Two air support operations squadron commanders were fired this week after investigations found “a culture of hazing” in their units, the Air Force said in a Friday release.
Lt. Col. Robb Fiechtner, commander of the 3rd Air Support Operations Squadron at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, and Lt. Col. Joshua Cates, commander of the 5th ASOS at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, were relieved of command, the 354th Fighter Wing at Eielson said in the release. The two squadrons are part of the 1st Air Support Operations Group, which falls under the 354th Fighter Wing.
“We’re better than this,” Col. Benjamin Bishop, the 354th commander who removed Fiechtner and Cates, said in the release. “Every airman has an obligation to prevent and stop any harmful or demeaning conduct toward fellow airmen. This is especially true for commanders.”
Command-directed investigations found airmen at those two squadrons commonly took part in, and encouraged, a practice called “rolling up.” That practice involved tackling or restraining an airman, binding the airman’s hands or feet using duct tape, and allowing the airman to struggle before being released.
The CDI found that many airmen in those squadrons thought “rolling up” was based on camaraderie and bonding. But those who participated were taking part more out of peer pressure than on enjoyment of the actions, according to the investigations.
“There are traditions that promote the health of the unit and link us to the long blue line of airmen that have preceded us,” Bishop said in the release. “When airmen, however, attempt to equate hazing actions as tradition, they do an absolute disservice to our Air Force culture and also undermine our mission effectiveness.”
Bishop denounced hazing in the release, and reminded squadron commanders that they are responsible for the airmen they oversee.
“I hold the duty of squadron commanders in the utmost esteem, and expect our commanders to train and strengthen our airmen, while also caring for their morale and well-being,” Bishop said. “I hope we can all agree that hazing in any form has no place in our service, and that we can emerge more committed to our core values of integrity, service and excellence as we move forward in pioneering airpower’s frontier."
Col. Kenneth Boillot, commander of the 1st ASOG, has named Lt. Col. James Marlow as the acting squadron commander of the 3rd ASOS and Lt. Col. Todd Davis as acting commander of the 5th ASOS, according to the release.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.