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Air Force: Stop-loss is not on the table in effort to retain pilots

The Air Force on Tuesday shot down a four-star general's suggestion that the service could use a controversial program called stop-loss to force crucial pilots to stay in the service and not depart for lucrative commercial airline jobs.

Air Mobility Command head Gen. Carlton Everhart told CQ Roll Call in an interview that he has told airline executives that Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein is keeping stop-loss on the table to solve the pilot retention crisis.

"I said to the industry ... if we can't meet the requirements, the chief could drop in a stop-loss — and you need to understand that," Everhart said in the Monday Roll Call story.

But Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso said in a statement to Air Force Times that stop-loss is not being considered.

"Stop-loss is not a part of the Air Force's retention strategy, as we expect the monetary and non-monetary tools we have implemented will attract and retain a mission-ready force," Grosso said. "There has been no consideration of implementing any type of stop-loss for any career field."

Goldfein also closed the door on stop-loss at a Heritage Foundation discussion Wednesday. 

"I want to make it as clear as I possibly can: I am not considering stop-loss," Goldfein said. "It's a tool in the secretary's tool bag to use when we're in a state of emergency, and we're not in a state of emergency."

The Air Force also feels implementing such a program — where service members are involuntarily retained beyond their separation date, and is a program that has been criticized as being tantamount to a "backdoor draft" and proved highly controversial during the Iraq war — would be counterproductive to its pilot retention strategy.

The Air Force has already gotten Congress' permission to up Aviator Retention Pay bonuses from the previous annual maximum of $25,000 to as much as $35,000. And, last month, Grosso told lawmakers the Air Force was thinking of offering that bonus to airmen who agree to stay on for 13 more years — a considerable expansion from the current five- or nine-year service commitment extensions, and which could net pilots as much as $455,000.

Grosso also said the Air Force was considering offering one- or two-year contract extensions with the retention bonus. These short-term extensions, Grosso said, would allow pilots to stick around a little while longer to see if the Air Force makes good on its promises to improve their quality of life and quality of service.

The Air Force feels that implementing a stop-loss policy would cause pilots to flee the Air Force before the door closed, and they won't stick around to see if things improve.

The Air Force is growing increasingly concerned about pilots — especially fighter pilots — leaving as commercial airlines launch their massive hiring wave, driven by their own mandatory retirements. Grosso told Congress that at the end of 2016, the total force was short 1,555 pilots, including 1,211 fighter pilots.

As part of its effort to improve quality of service, the Air Force is also reducing additional duties and non-mission essential training required for pilots, and outsourcing routine administrative jobs in squadrons to allow them to fly more.

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