Monday, February 17, 2014

My Air Force

F-16 of the Colorado Air National Guard
The Mile High Militia
A few days ago, over on Facebook, a friend of mine wanted me to comment on the following motivational poster -

My immediate reaction was, "It's obvious to me that the good admiral has never been in the Air Force nor in a corporation." Or words to that effect.

Now I've looked online for the provenance of that quote. It's been attributed to an "anonymous" Navy admiral. Now those guys (gals) are a pretty big deal in the Navy. How the heck could an admiral allegedly say something (anything) and remain "anonymous"? So, for what it's worth, I reckon the quote was made up by a very clever Marine junior officer (JO) who put it out there on the web of world-wideness and tacked on "anonymous Navy admiral" to give the quote more gravitas. (I say junior officer, but it could have been a corporal. They too are devious and ofttimes too clever by half.)

One thing I will give you is that the Air Force is different from the other three services. I think I can speak with some authority on the Air Force of 1975 to 1999, because that's when I served in that organization. (From 1999 until now I've been in a corporation, so I can speak with some credibility on that part of the quote as well.)

Pre-1975, can't really speak to what the Air Force was like and since I retired I have to rely on the Lame Stream Media or official Air Force propaganda sources. Just like everybody else. Not being in anymore means I can't speak to "today's Air Force". But the culture of an organization doesn't change that much in 15 years. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

So that's the up front caveat emptor stuff, let's get to the point of this post. (Or attempt to...)

Now I'm not going to chime in on what is the point of that poster shown above. I don't really care. My opinion was solicited on Facebook as a retired Air Force Master Sergeant, in regards to the "Air Force is run like a corporation" piece of that quote above.

In my 24 years in the Air Force, at least every two to three years, we'd get some correspondence from some bright (dim) bulb Air Force JO with the following:

The Air Force should be run like a business.

Reading a little further, we would read that young Second Lieutenant Schmuckatelli recently graduated from Boondock University with a degree in Business Administration and received his (her) commission via ROTC. Said 2Lt Schmuckatelli was now an admin officer at MiddleofNowhere AFB.

Note a couple of things here. First of all the young lieutenant has a degree in business. He (she) is also non-rated. What does non-rated mean?

Can't fly or otherwise crew an aircraft in the inventory of the United States Air Force.


Now in the Air Force, the further you got away from the flight line (where those who crew and maintain aircraft dwell) the further away you were from the "business" of the Air Force. What is the "business" of the Air Force?

To fly and to fight!

Everything else is secondary.

So what does that mean precisely?

The Air Force has aircraft designed to:
  • fight other aircraft
  • drop bombs on people, places and things
  • transport personnel, supplies and equipment over long distances
  • refuel other aircraft
  • provide ground and aerial surveillance (think JSTARS and AWACS)
  • train people how to fly
  • serve as airborne command posts (think NEACP and "Looking Glass")
  • provide a search and rescue capability
The Air Force operates both fixed and rotary wing aircraft. Now there's another type of flying machine which is controlled by the Air Force. That would be missiles. Think ICBMs, think silos in North Dakota and Wyoming, think Armageddon and MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). The fixed and rotary wing aircraft and missiles all fall under the generic term "aerospace vehicle". (At least that's what we called them in my day.)

Like I said above, the further away you get from those aerospace vehicles I mentioned above, the further away you are from why the Air Force exists. You're in a support role. You're "in the rear with the gear". Odds are, you seldom (if ever) wear a camouflage uniform or a flight suit.

Another indication that you're in a support role is if the Air Force gives you a "war skill". That's what we called it in my day, don't know what they call it now. Something no doubt gentler and less aggressive sounding than "war skill".

When I worked on the F-4 Phantom as a maintainer, I was not given a "war skill". Fixing the jet WAS my "war skill".

Later on down the road, when I had cross-trained to being a computer programmer and had been shipped off to Europe, I actually had a "war skill".

At this point, you may be wondering exactly what a "war skill" is.

If the United States gets into a shooting war, and you're not fixing or flying airplanes, then odds are you will be needed to fill in as a "war fighter". Kinda-sorta.

Now if your regular Air Force job is one of those nine-to-fivers, like programming computers, or being an admin clerk type or any other Air Force job which doesn't require you to actually get dirty, you're of only partial usefulness in a war. I mean your job still needs to get done, it's just not one of those "oh my Lord if we don't do this right now people are going to die" things.

What was my "war skill" in Germany? Well, I had two. When I was a Technical Sergeant (E-6), my "war skill" was carrying a very heavy German rifle and guarding things. While they did teach me how to load, shoot and clean the rifle, they didn't really teach me how to guard things. Thanks to a year of Army ROTC back in the '70s and the judicious application of common sense, I figured out how to guard things.
  • Be alert.
  • Never leave your post.
  • Challenge anyone that wants access to what you're guarding.
(I had a captain try to bullsh!t his way past me one time. When I racked the bolt back on my rifle, he backed off, said well done and moved down the line to harass the next guy.)

