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U.S. Pilots Say More Would Be Better

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey, July 26, 1999 – More pay. More people. U.S. pilots here say both would help them deal with frequent deployments and high operations tempo.

Pilots and crews met a visiting Defense Secretary William S. Cohen here in mid-July and talked about their concerns and the demands of military life. For his part, Cohen acknowledged the heavy burdens placed on service members and their families by the recent NATO air campaign and ongoing missions in Bosnia, Kosovo and the Persian Gulf.

"Anything I can do to make service to this country better for you, and encourage you to stay longer, given all the pressures you're under -- then I want to do that," he said.

Pilots and crews welcomed Cohen's promises of a 4.8 percent pay raise, pay table adjustments for mid-level careerists and a return to a 50 percent retirement annuity. An EA-6B Prowler pilot said he was glad to hear the secretary say he was looking after their welfare and taking quality of life issues into account. Frequent deployments are rough on family life, said the father of three young children.

Shortly after a six-month deployment in Turkey, the nine-year military veteran said he was sent to support Operation Allied Force. He was only home for about a month after the air war ended when his unit deployed to Turkey for the second time. Having to turn around and come out again so soon "was a difficult thing to swallow," he said, and particularly hard on his 19-month old son.

"He didn't recognize me when I got home because he was born when I was deployed. I came back, then deployed again to Kosovo," he said. "Now I'm gone again. I hope he'll recognize me when I get home."

Increasing the number of people in the service would help ease the burden, the pilot said. "With more personnel we'd be able to decrease the amount of time we're deployed, as opposed to keeping a smaller number of personnel and deploying them longer in order to maintain the commitments," he said.

Lucrative civilian jobs are drawing pilots from the military, the pilot noted. Quite a few are considering leaving because of these quality of life and pay issues, he said. While higher pay is one factor, the bigger issue is being able to be home on a regular basis.

Airline pilots may go away for 180 days a year, but they do it three or four days at a time; military pilots are gone 45 days at a stretch or longer, an F-15E Strike Eagle pilot pointed out. "I left my daughter," he said. "In the 90 days I may be gone, she changes an awful lot. The longer you're away, the more that happens at home and the harder it is to adjust."

The fighter pilot said he's encouraged by Cohen's talk, but he also echoed the Prowler pilot's overall concerns. Frequent deployments to Italy, Bosnia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are taking a toll on pilots and crews, he said. The ground crews are working as hard or harder than the air crews, he added.

If not for Air National Guard and other reserve component personnel, supporting Northern and Southern Watch and Operation Allied Force at once would have been extremely difficult, the pilot said.

"It would have been impossible to keep going the way we were," the seven-year veteran fighter pilot said. "People are tired. One of the guys [in my crew] was not going to re-enlist because he's just deployed so many times. He's not even married. He's just tired of constantly being away and not knowing what his future holds."

The fighter pilot said he plans to serve out his commitment and then see how things are. "There's a lot of things on the plate right now -- retirement, pay. Those are always key motivators," he said.

"A lot of people say they're not in the military for the pay and that's true. I'm not," he continued. "I'm here to serve my country. But if I was paid more, I could hire a baby sitter and go out more often with my wife and spend time with my family. Right now, I'm barely making enough money to make ends meet."

It's even worse for enlisted service members, the officer pointed out. "The enlisted folks who have families, everybody from the maintainers, the loaders, the life-support folks, they're really having a hard time making ends meet. They don't have the luxury to go out even once a week."

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