"...do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..."

"For the good of the Air Force, for the good of the armed services and for the good of our country, I urge you to reject convention and careerism..."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Maxwell AFB, April 21, 2008

"You will need to challenge conventional wisdom and call things like you see them to subordinates and superiors alike."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, United States Air Force Academy, March 4, 2011

Monday, December 14, 2009

Reinforcing Academic Freedom in ACSC

The ACSC program has taken a step to remind all of the importance of, and policies concerning, academic freedom. I'm glad to see this and hope the video message helps encourage airmen to utilize PME to participate candidly in honest and healthy debate over the challenges we face. Without such dialogue I fear it will be much more difficult for our senior leadership to bring about the cultural changes desired.

It appears the video is available for public consumption here: https://ausis.maxwell.af.mil/AcademicFree/index.htm

Thesis Work Continues!

I haven't been blogging much lately due to work on my thesis and also because of some Air Force extracurricular activities I'm not yet at liberty to discuss. The thesis is shaping up nicely, however, and I think will actually contain some useful recommendations. What has resulted so far (thanks to an idea presented by one of this blog's readers) is a pretty exciting vision that I think could dramatically strengthen Air Force culture. I hope my thesis conveys it well. Fingers crossed.

To ensure my research analysis is as useful as possible, I'm continuing to solicit any works on modern fighter pilot culture by modern fighter pilots. If anybody knows of recently published works I may have missed or documentaries or studies, if you could drop me a note I'd be much obliged. Thanks as always for the constructive criticisms and feedback.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Veterans Day

Happy Veterans Day to all who have served and to your families for enduring the stresses. My thoughts go out to our brothers on the ground doing the job in Afghanistan and Iraq during these difficult times. I am humbled by your service and sacrifice.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Moral Go Speed

In the flying business we have something called "go speed" which we apply to taking off from a runway. After go speed is reached on a takeoff roll, we are committed to the takeoff and we have to make sure all available power is used to get airborne before we go off the end of the runway.

I have spent some time over the last couple of years thinking about the importance of integrity. Our first Core Value is "integrity first" and yet I see an amazing lack of it at times. As I have posted before, I'm puzzled by public servants who seem unable to do the right thing when the worst case for standing up for what is right is retiring on a world class pension. I'm not sure if it's the quest for the next rung in a ladder that never ends, simple pride, or an indication of a fundamentally flawed moral character to begin with. I'm sure the problem is complex.

I think two ideas that have taken root in our culture might have something to do with creating or reinforcing people with less than stellar integrity. First is the idea that we should pick our battles. This idea is typically communicated to mean "don't pick battles you can't win." I suppose the idea is that we should only pick the low hanging fruit and stand up for issues we know we can win based on some kind of political calculation. It's like an Operational Risk Management formula applied to doing the right thing. But this idea suggests we shouldn't stand up for what is right if it might mean detriment to our careers. This cultural phenomenon certainly doesn't reflect the Core Value of "service before self" and I would argue that expertise in making such self-centered political calculations, while considered a skill by some, is really a vice that has led our service and our country down a very bad road.

The second idea that has taken root in my experience is the myth that by not standing up for "small" issues in the present, our career will put us in a place where we can stand up for bigger issues and have a greater impact in the future. This seems a rationalization to me. There will always be another rung to climb and yet another rationalization for failing to stand up for what is right. Still I realize the importance of the hierarchy of needs and the impossibility of a pure "service before self" ethic.

The first cultural idea produces politicians instead of leaders. Courage is substituted for the perception of courage and those who must do a political ORM assessment before doing right are not concerned that taking on battles they may not win may move the ball for the next guy. They are not team players and they are completely lacking in the "service before self" arena. The second cultural idea, however, has some merit but it requires setting a moral go speed.

I encourage military officers to set a moral go speed. Write it down and honor it. After I have achieved X, Y, and Z while funded and rewarded by taxpaying ordinary citizens, I will then dedicate the rest of my career to service for the benefit of the country. Once you have hit your moral go speed, don't look back and give it everything you've got.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

To Be or To Do?

"In accomplishing all these things, Boyd – a brilliant, eccentric, and stubborn character – had to overcome a large measure of bureaucratic resistance and institutional hostility. He had some advice that he used to pass on to his colleagues and subordinates that is worth sharing with you."

"Boyd would say, and I quote: 'one day you will take a fork in the road, and you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go. If you go [one] way, you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and get good assignments. Or you can go [the other] way and you can do something – something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself … If you decide to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself … To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you have to make a decision. To be or to do?'"

- From the Speech by Secretary Gates given at Air University in 2008

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Academic Freedom Complaint Substantiated

Several weeks ago I talked with an AU official and he told me he had still not made a recommendation for action to the AU commander. I told him I was disappointed in the lack of action and that I would be taking other measures to see the issue resolved. I called the Air Force Times about a potential story and they were interested. I also contacted Public Affairs.

Several days later, on 13 October I was notified by the ACSC commandant that an investigation into my allegation of UCMJ violation was substantiated and that "appropriate action was taken against the individual." I asked for specifics but was told the Privacy Act prevented disclosing that information to me.

I am glad to see action has been taken in this situation. I hope the deep surgery required is accomplished so the program can become a place for officers to learn, challenge each other, and adapt in a complicated world. We are at a very pivotal and important time in our service history and our senior leadership is superb. But the cultural transformational growth desired by our leadership is a challenging proposition. Much of the Air Force, in my experience, is out of touch with the challenges we face and seemingly unconcerned. The Air Force is like a rain forest in this regard. While new growth requires the light shining from above, all too often old foliage creates a canopy that blocks that light and prevents it.

ACSC should be fertile ground for Air Force officers and it has the potential to be exactly that. Hopefully measures are taken to make it so.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Do Officers Really Need to be Educated?

There is a great article in today's Air Force Times by Rick Maze entitled, Expert: Officers Need More Time in Classroom. Reading it reminded me of a recent Tom Ricks blog post where he asked if officers were better educated with an engineering or a degree in the humanities. This is an important conversation and perhaps a decade too late.

From the Maze article:

Retired Army Lt. Gen. David Barno, director of the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, said education for professional officers is “drifting off course,” partly because so much is expected of officers that there is little time for academics in a military career.

In addition, military culture — and rewards like promotions — do not put much emphasis on being brilliant, he said.

I think our military education needs serious reform as many will note reading this blog. I think the importance of "fluffy" education needs to be highlighted. It's great to study engineering and computer science and those are great skills. They are the degrees that allow a person to build something and act as a tool to create something tactically useful. But in the warfighting business, and especially in the people based COIN realm, we need reflective people who seek to understand themselves and others. Those are the people who can best use such tools to craft a strategy that wins wars.

There may have been a time when shallow but committed fighting men were more useful than their thinking counterparts. I think that time is over.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

CSAF's UAS Graduation Speech

Our CSAF gave a great speech at a historical graduation ceremony days ago. In this speech he reinforced the need for cultural transformation and for officers, regardless of their tasking, to hold each other and their leadership accountable while discussing measures taken to overcome cultural inertia. This is the outstanding leadership that made my decision several months ago to volunteer to fly UAS easy. The General's historic speech is provided below:

Thank you for that kind introduction. It truly is a pleasure for me to be here amongst a group of people who exemplify selfless service and exceptional sacrifice. Colonel Gursten, thank you for your steadfast leadership of this vital mission. I cannot overstate how important our unmanned aircraft system capabilities really are to our Joint and coalition teammates.

We are here today to pay tribute to the graduates and their families, on a truly momentous occasion: the graduation of eight students in the first “Beta test” class, two graduates directly from undergraduate pilot training, and nine new sensor operators. They have received extensive training in unmanned aircraft system fundamentals and instrument procedures, instruction on Joint firepower, and qualifications in their respective positions.

We also give much-deserved thanks to those who made it all happen: the instructors. Being an instructor is not easy, but have no doubt: you are fulfilling a crucial responsibility that every profession shares in common. For us, that is to qualify a next generation of Air Force warrior professionals. I have no doubt that you have performed admirably, and that you have positioned this new war-fighting discipline for a future, far better than you found it. Teaching your students and transferring all the important lessons you have learned is a testament to all – students and teachers alike – so I commend you for your indispensible efforts.

A Significant Milestone
Today marks another significant milestone in our history with unmanned aircraft. Some here might be surprised to discover that this history actually extends beyond the recent past, in which we have seen unmanned systems emerge into real prominence. Our first sustained use of unmanned aerial vehicles actually occurred during Vietnam, where we flew over 3,400 reconnaissance sorties, between 1964 and 1975, with the Ryan 147 “Lightning Bug.” True to our spirit of innovation and creativity, the “Lightning Bug” was a modified target drone, air-launched from a C-130 and recovered in mid-air by helicopter. Its evolution began in earnest, after the Soviets shot down U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers in 1960; and, although primitive by today‟s standards, these early UAVs proved extremely useful, taking detailed pictures of surface-to-air missile sites, enemy airfields, and ship activity in Haiphong Harbor – all places that were too dangerous for manned aircraft to fly.

