The Exact Day the USAF Tailspin Started & the Clue to Breaking It

Lt Gen Judith Fedder and CAP Maj Gen Mark SmithLt Gen Judith Fedder and CAP Maj Gen Mark Smith

By John Q. Public

[Editor’s Note: One of our AuxBeacon readers wanted to direct the readership to portions of this Johm Q. Public story with additional insight from the Civil Air Patrol perspective. CAP’s past transgressions against its membership and the lack of accountability in this regard is crippling the organization. Merely recruiting new members into the revolving door will not solve the core problem. Toxic, short-sighted and close-minded opportunist commanders must be removed and our culture of how we solve problems and grow must be changed.]

…I have my own theory that the current tailspin threatening the viability and perhaps even the future existence of the USAF started on November 10th, 1992. Over the course of the 25 years since, the service has paid a dear price for what occurred on that day, descending from the high heights of its Desert Storm prowess to its current flirtation with institutional oblivion…

Every major failure in the last quarter century — from the pilot shortage to the mangling of enlisted PME, from the abysmal implementation of UAVs to the organizational rot of the ICBM community, from the inability to solve sexual assault without killing justice to the feeble inability to remove mold from airmens’ quarters at our deployed bases — all of these have suffered from a failure of imagination. A failure of critical thinking. A failure of strategy.

To a considerable extent, critical thinking is always a threat to establishment thinking. It’s about new ideas challenging old ones — many of which will have become rules, regulations, doctrines, and even laws.

The culture of the USAF since the early 1990s has devolved badly into one where the answer to most challenges is “shut up and color.” Generals and E-9s talk too much and listen too little. They enforce too much and innovate too little. Individuals who might be harboring that next big idea are unlikely to bring it forth … because they have no reason to believe it will make them successful. They have no Wardens at the senior-most level to shepherd and protect them as they push and prod…

As a result, we’ve lost most of our free thinkers and failed to recognize most of the few who have remained. Warden’s old “Checkmate” division (where I had the privilege to work at one point) has not survived budget cuts. Strategy isn’t a thing on USAF staffs at any level. Pushing back on a staff package will get you pushed aside, or maybe pushed out.

It’s not one policy or even several that got us into this mess. It’s the way we think — or more accurately the way we don’t think. With a vibrant, intelligent nucleus of theorists, thinkers, and strategists embedded in our senior management levels, we’d be a stronger force with a better chance of navigating the institutional challenges we’ve seen, more of which are in store.

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12 Comments on "The Exact Day the USAF Tailspin Started & the Clue to Breaking It"

  1. Intercepted | May 22, 2018 at 21:44 | Reply

    See link below. Ferrying a painting is a HUGE waste of tax payer dollars! Hey Mark Smith, why don’t you do some real work cleaning up our organization of mobsters! We are sick of the memos and your lack of [redacted].

    https://www.cap.news/historic-cap-painting-bound-for-pentagon-via-11-wing-relay/

  2. I was in Mark Smith’s old Squadron Albuquerque Heights Composite when Beverly Pepe was commanding that unit. I have long since had it with the CAP. Many of us are talking about this recent story.

    “As Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein says, “Air superiority is not an American birthright. It’s actually something you have to fight for and maintain.” Well, it’s not an Air Force birthright, either. It’s one thing to be driven to be the best, and commendable to try to do it without proper resources. However, it’s entirely different to strive to be the best, lack the resources, and have an organization that doesn’t seem to value your efforts to execute the service’s raison d’être — to fly, fight, and win. It shakes conviction and causes people to question their motivation to serve.”

    https://warontherocks.com/2018/03/air-force-in-crisis-part-iii-dear-boss-its-all-about-the-culture/

  3. The one characteristic that seems to bind most of CAP at the upper levels of command is contempt for our laws and due process. It’s a feeling that the laws apply to somebody else. It’s breathtaking how the justice system works so differently for those in the CAP with political connections in Washington.

  4. I was in a decent squadron, and it was/was possible to enter the Wing flying “inner circle”, if you could hack the long drive to the “center of gravity” at Wing HQ. But yeah, the Wing would snatch airplanes from squadrons actually using them, pass them on to “buddies” who let ’em sit; we’d get ’em back mid-summer, when it was clear the annual 200 hours weren’t going to be met. I was a MP for about 13 years or so, and the layers of bureaucracy finally wore me down – CAP just can’t get out of its own way; no mission focus, silly initiatives that die on the vine, some badly considered forays into dead-end technology, and fading relevance. Having been closely associated with Coast Guard, the contrast is dramatic between the two “auxiliaries” – CG AUX is far from perfect, but light years ahead of CAP.

  5. When you have CAP officials who aren’t willing to operate with the same kind of values that they proclaim, I think it’s problematic. This kind of trust that is broken is alarming. The CAP’s slogan should be changed to “defrauding the taxpayer”.

