Saturday, March 26, 2016

As Storm Clouds Gather

The view outside my window shows a dark and menacing sky, lit only by the flash of lightening.  The rumble of thunder shakes the house and the beating of the rain against the roof adds to the dread of the day.  It will be another dreary day as storms roam along the Gulf Coast.  Meanwhile, my wife rests comfortably asleep in the bedroom, surrounded by her dreams and the warmth of the comforter.  The similarity to the current events is unavoidable.

  As a nation we seem unable to recognize the changes around us, and come to grip with the potentials they represent.  For some -- they see the flashes and hear the thunder of the approaching storms, while others rest, complaining only of the noises made by those who are alarmed. The views of those concerned with the approaching storm are so easily dismissed as the ravings of the fringe, or the racists, or the zealots by those who roll over and pull the comforter of smugness around themselves.

We are now in year 15 of a conflict with Islamic terrorists with no clear plan to win.  In the course of that conflict we have overthrown, or helped overthrow at least four governments.  We’ve failed at providing legitimate succession even though we have thrown thousands of American lives and untold billions of American dollars at the problem, often only to create more uncertainty and risk.

The questions of today’s world far outpace the answers, if indeed there are answers. The arrogance of youth sees the world in black and white, with all the emotional intolerance that view imparts.  How long will this nation stand if we are unable to find a path forward where we are not continuously at war?  

When I was young, the Geo-political world was a simple bi-polar affair.  There was us (the US and its allies in Europe and Asia), and there were them (the USSR and its communist allies).  Everyone else seemed to be subordinate to us or them, or on occasion acted as surrogates.  The fear of nuclear war weighed heavily into every decision on confrontation, but the assumption was there were reasonable people making those choices.  Then the USSR collapsed and we became the dominate world power, at least for a very brief time.  With the US in charge what could possibly go wrong?

As it turns out almost everything.  If you look at the world's political landscape it isn’t that different than a sporting league.  Choose whatever sport you’d like FIFA, NFL, MLB, NBA it really doesn’t matter they are all kind of the same.  There are top tier teams and then there are second tier teams trying to get to the top.  There is always someone on top, and everyone else is trying to dethrone them.  Some teams, like the New England Patriots, dominate their league for so long that everyone either hates them or loves them, there is no middle ground.  The US is kind of like the Patriots, a lot of people hate us for the simple reason we are successful and have dominated the Geo-political league since WWII.

Tied to this is the simple fact that the us in the US is becoming less and less us, and more and more me each day.  We are being fractured by those rich and powerful entities that pay for the political gladiators who do battle for our amusement in the coliseum we call the DC.  Like the gladiators of Rome, they lead a sheltered life, away from the maddening interaction with the little people, serving their masters and preparing for battle; knowing their existence can be cut short at any moment by the swift blow from another gladiator.  With their constant combat comes little time for anything else but survival.  Meanwhile, we sit yelling in the stands awaiting our chance to give a thumbs up or thumbs down, sealing their fate.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Life in the Age of Terror

We awoke this morning (3/22/16) to the news there had been suicide bombings in Brussels Belgium.  ISIS/ISIL claimed credit for the event that killed more than 30 people and injured well over 200 others.  I would like to say these are the senseless acts of cowards, but we know with certainty they are not senseless, they are planned and executed by those who so despise the western way of life they are willing to kill themselves to fulfill the wishes of their leaders.
Of course here in America it will become part of the political debate because our government has been ineffective in all its approaches to dealing with fundamental Islamic terrorists.  In fact, the entire western world has been ineffective.  Why is that?  It is because our politicians think everyone thinks like them and that these religious zealots are reasonable men who can be dealt with on our terms.
Ms. Clinton, when she was Secretary of State, convinced the current administration that if we just overthrew the dictators then the peaceful Islamic people would rise up and become our friends.  So we helped with the rebellions in Libya and Egypt, and condemned the autocracies of the the dictator in Syria, seeking to overthrow him as well.  Here we are four years later, how has that strategy played out?
So we will all come to grieve the violence in Belgium, worry a little more that it will happen here, paste our social media with the colors of the country and restart the shrill debate about open and closed boarders.  Of course the administration and the DNC will condemn anyone who suggests that just maybe we should look a little closer as the Muslim community for the potential of terrorists and sympathizers.
I am reminded of a friend of the President, Bill Ayers, and the philosophy he espouses, I think if you look at the words of the President you can see his influence.
The US is indeed a terrorist nation. ...It's also the greatest purveyor of violence on earth over the past half century, and the foremost threat to world peace today.”
Read more at:
“I get up every morning and think, today I'm going to make a difference. Today I'm going to end capitalism. Today I'm going to make a revolution. I go to bed every night disappointed but I'm back to work tomorrow, and that's the only way you can do it.”
Read more at:
“Kill all the rich people. Break up their cars and apartments. Bring the revolution home, kill your parents, that's where it's really at.”
Read more at:
There are many forms of terrorism, not just the current religious brand.  The idea of revolution and overthrow of the state has been a long standing ideal of radical zealots like Mr. Ayers.  Terror is the tool of the weak against the strong.  As long as those willing to inflict violence are supported by those willing to tolerate it we will continue to live in the Age of Terror.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

