Annual Gathering of Air Force Generals Showcases Manpower Abuse of Runaway VIP Culture


CORONA 2009

In 1961, Gen. Curtis LeMay gathered his top generals together at Ft. Myer in Virginia with the objective of forcing them to work together as a team on big issues spanning the breadth of the Air Force. To kick off the meeting, he forced them to work as a team to move and arrange heavy office equipment within the meeting facility … before handing them celebratory glasses of brandy and expensive cigars. Those cigars gave the now annual tradition its name: Corona, which also, niftily, can mean “a crown” or “a gathering of stars.”

What LeMay couldn’t have foreseen is how vestigial the public smoking of cigars and sipping of spirits would become over the next several decades … and he certainly wouldn’t have guessed that in the future, officers with waistlines resembling his would never progress to command in the Air Force.

But the most profound symbolic contradiction between the Corona of old and the contemporary version is how the generals have gone from setting up their own conference room to being waited on hand and foot by a legion of uniformed service workers. To make matters worse, the men and women tasked with catering to the service’s gathered royalty must interrupt their normal jobs — in undermanned and overstretched offices and squadrons — to tend to the prestigious whimsy of star-shouldered modern Caesars as an additional duty.

That’s right. The service’s Secretary, Chief of Staff, senior enlisted leader, and the whole of its 3- and 4- star population come together for the valid purpose of sorting out the most pressing issues confronting the force … and they don’t even have the decency to ensure the proper resources are in-place to support their summit. Instead, those resources are stripped out of hyde … like so many other unfunded “non-negotiables” in today’s Air Force. This raises the question whether resources are being properly utilized … while service officials beg Congress for more money, claiming they’re making every dollar count.

But is this really a big deal? I mean … we can’t be talking about that many airmen, right? I mean, what does a general really need in order to sit with other generals and have a discussion?

A lot, it turns out.

Here’s an email sent out recently by a senior official at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base laying out the staggering manpower requirement for this year’s Corona. I’ve highlighted a few areas of particular interest.

SUBJECT:  DS – CORONA Top 2016 Manpower Support 

1.  PURPOSE:  Solicit AFMC manpower team to support CORONA Top 2016.

2.  BACKGROUND:  CORONA Top events are conducted each year during the month of June at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.  This year’s event will occur 6 – 10 June 2016.  Manpower support is the responsibility of AFMC and manning assistance is necessary to execute this important hi-vis event.

A fair share breakout of manpower for each organization has been determined based on the local overall  organizational military manpower as a percentage of the overall WPAFB manpower totals.

—  Target manpower is military, but AF civilian volunteer equivalents are permissible (except for Heraldic Dinner/Crew/Servers and Liaisons/Ushers); however, CORONA Top support will involve long hours on weekdays and potentially on the weekend.  Supervisors must be prepared to approve alternate duty and appropriate overtime, compensatory time, or credit hours.

3.  DISCUSSION:

Fair share organizational manpower breakout:

—  Total number of personnel needed:  262

—  Center/HQs specific manpower requirements, by grade, indicated in table below:

CORONA 2016 MANPOWER TOTALS

         
           

MANPOWER REQUIRED

AMN

NCO

SNCO

CGO

TOTAL:

AFLCMC

97

20

6

74

197

AFRL

25

6

1

22

54

HQ AFMC

0

3

1

7

11

TOTAL:

122

29

8

103

262

Manpower will be used for the purposes below (teams a – n):

—  Individuals must be available full-time 3 June – 10 June 2016.

—  Individuals may request to be on a specific team … but there is no guarantee, individuals will be assigned where needed.

—  Individuals will be required to attend training in the weeks leading up to CORONA.

—  During CORONA week some individuals will be on call and released back to work centers until their support is needed.

