From the Inbox: Downrange Chiefings Continue to Run Amok

We get a lot of mail here at JQP. From time to time, patterns emerge and it seems worthwhile to share some of the insight we’re getting from those of you in the field, if for no other reason than to provide an entertaining chronicle of life in a service that often seems to have gone mad.

Today, we bring you a special treat: a selection of chiefings from downrange locations that are supposedly bastions of warfighting focus but clearly struggling to counterweight a couple decades of cultural inertia.

The subtext of the AOR chiefing dilemma is the unasked and certainly unanswered question “what is the role of an E-9 in today’s Air Force?”

Feast on these gems of stupidity.

A captain pilot who just arrived at Al Udeid for a transient stop on his way to Afghanistan was publicly scolded by a local E-9 for drinking water in the pax terminal during Ramadan. Oh yeah, the Qataris behind the counter were slurping from water bottles while this was happening.

Some interesting things about this.

First, why do we have a dumbass rule that says we’re going to dehydrate ourselves in unholy heat because of someone else’s religious observations? If there is a military necessity for hydration, that trumps the lurch for host nation hypersensitivity. If the host nation doesn’t agree, it’s time for us to either persuade them or go somewhere else, leaving the Qataris to ponder their own defense without the world’s most powerful military taking up tenancy on their inhospitable soil.

Second, where is the military necessity required to make lawful an order to go without water on an air base? It’s a common Air Force fallacy to assume all orders are valid if they come from authority (see here for further discussion). But it just ain’t so.

Third, how would a transient officer know such a rule existed, given its manifest collision with common sense? One would normally assume that constantly drinking water during Middle East stopovers on the way to a warzone would not only be encouraged, but recommended if not mandated. Every officer and airman is conditioned during initial training to drink as much water as possible, and then drink some more. At traditional BMT, you couldn’t eat until after you had four glasses minimum. This is a prime example of how rules, at core, should be meant to take care of people. This one is doing the opposite so some jackass general can have an easier time with local politics, or at least be perceived as having more sensitivity. Meanwhile, 25 miles down the road, Doha is crawling with every form of human vice imaginable.

Fourth, if the Qataris were also drinking water in violation of the rules, did the E-9 correct them? If not, does this mean the rule is invalid or that it is being applied inconsistently? Either way, it probably means the order isn’t lawful.

Finally, is a public correction really the right way to address this supposed infraction? Does anyone really believe that publicly calling someone out ever works? Doesn’t anyone recognize that this creates far more alienation than allegiance? Perhaps, as officers have suggested over the years, alienation is the whole point. The E-9 support mafia finally has the upper hand, and is bent on exacting a petty form of organizational vengeance by acting as deployed mattress police.

A deployed First Sergeant at Al Udeid developed a slideshow of his top 10 uniform infractions. Every single slide used an officer as the example. He sent the slides to other shirts, chiefs, and SNCOs with a top emphasis item for the month: sunglasses resting on peoples’ heads. This guy went out with a couple E-8s/9s and waited by an ECP to catch flightline guys coming off the line with their sunglasses propped up. He took down their names and shamed them to their squadron leadership.

If what you care about is whether someone is using his head to improperly store his sunglasses at the hottest and sunniest air base in the whole service, you are a loser who should resign and go seek employment as a meter maid or hall monitor. If you’re going to stay in the USAF, work on removing barriers and designing better processes so people can be more productive and add more value. When you’ve reduced the bullshit-to-relevancy ratio to 1:9 (roughly the reverse of the current ratio), you can resume wasting energy on stuff like this.

Focusing too much on superficiality kills morale, averts focus, and turns everyone into an uptight and excessively self-aware weenie. I remember showing up to a transit base in a C-17 a decade ago and running into one of my closest colleagues — a leader in the local maintenance unit that was handling my jet’s thru-flight. I hadn’t seen him in a few years and couldn’t wait to see how he was doing. When I came down the ladder to collect my handshake and embrace my old friend, his first move was to grab my sunglasses off my head and correct me. It didn’t bother me at the time, but it’s still what I remember most about what should have been a joyous moment of camaraderie. His obsession with the insignificant was so powerful that it overwhelmed his emotional intelligence and subtly, slightly degraded the bond between us. It didn’t seem to register to him that we were on a flightline and not standing for an open ranks inspection.

Of course, I didn’t blame him, but the culture in which he’d been immersed. The flightline used to be a place where dwelling on triviality for even a nanosecond was nigh on unforgivable. By that time, it had devolved into just another human filing cabinet, but with more noise and less air conditioning. It’s far worse now.

E-9s at Kandahar got all giddy when planning a “chiefing” night to jack up troops not properly wearing all their IBA and personal equipment (mandatory wear every night until 28 June due to Ramadan).  E-9s literally told leadership they were looking forward to chiefing the troops out-and-about.

My response if I were the local leadership would have been to put anyone participating in this jackassery on the next plane home, equipped with a signed letter from me to their home station commander recommending they be invited to retire immediately.

The use of rank and authority to hunt and humiliate subordinates is just bullying, pure and simple. It’s hazing. It’s abusive. It’s not a valid exercise of the power we give E-9s to manage and represent our enlisted force.

If people are not wearing their equipment properly, find out what process barrier is preventing compliance and have that barrier removed. If you encounter an individual who refuses to comply despite a clean process, make an appropriate correction. But if your predisposition is that the ranks are teeming with miscreants who need you to castigate them into alignment, you’re just a useless chauvnistic goat whose time to retire has come and gone without you noticing. Snap out of the oblivion and make your way to the water-free pax terminal for the next seat westbound, and stop by the porn and cigarette free BX on your way for a stylish retiree baseball cap.

Too many E-9s and their toadies have the wrong assumptions about airmen, and are animating those assumptions with flawed priorities. People don’t need to be monitored at this level. It doesn’t add value and it kills morale. It also reflects a level of cluelessness that alienates our most intelligent and astute people first.

This stuff right here is why people are leaving in droves. They’re being smothered by idiot supervision. Reduce the lunacy, especially in the AOR, and watch how quickly things can improve. Or just keep dealing in half measures while this whole thing suffocates.

See also:

E-9 Attempts to Restrict Protected Speech


Time Capsule: A Chiefing to Remember

Comments are closed.