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Air Mobility Liaison Officer Promotions: Perception and Reality
Posted Friday, March 02, 2018


AFIT alum Lt Col Nicholas Conklin (M.S. Air Logistics, 2016) wrote an article titled “Air Mobility Liaison Officer Promotions: Perception and Reality” published in the Air & Space Power Journal, Volume 32 Issue 1, Spring 2018. The full article can be read on pages 34-51 here.  An excerpt of the article is below.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed or implied in the Journal are those of the authors and should not be construed as carrying the official sanction of the Department of Defense, Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, Air University, or other agencies or departments of the US government. This article may be reproduced in whole or in part without permission. If it is reproduced, the Air and Space Power Journal requests a courtesy line.

General Goldfein’s second letter to Airmen addressed the “important, timely, and worthy” issue of strengthening and addressing joint development of Airmen. Currently, air mobility liaison officer (AMLO) assignments present an opportunity for Mobility Air Forces (MAF) officers to “purposefully and systematically gain proficiency in joint warfare.” Every rated officer in MAF does not need to be an AMLO, and there are many good reasons why a pilot or navigator may not want to volunteer for an AMLO assignment. However, the perception that an AMLO assignment negatively affects an officer’s promotion opportunity likely prevents many officers from volunteering for an AMLO assignment. This article will provide a brief history of the AMLO program and explores the perception that an AMLO assignment negatively affects an officer’s career advancement and determines if that perception is true.

AMLO History
Modern-day AMLOs can trace their origins back to the Vietnam War. The early stages of the Vietnam conflict saw a marked increase in airlift demand from the Army, with a corresponding need for close coordination.1 While the USAF was able to meet much of this surge, the Army expressed dissatisfaction with the Air Force’s ability to meet the Army’s requests for rapid airlift. In mid-1966, Maj Gen (then Lt Col) Thomas M. Sadler proposed a solution to this problem. He recommended the Air Force experiment with temporarily assigning 30 airlift officers (mostly C-130 pilots) to various Army brigades and divisions on the ground in Vietnam. The original tasking for these men was to “be staff officers within the ground force unit, capable of planning and managing tactical air movements and resupply operations.”2 This experiment proved successful, and by mid-1967 the tactical airlift liaison officer (TALO) was a permanent billet assigned to Tactical Air Command (TAC) and located within Army divisions. Almost immediately, these men received praise from the Air Staff on the resultant decrease in rapid airlift response times and greater use of the preplanned airlift processes.3

After Vietnam, TALOs moved from TAC to Military Airlift Command (MAC). Here, TALO duties were expanded to include surveying drop zones, controlling airdrop operations, assisting with landing zone operations, joint training coordination, and exercise assistance. While under MAC, TALOs participated in many significant military events, including Operations Just Cause and Desert Storm. In 1992, after MAC was deactivated and Air Mobility Command (AMC) stood up, US Transportation Command agreed to establish a parallel program to support the US Marine Corps (USMC). In 2003, the TALO program merged with the AMC liaison officer program to become the new AMLO program, and AMC began allowing pilots and navigators with tanker backgrounds, including females, to serve as AMLOs.4

Since then, AMLOs have distinguished themselves in numerous conflicts including Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, Inherent Resolve, and Freedom’s Sentinel. AMLOs have also been active in a variety of humanitarian operations, including the Hurricane Katrina response, Operation Unified Response (the American response to the earthquake in Haiti and Operation United Assistance), and the US Ebola response. In June 2015, the 621st Mobility Support Operations Squadron (MSOS) was activated under the 621st Contingency Response Wing.5 This new squadron holds 49 billets for the AMC AMLOs embedded with 20 Army and USMC commands around the globe. While the majority of the Air Force’s 63 AMLOs now fall under the 621st MSOS, an additional 8 AMLO billets fall under air support operations groups and squadrons in Pacific Air Forces and US Air Forces in Europe, and 6 additional AMLOs are stationed at nonoperational commands.

Problem Statement
Despite AMLO history and recent advancements within the community, a problem remains with real and perceived career progression issues regarding AMLOs. AMC’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services (AMC/A1) started tracking the promotion rates of prior AMLOs with the 2009 promotion boards. From 2009–2015, individuals who had previously served as AMLOs were promoted at a rate below their MAF peers.6 According to AMC numbers, individuals who were AMLOs—or had previously served as AMLOs—had selection rates to lieutenant colonel below 52 percent (27 of 52 were selected for promotion). The promotion rates to major were similarly low for AMLOs. According to AMC, individuals with AMLO experience had a 73 percent promotion rate to major. This article seeks to investigate these low AMLO promotion rates, the perceptions that accompany them, and how much impact an AMLO assignment actually has on an officer’s chances for promotion. To this end, two research questions must be answered: (1) Is there a perception in the MAF that an AMLO assignment will negatively affect career advancement? (2) Does having an AMLO assignment in your record affect
your promotion opportunity?

To answer the first question, all 49 operational support squadron (OSS) commanders were surveyed within Eighteenth Air Force. This is an appropriate sample group because these commanders represent all major weapons systems in the MAF, have proximity to line flyers, possess influence in the assignment decisions of MAF captains and majors, and are required to mentor line aviators. If there are perceptions about the AMLO community in the MAF, it will be known by, if not originate from, these squadron commanders. These individuals were asked various questions about the AMLO career field using a combination of open responses, responses utilizing the Likert scale, and responses requiring rank-ordering.7 The goal was to select questions designed to uncover any bias against recommending an officer to pursue an AMLO assignment. As such, Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) professors, senior Air Force leaders, current squadron commanders and various MAF instructor and evaluator pilots were all consulted during the question formulation of this survey. AFIT professors were consulted to ensure the survey met the academic standards required for this research. Senior Air Force leaders were consulted to ensure that the survey covered all of the issues surrounding AMLO assignments, and that the questions were at the appropriate level for squadron commanders. Finally, current squadron commanders (outside of Eighteenth AF) were consulted to determine how the survey could be improved, and to ensure that the list of potential assignments was complete.

To answer the second question, data on all mobility pilots or mobility navigators in the Air Force during 1995–2015 were analyzed. The data were first focused to only look at individuals who pinned on major during 1 June 2000–31 July 2008, and individuals who ascended to captain from 1 January 2000–31 December 2008. Determining exactly what variables to use was an important consideration for this research. AMC publishes a Force Development Ribbon Chart for its officers to complete to see what career milestones have been met. The milestones that are on this document include whether or not an individual has accomplished the following items: Squadron Officer College (SOC), flight commander, main weapons system instructor pilot, boarded programs, executive aide, intermediate developmental education (IDE), and staff. Because AMC uses this as a barometer to see how mobility officers are progressing throughout their careers, these data points should give a statistically significant answer to how influential an AMLO assignment is in mobility officer promotions. Also, Capt James W. Bruns and Capt Lawrence A. Eichhorn found that age and commissioning source were significant predictors of promotion for Air Force Officers, and these two variables were included in the analysis.8 Finally, because both pilots and navigators can and have served as AMLOs, an Air Force Specialty Code was used a variable.

A logistic regression of nonperformance factors was used to determine how much each plays into whether or not an officer is selected for promotion. A logistic regression analysis should show whether or not an AMLO assignment makes it less likely for an individual to be promoted and how statistically significant an AMLO assignment really is in determining promotion outcomes.

Read the remainder of the article here.