By James Ritchey
This past summer, I had the opportunity to live and work in Washington, D.C. through an internship program offered by Arnold Air Society and Silver Wings.
I, along with a few other Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corp (AFROTC) cadets from around the nation, had the opportunity to work at and immerse myself in the Pentagon, working with a variety of different departments within Headquarters Air Force.
Despite being a Global Security and Intelligence Studies major, with interests in foreign and operational policy, I was placed in the Aircrew Crisis Task Force (ACTF), a special organization created to tackle one of the largest hurdles facing the current Department of Defense: the shortage of pilots and other aircrew members, especially at higher levels.
The ACTF is a special “matrixed” organization under the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations (HAF/A3). Because of the complexity (and hopefully temporary status) of the problem, officers from around the Pentagon worked together to develop an actionable, lasting plan to ensure the Air Force maintains proper personnel levels for the coming decades.
I worked with officers from A5/8, the department for Strategic Plans and Requirements, A1, the department for Personnel, A3T, the department for training and readiness, and many others from a variety of backgrounds and skills. My office was headed by a one-star general, and consisted mostly of officers who had been in the Air Force for over 15 years. As a cadet who has not even been in the active Air Force yet, it was somewhat daunting to be around such high-level officers on a daily basis. However, I was welcomed with open arms, and quickly assigned tasks to complete.
While I at first did not have much interest in the subject or any skill in operational research, I was quickly on-boarded and put to work in developing budget proposals, contract requirements, and idea solicitation. On many occasions, I was able to participate in meetings regarding potential future programs for developing pilots, many of which would involve AFROTC detachments and aviation schools such as Riddle and the University of North Dakota. Despite my lack of experience in the operational Air Force, I was productive within the ACTF and actively helped develop solutions for the near and distant future.
Along with working on solutions for the aircrew crisis, I also had the opportunity to branch out into some other areas of the Department of Defense. I had the opportunity to go to the State Department and sit in on negotiations for foreign weapon sales of American aircraft, as well as take flights in F-16D and KC-135 aircraft at nearby Joint Base Andrews. The USAF’s Light Attack (OA-X) experiment was a critical matter as well, and I had the opportunity to work on budgeting and congressional proposals for the acquisition and stand-up of its potential future fighter squadrons and Formal Training Units.
The Pentagon itself is a massive building, featuring a multitude of shops, food courts, and people incredibly important to national security. I had the opportunity to meet several of these people, including USAF Chief of Staff General David Goldfein, Vice Chief of Staff General Stephen Wilson, and Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations Lieutenant General Mark Nowland. It is rare to see anyone below the rank of Major (O-4) in the building at all, and even rarer to see anyone below Captain (O-3). As a cadet in that world, the experience and connections I made were unparalleled.