Saturday, April 5, 2014
Operation Just Kidding & Air Force Bankruptcy
UPDATE: The Air Force was quick to do the right thing. Good on our service leadership.
Reports are now flowing of multiple individuals who were granted early retirement (TERA) only to be told days later, that a mistake was made, and that they are not actually approved to retire after all.
This in the service that preaches people and resiliency, and excellence in all we do, and is struggling with suicide in the ranks. The situation in the service has deteriorated to the point where normally risk averse people are screaming on social media and demanding accountability. They are asking why nobody has been fired over the embarrassing force management incompetence.
The force management program was unleashed upon airmen immediately prior to the Christmas break. Some thought the timing was a sick joke, but leadership explained it was done to give airmen the ability to share information with their families, and to be armed and able to make tough life decisions.
Since that initial release last year, the service has issued conflicting guidance, changed guidance, removed guidance and taken a "strategic pause." In that time, airmen have been denied voluntary programs for spurious reasons. For example, several continued majors with more than fifteen years have been told they were ineligible for TERA due to active duty service commitments, despite clear force management guidance that stated commitments and year groups did not apply to continued officers.
Most airmen, however, remain in the dark about their status as the service blows through deadline after deadline.
And now, after the pauses, the changes and the mayhem, Operation Just Kidding has been launched like a cherry on top of an incompetence sundae. Airmen are being told that their retirement approvals were mistakes, and told they are no longer approved to retire. One can only imagine the stress in their households.
The psychological roller coaster ride would likely rival Six Flags.
One lesson is no doubt clear to airmen. Their service preaches excellence, but can't get basic bean counting right. Their service preaches accountability and gives them an Article 15 for missing a doctor's appointment, but doesn't punish those in charge who damage mission and people for years to come. The biggest lesson is that the Air Force cannot be trusted at its word, and you cannot take anything the service says, even the important stuff, at face value.
The incompetence is staggering. The Air Force is legendary as the service of managers rather than combat leaders. It's the home of bean counters. Carl Builder describes the Air Force wing in the Pentagon as projecting almost corporate power similar to a Fortune 500 company. And yet the service, armed with databases and codes and flags, and spreadsheet software is unable to make basic force management programs work. Why is that?
As a side note, years ago I tackled a cultural comparison of Enron and the Air Force in my master's thesis. It raises some interesting questions and is worth a read, I think.
I feel bad for the airmen and their families having to endure this goat rope. But mostly I'm embarrassed and concerned. I'm concerned, because this debacle has ensured skilled airmen will run for any door they think leads out of the service (even if it turns out to be an entrance into a labyrinth), and talent will gush from our ranks for decades. Like a service in shock, where the blood gushes from the body leaving the remaining blood to try to keep vital organs from dying.
Sadly, what once used to be a "sinking ship" portrayal of only a particular squadron or two, is now the way many people paint the entire service.
People will not stay past their initial commitments, and this will lead to manning and capability challenges far into the future.
As people run for the doors, like creditors and investors running from Enron, the house of cards begins to crumble and the result is not good.
Good luck to airmen now and in the future. I hope somebody in the chain agrees that telling people no, right after you told them yes, is absolutely unacceptable. Reverse this. Let them go then correct your vector and stop embarrassing us.