How Mandatory Careerism is Killing Airpower


A recent commentary posted on the Air Force’s official website provides a fascinating window into an inappropriate mentality that has tightened its grip over the service in the past few years and threatens now to asphyxiate professionalism.  Senior Master Sergeant Vincent Miller, undoubtedly a skilled and well-meaning senior NCO, unintentionally crystallizes the difference between careerism and self-improvement in his recent opinion article entitled “Filling [S]quares.”  As a senior enlisted manager providing tutelage to thousands of impressionable airmen, he baldly showcases the nascent loss of mission focus that continues to provide shelter for the service’s mediocre performers while alienating its best and brightest.

Though they seldom receive it, the writings and rhetoric of service leaders deserve critical review and analysis. Breaking down some of what SMSgt Miller has to say in his piece will cast light on larger lessons embedded in his words and ideas.  This will mean quarreling with his message at times (which I’ve previewed above) while at other points agreeing with him, even energetically.  But before stepping into a critique of his work, let me disclaim two things.

First, I’ve written many stupid things over the years.  More than I can count (and in fact, probably more than I recognize — communicators make poor judges of their own messages).  I’ve even managed to get a few misguided writings published, and had them critiqued, sometimes  savagely.  This has left me aware of the ego bruising that generally accompanies writing things for public consumption … but it’s also left me deeply appreciative of the critics — no matter their petulance or snark — who helped me learn to communicate more proficiently and who often helped me find new layers of meaning in my own ideas.  In other words, notwithstanding the Air Force’s allergy to any hint of internal disagreement, we benefit by analyzing and critiquing the words we share with ourselves, and we learn much more when disagreement is culturally acceptable.  Second, no matter how much I might disagree with SMSgt Miller’s message, I congratulate him for demonstrating the courage to offer his ideas to a broad audience.  Most of the service’s field grade officers and senior enlisted people — in other words, the spine of its squadron-level leadership corps — demonstrate no such courage.  There are some very good reasons for this; the Air Force has a preference for carefully crafted propaganda rather than honest public commentary — something free-spirited Airman Hunter S. Thompson learned many decades ago.  In contrast with the Army, which encourages its officers to quarrel with one another in the blogosphere and in service journals, the Air Force socializes its people to stay away from these venues for fear that intellectual battles may somehow erode public confidence, inadvertently spill sensitive information, or result in hurt feelings.

As a proxy for open discussion, debate, or — gasp — argument about its trajectory, issues, and day-to-day business, the service instead encourages its members to craft stock, crayon-drawn messages reinforcing high standards, strong values, and positive performance (those familiar with AFN commercials catch my drift).  These snippets of wisdom masquerading as true commentary are rampant in base newspapers, social media streams, and command websites.  The majority of these say substantively nothing and are bland enough to induce narcolepsy in a clinical insomniac.  The few that say anything threatening to evoke a response are unlikely to make it through the Public Affairs approval wickets to appear on the Air Force’s official web page.  But occasionally, something provocative slips through.  This brings us back to SMSgt Miller’s recent piece.

I must say, with deference to its well-meaning author, this is one of the more lamentable messages I’ve ever seen from someone in a position of high authority.  In one fell swoop, this article delivers a heartbreaking message to young airmen: you will not be promoted or recognized based on your duty performanceIf you want to succeed in this Air Force, you’d better play the game we’ve defined for you, which has nothing to do with excellence on duty … but the checking of off-duty squares.  Your work ability is pass/fail.   Square-checking is where we will judge your worth.  Airmen come away from this message realizing everything they were told about mission focus, excellence, and the value of technical competence was inaccurate; they realize working hard and being better than their peers at wielding combat power is not the path to success.  I saw this gestalt moment several times as a squadron commander … and it is incredibly deflationary.

Miller’s not the first to say what he’s saying, but it’s rare to see it done so transparently.  His message is a  jolt of honesty, as he writes for public consideration things that are said on Air Force bases every day.  His message is also deeply wrong.

Consider the following excerpts, with my comments offered below.

[“As Airmen, we are more than familiar with the need to fill the proverbial squares as we strive to progress in our military career.”]

Tough to quarrel with this squib.  Filling squares indeed has everything to do with careerism in today’s Air Force and little to do with actual development, which is rightly not mentioned here or anywhere else in this article.

[“To be competitive for awards and promotions, we must commit ourselves to goals such as education, passing the fitness exam, and community service.”]

There’s a lot going on in this sentence, and almost none of it good.  First of all, awards and promotions shouldn’t be equated.  People win awards for what they’ve already done.  They’re promoted because the service needs them to have more responsibility.  It’s possible to win awards and never be promoted, and it’s possible to be a Chief or General having never won an award.  It’s important to know this distinction, because things like education and community service play different roles in competing for awards or preparing for promotions (aside: community service should arguably have nothing official to do with anything … but that’s a screed for another day).  Those seeking to compete for awards should understand that awards processes are often locally governed and might consider a  broad range of factors, while promotions are centrally governed and consider only a few discrete factors.  Ideally, the things that help airmen win awards would also help them demonstrate promotion potential, but this is not always the case.  But what’s most revealing in this sentence is what is not included … because ideally, a senior enlisted leader would never overtly encourage his airmen to chase awards or promotions. S/he would ideally  tell them to work as hard as humanly possible to master their duty performance and generate mission results, letting awards and promotions follow naturally.

[“In reality, the squares are designed to make us better and provide a separation between the willing and unwilling — the committed and uncommitted.”]

This should alarm everyone.  Every member of the US Air Force takes a sworn oath to enlist or accept a commission.  That oath is the signing of a blank check that is cashable by the Air Force up to any amount, including the ultimate sacrifice of giving one’s life in service to the mission.  In other words, that oath is a solemn commitment.  It’s the point where discussion about whether someone “really means it” when they say they’re committed should instantly end.  The service has raised a subpar generation of leaders who have unacceptably commoditized this sacred notion of commitment, making it into a tool airmen are now encouraged to wield in exchange for a ribbon or a stripe.  This devalues every oath taken by every airman; it cheapens the words they swore to live up to and diminishes the memory of those who fulfilled that oath by giving their lives.  Most concerning is the idea that the service’s leaders don’t believe its airmen are committed, and asks them to prove it continually.  This injures trust.  If Miller doesn’t believe the airmen in his charge were serious when they took their oaths, how can he trust them to operate with authority and autonomy in expeditionary combat?

[“As we continually strive to become that “whole person,” we must challenge ourselves intellectually and work toward attaining a certification; associate, bachelor’s, or even a master’s degree.”]

Here’s a great message.  Education matters, especially for our enlisted airmen who typically start their careers young and without much college behind them.  As the more successful among them rise in rank and responsibility, nurturing the mind becomes important in arming them with the tools for effective management and leadership of their teammates.  Miller is right to encourage this, though I fear he’s doing it for the wrong reasons; it’s not about getting promoted, it’s about development.  Again, the reason matters.  If they’re doing it simply to check a square for promotion, they’ll approach it with a utilitarian motivation and simply get through it to prove their commitment; this type of transaction will generate very little real development, because the airman won’t necessarily be interested or invested … s/he’ll just be responding to career coercion.  If the motive is development for development’s sake, better choices about what, when, and how to study are more likely, and true development is much more possible.  If the USAF wants developed airmen, it must decouple education milestones from promotion and retention eligibility and instead arm its people with the tools and the time to pursue off-duty education earnestly.

[“At this moment some of you are saying there is no time to attend school; high operations tempo, 40-hour work week, and spending time with family are a few reasons that prevent you from taking classes … Honestly, these excuses are hindering you from progressing and improving yourself.”]

This takes the good argument made above and shreds it before burning the shreds in a fire of obliviousness.  Miller has clearly either been hiding away in a comfortable corner of the Air Force or is simply superimposing his own philosophy on his airmen, a thing doable only by those with a debilitating lack of empathy.  “High operations tempo” doesn’t begin to describe what life has been like for most airmen over the past dozen years.  Manpower and operational demands have skyrocketed while resources have declined sharply.  “Do more with less” went from a bitter joke to a cynical reality.  Excellence has been incrementally sacrificed in favor of mere sufficiency in many areas, but our people have not been relieved from pursuing excellence, meaning they are caught in a terminal trap of chasing the unattainable and being graded on how stylishly they endure living in a world of make-believe.  People are still being deployed in droves for 179 or 365 days and many are on war footing even when they’re home.  Few airmen are working 40-hour weeks, and those who are doing so should arguably be working longer hours to be there for their operational counterparts who continue to run a marathon at a sprinter’s pace.  It is fundamentally immoral to oblige airmen already giving more than we ought to fairly ask of them to electively deepen the imbalance between work and life.  Robbing them of free time is also a recipe for burnout, diminished productivity, and a curtailed length of service.  Miller’s biggest sin here — and I don’t mean to personalize him too much since he’s speaking for many like-minded cohorts — is his diminution of the entire concept of family.  Men and women who enter into relationships make a commitment to their counterparts; they assume a duty to that family.  Under ideal circumstances, they’re able to fulfill the duties of family and service concurrently or in parallel.  But too often in the years since 9/11, they’ve been ordered to do things in their duty to service that make fulfillment of their duty to family impossible. In other words, we’ve already borrowed from the family  account inappropriately, and shouldn’t be doing so any further at this point.  It’s also quite myopic to do so, given that eventually an airman put too often in such a conflicting position will be forced to choose between family and service … and will more often than not choose to take the degree he was coerced into earning and put it to work as a private citizen, taking years of development and experience out the door with him.

[“The choice is yours and yours alone. Be willing to accept the consequences. Don’t say, “He/she only got Senior Airman below-the-zone because he went to school.”]

This was the point in this article where barber poles appeared on my instrument panel and I realized the message was crashing and burning (which, judging by most of the response comments below the article on the AF website, it did).  Airmen First Class are considered for early promotion to Senior Airman very early in their time in the Air Force — prior to the 30-month point.  These are people who may or may not have even earned a 5 skill level in their primary job (for the uninitiated, a 5-level is no longer an apprentice, but a journeyman who has finished initial career development studies and on-the-job training and is considered independently capable). These folks have not yet formally decided to make the Air Force a career, and the Air Force has not yet decided whether to allow them to do so.  They’re still proving they belong on the most formidable airpower team ever assembled, and still working to deepen expertise in their primary role of producing air, space, and cyber power for national defense.  Why in the world would we make pursuit of college education even a remote consideration in their advancement at this point?  In making education dispositive in career success far earlier than is rationally appropriate, we’re invalidating Miller’s contention that airman are free to choose whether to develop themselves or not; we’re coercing them into attending a class just to prove their seriousness so they can stay in the hunt for promotion.  Perversely, we’re probably also stunting their professional growth by pulling their focus away from where it belongs too early in the development process (some airmen can juggle these priorities, but most can’t and will end up degrading in one area or both).  Most concerning is that we’re openly telling them it’s acceptable to put the cart before the horse, which makes it more likely they’ll do the same thing again in the future (especially if doing so makes them successful in earning a big reward like an early promotion).  This is not the road to excellence; it’s the road to a force broadly exposed to education but insufficiently focused on the technical superiority core to beating enemies on the battlefield.  It’s a message so flawed it should be denounced by the Air Force, with an accompanying prohibition on considering anything other than duty performance when determining who will receive early promotion to Senior Airman.

A wiser man than me once said “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”  I believe SMSgt Miller is an honorable and well-meaning manager who is seeking to arm his troops with street smarts.  He wants to make sure they’re not left behind because they were ignorant of or chose not to conform to the patterns of Air Force careerism.  But in speaking from the high pedestal of an E-8, he’s doing arguably much more harm than good; he’s reinforcing and fostering a culture of divided focus and self-concern; the Air Force is in danger of drowning in a rising sea of mediocrity, and like too many before him, he’s describing the water.

An article like his demonstrates a core difficulty of being a leader: simultaneously maintaining loyalty to both your people and the institution.  While instructing airmen on how to be successful careerists manifests a kind of loyalty, it’s a betrayal of the service, which needs its leaders to keep airmen focused on the mission first and themselves later, after they’ve established a professional foundation upon which they can stand firmly and build themselves into capable career airmen.

I encourage you to read and judge the message yourself, and welcome your feedback.

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  • Anonymous

    Thank you very much this was a very refreshing read! I’m glad that I’m not alone in feeling this way. The AF has quit making its enlisted personnel leaders and has focused on managers.

    • Tony Carr

      Not only are you not alone in feeling this way, but the vast majority of your colleagues feel this way. I’d venture to say most of your commanders and supervisors feel this way too. The service hasn’t changed its policies in part because its commanders are not using the voice they’ve been given to articulate the damage being done to their organizations and people by the current set of policies. Glad you enjoyed this post, and thanks for responding.

      • Tak

        Absolutely spot on.

    • zechs195

      Your last sentence there is exactly how I perceived my leadership core. They were great at to do lists and checking squares, but I would not have followed a single one of them into battle. The airmen who served under me looked in my direction for leadership, and not at my OIC nor our SNCO.

  • Anonymous

    A comment I heard recently from a young Airman talking to a SSgt at the medical lab while waiting for a blood draw: “Airman: Sgt (Name) said I needed to volunteer for something for my Airman of the Quarter Package. SSgt: Yeah, you should. Airman: Yeah, I think I’ll do XXXX, that way when it happens I don’t have to show up but will still get the bullet for my package.” It reminded me of a conversation I had with a SSgt buddy I had in the early ’90s. Him: Don, I think I’ll organize a blood drive on base for the local community. Me: That’s great. Him: Yeah, I think that’ll look good in my STEP package. Me: You’re really a piece of shit aren’t you? Him: Yeas (laughing) but don’t tell anyone.” He was selected BTZ within a few months. This is not new, and many of us have more stories I’m sure.

    • Tony Carr

      Can’t argue with the proposition that careerism is not a new thing. But what has changed is the overt and transparent embrace of it by senior personnel. They were always supposed to be the adults … the ones reminding everyone what was important and the ones involved and skilled enough to see through the BS and smokescreens and separate the real performers from the pragmatists. Such leaders were the majority two decades ago, and they kept the careerists in check. In today’s AF, the careerists have the upper hand, and anyone suggesting they’re wrong is labeled a malcontent … usually becoming a terminal E-7 or O-5. In other words, the careerists have erected an ECP at the gate to senior leadership, and are now reinforcing the behaviors that made them successful. I wonder how many of them ever stop to think that maybe healthy organizations, correct priorities, and mission excellence are more important than their narrow views of what makes someone successful. Hell, I’d settle for a rational analysis of the things mentioned in this article … but the service doesn’t even want to talk about this. Given the chance, for example, to reform officer tuition assistance under the pressure of sequestration, the Air Force simply continued the same mindless policies … then turned around and spent oodles of money on pilot bonuses that would be dramatically less necessary if only it would stop forcing its fighter pilots to fill the masters degree square too early in their careers.

