Command Chief: “Leadership is Parenting”


Below is an excerpt from an email shotgunned out to commanders and senior enlisted leaders by CMSgt. Terrence Greene sometime earlier this year. At the time, he was Command Chief of the 51st Fighter Wing at Osan. He has since been elevated to the position of Command Chief Master Sergeant for United States Forces Japan and Fifth Air Force, where “he is responsible to the commander for matters relating to readiness, welfare, and effective utilization of over 33,000 enlisted members.”

We bring our service members to Korea, ranked #13 in the world for alcohol
consumption and #1 for hard liquor and we expect that they will not be
impacted by the environment driving the above statistics and socially
harmful behavior.  We put no rules in place to limit alcohol use, complain
when medical clearances are turned down to those with alcohol issues, argue
against restrictive measures that would help people to make good choices
because we claim they are adults and should be left alone.  Leadership is
parenting … what would you want for your son or daughter with an assignment to Korea knowing what the social dangers are in this AOR?

What will you do about it … you’re their Boss.

v/r … Terry
Command Chief, 51st Fighter Wing

Greene was part of a chain of command that installed spy cameras in the Osan dormitories to monitor airmen in their private living spaces. He also reportedly insisted upon the proactive review of footage to seek out and punish airmen for penny ante “offenses” … reaching well beyond the already invasive but more justifiable practice of having footage passively available to supplement reports of misconduct.

Since moving to Japan, Greene has been tightening the screws on airmen there as well, creating a climate of toxic micromanagement within which abuses of power are running rampant and airmen are trampling on the rights of one another in the name of discipline.

While at Osan, Chief Greene also made himself chief apologist for the Orwell-inspired Korea Readiness Orientation policy (or “KRO”), a coercive command directive criminalizing alcohol consumption and other individual liberties during an initial acclimation period (ranging between 14 and 30 days, depending on the particular restriction) after arriving for assignment in Korea.

The policy applies to everyone, regardless of age or rank, meaning 40-year-old Field Grade Officers and Senior NCOs find themselves proving to the Air Force all over again that they can be trusted to consume alcohol and conduct themselves appropriately. This as they are simultaneously entrusted with conducting airpower, safeguarding lives, and handling billions of dollars in resources. Such absurd contradictions routinely signal corrupt or otherwise inept “in-charge-ship” pretending to be genuine leadership.

Here’s a video clip of Greene imperiously declaring that such restrictions are actually “good for” those on the receiving end … just like a parent telling a kid “this is for your own good” while informing the kid s/he is grounded.

Of course, this is undiluted gibberish. As internet sleuth and periodic JQP contributor Steven Mayne wrote in an open letter critiquing KRO, “[e]ven my 8-year-old son knows that when I take something away from him that he would otherwise be entitled to have, he’s being punished.” 

Before I go on, let me say that what follows is not an attack on the character or honor of Terry Greene. I served with him at Charleston. I know he’s a solid, moral man and a “nice guy” to be around. He’s personable. He’s got a great way with people. There’s much to be admired in his public persona, which exudes care and optimism.

But I also recall from serving with Chief Greene that I found many of his attitudes and perspectives outright inappropriate for a leader, especially one with direct access to and influence over senior commanders. He continually pestered supervisors and commanders to push their people to study hard for promotion, often citing that our base’s promotion rates to certain enlisted grades lagged those of the command or the larger Air Force. I found this totally wrong. Our approach should be to make sure the promotion process is understood and that our airmen are equipped with the tools that will help our best performers succeed … but anyone we have to “push” toward greater responsibility is the wrong person for advancement.

This is the core problem with conceptualizing adult professionals as kids. It leads to thinking they can be “directed” in all things. It ignores that true achievement comes from self-determination, and that militaries can’t succeed without NCOs who’ve developed a capacity for independent judgment.

Chief Greene’s motherhood approach to promotion was characteristic of his attitudes on other signal issues like alcohol use, sexual assault prevention, and fitness. It was always about telling airmen exactly what to think and what to do rather than laying out expectations and allowing them to rise to the occasion. No matter how “great a guy” he is, his ideas are wrong and irresponsible.

It’s not just that guys like Greene are succeeding in the Air Force. They’re actually elevating into senior positions where they have the ability to influence general officers with gargantuan power over the lives of airmen. Most of these generals have spent most of their careers in jobs insulating them from the need to become experts in leading enlisted airmen. That lack of experience, and the resulting insecurity many generals harbor with respect to enlisted matters, causes them to give excessive weight and inappropriate deference to the advice of their senior enlisted advisors. This doesn’t bode well with people like Greene filling such roles. It’s a recipe for low expectations and an infantilized enlisted force.

Kid on Leash

The bottom line is this: parenting only applies when you’re dealing with children.

So when Chief Greene talks about leadership as parenting, he’s admitting he sees airmen as children. That’s bad enough as an attitude, but the way it shows up in actual policies with legal force behind them is intolerable for the Air Force. It sacrifices personal responsibility and individual agency on the altar of risk aversion.

Child-airmen needn’t learn to think for themselves if they’re to be supplied with exact instructions for how to think and what to do … which means they’ll never develop the creativity and ingenuity necessary to stay apace with a thinking, reacting adversary. 

Uniformed “kids” are something apart from the “adults” … and are therefore to be seen and not heard. Under these conditions, they’ll never learn to speak truth to power, and the resulting insularity will blind commanders to lurking problems until they threaten to collapse entire systems.

Kids are to be kept safe … they’re not to take chances or make mistakes. Of course, without doing those things, they never innovate or build character.

But none of this matters to the current crop of senior enlisted managers … who are absolutely typified by Chief Greene.

When you have an enlisted force capable only of obedience, you don’t have an enlisted force at all. You have a collection of individuals standing in the same place … unwittingly marching to their inevitable defeat. Maybe it’s just me, but I think that’s too high a cost for the country to bear just so people like Terry Greene can continue feeling directly consequential and empowered. They’re supposed to be advisors, not helicopter parenting micromanagers.

I’ve deliberately left Chief Greene’s email address in this piece because he’s a senior public official and should be accessible. I hope some of you will reach out and let him know how you feel about his approach, whether you agree or disagree with it. 

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