"...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, March 18, 2020

Dave Blair, Treason, and Failure Before the American People

So a few months ago my phone started pinging me.  Somehow I was part of this group I had never signed up for, that was labeled for a military unit that I've never been a part of and hadn't even heard of.  Got a string of messages pinging my phone and I was wondering if it was some hacking attempt.  I sent some screen grabs to a buddy of mine who might know and he also had no clue.  I looked for ways to leave the group on my computer, clicked everything I could click, but there was no such option.  Eventually their chats went away, I stopped being bothered by them, and I forgot about the odd group chat.

Yesterday, however, I started getting pinged in another conversation from this group.  I did a bit more research and discovered the unit.  It was a drone unit and this time some of the phone numbers included names.  The name of the first guy in the group stood out.

Dave Blair.  Air Force Academy graduate, Dave Blair.

Dave Blair was a Gunship co-pilot who was sent to drones before upgrading to aircraft commander.  He was known as "smart" in the community and kinda rogue and renegade, not afraid to voice new smart ideas before leadership.  I used to have people contacting me all the time asking me if I knew the guy, telling me that he also flew Gunships and that the stuff he was saying was much like what I was saying.

Finally, I connected with Dave Blair online when I was at Laughlin because so many people told me I should and I had read some of his writings published in journals.  We had never crossed paths in my five years as a Gunship co-pilot and aircraft commander, but people kept sending his stuff to me and saying we were essentially meant to be together, in some kind of purely heterosexual nerd way, because we both had similar soapboxes and both were vocal advocates for drone technology back before it was still un-cool.

We chatted on social media and became "Facebook friends" and sent some papers back and forth and my impression of him was that he was wordy and tried too hard to sound smart.  Kind of like Immanuel Kant who sounds impressive to most people because they can't understand what he's saying, or like watching some Dennis Miller bit where he brings up some obscure reference and everybody laughs because they don't want to seem like the dumb one who doesn't get it.  Still, I liked most of Dave's points and I really liked his "out of the box" thinking.  I like guys who think differently, especially back in those days because the Air Force was on the verge of a revolution of how we could better support warfighters, and we were getting a lot of resistance from cultural norms led by careerist and bureaucratic idiots.

As an Instructor Pilot (IP) at Laughlin I was very vocal about how we needed to forgo our fun flying jobs and concentrate on a better way to do business for the American people. I was adamant that UAS/RPA was the ticket.  What Elon Musk recently said (correctly), I was blogging about here more than a decade ago.  I was a supporter of unmanned technology, and toward the end of my assignment at Laughlin, we were non-volunteering UPT graduates to go fly drones.  Which sucks for a guy chasing a dream that involves yanking and banking when, back then, it wasn't clear that a guy going to drones out of UPT would ever get out to a manned aircraft.  So, I put my money where my mouth was and volunteered to fly Reapers at Cannon AFB because I thought it was the right thing to do for the American people.  As a bonus, I had enjoyed more than a decade of flying assignments, and me raising my hand would save a youngster from getting non-vol'd to a potential black hole.

When I got there, I hung out with Dave Blair a few times.  He was in a different squadron (the same one Brandon Bryant, who also loves lofty assertions to the public while failing to live up to them in secret, was in).  We met at a coffee shop once and saw each other at work a few times and talked online still.  I discovered that he was a religious nut job who had clearly never touched a woman but I didn't hold that against him.  While others talked about Dave Blair like he was some kind of Air Power genius (like the Dennis Miller audience member referenced above), I thought he was kinda scatter shot intellectually. But I liked his writings on the Constitution of the United States and one post in particular about sacrificing for the nation.  So much so I got his permission to re-post his writing on this very blog, his "Back to Basics" essay.  I even had him review my Air University master's thesis.

Then my view of Dave Blair completely tanked.  When I discovered the real Dave Blair, the guy behind his lofty words, the motto of the 19th Special Operations Squadron (a unit that had previously trained us to fly Gunships way back when) rang in my mind.  Deeds Not Words.

I went into work after a long weekend and the mission I was tasked with flying was one that was absolutely, without question, a violation of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.  So, naturally, as a military officer and professional who took an oath to support and defend that document -- who was duty bound to refuse unlawful orders even if it meant losing my career just five years short of retirement -- I refused on the spot.  I didn't fly that mission.  And I never did.  Eventually I resigned my commission over it.

I won't go into all the details of what transpired after, although this draft video about my career discusses it, but suffice it to say that Dave Blair and I had a conversation where I said, "Dude, you know that mission violates the Constitution."  Dave Blair, the intellectual that he is, who had publicly discussed the importance of moral courage and the oath to the Constitution, admitted to me that the mission was unlawful.  So I said, "So you've got to refuse it and honor your oath, this is game time."  I'll never forget his response.

"I'm sorry, Ryno."

Turns out Dave was all words rather than deeds.  No moral courage.  No fidelity to the American people who paid for his college and sent him money every month.  Dave Blair can write, because that takes no courage and is easy.  The doing part for him though, well, that's just too much.  When the pressure is on, Dave folds, his words no substitute for actually believing those words and having the character to abide by them.

“... That I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” That was how it went. There wasn’t an exception for ‘achieving childhood dreams,’ nor an exclusion for ‘as long as leadership has a coherent plan,’ nor a caveat for ‘as long as you’re still doing what you signed up for.’
The opening lines from Dave Blair's article, Back to Basics

Anyway, I was reminded of that story given this new squadron including me in their correspondence.  After not being able to figure out how to leave the group (turns out you can't on a Mac, but you can on a phone), I finally messaged them all back and asked to be removed from the group, while reminding them of their oaths of office.  After listening to their messages blowing up my phone I figured I'd do so while giving them a topic to discuss at the next squadron meeting.  After all, de-briefing our failures is a tradition in the flying community and Dave Blair has a powerful debrief on that topic he should share.  But he won't.

Hilarious mayhem ensued as the members of the group chat appeared surprised that something had went wrong, one sharing a meme about a "security breach" in their chat on an application you can download for Android or iPhone and on various computer operating systems.  Nothing says "secure" like the iTunes app store...

After it was all said and done, I'm now free from my phone pinging me with their jokes and one liners and coordination.  And hopefully, but improbably, my brief insertion into the conversation will lead to Dave Blair explaining to his current squadron how he utterly failed as a military officer in the most egregious way so that they can all learn and do better.  His failure is the kind that in the old days might have come with a charge of treason.

Today it comes with promotion.  And so it goes.

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