Vetting Air Force Officers

I can only speak to the ‘vetting’ of Air Force officers from the the period I was on active duty, 1968 – 1988.

From the moment I entered active duty I was continually being vetted for command.  That’s they very nature of the “up, or out” system we operated under at the time.  This meant that an officer either demonstrated upward mobility, or he/she was released from service.

We were ‘graded’ primarily through the formal OER (Officer Evaluation Report) system.  Initially we were rated semi-annually, then annually after two years.  Specific rating factors included knowledge of duties, performance of duties, effectiveness in working with others, leadership characteristics, judgement, use of resources, writing ability and oral expression and military qualities.  Over the years these measures were continually “tweaked” to include ‘equal opportunity participation, and later human relations.  The point being, we were always being ‘looked at.’

That was on the ‘formal’ side.  Then there was the ‘informal side.’  Career enhancement at the bar, on the golf course, in staff rooms and so forth.  For better or worse, I chose to focus on ‘performance’ and the bar.  My golf game sucks and I fail miserably at kissing-ass, even today!

I began my ‘rise’ in January 1975 when I reported to Vance AFB, OK as a T-38A IP.  The OER system was revised in 1975 and became much tougher.  At that time the Air Force mandated that only 22% of officers in a certain grade in a aunt could be given the “top grade,” a rating of “1.”  Then 28% were allocated a rating of “2,” and finally the “bottom 50% were given “3’s.”  For that initial reporting period I snagged a “1” having been in the unit only 4 months.  Of course it was subsequently downgraded to a “2” by the squadron commander as more of “his boys” came into play; then to a “3” as the wing commander stacked me up against everyone in the Wing.  However, all things considered, not bad.  From 1976 through 1988, all my ratings were “1’s.”

Air Training Command (ATC) selects it’s squadron commanders from the recommendations of the Hasty Hawk Board – an annual board consisting of ATC Wing Commanders.  In may case, the board met in 1985.  Approximately 300 officer records were reviewed and considered.  From those records, 31 officers made the Hasty Hawk list.  It is at this juncture ‘politics’ begins to come into play.  There is always a bit of “horse trading” that goes on during that 3-day board down at Randolph.  Anyway, I made the list.

Being ‘on the list’ doesn’t necessarily mean an individual will get a squadron – it just means you are on the list.  I was fortunate; I got a squadron in 1986.

My point here is, officers are vetted for command – continually upon receiving their commissions.  In the past 6 years I have seen senior officers (O-5s and above) “smoked” (relieved of command) at an alarming rate.  More often for such things like, “loss of confidence in his ability to command.”

Over the years I witnessed a few folks relieved of command, but no where near the number I am seeing today.  Just didn’t happen.  So, what changed?

I’ll leave this up to you to decide… but I will tell you, officers are vetted front he day they – from the day we – enter active duty.


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One Response to Vetting Air Force Officers

  1. Steve says:

    well i was in from 79 to 02… and the whole performance system changed in the early 90s… a new form for promotion boards that said – Definitely Promote and Promote – with the unit commander deciding who got what. I forget the percentages but the idea was for the CO to tell the board who he thought should be promoted. Good idea but gets back to your point about playing or not playing golf… it was sorta like the 1,2,3 system… a DP was about a 98% chance of getting promoted and a P was about 50 or less. My observation on the current crisis is the military leadership is several things:

    1. if you aren’t following the political leadership you time is numbered. The higher you go the worse it is. I was commonly asked by civilian peers in a joint agency, what my agenda was – I’d reply to get the mission done – to which i was told that won’t get you promoted nor make management happy.

    2. Given that we smaller number of air frames, ships, subs, etc. incidents become higher profile and public scape goats must be found for failures.

    3. Flag officers were more worried about their promotion statistics than mission – had one refuse to let me ‘hire’ a Capt because he was non-promotable and would drag down his statistics (but that’s a whole nother story).

    4. Because of the downsizing and the political correctness and turmoil there has been a terrible loss of culture which has resulted in the slacking of requirements.

    5. It’s easier to sack a subordinate than admit to your failures.

    6. Some people have done some stupid stuff… like surfacing a sub under Japanese boat.

    7. And finally and perhaps the biggest reason – the internet / news media… in your time and the 1st half of mine the media and information sharing was limited. With cable TV it grew but with the internet it exploded. And i wonder if truly more are getting fired or if we are just more aware of it.

    Any way… my 4 cents worth…

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