"...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

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Somebody Call an Ambulance, the Air Force Should be in Shock!

: "This is AFPC Dispatch, go ahead please."

: "I need an ambulance to the Air Force wing of the Pentagon. I've found the Air Force face down, hemorrhaging blood, signs of heat stroke, pale and malnourished with severe exhaustion, and what appears to be brain damage. Please send medics immediately!"

: "I'm sorry, I did not recognize your choice selection. For force management, please press or say one..."

The Air Force and commanders could learn a great deal from the human body at both the unit and higher levels. It is no secret the service is tired, fatigued, exhausted. That analogy has been used for at least the last ten years and is as tired as the issue it describes. But the analogy needs an update. How pale is our air arm? People will debate that. Those who actually serve in the institution see a lack of blood in the corpse-like service. They live the undermanned reality, they know they and their families are nearly tapped out or already have been. On the other hand, those who look at PowerPoint slides where numbers and metrics are doctored like Enron accounting sheets, might get the impression that the service has beautiful bright red rosy cheeks, or at least that it is manned normally. That perspective or simple budget realities, or a combination, have introduced Force Shaping measures and the pronouncement that we're overmanned and we have to RIF our life blood. If true, we should accept that a little blood splatter is just part of the gruesome business of war. The VSP allowed for some of that blood to voluntarily leave, yet turned out to be little more than a small vial's worth while the needle used caused quite the bruise. Now enter the latest Maj-Lt Col promotion board, where those Officers who have carried the Air Force for the last ten to fifteen years are told whether or not those efforts, and their time away from family, have allowed them to continue in the service. They have spent nearly their entire careers at war, including in Afghanistan, the longest war in the history of the United States. One would think their experience would be valuable. Instead, it appears they are being shown the door in record numbers. While Majors twice passed over for Lt Col have traditionally been allowed to continue their service until retirement, it has never been guaranteed. Consider an Air Force Times article discussing the need for force reduction in the Air Force, and the resulting reduction of those granted "selective continuation":
Faced with a need to reduce the size of the Air Force by 13,000 people, officials are returning to the days when selective continuation was offered only to officers in a few undermanned and overworked career fields.
The article above was published nearly eight years ago and was referencing Captains twice passed over for Major. But the question any rational person would ask after reading this article is, why not take the people you are going to kick out, who have invested all this time into the service, and simply transfer them to the areas that are "undermanned and overworked?" Just like the body in shock that sends the blood from areas of the body that are not critical to places that are. The critical organ is the mission, the heart, the center of what we do. The body does not elect to simply pump that blood overboard figuring it can grow more; it's smart enough to know that it costs more energy to create new blood than to send existing blood to where it is needed. This is one reason the body takes great pains to guard against the loss of blood through clotting. The Air Force needs to break out the packs of EZ-CLOT. Unfortunately for the Air Force body, a lot of blood is being spilled on the ground. But these are unusual circumstances. As per DoDD 1320.8:
Commissioned officers on the Active Duty List who hold the grade O-4, who are subject to discharge under Section 632 of reference (b), shall normally be selected for continuation by selection boards convened for that purpose if the officer will qualify for retirement under Section 3911, 6323, or 8911 of reference (b) within six years of the date of such continuation. The Secretaries of the Military Departments concerned may, in unusual circumstances, discharge involuntarily such officers...
We're not just discussing Captains to be given the pink slip at the ten year point these days. We're talking about Officers who have served for fifteen years. Normally all the Majors who met the previous board would be continued despite not being promoted. It makes sense that Officers who have given so much of themselves, have sacrificed time with their families, have lived in less than ideal places, and most importantly have gained so much experience, be allowed to continue to serve. That is normally what is required by law. Normal of course means exactly that. As the law states, there is a caveat for "unusual circumstances." But what happens when the unusual becomes the usual? We don't serve in normal times and haven't for at least a decade. The body of the Air Force is corpse-like, and one must consider the warnings published more than a decade ago by Dr. Grant Hammond. The Secretary of the Air Force, realizing normality is not in the cards, issued these non-normal standards for boards to decide if Officers who have checked all the boxes expected of them, and yet were not promoted to the next grade, would be shown the door after fifteen to sixteen years of serving their country:
As there is no quota applied, you may select up to 100% of eligible, fully qualified officers; but you must also consider the following guidance... It will normally be in the interest of the Air Force to continue officers with critical skills. I have determined that the following skills are critical to the Air Force. RPA Operators...Fighter Pilots...Bomber Pilots...Special Operations CSOs...Combat Rescue Officers/Special Tactics Officers...Catholic Chaplains...Clinical Psychologists...Flight Nurses...and Mental Health Nurses...
In order to keep with this analogy, it is noteworthy that chaplains, psychologists and mental health nurses are critical to the Air Force. Despite the guidance from the SecAF, the Air Force could have continued every single Officer on that board. They could have done so and then funneled that expertise to the RPA community at a minimum. They could have enlarged the pipelines as required, like the arteries and veins. They could have, but they apparently chose not to. The problem is the Air Force does not yet realize how deeply injured it is, or has not chosen to take necessary action to protect its mission. It doesn't matter what injured the institution, it only matters that it realize it and take proper action. Like the body, it must go into shock. That means it must stop spilling its life blood and must instead direct that blood to the vital organs. Those vital organs are identified by the SecAF and include RPA Operators, Fighter/Bomber Pilots, etc. We need to pump that blood back into the organs that sustain life for the Air Force, that is those that do the actual critical wartime mission. While some career fields might not make for an easy transition, some are certainly doable including the first on the list....RPA Operators. A career field people shun and do not volunteer for, but that is vital nonetheless. Force the blood there as the heart does when it is concerned with living. But it's not just about pumping blood to those vital organs, it's about letting the other sections of the body die so that life can be sustained. Needless OPRs that take up dozens if not hundreds of man hours simply to put a nice polish on a decision that is made in ten seconds. We can't afford to do that anymore. Office jobs that take away from the vital mission that meet needless regulations but don't actually produce anything vital if even useful. We have to eliminate those processes so we can allow our airman to do the actual mission and keep their sanity. Then we won't need so many Mental Health Nurses, and we can let them go too. Base agencies that nobody ever really visits, golf courses, all of that should be on the table. Empires and fiefdoms will crumble, but that is necessary to support the mission. The Air Force is in a state of serious injury, it must go into shock just as the human body would, to sustain the vital mission and it needs to stop forcing the blood spill. On top of that, it needs to discover a blood transfusion. If the Air Force is to live.

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