For the First Time in a Decade, the Air National Guard Will Miss Its Retention Goal

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An A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot prepares for flight operations at Selfridge Air National Guard Base
An A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot with the 107th Fighter Squadron prepares for flight operations at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich. June 6, 2020. (U.S. Air National Guard/Staff Sgt. Samara Taylor)

The Air National Guard will miss its retention and end-strength goals this year amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

While recruiting increased slightly, Gen. L. Scott Rice, director of the ANG, said Wednesday that the Guard will still fall roughly 1,000 members short of its projected 107,700 goal.

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"Our retention has changed for the first time in probably 10 years," Rice said during a Mitchell Institute event.

The Guard had anticipated month-long orders for its members to aid in hospitals and deliver supplies across the country as part of the pandemic response. But they became "rolling" orders, extending members' duty time, Rice said.

"We've had a change in dynamic that I haven't seen before," he said. "We're digging into what [this] means."

Rice added that amid the ongoing pilot shortage -- which affects the total force -- the ANG has been granted more authority to bring recently retired or separated pilots back into its ranks.

When the COVID-19 response ramped up, he worked with Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett to pursue ways to reclaim pilots for roughly a year's time.

"What I asked the secretary for was, 'Hey, in light of the COVID, can you give me greater authorities to bring back somebody for a year that I can rapidly fast-track?'" he said.

Rice cannot recall more pilots than he has billets for, but said retirees or those who recently separated must be medically cleared and up-to-date on the Air Force's flying requirements.

"We found out that if somebody has been out for [about] two years, we have the ability to bring them back relatively easily," he said. "We look at medical, security, do a quick check on those, and we get them rapidly up to speed if they have the right training."

He added, "That has helped with those that have separated and are caught by this airline [hiring pause]. And it's not only pilots, but it's maintainers as well."

While Rice did not disclose how many pilots have returned in recent weeks, the Air Force gave 171 the chance to stay past their separation or retirement dates as major airlines are still operating in a limited capacity.

The service said last week that it is preparing for the possibility that furloughed airline pilots will submit requests to return to active duty come Oct. 1, spokeswoman Maj. Malinda Singleton said.

Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, passed in late March, airline jobs have been safe as companies are prohibited from cutting their workforces until that date.

However, experts foresee a dramatic reduction in airline jobs when the restriction is lifted.

"At this time, it is too early to tell what those impacts may be, as the CARES Act prohibited layoffs and furloughs in the airlines until Oct. 1," Singleton said. "We are keeping a close watch on the situation; recognizing the challenges the airline industry is facing, we are providing options for rated officers to remain on active duty who otherwise had plans to depart."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

Related: Air Force Preparing for Furloughed Commercial Pilots to Request Return to Duty

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