"...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, May 31, 2010

Remembering Bravery - Memorial Day

CBS's 60 Minutes published a recent episode which details heroes from military Explosives and Ordinance Disposal (EOD) who risk their lives routinely to identify and dismantle insurgent IEDs. The episode can be viewed here: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=6533127n&tag=related;photovideo. It depicts the routine bravery of these soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen from the four services who risk themselves to locate and dismantle explosive threats to their fellow Americans. The bravery is staggering. I remember flying missions in Iraq and seeing many IED explosions on the roads below me. They were a routine sighting. On several missions I had the opportunity to destroy them before they could hurt Americans. On of my favorite missions, my crew and I fortunately spied several insurgents laying IEDs in the middle of a road. After several minutes of observation, we ensured they weren't successful and never would be again. It was very satisfying. But it lacked the heroism and the bravery of the soldiers of TF Paladin who meet the threat head on daily, not from thousands of feet above the threat.

The EOD professionals train at the EOD school located on Eglin AFB. In my previous assignment, I passed that school every day. I lived in a mobile home on the base next to the marina located right across from the EOD training facility. It's a beautiful location and I'm sure quite a contrast from the deadly roads in Afghanistan and Iraq. The mobile home park has been closed, but I'm sure the school still stands and is still training American fighting men who are fiercely dedicated to their country and, as the 60 Minutes episode explains, a little bit crazy.

I thank God for these Americans willing to lay it on the line for the rest of us. As an Air Force officer I want my service to provide airpower to make their jobs easier and to ensure they come home safely after the mission is accomplished. No words can properly honor those who sacrifice their mobility, their emotional well being, and their lives for us when requested by their country. We in the Air Force, not in these heroic situations, can best honor them by ensuring our service provides them the very best in airpower.

Andy Rooney made a good comment in the episode. He mentioned something to the effect that it's odd that we expect such bravery in war but not in our every day lives. With all the problems our nation faces and with all of us who don't have to put it on the line in combat like our EOD brothers, let's emulate their bravery in our day to day lives to make our country stronger. Perhaps had the regulators in the Department of the Interior displayed some bravery, perhaps they would have thwarted the comfortable corruption that allowed our Gulf to be destroyed by incompetence and greed. Perhaps a few concerned individuals could have stood up and risked themselves to expose the derivatives and ponzie schemes in corporate America that brought our nation to its financial knees.

Bravery is not something only to be displayed on foreign soil. If we want to honor the memories of those who fought for America, let's not sate ourselves with bumper stickers on our SUVs and flags displayed on our front porches. That's just too easy. Rather, let's emulate the bravery of America's finest by doing the right thing, the risky thing, in our humdrum existences where we don't have to worry about hidden explosive devices.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Latest IG Complaint Fail, Retaliation, and my Predictions

As readers of earlier posts will know, I’m in the middle of long battle with the Air Force. As I’ve mentioned before, I filed an Inspector General (IG) complaint claiming retaliation for the academic freedom violation I experienced in ACSC. My claim was that the LOR/UIF given me was produced in retaliation for academically protected comments and for previously engaging the IG process, both in the same command. Well, I just got a response from the IG. The IG letter, also from that command, stated, "Based on a thorough, impartial analysis of the evidence, I found that the responsible management officials had a sound basis for taking the actions against you, as outlined in their written documentation to you." The IG goes on to claim the actions taken against me were "reasonable." In other words, there is nothing unsound or unreasonable with ruining an officer's career by 1) relying on a police report associated with a later dismissed charge of failing to use a blinker during a lane change and 2) citing a memo created in-house that alleges an officer lied despite audio proof to the contrary.

I submitted the complaint to the SAF/IG and specifically requested they investigate and not kick it down to the command in question (since it was that command that I was saying retaliated against me). They kicked it down anyway. The IG above who spoke of being "impartial" works for that command. At any rate, I did my due diligence and attempted to use established processes to fix the problem in house. As usual, those processes didn't work. In this post I lay the facts before you and quote the charges...

