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Take bonus-stay in the Air Force or ??

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Well-known member
Nov 27, 2001
Hello all,
Just wanted to get a feel for what you would do in my shoes. 12 years in the AF already- available to get out next November(2003) - at that time I will have 13 1/2 years in. Wife stays home with our two young children. My desire is to fly for a Major but given current situation in the industry - possibly no significant hiring off of the street for another 2-3 years ( aside from Southwest ) - it almost seems criminal to NOT sign the 25k a year bonus and just try this again when I am 42 (8 years from now). At least at that point I will be drawing retirement (granted only 2500 a month) - plus will have invested the extra 200,000 in bonus money. There has got to be some point as I get closer to 20 in the Air Force that it makes more sense to ride it out and try for the big airline job after retirement?
Anyhow, any/all feedback - perspectives would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance. BeeVee

From someone who retired from the USAF last year, went with a major, and now am picking up the pieces of a shattered dream and broken finances. It's a crap shoot. Who knows how long it'll take for the industry to recover. My best guess is that I'll be away from my carrier (DAL) for at least 2-3 years from now. Can you sign up for 5 years of bonus and then punch if the industry recovers? I think that would be prudent. Otherwise, you may be looking at working for a commuter or an aviation-related firm to tide you over. USAF bonus money and salary, AND flying operationally is probably a better approach. Good luck! Sooner or later we'll all be where we want.
Take the three year-15K / year bonus, then reassess. I think the picture will be somewhat back to normal by then, I hope. I left the AF after initial 8 year contract in Sep. I was working for a major airline, got furloughed and am now full time in the reserves. Don't forget that option, Guard/Reserve in your home town might be just the ticket. Good Luck, Nov 2003 is still a long, long way away.

do your research

I agree with the 3 year option as well, but just don't do it blindly. Get your applications out YESTERDAY to the carriers still hiring (i.e. Fed Ex, and many nationals and regionals). Then, see if you get any bites. If you do - punch as soon as you can. If you don't, sign up for a 3-year bonus and hopefully the industry will have recovered by then and you won't be kicking your self for giving up the extra 10Gs a year.

Another minor point is the freak'n stop loss! What is the latest rumors on when you might be eligible for parole? Consider a waiver and go Guard/Reserve.

There are many, many possible paths. Chose what is best for you. And chose wisely - Grasshopper!

Goose17 (fresh off of IOE with Fed Ex)
I don't think you can go wrong either way - but this decision for me was more than financial. I was probably being sent back to KC-135s, and I know TDYs were going to be a fact of life. I don't want to be a TDY dad with my daughter being brought up without me (although I know my wife would do it very well). I know with an airline I'll be gone too, but not 45 - 90 days a pop! I've been in 141/2 years, and I'm punching (assuming stop loss ends in less than 3 years or so!). I'm proud of the time I put in. I always gave 100%, but I would like to give 100% to my family, and for me, I just couldn't see me doing that in the military.
Just to let you know - I talked to Kim (flt ops new personnel scheduler) at FedEx and she thought they were going to hire through the rest of the year and into 2003. Plus one other thing -sometimes when you "go against the grain" it pays off. What I mean is if everyone is pulling their papers because of lack of jobs available (like every guy in my wing is doing), then there will be some jobs ready for the taking. In my FedEx class of 12 being interviewed, probably less than half were military.
Others were right - it could be a crap shoot. Probably the safest is to get a guard or reserve job in addition. Of course, that will keep you away some more, so it wasn't something I considered. I love my family, and I want to be with them period, and I want my schedule to be predictable.
Speaking as someone that has already experienced a strike and a furlough during a short airline career I would recommend sticking it out until 20 and banking the cash. That tiny little retirement check that doubles as a house payment was a freaking godsend during 5 months of strike/furlough. The airlines aren't going anywhere. Someone will be hiring when you get ready to retire and you'll have your own little golden parachute once a month courtesy of Uncle Sam. I didn't think my retirement check was much either until it was suddenly my only income.
I'm separating with 14 years, 1 month and 15 days in service. I decided to get out at about the 12 year point, so I think I know exactly what you're going through. Let me give you a few of the points that led me to this decision.

1. It's NOT about the money -- I want to get up and enjoy going to work in the morning. And that was the case for about the first 11.5 years I was in. Then something terrible happened -- I got promoted to Maj and all of a sudden the job wasn't that much fun anymore. No longer running a flight of 10 motivated pilots, I was suddenly sitting in a cubicle at stan/eval and flying about once a week. And the future didn't look much brighter -- alternate staff and flying jobs, and when I was flying it wouldn't be my primary job -- instead I'd mainly be doing staff work and flying about 5 times a month. Added to that, there are an awful lot of field grade TDYs to do things like run the frag shop at PSAB -- spending 6 months in the sand box out of every two years while not getting to fly isn't on my top 10 fun things to do.

2. The long deployments weren't bad when I was single or it was just me and the wife. But now the kids are getting to where it would be really nice to coach Little League and do all those other "dad" things. I enjoyed serving my country, but also feel that I've done my part -- it's time to take care of what's really important.

3. Okay, it's at least a LITTLE about the money. Let's take a look at that (I ran the numbers in-depth, but will just generalize here -- BTW, I'll use 2002 dollars and make the assumption that military pay increase percentages = airline pay increase percentages = rate of inflation; I know that won't happen, but we have to use something as a baseline). Anyway, that last 6 years in the AF you'll avg about $110K a year (counting the bonus). But to get that you'll be giving up your last six years as a major airline pilot, where you'll be averaging somewhere around $250K a year. Even given the lost investment potential during those first 3-4 years, you still come out way ahead on base pay looking at the airline route.