      Or maybe I’m just bitter because I wouldn’t have had much of a career if it started in the USAF ca. 2013 … the current operating environment leaves little running room for those who refuse to suffer fools gladly.

      Thanks for your comment. You’re right…this isn’t new, and the stories hitting my inbox right now are as plentiful as they are disheartening.

      • ELW

        Part of the reason that the current leaders in the USAF have made this such an overt and transparent part of career progression is that they are the ones who were practicing it in the ’90s. They were rewarded for such practices and have therefore made it into the way things are supposed to be done now. They are reaping what was sown.

  • Anonymous

    It sucks but it’s true. Want to get promoted? Check off those squares. Also, every 1206 I see has to have the three community bullets and three education/self improvement bullets. Work is an afterthought, those bullets write themselves.
    No one in leadership cares about the people who show up to work day in day out and get the job done. They only care about promoting themselves.

    • Tony Carr

      True story: I led a C-17 squadron on a record-shattering deployment in summer ’11. When we got back home, I was salivating at the thought of nominating my folks for annual awards, naively believing we’d clean up on the basis of combat performance. Boy, was I wrong. Only one of my nominees made it past the group level — he was the best copilot in the squadron and had turned in a year of performance better than any I’d ever seen from a Lieutenant. He was beaten out for JCGO/Yr by a 2Lt logistician. Rumor has it, she was a very strong marathon runner and did a lot of community service. My guy had spent 280 days on the road that year … he barely had time to wash his socks, let alone work the soup kitchens. When an airlift ninja can’t win awards in an airlift wing because he’s doing too much airlift, we’ve exceeded “plaid” on the stupid meter.

      But wait. There’s more. The reason only one of my guys could win at OG level … and the reason he lost at wing level … was because the OG commander himself considered the bullets discussing operational performance simply too pedestrian and bland. Something about delivering CDS bundles to austere locations in eastern Afghanistan just wasn’t interesting enough for him. Of course, I would have voiced my dissatisfaction with such an approach, but the “board” deciding winners was staffed by self-reinforcing desk jockeys … and was devoid of the kind of operational experts who should be judging performance merit in an operational wing.

      It’s a micro example that supports the macro contention I’m making: the service has lost mission focus. Putting aside the morale and retention issues, the mission is paramount … and if for no other reason that our duty to fulfill the mission, we’ve got to figure out a way to shift the culture back in the right direction.

      • Bill Buckingham

        Brilliant commentary Tony and very refreshing insight to the very things that have embittered so many of our intrepid air-warriors. There is a Meme floating around out here with a wrecked/broken C-17 and the caption (to the effect) of “SOS-in-corresponence (and) in-residence – check, Community-service – check, Master’s degree – check, Volunteered to lead the Sq Christmas party – check, Proficiency in the Jet – Fail.” We laugh (even nervously), but there is so much truth to that. As a Lt I was shocked to learn what went into my OPR and why it just couldn’t say: “C-17 pilot” … what else did I need to have to be a mission-ready arrow in the AMC quiver? You mean there’s more?

        Thanks for speaking truth and sharing your experiences. These need to be heard and I sincerely hope as our generation (so long as we have some of us left that get it) promotes up, we can do better. I’m reminded of Gen Jumper’s efforts to accomplish this very thing about 10 years ago, maybe one of these days it will stick.

      • DMH

        Tony, it is my little microcosm of the AMC universe, but I was voluntold recently to be a board member for the wing 4th quarter and annual awards at my base. The two boards were fairly straight-forward: chaired by the Wg/CV (non-voting) and three FGOs (one aircrew, one mx, and one from wing staff).

        The wing gave us the packages to score independently prior to the board and we each picked “our” winners. The Wg/CV then had us discuss the plusses and minuses for each package without giving our our winner until all the discussion was complete. I was quite surprised to find that we spent the majority of our discussion on the “primary job performance” category and very little time on the other stuff. In fact, the “other stuff” was only considered for one of the decisions because both nominees had absolutely stellar primary job performance. All the other categories were decided based on primary job performance.

        I only wish that were the way awards were earned all across our force. I also fear it will change with a new Wg/CC or CV.

      • Anonymous

        Even though he did not get the award, please know we are great full for those CDS bundles. Some of those came to myself and the guys I was with.

      • grendl

        Just gotta love then REMFs, and don’t we know it.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for such a refreshing read. As a young Airman, I couldn’t agree more.

    • Tony Carr

      Stay focused on your primary duty, and play along (a) as much as you can without destroying your life and/or (b) as much as it takes to preserve your career viability. You can see from my writings that I’d love to see a shift in culture and policy … but as an individual, be wary of anyone who suggests it is possible in a short timeframe. Unless CSAF and CMSAF are the ones pulling the levers and they actually change AFIs, it’s likely to take a generation before careerism can be brought to heel.

      Thank you for serving at a difficult moment. Keep aiming high.

      • pawnman

        Even with the CSAF attempting to pull the levers, it seems clear that there is pushback somewhere between the CSAF and the SQ/CC level. At least he got the AFI re-written to completely mask Master’s degrees until the O-6 boards…Time will tell if the leadership chain is still tracking that in their personal rack-and-stack or not.

  • http://Jopublic Thriving in the AF


    All good and well, but the system is what it is…don’t send the message for one moment to our young airmen or Lt’s not to worry about education, because it will bite them in the butt. Big AF is not changing, everyone. Young guys…Tony’s post sounds good in theory, but he is accomplishing nothing. That’s why he got out of the AF. If you want to advance, get those degrees (and ask Tony if he did his PME and Master’s while he was in. Of course he did! Get those degrees! You won’t regret it, and Big Blue will reward you handsomely! Your family will forgive you for taking extra time to knock it out).

    • Tony Carr

      I’ll quote myself. “While instructing airmen on how to be successful careerists manifests a kind of loyalty, it’s a betrayal of the service, which needs its leaders to keep airmen focused on the mission first and themselves later, after they’ve established a professional foundation upon which they can stand firmly and build themselves into capable career airmen.” Can’t have it both ways. You either want to engage in game-playing (perhaps for altruistic reasons) or you want to dominate enemies. Which is it?

      I’ll make you a deal. I won’t encourage anyone to naively toss away their careers in the hopes Big AF will find common sense without Congressional intervention … and in exchange you’ll stop telling them to be careerists. I mean, since we’re worrying about the airmen, let’s acknowledge that a large part of this problem exists because they’re following the poor example set for them by organizational pragmatists … people who operate according to the logic exemplified in your response. You’re basically paraphrasing Miller … “know the game, play the game.” What I’m trying to do is shine a light on an alternative culture — one that existed for a long time and thrived until recently — that places NOTHING above the mission and ONLY the mission above family. In shining that light, I seek to make airmen aware enough to ask tough questions of their leaders so they can hold people like you accountable. The USAF was not always a haven for careerists and game-players and need not be now.

      I didn’t get out because of this (we can go there if you’d like … or you can just read the reasons elsewhere on this blog), and I reject your contention that I’m accomplishing nothing. I’m drinking red wine and thinking critically about the US Air Force. I consider that a good day’s work.

      I’ll save any curious readers the trouble of asking. Yes, Tony has a masters degree. Two, in fact. But here’s a funny thing: the Air Force sent me to residence education to get both of them. As a young captain, I was half-heartedly working on a square-checking masters when 9/11 happened, and immediately ceased working on it … I was gone constantly and didn’t want to give away precious family time for something that wasn’t making me any better at my current or future jobs. PME … yeah, I did it all. Because I was coerced. I speed-tested through SOS, ACSC, and AWC. I’d love to tell you a different story that makes me look more honorable, but the truth is there was no time in my life for correspondence courses that (a) held very little learning value and (b) were redundant since I’d already been selected to attend residence PME. I took the tests without studying and it worked. This is a damning statement about the rigor (or lack thereof) in these programs … I’m not that smart.

      Your closing line is flat wrong. Families do not always forgive airmen for wasting time. Sometimes they seem to forgive and earnestly mean to, but find the next time-wasting venture or short-notice family separation to be much more traumatic in light of the time already wasted on off-duty square checking. You might not be able to draw a straight line from square-checking to a divorce or estrangement … but when you add it to the scale of family stress, it’s part of why some families finally break. But it’s really beside the point anyway. The only justification for square-filling is an earnest belief that it’s making the USAF stronger in its defense of the nation … can you say with a straight face that careerism is enhancing airpower?

    • Chris

      Hey… Here is some more Kool-Aid!!!

    • Justin

      Ask General Hostage if he regrets not getting a Master’s Degree…

      • Anonymous

        If you read that Bio and thought because it did not explicitly mention a Master’s Degree that Gen Hostage does not have one, you really don’t know much about the Air Force and should refrain from posting about AF issues.

    • Anonymous

      Thriving, I’m going to pile-on to Tony’s comment. You must not have served in a high ops tempo unit if you think families will always be understanding and forgiving. When a loved one is gone 180-240 days a year, then spends their time at home on PME or volunteer work to fill squares, it usually (but not always) ends one of two ways in my experience. The AF loses a good officer because they choose their family and separate, or the unit’s “divorce rate” ticks up another notch after the marriage implodes. It takes a very, very understanding spouse to deal with careerism and high ops tempo. I’ve seen far too many good officers and NCOs leave because our ops tempo, coupled with increasing careerism, has forced them to chose between family and Air Force to the detriment of the Air Force. I think if we really care about the Air Force we need to look at this issue. When Gen Jumper was CSAF, he got it, and started to change it. But as soon as he retired, Mosley and Schwartz have returned us to the “Style over Substance” glide path that had been turning the AF into a “hollow force” long before sequestration put us into the unrecoverable death spiral.

      • pawnman

        We just lost a married, mil-mil couple. Both were weapon school graduates, the kinds of experts, aviators, and leaders we want more of in the Air Force. Both are out immediately following their WIC commitment. Stuff like this is why.

      • SSgtRFtrans

        The stressors on Military Families are huge. I think the service tries REALLY hard to alleviate a lot of it but there’s simply no way to do it all. I think the truth lies somewhere between the E-8s sentiment and Tony Carr’s, and that’s fine with me.

        I just wanted to make a quick counterpoint to what you said about John P Jumper. Mr. Jumper is one of the few people in the world to have flown both the F-22 and the Eurofighter. When he retired, he earned a $1.2M base salary from SAIC. He may be immensely talented and work harder than you or I, but the fact is neither he, nor any other 4-star has any idea what it’s like to be an E-5 with an unhappy wife, four kids, and tens of thousands of dollars of debt. (Lookin at you, Jay!)

        Me? I work hard every day and take care of my airmen. No matter what, I like my job and I’m doing 20+. I’m hitting those check boxes like crazy, and I’m not complaining. My radios transmit. My employees like coming to work. No one’s hurting themselves. Job’s done… I don’t take this whole farce seriously and I teach my airmen not to either. Take the good, leave the bad. Effort and Attitude = Success. Cheers!

  • Jessica Hietpas

    Actually families are disintegrating at a much higher rate.

    • Tony Carr

      I don’t believe the service is in family mode now. It was for a long time, and it was openly proud that families would be better cared for in the AF than any other service. Those days are gone, I’m afraid. Right here on this thread and certainly in the Miller article, family is looked upon as a speed bump or an excuse for not checking a square.

  • Samuel Morse

    Thank you so much for posting this. You eloquently described something I’ve struggled with for years. A mentor of mine said to me once that there are good airmen and there are good people, but rarely do the two coincide. I made a conscious decision to be a good person and be the best photojournalist I can be. Thankfully, we have awards specifically based on the merit of the products we produce, but despite earning duty performance-based awards from PACAF, AF, the DoD, and even the National Press Photographers Association, not to mention more than doubling the syndication rate of our office’s products since taking over as Ops NCOIC, I’m still not competitive even for NCO of the Quarter at the lowest levels. Thankfully, I love my job and my Air Force more than I hate the careerist culture.

    Oh, and thanks for using my photo. That shot of the mountains and valley from Afghanistan in your banner was taken by me back in 2008 during my tour at Bagram Airfield.

  • Cyrus


    Great post! I couldn’t agree more that “square filling” is a poor reality in today’s AF. Since 2006, I’ve witnessed four career philosophies at the mid to senior Captain level in the airlift community–1) They want to make General and will step on anyone they can to get there (aka Thriving in the AF, D-bag, etc). 2) Future airline guy who cares nothing about being an Officer but is purely biding time until he gets an AFRC job and/or his ATP and enough hours to interview at FEDEX or United. 3) The guy who wants to be a career pilot in the AF; a grey beard officer who routinely falls on the sword refusing to “play the game”, refuses all awards or recognition and then bitterly laments that the AF has wronged them for not promoting them on their piloting skills alone. Finally, 4) those who excel at their primary AFSC but who know the AF is flawed, want to fix it, and therefore “play the game” well enough to penetrate the glass ceiling–a trojan horse approach–all the while taking notes on how to be an authentic leader.

    #1 sucks and must be crushed at every opportunity. #2 isn’t much better. #3 is too stubborn to succeed. #4 is the type of officer who wants to change the status quo but is forced to remain in the shadows for fear of being labeled a #1 by the #2’s and #3’s. Like #2/3, #4 loves flying and the airlift mission, but unlike #2/3 they see themselves as officers first–aviators second.

    Airlifters have fought for more than a decade side-by-side with AFRC and civilian counterparts performing literally the same mission with the exception being that our counterparts have added benefits: no queep, more pay, and better quality of life. Consequently, we’ve equated our lives and, like any industry, we desire equal benefits for the same labor. No where is service discussed. No where is there talk of the profession of arms or why it’s special. There’s at least 10 conversations about the airline hiring boom to every 1 that seeks to make the unit a better organization. Why? Because, as you said, we’ve been forced to marginalize our families and our futures for the sake of “AF needs”. The #2’s and #3’s remain the majority because they see a path that enables them to both fly airlift while allowing them to enjoy their families by Crossing Out of the Blue–win/win. The AF has taken their service/sacrifice and that of their loves ones for granted consequently creating a culture of survival rather than excellence. Thus enabling the brown nosing #1’s to succeed and shrouding the #4’s deeper into the shadows.

