by Airman 1st Class Christian Clausen
432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
9/28/2015 - CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nevada -- The
432nd Maintenance Group has members from 20 different Air Force
Specialty Codes and is responsible for maintaining the MQ-1 Predator and
MQ-9 Reaper. The increasing demand for remotely piloted aircraft has
placed significant stressors on the people who make it all work.
For some, 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
Instead, a number of Airmen choose to separate from the military
entirely and go to work for a Department of Defense contractor doing the
In a recent study by Air Combat Command, it was discovered the MQ-1 and
MQ-9 maintenance retention rates were lower than in any other
maintenance career fields. About 32 percent of first-time MQ-1 and MQ-9
maintenance enlistees and 14 percent of second-term enlistees are
These rates are roughly 15 percent lower for first-term and 36 percent
lower for second-term enlistees compared to the rates of the next
aircraft platform with the lowest retention.
"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, 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."
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, workload, and higher pay.
"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, 432nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
chief enlisted manager.
According to Hill, the loss of the young Airmen and non-commissioned
officers takes a toll on the rest of the force and creates an
environment where it's challenging to keep a high experience level
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 are not going unnoticed. Leadership from the top down is taking action.
"There is a lot that the Air Force, [Air Combat Command], wing and
squadron leadership is doing," Burks said. "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
Burks went on to say the wing leadership is also continuing to argue for
selective reenlistment bonuses for RPA maintenance to help with
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
"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, , they are 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
"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."