As the Department of Defense rolls out a series of policies aimed at making the military services more “family friendly,” one of the Air Force’s major commands is simultaneously contemplating a requirement arguably hostile to the privacy, independence, and dignity of the service’s airmen and families.
Officials at Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC), which runs the nation’s arsenal of nuclear missiles and bombers, are working to field a policy that would encourage or even require supervisors to conduct “morale” checks on married airmen in their private homes.
It’s natural to say “unbelievable” … but for USAF observers, this isn’t really a surprise.
The policy fits neatly within an unfolding institution-wide movement to disregard the basic privacy rights of airmen. Just a few months ago, the service’s top officer, Gen. Mark Welsh, pronounced that airmen had no expectation of privacy — even with respect to private text messages sent from personal cellphones — and that their messages were subject to service assessments as to the “professionalism” of their content.
His words echoed those provided by his legal advisors, who seem to be laboring under the mistaken belief that case precedent gives them unlimited reach into the private dealings of servicemembers. Welsh’s position has crystallized into service policy throughout the unfolding of a scandal involving the private cellphones of a group of instructor pilots who were disciplined for drug use based on texts they sent each other referencing Miley Cyrus lyrics. The charges have since been found baseless, but the zero-privacy doctrine championed by Welsh is constantly parroted and mimicked by his junior generals.
The AFGSC move, even against the backdrop of an anti-privacy movement, would be extreme and unprecedented. The idea of unannounced wellness visits on fellow adults who are not in crisis is just bizarre.
Perhaps sensing the drastic novelty of the idea, officials are carefully cloaking the proposal in legal reviews before activating it. In the slide shown below, extracted from a “Community Action Information Board” briefing recently given to AFGSC’s vice commander, the status of the proposal indicates it is still under legal review.
In an obvious wink as to the program’s true purpose, the drop-ins are sold as “health and wellness checks” … with the term stated in quotations as if to poke fun at itself.
Only in a culture without any appreciation for the right of an individual to be free from intrusion into his or her private dealings without proper warrant would such an idea even be entertained. This is offensive to the grown adults and their families who have given themselves to the service of the Air Force, and it will result in more quality airmen deciding against a career in the service.
It’s also misuse of supervisory energy and will unavoidably lead to wasteful disciplinary actions when airmen either resist intrusion or are prosecuted based on collateral activity that should never have been known to the government. This is a vivid example of how they’re punished rather than heralded for having the decency to consign themselves to public service.
It’s also probably not legal. But as with many Air Force policies that are prima facie inconsistent with federal law or the Constitution, the service and its lawyers will likely speed bump the basic ethical duty to refrain from such conduct, instead caving to the will of power. In this, they rely on the comforting and well-founded assumption that none of the individuals victimized by unwarranted intrusions are in a position to legally challenge them, and that even if they were, the legal resource mismatch between commanders and ordinary airmen is so disparate that resisting policy is effectively impossible.
This is also a poor tonic for a command previously critiqued for toxic micromanagement that had threatened to put the nation on the road to nuclear disaster.
In other words, no one at the senior leadership level has learned much in the last few years. So busy are they using their power to control, monitor, and micromanage the private lives of their airmen, they’ve never stopped to ask themselves whether what they’re doing is legal, even basically right, or value-added. They’re not thinking, and obviously no one feels comfortable challenging their thoughtlessly amoral impulses.
This is a sickening idea that will alienate scores of airmen. I don’t know anyone who would choose to stay voluntarily in an employment relationship that allows the boss to stop by unannounced and poke around in their private lives. Nor should they. It’s un-American.
To the extent it entertains ideas this dumb and off-putting, the Air Force leaves itself undeserving of smart and committed young Americans.
More on this story as it develops … or hopefully dies.
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