The Smartest Guys in the Room and the Best of the Best

I got notice that my ACSC thesis has been released without condition. It's only a glimmer of what it should be but I hope it's interesting to some. It seeks to compare modern Air Force fighter pilot culture with the organizational culture of Enron, finds similarities, and makes some recommendations. It is the product of a six week course online in a part time Air Force "master's degree" program. I have redacted my name to maintain some semblance of OPSEC. Those interested can read and share the paper without restriction by clicking here.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Response to JB (Loyal Dissent, Choice, Motivations)

Instead of commenting to JBMoore, I've decided to make a blog post in response. His comment is very insightful and can be viewed here. JB is obviously no stranger to human nature and politics and raises some questions that touch on my motivations and the choice we all must make when weighing risk and benefit in our conduct.

I think it's somewhat inaccurate to say I enjoy these fights. It is true that I have one of those natures that questions and as a younger man I enjoyed debate and conflict and became very comfortable with being one against many. I grew up on stories of my father doing the right thing and risking his job to defend people against pressures above him. Of course those stories were viewed through childhood goggles and my old man was also successful in the system so I'm sure he tempered his behavior (unlike his father who was also enlisted in the Army Air Corps but who got kicked out for hitting an officer with his weapon, or so the story goes). Whatever my filter and whatever the objective reality, doing the right thing (for people or for mission) while risking yourself was the theme that encapsulated what it meant to be a leader in my view. For those reasons, I do take pride in fighting the good fight but as I've gotten older I've lost the lust for conflict. People who knew me when I was younger may find it hard to believe, but I don't seek conflict these days and haven't for years. I have too many other interests and I learned long ago that you can't change human nature or teach values to grown men. I don't seek battles as I may have at one time, but I also don't shy away from them when they're brought to me. I don't enjoy these battles detailed in my blog and they have taken a toll. I have been scared at moments but mostly I've been tired. But I simply shift my perspective and I re-calibrate and bounce back. I'd be very happy to never have another fight but I don't believe I'm paid by the taxpayer to be comfortable and collect a check when there are real systemic problems that threaten our ability to conduct our nation's business. Losing fourteen years of service is a risk. But I was never guaranteed a retirement (a fact I must remind myself of the closer I get to one) and retiring and spending my remaining years reflecting on a life of irresponsible conflict avoidance risks the moral authority I'll need for later goals (ministry and pro-bono legal activism).

This blog was born from what I perceive to be a real crisis not only in my service but in our greater culture. I think our society has lost its integrity in great measure and perception over reality seems to be the currency of the day in business, government, and media. Truth has lost its appeal it seems to me. I don't know how long we can exist as a world power under such conditions and I think the evidence suggests those days are coming to an end. Maybe I'm reading too much into it. As far as my purview, I was specifically incensed about the way my service conducted itself regarding the F-22/UAV debate, the rightful claim from our Sec Def that we weren't properly committed to our nation's wars, and the culture of perception over reality I saw coloring that discussion. It was comments along these lines that led to the academic freedom violation and my acquisition of powerful "friends" who put me in their crosshairs and who have far more to do with my troubles than a traffic ticket, in my opinion.

So for me, the choice is to do my job and correct problems in the most effective way possible. I am more willing to give up a job and a retirement than I am to give up my pride and moral authority. My pride and moral authority have taken hits and I'm not perfect but I want to guard what remains closely.

But I've made good life decisions to make it easier for me to do so. My wife is strong, smart, and successful. She's one of the most successful young lawyers in the country. She's also dedicated to making this world better than she found it and she supports me. My greatest accomplishment was staying true to my ideals for a companion and it's a great help. We have no children. I personally wouldn't be able to risk as I do if I had to support a family so children aren't an option until I'm financially set. As for finances, I've made smart choices, lived well below my means, invested a lot, and sold all before the bubble burst. I saw the writing on the wall. In short, I've crafted my life so I can continue to live it in a way that makes me proud. I don't need the Air Force. I appreciate the paycheck and the chance for a retirement but I don't need it. I continue to serve,...to serve. I've been very fortunate.

We have such a rich heritage of American service and sacrifice in this country and my small battles, and my limited capabilities, are nothing compared to average Americans that have come before. Forget the great names, just the average American of greater generations. I feel it's my responsibility to build on that service in my own life. It's so easy to sell out and profit from the system in this country. Such people think they're so smart and politically savvy but the "game" is simple and I have no doubt that I could have easily risen to the top of a political enterprise if that was my goal. But that's not fulfilling to me. That's the industrious stupid who climb a ladder only to find nothing of value at the top...had they thought about that prior to their ascent, perhaps they would have figured that out before they got so high up that continuing the climb seemed the only option. I'm sure some if not most never figure it out.

