated to chumming it up only with like-minded individuals as you might think.

    “Aircraft are easy. They do what you ask of them.” Scalpels are easier than aircraft. Does that mean brain surgeons don’t need to be leaders in the operating room? They don’t operate in isolation; they have a team, even if they are the one doing the cutting. Being a great brain surgeon does not automatically qualify you as a great option to run a hospital, but I also don’t want an accountant to run a hospital even if he or she is charismatic and good at leading team sports. I want a medical professional who understands the trade, has some charisma but more importantly some vision, thick skin and guts to run the hospital. I want air operators like that to run my operational Air Force bases.

    “The best that could happen is a pilot track.” Disagree. Straight from the top: Captain Goldfein had no interest in becoming a General. People bloom and develop interests at different stages in life. Most, if not all, Captain fighter pilots want to do nothing but fly. Yet some of them have a real spark for leading others that would be a shame to miss out on. Why risk snuffing that out prematurely? I’ve seen some of the weakest wingmen turn into the sharpest flight leads, and sadly, vice versa.

    I don’t know what your career field is, but I can tell you that I don’t know enough about it to pass judgment on how you promote, how you develop leaders or what “fixes” you need to make to get your career field out of whatever quagmire it might be in. I’m old enough to know how little I really know, until I get older and realize it on a whole new level. I encourage you to sit back, think about whether you are taking the high road and examine whether you are comporting yourself the way you always wanted to be.

  14. From BOYD, by Robert Coram: “Boyd’s combat tour ended and it was time to rotate back to the States. Years later the pilots who roamed MIG Alley would look back and say Korea was a good war, even a great war for fighter pilots – that last war in which pilots were managed by leaders. In the next war they would be led by managers.” (Page 57, great book)

  15. Slash & C.W. Lemione,

    Thanks for the response and fair enough about the condescension, I’ll throttle it back. But the whole article is a bit that way. Perhaps recognition by the author that the stressors he outlines aren’t unique in any way to his career field would change the tone.

    Yes, I agree, tactical endeavors undertaken by pilots can have strategic effects. But that’s not solely a pilot thing. Terminal guidance provided by a JTAC, SIDO execution of SRO missions, decisions made by an SF team lead can all have strategic impacts. I never said pilots don’t make strategic choices. And I’m not saying that flight leadership isn’t an important career milestone. I’m saying that the things outlined in the article are just your duties as a pilot. Why should you be treated any differently than anyone else who is expected…no demanded…to find ways to stand out besides doing their job?

    And still, despite the beliefs of the crowd on this site, I think you would find that a pretty widely held belief otherwise is that pilots are STILL pretty sheltered, at an institutional level, against most of the queep that other career fields HAVE to participate in. The complaint that you have to do extra stuff is likely, on average, echoed x10 across the rest of the force’s AFSCs.

    The Christmas Party planner…call him/her a shoe clerk all you like, or better yet maybe rise above the insults and call them…”the Security Forces squadron DO”, probably a Major, probably looking for opportunity, maybe happy to be able to put on a good morale event for the base. Also they were told that these are the kinds of things he needs to do to stand out…especially in the operational wing where he’s competing against…dum dum DUUUUUM (!!!)…the pilots. Who have the benefit of having a wing commander (pilot) who will tend to favor the pilots in the wing during racking/stacking prior to the PRF accounting date. I’m not saying this is always the case…but this is the general sense you get from the other side of the fence. From OUTSIDE your career field. These are the OTHER conversations happening in the Air Force. If the point of the article is to provide perspective…accept that there are others.

    But he IS the guy/gal that steps up to manage a project…he IS the dude/dudette that is solving a problem for the boss, and probably (hopefully) while still keeping track of their primary duties, and maybe 4-6 additional duties, in front of a team of people that are likely pulled from all across the base, with vastly different ideas about how to accomplish this thing, which is both a leadership and a management challenge. Regardless of whether it happened the year before. It still needs to get done (arguments about the necessity of a Christmas party, or the AF ball aside). Disparaging that person, because they were looking for a way to stand out is what gives the AF Jocks a bad name. He/she is also responsible for keeping the base secure, in charge of (babysitting, I think was the term someone else here used) other airmen, ensuring those multi-million dollar aircraft are properly looked after when they aren’t in the air. He probably deploys once a year or so to keep up with the Joneses on his operational experience. He still has to go to SOS, he still has to figure out time to get the degree…same pressures…failure at his job can easily mean lives…

    He or she might be a flight CC in the MX squadron, could be a Capt in the Med Group, still has to be the best in his/her career field. Probably has to put up with more queep than an average pilot from his/her day 1 in the military.

