"...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

Friday, June 22, 2012

Resiliency Training and Providing Tools

Recently the Secretary of Defense spoke, saying that while high level leaders can develop programs and fund research like neuroscience studies, it falls on the junior leaders to prevent suicides.  I have always been taught that the role of higher leadership is to provide the tools necessary to execute the mission, and for lower leadership to execute the mission with the tools provided.  I'm assuming the Sec Def believes that preventing suicides is part of the military mission, and that junior leaders have the tools necessary to do so.  So far, all I have seen are reminders of support agencies, and CBT-ish resiliency training that may check a box, but doesn't actually serve a useful purpose.

I recently watched the movie Shrink with Kevin Spacey and Robin Williams.  It can be viewed streaming over Netflix.  I found it interesting that the movie centered on suicide and the struggle to understand why somebody would take their life, and leave hurt and questions behind for their loved ones.  There was no convenient answer in that movie, only continued questions.

In resiliency training we hear a bit about how selfish the decision to take one's life is, and the hurt it leaves behind for loved ones.  The movie certainly did a good job of showing that hurt.  But I have to wonder how many in the military who take their lives, actually leave behind loved ones?  How many are married with children?  I don't know the answer, but I am curious.  A spouse can provide a great support system.  How many who have killed themselves had one?  How many were single?

I'd love to know the answer to that question.

If the numbers bear out that most who commit suicide are single (and I would guess that to be the case), then I think that may be a valuable clue.  It would certainly deflate the "leaving loved ones behind" argument as some kind of deterrent (obviously not an effective one for those who take their lives).  Sure, everybody has parents, but I don't think it's reasonable to expect children to feel entitled to live for their parents' sake.  More importantly, it might lead us to ask why these warriors were single and didn't have a loved one to stand behind them.  Did they live in less than metropolitan places with limited dating options?  Did they have limited time to develop the human relationships that so many require to get through tough times?  Was the fact they worked shift work, with little to no time off, somehow an impediment to getting to know another person enough to forge a lifelong bond?

I don't know the answers to these questions, though I have suspicions.  My gut and limited experience tells me that working conditions in the military are not conducive to developing intimate relationships with others, and that the inability to develop a meaningful loving-support relationship exacerbates stress for people, and some people feel the only way to escape the pain is to take their own lives.  I'll go further and guess that those people don't feel they are leaving behind loved ones of value  Why not?

My gut also tells me that the high level decision makers who put the responsibility of preventing suicide on junior leaders, are more than likely married with children from a time and circumstance that was far more conducive to a happy life than what many in the military live today.

If I am correct, then I believe the responsibility lies not with junior leaders, but with leadership charged with providing resources to those junior leaders.

I could be wrong.  It's a complicated issue.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Why We Serve?

I just read some statements from a retired Air Force National Guard O-5, that I think crystallize the problem with the military, and government today.  Why serve?  Why hold a position in the government?  What does it mean to serve?  According to this former A-10 pilot and commander:
...if anyone says they are serving their country because of the things they have an opinion on or believe are true they [sic] it can be logically inferred by those holding a contrary view that what they believe in is wrong and even treasonous.

It is therefore totally inappropriate to drape oneslf [sic] in the flag and use their military service as a weapon to defend their beliefs, whatever side of an issue they happen to fall. Personal beliefs are personal.
Put another way, if somebody serves because of their beliefs, then another person who doesn't believe those things may find those beliefs wrong or even treasonous.  Therefore it's inappropriate to use military service as a defense for those beliefs.

I don't buy the logic, but what troubles me more is the apparent implication that people should "serve their country" for reasons that have nothing to do with belief on what is true, or right, or righteous.

For example, the belief that people have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Or the belief that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.  Or the belief that government cannot abridge the freedom of the press, or take life, liberty, or property without the due process of law.  And, of course, the belief that a government and society that recognizes these truths above, is worth living in and worth defending by force when necessary.  The retired full bird appears to believe that defending these beliefs is not a good reason to  sign up for military service (though the oath of office requires signing on to these beliefs for expressly that purpose).

To believe that "serving" your country has nothing to do with beliefs, or truth, is to deny serving your country.  It is no wonder our government is failing the American people, and the actions and professions of so many public servants who raised their hands, appear to be made and spoke, without concern for what is believed to be right and true.

It's unfortunate that some who have taken the oath, and been given so much authority and responsibility, "serve" for reasons that have nothing to do with American ideals.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Administration Declassifies Ops In Yemen and Elsewhere

What a shocker. We've taken direct action against targets in Yemen and Somalia? I'm glad it's declassified so that the American people can now "know" what the enemy, and the media, have already known for quite some time now.

I have to wonder why this commonly known information has only been officially admitted to now? If the media and the enemy already know something, why then the "official" secrecy?

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.