As Fired Commander Prepares Memoir, More Signs That All is Not Well at Lackland


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It was nearly two years ago that JQP reported on the curious case of Lt. Col. Craig Perry, who was fired from command of a Basic Military Training (BMT) squadron at Lackland Air Force Base without proper cause, his fate sealed by after-the-fact rationalizations after his boss impulsively jettisoned him for having the temerity to think for himself.

See “Loss of Confidence” and “The Case Study of Craig Perry” for a review (or introduction) to this concerning tale of abuse, punishment-by-investigation, and high-level cover-up for the sake of saving face. JQP made a personal appeal to Gen. Mark Welsh to take an interest in this case, given how many serious and systemic problems it manifested. That appeal fell on deaf ears.

The layer of Perry’s case that made it especially fascinating was how it revealed a wildly irresponsible overreaction by a chain of command responding to suspected misdeeds by a few bad apples … but warped by the pressures of politics and perception management. Perry was a victim of failing to negatively adapt to a twisted organization. The chain of command, responding to withering scrutiny from Congress and the public, sought total control and obedience rather than mission effectiveness. When Perry dared to genuinely improve his organization rather than follow a command playbook built for unquestioning compliance, he lost his job. That’s not supposed to be OK in a public agency, but his bosses got away with it … because they had top cover.

This has been the story of Lackland and BMT since 2011, but the sources of its pathology are traceable to at least 2008, when harebrained bureaucrats looking to gain budgetary favor by looking more “army-like” and “expeditionary” tinkered haphazardly with a basic formula that had produced the world’s best Air Force for decades. They turned BMT into a watered down version of air indoctrination and a salt mine for the Military Training Instructors (MTIs) running it. This fostered, painfully and predictably, the disciplinary lapses that invited political meddling in 2011 … followed close in trail by the organizational toxicity that eventually led to Perry’s firing. 

This chain of failures also led to many other unjust consequences not yet fully chronicled or comprehended by the public, Congress, or even most of the Air Force. Since 2011, BMT has been less about producing airmen and more about demonstrating to Congress that the Air Force can run a crime-free, mistake-free, news-free training program. This is, of course, a great way to run a marginal or useless training program eventually incapable of populating the air service with enlisted airmen capable of fighting and winning wars. 

Expect much of this to be discussed, new facts exposed, and new revelations apparent when Perry releases a comprehensive memoir of his Air Force journey — and its dubious conclusion — in the coming months. His story is one of an officer perfectly suited to the circumstances in which he found himself, and of a chain of command too wedded to control, conformity, obedience, and self-preservation to tolerate and extract from him what the system needed and deserved under those circumstances.

As we await the Perry memoir, we shouldn’t stop thinking about the health of Lackland and the BMT enterprise. Since penning an article last summer about the accelerating decline of BMT, I’ve received a steady stream of unsolicited inputs lamenting what is going on behind the high walls at Lackland. If these inputs are to be believed, Lackland is not recovering … but getting worse. The fact of this continuing decline is being obscured by the muzzling of airmen on pain of sure and swift punishment for speaking out.

I’ll leave you with one such input to hit the inbox recently … and with a question: can America’s Air Force be expected to adequately defend the nation if this accurately captures the state of its training pipeline?

I am a veteran that just ended my relationship with the Air Force after 9 years and I spent the last 4 years as an MTI. I recently read your article on the decline of BMT. Although it was on point, you were scratching the surface of the circus that is BMT. The capstone program is a symptom of the disease that is running rampant though the Air Force.

The decline (in BMT) began with the empowerment of Col. Camerer, Col. Liddick, and her “enforcer” Chief Sutherland. These  individuals played a significant role in the avalanche of fuckery that ensued in BMT. The upper echelon was very quick to hold every MTI accountable for the wrongdoing of 2% of the MTI corps while simultaneously allowing upper leadership to do what ever they wanted.

My MTI corps is a shadow of what it once was, and is being paraded around like it is stronger than it was. True MTI ‘s were forged on the “principles of fairness and firmness to those entrusted to our charge.” Since the implementation of the non-voluntary program for MTI duty, the corps has and never will be the same. It takes a passion  to be an MTI. It takes an understanding that the hat is merely a symbol, not an entitlement to a certain unquestionable power.

What I have written may be just the rantings of a nostalgic MTI, but  your article hits on notes that some MTI’s wish they could voice. 

Why can’t MTIs voice their opinions openly?

Until they can, we’ll have little choice but to continue harboring fair and reasonable skepticism … that what happened to Perry wasn’t an aberration, but a symptom of things gone badly wrong. Things that remain unacknowledged because of the ability of the empowered to obscure, through abuses of power unchecked by their superiors, maladies that might hurt their reputations.

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