"...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

Thursday, July 14, 2011

BaseOps.Net / FlyingSquadron.Com Out Brief - Part I

As readers will know, I'm a proponent of the liberal SAF/PA guidelines on using new media for the discussion of ideas to strengthen the Air Force. New media has the potential to make up for the intellectual shortfalls that come with "check the box" master's degrees and PME programs that often provide merely the illusion of education.

New media isn't a silver bullet, however, and can serve to reinforce cultural problems that plague our Air Force. I will be starting a several part series detailing the response to the ideas on this blog, and the expectations of our former Secretary of Defense, from a message board I recently was invited to participate on. I'll take my experiences and build on the research performed by a cyber anthropologist I hired to study the culture of the online community, which is included as an appendix in a master's thesis. Having lurked on the forum for more than a decade, I was reluctant to accept the invite, but did so in order to analyze the receptiveness of officers in the trenches to the cause of cultural transformation. Based on earlier experiences, I predicted it would only be a short matter of time until I was removed from the forum. This turned out to be true.

The BaseOps.Net message board is arguably the most successful privately owned new media website, that caters to an Air Force aviator audience, in existence and has tapped into the heart of the officer and aviator culture. Its rich participation and quasi-official status make it the go-to place for all things related to the service, often outdoing official channels for the dissemination of information. Due to its success, most Air Force aviators are familiar with the site. It has its own SIPR side on an official military network where classified information can be discussed, is referenced as a resource in several Air Force documents, is owned by an Air Force field grade officer and is moderated by several active duty and retired field grade officers, including an active duty full bird Colonel. Several of the moderators have significant aviation combat experience.

Those who frequent the site come from a wide background, but are typically from the Air Force aviation community. Others include participants from other career fields, as well as aviation journalists, authors, and at least one elected official with a military aviation background. With such solid credentials among both administrators and members alike, the community crawls with cadets and other hopefuls who wish to learn what it takes to be an Air Force aviator. Older members take it upon themselves to provide the culture and expected norms to the younger members, in a form of online mentorship. As such, besides providing an excellent source of information, the community of the BaseOps.Net forum also serves as a medium for Air Force culture.

Despite the community's incredible utility, not all ideas are welcomed in this forum. Some ideas and viewpoints are suppressed, censored, and ridiculed and, in at least one instance, have resulted in a thinly veiled threat of official reprisal. Those who promote unpopular viewpoints, whether political or philosophical, are not infrequently banned, as administrators and members with status choose who is worthy of belonging and who is not, in the ultimate display of culture. One might be surprised not only by the eagerness for online acceptance displayed by some officers, but also by which ideas and viewpoints prove acceptable or not, and by which behaviors are required for community acceptance. As one forum moderator messaged me, seconds before banning me from the forum, “your future here doesn’t look bright if you continue posting these ideas.” The moderator’s words reminded me of the musings of another officer, who would also likely be unwelcome on the forum:
“He should have been the norm: an independent thinker who did his own research on a daily basis and espoused his views regardless of convention because he had the courage to do so. Courage is a virtue. In the military profession, courage tops the list of virtues required and demanded. My experiences in combat demonstrated that you can’t have the physical kind of courage without the moral kind.”
Col Michael D. Wyly, was writing about his friend, Col John Boyd (pictured above). These are the ideas that were referred to by the moderator. Discussions of non-combat courage, the kind of courage required for cultural transformation, faithful public service, and the prerequisite for physical courage in Col Wyly's view, are not allowed on the BaseOps.Net forum. The idea that officers need to display courage, outside of their aircraft, in order to be public servants who faithfully serve the taxpayer and citizens who employ them, proved incompatible with the prevailing forum culture. The coming series of blog posts will attempt to analyze why that is, how it plays out in behavior required for this particular group's acceptance, and what it might teach us about the broader Air Force culture and the way ahead for the strengthening of our service.


  1. The concept is good, but I'm not sure the first cut model pictured above captures what you are trying to do. If Boyd is first in a series, you've got a start. He was certainly and outside-the-box thinker and a cage-rattler, but is a long way from being the ideal warrior role model to shape a future leadership.

    I might suggest looking to folks like Fogleman, Kirk, Ralston, Chain, Horner, et. al. All 4-stars, all with very extensive combat credentials, and all with principles and integrity that put them exactly where you seem to want to take the next generation.

    And, of course, the perfect iconoclastic mold-breaker, Robin. Last time I was at Luke I saw a lot of the drivers wearing small tabs on the Nomex bag with "WWRD". What Would Robin Do?

  2. Razz, thanks for the comment. I was actually just thinking about you over the last several hours while mulling some ideas around. I should have known you'd beat me to the punch. As I was contemplating Boyd and the forum culture, I was pondering the yin yang of Boyd vs Olds and remembering some your comments on Boyd previously on FB. I'm going to develop the idea some more, but I'm already brainstorming the duality of courage in combat (Olds) and courage outside it (Boyd). Both are vital, the question is which one is more vital today? Thanks for posting, and I'm looking forward to quoting your book as I develop my idea a bit more.

  3. And I definitely need to read more about Gen Fogleman. I cursed "service before self" as a Core Value for most of my career, and these days I think it's the best attempt to simplify a concept that is badly needed. Fogleman is definitely a great example. I need to study up on the others you mentioned.