Monday, September 18, 2017

"The care and cleaning of lieutenants is NCO business" *

Hasn't Sarge been on a roll lately, yesterday's before and after pictures of his garden.  I've got a pair of those.


The day before that, he posted about shopping carts?  AND made it interesting to the point of being the catalyst for my nominee (Andrew) for this year's Best Comment Ever award! (We do have that award in the Awards and Dec's shop don't we, Sarge?)

So, having read that comment, and having to go to work on Saturday, I arrived at school to see this.  
Yes that red line says "Fire Lane"

Instantly, I flashed AHTFLE Beacon and then searched the sky for the Floppy boonie hat, sunglasses, t-shirt, shors and sandled superhero. A-hole the Fire Lane Enforcer. Unfortunately, he must have been out on another call, and, as a IT guy in the district, I'm by definition an A-hole, I saw no benefit to my blood pressure in calling these two on it.  

But, to get back on target, the day before that, Sarge posted on Sergeants.  Yes, that is somewhat redundant, but it was an interesting post, and the comments were intriguing.  

It caused me to reflect on my interactions with enlisted personnel while on active duty.

I had considerable interactions with them.  They were the clerks in the squadron, necessary but paper work and I were mortal enemies.  Whether the clerks were on my side or paperwork's side determined the interaction with them.  Ones on my side that helped me get through the necessary and made the unnecessary go away were heroes.  The others? To be avoided at all costs.

There were the life support techs.  Keep on their good side no matter what.  Their version of the Pistol analogy was, "You don't need life support until the AC says 'EJECT', they you need it really, really, really bad."

There were the Crew Chiefs.  Those I treated as well as I could.  Fessed up when I F'd up, so they didn't have to search for imaginary problems.  Tried to explain as best I could when something just didn't work right.  

Same thing for other maintainers.

But that was the sum total of my interaction with enlisted for the first 7 years I was in the AF.

The first time I actually had enlisted folks working with me was when I became the Wing Scheduler at Holloman.  I had a female E-4 and a male E-3 working with me to schedule Air Space for the Training Wing, working with the F-15 Wing scheduler to deconflict when weather was a factor and trying to steal as much time on White Sands Missile Range as we could get away with.  
The right hand triangular(ish) spaces were what I worked with. the left hand rectangular(ish) was F-15.  WSMR was in the middle. About 150NM E-W by 175NM N-S.

I say they worked with me because I didn't actually write their performance reports.  I don't remember who did or why not, because, to be frank I was grateful.  Paperwork....refer to "mortal enemy" a few paragraphs back.

But...There came a time, when a phone call came from a squadron commander asking for some airspace.  I cocked an ear when the E-3 said his name.  He was one of those up and coming LtCols who wanted his way when he wanted it.  As I recall, airspace was a little tight that day, and we could usually subdivide some of it to make things work, but the E-3 wasn't having any of it.  After he told the LtCol, "No" and hung up on him.  I said I'd handle the airspace issue and called the LtCol back.

What followed wasn't the worst butt chewing I ever received.  That would have been from Ras.  But it was one of the most colorful.

Since this was Friday, I walked back into the other room and invited the E-3 to take the rest of the day off.  I'd speak to him on Monday.

Then went down to talk to Vegas, the DO.

"Sir, if you've got some time, I've got an issue and frankly I'd like some advice on how to handle it."

"Juvat, LtCol Schmuckatelli just got off the phone with me.  He's pretty Peeved" (Ok that wasn't the word he used, but it did begin with a "p".)

"Yes, sir, he made that clear to me."

"Well, he'll calm down.  You did divide up the airspace for him.  It sounds to me like you could use an NCOIC."

Now, I knew the term, there had been some in squadrons, but never really had to work with one.

"Yes, Sir."  

"He's on his last assignment, wants to retire in Ruidoso, but he'll be here for a couple of years anyhow.  You want him?"

"Yes, Sir"

"I'll send him by after lunch."

Shortly there after, a Senior Master Sergeant (which although technically an E-8, he was more of a Senior. Master. Sergeant. than a mere E-8) arrived and introduced himself.  Seemed confident, polite, good sense of humor (a very important attribute in working with me, I have come to realize).  He asked what I wanted him to handle, I told him I wanted him to handle the airspace section and informed him about the current brouhaha.

He said he'd handle it.

I asked him what he wanted from me.  He said, just to let him know what the current priorities were and any changes with schedules that would require immediate rearranging and to let him know if I had any concerns about how things were going.

You know what happened.  I didn't have any issues with that section again.  He and I had regular "chats" on this and that.  The E-3 eventually found another career outside the Air Force, but I also never got a butt chewing from a LtCol over airspace again.

