2009 Armed Forces Inaugural Committee

Without explaining its rationale, the Air Force has issued a peculiar and eyebrow-raising order heightening military readiness and banning booze consumption among the 40,000 airmen assigned to Washington, D.C. for the 60-hour period encompassing Donald Trump’s inauguration. The full order, issued by Maj. Gen. Darryl Burke on December 5th and also aimed at civil service members, is shown below.

By any standard, this is a gross overreach. There’s no underlying rationale — no valid one anyway — to import the already over-strict rules governing airmen in combat zones to life on home soil. The fact there is a national event occurring should make generals like Burke eager to ensure as many airmen as possible are off-duty, unrestrained, and given the same opportunity as their civilian countrymen to participate.

Instead, he frames his abuse of legally conferred authority by implying that without his guiding hand, airmen will somehow represent the service badly, harm public trust, or somehow undercut interagency relationships. What? This tortured calculus leads him to impose upon people in their homes and private lives, when they are away from duty and with their families and friends, and to burden them with concern about what will happen to them if they choose to disregard his manifestly unenforceable and ill-conceived order.

Of course, the whole “good order and discipline” angle used here is utter nonsense. It’s emplaced only to provide a rationale for the order that is nigh on unchallengeable in current military legal culture, which gives commanders unlimited authority when this rationale is invoked.

This is really about heightened readiness, which is mentioned in Burke’s order as a secondary motive but not explained. The question is readiness for what? What is the Air Force concerned may happen? … if there is a special risk to the American people, shouldn’t this be openly published? … if not, what’s the basis of this order? … and if it something does go wrong, what does the USAF think its airmen are going to do about it? Report to their Pentagon cubicles and generate some powerpoint slides?

It’s not just airmen who should be put off by this, but ordinary Americans. Right under our noses, and using public money, public officials acting under the color of our authority are importing war measures to domestic, civilian activities. They’re militarizing political events. In this case, they’re putting 40,000 airmen on war footing, fueling unmerited hysteria around a national milestone that should be a moment of optimism and celebration for all Americans.

But when it comes to the Air Force, stuff like this less about any sort of fascist motive and more about laziness and mismanagement. There certainly are select military individuals who should be prepared for a recall in the event of a national disaster, and to the extent there is intelligence indicating a heightened risk for such a thing, those people should be subject to recall. But not all 40,000 airmen Burke believes are within his legal gift. There’s a precise, discreet way to handle being prepared for the worst, and it’s not to issue this ridiculous blanket order.

The Air Force needs a sharp kick to the pants and a heavy dose of common sense. My sincere hope is that airmen get the service secretary they deserve — one who will bring a swift closure to end idiocy like this and rid the ranks of its purveyors.