"...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

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Is the Fighter Pilot Culture Evil?

At least one fighter pilot thinks so.

I recently finished the book entitled "Christian Fighter Pilot is not an oxymoron" by Jonathan C. Dowty who apparently wrote the book as a captain. He is a fighter pilot and by all accounts is still one.

While I wouldn't call fighter pilot culture "evil" and, while I wholeheartedly reject Dowty's assertion that it may be acceptable to break Air Force rules and regulations to follow God's will, I must compliment Dowty on his integrity. It is evident throughout his book (which was published in 2007) and in his discussion of his combat contributions, his squadron's contributions, and in his broader discussion of fighter pilot culture. Due to his outstanding integrity, and despite my very real disagreements with what I feel is a dangerous mindset concerning the role of religious beliefs in the military, I recommend his book be read by Air Force officers. It can be found on Amazon.Com and can be ordered through Barnes and Noble.

In his book he states:

“The stereotypical fighter pilot is the break-all-the-rules maverick who pushes the boundaries, goes it alone, and uses his ‘I know better than they do’ attitude to win the war (and the girl). Reality is a slightly different story… For better or worse, fighter pilots faced pressure from their peers to act a certain way. The result is that a fighter pilot isn’t the stereotypical individualist or nonconformist—rules, regulations, and ridicule cause him to act in a manner that is consistent with the rest of the group. Whether it is ‘safety in numbers’ or ‘mob mentality’ (either of which could accurately convey a fighter pilot perspective), fighter pilots tend to act like a herd. When one fighter pilot is different, he sticks out from the pack, and the pressure to conform is immense” (Dowty, 2007, 50).

He also provides a great discussion of the links between fighter pilot culture and college fraternity culture, discusses how his squadron doctored award packages to wrongly merit medals, how pencil whipping forms is common, and how writing OPRs routinely takes a person's accomplishments in reality and turns them into either the "fantastic" or "fantasy." He points out many examples of perception at the expense of reality.

“Fighter pilots by nature don’t like to be wrong, and their first response is generally to become defensive and deny an offense was committed” (Dowty, 2007, 97).

While he also discusses the great things associated with being a fighter pilot, he demonstrates real courage and honesty in his insightful analysis and is not afraid to provide his honest assessment of a culture in need of reform. He provides a rare and extremely honest perspective and despite my disagreements I very much respect his integrity.

Source Cited:

Dowty, Jonathan "Christian Fighter Pilot" is not an oxymoron, 2007.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Storming, Norming, and Performing - Friction Produces Light

I can still remember from my AFROTC days learning about group dynamics and how several people can go from a mass of opinions and vectors and converge into a unified force. The term "storming, norming, and performing" has never left me. That early lesson has been reinforced in combat many times over and has taught me that beauty isn't always beautiful when it's being made. One particular night comes to mind.

I was the aircraft commander of a 13 man crew flying a hostage rescue mission in Iraq. We had a liaison officer (LNO) onboard from one of our supported ground teams. The mission was given to us in the air without prior planning and was dangerous for a couple of reasons beyond the scope of this discussion. It was not a routine mission. It wasn't even a routine hostage rescue.

During the mission I noticed the internal crew communication tended to be a bit more "polite" and guarded and didn't flow quite as naturally as it usually did. I realized this was due to the guys wanting to put their "best foot forward" and sound "professional" with the LNO on board. What would he think if crew members were arguing and people weren't providing a unified message? What would he tell his buddies? Crew members were arguing with the aircraft commander? I told my crew to stop being polite and to cease all concern about the LNO on board. He was part of our crew and this was business as usual. We normed and performed as we always did and thankfully there were no friendly casualties during the operation despite the mission having been more than interesting. After the long mission we headed home and debriefed upon landing with the LNO and I discussed communication with my crew. What I told them reached back to my classroom days in AFROTC and I think is very salient today.