* The title quote is by General Frederick J. KroesenWhile I wasn't a Lieutenant at the time, my NCOIC did take care of NCO Business


  1. Ah, Airspace Management, a topic near and dear to my heart. At SAC I was the NCOIC of the Military Airspace Management Section, a group of fine fellows who maintained the airspace management scheduling software used by SAC and other entities. No doubt your "fine" E-3 may have used that software (unless it had been replaced by then).

    I'm not a huge fan of those in the grades E-8 and E-9, but I know that there were some who were worth their weight in gold. Sounds like you had one.

    1. Actually, the E-3 had built the software we were using. I forget what we were using, but I do remember a green CRT display for the results. It was excellent for its time, but it gave him a bit of the big head. Hence...

      Your software probably replaced his, this would have been '84 ish.

    2. Oh dear, an E-3 building his own software. My head explodes just thinking about it. Don't get me wrong, I had some good E-3s working in software but they were trained for it. When I got into the software business in the Air Force, there were still a lot of the "roll your own" types. Very talented but no discipline at all. Created problems it did.

      I arrived at Offutt in '87, started working on the airspace management system in '88 I think, might have been '89. I'm not sure when the system went live, it was before I got there but when I don't know. I'm betting it was after '84. The system I worked on, the crews could schedule their own airspace (though it might have been a squadron scheduler). The system was Air Force wide, might have been used by others as well.

    3. Yeah, IIRC we looked for software, but there wasn't any we could find. He built the software over a couple of weekends. It was better than the pencil/paper method we were using. But, your first para, hits the nail on the head.

  2. " first time I actually had enlisted folks working with me..." When in your career was that? Us Navy types had it from first day reporting to our first command.

    1. I guess I should have said, "working alongside doing the same job...". Interestingly, you hit on a point in a draft version of this post that may or may not see the light of day. In that, I present my perception of why the AF is in such sorry shape nowadays. Your last sentence is part of the problem. The AF doesn't.

    2. "The AF doesn't"

      Retired LRO here, but I spent way, WAY more time around enlisted than officers in my daily job first few years in AF, and was writing EPRs as a 2Lt (which may or may not have been a wise decision...). My absolute favorite assignment was as base POL officer at McConnell AFB from '98-'00....I was a 1lt and we were halfway across the base from the rest of the squadron...I had more latitude to act as a 1lt at that time than I did as a Maj at STRATCOM 20 years later...had an outstanding SMSgt who not only taught me POL, but also mentored me in Officership 101, from an enlisted perspective. Hands down my most rewarding assignment, personally and professionally.

  3. Juvat,

    As a former C-130 Trash-hauler, Squadron/Pilot Scheduler, etc. etc. ad nauseum, I can relate. I had Flight Engineers and Loadmasters to help form me. Some were good and some needed to be shown the door out of the AF. The good ones did make a better officer of one. One of our problem ones was a former Navigator who was RIFed and recycled as an NCO. He was the senior NCO of our Squadron Ops Admin section and he was a royal pain in the patootie because he carried a big chip on his shoulder. When I was a Scheduler, the senior Flight Engineer and Loadmaster (both Chiefs) were great. And to boot, I really enjoyed having them on my flight crew.

    1. Yeah, obviously I never had an enlisted crewmember. The ones I gave incentive rides were exceptionally fun to be around. Of course, the reason they got the ride was they were exceptional, but I always enjoyed giving them the ride. I had two modes, which they got to choose and/or modify during the ride. The most extraordinary airliner view ride, or the wildest ride imaginable. Some started with option 1 nobody finished there.

  4. My dad always treated his NCOs like fragile glass. He guarded the good ones fiercely, as he was afraid of being poached by some senior officer. Example, the crew chief during primary jet training was someone he never forgot. Seems that the quick thinking of the NCO to grab a nearby firehose and wash my dad down after my father discovered that a seagull had somehow managed to be pureed through a hole in one wing right next to the cabin air intake would cause spontaneous eruption of the digestive system from both ends was a highlight of NCO-ability. That, and not laughing until a few days later. (Yes, dad struck gull while flying, gull caused small crack during entry, wing had to be de-skinned and steam-cleaned. As he described it, he was the only one to fly a gull-winged T-33 that he knew of.)

    As to AHTFLE, it is a regional thing. Franchises are available. Checking the map, your area is open. Do you think you can handle the awesome power of the Boonie Hat?

    1. That gull puree stewed in the wing for three days in the hot summer sun. Yum, yum.

      For some reason, my dad never called them gulls. Called them 'flying scat factories' instead (replace scat with, well, another word for scat.)

    2. Yeah, I learned that lesson fast. Had a yeoman on my first Joint tour, with a couple of exceptions his judgement was excellent. Unfortunately, the higher ups recognized that and he was taken for the good of the service. Both he and I regretted that.

