Archive for October, 2007

This Time We Were Lucky

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

The pressure was on.  Before the young Major General could take the podium, the Secretary of the Air Force had some opening words.  Those words included breaking the ages-long tradition of neither confirming nor denying the existence of nuclear weapons.  However, this time it was undeniable.  The basic facts of the embarrassing scandal of temporarily losing a pylon of nuclear missiles confirmed their existence to even the most casual observer.

The seats in front of him were filled with reporters.  Their nonthreatening, inquisitive faces stared up at him as he began.  He looked down at his prepared notes, apparently to make sure he got the facts correct before he spoke.  There could be nothing so serious as to make a faux pas in reporting on this serious event.

His eyes never strayed far from his notes as he said, “Nothing like this has ever happened before.  This was a failure to follow procedures that have proven to be sound.  It involved a limited number of airmen at two bases.  Our extensive six-week investigation found this to be an isolated incident, and that the weapons never left the custody of airmen.  They were never unsecured, but clearly this incident is unacceptable to the people of the United States and to the United States Air Force.  We owe the nation nothing less than adherence to a high standard.  In addition our investigation found that there has been an erosion in adherence to weapons handling standards at Minot Air Force Base and at Barksdale Air Force Base.  We have acted quickly and decisively to rectify this.”

Confident in his prepared notes, he went on to read the details of the event where the weapons were lost, but not really, and then recovered, confirmed the firings of a handful of Colonels and Lt Colonels and the disciplining of an undisclosed number of lower-ranked airmen, and then he discussed the follow-up steps that were being taken.  Before long, he was ready for questions.  He motioned to a reporter near the front.

“My question is about what you meant when you said, ‘in addition,’ what did you mean by that?”

“It means that I was repeating the information that I had just covered.”

“Are you sure?  Because normally when someone says, ‘in addition,’ they are usually adding something to an original list or statement,” the reporter quizzed.

“Hey if I had wanted to add something to the things I had already said, I would have made it clear with the words that I used.  After all, I was reading from my carefully prepared notes.  When I said, ‘in addition,’ I was merely going on to repeat the information that I had said earlier.”

Of course the General didn’t really get asked that silly question.  Therefore he didn’t really say those silly answers; I just joked that he did.  Instead he was asked something much more serious about his opening statement.  However, his response was just as elusive as the silly answers I just joked about.

He was asked by several reporters about what he had meant with his statement about “an erosion in standards.”  Each time he was asked about it, he repeated the first part of his opening statement in slightly modified words.  Mostly to the effect of, “This was an isolated event, with a failure of attention to detail, a failure to follow tech orders, checklists and procedures.  It involved only a limited number of airmen.”

At 7 minutes and 25 seconds into the filmed account of the press release, it only took 8 seconds for General Newton to say, “In addition, our investigation found that there has been an erosion in adherence to weapons handling standards at Minot Air Force Base and at Barksdale Air Force Base.”  He had already covered the data about the “isolated” event, and it was clear to see that he had prepared notes for the briefing.  What does “in addition” mean?

A common man would believe it to mean: There was a serious mistake made, but the Air Force and DoD are handling it.  And in the course of an investigation, it was discovered that something else had happened to degrade the way airmen are following established standards dealing with certain types of weapons.

That “something else” was metaphorically called “erosion,” which everyone knows is something that happens over time due to some catalyst.  For example, wind or water can erode the earth supporting a building, road, or a dam.  Eventually the foundation begins to crumble, small pieces fall away, cracks in the structure appear, then widen, and eventually the entire structure fails.  Small pieces have been falling away from the Air Force for years with little notice.  Was the serious incident a crack appearing or widening?  When is the structural failure coming?

Of course the reporters had questions about that!  However, General Newton retreated into a standard barrage-answer tactic to fend off any of their probing for more information.  The reporters eventually abandoned that line of questioning, but with obvious frustration.

Things that would be nice to know are (1) Who is responsible for the erosion; (2) What started the erosion; (3) When did the erosion begin; (4) Where is the plan to reverse the erosion; and (5) How bad has the erosion become?  Those are the basic who, what, when, where, and how questions that if answered candidly would probably reveal a clothes-line of embarrassing stains that could be the talk of the neighborhood for decades.  And as bad as that would be, it would be even worse to conceal the data and do nothing about it.

Something has happened to the Air Force.  The Air Force used to be very good at adherence to tech orders, checklists, and procedures.  Some time in the past, an erosion of standards began.  That erosion is probably the root cause of the serious incident.  The serious incident is only a symptom of that erosion.  The people fired were, at the most, part of that erosion – not the cause of it.  The cause of the erosion must be identified, targeted, stopped, reversed, and eliminated or other serious incidents are likely to happen in the future.

