For the third time in as many days, JQP has received an account from a trusted source reporting that Chief Kaleth Wright has been poormouthing the site and admonishing fellow airmen to not follow it.
If the reporting is accurate, Wright has spared time in several of his recent speaking engagements — including a recent All Call at the SNCO Academy — to specifically target JQP and advise his people that they should not read the site.
This is curious, and perhaps in the category of what could be called an unforced error. JQP is often critical of the Air Force, but has not targeted Chief Wright or been unduly critical of his persona or his policies. In fact, it’s been largely the opposite.
Since Wright and his boss Dave Goldfein came to their positions, the blog has gone out of its way to keep an open mind. To give these two leaders — now joined by SecAF Heather Wilson — a chance to demonstrate their plan for our Air Force and to build some consensus and momentum. To the extent I have commented on Wright, it’s been almost entirely positive. In all cases, it’s been constructive.
Sure, there was this critical piece at the very outset of Wright’s tenure, in response to his initial words to the force. It was pretty tough on him, wondering aloud whether he “got it” and bemoaning the way he diminished the potential value of downtime for an overworked and understaffed NCO corps. It was valid at the time.
But since then JQP has stood largely silent on Kaleth Wright, breaking that constructive silence only to provide laudatory coverage of his reforms to enlisted professional military education. The post reached a few hundred thousand people, dramatically broadening publicity for one of CMSAF’s flagship initiatives. I’m still patiently awaiting thanks for that.
But it looks like thanks will come in the form of poormouthing any conversation not subject to the narrative control preferred by the Air Force.
This is worrisome. If Wright goes to war with social media outlets covering the Air Force, he’ll be retracing key missteps made by his ill-fated predecessor James Cody, who will likely recede into history stained with the reputation of “worst ever” CMSAF. The lesson everyone should have gotten from Cody is that not being truly in touch with the plight of airmen … and attempting to cover that deficiency by carefully shaping and manicuring an inauthentic narrative … is a recipe for losing the trust and confidence of the entire enlisted corps.
Cody was horrifically bad. Wright is better, and we know that because he’s already shown it with PME reform.
But one thing that could make his road ahead a bumpy one would be to unnecessarily antagonize external stakeholders who have just as much a right to comment on our nation’s Air Force as he and his cabal of public relations lackeys have. We all have a vested interested in the issues. More importantly, we all have the same general objective: a stronger and more lethal Air Force manned by airmen with high morale and correspondingly high commitment.
I hope the reporting is wrong. I’ve got zero interest in using this space to critique Kaleth Wright. I’d much rather our work be mutually supportive. But for Wright’s part, he should bear in mind the words of Mark Twain: “never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.”
Don’t try to control this conversation. You can’t. Participate in it, and we’ll get somewhere as a group of like-minded and mutually respecting airmen.