Erosion Of Warfighting Capability In US Military

By: - April 12, 2021

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‘Doolie’ cadet being trained at USAFA, circa 1982

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“Victory in battle starts with the shine on a boot…”
Napoleon

The US Air Force Academy’s Class of 1986’s thirtieth reunion gave those of us in attendance among the classes of 2016 to 2019 an eerie sense that something essential to the character and nature of the Academy, and the kind of cadets it was forming, was off.  We all reminisced with our families over the years just how difficult our Academy experience had been, but what we observed in the demeanor and behavior of the cadets did not match up with our experiences and expectations for how an Academy graduate should carry themselves and behave as graduates of our proud institution.  When we as a group expressed our observations and concerns to the Superintendent, she explained to us that today’s generation had to be treated differently.  We were the 28th graduating class, almost the median in Academy history that began with the Class of 1959, tested its mettle in Vietnam, proved itself in Desert Storm, and endured the War on Terror.  American forces were actively engaged in conflict all over the globe from Afghanistan to Syria.  We expected to see a class of Academy graduates motivated by the prospect of service in active combat and prepared for active leadership roles within the Air Force.  What we observed looked more like uncertain graduates a liberal civilian university ready to start internships at non-profits.

The stark contrast in the deportment of the cadets after undergoing the “fourth class system”, which all new cadets go through, that we observed and what we and others in the Long Blue Line could not have been more glaring and alarming.  From the first class in 1959 until that time, freshmen, otherwise known as “doolies” experienced intense pressure from cadet training designed as a rite of passage that would unify all who endured in a common bond of shared success.  While the length of time may have differed from class to class, there was no doubt when you were recognized and accepted into the cadet wing that you were imbued with an indominable warrior spirit.  It was the development of this spirit that would serve us in combat or difficult leadership situations, both in our military careers and life after the military.  What we saw that September of 2016 led us to agree to begin to pay very close attention to our military academies. Since then, we realized that our observations of the Air Force Academy turned out to be the tip of the iceberg and hinted at greater trouble across all the academies of the US military.

While the military academies only produce a fraction of the total officer corps, they are a bellwether for the larger force.  What we saw in 2016 and what are seeing continuing to observe at all the academies today reflects what is occurring more broadly throughout American society.  Rather than focusing on being proud citizens of a unified nation, we are seeing the fruition of decades of the teaching of socialist critical theory, by which Americans have been taught to segment ourselves into groups based on race, gender, religion, economic success, and political ideology.  As intended by the proponents of this insidious political philosophy, this is tearing our nation apart. In the military, such effects can be disastrous to our warfighting preparedness and effectiveness.  At a time when we are stretched in our capability to cover global commitments, we cannot afford anything less than the most patriotic, unified, effective, and lean fighting force possible.  The “woke” cadets that are the product of the past several decades of socialist critical theory are producing officers that we are now encountering in our armed forces, whose attitudes about our nation not only flies in the face of American military history but in the preparedness of our academy graduates to effectively lead our brave men and women serving in the US armed forces. 

Contrary to the demagoguery of socialist critical theory dogma, the American military was among the first institutions to recognize the need to integrate all races in the wake of World War II.  All black, Latino, Native American, and Japanese units more than acquitted themselves on the battlefield, while other minorities that had faced societal discrimination, like Jews, Irish, and Italians, had by then blended into larger units dominated by soldiers of European descent.  Truman’s 1948 Executive Order to integrate the American military was done in recognition that we were stronger as a nation with all ethnicities bonded together as patriots rather than separated along ethnic lines.  What is also often missed is only a few weeks earlier, the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act enabled women to permanently serve in the regular armed services, making 1948 a pivotal moment in American history.

By no means did integration end discrimination in the ranks.  It took years to begin to breakdown tensions in the ranks and only during the Korean War did units begin to truly integrate into effective fighting forces.  Despite resistance in the Army leadership, field commanders moved to integrate their forces, and in 1951, General Matthew Ridgeway, officially ordered all forces in Korea to integrate.  The combat effectiveness, despite concerns from the Army staff, was not negatively impacted.  The changes were not made as a social experiment but were made to create a more effective fight force.