      It's not so much the boonie hat as the shorts. My legs are blindingly white, which might put people off.

    3. "....stewed in the hot sun for 3 days...." Hmmm, reminds me of a story. :-)

    4. I am the poster child for 'fat, pasty white northern European.' I can get sunburned on a cloudy day. So, yeah my legs are white. That right there makes the outfit better.

      And how come your reminding of a story sounds... ominous?

    5. And my dad learned from a very senior ex-ETO officer that on payday, you went to the officer's package store and got a selection of the finest to hand to your flight crew, as that will pretty much ensure that at least your plane will be ready. Don't sweat birthdays, but tip your crew before paying your bar bill.

      I can see the future post - "Care and Feeding of a successful Ground Crew."

      Actually, that sounds like a really good concept. Get both the Air Force and the Navy versions - might even be a good post for LUSH to jump in on...

    6. Well, according to my highly technical DNA analysis (read, Mom, Gramma and Noni), I am Irish, Italian and German. I tan easily, and stay tanned. But my legs haven't seen sunlight in many years, so I guess that makes me Fat, Pasty White European.

      It wouldn't be ominous if I let on what it was about. So......

    7. Oh, and care and feeding of a ground crew. I didn't have an airplane with my name on the side, until I got to the Eagle. When that happened, I would go and visit the crew chief on occasion and maybe polish the canopy. I did watch him change an engine, or do his part to change the engine. I was a highly valued member of that team. I stayed out of the way, kept my mouth mostly shut, and passed them any tool they might ask me to. That having been said, they (the crew chief and assistant crew chief) did seem to appreciate the effort. More so after I gave each of them a bottle of their favorite distilled (not brewed) beverage for their respective birthdays.

  5. When I was an E-3 I didn't have the authority to say no.
    Come to think of it, I needed permission even when I was E-5.
    The only E-9 with whom I ever had personal contact was the Chief Gunners Mate recruiter who promised me I would get any school I wanted upon completion of basic training.
    He forgot to add, "As long as it is Radar School."

    1. I don't think he had the authority either, but he certainly had the ability. I certainly didn't have that authority until I made O-5, even then it was advisable to be judicious in its use.
      I'm pretty much in agreement with Sarge on the E-8/9 observation. Without a doubt, there are very good ones, but they typically are few and far between. It's even worse in the Flag Ranks.

    2. Skip, was that Radar School at Millington? That's where I attended AV school (I'm a former AX).
      "Fessed up when I F'd up.." Juvat, I don't care what your other failings may be (oh, right, you're a fighter pilot, so you're thinking "what failings?"), you are a treasure for that alone.
      --Tennessee Budd

  6. When I scheduled the RTU at George in '67, there was CMSgt. McCoy. A good guy to all, proficient and overwhelming in his appearance. His most endearing talk with me went something like this, "Don't worry Capt. Wilson, I'll always get my kids out of jail in time for their shifts." True story.

    1. Now, that's funny! Probably even more so because it's true.

  7. I had to think about this post for a while. My time in the Navy aboard ships was all spent in the engineering spaces, and in those places the junior enlisted made decisions rapidly and without consulting higher authority.

    Richard McKenna, author of “The Sand Pebbles” explained it best in a short story called, “The Loss Of The USS Bennington” and the story was published in McKenna’s book, “The Left-Handed Monkey Wrench. The following is in the words of McKenna’s fictional Engineering Officer, Lt. Winfield and it takes place in the engineering spaces after a major casualty has been barely averted.

    “Because for an engineer there is often in fact no authority higher than himself with his duty upon him and the machinery under his hands. In the navy we have never found in engineering, as we have in gunnery and seamanship, a sure way to interpose an officer’s judgement and authority between a man and his duty. However, all of us together must pretend that we do.”

    “My genuine responsibility is administrative. It is my duty to withhold the responsibility for operating machinery from any man who is unfit to bear it. I cannot learn that about a man from a written examination alone. I must depend upon my judgement of human character and I must draw also upon the judgement of chiefs and petty officers who have long since proven their own fitness. Beyond that, I am almost helpless. If I do not have fit men below, no amount of written orders and mast reports will make them so. If I do have fit men, the highest tribute I can pay them is to trust them unhesitatingly with my professional reputation and the and the safety of our ship.”

    Again Lt. Winfield speaks, “Now I will tell you the kind of man I trust on watch. He is a man who, although he may never say it to himself in words, knows every minute that death waits in the fire and steel, the steam and the electricity, under his controlling hands. When he is on watch he will not trust chance or God or any power other than himself to hold that death bay. It will not be a job that he does, but the way he lives his life. And if in the way of his life he has little education, is rough spoken, drinks and fights and wenches ashore, on liberty, he is still one of the good men of earth. He need never bow his head or feel himself unworthy before those who may consider themselves morally his superior, because he can get along very well without what most of them do in the world, but what he does can be life or death to them.”

