To keep the end strength of 69,000, the Air Force Reserve has been pulling out all the stops to retain the best and the brightest. The Air Force Reserve has been pulling out all the stops to retain the best and the brightest and to keep its end strength of 69,000 airmen. 

In recent years, the Air Force has been using the Guard and Reserve to bring in civilians for hot career fields, including cyber, intelligence, pilots and engineers, to name a few

For the Reserve, their specific recruiting methods define construct not just how they retain, but who, said Lt. Gen. James Jackson, chief of Air Force Reserve and commander of Air Force Reserve Command commander
 


"There's been a significant increase in prior-service members," Jackson told Air Force Times July 11. Jackson will retire later this month after 38 years in the Air Force.

"We usually average about 55 percent prior service, which would include active duty, and also other services," he said. "We spiked up to 65 percent, and last year, it was 68 percent. But we need active duty's help to do that."

The active-duty side is trying to increase its end strength back up to 317,000 this year, and at least 321,000 in following years. "We're hoping to grow back not only for active duty airmen who are transitioning but also to go into the mission sets and be a full partners," Jackson said.

"No matter who brings you in, the Air Force, we spend half a million bucks on you by about a six-year point," he said. "If you're a pilot, well over $1.2 million. Everyone of those we'd like to have stay in the Air Force, as airmen for life ... we've been pretty successful the last two years."

Jackson said during his tenure he and Reserve recruiters would tour active-duty bases to get ahead before airmen got out. But the Reserve is still "fishing in some other pools."

The component maintains the inactive Reserve where several times a year, musters of people transition into the Individual Ready Reserve, or those who serve as an emergency backup force. In October, the Reserve Forces Policy Board, a federal advisory group, suggested revamping the IRR to further tap inactive veterans for a wider range of potentially short-term missions.

"We talk to them about opportunities, we show them locations, vacancies, and then we talk to them about coming back in," Jackson said.

For the first time in 2016, the Reserve also received approval to bring in ROTC cadets directly into their service.

"We've had 80 applications, and we will be bringing in 15 to 20 cadets this year ... and that number will increase in the out years," Jackson said. He said it plays to the Reserve's strengths because college students have the opportunity to serve, but also have a civilian job. "They're going to get exposed to the Air Force Reserve much earlier than they ever have," he said.

The third ingredient for finding poaching the right people?  A single, recruiting database that went into effect a year ago, "We helped develop a single recruiting database, which just went into effect a year ago," Jackson said.

The database, Air Force Recruiting Information Support System, uses all recruiter information across the total force., that way If an airman decides he prefers to join one another component over another, "we got him right there," Jackson said. 

The challenge, no matter how often the service recruits, will be to maintain the balance of supply and demand. 

In the last eight years, the Reserve has stood up 12 cyber units, and is looking to stand up more as part of the U.S. Cyber Command's cyber mission force initiative. With the F-35 coming on board, maintenance too is a priority.

"We're helping ... to stand up the KC-146 at McConnell [Air Force Base, Kansas]. We're helping to put in place the space mission force that Gen. John Hyten is building at [Space Command]. All those things require manpower," Jackson said.

"The really good news here is, no matter what mission you're doing in the active duty force, you'll find a reservist who's doing it, too," he said. The Reserve component, like the Air Force as a whole, remains indispensable, and citizen airmen have nothing to gain but experience for years to come, Jackson said.

"In 2016, you've got every congressional candidate or presidential candidate talking about how the Department of Defense needs to be properly resourced, so I think we've migrated to a better place as a nation, not just for the Air Force, but as the Department of Defense."

Oriana Pawlyk covers deployments, cyber, Guard/Reserve, uniforms, physical training, crime and operations in the Middle East and Europe for Air Force Times. She was the Early Bird Brief editor in 2015. Email her at opawlyk@airforcetimes.com.