    We get it…you hate queep. But frankly…your first 4 years are relatively queep free compared to the rest of us. If the things you do in your early career are as impactful as you say. Then why is “filling OPR white space” a problem? From what you’re all telling me It doesn’t seem like pilots are in any way lacking opportunity to demonstrate how they stand out and why they’re special.

    To me it seems more like a difference of opinion. The things that pilots consider to be important (this is not to say that those things AREN’T important) seem to be more and more divergent from the rest of the force. It seems like, as a community, there is a lack of understanding on how to demonstrate leadership capacity to the promotion boards. It seems like there is a lot of noise about it while the rest of us are just expected (mostly by the pilots in charge) to “bloom where we’re planted” and still probably won’t be able to compete against you past O-6. And god forbid if any of us say that you guys, frankly, get a bit of a pass when it comes to being able to focus on the thing you signed up to do.

    If you all think that I don’t understand the mission of the Air Force, you’re grossly mistaken. Fly, fight, win. Right? But the scope of the battlespace is changing, and like it or not there are now more words in that mission…Air…Space…Cyberspace…one of three are pilot things. Maybe you consider that to be a part of the problem. I don’t know.

    The simple fact is that for decades, pilot careers have been pretty well gilded. And for decades there were simply no opportunities for other career fields to even hope to reach the same heights. You’ve (the collective you) run, and continue to run the Air Force, and you are still the most vocal in the crowd when it comes to things not being fair.

    Other career fields may just have have discovered how to properly develop their officers within the construct we exist in, instead of complain about it. Other areas of the Air Force have blossomed into fully realized career pathways with wholly different, but still core mission sets. And they have figured out how to increase the development of O-6’s and O-7’s from their officer corps.

    I feel for the author I do. I understand the pain of having to make a decision that takes him away from his life’s work. Lack of compassion for HIM isn’t my failure. I feel compassion for the MAN behind the story…I don’t have sympathy for the tone and nature of the complaints as a generalization of an entire career field though. At least not any more than I’m expected to for my own.

    Post an opinion piece on the internet…expect opinions. I appreciate the sane comments here, and the discussion by a few of you. The rest can get flushed with the dishwater.

    As for those of you who are wondering why I’m here. I just like pictures of jets.

    • LMAO.. another bitter reply from a shoe clerk who actually believes they are just as an important cog as the fighter pilot group, let alone the pilot group as a whole.

      News flash, without the pilot group there is no Air Force. We’re Intel or Amazon or better yet Walmart without the product.

      Apples and Oranges only the apples are what really matters.

  16. Spoken by the exact people we are talking about. I’m an Army pilot with a mere four deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan under 4 different battalion commanders. They( 0-5’s and 0-6’s) show up, do their one deployment, repeat all of the mistakes of the previous commander’s and then head on back to DC. All while ignoring the advice of the pilots that are giving them advice on the mistakes previously made. Meanwhile we wonder while we are still in Afghanistan and Iraq continuously repeating the same mistakes deployment after deployment.

    The system of “experience and broadening” is bullshit. We need war fighting leaders to win the wars we’ve been fighting for the past 16 years.

  17. Aircraft are easy for him. He buys the ticket and waits at the gate. Sometimes they takeoff and land late but he gets there. It’s filling out the DTS and getting paid back that’s the tough part. He seems like a person who has it figured out and can do it for those of us too busy doing the missions.

  18. FrustratedDoc on

    I’m an AF surgeon and you could easily write the same article and change “pilot” to “doctor.” Many of the same frustrations mentioned in this article lead to physicians leaving active duty service as soon as their separation date arrives and often starting the count down to that date years in advance. I’m sure some will say doctors leave to go make more money and for some folks I’m sure you’d be right. But for many of us who decided to serve in the first place, caring for servicemen and women, their families and veterans is a privilege and pleasure that more than makes up for the low salary in the military. I hope someone will enter a leadership position with the idea that efficiency and proficiency are not dirty words and if achieved does not equal more time that can be spent doing computer based training or other menial task unrelated to the profession it took decades of training to enter.

  19. While I see your point as being an officer first, career field second, I have to also disagree with the same statement. I was a Chief Warrant Officer in the Army (CH 47F pilot). As a Warrant Officer, it IS our career field to be technical and tactical experts on our equipment. We were expected to stay current on all flight regulations, procedures, and still stay competitive in our fields. The problem was that the selection rates for promotion were so severely limited that there was no room at all for advancement.

