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Smoke doesn't always mean fire Part I

I was once accused of cheating because I was an asshole Part III (The conclusion)

So I traveled the 13 hours from Colorado Springs back to Phoenix. While I was driving I thought of my class mates that were preparing for graduation. I thought of Allen and how he would not be graduating. I was angry that my actions had hurt someone else's career.

As I drove I formed the argument for my appeal in my head. Numerous times I would pull off the road to write down a detail, something that supported my defense. If it was really profound I would text or call Allen to give him the same information. After all, if I could make things right for him, I would feel much better. Even if my own release stood, I felt compelled to do what I could to help him.

Prior to NCO Academy it was agreed that I would move from maintenance training back out to the flight line upon my graduation. But I was in limbo. I hadn't quite graduated, but because of my pending appeal I hadn't quite 'not' graduated [Schrodinger's PME as it were].

Luckily I had an amazing section chief that told me my job was to work on my appeal for the next 15 days. And that is exactly what I did. I reached out to my classmates to write memorandums about the event, and the actions of the instructors. In my first statement I intentionally excluded the instructors. I did this thinking 'if I take care of them, they will vouch or take care of me'. However, my disciplinary release was the worst possible outcome, so there was no reason to hold back any longer. Moreover, the instructors had engaged in even more unprofessional behavior during and after the investigation.

On the night of graduation, TSgt Badger had made a post on Facebook saying the graduation felt 'shorter than normal'. Judging by the response of MSgt Baker the implication was that it was two students short, thus reducing the overall time. MSgt Baker also made a comment on the post that he would like to 'punch two people in the face', another obvious reference to Allen and I.

Curious, what could we have done to solicit such a response from MSgt Baker?

It wasn't what we had done as much as what I was about to do. I was about to expose his and Badger's role in the video.

I had no idea how to write a PME appeal. It was a 'learn-as-I-go' type of event. I think I actually googled 'How do I write an appeal' and that seemed to look pretty good.

Next I emailed about 100 people across the Air Force and asked for their help; specifically I needed character statements. I explained that I was kicked out of NCOA but I didn't really get into the details of why; at least not in the mass email. I hit send and stood up to get some air. Before I could leave the office my phone rang. It was Lt Col Traw, my squadron commander from 2005-2007. He was now assigned to the Pentagon. He asked what was going on and how he could help. I explained the story in great detail. He told me he would have a letter to me soon.

I hung up, and my phone rang again. This time it was Captain Fortenberry. Captain Fortenberry was the assistant OIC in the 310th and we had worked together many nights. He was an officer that came from a blue collar background and he seemed more at home among the workers than the AMU leadership. He told me he was deploying the next day but would get me a letter before he left.

In all I received over 40 letters on my behalf. From SrA to Lt Col. One of the letters was from my own squadron commander which I believe carried a lot of weight.

I received my classmates' statements and letters. They all corroborated my own appeal. The most damning of the letters came from the paralegal (coincidentally, the man in the recorded exercise besides myself) in the class. He wrote a 9 page analysis of the event citing a multitude of PME, Air Force and DOD regulations MSgt Baker and TSgt Badger violated.

However, the statement from the paralegal didn't just talk about the nuances of testing regulations. The statement also detailed another incident that until this point I was unaware of.

When MSgt Misely requested those printer paper statements many of the class members wrote them; including the paralegal. He gave a detailed account of the recording that also stated MSgt Baker was fully aware of the recording and asked for a copy.

MSgt Misely and MSgt Baker removed the paralegal from the class after reviewing his statement and grilled him about the accusation he made against Baker. Baker and Misely were leading the investigation. Even prior to the paralegal's statement Baker was ill-suited to be involved in the investigation because A) He was a witness and therefore not impartial and B) the event happened on his watch. Both of these should've prohibited him from being involved in the investigation. However, after he was implicated by the paralegal's statement he certainly should've been excluded.

Instead Baker accused the paralegal of lying and judging by my expedited disciplinary release the paralegal's statement likely didn't make it to SMSgt Wellbaums desk.

