Who Am I To Talk?
First, who am I and why listen to me? As the son of a career USAF sergeant, I grew up on military bases and so can authoritatively speak about growing up in that environment. I am a graduate of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). My first career was in Air Force, and I spent 28 years as a commissioned officer. Three of my brothers have been Army officers, one stayed for ten years, one is retired now, and one will retire this summer.
Problems Of Central Planning
One thing you learn in the military is the limitations of central planning. Having a powerful headquarters has advantages when we need to quickly move large units over many miles to accomplish a mission. However, a powerful headquarters also guarantees slow reaction to everyday events. In my time in the Air Force, there were countless times when we were paralyzed for weeks at a time, while trying to do routine actions that followed published directions. Even though we were doing what we always did, we had to brief higher headquarters before acting. Since they were trying to review the actions of all of their subordinate units, it could take weeks so they could tell us to go ahead with what we had to do anyway. The military can show us that central direction should be used when appropriate, but is certainly the wrong answer for most situations that do not involve an emergency. For example this lesson tells us that the Federal government should not have the Tennessee Valley Authority, we should allow private enterprise to provide electricity for our country. Similarly, many government agencies that have power over education, health care, and transportation should be eliminated or reduced. They add bureaucracy and smother initiative. We have many agencies that can coordinate interstate efforts and can react to illegal activity, we do not need to compete with commercial companies. The Federal government should remain in control of the military and in control of reaction to natural disaster, but they have been given control in many inappropriate situations.
What Did I Do For The Country?
What did I accomplish in my career? I did my part to win the Cold War – with my role as a Senior Director at a remote missile warning site in Alaska being my most direct contribution. I was also in the Space career field and tracked satellites for four and a half years, supporting the re-entry of the Skylab space station, supporting the anti-satellite program, and the various military satellite missions. Later, I supported military payloads that launched on the Space Shuttle. I did well in my assignments, people told me that my expertise was missed after I had left. But the best contribution was to help younger people get the opportunities and training that they needed to contribute to the Air Force and our country. I trained and mentored younger people in every assignment, trying to give them the tools they needed to do an excellent job. I helped Sgt Frank Dominguez become Lt Frank Dominguez, making sure that my communications unit got the best person to take the leadership role that was available. I have worked with many young people, both in the Reserves and as a retired officer, who got scholarships and went on to become Air Force leaders. People like Mike Smith who got a scholarship to Texas A&M, people like Steven Mount from Texas City High School, who was able to go to the Air Force Academy. We should all remember that an important role is to provide for our unit, even after we have left for the next one.
Does “the military” exist? No! The military is a large, diverse, organization. There are the various services such as the Air Force and Navy, within the Air Force there are many commands. Each organization is different. And is there a “military” approach to a problem? No. Military people are very diverse and have many approaches to any situation. So when people tell us that the military is going to react in a way that “the military” always reacts – don’t believe them.
Charles Phillips was an Air Force officer from 1978 until he retired in 2005 (working in space, communications, and maintenance), first in the Active Duty for ten years, then in the Texas Air National Guard for ten years, and last in the Air Force Reserve for eight years. He has been a writer all of that time. Now he finds the stories that people are interested in but might have been missed by other reporters.