U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Shelina Frey, the command chief of Air Forces Central Command, poses for a photo in the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing air traffic control tower during her visit to an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Aug. 20, 2013. (U.S. Air Force Photo by 1st Lt. Nathan Wallin/Released)

What follows is going to be unsparingly and unapologetically harsh. If you’re a fan of E-9 Shelina Frey and/or too squeamish to digest criticism targeting her miserably inept “leadership” style, this is your chance to bail out.

Remember when Gen. Mark Welsh went before the Senate and said morale was “pretty darn good“? Airmen pretty much agreed that was a dumb thing to say, and that Welsh was not just dumb for saying it, but something like a traitor. He betrayed their trust by refusing to tell the truth about their circumstances when it mattered most. It was a glaring and unforgivable abdication of his most basic duty of care to his people, giving lie to his previously held reputation as a “good guy” and a “leader of men.” That was the day he lost the Air Force once and for all, and sealed his legacy as a bullshit artist.

Here’s part of what I said about Welsh’s regrettable antics at the time:

If you’re waiting for Gen. Mark Welsh to fix the Air Force or enlist the help of Congress in fixing it, you’re going to be waiting until hell freezes over. Thursday’s events make it clear he’s not going to acknowledge — let alone address — a morale problem in the Air Force … now or ever.

Well we can now add another leader loser to the Air Force roll of shame … another over-striped, over-decorated, window-seat warrior skilled at air base tourism and talking point recitation but totally off the plot when it comes to taking care of people, which is, incidentally, her whole job. See below a Facebook post shared on the Dyess Air Force Base website last week and attributed to E-9 Frey.


No, goddamnit. No. Everything is not good. To deny the nature and extent of our problems is to delay solutions and to worsen those problems. This is the opposite of a leader’s job. 

It’s one thing to make a hollow statement when substance is needed. It’s another to actively misrepresent the truth for politics’ sake, which was Welsh’s sin. But it’s another still, and a far more injurious foul, to actively deceive oneself about the truth of things, and in so doing, to deny people and organizations their entitlement to open-brained stewardship. Here we catch one of the worst E-9s in the service in the act of forcefully denying reality, much to the chagrin and detriment of the 38,000 airmen negligently entrusted to her care.

Let’s just break this down one regrettable clause at a time.

“No matter how many senior NCOs or commanders tell me that our Airmen are just tired, I’m not convinced.”

So there’s you professing to know better than those in direct contact with the problem, not to mention those with the legal authority to run the Air Force. Astonishing, really. Taken at face value, this statement means that there is no theoretical upper limit on the number of SNCOs and commanders who could complain to Frey about morale and still be ignored.

It begs the question, what would convince you? Escalating suicide rates, a noticeable decline in professionalism in the NCO corps, constant complaints from airmen about working conditions, a documented and admitted 20% shortage in manpower, and mass applications for early separation haven’t moved the dial. So … what would? If the answer is “nothing” … resign and retire before sundown. If the answer is “if my boss says it’s the case” … then apologize for ethical and managerial malpractice as the door slams shut behind you.

“… when the senior NCOs or commanders say they are afraid of retention in trying to do more with less, I have to say I’m not afraid.”

That’s because you’re feeble-minded and out of touch. You should be very afraid, and that fear should be pressuring and animating you to make smart decisions. Doing more with less was never sustainable, and it’s less possible now than ever it was. This means your people are being set up to feel like failures when they come up short for reasons beyond their control, exhausting and toxifying themselves in the process. If you’re not worried about that, you have no business calling yourself an NCO, much less a Chief.

It’s also notable that in two consecutive sentences, Frey demonstrates disdain for the professional judgments of commanders, all of whom are superior to her in rank and more directly involved in the service mission than she has ever been. This reeks of hubris. Of someone who has outgrown her britches. What Frey has apparently never learned in her nearly 30 years is that publicly undermining commanders destroys the credibility of the chain of command, which hurts everyone, to include “command chiefs.” This is bush league and gross misconduct for someone at her level. Were I the boss at AMC, she’d be sacked for this alone.

“My cheeks are actually hurting from smiling so much, seeing all of these great Airmen who are proud of what they do, all contributing to completing the mission.”

Positivity is great. But there’s a fine line between being optimistic and being aloof. Leading and cheerleading are two different things. But if you’re really proud of your people, fight harder for them. That’s what your paid for, not to mistake their good manners as a signal that all is well. You can start that fight by yanking your head out of the sand and getting to grips with how miserable their working conditions have become under the misguidance of you and your fellow E-9s over the past decade.

“… the Air Force is doing okay, and that our future – the Air Force’s future – looks great.”

No, it isn’t. And no, it doesn’t. Nobody is buying that and you shouldn’t be selling it. The service is 80,000 airmen short and poised for defeat in its next big war … assuming it isn’t re-absorbed into the Army before that war arrives.

Frey’s comments are shocking in their stupidity, yet perfectly predictable coming from her. She’s been an E-9 for more than 7 years, meaning she’s been remote from the problems confronting street-level airmen since before most of them joined. She has no idea what Air Force they are in, because she hasn’t been in it for a long time.

Then again, was she ever in it? Frey’s official biography is fascinating. Five straight command chief jobs. Before that, four years as a First Sergeant. And before that, NCOIC of the First Term Airman’s Center. She’s done little as an NCO aside from giving other people advice.

But it’s Frey’s early career that is most illustrative. She’s been a professional lap dog from wire-to-wire. In her first 12 years, she spent 7 administratively assisting two different senior enlisted advisors and 3 more as a special assistant to the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force. In other words, she spent her formative years cocooned in the isolating environments inhabited by senior officials. This has left Frey evidently starved of the perspective of the Ordinary Airman … the one trapped in the shitty circumstances created or enabled by idiot leaders and permitted to persist by the unethical silence of senior enlisted advisors who fail in the duty to speak truth to power. An extraordinarily bright and courageous thinker might overcome these limiting origins by actively grappling to understand and empathize. By listening to others, to include SNCOs and commanders who know better.

But she’s not doing that. She’s doing just the opposite. Which is why she remains clueless, and is clearly unqualified for the position someone was fool enough to give her.

Our airmen deserve better.

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