I Hear What You Are Saying

Analysis of USAF Rated Officer Comments from the 2015 Military Career Decisions Survey

by Christopher M. Carson

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Over the last two decades the US Air Force (USAF) has consistently produced approximately 1000 pilots a year to meet their operational flying and mission requirements. And during this time period, approximately 1000 pilots a year voluntarily leave active duty. These departures could be from retirement, permanent loss of flight status, or the end of an initial commitment. Over this time, this stock and flow pattern of production and departures from the Air Force has been sufficient to meet the requirements of the USAF.

However, the USAF has begun to see a significant rise in the expected number of pilots leaving active duty, specifically those pilots at the end of their initial commitment. As of March 2017, the total force of pilots in the USAF is 1,569 pilots less than the total number required. To make matters worse, by the 2020's the shortage of pilots in the active duty force is expected to increase to well over 2,000 pilots.

Many researchers believe pilots are separating from the USAF because of an increase in major airline hiring because of the better pay and quality of life offered. However, these external pull factors are but a subset of reasons. Failure to understand what factors are truly impacting the pilot's decision to stay or go, and how these factors interact, leaves the USAF and the country potentially unprepared to fly, fight, and win.

Using data from the USAF 2015 Active Duty Career Decisions Survey, this dissertation employs a range of qualitative data analysis techniques to examine the open-ended response questions related to a pilot's decision to remain or depart the service. This study is intended to inform USAF senior leadership about the factors and themes important to rated crew force retention decisions. With this knowledge, the USAF's leadership can make more informed policy decisions related manpower and personnel.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Literature Review

  • Chapter Three

    Methodology

  • Chapter Four

    Results

  • Appendix A

    Summary of CA AFSC by Words

  • Appendix B

    Summary of CA AFSC by Words with outliers Removed

  • Appendix C

    Summary of CA Separation Intention by Words

  • Appendix D

    Summary of CA Retirement Intention by Words

  • Appendix E

    Summary of CA AFSC by Themes with outliers Removed

  • Appendix F

    Summary of CA Separation Intention by Themes

  • Appendix G

    Summary of CA Retirement Intention by Themes

  • Appendix H

    KWIC for Pilot Types

  • Appendix I

    KWIC for Separation Intentions

  • Appendix J

    KWIC for Retirement Intentions

  • Appendix K

    Stopwords

  • Appendix L

    Thematic Codebook

This document was submitted as a dissertation in July 2017 in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the doctoral degree in public policy analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. The faculty committee that supervised and approved the dissertation consisted of Ray Conley (Chair), Gerald Diaz, and Gery Ryan.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation dissertation series. Pardee RAND dissertations are produced by graduate fellows of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, the world's leading producer of Ph.D.'s in policy analysis. The dissertations are supervised, reviewed, and approved by a Pardee RAND faculty committee overseeing each dissertation.

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