While POTUS was busy signing controversial executive orders, Lt. Gen. Mark Nowland was busy shaking the Earth with an order of his own, bequeathing to non-huddled masses a desperately thirsted for liberty that will feel to their freedom-starved souls like a potent shot of heart-nourishing mana. For the first time in as long as anyone can recall, Air Force flight crew members will once again have the legal right to do something central to the aircrew experience: they’ll be permitted to roll up their sleeves.
Over the objections of a legion of mattress police E-9s and their zombified minions, long possessed of the ambition that nothing is quite so important as publicly bracing and humiliating a member of the service’s warrior class over a banal triviality, Nowland issued the following memo:
Few things about this.
First, it’s a good decision. The weenies who’ve been running the circus for the last dozen years have all but slain the fighting spirit of the world’s most consequential air service. The enforcement of inane restrictions such as the ban on sleeve rolling has been a primary technique in the weenie arsenal. It’s about time some of this ridiculous bullshit get sidelined. The weenies need to go back to their offices and do their support roles, leaving the fighting to those more capable of setting priorities.
Second, it’s ridiculous that a 3-star order would be required to tell people it’s OK for them to engage in a trivial uniform variation, which means a 3-star had to waste time on it. If we had a functioning service culture that took notice of what matters and kept everything else in perspective, we wouldn’t need to write everything down. Now that it’s written down, the weenies will take to enforcing it, and in the process paralytically overthinking it. We’ll have staff taskers hitting the levy 6-9 months from now asking major command operations directors to endorse novel interpretations of “natural bend” and “hanging naturally.” Until you fix the culture, window-licking time thieves will continue their bold march toward the cliff of organizational oblivion.
Third, this should be taken as a signal of the dawning recognition on the Air Staff that pilots are not leaving the service because of money or even because of operational tempo per se. They’re leaving because they don’t want to be part of a chickenshit bureaucracy. They want to fight and win the nation’s wars, and to spend the time between wars sharpening their combat edge. In the bowels of the squirrel cage on the Potomac, there is a mad scramble to figure out how the nation will be defended from the third dimension with a force comprised of pencil-sharpening PT fanatics who don’t drink, smoke, curse, or fight. Whose candy asses are embossed with a fine glaze of teflon, but who are soft and gooey where it matters most … incapable of taking a punch, delivering a punch, or tolerating a rolled up sleeve if the arbitrary rulebook says otherwise. That mad scramble is starting to generate a few results, though they are moving at a tenth of the velocity of the pilot exodus, which will find another stage of afterburner as aviators realize the new Boss is more likely than not to plunge them into 6-9 more unscheduled deployments.
Finally, one cannot help but notice a parallel with the heady days of the early Welsh tenure, when the seemingly heroic 4-star Viper pilot took up fighting wing for his comrades, repealing Blues Monday and instantiating Mustache March as a thing. For a fleeting minute, everyone felt a little backpressure on the stick. The belief was that we’d found the guy to pull us out of the dive. And then, Welsh spent the next 3.9 years porking it so hard that he basically stripped the humanity out of the whole damn institution. He left everyone broken and bitter. He left squadrons undermanned and underappreciated. We’re now left with that terrifying feeling that the new boss is no different than the old boss. That he’s trimming the pig’s mustache.
Nonetheless, Nowland’s order is like a surprise harmony in the midst of machine age music. A little thing that means a lot when it comes along. So joyless are we that even the slightest beauty in the world feels like vibrant sunshine in the cold blackness of a polar night.
But don’t worry, mattress police. The generals will find a way to fuck this up. And even if they don’t, there won’t be any pilots left standing around to roll their sleeves before long anyway. They’ll all be flying for airlines that tell them how to dress, but pay them handsomely, give them zero additional unpaid duties, award them visibility and control over their schedules, and don’t accuse them of being “entitled” just because they’re intolerant of bullshit.