Disclaimer: this is not a DuffelBlog article.
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody recently traveled to “the field” to meet with members of the 285th Civil Engineering Squadron, an organization of the Virgin Islands Air National Guard (VIANG). This according to a report published on the ANG’s official website but, for whatever reason, not featured on either Cody’s Facebook feed or the Air Force’s official CMSAF website.
The visit was apparently important enough to conduct but not important enough for ordinary public affairs coverage. Then again, stranger things have been noted in the unfolding orgy of VIP Tourism currently gripping the senior ranks of the allegedly cash-starved Air Force.
Just to clear up any confusion now forming in the minds of some readers, yes — the US does own the Virgin Islands (well, some of them anyway), and yes — there is an Air National Guard unit assigned to one such island.
With those two insights, we arrive at the steep drop-off separating the easily understood from the utterly stupefying.
Why did CMSAF visit St. Croix? According to the report, to:
“[meet] with all Airmen, enlisted and officers alike, taking questions and provid[ing] insight as to where the VIANG [sits] in the bigger picture of the Air Force.”
You might be asking yourself what that means. You should be. You might also be asking why it couldn’t be accomplished with an email, a web-hosted video, or via the chain of command — a revolutionary but promising method that involves humans passing information to one another verbally.
(It is rumored that this latter method previously existed, but that it required more trust than the average self-interested manager was willing to extend, and was thus eliminated over the course of several rounds of “policy shaping.”)
To the extent the purpose of Cody’s visit can be deciphered as a basic meet-and-greet, and to the extent that one might concede — against the obese corpus of common sense weighing to the contrary — that it could only be done in-person, you might wonder why the senior enlisted leader of the active duty service would be the one to ‘splain such basic things to members of a national guard organization. Is he the right person for this “task” as it were?
Turns out James Hotaling, the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air National Guard, clearly doesn’t think so. You see, Hotaling already made the arduous journey to this austere outpost just a month ago. He met. He greeted. Ostensibly, he “felt their pain” by joining VIANG members briefly to share the kind hardship that can only be appreciated by seeing it first-hand, at taxpayer expense. And then abruptly leaving.
The fact that Hotaling and Cody spaced their visits to this sun-dappled garrison by such a short interval might recommend to suspicion that their visits were — gasp — redundant. This would be scandalous if true, given the dearth of freely-available burlap sacks filled with other peoples’ money usable for no-expense-spared tourism under the guise of officiality. After all, 4-star commanders have been disciplined for excesses in this area. But alas, the riddle is solved by referring once again to the handy public affairs report, in which Cody explains:
“Our visits are complementary but not redundant. [Hotaling] focuses on things specific to the Air Guard. What I’m focused on is the broader perspective of the Air Force as a whole and how the Air National Guard fits into that.”
There can be no doubt, given this robust explanation, that the trip was worth whatever the taxpayers were billed. After all, how could the intellectually helpless servants of the ANG otherwise navigate the Byzantine web of complex relationships that both link and make distinctive their service contributions? It’s not as though this stuff is simple, or written in a book anywhere, or ingrained during indoctrination, or just common sense. Only an E-9 with dedicated airlift can get the point across.
But just to be sure the juice would be worth the squeeze, Cody threw in some bonus material — like the secret song on a CD that the consumer only finds by listening to a record so many times that a sort of catatonia sets in, immobilizing the individual long enough that the hidden gem may present itself. Our erstwhile reporter notes that:
Cody separately met with senior noncommissioned officers to talk about any concerns they had for the future, and guidance in current events on the national level. A major point in discussion was developmental opportunities that the [a]irmen could and should take advantage of in order to progress in their careers. Cody also suggested that the VIANG continue in the direction they are heading by encouraging the airmen to complete necessary course work, and training to continue to be at a high level of performance.
This is the real worth of any CMSAF visit. Making sure the sycophantic careerist blueprint is known equally to all — regardless of service component — so the various competitive pathologies attendant to conducting a perpetual live-action-role-play of Air Force Survivor can fully thrive. This neatly removes the need for any substantial leadership, mentorship, or relationship building on the part of managers who already “got theirs” and are understandably reticent to continue engaging in the nonlinear business of qualitatively developing human beings for the conduct of war through air and space. After all, genuinely leading is a real pain in the ass, right?
Here’s an alternate narrative: CMSAF unnecessarily visited St. Croix recently. And Puerto Rico. And Honduras. And a slew of other places. It was a waste of money and a waste of time. It was redundant. It accomplished little while interrupting routines. It was unjustified in terms of costs and benefits. But it happened anyway because no one is holding senior officials accountable for thinking critically about the time, money, and institutional focus they consume in construing it as their duty to be mobile mouthpieces rather than senior administrators and orchestrators. Least of all the senior leaders themselves. After all, Cody was just following the example of his two bosses:
Does any of this matter? Only if you care about how the defense budget is spent and how credible senior officials remain in arguing for more funds as they manifestly spend money like there’s no tomorrow.
Actually, there’s another reason. Airmen will never take seriously the idea of limiting resource expenditures to necessities only until their leaders are seen doing the same. Just as Cody is following the examples set by Welsh and James, airmen will follow Cody’s example. Actions speak louder than words.
None of this means leaders shouldn’t go on trips. It means they need to find a better balance between traditional leadership and a flagrant VIP culture that is woefully out of step with both the budget and the prevailing sensibilities of the people they’re leading.
See also this piece about excessive DV travel.