Culture is the key to retention, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright said Monday during a visit to Vance Air Force Base.
When people leave the Air Force, “it’s not assignment, and it’s not money,” Wright said. “If I belong to an organization where there’s a lot of pride in my team … and I have great leadership, and a culture of respect and dignity, and people who care about me, the chances of me staying in are high.
“Absent one, or certainly all, of those things, the chances of me staying in the Air Force begin to decrease,” he said.
While overall retention is doing OK, the Air Force has pockets where it wants to improve.
In a statement delivered to a U.S. Senate subcommittee by Lt. Gen. Brian T. Kelly, deputy chief of manpower, personnel and services for the Air Force, highlighted several specific areas.
“For our enlisted force, we have lower retention for cyber; space; nuclear security; maintenance in some mid- to high-skill levels; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR); and special warfare among mid- to high-skill level airmen. For our officer force, retention continues to be challenging among our pilots, combat systems officers, some medical specialties, and has begun emerging in our air battle managers,” the statement said.
While Wright sees culture as the most significant driver of retention, he said location and duration of assignments can play a part.
“Most airmen like to move. They like to go to a place for two or three or four years,” he said. “Most, like me, join the Air Force to see the world.”
Certain bases in certain places have more to do and see than others, he said, some locales aren’t as interesting.
“Sometimes that drives retention,” Wright said.
Wright spent the day at Vance visiting with officers and airmen, gauging morale and readiness, determining what’s running smoothly, and where improvements may be needed. As the highest ranking non-commissioned officer in the branch, he reports his findings to the chief of staff and the secretary of the Air Force.
“When I come to a base like Vance, or really any air base, I want to do two things,” Wright said.
The first is to gain an understanding of the mission of a given base, and take note of any innovative efforts ongoing there.
Second, “I want to get a pulse of how the airmen are doing, what challenges they have,” and “figure out things to do from where I sit to improve, whether it’s quality of life or mission oriented,” he said.
A survey released in February by Blue Star Families, a nonprofit focused on the welfare of military families, found that couples in which one serves in the military are facing challenges due to frequent deployments, relocations and financial issues.
Uprooting and relocating calso an make it difficult more the non-military spouse to advance in their career field, the survey found. This is a growing problem for married or otherwise committed airmen and women, and the Air Force is well aware.
“Spouse’s opportunity to have their own career has become more prevalent, and probably more important than it was in the past,” Wright said. “Now we have more working and professional spouses and so the ability to transition from one installation to another, from one state to another, and not have to worry about losing your credential or your certification, I think is a huge deal.”
The Department of Defense has been working with Congress to find a solution to the credential and certification problem, with the”Military Spouse Licensure Portability initiative, he said.
Licensure portability is being tackled on a state-by-state basis currently, and with varied results.
In some cases, one state might now agree to recognize an Oklahoma Bar Association certified attorney completely and allow them to practice law there if they follow their spouse, for example.
Other instances might allow a military spouse to waive the fee for a test or examination needed to earn certification in the new state they’ve just moved to.
It’s an ongoing effort to get all states on board, but it is picking up momentum, he said.
Following his visit to Vance, Wright will go to Tinker Air Force Base.
“Regardless of size, anywhere we have airmen serving, I try to get to,” Wright said. “The people in this wing have a tremendous amount of pride in what they do.”
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