Life in Active Duty (ask a Captain anything)

Discussion in 'Air Force Academy - USAFA' started by jbjtitleist124, May 6, 2016.

  1. jbjtitleist124

    jbjtitleist124 Member

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    Ok, So I see there is a "Ask a Cadet Anything" thread, and while I know Active Duty is (and should be) the last thing on an appointee/cadet candidate's mind, I thought I would open it up to those individuals or parents who might have some questions about active duty.

    I am an 08 Grad currently stationed at USAFA flying gliders (yes, that's an actual assignment). I am a previous C-17 IP out of Charleston with multiple deployments and am originally from Asheville, NC.

    I'll be happy to answer any questions you might have about life after USAFA.
     
  2. Wishful

    Wishful Parent

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    Thank you for starting this thread. I am a non-military parent. What was your assignment post-graduation while awaiting pilot training? Was it a challenge for you issuing orders; did you feel that USAFA adequately prepared you for leadership? Did your leadership style change as you were promoted? What was a typical personnel issue that came to your attention & how did you address it?
     
  3. Padre101

    Padre101 Parent

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    Do you see yourself staying in for at least 20 years? If so, what do you see yourself doing 5 years from now?

    If you plan on leaving the Air Force before your 20 years, what careers do you have in mind?

    Thank you for your service to our Country!
     
  4. NavyHoops

    NavyHoops Moderator

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    Why C-17s? Was this your preferred aircraft?

    What advice would you give to a new appointee about to embark on this journey to be prepared for flight school? How about a brand new butter bars about to report to flight school?
     
  5. jbjtitleist124

    jbjtitleist124 Member

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    You're most welcome. I remember when I was making the decision to apply to USAFA and I realized I didn't have a clue about the military (my parents weren't military), so I figured this would help parents and appointees alike.

    I actually went straight to my UPT base. I don't know what the percentage of "Casual Status LTs" is coming from USAFA, but most will go straight to their base. So, when I got to Columbus, I basically checked in once a week, then ended up going to Air and Space Basic Course (ASBC) at Maxwell for a month, which that course is now gone.

    For the most part, issuing orders hasn't been an issue, mostly because most people get it and are great subordinates. Maybe I've been lucky, or maybe it's my leadership style, but I've never really had to force someone to do anything. I do think that being a pilot and being in that career field, you deal less with "issuing orders" than say, a Security Forces officer who deals with young airmen A LOT more than pilots do. Absolutely I think USAFA prepared me to be a leader. There are so many opportunities for leadership at the Academy, it is near impossible to go through there without some sort of leadership position and/or learning a lot about yourself as a leader. I'm not sure, however, that I really sat down and had some introspection time until I was a young Captain and started to get back in that leadership mentality. The whole Academy experience is a leadership laboratory and is designed that way.

    I definitely think I have not necessarily "changed" my leadership style, but I have definitely honed in on my type. We get ample amount of time to think about our style when we go to SOS (Squadron Officer School) as a Captain.

    A typical personnel issue that comes up in the crew world of airlift is working with young loadmasters and co-pilots and realizing they are young and need to be handled a little different. I wouldn't say they misbehave, but they can lack the maturity of others, especially those who are single and/or straight out of tech school. Again, maybe I've been lucky, but I haven't had very many behavioral issues on my crews. I suppose when I have had to assert my authority, I do it in a way that is not intimidating or disrespectful, but to the point and serious. Everyone knows when I mean business because usually I am a laid back, joking kind of guy. So, when I put on the serious face, the subordinate tends to realize the seriousness of the matter. I think the best leaders are those that their subordinates don't follow orders because they have to, but because they don't want to let their leader down.

    Another issue that sometimes comes up (especially in the pilot world), is getting aircrew that wants to cut corners. Whether it's skipping an item in the checklist or falling victim to the "get-home-itis" after a long mission. As an instructor pilot, you come to know which mistakes you must immediately address and sometimes intervene (mostly based on safety of flight), and those issues you can let them make the mistake (or cut the corner) and then learn from it, whether it be from the error chain it causes down the line, or a simple debrief after the fact. When a co-pilot is lazy and wants to take the easy way out, that is often the time it requires some intervention before things get taken too far down the wrong path. Once again, I'm not a yeller or a screamer, so usually it's just a change in tone and attitude for me. It seems to work fairly effectively.

    Those were GREAT questions and I hope I made some semblance of sense out of my answers. If anything is unclear or it led to more questions, please feel free to ask. Thanks again!
     