On the Growing of a Leader (pt 4)

Leadership in Today's World
To talk about this, we need to consider the requirements, the risks, and the rewards that go into making the choices of leadership.  To prepare for this discussion I pulled up the Darryl F. Zanuck movie, “Twelve O’Clock High.” When I was a young officer this movie was often cited as an example of the challenges of a commander. Although a dramatic story, it captures the essence of leadership and perhaps some of the pitfalls we in the AF fall into.  For those not familiar with the story, it centers on the fortunes of the 918th Bomb Group operating out of RAF Archbury in 1942.  Accordingly, they are one of the first groups attempting to implement the USAAF concept of daylight precision bombing.  They are a “hard luck” group led by a Colonel Keith Davenport whose men love him, and who defends them even when they make mistakes.  The Commander of 8th AF relieves the Colonel and he is replaced by a former Group Commander, Brig Gen Frank Savage.  The story is told from the perspective of his ground exec, and shows the Commander’s struggle to bring the organization up to combat effectiveness and support the “Maximum Effort” the 8th AF is attempting to achieve.  In a small, almost unnoticeable scene, at about 35 minutes into the movie BG Savage is arriving at the station to assume command, and has his driver stop short.  He had been sitting in the front seat and refers to the driver by name, they share a smoke and then moments later he says “Alright Sargent!” He climbs into the back seat of the staff car and heads into base where he is casually waived through.  He has the car stop, gets out and chews out the sentry.  He is setting the tone for what is to come.

My takeaways from this film reflect the unmistakable need for a commander to establish clear expectations, build unit cohesion and pride, and recognize both the good and bad in the organization and deal effectively with both. It also shows the fine line between the commander’s involvement, the emotional stress of command and the dedication needed to see the organization succeed.  So let’s talk about those qualities briefly.

Setting clear expectations.  We hear much in the service today about expectations and performance, but those expectations from on high seem to change on a constant basis, partially as a result of societal changes, but more often from the political influences of the civilian leadership charged with supporting the President’s agenda while shaping the service.  Young men and women enter the service knowing only what they’ve been taught by the educational system, their views of acceptable behavior and the traditional views of the service have grown further apart.  So the question for leadership today is how to form those impressionable young airmen into adults who understand the mission and the consequences of their acts?  That is always the challenge. 

In an ideal world, every future leader would understand that every decision and choice they make is an opportunity to set expectations and follow through with them, unfortunately in today’s world of second guessing and senior commander’s who are more worried about their own careers than the organizations success – young men and women are often not allowed the opportunity, or are so cowed by the possibility of failure, that those choices must be approved by others before they are made.  The conflicting messages sent by commanders and the reality the young officers observe around them confuse even the clearest thinkers.  We are not “a one mistake AF” and the crucifixion of pilots who text what their commanders believe to be inappropriate messages sends a clear a signal that we no matter what the CSAF says, the AF leadership under him believes something different.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize we are, in fact, a one mistake Air Force where you career can be derailed for being a 27-year-old with a $35-million-dollar airplane and spare time on your hands.

