Do I have to PCS?

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Ronald E. McCarthy
  • 366th Fighter Wing command chief
The question, "Do I have to PCS," remains a debated, sometimes controversial subject at Mountain Home and across the Air Force.

So what's the correct answer?

From the "big Air Force" perspective, the answer is easy. The Air Force moves Airmen to meet mission needs. The not-so-easy answer pertains to the subjective view of wanting to "homestead" at one base versus taking opportunities to move from base to base throughout your career.

When I became the wing command chief here, I dissected every medal package routed past my desk. What caught my attention were packages written on Airmen on an extended tour (three or more years) at Mountain Home, especially those on their second or even third consecutive extended tour here. I kept asking myself, "Why is this Airmen still here?" It became one of my focus areas that needed lots of research.

It turns out I wasn't the first command chief here to ask this question. My predecessor went down this same path after he pulled rosters of Airmen assigned here for 10 years or more. During my "snapshot" look, I found 58 Gunfighter Airmen with 10 or more years time on station. Of those Airmen, 16 were technical or master sergeants that spent their entire career, to date, at Mountain Home AFB. Since enlisting in the Air Force, these folks never took the opportunity to see what else the Air Force has to offer.

To say I was shocked was an understatement. I could not believe we had 16 Airmen here that never went anywhere else since they first enlisted in the Air Force.

Don't get me wrong. Airmen who chose to stay at places like Mountain Home have done nothing wrong by staying at one base for so many years. However, after I reflected on my 27 years in the Air Force and 10 previous assignments, I saw the potential for problems in the future of these individuals.

If you are one of the few who fit this category, you might ask yourself what potential problems could exist by choosing to stay at one base, especially if you get continuous praise from your leadership, win awards, provide continuity to the unit and deploy when called. After all, earning "extended tour" medals and decorations highlights meritorious service. Although you've done nothing wrong, you have greatly restricted your full development as a well-rounded Airman in this ever-changing Air Force.

Consider this. A mid-level supervisor who never moved from base to base isn't in the best position to mentor Airmen wanting the challenges of a new assignment. While you may have the textbook answers, who would an Airmen really trust, you or the supervisor with several assignments under their belt? Who has the in-depth experience an Airmen needs when choosing their list of potential assignments?

Here's something else to ponder. How many Airmen come here with fresh ideas to make the mission better? How often do those newly assigned folks talk about what how they did the same tasks at their previous base? We all need to accept the fact there are better ways of doing business. Performing duties at different assignments is part of that process. That first-hand interaction with policies and procedures at different commands or groups of Airmen helps make you even better at your job.

Does it bother me when Airmen go overseas with a follow-on back to their original base? Not necessarily. However, from the "big Air Force" perspective, it's probably best for us to leave our previous assignments behind us and see what else is out there at other bases around the world. I appreciate having opportunities to travel to new locations, share my experiences and learn how they do business. It makes me a better Airman and makes my unit a better place to work. Even dealing with moving from base to base, while challenging, offers significant lessons.

Aside from the lost mentorship skills and learning first-hand how other bases do business, what else could affect the careers of those who choose to homestead here? The answer is linked to another topic that gets lots of attention -- the promotion system -- and the "breadth of experience" Air Force leaders seek when selecting people for promotion to senior or chief master sergeant. With limited facts documented in our personnel records, we can't be so naïve and think just changing positions or duty titles will show we have the same level of experience of our world-traveling peers. I'd wager that you may not fare as well as most of them.

To be fair, I did go back and talk to assignment specialists at Air Combat Command and the Air Force Personnel Center. In one case, I tracked one person's assignment file back to their career field's assignment manager and asked them, "Why is this Airmen still here?" I wanted to make absolutely sure we didn't have Airmen that simply "slipped through the cracks."

After they checked their records, AFPC convinced me the system was sound and every assignment decision is a deliberate move (or non-move in this person's case). The person decided to become a non-volunteer for assignment orders and would likely not get selected for a non-volunteer assignment since so many of his peers were willing to take orders and move to other bases.

But is this right or even fair?

I talked with senior level officers and top enlisted Airmen and suggested the Air Force incorporate a policy to make all Airmen automatic volunteers for assignments after they spent 10 years time on station. It would prompt them to take control of their own destiny and volunteer for an advertised assignment to fill mission needs at other bases. I'm not sure if senior leaders will approve my suggestion, but it can't hurt. After all, our first assignment following our initial training shouldn't become our one and only assignment.

Let me make one thing clear. I will not start or endorse "under the table" deals to rid the wing of "homesteading" Airmen. However, I will warn you there may come a day when the Air Force looks to these homesteaders and asks them to fill a mission need at another base. Are they ready?

For those who chose to stay here for a very long time, this isn't a simple answer. People in this situation develop strong friendships with folks in town. The young children they had when they first arrived here could now be high school junior or seniors. Their spouse that worked their way up the corporate ladder at a great job now faces the possibility of having to start over. It's the price we pay for digging our roots too deep when we choose to stay at one base for too long. How deep are your roots?

I will be fair and admit some career fields don't have the same flexibility as others. For example, if you came in as an ICBM maintenance specialist, you don't have a whole lot of assignment choices. However, those that come to places like Mountain Home don't necessarily fit that bill.

When you get a chance this week, I invite everyone here to sit back and ask themselves, "Do I have to PCS?" For those thinking about answering "no," I'd encourage you to talk to others in your shop or other places on base and get their perspective. Make an educated decision before you stick to something you may later regret.