NOTE:  Do not submit as volunteers those individuals whose duties are an inherent part of a person’s day-to-day duties (e.g. comm group support or FSS support)

a) Liaisons

–  Grades:  CGO/FGO
–  Availability:  3 June – 10 June 2016, some work week prior 

b)  Transportation

–  Grades:  Amn/NCO/SNCO
–  Availability:  3 June – 10 June 2016, some afterhours support to include weekends 

c)  Baggage

–  Grades:  Amn/NCO
–  Availability:  3 Shifts, 3 June – 10 June 2016, some afterhours support to include weekends

d)  Hospitality

–  Grades:  Amn/NCO/SNCO
–  Availability:  3 June – 10 June 2016

e)  Protocol Service

–  Grade:  Amn/NCO
–  Availability:  3 June – 10 June 2016, TBD by Team Lead 

f)  Heraldic Dinner (Club Assistance)

–  Grades:  Amn/NCO
–  Availability:  3 June – 9 June 2016

g)  Heraldic Dinner Servers (Non-enlisted Aides)

–  Grades:  CGO
–  Availability:  3 June – 8 June 2016
–  Training:  Yes 

h)  Heraldic Devices/Flags

–  Grades:  Amn/NCO/SNCO/CGO
–  Availability:  3 June – 10 June 2016, some work week prior

i)  Flightline Operations Crew

–  Grades:  Amn/NCO
–  Availability:  3 June – 10 June 2016 

j)  DV Tracker

–  Grades:  NCO/SNCO/CGO
–  Availability:  3 June – 10 June 2016 

k)  Parking Crew

–  Grades:  Amn/NCO
–  Availability:  3 June – 10 June 2016, some after-hours support 

l)  CORONA Operations

–  Grades:  NCO/SNCO/CGO
–  Availability:  3 June – 10 June 2016, TBD by Team Lead 

m)  Lodging Operations

–  Grades:  NCO/SNCO/CGO
–  Availability:  Full-time support, part-time support 

n)  Bldg 262 Detail

–  Grades:  AMN/NCO
–  Availability:  3 June – 10 June 2016, TBD by Team Lead 

Once names are provided, organization may substitute up to time of CORONA training.  Organizations are responsible for replacements on a one-for-one and same-grade basis.

HQ AFMC/CCK manages CORONA Top 2016 manpower support.  

4.  VIEWS OF OTHERS:  N/A.

5.  RECOMMENDATION/ACTION:  Centers provide tasked manpower (name, grade, phone, e-mail, etc., in attached template) to Manpower Team leads … by 25 April 2016.

Note how military members are preferred … because abuses such as weekend duty and overtime are contemplated, and it’s cheaper to overextend military authority than to pay civil service employees as their contracts require. This is basically an admission of military manpower abuse.

Note also the nature of the work involved. Baggage handlers. Waitstaff. Servers. This is a blatant and heartbreaking statement about how the generals view the rest of the Air Force. They use words and reinforce themes envisioning the Air Force as a team of equals, where rank only drives responsibility level but everyone is a professional.

But the truth is that rank is also about status, prestige, and privilege. Until you crack the general officer level, you’re just a servant, chauffeur, or butler. If you’re wondering how a fighting team can prevail with this degree of dissonance and this flagrant a disconnect between rhetoric and reality, you’re entertaining valid concern. People will follow imperfect leaders, but they won’t fight and die for megalomaniacs.

The real revelation here is the sheer size and scope of manpower abuse on display. This is a gross practice that doesn’t even attempt to hide itself. Given the numbers involved, this represents an estimated half a million dollars in productivity stripped out of Wright-Patterson over the course of a week and re-purposed to the fielding of a hospitality staff. This means either Wright-Patterson doesn’t have a real mission, or that mission is about to be severely degraded. If the generals had to represent the actual cost of this event in the budget, would they still conduct it in this way?

Maybe it’s better to ask a different set of questions.

Why can’t they unload their own baggage? In an era of smartphones, why can’t they keep track of themselves and coordinate their movements without staffing an operations hub? Why do they need a “heraldic dinner” served by uniformed waiters and ushers?

This whole mess revolves around a simple question: is being waited on hand and foot essential to the productive output of the conference? If so, pay for it. If not, knock it off.

This situation is unacceptable, and ought to be investigated by the Department of Defense Inspector General as a Fraud, Waste, and Abuse complaint. Air Force generals are not entitled to use professional members of the all-volunteer force to aggrandize themselves. If the rules don’t allow for it, those doing it should be disciplined. If the rules do allow for it, it’s time for those rules to be re-written.

The Air Force had 821,151 airmen on active duty in 1961. Even at that manpower level, Curt LeMay expected his generals to move their own office furniture and light their own cigars. Today’s Air Force is as small as it’s ever been at 310,000 … and is probably 100,000 airmen short of what it needs to be sustainable. For the generals to do this at this particular moment in service history shows how grotesquely out of touch they have become, and how little they actually care about making their words and deeds match.

This is not the behavior of a responsible organization.

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