Notwithstanding their significant contributions during the war, these UAVs were considered “untested” after the war ended, and did not fare well during the military drawdown. As a result, continued funding of these unmanned aircraft proved to be problematic, as they could not compete for scarce dollars, against proven platforms and weapons of the day, like the B-52 and cruise missiles. In that environment, making the case for an operational need to pursue an expensive and time-consuming development program was difficult. Then-Undersecretary of the Air Force James Plummer, in 1975, noted that “we are going to be cautious about initiating a vehicle development program where we don‟t have a good idea of the technological status and requirements of a support system. We simply cannot justify spending money to prove a concept which may have marginal utility.”

How times have changed.

Obviously, today, we are not talking about marginal utility; indeed, the demand for game-changing, UAV-borne capabilities is insatiable, and shows no sign of abating. General Petraeus has called these contributions “invaluable” in recent combat operations; and, as you know here at Creech, better than anyone else in our Air Force, we‟re flying them non-stop because of their extraordinary value. Our MQ-1 fleet has logged over 600,000 hours; and while this number by itself is impressive, the accelerated rate at which we‟ve accumulated these hours is really the remarkable story. It took us 12 years – from 1995 to 2007 – to fly our first 250,000 Predator hours. In less than two years, we flew our next 250,000 hours; and, we are on track to log the next quarter million in only 13 months.

As we continue significant investments in these aircraft – 320 in the next 5 years – and immediately deploy almost all of them to fly continuous combat air patrols, or “CAPs,” for our Joint and coalition teammates, these flying hours will only continue to multiply. We have come a long way since we started with only one CAP in 2001. After the Joint team realized how vital these aircraft were, they requested more; and, we have delivered, surging nearly everything that we have directly into theater. We‟re now flying 37 CAPs in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we‟re on track to provide 50 by the end of 2011.

Meeting the Demand
This unbelievable surge would not have been possible without the professional Airmen sitting here today. In the face of adversity, you delivered, and you should be very proud of your efforts. I sure am.

To support further expansion of this critical warfighting capability, we will need more men and women like you, because the reality is, even though we call these aircraft systems “unmanned,” they are anything but that. This system, in fact, is quite manpower intensive. To support each new CAP, we will need 140 more Airmen, half of whom are intelligence professionals to process the raw data, exploit and fuse it with other sources, and disseminate actionable information to the field. Each new CAP also requires at least seven vehicle operators and seven sensor operators – ideally, ten each, to avoid the surge conditions that you‟ve been experiencing for an extended period here.

I know that our attempts to meet the requirements of the Joint team caused a strain on our force, on you, and your families; and, I appreciate that while our force is resilient, it is not unbreakable. Therefore, the concerns of this budding UAS career field is a top priority of Air Force leadership, including Secretary Donley and me, especially as we know that we have only scratched the surface of the capabilities that our unmanned systems can provide. Industry has already refueled an unmanned aircraft and demonstrated multi-aircraft control – all feats that only a few contemplated 10 years ago. Given these technological leaps forward, it‟s not hard to imagine a multitude of other missions for our unmanned aircraft, including air transport, air refueling, suppressing enemy air defenses, forward air control, combat search and rescue, and more. It also is not difficult to imagine new operational concepts, such as groups of unmanned aircraft flying “swarm” tactics, or unmanned aircraft teaming with and being controlled by manned aircraft.

If we are to continue meeting these operational requirements that are likely to emerge, we must be prepared to address a multitude of institutional and cultural issues. Among other things, we will start by taking inventory of the successes of this Beta class, and noting those areas where we can improve, to ensure that UAS Airmen will have appropriate training, and are provided with the skills and qualifications that are necessary to succeed. Some of these imperatives are clear, like the need to comply with Federal Aviation Administration instrument rating requirements in the national airspace. Others are more ambiguous; but, as we continue down this path, we‟ll refine our training programs and personnel policies to ensure that they produce and sustain the fully-qualified UAS professionals who will make, among other things, serving as the Al Qaeda operations officer a very, very high-risk endeavor.

Institutional and Cultural Shift
Almost every new adventure begins with a period of austerity and uncertainty. I understand that there are issues with assignments, professional development, advancement, and leadership opportunities. I want to assure you that your concerns have not fallen on deaf ears.

Senator John McCain – of course, a former aviator – asked me about these implications during this May‟s Air Force posture hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. There, he noted that it was a “seminal time” in the history of the Air Force, and asked if the transition to unmanned aircraft would be a “significant cultural adjustment” for the Air Force. I answered him then, in the same way that I do to you today: you are part of the major new Air Force development of the decade. This cultural change for our Air Force has to do both with the future of these unmanned systems, and how we see ourselves as Airmen. Secretary Donley and I recognize that our Airmen are the linchpin in this shift, and we are giving it our personal attention. I promise you that our efforts to ensure that we take care of you and your families is worthy of your exceptional commitment and continuing sacrifice.

Earlier this year, in June, we celebrated another great accomplishment, with the graduation of our first group of unmanned “patch wearers” from our UAS Weapons School squadron. These tactical experts will further professionalize this community by ensuring that our tactics, techniques, and procedures are sound, and that they are fully integrated with all other Air Force war-fighting disciplines and, as we grow technical expertise from within the community, we will focus too on developing our future UAS leaders. Experience has shown that those who are steeped in the unique technical and cultural considerations of the community will be more effective leaders, and so, we will look to create our future UAS commanders from within the career field, and consider these skilled operators for opportunities equal to those of other career paths.

Be proud that you are the new group of Airmen-warriors, who provide unmatched situational awareness of the battle space to field commanders – who, although operating in a somewhat different setting, must maintain equal vigilance for our teammates in the field; for you must be ready not only to find and fix a target, but if necessary, you also must be prepared to make it go away. You are blazing a trail toward the Air Force of the future – one with a mix of manned and unmanned systems, all of equal value – and you will be in the front row to history, with the game-changing capabilities that you provide.

We are at a critical point for our Air Force – one of transition and uncertainties, but also of immense opportunities. Critical issues, such as tapping the full potential of cyberspace; providing a mix of capabilities to address high-end, low-end, and hybrid threats; and balancing manned and unmanned platforms, face our Air Force, and have profound implications for our future. These and other issues are being addressed in Washington, in academia, in think tanks, and in the media; and, on the manned-unmanned issue, no more importantly anywhere, than here at Creech. It is you and your families who are living this transformation.

We applaud your efforts as the vanguard into this new and uncharted territory; we appreciate the sacrifices that you are making daily; and, we are working on addressing the institutional and cultural inertia that faces any new innovation. When the steamship, the tank, and yes, the aircraft, were introduced for military application, institutional disorder resulted. When Billy Mitchell insisted that aircraft would be more effective in sinking ships, the notion was considered preposterous, and he was dismissed as a zealot. When Robert Goddard dreamt of traveling beyond Earth‟s atmosphere, where aircraft could not depend on lift and drag, the military resisted him, and he was marginalized for talking about space travel and missile technology. The UAS community encountered the same sort of resistance, even in our own Air Force. In the words of one Air Force official, after the end of the Vietnam War, “How can you be a „tiger‟ sitting behind a console?”

Certainly, there no longer is any doubt about the value of unmanned systems, and of the critical work that you do – and, where the “tigers” reside.

All relevant organizations must adapt to new realities, and here, the reality is an insatiable demand for UAS-borne capabilities, and an evolving relationship between people, machines, and the sky. The technology that initially propelled us toward the skies is now making possible machines that outpace the capabilities of the people we put in them. So, although we have some issues to overcome, know this: the success of our Air Force and our Joint team depend on your personal and professional efforts. There is no doubt of your value to the success of our mission. We are throwing you into the fight quickly. You soon may be called to provide a ground commander with the ability to search a village; to survey areas that, due to rough terrain, are inaccessible to ground forces; or, to pinpoint enemy forces.

Regardless of your tasking, my charge to you is: be vigilant; be unrelenting; and, expect nothing short of peak performance from yourselves, your teammates, and yes, your leaders – including this one, and Secretary Donley. We will be, as always, unwavering champions of your efforts, and stewards of your trust. Celebrate our great tradition of innovation and creativity, and look to improve your processes and procedures. Realize and harness your individual brilliance, so that you may develop and leverage your collective genius, as a proud community of UAS Airmen.

Your training here has laid the groundwork. Now, we depend on you to go forth and execute the mission with utmost discipline, precision, and reliability.

Thank you very much for inviting me to speak to you today. I appreciate all that you do, and all that you will do, for our national defense; and, to the families and friends here today, thank you for your enormous sacrifice, which never goes unnoticed. Your service is to be admired, respected, emulated, and supported by the larger Air Force family, on whom – I assure you – you can faithfully rely.

