Phat’s story here was inspired because I asked him about one of GEN McPeak’s protégés.
Most people in the service don’t get a lot of face time with general officers. In the Army, as far as my day to day life went, it didn’t really matter who the two, three, and four star generals were in my chain of command. The Army is the Army, and it goes on as it always has. A general really has to work at it to make a genuine negative impression on the troops.
And one Air Force officer, McPeak’s protégé, did so. GEN Robert H. (“Doc”) Fogelsong was a career fighter pilot, eventually working his way up to four stars, and command of all US Air Force units in Europe, or USAFE.
Fogelsong had a reputation as a micromanager. Like, demanding to know the daily attendance at the base theater, or how many kids in the Child Development Center went to book readings.
The Air Force likes to give programs code names with two names. Cobra Judy, Pave Spike, Commando Solo… you get it?
Fogelsong, as USAFE, decided his units weren’t on the ball as much as they should be on the important things. No, not ability to fly, fight and win… the important things!
Combat Proud: Aims at improving base appearance to foster pride and productivity.
Combat Nighthawk: Links senior noncommissioned officers with junior officers on a night shift to act as the base commander’s eyes and ears, as well as help hone leadership skills.
Combat Education: Helps airmen pursue higher education by offering more flexible and innovative class schedules.
Combat Touch: Focuses on the spiritual needs and well-being of airmen and their families.
Combat Flightline: Helps enhance flying operations by making sure that the best personnel are in the right jobs.
Combat Intro/Exit: Streamlines base in-processing and out-processing.
Combat Fitness: Works to improve airmen’s physical fitness.
Combat Care: Improves care, resources, attention and information spouses and families receive while the military member is deployed.
Hidden Heroes: Encourages active-duty military members, Department of Defense civilians and family members to volunteer on base and in their communities.
Young men and women join the Air Force or other service with a great deal of idealism. They want to do an important job, and take pride in doing it well.
And, of course, the Air Force already had programs in place to address virtually all of these areas of concern. Ah… they didn’t have the cool “Combat….” code name for the program.
By far the least popular program was Combat Proud. Everyone wants to live and work on a nice installation. But Combat Pride was insulting to Airmen throughout Europe. Money was spent to build and paint cinder block walls to keep dumpsters out of sight behind buildings. Airmen were out raking leaves… in a forest!
Gussying up the most mundane chores of the service with a “Combat” nickname, and focusing on them at the expense of truly mission critical tasks, was the hallmark of the micromanager.
If a junior Airman cannot publicly disparage his theater commander by name, there is another way for him to express his displeasure.
If GEN Fogelsong really thought some part of an air base was failing to meet the standards of appearance, there was another, far more appropriate method of addressing shortcomings. USAFE has, as a right hand man, a Chief Master Sergeant (a super E-9) as his principal advisor on enlisted matters. And that Chief should have gone to the Chief on an air base and remonstrated with him about the standards of appearance.
Toxic leadership is just that, toxic. More than a few good officers and men have simply walked away from a service they loved because one toxic senior leader made the game not worth the candle.
After his retirement from the Air Force, GEN Fogelsong was appointed president of Mississippi State University, where he promptly instituted a similar leadership paradigm.
MSU fired him about a year and a half later.