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New AFRC division to focus on synchronizing recruiting and retention

  • Published
  • By Bo Joyner

Ask anyone within Air Force Reserve Command what the main challenges facing the command are today and “recruiting and retention” are sure to come up high on the list. That’s why AFRC recently stood up a new Recruiting and Retention Division (A1Y) to manage, synchronize and improve component recruiting and retention programs in support of mission requirements.

Col. James Rigsbee was selected as the first director of A1Y, which is minimally manned now, but is expected to grow to up to 20 people in the future.

“Of course, recruiting and retention have been points of emphasis for a long time in AFRC, but they always existed within their own silos,” said Maj. Jesse Gilbert, the chief of the A1Y Retention Branch. “The idea behind A1Y was to bring everyone together under one umbrella to manage AFRC’s Human Capital Management strategy by aligning recruiting and retention efforts.”

Gilbert and the rest of the A1Y team know they have their work cut out for them.

Like other military services, the Air Force Reserve is facing many recruiting challenges – a decreasing propensity to serve, cultural headwinds and a competitive employment market – that are expected to persist over the next several years.

The Reserve last made end-strength in fiscal 2021. Since that time, losses have out-paced gains, eroding assigned strength and Reserve experience levels.

In fiscal 2023, the Reserve retained 88.3% of its military members, which was in line with the command’s 10-year average. The Human Capital Management specialists in A1Y know that even small gains in retention can reap huge benefits for the Reserve. 

“Just a 1% improvement in retention eliminates the requirement for 700 new accessions,” said Chief Master Sgt. Brandy Buscaglio, the functional manager for Recruiting within A1Y. “That’s huge for our recruiters who are working so hard to bring in new members.” In addition to reducing the need for new accessions, a 1% improvement in retention also saves the command $13 million annually in Basic Military Training and technical training costs.

The command is currently looking at several initiatives to improve retention, including expanded Inactive Duty Training travel reimbursement, expanded retention bonuses, improved retention tracking and accountability, Talent Management Consultant sales and retention training, and several policy reviews, including Reserve service commitments, assignments, and Mandatory Separation Dates and High Year Tenures.

Specifically, the Reserve has initiated a tiered retention bonus to retain enlisted Airmen with between five and 10 years of service, historically the command’s lowest retention segment, and expanded the IDT travel reimbursement program to all enlisted Reservists up to the rank of master sergeant required to commute 150 miles or more (one-way) for drill duty. This expanded the program to 3,000 additional Reservists to bolster continued service.

A1Y will keep a close eye on how these initiatives impact retention and how they might ultimately affect recruiting.

“I think the aim of A1Y is to look at the entire lifecycle of the Human Capital Management process,” Buscaglio said. “If you don’t realize that your most valuable asset is your human capital, it doesn’t matter how many planes you have on the flight line or how many computers you have. You have to take care of your Airmen.”

One of A1Y’s first priorities, after it was formed in December, was to take a close look at the Reserve’s various bonus programs.

“One of the first things we did was have a Continuous Process Improvement event about the bonus program in February,” said Rebekah McLaughlin, who works in the A1Y Retention Branch. “It was completely focused and dedicated to executing, tracking and managing the bonus program.”

“It’s so important that we follow through on things like paying bonuses that our Reservists are eligible for,” Buscaglio added. “Say we offered 700 bonuses, but only 150 have paid out … at some point that is going to absolutely start negatively impacting your retention. With A1Y, we now have all of the right people together to figure out where the problem might be with us not upholding our end of the contract with our human capital.”

One of McLaughlin’s main objectives is to help manage the command’s Cube program and ensure that wing Cubes are operating as designed. Cubes are comprised of the manpower analyst, recruiting flight chief, force support officer, civilian personnel liaison, wing Talent Management Consultant (former career advisors) and squadron commanders at each wing.

“The Cubes are designed to really get after manning and retention and to update the wing commander on how the wing is really doing in these critical areas,” she said.

Chief Master Sgt. Laura Wilson is currently assigned to A1KK and is working as the liaison with A1Y to help transition programs over, particularly the wing Talent Management Consultant program.

AFRC currently has 42 full-time TMCs who are in place to help ensure Reservists know everything about re-enlistments, extensions, retirements, bonus and incentive programs, and much more.

“The TMCs are our boots on the ground at the units and can help us really get after retention,” Wilson said. “The TMCs are vital to helping us keep our Airmen in the Reserve and helping us know why our Airmen are ultimately leaving the service.”

Wilson said she is excited about the new A1Y division and is confident the right people are in place to help AFRC manage and synchronize the recruiting and retention relationship.

“I can tell you that the people in A1Y really care about the mission,” she said. “They care about our Airmen and they want them to stay in the Reserve. For the first time ever, we have the right people working recruiting and retention together under one umbrella. It’s a great thing for the Air Force Reserve.”

Gilbert agreed.

“Prioritizing retention and continuum of service is just smart business for the Air Force Reserve because it decreases training costs and keeps our experienced people in uniform,” he said. “A1Y is changing the way the command looks at the balance between recruiting and retention.”