  6. I recently joined the CAP. It is not what I expected. They preach search and rescue a lot, but it’s all talk. We spend 99.9% of our time training, recruiting and filling out paperwork to get awards (that everyone seems to have) moreso than anything else. The USAF uniforms are silly in themselves too. I don’t like to be in a “pretend” military outfit. The USAF personnel on base where my unit is located laugh at us. They call us the “fake Air Force”. So much for total force partners. It is demoralizing.

    It is what you make of it, but the CAP’s regulations limits us considerably in actual SAR participation. No thank you. I am joining a local SAR unit where my skills and experience can be used.

    If anyone reads this and is considering the CAP, please look into the CAP thoroughly before you write the check. On the surface, the CAP seems like a great community organization, but in fact, it is a lot of lies. I think in the distant past, it was a useful program, but times have changed. Yea, they do some good things (like the Boy Scouts do), but there is a lot of red tape and politics if you want to advance in the CAP. The good ole boy club is alive and well too. I don’t understand why the Gov’t funds it.

    • “I don’t understand why the Gov’t funds it.”

      VOTES…..this is why Congress funds the CAP and looks the other way when abuse and corruption occur. Feel good photo ops with uniformed kids taken by the media helps get them votes. Congress don’t care about the health of the CAP. They really don’t. It is all smoke and mirrors.

      • True, Congress only cares about votes. The USAF also doesn’t really care about CAP, except as a source of warm bodies (cadets) through Lackland AFB’s gates.

    • I joined last year. I left several months later. The CAP is mostly pretenders when it comes to SAR. My switch to the USCG Aux was the best move I made. The USCG Aux does SAR. The CAP talks SAR. Big difference.

      • The CAP is now actually only the Auxiliary of the AF when on Air Force Assigned Missions (AFAM’s). At other times they’re a nonprofit corporation. I don’t think that relations between the AF and the CAP have improved much…in fact they’ve gotten worse.

        Conversely, the USCG Auxiliary is 100% at all times under Coast Guard control and the officer overseeing them is an active-duty Coast Guard four-ring Captain.

    • I ran into all types during my almost 20 years in CAP.

      Some of them really do have a “service” mentality and some of them (like myself) were ex-military who wanted to continue serving in uniform. Usually those were the ones who didn’t advertise themselves, but one bad thing about CAP is that unless you know how to schmooze and bill-and-coo with the “right” people you’ll probably never promote past Captain.

      There were also the ones who thought they were actual military officers and made CAP look like fools in front of the military with trying to demand salutes. There were others who didn’t care about uniforms, rank, etc., and only wanted to FLY with the Air Force paying for their flying hours. I ran into that most in senior (all-adult/no cadets) squadrons. Most of them ignored the regs about uniforms and would only wear the CAP golf shirt.

      CAP is really schizoid. It tries to have it both ways; placing a lot of advertising emphasis on its status of being Auxiliary to the Air Force (mostly to attract cadets), but when the Air Force tries to bring CAP into line, they protest “we’re civilian volunteers in a nonprofit corporation.”

      That was one of the big reasons I left.

      • The fact of the matter is, however, that unless you are a member of the ‘inner circle’, you won’t get any flying or interesting assignments. How one gets in said inner circle? I dunno, I wasted a few years of my time trying to find out to no avail.

        Even when I was the most qualified pilot in the squadron (in terms of FAA ratings, currency and medical certificates — many senior members are retirees who barely qualify for a class-III), I couldn’t get much flying done (I went through the required training for scanner, observer, etc. multiple times actually, never got the signatures I needed at the end, and oops, your trainee card expired again, please start over from scratch again); and I won’t fly back seat with CAP pilots whose qualifications I have not vetted myself ever again.

        I also went through the ground qualifications (radio operator, ground ELT tracking stuff, etc.); even though I had logged a number of actual missions (and finds!) I couldn’t get the bloody signatures to get my ratings renewed when time came (except by going to SAREX organized by other less fucked up squadrons — but it gets old fast). At the same time, I would see low time private pilots being fast tracked to mission pilot status in no time.

        The thing that gets me with this organization is how they keep whining about keeping members from dropping out, yet, they won’t listen to any criticism. If you offer any feedback, you get threatened with the infamous 2b (termination). It is a no win situation.

        There were other issues as well, like compulsory religious indoctrination, and the ‘catch-22’ effect so to speak, i.e., whereby folks in support roles (e.g., administrative), end up running the show at the expense of those who actually do something useful (like waking up at 3am to track ELTs and getting actual shit done).

        That said, there were some really interesting folks there, which is why I stuck around for so long (that and the fact that I am an optimist and was always hoping for things to improve), that and the fact that things vary greatly from one squadron to another.

        One quick rule of thumb if you want to find out whether you are in a squadron that is going to waste your time or not: initiate a discussion about Regulation 39-1 (the regulations about uniforms and ribbons and stuff). If the conversation is over in five to ten minutes (with some giggling, usually from folks who have actually served in the military.), you might want to stick around. If they are still discussing the finer points of what ribbons to wear with what version of what uniform hours later: run, don’t look back.

        I am still a member, albeit no longer an ‘active’ one, and pay my yearly dues and make additional contributions; because I still believe there are good stuff going on in this org, e.g., the cadets program, and I want to support that.

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