The Daughter Unit clued me in this week to a humongous ruckus which brewed among Air Force contributors to military-oriented discussion boards on Reddit – a ruckus which involves the current Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force – which for the laymen audience, means the very tippy-top enlisted, that singular and exemplary senior NCO who supposedly sits at the right hand of the highest military commanders in the land, to keep them appraised of the interests of the enlisted men and women. The Daughter Unit keeps track of this military ‘gen on a more regular basis than I do, as my two-decades long service was a good while ago, and I walked away from it all and constructed another life and long-term interests in writing, book-blogging and publishing. I will confess to some sentimental feelings for my service, as it provided me with a lot of fun, foreign travel, a decent paycheck and benefits (to include the pension and retirement benefits), a chance to hang out with some amazing people (as well as a soupcon of psychos, amiable freaks and the severely mal-adjusted), and a kind of mental grounding, even a rough sympathy when it comes to people who work for a living and get their hands dirty and their fingernails broken. But enough about me, and my not-particularly-rewarding career as an enlisted minion, toiling away in the bowels of the mighty military public affairs machine some two- or three-decades past.
The office of the Chief Master Sergeant of any service is a huge thing, in all the military forces: the name of the current Chief-Master-Whatever is one of the things military recruits to whatever branch are expected to know and recite on demand when in Basic Training. General officers there are, in legions, and the multi-stars roost en masse like grackles in the highest levels of command – but there is only one Chief Enlisted, for all four (five counting the Coast Guard) military services. This one – CMSAF JoAnne Bass – is the first female to take up that exalted office for any of the services. I wish her the best luck in the world. When I began serving, there weren’t but a bare half-dozen of female senior enlisteds in the Air Force, and a fair number of the junior enlisted that I served with were the first or second females in certain traditionally male specialties which had just been opened to females. Unfortunately, as things are shaping up in the first months of her tour of duty, Chief Bass had better buckle in, as it looks like it’s going to be a bumpy flight. She put her foot wrong, straight off the bat, when a young NCO (innocently, or perhaps not so innocently) inquired on the CMSAF’s FB page as to how her last name was pronounced – like the fish or the musical instrument?
I took one look at the various threads on this military-oriented Reddit on the latest Bass imbroglio and just cringed. This was my specialty – public relations, and my sense of what is appropriate in an official publication or broadcast is very finely tuned. (As one of my early mentors once observed – if you have to stop and think about saying something on air — probably best off not saying it at all.) Did CMSAF Bass, or her public affairs team (I do assume that a) her office has such, and b) she pays them any attention) seriously consider the public affairs aspect of blasting out a shout-out on her official feed intending to support single parents with a nod to an airman ostensibly doing a good thing, but also including a repost of an article which – somewhat embarrassingly turned out to be a published article in a local base news publication. The content of that article also makes me wonder who is in charge of publishing the original story regarding the challenges of being a single military parent following upon a failed marriage to another service member. The article reposted by the CMSAF contained some rather vicious slams on the male parent, unnamed but apparently readily identified, also an Air Force member on active duty. Divorces are very often ugly, full of accusations bandied back and forth, like a particular model of social hand grenade with the pin partially pulled, especially when children are concerned. It eventually emerged that the other party to the divorce had partisans – supervisors and comrades indignant at how their troop was calumniated by extension, first by his ex, and then by the senior tippy-top-enlisted – a party who is supposed to be the champion of all enlisted, without partisan favor.
I suppose there are several parts to this imbroglio, which in the first two parts looks to be dying down, since half-apologies and something of a public affairs rational has been given. Number the first has to do with a toxic troop, which the female of this party might yet prove to be. I have any particular knowledge of her, or her situation – but what I have read of her in the linked thread vividly recalls to my mind a couple of junior female airmen I encountered, the worst of whom was a pathological liar, and a particularly vengeful sociopath at that. This reaction just might be my bitterly cynical side kicking in.
The second part is … well, a person in a position of leadership who demonstrates a tendency to shoot from the lip, as the old simile goes, can inadvertently do a lot of damage without meaning to, in leaping to assumptions about the motivations and abilities of people not personally known to one… Now our previous president did have a tendency towards that reaction on first glance, but one wonders now if it weren’t a more calculated volley … but never mind.
CMSAF Bass is now two down, in reacting in a manner not to bring reassurance to the heart of many Air Force enlisted personnel, and with the military faced now with a 60-day long stand-down to examine so-called white extremism among the ranks, at the order of Biden’s Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin … that’s a serious challenge. The stand-down is supposedly to examine the force for “extremists views, ties or activities” which all sounds completely innocent and laudable … no, no it doesn’t. The whole concept reeks like week-old roadkill on a hot Texas summer day It sounds uncommonly like a witch hunt/struggle session targeting any military members accused of voting for Trump, supporting the Washington protests on January 6th, suspecting (with damn good reason) that the 2020 election was stolen by the Democrat Party, and perhaps entertaining serious doubts with regard to the utility of Critical Race Theory when it comes to military operations. The military as a whole tends towards the conservative, especially the enlisted; volunteers largely come from rural and Southern backgrounds, and from families with a strong tradition of military service. Engaging a two-month long witch-hunt and struggle session at the command of the Sec Def has the very real possibility of a number of unfortunate results, besides Lloyd Austin taking the sorry crown of most-despised by active-duty military Sec Def ever from Robert McNamara. (I went on active duty a full decade after that man’s departure – and I swear, the mid-ranked NCOs that I served with practically spat in contempt when the man’s name came up in reminiscent conversation.) The other and more serious consequence from all this is that upon knowing that recruits and serving members of a conservative bent will be regarded with official suspicion of being white racists/supremacists/bogy-men-du-jour and subject to the ministrations of whatever echelon will be serving as the US forces of the Soviet era “political officer”, several things will happen: recruiting will crater, resulting in at the very least, lowering every sort of standard for enlistment imaginable, including things like IQ, prior drug use and involvement with the penal system. First-term enlistees will decline to reenlist, cratering those figures. Career NCOs will keep their heads down and gut it out to twenty, if they are at or beyond the ten-year point. Senior career NCOs will turn in their retirement papers at first opportunity.
So much for “Thank you for your service.” Comment as you find the heart to do so.