No, CMSAF is Not Picking a Fight With JQP

This article is to correct the record.

On August 3rd, we published a piece questioning whether CMSAF Kaleth Wright was spoiling for a fight with JQP. The piece was a response to three separate reports from airmen that Wright had discouraged participation in social media generally and JQP specifically — most recently during a presentation at the SNCOA Academy.

While the verbatim title and content of the article posed the idea as a question, the tone clearly presumed the reports were true and that Wright had poormouthed the site. It’s now apparent that confidence in those reports was misplaced, and that Wright was either misunderstood or totally misapprehended.

There are two reasons why no confidence should be granted in the prior reporting.

First, the sources providing the information have refused to allow their names to be publicly attributed to their comments, and have declined to provide the names of others who can corroborate their accounts. Ordinarily, this might not in itself be a bar to lending credibility (in part because the Air Force is intolerant of such openness and in part for reasons laid out below).

Second, Chief Wright and his team are willing to have a dialogue about this, and to publicly own their response. That goes a long way. Ultimately, their authenticity weighs more than the anonymous claims, however insistent, of those unwilling to stand fully behind what they are saying.

CMSAF’s spokesperson, Air Force SMSgt Kati Grabham, spoke with JQP and offered comment. She told me “Chief Wright is certainly not interested in anything close to the appearance that he would dictate where or how Airmen become informed.”

That’s pretty definitive. But Grabham also said “[w]e don’t care where Airmen get their information; we just want them to be informed.”

Think about that. In just a few months, we’ve gone from a senior leadership team that actively admonished airmen to only trust official sources and openly threatened that they would be punished for missteps online … to this, the perfect attitude.

Here’s a moment when I could not be more overjoyed to have been wrong. I hoped in that first article that it was wrong, and I’m happy to say it was the case. Moreover, it should not have been published without stronger vetting of the reporting that catalyzed it, and future stories concerning Chief Wright — and particularly his attitudes about airmen and social media — will be subject to such vetting.

It’s not all good news. One of the reasons it was easy to run with the multiple anonymous reports that attributed the remarks to Wright was that his fellow Chiefs continue to discourage social media participation among airmen, and some bash JQP habitually. Off the heels of four years of demonization by Wright’s predecessor, it’s easy to fall into patterned thinking about the attitudes of senior enlisted leaders with respect to public discourse. Especially when so many threaten official action against airmen who speak out of school.

But what Wright is proving is that he’s different, and that the times we’re living in are also now different. Much like his colleagues atop the service — Sec. Heather Wilson and Gen. Dave Goldfein — Wright seems genuinely interested in turning the service around, beginning with a cultural renewal. He is open to feedback and willing to have a dialogue. When this is the case, anything is possible.

It’s not clear what happened at that SNCOA presentation, but what’s clear to me is that Chief Wright did not intentionally malign JQP or discourage participation. I presumed otherwise, which makes me wrong.

It also makes Wright the best thing that has happened to the enlisted Air Force in a long time. Like I said recently, the service is seriously getting its act together … and he is leading that charge. It’s exciting to wonder what reforms will come next, and to think that despite massive personnel shortages and other huge problems (which we will continue to highlight), the service is well led once again.

With strong leadership, a genuine turnaround is possible. I hope and believe that’s what we’re witnessing.

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