Fact Check

Did President Donald Trump Amend an Executive Order to Recall 1,000 Retired Air Force Pilots?

Despite rumors, the President did not recall a thousand retired Air Force pilots by amending Executive Order 13223.

Published Oct. 24, 2017

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President Trump amended Executive Order 13223, recalling 1,000 retired Air Force pilots in a "mini draft" and in preparation for imminent war.
What's True

On 20 October 2017, President Trump amended Executive Order 13223, lifting restrictions and caps on recall of servicemen and women from various military branches; the Air Force's 1,500 pilot shortfall led to speculation that a thousand pilots might be recalled.

What's False

On 22 October 2017, a spokesperson for the Air Force stated there were no plans in place to exercise the authority granted by the amendment to EO 13223.

On 20 October 2017, news outlets reported that President Donald Trump amended Executive Order 13223, which would effectively recall 1,000 retired Air Force pilots to active duty in a "mini draft," raising concerns of a looming war:

Trump’s Friday executive order would allow the military to institute a “mini-draft” on about 1,000 retired pilots

Citing emergency powers, President Donald Trump signed an executive order late in the day on Friday that would allow retired military pilots to be recalled to active duty.

But the broad wording of the executive order seemed to imply that the executive branch would have the power to call up retired military officers and force them back into service for any reason, as the “emergency” Trump used to justify the executive order was extremely vague: “the continuing and immediate threat of further attacks on the United States.”

A popular pair of blog posts jumped to additional conclusions:

Mueller Must Be Close, Because Trump Just Issued A New Executive Order To Prepare For War

The Executive Order that Trump just signed amends Bush’s old order and gives the Federal Government the power to recall into service any retired member of the Regular Army, Regular Navy, Regular Air Force, or Regular Marine Corps. To repeat, Trump can now call back any retired service member into service under this Executive Order, including reserves.

U.S. Air Force Just Called 1,000 Retired Pilots Back Into Service Under Powers Granted In Trump’s New Executive Order

President Trump signed a new executive order today, that dramatically expands the power of the Federal government to call back any retired service member into service, and it is already being used. The Air Force is recalling at least 1,000 retired pilots per year to active duty, due to a “shortage”, according to the White House and Pentagon.

Where former FBI director Robert Mueller stands on the Russia investigation and any ties to this executive order are conjecture at best. And no pilots have been called back into service at this point.

Coverage of amendments to EO 13223 typically suggest or state outright that the Air Force pilots had been recalled out of necessity. Few actually quoted the concise order in full, and nothing in it gave the immediate impression any such "mini-draft" had occurred or was imminent. The order's amended portion (italicized) did not single out the Air Force, describe a specific recall of retired personnel, or mention the figure commonly attached to the rumor:

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.), and in furtherance of the objectives of Proclamation 7463 of September 14, 2001 (Declaration of National Emergency by Reason of Certain Terrorist Attacks), which declared a national emergency by reason of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in New York and Pennsylvania and against the Pentagon, and the continuing and immediate threat of further attacks on the United States, and in order to provide the Secretary of Defense additional authority to manage personnel requirements in a manner consistent with the authorization provided in Executive Order 13223 of September 14, 2001 (Ordering the Ready Reserve of the Armed Forces to Active Duty and Delegating Certain Authorities to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Transportation), it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Amendment to Executive Order 13223. Section 1 of Executive Order 13223 is amended by adding at the end: "The authorities available for use during a national emergency under sections 688 and 690 of title 10, United States Code, are also invoked and made available, according to their terms, to the Secretary concerned, subject in the case of the Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, to the direction of the Secretary of Defense."

Sec. 2. General Provisions. (a) Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or

(ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

(b) This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

(c) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.



October 20, 2017.

The order affects §688 and §690 of U.S. Code Title 10, laws which, respectively, describe which retired servicemen and women could be recalled and the number of personnel that could be recalled under varying circumstances. A 20 October 2017 USA Today article seems to reveal how those figures and specifics may have become attached to the rumor, with a statement from a Pentagon spokesman that we have not confirmed independently:

President Trump signed an executive order Friday allowing the Air Force to recall as many as 1,000 retired pilots to active duty to address a shortage in combat fliers, the White House and Pentagon announced.

