Rebellion in the Air Force

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Joseph Shelton
  • 347th Operational Support Squadron
The Air Force is under attack. Not from a foreign enemy or sister service, but from its own members. Recently, I was reading comments on an article about the life and career of Brig. Gen. Robin Olds. I noticed abundant praise for his defiance and seething remarks about today's Air Force. General Olds was without a doubt a giant in every sense of being a great pilot and leader.

The early history of the Air Force is full of leaders whose defiance and forward thinking set them apart from the crowd. However, those leaders were not defying their values or principles; their rebellion was against narrow-minded thinking. Although their ego's often got in their way, the great leaders knew when to put their ego aside for the greater good. Their survival and the survival of the Air Force depended on better ways of thinking.

We all have a rebellious streak, whether it's openly ignoring dress and personal appearance standards, blatant disregard of the reflective belt policy or simply complaining about something we disagree with. I know the world won't end if your hat is improperly sticking out of your ABU pocket or your flight suit sleeves are improperly pushed up to your elbows, and I most certainly agree the reflective belt looks ridiculous with a camouflage uniform.

It's easy to complain, that's why everyone does it. True growth requires effort, that's why only a few truly make the attempt. The Air Force is full of smart people and smart people often rebel against what they don't understand or disagree with. It has been my experience that the majority of criticism and complaints in the Air Force stem from personal inconvenience, ignorance or failure to see the big picture. You must ask yourself these questions:

Is my rebellion ego-driven or issue-driven?
If it is issue-driven, why is this standard in place?
Is my ego-driven defiance making things better, and am I willing to accept the consequences for it?
Is defying and berating the Air Force in front of a young Airman, the right thing to do?

I am all for free speech, especially if it is useful and improves our Air Force. On the day he retired, General Hap Arnold said "anticipate change," "be willing to discard the obsolete, however sentimentally attached you may be, examine new ideas, however outlandish they might appear at first glance."

He knew the Air Force must forever evolve. We are all apart of that evolution process. I suggest thoroughly and honestly investigating a standard or procedure you disagree with. If, after your research you see no logical reason for it, do whatever is necessary to eliminate it through the proper channels. You may win, you may not. If you discover the origin is valid, you must willingly promote and support it. Whatever the outcome, we cannot disregard standards nor can we ignore the chain-of-command due to ego-driven rebellion or lack of interest.

When Olds was told to remove his iconic mustache, he said "yes sir," and he did it, end of story. It is our total responsibility to adhere to military standards and eliminate the unnecessary or counter-productive so we can focus on what's important, the Airmen and the mission.

Rebellion is a good thing. Rebellion is thinking in and of itself, but are you using your rebellion, your thinking, effectively? I would encourage anyone to focus rebellion towards growth and improvement, but do it properly. You've worked too hard to get where you are, don't let rebellion over trivial matters get you reprimanded, or worse, for violating simple established standards.

Continually defying the standards is the wrong way to get them changed. Don't let your ego get in the way of better thinking and be detrimental to your career. Think of a better way! True thinking requires exploring all possible aspects and ideas, not just relying on personal or popular opinion. Let's rid our culture of petty defiance and Air Force bashing in exchange for genuine improvements that truly make a difference and strengthen our Airmen and our Air Force.

Everyone benefits when smart people think effectively. When the ego is removed from the decision making process, true leadership emerges. General George S. Patton III said "if everybody is thinking the same thing, then no one is thinking." Thinking requires effort. Effort leads to action. Thinking + Action = Leading! Lead the rebellion to a better Air Force or get out!