It just makes sense.

On Obama

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

By now, most of you have seen the picture of Obama standing in front of the Flag with his hands clasped in front of him as he casually gazes off to his right.  Behind him are his competing Democratic Party member Presidential candidates striking a typical “hand over the heart” pose, while the National Anthem gives Obama every benefit of the doubt while makes every excuse possible to justify his behavior.  The photo suggest that Obama must have something in his psyche that makes it seem right to him to not even show a modicum of respect for the nation that has given so much for him to live in the comfort he enjoys.  Something indeed.

Is it too much to ask of a Presidential candidate to say the Pledge of Allegiance?

Obama said, “True patriotism is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security.”

Webster said, “Patriotism is devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country.”

Obama’s spokesperson did not dispute the photo we’ve all seen, he said, “sometimes he puts his hand on his heart, sometimes he doesn’t.  He wasn’t making a statement, suggesting otherwise is ridiculous.”

Is it ridiculous to expect devoted love, support and defense of the United States by elected officials?


Is it ridiculous to expect devoted love, support and defense of the United States by Presidential candidates?


Is it ridiculous to listen to the excuses given to defend such examples of disregard for all the traditions of Americanism?

Maybe, especially when our nation is involved in a global war against terrorism — with terrorists who have attacked our nation and killed our people — with terrorists whose greatest wish to see all Americans beheaded.

What happened to our standards?

The United States has only a few parallels in history of where our nation has been attacked from outside our borders.  Thus historical examples are difficult to show, but here are a couple:

Most of us remember or have read that the US was also attacked back in 1941 and then we launched into World War II:

How ridiculous would similar behavior to Obama’s have been in 1942?  Could a Presidential candidate have behaved in such a manner without having been pulled off the platform and beaten by the people there?

Some of might have read that the Washington DC was burned by our enemies in 1812, this of course was some of the opening blows of the War of 1812:

How ridiculous would similar behavior to Obama’s have been in 1813?  Could a Presidential candidate have behaved in such a manner without having been pulled off the platform and stoned by the people there?

In 2007, did anyone present even “boo” the candidate?  Was the camera person the only one who noticed?

Hopefully, we’re all taking notice now.

Our current political behavior doesn’t make sense.

I understand that the Democratic Party members want to win elections against the Republicans, but can’t everyone just agree to respect this nation and the symbols of American (such as our Flag, the Anthem, and the Pledge), to be united against the enemies of our nation (less we embolden them to kill more of us), and then to debate the other issues honestly in order to decide the elections?

It Just Makes Sense.screen-shot-2011-12-23-at-51052-am.png

Show Me The Mission

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

I submitted this to the Military Times back in July, it was timed for the debut of the new OPR.  Apparently it didn’t make the cut, so I’m posting it here.  If the Times ever changes its mind, I’ll remove it from here.

Show me the mission

Officer performance reports (OPRs) have reportedly been overhauled, but it looks more like they have been stripped.  The mission has been abandoned, and a standards consolidation will test the integrity of the raters of company-grade officers.

Yes, it’s shorter, but at what cost?  The one-page OPR format was made possible through data reorganization and a disappointing elimination of unit mission descriptions and the officers’ impact on those missions.  The reorganization cost raters 33% of their space to assess their people, the additional raters gave up 20% of their space to concur, and the reviewers’ space was shrunk by 20%.  However, most of the space was purchased by combining the pre-existing 6 performance factors, along with a new fitness factor, into one line, which requires only one X to be entered.  The new form has been highly praised, but I’m not sure if it meets standards.

Years ago, OPRs had 10 performance factors, each of which required a small paragraph to explain how the officer actually met those standards.  After a while, it became obvious that while most officers were doing good work, sometimes their work had nothing to do with the mission they were supposed to be doing.  Some people argued that the wrong officers were being promoted because of a flawed OPR form.

So in 1988, “the mission” became the focus of officer performance reports.  The unit’s mission was described at the top of the form and the officer’s performance was required to have an impact on that mission.  The performance factors were reorganized into 6 and no writing was required to explain their performance, merely an X was placed in the meets, or does not meet, standards block.

But now, all we’ve done is go full circle back to the pre-1988 form and leave out the writing part which explained the officer’s performance.  It gives the appearance that the Air Force has decided that the mission doesn’t matter.  The form is praised as being based solely on performance, but it appears future promotion boards will be making decisions based solely on 6 lines of assessment given by a rater with an unknown mission.

For years, I heard it preached that, as a supervisor, one of our most important jobs was to ensure we accurately documented the performance of our people in writing.  Since Air Force officers are promoted and chosen for special duties mainly from what is written in the performance reports, OPRs are of paramount importance to their careers.  Was that just another one of those old-fashioned ideas that needed to fade away?