    To change our culture for the better, we must repair the distrust that #2’s/3’s have for the AF and in the process coax #4’s from the abyss. But most of all we must nurture innovation and champion creativity. Our legacy is that of The Question Mark, Chuck Yeager, Billy Mitchell and Lance Sijan–not CBT’s, scandals, or uniforms. We’re a service of swagger and confidence–not scandal and fear. The sooner we find true leadership the sooner we can reclaim that identity.


    Sorry for the long comment–your post threw me onto my soapbox! Thanks again!

    • http://Jopublic Thriving in the AF

      Boy, if that isn’t the most cynical response I’ve seen in a while. Listen, if military members would devote themselves wholly to mission, family, and professional development, all their dreams will come true. Tony contends this triad cannot happen. Of course it cannot happen when you add the fourth leg- personal gratification. What is that? ME TIME. TV, cell, Internet, tech of any kind- THIS is what has changed, not the Air Force. There are plenty of hours in the day to do family, mission, and P.D. (to include PME and Masters). The Air Force is not a 9-5 job and never should have been. Young guys- the roadmap for career success is laid out before you. Don’t be a fool. Get your stuff done and avoid future regrets. You can do everything and have a strong family- get rid of the selfish part of your life. The Air Force expects this level of personal excellence without excuse, and thankfully it will continue to expect this level of excellence. The taxpayer expects this level of excellence as well. That’s why it is a core value. Get your education and PME done ASAP. Period. Enough said.

      • Anonymous

        You outta step out of your bubble and spend some time with the operational AD Air Force…the pilots who go brief at 0500, land at 1000, debrief quickly, brief their next flight at 1300, land from that at 1500, and leave debrief early at 1700 because they have to be there at 0500 the next day…after flying physically demanding, tiring missions…and are then expected to do a three-hour master’s class, exercise, eat well, spend time with their family, and get eight hours of sleep. Not to mention the maintainers busting their ass to keep those jets turning! Of course Big AF isn’t changing…that’s the point…it needs to in order to take care of its people.

      • Tony Carr

        Your contention only works if everyone dreams of being a careerist. I’m not sure what to do with your assertion that TV is the root of all of our problems; are you Ted Kazcynski? Are they letting federal felons on the internet now? By the way, you just denounced internet use while making multiple internet posts. Head. Explode.

        Are you saying the Air Force hasn’t changed? Are you really saying that? On Planet Bizarro, this might qualify as a valid point. Here on Earth, it makes you a candidate for electro-shock therapy. Get help now while you can still tell the difference between s*** and oatmeal. My friend, you are truly wandering in an unreal wilderness if you think there is ANY resemblance between Air Force ’13 and Air Force ’93.

        Excellence is not achieved through obliteration of the self. That’s a flawed idea. Humans are the wellspring of victory in war, and they don’t thrive in a system like the one you’re advocating.

      • Not a Robot

        Wow, “Thriving” is completely dillusional. You are obviously not in a flying/ops squadron where you have little control of your schedule. And to assume that your family will simply accept your absence is taking them for granted. I never said no to the Air Force, constantly canceling plans with my family to accommodate the squadron’s schedule. Now that one of my immediate family members has passed, I will always carry that guilt on my shoulders. I’m not advocating selfishness, but your family should always come first. If you assume they’ll be waiting for you after your next deployment/TDY/class you’ll forever regret it.

        Tony, thank you for this well written article. You address the human side to all airmen. We should not be treated like robots, nor should we be coerced into “check the box” degrees that only pervert the education system.

      • Cyrus

        I have all my “squares” checked. In fact I’m a school select. And yet I am the one writing the most cynical post you’ve seen in a while. What does that tell you? Is it possible…yes. I was able to balance my job, PME and a masters but only because I have no kids and a VERY understanding wife who loves the AF more than I do. Is education, experience and performance important? Yes—but only if done right. I think even Tony would say that personal development is critical to developing capable leaders….but where I draw the line is the requirement for LT’s and A1C’s to do it all simultaneously. To quote an O-9, “the AF requires our youth to get a masters degree before they’ll send them to get a masters degree at IDE and then another one at SDE. Since when has 3 degrees become the standard of leadership!?! At what point are they supposed to become professional officers as opposed to professional students?” The AF has built the time into the career timeline…

        As for personal time—apparently you have no life. Personally, I am a workaholic and I tend to stay at work longer than my peers. But unlike you, I see that as a weakness because I am literally killing myself with stress. My entire life revolves around the AF which I see as a tragedy because it means I have no outside perspective. Where as you might see that as a positive I see it as a limitation. Personal time is NOT a waste… Rather its the time we REQUIRE to recharge the batteries and gather inspiration from outside our AF cubicle. whats the point in becoming a well educated, professional if you have zero personal life experiences with which to draw upon to empathize and advocate for those under your command? No one can deny the importance of charisma, charm and personality in a leader to inspire greatness….how does that happen in your recipe? Where do I get those intangible people skills if all I’ve done for thirty years is get. Up, go to work, come home, read Clausewitz, go to sleep—rinse and repeat? After all nothing inspires the warrior ethos more than a guy who pushes ribbon charts over fighting skills. Nor can a commander properly lead if he has no tangible understanding of life. It may be hard for you to grasp…but there IS more to life than the AF. I’m sorry, but whenever my service is over I plan to have more to hug than a shadow box. If that’s your plan I pity your lack of vision…

      • H-R-A

        Thriving in the AF—Thank you for countering this argument. Checking the blocks is in addition to being excellent at your job. The roadmap is there. It is no different than anything else in the AF. The blocks are created for Airmen to know what to strive for to be competitive. Of course be great at your job, but to become a senior leader, the individual should strive to reach the expectations of those blocks. Community involvement helps to show a greater commitment to the profession of arms, discounts misconceptions that some have about the military, creates a sense of camaraderie, allows for the opportunity to lead, and even helps in networking—not to mention a sense of pride in helping the local community. Also, education absolutely should be a block to strive for. Asking a MSgt to get a CCAF to be considered for SMSgt…that’s not uncalled for and after ALS, the person really only needs a few classes which can be CLEPd.

        Please stop trying to compare flying squadrons to enlisted promotions; it is not as comparable as you might think. The original article was for enlisted. The Enlisted Force Structure para 3.1.8 clearly states that Junior Enlisted Airmen will, “Continue professional development through on- and off-duty education. Join professional organizations (for example, base advisory and enlisted councils) and participate in organization and community events through volunteerism.” Education, PME, and volunteerism is stressed again under general NCO responsibilities. The EFS definitely stresses the importance of knowing your job and becoming a SME; it’s the foundation for the board!
        Tony stated,
        “Little brown book? No. The “little blue book” you and I grew up with has been replaced by AFI 1-1, which seeks to be the bible of USAF standards. I’m no fan of this publication, but I am familiar with it, and no where in its bloated and excessive 27 pages does it compel airmen to engage in advanced education or community service. These things are mentioned in airman development AFIs, but never as requirements for junior airmen.”
        Perhaps he meant to make a different point but what I got was that he is not familiar with the EFS which explains to Airmen what their responsibilities are in each rank and tier, and like I quoted before—it IS for the Junior Enlisted Tier.
        Also AFI 1-1 did not replace the AF Core Value book. I don’t know where this info came from.

        I am very disappointed with Tony for writing this article and not allowing for alternative points of view. Resorting to name calling just because someone disagrees with you? It takes away from your argument and is a hindrance to critical thinking.

        For shame Tony.

      • Tony Carr


        Thanks for your input. I edited your response to exclude the part where you read back parts of my response. No need for that since they’re visible on this page — let’s allow people to read them in original form. I agree with you that ad hominem attacks are seldom a good approach. However, when someone is behaving in an objectionable manner, their foolishness should not be suffered gladly (obviously, you agree …given that much of your post was devoted to criticizing me rather than the subject itself). “Thriving” has been trolling this thread and taking pot shots at others who are wrestling earnestly with this post … his conduct earned him every response he got from me and others. Still, your point is not altogether invalid, and I’ve toned down some of my responses to incorporate your critique.

        You do make a good point about para. 3.1.8 in AFI 36-2618. The language you cite is indeed there. This shows just how successful the careerist movement has been in the contemporary enlisted Air Force … they/you have managed to create a written foundation for things that make no sense. Junior airmen should not be forced into community service, despite your well-articulated argument to the contrary. They’re already serving their country. If they choose to get involved, it ought to be because they want to. If they’re doing it for you, they’re not doing it for the community or for themselves, and thus, it’s one big lie. And that, my friend, is where careerism confronts integrity.

        My point about the little blue book is that the AF had a choice a couple of years ago when it noticed standards were slipping, and it chose to reinvent the wheel rather than going back to basics. So, we were given AFI 1-1 instead of a reprinting of the little blue book. And no where in that statement of basic standards is an expectation established for enlisted members or officers to engage in community service or off-duty education as a basic requirement of service. Everything we do and expect should flow from the core values; off-duty education has a very important role in airman development … but forcing people into it too early undercuts excellence and encourages self before service. Forcing people into community service for any reason other than community service violates integrity.

      • Respublicus

        HRA: “Please stop trying to compare flying squadrons to enlisted promotions; it is not as comparable as you might think.”

        So I guess that those of us that are enlisted flyers are just double SOL in your book, then. Being expected to remain both war fighters and careerists at the same time is killing our career fields, some of whom have between critically manned for the better part of a decade.

      • Pauly Walnuts

        Thriving definitely drank the Kool-Aid.

        Sorry, I give a lot for the AF (gladly) because I love my country. I know for a fact when push comes to shove the AF doesn’t care about me, to them I’m just another number.

        The “Optional Requirement” mentality is disgusting. Whether or not I get a Masters degree has nothing to do with my job performance. Personal development is exactly that…personal…my choice. If I choose not to pursue an education that is my fault…the world will always need ditch diggers.

        Community Service doesn’t make you better at your job. I know plenty of fellow Airmen who are mediocre at best when it comes to their job…but they are the same people who look awesome on paper because they do non-stop volunteer work and submit themselves for awards. Meanwhile, everyone else in his/her section is required to pick up the slack. This is the culture they have created, This is why we have people who only look out for themselves and will step on ANYONE to make themselves look better.

        How does that make us better? How does that help us execute the mission more effectively?

        Through all of the long hours (no, not bankers hours) and deployments at least I know at the end of the day my family will be there for me…can you say the same about the AF?

  • Anonymous

    This has been going on for a long time. Immediately following 9-11, my ANG unit was deployed to Kuwait. As SNCO, I was bombarded with active duty airmen requests for LOE’s and awards as soon as they inprocessed to the base. I usually replied that they would have to actually perform their jobs just to keep getting a paycheck, which, although unpopular, got their attention to focus on warfighting rather than themselves. As stated in this article, the squares to fill are not appropriate for all ranks. College should not take the place of knowing your job when you are a 3 level.

  • Sarah M.

    I really enjoyed this article. I recently left the Air Force after four years of service, and this was probably one of the worst problems in my wing. There was always a huge push for winning awards. I worked hard to win as many as I could, and I did win quite a few. It didn’t take long before my work started suffering, and it ended up being a losing battle. I would go to school, do community service, and try to balance my office work with it. When my office work suffered I’d get talked to (and reasonably so), but then if I did focus on work and I didn’t have school or volunteer bullets to offer up at the end of the month, I’d get talked to about that.

    • http://Jopublic Thriving in the AF

      Of course you got talked to- read my earlier post about “the fourth leg”- the Air Force demanded excellence from you, and it sounds like you came up short. Best wishes with your next career. Head’s up- civilians demand excellence too!

      • Sarah M.

        “The fourth leg” didn’t really apply at the time, since I avoided television and my time spent on the computer was to study course material for my degree.

        I don’t doubt for a second that civilians demand excellence too, and I’ve been working hard since I got out. I would chat more about this, but honestly you sound like you’re just trying to strike a nerve with people who happen to like this article. It would be easier to take you more seriously if you weren’t so condescending.

      • Tony Carr

        Thriving: I’m not sure what would compel you to needlessly insult someone you’ve never met and whose tone and comments were completely conciliatory and moderate. Your post makes you look like a complete f***ing dunce, and it’s only my preference for chaos over order that allows your useless comments to remain present on this thread.

      • ELW

        As a reservist with a full time job, going to school half to full time, I was told that I needed to do more community service in order to get a decent APR, much less a promotion. Since I had no personal life and less sleep than I really needed, When would I have time to fit that in? I saw the same thing happening with the active duty airmen in the aircraft maintenance squadron that I was in – only they routinely worked 12 to 14 hour days and many of them had families too.

        I have worked for several civilian companies and have always been praised for the quality of my work and my work ethic. It was only in the USAF squadrons that embraced the idea that community service, or the being on (or a groupie of) the ‘right’ squadron sports team, etc were worth more than the work I did that I had a problem. And yes, I do many tasks outside of my basic job description no matter where I work. I take on problems and get them solved.

        What job do you hold that you can be so patronizing of us? What kind of relationship with your family do you have?

  • Karl Gallagher

    Sigh. That sums up my reasons for getting out as an officer in 1994. I’d already had conversations with an NCO who saw the careerism trend creeping down the ladder. “If the airmen are playing the political games too, who’s going to get the work done?” I’m sorry to see it hasn’t gotten better.

  • Anonymous

    As a USAFWS instructor and someone at the “stay or go” 11 year point in my career, I couldn’t agree more.

  • Anonymous

    Here is a data point that might be relevant:

    As for education and school in residence, it seems we have gone beyond box checking and entered the realm of lunacy. I didn’t go to IDE in residence, but managed to secure funding to pay for a 2-year master’s program (my second master’s degree) from the Naval Postgraduate School via distance learning. The degree I pursued (and earned) was the very program the AF was sending officers to Monterey to complete in the same 2-year timeframe I had. I took fewer classes because I didn’t get the refresher courses in math, physics, etc. but I took all of the same core classes as those attending in residence. I was dialing in to attend those classes during my workday and in the evenings, depending on the class schedule in Monterey. I was good with this, but was keenly aware of my disadvantages. In spite of those disadvantages, I really wanted the degree, and I was happy for the opportunity to take part. I gave up an immense amount of time to complete the degree, most of it in the evenings and on the weekends. I completed a couple of classes while deployed. And in the end, I have my second master’s degree. But here’s the kicker: in spite of successfully fighting my way through the same program that counts for in-residence IDE credit, the Air Force won’t consider giving me credit for it. At best, it has been a minor line in an OPR. Those who went in residence (for whom I harbor no ill will) and got the same degree under ideal circumstances, with no other primary duty or deployment or PCS in the middle of the program, will forever be School Grads. The Air Force will offer them opportunities that will be withheld from me because my status as a correspondence guy is inferior. Interesting.

