AF Pilots

Yesterday, we brought you analysis and commentary on the Air Force’s threat to implement a controversial program known as Stop Loss, which essentially amounts to back-door conscription, as a way to cow the airlines into hiring fewer Air Force pilots. The move, signaled by a 4-star scheduled to meet with airline executives, was seen as a desperate gambit to put pressure on the bleeding wound that is the service’s pilot shortage. Read more here.

In yesterday’s article, I encouraged the Air Force to forget, swiftly and with merciless prejudice, that it had ever even considered this horrible idea. Today, it has done just that according to Air Force Times.

In remarks published earlier today, personnel chief Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso unequivocally took Stop Loss off the table, insisting it is not part of any retention strategy. She even went a step further in acknowledging that it would actually harm retention if implemented. 

Quite an amazing reversal in the span of a single day, especially after service officials had let the original remarks stand without correction for more than 24 hours.

Here’s the good news: this is the right outcome. Coercive personnel policy is no path to a great or even good Air Force. Gen. Goldfein and his team made the right move by not just downplaying the idea of Stop Loss, but ruling it out clearly and with finality. Grosso’s input was swift and responsive, and she didn’t evade the central question.

But it’s not a case of “all’s well that ends well.” First of all, there are lingering questions, like “who’s in charge here?” How can it be that on the Air Force’s most pressing issue, general officers are giving contradictory statements in the press within a couple days of one another? Are we really to believe that Gen. Everhart didn’t believe himself to be speaking for the service when he invoked Stop Loss? Are we really to believe that this operational senior commander went off the reservation on pilot retention and has now been reined in by a 3-star personnelist who has never commanded a flying unit? If that’s all true, the service doesn’t have its act together on something vital to its mission, and that’s distressing to say the least. At the very least, we have generals out of step on a critical issue within weeks of Congressional testimony on the subject. Smacks of incompetence.

Second, this isn’t really over. Because as far as we know, the Air Force’s generals are still planning to have some sort of meeting with senior airline executives about solving the service’s pilot shortage. There is no valid need for such a meeting, and no good and come of it. The answers to this problem lie at its origins: within the four walls of the Air Force. The only reasons that exist for such a meeting have to do with reducing opportunities for pilots outside of military service, and they know it. Accordingly, they will see the bare fact of such a meeting as a continuation of the Stop Loss mentality — an attempt to force them to serve longer than they otherwise might by employing manipulative rather than earnest means. They will respond to it the same as they were responding to the threat of Stop Loss: by rushing for the door in droves.

Pilot continue to make their feelings clear. They want an Air Force that they can be proud to serve in, and will settle for nothing less. All this energy being spent on airline focus groups and media engagements would be better spent thinking about how to address the reasonable demands of the service’s most consequential workforce.