The following “open letter” was penned by a self-described “fed up Air Force officer.” We’re sharing it not only because it reflects attitudes and sentiments becoming more prevalent across an increasingly frustrated, tired, and under-resourced Air Force, but because senior leaders claim they care about what’s troubling the force and want to fix it.
Generals, if you truly want to understand what’s troubling the rank and file these days, read this. It contains many clues. Or better yet, ask your people what’s bothering them … and then trust the answers. No … morale is not “pretty darn good.”
Dear Air Force,
I don’t mean the whole Air Force, for I look to my left and I look to my right and I see so many people who echo my frustrations. In fact, I haven’t found anyone recently who largely disagrees. Maybe, because there are so many voices screaming in frustration, it has just turned into dull background roar.
Dear Air Force,
Big A, big F. I’m not quite sure if I’m looking up at leadership, or an amalgamation of the lack thereof combined with faceless yet autonomous AFIs. I don’t know who or what you are, but you need to listen. Not to me; I’m nobody important. But listen to the message I echo from so many of my peers.
I’m starting to think you don’t know how to listen. Our unanswered grievances have been spoken plainly so many times. I think you don’t know how to listen because you can’t communicate either; you speak in riddles and clichés to the point that we’re not sure you’ve actually said anything of substance. “The World’s greatest Air Force” shouldn’t come with the tag line, “stop trying to use common sense,” a phrase I hear daily when trying decipher what exactly new guidance is trying to convey.
Dear Air Force,
I hate to sound childish, but I’m going to have to speak to you in the only way I think you’ll understand, because it’s how you speak to me.
I am an American Airman, but maybe not for long. We are exhausted both emotionally and physically. The best people are leaving in droves. “I can’t do this any more,” is as common as a defeated sigh. “I can do better,” people mumble when they realize that they are nothing but a number to you. You will have no talent if you cannot properly manage it.
My mission is to Fly, Fight, and Win. But only after doing countless CBTs, MICT checklists that change weekly, PME courses, EPRs, volunteering, private orgs, SAPR training x(I’ve lost track of how many times) – and the list goes on. If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. What are we? Most days this doesn’t feel like the military. I breathe a sigh of relief when I get to actually do mission-related work. You tell me the war effort is my focus, but that doesn’t equate if “up or out” is what you hammer when it comes down to the things that “matter” to you. I don’t want your awards. I don’t want your strats. I want to do my damn job!
I’d be faithful to a proud heritage, a tradition of honor, and a legacy of valor … if we had either of those first two. You change my uniform, take away most of the things we call our own in the name of political correctness, or your bastardized idea of professionalism. What we do have is a legacy of valor, professionals who understood the gravity of their commitment and all too often paid the ultimate price. We are in the business of war; professionalism is not derived from the creases in your uniform.
I am an American Airman, the joke of the other services. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy our generally nicer living conditions, but we have settled into a poorly-run corporation and not a branch of the combat arms.
Guardian of freedom and justice; my nation’s sword and shield; its sentry and avenger – but i don’t feel like I am those things. You have made me competitive, fearful of making hard decisions, a spineless careerist looking for a promotion.
I defend my country with my life. Willingly. Freely. I am around 18-year-old young Americans, all of whom voluntarily choose to put on this uniform. This, Air Force, is what it really is all about. This is what you have lost. We, every last one of us in blue, are here for the sole purpose of defending this nation. The gravity of that which you choose to ignore, is that our entire purpose boils down to “blowing shit up,” as I was once reminded by an old-school, decorated, Air Force combat pilot, and that means ending human life. Life and death, that is why we are here. You like to sugar-coat that, focus on volunteerism, show community outreach, and key in on the pretty parts. The truth is ugly, but it is our truth. We are members of the United States military, and that is an amazing responsibility – you’re going to have to trust us.
I am an American Airman, but I am confused. You pull us in so many different directions that I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be.
Wingman, leader, warrior, yes – but no thanks to you. You make me feel weak, you make me feel guilty, and you don’t let me lead. Your “no toleration” clauses make me feel like I can’t help a wingman who has made bad choices. Your regulations are prescriptive to the point that I have no autonomy to make choices. You have told me so many times that I am sensitive and a victim, that I’ve started to believe it myself. Here is the bottom line: there are bad people in the world. That’s why we have a job. People know that rape is wrong, people know that discrimination is not acceptable, but you will never stop bad people. So if your idea of professionalism and model behavior revolves around not swearing or not being tough enough to take a joke, one day you’ll have to face the harsh fucking reality that that’s not how you build a warrior, and when you need us to truly fight…we won’t know how.
I will never leave an Airman behind, as you have left us.
I will never falter, because thanks to you I will never take risks even when I need to for my people or my mission. To err is human; your worth is in your recovery. It’s too bad that you’ve made us too afraid of consequences to be effective.
But I will not fail, because despite your best efforts, there are still enough of us – true wingmen, true Airmen – who care to keep the mission afloat, and to see that it is accomplished.
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