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  6. jbjtitleist124

    jbjtitleist124 Member

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    More great questions! If you would have asked me that question 3 years ago, I would be telling you a different answer. But, to answer your question, No, I don't see myself staying in, at least not Active Duty, for 20. There is one main reason for that, and a couple sub-reasons for it. Main reason is, the airlines are hiring like crazy and they pay more and have a better quality of life than active duty. That is just MY feeling and that is based on the fact that growing up I had no intention of going into the military. Heck, I didn't even know USAFA existed until my senior year in HS, which is when I started the application process. My sub-reasons I kind of touched on, but deal with the current culture of the Air Force. I won't get into much detail, because I'm not one to bash the Air Force; it has been very very good to me and my family so far. But, I do want to be candid with you. I feel like the culture of the Air Force is one that has drifted away from the mission of breaking airplanes and killing bad guys. We have put too much focus on the wrong things, i.e., bands, OPRs, volunteer work, secondary duties, etc. They are wearing the force out with wars that won't end and they are feeling the effects of it via manning issues. If you look back in FY14, you will see what I'm talking about. Look at the number of pilots who left active duty. Manning has always been an issue for the AF, in that they just can't seem to time the pendulum. I do realize a lot of that has to do with Congress budget allocation and real world events, however some of it is self-inflicted. We won't get into the politics of the AF, but I don't want you parents to think it's just easy peasy once your kid gets out into the "real" Air Force.

    But, as is true with USAFA and pretty much any organization, the pendulum will swing back the other way and all will be well for a while. I just don't buy into the CSAF's claim that morale is "pretty darn good." That is almost laughable. But, like I said, the AF has been "pretty darn good" to me. I have had great assignments and went to some awesome places, with deployments that could have been much worse.

    In 5 years, I see myself in the airlines, and also flying reserves/guard with a unit. I do love the AF, just not necessarily active duty.

    Thanks for asking and thank you for your support!
     
  7. jbjtitleist124

    jbjtitleist124 Member

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    I would say that up until track select, which is when UPT students go from the primary T-6 trainer to the T-1 or T-38, I was on the fence on which route I wanted to take. I ultimately decided that the fighter community didn't fit my personality or lifestyle, so I chose the heavy route. I chose C-17s because I, first, like the new airplane. Something about a glass cockpit just got me going. and 2nd, I loved the mission. I call it a hybrid between a C-130 and a C-5. We're not as "down in the weeds" as a C-130, but we're more in the fight than a C-5 and can do more. There's nothing much that beats landing a 585,000lb airplane on a dirt strip that is 3500 ft long on NVGs. We can tell war stories some other time. Just know that it was my first choice and Charleston was my first base. If you can't read between the lines, I did pretty well in UPT.

    As far as an appointee: get a pilot slot first. You do that (these days) by keeping your nose above water (meaning make decent grades... I graduated with a 2.6 in Management and still got a pilot slot, if that tells you anything). I also recommend trying out to be a glider IP or Wings of Blue member. These cadets get a little better treatment when it comes to BOM (Board Order of Merit) time. And for perfectly good reason. They have been evaluated by active duty pilots and deemed fit to instruct their fellow cadets. They learn ALOT about themselves and flying while at the airfield. Other than that, an appointee should be worried about graduating. If I can do it, any of you smart kids can.

    new LT: Study. Study. Study. Get a copy of the Dash-1 as early as possible and study it. When you're sitting on the crapper, study your Dash-1. When you're with your girlfriend, study your Dash-1. When you're driving, study your Dash-1 (jk, don't do that). But, you get my point. Think about it this way. As is true with everything in life and especially flying an airplane, you want to open as many doors as you can and give yourself as many choices as you can. Think of UPT that same way. You want to do as well as you can during that 1 rigorous year, so that you give yourself options for your future. 80% of LT's going to pilot training want to be fighter pilots. Nothing wrong with that, but guess what. They don't just take anybody (although they might now because they are REALLY hurting for fighter pilots). So, study hard, don't be a douche, and set yourself up so you can have choices. And for God's sakes, don't drink and drive. Getting a DUI, or even worse, killing yourself or someone else, is STUPID. It will ruin a career. And on that note, don't do stupid stuff on the weekends. Remember, you are expendable and if you severely hurt yourself water skiing, best case is you get rolled back a few classes while you recover, and worse case, you find a new career.

    Just my $.02.
     
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  8. Padre101

    Padre101 Parent

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    Your $.02 is worth a ton of a lot!!! Thank you!
     
