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HAFB may suffer ‘brain drain’ in next few years

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HILL AIR FORCE BASE (AP) — Nearly half of Hill Air Force Base's civilian workers could retire in the next three to seven years.

"That's a real brain drain," said Andy Flowers, Hill's civilian personnel officer.

Military downsizing resulted in layoffs for many junior workers. By 2007, 40 percent to 50 percent of Hill's civilian workers will be eligible to retire.

Hill's operations include repairing and upgrading about 400 Fighting Falcon F-16 jet fighters every year, plus a smaller number of Lockheed C-130 Hercules cargo planes and Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II close-support fighters.

The approximately 1,500 civilians doing that work have skills that took years to acquire.

Flowers said the base tries to hire journeyman-level workers with electronics or mechanical skills.

But about 10 percent to 20 percent of the new workers have no aircraft experience and it takes three to five years of training to get them up to speed to work on an F-16.

"We really want to hire developmental people," said Tom Miner, executive director of the Ogden Air Logistics Center. "We want to build a cadre of young people." But they also must bring in skilled workers to replace those retiring right away.

The center employs about 9,100 civilians and about 2,200 members of the Air Force. They maintain aircraft, intercontinental ballistic missiles, conventional munitions such as Maverick missiles and all airborne photographic and reconnaissance equipment.

"When you downsize, your work force gets older," Miner said, and the average age of Hill's workers is now 48. Government workers can retire at age 55, if they have at least 30 years on the job.

While the workers don't have to retire at age 55, and Hill can offer many of them financial incentives to stay longer, Miner said, "Workers with at least 30 years of service usually retire in their late 50s," regardless of retention bonuses.

Jay Broadhead, 52, West Point, has 33 years of government service.

Asked whether he thinks about retiring at age 55, Broadhead said, "It's two years and seven months from now, but who's counting. At any point after that, it's an open game."

Broadhead applies special coatings to camera lenses and airplane electronics displays, instruments and windows.

He has just one co-worker, Mike Burningham, who already is eligible to retire.

"Between us, we're the optical shop," Broadhead said.

If they both leave in 2003, "I can't see where they can run the facility. That capability will be gone," he said.

He said if they are not replaced, the base might have to contract at higher costs with outside research labs or with coating houses.

Miner said Broadhead's place "will really be troublesome because it is not just a technical skill but a real art."