On the one hand, we have the Air Force’s most senior generals allegedly working feverishly to devise ways of keeping more pilots in the service. On the other hand, we have small-picture commanders in the field animated by myopia and risk aversion implementing polices that drive pilots out the door in droves.
Here’s another example. Col. Paul Johnson, commander of Vance’s 71st Operations Group and undoubtedly an all-around great guy (just to save some of you personally invested commenters the trouble), has just enacted blanket restrictions on alcohol consumption. He’s done it in response to vague and unspecified “incidents” since the new year.
No word on whether those incidents have any rational connection to the activities implicated by his new ban. No dots connected from the restrictions to a proposed cultural problem with alcohol consumption. No data or evidence at all. Most notably, no admission or ownership that what Johnson was allowing before was somehow wrong. Just another Caesarian edict that pisses off everyone we trying to keep onside while doing nothing to solve the problem allegedly targeted. If we assume Johnson is intelligent enough to know blanket bans don’t accomplish anything — and it’s a fair assumption given his service record — then we can only conclude he’s doing this to look tough in front of his bosses. He’s doing it for himself.
Here’s the email Johnson sent to his people.
From: JOHNSON, PAUL M Col USAF AETC 71 OG/CC
Sent: Monday, March 06, 2017 5:05 PM
Subject: 71 OG Policy on Alcohol Consumption
The 71st Operations Group has experienced several alcohol related incidents since the beginning of the New Year. As a result, we need to take this opportunity to reassess our alcohol consumption rules and safety plans, as no plans are fool-proof.
Therefore, effective immediately, in order to safeguard and promote the discipline and usefulness of members of the 71 OG and in order to maintain good order, I am ordering a new Alcohol Consumption Policy. Failure to obey this Alcohol Consumption Policy by military personnel may be punished as a violation of Article 92, UCMJ. Civilian personnel who violate this Alcohol Consumption Policy may be subject to administrative disciplinary action under AFI 36-704, without regard to otherwise applicable criminal or civil sanctions for violations of related laws. Contractor personnel who violate this Policy are subject to penalties according to local laws and the terms of the governing contract.
Until further notice:
- Alcohol will not be consumed inside any 71st Operations Group facility (flight, squadron, Group Staff, etc.) at any time.
- Unless specifically authorized by the 71 OG/CC prior to the event, alcohol will not be consumed at any Official Group or Squadron-sponsored and/or planned gathering. This applies to On- and Off-base official or semi-official functions.
Currently, there are three previously scheduled official events. I have discussed these events with Col Judy and we agreed on the following COA for each. Here’s the ground rules for these events:
- O-6 Promo Party: 71 OG personnel WILL be allowed to attend and consume alcohol at the Club, helping to celebrate Lt Col “JJ” Loschinskey, his family, and their promotion to Colonel.
- 17-14’s & Future Track Selects: 71 OG personnel WILL NOT drink alcohol IAW #1 above. However, Track Select Student Pilots and their families, civilian family members of 71 OG personnel, and non-71 OG personnel may still consume alcohol responsibly.
- 17-06 Graduation: 71 OG personnel WILL be allowed to consume alcohol at the Club, during the Graduation ceremony, but not before.
These three events are approved exceptions to this Alcohol Consumption Policy. Any future exception requests should be routed through the formal chain of command for a case-by-case assessment.
To date, we are thankful that nobody has been hurt due to an alcohol related incident. However, before this Policy is eliminated and alcohol is again allowed to be consumed in OG facilities, each of you can expect a more robust plan be in place, across the 71 OG, to take care of each other. If you have ideas, let your chain of command know. I have my ideas, but I’m sure there are more and better ideas out there.
Finally, I also recognize that there are scores of examples of plans that have worked, and we never hear of their successes. I encourage you to keep that up. However, I believe we can all strive to do better, and that includes me.
Col Paul M. Johnson
Commander, 71st Operations Group
173 Merritt Ave
Vance AFB, OK 73705-5209
It’s difficult to fairly analyze this message without knowing what exactly Johnson is responding to. But no matter what animated him, a couple of things are immutably true. First, he’s going too far. This suspends certain liberties for people who haven’t done anything wrong in order to punish people who have. This doesn’t alienate wrongdoers. After all, they know they deserve the punishment. But it’s deeply alienating to those who have behaved responsibly and gotten included in the crackdown nevertheless. In other words, no behavioral change is achieved, but loads more people are irritated. How does that make a unit healthier, you ask? It doesn’t. It makes things worse for everyone except Johnson, who gets to send an email to his bosses proving he’s ready for the next step because he’s willing to do unpopular things.
But second, it makes him a hypocrite. He’s contorting himself to allow boozing at an O-6 promotion party, going so far as to make two other exceptions for the sake of consistency. But when you add up the three exceptions, they swallow the new rule, proving it is pointless and illustrating how little Johnson believes it actually achieves.
The greater meaning to be drawn here is that despite breathless pleading by generals that pilots give the Air Force a second chance to prove itself a worthy outlet for their passions, they still think of their officers as overgrown children who need to be coddled and controlled. We can also conclude that even in the Goldfein Air Force, commanders haven’t the slightest clue about how to exercise power responsibly or make accountability real without stumbling into the pitfall of collectivism. We’re still the dumbest of the military services on issues of law and order despite claiming we’re engaged in an intellectual and largely rule-driven enterprise.
Some of you will ask why this is worth covering.
Easy. It’s screwing street-level people who don’t deserve to be screwed. It’s also extinguishing traditions ranging from personal responsibility to solving problems and innovating over a beer … things that made the USAF what it is today — or at least what it once was. Show me an air service where shooting at wristwatches at the squadron bar is outlawed and I’ll show you an air service smoldering in the ash heap of military history. That’s where we’re headed without fighting spirit, which is the first casualty of ass-covering by senior officers.
This is a micro-example of the macro-phenomenon that is at least as responsible for the evisceration of operator-centric airpower as anything else: pussified senior “leaders” who steer around risk — including the inherent risks resident in leading human beings — rather than smartly navigating through situations. Paul Johnson could have found a better way to achieve his objective. But why bother taking any risk when you can take none?
He’s doing exactly what the Air Force rewards and heralds. And thus the descent continues.