The guy in the picture is Houston Cantwell, an Air Force O-6 in command of Holloman’s 49th Wing. He might be gazing upon distant memories, wistfully recalling episodes of courage, cowardice, glory, or loss.
Or, he might just be reflecting pridefully on his decision to lock visiting airmen into roach-riddled billeting rooms in order to save enough cash in the course of a year to fund 44 minutes of F-35 flying time.
Cantwell is proving he’s ready to be a general officer by stepping over operational dollars to save fractions of pennies when it comes to taking care of people. It’s a shit-addled USAF tradition that continues to reduce senior officers to shadows of their former selves … once proud and capable warriors, they settle into a shameful routine of bringing skeletal vermin to the service’s budgetary back porch like filth-caked and craven stray cats.
This story starts in fall of 2015, when Cantwell’s predecessor — a now mercifully retired O-6 by the name of Kiebler — signed a misguided memo telling airmen visiting Holloman for RPA training (lasting many months) that they had no choice but to stay in on-base billeting rooms.
Here’s the memo:
Notice how it contains no legal or regulatory reference giving its author the authority to issue the order. That’s because the authority doesn’t exists. The federal Joint Travel Regulation (JTR), which is the source of all authority having anything to do with where airmen stay when they go on TDY and how they get paid for it, says the following in relevant part:
Without question, airmen are permitted to stay in off-base quarters. To the extent the cost of doing so exceeds what they would receive on-base, their reimbursement is limited to what they would have been paid on base. That’s the entire rule. There are no provisions for military necessity, commander preference, or government profit motive.
We’ve learned from a FOIA request submitted last year that Kiebler’s legal advisors discussed amongst themselves (and advised him) that his order was not on sound legal footing. He had issued the order before a legal opinion had been rendered, and refused to rescind his dumbass policy, probably for fear of revealing himself as a clown.
And so, given the gutlessness of the USAF’s officer culture, the policy stood. Even social media pressure could not dislodge it, and in fact only resulted in public affairs personnel issuing a propaganda video to paint Holloman lodging in a deceitfully positive light. (The video has since been taken down).
The base’s July, 2016 change of command should have been an opportunity to repeal Kiebler’s imbecilic memo and restore the JTR rule. But something got in the way of that.
Insiders tell us the officer in charge of Holloman’s billeting operation showed Cantwell financial reporting from 2015 and 2016 indicating that the Kiebler memo had increased annual revenue about $50,000 annually by forcing airmen to spend their money on government quarters.
We don’t know what impact that had on Cantwell. What we do know is that he has not repealed the policy of his predecessor after seeing this difference in revenue. We know he’s been challenged on it, and has refused to bring his policies back within the scope of federal law.
As a result, airmen TDY to Holloman are being forced to live in what many are calling subpar conditions. The rooms they inhabit have a microwave and a mini-fridge only. No freezer, no cooktop. They are run-down and reportedly cockroach-infested. Airmen I spoke to say there’s good reason why the mandate is in-place: because without it, no one would stay in the dilapidated quarters on Holloman, no matter the out-of-pocket cost.
We’ve seen this buffoonery before. Billeting offices are run by services officers whose performance is assessed based on their ability to turn profits given shitty facilities and programs that are decades past expiration materially and culturally.
But that’s no excuse for operational leaders to fail in their number one charge, which is taking care of people. At Holloman, Cantwell and his minions have been appeasing the masses by issuing waivers for people with families and/or pets. But this is utter bullshit. They don’t have waiver authority because they don’t have restriction authority. The only legal and moral policy here is to remove restrictions and let airmen choose how they will spend their billeting entitlement.
This will also have the effect of forcing Holloman to improve its on-base slum. Try competing for business rather than running billeting like a Soviet bread line and you might actually get somewhere.
Since this has happened repeatedly and the Cantwells of the world are not getting the message, I propose Gen. Goldfein issue an explicit order forbidding wing commanders from attempting to restrict the billeting choices of TDY airmen. After all, this kind of nonsense is part of what’s driving the pilot shortage crisis. There is simply no room for stuff like this, or the so-called leaders who partake in it.