HomeNewsArticle Display

RPA maintainers accomplish mission despite low retention

The constant and insatiable demand for remotely piloted aircraft airpower has placed stressors on nearly every career field within the enterprise. For the RPA maintenance career fields, these stressors are causing the retention rates to plummet causing rates lower than that of any other aircraft in Air Combat Command. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christian Clausen)

The constant and insatiable demand for remotely piloted aircraft airpower has placed stressors on nearly every career field within the enterprise. For the RPA maintenance career fields, these stressors are causing the retention rates to plummet causing rates lower than that of any other aircraft in Air Combat Command. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christian Clausen)

CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. (AFNS) -- The constant and insatiable demand for remotely piloted aircraft airpower places stressors on nearly every career field within the RPA enterprise. For some Airmen of the 432nd Maintenance Group, the fast-paced deployment rotation, constant shift work, time away from family, limited assignment options and struggle of daily process changes, are more than enough to make some choose not to re-enlist.

"We're definitely seeing some issues with retention here in RPA maintenance as well as the rest of the Air Force," said Chief Master Sgt. John Burks, the 432nd MXG chief enlisted manager. "There are a lot of job opportunities where the Airmen can continue to do great work in the RPA enterprise but through DOD contractors. At the end of the day, these Airmen are going to choose what's best for them and their families."

The 432nd MXG is comprised of nearly 20 different Air Force specialty codes and is responsible for maintaining the MQ-1B Predator and MQ-9 Reaper.

In a recent study, Air Combat Command discovered the MQ-1 and MQ-9 maintenance retention rates were lower than any fighter aircraft with approximately 32 percent of first-time enlistees and 14 percent of second-term enlistees re-enlisting. These rates are roughly 15 percent lower for first-term and 36 percent lower for second-term enlistees versus the rates of the next aircraft platform with the lowest retention rates.

"Most of the Airmen leaving the military are senior airmen and staff sergeants at the end of their first enlistments and they can take their military training and apply it relatively quickly in a contracting job," said Chief Master Sgt. Stacy Dent, the 432nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron chief enlisted manager.

Some Airmen within the 432nd MXG said it's hard to want to stay in the military when they could take their degree to a civilian company and have a more stable schedule and workload, as well as more pay. Others say it's because they have only three assignment locations available within the RPA career field. Each location is in a desert environment, with low manning, calling for 12-hour duty days with two-hour transit to and from work, little time at home between deployments, and lack of incentives to stay in despite the need for their career field.

The loss of the young Airmen and NCOs takes a toll on the rest of the force and creates an environment where it's challenging to keep a high level experience within the career field.

"A lot of skills and techniques take time to acquire," Hill said. "It takes doing the job over and over, and if we don't have the people doing that and you lose that expertise, mistakes will happen eventually, and we don't ever want to get to that point."

The struggles aren't going unnoticed. Leadership from the Air Force, wing, group, squadron and units are taking action.

"There is a lot that the Air Force, wing and squadron leadership is doing," Burks said. "First the commander of Air Combat Command implemented the Cultural Process Improvement Program which is an initiative to assemble subject matter experts across the Air Force for base visits and interviews so we can take actionable ways to improve the RPA enterprise."

Burks went on to say the wing leadership is also continuing to argue for selective re-enlistment bonuses for RPA maintenance to help with retention.

The leadership also tries to make sure the Airmen know how they are making an impact in the world, no matter how monotonous or mundane a task may seem.

"These Airmen are saving lives every single day and enabling others to save lives," Hill said. "The maintainer who thinks they're just fixing a maintenance stand is actually fixing the stand so that a crew chief can get the plane to fly, so the aircrew can train and gain experience flying, so they can keep someone on the ground safe downrange and be able to return home to their families."

Not only are the 432nd MXG maintainers saving lives daily, they're laying the foundation of remotely piloted airpower for the future.

Despite the challenges of the 432 MXG they continue to complete the mission and pass inspections with over 90 percent mission capability rates.

"I have never been with a more skilled, disciplined, professional group of warriors than here at the 432nd Maintenance Group," Burks said. "Every day they are phenomenal and I could not be more proud to serve with the men and women of the 432nd."

Engage

Facebook Twitter
.@RAFMildenhall #KC135 crew strengthened relationship with Romanian #AirForce through air refueling training. For m… https://t.co/8dGvm2HQwC
RT @SecAFOfficial: Mother nature can’t beat the 55th Wing! We will recover @Offutt_AFB from the devastating flood. Amazing American 🇺🇸 spir…
Today the #AirForce announced a new Infrastructure Investment Strategy following a yearlong review that brings a ne… https://t.co/i1yDRQkaPl
RT @Offutt_AFB: As the water has begun to recede, Team Offutt is in full recovery mode. https://t.co/6QPZ96UNZY
RT @SecAFOfficial: Thanks to Iowa leaders who just signed a bill to recognize out of state licenses for our military spouses! @SenJoniErnst
RT @SecAFOfficial: This will make a difference on our bases for decades to come...getting more out of every dollar we spend on #infrastruct
See how our aircraft maintainers keep our #F15s safe and mission ready! @142ndFW https://t.co/H6CrSoCCIg
RT @NASA: During today's spacewalk, we'll be taking questions about our @NASA_Astronauts' excursion outside of the @Space_Station. Ask ques…
RT @US_Stratcom: Global #StrategicDeterrence! Integrating #B52s from @US_EUCOM & @INDOPACOM to conduct simultaneous theater familiarization…
The #KC135 Stratotanker nose art "Black Jack" dates back to the #BloodyHundredth's battle-hardened days of… https://t.co/43zMmRWnsP
Whether our aircraft are taking off, landing or in need of assistance, air traffic controller #Airmen are active ye… https://t.co/eBlrhUI7mQ
#WeCanDoIt! The #USAF wishes a #HappyBirthday to one of the original “Rosie the Riveters,” Ms. Mae Krier, who turne… https://t.co/n24xC5NClI
RT @Offutt_AFB: A 1,000 yr flood wasn’t enough to stop our professionals from the flying mission. Projecting global combat airpower is neve…
Are you fueled for the day? #USAF #F15E Strike Eagle refuels from a 908th Expeditionary Aerial Refueling Squadron… https://t.co/SXIXjZa8pd
The #AFIT kicked off its #centennial anniversary celebration, recognizing how the men and women who study at AFIT t… https://t.co/S8x9Qn6GH3
380th Air Expeditionary Wing #logistics planners provide the magic behind movements to ensure all cargo & #Airmen a… https://t.co/cNjTcMWNcX
The #AirForce have been pioneers in uncontested space, maintaining the world's most cutting-edge lethal force for o… https://t.co/JqWLA93gqO
.@RAFMildenhall flew a #KC135 Stratotanker to Romania on Mar. 10, 2019 to conduct air refueling training with the R… https://t.co/CD0VLgBNuv
RT @DeptofDefense: What drives some of the most fearless and talented pilots in today’s @USAirForce? Check out our Q&A with pilot Capt. Mic…