The World in Which We Live
December 1, 2020 | View PDF
I have to admit one thing. As I look back at my Air Force career, I have had the honor and pleasure working with some of the most honorable, intelligent and patriotic men and women you can imagine. I will tell anyone that if I could handpick my team of 10 veterans and debate just about any other group of equal numbers in areas of national security, military necessity, homeland security and the like, we would crush all challengers. I honestly believe this. I say this because the group of men and women that entered the Air Force with me way back in 1983 are a vastly different group of people that dominate much of our political discussions today.
Most of the younger generation has zero compasses from which to focus their arguments relative to my peers and I. This is not to say they are not as smart because many of these young kids today would bury me in the world of academia. I concede that without any animus. I will, however, argue that the world perspectives we share are polar opposites and that many of the young in our country have absolutely no clue what they are arguing for and about. NONE. Below is exactly what I am talking about. Both of these quotes come from the following site.
Nearly half of American millennials (44 percent) would rather live in a socialist society than a capitalist one, according to a report from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC) which relied on YouGov polling data. Even so, there’s widespread ignorance among millennials about socialism and communism — only 71 percent of the millennials surveyed could properly identify what communism is and many often conflated the two economic systems.
This ignorance among millennials isn’t surprising, as a 2016 CBS/New York Times survey found that only 16 percent of millennials could accurately define what socialism is. The VOC survey also found that 23 percent of those between the ages of 21-29 said Joseph Stalin was a “hero.” As leader of the Soviet Union, Stalin oversaw the death of millions and the infamous “gulag archipelago” of deathly work camps for political dissenters. An equal number of 20-somethings described North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, who has imprisoned an unknown number of political dissidents in labor camps while thousands of his people starve, as a “hero.”
Millennials also gave conflicting answers about free speech. While 71 percent said it ought to be protected, an alarming 48 percent said it should be limited on social media and 45 percent said it should be limited on college campuses so as not to offend anyone.
As a red-blooded, card-carrying American patriot, I cannot for the life of me understand how these kids can really believe this stuff. All the rioting in the streets and looting this past summer is a testament to their lunacy. I think it would be fair to say that none of these idiot kids, who actually believe this, has ever lived in a socialist country. I am not talking about countries that may have some socialist institutions but rather, hard charging, I will kill you if you disagree with our government, type of socialism. And as Lenin once allegedly claimed, “The ultimate goal of socialism is communism.”
But this being said, one of the more eloquent manipulators of the English language is a friend of mine. I will call him, “Joe.” I will not disclose his name or location, but nearly every day we trade information on world events and although I have been retired from the Air Force for 13 years, “Joe” still works daily with the military in his now civilian role. He sent me this letter last week and I asked if I could edit it down and repost it.
Although this letter specifically pertains to “Joe’s” current job, the principles and overarching constructs point directly to so many people in our country today. They have absolutely no common reference with me and many of my generation. It is both scary and sad and as we move further into the 21st Century, it will get worse as more and more socialist thought is pushed into our schools by many left-leaning socialist teachers who themselves have no common perspective with traditional views of what is important about America and where we fit in world history. Are we perfect? I’m a Black guy for crying out loud, of course we are not. But I tell you what, I have been in some pretty crappy places around the world and I would not trade it for any other place.
See ya next month. T8er Out!!
In the letter, my friend talks about military leaders today and where they were on 9/11. What about school teachers? School administrators? The writers of textbooks? The list goes on.
But enjoy “Joe’s” letter to his boss. I have tried to define all of the acronyms used. Sorry if I missed any.
As I sat down to pen this, it occurred to me this was the day (28 September) in the year of 1991 Strategic Air Command’s continuous day-to-day ground alert posture ended. It was a surreal day watching our alert area KC-135’s off of SIOP Alert status. (The Single Integrated Operational Plan was the United States' general plan for nuclear war from 1961 to 2003) At that point in our history, we had had two wings – a Strategic Air Command Wing and a Tactical Fighter Wing on the same installation.
The year of 1991 was pivotal. DESERT SHIELD had turned into DESERT STORM and airpower delivered a stunning February victory. By mid-1991 the Soviet Union largely completed the removal of their forces from Eastern Europe followed by a 1 July announcement declaring the dissolving of the Warsaw Pact. Hardline Communist Party officials grew discontent with these changes and attempted a coup against Soviet President Gorbachev in August. It was sporty times. But the times were indeed changing and the threat was being reassessed as the Cold War was in its twilight. That brought about significant USAF organizational changes as well. Many commands were changed, some terminated with extreme prejudice as old cultural scores could now be settled with a few strokes of a pen. Mighty SAC (Strategic Air Command) was soon sent to rest into the pages of history and SAC was absorbed by the fighter mafia to be led by fighter pilots. Thus, began a retribution cycle to expunge their culture, readiness and discipline, but that is another story left for another time…
As I reflected on that year it got me to thinking about what readiness once was and how the mission was at the center of everyone’s eye during those times. My thoughts then went to my perception that a cognitive dissonance on readiness seems to exist in this organization’s culture.
Why are so many reluctant to face reality? Why do so many seem complacent and at times aloof to the mission? It made me reflect upon a presentation I once sat through that talked about “you are who you are when…” The presentation laid out a hypothesis stating the “who” you are today reflects the world where you grew up and what existed in your formative years.
