To piggy back on the well written post above........
In my opinion, there is a lot more to pilot retention than bumping up the pay check, QOL or additional duties. Those have always been issues and have forced a percentage of pilots out. Those basics need to happen and are actually pretty easy fixes if someone in senior leadership would grow a pair, acknowledge the obvious and fix it. 365s shouldn’t be a requirement like PME. But another important but possibly intangible issue is the struggle to maintain a culture of warriors in the USAF. What seems to be a new, added problem is the attempt to move USAF away from a force lead by the actual war fighters towards what looks more like a peacetime corporation. It’s been a slow leak over the last couple of decades.
I have a lot to say about this but I'm finding it tough to put some of it into a sensible message. When I entered the ranks of USAF fighter pilots, it was 1989 and although we didn't know it yet, we had reached the pinnacle of a long journey toward an extremely lethal combat air force. As a Lt, I had no part in that. I simply benefited from being exposed to some of the most hard-charging, capable fighter pilots created during the post-Carter, Cold War, Reagan years of huge military expansion, boo-coo dollars and total focus on enhancing our capability to wage war from the air. As a result, we brought serious game to the first protracted combat ops in almost 2 decades when Desert Storm kicked off. It was a truly amazing thing to be a part of.
Here's where I begin to struggle to put some concepts into words: I'll do my best.
I had the honor of meeting and hearing a few hours of wisdom from George "Bud" Day during ROTC field training. Five years later, he presented me (and everyone in my UPT class) with our wings, drank whiskey with us and told us amazing stories at the O-club standing among us in his mess dress and Medal of Honor. I heard similar stories from F-4, B-52 and Thud Drivers, guys with gold stars on their flight suit sleeves (anyone remember those?), read books by Broughton, Basel, Risner, Drury and many more. I and my contemporaries soaked in every bit of warrior lore and attitude we could find and experience. It was evident that it was all important. None of us needed that explained to us. We came to realize that the traditions, attitudes and perpetuation of the fighting spirit that was born out of past air wars were absolutely necessary to becoming an effective Air Force combat pilot. The simple fact is that pilots who woke up every day to begin preparations for missions like daylight bomber or fighter raids on Germany, attacking the Paul Doumer bridge, going "downtown" to Hanoi or any number of other daily tests of testicular fortitude knew there was a high chance they wouldn't see the next sunrise or if they did it would be through prison bars. If it wasn't them, then it likely was someone else in their unit with whom they shared the experience of air combat. While I don't claim anything close to that, my small exposure to what it must have been like for them came on my third combat mission. I had "that feeling" based on experiences on my first two missions and strapped on my jet with a solid, tangible feeling that I wasn't coming back. I couldn't shake it, of course I went anyway and thankfully, I was wrong. You don't do that every day, strap on a fighter or bomber, lose friends, fly RESCAP over their smoking holes, come up initial in a 3-ship that left as four without coping mechanisms. Drinking in a readily accessible squadron bar might be the most obvious, sharing stories only another warrior could understand or appreciate, raunchy fighter pilot songs, running the gauntlet of hurled whiskey glasses in a wake to mourn a fallen comrade, burning pianos, and the list goes on. To outsiders they may seem strange, stupid or unnecessary, offensive antics by fraternity brothers who are still waiting to mature into adults. We didn't have to explain ourselves in the past, but that no longer appears to be the case. But those same PC, judgmental, clueless outsiders, politicians or leaders with a lower-case "L" have no idea what it takes to willingly take on a mission like that during sustained combat operations where we potentially lose people and aircraft daily. The pilots who do are long since retired and far more have left this world. My war in 1991 lasted about 6-weeks and losses in the air were in the double digits at most. Since then, we've had a few surges but nothing that rivals the experiences of our predecessors. But that doesn't mean their combat tested traditions should be forgotten or set aside as relics of the past. The fraternal bonds of combat are indescribable and something no one can appreciate second hand. They are also absolutely necessary for a fighting force to gain the required trust in each other and be truly effective in their mission. They also don't just happen out of thin air when a squadron suddenly finds themselves launching their first combat mission.
As I alluded to at the start, it's difficult to put this into a cogent message. I don't know if I have but I have no doubt many of you fellow warriors, past and present, have a general idea of what I'm trying to say. Being an effective combat pilot isn't something you just start doing the day the balloon goes up and shit gets real. Combat pilots from the 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's showed us how it was done, gave us traditions to perpetuate and those were carried by the next generation of pilots into the final two decades of the 20th century. I have no doubt that today's combat pilots are doing their best to follow in the footsteps of the warriors who came before them. However, doing so is not supposed to be a struggle with the very leadership you're charged with following. We should be embracing and continuing these traditions, not throwing them aside because of someone's BS sensibilities.
I guess the bottom line is this: Being a warrior, an aggressive, professional, lethal killer is not a politically correct, peacetime, 9 to 5 job. It's highly specialized and the skill set necessary to excel at it requires an extraordinary amount of resources and effort, probably more so today than ever before. Pilots attempting to attain and maintain this excellence need to be able to focus the majority of their working hours on this task. We have been fighting this battle for at least 50 years and probably will continue to do so. What is new, however, is the fact that pilots now have to prove that they and their mission are, in fact, actually different from other officers and support personnel. That they are not interchangeable and in spite of how "unfair" it might be to some, not everyone in the USAF is an actual war-fighter. No excuses are necessary for this - it's simply reality. If that offends someone - too fucking bad. You want in on it, go to UPT or shut the F.U. and support the mission. We need warriors. They don't come about using an HR department, worrying about a PC culture or who is going to be offended by the process of creating highly trained, lethal killers. Rant over - 🤬