    Shortly after retirement I have witnessed a large number of fully qualified pilots with competitive skills such as Instructor Pilot, Maintenance Test Pilot, etc. being passed over for promotion and removed from service whether they were ready to leave or not. This has nothing to do with service record, but with what the Army was forced to deal with when fighting an ever reducing defense budget.

    Take those numbers and add them to the number of pilots forced out because they broke a tape test (in my opinion is a dumb reason) or somehow got on the commander’s list and ended up with a less than stellar OER. Trust me, I had a company commander that did not like warrant officers, so his OER bullets always left the Warrants with little to go with, therefore guaranteeing they are passed over.

    The point is that there is far more to this than a separation of rank and skill set. The military in general, regardless of branch, is now dealing with the consequences of a poor management cycle.

  20. Well you hit the nail on the head now multiply this by ten and that is what is happening to your maintenance people. Think about it these are the guys who are keeping these airplanes up. When the air force wanted to cut 23,000 guys the other year and 48,000 applied something is wrong very wrong.
    But the idiots at the top see oh we can cut even more people and save even more money for new planes we have another 25,000 guys that want to get out. So, our head of our air force is like a snake we need to cut the head off. But our head of the air force must be crossed with an ostrich and has his head in buried in the sand. So we can’t cut it off. Plus, they are also crossed with a horse and they are running down the track with their blinders on. Everything looks clear ahead but all the dust and even the jockey has fallen off behind them.

    I was in for 38 years as an ART my new boss has been in for a few years as a coordinator for a different air plane and he was put in for the job and got it and he had zerooooooo experience. Because all the guys who are/ where qualified for the job are injured from doing heavy work in the Aero Repair and where on medical P-4 hold and could not be promoted. So they are now in Government at DCMA to avoid getting kicked out of the reserves for injuries from active duty and loosing their government ART job. You still need to pay the bills and keep your family feed. In the last ten years we have lost 150 guys to DCMA sometimes 5 to 7 from a shop at a time.

    I the old days an experience chief would temporary put the best qualified guy in the Aero Shop chief position to cover the job even though he might be on medical hold. So, when he comes off medical hold we would have a fully qualifies guy running the shop. If he was forced out we would have at least had a qualified person running the shop while he was being processed out. This takes a different kind of thinking from the bosses.

    Now the bosses only put in people that can fill the position as fast and easy as they can so they don’t have to do any fighting or take time to put in the proper person. This happens now since we have a bunch of bosses that don’t think they react,they are a bunch of firemen putting out fires in stead of thinking ahead and clearing the brush to avoid the fires.

    This is going at a bunch of bases from California to OHIO and further across the country and even to England. I talked to a bunch of Chiefs and Colonels from these bases and they have the same problem.
    I guess this is the problem when you have had a non air force person running the air force for many years.

    Need to do things like the Israel military, their army promotes from the bottom up and form the inside from the people who show promise and lead and work hard.
    I hope we never have to fight them and that they are on our side so far. Because man for man they will kick our donkeys.

  21. Anyone who thinks fighter pilots are all ” like minded individuals” clearly doesn’t deal with leading fighter pilots.

    Or even pilots in general.

    No, I am not a pilot, but I am aircrew.

  22. That comment made me laugh too. Replace “like-minded” with “thick headed and alpha.” The best leadership experience I have comes from helping plan missions in a war game scenario. Everyone is effectively the same rank, you have to use experience and competency to convince other big personalities with big opinions that your way is the best.

  23. Happily Separated on


    We have already addressed “Air”…it is the essence of the AIR Force. Unfortunately, it’s spirit has been neutered and it’s not remotely ready to fight due to the overarching American “everyone’s valuable and gets a trophy” social engineering mentality. Sorry, clerks….support is still support. Take pride in helping those that take the fight to the enemy get it done, but don’t expect to lead them.

    “Space”. Really? Space is exponentially more difficult than any other part of the military enterprise. Can we really trust an AF that could screw up a free lunch with effectively running a space program? Look at our dependence on GPS in both military and civilian realms. I shudder to think of what the Chinese are going to do to us in the first hours of the next war. Our “space” component is going to get its nuts handed to it on a rock slab quickly.

    Cyberspace? Our comm gurus can’t even keep the base network running properly and I have to install a printer on each new computer I use so that I can make a print job. Why if “cyberspace” is so important does ISIL (read: a bunch of goat farming luddites in the Middle East) have such a robust recruiting effort online? Fail.

