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Smoke doesn't always mean fire Part I

Authority stops at immorality



A few months ago I wrote about when I confronted my AMU leadership with what I believed was the reckless treatment of exhausted personnel. However that wasn't the first time I stood up against leadership because I was concerned about exhaustion and safety.

In the summer of 2006 I was a swing shift 7 level in the 310th AMU. If my memory serves me at this point we were essentially a single APG section with separate 3 and 4 expediters, likely caused by the manning draw down of the mid-2000s. Our swing shift section chief was an older TSgt named Eric Delonge.

TSgt Delonge and I had gotten into a few disagreements in the past, as such I considered our professional relationship to be apathetic at best and strained at worst. In hindsight I realize now that I didn't respect him so I wasn't interested in his approval. I explored that concept when I wrote of a previous group commander I worked for.

After I wrote that article I reflected on it even more. Why would I evaluate a leader before caring about what they thought of me? Isn't that self destructive to a career? Shouldn't I care what every leader thinks of me?

Then it hit me: If I cared about what every leader thought of me, I would strive to please every leader regardless of their character. In essence, if I worried about what a shit leader thought of me, I'd have to adapt to that environment. If I subscribed to that ideology I would in-turn become a shit leader myself. Sure my career might've done better, but at what cost? What cost to my people? Myself?

Quite ironically this story centers around a safety day.

In 2006 the 310th flew night missions almost exclusively. They also had some day sorties for FAC-A [Forward Air Control-Airborne] and some CT [Continuation Training - essentially refresher training for the instructors]. Because of the stability of the syllabus our swing shift came in every night at 1930, quite literally for years. The only day that was different was Friday we would typically come in at 1730 because it was a single go day.

So one Thursday at our 1930 roll call Delonge was going over the notes before the expediters gave us our maintenance assignments.

This Friday was going to be a bit different. Instead of a single go day, it was a Safety Day. So what is a Safety Day in an AMU? Typically it has almost nothing to do with safety.

Day shift usually has an agenda that was created by the section chiefs and vetted by AMU leadership and possibly the squadron chief. For crew chiefs it always includes preflight training. Whether its a training day, safety day or general down day; on those agendas there is always preflight training. Its completely worthless and usually quite half-assed. The rest of the agenda is occupied with box inspections, CBTs, maybe a briefing or two and an AMU/commanders call. Swing shift has a similar agenda but once leadership leaves the agenda is usually abandoned and it turns into 'lets learn how to safely install this engine, reconfigure Monday's fliers and tow these jets'

For this particular safety day the commander's call was at noon, which meant swing shift would get the cliffs notes when we arrived at 1730. With one exception...

A1C Chavez, one of my airmen that I supervised, had won QA honor roll for the quarter. Delonge briefed he would accept the certificate at the commander's call at noon.

Now whenever swing shifters hear about coming in early we get excited because it usually means we will be cut back early. Not in this case though, Delonge and his day shift counterparts had come up with a new plan.

As it was briefed in roll call, A1C Chavez would work all night and just stay until noon to accept his certificate and 'atta-hat' from the commander.

So.. 1930 to 1200 the next day. Seems stupid doesn't it?

Let's put that into the proper context: Delonge wanted a young Airman to work 17 hours driving
home from work beyond exhausted when his body was using hormones to push him to sleep... on Safety Day.

Without even consideration for rank or authority and before I could really process how to respond I blurted out 'No he won't.'

As his supervisor I didn't really have that much authority over him. I had to train him and evaluate him but the section chiefs determined shift schedule and other administrative things. In this instance I was completely outside my lane. But I knew it was wrong, so I stomped right on in.

Delonge wasn't too happy with my outburst. The fact it was in front of the entire shift and junior Airmen gave it a distinct air of insubordination. Delonge rebutted that Chavez would work 1930 to noon but would no longer be allowed to work on aircraft after 0730. This of course didn't address my actual concern which was two fold.

First that he would be on duty until at least 1300, a full 17 1/2 hours after the beginning of his shift. Because the commander's call began at noon QA honor roll was likely not to be the first or even second item of the call. Therefore conservatively he would be done at 1300.

Second, if he was like most of us he went to sleep everyday anywhere from 0900-1100 to get enough sleep everyday for the 1930 showtime. This meant his circadian rhythm was acclimated to being well into his sleep cycle at 1300.

I brought these concerns up to Delonge in roll call. He refused to listen and stated Chavez would do what he was told.

The expediters gave their maintenance assignments while I fumed. When we were released from roll call to begin our shift and get turnovers from day shift. However I wasn't done.

I followed Delonge right out of the conference room and into his office, shutting the door behind me.

We continued our discussion. He didn't seem to understand my perspective or concerns and speculated that I was jealous of Chavez's success. When I realized I wouldn't be able to change his mind regardless of my approach I told him I was going to go over his head, and that's when the conversation took a turn.

Delonge changed his tone and started trying to work with me. It was startling how quickly he changed. As he began working on a compromise I reviewed what I had said to figure out what caused the change.

Then I realized I had told him I would go to the AMU with my concerns.

You see, Delonge knew what he was doing was wrong. He was faced with a choice: Either swing shift be short one body (and possibly effect our productivity) or Chavez could miss the commander's call and Delonge would have to possibly look bad to AMU leadership for not having his airman there to accept his award.

So he picked the shitty, lazy way to get both. Work the airman 17 hours.

Which is a great plan if A) you don't care about your people and B) no one above you knows your plan.

As soon as I told him I was done talking to him and would go higher to take care of Chavez he changed his tune for fear of what would happen if anyone else found out.

That's when I realized that authority expires when you're being immoral.

Many toxic leaders rely on junior personnel not fighting back against their abuse, because if they do their power collapses like a house of cards. If you're acting in a moral and ethical manner against someone who isn't, don't back down regardless of their rank.

Recently the AETC commander [awkwardly] said the same thing.

In the end Chavez did not stay up until 1300. He went home at his normal time and received his QA honor roll the next day at his regular swing shift roll call.

At the time I stood up against Delonge our commander was none other than Lt Col Kevin Traw. This was before my interaction with Col Traw but now that I've gotten to know Col Traw I'm confident he would've absolutely understood that Chavez wasn't there because it was the right thing to do, and was also the safe thing to do compared to the original plan.





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