    Note: I didn’t start the program with the intention of earning IDE credit, but a number of peers encouraged me to seek credit when they learned what I was doing. It turned out to be impossible. I’ve put this behind me and am contentedly devoting the time I might otherwise be spending on SDE to my family and outside business.

  • John

    God have mercy on the leaders who question our commitment to our Air Force and our country based on “playing the game” rather than the 60+ hour weeks and constant, life-threatening combat deployments.

  • Carl

    Just sat and read this and all accompanying posts…wow. As a SNCO in the ADAF, the seemingly prevalent theme of the thread is that we believe that people cannot excel at their primary specialty AND do more to further themselves. How sad. It’s not one or the other, and that’s a fact. It’s ludicrous to think that the AF believes there is more emphasis placed on the non-duty related accomplishments than actual specialty performance. It’s just that those additional items/accomplishments are what set people apart. It’s not a question or committed or not. Having sat on many boards and written many packages myself, what the person has done in their primary duties is usually a wash (on paper anyway) so what’s going to set them apart? Oh, that stuff that the little brown book tells you should do IN ADDITION to mastering your primary duties. Must be a coincidence, huh? Couldn’t be that a lot of people who have been around the block and have hundreds, if not thousands, of years of combined experience decided our people should do. That would be crazy to assume that’s true, wouldn’t it? So let me see, I do what the book tells me to do and I’ll succeed in my chosen profession? Novel concept, huh? So if I’m a great pilot/services/dirt boy/WSO/communicator/maintainer/etc…. but I don’t fulfill other expectations as a professional Airman, I should still be set apart from my peers? Wait; back to the book…it says I AM supposed to be good at my specialty. Oh. Okay. Got that.
    I have an aversion to kowtowing to the “party message” but at the same time, we need to be realistic in our expectations. The “system” works, the vast majority of those who make Chief and GO ranks got there because they know what the hell they’re doing and can lead people, not just because they’re a careerist and “filled squares”.

    • John

      Then SMSgt Miller chose very poor wording when he said that the squares were designed to “provide a separation between the willing and unwilling — the committed and uncommitted.” It is appalling to imply that someone is uncommitted because they chose their family over an advanced degree – and in a lot of situations, that’s the choice that must be made. This lowers an already low morale and I would argue that the more willing and committed Airman is the one who chooses his family.

      • Tina

        I can assure you that SMSgt Miller is not saying that anyone is “uncommitted because they chose their family over and advanced degree”.
        I have been married for 21years and you have to work together in a marriage. Working together means making sacrifices whether it’s a deployment or taking classes. I took classes after we were married- we had to sacrifice some family time but made it up on other days. We did the same when my husband decided to take classes- it’s what you do to improve yourself FOR yourself, your family AND your career!
        Lastly, there is NOTHING that says you can’t earn a community service bullet as a family- there are plenty of volunteer opportunities that can be done as a family.
        Think outside of the box!

        • Tony Carr

          Tina: I love the positivity of your response, but I think you’re off the mark. You’re missing the point. Sure, families can sometimes figure out a way to make it all work … and sure, families can find a way to do community service projects together. But the point is that it’s wrong for the USAF to establish these as baseline expectations for employment. You said it yourself — the motivation has to be intrinsic, not forced by your employer. With AF forcing people to do this, it’s not only treating people unfairly, but creating the wrong kind of service. I think John is interpreting SMSgt Miller accurately — he’s taking him at his word when he says checking squares is how airmen show they are committed. No matter what you think he meant, I can guarantee you many airmen interpreted him to mean they appear uncommitted unless they engage in careerism.

      • Tina

        Why is it that you feel the AF shouldn’t hold airman to a higher standard? Expect them to excel? Do you think for a second that doctors, teachers, lawyers, etc don’t have to make time for professional development, community service and family as well?
        No matter the career choice, your job performance is NEVER enough! You have to show you’re COMMITTED by being willing to go the extra mile and set yourself apart.
        For those willing to meet the minimum requirements there is no shame, however don’t be surprised when you miss the promotion because the other guy took the time to improve himself.

        • Tony Carr

          Job performance is a necessary but insufficient condition for career success. Got it. But when should careerism start? Do you think Vince Miller’s assertion that education should matter for promotion to SrA BTZ is valid?

      • John

        Tina, I absolutely agree that people should take measures to improve themselves, personally and professionally, in all careers.
        But as stated throughout this thread, it is ludicrous to tell someone just returning from a 180 or 365-day deployment, who then goes back to working 60-hour weeks, that their career will dead-end unless they sign up to be a part-time student on top of everything else. I saw it happen at increasingly higher frequencies before I left after ten years.

        Let people who want to excel outside of their profession do it on their own account – I’ve worked with some fine enlisted airmen and officers who were great leaders and outstanding airmen without having advanced education or community service time. I’ve also served with airmen who were an embarrassment to the uniform, but they coddled their leadership and therefor regarded higher than the former.

        Some of the best pilots I flew with were of the “old school”, and had nothing to focus on but flying and leading airmen. They were lethal to the enemy. I’d do anything to be on their wing. But now we’re breeding pilots who literally can’t hit the broadside of a barn because of all the additional crap they’re expected to do in the name of “careerism”. Let’s not forget that this is the Air Force and our ultimate goal is bombs on target and saving lives via medevac, airlift, air defense, recon, etc. I don’t know how we’ve managed to forget that.

    • Tony Carr

      It’d be so much easier to defer to the wisdom and experience you cite, Carl, if you didn’t seem so confused about the difference between required performance and encouraged performance. It’s probably the most important difference in the world, because we will always be resource-constrained and therefore always need to understand priorities unless we want to fail. Airmen are *required* to excel at their primary duties. It’s a core value. They’re *encouraged* to better themselves through education and to contribute to their communities … but duty performance is and must always be the bottom line and dominant factor in judging someone’s value and role in the organization. By taking these “encouragements” and making them de facto requirements, the SNCO corps you represent has destroyed the sense of priority that underpins excellence.

      Little brown book? No. The “little blue book” you and I grew up with has been replaced by AFI 1-1, which seeks to be the bible of USAF standards. I’m no fan of this publication, but I am familiar with it, and no where in its bloated and excessive 27 pages does it compel airmen to engage in advanced education or community service. These things are mentioned in airman development AFIs, but never as requirements for junior airmen. I don’t believe for a second that the intent of the USAF is to push first-term airmen into a full embrace of the whole person concept … which is why I argued in the post that they be given time to establish a foundation of professionalism and selflessness before they start checking squares.

      The system you’re championing doesn’t work. Your airmen are desperate for you to see this. The problem is no one has a vested interest in seeing this for what it is. SNCOs are reluctant to admit they’re doing it wrong. Officers are either too aloof or too unschooled in matters pertaining to enlisted airmen to get into the weeds of the problem. Airmen themselves are reticent to speak out because they have the appropriate doubt that comes with low experience and also don’t want to make waves. More often than not, the smart ones realize the system isn’t correcting and simply get out after one term.

      You said something that is very telling. You said “what the person has done in their primary duties is usually a wash.” This is the center of mass of the entire cultural problem we’re talking about. If it seems to be a wash, I would submit you’re not involved enough to see critical differences between people … or the board process is not structured to show those differences. This is our ENTIRE problem! We have inflated EPRs that make everyone look the same on paper and we don’t give ourselves the time to be involved enough to see differences in duty performance. So we settle for the lazy and immoral tactic of judging things that are more easily discerned, like checked squares.

      I grew up trusting Chiefs and Generals. I still trust many of them. But too many careerists have made it to the elite level and are now molding an AF in their image. It’s unacceptable.

      • http://Jopublic Thriving in the AF

        Tony, respectfully, you’re dead wrong here. I have much more faith in the excellence I see in our airmen each and every day. Your argument is, “These airmen are kids, if they can’t all achieve success personally and professionally, we shouldn’t give any of them credit for it.” It’s the “Least Common Denominator” theory that is destroying our country from within. I say, “We have the greatest, most intelligent Air Force we have ever had. These adults are smart, they’re good at what they do, and some desire to excel. Let’s reward those who excel, not stifle them!” Thank heavens the Air Force rewards this excellence and ignores your visions of a lukewarm, unmotivated, average force.

      • Tony Carr

        @ Thriving: I don’t know how you’re getting all that, but I don’t agree with a word of it. I agree with you that our airmen are much more intelligent and capable today than ever they were before. This is precisely why they should not have their time and activity micro-managed, but should be armed with tools and encouragement and allowed to develop at the pace suitable to their desires, affinities, aptitudes, interests, … and professional competency relative to their peers. Some are ready to expand the bubble earlier than others.

        The Air Force does not distinguish adequately between the duty performance of its people and thus does not reward excellence. It rewards square checking, which is exactly the way people like you want things. It allows someone to be mediocre at their job and still advance … and it’s the quickest way to chase excellent performers right out the front gate.

  • Kevlaur

    This article is too long. Say what you mean and get off your soapbox.

  • Anonymous

    Very well said Tony. On the education is my story. I was an Air Force officer who was scheduled to assume command of a training squadron in a flying wing but was told by my Wing/CC that I would not be allowed to take command if I did not complete Air War College in correspondence. As I was already a Senior Developmental Education (SDE) “select”, I did not consider it a valuable use of my limited time to complete SDE in correspondence to just turn around and do it again in residence, especially when AF policy is to send 100% of “selects” to SDE. Since I did not do it, I was not allowed to take command. So, the record of strong performance that got me the nod in the first place was no match for my lack of willingness to “square-fill”. All of a sudden, I am no longer the right man for the job. I subsequently turned down school in residence and retired.

    • http://Jopublic Thriving in the AF

      Really? Over AWC by correspondence? That’s the sword you fell on? Honestly, it’s fortunate you did not become Commander. Your Wing King tried to encourage you toward excellence, and you spit in his face. Did it ever occur to you that, with AWC and a successful Squadron Command, he might have pushed you toward a couple dozen different internships that require AWC by correspondence to be complete for SDE in-res credit? Oh, BTW, you probably would have been incredibly competitive for those opportunities as a select. But you chose to spit in the O-6’s face. Is his reaction really a surprise? Our senior leaders want, NEED excellence, and what you chose was not excellence. Geesh. Do I really need to post these obvious answers? CORE VALUES PEOPLE! Fortunately, there are SNCOs and officers out there willing to go the extra mile. And sir, let’s be honest- you weren’t willing to go the extra sixteenth. Stop complaining.

      • Tony Carr

        Shame on you for telling him he shouldn’t have been a commander. You don’t know these people. I can guarantee none of them are listening to a word you have to say when you behave this way.

        As to your flawed argument. You don’t have the first clue. SDE Fellowships are EXTREMELY competitive. There are a handful a year. SDE correspondence will not be dispositive in this process.

        You don’t understand the core values. At all. Excellence means making the best of your efforts. Duplication stands in direct contravention to excellence. SDE correspondence for an SDE select is the very definition of duplicated effort.

  • Bryant

    No question the SMSgt who wrote the “Filling Squares” piece is a schmuck and is flat-out wrong, but it’s rich that here we have a former Squadron Commander FGO flyer-type taking apart an opinion article written by some bonehead enlisted guy. Of all the crap-tastic boilerplate AF opinion pieces out there on the interwebz right now, you choose to tar and feather some clown SMSgt as some sort of example of the rest of us SNCOs. If you’ve got all the answers, go find a CSAF authored article and get noisy… Does it matter? Hell yes it does. Who shits on subordinates in blogs? Tell ya what, I’ll go rag on one of my Airmen’s SpaceBook posts in the next edition of the base paper to demonstrate everything that’s wrong in the AF today.

    Where was all this discourse and opining when you were actually in a position to make a difference? Throughout your entire dissertation, you blasted y at how unfair everything was but offered no tangible solutions. Sure, you made some excellent points but you lost me when you failed to put forth any answers worth a squirt of warm piss. I kept reading waiting for a hard-chargin’ solution-oriented Zoomie FGO like you to give me a Golden Nugget and I get nothing, nada… Just another retired officer drinking his red wine in his vineyard, collecting a kick-ass pension and lamenting how he was pushed away like some jilted female.

    I hear ya mate, duty performance should be king when it comes to awards and promotions, but in reality how in the hell can I compare duty performance of a MPF Personnelist with an MC-12 Sensor Operator with a Security Forces K-9 Handler? What’s the measuring stick for that? Apples, oranges and bananas my dude, and that’s why the “common language” becomes the stuff you do IAW AFI 36-2618. Hence, your winners are usually selected from accomplishments outside of the primary duty. If you put a guy in for an award, my assumption has to be that he/she is out there kicking ass every day in the work place. If not, don’t submit that person.

    Your line of thinking where all the bad-asses in their primary duties get the trophies played out in the AF’s 2012 enlisted Lance Sijan awards, with AFSOC sweeping them all. The message that you send there is that the only people that matter right now are the snake-eaters, HALO jumpers, and trigger-pullers… How is an A1C stuffed away in a COMSEC vault counting KYK-13s going to compete on paper with A1C Combat Controller out there kinetically engaging the Taliban? How do I legitimately reconcile that difference in an annual awards board? Explain it to me like a two-year old, because I honestly don’t know.

    I guess the thing about your article that irritates me the most is you make some salient points and I like the cut of your jib, but you’re RETIRED NOW sitting there on the porch and can’t do a damned thing to help me and this AF along anymore. We need well-spoken officer bubbas like you that piss up a rope (even when they are misguided) and actually sit around and develop a leadership philosophy while they are still wearing their jet jammies and not when they are clogging up the commissary checkout. Problem is with you rated-types is you think your awesomeness with flight controls automatically translates to excellence in leading people, and that is your Achilles’ Heel… Not enough trust in us NCOs to guide you along and help you lead the pack; maybe if you would have zipped up your flight suit, pushed your sleeves down and approached a decent SNCO with your out-of-regs duck-tailed flight cap in hand and asked for help, you’d still be in the blue suit with chickens or stars on your shoulder boards changing the culture (for the better) of my beloved US AIR FORCE.