    What do we need to run an Air Force? Ops, Intel, Maintenance, a Doc, a cafeteria, a shitter and a squadron bar. Everything else is excess. Let’s get back to the basics and revive our fighting spirit before it’s too late. America’s freedom depends on us pulling our heads out of our asses. The bleed on our experienced war fighters is going to translate to real spilled American blood on the next battlefield. All the airline pilots in the world can’t defeat the next “wolf at the door.”

    Let’s face it…all shoe clerk generals in the world won’t save us when the Chinese march ashore in California. Life ain’t fair and the world is mean.

    A few damn good warrior fliers just might, however. Let’s get it right.

  24. So glad you’re happily separated…

    The Air Force, whether you like it or not. Is much bigger than your myopic view could even hope to understand.

    Bring back warrant officer flyers…let the pilots become the technical experts…let the strategists lead…

  25. Bomber pilot here. I’m an off the street reserve guy that did OTS, ENJJPT, Bombers. My gf is an AF civil engineer. My perspective might be a little unique. I was a business consultant and a business before I joined the Air Force. I’ve worked with many Fortune 500 companies to increase their business efficiency, productivity and profitability. I left that field to join the Air Force Reserves because I wanted to do more in life than just make money. I wanted to serve something more than myself and shareholders. And, how awesome would it be to fly jets. Well, I got that opportunity.

    My first assessment is the article accurately displayed the experience and disenchantment of a typical fighter pilot today. And that is similar to the pilot community of other platforms. The arguements about what is fair compared to other AFSCs is irrelevant. These pilots are disenfranchised and they are leaving for that reason. The cost to produce a highly qualified and experienced tactical aviator is astronomical. I would estimate $50-100M per aviator. There are about 15k pilots in the AF. At $50M per pilot, that is $750,000,000,000.00 to produce all our pilots. The AF and tax paying American citizens are losing that investment. With a national debt of $20 Trillion and a reoccurring yearly deficit of $600 Billion, every citizen should be concerned about this problem. Not only are we creating a national security issue with a talent gap to operate our strategic defense assets, we are also creating a massive financial problem that we cannot afford. If this was a business, it would be a “all hands on deck” crisis management situation to solve it. We should focus our energy on creating solutions to SOLVE this problem.

    The military likes to tout its ability to create leaders, but I have never been in an organization that has such an inability to:
    1) Understand and define the problem
    2) Create the difinition of success so you understand what the end goal looks like
    3)Develop solutions fix the problem
    4) Measure yourself against Key Performance Indicators (KPI) so you can understand is your solutions are actually fixing the problem.

    All the debate in this forum just illustrates the defunction of the AF and it’s officer core.

    The problem of losing pilots is ONLY solved if pilots CHOOSE to stay in the Air Force!

    So, if you think this is a problem worth solving, I would start with figuring out why pilot are CHOOSING to leave. I think the author is attempting share his perspective because he is close to the problem and has close relationships with the people that are choosing to leave.

    If you find yourself diminishing the author, the aviation community or the pilots who are choosing to leave, you better take a hard look in the mirror because you are not solving the problem. You are just in the way.

    This article is about pilots. Yes, there may be a retention problem is other AFSCs, but the problem is so acute here due to the amount of investment that is required in a single person in this particular AFSC.

    Yes, it costs the AF a lot of money to lose a good doctor, engineer or other type of officer. The difference is those are common civilian occupations which the technical expertise can be developed outside the military. US combat pilots have NO civilian counterpart. Combat pilots do not fly airplanes. They employ a sophisticated combat system in an extremely complicated environment with national strategic level consequences. The AF starts with thousands of young eager men and women to produce one mission qualified fighter pilot. They are truly the best of the best in what they do. Unless you have been through the process, you have no idea what it takes. The first day in pilot training, you show with a class of piers who have been selected with a fine tooth comb. They have been through a week of medical screening, blood tests, X-rays, physiological tests and physical tests. They were in the top of their class at the academy, ROTC or in the top 1% at OTS. They were all used to being the best. After the first week on the flight line, they look completely demoralized. You realize how low on the totem pole you are. The people who succeed are the people that start with the right talent and are committed to forging themselves through single minded dedication through 5 years of extreme pressure and then a career of refinement. When the author paints the picture of disenfranchisement of these aviators, he assumes the reader understands the assumptions of what it takes to make that operator. That is why the aviators who commented relate and why the non ops officers who commented clearly do not understand.

