Another Day, Another Free Speech Opponent in a Blue Uniform

CMSgt David Smith.

And then we have this guy. He gets up on a stage in front of a crowd of people predisposed to be open to what he has to offer, and he spends his dime telling them to think and speak cautiously.

Sweet baby Jesus, do these people ever get tired of being as misguided as they are predictable. This is America. The whole point is to NOT think and speak cautiously. How bottomless the chasm of my despair that I would find myself reminding a career military servant of this.

Now, to be clear, I have nothing against Chief Master Sergeant David Smith. I’m sure he earned his stripes and is just a tremendous guy with many admirers. I have no quarrel with him personally.

This is a professional critique.

First of all, enough with the “professionalism” bullshit. Everyone gets it already. People don’t need to hear it, and even if they did, it’s not your place to say it. You’re a goddamned Chief, man. Lead. Motivate. Inspire. Leave the enforcement of creased sleeves and blocked hats to your NCOs. They’re still seized with the novelty of telling others what to do. You … you should have gotten over that novelty a decade ago and recognized how much better it is for everyone if you don’t have to tell people what to do … because they’re trained, educated, equipped, and motivated to do much more than the mission requires without ever being told. That … is … professionalism. You’re talking about compliance and conformity, which are different things, and not necessarily professional at all. An armed force with impeccable conformity is almost certain to lose to the first enemy it faces that cares more about winning than making the right impression.

But more importantly, if you still think of social media the way your words make it seem … you are totally and irretrievably lost. It’s not a “new” thing anymore. Not a fad, or a flash in the pan. It’s not special or weird or novel or different or “just something millennials do.” It’s the way people communicate now. When you tell someone how they should conduct themselves on social media these days, it’s the equivalent — in your dated paradigm — of telling them how to talk on the phone or how to conduct in-person conversations.  Not only is telling them to communicate cautiously a vain prospect … it makes you look like a woefully dated fossil completely out of-of-touch with reality. Yes, I realize you’re just parroting Gen. Welsh, but there’s no rule stating you have to join him in his slow-motion failure. He’s wrong. This is one of those times to not go along.

And that’s really the point here. Your speech (or at least the way the coverage presents it) creates the impression that you think it’s your business what airmen talk about during their off-duty time … who they consort with and what sorts of discussions they have. Disabuse yourself. It’s none of your business. They are adults. They have jobs. They serve their country. What they do when they’re in the personal domain is none of your business unless they violate a (lawful) regulation or commit a crime. Get that straight. Divert the attention you would otherwise waste spying on your own people to something more productive … like leading them effectively. When you show them you care about the mission half as much as they do, you’ll gain their respect, and with it, increased latitude to influence their off-duty conduct.

Influence. Not control. Not direct. Not monitor. Influence.

Former Secretary of Defense Robert S. Gates pulled the Air Force into the 21st century, forcing it to give airmen access to social media. Gen. Mark Welsh and his unacceptably pliant, star/stripe donning toadies are trying to roll back the clock to the 1950s. In the Soviet Union.

It’s all part of a confused and muddled leadership “philosophy” that claims the mantle of 22nd century technology, but tries to effectuate it with a 20th century management style hateful to the individualism and intellectual liberality that (a) gave birth to the Air Force and (b) sets the boundaries of its only viable future.

And now the Chiefs are parroting this garbage. And they should know better. In fact, our whole formula since Vietnam depends on them knowing better and saying so — publicly when necessary. It depends on them being the collective backstop … refusing to become part of the stupidity embraced by politically pliant senior officers.

It’s time for Chiefs to stop chanting nonsense to captive audiences and to start taking back the Air Force. Airmen deserve better.

End of rant.

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