But I don't have all the answers and my approach may not be the best one and I would love to have some "mentor" show me how I could be more effective...but that hasn't happened and I doubt it will. Regardless, I know this. It's a team effort and my approach provides opportunities for others to move the ball because I raise the issue if nothing else. I'm reminded of college life team sports... With my group of buddies I was the opener when we were out on the town. My brash opening might work for me, or it might not. But even when it didn't, nine times out of ten it did for my more timid buddy who would step up to the plate and say, "I'm sorry about my buddy,..." It's a team effort and I play a part even if I'm just the opener.

I appreciate your kindred spirit and your comments. You're also right about another thing. The good fight isn't about winning...it's about the fight. We're outnumbered and outgunned but that doesn't matter. Thanks again for posting.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Small Victory in a Long War

I have a confession to make. I hope my reputation isn't forever tarnished with this revelation, but, well here goes. I stood trial yesterday. I was accused of the high crime of "failing to use my blinker during a lane change." I know readers may not want to associate with an accused blinker non-user so I understand if you quit reading now. At the trial, the cop showed up and sat several rows from my lawyer and myself. The judge dismissed the false charge. One small victory in a long war.

So what? Well, that one charge served as the catalyst for ruining my Air Force career. At least on paper it did.

While I can't divulge everything that happened during the traffic stop, since my civil lawsuit against the police department is pending, I will detail the events that led to my arrest. That's right, arrest. I live in an enlightened state where police offices have a wide array of made up offenses they can pick to justify arresting somebody they want to punish. Failing to use a blinker is one.

The cop pulled me over in a downtown area. I had my license and registration in hand when he approached the window and asked for them. I asked why he had pulled me over and he said, "I pulled you over because you have an out of state license plate and I want to make sure you have a driver's license." I said, "Confirm you randomly pulled me over without cause?" He said, "Get out of the vehicle." I said, "Confirm you're now ordering me out of my vehicle without cause?" He confirmed the order and I got out. Quick note: the courts have stated that roving stops (pulling people over randomly without reasonable suspicion of unlawful activity) is illegal and a violation of the Fourth Amendment. This stop was unconstitutional. He took my license and registration as I got out, and told me to face my car. Cuffs. From his approach to my arrest took no more than 20 seconds or so. I later asked him why he was arresting me and that's when he came up with the blinker charge. He filled out some paperwork and said I had one chance, I could sign the citation and be on my way or spend the night in jail. I said I'd sign the citation but that I remained concerned because he said he had pulled me over for out of state tags. He said, "That's it. You're going to jail."

And I did. The police report was ridiculous and not believable on its face. There's a lot more I'd like to provide about this dirty cop...he has previously been suspended from the force for lying and intimidation. But I'll stop at this point and let my lawyers bring up that information in the civil suit.

So the next day when I got out of jail I had to meet with a commander. Service dress. I won't discuss the content of those discussions but suffice it to say there was a difference in opinion concerning the oath to support and defend the Constitution, questioning Constitutional violations, and the like.

Several weeks later I received a Letter of Reprimand (LOR). It had two charges. The first charge was that I was unprofessional etc etc during a "routine traffic stop," and the charge was based entirely on the lying cop's police report. The second charge was that I lied to local Public Affairs (PA) in a meeting concerning the academic freedom violation (previously blogged about) and a story I was considering writing with the Air Force Times. I was shocked to see the PA officer had written up a memo saying that I had lied in the meeting about having a blog and only after repeated questions did I admit I had one. This formed the second charge, that I'm a liar, no integrity, etc, and of course bolstered the first charge.

Fortunately I covertly recorded the conversation with PA (completely legal) and have digital proof that the PA officer's claim was incorrect and that I had not lied. I was very transparent, as is my nature. That digital evidence wasn't provided with my LOR response because my lawyer's request to extend the response date for the LOR wasn't granted and my lawyer needed more time to turn over every stone to confirm I hadn't broken any laws, rules, or regulations with my recording. But my LOR response was incredibly good even without the digital evidence. I was given the LOR anyway.

An IG complaint was filed for retaliation. A package was sent to the Air Force Board of Corrections, since I met my primary promotion board with that LOR/UIF sitting in my records and it's certain I won't be promoted as a result. The digital evidence was provided and both processes are ongoing. I've got a long way to go in this war but at least I've won a small battle.

