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Let's recognize those who choose to stay in

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Every day, on any military base, there's an announcement about a retirement ceremony for Lt. Col. So-and-so or Master Sgt. What's-his-name.

Last year, within two months, I went to six retirement ceremonies. During the ceremonies, the soon-to-be civilians were presented mementos and medals to honor their distinguished Air Force careers. Rightfully so, they earned it.

But this tradition caused me to ponder over something while I was reenlisting recently -- we need to show our airmen the advantages of staying with the Air Force in the same fashion. We need to recognize and praise their choice to reenlist.

We all should have noticed by now that recruiting and retention are pretty hot topics with our top Air Force leaders.

Over the past 25 years, I've seen airmen and junior NCOs leaving the Air Force for various reasons, some personal and some professional.

Some airmen can get disillusioned during their first enlistment. They might not like living in the dorms, or maybe their jobs aren't satisfying enough. They might have a personality conflict with a supervisor.

I'm not saying these aren't real problems for today's airmen, but in the grand scheme of things, say a 20- or 30-year career, these are temporary situations. If we let our people leave the service without explaining the many benefits of staying with the Air Force, then we haven't upheld our end of the deal.

In fact, we've done that airman a disservice. We shouldn't allow an emotional situation to guide a person's decision to change the course of their life. When I talk to many of our first- and second-termers getting out, I discover they are not doing enough homework. Do they really know what it's like in the civilian job market? And do they really understand how loyal the Air Force is to its members and their families? The Air Force will stay with you as long as you stay with the Air Force, maybe longer.

Consider this: How many civilian-sector jobs can the entry-level employee walk in to and have immediate health care? How many know they can count on an opportunity for advancement? How many start out with 30 days of paid vacation per year? How many offer 75 percent tuition assistance? How many offer the recreational and family support programs we have in the Air Force?

Not many!

Some people talk about the good ol' days, back when we had twice as many people in the Air Force. I say "These are the good ol' days!"

Instead of four people to a dorm room, like I had as an airman, we now have one-plus-one rooms. Today's airmen have more opportunities to get financial counseling and build wealth through investing. Even if they decide, based on logic not emotions, to leave the Air Force, we have a transition assistance program that will ease their job hunt. How many employers will help you market yourself better for your next job?

If our first-term airmen aren't satisfied with their jobs, encourage them to retrain rather that leave the service. When they reenlist and retrain, they can apply for a base of preference anywhere in the country they're needed. If they've already been out of the Air Force they can come back in.

Not only will we welcome them, we might even pay them a bonus.

My challenge to my fellow Air Force professionals is to reflect on what life in the Air Force has done for you. Look at what it will do for your family.

Listen to people who've decided to make it a career. Ask them "Why?" Share that with someone who's looking at leaving this great profession. The Air Force product is all about freedom for tomorrow, while corporate America is all about profit gain today-they have to be.

Recognize and praise the choice to reenlist. The airmen who stay with us will carry the flag into the future. Your involvement today will keep a strong and viable Air Force for tomorrow.

Engage

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