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  9. USAFA10s

    USAFA10s USAFA Class of 2012 WPAFB

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    I will throw in that I am a 2012 grad (HAAAAAAAAAP) with about as different a career as you can get from the OP. I am a 61D, Physicist. I spent the first two years of my assignment working in the sensors directorate of the Air Force Research Labs (AFRL). I then switched over to the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) and got my MS degree (physics). I am now working on my PhD on a similar topic. I am happy to answer any questions those that see themselves as potentially joining the nerds of the Air Force have :)
     
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  10. jbjtitleist124

    jbjtitleist124 Member

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    haha! Yes! You can offer a total 180 degree different experience in AD. So, for you parents that have smart kids, or you appointees who are wicked smart, ask USAFA10s how to get the AF to pay for multiple masters and doctorates. There are lots of opportunities to work with the civilian sector while still wearing a uniform.
     
  11. flieger83

    flieger83 Super Moderator Moderator

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    jbjtitleist124 and USAFA10s...

    WELCOME TO THE FORUM!

    Your input will be exceedingly valuable as you are "there now, doing it now" as opposed to some of us that remember when USAFA was a military academy and not a relaxed college (okay JOKE!!!). Seriously...the perspective of junior officers (yes jb, you're still a JO although a pretty senior one :)) is HIGHLY valuable to prospective cadets and candidates. It puts a "real world, real time" input in their hands! And your willingness to take on "the real questions" is of great value!!

    Thank you for joining us!!

    Steve
    USAFA ALO
    USAFA '83
    (old guy)
     
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  12. jbjtitleist124

    jbjtitleist124 Member

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    While I still stand by my statement that appointees and cadets shouldn't be too focused on the future (graduation is first), I think it is important to at least have an idea of what you're getting yourself into. And, I'm not here to recruit for the AF. As you can tell, I will tell it like I see it, because anything less isn't fair to those embarking on their journey in the AF. Some will obviously have different perspectives and opinions than myself, which I welcome.

    Thanks for the welcome! I can't believe I JUST found this forum. Where was this when I made a last minute decision to apply to USAFA! haha. I hope myself and other AD officers can give a perspective you might not normally get until graduating.
     
  13. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    Well, shoot, I'll hop into this one, too.

    I marshalled aircraft on the ramp at my UPT base for a couple months. It was pretty easy, and I learned a little bit about how T-6 operations worked. Issuing orders hasn't been a real problem. In the aircrew world, most people I've worked with are mature enough to operate within the system. Every once in a while you have to say something like "We're doing this because that is the policy" or "No, Lieutenant, we are not doing that." Fortunately, it is relatively rare. (I generally view having to pull rank as a failure of leadership and persuasion.) USAFA did a pretty decent job at preparing me, but the extracurriculars I did through USAFA were the best prep. My leadership style is getting refined as time goes on (I hope!). As you move through different levels of leadership and different situations, you need to tailor your style a little. What works as a formation lead in the air might not work as a shop chief on the ground. Typical personnel issues I've seen are junior people not realizing that what you can say in a debrief, you shouldn't necessarily say during a meeting with a commander (know thine audience). Other than that, it is often just the problem of motivating people to do their job well, even if they are not a great fit in that position.

    Maybe. I still have a few years left on my UPT commitment. If I like my job when that commitment is up, I will stay. If not, I'll leave.

    Hueys were my second choice, as only one unit is really focused on rescue, which is what I want to do more of. For UPT, STUDY! Work as team. Students can't make every mistake and graduate. Therefore, you should admit when you made one, and help keep your classmates from making the same ones. Some people get focused on themselves, but UPT is also a group event. Classes that struggle drag everyone down, whereas classes that do well tend to help all the students in them.
     
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  14. Montana Falcon

    Montana Falcon Member

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    Are there any folks reading this thread with experience in the RPA community? My 2017 DD is about 90% on putting this as #1 pick for a rated position. She has mentioned some
    concerns related to the field that make up the 10% of doubt.

    1) What are the factors related to the retention problems they are experiencing?
    2) Living/working conditions at the bases they are located.
    3) Psychological effects from the scenario of "combat mission by morning, then kids Soccer Game by afternoon."

    She is actually excited about this career path, but has always been a very reflective kind of gal. Once a decision is made, she is all in, but until that time, it's a fact finding
    Mission with considerable thought and planning.

    jbjtitleist124. Thanks for starting this thread! It's a valuable resource to have people like yourself who are out there doing the job, posting real time observations of life as an AF Officer.
    As a Parent, it provides us a better perspective on what our Cadets may experience once they become 2nd Lt's and beyond.
     
