Below is a reproduction of an email received by an Air Force major just before Christmas. It was shared with JQP on the condition of anonymity.
From: AFPC/DPSOO OFFICER PROMOTIONS BRANCH
Sent: Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Subject: FOUO: PROMOTION RESULTS FOR 8 SEP 14 SSB – MAJOR XXXX: ACKNOWLEDGE RECEIPT WITHIN 72 HOURS OF THIS EMAIL
On behalf of Major General Poore (AFPC/CC), this is to inform you that you were considered, but not selected for promotion by the P0514A (LAF) Special Selection Board which convened on 8 Sep 14. While I know you are disappointed with the results of this board, I’d like to emphasize the Air Force’s highly competitive nature and promotion environment. This competitive environment has resulted in many talented and highly-qualified officers not being selected for promotion.
Please acknowledge receipt within 72 hours by e-mailing AFPC.DPPPO2@us.af.mil. If you have questions, contact HQ AFPC/DPSOO, Officer Promotions, at DSN 665-2483 or Commercial (210) 565-2483.
XXXXX XXXXXX, 1st Lt, USAF
OIC, Officer Promotions
Directorate of Personnel Services
This is a distressing message manifesting so many wrong things that it’s tough to know where to begin. As a former commander, my first reaction is to be outraged that any leader at any level would authorize the delivery of this kind of news in this particular way, especially just before the holidays. For the commander of all Air Force personnel actions to do this reflects not just ineptitude, but a callousness toward teammates that has no place in a professional order of any kind. The injury is compounded by the fact this is unnecessary. General Poore could have found the time to make a few phone calls herself or empower a subordinate of appropriate rank to do it on her behalf.
In a service that pays constant lip service to the need for resiliency and lays claim to a focus on suicide prevention, the personnel system obviously hasn’t gotten the memo. The gaping maw between constant messaging about taking care of people and the much louder philosophy bespoken by actions like this explains why airmen are tuning out service messages on subjects like resiliency and why they are unmoved by the Secretary of the Air Force’s constant insistence that she cares about their well-being. She’s talking a great game but not making her generals follow through.
This is exactly the kind of bad news that could exceed an airman’s ability to cope. Therefore, policy should unerringly dictate that it be delivered with the utmost care by someone with whom the airman has a relationship. In the Air Force, we (used to) call these people “supervisors” or “unit commanders.”
No, not the generals perched atop organizational charts, aloof to the human consequences of their administrative whims. No, not their appointed lackeys. And no, certainly not a well-meaning but unwelcome stranger communicating through a faceless medium “on behalf of” the person who should actually deliver the news. Real commanders who actually know and care about the people subject to these decisions should be the ones delivering such news. The dignity and honor of all involved demand that basic humanity be affirmed in these processes and not consigned to mechanistic routines. Chalk up one more damaging consequence of the unfolding movement to stop trusting squadron commanders and chauvinistically concentrate authority among a tiny cohort of senior officers.
But if the Air Force Personnel Center (AFPC) insists on delivering this message, it becomes leadership malpractice for its commanding 2-star general to send a lieutenant henchman to do her dirty work, so unconcerned or lazy as to be numb to a natural inclination to at least appoint a proper lackey (hint: should be at least an O-5 telling an O-4 his career is over) or use a proper method (hint: it involves looking someone in the eye).
The cruelest cut of all in this lamentable parody is the attempt by a hapless lieutenant to order a major to respond to an email within 72 hours (over Christmas!). Someone forgot to tell Poore and her legion of mindless minions that getting passed over for O-5 doesn’t make a major subject to orders from junior officers, no matter how much more expendable that major is instantly considered or how much more convenient it makes Poore’s PT schedule.
This is one of those military customs that has existed since antiquity for good reason: when we keep straight who gives orders and who receives them, a phenomenon called “good order” takes over, and we fight and win more effectively — or so every successful leader in military history has found. Not that we should expect Poore to understand that given her anemic operational record. Then again, she is a 2-star flag officer and allegedly a commander, so we not only should but must expect her to understand it and to ensure those operating on her behalf have internalized it as well.
The major who received this email understood the notion of good order and refused to contribute to a system defiling it. He declined to respond, insisting on a proper messenger and message. That’s called standing on principle. I recommend anyone receiving this kind of email respond similarly. If AFPC has forgotten what principles are, this is great way to set an example to help them remember.
Over the past year, AFPC has mangled a tough series of drawdown actions. Some mistakes were unavoidable as consequences of shifting Congressional dicta and budget turbulence. But it’s the unforced errors that always hurt team performance the most, and this is a prime example. Poore and her organization have a choice about the level of sensitivity they employ in delivering life-altering and emotionally weighty notifications and consciously choose to go about this exactly the wrong way. This reflects unbelievable hubris.
I’ve been asked dozens of times in the past few months who is to blame for the handling of the 2014 drawdown. Who should be scapegoated? I’ve deflected that question because it’s seldom productive to pretend that blaming one agent will put an appreciable dent in systemic ills like those on display here. But sometimes, a particular leader is responsible for encouraging or cultivating systems that serially produce absurd or immoral outcomes. This is beginning to look like such a case. I can’t recall — from my own years of experience or in any anecdote consumed in years of studying military history — a more obvious example of an organization in desperate need of new leadership than the current iteration of AFPC. Every day that a change isn’t announced, the service loses a little more credibility with its airmen.
Airmen deserve better than pink slips via email from faceless bureaucrats in their Christmas stockings. Their families deserve better. The service must do better, hopefully without the prodding of legislators likely to react uncharitably when they hear this story and others like it.
But since we’re still living in fantasy land for now, an AFPC response to this article is mandatory within 72 hours