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CAAs help airmen make informed decisions

WASHINGTON -- Air Force career assistance advisers do more than advise commanders on retention issues; they help shape the force and assist airmen in making informed career decisions.

The position was created three years ago to help counter the service’s declining retention rates. The job has evolved since then, said Chief Master Sgt. Barbara Opel, the advisers’ career-field manager from the Air Force Personnel Center at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.

“We’re taking a more active role in helping to shape the force and engage airmen,” Opel said.

Career advisers have been helping AFPC tell airmen about special-duty assignment opportunities as recruiters and military-training instructors. They also have been talking to airmen identified for retraining into critical career fields.

“We explain to them what each career field does and give them information to help them chose a specialty that sounds interesting or best matches their skills,” she explained.

According to Opel, advisers have moved beyond focusing solely on retention.

“Education of airmen is our goal,” she said.

Senior Master Sgt. David Sousa, the adviser for the 552nd Air Control Wing at Tinker AFB, Okla., agrees.

“(Our role) is a crucial part in ensuring (airmen) receive all the facts about the benefits and opportunities of an Air Force career,” Sousa said. “The service we provide allows (airmen) to make informed decisions that meet both Air Force needs and their own needs.”

When Sousa visits a unit, he asks the audience why he is there. The usual response he receives is to convince them to re-enlist.

“You bet I would like everyone to re-enlist considering what the Air Force has to offer, but that’s not my job,” he said. “My job is to make sure (airmen) can make smart career decisions based on fact and not emotion.”

Advisers use right-decision or informed-decision briefings. These briefings are geared toward first- and second-term airmen within 12 and 15 months of separation.

During the briefings, the advisers provide airmen with a realistic picture of what is available to them, both inside and outside the military, Opel said.

“We don’t try to twist their arm and make them stay in the Air Force,” she said. “We just want to educate them, because a lot of the benefits that we take for granted in the Air Force aren’t always factored into people’s decisions to leave the military.”

Airmen are shown the costs of medical care, insurance and housing so they can determine what they would need to earn in a civilian job to maintain a standard of living similar to what they have in the Air Force, she said.

People that left active duty for a civilian career only to return are invited to speak during these briefings, she said.

“They consistently tell airmen attending the briefings that what they missed most about military service is the team and family environment,” Opel said. “They don’t feel that people cared about them or their families in the civilian sector. Many chose to return to active duty for the intangible benefits of military service that money can’t buy.”

Whether an airman chooses to re-enlist or separate after the completing the briefing, both Opel and Sousa rest assured that the decision was made based on accurate facts and information.

“Whether a person chooses to serve for four years or for 30 years, I salute them and thank each one for the sacrifice they have made for our country,” Sousa said.

If they do chose to leave active service, Opel said the advisers also make departing airmen aware of the opportunities for continued service to the nation in the Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard, civil service or other federal agencies.

“Regardless of an airman’s final decision, our job is to make sure they are aware of all the options available and are able to make an informed decision,” she said. “I’m confident that when provided with accurate information, airmen will plainly see that the Air Force offers them many benefits and opportunities not found in the civilian sector, and that it’s an incredible way of life.”

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