Beauty isn't always beautiful being made. It takes friction to produce light. The advantage of a crew and a team is its composition of many different individuals with different opinions and ideas but with a unifying common concern for our mission. Being polite is a distant second to getting out the message to the decision maker. What we provide outside our aircraft is unified and solid. The process inside the aircraft isn't always going to be so. The LNO emphatically agreed. In our aircraft the process might look chaotic, perhaps resembling something out of John Boyd's creative destruction theory, but the end product is beautiful.

I've worked with the best and most patriotic guys in the Air Force and there was plenty of friction. The end result, however, was a perfect blend of the creative energies of multiple minds dedicated to getting the job done. It was beautiful. I think I see this mission focused mentality strengthening our service thanks to the leadership of the CSAF and it fills me with pride to be a part of this service.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Academic Freedom Violation in ACSC/DL

Fast forward to the next term and a different course "Joint Air and Space Power" with a new course instructor. My second grade appeal from the term previous had been submitted but had not quite been concluded when this new scenario developed.

I was engaged in a discussion with another student, an F-15C pilot, in the open class forum. He gave thoughts and opinions which I consider to be representative of his community. The discussion centered on the importance of unmanned versus manned technology and his comments framed warfare in the false dichotomy of today's wars versus a claimed conventional war of tomorrow. I responded with a lengthy post and essay. My tone was more caustic and indicative of frustration than was useful but was within the bounds of academic discussion. My response came with a healthy disclaimer stating my opinions were drawn from incomplete experiences. I mentioned that I knew there were exceptions to my blanket statements and that I even knew members from his community who did not merit the charges I leveraged. But I felt it was still justified to make a statement about his culture and warned him to bring a thick skin if he continued reading.

I proceeded to then point out cultural problems I believe are evident with the fighter community and the F-15C community in particular. I charged the community with careerism, nepotism, unprofessional conduct, perception at the expense of reality, petty agendas of promotion, unhealthy ties to the defense industry, and a lack of combat experience. I stated the leadership from his community had run our Air Force like a country club and, despite a healthy change of Air Force leadership, likely still worked against the efforts of patriots interested in winning the wars of today. I stated that careerism kills and claimed our ranks were full of careerist F-15C pilots unwilling to risk career to do the right thing. I then provided an essay on why unmanned technology provides a great many advantages beyond the manned fighter. There was likely more venom than required in my remarks and, as I explained in my disclaimer, these were my views based on my experiences. My experiences justify my comments regardless of tone. I must admit my tone could have been better, but I get frustrated having the same conversation with people who provide the exact same message as though it came off an assembly line. This frustration is a fault of mine. Be that as it may, my statements were within the bounds of ACSC discussion and nobody has challenged that.

Unfortunately the officer did not debate me in public. He did private message me, however, to let me know he felt it was a personal attack and he didn't appreciate my allusion to the former CSAF who he felt was the Billy Mitchell of our generation. He said he would not debate me online as such online discussion was "futile at best" and recommended I go talk to my OG/CC for a perspective. He said if he was ever in my neck of the woods he would love to have the discussion in person because I needed to have my perspective challenged. I informed him that I was TDY just down the road from him and would gladly drive to meet him and hear his perspective. He agreed but then the next day canceled due to a short notice TDY.

What he didn't tell me in the private message discussion, however, was that he had cut and pasted my comments (minus the essay) and sent them to his buddies at my base in my MAJCOM. His commentary included my name, position, background and instructions to enlist the help of other providers of Air Superiority with the goal of ensuring "haters" like me were not in the ranks. He mentioned to his buddies that he and they had a responsibility to educate people like me since they had "been there/done that." He made a couple comments including one about my callsign having probably been self given and then pasted my discussion and clicked send.

When he did so he violated my academic freedom. Air University Instruction 36-2308 states that our academic discussion was protected by non-attribution and warns that those who attribute comments to specific individuals without their permission, outside of PME, not only violate the regulation but violate Article 92 of the UCMJ (AUI 36-2308, 2.5.1). The purpose of academic freedom is to keep people from self censoring- something they will do if they believe controversial discussions and challenging ideas may result in them being punished.