Why? Because I didn't received a Disciplinary Review Board(DRB). The purpose of a DRB is to determine if the offending party's actions were malicious and had an actual impact on the security of the curriculum. If there was evidence that the lead instructor asked for a copy of the illegal video, a DRB would've most certainly happened.

While I have no proof of it, I believe Misely, Badger and Baker were filtering information to Wellbaum and portraying Allen and I as 'bad seeds'.

As I prepared to submit my appeal to the Barnes Center at Maxwell AFB I learned that the appeal first had to go to the Vosler NCO Academy so they could review and refute any of my claims. Because of the corruption I experienced in the investigation I was not comfortable sending my paper copy to them. I worried they would remove or edit what I had submitted before forwarding it on to the Barnes Center.

Unfortunately around this time Allen decided to abandon his appeal. Call it a maintainer v. nonner mindset, but I refused to go down without a fight. Allen had resigned to the idea that he would just go back through the NCO Academy in a year at the end of the disciplinary release period. For me this was heartbreaking. I thought we had a strong case and I wanted to get him out of trouble even more than myself. While we shared responsibility for our situation, I felt since I was the final step in the failure I bore the larger burden.

So I mailed off my appeal on the 14th day. In all, the appeal and supporting letters was over 70 pages. I also emailed an electronic copy to the Barnes Center explaining that I did not trust Vosler NCO Academy staff with only the paper copy.

And then I waited...

and waited...

Weeks went by with no response.

Before I move on to the resolution I'd like to outline the crux of my appeal. I've also included a link to my actual appeal and the supporting documents.

1. Baker knew a recording with a personal camera was being made. In the video he looks at the camera a few times. Allen was not concealing the camera from view and for the latter part of the video he was standing with the camera extended from his body.

2. Baker asked for a copy of the video when he returned to the room. If the exercise was in fact controlled test material, how would we as students know it was controlled test material if the instructor allowed us to have a copy of a video of it?

3. The following Monday Allen shows the video to TSgt Badger and states it is a video of the exercise. While Badger declines to watch the video, he indirectly acknowledges we have a video.

So based on this information, what reasonable person would conclude the video was contraband? Anyone?

4. When Badger and Baker learned of the video on YouTube, they removed Allen from the room first. Allen's name was nowhere on the YouTube site. However, my own name was the title of the YouTube page. So if they did not have prior knowledge of the video, they should've come to me first.

5. While nuanced, Baker made reference to the video in a specific way when he was questioning me.

Example: 'Did you put that video up on YouTube?'

This is really subtle. By using the word that, it implies a common familiarity of the video between the parties discussing it. If he had said instead "Did you put a video of the group interpersonal exercise on YouTube?!" or "Did you put a video on YouTube?" either of those would imply he was learning of the video now.

6. On day 1 of NCO Academy every student had to sign a statement of understanding that we would all adhere to Vosler NCO Rules and Regulations. However, not a single student read it. Because it was not available digitally. Something to download and read the weeks leading up to the Academy. It was only in a 3 ring binder in the Orderly Room. There were 125 students in my class. Each had to sign the statement agreeing to the rules before the first day was over.

Is it even logistically possible for 125 students to each read the binder on the first day? Nope. But the instructors didn't care. They only wanted your signature on something that says you'll follow the rules you've never read.

7. Interestingly, in the Vosler rule book states: "with the exception of those curriculum areas that require videotaping (student presentations, etc) students will not use any type of personal recording device (eg. cameras, tape recorders, cell phones) in the class room or auditorium"

So this implies that areas that require videotaping such as the group interpersonal exercise is an exception to the personal recording device rule correct? Tsk tsk, its amazing how a rule book I didn't read gave an exact exemption for my behavior.

So here's my appeal:

In the end it took 3 weeks to get my response. The Barnes Center commander requested that my commander give me an LOR for my behavior and in exchange I would also receive graduation credit.

