Dang! Has Sarge been on a roll lately or what? As of 1300 Sunday, 180 comments on 6 posts? Not bad for our little corner of the blogosphere. But, as I sit here warming up in the bullpen, I'm a little nervous as I prepare to make my pitch.
Oh well, in for a penny, in for a trillion dollars (a small homage to his post on Taxes, in case you didn't get it).
A comment by Dave ("...Saw the beginnings of mass-suckage in the late sixties.") got me to thinking about Sarge's post, the two GOFOs pictured therein and WTF has been going on in the Air Force. I've been wondering about that for quite some time and the Service's apparent death spiral is, in fact, one of the reasons I decided to retire. Dave's comment got me to ponder when I first noted that spiral, since the comment indicated it had begun long before I had joined.
I think the first suck-based reality check occurred when I was a Senior in College. I started College in '73 and it's now '77. The ROTC detachment had about 250 cadets. About half were on contract, meaning they had "taken the queen's shilling" and had committed to the Air Force. The rest were undecided underclassmen. Of that hundred or so upperclassmen, about half were holding pilot slots, which really only meant they had taken the flying class I physical and met those requirements and had a desire to fly. So, roughly, 25 per class.
It's early in the spring semester. Graduation requirements are all but met. We've put in our dream sheets, not that they carried any weight whatsoever for the pilot candidates. Like we'd turn down Vance because we didn't get Williams? Yeah, right...
In any case, we're notified of a mandatory meeting of all the Senior cadets. I show up at the appointed time and the Professor of Aerospace Studies (PAS), the O-6 in charge of the detachment, walks in with the rest of the staff. He doesn't look happy. He begins with "As you all know, the military in general is beginning a drawdown in forces. That drawdown will affect you....." My "Oh S4!t" meter pegs.
He speaks for a few minutes as the staff is passing out envelopes. He then directs us to open the envelopes and read the enclosed letter.
It begins "The Air Force is reducing the number of pilot slots to comply with a mandated reduction in force size...." I stop reading at that point and fold it up. I'm pretty well devastated and sit there thinking "Now what?" I notice similar expressions on the faces of nearly all the guys in the room. "Good Lord, how many got axed?" One guy, who's blind as a bat and going to Missiles, let's out a whoop! "I guess he's staying." Which was ok, he was a nice guy, with a very pregnant wife, so I'm relieved for him.
The PAS dismisses us and as I get up to walk out, he stops me and offers congratulations. I'm dumbfounded. Congratulations because I lost my slot? The only thing I've wanted to do all my life? I just look at him. He asks to see my letter. I hand it to him. He reads it, lets out a sigh and hands it back to me. He says "Read the last line...Only!" I read it. "Congratulations on having retained your pilot slot." That was the only difference between my letter and the one that went out to all the other pilot candidates except one other. Two of us retained our slot out of 25.
Some personnel wienie figured it was easier to write one letter and add an additional line to the few that made it rather than write two separate letters. Thanks buddy! I thought about that letter later on when I was on a staff tour and heard the line "Bottom line up front." Wish that had been the policy at Air University.
I'm commissioned and have finished UPT. I'm now at Lead-In Fighter Training (LIFT), learning the basics of maneuvering and employing a fighter while actually flying an aircraft I'm already checked out in, the AT-38.
Unlike UPT, where the majority of IPs are Lieutenants or junior Captains on their first flying assignment (First Assignment Instructor Pilots or FAIPs), the IPs here are all experienced fighter pilots with at least two tours under their belts and many of them have combat time. Most are senior Captains with a few junior Majors thrown in.
If arrayed into some kind of matrix based on skills, I'd describe it as a standard bell curve albeit centered further to the right on the competency axis than most flying squadrons.
I learned quite a bit about flying, fighters and the Air Force from them. One of the things I did note, however was that quite a few of them had their papers in. They were leaving the Air Force, this was in the last few years of the second worst President ever's term and there were plenty of reasons for people to leave. And the airlines were hiring.
The one thing that sticks in my mind though was which type people were leaving. It wasn't the people at the far right of the Bell Curve. They knew they were good and were going to go far in the AF. Strangely, it wasn't the people at the far left of the curve either. It was the people in the middle, and they were leaving in droves. I'm pretty sure that of the Captains that were eligible to separate in my squadron, to count the ones remaining wouldn't require even one hand.
That gave me a little niggle of worry, and I couldn't quite put my finger on why I was concerned.
It was the same thing at RTU and when I got to Kunsan, and joined the Juvats. Most of the mid-grade Captains had their papers in and were getting out and flying with the airlines. I served that tour and returned to the US just in time to see Reagan inaugurated and the Reagan buildup begun. Flying hours were abundant, new jets were developed, all was well in the world, but the damage was done.