Building unit cohesion and pride. As shown in the movie, and as has been proven time and time again is at the heart of any successful organization, whether it be a squad of soldiers, a flight of airman or a ship on the high seas is the pride and commitment that the humans in that organization make to accomplish the mission and support each other.  Studies have show that one of the great failures of the Vietnam conflict was the replacement of individual soldiers with new people who would be there for a year.  The Army ground units lost a lot in terms of unit pride, directly relating to combat effectiveness.  I watched a squadron in England almost destroy itself when the commander and the operations officer chose to conduct a personality battle over who would run the squadron.  Everyone had to choose sides and when the operations officer eventually replaced the commander, much like a lion taking over a pride, he killed the careers of all the people who had sided with his predecessor.  Today we call this toxic leadership, then it was overlooked to the point they were both promoted for successful command.  Which brings up the next point.

Recognizing both the good and bad in an organization.  Most of us are kind and forgiving by nature, and in the AF we are trained to highlight the successes of our organization and its personnel.  The personnel evaluations have become so cryptic and nonsensical as to require special decoder rings to determine if one is a good evaluation or a bad evaluation.  We seem to have little problem praising our people, but a terribly tough time telling the airman where they are failing, or are not as good as others.  This holds true for all levels of command.  It is, as it probably should be, that officers are rarely removed from command, but that role has now become a square to be filled, rather than a challenge to be sought.  As long as we have an evaluation system that is obtuse, expectations for performance based on personal likes or dislikes, and criteria that makes performance at academic institutions more important than actual job performance we will grow future leaders who care more about their careers than the mission.  We need to start with honest evaluations of all officers, not just perfunctory feedback sessions, but honest feedback on where a subordinate is strong and where he or she is weak.  Perhaps an evaluation form that required the rater to identify strengths and weakness, rather than accomplishments and key praises like “combat proven” and a fixed assessment against his organizational peers, with the removal of various tactics like “thin slicing” might be useful.  How to overcome this human desire to be the good guy and get all the people promoted is the real challenge.

There are always challenges… today we live in a politically correct world where sensitivity to others, the second guessing of decisions made, and the spotlight of the instant global communication grid are always lurking in the wings.  Yesterday there were other issues, tomorrow there will be still others.  The question for a leader is how to blend those outside political aspects with the need to accomplish the mission and inspire your subordinates to achieve more than they think possible?

A great organizer can accomplish remarkable things as far as establishing an organization, acquiring or selling a product, or reaching a milestone, but a great leader will inspire the next generation of humans who will carry out the mission both now and in the future. The success of an individual in command is not an insular success, it depends on the successes of those he or she leads. Take for example, John F. Kennedy, if you look at the actual accomplishments of his career they are not all that remarkable, but if you look at the vision he put forth, and the accomplishments of those he inspired through his leadership and death they are spectacular.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Things that Amuse Me.

1.     Realizing that surgeons don’t actually read your charts until you point out to them the things they said and did two years ago, forcing them to actually get up and go get the charts.
2.    Finding out I am not actually “full of shit” as so many have claimed, but thanks to modern science and prep for a colonoscopy my actual level is only about 3 lbs.  Therefore, I am 1.3% FoS.
3.    Recognizing Mr. Trump’s popularity can be directly linked to the partisan politics of the Democratic leadership (i.e. President Obama, VP Biden, Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Reed and DNC Chairwoman DWS) over the past 7 years, and the media’s support of it.
4.    Watching FOX News cancel the next debate because the “Gorilla in the Room” says he has had enough.
5.     Finally, seeing the outrage of supporters who are upset with what they believe is disrespect of the President and his family by those who oppose him.  Aren’t these the exact same people who made it a habit of making fun of the previous President and his children (e.g., Democratic Underground)?

