Air Force Won't Use Stop-Loss to Keep Pilots, Top General Says

77th Fighter Squadron pilots, depart the Shaw AFB flightline after returning from Afghanistan Apr. 13, 2013. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Krystal M. Jeffers)
77th Fighter Squadron pilots, depart the Shaw AFB flightline after returning from Afghanistan Apr. 13, 2013. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Krystal M. Jeffers)

The Air Force's top general said he's not considering using the service's stop-loss policy to keep pilots from leaving the ranks despite recent discussions about the option.

"I want to make it as clear as I possibly can: I am not considering stop loss," Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said Wednesday during a discussion at the Heritage Foundation, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

The defense secretary and president would decide whether to review stop-loss in "times of emergency," he said. "It's a tool, and a secretary's tool in the tool bag when we're in a state of emergency, and we're not in a state of emergency," he said.

Goldfein described the service's pilot shortage as "a challenge but it's also a great opportunity."

"This is an opportunity to get out there and squint with our ears and listen to the force and figure out what are the irritants that's keeping them from being the very best they can be," he said

RELATED: Air Force Calls Stop-Loss 'Last Resort' to Deal with Pilot Shortage

As Goldfein proposed back when he took over the job last summer, one way to deal with the personnel issue might be to improve morale in squadrons, he said.

"I want the airmen to their right and to their left to know they are the finest men and women they will ever serve with," he said, "and this is the time of their lives they're doing something much bigger than themselves."

In August, Goldfein said the squadron is "the beating heart of the United States Air Force." Improving morale among airmen in the squadrons could take the form of reducing their paperwork demands, for example, and better listening to their complaints or concerns, the general has said.

For the fighter pilot community, "the largest incentive to getting pilots to stay is where I'm focused," Goldfein said on Wednesday. "And there's not going to be one, big program or thing we're going to do to make pilots stay with us -- it's going to be 100 little things, and it's going to be a journey we're going to be on for the next 10 years."

Earlier this week, officials told the Air Force may have to use a stop-loss measure -- an involuntary extension of service -- to retain as many trained pilots as it can without losing them to the civilian airlines. But it would do so only as a last resort.

"Every idea is on the table and worthy of discussion," said Col. Chris Karns, spokesman for Air Mobility Command, said Tuesday.

His comments came after an article in CQ Roll Call quoted AMC's commander, Gen. Carlton Everhart II, saying, "I said to the industry … if we can't meet the requirements, the chief could drop in a stop-loss -- and you need to understand that."

Karns reiterated what Everhart said last week during a discussion with reporters that the airline industry needs to take the lead in providing options for sharing pilots.

"Industry could serve as potential partners in a range of possible ideas to include sabbaticals, debt forgiveness, or possibly the establishment of simulator campuses to offset the number of flying hours required to be a commercial airline pilot," he said. "The meeting will help determine the realm of possible."

Everhart has discussed similar ideas, and hopes to bring them to the airline industry during a meeting with officials May 18 at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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