Two weeks after he sent out the email I finally learned of its existence. It had circulated, as such emails typically do, and found its way to a two-star general in my chain of command (an F-15C pilot). The two-star energized my chain of command to find out if I wrote the comments in the email. My chain of command is comprised of all F-15C pilots with the exception of one F-16 pilot. I told my commander I did write the quoted section but the remarks were supposed to have been protected by non-attribution. Later I was told my chain of command was "satisfied" with my response.

In accordance with AUI 36-2308 I filed a petition for redress for academic freedom violation despite the Vice Dean recommending I not, since, he said, ACSC/DL was already investigating and thus my redress would be duplicated effort. He also mentioned the investigation was well under way and they likely had all the info they needed. At that point the student had already admitted to the violation and I provided the one incomplete email chain that had been sent to me.

That was more than a week ago. ACSC/DL hasn't yet officially concluded their process. They did, however, take action when I asked for the student to be removed from the class until the investigation was concluded since he obviously demonstrated a threat to further discussion. The action they took, however, was to censor him and me. Now neither one of us can post in the class discussion but we can both read the discussion from the other students.

I explained that this action doesn't protect the academic freedom of other students since the other officer can still read the conversation. I also mentioned that the purpose of academic freedom was to prevent people from self censoring and therefore officially censoring me did not help the goal of academic freedom but rather detracted from it. They said my comments were duly noted but nothing has changed.

This process will likely be elevated to the three-star general F-15C pilot in charge of my PME. If elevated I am confident he will take action to address the systemic lack of academic freedom in ACSC/DL to the credit of the Air Force by making any necessary corrections required from time to time.

EDIT: On 22 June 09 the petition was elevated. The course concluded on 28 June 09 and the F-15C pilot was never removed. My petition was received and is being worked at the Air University level.

Religion, PME, and Punishment - ACSC/DL

I am nearly complete with the Air Command and Staff College Distance Learning program. I think the program's concept is very good and has a great deal of potential. Recently Tom Ricks wrote an article in the Washington Post suggesting that certain PME should be closed down (Air War College specifically) because it serves to merely reinforce assumptions rather than challenge perspectives (Ricks, 2009). Unfortunately, I think his comments are validated by recent experience with the ACSC/DL program although I think it can be reformed rather than closed.

In an ACSC/DL "Cultural Studies" course it became apparent to me that my view--that American religiosity was putting at risk our objectives in the Middle East--was not appreciated by the course instructor. I noticed strong evidence of punitive grading. At the midpoint of the course I began to question the instructor in private about grading practices and standards that were confusing me and other students. This prompted unprofessional public action by the instructor who did not appreciate my feedback. In fact he told me not to coordinate with other students on the issue stating that he had checked with ACSC/DL leadership and they all agreed we should be focusing our time on the final essay (ACSC/DL leadership later stated this was incorrect and they were not informed of the issue by the instructor). I filed a complaint against the instructor which was supported by six other field grade officers in the course and which prompted a separate complaint from another officer. ACSC/DL leadership agreed the actions of the instructor were inappropriate and said that action was being taken. They would not provide detail.

At the end of the course the instructor gave me a poor grade on my final essay which resulted in me getting the lowest course grade of my nine course experience. My discussion of religion was cited in the feedback to my final essay. While I can't go into detail about the topic of the essay it was made consistently clear that my academic views on the topic were not appreciated. While my essay may certainly have merited the grade assigned, the feedback from the instructor was, in my opinion, lacking. More importantly the grading rubric directed by the assignment wasn't used or provided to justify the given grade. I filed a grade appeal in accordance with ACSC/DL Student Handbook guidelines.

