"...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

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Mentoring is Hard Work - Thankless, but Important

I'm sure Colonel John Boyd knew that.  Lateral mentoring and upward mentoring can be tough.  These days, it seems mentoring is something that is done with the focus being almost entirely on getting promoted, checking boxes, getting school slots and all things careerist.  That's not real mentoring.

Not by a BVR long shot.  Real mentoring is centered on helping others be better at their jobs, not helping them understand the nooks and crannies of the promotion system.  Sadly, many today think their job is to get promoted.  They may rationalize their self over service with some silly notion that they can do more good once they get to some undefined position, but that is just a campaign speech statement.  They know they are only in it for themselves.  And when such recipients of public service feedback are of low character, and steeped in prioritizing their career and advancement over being good at their jobs, then it becomes a bit of a challenge.  Such mentorship is not valued by yes-men who do not actually care about serving their nation and strengthening the defense of America.  That kind of mentoring can cause some friction, a war of words, and political and social rivalry.

Colonel Boyd would know what I'm talking about.  Such rivalry from inferiors, I have no doubt, is a large part of the reason Boyd's peers called him the "Mad Major" and described him as being crazy, nuts, and insane.  A quick Google search turns up all kinds of such descriptors.  The Big Blue institution didn't like him, and his peers most certainly did not, either.  But he made the Air Force better and he strengthened America way beyond anything done by his peers who were talking about OPRs and PRFs.  And the Marine Corps loved him, God bless em', and honored him with a statue in their museum at Quantico.

He was superior, and his OODA loop was faster.  How frustrating that must be for the enemy.

I remember having this discussion at length with the late Ed Rasimus, legendary fighter pilot.  Ed couldn't stand John Boyd, and his disdain for him was puzzling to me.  I later understood the reason for the disdain.

I personally admire John Boyd, as do many others who can publicly do so now that it does not cost them a social or professional price.  Boyd was not only intelligent, but he was honest and he was fearless.  He would mentor laterally and up the chain.  He was right, he was better, and what he was saying was important.  "Peers" and "superiors" do not like to face that kind of challenge to their thin skins, however, and they do not like having a mirror showing them their own poor reflections.  John Boyd was a mirror.

Rather, they want to focus on the trivial things like a dumb sorority girl might.  How was his bar game?  Do we like him?  Is he a bro?  "No, he isn't enough like us, oh my god, he's like, like so different."

He wasn't a bro.  He was a military officer who took seriously the defense of those who paid him to defend them.  And that's just not cool with the "bros" who, despite being inferior officers, somehow instantaneously pick up a medical/psychology degree and miraculously become qualified to call their betters (like John Boyd) crazy, or insane, or mad.

America needs more like The Mad Major.  And the Air Force could use a great deal fewer officers who act like sorority girls, after being rejected by them in college.


  1. This post was written after my comment on your “Constitutional Jesus” blog. I believe, after slightly more reflection, that the entire Boyd post further illustrates the issues I addressed above.
    In my opinion, the very commentary you write regarding John Boyd illustrates your own biases and self-perceptions than any potential comparison to Boyd. Mentoring, or the act of “teaching or giving help and advice,” requires a receptive audience (definition from Meriam-Webster). If no one is listening, dude, you’re not mentoring.

    I apologize if the following comes across as condescending but please hear me out. The entire post that I’m responding to seems to indirectly compare yourself to John Boyd. John Boyd pushed back against a system and delivered the OODA loop, energy-maneuverability diagrams, the brief Patterns of Warfare, and, at an elemental level, maneuver warfare. These are the reasons Boyd is famous. While he may have been a maverick and controversial, he delivered not one but numerous ideas which fundamentally altered the Air Force and the American way of war in general. His OODA loop may be argued to have had a significant impact even on economics and perhaps even sports. Don’t you think perhaps that comparing oneself with Boyd is, perhaps, slightly presumptuous? After all, I have not seen any theories advanced on any of your blogs thus far that might alter the very way in which critically-thinking and motivated officers might view war.

    People didn’t like Boyd but they listened to him because he was convincing and his subject matter was highly relevant. Unfortunately for you, with your emphasis on the Constitution, the lesson here, I believe, is that you must be very convincing. No matter how right you are, people may easily ignore you. This means you must cater to your audience, not dismiss the audience as ignorant because they do not rapidly agree with your viewpoint. Your points are valid – it is up to you to convince others if this. Slandering officers as ignorant, traitorous, or lazy are all rapid roads to marginalization. If you actually want to make a difference, as Boyd did, you must create a receptive audience. Boyd did that. Boyd did that through the creation of theories that seemed to be insurmountably true and relevant. Convincing an audience of the Constitutional errors of the military today will be more difficult to convince. Thus far, you have not. The evidence of this is the very small following you have on Facebook and the lack of any commentary on your blog (I think I might be the only person save one to comment in the last year or so).

    I consider myself an intelligent person but I would not deign to compare myself to John Boyd simply because I am better read than many of my peers. Consider this when reading my earlier comments regarding arguments. I look forward to your rebuttal.

  2. Great point, I am no John Boyd. It wasn't my intention to say that I was, there is no comparison. My point was to point out that vocal, challenging, folks who do not "shut up and color" meet a resistance in the Air Force that involves accusations of being "crazy."

    As to your other points, those are again communication related criticisms that I'll respond to with a blog post. Thanks again for the great criticism.