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Smoke doesn't always mean fire Part I

This is the first post in the long final story that I will tell from my career in the Air Force. All the other stories up to this point were told so you, the reader, could understand how I was guided in my career to be prepared for the moment in this story.

The main character in this story has had his name changed to protect his identity as he is still active duty. He has given me permission [read: excitedly asked when I will write this] to tell this story.

In the summer of 2015 I was the specialist section chief in the 311th AMU at Holloman AFB. We had a few new arrivals to the section. Most of them were new avionics airmen, which we desperately needed. However, we did have an E&E SrA arrive who had a line number for Staff Sergeant. His name was SrA Tyler Perkie. He was respectful, polite and hard working. It was rare to not see him covered in aircraft filth, which is quite the compliment for the working sector of the Air Force. He was tireless at the job and his positive attitude was a well needed injection of morale in the section.

Tyler still needed to attend Airman Leadership School [ALS] however because he had made Staff Sergeant relatively early in his career he had a bit of time before he would need to attend. As such he was issued his 7-level CDCs and was in a holding pattern awaiting his ALS slot.

Tyler was selected to attend an ALS class in early November. If you've been reading awhile, you'll remember that only a few months before my AMXS commander Lt Col Dominick Martin coerced

statements using career crippling administrative actions. If you're a really dedicated reader you'll recognize that that is the same Lt Col Dominick Martin that used a similar tactic to punish SrA Rodgers when we were stationed at Luke AFB in 2013.

This ALS class began on a Friday. On the first day he was chosen to be a flight leader; basically a leader of a small sub-group of the class.

Up to this point I didn't really know Tyler that well. He had only been in the section for 3 months and I hadn't really had a chance to expand my opinion of him beyond what I detailed above, more superficial observations. I didn't expect to interact much with Tyler during ALS as there is usually lots of material to study and military drills to perfect. I hoped for him what I hope for everyone in military PME: to graduate.

I received a phone call early Saturday morning, the day after ALS started. It was my AMU Chief. I was still waking up so I was a bit disoriented, but the jist was: someone in my section was arrested and in jail on a gun charge. After a few follow up questions I learned it was SrA Tyler Perkie. I called his supervisor TSgt Noah Leck and asked him to meet me at the AMU. Lucky for me Leck was already wide awake and chipper, likely watching Saturday morning cartoons in his underoos [this isn't an insult, its a bit of an inside joke and probably accurate].

Once I arrived at the AMU I sought out the AMU Chief for more information, and Leck was on my heels as I walked into the office. We learned that Tyler had been arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, accused of holding a gun to woman's head. He was in jail in Las Cruces, a city about 45 minutes west of Holloman AFB.

The First Sergeant had received a phone call from the Las Cruces Sheriffs Office early Saturday morning where the dispatcher gave second hand information from the arresting officer as the police report had yet to be finalized. The shirt relayed the information to Col Martin and AMU leadership.
Col Martin told the AMU Chief that if the section wanted to bail out Tyler that was up to us, because neither the commander nor the First Sergeant would be getting him out of jail.

TSgt Leck and I loaded up into his car and drove the hour to the jail. During the car ride we discussed the recent disciplinary events in the section and how we should navigate this situation in light of the disciplinary climate Col Martin had fostered. We both agreed that it would be in Tyler's best interest to not share any details with us until he had a chance to speak to an attorney. Because legally Leck and I could be compelled to make statements regarding anything Tyler disclosed to us.

We got to the jail around 1 PM. We had brought $200 from the section's flight fund. Typically the flight fund is used for section BBQs, going away gifts and other odds and ends. Tyler's bail was $2,000 as he was charged with fourth degree felony. A bail bondsman met us at the prison and after a few quick forms and $200 cash, Tyler was being processed for release. His scheduled court date was January 12th 2016. As I bailed him out, I was personally responsible for his total bail if Tyler didn't make it to court on that date.

As we left the jail I turned to Tyler and told him not to say a word to anyone. First thing Monday he should make an appointment with the Holloman Area Defense Counsel and he needed to get an attorney for his off-base legal issues.

He replied that he understood and then began to say it was all a misunderstanding. I stopped him, and said 'It is absolutely in your best interest to not say anything at all whatsoever. Anything you say I can be ordered to report.' I told him I would give him advice but we couldn't speak at all about specifics or details.

The conversation morphed into a discussion of what I thought would happen to his career. I had a pretty good idea of what Col Martin would do, having experienced his unique brand of discipline. Frankly I expected Tyler to be administratively discharged within a few months. I didn't tell Tyler that because I didn't want to add to his stress or anxiety. Instead I gave a discipline 'range' or  a best/worst case scenario. I said his best case scenario is charges are dropped and he receives maybe an LOC. Tyler asked what the worse case scenario was. I replied found guilty off base on all charges, and dishonorably discharged from the Air Force.

As we arrived in Alamogordo to drop Tyler off at his apartment I told him he needed to turn all of his guns over to a friend for the rest of the weekend, or at the very least lock his guns up from himself and give the key to a friends. I told him on Monday the First Sergeant and commander may extend or alter the firearm restriction.