I was also unmatched from an assignment as a result of the LOR/UIF. I had volunteered to fly RPA for the Air Force and was, of course, quickly matched to an assignment. That was undone and it appears I will no longer get my number one assignment choice. I cringed when I volunteered for it. But I did volunteer because I support my senior leadership and the program needs motivated people and I love providing support to my brothers on the ground. My friend Dave explains the rationale perfectly and I blogged about his SWJ article. I thought I could help with that cultural transformation but it appears a fabricated LOR will keep that from happening. It's a strange world when highly qualified pilots aren't allowed to fill the number one need of the Air Force because of nonsensical fabrication.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Formative Years - AETC, ROTC, Jump School, and a Heart Break

Disillusion. It's a right of passage for officers who care in the United States Air Force. It's a part of growing up, I suppose, as the world we live in is far from perfect and organizations are made of fallible human beings. Mine came fairly early and the epicenter was firmly located in my ROTC Field Training experience. It's amazing that fifteen years later as a combat pilot, this experience in Air Education and Training Command (AETC) still strongly resonates with me. I wish I could say it was just a childish blip in my experience but unfortunately I can't say that. This post is going to be a bit long and much more personal than usual. So now on to my formative years...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Stupid and the Industrious

"I divide officers into four classes -- the clever, the lazy, the stupid and the industrious. Each officer possesses at least two of these qualities. Those who are clever and industrious are fitted for the high staff appointments. Use can be made of those who are stupid and lazy. The man who is clever and lazy is fit for the very highest commands. He has the temperament and the requisite nerves to deal with all situations. But whoever is stupid and industrious must be removed immediately."

The quote above is attributed to a German General who apparently gave an order for any stupid/industrious officers to be removed once so identified. His classification system is presented in Benton's Air Force Officer Guide. The Guide quotes the officer on the stupid and industrious:
Great damage may result from their actions. Attacking the ill-advised with zeal and energy, they may induce a disaster. They are the most dangerous. They must be eliminated!
I have had similar thoughts as I watched officers labor for promotion in one non-combatant command. They put in long hours, prioritize their job over time spent with the family, come in on the weekends, and rarely produce anything useful for the Air Force. Time is spent crafting perceptions, wording reports to support whatever position the boss wants to be reflected, and many hours are spent combing through administrative minutia that has lost all real connection with the actual mission it purports to improve. If the mission was making a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich, there would be rules made requiring only certain types of watches to be worn while making said sandwiches, and reports and spreadsheets to track timepiece compliance. Pet projects would shape and craft how many people wore watches, what kind, the accuracy in relation to the official time zone (which would change weekly) and lost in the process would be making a PB&J. But the industrious would sacrifice themselves and their family life to track Swatches versus G-shocks in the hope of pleasing the boss and getting promoted. Nobody would dare suggest time was being wasted because watch wearing doesn't have squat to do with the task at hand.

There is nothing wrong with hard work and long hours of course. There is a problem with change for the sake of change, self-licking ice cream cone processes removed from actual mission benefit, and busy work that keeps officers from spending time on actual mission enhancement. Unfortunately there are plenty who are stupid in that they prioritize tasks devoid of mission impact, or with negative impact, yet who are industrious because they spend long hours on such useless endeavors. They take pride in their contributions and long hours at work. Look what I have sacrificed for my country, they opine. The substance isn't important, just the hard work they exhibit.

I remember a commander and I having a discussion over officership and more broadly what makes a good American. Suffice it so say we disagreed on the requirements. He wasn't pleased with my diagnosis of his viewpoint and at the end of the conversation, as I was leaving, revisited the topic. My previous comment on his thinking being un-American had clearly bothered him. He told me as I was leaving, "I work hard. That's what makes me a good American." I left without mentioning that North Koreans, Chinese, and Russians also work hard but they are hardly good Americans.

Being industrious is not an excuse for failing to think. Failing to think makes one stupid and, as the German tells us, the industrious stupid are a grave threat to a military organization.

Monday, May 10, 2010

"The Torch and the Dagger: How the Air Force is Following Enron, AIG, and Goldman Sachs"

This is the tentative title of a book I have been working on for a bit now. It's something I plan on publishing once I get promoted to the rank of "civilian" which may be sooner rather than later. It's heavily laden with personal experiences and a bit autobiographical in nature but I'm hoping that with some more research it will be something useful. I think it will and I've got some wonderful people helping me who are much more talented than I am. I won't be on the Daily Show or the Colbert Report anytime soon, but I'll get there eventually. Maybe.