My grade appeal was limited to two pages and resulted in three faculty members re-grading my essay and all finding it worthy of a significantly lower grade. ACSC/DL leadership said the process should result in me getting the lower grade but because of the issues with the instructor they would allow me to keep the original grade. The feedback provided did not include the rubric directed by the assignment though I was informed the rubric was used by the re-graders. The feedback provided by the re-graders was short on examples and wrong in several parts. It also emphasized my discussion of religion was problematic. I again asked ACSC/DL to provide the rubric for the assignment so I could see where points has been taken and for what. This prompted a call from the Dean of ACSC/DL. He was angry that I was not satisfied with the process, told me I would not get the rubrics used in the grading, and asked for the name of my commander. I gave him the name and asked if he intended to call my commander for following an established ACSC/DL grade appeal process. He said he just wanted to have the name close by. I told him I would follow the Student Handbook process and file a second grade appeal.

The second grade appeal did not carry the page limitation so I spent a three day weekend compiling a 39 page document detailing the punitive environment fostered by the instructor to include punitive grading and the supporting comments of several other field grade officers. I detailed the limitations of the feedback I had received and further emphasized a desire for the rubric directed by the assignment to show where points were taken from my essay.

The result of the second grade appeal was a simple notification that my grade would not change and, not only would the directed rubric not be provided, but I would get no further written feedback on my essay.

I can't prove I was punished for my academic view of the religious cultural factor but there is certainly some evidence to support this. Another student in the class said he felt I was brave to have discussed the religious cultural factor as I did on an Air Force associated website due to his experience of excessive entanglement in the service. A different student shared that he thought my problems with the instructor started with our discussion on the religious cultural factor from the first discussion. While I can't prove I was punished for my academic perspective on religion's importance to warfare there is no doubt I was punished. It may have been for my viewpoint. It may have been because I dared to provide feedback. Or it may have been a combination of those two reasons.

I'll conclude by saying that my grade may certainly have been deserved. My essay was far from perfect. But the way the process was handled detracted from the credibility of the process. I am of the opinion, however, that my perspective on religion's importance in counter-insurgency was at the heart of the issue with the instructor. As one of the most combat-experienced pilots in the Air Force, with a degree in religion to boot, I would have figured my perspective would have been more welcomed. Especially given the increasing frequency of military religious entanglement issues reported in the media and the import of President Obama's recent speeches in the Middle East.

Source Cited:

Ricks, Tom Why We Should Get Rid of West Point, The Washington Post, 19 April 2009.

Enron, AIG, and the Air Force

“The fact that these guys are looking for bonuses having run down AIG begs the question of why were they making that much beforehand. When nobody was criticizing them, everybody thought they knew what they were doing. That kind of culture has to change.”

- President Obama during News Interview, CNN, 18 March 2009

Several weeks later the Secretary of Defense reminded the services of the importance of examining our cultures stating, "all of the services must examine their cultures critically, if we are to have the capabilities relevant and necessary to overcome the most likely threats America will face in years to come" (Gates, 2009). My master's thesis is an attempt to engage in such examination. I am studying the Enron culture and collapse, AIG, and the greater American corporate culture and attempting to determine if the cultural factors that led to the collapse of integrity and common sense with companies like Enron have infected the Air Force. My early research indicates there may be a common link in the practice of perception at the expense of reality.

Enron used "mark to market" techniques, loop holes, rule bending, and sometimes outright fraud to provide their stockholders with the perception that things were better than they really were. They had a culture that punished dissent and provided incentives that didn't inspire actions for the good of the company or the stockholder. Reality was shunned, perception was king. There were those who had the good of the company in mind but by the time their efforts were organized it was too late for the company. This perception at the expense of reality was also a key cultural trait in AIG it seems.

I don't mean to suggest the Air Force is like Enron or AIG. I do, however, think our service can benefit from a critical examination of some traits that may have taken hold to some degree in Air Force culture. One possible example of a perception at the expense of reality culture might be the physical fitness issue. Despite "fit to fight" slogans, many commanders were failing to provide AFI 10-248 mandated workout time for Airmen. This is according to the report issued by the Audit Agency. It is important to note, however, that Air Force leadership ordered the Air Force Audit Agency report to accurately diagnose this problem and acted upon the information. The system corrected the problem with perception at the expense of reality. A new improved PT program is being implemented. Another possible example of perception at the expense of reality is the perception of academic freedom in the ACSC/DL program compared to its reality. That problem may also need to be corrected. Other possible examples include inflated performance report writing. These are some of the links I will investigate in my research. More to follow.