Thank you.

- General Norton Schwartz, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, 25 September 2009

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

ACSC/DL Should Lose its Accreditation

I am now of the opinion the Air Command and Staff College Distance Learning (ACSC/DL) program should lose its accreditation for a master's degree. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools which accredits the degree has the following faculty requirement in its Principles of Accreditation. According to the document, several principles need to be "enforced by the institution" including this requirement:

“The institution ensures adequate procedures for safeguarding and protecting academic freedom.”

The academic freedom violation referred to here was elevated to the Air University (AU) Chief Academic Officer more than two months ago in accordance with AUI 36-2308. Despite the violation being a textbook case of non-attribution violation with a clear punitive intent and regardless of the admission of violation made by the student to the course instructor, the AU Chief Academic Officer has not even made a recommendation to the AU commander. The offending officer's emails soured my chain of command, prompted negative action from a general officer in that chain, and reportedly included an email sent from a CSAF executive officer which found its way to my immediate supervisor. It's amazing to me that no action has been taken. I suppose the offending student will have completed with his degree soon enough and then any punishment will likely not matter. The consistent lack of action leads me to the conclusion that academic freedom is not provided or protected in the ACSC/DL program and it appears it may be lacking in Air University itself. For these reasons, I believe ACSC/DL should lose its accreditation.

ACSC/DL leadership refused to remove the field grade officer from the class for his violation (demonstrating they were unconcerned with the threat he posed to the other students in the class) and instead they censored me from being able to post in the online course discussion. Why did they censor me?

It seems to me they wanted to punish me over a battle I was fighting with ACSC/DL concerning their Cultural Studies course instructor (who used to be an associate Dean of Air War College) who had established a punitive environment and acted unprofessionally in the course. A half dozen other field grade officers in the course also supported my complaint. At least one field grade officer in the class filed a separate complaint. Despite words and assurances ACSC/DL leadership refused to remedy the situation.

It's definitely not just me. I was recently contacted by another field grade officer who read this blog and he detailed a very similar experience with the same Cultural Studies course instructor. He also described similar comments from ACSC/DL leadership regarding the instructor. He was still angry from the outcome months after the issue so much so that he began searching the internet to see if others had experienced the same thing. That is how he found this blog. He says he will post his experiences in a comment shortly.

I find myself wondering why ACSC/DL leadership doesn't truly value feedback and why they don't act on it from multiple field grade officers to make the program better. Perhaps they don't think the Air Force yet faces enough challenges. Whatever the reason, this particular situation is a trend item and symptomatic of a failure of leadership and a culture in need of serious reform. Air University has significant cultural problems and it doesn't appear to be in a rush to fix the issues. AUI 36-2308 states:

"If satisfactory resolution is not obtained at the organization or activity level, the individual may elevate the complaint to the Air University Chief Academic Officer (AU/CF), who will, in coordination with the AU Legal Office (AU/JA), review the case and provide a recommendation to the AU Commander (AU/CC). The decision of the AU Commander is final."

Unfortunately it doesn't specify a timeline. It seems academic freedom isn't really important when an unpopular voice dissents against somebody in the club that runs the Air Force. I hope I'm wrong but there is absolutely nothing in my experience with this pretend academic institution to inspire optimism.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Academic Freedom and Max Performing a Culture

In his speech given to the "Leadership and Intellectual Center of the Air Force," Secretary Gates spoke of the need for critical cultural reflection to change elements that no longer proved useful while maintaining cultural elements that give strength and provide motivation. My cultural analysis of the fighter pilot culture indicates that there are multiple cultural elements in which the line between strength and weakness is thin indeed. On one side is strength garnered by pride while on the other is blindness reaped from arrogance. The motivation garnered from an intense emphasis on social life carries the potential downside of group think. And so on...

It is apparent to me the fighter pilot community is max performing their culture as they max perform their jets. They should be commended for this aggressive attitude and their mission hacking perfectionism that seeks to squeeze every inch of motivation from their people during challenging times of do ___ with less.

But the line has been traversed, it seems to me, and the air has already started to seperate from the wing. The community is no longer max performing its culture. Instead, they are stalling it out. It is evident to me that instead of maximizing people for the betterment of the mission, the aggressive fighter pilot culture is failing to supply the creativity, debate, and discussion necessary to help the Air Force recover from a deep stall (some might argue a spin). Instead, the homogenized community is "staying the course" with the assembly line talking points and refusal to engage in serious discussion--in much of my experience at any rate.

It can't be easy to max perform a culture. But we need to keep the fire trucks from rolling.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Thesis, Criticism, and Role of Social Life to a Fighter Pilot

I'm writing the first draft of my thesis and have tenatively entitled it, "The Smartest Guys in the Room and the Best of the Best: An Exploration of Air Force Culture" and hope to have a good draft by the end of the week.

I want to reiterate my gratitude to my critics. I have actually used some critiques already in the writing. I hope the criticisms continue and I'll be posting brief items here throughout the week asking for criticisms and different viewpoints.

For example, two major sources I am using to "let the culture speak for itself" include Jon's book, "Christian Fighter Pilot is Not an Oxymoron" and the "American Fighter Pilot" reality TV show that aired on network TV. The strengths of these sources, in my view, include:
  • They are recent looks at fighter pilot culture instead of based on Vietnam era personalities
  • They both come loaded with descriptions of fighter pilot culture from fighter pilots
  • In the case of the AFP reality TV show it was heavily supported by the Air Force and the F-15C community (at least within AETC) and is probably the best cultural representation of the community to the public despite its lack of success on the networks
So my question to my critics are: Are these good sources for the description of fighter pilot culture and are there any other modern sources that I should use in addition or instead? I want to be sure to use objective sources for my description of fighter pilot culture instead of putting my own bias into the analysis and I think both these sources are great for those purposes but I don't want to miss out on any modern sources that might tell a different story for a more complete picture.

Also for your consideration and discussion are these three quotes from the American Fighter Pilot reality TV show. What exactly is the role and proper place of the social life within the fighter pilot culture? Assuming a baseline Air Force officer that has already been theoretically vetted for ethical and basic social skills, what more is required to be integral in the fighter pilot community? Any sources that I can use to support your viewpoint are much appreciated.

"No matter how good these guys might be in the jet, if they can't fit in socially they can't be an American fighter pilot and in this course that means you won't graduate."

- Captain Robert "Shark" Garland, Chief F-15C Instructor Pilot and Weapons Officer

"It doesn't matter what you drive, it doesn't matter how you look the only thing that matters is being able to successfully execute in this weapons system and be an integral part of our community. That's what matters."

- Captain Robert "Shark" Garland, Chief F-15C Instructor Pilot and Weapons Officer

"If we don't respect a guy or don't like a guy so much, it makes it difficult for us to put that trust in him or to put our lives in his hands."

- Captain Robert "Shark" Garland, Chief F-15C Instructor Pilot and Weapons Officer

Monday, August 10, 2009

General McPeak Gives F-15C Standard Argument

The retired CSAF and F-15C General McPeak recently published an editorial in the Wall Street Journal. He gave the standard F-15C argument that we need more F-22s, air superiority depends on it, and echoed the flag officer I witnessed address AETC student pilots who referred to our current wars as "skirmishes" and said we need to focus on enemies like China. General McPeak said:

"We have forced anyone with a bone to pick with us to find an alternative to high-end, conventional war. We’ve had to invent a vocabulary for this low end: 'asymmetrical' conflict, it being another poorly understood activity. But it seems clear that in this sort of war our existence is not threatened, that we can regulate the resource input. It can be expensive in men and material, but we cannot be defeated militarily."

I have to disagree with the General on the clarity he claims for asymmetrical warfare not threatening our existence. There are a number of ways that it could change our existence. Such warfare might act as the catalyst for internal strife which could change our national character as we continue to forget what makes our country great (a higher standard, lamp on the hill, the love of liberty). It can threaten us financially as we pour money and treasure into an endless pit reminiscent of that which felled the Soviet Union. The General might argue against my points stating these are further reasons why we should end these "skirmishes" and concentrate on the big industrial fish. Unfortunately there is a more direct counterpoint to the General's assertion that asymmetrical warfare cannot defeat us militarily and it involves chemical and nuclear weapons. It would be a grave mistake to minimize this difficult warfare in order to continue to train for the easy warfare at which we excel.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The USAFA Chapel as Symbol of Morality

I just got back from a beautiful wedding at the Air Force Academy chapel to witness a principled young friend make an important life decision. The chapel is as gorgeous as has been described to me and despite lacking much of an artistic streak I really enjoyed viewing its design. The structure's sharp edges and solid metallic form remind me of something Howard Roark might have crafted. The stern almost surgical composition of the building in my mind represents an unwavering, objective and principled morality such as that demanded by the institution's honor code. The beautiful integration of the stain glass reminds me of our imperfect human natures and the expanse of open glass highlights the importance of light and transparency.

