The following post is unattributed. It’s been making the rounds on social media the past few weeks, and accurately captures a prevailing sentiment among airmen these days. They face tough choices between competing senses of duty as they wait for the Air Force to repair its ailing culture and broken value proposition. For many (if not most), the gambit is to start building a path out of the service while hoping it turns itself around, and pushing it to do so. In their hearts, people who join the Air Force want to stay a part of it. Which is why it has taken historically inept and toxic mismanagement to drive them out.
I’m not quitting …at least not yet. This is a pretty good job: pay is above average, health care coverage is good considering the chaos surrounding health care in America today, and I get to do work that can be rewarding at times. The downsides are all the organizational politics, the huge amount of queep I have to do, and the time away from home. I don’t mind deploying –It’s something I look forward to. The real hard part is the time away from home when we’re “at home.” Between late hours in the office, TDYs to exercises that seem to not have much value, and a constant stream of upgrades to get the FNGs ready to go, I’m not really home to see my family grow up. I’m treated as a traitor if I want to coach my kid’s T-ball team. At the same time, nobody ever stood on the podium at their retirement and said “I wish I spent less time with my family and more time hammering on OPRs.”
Here’s the problem: this is just a job. The reasons I came into this profession are very different than why I stay at the job. The whole idea that this is a calling really just seems now like a management gimmick to keep me in and keeping the Air Force equivalent of the borax mine going. When I spend hours of touch-time on a very antiquated officer evaluation and promotion process, click off more containers on MICT, act as a second-tier approval authority to someone’s DTS voucher, or ensure the bomb threat form from 1985 is near all the 1997-era phones, I don’t feel like I’m being called to some higher duty. It’s just work. The fact that I’m being offered quite a bit to stay in tells me that the Air Force doesn’t believe that it’s a calling either. Historically, it’s been easier for the Air Force to pay more money for said work than actually make the work go away. That’s changed now: there isn’t a pilot shortage. Instead, there’s a queep surplus and a culture crisis that goes with it. From now on, I’d like to see this issue referred to as the Air Force’s “Culture Crisis” and not “Pilot Shortage.” It’s simply more honest and will better drive the conversation.
I don’t see a lot of role models above me. Oh, they’re all good guys and seem to understand the issues. At the same time, I see everyone from the squadron commander on up just slaving away in a very abrasive work-a-holic culture. My self-worth isn’t measured by how many new initiatives I took on or how many emails I can jam out at 11pm on a Sunday night. Here’s what I’d like to see: a guy not tied to the Blackberry (now iPhone) every second, a guy behind the glass door who actually goes home when crew rest starts, an O-6 that I’m not afraid to have on my wing, or (this would be really crazy) a Colonel with a hobby.
The problem is that our system creates these types of leaders. Guys who say yes to as many ideas, tasks, and initiatives as possible move up the pole starting as early as Lts. The guy who wants a balanced life and would like to see his family grow up is treated like he’s not a team member. Let’s be frank: “Service before family” is not a core value. I really do have a duty to my family to be in a profession that maximizes a combination of family time and monetary value –other options are starting to look really attractive on that front.
My recommendation for the Air Force is to recognize that my time has value. As I watch my kids sprout up like bean stalks, time is more valuable that any money offer on the table at this point. The benefits of this job are pretty good… but it is just a job. Getting my ATP-CTP done so I can get to a different point on the money/time-off curve sure makes a ton of sense, as I don’t think the Air Force will solve its culture problems before Junior goes out for pop warner ball.
Thanks for listening,
A guy doing the job.