I also learned that the reason it took so long is because the Barnes Center investigated what exactly happened at the Vosler NCO Academy and the fitness of the instructors to teach PME. I learned that the Vosler NCO Academy only had my appeal for one day before forwarding it on to the Barnes Center; likely just long enough to perceive the incoming shit storm.

I also learned that the Barnes Center had decided to grant Allen his graduation based on my appeal as well. My response was so strong that even though Allen had not submitted an appeal, a reprieve was granted anyway.

I received my LOR from my commander and wrote a rebuttal apologizing for my lapse in judgement and thanked the commander for the letter on my behalf. Three weeks later, my First Sergeant approached me and said he was PCSing and asked if there was anything in my personnel file I wanted to remove and keep. I replied I didn't, not really thinking of the LOR my commander had given me. The shirt insisted I take the LOR because he didn't want it to adversely affect my career.

So all that for me joking around and making fun of the stupid Air Force PME syllabus. Sure I was an asshole, but I didn't cheat.


  1. There should be 2 different types of PME, 1 for maintenance and cops, and 1 for all others. The environment mx and cops work changes the way we deal with things. The average enlisted person just doesnt have to deal with these things. Too bad these PME instructors dont get that. Typically, people who want to be instructors are those chasing a stripe or worthless.

    1. It's an interesting idea. What would SF/MX PME look like to you?

  2. Reading through this brings back the good and bad (especially the bad) memories from our time in NCOA. Class started off so well, and for five of six weeks, we were enjoying the curriculum and great professional company of E6 peers. Then the f*ckery happened with the damn video, and the academy staff turned against us. What puzzles me still--even 10 years later--is that 1.) they knew of the recording all along, especially before it was deemed "course compromise" and din't show any concern; and 2.) they had the audacity to think that we were cheating the course in some way. I'm not a genius, but I'm also not stupid. Why would I willingly AND publicly compromise course material? Willingly? I'm too honest for that. Publicly? I'm not an idiot to want to get caught. That summarizes to this: if I knew what I was doing was wrong, I wouldn't have done it to begin with. Unfortunately--and as you put it in your recount above--the staff was more concerned with damage control and protecting their own rather than practicing common sense and seeing the incident as a oversight and misunderstanding. Instead they resorted to a lot of finger-pointing and feigning of ignorance. My naivety on the rules of recording--and what was deemed as actual course compromise--was genuine. If the instructors or anyone else in the room knew what I was doing was absolutely against the rules, they very well would have corrected me on the spot. Also, I still get incensed knowing that we both completed every single course requirement, and made it to the final day of course instruction before they dismissed us from the academy.

    I didn't intend to give up my appeal; my area defense counselor (stationed about 1.5 hours north of me), could only help but so much. She reviewed my case (to include my character reference letters, LOR response, and dismissal response), became familiar with your case, Chris, and told me there wasn't much more that could be done on my part. So yes, I resigned to expecting that I'd just return to school later in the year (if even then) to re-take the course. The situation was already awkward enough, given that I worked a mere half mile away from the schoolhouse.

    The fire that you had inside you to launch your appeal burned so much hotter than mine. You truly stepped out and spread the message far and wide to call attention to the injustice of the ordeal, and the right people heard. Chris, your efforts turned out a very effective appeal, which resulted in the both us (virtually) graduating from NCOA. For that I thank you.

    I recently found the letter from the Barnes Center stating my reinstatement to the course and honoring my graduation. What gave me a moment of pause was reading the Col's remark that he found the decision for dismissal appropriate, but given that we completed all course requirements, we were afforded our graduation.

    I watched the video again for the first time in 10 years, and I find it just as hilarious as the day I recorded it. I only wonder if there was any disciplinary action taken upon any of the academy staff for their finger-pointing and cover-up attempt. Either way, it's no longer a burning concern of mine. I'm on the cusp of finishing out an amazing, long career as an E7. I met my goal, despite the academy hang-up. And I'm pleased to hear that you're doing well also. In the wake of a setback, we found the strength to get back on our feet to march on.

    Thanks again, Chris. And thank you for sharing the story.



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