The transparent light streaming into the structure illuminates the structure and greatly magnifies its brilliance. It seems to me that this structure, like the integrity and morality it represents, requires this light.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Update on ACSC/DL Academic Freedom Violation

First I want to give sincere thanks to those that commented on my previous post. That essay was written some time ago for an ACSC/DL class as part of PME discussion. It wasn’t part of an assignment but rather was an attempt to start a discussion with my peers and especially those from the fighter side of the house. As the comments in the previous post demonstrate, it wasn’t a model of research or academic inquiry and has several flaws. For those reasons I had no intention of posting it here. But a fighter pilot critic wanted to see it so I strapped on a thick skin, posted it, and took some well deserved spears. I believe its main claim that UAS are more capable and cheaper than manned counterparts and can be realized more quickly if cultural and political changes are made in the Air Force remains unblemished. The recently released Air Force “UAS Flight Plan” report paints a similar vision. Still my diatribe was weak in several areas and the commentary of several on this blog highlighted them. I thank them for their criticism.

That was the process that should have taken place in my online PME discussion but for the most part did not. Instead of having my views challenged and the weaknesses of my assertions highlighted, the ACSC/DL process resulted in an F-15C pilot privately telling me I should talk to my OG/CC to have my views challenged after sending my views out to poison my chain of command. Ironically, instead of conventionally debating me online or in person he chose the asymmetrical approach of fighting me using the “bro network.” Like an enemy that surrounds and fades into the crowd… Such asymmetrical battles allow for a less capable foe to turn his adversary’s strength into a weakness. These encounters are typically political in nature even when they take on the violent dimension. As might be imagined, politics is not my strong suit. Asymmetrical fights are essentially about ideas and values and require dialog, honesty, self-reflection, and creativity to win and I think I have some strengths in that area. But the political reality of such conflict strongly dictates that being right doesn’t guarantee success.

Some have and will claim my detailing of the academic freedom violation is merely whining. I think it’s more than that. I recently learned from an anonymous source that one of the email chains actually went from a CSAF executive officer (F-15C pilot) to a group of Eagle Drivers and then found its way directly into my chain of command. Email chains have popped up from the original violation and have found their way throughout my current command and despite its widespread proliferation not one person has contacted me about the discussion (other than my boss at the direction of a two-star). Even when I directly email the participants of chain emails provided to me and extend an invitation for a professional discussion to the writers I get no response. Many have shown willingness to negatively comment, insult, and pass along emails but have avoided any serious discussion of the ideas with me. If Air Force officers refuse to debate professional differences how likely is it they will be able to bring the leadership skills necessary to win the hearts and minds warfare we find ourselves engaged in now? And what is the role of our Professional Military Education in providing these skills to officers charged with winning our nation’s wars?

My professional discussion in my ACSC/DL course turned into a hit order spread across the Internet--exactly the kind of thing Air University academic freedom policy is supposed to prevent but did not. In fact, the F-15C pilot wasn’t even removed from the class despite admitting his violation even after evidence his actions infected my chain of command at the two-star level. My year in the program has demonstrated without question that ACSC/DL does not value academic freedom. That “institution” is a poster pinned to a cardboard backing with no structure or substance behind it. It is an empty shell of a program that epitomizes perception at the expense of reality and likely does more harm to the education of military officers than it does good. It is only after ACSC/DL leadership refused to remove the student from the class that I realized the program was rotten to the core and I would have to find another way to discuss ideas with peers. This blog was born of the failure of ACSC/DL to provide a basic forum for military officers to discuss and share their experiences and thoughts.

The petition for redress for my academic freedom violation was elevated to the Air University level a month and a half ago. There has still been no resolution to the issue and as far as I know the F-15C pilot hasn’t been removed from courses where he is still free to issue hits on anybody he disagrees with. I can’t help but wonder how long it takes to investigate a case with a smoking gun and a signed confession.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Why I Believe UAVs are Better than Manned Fighters

Due to Popular Demand (written about a year ago)...

I am of the opinion that UAVs (both existing and capable of existing within months using today's technology and sufficient motivation among lawmakers and the defense industry) can provide the ISR that our warfighters in the DoD (and especially the SecDef) are demanding while simultaneously giving us an advantage beyond the F-22 and F-35 in terms of air supremacy and global strike. I also think it can be done cheaper and cost the taxpayers a great deal less money than our fleet costs us today both to purchase and to maintain. I also think it can be done relatively quickly if we can loosen the power grip of the culture of pilots running the Air Force and make the case to Congress.

So before I try to explain why I think why I do let me admit up front that I’m not a fighter pilot. Let me also say I have nothing against them and I think they do great things in certain roles and they certainly provide support I need to do my mission (much of the time). I also think they possess a great deal of flying skill required by the nature of their jobs. Unfortunately, however, they have limitations that play greatly in this discussion and some might suppose I have a chip on my shoulder for saying so. I don’t. I passed up the fighter/bomber track in pilot training for the good life of hauling cargo but after the events of 9/11 I volunteered for the Gunship and, like several in the class, ended up an attack pilot. I spent five of the last six years prosecuting interdiction, close air support, and armed recce missions and I have 1100 combat hours doing it. More importantly to this discussion, I have integrated air and ground effects hundreds of times with other aircraft including special ops assets, F-16s, F-15Es, F-18s, A-10s (once), EA-6Bs, AV-8s, Apaches and Predators. My integration has [redacted for OPSEC]. By integrate I mean sometimes employing together such as the Al Faw invasion on hit night of Iraq where I employed with a two ship of A-10s with limited coordination mostly deconfliction or with F-15Es such that coordination was required and their ordnance was dropped through my orbit or by lazing for F-16s. Most of the time, however, my integration experience is characterized by F-16s or F-15Es in the air stack well above me over an operation where the integration is on the radio and is characterized by radio communications and the passing of information and building of SA. This is key to backing up my claims. I have literally hundreds of hours in combat evaluating and building the SA of fighter aircraft. My experience leads me to conclude that single seat fighters have very low SA over the objective and provide little unless ordnance is required on a static set of coordinates. My experience with two seater F-15Es has been a little better but not significantly. I can’t offer much about my A-10 experience as we mostly just deconflicted airspace and target sets although during integrated live fire/dry fire missions with them back home in the states I was very impressed with their SA. What’s my point? My point is that single seat aircraft moving fast and flying in formation bring limited capability to a fluid ground environment. It takes a great deal of skill to bring that limited capability but in the end it’s still limited. When they would check into an air stack over an operation and contact the ground party asking for a situation update I often found myself wishing the ground party would tell them to just be quiet and wait to be called. The time they spent trying to develop the picture of what was going on took up a fair amount of time and radio chatter and once the situation changed (hostiles squirted in various directions) they generally would lose it quickly. On my aircraft we had multiple sensors and could independently track multiple targets giving us significantly more SA on the fluid dynamic. More sensors, more people, longer loiter time equated to a vastly superior amount of SA. This isn’t to say I haven’t made big mistakes or that our crew aircraft is blemish free. Comparatively, however, the more people involved and the more data (sensors) the better the outcome in my experience. This is just one major advantage UAVs bring to the table.

There will be no single seat UAVs. Each UAV will come with a host of analysts, sensor operators, and at least one weaponeer. The self induced panic and adrenaline producing fear that comes from unseasoned pilots imagining they are threatened will not be a factor although the trigger happy neophyte will still have to be guarded against (and will be with more oversight). I’ll talk more about the Blackhawk shoot down that occurred when two supersonic F-15Cs engaged a slow moving flight of helicopters later but I do want to bring up the killing of the Canadians by the F-16 pilots at Tarnak Farms because it painfully illustrates just what a limitation the pilot can be. In this situation they saw small arms fire 20,000 feet below them in an established ground fire practice range in friendly territory. They claimed the fog of war feeling of being threatened made them attack. As a reference, an AK-47 small arms machine gun (according to Wiki), has an effective range somewhere around 400 meters. The level of incompetence here is hard to translate to somebody without air sense that isn’t used to being shot at and seeing ground fire. It sounds “reasonable” to people that don’t know any better but to those with an idea the situation is staggering. I would liken it to an armored police officer that uses deadly force because he feels threatened by a four year old with a butter knife. Imagine instead of two pilots flying at 300+ knots you instead have a crew of people sitting in Vegas analyzing all the sensory data. The only thing they’re scared of is shooting the wrong people for the wrong reason. They can’t use the “self defense” excuse for incompetence or a masked trigger happy desire to be the first kid on their block to get a confirmed kill. The self defense rationale should be emphasized as it’s important. One might wonder why there aren’t lots more examples of fratricide by single seat aircraft if the SA of the single seat pilot is as limited as I make it out to be. The reason there aren’t more is because of release authority rules. Fighter/bomber aircraft ordnance employment is controlled by somebody on the ground that provides coordinates (generally) and other information to ensure the right target is hit. More importantly the pilot must get permission from that ground controller to release weapons. As such, the decision making of the single seat pilot is greatly reduced with target selection in most cases. They simply punch in coordinates, pickle, and the GPS does the rest in most modern cases. Where these sad stories arise is during exceptions to that control where the pilot, with limited SA, makes the decision. The most common example is the self defense loophole; a pilot can defend him or herself if engaged. There are other exceptions as well but they are rare. The AC-130 that I flew, however, was [redacted for OPSEC]. As the pilot I was [redacted for OPSEC]. [Redacted for OPSEC] the biggest reason was due to our many sensors, many eyes, many brains, and exceptional (though not perfect) SA. My aircraft aside, a single seat pilot (or two) is a limiting factor for several reasons including limited SA, the potential for emotional over-reaction, and the “self defense” excuse for trigger happy decisions. The multiple people and oversight a UAV will bring will bring about more rational, calm, professional decisions.