    Now, the AF has no shortage of organizational distinction and problems. This is a big one, but we should ask ourself why there are SO many problems. All the talk about “shoe clerks” and arrogant pilots just tell me that you all are disenfranchised. Good talent in any AFSC that have a good option in the civilian world are choosing to leave the military. So, that leave the AF with the Chum. That will be disastrous to the national security of our county over time.

    I hear how dysfunctional the MSG is from my gf. I hear how it is unfair that an engineering officer will unlikely ever be a base commander. I also recognize she has had much more opportunity to lead people in CE than than I have in Ops.

    There is clearly resentment between ops officers and non ops officers. Who is right? Who is to blame? Are aviators privileged jerks who just complain? Are non ops officers shoe clerks who just act as a roadblock to getting the job done? Even if those things were true, it still wouldn’t be the problem. So, let’s stop acting like children and address the real problems.

    My view of the problems:
    Promotion and rating system:
    0. The implied definition of success for officers: Success for an AF officer is promotion. It’s how we determine success, respect is based on rank, and if you don’t promote, you will be kicked out of the military.
    0. Priority is on promoting, not the mission. The AF tells us promotion is the definition of success. So, officers focus on what will put them in a position to promote.
    0. The promotion system is severely flawed. Officers are promoted by boards. No one on the boards know the individual officers. All they have to go by is the OPRs and awards. In addition, they don’t have time to really dedicate reviewing the promotion package because the board goes through too many packages in too little time. So, the entire process relies on how you look on paper with no human opinion.
    0. The rating system is severely flawed. The OPR system has no civilian counterpart for a reason. There are a bunch of archaic rules, but no one knows why. Fit your entire year into a few sentences. Format it in action, result, impact. Leave no white space! So, you end up with “Created TSP Report, reported 9,000,000 hours, 240,000 personnel and 2500 assets, saved AF $20 trillion.” When I read OPRs, I’m just blown away about how ridiculous they are. They make every low performing officer look like they are single handedly saving the AF. Plus, it makes their primary job less important. You need additional bullets to make your OPR look good like “planning the Christmas party.” Based on this system, you could basically be a complete dirtbag, do 4 things a year that look good as bullets, and then you look good on an OPR.
    0. Raters are incentivized to be unrealistic with their airmen. The AF’s definition of success is promotions. Supervisors want to promote. Supervisors look good when their Airman promote and they want their people to be successful. So, the focus becomes how can I get this person to look good on paper? They need to do this training, help with this function, move jobs so they have different things on their resume, etc. We have to check all of the boxes.
    0. The promotion system discourages expertise and increases turn over. Squadron leadership is always rotating people through jobs to ensure everyone has good OPR bullets. This creates an organization that seems like everyone is on their first day of the job. Getting the most basic things done in the AF is frustratingly difficult.
    0. Being the best at your job doesn’t set you apart on an OPR. You need additional duties to stand out.
    0. Current leadership are the people who succeeded in this system. It is common to explain a leaders decision based on they are just trying to get an OPR bullet.

    Death by paper cut
    0. Additional Duties – a seasoned combat pilot acting as the UDM squadron? The MSG has a E3 doing that job. The fighter squadron has a O3 doing it.

    Why do we do that?
    0. Because that is the way it has always been done.
    0. Because that is what AFI says. Why? No one knows or cares.
    0. I don’t know.

    Inefficiency. No Goal, no KPI, no vision of success.

    To name a few.

  26. Wow, great article and great comments that I’m just now finding. As a 27+ year officer and navigator let me broaden the argument a little bit. It’s not fighter pilots vs shoe clerks, or pilots vs shoe clerks, it’s operators vs shoe clerks.

    But let me further define operators and shoe clerks because I’m an inclusive sort of guy. A CE or COM guy can be an operator if he is busting his hump to get an ILS back on line, and the Contracting gal can be an operator if she is getting with it to make a fuel or support contract meet the mission. Even the Services officer who finds a way to suddenly bed down 500 new arrivals at a base can be an operator in my book. But the guy or gal who sits behind a desk and demands that forms be filled out in a particularly way, or re-accomplished because the standards changed sometime between initiation and fulfillment is definitely a shoe clerk. You are a shoe clerk if you think your process, or your metric is more important than the people or the mission that you are here to serve. If you can find the yes, you are an operator. If you default to no, you are a shoe clerk. Focus on the big picture and the intent. It’s not always about dotting i’s and crossing t’s if that distracts from getting bombs, beans, bullets, and trons on target. And here’s a hint if you visit Germany… Ramstein is full of shoe clerks.

Comment Often But Be Nice. No personal attacks, racism or bigotry will be tolerated.