“I am burnt the fuck out, and there is nothing I can do about it.”


Over the last several budget cycles, the Air Force traded away manpower to preserve modernization. It gave away people to buy equipment. By the service’s own admission, this has left it 20% understaffed across the board, meaning it needs 60,000-70,000 more airmen than it currently has.

According to the conventional wisdom, when manpower is cut, it means commanders are limited to a narrower portfolio. They don’t have as many people, so they can’t do as much. But the reality is that officials seldom deliberately scale back mission demands to match staffing reductions. Instead, they “press to test” and see how far understaffed units are able to stretch before they can no longer keep up with demands. The idea (to the extent it is a conscious choice) is to figure out just how much a unit can do at a certain defined limit on manpower. This locks organizations into a perpetual max-performance model at less than minimum manning levels.

But it’s actually even a little worse than that because of human nature. Before they admit failure, humans and human-comprised organizations will pull out every stop to mask the deficiencies created by under-resourcing. By the time an over-stretched organization actually admits it can’t meet demands, the actual point where it could reasonably sustain itself is long since past.

Here’s a vivid illustration, culled from a Reddit entry posted this past weekend.


Judging by this, morale is most certainly not “pretty darn good.” This message reeks of desperation, and the fact it is posted to social media and not the subject of a wing stand-down has a lot to say about what ails our USAF these days. People aren’t just beat down and exhausted … they’re convinced no one will even listen to them if they bother complaining.

“No one comes to work happy. No one enjoys what they do any more.”

This is the USAF bumper sticker right now. Through mismanagement and neglect, those entrusted with the service’s health have made some of the coolest jobs in the world properly miserable. And via hubris and toxicity, they’ve eliminated or marginalized those with the moral courage to turn things around.

All we have left is the exhausted and downtrodden. They are burned out, and powerless to do anything about it.

In other words, we’re poised for failure. Not by destiny, but by choice.

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