"...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

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.


  1. It appears the word about "academic freedom" in PME still hasn't gotten out

    What exactly is your point here? You've previously made your case that the original Eagle pilot violated your academic freedom. Please explain how the others did as well. They received a forwarded email, whether that act was right or wrong is not relevant to them in terms of if their responses also violated your freedom. You admittedly disparaged their entire community - what were they supposed to do? Confirm the forum of the original comments and then go look up guidance in AUI 36-2308?

    Without being able to read what your original comments were, this is all just a pointless exercise in whining about people that are being mean to you. Your high-minded loyalty to he concepts of Academic Freedom doesn't quite jibe with your apparaent pride in the fact that your comments now grace the walls of AMC squadrons. Are they not also violaters of your academic freedom? Or is it OK for them because they agree with you?

    Post your initial comments/essay and let the readers decide for themselves A) if your comments fall under the protection of Academic Freedom, and B) if your comments justify the vitrol directed at you. I'm not saying they do, but based on the overall tone of this website, you haven't earned the right to me taking you at your word.

    Also, I would be very interested to read your views on air superiority and how better it can be provided. Or is that off limits too?

    In my opinion, the concept of Academic Freedom as defined by this whole episode has the slight tinge of cowardice. You obviously have a strong opinions against the fighter community. If you can't defend your beliefs, regardless of the forum they are being debated, then what does that say about you? Words and actions have consequences - be able to stand up and take responsiblity, but don't hide behind 'Academic Freedom'. Sure, they are whispering "in the shadows", but you're whispering in the open. What exactly is the difference?

  2. Neal,

    My point is that the word on academic freedom had not gotten out to follow up the email chains. In other words, nobody said, "hey, this info shouldn't have been sent out in the first place so stop forwarding it around the internet." I've seen other email chains crushed quickly and noted that the word on academic freedom associated with the email chain had not gotten out to stop the email from continuing to be forwarded. I wasn't implying that academic freedom extended outside of PME. You ask what the chain authors should have done. I wasn't commenting on what they should have done in my blog post. But personally I think they should have contacted me with their comments if they were interested in debating my ideas.

    As far as a pointless exercise in whining because my original comments are not provided...I'm not sure I follow how you reach that conclusion. The experience I have posted concerns an academic freedom violation. The content of my comments has absolutely no relevance to whether or not my academic freedom was violated. You say my loyalty to the concept of academic freedom is undercut by my apparent pride in my comments finding a sympathetic audience. Again I haven't charged anybody with violation of academic freedom except the one single person that violated my academic freedom in this instance.

    I'm not going to post the original comments/essay at this point. I realize you may be curious but I can't share them at this time. My views on how air superiority can be better provided are included in the mentioned essay. This weekend I'll consider posting the essay since it wasn't sent out in the email chain and won't muddy the discussion.

    You suggest my decision to not post the original PME commentary in this blog is tinged with cowardice. I posted the comments in PME with several fighter pilots in the class. I had no issues defending my views there. I don't think I would have any difficulty defending my views in this forum either but the point of posting ideas in this forum is precisely to have them challenged. I think I touched on many of those views here and have encouraged my views to be challenged. It's a great way to learn so I look forward to somebody bringing any errors in thinking to my attention.

    Thanks for the comments.

  3. Neal, I just posted the essay. I look forward to your spears.

  4. I'll grant that I misunderstood your intent in terms of who violated what.

    However, your statement "The content of my comments has absolutely no relevance to whether or not my academic freedom was violated" caught my eye, especially with a big, fat absolutely hanging there.

    So you can say absolutely whatever you want in an academic forum and those comments can't leave the academic environment without your permission? I can think of a few examples that would not, in addition to the numerous ones spelled out in the AUI. But maybe I'm misunderstanding you.

    Re-read my last paragraph...I specifically did not say your decision is tinged with cowardice. I said the concept of Academic Freedom, as described by this scenario. And I stand by what I said - if your going to trash an entire community of pilots in the Air Force by questioning their professionalism and integrity, then by all means - knock yourself out. But don't whine about an Academic Freedom violation when word gets out and publish out-of-context replies that serve no other real purpose other than "see, I told you those fighter guys were dickheads."

    Yes, I saw your most recent post.

  5. I'm not saying absolutely anything can be said in an acadeic forum and it will be covered by academic freedom. The AUI discusses what comments are not protected. I am saying that my specific comments were absolutely protected and the substance has no bearing on if they were protected or not because they comport with the AUI guidance. I realize you haven't read my comments and I'm explaining to you that they absolutely were protected (or should have been). The standard for what is protected in the AUI is pretty common sense and my remarks were not racist, sexist, etc. I know you can't independently verify this for yourself but the fact that I'm bringing up this issue should be indicative of their status.

    My apologies if I claim you suggested something you did not.

    As far as whining goes I'm not quite sure I understand your position. As a hypothetical, imagine I'm an underling in the New Jersey political system and during an academically protected education event I posted an essay on how I saw the culture of NJ politicians as ethically challenged and in need of reform and I painted this charge in broad strokes. Imagine somebody took my words and emailed them to "the good ole boy" network and somebody that works for the governor made it clear he didn't like my comments but coudn't fire me because the comments were protected by academic freedom. And an email chain got sent out to clearly identify me as somebody that had issues with the establishment. Let's say my boss and his boss all the way up see that I think they are products of a culture in need of reform. Then I hear about another email chain that made its way to the training office of my organization that handles the good deal business trips. All around me people are getting this discussion emailed to them on governement computers with only one side of the story and all because of a violation of policy designed to prevent exactly that kind of response. Would you say I was unjustifiably whining to point that out? BTW, I'm not suggesting the fighter mafia is anything like New Jersey politicians only examining the role of dissent in an organization, broad strokes, and academic freedom. Why is it whining to point out how the email chains damages my reputation, gets the word out to the good ole boy system, and does all of this while denying a voice to the target? On this topic, last night somebody from another base got an email chain and told me about it but doesn't want to share it with me out of fear they'll be implicated in any response I provide. By documenting these email chains I'm showing the importance of academic freedom policy and practice.

    My purpose for sharing the information is to bring up a discussion of cultural factors illuminated by the email chain, gauge the effectiveness of the growing damage inflicted by the academic freedom violation, and most importantly to provide myself some small voice in a situation specifically and cowardly designed to deny me a role in the conversation which is had all around me but not in such a way I can respond.

    Thanks again for your comments.