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

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