You’re Fired

While those words have been heard in millions of homes when Donald Trump said them on his television reality show The Apprentice, they’re not the words anyone wants to hear their boss say to them. In The Donald’s show, he fires a competitor each week, based on poor performance, leaving only one final winner at the show’s finale.  The collection of losers go off to find other jobs on their own.  At least television gives us the perspective that they are losers.

But are they really?  How many people are chosen to be a competitor on a quality reality show?  As each round of elimination progresses, the ones that survive become a member of a smaller, elite minority.  Until there is only one.

They all want to win, but there can be only one.

We all know reality shows are edited, directed, and optimized for entertainment value in order to keep audiences interested in them.  So honestly, they’re just entertainment and not reality.

In reality, all those people who make the sets, run the cameras, provide the meals, edit the film, and basically carry the water for the stars make everything work.  It’s a team effort, but only a few are chosen to be stars and to get the camera focused on them.

The principle is clear.  The ratio of pretty-faced stars for the camera have to be balanced with the number of water-carriers who do the work that make it all possible. Not everyone is destined for fame, but the ones that are, can’t do it without the ones who do the work.

Entertainment is big business.  After all, what would the rest of us do in our spare time if we didn’t have entertainers singing, dancing, posing, or pretending to be somebody else for us?

Entertainment is most interesting when it parallels reality.

Somewhat like a reality show, the career path of an Air Force officer is an exciting competition that most often ends with something like being fired.  Oh, we don’t call it being fired, we use “retired” as the code word.

I think Air Force officers come in something like 256 shades of type-A personalities.  Everyone of them has the secret desire to become the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, but there can be only one.   Most will not get their star, but all of them have their story.

Some of them are told to either take an undesirable assignment or to retire.  Others are told they are too old and they should retire.  Too many are told they aren’t part of the in-crowd, “You’ve done a lot of good things, but I don’t know you and you should retire.”  A few might hear, “I can’t believe you’ve embarrassed me this much–time for you to go.”  It all boils down to, “You don’t fit the mold, you’re fired.”

It’s about as fair as any system can be.  We can’t promote everyone.  There are not enough stars.  Somebody has to go.  At least that’s the mantra.

Operating the Air Force is much more complicated than running a television series, but a common principle applies.  You have to keep enough people around to carry the water or the stars will fall from favor.  As the Air Force has down-sized, the number of stars should have reduced also, but that’s a hard idea for some to understand.  They’d rather cut the water-carriers.

In the process of making room for the clones of themselves, they pushed hundreds of superior officers with great leadership potential out the door to retirement.  They denied them school slots, leadership positions, and commander jobs in order to groom their hand-picked people.  Critical mass was achieved.
For the last 12 years or so the battle-cry has been, “The only thing you need to know about the nuke mission is, it’s easy.”  Well, that kind of thinking has started an earthquake in the Air Force.

How many after-shocks will follow is anybody’s guess.

To use an already over-used Naval metaphor; if an aircraft carrier runs aground, it is certain the captain will be fired, even if it takes a few months to figure out who the captain is.  It is also certain that the replacement captain will not come on-board trusting the crew like the last captain did.  Heads will roll. Planks will be walked.  Keels will be hauled.  DD214s will be signed.

It just makes sense.

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