Yes, the writing will be better than what you find on this blog...

BTW, I'm still seeking release from Air University on my ACSC thesis entitled, The Smartest Guys in the Room and the Best of the Best: Max Performing Air Force Culture. Hopefully that will be out soon as it deals with the same theme but in a less detailed or personal way.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Active Shooter - Situational Awareness

Several weeks ago I heard a briefing on the new Active Shooter program. The program is designed to help military commanders and members identify and diffuse military personnel who may engage in the kind of traitorous actions like those of Maj Nidal Hasan who shot his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood recently. Years ago another soldier, Sgt Hasan Akbar, threw a grenade into a tent of fellow soldiers. These are certainly tragedies that we should endeavor to prevent.

As I listened to the briefing, however, I was troubled. Like the pamphlet I later picked up on base titled, "Active Shooter: Situational Awareness," the program says that attention should be placed on military personnel who:

1. Have been involuntary discharged or fired from their job
2. Are awaiting disciplinary action such as court-martial
3. Suffering from Post Traumatic Stress
4. Made unsolicited comments about violence, firearms or death
5. Have been served with restraining or no-contact orders
6. Are known to be mentally or emotionally unstable
7. Made comments about being disenchanted with the military
8. Display "anti-war" or "anti-military" sentiments

This list troubles me because several of the items seem to invite abuse or are simply irrelevant in my non-expert opinion. It troubles me more because it fails to capture the two most important characteristics that I think highlight potential active shooters, relationship status and extremist religious affiliation. How many active shooters were married? How many were part of an extremist religious group? When I think of a person who is likely to go postal, I think of a lonely insecure man who latches onto a religious ideology that espouses violence but nowhere in the active shooter program are such characteristics cause for attention.

Instead, using the program's list, a man who makes unsolicited comments about firearms, violence, or death requires extra attention. That covers just about any combat soldier, marine, sailor, or airman I know but leaves those with the least knowledge and experience of our profession free from scrutiny. General Patton would be greatly suspect. The list also identifies Post Traumatic Stress. This seems logical and I would hope those qualified to diagnose PTSD would take proper action. Unfortunately, how are soldiers and airman in the trenches to know who has the disorder, assuming such a person hasn't been removed from duty and given a medical discharge? Certainly the average military person isn't qualified to make that diagnosis and they are more likely to associate legitimate stressful combat experience with the disorder, or so it seems to me. This list draws attention to the best of the military who put themselves in harm's way for defense of their country.

The list is also ripe, in my opinion, for abuse against the kind of military reformers our Defense Secretary is calling for. Those who challenge organizations and provide loyal dissent for the good of the service are now to be viewed with suspicion? As Secretary Gates has acknowledged, we must challenge our superiors despite the impact it may have on our careers. Loyal dissent is not an option, it's a requirement. What is a reformer? It's somebody who is disenchanted with the current state of the military or their service or organization and wants to make it better. But such behavior is cause for extra attention according to this new program. Beyond that, the negative impact on career that Secretary Gates warns is necessary for the sake of our service and our country, is also cause for extra attention and scrutiny. Those who are fired, involuntary separated, or are awaiting disciplinary action require extra attention the list says. This list draws attention to the best of the military who put their careers in harm's way for defense of their country.

And what if you display "anti-war" sentiments? While you're damned if you make unsolicited comments about firearms, violence, or death you're also damned if you make comments that are anti-war apparently. I can think of plenty of great soldiers and airman who express the idea that "no soldier likes war" but that they prepare themselves to kill the enemy to preserve the peace. That testimony would ding them twice as a possible murderous traitor for two different and contradictory reasons.

So what does the list show us? It shows us the "safest" person in uniform is one who has never been to combat, has never been so disenchanted with things to risk career to reform an organization or service, has never been disciplined, and has never made comments or expressed sentiments concerning the very nature of their professional obligation. Such a person is safe from any extra attention and suspicion even if they are a lonely adherent to an extremist ideology who is unable to connect in an intimate relationship.

This program may not make us safer, but it stands to prevent the best among us from making our organizations better in defense of our nation. I am disenchanted with this program which, of course, may be cause for extra attention. Unfortunately, I have no doubt I'm getting just that.