Here’s one that catches me by surprise, because I keep thinking — perhaps over-optimistically — that the Air Force is finally starting to awaken from its lengthy slumber and get itself together. This development proves that even amid a season of progress, we must retain our capacity to be disappointed.
If one surfs over to this page, one can find a collection of seven celebratory biographies regaling seven middle-aged white guys, each touting the puffed-up title “adjunct professor.” Now, in academic parlance, this is a title no one would self-apply where I come from … but the Air Force believes it is honoring these men by anointing them with vaguely important-sounding titles.
They also share another title: retired general officer. Six were four-stars and one a three-star. One retired twelve years ago, the others within the last six years. All take part in various consultancies and advisory functions wherein they continue to suckle at the teet of American defense, a monstrously grand teet capable of fattening many thousands of sucklers.
The question we should be asking about these particular sucklers is this:
What the hell qualifies these dudes to teach anyone about anything?
Certainly not their leadership in the wars in Afghanistan in Iraq. These men presided over a period of stubborn refusal to adapt to those wars. They were part of the problem. They were part of a general officer corps that clung to outmoded and ill-fitted notions of warfare, dragging its heels on drones, close air support, and tactical integration to a degree earning the notorious disapproval of the Secretary of Defense. It was like pulling teeth, said Robert S. Gates, to get this generation of generals to stop clinging dogmatically to cherished ideas and confront reality.
Certainly not their knowledge. The least ossified of the group, Bob Allardice, last commanded at the tactical level 15 years ago. He could not be more out of touch with what it means and what it requires to harmonize people and machines in the complex prospect of irregular warfare in 2017.
If it’s not true expertise and it’s not demonstrated leadership in a relevant context, what is it that entitles Allardice and his cronies to such lofty laurels?
The Air Force says it:
“relies on select retired general officers and retired senior executive service members to contribute to the development our current generation of Airmen. Specific and uniquely separate roles for both Highly Qualified Executive-Senior Mentors and for DoD academic faculty are prescribed in DoD Instructions and public law. The biographies in this section are members of this elite and complementary cadre of both Senior Mentors and Adjunct Professors.”
Translation: the Air Force spends your tax dollars to put in place hired mouthpieces it can depend upon to teach only the authorized version of leadership. This is a means of continual reinforcement of a broken model comprised of obsolete views about people, equipment, organizations, and authority. But propagating it is the irresistible impulse of a good ‘ol boy (and girl) cadre that believes — with towering hubris — that the path to success is narrow, tracing the same steps they themselves once trod.
Someone in today’s Air Force hired these people, gave them these titles, and gave them access to today’s airmen so they could infect them with the same stubborn stupidity that lost us the last two wars and near enough broke our institution. This is what “senior mentor” is code for.
We had a bunch of these guys visit during my time as a student in the Air Force’s strategy school in 2008, and it was a shit show. They spent their dime extolling the virtues of the Air Force’s chosen mode of theater command-and-control, but deflected or outright dodged valid questions about how this approach was contributing to strategic failure. At the time, Iran was making trouble for the US in Iraq by smuggling weapons into the war via rat lines … something every insurgency has featured since the beginning of recorded warfare. The senior mentors were mystified. Their responses when queried as to how the Falconer Air Operations Center model could have failed to foresee such a thing was like a rest home version of Private Loudon Downey under questioning in A Few Good Men.
The fact the Air Force is still relying on the Rolling Stones of Generalship to bring its next generation along is a damning statement about the current leadership corps, unless of course each of these dudes is rocking up purely to explain the manifold ways in which he got it flat-ass wrong and committed errors of administration and judgement that led the Air Force to the cliff of institutional failure.
To underline the point, I’ll single out Allardice. I know this guy pretty well. He was my Ops Group commander 16 years ago when Afghanistan kicked off, and I must say he was one of the most effective Colonels I observed in 23 years of service. Given a clear objective and a capable team, he did a marvelous job of inspiring, motivating, and unifying actions. He got results at the tactical level, which is what got him promoted.
But as a general, Allardice was a disaster. Perhaps because he’d been such an expert at the tactical level, he’d forgotten how to listen, and seemed to harbor a sneering disdain for the very principle of listening to the issues and barriers confronting those in his charge. He didn’t give a toss about morale, openly declaring that anyone suffering from even a faint deterioration of energy or commitment should just pack their shit and leave. He was notorious for saying this to anyone and everyone, but especially the captains who were absorbing a gaudy degree of punishment amid the worst operational tempo in Air Mobility Command history.
Allardice was exactly what a general officer should not be. Self-important, arrogant, and unapproachable … but without a corresponding capacity to engender loyalty or admiration. He alienated scores of people everywhere he went, sending them back to hapless squadron commanders who were then stuck with the task of trying to retain them in a command obviously heading over a cliff in terms of tempo-resource mismatch.
I was a squadron commander in Allardice’s 18th Air Force. We were bleeding to death and he did absolutely nothing to help. He wouldn’t even stipulate that we had issues. He was part of the grand denial movement of the late oughts … explaining to us with his characteristic snark that it wasn’t blood because we couldn’t really bleed … we were not entitled to have our own flesh unless Dice Caesar declared it so. It was a horrible time to be a squadron commander. A senior commander from that era is presumably the exact wrong person to help usher in an era of renewal and revitalization of Air Force squadrons.
Senior mentorship is a dumb idea anyway. How about just “mentorship.” And let’s get some colonels and chiefs involved while we’re at it. We can start with John Warden, the preeminent airpower theorist of the modern era — a man who should have been a general but wasn’t promoted because he was too egalitarian and nonlinear (the exact qualities we needed in an era of counterinsurgency). We can start also with Martha McSally, who should have been a wing commander but was considered too rebellious. She’s now a member of Congress and has shown her mettle by yanking down the Air Force’s institutional pants in one budget battle after another.
I could reel off a dozen more … majors, master sergeants, graduated squadron commanders, retired special operators. Very few of them would be generals who retired from the most ineffectual and caustic generation of Air Force leadership in its seven decade history.
In summary, this is disappointing. It should not be happening.