Air University Command Chief Discusses JQP, Critical Thinking

Tim Horn

I don’t know CMSgt. Tim Horn. We never served at the same base and, to the best of my recollection, never met or had any mutual acquaintances. Because I don’t know the Chief, what follows is strictly professional.

Last week I noticed a slight bump in the number of readers accessing the blog from locations in and around Montgomery, Alabama — the home of Maxwell Air Force Base and Air University. This usually happens when someone in a leadership role publicly discusses the site, alerting previously oblivious airmen to its existence. I’m always thankful for such augmentation, and always admittedly curious about the exact remarks made.

Sometimes, that curious itch gets scratched. Much to the surprise and frequent chagrin of some Air Force officials whose thinking is trapped in a Cold War fantasy universe, this is the Information Age. The things they say publicly travel swiftly. Often, someone reaches out with a first-hand account of what was said in a meeting or formation about JQP, and it’s often possible for me to corroborate such accounts across independent sources.

Last week provided one such opportunity. I had a few people reach out with unsolicited reports that Chief Horn had publicly disparaged the blog … specifically telling airmen that it was “full of lies” and that the site’s creator had sour grapes after being professionally jilted by the Air Force. Of all those flavors, the Chief chose salt.

Of course, neither of his reported claims are true. JQP often contains inconvenient truths, but seldom if ever contains inaccuracies. When minor factual inaccuracies do make rare appearances, they represent mistakes of performance rather than malice or lack of effort … and are swiftly and transparently corrected the instant they are discovered.

As for Horn’s second remark, I won’t take the bait by engaging in the vanity exercise of obliterating such a hollow and reality-starved claim. Suffice to say it’s pure bunk, as anyone in possession of the facts can attest.

I take issue with these claims because of what they attempt to do, which is to degrade the credibility of this site so Air Force leaders can go back to having comfortable control over an uncontested narrative. This would be bad for everyone involved. The existence of JQP has, I believe, been a healthy influence upon Big Blue. For the first time in a long time, leaders know what they do might become the subject of an accountability exercise over which they have no control. For some, this notion is too uncomfortable to passively bear. So they do the only thing they have the power to do: they apply their influence in an attempt to make this site less relevant.

But it never works, which should be abundantly clear after three years of this rolling clinic on strategic communication. You can’t expect to succeed by attempting to cut people off from the ideas of others. You have to actually present better ideas and persuade them to your position. 

I reached out to Chief Horn via the Maxwell public affairs staff to see if he might want to verify his words and explain what he meant. Through a spokesperson, Horn did not deny making the remarks. His spokesman did offer the following:

“[A]t every opportunity he has to address enlisted Airmen, the [Air University] command chief challenges them to be critical and objective thinkers. He asks them to balance what they see and read from the variety of unofficial and official news sources on the [i]nternet and in print, and to think objectively and critically about what they’ve read before drawing conclusions and forming opinions on any given topic.”

I actually appreciate this statement. If this is how Chief Horn is conditioning his airmen to think, more power to him. Skepticism, objectivity, critical thinking, drawing from multiple sources … these habits nourish intellectual growth.

Whether he needs to go so far as to publicly marginalize this site and its creator to achieve his objective is a different matter. But if I take him at his word, we share the goal of engendering more critical thought in the ranks, and that shared goal is more important than either of us filling out a hurt feelings report.

I appreciate Chief Horn’s philosophy even if I quarrel with his tactics. Most of all, I appreciate him stoking curiosity about this site through his remarks, and driving new readers our way. I sincerely hope those readers approach this site with the healthy skepticism his statement encourages.

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