Skip to main content

Smoke doesn't always mean fire Part I

We build the recruiters



In 2013 I was the aircraft section chief in the 308th AMU under the tutelage of a fantastic leadership team to include the best Chief I have ever worked for. At that time our squadron commander was Lt Col Dominick Martin.

As a new section chief operating at the height of sequestration running the section was very difficult. At Luke we were experiencing a severe maintainer shortage and every day felt like a constant struggle just to meet the flying schedule. Often, myself or my assistant, had to ride redballs with the day shift expediter.

I had taken over from a more laid back section chief and I saw that discipline was severely lacking. I did my best to straighten things out, and I was likely a bit overzealous. A few of the maintainers that didn't know me that well from my time as an assistant section chief didn't respond very well to my 'motivational techniques.

One of these Airmen was Jerrard Rodgers.

Rodgers showed his emotions in his facial expressions and his displeasure with the unit and the military in general was plainly obvious. Even now in hindsight I think it's safe to place Rodgers more in the 'Bad Airman' category.

However, unlike most bad Airmen, Rodgers wasn't a bad person. To me this seemed a bit at odds with my expectations. It led me to believe that Rodgers probably was a very good Airman at one point, but through circumstances and events in his career he had probably soured on the Air Force, aircraft maintenance, or both.

Rodgers had gotten into some trouble and his name was known to squadron leadership, and not for good reasons. The First Sergeant at the time seemed to have it out for him. He frequently tried to 'catch' Rodgers in the act of some infraction. However, either Rodgers was too smart or wasn't actually doing anything wrong so the shirt never caught him.

The relationship was further strained by the fact that Rodgers was smarter than the shirt and every time the shirt would fail to 'catch' him, Rodgers talked shit. While not professional, it was probably justified.

Rodgers and I shared an equal disdain for the dysfunctions of the military so we would often discuss things that were wrong and what could be done about them. We still found each other at odds when it came to work behaviors but after a rocky start I knew generally where he was coming from, and he I.

It was no secret that Rodgers had no intention of re-enlisting in the Air Force and he was expected to separate around September of 2013. It's hard to say how long he had been in the Air Force but I'd wager somewhere in the neighborhood of about 5 years or so. For a SrA he was a bit long in the tooth.

In a pretty typical [read:stupid] and bureaucratic fashion the Air Force decided in it's infinite wisdom that SrA Rodgers needed to go to ALS [Airman Leadership School] just months before his separation.

Being I was in a manning crunch and needed any wrench turner possible I asked to keep Rodgers in the section forgoing ALS; because after all, he was going to separate.

The shirt feigned that such an exception was unheard of and he felt Rodgers could benefit from ALS.

This ruse was predicated on two assumptions:

A) That a shirt exempting an Airman from ALS is difficult [it's really not unless it's habitual]

B) PME is valuable to Airmen in general, and specifically, Airmen that have soured on the Air Force and about to separate

I don't believe a rational person could really believe either of these two assumptions. Nevertheless, squadron leadership was adamant Rodgers attend; and he did.

Did we get his buy-in to ALS? Did we motivate him to want to succeed? Nope. We [naively] assumed that because he was told to do something, he would do it with gusto and vigor.

I was a bit nervous because the last ALS class had one of my Airmen announce during a Friday safety brief to 'wrap it before you tap it.' Needless to say I needed a low key ALS this time around and all my chips were on Rodgers. I wasn't worried about Rodgers's academic performance however I knew him well enough that I was definitely worried about discipline issues. Especially in a PME setting where the smallest infractions can be blown completely out of proportion.

About a week and a half into ALS Rodgers's car was towed and impounded without any obvious explanation. Being that he lived 12 miles from base a car was a necessity. Recognizing that he needed to deal with this issue he decided he couldn't devote the required attention simultaneously to ALS and the current situation. I found that to be a mature and logical conclusion. Rodgers researched the Barnes Center EPME guidance and found the following:

'17.1. Administrative Release. Students may be administratively released when they encounter extenuating circumstances'

'17.1.2. Emergency situations: Unit commanders and first sergeants may recall students with unusually stressful family or personal situation'

Would having your only mode of transportation impounded without explanation qualify? Maybe, I guess it depends on the person. At the very least, time would have to be taken during school hours to address the problem.

Rodgers requested the commandant grant him an administrative release so he could address the situation and return for the next ALS class. The commandant refused.

Instead the commandant suggested Rodgers seek out class mates to share rides. Even on it's face this isn't a feasible idea. Rodgers had to deal with his impounded car during duty hours. Moreover, he needed a ride from a classmate to take care of it. These are people he had only known for a week. Why would they want to go out of their way, and possibly damage their academic performance, to drive a stranger around? In what world is that a good plan?

Nevertheless Rodgers asked his classmates for help. A few classmates tried to coordinate ride sharing to school but none of them were willing to help him with his off-base issue. That meant he would incur the daily impound fees.

The ride sharing arrangement quickly evaporated and Rodgers was left to figure out how to get to ALS again. He solicited the help of one of his AMU co-workers to take him to ALS. The first day his ride was late and as a result so was Rodgers. His ALS instructor chastised him and served him an LOC for failing to meet standards. Rodgers rebutted that this was why he asked for an administrative release, because he didn't have reliable transportation.

A few days later Rodgers had an appointment to get his car out of impound and he let his instructor know. He scheduled the appointment around lunch to minimize the impact to his time in ALS. As expected he was 30 minutes late returning from lunch. His instructor greeted him with an LOR and an appointment with the commandant.

His meeting with the commandant was brief and he was summarily released from ALS.

