Anyone who has seen the movie “The Big Short” may remember a key scene exposing the depth of deviant conduct in the mortgage industry that led to 2008 meltdown of the entire financial system. Investors visiting Florida to assess risk in the mortgage industry visit with two mortgage brokers who make no effort to hide the fact they are lending money to people who stand no chance of repaying it. Not only don’t they see any problem with what they’re doing … they’re actually bragging about it.
When people and organizations openly flout misconduct, deviations have become normalized. The system is warped.
Which brings us to the Air Force’s bent value system, evinced vividly in its addiction to senior management perks. Despite being understaffed by at least 60,000 airmen and seized with incessant whining on Capitol Hill about how it just can’t be expected to get by on the mere $166.9B in its budget, the service still spares cash aplenty to bestow lavish advantages upon its elite officers. And just like the mortgage brokers who brought down the financial system and the stockbrokers who brought down Enron, the Air Force loves to brag about its systemic misconduct.
Here’s an excerpt from a recent puff piece in Airman magazine:
“…relieving the officers of tasks and details which would draw the officer’s attention away from their primary duties.”
The arrogance of this statement is astonishing. It belongs in another century, when the relative status assigned to an individual could be used as a justification to put one man into the service of another. But like many institutional maladies inflicting the Air Force, it is built on a general principle whose content never gets dissected and critically examined.
Sure, generals are important people. Sure, they make big decisions and work long hours. Sure, they are expected to occasionally entertain dignitaries and colleagues. But let’s break this down a bit.
Big decisions can be pondered while ironing a shirt. They can be made while cooking dinner or retrieving dry cleaning. They can be weighed while pushing a vacuum cleaner. Or they can be made during an evening stroll while the maid and cook, paid for out of a general’s generous salary, does the work.
The hours worked by generals are no longer or more arduous than those worked by Lieutenant Colonels or Master Sergeants. Those people don’t get assigned, paid waitstaff or cleaning crew.
Most generals are not even commanders. They’re staff officers. They have little need to entertain anyone and their scope of authority is actually quite limited. Try telling an O-4 who commands 800+ airmen that he’s less important or less entitled to additional staff to help him focus on his “primary duties” than some desk-driving 3-star whose subordinates are mostly other senior officers with their own servants.
But even if the argument could be sustained that under the strain of sequestration-level budgets, generals absolutely need someone to stock their toilet paper and stir their applesauce so they can think straight about how to best look legitimate while flushing taxpayer cash by the millions with each penstroke, there is absolutely zero justification for having Air Force NCOs filling this role. Much like bands and show choirs, it bears zero relationship with any military purpose. It’s also demeaning to every NCO in the service that this is how senior honchos see our enlisted leaders. Not as techno-tactical warriors honing lethality in preparation to kill enemies … but as white-gloved piss bucket carriers responding to the ring of a service bell.
If the Air Force believes its bureaucrats need waitstaff, it should stop hiding the expense by using uniformed service members and instead pay market rates for maids, cooks, caterers, and personal assistants.
As it stands, 80 of its NCOs are helping it avoid Congressional scrutiny by waiting hand and foot on generals who are themselves (allegedly) public servants. As you review the photos below, ask yourself if they illustrate the conduct of an organization hurting for money … where “every dollar counts” … where it was absolutely imperative to cut 19,000 warfighters in a single year because of a shortage of cash.
They’re not just wasting our money, folks. They’re doing it blatantly, and diminishing the NCO corps in the process. NCOs exist to fight wars. Not to be literally subservient to generals. They exist to follow orders, not wait on their superiors hand and foot. They should be leading teams of airmen, not shining someone else’s boots for a living.
Let’s have a DoD/IG review of this waste, and knife-hand it out of existence, post haste.