Thursday, April 14, 2016

Jack of All Trades and Master of None

"Jack of all trades and master of none"

The rhetorical figure aptly described the officer corps of the US Air Force back in the mid-1980s.  As a brand new second lieutenant, I was admonished to as quickly as possible find opportunities to "broaden" my career path such as joint assignments, staff assignments or even taking a tour in another career field as a means of improving opportunities for promotions.

The emphasis was always on upward mobility (which equated to promotions) then becoming adept at aspects of the job.  Even if you joined because all you wanted to do was fly, you were to get over that as quickly as possible because you just weren't going to get promoted if you remained in the cockpit too long.

We were told through our superiors and supervisors that it was the job of the officers to aspire to command as quickly as possible.  Mastering the nuances of the career field was the responsibility of the Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs), especially since USAF eliminated warrant officers back in 1959.

The mentality of the USAF officer corps (including the Reserves and Air National Guard) was "up or out".  Officers who really loved what the were doing, such as pilots or maintainers, and remained in their career fields too long were passed over for promotion.  Meanwhile, those who become adept at career assignments become the next O-6 or general officer.  Thus it appears to many officers and NCOs that senior leadership is composed mainly of men and women who are masters of nothing more than the politics of assignments. This is what is behind the maelstrom of blogs and responses that you can read over at John Q. Public.

Officers, especially senior officers, are not supposed to think outside the box in the USAF and can only spout the party line.  As the officer pyramid narrows at the top, it becomes increasingly easy to spot those that don't abide by those unwritten rules.  A top pick for a prestigious assignment gets suddenly sent elsewhere, or perhaps an OER just isn't as "fire walled" as it needs to be.

USAF officers are taught to admire historical figures like Billy Mitchell, Curtis LeMay, or Robin Olds yet none of those great officers would survive in today's Air Force.  They were mavericks even in their time but in today's culturally sensitive, politically correct, Total Force such officers would never have made it past the rank of captain.

Now none of this is new nor am I the first to write about it.  What got me started on this rant was something I learned last week as I was attending my daughters graduation from USAF Basic Military Training (BMT).  The NCO corps is now being forced into same mentality as the officer corps.

If an NCO in today's USAF wants to make it to E-7 (master sergeant) then he or she needs to have in addition to attaining a 7-level ("craftsmen" requiring successful completion of OJT and career development courses or CDCs) in their career field need to then also complete one assignment as a recruiter AND one assignment as a drill instructor AND one other special duty assignment outside their career field!  Oh and all of this is cast against a 20 year career.  WTF?!

I truly hope that I misunderstood this.  NCOs in the USAF are the technical experts and the continuity for the units.  Making it an "expectation" of having career broadening assignments takes that away and makes the USAF nothing more than a bunch of careerists looking for the next assignment instead of becoming experts in airpower.

And perhaps this inevitably given how technology is rapidly reshaping our entire economy. If self-driving cars may mean the end of truck drivers and delivery people, then drones have already started to replace pilots and all of the personnel needed to put said pilot in the cockpit.  Drone operators, as long as there are still some, don't require the same logistical support at all.  Without the logistical need out goes the need for specialists in life support, parachutes, flight medicine, avionics, UHF/VHF radios, survival and resistance training, pararescue, personnel, finance, travel, billeting, etc.

The worst part is the officer corps, the very ones who should be on guard concerning these changes, are the ones least prepared to deal with it.  Now the NCO corps seems to be on a course to join them.

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