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Helping Airmen help themselves

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFMCNS) -- The average income for a civilian eight years after high school graduation -- $42,000. Total compensation with existing Air Force career for a staff sergeant with eight years time in service and no dependants -- $52,244. Attending Eglin Air Force Base's Right Decision and Career Decision briefings -- priceless.

The Right Decision and the Career Decision briefings, an Air Force-wide program, provide invaluable information to first-term and second-term Airmen as they decide whether to make the Air Force a career. These briefings are scheduled approximately 12 months prior to the Airman's date of separation. First sergeants or the commander's support staff notify Airmen of this four-hour briefing date and informs them that spouses are welcome to attend.

"If the active-duty member is deployed or TDY, the spouse is more than welcome to attend, but the member will not get credit. The member must attend once they return to receive credit," said Master Sergeant Anthony Queen, 96th Mission Support Squadron career assistance advisor.

According to Col. Edmond B. Keith, 96th Air Base Wing commander, these are mandatory briefings for first-term and second-term Airmen that enable troops to make educated and informed decisions that affect their whole family.

"It's up to the supervisors to enforce and ensure troops will attend when scheduled," he said. "On average, our no-show rate is 30 percent, but in the last class, the no-show rate was 50 percent. Currently, approximately 100 Airmen are scheduled to attend each briefing, with an expected attendance rate of 50 participants. These figures also take into consideration Airmen who are deployed or TDY."

"It's not just the Career Advisor's responsibility to help retain the troops. We have them for about four hours," said Senior Master Sgt. James Stadler, 96th Mission Support Squadron Career assistance advisor. "It's also the supervisors' responsibility to retain and educate their troops since they have them for nearly four years. The supervisors need to take a genuine interest in the re-enlistment of the troops. Find out the reasons why they are staying in the Air Force as well as why they are leaving. It may be something as simple as needing a change of assignment that causes them to separate."

During the briefings, the career advisor lists the top five reasons Airmen decide to separate or decide to stay in the Air Force. Ironically, in the Right Decision briefing, the top two reasons in each category are exactly the same. The number one reason is education and the number two reason is family. In the Career Decision briefing, the top five reasons are basically the same, just in a different order. Benefits, as a reason to stay in and separate, were listed in all areas.

"Supervisors need to understand that the inability to use benefits may be forcing some of our troops out of the Air Force," Sergeant Stadler said.

"A benefit is not a benefit unless you can take advantage of it. And many people make long-term decisions based on short-term problems," said Sergeant Queen as he continued to explain the reasons in detail. "It's hard for an airman to go to college if they're always working 12-hour rotating shifts."

Attendees receive an opportunity to provide feedback before the briefing begins. After the briefing is completed, the attendees complete another feedback form. According to the career advisors, there is a 17 percent positive shift towards re-enlistments for second-term Airmen and a 21 percent positive shift for first-term Airmen, on average.

"Currently, I'm thinking about re-enlisting because I like my job, I like what I do and the military has some good benefits," said Staff Sgt. Kristi Soltis, 96th Air Base Wing chaplain assistant, who has a date of separation scheduled for January 2007. "Every time I change duty stations, the next station is better than the last. As long as that continues, I'm happy with that."

After Sergeant Soltis finished the briefing, she had nothing but positive things to say for both the information and for the instructor, Sergeant Stadler.

"Before the briefing, I was 60 percent sure I wanted to re-enlist, but after the briefing, I would take that up to 90 percent that I'd re-enlist," Sergeant Soltis said.

"I would highly recommend this class to people. At least hear it for yourself so you can make your own informed decision. Sergeant Stadler presented the information in a neutral position the entire time. There was no pressure at all," Sergeant Soltis said.

"Basically, we want commanders, first sergeants and supervisors to know that any time and any place, we are willing to speak to their troops on retraining or retention issues. We have done (briefings), midnight launches and guard mounts and we have been successful at those briefings, but we would like to see lines of folks waiting outside the door," Sergeant Queen said.