OVER LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- A T-6 Texan pilot flies in formation with another T-6 here May 19. The T-6 is replacing the T-37 Tweet as the primary trainer for Air Force pilots. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Allen)

Gen. David Goldfein says he wants to repair the culture of the Air Force. That he understands this is what’s driving pilots and others to bail out at record rates rather than stay in uniform to fly, fight, and win for national defense. To effect culture change, he’s going to have to do more than issue memos and give speeches. He will need to crack some skulls and demonstrate unflinching intolerance of abuse and stupidity.

Here’s an opportunity for him to exert himself and show enough seriousness to deter future buffoonery.

In a policy recently emanating like toxic fumes from the five-sided puzzle palace, overpaid, desk-hugging imbeciles with the collective intelligence of a spermicidal sponge have promulgated one the most idiotic ideas in the history of both idiocy and ideas. They’ve decided that pilots spending upwards of five months TDY for training who choose to live off base with their families or colleagues rather than house themselves in flea-infested, rusting rat traps on base — and do so within the bounds of the regulation and at no additional cost to the government — will be forced to pay thousands of dollars to house themselves while they undergo directed training in support of the service mission. And to provide double the silliness at twice the moral cost, they’ve enacted this dumbass idea retroactively, and with no notice. The move stands to financially hobble hundreds of Lieutenants over lodging costs they believed — with good reason — would be paid by the government.

Just to back up and set the scene for the uninitiated, this will primarily impact students at Pilot Instructor Training (PIT). You see, out of every herd of newly-minted pilots and every squadron of established, experienced pilots, the Air Force periodically culls a lucky few who will return to the pilot pipeline to train noobs. The course these folks attend is 4-5 months in duration, as they must become extremely proficient in their assigned aircraft before layering atop that proficiency the capacity to work someone with limited aeronautical experience along high-performance aircraft learning curve without allowing that person to transform into a ball of flaming wreckage.

Many PIT selectees are married or in serious relationships. For them to attend PIT without their partners and/or children would be a hardship. For this reason, they often eschew the option of living on base in the quarters held aside for them — which do not accommodate families — and instead find inexpensive lodging in the local community. The Joint Federal Travel Regulation (JFTR) permits this. The relevant excerpt reads:

“A member … should use adequate and available Govt. Qtrs on the U.S. installation at which assigned TDY. [A member] … who uses other lodgings as a personal choice is limited to the Govt. Qtrs lodging reimbursement cost on the installation to which assigned TDY.”

In other words, if you choose to stay off base, you can’t spend more than it would cost per night to stay in billeting. This is our way of saying we don’t subsidize your relationship choices or personal preferences, and it is a reasonable limitation. So reasonable in fact that PIT students have been engaging in this accepted practice for as long as anyone can recall.

Now, if for some reason the government is no longer happy with this position, it has the option of seeking a legislative change to the rule, or of publishing that change itself through a notice and comment process. If the change stands, it can then be communicated to impacted agencies to provide notice, so that local officials can adjust their subordinate policies to prevent confusion, hardship, or mission degradation.

None of this has happened, and yet some dunce-cap-adorned wanna-be budget hero in the Pentagon stopped sharpening his pencil long enough to exclaim “we fixed the glitch” … and now field agencies — nothing if not brainlessly subservient — are actually obeying the resulting unlawful order. Here’s an email from Laughlin giving you a glimpse of the train wreck currently unfolding:

per-diem-letter

I’ve gotten a slew of emails about this. Let me just say it’s been rare I’ve seen something punch morale straight in the gut like this has. These people don’t have $9000 laying around to subsidize government stupidity. They’re not TDY by choice, but because someone ordered them to be there. Paying for their shelter during TDY is a requirement — in both legal and moral terms. To say they’re entitled to nothing breaches both law and the moral requirement to take care of them. 

But more than that, it reflects the horrific decrepitude of the Air Force’s organizational climate. Morale has never been worse, and this is a classic example of why. Because oxygen-thieving losers in the A1 and other cubicle farms are given too much latitude and authority, which they use to undertake some of the most mind-numbingly misguided misconduct imaginable. Whoever thought this was an idea deserves a boot in the ass and a new job collecting bus tokens.

Wanna understand why pilots are getting out? It’s because of stuff like this. Wanna make them stay in? Publicly excoriate and demote the individuals who let this happen, promptly reverse it, and go active in seeking out and killing this brand of nonsense wherever it lives. When your pilots are no longer harried and demoralized by fuckery like this, they’ll have the space, time, and desire to restore the thriving combat aviation culture we once had.

Meantime, I encourage a number of immediate measures. If you’re impacted by this, write your legislators. Explain to them the impact. Describe the food being taken off your table. Use your chain of command to object. Get out the JFTR and show your homework. Don’t settle for faceless emails from gutless, brainless staff goons.

If you’re in the chain of command, do your job … which in this case is to say no. Refuse to go along. Pay the funds to house your TDY airmen, which the JFTR empowers you to do. Demand that A1 produce a federal statute reference overriding the JFTR. Until they do, flip them the bird and do the right thing.

Finally, if you’re a general officer anywhere in the chain of command between Randolph AFB and the Pentagon, you have a choice: either get off your ass and fight this so-called policy, or submit your resignation by sundown and check into a clinic for the terminally spineless.