Saturday, March 12, 2016

On the Growing of a Leader (pt 3)

The Organization and its Priority
Organizational Behavior is the study of how both group and individual performance and activity with an organization.  Obviously there are at least two perspectives of this study.  The first is to view the organization from an external aspect, the other is to study the organization’s internal workings and structure.
If we look at the Air Force, the youngest of services, we see a rather unique organization within the Defense bureaucracy.  It came to life as an evolution of the technology that created it.  Although the use of airships to create “a high ground” to observe the enemy can be traced back to the Civil War, it was not until the Wright Brothers created their Flyer that the potential for true military application was possible.  Even then the US Army and the Navy were not the first to recognize the potential.
Prior to the second world war the US Army Air Corp made up about 12% of the Army’s total strength.  There were strategic thinkers, a few zealots, and a bunch of young officers they would mentor.  Their principle battles were with the civilian and senior Army leadership to show how air power could serve as a strategic weapon and decide the outcome of conflict without putting vast numbers of soldiers at risk.  Their most significant goal of the 1930’s was to build a bomber capable of reaching deep into an enemy’s homeland, inflicting definitive damage and returning home.  They believed these bombers would be capable of defending themselves, protecting their crews, and overcoming whatever defenses the enemy put before them.
What we discovered in the war was regardless of how many guns they had the bombers where vulnerable to the air defenses and needed protection from escorting aircraft to help fight off the attacking fighters.  If you have ever seen a flock of small birds driving off a hawk, then you can picture the way the bomber-interceptor conflict works.
Following the war, proponents for the US Army Air Forces commissioned a study of the affects of strategic bombing.[i]  This comprehensive study found, not surprisingly, that the role of the Air Force was “decisive” in determining the final outcome of the war.  This study would be one of the principle tools used by advocates for a separate Air Force as justification for its creation.
So what we see from the very origin of the Air Force was an organizational belief that technology was the foundation of the service.  The employment of the most modern technology would allow the Air Force to deter a conflict or win it decisively.  This is a nice fit for a civilian leadership that is always looking for a way to reduce defense costs.  The purchase of hardware is manageable and measurable by the bean counters.  The costs of the personnel are not quite as neat and simple.  The escalating costs of pay and benefits have long term implications that last long after the the personnel leave.  I believe this is one of the real reasons the Veterans Administration was created.  To take the burden of long-term responsibility and pigeon hole it into a location where the Secretary of Defense didn’t have to worry so much about it.
This belief in the inherent quality of technology is a two-edged sword.  On the one hand it appeals to those who believe advanced technology holds the keys to the future, on the other it argues against the value of the humans who are the life-blood of any organization.
From its formation the Air Force has wrestled with the issue of funding as it fought for legitimacy.  We need only look back at the battles with the US Navy over funding of the B-36 Peacemaker to recognize the cost of the technology and its importance to the long-term success and survival of the service.  Those battles exist today, just as they existed in the post WW II era.  Each new technology comes with a cost that says something else will not be funded.  Today we look at F-35 vs F-16/A-10 and a new high performance pilot trainer, or B-21 vs B-52/B-1/B-2.  The cost of each new generation of technology is no longer an incremental increase but almost an order of magnitude higher.  The current bill payers for these new “golden BB’s” is manpower, for that is the only other source left to draw from.
Over the course of its history the US Army has come to define the organizations that make up the Army as one of three types.  There are of course, the combat arms, those forces that will actually engage the enemy in combat these are the Infantry, Armor, Artillery (field and air defense), Aviation, Combat Engineers, and Special Forces (Rangers and SF).  Recently Cyber Forces have are being viewed by some as part of the Combat Arms. Then there are the Combat Support forces, those organizations and personnel who directly support the combat arms.  These include the Chemical Corps, Corp of Engineers, Military Intelligence, Military Police, Signal and some components of Aviation (e.g. battlefield reconnaissance).[ii] Finally, everything else falls into Combat Service Support.  These would be the personnel troops, finance, acquisition, transportation, and food services. 
