"...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, April 23, 2012

Is the Air Force Failing in the Character Department?

Apparently there is some significant data to show that the Air Force's most prized and most illustrious commissioning source is failing in its mission to produce ethical Air Force officers.  A recent article entitled, Cracks in the code: The Air Force Academy might be losing its hold on the nation's future officers, by Pam Zubeck reports that a class of 1964 researcher, and Vietnam bomber pilot, named Fred Malmstrom has released a study showing, among other things:
  1. USAFA cadets who reported engaging in honor code violations rose from 29% with the Class of 1959 to 66% with the Class of 2010.
  2. USAFA cadets who tolerated, and did not report, honor violations rose from 5% with the Class of 1959 to 68% with the Class of 2010.
  3. Those who reported having respect for the honor code stayed nearly 90% for the fifty years prior to 2007, but from 2007-2010 dropped to 70%.
The data was taken from voluntary surveys of USAFA graduates.  The data indications don't stop there, however.  According to the article:
Now, another barometer has delivered more bad news. The Defining Issues Test, a scientific yardstick for measuring moral thinking, has found no significant difference in the highest level of moral reasoning between academy seniors and seniors at other colleges and universities. It's also found that one in four members of the Class of 2010 regressed to lower levels of ethical decision-making while at the academy, despite 60 hours of honor and character development training.
All at an institution where taxpayers pay more than $400,000 per graduate to create "leaders of character."
From my own personal experience, I think this data makes sense and is just the tip of the iceberg.  This is a much larger cultural issue.  The article shows that similar results were found in all of the service academies.  In my years of service it has become painfully clear to me that the higher standard of ethical conduct expected from Air Force officers is a myth.  Nobody expects particularly ethical conduct, and such conduct is not role modeled or rewarded (in fact in the rare chance it's encountered, it is often punished).  Instead, what is expected is the perception of ethical conduct.  That perception is achieved through proclamations and recruiting posters and speeches, and through the inertia of social and media expectations.  I would guess that our young zoomies at the Air Force Academy learn that lesson quickly.  Our Air Force has become a political landscape where we say one thing, and do another, not unlike the standard issue American politician.  The air service is no longer a cut above.  It's no longer a profession populated by the courageous who are willing to sacrifice for their country (outside of rarely dangerous combat missions that are touted as being little less than the Normandy invasion).  Instead, the Air Force has become a place where airmen learn to "play the game."

Service in the Air Force has become a game.  One that Andy Fastow could have coached.

Fred Malmstrom has tapped into something very important, in my opinion.  The United States Air Force is suffering an enormous and very dangerous ethical crisis.  If I were king for a day, I would study the differences between military officers and the non-commissioned officer corps.  I have no data to back it up, but in my experience the more courageous and ethical individuals are not the officers with the educations, but rather our NCOs.


  1. Just saw that Colonel Frank Fitts, aka RainmanA-10, popped off online about Sgt Stein's recent dismissal and suggested that I was somehow akin to Stein.

    I've blogged about this retired O-6 lunatic before: http://www.pickyourbattles.net/2011/10/rain-covered-man.html

    I've also blogged about Sgt Stein here: http://www.pickyourbattles.net/2012/03/social-media-risk.html

    Rainy is a perfect example of the failure of USAFA to develop character in officers. All bravado, but as a retired officer he berates college girls, and exudes cowardice and false ego. He lies to sway personalities on an internet forum, talks about bombing American citizen protestors, and he screams like a three year for the banning of anybody who rightfully calls him out. He is angered that anybody in uniform would have the backbone to actually try to better the service, instead of join his good ole boy club of worshippers. He boasts his O-1 time to check the courage box and to rationalize his self hatred. He knows he is a coward. He oozes cowardice, the courage checkbox and his macho lingo notwithstanding.


    He makes his insecurity crystal clear as he types from his retirement home to college kids and currently serving officers. He needs his ego to be stroked, and that is why he would be the last to stand out from the herd to do what is right for the country.

    He is a shining example of the failure of USAFA in the character department.

  2. Is he a USAFA grad? You make it sound like he is a product of the USAFA failure to produce character that your article alludes to. I'm sure that none of the other commissioning sources have these problems (c'mon). This is a society-wide problem. Expect to find it everywhere. No reason to go trying to peg it on a single source.

  3. He is. You're right though, this is much bigger than USAFA.