While I appreciate the comments on morale made by Gen. Dave Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff [“Growing the Force Key to Fixing Morale Woes,” April 16], I would have to say he is wrong on many of his assumptions.
While he is correct that the Air Force is facing serious issues of morale and retention, those issues are not due to readiness and growing the force.
Rather, those issues come from the political culture of the Air Force.
Gen. Goldfein suggested that “morale and readiness are inextricably linked,” citing examples from Bagram and Kunsan air bases, where, he states, “you walk the [flight]line where we have invested both the people, the parts, all the things that are required to continue engaging in an active campaign … you’re going to find that morale is fairly high.”
He then compares this with examples from stateside bases where “you see lower levels of readiness, lower levels of manpower, high levels of operational tempo.” He continues that stateside bases are supporting these missions “with less people, less parts on the shelves.”
However, the opposite is actually true.
It is much more difficult to perform maintenance in the Middle East or many other deployed locations than stateside because of the abysmal quality of tools and support equipment, not to mention how extremely difficult it can sometimes be to acquire replacement parts.
So why would morale be higher in a deployed location than stateside? Culture.
Fear as motivation
A friend of mine once compared our squadron to the “Hunger Games,” where everyone is expected to play along for the betterment of the nation as a whole, yet everyone knows that nobody can truly be trusted.
While this analogy might not necessarily reflect the feelings between lower ranking individuals, it does convey quite accurately the feelings many have toward unit and squadron leadership.
The driving factor for work ethic might once have been patriotism, but that has gradually slipped into motivation based on fear. The true reason we have an overwhelming lack of experienced 7-level maintainers is not due to manning cuts, but because of the amount of time it takes to become a 7-level is nearly identical to the amount of time an individual spends in his first-term enlistment (either four or six years).
By the time you sew on E-5, it’s nearly time to decide whether or not to re-enlist, and the culture tends to encourage separation. For example, after becoming a staff sergeant 7-level, these airmen will increase their interactions with senior leadership, leading to increased feelings of distrust as they are thrown aside and stabbed in the back by the very leaders that should be their mentors.
The term sergeant comes from the Latin word servient, which means “to serve.” Yet, rather than placing the needs and interests of their subordinates above their own, the culture has become “mine before thine.” These issues are not nearly as rampant in deployed locations as it is stateside, leading to the key reason why morale is higher overseas: culture.
The PC scourge is killing us
However, unit and squadron leadership are only a part of the puzzle. A truly pervasive cultural phenomenon is plaguing our military, and that is one of political correctness. For example, one of my most cherished feelings I have about our military is how integrated and multifaceted we all are. I absolutely love that I work with people from almost every background, race and religion our nation has to offer. So why would the Air Force encourage division? You are allowed to be proud, and even proclaim that pride, in being black, Latino, homosexual, atheist or transgender, yet I cannot proclaim my pride in being a white, heterosexual, male Christian without serious reprimand. This division is encouraged and supported by the Air Force. The vast majority of the people I work with feel the same frustration that I do, regardless of their heritage or background. Political correctness is void of humanity; people lose their value as human beings as they digress into divisible statistics.
In my honest opinion, the only thing that will help morale and retention is a fundamental overhaul of Air Force culture. We need a culture where people are once again a priority, not a culture where money and assets are taken better care of than airmen.
If this overhaul is realized, I strongly believe that we will see morale and retention rates increase as more and more people develop pride in what they do.
Staff Sgt. Preston Haskell is with the 432nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. The opinions expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Air Force, or of Air Force Times or its staff.
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