    McKenna served twenty two years on active duty and served in both WWII and Korea and he retired as a Chief Machinist Mate. He wrote “The Sand Pebbles” as well as a large number of short stories in widely differing fields. If you know him only from reading “The Sand Pebbles” it would be well worth your time to read more.

    Any errors are the result of my typing skills. (more correctly the lack thereof)

    1. "...and in those places the junior enlisted made decisions rapidly and without consulting higher authority."

      Why? I suspect that was because they had to, and that they were well led and well trained to be able to do so. Those that weren't, may not have been afforded a second chance, either by their leader or circumstance. Incidents over the last few months may reveal that may no longer be the case, and that the Navy as well as the other services is reaching or has reached a bottom in their ability to do more with less. I hope that is being recognized by both Civilian and Military leadership. I have little hope the current AF leadership has the training and ability to do so.

  8. BIG difference from the Navy, as a young (well not so much in my case) JO, I had enlisted folks working for me basically from the day I checked into the squadron. And yes, Chiefs 'train' the JOs...LOL Of course I was on both sides of the equation, so my take, if you will, was a bit different than most. :-D

    1. And in a crewed aircraft you'd have had enlisted in the crew with you, fighters was a bit different.

  9. I hooked up my branch once with some beer and pizza, but in the Navy, we don't have a single crew chief or ground crew prepping and repairing the jets. It's an all-hands effort until the next launch. On the other issue, the Shoes get leadership experience on day 1 on their boats, but aviators? Not so much. My first year in the squadron I was in Safety, then Ops, but few troops. I didn't have any folks under me until I moved into the Maintenance department and painfully learned how to lead there.

    1. Similar experience in the AF, only we didn't have even the Maintenance Dept option.

  10. When I was a newly minted mustang 2Lt in the State Reserve, our Bn CSM was a medically retired Army SFC (E7). He has lost his index and middle fingers on his right hand in Vietnam in a effort to return an enemy hand grenade. I never heard him use a four letter word or raise his voice, and he held his troops to the same standard, yet the steel in his tone could take you off at the ankles. He was one of the finest and most patient instructors I ever knew. I learned more about soldering from than man than anyone before or since. Here is one story about how he rolled.

    It was another cold day in post cease fire Korea, and he was a young sergeant who was commander of one of the guard reliefs that day. It was coming on dusk as He made his rounds of the guard posts on foot. The next post coming up was a K-9 post with a guard and a dog. As he came around an out building and post came into view, our Sergeant stopped dead in his tracks in the snow. The guard was seated with his back against a wall and the dog was curled up next to him. BOTH were sound asleep. The soldiers rifle was leaning against the wall next to him.

    Our sergeant quietly pads up and takes the rifle, then slips away behind a building. The issue rife at this time is still the M1 Garand. Our sergeant pops the rifle apart and removes the op rod spring, coils it, and stuffs it in his jacket. He then quietly puts the rifle back in it's place and slips away again. He goes around behind a building, finds an empty bucket, and kicks is against the wall a few times. He waits a good ten count, then heads back to the guard post. Guard and dog are wide awake and on full alert. Our sergeant walks up to the guard--

    Sergeant--"Anything to report, soldier?"
    Soldier--"No, Sergeant. All quiet."
    Sergeant--"Good, good. Say, do you take good care of that weapon?"
    Soldier--"Yes, Sergeant."
    Sergeant--"Keep it cleaned and lubed?"
    Soldier--"Yes Sergeant"
    Sergeant--"Good, good. Let's inspect it"
    Soldier--"Yes Sergeant."
    Whereupon, the soldier goes to port arms and shoves the bolt handle back for inspection. The bolt and op rod fall to the rear with a sickening clank. Without breaking eye contact, our sergeant retrieves the coiled spring from his jacket. Another steely silent ten count passes. Our sergeant then returns the op rod spring to the soldier, and in an even voice, leaves no doubt about the malevolent consequences should the young soldier EVER be caught sleeping on duty again.

    Thank you, CSM Houston. You are not forgotten.

    1. Good story, and the soldier probably learned more from that problem handling than he would have had the UCMJ been invoked.

  11. During the 60's Army officers in Combat Arms went through the same AIT course as enlisted. They didn't go through with enlisted, but the same. This gave then some credit ability when they got to their units. In addition, most of them went through the Airborne course. The ones I served with, with two notable exceptions, were capable and motivated. Our NCOs included WWII and Korea vets. Our Sgt Maj had WWI combat hashes. The wise LTs watched, listen, and learned.


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

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.