4. Retirement. Like you said, if you stay in you'll be drawing about $30K a year in retirement. But six years of seniority with a major will usually equate to well over $30K each year (until those last few years when everyone's a capt -- but $30K doesn't mean much when you're making those kinds of bucks). Now, by having 18 years vs 24 years of airline service, your A fund is going to be reduced by about 25%, and your B fund by considerably more. With the numbers I used, this reduction came out to about $35K a year, so in my book retirement is a wash.

5. Other options. I'll be going into the guard -- not really for the money, but more for the options -- if I'm furloughed it's a nice backup, plus with my active duty time and 8 years in the guard will result in a retirement check that's about 80% of what I would have gotten had I stayed active through 20. The only catch is that I won't see any retirement checks until age 60, but I really shouldn't need them until then anyway.

6. I guess the final point would be hiring. You've got 18 months before you can get out, and as just about everyone on this board will attest, that's an eternity in the airline hiring business. I started planning my separation about 2 years ago, and watched the hiring go from a fever pitch in 2000 to where it is now. With that being said, even in today's market there are jobs with the majors to be had -- you're just going to have to put more work into it than you would have. If a slug like me can get two great job offers, then anyone else should be golden. And the picture should continue to get better.

Take this all for what it's worth. I am completely happy with my decision and have absolutely no regrets, but I'm not you. Do your research, ask a lot of questions, and in the end make the decision that feels right for you and your family -- and don't look back.
OK, several variables to consider here, but I'm sure you've looked at them. The money aspect is relatively easy, because you can put numbers down on paper and see what is best. I agree with zulua320 - the annual salary pales in comparison to the longevity at an airline, especially when you're talking A and B fund. Realize that both your A fund and B fund depend in different ways on how much you make at the airline, and not being able to slide into that widebody captain slot because you turn 60 becomes really expensive.
Aside from money, I would say look at the hiring picture now and then the unkown several years from now. Right now it is difficult, but military guys with good hours are getting called by both FedEx and SWA, so it's not all that bleak. Look at the assignments you will be taking in the future, and the amount of time you will be logging. One thing that no one has factored in yet is that when all of these guys fighting the war get out in 3 or 4 years they will have HUGE amounts of hours. Imagine some guy who pinned on Captain last year and is a new AC in the C-17. When he gets out in 2006 he'll have 4,000 hours, most of it PIC. If the airlines are hiring, will those three years at a staff job still keep you competitive?
The most important consideration, though, is what you want and what you can live with. If you have money saved and can ride out the hiring drought with a guard/reserve job and some tapping into savings, you have to consider your quality of life. How much is being at home worth? How much is having your wife and kids in the same neighborhood and schools for the next 10 years worth? Only you can answer these questions, but they should be part of your decision.
I hope this helps, and good luck in whatever you do!

I know exactly where you are coming from. I was days from getting out in Sep when.... well you know the rest of that story. I had a job lined up (go redtails), a reserve job etc. etc. I had to make the same decision your facing and it's really tough. For me I tried to balance my OWN desire to go to the airlines and what the cost was going to be on my family if I rolled the dice. The one thing I knew for certain was that by staying in I could provide them with a decent life while I re-evaluated my options. If I pressed on and got out I would be guard bumming while my family ate ramen noodles for lord knows how long while I waited for the hiring scene to open up again. In the end I decided to stay in and not take ANY bonus. That allows me to monitor the situation and drop my letter whenever things start to pickup again. I consider the lost bonus money as an investment. Good luck, and remember the only information that is any good when making this choice is solid facts, all the speculation about what is going to happen in the market next year or even next month is completely worthless. Nobody knows

Fly Safe

Really good words by all on the rough decision that you've got. But the last post by ck-130 has a stong point to make: Don't take a bonus. The bonus is just a big hunk of cheese with a hook buried in it. Those few guys I know that admit that they've done an AFPC tour say it's argued that if an officer makes it to the 14-15 year mark in the service, they'll hang in until retirement. Then, we've got lots of folks to fill those staff jobs, because flying is "a young man's game" and field graders "don't need" to be in the cockpit. And the 18-20 year folks won't have much of a market on the outside until they reach the squadron CC-type jobs (or higher) to make them viable for the defense contractor or middle executive jobs (which takes them onto 22 years or so). Funny enough, a Rand Corp study from a few years ago dispelled this theory, but the USAF elders haven't voiced an opinion on it. And, obviously, the lure of flying for a living with the majors has reached everyone from guys like me who are ready to retire down to guys at the end of their first committment

You have a flying job during a pilot shortage..and hopefully you're an IP, which gives you a better shot at staying in the squadrons. Stay flying and do what you can to shape the next generation of guys and gals that are in for 10 years plus. As for the bonus money, there are a whole lot of O's in the services that don't get flight pay or bonuses, and are doing just fine living day-to-day. Up until the mid-80's there wasn't a bonus, and we all still had a pretty good time...plenty of money for beer and cheap food (yeah, I now...beer was cheaper in the 80's). So this 19+ year old fart suggests you hang in there another year or so without signing any bonus or getting and ADSC commitments, and wait for the jobs to open up again in a year or two. When stoploss releases, you'll be able to re-assess and have your papers on file within the week.

And, I'm gonna guess that the ANG/AFRES is gonna have a whole lot of openings coming up as soon as the units start getting de-activated and released back to the normal way of life. It happened after the Gulf stuff, and that may lead you to a waiver for release at a later date (I'm just guessing that the active duty stoploss will last a bit longer than the ANG/AFRES situation). Any way, good luck with the decision, make sure you talk with your wife and then start throwing those chicken bones.

Good Luck...

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