The single seat pilot is not just a limitation due to SA and decision making. He or she is also a massive physical limitation. Having a pink fleshy in the center of our flying machines requires an oxygen system, heating systems, cooling systems (which will still be needed for avionics in some fashion), pressurization systems (pressure suit or cockpit pressurization), ejection systems, and an often less than perfectly aerodynamic cockpit. How does this translate into capability loss? The aircraft must weigh more than it has to, can’t climb as high as might be desired, burns more fuel and costs more to operate, is exceedingly limited by its G maneuvering and defensive capability, is theoretically subject to more anti-aircraft threat rings, and can’t fly indefinitely (think weeks or months). The pilot is a major limitation.

UAVs have already started replacing the two obvious manned arenas….ISR and bomb dropping. There isn’t a need for much maneuvering typically in ISR collection and bomb dropping with today’s laser and GPS technology. We can still make better ISR and bomb dropping UAV platforms but when we make the next platform it should be an obvious choice to choose the unmanned version. We can expect UAVs with the stealth of the B-2, the speed of the B-1, and the payload of the B-52. Why wouldn’t we? There is nothing that requires UAVs to be small.

The heart of the fighter mafia isn’t safe from the UAV, either, although they’ve done a great job keeping the discussion out of the mainstream (although unmanned F-35 options have been discussed). It could be argued there are more benefits to unmanning air to air than any other area. The most exciting advantage is the significantly more maneuverable ability of a UAV although the heart of modern air to air engagements (especially in the theoretical early days of a conventional war with China where the “if it flys it dies” rule is in effect) remains the radar and the capability AWACs provides (another aircraft that can go unmanned). The days of Mig Alley are pretty much over and he with the best radar and missiles with the best range usually wins. There isn’t much need for a furball these days outside of the MOA back home in a training area. Paint, shoot, about face, and then confirm you got em. But certainly you may need to get closer in some circumstances. For example, if you are flying in a fairly low threat peace keeping environment dubbed “Operation Provide Comfort” enforcing a no fly zone in your supersonic F-15C and you see two possible enemy helicopters that aren’t squawking. You may want to shoot them down because they could be Hinds terrorizing the Iraqi people. But they may not be. You need to do a visual ID pass to ensure they are in fact hostile. What happened on April 14, 1994 however was two trigger happy pilots took the lives of 26 U.S. servicemen because they saw what they wanted to see and later justified their response with, you guessed it, fear they were threatened by the vastly inferior helicopters. A Hind is a threat to larger aircraft in certain circumstances but is not a credible threat to a supersonic F-15C. The F-15Cs did a visual pass within roughly 1000’ of the helicopters and at a speed of 400+ mph. The helicopters were dubbed Hinds although they were clearly not due to paint scheme and instead of the pilots following ROE to then determine the nationality of the helicopters they instead reported they were “engaged” (ie threatened or fire upon by the helicopters) and took them out. I think it’s instructive that one of the pilots flying over the burning wreckage of the helicopters said, “Stick a fork in them, they're done.” We can see again in this scenario the “self defense” excuse conjured out of thin error to allow two trigger happy neophytes to be the first kid on their block to get a confirmed kill. If I make it sound like they were a couple of kids living out their childhood movie fantasies that is because that’s exactly what I’m saying. Part of the problem here is a culture of immaturity fostered by the fighter (primarily) community where a job requiring a professional, sterile, calculating decision to kill is met by a slap sticky, cocky, unprofessional with a cloudy “cranium” that killed 26 Americans in “6 to 9 seconds” but sounded cool on the radios doing it. When that attitude and culture informs the decision to kill it’s an issue. I know this sounds over the top and if there is anything I'll take flak for it will this but I think it deserves to be said. There is a cultural immaturity I think has to be factored into the process and when that immaturity is combined with boredom and the feeling of "this may be my one shot" then young guys (and old) tend to get creative in a bad way. Now to be fair, the issue of professional killing is not at all limited to the fighter community. It’s most definitely found in my own community and I would hazard a guess it’s also found in the trailers of UAVs. It’s a human issue and [redacted for OPSEC]. But I would postulate that with the “detached killing” that comes from flying UAVs with multiple people and more oversight we will see more professional killing with limited fratricide and human collateral damage. Fog of war and “self defense” are not get out of jail free cards although, unfortunately, none of the pilots in the two examples I cited did jail time.

So how would a UAV have done a better job with the Blackhawk shootdown? First, the sensors would have been much better than the “mark one eyeball” that saw two Hinds that didn’t exist. Secondly, the visual pass could have been done supersonic, closer, and provided crystal clear digital photos to a group of people with all the resources and time necessary to make a very positive identification. The SA of the pilot would have been nothing compared to the SA of the crew on the ground. Most importantly, there would be no conjured excuse of self defense to mask unprofessional trigger happy human desires. Lastly, unprofessional human desires would be likely checked by a system of oversight.

UAVs are the answer for ISR, attack, and air to air operations. Cargo and tanker operations should stay manned for the most part (with a few specialized exceptions) because in both we will want the option to haul people. If we haul people we will require the same systems and have the same limitations as a manned aircraft so being unmanned will not be an advantage. I think we can begin developing these systems now to meet our current and future needs and will save money in the long run doing it. First, one of the advantages to UAVs is the ability to fly higher and burn less gas with less weight and fly longer (with manned or unmanned in flight refueling). This equates to less gas burned, less sortie generation required, less maintenance required (aircraft break when they stop flying more than when they are flying), and less of a forward deployed footprint needed. As [redacted for non-attribution] stated in a recent post logistics like search and rescue capability are no longer required, as well. The logistical support and force structure required to support operations will be lessened and more importantly less junk will need to be hauled across the world to support saving money and gas. We won’t be hamstrung as much by countries not letting us base in their territory and lives will be more stable for our airman improving retention and quality of life. As far as purchasing a brand new aircraft with that “new UAV” smell….that should be cheaper, as well. Less specialized systems are required (outside of the data link systems that many manned aircraft already have). The aircraft I fly now has a cost mostly accounted for by the ejection seat, as an illustration. Without all the life support systems a UAV can be much cheaper and, with the exception of air to air UAVs, a one size fits all approach can be taken for many missions. Meeting the desired ISR objectives means we will purchase in bulk driving the per unit costs down further. The UAV that provides the ISR we need today can be used to penetrate China’s IADs and drop bombs to supplement our cruise missile technology. Training for the UAVs will save money, as well, because operators don’t need to build “air sense” related to flying and feeling Gs and operating in austere environments. Like the Global Hawk most of flying becomes click and drag with a mouse. Much of that training can be accomplished easier with computer simulators lessening peace time training costs.

Let me sum up this novel. The single seat pilot is the limfac both physically and more importantly mentally with great limitations to decision making mostly owing to the real or invented “fog and friction” of being threatened and needing to invoke self defense. Every auditory and visual sense the pink fleshy pilot has in a cockpit can be accurately transmitted to operators on the ground and enhanced in near real time if not in real time providing better situational awareness. SA is not a casualty of the unmanned argument. The advantages given by going unmanned can be achieved now and will cost significantly less money. Leveraging the technology, however, will mean filling the skies with UAVs beyond the pilot production pipeline. It will mean opening up the virtual cockpit to non-pilots with less training (a year long tech school will not be required) and an Air Force that may not longer be dominated by pilots. I would think Space Command might be a good command to take over the reigns of the Air Force as I would think UAV ops would be well suited to their capabilities.