I point out the Army constructs because they are relevant to the challenging nature of the Air Force and the demands of internal organization and leadership.  Since its creation the combat forces of the Air Force were those fighter, bomber, and eventually missile crews who would be expected to directly engage the enemy.  These were a relatively small portion of the total service.  The dilemma for senior officers, drawn predominately from the bomber, or then the fighter force, was how to make an inclusive organization where everyone felt part of the primary mission?  A reflection of the nature of this reality is seen in the relationship between AF Officers and NCO/Airman, especially when compared to other services.  There has been, since I joined in 1974 a more relaxed relationship in the AF between its leaders and its junior members.  I wondered about this for a long time, and have come to the conclusion that it was because it was principally the officers that went into harms way and they were not ordering their man to the sounds of the cannon.  In the Army a 2nd Lieutenant could be ordered to send his platoon of 15-30 men into harms way.  He would lead them, but he or she knows the brunt of the battle will be borne by them.  This holds true for all levels up to the Corp Commander.  [Note: This current war has changed things for the AF, but our leadership has not fully grasped that change.  Today our warriors are not the pilots or aircrew flying well above the battlefield, but they are the junior officers and enlisted of the combat controller, tactical air control party, pararescue and combat weather career fields who are embedded with the Army units on the ground.  If you doubt this -- look at the Air Force Crosses and Silver Stars awarded since 2001.]
A second point, as noted above from the time an Army officer enters the service he or she is trained to deal with people.  Those who are effective in this role are then trained to do staff work, but always they come back to dealing with people.  In the Navy, officers are trained in their skill set but even the flying junior officers are assigned personnel to lead, manage, direct and discipline.  Unlike those other services, the rated officers of the Air Force are not routinely assigned jobs that require the leadership, management or direction of junior personnel, rather they will work within their squadron as glorified administrative assistants to the commander.  For almost all rated officers the first opportunity to actually be responsible for the lives and welfare of their personnel is as a 38-year-old Lieutenant Colonel squadron commander (something General Olds did as a 22 year old Major).
Next, like all organizations the AF struggles to find the best management practices to improve its operational efficiency.  Unfortunately for the the AF this means that every new Secretary or Chief of Staff that comes in finds a need to either tweak or completely revamp the management style.  In the forty plus years I’ve been associated with the organization I’ve seen us change management philosophies about every 8 years.  Usually these changes are caused by some new management fad that is sweeping industry and is introduced by the civilian leadership as a one size fits all solution to the perceived ills of the organization.  Perhaps my favorite example is at the conclusion of Desert Storm, where the down-sizing Air Force had just demonstrated the actual strategic benefits of its cold war force we implemented a version of Total Quality Management, a system to improve production of items by empowering the workers on the manufacturing line to implement continuous improvement to reduce manufacturing errors.  In the civil sector you heard such things as “Quality is Job 1” and “Zero Defect.”  I am not sure the Air Force ever came to grips with how to measure sortie effectiveness to avoid pilot error and loss of an aircraft, or avoid a mistake on a travel voucher, but we did have classes and instruction that most of the higher level leaders never embraced.  When this routinely occurs even the lowest A1C recognizes this as a lip service effort and leadership credibility goes out the window.  At that point leadership within the organization becomes little more than cheerleaders for the latest jingle.
Finally, what General Olds' notes as his authority as a 22-year-old Major was not strictly authority so much as responsibility.  The authority rested in levels above him, just as it did when he was a General.  The responsibility to do all the things he did as a Major shifted because others didn’t want to do them and the AF created organizations ostensibly so the Squadron Commander’s could focus on accomplishing the primary mission of the unit.  He never captures the real issue: he was a major at the same age today’s officers are second lieutenants. He led men into combat who were peers and he was one of them, he learned to lead because he and his flight commanders were all trying to hack the mission, survive, and bring their friends home.  They were not trying to reach the next grade or worry about the responsibilities of pay, housing, and chow. Today’s flying squadron commanders are not peers with their most proficient aircrew.  They are, in the best cases, former great pilots, navigators/CSOs, and aircrew who have been recognized and promoted for their abilities, or they are, in many cases, marginal aircrew who have demonstrated good staff skills and found senior mentors who will pull them along.  
That will be the focus of the next part.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

