Command Climate in the Air Force

July 19, 2008

When I took command my first platoon in 2003, my unit commander, LtCol C., having just returned from the Invasion of Iraq (OIF I), sat me down in his office and told me the most difficult part of command: Setting an effective Command Climate.

What is Command Climate?  I don’t think it’s really definable, but suffice to say that it’s the force that a commander exudes that causes his charges to make a particular decision without specific guidance.  For a platoon commander, this force impacts the Marine’s efforts at basic things like equipment maintenance, physical training, making safe decisions when off duty, etc.  These aren’t usually life-or-death decisions, but when added together, they have a great effect on discipline, morale, health, and effectiveness of a unit.  Command Climate is the thing that guides a Marine when he has to make a decision, and the pluses and minuses of that decision cancel each other out, leading the Marine to think, “Damn it, Cpl X, or Sgt Y, or MSgt Z, or Lt. SE would want me to do this, so I’m going to do it.”  Simply put, Command Climate is a sort of peer pressure that’s exerted on a unit by the Commander.

Command Climate can be positive or negative.  While it is a truism that the bottom 25% of any group will take up 75% of a leader’s time, it also seems to be true that 75% of the problems in a group of units seem to come from only 25% of those units.  Strong leaders create Command Climates that solve and mitigate problems.  Poor leaders create Command Climates that create and worsen problems.  And so it appears to be so with the US Air Force. 

Today, the Washington Post reported:

“The Air Force’s top leadership sought for three years to spend counterterrorism funds on “comfort capsules” to be installed on military planes that ferry senior officers and civilian leaders around the world, with at least four top generals involved in design details such as the color of the capsules’ carpet and leather chairs, according to internal e-mails and budget documents.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

SE’s Reading Program – With Update

July 12, 2008

I have written on the nature of Professionalism.  An element to true Professionalism is the maintenance of a course of independent, continual study.  Here I will speak to my personal reading program, which is a core part of my Professional military education.

Read the rest of this entry »


The System is Broken: Awards

October 31, 2006

The awards system is broken.

The Marines have a reputation for being relatively stingy on awards, and I think this is still relatively true.

I’ve been told by field grade officers who I confide in that these practices are all part of the system. It’s how the game is played. It’s all politics. Sure, it’s dirty, but everybody does it.

What these field grades are saying may be true, but it’s surely not right.

Here are some what-ifs. On my most recent deployment I had the distinct pleasure of writing an award for one of the most outstanding NCOs in the Marine Corps: Sergeant K. This Marine was stellar in every sense. He demanded and received respect from peers, subordinates, and superiors. His technical MOS skills were better than most Gunnery Sergeants I know of in the same MOS. He displayed outstanding physical fitness and moral rectitude. Superior in just about every catagory. I rated him first out of 17 Sergeants I have reported on. He was a Marine who made it a pleasure to write fitreps and awards. I wrote him up for a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (or NAM, in the service parlance).

During the same deployment and some weeks later I found out that:

  • 90% of the Quality Assurance Section of the Maintenance Department had been submitted for the NAMs.
  • Several Lance Corporals were receiving Certificates of Commendation for going to the Base PX in Iraq to pick up submarine sandwiches and pizza for the superbowl party. (note that these Marines were doing NOTHING beyond their normal duties to bring success in combat. Consequently, these Marines are being awarded for doing NOTHING).

Working in an awards system like this, either I’m the bad guy by not writing my Marines up for awards that their peers under different officers are being recommended for. Or I can let the standards degrade and write awards for all of the Marines in my detachment, like the Quality Assurance Marines. There are so many awards that Marines feel entitled to them.

Awards are taking away from the title of Marine. Too often we judge Marines and servicemembers for the ribbons and medals on their chest. We need to get back to the existential value of being a Marine, and get away from the meaningless regalia of nylon ribbons for PowerPoint slide construction.

One Major Peter F. Owen wrote an article called The Institutionalization of Festoonery in the same April, 2000 issue of The Marine Corps Gazette. (The good Major is probably out of the Marines or significantly promoted by now.) In the article the author admits that the bulk of the awards available to Marines are probably here to stay (some awards, for example, are awarded in the name of the President of the United States or the Secretary of the Navy, and action by Headquarters Marine Corps will not get rid of these awards). The author’s suggests instead that Marines only wear certain awards that enhance the value of the uniform (Bronze Stars, Silver Stars, Air Medals, etc.), and exclude trite awards such as National Defense Service Medals, Meritorious Service Medals, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, to name a few. Maj Owen would allow Marines to continue to wear unit awards and campaign medals, as these undoubtedly add to the Marine Corps heritage. Maj Owen’s recommendation’s are worthy.

Marine Colonel Thomas X. Hammes in the same issue of The Marine Corps Gazette advocates removal of all non-combat awards. There is precident for this, when the Medal of Honor was subject to recall in the early 1900s due to awarding criteria becoming too liberal.

The other services have similar problems on their hands. The Army uses the Army Achievement Medal (the service equivalent of the NAM submitted for Sgt K.) as punishment.

What can you do? The current uniform regulations allow for Marines to not wear any medals or ribbons on some service uniforms, or allow for Marines to wear only personal awards and unit awards. Go ahead and wear that lonely NAM and Combat Action Ribbon and omit your National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal (two entirely redundant awards, as they are awarded for being on active duty in the period since September 11th). Forego the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon. When your fellow Marines ask you why you’re not wearing all of your awards, tell them the truth.

You can also think about the good of the Marine Corps when you are writing awards. I have explained to Marines who have approached me on why I’m stingy with awards to research the battle of Tarawa (Utmost Savagry, by Alexander is a good volume). Barely 5% of all Marines involved in that bloody fight were recognized by an award of any type, including Letters of Commendation by the Commanding General (which are paper awards with no companion medal). Be stingy about awards, and tell your Marines that you’re upholding the heritage of the Marine Corps by doing so. And tell them about how important an honor it is to just be a Marine. It is an honor indeed.

Let your reputation speak for you rather than the nylon on your chest. And let the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor (or whatever your service emblem), speak to your professionalism.