I know what you're thinking, 'Oh they realized that this personal situation really was interfering with his ALS studies and they gave him an administrative release like he asked.'

You would be wrong.

He received a disciplinary release for failing to meet standards. The standard, of course, was being at ALS on time.

News of the disciplinary release got back to Lt Col Martin and the First Sergeant. The shirt was noticeably gleeful, which if you think about it isn't at all how a shirt should act. An LOR was quickly drafted and served to Rodgers. Rodgers being Rodgers elected not to make a statement and instead went to the ADC for legal protections and advice on the LOR.

Now, I said at the beginning I didn't think Rodgers was a good Airman. But I really felt Rodgers tried to do the right thing in ALS when he asked for the administrative release. Now squadron leadership was piling an LOR on top of the ALS fiasco.

I spoke with Chief Roberts my AMU Chief about my concerns. I thought it was important to treat Rodgers fairly. Chief Roberts agreed and scheduled a meeting later in the day with the commander, the shirt and myself.

Up to this point I didn't really know Lt Col Martin. He seemed personable enough at commander's calls but I wasn't sure how he was as a leader.

We settled into the commander's office at the conference table for an informal discussion about Rodgers. I laid out Rodgers's case, explaining how his initial request for an administrative release was probably prudent and his failure to meet standards was exacerbated by his personal situation.

Then I heard the stupidest thing I had ever heard [however the title was very short lived].

Col Martin created this ridiculous narrative and stated if 'Rodgers was offered a million dollars if he completed ALS, I'm sure he would've found a way to make it there. He just didn't want it bad enough and didn't meet standards'

If we are to be judged based on the nebulous idea that one million dollars will be the reward for every innocuous or insipid task we're fucking doomed.

Col Martin asked what the status of Rodgers's car was.

The shirt chimed in saying 'We don't know because he elected to remain silent. But we can assume he was involved in a crime of some sort and got caught'

And now that was the stupidest thing I had ever heard.

The shirt had somehow twisted a constitutional right to simply not say anything, as a hall pass to assume any fact he wanted to flesh out his already dubious narrative.

You don't get to implant criminality in an information vacuum; at least not ethically.

I was genuinely concerned we were doing a grave injustice to Rodgers. It had very little to do with the severity of the LOR or the ALS disciplinary release. Each of these were fleeting and inconsequential for Rodgers. I was worried with how we treated Rodgers on his way out of the Air Force.

When Rodgers left the Air Force he would either tell his friends and family about the challenges, accomplishments and triumphs, or he would talk about untrustworthy leadership that sought only to punish without evidence to assure compliance from those that remained.

How much does the Air Force spend on recruitment? The NASCAR badging, fliers, TV ads, posters, billboards, offices, recruiters themselves, government vehicles to transport the recruiters. Millions right?

How much money would it have cost to give a guy the benefit of the doubt? That's free. In so doing, we would've made a recruiter out of Rodgers.

Perhaps if Col Martin was told if he was a good commander that treated his people with respect and dignity he would receive a million dollars he would've had a better unit.

As always thanks for reading and please join us on Facebook for discussions of the on-going story, comments and news articles.
















Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Air Force "Deep Dive" on Suicides Lands in the Shallow End

A year ago this week I wrote an article about what I believed was an impending and escalating suicide problem afflicting the Air Force. I was using my own military service, as well as information from my colleagues still serving, to piece together bits of information on suicides. In so doing I noticed a trend. But, before I get started a reminder: I am not an expert on mental health and nothing I say should be interpreted as medical advice.

As I wrote the article, more suicides were happening. I initially believed the issue was local to Holloman Air Force Base. However, as 2019 progressed it was clear this epidemic wasn't the exclusive domain of the 54th Fighter Group.

Prior to the Air Force announcing they had a suicide problem, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act[FOIA] request to the SecAF requesting all suicide metadata, to include Air Force Specialty Codes[AFSCs], or "job" data from 2009 to 2019. Three days after my request, the Air Force announced there was a …

We failed to quantify quality Airmen

A couple weeks ago I wrote about a FOIA request I submitted in July 2019. The intent of the request was to bring clarity to the career fields impacted by the ongoing suicide epidemic in the Air Force. If you remember, the response was flaccid.

I went on to show how the current AF/A1 Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly was dishonest when he gave an interview in 2015 suggesting that critical career fields were somehow shielded from the Force Reduction measures, colloquially called "The Air Force Hunger Games."

But to simply say certain career fields were cut is insufficient to explain how the cuts were determined and, moreover, which discriminators were used. And for that, we need to go back a ways...

In early 2011 the Air Force had transferred many SSgts and TSgts from fighter maintenance to heavy aircraft in an effort to shore up their issues in the heavy world. In effect, robbing Peter to pay Paul. This left us with a slightly lopsided organization: thick in the SNCO ranks, thin in the mi…

Suicide is the symptom.

I want to preface this article by saying 'I am just an F-16 crew chief.' I do not have any medical training and all of these opinions are just that, opinions. I believe we have a suicide problem in the Air Force, and in aircraft maintenance in particular. Part of the problem is data is very hard to come by.  There is some data, and it even goes so far as to break down the determined method. However, the data is meta-data at best and doesn't explain all the nuances of each situation.

But the data to the right here is quite alarming. Almost half of all deaths [69 of 151] in the Air Force from August 2016 to August 2017 was caused by a self-inflicted injury. [Raise your hand if you just learned that half of the people that die in the Air Force committed suicide]

What prompted me to write about this subject now is that there have been two suicides in the same Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Holloman Air Force Base in the last month. I don't have any details on the motiva…