I look forward to your spears and comments.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Region of Reverse Command, Problems Without Solutions, and Whining

Problems Without Solutions = Whining. This truism gets its own slide in an outstanding PowerPoint presentation entitled “Heretics and their Tools” authored by retired Air Force Lt General Paul K. Carlton, Jr., MD. The former Air Force surgeon general’s next slide develops the message more clearly--no whining. In my experience this maxim is prevalent in Air Force culture and I have heard peers and superiors alike mention that we do not bring problems to our bosses…we bring solutions. Maj William O’Connell includes this idea in his article entitled “Military Dissent and Junior Officers.” He writes that officers providing loyal dissent should provide a solution and instructs:

“Whenever you challenge the status quo, present a solution. The world is full of problems and messengers; the problem solver is the rarity” (O'Connell, 1988, 325).

I find it interesting that this message is included in these writings on loyal dissent because it seems to carry a large potential to suppress dissent. What should one or several officers do when they know there is a critical problem but the problem is so enormous, entrenched, or complicated that they cannot possibly provide the solution? This truism, taught as a part of good followership, may lead an officer to rationalize not alerting leadership to large and important problems. If the problem is self evident then a lack of follower input may result in leadership assuming the problem is not a priority. In my opinion, an officer should certainly try to provide a solution with the revelation of a problem. But there are cases when this simply isn’t possible for two reasons. First, the problem may be just too big and complicated. Second, our time to devote to the problem may be too limited.

Complicated problems may require resources and expertise that we simply don’t have and may require the pull of our superiors just to explore solutions. The divide between operations and support squadrons means that even the simplest problems often require several organizations in different chains of command to work together. In my experience, the near omnipresence of mission essential computer applications combined with the removal of computer support personnel from operations squadrons has greatly exacerbated this fact. As a result it is often difficult to get anything done in our “do…with less” Air Force without letting your boss know. Attempts to improve processes can easily result in bad blood between organizations and the boss will not want to be blindsided. When the boss tells you “so-and-so called asking why you are trying to get so-and-so to do such-and-such” the right answer is not going to be “I wanted to present you a solution along with the problem.”

The other reality is, in my opinion, that in the current Air Force we spend a great deal of time and energy just trying to keep from going backward. In the flying business there is a concept known as the “region of reverse command.” It refers to a part of an airplane’s performance envelope where it actually takes more engine power to fly slower. The reason is because at slower speeds the airplane has a higher pitch and therefore has a higher drag holding it back. This additional drag has to be compensated for by adding more power. Reducing the pitch reduces the drag, however, and the airplane sails along faster with less power required.

With long hours and undermanned offices, Airmen are simply trying to keep their heads above water while they produce the widgets and make the doughnuts. There is little if any time for reducing the pitch of the organization and making things more efficient. Besides the drag that must be overcome is enormous in many cases. It seems to me that it is unreasonable to expect officers to figure out a solution to every problem before passing it up the chain. We should just be happy they’re bringing it to our attention.

Further, I submit any message that discourages negative information from being pushed up the chain of command should be examined closely. This widely accepted cultural truism flies in the face of Crew Resource Management (CRM) and other problem solving philosophies that encourage members to not hold back if they think something is wrong. We would not tell a young loadmaster on a C-17, "if you see fluid streaming down the side of the aircraft but don't know how to fix it...well, keep that information to yourself until you figure it out." So why do we encourage such thinking when we're on the ground? I think pointing out problems is a service that should not be devalued or discouraged.

Works Cited:

Lt General Paul K. Carlton, Jr., MD., Heretics and Their Tools, Office of Homeland Security, Texas A&M.

Maj William O’Connell, Military Dissent and Junior Officers, Air University, 1988.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Secretary of Defense Speaks in the Windy City

"You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life."

- Winston Churchill

I just read Secretary Gates' speech and found myself, as usual, deeply inspired by his common sense, candor, and courageous leadership by example. He knows what is right and he knows what is convenient and with the enormous challenges before him he continues to fight the good fight.

He makes a compelling argument for his defense priorities and shines a light on the transparent reasoning of those who love (to sell) the F-22. So much credibility has been sacrificed upon that gold plated stealth altar but as the Secretary mentions...his priorities are supported by the senior Air Force leadership. Thank God for great leadership.

I recommend all Air Force officers read his speech and become well versed in the issues. As our Secretary shows, it's an important issue that extends far beyond one aircraft. Read his full speech here.

Warrior Mentality, Combat Perspective, and UAS

Earlier I posted a review of Paul Thornton's (F-16 pilot) thesis where he discussed the lack of loyalty of the fighter pilot community resulting from fighter pilots being sent to fly unmanned aircraft. The post also mentioned that it did not reflect the attitude of Air Force Special Operations (AFSOC) pilots flying UAS. Fortunately, one such UAS driver read my blog and once again has proven he is a much greater intellectual mind and writer than I am. We're fortunate that Dave Blair has provided his exceptional perspective at a time when such a clear understanding of our purpose is so badly needed. While I'll admit a bias towards Dave's community, I think what he has to say encapsulates what it means to be a warrior and his words are vitally important at this time in our service history. They need to be shared far and wide and all Air Force officers need to ponder them and calibrate their priorities. This is especially true for the young warriors in training in Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) who think they've been given a raw deal. They need to realize the import of the sacred nature of combat they are being allowed to play a role in. They need to understand it really matters. I don't think they're getting that perspective from many of their mentors because this perspective is limited to senior leadership and a minority that have developed this perspective while protecting Americans on the ground and making life and death decisions. But enough of my inferior wordsmithing. Here are some words from a current UAS driver with a history of manned combat:

Back to Basics.

“... That I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” That was how it went. There wasn’t an exception for ‘achieving childhood dreams,’ nor an exclusion for ‘as long as leadership has a coherent plan,’ nor a caveat for ‘as long as you’re still doing what you signed up for.’ After serving for the better part of a decade, you start taking your original oath for granted; you start to forget the reasons that called you to service in the first place. It is often only after losing all the bastions of our comfort that we find our way back to those first things. At least, that’s my story.

Two years ago, in the middle of my third deployment as a pilot in the AC-130, I felt the world was more or less in order. I loved the Gunship, its mission and the community, I enjoyed the feeling that I was contributing to the fight; truly, I was living out a childhood dream of flying CAS missions in combat as a Special Operations aviator. I had poured my passions into learning the aircraft and the mission, having read the thousand page Dash-1 two times through, and it felt as if those efforts were finally resulting in a deep understanding of the weapon system. On the home front, I had just finished re-modeling my house, a three year and ten thousand dollar project. The West Florida housing market had already crashed, but it didn’t matter to me, because I was going to be in Gunships for quite some time, and I had budgeted for mortgage payments long ago. Things were finally coming together… Famous last words.

I found out I was coming to Predators right before a step brief for a combat mission, in the form of a post-it note. There was no preferences worksheet, no input, and, being downrange, no ability to make a case one way or another. I think the conversation went something along the lines of, ‘we had to give them a name, and it was you. Sorry.’ Needless to say, I was not exactly ecstatic about this turn of events. Being moved right before I could upgrade to Aircraft Commander effectively closed off the option of coming back, at least for the foreseeable future; being moved from a collapsed housing market into Cannon’s speculators’ market threw my finances into a tailspin. Any plans I had at that point in time were pretty much left in tatters.

It is strange how, in the wreckage of plans, you find valuable things long forgotten rising to the surface like flotsam. I don’t think that I had seriously considered my reasons for joining the military for quite some time. True, I wanted to be a pilot. And I wanted to be part of a tactical culture. And I certainly didn’t mind living in Florida. Ultimately, though, none of those were a calling, for a calling must be about something higher than yourself. Being a warrior is a calling. Being a pilot is a job. I love flying with all of my heart, and I am thankful that I can do both. Nonetheless, being a warrior must come first, and warriors serve where they are needed, not necessarily where they would prefer.

Therefore, I decided that I would become the best Predator pilot that I could possibly be. I decided that I would take that airplane and use it to bring American kids home and send terrorists away for good. I decided that I would spend my time and effort making Al-Qaeda hate me, rather than concerning myself with whether or not the arbiters of pilot culture liked me. (You know, songs about Predators crashing are funny during Operation Southern Watch. They’re not all that funny anymore when Preds are on the cutting edge of chasing down terrorists in their safe havens and keeping American sons and daughters safe.) Between being cool and winning this war, I’ll choose winning this war.

That was the attitude I took into day one, and it is one that has served me well: I take great pride in denying the terrorists safe haven night after night; I am even more proud to stand watch over brave Americans on the ground. I still miss the feeling of being airborne, the sound of the howitzer firing, the adrenaline of actually being physically present for a fire mission. But I would trade all of that and more to ensure that one more American hero makes it home safely. If this is where I am needed to bring that about, then so be it. I am proud to serve toward that end alongside my manned aircraft brethren.

I won’t sugar coat it, though: the Pred life is tough. Our choices in bases aren’t exactly great, our career path isn’t exactly well defined, our hours are long and our extrinsic rewards are virtually non-existent. We have a long way to go as a service before we achieve sustainability for the Predator community. All of that said, none of it changes the ground truths of duty, honor or country. I imagine that a sailor heading off to war in the opening bouts of World War Two must have felt disappointed with the poor strategic choices that sent the battleships of the Pacific Fleet to the bottom of Pearl Harbor. Legitimate as it may have been, that feeling didn’t in any way change his duty or his responsibility, nor in any way lessen the absolute imperative of achieving victory.

