"...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, September 30, 2013

Brilliant Leadership From General Welsh

It's not often I get to sing the praises of a senior leader in our service, but I really enjoy the rare opportunities I have to do so.  I was given a great opportunity a couple of weeks ago, thanks to the current Air Force Chief of Staff.  General Welsh, in perhaps the perfect textbook act of leadership, empowered all airmen in our service to do what makes sense for mission and people, even if that means not following a regulation.

The Air Force Times did a good job seizing on the most important aspect of the General's speech, quoting the CSAF stating, "We’ve got a lot of frustrated people out at the front end of the Air Force who don’t understand why they are given guidance to do things that don’t make any sense to them."  The guidance General Welsh gave:

If it doesn’t make common sense, if it doesn’t make the mission better, if it doesn’t take better care of our people, then just don’t do it and tell your boss...

That may sound revolutionary or perhaps even naive to some.  But it most certainly is not.  It is brilliant and it is combat tested.  Robin Olds comes to mind.  But there are also modern examples.  In my years flying the AC-130 Gunship for Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), each time we got a new squadron commander, unfailingly we were told at the very first commander's call that if we knew the regulations and broke them to get the mission accomplished, our commander would have our back.  Each commander followed that up with a reminder that if we broke regulations because we did not know them, they would fry us.  This was not an invitation to suck, to be lazy, or to not care.  I want to emphasize that every single squadron commander gave that disclaimer up front (four commanders in my time spent in the community).  They told us this, because it was important and they knew we were dedicated and mature enough to think and to get the mission done successfully.  And we did.  And we were truly exceptional doing it.

General Welsh has empowered us the same way.  For those who think it was just a speech, the Air Force Times article tells us General Welsh claims he is "dead serious."  In the video link above, you can witness the Chief saying it.  Beyond that, I have heard other senior leaders echo this sentiment, pointing to these specific words from the CSAF, to those who complain about the myriad of serious problems we suffer in our air service.  In the video above, the CSAF says that the MAJCOM commanders understand his guidance.  In the political reality in which we live, where so many military officers psychologically trade in their uniforms for the clothes and fake smiles of politicians, I understand mistrust of those who climb the ladder.  I certainly reserved a bit of mistrust for General Welsh when he took command.

But listening to him talk about his father, and his father's amazing acts of service, in addition to the obvious qualities General Welsh brings to the table, was enough to earn my trust.  You simply don't have a father like Colonel Welsh and not care.  It's not possible.  You don't become CSAF without being intelligent and competent.  Caring, intelligence, and competence is a superb combination.

The BLIM is this--if you are acting in the best interest of the service and the nation, regardless of the friction that might cause, your service will not be lost while General Welsh is at the helm.

I would, however, advise all to remember the words of my ghostly commanders from the past.  Know the regs, know the mission, and be doing the right thing for the mission.  Maturity.  Authority brings responsibility.  Study before treading lightly.

The gauntlet has been thrown down, and it's not just words from a speech writer.  The boss has gotten the message out, and it's trickling down.  There should be no misunderstandings, and there are no longer any excuses for not getting it done.  There is, however, a responsibility to mentor our peers and subordinates on the maturity required to handle this increased authority that each of us has been given to take care of mission and people.

General Welsh threw the gauntlet down.  While he fights for resources in a tough environment, he has given us the green light to do what makes sense for the nation.  It's time for us to pick the gauntlet up, and take care of business for the American people.  General Welsh has our back.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

New Forum for Real Military Aviation Communication

More than a decade ago I created a military aviation website with an emphasis on resources for cadets wishing to be commissioned officers, and aviators.  My intent was to develop it cradle to grave, focusing on the youngsters, and I invested a great deal of money into the venture.  Not only does WantsCheck.Com ("wants check" is a military pilot mnemonic) have content, but it has great tools designed to allow the community to improve the website.  Fortunately, I designed it in such a way that those who wish to give to the community can do so directly whether it be by sharing their personal information that led them to gaining a coveted slot for military pilot training, or by sharing gouge on an interview with a particular guard unit.  This paid off.

A string of legal issues took all my time from developing the website, and I have barely visited the website over the last five years.  Still, the website continued to grow amassing nearly 17,000 registered users and a database of more than 600 individuals who shared their competitive information before attending pilot training.

I will now be using the website for an experiment on communication.  I and several others will be launching a message board, with carefully discussed rules for moderation to prevent censoring good ideas.  Many of the problems with communication found in our service, it seems to me, are mirrored on military websites.  Our attempt will be to create a forum where opinions and ideas can die or prosper on their own merit, without the insecurity of moderators or irrational worship of sacred cows trumping discussion.  In order to better study this communication, I have to refrain from joining it, and will simply study from the shadows our new creation.  For my part, the forum is not a means to empower a particular message (to include my own), but to empower real communication.

I hope to have the forum populated by a diverse group of individuals with differing opinions, free from censorship, in the hope that unfettered communication will lead to greater knowledge among those who participate.  And hopefully, to a better informed group of individuals serving in our military.

Wish us luck as we endeavor to Keep Em' Flying!

Monday, September 2, 2013

President Obama Made the Right Call on Syria

One of the tougher aspects of military service is that service means being the stick, and not the hand that wields it.  We don't have to agree with the wisdom or outright foolishness of any proposed military action in order to pack our bags and carry it out.  We simply have to be sure that our actions are legal and comport with the laws of our nation.

When it comes to law, our President was correct during his speech.  He was correct that he does have the ability to take military action without congressional approval.  While it is true that our Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, it is also true that the same section of enumerated powers to Congress also gives that branch the power to make all laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution every single power granted to any portion of our federal government.  Congress exercised that power by passing federal law, known as the War Powers Resolution, which allows the President to take military action for sixty days without their authorization or approval, and imminent threat to the United States is not required.  President Obama was correct.

I believe it was a wise move for President Obama, notwithstanding his legal authority to take military action, to choose not to do so in order to let this matter be debated in Congress where it belongs.  Fortunately, our military leadership has been providing responsible advice to civilian leadership.  We can only hope that Congress gets it right this time, and does not error inexcusably as they did with their authorization for war in Iraq.  I also believe that every instance of government being restrained by our rule of law, should be applauded.

Again, we're the stick.  If Congress authorizes the war, be ready to pack your bags and go to work.