By law, only 25 retired officers can be brought back to serve in any one branch. Trump's order removes those caps by expanding a state of national emergency declared by President George W. Bush after 9/11, signaling what could be a significant escalation in the 16-year-old global war on terror.

"We anticipate that the Secretary of Defense will delegate the authority to the Secretary of the Air Force to recall up to 1,000 retired pilots for up to three years," Navy Cdr. Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.

But the executive order itself is not specific to the Air Force, and could conceivably be used in the future to call up more officers and in other branches.

The Air Force needs about 1,500 pilots more than it has. Bonus programs and other incentives have not made up the shortfall.

We were unable to locate a standalone statement made by Navy Cdr. Gary Ross. The Hill erroneously reported that it was provided to CNBC on 21 October 2017, but the first iteration we could locate appeared in the above-quoted USA Today item. It was unclear whether the statement was reported in full or truncated.

However on 22 October 2017, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek denied any plans to exercise the authority granted by the order:

The Air Force says it doesn’t plan to use new authority granted by an amended executive order to recall retired pilots to correct an ongoing personnel shortage.

“The Air Force does not currently intend to recall retired pilots to address the pilot shortage,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said on Sunday. “We appreciate the authorities and flexibility delegated to us.”

... A Pentagon spokesman said on Friday that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis requested the move. Mattis was expected to delegate to the Air Force secretary the authority to recall up to 1,000 retired pilots for up to three years.

Although outlets widely reported that President Trump amended EO 13223, resulting in the immediate recall of a thousand retired Air Force pilots, nearly all of the claim was based on conjecture. Initial reporting about both the order and a shortfall of Air Force pilots led to speculation that those vacancies would be filled immediately following the amendment, but on 22 October 2017 an Air Force spokesperson stated it had no plans to recall any retired personnel.

Further rumors that the Air Force had rejected and was refusing to comply with terms of the executive order appeared to stem from a similar misunderstanding of one of the subsequent clarifications:

Brig. Gen. Mike Koscheski, director of the service’s newly minted Aircrew Crisis Task Force, told reporters on Monday the order’s "big thing" is letting USAF bring back more pilots and for a longer period of time.

"We are an all volunteer force, that is the focus,” he said, adding the service is “not going to force” pilots to come back.

Specifically, what Trump’s order did was up the limit of retirees allowed to serve in Active Duty. As it stood, that limit meant no more than 25 retired pilots would be able to return. That number factored into a program the service stood up months ago. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson announced in late September that the Air Force would be going after retired pilots for voluntary return to staff positions. The service soon after elaborated on the measure, limiting itself to 25 pilots with tour lengths limited to 12 months, which was the legal limit at the time. Now, that cap is undone and the tour length increases to three years.


Daniels, Jeff.   "Trump Executive Order Lets Air Force Recall Up To 1,000 Retired Pilots For Active Duty."     CNBC.   21 October 2017.

Delk, Josh.   "Trump Order Could Recall 1,000 Retired Pilots To Active Duty: Report."     The Hill.   21 October 2017.

Spencer, Keith A.   "Trump Signs Executive Order To Draft Retired Pilots Back Into Military Service."     Salon.   20 October 2017.

Vanden Brook, Tom and Gregory Korte.   "Air Force Could Recall As Many As 1,000 Retired Pilots To Address Serious Shortage."     USA Today.   20 October 2017.

Woody, Christopher.   "The Air Force Says It Doesn’t Plan To Recall Retired Pilots To Fix Shortage."     Task & Purpose.   23 October 2017.

The White House Office of the Press Secretary.   "Presidential Executive Order Amending Executive Order 13223."     20 October 2017.

Stars & Stripes.   "Air Force: No Plans To Recall Retired Pilots To Fix Shortage."     22 October 2017.

LEFT OVER RIGHTS.   "U.S. Air Force Just Called 1,000 Retired Pilots Back Into Service Under Powers Granted In Trump’s New Executive Order."     20 October 2017.

LEFT OVER RIGHTS.   "Mueller Must Be Close, Because Trump Just Issued A New Executive Order To Prepare For War."     20 October 2017.

U.S. Code, Title 10.   "Chapter 39: § 688 - Retired Members: Authority To Order To Active Duty; Duties."     Accessed 23 October 2017.

U.S. Code, Title 10.   "Chapter 39: § 690 - Retired Members Ordered To Active Duty: Limitation On Number."     Accessed 23 October 2017.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.