    God Bless and I hope you have a productive and happy retirement… away at how unfair everything was but offered no tangible solutions. Sre, you made some excellent points but you lost me when you failed to put forth any answers worth a squirt of warm piss. I kept reading waiting for a hard-chargin’ solution-oriented Zoomie FGO like you to give me a Golden Nugget and I get nothing, nada… Just another retired officer drinking his red wine in his vineyard, collecting a kick-ass pension and lamenting how he was pushed away like some jilted female.

    I hear ya mate, duty performance should be king when it comes to awards and promotions, but in reality how in the hell can I compare duty performance of a MPF Personnelist with an MC-12 Sensor Operator with a Security Forces K-9 Handler? What’s the measuring stick for that? Apples, oranges and bananas my dude, and that’s why the “common language” becomes the stuff you do IAW AFI 36-2618. Hence, your winners are usually selected from accomplishments outside of the primary duty. If you put a guy in for an award, my assumption has to be that he/she is out there kicking ass every day in the work place. If not, don’t submit that person.

    Your line of thinking where all the bad-asses in their primary duties get the trophies played out in the AF’s 2012 enlisted Lance Sijan awards, with AFSOC sweeping them all. The message that you send there is that the only people that matter right now are the snake-eaters, HALO jumpers, and trigger-pullers… How is an A1C stuffed away in a COMSEC vault counting KYK-13s going to compete on paper with A1C Combat Controller out there kinetically engaging the Taliban? How do I legitimately reconcile that difference in an annual awards board? Explain it to me like a two-year old, because I honestly don’t know.

    I guess the thing about your article that irritates me the most is you make some salient points and I like the cut of your jib, but you’re RETIRED NOW sitting there on the porch and can’t do a damned thing to help me and this AF along anymore. We need well-spoken officer bubbas like you that piss up a rope (even when they are misguided) and actually sit around and develop a leadership philosophy while they are still wearing their jet jammies and not when they are clogging up the commissary checkout. Problem is with you rated-types is you think your awesomeness with flight controls automatically translates to excellence in leading people, and that is your Achilles’ Heel… Not enough trust in us NCOs to guide you along and help you lead the pack; maybe if you would have zipped up your flight suit, pushed your sleeves down and approached a decent SNCO with your out-of-regs duck-tailed flight cap in hand and asked for help, you’d still be in the blue suit with chickens or stars on your shoulder boards changing the culture (for the better) of my beloved US AIR FORCE.

    God Bless and I hope you have a productive and happy retirement…

    • Anonymous

      Sorry for the double-post… My cut-paste FUBAR’ed the whole thing.

    • Tony Carr

      I will answer your artful response later. Very well done.

      Here’s the thing. You’re wrong about me. I know it’d be much easier for you if I was a zoomie … a blueblood, spoon-mouthed, sleeve-bunched, moustache-laden, Olds-wanna-be, stereotypical cranium-in-ass operator. That would validate your post. But the inconvenient fact is that I’m a prior enlisted, prior-NCO, Levitow Award winning, night school attending thorn in your ass … who had the respect of NCOs from wire to wire, understands this subject well, and was/is an astute student of the US Air Force. Long before I flew airplanes, I fixed them and supervised others who fixed them. I’ve stood on the flightline at 0500 and asked myself (a) what could be more beautiful and (b) why I would ever endure such a hangover for the sake of some jackass pilot’s sortie. That experience came in handy later when I showed up to an airplane at 0500 and greeted a salty crew chief with that same familiar gleam in this eye. My love of airplanes, airpower, and airmen runs marrow deep. It’s the reason I’m still engaging on these subjects instead of clogging the line at the commissary with black socks pulled up to my kneecaps.

      Think about that. Decide if you want to let your pejorative comments stand, and I’ll give you time to adjust before I respond. You and I have common ground. Why scorch it for rhetorical amusement?

      I got out for some good reasons, but it wasn’t easy. I’ll give you that. Should I have stayed? Maybe. But if you and I are talking USAF right now … did I really leave? There are many ways to serve. This blog is a continuation of the arguments I made on active duty. I’m glad you were provoked enough to respond with skill and insight.

      • Bryant

        I was mainly poking at your zipper suited sun god stereotype because you came across as one… A guy with lofty ideals up at 31,000 feet but with absolutely no clue how to implement them down here on Planet Earth. When I think about it, the fact you’re a prior E only raises my expectations of you… Overall, my opinion of prior enlisted officers is 50/50; half being squared away and the other half spent their entire enlistment navel-gazing and going to school off my back: “Hey man, can you cover the staff meeting for me tomorrow? I’ve got my Poly Sci exam first thing in the morning. Thanks, brah!”

        All that said, if I offended you and you are who you say you are, then I apologize. I am sorry…

        But, a fella with your experience that’s risen through the ranks must be able to see the folly of judging Airmen simply by their duty performance. Surely you would understand that in the huge bureaucracy that we operate in (with rampant inflation on performance reports and minimal direct supervision), that some form of “box checking” would end up deciding things that it had no business deciding.

        If both O’s and E’s could get back to truth telling on annual performance reports, not burying disciplinary matters, and boldly confronting substandard performance instead of looking the other way, I think it would go a long way to weeding out a lot of our shit-birds, DNIF bunnies, and mouth breathing paycheck stealers… It’s important that the officers set the tone with this and don’t tolerate any bullshit, stop calling these Airmen “kids” because it sounds like a pat on the head. You see shenanigans in your unit, you hit fast and hard. High standards, always.

        From where I’m sitting on the food chain, all I can do is show up every day, lead by personal example, be a truth teller, search out problems, fix things within my locus of control, and hopefully inspire others to do the same. I’m facing a crisis of relevance in my own career and constantly have to refocus on things within my reach.

        For the record, I’m pissed off with sequestration and the general direction of the AF right now, but I still feel that I’m “standing on the shoulders of giants” and I owe it to my subordinates to keep moving up the ranks. If that requires knocking out some PME or earning a CCAF/graduate degree then so be it. BTW, are you aware that our current CMSAF Cody only possesses a CCAF? I think that’s significant to this discussion.

        I don’t know you or your reasons to retire, but thanks for your service. In the end, we are just shooting the shit on here. I don’t agree with everything you said, but it’s good food for thought and I appreciate your ongoing concern for my Air Force.

  • http://Jopublic Thriving in the AF

    Amen Bryant! You’re wrong about one thing, though…Tony never pissed up a rope when he was in; he did all of the conformist box-checking that he constantly rails against now. He even admitted as such to my post today! Very hypocritical to get out right when he could have worked the changes he so desires. With his views, maybe leaving was the right call for everyone else still in.

    • Anonymous

      Your mindless drivel isn’t worth wasting time to respond to, but since you mention that Tony should have pissed up a rope and worked the changes he desired before he got out if he was worth a damn, I’ll provide this anecdote.

      I, a zipper-suited fighter god who just received a DP to Major before putting in my separation papers, was assigned to lead a Tiger Team as my last official additional duty before separation. The Tiger Team was to find out why our base had the highest PFT failure rate in the Air Force (not to mention higher-than-normal suicide, DUI, and drug rates).

      Even as a zipper-suited fighter god, I still assembled a team of S/NCOs and asked for their help. Gasp! I wanted to find out why our airmen were dragging and how we could reverse it. I was going to make a difference dammit, and I was already separating, so I didn’t care if I ruffled any feathers with the base leadership. I took what the enlisted force said to heart, and we came up with a few small ideas that we thought could be easily implemented but lead to some positive outcomes. Not an AF culture change, but some small changes with the way we do business at Base X. Yes, I cared about the enlisted force and not just myself. Holy shit.

      The FW/CC, a self-serving O-6, thanked me and my team but essentially told us to pound sand. I never got a reason why.

      There are countless similar stories. We are providing solutions. NCOs through FGOs are trying to make the changes. Some smart people offer some smart ideas, but leadership doesn’t want to hear them for reasons I’d rather not speculate on. They’re asking the questions but won’t listen to the answers. This does nothing but deter future problem-solvers from offering solutions.

    • Tony Carr

      @Thriving: you do a pretty good job of trolling on multiple threads every day. I’ll give you that. You clearly are not in the US Air Force … or if you are, you’re in one of those squadrons that closes half of every day for training and every other Thursday for a heritage luncheon. Maybe you’re on the staff. In any case, you’re spending too much energy in online forums to be giving much to the USAF.

      But ultimately, you’re not adding anything to this thread. You don’t have a good argument, so you’re attacking my credibility and that of those who are wrestling earnestly with the ideas in the post. Please knock it off.

    • Student of TC

      Thriving – I worked for Tony during his last assignment. I have never met a more engaging, charismatic leader. By the end of his time at the squadron, he could have asked me to fly into the sun, and I would have, because I believe that if TC is telling me that it’s important, then that’s the way it is. That’s the kind of leader that Tony Carr is. He understands what is important, and has written about it in this article and his posts. Mission, Family, extra stuff…in that order. More importantly, he lived it, while he was a sitting squadron commander delivering during the highest ops tempo of the last decade. He was not the standard AF leader that professes to care about his people, and then spend all his time screwing them over. He was an actual leader, not a manager. So here I sit, at SOS, checking a box, listening to endless briefings about topics that I can neither control, nor affect, and I wonder what I want to do with my life. I’m checking the boxes in order to be competitive in the AF. I’m becoming the best officer and pilot that I can, in order to satisfy my need to do right by others and myself. In the end, if I can be half the leader, officer, pilot, or mentor that Tony Carr was I’d be doing something right. Thriving, your comments are inappropriate, and demeaning to a man who embodies the ideal that we all joined the AF to be.

  • Jaded O-5

    Great article Tony. Very eloquently describes how I’ve felt about the AF for a long time. Also reminds me of another article describing similar problems in the Army ( ).

    Finally, your article also makes me think about that famous quote from Boyd about being someone or doing something. I found the following quote here: ( )

    “Tiger, one day you will come to a fork in the road,” he said. “And you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go.” He raised his hand and pointed. “If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.” Then Boyd raised his other hand and pointed another direction. “Or you can go that way and you can do something – something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference.” He paused and stared into the officer’s eyes and heart. “To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do. Which way will you go?

    Please keep up the good work. You’re doing something.

  • AF ret.

    Square filling can promote and give an advantage to people who really have no business being in a leadership position … like someone who doesn’t make the choice between career and family; it’s simple, it’s career. Career myopia is a toxin to the individual, the team and the organization. Working for a leader like this is not someone you bring a problem to … problems at work … problems at home or … ideation about harming one’s self.

    “Thriving in the AF” is just what we are growing … excellence equals the squares … squares are the extra mile you go … really? God help the airman who works for someone with this mindset. Who would talk to this guy if they were having ideations?

    Excellence is found in test scores, check rides, inspections, bombs on target, etc. ultimately, the mission. Schools should come after the performance and not before. The extra mile is putting in the study on the tech order or dash-1 or sitting down with a team member and explaining something, taking a shift or sortie when someone is injured on a deployment; not running a blood drive or being a Little League coach. Community service, such as this, is irrelevant to performing the mission and defending the nation. The real failure is the unwillingness to make the call on job performance. That’s #1. It’s easier to point to a lack of a school or community involvement rather than telling them there’s a shortfall in their job performance. It’s hard to tell it like it is. It’s integrity, it’s honesty … that’s a core value.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been told by my Commander, of a flying Squadron mind you, directly that “flying doesn’t matter for promotion.” Want proof? Pilots are literally NOT allowed to put check-ride information on performance reports. Arguably one of the most expensive programs in the AF, pilot training and its subsequent FTUs/RTUs/upgrades/etc DON’T MATTER for promotion. Lets be clear, we’re talking about pilot promotions here: these include the majority of officers who will be senior leaders in 30 years. The fact that operational squadrons don’t stratify based on aircrew proficiency early on is amazing to me and is probably the #1 reason I can’t wait for my last few years of commitment to tick away.

    Thank you for your article Tony Carr, I fear it is falling on deaf ears.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent article Tony, gave me some great food for thought and I hope to have a well thought out response sometime in the near future.

  • Tac Airlifter.

    As someone who has spent over 4 YEARS and 350+ combat missions in the AOR deploying, as a pilot in Tac airlift, here’s my 2 cents. I just watched one of our pilots, a PHOENIX REACH pilot (on the fast-track to Wing command), FAIL 3 checkrides in a row, and left our unit to go and work at Colonel Assignments at the Pentagon. The person who has filled that assignment has ALWAYS wound up as a Wing Commander. This guy was too busy getting all his PME and Master’s squared filled, that he lost competence in his PRIMARY job (C-130 pilot), and failed 3 tests in a row.

    Here’s my question: Which gets you tracked for career failure faster: Failing 3 checkrides in a row, or failing 3 PT tests in a row? When PT failures are more important than your primary AFSC, then that’s where your effort goes.

    We’ve had a C-17 pilot tell the AMC Commander that he was going non-current in the airplane because it was MORE important he get his Master’s class and PME done that it was to stay current in the plane (BTW, THAT story was in the Air Force Times!). Where the Generals place their emphasis for promotion/jobs, there will the effort go…

  • Anonymous

    Tony, great article and you raise some valid points and generated a lot of good discussion. I don’t believe that you are wrong for criticizing a SMSgt’s article as one commenter suggested. SNCOs are senior leaders like senior officers. We should have the ability to critique each other. In fact, it’s my job as a SNCO to provide candid feedback to the Commander. I can also take criticism…it only makes me better.

    The Air Force today is much different than it was in 1994 when I joined. In so many ways it is much better but we certainly have room for improvement. I started out in maintenance and I couldn’t have asked for a better set of NCOs to point me in the right direction. We were focused on the mission and their encouragement of advancing my education or volunteering was there for the right reasons. Those things are important, but shouldn’t be the “thing” that sets you apart. During the mid 90’s, I had all the time in the world to work on those things. I deployed exactly once in my first term. I cross-trained in 1998 and have been enlisted aircrew ever since. The new job change coupled with Iraq and Afghanistan was a game changer for me in the sense that I literally had no time for school. I was on the road more that I was home so I never won awards. I took an AETC assignment, which gave me 4 years of 0800-1700 schedule…that’s the only reason I was able to finish my degree.