I wonder if my story isn’t in some way a microcosm of the Air Force’s journey of the last few years. We had a largely fixed way of viewing the world, our mission and ourselves. We were, in effect, comfortable with our role. But war does not abide comfort. I do not presume to interject myself into discussions about strategic risk, the number of air supremacy fighters, and the like. But I do know that war changed around us. Some hold that by focusing on the present war, we are becoming ill-equipped for future wars. I would point out that the strategic geniuses on both sides of the quite-conventional American Civil War were forged in the fires of the counterinsurgency actions of the American West. Remember that Red Flag itself was borne out of our experiences in Viet Nam, an unconventional war if there ever was one. I believe that by engaging fully in this war, we forge ourselves for both present and future wars, for combat itself is the truest seedbed for future combat leaders. We cannot expect war to meet us on our terms. War has found us… will we ride out to meet it, or will we opt out?

I can only speak for myself and my own situation. But insofar as I am able, and as long as I am bound to my oath, energetically will I meet the enemies of my country. If I can best meet them via satellite, then all the better… so long as my Hellfires meet them in person. This is my war. I will do all I can to win it. If that happens to be inside a cargo container parked on a concrete slab at Cannon AFB, then so be it. I am proud to serve.

His article can be downloaded here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Reflection, Perception, and Owning Failure

The recent DoD/IG report on the Thunderbirds video scandal, and specifically General Moseley’s part in it, makes me think of the importance of followership and a recent reading assignment in the ACSC/DL “Practice of Command” course I recently completed.

In that course we were required to read "Sharing Success – Owning Failure: Preparing to Command in the Twenty-First Century Air Force" by Major General (select) Dave Goldfein (F-16 pilot). He was a Colonel when he wrote the paper.

Then-Col Dave Goldfein stated in his article, written for the consumption of brand new squadron commanders, the following:

"Many of the stories I included in this paper involve situations in which the individual failed. Why? Because it is from studying our failures that we learn, grow, and improve as officers and leaders (Goldfein, 2001, 53)."

"Owning failure…and then sharing the story of that failure in a published paper takes courage and a commitment to helping you succeed (Goldfein, 2001, 61)."

He also quotes an example of senior leader expectations for a new commander, "From relationships to money matters, you need to be squeaky clean. As a commander, you will sit in judgment of others, and you cannot afford to surrender the moral high ground-ever! You are expected to be above reproach (Goldfein, 2001, 111)."

Then-Col Dave Goldfein also quotes Adm Stockdale, "A leader must be able to look a man in the eye when he fires him and weep for him at the same time (Goldfein, 2001, 524)."

In a couple places then-Col Dave Goldfein referred to his older brother, retired Major General Steve Goldfein (F-15C pilot) as an example of leadership to be emulated. Gen Steve Goldfein was also a Colonel at the time the article was written.

Years later his brother Major General Steve Goldfein was found by the DoD/IG (read the report here) to have acted unethically. The DoD IG found his brother Maj General Steve Goldfein guilty of exerting serious undue influence to steer a $50 million dollar Thunderbirds video creation contract to his boss's friend (a retired four star general) despite the company "barely existing" and having bid more than twice the lowest bid (Washington Post). He was administratively punished by the Secretary of the Air Force according to this AF News article.

The author of the article on “owning failure” again put pen to paper and wrote to the Air Force Times defending his brother despite the IG conclusion and the punishment. Then Brigadier General Dave Goldfein defended his brother as a model of integrity and honesty who was blameless and undeserving of the administrative punishment he got for the "Thundervision" scandal.

The situation resulted in commentary on what punishment was fitting for a flag officer who was found guilty of unethical and/or illegal behavior. One blogger discusses a double standard and specifically how an enlisted man got much worse punishment for a much lesser offense. The recent IG report rehashing this same scandal and charging General Moseley with unethical and illegal action may resurrect this same discussion.

Regardless of what actually happened there are a couple of points I find to be true. First, Maj General (select) Dave Goldfein was correct when he wrote that we need to own up to our failures and that publishing such failures does take courage. We have to honestly discuss our shortcomings if we are to improve and such analysis is not the mark of disloyalty. Our Secretary of Defense has challenged us to critically analyze our service culture and to change what needs changed while keeping the valuable parts of our culture intact. The General's words on owning failure are a good part of our culture and we need to expand upon them and solidify such reflection.

Second, it’s important for followers to ensure they communicate and act properly. Major General (retired) Steve Goldfein discussed the problem with subordinate perception in his investigation testimony. He told a story about how he might be looking at a wall of the Pentagon and the next day there would be a crew performing maintenance on the wall assuming he found something wrong with the wall which must be fixed. I believe he used that analogy to argue that sometimes subordinates go out of their way to read a high ranking officer’s mind and some might unwittingly break rules trying to accomplish these imagined desires. I think Maj Gen (retired) Steve Goldfein brings up a good point that emphasizes the need for followers to properly communicate and act even when faced with intimidating high-ranking officers.

It seems to me we need to remember an old fashioned American trait that may be slipping by the wayside. Men are men. They are not gods because they have stars or influence or know people or have money. We shouldn’t lose our minds in their presence to the point where we are too timid to ensure we have received correctly any message they intended to communicate. We’ve probably all seen the stock footage moment in movies where somebody meets a movie star and they’re too tongue tied to make good on their one brief chance to talk to the person they put on a pedestal. We can’t allow that kind of thing to become a wall between our superiors and us. And even when we know what the message is intended to be, that does not relieve us of the moral duty to say no when that is the appropriate response. We need to raise a courageous corps of officers who are not shackled by warped mutations of “loyalty” resulting in them thinking vice is a virtue. I think both Major General brothers have something to teach us about the importance of good followership and critical reflection.

Works Cited:

Goldfein, Col David L., Sharing Success – Owning Failure: Preparing to Command in the Twenty-First Century Air Force, Kindle Edition (2001)

2020 ETA:

Fast forwarding to 2020, as crazy as this year has been, it's not at all out of character for this year to report that the son of disgraced General Steve Goldfein went on to fly for the Thunderbirds that got his dad in so much hot water on the contracting side of things where the money lives.  His son (who I knew and flew with back in the day), Alex Goldfein, is apparently on track to extend the legacy of Goldfeins in our Air Force.  A legacy that includes not only inappropriate stewarding of taxpayer money from high places, a legacy of hypocrisy defending such inappropriate behavior from family members making the term Big Blue Mafia a bit too real, but also the legacy of Dave "Fingers" Goldfein, as Chief of Staff of the Air Force, taking our Air Force into a time machine and dragging it back to the era of Hap Arnold with respect to race relations to include fielding segregated "separate but equal" pilot training.

God save our Air Force from the Goldfeins.

Monday, July 13, 2009

How Much Does it Cost to Do the Right Thing?

A couple of days ago the DoD Inspector General's office released its latest report investigating the former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Moseley (F-15C Pilot) and his actions in the Thunderbirds video scandal. The DoD/IG report can be found here. The report finds the former CSAF guilty of providing preferential treatment on a multi-million dollar contract to a Mr. Shipley. Mr. Shipley was a friend of Gen Moseley's. They shared a mutual friend in former ACC Commander General Hornburg (F-15C pilot). Gen Hornburg was not only a good friend of Gen Moseley's but also a business partner in Mr. Shipley's company. The report also found that Gen Moseley misused subordinate Air Force personnel time and Air Force property to unduly help Mr. Shipley, and that he solicited and accepted prohibited gifts from Shipley. The report is an interesting read especially, in my opinion, the denials of wrongdoing.

Reading this report and watching the recent news about the former VP potentially having ordered the CIA to break the law makes me ask a question I find myself asking on an almost daily basis. Literally. How much does it cost to do the right thing?

I'm not just asking how much it costs for "leaders" to do the right thing but also the price of integrity for the multiple followers that ensure their leaders do what is right. Accountability is a two way street and a chain of command has an up and a down. How much does it cost for people to do what is right?

I understand the world is not a perfect place. I'd like to think I have a pretty good grasp on human nature and a not complete lack of understanding of human history. I'm not an idealist and the truth is I've done things I wish I hadn't done and I did them out of self interest. When I look inside myself I find that I am essentially no different than any of these personalities that make the news each night with perhaps one exception. I think it costs less for me to do the right thing. And so I'm puzzled why the price seems so high for these others in public service that we read about.

