White House Confuses Pilots, USAF with Friday Executive Order

The Air Force wants to bring some retired pilots back to Active Duty to help the service deal with its growing pilot shortage, but it won't force them back. Here, a pilot with the 18th Aggressor Squadron, based out of Eielson AFB, Alaska, prepares for taxi in his F-16 Fighting Falcon at RAAF Base Williamtown, during Exercise Diamond Shield 2017 in New South Wales, Australia, March 21, 2017. USAF photo by TSgt. Steven R. Doty.

The Air Force Monday clarified it won’t force pilots back into Active Duty service after President Donald Trump waived certain restrictions on recalling airmen from retirement via executive order.

Concerned pilots contacted the service following the order’s release, thinking “initial media reports meant we were going to involuntarily recall retired pilots,” service spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told Air Force Magazine on Sunday.

But according to the Air Force, that will not happen.

Brig. Gen. Mike Koscheski, director of the service’s newly minted Aircrew Crisis Task Force, told reporters on Monday the order’s “big thing” is letting USAF bring back more pilots and for a longer period of time.

“We are an all volunteer force, that is the focus,” he said, adding the service is “not going to force” pilots to come back.

Specifically, What Trump’s order did was up the limit of retirees allowed to serve in Active Duty. As it stood, that limit meant no more than 25 retired pilots would be able to return. That number factored into a program the service stood up months ago. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson announced in late September that the Air Force would be going after retired pilots for voluntary return to staff positions. The service soon after elaborated on the measure, limiting itself to 25 pilots with tour lengths limited to 12 months, which was the legal limit at the time. Now, that cap is undone and the tour length increases to three years.

Koscheski said the extra time for which the service can now hire back retirees does change the “decision calculus.” Returning pilots may now be considered to teach as flying instructor pilots, which, if this were to happen, Koscheski said efforts would focus on undergraduate pilot training at bases like Vance AFB, Okla., and Sheppard Air Force Base and Laughlin Air Force Base, both in Texas. Out of 15 pilots who’ve shown interest in the program thus far, three are on contract.

Trump’s executive order specifically invoked the national emergency waivers of two sections in Title 10 of the United States Code, which outlines the legal framework for US military activities. In invoking these waivers, Trump relied on the national emergency in effect because of and since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The first waiver “made available” to the military, according to the order, is part of section 688, allowing a service Secretary to order retired service members back into Active Duty. However, Wilson’s authority would be limited in some ways. First, she could only order back airmen for up to a year every two years. Further, she wouldn’t be able to order back certain officers who retired early. These limitations are now waived.

The second waiver is part of section 690, which limits to 15 the number of retired general officers allowed to serve on Active Duty and limits to 25 the number of retired officers of any one armed force who may have been recalled using section 688, outlined above. These limitations are now waived.

The service is also expanding its aviation bonus program to include those who aren’t under a service contract and those whose contracts may have expired. In the July issue’s Rebuilding the Ranks, Air Force Magazine takes a deep dive into how the Air Force plans to increase its end strength.