This one doesn’t need much explanation. The email above was sent to the entire Al-Dahfra base populace last week. The base in United Arab Emirates hosts the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, which is touted as a potent element of US airpower in the region.
But even as it struggles to keep pace with a frenetic operational tempo, there is still evidently time and capacity for the establishment of special committees like this one, which then set about showcasing individuals not based on their duty performance, but based purely on which demographic boxes they happen to tick.
There isn’t any doubt that the military services were too intolerant for too long. But in the unfolding effort to reverse that intolerance, there lurks a danger of spending too much energy emphasizing differences. The mission is what defines our reason to exist, and it is the mission that unites us in a common purpose. It’s our touchstone. Serving it dutifully and full-heartedly, regardless of spirituality, sexuality, or skin color, is what we should be heralding. When everyone has his or her own touchstone, we scatter in all directions. There is no unity or common purpose. We devolve into a collection of individual and often competing interests.
There’s also something weirdly mechanical and clumsy about this that keeps it from feeling genuine. It’s like someone said “hey, we’re having a celebration month … put together a committee and do some stuff” and this ended up being the result. It would have been far better to simply highlight the base’s top performers each week, making mention of LGBT status as part of telling an airman’s story rather than making duty performance a footnote in a “story” meant to showcase how newly tolerant the Air Force has supposedly become.
The potential pitfall here is that it efforts like this can actually breed intolerance anew. They spring-load a backlash that eventually harms the underlying cause more than it helps. When top performers are overlooked in favor of someone who happens to be a better fit for a prefabricated storytelling frame, the effort is revealed as transparently propagandist rather than genuine. And yet, it becomes a bullet point on someone’s performance report, and a tie-breaker (or more) in the determination of promotion recommendations. This pisses people off. They end up resenting rather than accepting those who found official favor under such circumstances.
Finally, a note the use of the word “ally” in this context. In social justice lingo, this is someone considered to hail from a “privileged” group who has chosen to dutifully advance the causes of groups who have been traditionally marginalized. In recent protest movements on college campuses like Yale, Oxford, and at Harvard Law School, “allies” are typically white people who have joined movements targeting perceived structural inequalities impacting persons of color.
In and of itself, this isn’t necessarily a controversial idea. But many of the theories from which it descends are not only deeply controversial but wholly inappropriate for application in a military environment, which demands the subjugation of pet causes in favor of shared values and objectives. If the Air Force is going to continue sneaking the lexicon of social justice into its messaging, it should explicitly state its official position on the applicability of these ideas in Air Force units … so airmen can debate and push back if they disagree.
Cries of excessive social engineering in the ranks have commonly been used in the past to illegitimately resist necessary change. Such cries shouldn’t normally be heeded. But the problem is that they’re not always wrong … and the Air Force in particular has a tendency to send the pendulum hurling over center so violently that it pins an issue against the wall of opposite extreme.
This understandably elicits howling from a rank and file who simply want a work environment government by common sense and mission focus. With problems of understaffing, low morale, and plummeting retention, leaders need to be less infatuated with political shows of force and more devoted to crafting teams and unit climates capable of extracting top performance from airmen.
This is not what that looks like. Certainly not what claims to be a “combat” organization.
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