    The behavior of checking blocks is a self-imposed. We have EPRs with specific categories that tell me that I must volunteer or complete education. In AETC, there were Airmen with bachelors and masters degrees already. The bullets they put in their blocks for the rest of their careers will be fluff. It’s pointless. Same with quarterly/annual awards. We put categories that insist on self-improvement and base/community service. This implies that if you don’t do those things, you aren’t worthy. Time and time again I have guys come back from down range having accomplished some amazing things…but they aren’t competitive for quarterly awards because they just can’t “fill those blocks.” If we would just remove all headers for quarterly awards, maybe our most experienced folks would rise to the top. I like recognizing people for doing great things but I also thing the awards system, along with stratifications, are just a band aid on the broken evaluation system.

    For now, we have to play the game to a certain extent or we run the risk of setting our subordinates up for failure. I will not go on a personal crusade to fix the Air Force one Airman at a time. That’s wrong. However, it’s these types of discussions that can serve to steer the mindsets of junior Airmen back into a more realistic look at how we promote and evaluate our folks so the next generation doesn’t fall into the trap we are in. I honestly believe that we would continue to build community relations, volunteer, and pursue education even if those areas were removed from EPRs and quarterly awards.

    Great topic. Thanks!

  • Bruce W. Freed Sr.

    A truly excellent article! I am certainly one of those “terminal E-7s” that you mentioned because I, as a First Sergeant, would continually raise the BS flag whenever I see the hardest working people passed over because they weren’t out running BBQs, tea parties, and the like. I always say that there are 2 kinds of leaders in today’s Air Force; warriors and politicians. Even though I have been retired for nearly a decade, I still genuinely fear for my Air Force. I just hope there is a small cadre of leaders out there with the courage to make the changes so desperately needed.

  • Can’t Believe I Have to Reply

    Hey Tac Airlifter Loser from Pope AFB,

    Shame on you, you poltroon punk. You have the balls to call out an individual basically by name on this post and not give your own name? What a freaking disgusting coward. As a fellow pilot, I’m ashamed you’re even in the community.

    Tony, please eliminate this Pope AFB weenie’s post- really, identifying guys still in the AF, who aren’t even on this site, and calling them out?

    But, assuming Tony doesn’t delete this post, I will pick apart your facts:

    – Said pilot did not fail 3 checkrides at Pope as you contend
    – Colonels’ Group AOs do not all become Wing CC. Many don’t even get promoted BPZ. Some do. DPO is an amazing group of men and women- you have no clue about what you’re talking about.
    – Since he was a Phoneix guy, trying to learn a new airplane, where were you (I’m assuming at least an IP, if not an EP) when he failed a checkride to help him become proficient and competent? Oh, yeah, you are trolling internet sites on your own time looking to bash people by name, bash offices in the Pentagon doing good work…you’re a pathetic coward, and you disgrace the uniform. Get off the internet and do something productive with your life.

  • Anonymous

    Thriving in the AF,

    I find your response to my post most interesting. Thanks for the trip down the “what could have been” road. Man, wish I had your insight earlier…it would have totally changed the path I chose.

    You said, “Geesh. Do I really need to post these obvious answers?” To that I say, give me a break. Everything you wrote is common knowlege. I knew how the game was played…I just simply decided not to play any longer…fully aware that I was ending my upward progression.

    You said, “fortunately, there are SNCOs and officers out there willing to go the extra mile.” That one just makes me laugh. I could give you a laundry list of my “extra mile” accomplishments, but I won’t. Suffice it to say there are plenty, they directly support the mission, and my record is spotless.

    You said, “our senior leaders want, NEED excellence, and what you chose was not excellence.” I do agree that our senior leaders need excellence. I am not so sure that they really want it…guess it depends on how you define excellence.

    You said, “fortunately, there are SNCOs and officers out there willing to go the extra mile. And sir, let’s be honest- you weren’t willing to go the extra sixteenth.” Yep, I didn’t go the last sixteenth. Wouldn’t mind holding up my record against some of those who did, however.

    And it all leads up to the point you began with. You said, “Really? Over AWC by correspondence? That’s the sword you fell on?” To that I say…yep, it is the sword I chose to fall on. One of the problems with our Air Force is we don’t have more leaders willing to fall on their sword for what they know is right.

    You said, “stop complaining”. I am not complaining. I love my Air Force and am extremely proud to have served for almost 21 years. You equate my decision with a lack of excellence. To that, you could not be more wrong.

    • Anonymous

      So what is the end? What straw breaks the back and gets us refocused? Lots of spears here but what brings this to an end?

  • H-R-A


    You stated in response to my post, “Thanks for your input. I edited your response to exclude the part where you read back parts of my response. No need for that since they’re visible on this page — let’s allow people to read them in original form.” How can they read them now when you’ve edited my post and even went back and edited your own so that no one can see them no?. This is ridiculous. No point in posting when you edit others and rewrite as you see fit. Thriving is not trolling, he is making very valid arguments, they just are contradictory to what you want. Everyone is assuming that these individuals are only checking these blocks to get promoted. Sometimes checking the blocks is a means to an end. The end being that they want another stripe in order to have more positive influence on the airmen. Again, the original article was for enlisted but I keep seeing officers post about their blocks. Maybe a separate blog would be more appropriate. What is expected from enlisted is absolutely attainable and realistic. Becoming a SMSgt and Chief should be difficult. Some don’t check off all the blocks and still get promoted (depending on the block). CCAF is a must—and there is nothing wrong with that.

    I can’t believe you edited my post where I quoted what you said—-AND went back and rewrote your previous responses. Hindrance to critical thinking was an understatement.

    • Tony Carr

      I’m sorry you don’t approve of my chosen method of responding to your disparaging post. Something to bear in mind: this blog is mine. It’s not a commercial blog and I don’t share it with anyone — it’s my space and I alone have editorial authority over the ideas and thoughts expressed here. If I decide something is inappropriate, I’ll remove it … whether I wrote it or someone else did. You actually managed to persuade me that I’d been too harsh and ad hominem in some of my posts, and that it was distracting from the learning value of the thread … so I corrected. The meaning of the posts has not been altered, so they remain in original form. I reduced their acidity to bring this thread back closer to the spirit of civility it had before “Thriving” showed up. We learn more when we concentrate on the message instead of the messenger.

      However, your response makes me question your objective in posting here. Do you seek to teach, learn, or just snipe? Making the host look stupid is easy … I look stupid often — it’s part of the territory for people with the stones to put their ideas and opinions online for public exposure. But if that’s all you’re here to do, just please pack up your stuff and get on your way. My objective is to discuss the ideas in this post and learn something. You stand alone as the one poster who just wants to whine and bitch about my methods instead of talking about substance. Is that really what you came here to do?

      FYI–the guy you’re allying yourself with is a serial troll who uses different handles in different forums to engage in pilot bashing. He just hates pilots. That’s as complicated as he is. Are you in the pilot-hater club too?

  • Anonymous

    SMSgt Miller is the perfect example of the new “Careerism”: He has chosen to drink the Kool-Aid and promote these ideals because he is an E-8 that must play by the rules in order to achieve his own personal goal: to be an E-9. That is the style of leadership that convinced me to leave the Air Force after 22 years. This brand of pure individualism is indicative of a total breakdown in today’s leadership.
    I was fostered by leaders that remained in the Air Force in the post-Vietnam era, who promoted teamwork and dedication to their nation, service, unit, family and lastly, to themselves. An individual who has been developed in the mind set of “Me First” will never develop into an effective team member, follower or leader.
    During my time on active duty, I learned to appreciate core values that are merely lip service to the current leadership. And no, I did not become a SMSgt during my service because I was not at all interested in being like SMSgt Miller and his contemporaries. Never ask others to do what you have not done, or are prepared to do yourself.

  • What ever happened to tactical expertise?

    Sir (Tony),

    Thanks for taking the time to so eloquently articulate this very common viewpoint. We have confused steadfast commitment to the mission with commitment to never-ending self promotion for quite some time. The Air Force, through careerism, has created a “keep-the-spotlight-on-me” mentality that undermines the incredible team effort it takes to get the mission done – especially in these times of dwindling resources. As a prior enlisted maintainer and current Air Force aviator I can tell you, first hand, that the “mission first, people always” motto is just another substance-less article of propaganda.

  • Jason

    Thanks for your eloquent expression of what many of us have been feeling for years. The Air Force’s fundamental core value has truly become “Mediocrity in All We Do.”

    I believe that this all boils down to balance. Some comments here imply that it is possible to live a balanced life in today’s Air Force. I’d say that in most cases they’re absolutely wrong. There simply aren’t enough hours in a day/week/year to actually become competent at your primary job, check all the boxes, stay in shape and have a healthy family life. Those who say they can are probably ignorant to the reality in their lives.

    One of the sad things about the Air Force is that it attracts wonderful, capable, motivated people and makes them drink the Koolaid that forces them to live an unbalanced life. They are so motivated that they fight their hearts out trying to make it all work…and it does, very well, for a few years. Eventually, frequently too late, they realize that they’ve sacrificed one or more aspects of their lives while honorably trying to fulfill all the Air Force’s demands. The AF tosses those people aside with an MSM and a “Thank you” and doesn’t ever waste another thought about their existence. The people who make it to the top of the Air Force are frequently so unbalanced it’s ridiculous. They only reason they can argue that it’s possible to “succeed” in the AF and live a balanced life is that they can’t see how unbalanced they are. These are the only people who survive long enough to make it into leadership positions…and the cycle perpetuates itself.

    It frustrates me that we’re bankrupting our country trying to buy more complex/expensive technology (F-22, F-35) while we’re putting so little official effort into enabling our people to employ air power. (The people who fly those jets no doubt work hard at it, but the competent ones will be unbalanced in their box-checking or personal lives.) We’re hoping that the technology will give us the edge where our skills, tactics and leadership are failing. In Korea, the F-86 was technologically slightly inferior to the MiG-15. We devastated them though because we were experts at employing air power. I fear the day when the USAF gets into a fight with an enemy that focuses on employing air power more than box checking because we will be no better off than the MiG-15 pilots over Korea.

    The most frustrating part is that if you (or the Generals) were to listen to the rank and file of today’s AF–those of us who have been deploying continuously for years–you’d hear your exact points being made over and over again. A huge portion of the Air Force realizes how wrong things have become, but we are powerless to enact any real change in the short or even reasonably long term. You say it’ll take a generation for this to happen and you’re right, unless it’ll take more than one. It’s so demoralizing to try to “succeed” and live a balanced life in the AF when I know there is no possible chance of seeing a positive change in my lifetime.

    For my own sanity, that is probably what will drive me from the AF as soon as my commitment is up. (That and the fact that I’ve spent at least twice as many of my waking hours at work or deployed as I’ve spent with my family for the last 6 years. It’s tough to justify staying until retirement when I know that of the next 8 years I would get to spend at most 3-4 of those years with my wife and kids.)

  • Same old rhetoric

    Has anyone thought about the fact that things always seem the worst at the present moment, and bad memories fade with time? I suspect that, if blogs were in existence 20 years ago, people would gripe about the same stuff: not enough time, no balance, bad working conditions, poor leadership. Yet we’ve gotten through the last 12 years of war with an amazing safety record (until recently) in the Air Force, and we supported our Army brothers and sisters 100%. Just like the Air Force always does.

    As Solomon wrote, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” I suspect the frustrated masses that post on blogs like this one are merely frustrated about their own professional inadequacies, inability to get promoted, or hatred of a system that doesn’t revolve around them and their needs. Hence the “Core values” argument that someone wrote about earlier.

    Different generation, same old gripes. Yet the Air Force gets better and better because of the people that work their tails off and do amazing things. Today’s Airmen- thank you- I salute you.

    • AF ret.

      S.O.R. – speaking as someone who was there 20 years ago, square filling was present. I remember signing up for an event just so the CC would see my name on the list and joined the club just because. Here’s the difference … Over time, the squares traded places with operational competence … The lines crossed at some point, where operational excellence faded in importance and squares became the equal. I’ve already heard the rationale … Hey, everybody does a good job … What else have you done? That mindset moves the average along side the excellent. Now you need the squares more. Typically, the less than average weren’t in the running however with politics you were back in pack. Lots of tales and examples to go with it … All you are saying is today’s Airman are still doing a great job inspite of the culture. Today’s AF has great people … We don’t nessacarily keep the right ones and we lose some that could change the culture.

      Logistics has been a huge factor in AFG and IRQ for the past decade. Huge. Why has not one Log type emerged to lead the AF after 12 years? I’m not a log type but I was on the ground in AFG for a year recently …. AF Log was essential to those on the ground courtesy of PAK. essential. Thank you AF! unfortunately, As one person said on this blog, he could not get proper recognition for those deployed on this mission. That’s just sad. That’s what needs to change.

  • Curious, Tony


    On your JCGO/Yr story, you mentioned that you “would have voiced my dissatisfaction with such an approach…” but you apparently did not, because you were not invited into the scoring process. Would not a good leader have voiced dissatisfaction after-the-fact anyway to his boss? Vehemently? This sounds like one to “fall on your sword for” as another post puts it, and you chose not to. Interesting….

    • Tony Carr

      I’m curious, too … curious why you don’t identify yourself instead of using different handles. But be that as it may …

      Believe me, I *did* voice my dissatisfaction. I couldn’t do so in real time because I wasn’t part of the board process (why use squadron commanders when you have office-dwelling lackeys available?), but when the results were published and some of the inner deliberations became known, I let my boss know that I thought we’d gotten it quite wrong. I wouldn’t have fallen on my sword over one instance, but nor did I let it pass unacknowledged. I think it would surprise you to know how vehemently I (and some of my colleagues) disagreed with the direction of our organization and the USAF and how often we made it known. In fact, given that I retired after command, I’m not sure what would make you think I played it safe.

      Interesting aside. Our squadron had been nominated to the MAJCOM as the best ops squadron on our base. That nomination was announced by the wing commander’s staff using a single facebook post on a Friday afternoon. No base paper coverage, no squadron visit, no email … just a post on Facebook to a page that at the time had less than 500 followers. (By contrast, when a sister squadron won a fuel efficiency award, their commander was coined at wing standup and touted in the base paper). The squadron was offended. Between that incident and the annual awards fiasco, they decided to boycott a wing dining out. Needless to say, the Wg/CC wasn’t amused and he let me know. But the point is, it’s not just pissy and cynical old guys who notice this stuff … we’ve got a generation of officers and NCOs who’ve been ground into dust conducting operations, and they are rightly passionate and insistent about that meaning something to their chain of command. It oughtta mean more than organizing a Christmas party or taking a philosophy class from Touro.

