"...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

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Burden of Command & the Cheap Seats

An article written, and advertised on the cover of The Air Force Times, by Air Force Captain Lawrence Wilson, has started to become a bit of a discussion point. In his article, Wilson essentially defends the flight suit, and the aviator, but also totes a hierarchy that stretches beyond rank and position into fabric, and he comes off a bit as a blow hard who gets some basic points wrong.  He did make some good points.  He also made some poor ones, the worst being his statement that the flight suit itself somehow "commands" respect.

More interesting than his article, as related in the forum of BaseOps.Net, is the fact that shortly after Wilson's article was published, his base commander (who actually commands whether wearing his flight suit, or not), made a decision to ban flight suits from being worn on his base, unless the person was performing flight related duties.  Not a popular decision as the thread above highlights.

I'm in the cheap seats, and I can see (I think) two sides of this issue.  Was the wing commander being punitive and retaliatory, punishing every rated person on base for an unpoplular stance taken by one?  Or was he reacting to a public relations (read "leadership") issue, and doing what he could do quickly, to let all concerned know that the actual hierarchy of his base doesn't subscribe to the juvenile opinion of Captain Wilson?  Or was his decision unrelated to the article, and simply interesting timing?  Who knows.  At the end of the day, it doesn't matter.  It's his base and his decision is perfectly within his realm.  Still, as the thread above demonstrates, people are a bit energized by this issue.  I think this serves as an opportunity to be reminded that those of us in the cheap seats don't have access to the many factors that go into decision making as a commander.

It's easy, very easy, to lob grenades from below when you don't have all the information, and more importantly, when you don't have the pressure of command on your shoulders.  They call it burden of command for a reason, and it's easy to consider a commander's job easy, or command decisions simple, when you aren't in the hot seat.  This shouldn't at all stifle those below from telling the boss when he or she is wrong.  But when you can see both sides, and you're in the cheap seats, that's actually a good time to shut up and color.

This is something I have to remind myself frequently.


  1. Sir, I am interested in understanding the perspective you are espousing. If you can see both sides of an issue, shouldn't you even be more vocal and enlighten others of a well rounded point of view?

    1. Perhaps. The tension is between offering inputs to the decision maker(s) and supporting those decisions. Certainly offering those inputs in private is good (assuming the issue is important enough, challenging your boss on the color chairs he purchases for the office probably doesn't rate). And, if an issue is important enough (such as law breaking) then enlightening others outside of your boss may be the correct course of action (whistle blowing being the ultimate example) but it depends on the issue. Or so it seems to me.