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Miramar USMC Pilots Face Decision On Record Retention Bonus Offer

A CH-53 helicopter waits on the tarmac at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, J...

Photo by Steve Walsh

Above: A CH-53 helicopter waits on the tarmac at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, July 20, 2018.

Pilots at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar are weighing their options after the USMC announced it is offering record-high bonuses to remain in the military.

Maj. Daniel Meckley has been a Marine helicopter pilot since 2005. He is one of several Marine aviators who have reached a decision point in their career.

“Actually, I’m through with my service contract right now,” Meckley said. “The rest is really up to the Marine Corps and how long they’ll have me or how long I decide to stay in.”

The Marines are trying to figure out how to hang onto experienced pilots like Meckley. The Corps recently announced a record high bonus of up to $200,000 for mid-career pilots who are being lured away to the private sector.

“It is a lot of money, but not when you take into account the millions we spend to train these men and women,” said Maj. Craig Thomas, a spokesman with Manpower and Reserve Affairs with the Marines.

The highest bonuses are spread out over a number of years and they cover a range of pilots. Last year, bonuses mainly targeted fighter pilots, like those flying the F-35. This year the bonuses included other aviators like helicopter pilots and those who fly the tilt-rotor Osprey.

Meckley isn’t the only pilot at Miramar weighing his options.

“My peers, I’d say yes, we are all at that point in our careers where we do talk about it. You weigh the positives and the negatives,” he said. “Each person has their own individual choices.”

The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps each report pilot shortages. The need is the greatest in the Air Force, which cannot fill more than 25 percent of its slots for fighter pilots. The Government Accountability Office found some pilots leave because of they don’t have enough time in the cockpit. Unlike other services, the Marines require pilots to spend years of their career away from flying. Meckley spent three years as a recruiter.

“Once you have your skills, the Marine Corps wants to put those leadership skills to the test and they send you to other places,” he said.

Pilots can also be sent to teach. Thomas said it’s at that point in their careers when pilots are most at risk of leaving for the private sector, where their skills are in high demand.

Mackley is back to flying a CH-53 helicopter out of Miramar. He just submitted his request to stay in the Corps. The money is nice but it wasn’t the deciding factor.

“I really don’t do this for money,” he said. “If I did, I would have left a long time ago.”

The Marine aviation had been downsizing. However, in its 2019 budget, the service now wants to add 120 new aircraft.

The Marine Corps is trying to counter a pilot shortage that impacts all of the services.

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Photo of Steve Walsh

Steve Walsh
Military Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover military and veterans issues for KPBS and American Homefront, a partnership of public radio stations and NPR. I cover issues ranging from delpoying troops along the California border to efforts to lower suicide rates among veterans.

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