When I attained the glorious station of Master Sergeant (E-7), I received a new "war skill". (Apparently Master Sergeants are far too lofty to actually carry a weapon.) My new "war skill" was Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) Decontamination.

Sounds fun, right?

Well, other than getting to spend an entire week in Bavaria (with the family) for training, it wasn't all that fun.

Wearing a rubber suit for a few hours at a time, practicing decontaminating personnel and vehicles was a bit, shall we say, exhausting.

While Germany doesn't get as hot as, say, Mississippi in the summertime, wearing a full rubberized NBC decontamination suit makes you fell like you're wearing a snow suit in Biloxi. In July.

I can tell you, it gets awfully sweaty in those things.

But getting back to the general topic of the Air Force. In my day, we relied on the troops having a certain amount of self-discipline and motivation. Those who could not maintain certain standards were shown the door and invited to try life as a civilian.

We didn't run in formation, we didn't PT en masse, we were expected to keep ourselves in shape and maintain a level of fitness commensurate with our particular jobs. Demonstrate an inability to do so and you were shown the door.

Now if I wanted to seize terrain or shoot the sh!t out of a passel of bad guys, I'd send in the Army. If I needed to do that across a beach, I'd send in the Marines. Of course, I would expect the Navy to be on hand to provide air support and shore bombardment for those Marines.

But if I want to bomb someone back to the Stone Age, I'd call the Air Force. They have the tools to get that done. And they can do it from a long, long ways away if need be.

None of the services can go it alone, the Air Force least of all. No point in bombing the living crap out of something and then just walking away. The bad guys will just crawl out of their holes, shake off the shock and the dust and go right back to being bad guys.

That's when you want a fellow with a rifle. He can pot those bad guys as they crawl from the rubble.

With the planet being mostly covered with water, you also need the Navy. Aircraft can't stay aloft for any length of time and guys with rifles can only swim/tread water for so long. Ya gotta be "haze gray and underway" to control the sea lanes. (Or have a submarine, or the suspected presence of a submarine, to give the bad guys pause.)

So you need 'em all.

But the Air Force being run like a corporation? Only in the minds of "anonymous" admirals or the imaginations of non-rated junior officers. With degrees in business. Who don't have real jobs. And far too much time on their hands.


  1. Looking back now, I'm glad that I flew 90% of my missions in VietNam at night. The wing folks were in the bar whilst we briefed for the first go round and they were asleep or passed out at the second mission briefing - about three AM. I remember some some bird coming in the stag bar at 0800 with his hat on looking for breakfast. We rang the bell and he refused to buy, citing something about you shouldn't drink at that time of day. My wing Commander (8TFW) set him straight real quick that afternoon.

    1. Ah, you've been there, done that.

      8th TFW was my old outfit in Korea. We have another 8th type around here too. Juvat.

      (Nice 102 pic as well!)

  2. I think I can speak with some authority on the Air Force of 1975 to 1999, because that's when I served in that organization. (From 1999 until now I've been in a corporation, so I can speak with some credibility on that part of the quote as well.)

    Ah, well. There's this about that: I've become my father, who retired in 1960 after 20 years in the Air Force and its predecessor organizations. By that I mean this: he always... ALWAYS... used to tell me during our military-oriented BS sessions "I'm glad I'm not in YOUR Air Force." So fast-forward 20 years (more like 30 years, actually) and I find myself repeating the Ol' Man's words when SN1 talks about his Air Force. The Air Force HAS changed and there's not much argument about that. We're too damned politically correct these days and we don't seem to value leadership as much as we used to. That's my take, your milegae most certainly may vary.

    And then there's this... Like I said above, the further away you get from those aerospace vehicles I mentioned above, the further away you are from why the Air Force exists. You're in a support role. You're "in the rear with the gear".

    Ahem. Us guys that were in the air defense bid'niz will take SERIOUS issue with that statement. The only times those of us in that bid'niz ever saw airplanes were on those occasions when a pissed off interceptor driver would pull a bubble check on us. But we were there, 7x24x365, defending sovereign airspace. You may not feel that was "war fighting" but I sure do. And then there's this. Chief Etchberger and I were in the same bid'niz... and the Chief was most definitely a war-fighter... of the first order.

    And finally... in re: this... You're "in the rear with the gear". Punctuation goes BEHIND quotation marks. We shall keep reminding you, if need be. ;-)

    1. Every time I do the punctuation thing, I think of you. (Heh. I'm a recalcitrant old ba$tard. I'll never change.)

      I did forget to mention that those guys out there maintaining those big-a$$ radars way out in the boondocks ARE part of the "I already have a war skill" Air Force. After all, you guys DID (and still) get dirty. I also forgot to mention Red Horse and other engineering types. Was going to but I just plain forgot. I think my CRS was kicking in.

      In my defense, it's still called the Air Force. Fly and fight.