    • Tony Carr

      …and just to add @ Curious: your assessment of my quality as a leader means absolutely nothing to me. I responded only because it adds substance to the thread … but don’t take it as a validation of your cowardly, anonymously delivered snark. I’ll let my record and legacy speak for themselves … it’ll be a few years before you or anyone else can judge my ability to lead, because leaders are judged by how well their organizations and people succeed long after they’ve passed the baton to someone else.

  • Anonymous

    I agree. Lets focus on getting the job done. Just because you filled squares to get promoted doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do. Promote leaders of men. Not square fillers. I think if the Air Force took some time they would find its not too hard to identify the people that are getting it done and put them in charge of other airmen.
    -angry hog driver

  • Anonymous

    Addressing ” same old rhetoric” guy. As an operator in this Air Force for 8 years, I have seen this air for degenerate in its ability to not just fight this war on terror, which is a great battle for the soldiers on the ground, but not so tactically challenging for the pilots supporting them, but also in its ability to fight the real battles with real enemies that will shhot back and kill pilots. We as an Air Force, and also through my discussions with other service branches pilots have totally become less capable to a degree that is frightening. To be sure, if Americans knew how monotone out tactics and capes have become they might object, (although this is just my hope). I have the squares filled. I’ll be promoted. I have no chip on my professional shoulder. In earnest I am concerned that this Air Force is no longer concerned with fighting and winning wars. I understand sacrafice. I am disgusted while I watch this organization that I care so much for and which has such a noble history, slowly weaken and break. Every man that drops bombs, shoots bullets, or goes into harms way sees it. They don’t leave because they aren’t courageous, selfless, heroic, patriots… They leave the AF because the AF is leaving them and they aren’t in it to get promoted.
    -angry hog driver

    • http://Jopublic Stop Whining or Get Out

      Angry hog driver,

      We’ll still be the superior Air & Space force on the planet long after your old, washed-up tin-can-of-an-airplane has been retired. Don’t hate on my great Air Force because you’re upset that your airplane is getting retired soon. As of next year, you no longer provide value to our country.

      • Tony Carr

        For the benefit of all, “stop whining” is just another handle chosen by the same person who has used “same old rhetoric”, “curious”, “no more maintainers” … this is an individual obviously interested in antagonizing everyone with hit-and-run comments. S/he hasn’t followed up on any of the squabbles started by these comments, so I’m thinking we’re dealing with a troll here. Probably best to move along….nothing much to see here.

  • Anonymous

    I’ll go against the grain of most of these comments and offer this short thought. Undoubtedly, primary job performance is our most important responsibility. Education, community service and the like are gravy, whether they ought to be or not. None of the “squares” matter without the foundation. But are we as leaders – officer or enlisted – doing our part? Not every Airman can or should be a “firewall 5”. If we’re not willing to critically assess job performance on EPRs/OPRs, we’re eroding the foundation and furthering the careers of those who’ve only checked the boxes.

    • Tony Carr

      “Not every Airman can or should be a “firewall 5″.”

      Spot on. And a very important observation … because I believe the inflation of the evaluation system has crippled our ability to discern between excellent and mediocre duty performance, and this has led us to turn to square-checking as a way to measure and discern between people. This is lazy management — the right answer is to fix EPRs and OPRs. I think the AF is underestimating the pervasive impact of this particular problem … it reaches into every corner of the human resource management prospect.

  • Anonymous

    After reading the SMSgt’s comments and your reply, I believe you missed the greatest truth. Like it or not, you have been sucked into the bureaucracy that cripples not only the operational efficiency of the government, but the combat effectiveness of each branch of the armed forces. Bureaucracy breeds bureaucrats. Bureaucrats exist to self-protect. Too many have only the will to say “NO” because a “NO” doesn’t require justification and a “YES” may require they explain their reasoning for endorsing an idea or request. Filling out boxes for the bureaucrats allows them the ability to say YES or NO without having to invest any thought or intelligence into their endorsement.

    What you are so frustrated with now is the result of a long term promulgation of bureaucrats developing a system of making decisions based on a set of criteria that require little thought or actual decisions being made.

    Welcome to the New Armed Services.

    But thank you for your service anyway!

  • L McDowell

    This has been going on for years! So many outstanding Airmen have been left behind by those who know how to play the game. I have scored may award packages. The packages are broken down into three sections, Duty performance, self-improvement and base/community involvement. Sad to say self-improvement and base/community involvement is what separated those who played the game well versus the mission hacker.

    I learned to teach and mentor those under me how to play the game on both sides. Fill your blocks but know your job. The balance of both is an lost art.

    • Tony Carr

      “I learned to teach and mentor those under me how to play the game on both sides. Fill your blocks but know your job. The balance of both is an lost art.”

      Here’s something I can agree with. Some of the responses to the post are criticizing it as an either/or argument … either be excellent at duty performance or do the other things that create a well-rounded airman. This is a false premise. Both are required. It’s a matter of priorities and timing. I’ve watched over 23 years as AF has continually moved the expectation for school closer to the beginning of a career; it doesn’t belong there. We have to give people time to know their jobs and to build the trust and respect of their teammates before we start asking them to do more.

      I took my first college class just after graduation from ALS. Probably not a surprise that in my opinion, tuition assistance should not be accessible to airmen until they’ve gone to ALS. This is the milestone that transitions them from first-term to career status … and only at this point should we begin laying career expectations on them. This makes sure their duty performance has already reached a high enough level for them to compete their way into ALS, earn a CJR, and re-enlist. They will have completed one duty assignment have solidified as a 5-level with a good experience base. Any earlier than this gets the cart in front of the horse, in my opinion.

      As a commander, I struggled with how to communicate this issue. It was an area where I admitted to my folks that I thought the AF was getting it wrong, but that they needed to protect their careers if they cared about reaching a level where they could change it. Part of the reason I retired after my command tour was that I realized even as a commander I couldn’t change things like this … my arguments were falling on deaf ears because, in many cases, the leaders I was complaining to had been raised to check the squares and had become successful by doing so. This is not to say I wasn’t exposed to some extremely high-caliber leaders who were able to do both … but over the course of my career, they became rarer, replaced too often by careerists.

      • http://Jopublic Curious, Tony

        But had you stayed in, there would have been fewer and fewer layers to get through before you could see your agenda take hold. I respect what you did when you were in, but can’t for the life of me figure out why you won’t say that your family is the reason you left the service. Until you say that, you leave younger guys who read your blog disillusioned that they will ever be able to lead effectively in the Air Force, which is horse manure.

        • Tony Carr

          You’re never going to hear me say that family alone was the reason for my departure, because I’d be lying. Family played a large role, but not an absolute one. Were we excited about 3-4 more moves in the next 5-6 years? No. But we’d have done it and gotten through it just fine. But for us to do that, I had to believe I could make enough of a difference at the next few levels to justify my family’s sacrifice. I didn’t see that. O-6s and even O-7s don’t have the authority to make real change within their organizations anymore. The biggest problems they face are the ones they can’t address. And problems there are. Too many, but most of all a slow strangulation of tactical and operational excellence, something airpower believers like me will always find unacceptable.

          I think what you’re really saying is that you wish I’d use whatever influence I have to help carry forward the false narrative that everything is fine in the USAF and that those who leave are doing so either because they were doing poorly in their careers or because their families couldn’t bear the strain. That false picture is deeply damaging to the institution, which needs desperately to turn its focus inward and remedy problems that have grown deep-seated and threaten its ability to do its job for the nation in the future.

          So, no. I won’t lie on my blog to make life easier for the AF. To the extent younger airmen and officers read this blog, I want them to think critically about what’s happening to their Air Force … so they can understand and take an active role in reforming it. If it makes AF leaders more accountable to their airmen because those airmen are asking tough questions, so be it.

          Believe me….I wanted nothing more than to be a wing commander in the USAF, and if I thought I or anyone would have been able to “lead effectively” in such a post, I’d still be in uniform.

  • JD

    Excellent article and very spot on. I think you best summed it up when you said that the Air Force is at risk of swimming in a sea of mediocrity. In some ways, this mediocrity is what the Air Force wants. I saw this first hand when the AF decided to combine several maintenance career field sheds into a single AFSC. What they wanted was enough warm bodies to spread around in order to fix the aircraft, but what they got was the elimination of specialized maintainers and the rise of a new breed of lukewarm, watered-down “jacks of all trades”. Guys who can go out and swap parts that the book tells them to swap but do not know anything about the systems they are working, and hence cannot adapt to new problems which the books are not familiar with.

    In other cases, the AF is breeding this mediocrity unintentionally through policies and messages like you describe above. In my humble opinion, the EPR system (and presumably the OPR system, though I must admit I know very little about it) is the single biggest culprit. The system is broken and it needs to be fixed. When I went through ALS, I brought up this point to a CMSgt, who responded to me that the EPR system is “our system” as front line supervisors, and it’s our job to fix it. A point which I completely disagree with. The system can not be fixed by us junior NCO’s alone, because it is way past that point. It is extremely easy for an NCO to write a mediocre Airman a 5. Try writing an Airman who is average a 3 however, and see how far you will get. There needs to be some kind of change so that we can begin to honestly asses the merits of our Airman, and weed out the ones we don’t want to make room for those we do.

    • http://Jopublic No more maintainers

      Wouldn’t it be more cost effective to eliminate all active duty maintainers and contract out the work to civilians, much the way we do with T-6s & 38s? That would solve your “watered-down” problem, anyway.

      • Tony Carr

        Great idea. Then, when we furlough civilians, the mission stops dead cold. Then we don’t train enough pilots. Then we can pay huge bonuses and still not have enough of them to do our job for the nation. Brilliant idea.

  • Steven

    I won’t be as eloquent or thought provoking as some posters. I’ll merely post my impression of the AF culture from the perspective of an E-5 Marine that went back to his home state and joined the ANG in town to continue serving while going to school.

    Yes, I am only an enlisted Guardman, but I have served many extended tours overseas since 9/11. As a Guard member we generally don’t operate as our own unit overseas. We are absorbed into whichever active duty unit is selected as lead. That arrangement has often put me in a position supervising mostly active duty Airmen, taking orders from their deployed leadership and managing the square filling demands from their often undeployed supervisors.

    To be blunt, functional area proficiency and focus on mission accomplishment is lacking. I’ve gotten the impression that it’s not a priority for most supervisors. It may be a rude assumption, but I believe the reason is laziness on behalf of supervisors and senior leaders. It’s much easier to sit behind a desk than it is to get your hands dirty on the flightline or in the back shops. If you want to teach or evaluate a young Airmen, then the only way is to work beside them, not read bullet statements or send out emails.

    I also have a moral objection to requiring volunteer work for awards and 5 point EPR’s. I have no problem with the Air Force encouraging volunteer work, but it becomes a selfish pursuit when done for recognition. If the Air Force wants to project a positive image by having Airmen working at charity events, then they should set that time aside during working hours or compensated time and order the Airmen to do so. If someone decides they want to volunteer their own time, then the Air Force has no need to know about it unless it conflicts with regulations.

    I’ll be getting out soon and there’s one thing I’m very glad I’ll never have to do again. It may sound silly or trivial to some, but when deployed your one day off is a valuable thing. Airmen make arrangements and trades to have their day off on the same day as some of their friends. Maybe they’re only going to play games at the morale tent or walk around the vendors area, but they wait all week for that one day they get to spend time with the people of their choice. Until I have to take it away from them and for the dumbest of reasons. Airmen X needs to fill his volunteer REQUIREMENT and there’s a charity 5K coming up, but it’s on Airman Y’s day off. I’m forced to swap their day off for the week and they’re both in foul moods until their next day off. We’ve damage morale for what purpose? Was that really volunteer work? Was it charity? Or was it merely a manufactured means for Airmen to continue playing the career game so their deployment to combat doesn’t hinder their career? I simply don’t respect a system that believes a deployed Airmen working 12 hour shifts 6 days a week is not doing enough. Clearly I’m not what some would call “Air Force Material” and I’ll take that as a compliment.

  • joebongwater

    I took my honorable discharge from the Air Force after my first six years, despite the pleadings of one SMSgt who didn’t fit the typical square-filler mold. Your article is EXACTLY why I refused to stay in any longer, and I can’t thank you enough for writing it. I’d greatly appreciate it if you would permit me to attempt to e-mail this directly to the Chief of the Air Force. Like everything else, this needs to start rolling downhill from the top. Being a civilian now, I don’t have to follow my chain of command.

    P. S. – I loved the crayon reference, but I wish you would have thrown the old “shut up and color” adage in there as an exclamation point. Well done though, thank you again. :)

  • Scott

    What you end up with (at least in AMC flying squadrons) are people that were removed from the mission as mid-level captains because they were identified as future “leaders” of our Air Force. I’ve seen plenty of these folks selected who had little to no credibility as pilots or experts in their mission, however they were phenomenal Execs. These individuals then go do some career broadening tour, get an in residence Masters, flow to a Pentagon staff assignment and then….wait for it….come back to be flying squadron commanders. This is a failure not only of the system, but to the people they are chosen to lead. Why? 1. They have absolutely no recent mission experience, making it difficult to relate to or understand what’s really happening in the system. 2. They have very limited experience and qualification actually doing the mission they were chosen to lead.

  • Jeff Daniels


    Strike report: “PI”


    Jeff D.