I also told him if he needed anything, I lived less than a block away. I made sure he had my phone number and we dropped him off at his apartment.

ALS started at 0700 the following Monday. By 0705 Tyler had received a disciplinary release from ALS. The justification was the arrest over the weekend.

If you're an exceptionally faithful reader you'll remember I received a disciplinary release from NCO Academy back in 2010.

There is a process to PME releases, more-so for disciplinary releases. Most times they garner a Disciplinary Review Board [DRB]. In all but the most rare cases they require a review by the local legal [JAG] office to ensure the offense justifies the disciplinary release classification.

It is impossible either of these events happened before Tyler was released at 0705 on Monday. So what did happen?

There is a very specific and narrow justification to issue a disciplinary release without a DRB or legal review. The Barnes Center OI states:

  ' “Commandants may release a student based on misconduct without convening a DRB when there is no substantial dispute about the underlying facts,” and “Releasing a student for disciplinary issues without conducting a DRB must be the rare exception.'

This type of release should be prudently predicated on an observable and factual incident. An example would be a student striking another in class, in plain view of many other students or even the instructor; with no extenuating circumstances. This rapid disciplinary release is meant to serve as a protection to the other students.

While the charges against Tyler were severe, he was released on bond and he was only arrested. I know that sounds weird 'only arrested.'

What many people don't realize is being arrested has a very low burden of proof. It relies only on suspicion and opportunity. For example: If you and I are in a room alone and I punch myself in the face; if I call the police and report that you punched me in the face there is likely enough evidence for you to be arrested for assault and battery.

So being arrested isn't proof of anything, only suspicion. And these types of legal nuances are why legal reviews exist in the disciplinary release process.

However, much like the Rodgers incident, I agreed that Tyler probably shouldn't be in ALS anymore. He had a lot of work to do to prepare for his off-base legal issues.

Interestingly, there is another ALS release classification that quite literally specifically addresses this situation. The Barnes Center OI states:

   ' Unit commanders may request recall of individuals based on extenuating circumstances not covered above. Examples include pending disciplinary action, under investigation, etc.'

The Holloman ALS commandant was a short MSgt named Stacy Pilgrim who seemed to be polite just enough to get what she wanted. Which was strikingly similar to Col Martin. You could say she was the gate keeper to his key master as it were [if I have to explain the joke it's not funny anymore].

Because Tyler was arrested and therefore under investigation I believed his release wasn't properly classified. However, at the time I had an old copy of the Barnes Center procedural guidance from 2010 and I needed an updated copy to make sure I was right. I made an appointment with MSgt Pilgrim to get information from the OI so I could help Tyler formulate an appeal strategy.

After the incident in 2010 to say that my trust in PME Commandants was low was quite the understatement. In my experience most Commandants in PME are tiny little kings of shitty little castles. But they relish their power and the attention of wing leadership.

As such, I recorded the conversation. You can find the audio below and an analysis of the audio farther down.

The audio:

So the first thing you the reader needs to understand is that 30 minutes after this conversation MSgt Pilgrim called my First Sergeant and said I came into her office arguing and was very rude. It's flagrant lies like these that remind me why I recorded these conversations. Ironic isn't it?

Now I am a bit biased but I thought I was very courteous during the conversation. Sure I disagreed with her decision and I indicated that we would be fighting the release classification which was her decision. And also I was crawling through her AFI to find information that proved she had made a mistake.

But disagreeing with someone doesn't equate to being rude. Anyone who would perceive this exchange as rude is likely protecting their career, their ego or probably both.

Here's what I think happened [this is based on nothing but my own opinion and assumptions]:

I think the 311th First Sergeant called up MSgt Pilgrim on the weekend and told her that SrA Perkie had put a gun to a woman's head and was in jail. It was not phrased as accused, or suspected of. I am willing to bet it was phrased as a fact.

Then I think the First Sergeant, after having already conversed with Lt Col Martin, told the ALS Commandant that the commander wants SrA Tyler Perkie kicked out of ALS.

Now, to be fair I have a very low opinion of PME instructors. I'm sure there are good ones, but in my experience almost all PME instructors are concerned with one thing: their own career. Assuming this is true, MSgt Pilgrim isn't likely to go against a squadron commander's wishes, especially for the sake of an Airman, and even less likely considering she didn't actually know this Airman. Justice and fairness be damned, there are stripes to be made!

My visit probably surprised the shit out of her. She probably thought everyone in Tyler's chain of command was in lock step with the commander. So to have me, a MSgt, come into her office and explain that we were going to question her judgement as a leader to her boss at the Barnes Center; she likely put her most polite defenses up.

Upon my return to the unit the First Sergeant pulled me aside and told me MSgt Pilgrim had complained about my behavior. I laughed uncontrollably because I knew she was full of shit. I almost pulled out the recording right there. But I didn't know the shirt that well so I decided against it.

The First Sergeant acted on our behalf and relayed any requests to MSgt Pilgrim. He even secured a digital copy of the Barnes Center Procedural Guidance for us to use to write Tyler's appeal.

But before we could submit the appeal we had a meeting with Lt Col Martin, which is a story for next time... found here


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