Tuesday, 3 November 2009

A Firing

This is one of those amusing stories that you rarely hear about in the Air Force. Last week…the base commander at Minot AFB got fired. Typically, it’s for wrongdoing, misconduct, or an affair. Shockingly enough, this time, it was different.

Col Joel Westa basically got fired….for being unable to “foster a culture of excellence," and showed a "lack of focus on the strategic mission during his command."

I sat and kinda scratched my head over this. The wing commander of Minot got fired two weeks prior, so the heat on the base was up a degree or two….with various inspectors probably asking a lot of smart and stupid questions.

Culture of excellence? Basically, the AF means that you need to show a plan and how everyone is involved in that plan. It’s a “word phrase” of sorts. Typically, you brief everyone on some 12-part series….complete with slides….and then you brief the VIPs, the inspectors, and the visiting generals with the same slides….so everyone is reading off the same message. As long as you got the boys under you speaking their part…and you show the slides….then you get a free pass on culture of excellence.

I’m guessing….several folks forgot their parts of the presentation….and Westa probably didn’t emphasize things like they wanted.

Over my thirty-odd years associated with the Air Force….I’ve seen around twelve officers removed or fired.

The first guy…was a Captain at tech school in Sheppard AFB, Tx. There was a stupid drunk fight of sorts in the hallway of the dorm. We had almost four hundred students in the dorm…and just two guys were involved, with three guys as witnesses. The Captain decided that we all needed to be punished….so we were all pulled for a Saturday 12-hour detail. On Monday, a dozen guys reported the episode, and by Thursday…the leadership decided that the Captain had punished 390-odd folks for something they didn’t do. So he was moved out on Friday morning to another organization.

The most noted firing? I was in a unit where the new commander arrived with significant issues. He was a fired pilot and fired commander at some base in Florida, and they rigged up some assignment with my civil engineering organization. He had issues with alcohol and had spent thirty days in some program before arriving. All of this…we found out about four months after he arrived. The curious thing was that he was stuck on six topics of no relation to the actual day-to-day operation of engineering. There was the vehicle fetish where every truck had to be washed that day if used….so we ended up working on a job site for six hours and then wasting roughly 90 minutes each day in traveling to the wash rack and waiting in line to wash down the truck daily. He targeted the fire department folks as a special group and eventually got them into a very negative attitude. So a July Rhine River cruise came up with the organization, and the fire department guys let the alcohol flow as much as possible…with this guy getting pretty wasted and doing some real dumb stuff. Naturally, all caught on camera.

The biggest nut-job firing? There was an intelligence operation in Italy back in the late 90s….where forty or so folks sat around some center and analyzed things….twenty-four hours a day. At some point, they brought in a Navy 0-4….who got into a “my-chair” episode. There were a dozen episodes where he flow off the handle and got nuts in less than a minute or two. These ramblings that occurred….usually lasted thirty minutes and he was emotionally out-of-control. Around the twelfth time….some new Air Force senior NCO was witness to it and picked up the phone to call for the local mental clinic to show up. The guys on shift told him it wasn’t really necessary….they’d witnessed a number of times. But the mental health guys showed up….documented everything….and then escorted the guy to a white van. He never came back.

There was a period in the 1960s…where SAC was firing a wing commander about every six months or so. They even had a full-time guy on the staff whose job was to step in immediately for 60 days….to rebuild the wing…and then vacate when the new guy was selected and sent to the base.

Unless you've been associated with the military....firings are a unique experience to watch unfold.