For the sake of argument, we’ll look at those leaders at this installation with 20 years of service that are on our books now. For them:
* The Soviet Union only existed in history books
* There has only been one Germany, not an East or West Germany
* There always has been a conflict in the Middle East
* We’ve never had nuclear bombers on alert
* They’ve never heard a KLAXON (A launch alert sounded throughout a base)
* The Cold War has always been over
* Loring, Pease, Plattsburgh, Wurtsmith, K.I. Sawyer, Grissom, Bitburg, Zweibruken, Hahn, Torrejon, Alconbury, Comiso, Araxos, Clark, George, Castle, Mather, March, Myrtle Beach, McClellan, Kelly, Kefllavik, Galena, King Salmon, Homestead, England, and Williams have never been Air Force Bases
* They have always had GPS
* They have always had a computer on their desk
* They have always had e-mail
* They have always had the internet
* They have always had cell phones
* They have never had to use an overhead projector
* They have never used a grease pencil
* They have never been subjected to no-notice Operational Readiness Inspections
* They have always had plenty of time for buildup and preparation
* They have never had to deploy to a Base X to validate wing combat readiness
* BRIM FOST, TEAM SPIRIT, FOAL EAGLE, REFORGER, SALTY DEMO, CHECKERED FLAG, and BRIGHT STAR are abstract terms lacking any point of reference. (Annual/ Semi-annual exercises we used to do)
* China was not a threat but our source of cheap economic goods and a great trading partner
That all said, I can conclude the vast majority of active duty officers and SNCOs (Senior Non-Commissioned Officers) here do not have the same references that I do. They have never lived with an existential threat. One could, in some ways, argue 9/11 was an existential threat to them. It is safe to say every officer serving on 9/11 is now at least a Lt Col and they view contingencies and characterize conflict predominately through a CENTCOM (Central Command) prism. The losses and turmoil the likes of which we endured in Vietnam and the austerity of the Post Vietnam era are unable to draw an emotion to most. Nor can those members comprehend the sting of failure like we endured at DESERT ONE in Iran.
Our current crop of leaders has never had to live without technology. They have, in many ways, become conditioned to expect the certainty of victory and instant information. This along with decades long focus on counter-insurgency may have created an institutional complacency that is making true change difficult. It may be hard to comprehend a rapidly evolving enemy that moves faster than we can respond or that possess capabilities we do not know of.
Personally, I, believe we have become complacent. The CSAF’s (Chief of Staff of the Air Force) declaration of “adapt or lose” is not resonating the gut punch is should in our force. Losing is incomprehensible because we have become intoxicated by our own successes. We think victory is assured. We no longer think about backups and redundancies because things have always have worked and excess capacity is too expensive. We were conditioned to no longer think we need to be ready to fight at a movements’ notice because we have been afforded plenty of time. We don’t worry about the Russians because they’ve always been our friends and the Chinese are our biggest economic partner.
You and I know we have had this affliction at many points in our Air Force’s history. We explain away threats as anomalies, alter assumptions to satisfy conclusions we want, and build war games to guarantee outcomes, rather than hone capabilities. Sadly, we seem to have traded John Wayne for the Kardashians and in doing so we have become a Pedigree show quality Jack Russel Terrier in a world of wolves. That Jack Russell is one smart dog with strong bloodlines. What worries me is that the wolves seem to be figuring it out, and they are getting hungry...and in this world, we need wolves to fight wolves. Wolves are pack animals.
So where am I going with this?
Culture directly correlates to organizational readiness. Military organizations exhibit certain characteristics that distinguish them from civilian organizations. Culture is the bedrock of military effectiveness. Culture is the glue – the motivation, aspirations, norms, rules of conduct that focuses, galvanizes and enables a military outfit to be viable, survivable, and lethal. Modern threats and hybrid warfare create a fluid and complex battlespace – one more chaotic than we have faced in previous eras. That environment demands a highly adaptable, disciplined and resilient organizational culture in order to survive.
Within our organization, even after the release of the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS), we fought to maintain the “status quo”. Most pronounced in this document was the acknowledgement we are emerging from a period of strategic atrophy. The NDS declared our competitive military advantage had been eroded. We neglected to culturally transition into accepting the NDS as the change agent then Secretary of Defense Mattis meant it to be at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. We consistently missed opportunities to change culture in anticipation of those mandates.
In this day and age, and especially in a resource constrained environment change can be hard. Culture change can be very hard. If you throw a rheostat open to full capacity very rapidly you risk blowing a circuit and damaging the circuitry. Change can be accomplished incrementally at a deliberately accelerated rate with a steady hand manipulating that rheostat without damaging the circuity. But that requires analog leadership. Leadership that goes beyond command by edict and e-mail. Again, it is hard, you have to make it personal. Leaders have to lead. Get out and look, see, inspire. Your presence will be infectious. Our men and women need a connection to the mission and each other propelled by leader interaction to build focus and resolve – to MEAN SOMETHING. Sadly, it seems we have opted for “connectivity” and not “connection”. And it shows in our culture.
So, in conclusion, be not afraid of looking out beyond the screen of your phone, tablet, and desktop. Seek out the elders and the veterans that have an experience portfolio that you can leverage. They offer you an experience and perspective of unimaginable breadth and depth. It seems the USAF is awakening from its slumber and we will be called to face worthy adversaries once again. But time in the airpower business is the only commodity that cannot be replenished and we have little left to make this culture change a reality. Those old gray slightly overweight vets you have access to have intimate knowledge of what has worked and what has not worked over the years. They can give you honesty and perspective that few others can.