The Vietnam War narrative portrayed in popular culture is that poor blacks were disproportionately drafted and that their casualties significantly higher than those of white, draft age boys.  It is true that more affluent college age students were able to get deferments, and those kids were more often white than not, but it was more reflective of their economic status rather than race.  Blacks were more represented in the US Army and USMC than the 11% of the overall population, but the casualty rate was only slightly elevated at a total of 12.5% of total killed in action.  In 1973, in the wake of the disastrous war in Viet Nam, President Nixon ordered the establishment of an all-volunteer, professional military.  Certainly, one of the motivations was a response to public pressure over the unfair burden on poorer Americans, but in truth the military understood that more complex equipment and battle tactics required more than the two-year service provided for under the draft system.  

The first time the all-volunteer, professional military was employed in a full-scale conflict was the 1991 Desert Storm operation.  Hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines were successfully deployed against the battle tested Iraqi army.  It only took 6 weeks of the air war and 100 hours of ground combat to annihilate Iraqi resistance.  The military came home as victorious heroes, celebrated by all Americans, irrespective of race, color, or creed. 

September 11th, 2001 brought on another challenge for the military.  Proud Americans from every ethnic and economic group flocked to recruitment centers to volunteer for the new War on Terror.  We were galvanized by the attack on our home soil, and flags were seen in front of every home and business.  In the first years, there was a sense of pride and respect for our military members.  Ordinary citizens gave up their first-class seats, bought meals for military members passing through airports, and when the remains of a military member were removed from the cargo hold of an airliner, passengers stood in silence until the escort and coffin had cleared the area.  Americans saw no colors other than red, white, and blue.  We saw no faces other than battle hardened warriors.

Twenty years later that feeling of unity and patriotism has flagged and now Americans are turning against each other, driven by decades of political and societal division, all aroused and enflamed by the collision of socialist critical theory and what had been the dominant American ethic of “one nation, under God, indivisible, with unity and justice for all”.  And for the first time since 1948, race and gender identity are at the forefront of discussions in the military, rather than readiness and warfighting abilities.  Today we are told that “diversity is our strength,” but military experience and history has taught us differently.  It taught us that patriotism, competence, comradery, and an indominable spirit are all that matter.

Going back to that Class of 1986 we started with, we began our journey with 1483 cadets.  We represented a broad spectrum of American society, and I am certain there was a certain amount of social engineering to make sure the core of the US Air Force officer corps would be reflective of the general population of America.  When we got off the bus at the foot of the “Bring Me Men” ramp, we were all the same: they cut our hair, gave us our uniforms, and yelled at us equally. That ramp is no more, having been removed under pressure from societal forces pushing disastrous policies based on “political correctness” and critical race/gender dogma.

After a four-year slog, we graduated with 961 second lieutenants and were commissioned as Air Force officers by then Vice President George HW Bush.  Those of us who were physically qualified for flight training were required to attend pilot and navigator training, almost without exception.  Almost 600 of us attended flight school and around 400 successfully graduated.  At no point was race, sex, or gender identity considered. Only competence mattered.  Those who graduated pilot training were assigned to aircraft based on performance in training.  The first cut was to classify student pilots by Fighter/Attack/Reconnaissance (FAR) and Tanker/Transport/Bomber (TTB).  The most skilled were designated FAR.  By the end of training, we were assigned aircraft based again on skill, performance, and attitude.  The top students typically were assigned fighter aircraft.  Those who served in fighter squadrons again faced more merit-based selections as the best leaders became flight leads capable of leading a basic 2-ship or 4-ship formation.  Our briefs and debriefs were led by the most competent among us and rank was left at the door.  When examining our performance from training or combat missions, we only respected results.  

This window into our pilot world is not unique to fighter pilots.  It is repeated across every combat and combat support unit in the US military.  Whether you are a soldier, sailor, airman or marine, you are measured by merit.  Even the best can be killed in combat, but there is no room in the military for divisive political ideology or social experimentation.  When a military member looks left and right, they must see only comrades and warriors who they can count on to fight alongside them in the direst of combat situations.  The American military is there by design to defend our nation against our enemies. What we experienced among the cadets of the classes of 2016 to 2019 did not give us any confidence that the academy was producing warriors. In the words of a classmate at that fateful reunion, “General, with all respect, our enemies don’t care about their feelings”.

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