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Smoke doesn't always mean fire Part I

You need a voice




As many of you know this blog started with me telling stories from my career. Those stories allowed me to explain the path my career took that eventually placed me in a position to affect some positive change for the people that worked for me, and some people that didn't. One time I even managed to write about a toxic leader abusing his people and get him to stop. It was a bit of a light-bulb moment for me. I could go beyond messages and instead I could be a voice for the silenced and do something to make the military better.

So I began writing about problematic decisions and events in the military. I received quite a bit of feedback through messages, texts, comments and shares. It's no coincidence that my blog began exactly three days after my Date of Separation because the truth is, military members don't have a voice.

In the Air Force, service members are restricted from sharing their honest thoughts and opinions by varying AFIs and the UCMJ. However, the Air Force Public Affairs apparatus has dedicated personnel to amplify feel good stories and the sunny side of military service. I mean that isn't necessarily a nefarious purpose, but when service members are constricted from detailing the reality of military service those feel good stories misrepresent military service and can quickly skew towards propaganda (I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it's unintentional, or at least with good intentions; read: recruiting fodder.)

So if you can't speak out, how can you affect change in your environment as a service member?

It kind of depends on what is causing the issue.

The basic idea is whomever is causing issues you go to their boss and talk to them. However, I've found supervisors protect supervisors just like commanders protect commanders. Also, eventually you get to a position where it really isn't feasible to "go to their boss" (ex: Group CC to seek help with a Squadron CC).

That's where other avenues might be beneficial. Your local Inspector General, maybe an Article 138 complaint. But again, each of those avenues are contained within the DOD. So here's the reality: As a service member you don't have an effective means to report abuses and get help, because you're relying on the organization that is abusing you. 

Each of these options are predicated on a healthy reporting system and a commander willing to listen and take immediate action. The IG is wholly contained in the DOD, and often they are contained within your Wing. An Article 138 stops at the general court martial authority which is either Wing or Numbered Air Force. 

These organizations have the same concerns as Air Force Public Affairs: No bad press. Prolonged IG complaints can create press, as do adverse IG findings. The Air Force is an organization where appearance is the most important commodity. This is why they remove your voice. You can only shout into the military apparatus, where words of contempt for abuse are absorbed into the fabric of complacent leaders, preoccupied with their particular metric that measures their success. Your long shifts, your lack of PT time, your weekends, your failing relationships, your trips to mental health. Your misery. These things are merely the cost they have accepted for your performance, and in turn their promotion.

It's the insidious idea that permeates the military, and especially aircraft maintenance, that because they suffered when they were younger, suffering is a cost of business. They believe that where they are now, is attributable to their suffering. That it is good for you. This of course ignores the passage of time and how junior personnel now are not necessarily facing the same struggles that more senior personnel suffered in their early careers. But they don't care, because it gives them just enough of an excuse to offset any cognitive dissonance.

So outside of internal military channels, what options do you have? Well, nothing in the judicial branch can help you, as you can't even take the military into court. The Feres Doctrine bars claims against the federal government by members of the armed forces and their families for injuries arising from or in the course of activity incident to military service (even negligence). The 2020 NDAA removed Feres Doctrine protections for medical providers against malpractice suits which is a step in the right direction. However, the Feres Doctrine still protects the military from any real accountability from it's service members. It's the reason they place burn pits a hundred yards from sleeping quarters. It's the reason they sent military personnel to K2, even though they knew of the toxicity. It's the reason they wantonly ignore safety standards for convenience, then lie about it. It's why they didn't initiate searches or investigations into murdered servicemembers. These are the things we know about. And why do we know about them? Because someone spoke outside the DOD sound-proof booth.

The reality is the DOD won't make any changes until Congress starts asking questions. Without Senators and Representatives holding up promotions, or dragging service chiefs in to hearings to explain things, nothing will ever change. As a constituent you have the right to contact your Congressperson and ask they conduct an inquiry into what your chain is doing. However, these inquiries are usually brief and your Representative (or more accurately the assigned intern, or best case, a staffer) will be seeking to resolve it as quickly as possible. This means they will gladly swallow whatever "Good order and discipline" narrative your chain throws their way. Then, your chain will essentially retaliate against you. Because as I outlined above, if they are maltreating you it's typically because they need numbers to make rank. Your audacity to bring a Congressional Inquiry will be handled after some measure of time, because it threatened their promotion. 

For reference here is sworn testimony from a JAG attorney counseling my commander on how he could get away with retaliating against me for making a protected communication:




But here's the catch. A Representative will engage in an inquiry because they want your one, single vote. So their effort is based on the risk of losing a single vote, or the reward of gaining a single vote. In this scenario, you don't have a voice you have a whisper. What you need is a thundering chorus.

That comes from the press. 

All of the examples I cited above of abuses, the only reason there was any change is because the press became involved. Because when national, or even regional attention is drawn to how the DOD maltreats servicemembers, all of a sudden your Representative is gambling with hundreds, or even thousands of votes.

A few weeks ago I was talking to my good friend Eric Stromski who you saw in the QA and Production discussion videos. He asked what my goal was with this entire 20 Years Done experiment. I told him that I saw broken things in the military that I know were causing serious harm to my friends and colleagues. That I can see how these types of problems are interrelated (suicide, ops tempo, yes-men careerists, unfit leaders). Ultimately what I want is to have 2-3 hours to sit down with someone in a position of power that is hungry for unfiltered information from the field and wants to make Airmen's lives better.

This blog produces zero income. I write when I can. The videos I make have no production quality (as I'm sure you've noticed). I have no aspirations for riches from this endeavor. My only goal is to tell the story of those still serving so that I can bring attention to the conditions that are inflicted on them and make their lives better. However, the longer I'm retired the further removed I am from the reality of what's going on.

So here are my asks:

1. Message my Facebook page information of what's going on in real time. If you, or your co-workers are being abused, let me know. I am the only person that runs my Facebook page. No one else will see it. If you're worried it's not secure, message me for my email address. I will protect your identity. There have been many articles I had to not publish because the subject was too exposed and I didn't want to jeopardize their career. Gather (non-classified) evidence and send it to me.

2. If what I write is the truth. If the videos make you scream "Yes! He gets it!" Share them, far and wide. Let's shine a giant spotlight on all the rot within the DOD. Let's get media to start taking a look, and let's have Congress start taking a look. I for one am tired of spinning my wheels waiting on the DOD to wake up to what is going on in their own house. 

There are more of us than there are of them. We have more votes to pressure Congress. Time's up for the status quo. I'll be your voice if you let me.

You're welcome to join us on our Facebook page. If you have any experiences you'd like to share let us know in the comments!








 

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