Attrition: The Superhero Shortage


December4, 2006: The Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) is having a hard time getting new people. Although the air force is in the midst of laying off 40,000 personnel, it can't get enough people in some key specialties. The biggest shortages are in the special tactics units. These include commando quality personnel for jobs like air control and combat weathermen (who are landed in enemy territory to gather more accurate weather data). Until this year, pararescue (who go into enemy territory to rescue downed pilots) also belonged to AFSOC, but has now been transferred to the Air Combat Command (which controls all the combat aircraft). Perhaps Air Combat Command will have better luck in recruiting, because the special tactics units are short about a third of their authorized strength. That's largely because standards are very high and, unlike the army, the air force does not have a large pool of combat trained people to recruit from.

The army has found that recruiting special operations people directly from civilian life is very difficult. Without having many other options,air force special operations recruiters have been showing up at marathons, "Iron man" competitions and extreme sports events. That's brought in a few people, but in the meantime, security companies are taking experienced people away by offering six figure salaries. The air force has responded with re-enlistment bonuses of up to $156,000.

AFOC, which was created in 1990, has 12,900 personnel (active-duty, reserve, and civilian), but most do not require the grueling training that the special tactics troops (about ten percent of AFSOC strength) require. This training typically washes out 40-80 percent of the candidates, takes up to two years to complete, and costs up to half a million dollars.

AFSOC belongs to SOCOM (Special Operations Command), which is composed of 52,000 special operations personnel from all the services. SOCOM increased its strength by about 1,200 personnel this year, but is, like the air force, having a hard time getting more "operators" (as the commando grade troops are called.)


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