On the Growing of a Leader (pt 2)

What is Leadership?
Leadership, noun, the action of leading a group of people or an organization.  It seems a pretty straightforward thing to understand, but as we choose to understand the term it is more than just being in charge, there is implied understanding that leadership must be effective if we are to look favorably on the leader.  There are a number of favorable and unfavorable adjectives normally associated with the term when we are describing an individual’s leadership.  Inspirational, personal, focused, by-the-book, incompetent, detrimental, schizophrenic are all terms I’ve heard used.
But before we talk about leadership we need to understand some basic principles.  First, many believe there are natural leaders. I disagree with this idea.  Leaders are made.  They may be made at an early age by good parenting, or life experiences, but we all come into the world as individuals who place their individual needs first (there may be an exception in the case of multiple births where they may act for the collective, but the studies I’ve seen are inconclusive on this).  As we grow we come to understand the society and our role in it.  This is where training and guidance help shape leadership.  I believe this is the guiding principle that forms the foundation for the service academies. But the best leaders seem to develop much earlier -- in their formative years while living at home.  There is much evidence that a strong maternal influence can help shape the individual with the confidence and charisma to lead large organizations.  For examples you can look to Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Douglas MacArthur, both of whose Mother’s played a central role in their lives.
Next, as General Olds points out, there may be leaders who are effective in one climate and totally ineffective when the circumstances change.  The US Army offers us example after example of this phenomenon.  We can go back to the Civil War, where the Union struggled with Commander after Commander, each rising to that position through the normal chains, or political connections and each failing to grasp the principles that General Lee and his subordinate Corps Commanders seemed to understand so well.  It was not until Ulysses S. Grant, a drunk from Ohio, but also a graduate of West Point, was appointed did the Union Army effectively engage the Army of Virginia leading to their surrender at Appomattox. The same holds true in every war we enter into.  We seem normally to plan for the last war and initially have to replace ineffective leadership at the onset of the next.
Finally, the organization, and the organizational goals ultimately frame the leader’s perspective and ability to lead.  Understanding the organization, the framework within which it fits, and the end product of that organization are critical to determining the success or failure of a leader.  This is probably the hardest of the the variables to quantify for as General Olds points out. “In my view, current Air Force philosophy and practice have all but eliminated any meaningful role playable by an officer placed in a so-called position of command.  Authority has evaporated, sucked up to the rarified heights of “they,” who are somehow felt to exist in the echelons above.  For your information, “they” do not exist.  Neither is there any “he” fulfilling that role.  Authority is expressed through the medium of committee consensus, leadership has become a watered down adherence to the principles of camp counsellorship, with a 90% emphasis on avoiding any action that may in any way be questioned by any one of hundreds of piss ants on the administrative ladder above.”
The focus of this discussion will be on identifying the basic construction of the organization, how the reality of that construction differs from the public statements of its leaders, and how this leads to the perception of poor leadership.  To do that based on the statements of General Olds I think first it is critical we understand how different the society is today, compared to the society of 1945. I say this for the simple fact the Air Force is not an entity isolated from the world around it. It is, in fact, a reflection of that society and the individuals who come from it into the organization.
[to be continued]

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

On the Growing of a Leader (pt 1)


This post actually originates from a suggestion by a colleague who laments the lack of good leadership in the Air Force.  He suggested I read Brigadier General Robin Olds’ letter to an ACSC student who had written to him on the topic back in 1981.  General Olds is a celebrated fighter pilot with 16 air to air victories in World War II and Vietnam.[i]  He was commander of the 8th Fighter Wing (Wolf Pack) in the Vietnam conflict where he led OPERATION BOLO, intended to surprise the North Vietnamese AF and engage attacking Migs in air to air combat to reduce the threats they posed to the F-105 strike forces.  He was promoted to Brigadier General on his completion of command and return to the States. 
From 1967 to 73 he served as the Air Force Academy Commandant of Cadets, and his final job in the AF was as Director of Aerospace Safety for the HQ USAF.  While there he conducted an inspection tour of AF combat units in Southeast Asia where he warned that if the combat operations over North Vietnam were resumed AF losses would be heavy based on the “systemic lack of interest in air to air combat training for fighter aircrews.”[ii]  His report proved prophetic.  With the initiation of OPERATION LINEBACKER in 1972 the Air Force aircrews fared far worse than USMC and USN crews and had a miserable 1:1 kill to loss ratio.[iii]  He retired in 1973.[iv]
As a part of the 1981 Air Command and Staff Curriculum, Major Terry Schwalier was tasked with completing a research project and writing what would amount to a Masters thesis. As part of his research he wrote several senior officers seeking advice on what qualities went into making a good flight commander? For those not familiar with AF structure a fighter flight commander is generally a Captain put in administrative charge of a number of younger officers. He should be well qualified in his aircraft, and able to lead at least the formation of his/her flight. This is the first "leadership" position for a rated officer in the AF.  By all accounts General Olds’ response went well beyond answering the original question, and has been widely circulated among those dissatisfied with today's climate.    
30 Nov 1981

Dear Major Schwalier,

Your question, or better request, is provocative, to say the least.  I have thought much since receiving your Oct 21 letter, and the more I consider your topic, the more difficult it becomes to frame a reasonable or even useful response.  I’ll try to boil down my thoughts, hoping something useful may distill.