    • http://Jopublic No more maintainers

      Um, off DZ Jeff, way off DZ…

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous is exactly what you have to be nowdays when recognizing all of the above. I’m a senior Captain in a heavy jet squadron with many more years of enlisted aircrew experience in AMC aircraft. For years I have flown the line in various crew positions now AC/IP. Years of combined flying TDY and several thousand hours. Much of it combat support in the most recent conflicts. However, recently I’ve been told I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about or even that I have a bad attitude by superiors(my crews don’t seem to think my ADI is broke). Mostly when speaking out against the daily BS that I have to put up with when trying to accomplish a simple training mission. Leadership is so afraid to let the juniors take some responsibility and make a decision that they have taken it all away with micromanagement. God forbid that a decision that someone in their empire made would make them look bad in their superior’s eyes. For example if there is any risk at all to include training in mild weather conditions we are directed to cancel. This has pretty much created a SQ of pilots that are afraid to fly in marginal weather conditions…. Other things that have cropped up lately. Do as I say not as I do. Favortism mostly towards those that don’t speak up against the daily play it safe so I won’t look bad operations along with triathletes and marathon runners. Lets not mention that if you have more than one beer in support of camaraderie you now have a drinking problem so lets just do away with that as well. Great job commanders at all levels at playing it safe and covering most importantly your own ass first so you can make it up all while using your power to crush anyone that should say peep. No one is on to your game at all….. rant over thanks.

  • Mark

    There is one of a hundred ways to come at this discussion. On one hand you have the lot that are taking the comments and running on the simple truth that requiring individuals to check-boxes is the way to success, and they are correct. Is there a problem with this requirement? Absolutely! These are the same individuals that would like to ignore the issue and continue on with the prescribed plan to AF greatness.
    I’m not claiming that the system, in whatever current configuration it is perceived to be, doesn’t highlight and reward those that go out there and go the “extra mile”. I’d like to question the intent behind the effort for the “extra mile”. Some may claim that it doesn’t matter why an individual went out there and spent their Saturday picking up trash along the highway, but one should!
    Scenario: Airmen X who is always on time for work, constantly studies his T.O.’s and is someone who is always quick to fulfill any requirement or request in excess of expectations, volunteers to help out after an advertisement of said volunteer opportunity, for the sake of doing something for the greater good. (In this case, it’s for personal satisfaction)
    Scenario: Airmen X who has remained long-term DNIF (Duty not to Include Flying) and was placed in a “support capacity” within squadron, sat down with their supervisor to go over bullets for their EPR. Their work ethic has been observed as compliant with the Standard (mediocrity), but really doesn’t exhibit what one would call ‘truly among the Best’. They were advised that they needed another volunteer bullet and reluctantly participated in the event.
    In each case, the Airmen went out there and assisted in the clean-up, improved blah; and bolstered that. One individual was a true volunteer and was rightfully rated to reflect that. The other individual basically did it as a job requirement.
    The same goes for the attainment of a CCAF, BA, BS, etc. etc. I’m not opposed to getting a college education, trade certificate, etc.; I’m opposed to the reasoning behind it. I understand that the AF wants individuals to have a degree, but for reasons other than showing a level of commitment outside of Duty and Job Performance, what really does one gain that can contribute to making them a better Airman or leader? When was the last time you thought to yourself, my degree in Accounting is really going to be useful while we fly a mission over hostile territory this afternoon?
    The only requirement for higher education that I agree on for individuals in the enlisted force is for purposes of or pertaining to the fulfillment of mission requirements, such as an AETC instructor. If it doesn’t directly benefit the mission, then why waste your time on it. Why force feed a theory or personal ideology onto an already stressed group of young Airmen?

    AFI 36-2618 Para 2.2.2 states that…It [operational competence] normally applies to Master Sergeant through Chief Master Sergeant. At the operational competence level…this is where SNCOs transition from being expert technicians and first line supervisors to leaders who have broader operational leadership, supervisory, and managerial responsibilities. They use their expertise and experience as well as their management and leadership skills to convert direction from their superiors into mission accomplishment. They continue to develop their knowledge of Air Force institutional competencies and complete PME, earn their 9-skill level (after promotion to Senior Master Sergeant), and complete their CCAF degree, if not already earned.
    If you ask me, I’d take a hundred “un-educated” and hardworking support, maintaining, and sortie producing Airmen over five “educated”, wood-hunting, glory-hounds who claim that the true path to success is greasing the proverbial coffers of the EPR process, taking as much time off work as they can get away with to support their own personal agendas, and building a mindset that the only true key to success is crossing the T’s and dotting the lower case J’s.

    If success is defined as going through the motions in order to promote oneself for the benefit of oneself then, why are we a profession of arms? What right do we have to vow to support and defend the nation if the only thing we are focused on is the next quarterly award? How is this Service Before Self? What are you going to do when the enemy comes knocking on your front door? Are you going to throw your rank, ribbons, and trophies at them? Ludicrous!

    I spent 397 days, in under a two year period, deployed in support of OCO. Life goes on without you, and you can never recover that time. When you get back from your deployment, all you have is an LOE to show for it. Meanwhile your squadron compatriots that are back home playing the game, have won ever quarterly and annual award at the unit, and are superstars in the eyes of the squadron. They have ample time to volunteer, attend all of the squadron functions, parties, balls, etc.

    The guy that went out the door on his deployment expecting to be on the road for 100 days, get’s unfortunately extended out to 180+, gets nothing but a counseling from his supervisor, when it’s EPR close-out time, that states he needs to go out and CLEP something or volunteer…

    There is no one solution to this multi-faceted issue that extends from one side of the AF to the other however, general relay of information such as what is found in the post, may help an individual develop that personal and professional perspective. If ulterior motives exists then, they’re inherently flawed and in direct violation of Integrity.

    Air Force leadership should reward individuals for their strengths and contributions to the AF’s mission, not by how well they assimilate and devalue the recognition process by letting out-dated processes and thoughts remain the status quo. We need to empower individuals to be more forward thinking and not only challenge current thoughts and processes, not by some radical revolt or some other misconstrued crusade, but rather come up with innovative ways to help build a better mouse-trap. The acceptance of a one-way mentality cannot and must not be tolerated. It provides the AF with nothing but a crippled fighting force, with degrees in hand, who will not be able to counter the future innovations of our adversaries.

    I found this article on Forbes and it pretty much fits the bill and provides some possible solutions to our innate ramblings.

    Be with it what it may, unless information gets into the hands of someone who cares, we will never be able to escape this purgatory of inflation and misdirection, until the system crashes, or the fires of hell light a fire in someones a**.


  • Jersey

    I’m a huge fan of filling squares.
    Square one: Be the best possible at your primary duty
    Square two: Make someone else better

    If you fill both square 1 and 2, and still somehow feel that you have not “improved your whole person”, then feel free to fill that void with community service, education, etc… I bet you won’t need to.

  • Joseph Dowdy

    If I didn’t know better, I’d say he has been lobbied to send airmen to those expensive online schools and basically hiding the fact by saying it’s either do or die if you don’t X, Y and Z (with Y being education). Call me cynical about my reasoning for this insanity, but the push to drive people to school for enlisted family members who must balance work and family is just plain mean and must present a reward for him in SOME way. I always say “follow the money” if something doesn’t make sense.

  • Cavaliere Nero

    Maybe I’m just venting here – my comment only loosely pertains to the subject matter in the article. But make no mistake – The AF’s ability to promote people who have NO IDEA how to actually do their job is unparalleled by any other service.

    When TSgt results were released, one of the biggest flaws in the AF’s promotion system was revealed. Allow me to explain – SSgt A.PCS’ed to the unit as a 5 level SSgt who had yet to take her 7 level EOC. Before she could do any upgrade training, she got pregnant… just in time to miss the 2011-2012 deployment. She then exercised her right to breast-feed for a year after the baby was born. During this nearly two year hiatus from crewing a jet, she had plenty of time to pump milk and she studied the PDG and SKT AT WORK for an estimated 1-2 hours a day (or more).

    Even with the 15% promotion rate, SSgt A. is now a (T)Sgt, despite this being her first time testing. Did I mention that in the the 24+ months that she’s been in the unit she has a total of about two months on the flight line?

    The Air Force missed the boat on this one and I know that this is not the only example out there of our broken promotion system. I cannot wait to retire.

    • http://Jopublic You’re what’s wrong w/our AF

      Hey Nero, your name is right. Who are you to tell her she is less of an Airman because she decided to breast feed, you punk? Get out of my Air Force now, you waste of skin. We need real leaders that congratulate people who strive and excel, not punks like you. I sure do wish I knew who you were…

      • Tony Carr

        This comment is unacceptable for two reasons. First, it crosses the line and is too ad hominem to be worth anything. Second, I will not tolerate on this blog even the implication that anyone would seek out a commenter for retributive action in real life. Do that again and your IP address will be banned from this site permanently.

        I’m letting your comment stand as an example of what not to do. Another such post, and you will be jettisoned for good. As a courtesy, please stop changing handles. Be accountable for all you’re saying by picking a name and sticking to it.

  • Jay

    Outstanding rebuttal! If you haven’t seen this article, it was passed around for a long time within our organization. The numbers don’t lie: the 3 cycles where AAD were masked to the board (to O-5) the promo rate for those w/o AADs spiked from about 15% to over 50%. This is very telling of the eyes in which our leaders sitting on the promo boards view these $20k pieces of paper called degrees.

    Interested in your thoughts.

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  • Anonymous

    Interesting. A lot of comments and critiques. I was complaining once about someone not living up to their end of the bargain. My friend said to me “Do you think they are doing this on purpose?”, and then the ahh moment came when he said “Most people are doing the best they know how. It is up to us to make sure they know how”. Do you not think that this SMSgt is doing the best he knows how? What about our leaders? What about you? Too many times we spend time ripping apart a message or statement and not think to ourselves what was trying to be delivered. He was critiqued for providing his opinion…fair. But then he was critiqued for what he did not say…really? Maybe if the leaders in this forum would have done a better job leading, then we would not be killing the messenger, when by everyone’s admission has been culture in the Air Force for a long time. What I did not see was a solution to the perceived issue.

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  • Not Disgruntled but Saddened

    I completely agree with this article. This mentality mixed with a careerism mindset is forcing those Airman who took an Oath to contradict themselves in every faucet of the Air Force. It’s creating a void so great that if not fixed it will self implode. The contradiction on “should I fill squares or follow the oat I took” is overbearing on all. Those who don’t follow the core values obviously have no problem in taking the careerism path while those who truly want to serve their country are being forced out or force to “shut up and color”. With voluntary and involuntary force cuts its giving those of us who see through the bullshit an out. Why continue serving in the “U.S. Corporate Air Force” accepting low pay sacrificing family when I can leave, find a real corporation that pays much better for the same or similar job that allows me the freedom to go to school or not, volunteer or not without a negative effect on my career.
    I did choose to leave after 10 years of service, although I miss the camaraderie, I do not miss the careerism mentality. It is a self destructive way of thinking with a long lasting negative mentality. It created a sacred force of a selfless service mindset team of people that lasted generations to become a mediocre self serving group of individuals with the mentality of “how get I get mine?” instead of being how it should be “How do we get ours?”

  • BH

    We’re on the same page, but I think you take one step too far in the other direction by saying education shouldn’t be considered at all for BTZs. As you said, there will be a few Airmen that can successfully juggle work and education. Since BTZ should be reserved for the best, why not reward that drive and talent? Of course, education shouldn’t be an automatic qualifier, and someone who is bad at their job but cranked through college courses shouldn’t be promoted over the opposite case, but education should at least be used as a secondary consideration if two Airmen are on roughly equal footing in their primary duties.

    • John_Q_Public_72

      I’m having a hard time with the idea of incentivizing airmen to pursue non-duty-related broadening prior to meeting a SrA BTZ board.

  • Eric Beck

    I’ve been an officer for just shy of 20 years, came in in 1995, not operational, more in the “corporate” AF, for whatever that means.

    I’ve watched slowly, steadily over my career the creep of careerism, risk aversion-especially in my officer corps, loss of a warrior ethos in favor of a more “kindergarten” AF. You saw these same things as a successful operational officer, many, if not all, of your blog posts address this. I agree, there is no real forum internally within the AF to discuss serious issues, unless we’re simply regurgitating the latest talking points on Comprehensive Airman Fitness, sexual assault, or how “5th generation” will change the nature of warfare as we know it.

    I think the careerism crept in over time, as bright and ambitious young officers (and NCOs/SNCOs) saw what was getting people promoted–professional execs, CAG chiefs, aide-de-camps who get that all precious #1 of many stratification for pushing paperwork. I’m hopeful the new EPR system rolls back a similar rot in the NCO/SNCO corps, where professional volunteers, bake sale organizers, Top 3/Rising 6 professional “glad-handers” consistently get promoted over their peers. Don’t get me wrong, not every exec, aide, CAG chief, or community-involved NCO/SNCO is part of the problem. Many of them work their asses off, some do it to “check the box” and move on, because in many ways it has become a condition of continued employment in the AF.

    It doesn’t take long for either two things to happen–the hardest workers get disillusioned, and leave the AF at the earliest opportunity, or the professional sycophants and yes-men/women get promoted, and then hold court over who gets promoted next. Both are equally scary, we lose the people we most need in the AF, people with a warrior ethos and mission focus, and we can gatekeepers to senior leadership who make sure only those who share their traits get promoted.

    From your blog posts, and the multitude of comments that come with them, the USAF is in serious trouble, facing a fight for its institutional soul and possibly existence. Our credibility with the Congress is at an all time low, due to decades of over-promised, under-delivered, and insanely over-budget programs we keep trying to sell them, or paying lip service to serious problems until Congress has to force us to face them.

    This appears blatantly obvious to most of our brothers and sisters in arms who break their backs to make our Air Force keep working despite the soul-crushing discouragement. Yet, it seems the current gatekeepers of our promotion systems and senior leadership seem, with some exceptions, completely oblivious to it.

  • Shaun Parker

    Tony, good post but I offer another opinion. We do this to ourselves. I sat on an MLR and competed to work on Gen Welsh’s CAG when he was the Usafe CC and learned something important. When most of the entire AF deploys every year it is incredibly difficult to differentiate the war bullets. Is flying missions more important than the guy who builds the base? Secures the airfield? Shoots the bad guys? Wing commanders have a tough time arguing the merit of individual war bullets. But it is easy to discriminate based on education pme and awards and our best most competitive airmen arent going to stop getting degrees and awards so they will always beat out the guy who is just doing the mission the best they can. We have cut our dirtbags and now we have cut the meat of our Air Force. All we have left are the best in the world. It is no easy thing to separate who is left. So we use these factors that we all lament. Gen Welsh has done his best to focus us on performance but as long as Captains are getting PHDs this problem will never go away.

  • grendl

    It had come to that in the canoe club (navy) by 1983, Petty Officers with sixteen years time in service were bailing because of it. I bailed with eleven, it was not how you did your job, it was who you socialized (got drunk with) that mattered.

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