“Backbone in Need of Traction” … Dear Boss, NCO Version


The letter below was submitted to JQP by an Air Force NCO who gave permission to publish it on the condition of anonymity. In a note accompanying the letter, the author pointed out how previous iterations of these sorts of messages have come exclusively from officers, but that the systemic conditions and organizational failings articulated are just as acute — if not more so — for the enlisted corps … and that the issues are no less severe for support personnel than they are for those in or near operations. As the service explicitly acknowledges — for the first time — a crippling manpower deficit, senior officials still refuse to acknowledge a growing morale problem. The substance of that problem is captured ably in what follows, and the themes are both vivid and familiar. The Air Force continues to beg Congress for more money, pretending cash flow will solve its problems. But if letters like this (of which we receive a steady stream) are to be believed, the service’s problems are less about funding and more about fundamentals.  -Ed.


Dear Boss,

Well, I quit. I am finally to the point where putting on this uniform feels worse than dousing myself in scalding water. I grew up in the Air Force, and I believed it stood for something. I used to think the Air Force was the best in the world. I believed in saluting my flag, and standing side-by-side with my fellow Airmen through anything. I believed in honoring a legacy and this nation’s cloth I wear. I felt a sense of pride and honor to protect this country that I love so much. Now, all I see when I put on this uniform is everything the Air Force has taken from me – my dignity, my faith in humanity and, most recently, my basic rights.

I knew when I raised my right hand and swore to protect and defend that I would have to make sacrifices, and I was okay with that. I knew I would miss birthdays, graduations, weddings and funerals. I knew I would have to put the Air Force before my own needs, all in the name of protecting those I love the most. I have done that – for the past 10 years. For 10 years of my early adult life I have put this institution before myself. I’ve worked 12-14 hour days, constantly. I’ve taken all the courses, done all the trainings and become an expert at every administrative job in the Air Force. I’ve done everything the Air Force has asked me to do, without question or complaint, and for what?

I have been micromanaged every step of my career. At first, I thought it was because I was new … and I needed to learn what the Air Force was all about. Well … I guess now I know. It’s all about micromanagement, and doing much, MUCH more with much, MUCH less. We’re told by the SecAF, CSAF and CMSAF to say when ‘enough is enough.’ Well … ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! However, when those thoughts are vocalized, we get the standard – ‘well, figure it out.’ WHAT?! How am I supposed to do 32 hours worth of work in 24? Oh … and still do my PME (or heaven forbid I might not be able to reenlist), and do all my additional duties (which all have program managers who should, in theory, actually be the ones who own those duties), and focus on my education (which, even though I already have a bachelor’s degree and am technically overqualified for my current position, I guess the Air Force wants me to be qualified to do my OIC’s job as well), and remain ‘fit to fight,’ and spend at least 10 hours a week volunteering (that’s low-balling, I’m sure). I guess I shouldn’t even bother trying to have a healthy relationship with my spouse or family. It’s no wonder I find myself happier at the bottom of a bottle than in actual conversations with real people.

I’m just really tired. I’m tired of hearing that Airmen are the #1 priority, but not seeing it. I’m tired of jumping through hoops just to find myself back at square one – speaking of squares … I’m tired of the reasoning behind doing anything these days is to put a checkmark in a little box that doesn’t actually mean anything. I’m tired of staying late at work just because it ‘looks bad’ to go home on time. I’m tired of E-8’s and E-9’s who are more concerned with ‘being seen’ than actually doing right by their people. I’m tired of them being lapdogs for colonels and commanders while the ‘backbone of the Air Force’ is so strained it’s going to need traction for at least eight months. I’m tired of having to stop my job for ‘wingman day’ or ‘resiliency training’ where I learn that it’s bad to rape people. Umm … I’m pretty sure I’ve known that for my entire life and I certainly don’t need a ‘stand-down day’ to be reminded of it. I’m tired of ‘mandatory fun’ where I’m supposed to act like I really support and enjoy this forced-motivation BS being crammed down my throat. All these senior leaders who laugh at the stupidest jokes, just to make sure they get a good rating on their next OPR or a stratification for Chief.

Oh … and as a side note. While those ‘wingman days’ and ‘resiliency days’ seem like they’re a great idea because you don’t have to be at work … it’s all just an illusion. Your workload doubles or triples because you spent an entire day learning about things that every decent human being already knows. I don’t think it’s the Air Force’s job to teach me how to be a functioning adult in society.

Anyway. I’m also disappointed. I’m disappointed in what has happened to this institution. The world’s greatest Air Force? Doubtful. With all the scandals, lack of accountability, micro-management and abuse of authority, it’s a wonder we haven’t been knocked out of the skies yet. I don’t want that to happen … I never want that to happen, but it will. We are losing the best and brightest in droves. The only people staying in the Air Force these days are the people who could never make it on the outside. The degenerates … the ones who actually, probably, DO need that training that teaches you how to be a decent human being.

The smart ones are jumping ship, before being sucked further into this oppressive and deceitful organization. Airmen are now being taught they have no rights, and that speaking out against something they believe to be wrong will land them in serious trouble, if not legal proceedings. Is this really what we want for our Air Force? Are these really the people we want leading our military? How can you expect Airmen to defend the freedoms of others if they don’t even think they have those freedoms themselves? We’re told we’re ‘powered by innovation’ but that only applies to innovative ideas that fit neatly inside the box the Air Force has decided to be acceptable variance from the status quo. Please.

So, that’s it for me. I refuse to further my career and become a boot-licking E-9 who cares more about his golf game and apparent compliance than he does about his Airmen. The E-9 who no longer wants to be the gritty, crusty, cranky top enlisted member who bucks the system when things are wrong, making sure there is a balance between the bureaucracy of the officer corps and the (fading) irreverence of the blue-collar NCO corps. I mean, let’s be honest … I’d never make it that far. Those positions are now reserved for the box-checkers. The people who start stepping on people early in their career and who have no idea what it means to be a true leader. This is what has become of my Air Force, and it breaks my heart.

With all of that said, and with absolutely no respect whatsoever (since none is due), I submit my resignation. May God have mercy on the future generations of Airmen, and on the awesome and powerful mission entrusted to this Air Force.



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