Powerful Video Focuses on Plight of Individual Airmen

Welsh All Call

I call your attention to a superb production from AFN Aviano and urge that you lend it three minutes that will be well worth the investment.

JQP has been sharply critical of Gen. Mark Welsh’s leadership of the Air Force, and not without good reason. But one thing that’s always been the case is that Welsh says many of the right things … even if he refuses to write them down and even if his policies make it nigh on impossible for leaders in the field to give life to the valid philosophies he seems to espouse.

One area where he has always been rhetorically superb is in his insistence that airmen are individual human beings, each with a story that must be understood before they can be effectively led. It’s something he’s been saying for as long as anyone can remember, and reflects why so many had such high hopes for his tenure as Chief of Staff. 

While those hopes have largely been dashed, this particular talking point of Welsh’s has become something of a touchstone for those who believe that taking care of people is the most important thing we expect Air Force leaders to do.

Which brings us to the AFN video shared below. It carries a timely, vital, and simple message: unless you communicate with people, you can never know what hidden thoughts and feelings they are carrying with them.

The message is delivered for the purpose of heightening awareness about mental health challenges facing airmen, but the examples it portrays illustrate the much more general issue of stress on an overstretched and undermanned force. By its policy and management decisions, the Air Force has given its commanders a heightened responsibility to be involved and aware of these stressors, which are widespread, chronic, and can be debilitating. In the continual grapple to address the problem of airmen committing suicide at unacceptable rates, the service has talked a good programmatic game but done precious little to address the fundamentally unsustainable nature of Air Force life. This video does a masterful job of illustrating how how these issues tie together.

If nothing else, it’s a production reminding us of a timeless truth Big Blue has let slip out of its cross-check in recent years: no matter the degree of technological and material advantage enjoyed by a military force, it still can’t expect to win without excellent and committed people. Neglect them and you not only degrade the moral foundations of service … you risk the outcomes of future battles and wars.  This is something all of us innately understand, but that the bureaucracy periodically forgets or ignores … with the price of rediscovery paid in blood and treasure.

I hope you get something out of this, whether it’s the meaning I contend is there or something else altogether. 

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