Dear Boss…

Two must reads today, both in Small Wars Journal, and both related. 

Talented mid-grade officers are exhausted. And once they make the decision to hang it up, they also aren’t shy about sharing why with the upper management.


The Air Force has a storied tradition called the “Dear Boss” letter.  While there may have been previous iterations, and certainly the feeling was out there before, the “Dear Boss” letter as it is known started with a letter penned by then-Captain Ron Keys in 1973 to General Wilbur Creech, Tactical Air Command commander.  The below is just a snippet of the opening of his missive.

Dear Boss,
Well, I quit. I’ve finally run out of drive or devotion or rationalizations or whatever it was that kept me in the Air Force this long. I used to believe in, “Why not the best,” but I can’t keep the faith any longer. I used to fervently maintain that this was “My Air Force,” as much or more than any senior officer’s…but I can’t believe any more; the light at the end of my tunnel went out. “Why?” you ask. Why leave flying fighters and a promising career? Funny you should ask— mainly I’m resigning because I’m tired. Ten years and 2,000 hours in a great fighter, and all the time I’ve been doing more with less—and I’m tired of it. CBPO [Central Base Personnel Office] doesn’t do more with less; they cut hours. …

I’m too tired, not of the job, just the Air Force. Tired of the extremely poor leadership and motivational ability of our senior staffers and commanders. (All those Masters and PMEs [professional military educators] and not a leadership trait in sight!) Once you get past your squadron CO [Commanding Officer], people can’t even pronounce esprit de corps.

Now, you say, that was 1973, in the post Vietnam era. Well, guess what? History repeats itself:

Dear Boss,

I don’t just quit. I give up.

Why should I keep on bleeding myself and my family dry on MQT, CMR, FMC, UTE, RAP, FLUG, DTS, TDYs, OPRs, ATSO, SARC, CBTs, AT/FP, IA/IP, UCIs, SORTS,OREs, ORIs, AEFs, IPUG, BMC, when in the end nothing that I do seems to matter? To put it another way, why should I put service before self when my Chief is systematically dismantling my service? To use a perhaps appropriately joint analogy, I’m a strong swimmer – so why stay aboard a ship whose captain is running it aground?

You might think that out in the field we don’t notice what’s going on at Headquarters. You might think that we’re too busy doing more with less, coping with the administrivia of yet another ancillary ground training requirement from some staff puke’s rice bowl, trying to magically improve our “readiness” reporting with geriatric jets that can’t make UTE [See Note 1] and a glut of inexeperienced wingmen that we can’t absorb – that we are too busy to notice that what leadership is doing. Well, we aren’t. When I was an FNG [New Guy], all I cared about was sounding good on check-ins, staying visual, flying good formation, and studying the 3-1. But now I know that senior leadership matters, and what my leadership is showing me is that nothing I do matters or ever will.

These are both short reads. Go hit them.

5 thoughts on “Dear Boss…”

  1. This sounds oddly similar to the way I felt when I got out in 2003. I wrote a draft of a letter somewhat similar (although of course more Navy-centric), and my department head shredded it and told me to delete it off my computer, because nothing I could possibly have to say would be relevant or interesting.

    Any doubts I had about getting out went straight out the window.

    (Of course now I recognize that getting out was a huge mistake. Hindsight is 20/20.)

    (Although, since they haven’t fixed any of the problems I was concerned about, I don’t know if it really was a mistake after all.)

  2. I have seen enough stuff downrange to know that there or more guys who think like the letter writer, and fewer of the people who are “all in”. Yeah, he probably has some valid points about the aging feet of aircraft, but that isn’t the only thing or things that have gotten worn out during this conflict.

    I got out of the Army when I could have stayed longer because I was tired…and not just the deployments either. Everyone has it tough and the tone of that airman’s letter insures it won’t be given much consideration outside of blogs like this and the fighter pilots’ bar at Nellis AFB.

    1. Well, you retired at 20+. You’re allowed to be tired!

      The letter writer seems to be a mid-career guy, probably a Major or so, at around 10 years. And as he says, it’s not just the deployments. It’s a sense of futility.

      I suspect there’s a fair amount of “bright sizing” going on, where folks who know they’ll be highly competitive outside are bailing, and those that know they aren’t… are staying. Well, guess who will be the pool to choose from for COLs and Generals?

  3. I think people like him really do need to heard, tone notwithstanding. But the people that need to listen won’t. It really isn’t a screed, as the letter Lex described was, but one that is a plea to be shown why he should stay in rather than getting out. I seriously doubt he will get the response he needs, or that the service needs to give.

  4. Well I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels that way. Wait, that’s not right. What’s the opposite of glad? Depressed? Frustrated? Furious? All of the above?

    My penultimate two years were spent in an ever-increasing cycle of frustration trying to get the chain of command to realize the utter lack of morale in the department and that their policies where actively making the situation worse. About a year out from my EAOS, while I was working on my re-enlistment paperwork I realized that the only satisfaction I got from my job was from its difficulty, and that I knew it was a difficult job because it made me miserable (no kidding, I got to the point where I broke out in hives if my skin was exposed to anything below 65F). Once I realized how perverse that was I decided to get out, and it made me happier. Much like the man who jumps out of the fire and into the frying pan is happier.

    As a wise man once asked: “Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?” I don’t know about you, but I’m going to get booze.

    P.S. Xbrad, think about the effects of “bright sizing” on the nuclear fields. To me one of the biggest ironies was the recommendations the head of NR gave to the Air Force after the inadvertent transfer of nuclear weapons a few years back. The good admiral would have been wise to heed his own advice.

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