  3. That mindset (which was also prevalent IN the Air Force) was a common source of disagreement with my personal personnel officer. She would look at my OERs and say I needed more management related stuff in them and point to other Captains in the wing who managed an office of 200 enlisted. Whereas, my only experience was in leading strike packages of 50-100 jets on some Red Flag mission, then coming home and building the next days schedule. And she was right! I blame the state the Air Force is in now on that problem. The other services have very distinct lines between Line Officers (aka War Fighters) and non-Line Officers. The Army has Combat Arms, Combat Support, Support and then the Medical and Legal folks, Not sure exactly how the Naval Services divide it up, but I know there's a distinction between Line and Non-Line. But NOOOO, the Air Force has only Line Officers, then Medical and Legal. So, I may be the deadliest Fighter Pilot in the sky, but because both Schmuckatelli and I meet the same promotion board, populated by Line Officers and compete for the same promotion, those quantifiable things, (reduced PCS travel budget by 50%) rebound with the personnel/supply/Morale Welfare and Recreational members of the board. Granted they don't sound too good to the Transport pilot on the board, but then again he's not sure exactly what leading a Red Flag strike package means either. So, it's a slow rot. Over time, more Line Officers who have no combat qualifications get promoted, and the ones with combat qualifications who get promoted don't have a lot of experience between desk jobs. But those desk jobs are what get them promoted. So eventually, we have a General Officer Corps primarily filled with non-flyers, and what we lovingly called "Seagulls" (you have to throw a rock at them to get them to fly). And that my friend is not an Air Force, it's a corporation. The quote is "The mission of the Air Force is to Fly and Fight, and don't you ever forget it". I think we're falling down on that last part.

    1. Viewed in that light, the "anonymous admiral" may have had a point.

      We have forgotten that last quote.

    2. AMEN, brother, it was unfortunately exactly that way even earlier in my day (and Dave's, above) as well.

  4. Juvat is right... The games are catching up with the USAF. And as an old Navy guy, trust me, you guys had the system wired... I've seen the games y'all play with billeting, food service (to TAD folks), and the way you treat your Navs and Mission Specialists... ONE of the reasons I never went into the USAF, another was two cousins in SAC who would have shot me...

    1. No argument from me.

      And one of the big reasons I advised all three kids to join the Navy. Unrestricted line versus everybody else.

  5. Oh, hello Dave, fancy seeing you here. Too long. I've thought about you often and hit your blog occasionally (not enough, I know) but damn it, you should post more (L know, time flies when you're having fun. :) ) Been lurking around here long? You should comment more. Don't be a stranger--we all ain't getting any younger...

  6. Dave/

    Somehow my hello to an old friend (for someone I've never met) ended up below..go see..

  7. I saw that yesterday and thought it might get the ire of some folks. I think it was said mainly in jest, more like somebody picking on their little brother just to get them riled up. The USAF is the junior service after all anyway. However, as unfair as the characterization might be, I understand where some might see the USAF like that. My own experience is from visiting USAF bases while traveling across the country with my family, stopping for gas while flying cross-country, and seeing what happened to my first training squadron after the USAF took it over. What I remember from my travels is that the bases were all alike- the same beige stucco, the same brown signs with white lettering, cookie-cutter buildings- corporate sameness in my opinion. When the USN and USAF combined their basic flight training back in the mid-to-late 90's, relocating some USAF Navigator training to Pensacola. In a show of solidarity, the Navy handed over the keys of the VT-10 ready room to the boys in blue. Gone was the weathered wooden Squadron Duty Officer's desk that looked like it was hand-built decades ago. Briefing room desks and tables were replaced with polished walnut surfaces and comfy chairs you'd find in a business office. Nice? Absolutely. Navy-like? Not even close. The bigger budget of the USAF was apparent. I guess money is more available for infrastructure when you only have to buy planes. Whereas the Navy has to build expensive capital ships that require expensive maintenance as well. Lastly, I remember a USAF C-130 pilot I worked with at CENTCOM tell me the story of how he couldn't get some sort of work done in his squadron while on deployment because it was past "Office-Hours," and that particular shop was closed. Some of that corporate sameness probably stems from a big build up during the Cold-War, replacing WWII-era hangars and offices. The Navy still has many of them though- we needed 600 ships back then- no room for shiny new hangars. No, the USAF isn't a corporation, but it's definitely different from the Navy.

    1. My very first experience with a naval base was about a week after I had retired from the Air Force. I went up to the Portsmouth Naval Yard (which was on the way to my parents vacation place in Maine) to get my first retired ID card. I was somewhat taken aback by how "messy" the place was. In the building where the ID card office was at I asked a petty officer where the head was. He pointed down this rather dark (and dingy) hallway. As I headed down said p-way to "do my bidness" I noticed a sign indicating that I should "beware of the rats". While I didn't see any rats, it's not like the place wouldn't appeal to a rodent.

      Since then I have spent a lot more time on Naval Stations. Come to think of it, I haven't set foot on an Air Force base since I retired.

  8. Sounds like a discussion about traditions and legacies.
    Those are created by centuries, not decades.
    That said, in today's environment many of those are being scrapped.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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