But there is another, more dismal change in the new form.  Since the same form is used for all officers, from Second Lieutenant through Colonel, the performance standards for field-grade officer and company-grade officer are now the same.

While the Air Force has often treated many of their field-grade officers, especially aviators, as if they were company-grade officers, it has always expected them to behave and perform as field-graders.  But now the new OPR form clearly shows that company-grade officers are to behave and perform to the same standards as the more seasoned field-grade officers do.

So, will Lieutenants and Captains suffer when evaluated against these new standards?  Probably not.  More than likely, busy supervisors will give as much adherence to holding the company-grade officers to the new performance standards as they have given to the requirement to provide performance feedback.

Will the Air Force’s mission suffer if its officers focus more on their personal performance metrics than they do on their unit’s mission accomplishment?  You can bet on it, because … it just makes sense.

Lost Nukes, I wonder…

Saturday, October 6th, 2007

Michael W. Wynne, the Sec AF, responded to “The Saga of a Bent Spear” this morning in the Washington Post.  Yesterday, an old bomber pilot circulated a copy of the article and a piece of the EXTERIOR INSPECTION checklist 1B-52H-30-1 (Apr 2000):

1.d. AGM-129 Missiles – Checked
(1) Nose Protective Guard – Checked removed
(2) Payload Marking – Checked: Check proper payload is installed for the mission
(3) Evidence of Missile Fuel Leaks – Checked

Mr. Wynne states the investigation will be completed within several days.  He also covers four issues that show the AF is not waiting for the results of the investigation:
1) Weapon inspections at all similar installations as Minot and Barksdale.
2) ACC did a stand-down to review munitions policies, regulations and procedures.
3) dialogue with the Sec Def and his inspectors
4) Mr. Wynne has visited both bases and looks at the “dedicated professionals working with our munitions.”

He finishes with declaring the USAF owes a comprehensive, detailed investigation with results that will be transparent and accurate.

I read in the AF Times that he’s called Gen Welch to help look at things, not sure if that is as a formal part of the investigation.  I wonder how an older B-52 general, former CINC SAC, COSAF would be impressed with the reorganization of the bomber force under the leadership of weapon-school grads, that being the most important qualification for leadership? Gen Welch was a doer, I had a conversation with him back in the summer of 1987 that resulted in copilots being called pilots and pilots being called aircraft commanders . . . yes that was my idea, but he made it happen.

I wonder if an objective look will be made at a system that is a political faternal-order of school graduates which has literally defused our nuclear bomber force from any resemblance of the professionalism that was once common place.  Remember when every unit had one or two idiots on the team, but they weren’t the guys in charge?

I wonder if a hard look will be made at how many “pumping-gas into your mini-van” safety briefings were made during our myriad “safety/training days.”

I wonder if a hard look will be made at what really goes on during a mission planning day or on the nearly non-existent critque days.

I wonder if job proficiency will ever become a priority for advancement in the bomber-force.

I wonder if the inspectors will perform a comprehensive psychological and intelligence review of the crop of weapon-school leaders that control the bomber force.  Then I wonder if they’ll conduct a similar test of the crew force that serves them.

I wonder if the investigation will reveal the “brains” behind the process that gutted the aircrews’ ability to follow checklists or recognize nuclear weapons in a 6 out of 12 line-up.

I wonder if the USAF will clean up the leadership disease, and in doing so will they recall the generals who allowed such as virus to infect our Air Force and hold them accountable for the fruits of their labor.

I wonder how frustrated Michael Wynne must be as he tries to deal with the excrement he inherited.

I wonder if there was anything else I could have done while I was on active duty to have prevented this mess – a mess we all saw coming.

I wonder if the true test of leadership really is “knowing when to follow” or is it “knowing when to fall on your sword.”  The personal results is about the same in each case, but the institutional results might have been better.  I wonder if … it just makes sense.

The All Volunteer Force is an American Tradition

Saturday, October 6th, 2007

I submitted this column to the Military Times back in early August.  Apparently it didn’t make the cut, so I’m posting it here

Some people have recently suggested we need a military draft.  I disagree.  The suggestion is out of sync with the historic use of the draft, current national restrictions on military end-strengths, and basic common sense.


During the first 168 years of our nation, the draft was used for less than ten.  The United States has mostly been defended by volunteers, with World War II being an anomaly.  Over ten million men, two-thirds of all that served during World War II were draftees.  In 1948, the draft was reinstituted in order to extract manpower from a war-weary population, to keep the expansionist Soviet Union in check during the Cold War.


