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Private Sector Targets Military Aviators

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 29, 2000 – Civilian employers are putting retention pressures on DoD by battling each other to hire away some of the department's best-trained and talented service members.

"There has been pretty tremendous competition for our very talented people," said Navy Vice Adm. Patricia Tracey, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy. Retention will continue to be a high- priority issue for DoD "for the next decade, at least," Tracey said.

In fiscal 2000, she said, all the services except the Air Force met their retention goals, keeping critical cadres of career troops. Though the Air Force finished short, she noted, its 2000 retention rate was better than 1999's.

Tracey called competition from the private sector "a major factor in retention right now," especially in the aviation career fields. She said aviators and mechanics from all the services are being courted by an expanding airline industry.

"The Air Force is feeling pilot loss rates more than anybody else does because they make up such a large portion of their inventory," she said. The service is responding by working on an expanded bonus program for its pilots, she added.

She said civilian employers also covet service members for their high-quality training and for their leadership abilities.

"You can see particular head-to-head competition in the aviation career fields and high-tech career fields of all kinds," Tracey said. "For our mid-grade officer and enlisted leaders, though, there is high demand just for their leadership skills, almost no matter what their particular skill is."

Yet, military plane and helicopter pilots are especially targeted today by corporate recruiters.

"There is clear evidence helicopter pilots are as much in demand in the commercial aviation world, as there is a shortage of pilots across the board," Tracey said. "The Army has had to pay close attention to retention of their warrant officer helicopter pilots."

DoD has secured authority from Congress to offer retention bonuses to members qualified in a critical military skill. Under this authorization services would recommend selected officer and enlisted skills to the Secretary of Defense for inclusion within the bonus program, said DoD military compensation specialist Army Col. Jeff Perry. He said the new program could be implemented in 2002.

"The new program would allow us to pay bonuses for critical officer and enlisted skills out through 25 years of military service," Perry said. "Right now, the current selective re-enlistment bonus program cuts off at 14."

He noted this new authorization was similar to that enacted last year for the aviation (pilot) bonus program. Changes to that authority extended the eligibility for pilot bonuses from 14 to 25 years of aviation service, and increased the maximum bonus offering to $25,000 per year. This bonus is in addition to monthly flight pay that tops out at $840 for senior aviators.

"In the history of the all-volunteer force, there has always been a need to pay very close attention to whether you are retaining the right people in the right skills in the right numbers," Tracey said. "This is a very smart force I think it is very important to be very honest about the fact that we know they are in demand."

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