My opinion is, to revisit the Bell Curve theory, the great ones stayed because they knew they would run things, the good ones, the ones one or two standard deviations either side of the center of the bell, left because they knew they could make it on the outside and didn't see any reason to stay and live with the way things were going. And the ones to the left, stayed because they knew that if they stayed, they'd make it because there was no one else left. The AF had to promote them.
And they were right.
At some point in my education, I came across a thought that went something like this. Grade A people hire Grade A people because they know they can handle them. Grade B people hire Grade A or Grade B people because they know they need the quality product and can live with the difficulties. Grade C people hire Grade D people because they need to feel important.
I think there's some validity in that. It certainly seems true as I look at people around me today in the Public Education field. But back to the Air Force.
The great ones (Grade A) hired Grade A people, and the AF prospered for it. But the Reagan Buildup is underway and the AF ran out of Grade A People, so Grade B people filled in, and tried to hire Grade A or B people but there weren't any available. Grade C were hired which resulted in their promotion. They then hired the Grade D people and promoted them. That cycle has continued ever since.
After my second operational flying assignment, I was assigned to Holloman as a LIFT IP. TAC at the time had what I thought was a wonderful program. Our flight suits were modified with a small patch on the right sleeve, just above the cuff. A small piece of cloth was sewn on that had a silver star on it for each 500 hours of Pilot in Command time a pilot had. So if he had 1 star, he had between 500 and 999 hours of time in a fighter. Two meant 1000-1499 and so on. If a pilot had even one hour of combat time as pilot in command he was authorized to wear a gold star. Two gold stars meant he had 500-999 hours of Combat time. I showed up with 1 maybe 2 silver stars. I was comfortable with them. They were where I should be in my career at the time. Ed Rasimus was my IP during IP upgrade. He had 9 total stars (4500 hours) with 3 of them being gold (between 1000-1500 hours of combat time). He wasn't the only one with similar credentials. Bill Ricks (one of the other Lt's in "There is a Way") was the ADO and had a similar sleeve full. As did Vegas.
In short, with a quick glance at a pilot's arm, you got an instant assessment of his credibility.
The Air Force quickly figured this out and "Experience Stars delenda est". Before that happened though, we had a new wing commander assigned. Vegas had hired me as the Wing Scheduler, which meant I had to brief the wing commander every Wednesday on the following week's flying schedule. The DO (Vegas), ADO (Ricks), Maintenance Director, the four flying squadron commanders as well as the academic squadron commander and a few other flunkies would all be in attendance. It was usually a blood bath. But it was almost always a predictable blood bath. You see, the wing commander had two white stars, same as I. Two of the 5 squadron commanders were in the same general category both with number of stars and color thereof. The other pilots in the room had rather more stars in total and all had multicolored stars. The brickbats thrown by the first group all had to do with spelling errors on charts or how they could be better worded to make their points. Or they really raised a howl if I featured a statistic that made them look anything less than absolutely excellent. The brickbats thrown by the second group were all about actual problems with the schedule and ways to fix them. This went on for about 6 weeks and I was getting tired of it. I went to my Squadron Commander and asked him for advice.
"Boss, how do I avoid getting beaten up at the scheduling meeting every @#$@@!! week?"
He said, "Send the slides to the commanders the morning of the meeting, so they can get their excuses in order. And, don't worry about any comments except from the DO, ADO and Maintenance Director. And me, of course."
I thought that was very telling.
And that was after only a couple of cycles. The wing commander went on to where a couple of stars. Vegas and Ricks retired as O-6s. Ras made Major at the first opportunity, 3 years below the zone, and retired as a Major.
I came back to the states after 3 years in PACAF and went to a fighter bar. Nary a person wearing experience stars to be seen.
The people who were/are in the left hand corner of the competence bell curve are now running the circus. After 20-30 years of this self selection, any competent people have all but been driven out before they're selected for O-5 command and almost certainly before any further command because competency is not attainable for the incompetent. The competent must be eliminated. A new found method of eliminating the competent leaders is the IG system, where any perceived slight by a commander of a person in their command is an IG complaint, veracity is not required. This complaint becomes the kiss of death for that commander's career and quite possibly their personal life. Problem solved, competent officer removed from competition and another turn of the Air Force's death spiral is completed.
There used to be a saying in the Air Force. "There's only two kinds of people in the Air Force, Fighter Pilots and Shoe Clerks. Being a Fighter Pilot is not an AFSC, it's an attitude. A shoe clerk is someone who has forgotten that the mission of the Air Force is to fly and fight." That statement, being rather un-PC, has no doubt been abolished. The Shoe Clerks have won.
BTW-I believe my Wife, the former Personnel Officer, was solidly in the Fighter Pilot category, as is Sarge.