In 1969, President Nixon established a commission to develop a plan to return to the traditional all-volunteer military.  Two years later, an all-volunteer baseline was established as pay was raised for all ranks.  The entry-level recruit’s pay went up to $307 for October 1972 from a stark $130 a month the year prior.  After adjusting for inflation, the new recruit enjoyed over 221% of his previous buying power.  An E-4, with over 4 years in service, got a 21% increase, while most other ranks enjoyed nearly a 10% increase in their buying power.  Officially ending in 1973, the longest draft in American history had lasted almost 25 years.  It has been over 34 years since the all-volunteer force has been standard operating procedures.


The all-volunteer force attracts the modern equivalent of the people that fought and won our independence.  They are the best and the brightest our nation has to offer.  In contrast, many people can still remember how the financially elite did the nation a service by obtaining draft deferments for their children as they attended ivy-league colleges during the Vietnam War.  Unfortunately, as the draft pulled many non-volunteers who could manage to pass the mental and physical requirements of the services, the military culture degraded, becoming less attractive to those who were truly called to defend our nation.  Possibly, the only good thing the draft did for our nation was to encourage some of our lesser citizens to flee, seeking refuge beyond our borders in hopes they would not be asked to serve anything beyond their own personal lusts.


It defies common logic to suggest a draft is needed when tens of thousand of qualified airmen and sailors are being required to leave service against their personal desires.  Congress establishes each service’s end strength.  When a service exceeds its authorization, they are required to reduce their numbers.  For example, in 2003 the Air Force and Navy forced thousands of “overage” people to leave.  Our military is the size it is today because our elected officials have so ordered.


It is true that the all-volunteer force has had cyclical problems with retention.  However, those problems were the result of a failure to maintain the 1972 base-line pay scales.  Decision makers used the power of inflation and lagging pay adjustments to shave funds off of personnel costs.  By the end of 1980, all service members had lost 17% of their buying power.  The Air Force was short thousands of pilots and the Navy was parking ships because they didn’t have enough petty officers to float them.  The nation reacted to the mass exodus and brought military compensation to where in 1993, it actually exceeded the 1972 base-line only for a short while.


After the Soviet Union dissolved, the Cold War was over, and then the startling quick victory during the Gulf War, Congress reduced the end-strengths by nearly 40%, which made some sense at the time.  What didn’t make sense was a deliberate effort to deviate from the 1972 all-volunteer baseline.  History had already shown that an all-volunteer force needed a certain amount of compensation and quality of life.  Dropping below that amount jeopardizes retention and recruitment.  When 9/11 hit, the military was almost down to the pay scale equivalents of 1980.  However, retention had been manipulated during the down-sizing through the use of targeted bonuses in order to retain key career fields, while the overall base pay’s buying power continued to wither.


The terrorist attacks on our nation reinvigorated our best and brightest to serve, recruitment went up, separations and retirements were put on hold.  And for a while, quality of life issues took a back seat as a new generation of heroes answered the call to arms.  Our enemy’s strongholds in distant mountains and harsh deserts were rolled into a ball and buried.  With the toppling of two national governments behind us, a protracted war of dealing with a network of organized terrorists, mostly intent on undoing what we’ve started, wearies us as the nation rests safely behind our all-volunteer force.


As our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines deploy over and over and over to remote regions of the earth to fight, build, defend, and occasionally witness their comrades make the ultimate sacrifice, some folks look at falling retention and strained recruitment and say we need a draft.  In reality, we just need to correct back to the 1972 all-volunteer base-line.  Even after the latest targeted pay raises, the 2007 recruit’s $1,203.90 has less than 78% of the buying power of the 1972 recruit’s $307.  An E-4’s $1978.50 has a little over 87% of the buying power of his 1972 counterpart’s $445.50.  For a Major, with over 14 years of service, to equal the buying power of his 1972 counterpart’s pay, he would need a base pay increase of nearly $465 a month.  A draft is not going to fix that problem.


The 2007 all-volunteer force should live at least as well as the all-volunteer force of 1972.  The richest nation in the history of mankind has a mere 0.7% of their population defending the rest of them.  Certainly we can afford to provide those that serve with an American quality of life.


It is one thing to ask young people to offer the prime of their learning and earning years for the defense of the common good.  It is another to expect them to make a career of it, while their families’ quality of life is less than their historic counterparts.  We need to stop experimenting with trying to see how little we can compensate personnel for their military service and just accept the 1972 baseline as a fixed expense for the price of an all-volunteer military.


The best recruiting tool will always be satisfied career NCOs and officers.  Those who are able to, will want to be like them.  The real strength in an all-volunteer force rests in its ability to retain the volunteers who have answered the call.


It just makes sense.