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  15. skismuggs

    skismuggs Member

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    To piggyback on this question... RPA pilots are all officers right? Are they the ones flying the drones for hours and hours sitting in a room or do they supervise enlisted "flyers" if that's the term and make the decisions to fire/bomb a target? I'm imagining 3-4 "flyers" in the room and an officer walking around behind them checking what's happening during that time. Sorry for the question or ignorance but RPA has also been discussed by my cadet as part of the plan. I greatly appreciate this thread because I feel we are quickly moving from the "chance me" threads into the " what happens after USAFA" stage in our cadet's life. Thank you for your service!
     
  16. AFrpaso

    AFrpaso USAFA '17

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    I was in the RPA world as an enlisted troop so I can shed at least a little light on these two questions.

    1) Main factors related to retention problems: Shift work. Scheduling. Potential for much better money as a civilian contractor elsewhere or one who is instructing incoming RPA pilots and sensor operators.
    2) I was stationed at Creech AFB. It is about an hour north of Las Vegas in the middle of the desert (check it out on Google maps). It is not a traditional base. There is no on base housing, there is no base exchange (just a small shoppette). Most amenities are found back at Nellis AFB which is actually in Las Vegas. I lived in the far northwestern corner of LV in an effort to cut my commute time as short as possible when driving to work. Most other RPA bases are located in a similar "middle of nowhere" location. Since Creech is probably the closest RPA base to a major city.
    3) There are psychological effects here, not exactly the same as actually being out in the field obviously, but they could be damaging nonetheless. From a purely anecdotal viewpoint I can say that the pilots and crews that I interacted with all seemed like they had a stable head on their shoulders.

    RPA pilots are all officers. They are the ones who are actually flying. They do not supervise enlisted "flyers". Each drone is operated by a two man crew, one officer pilot and one enlisted sensor operator. The pilot flies the aircraft and the sensor operator controls the camera and sensors to include laser targeting. The pilot pulls the trigger and the sensor operator guides the missile. Also, it is important not to forget all of the intelligence coordinators working behind the scenes!
     
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  17. Montana Falcon

    Montana Falcon Member

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    Great information AFrpaso. Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences and understanding of the RPA community. And of course, thank you for your Service!
     
  18. Wishful

    Wishful Parent

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    I want to thank all the posters for taking the time to answer our questions.
     
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  19. 6KDogwhistle

    6KDogwhistle Member

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    Unfortunately, this will never end-not bad attitude but just the facts. The pendulum swung too far to the left and broke off looooong ago. Sadly, retention is solely based on the economy. In all my years, the leadership (or lack thereof) has never been able to keep the talent to stay. This is what happens when incompetent and spineless people are in positions of power. When "PC" over rides common sense and righteousness, this becomes the end result. Welcome to the jungle. Beatings will continue until morale improves!
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2016
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  20. jbjtitleist124

    jbjtitleist124 Member

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    AFrpaso has great insight that I can't afford. However, I can tell you from a "big picture" look at the RPA community, they just can't fill the slots quick enough. Whether we like it or not, RPAs are the future of any kind of engagement. So, your DD is going into a career field that is growing faster than manpower can keep up with, both in the military and in the civilian sector. I've known guys who make the transition and who love the job. Yes, because they are unable to fill all mission requirements, they are worked to the bone, which is not helping retention or filling those slots. I know the AF is working on finding a quicker and more efficient way to fill those holes other than from UPT or an MWS. There is an RPA career field coming out of the academy now, as well as a pretty robust RPA program at USAFA. I hope, by now, she has talked to Lt Col Hyer about that career field.

    I'm sure she has read by now that they are finding more and more pilots and sensor operators coming down with mental issues because they are killing bad guys while sitting in a Conex, then immediately going home and trying to live a normal life. You can see how that could bring about some issues. You still deploy in RPAs, as most of the mission is flown by someone stateside and the taxi/takeoff/landing is handed over to someone in theater.

    But, I am very biased when it comes to RPA vs. Piloted aircraft. Why? Because AFPC threatens pilots ALL THE TIME about sending us to RPAs and a majority of people shutter at the thought. That doesn't mean the RPA community is bad or filled with terrible pilots, but I wouldn't say its a highly sought after career field. Once again, this goes back to one of the reasons I can't make it 20, our personnel system just can't see past the edge of their noses. I don't understand how they didn't have a separate RPA route already established when RPAs came on line. They didn't build the MQ-9 overnight. They had to have seen this coming. Just like the airline shortage didn't happen overnight (which caused the max exodus of pilots in FY14). Our leadership just can't seem to see these types of things coming. And when it happens, they can't seem to take responsibility for it.

    Thanks again to AFrpaso for the great insight! Hopefully someone else can give their insight into RPAs as well, as they are obviously making a surge in the AF.
     
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