First, let me get some negatives in perspective.  In my view, current Air Force philosophy and practice have all but eliminated any meaningful role playable by an officer placed in a so-called position of command.  Authority has evaporated, sucked up to the rarified heights of “they,” who are somehow felt to exist in the echelons above.  For your information, “they” do not exist.  Neither is there any “he” fulfilling that role.  Authority is expressed through the medium of committee consensus, leadership has become a watered down adherence to the principles of camp counsellorship, with a 90% emphasis on avoiding any action that may in any way be questioned by any one of hundreds of piss ants on the administrative ladder above.  In fact, leadership (and I use that term with contempt) has become a process of looking busy as hell while doing nothing, avoiding personal commitment, and above all, making no decision without prior approval.

Historical example: as a 22 year old Major, commanding a squadron in 1945, I was responsible for and empowered to:  pay the troops; feed them; house them; train them; clothe them; promote; demote; reward; punish; maintain their personnel files, etc.  When I retired as a BG in 1973, I possessed not one of those authorities or responsibilities.  Get the drift?

And you ask the importance of a flight commander.  I am tempted to say NONE.  But that is not true, for in spite of the system, in spite of the executive and administrative castration, a man instinctively looks to a system of military authority in a military situation or system.  If that authority is waffled or watered, he still looks to those appointed to the military echelons to do their best under the circumstances.  A man (a nation for that matter) wants, demands, leadership.  So today’s flight leader/commander leads and commands by example, by appeal to basic instinct, and by light footed avoidance of error, like walking a tightrope.  He has responsibility, for sure.  But he does not have authority, or freedom of discretion/interpretation.  Unfortunately, in some units he really isn’t given much voice.  Yet he functions, and if he is successful (perhaps a better word is “effective”) it is greatly to his credit for having done so under the prevailing circumstances.

Another thought.  All else to the contrary, two basic demands are faced by the Flight Commander.  One is PEACE, the other is WAR.  It has been my experience, in the fighter business I hasten to add, that the man who may excel under the one is not necessarily worth a damn under the other.  Many examples come to mind.  I do not (and did not) condemn one man or the other, rather I accepted the challenge of recognizing the difference and choosing accordingly.

I hope some of this makes sense.


Robin Olds

P.S. For your information, there is no such thing as HQ, USAF.  The highest echelon is a faceless entity, composed of thousands of diverse individuals loosely arranged by a system of interlocking committees and headed by an individual technically labeled the “Chief of Staff.”  Note he is not called the Commander.  By law, he cannot be.  By nature he is forced to be the consummate bureaucrat, fighting for the all mighty dollar, serving as a buffer between Sec Def / Congress and the people and mission of his service – a demanding, demeaning role playable by very few.[v]

As General Olds points out the role of a squadron commander has changed dramatically from what it was in 1945.  The responsibility to actually run all aspects of the squadron has been eliminated as bureaucracy has grown, but for me the singularly most distinctive point is kind of glossed over in the paragraph.  He was a 22-year old Major in charge of the lives of his men.  He was not, as we have today, a 35-year old Lt Col who has spent the first 16 years of his or her career trying to figure out how to get to this point.  When the nation is 100% committed to war, and the Army had grown from its pre-war strength of 180,000 (22,000 in the Air Corp) to its war time strength of over 8.2 million (2.2 million in the US Army Air Force) promotions came fast and went to men who performed.  Loss rates during the war kept that flow of commanders moving up as those above them were lost to promotion or combat.
The responsibilities Major Olds had were impressive and probably did much to help shape him as an effective combat leader and perhaps an effective peacetime leader as well, but would they work for today’s Air Force Officer, or even today’s Air Force?  If not, what is the problem we have with growing effective leaders?
[To be continued]

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...