Imagine a young man growing up on the streets in New York in the 1930s. He's got a wife and a small child tucked away in a apartment and he's not rich. While I may not agree with him, I can understand if he has to bend a few rules to scratch out a living to feed his family. I can understand that whether I agree with it or not. What I cannot understand is educated and successful people who live by the brow of the taxpayers underneath a golden parachute and yet still cannot manage to do the right thing. It puzzles me to no end to see officers and other public servants with a guaranteed retirement and health care for the rest of their lives (should they simply "throw in the towel") unable to do the right thing. How much does it cost? I honestly want to understand.

I recently had the opportunity to engage in dinner conversation with an honorable and experienced public servant and his wife; both well educated and knowledgeable of politics and ethics. I expressed my growing concern with the lack of basic integrity that appears to be rampant across society and especially in public service and asked if they thought my concern was the result of growing corruption or more likely the result of me simply paying more attention as I get older. The gentleman said in his time he had never seen as much corruption as he sees today.

While I realize there never was a golden age where everything was perfect in America, I do think our basic morality is being lost and replaced by shoddy hollow values. Unfortunately those that typically peddle morality and preach of its demise, in my opinion, are part of the problem and their wares to immorality are like saltwater to thirst. But there is a problem in our greater American culture and we need to figure out how to keep this immorality out of our military. Easier said than done no doubt.

In my opinion, as a military we need to spend much less time discussing leadership and a great deal more time discussing followership. It seems to me we need to encourage the type of courageous followership espoused by our Secretary of Defense and remove "leadership" from the pedestal of career progression. Leadership should not be a destination or a reward and people shouldn't be trained to pride themselves on rank and title but rather on how they comport themselves. Above all, it seems to me, our officers should enter their careers willing to lose them instantly in defense of what is right for their countrymen. As somebody once said, "Sometimes we are called to give up our lives for our country and sometimes we are called to give up our careers for our country." If we can train our military men and women to be good followers then our leaders will be better as a result.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Academic Freedom Violation, Fighter Pilot Commentary, and the Perception Generation

The academic violation by the F-15C pilot is still growing teeth. I've had several buddies from different organizations in the Air Force alert me to the email chains. From what I'm hearing while TDY it appears in some "heavy" communities my email has been printed and posted on walls by some who find my comments ring with truth. The commentary coming from the fighter pilot world has a slightly different tone.

I'll post some of the comments from the latest email chain sent to me with names removed. I think these comments may provide another view of the fighter pilot culture. The subject of the email chain is, "FW: must read from d-bag...read the whole thing, this is great, pass it on."

One Captain writes:

An attack from a C-130 guy (now flying the ****) on not just the Eagle community, but fighter pilots as a whole (he wasn't good enough in UPT and is still envious). The unfortunate thing is I'm sure his views are not at all different from our chief of staff's. Be prepared to have your blood boil."

A Lt Col writes:

"YGBSM...How quickly even our 'brightest academic' Air Force minds completely dismiss the notion of a battle for air superiority as a ludicrous endeavor of a bygone era and, by extension, falsely assume that air superiority is an inalienable U.S. right; let alone the constant dedication, tireless effort & tremendous level of skill required to achieve that crucial wartime mission-enabling role in the USAF's most dynamic combat environment, regardless of the airframe employed for the task...(you see, I too can use inflated vocabulary to create a verbal ruse that veils any potential pitfalls in my position and simultaneously provide a perception of veracity to my case)

Translation to Fighter Pilot speak, 'Zip it Fatty. You have no clue. I won't be buying you a beer at the Nellis Club, but I'll still shoot the MiG off your 6 so you live & you can get your job done.'"

A Major writes:


The winds of change are blowin' in the AF, and it appears this couldn't happen fast enough for some of our flying brethren who didn't make the cut in UPT. Start from the bottom and read up.

I'm thinking an Eagle guy stole this dude's girlfriend..."

And this came from a Captain at Tyndall (the home of the F-15C school house made famous-ish by the short lived reality TV show "American Fighter Pilot"):


Besides the obvious slight to the F-15C community specifically, this is an affront to all fighter drivers. I am afraid it is symbolic of the direction our Air Force is going. Interesting how this happens on the heels of the announcement that ACC will no longer be led by a fighter driver. I forward to you to replace your cup of coffee this morning and get the blood pressure up through introspection.

This is a PME discussion thread that was sent to me by *******, an F-15C guy I used to fly with. He's debating with a former C-130, current **** ADO in the ****** at ********. If any of you know ****** "&$@#head" ***** then please send him my regards and tell him to STFU.

Start at the bottom and read up."

It appears the word about "academic freedom" in PME still hasn't gotten out. Unfortunately I'm not surprised. I still have not heard from Air University on the petition for redress for the academic freedom violation and the cowardly action of the F-15C guy still appears to have some teeth. Given AETC's actions taken concerning officers who helped students "cheat" in UPT (court martial) it will be interesting to see how they handle an officer breaking the UCMJ in an effort to hurt another officer's career for having different ideas. It will be interesting to see what action Air University eventually takes while this email continues to bounce around the Air Force. Fortunately the Air Force has given me a voice through new media to respond to those who whisper in the shadows while I wait for their response.

I'll be contacting each of the individuals from the email chains personally to ensure they each have a full opportunity to provide their perspectives to me. In the meantime, here is a limited response to their comments.

EDIT: All the individuals were contacted several days ago and invited to professionally debate my ideas by replying to my official email. I have yet to receive a response from any of them.

As far as me not being good enough to fly fighters (and envious, jealous, etc) the fact is when I went through Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) we had a more fair ranking system than exists now. Back then the number one guy in the class got his pick of all the possibilities (fighters, heavies, helos, etc). Once he or she picked the number two guy got to pick from whatever remained. And so on until the last guy got what was left without a choice.

I turned down the T-38 Fighter/Bomber track. In short I was good enough for that track but it wasn't good enough for me. Just wasn't a good fit. As a military dependent I grew up worshipping F-15C pilots. I knew several F-15C wing commanders and their families including flag officers. I still keep in touch with their families. When I was a dependent in Iceland I used to hide in the lava rock on the approach end of the runway and Eagles would fly over me. I showed up at UPT wanting to fly fighters very badly.

In UPT, however, I turned down the fighter track because I didn't generally like the type of people that took T-38s. There were some good guys that did go that route, of course, but as a whole I thought the people that went T-38s were shallow and looking for an identity to make up for something lacking in themselves. Their confidence wasn't real and it wasn't grounded in my estimation. That was my impression at the time anyway. I'm sure a large part of that has to do with youth and growing up. At any rate, I didn't want to be a part of that community so I turned down the fighter track.

The "he wasn't good enough" argument is actually pretty common and plays into the broader cultural discussion. People expect fighter pilots to be the best. That is the legend. That is the myth. Fighter pilots are given credibility and respect almost instantly simply with the title. The superiority of the fighter pilot and the inferiority of other pilots is taken for granted in the Air Force. The reality when I went through, however, was many of the best pilots turned down the fighter track. As a result, those who struggled in pilot training were getting "stuck" with that track. In response AETC changed the system. Instead of the fair system I went through where the number one performer could choose what they wanted...people had to put in a dream sheet but the "Needs of the Air Force" ruled and still rules today. That way AETC can pick the top people to go the fighter/bomber track whether they wanted to or not.

The new system, it seems to me, does ensure that typically the "better" pilots go the fighter track. But even that isn't a given. I know of one student pilot that started pilot training with his commercial license already, significant flight experience, and a good deal of skill. Even the Air Force thought he was that good. He was given the award for having demonstrated the greatest flying skill in his class; an award presented to him at his graduation ceremony. He put the fighter track number one. He obviously got fighters, right? Wrong. Instead, at least two people who scored worse on flying ability got to go T-38s. Why didn't he since he was the superior performer? That's up for debate. Since I know the guy it's clear to me. He's a great guy but he doesn't fit the "image" of the fighter pilot. In my opinion, the fighter community chooses "good hair" over "good hands" more than people may realize. It seems to me the "right stuff" may be just a little wrong when it comes to the defense of our nation.

In my opinion, the importance of perception to the fighter community (and thus the larger Air Force as a whole) is difficult to overstate. It seems to me this may have to do with the great fighter pilots of the past generation...men like Robin Olds and John Boyd. They were fiercely independent, critical thinkers, honest, integrity filled, and truly courageous. They were great Americans without question. Those who followed, however, spend their time trying to duplicate their image. They master the swagger, the cigars, and the drinking but in doing so they fail to honor the spirit of their great forefathers. Ironically they disrespect the very men that forged the fighter pilot image. Like a cover band that almost looks and sounds like the real thing but still lacks something essential...

Before I close I should respond to the Lt Col briefly. I do not doubt the necessity of air superiority. I likely disagree, however, with the Lt Col on how best to achieve it. In the defense of the Lt Col and the others in the email chain they did not get the full context of my discussion from the F-15C pilot who violated my academic freedom. Had he included the essay I posted as part of our PME discussion the commentators would have had a better idea of my views on air superiority and how I think it can be better provided.