Source Cited:

Gates, Robert Speech Given at Maxwell AFB, 21 April 2008.

A Forward Thinking Air Force - New Media

There appears to be a greater acceptance of the "New Media" by the DoD. The Army recently unblocked social media sites from its servers and the Air Force is encouraging Airman to engage online. The combination of this recent guidance and my recent experiences with PME has provided the catalyst for the blog you are now reading.

The Air Force Public Affairs Agency, Emerging Technology Division, released "The New Media and the Air Force" instructional guidance in January of 2009. This guide mentions that "new technologies give Airmen the opportunity to horizontally inform the media, the public and each other" and highlights that "if the Air Force does not tell its own story, someone else will" (AFPAA, 1, 2009). It further states "progress is being made toward helping Airmen engage each other across the social media spectrum--with a higher goal of transparently reaching out to industry leaders, other agencies and the general public" (AFPAA, 2009, 4). In my opinion, this ability for Airman to engage each other shares a common stated goal of PME programs but has a greater potential for transparency and a wider discussion. Perhaps future PME courses will be open to the public allowing for a wider range of opinions and thoughts and allowing non-military personnel to challenge traditional military assumptions. The AFPAA's forward thinking instructional guidance leaves the door wide open and states, "the Air Force needs to turn all of its Airmen...into communicators..." (AFPAA, 2009, 5). The AFPAA discusses what the pamphlet is, and is not, on their website.

This may be just the type of policy needed to help fulfill the Secretary of Defense's vision. At a speech at Maxwell AFB at the Air University, Secretary Gates urged Air Force officers "to think innovatively and worry less about their careers than about adapting to a changing world," according to Robert Burns of the Oakland Tribune. Burns notes the Secretary later addressed West Point cadets and encouraged them to "take on the mantle of fearless, thoughtful but loyal dissent" when appropriate and was "impressed" that the service allowed a critique to be published by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling. Burns notes that Gates stated, "I believe this is a sign of institutional strength and vitality" (Burns, 2008).

The Air Force New Media guidelines includes a list of "Top 10 Tips for New Media" and coming in at number 9 is..."Don't be Afraid to Take Calculated Risks." The guide goes on to state, "military life often deals in ambiguity..." There is a common, strategic, and forward thinking theme here.

While researching prior to the creation of this blog I discovered the AFI 35-101 Public Affairs regulation published in 2005. The regulation does provide limitations on what Airmen can say. Specifically, section 2.14.1 states "each Air Force member or employee is responsible for obtaining the necessary review and clearance, starting with Public Affairs, before releasing any proposed statement, text or imagery to the public." This "catch all" regulation requires interpretation since the section above taken literally would mean that prior to talking to a group of people in a grocery store PA would first have to be consulted. Obviously common sense must be applied and the section above reflects that with the word "necessary." Some statements to the public do not necesitate review and clearance.

The 2009 Air Force discussion of New Media makes this clear regarding blogs stating, "Further guidance from Headquarters Air Force in the form of Roll Call states: 'You are not prohibited from using blogs or social network sites..." and then states information is restricted by classification and OPSEC concerns.

The forward thinking Air Force policy on new media stands to help the Air Force Chief of Staff in his goal to rebuild the credibility of the Air Force as more creative and less conventional discussions are fostered. In my opinion, this development shows vitality and strength isn't reserved for our Army brethren alone. Our system is working to heal itself under some progressive strategic-minded leadership and this new policy may just help the Chief in his pursuit to change an "above all" approach to a "for all" approach to warfighting (White, 2008).

Works Cited:

White, Josh 'Stop the Slide,' Says New Air Force Chief; Schwartz is Blunt About Service's Failings The Washington Post, August 13, 2008.

Air Force Public Affairs Agency, Emerging Technology Division, New Media and the Air Force, January 2009.