Marine Corps commander is relieved of command. Officials at Dyess Air Force Base have relieved another officer of their command.

Army public affairs top officer is relieved of command.

Nellis AFB leaders removed a squadron commander from his leadership role.

A Space Force commander has been fired. All in 2021.

What is going on with senior military leadership?

What is Happening?

2021 has not been a good year for the US military. From the national humiliation of our withdrawal from Afghanistan to the draconian COVID vaccine mandate, all branches of the US military are feeling the burn. Are all the crazy things happening in 2020-21 responsible for this failure of leadership? At least one of these is directly related to the Afghanistan withdrawal. The others, though? Are they the result of the “woke” movement? Or are they because someone raised their hand and said, “This isn’t right”?

Or is something wrong with the way we promote officers?  The very process of promoting officers is supposed to weed out those who have integrity, competence, and leadership ability problems before they reach high enough rank to really mess things up.

 

Publicized Punishment

Most everyone knows about Lt Col. Scheller, the Marine officer who blew up his career on social media. From the video, Scheller appears to have lost faith in his own chain of command and leadership of the Marine Corps as a whole. By publicly questioning the orders of the officers appointed over him, Lt Col. Scheller signed his own separation paperwork or at least filled it out and routed it for signatures.

 

Space Command

Lt Col. Matthew Lohmeier, 11th Space Warning Squadron Commander, was relieved of command in May after controversial remarks on a podcast. Lohmeier did not denigrate his leadership. He did not call out top officials for wrongdoing, malfeasance, apathy, or ignorance. He gave his personal views on the teaching of Critical Race Theory and how inclusion and diversity training are handled in the military.

Lt Col. Lohmeier had been invited to pitch his new book on the podcast “Information Operation.” Lohmeier’s book is about the “unmaking” of the US military by Marxism. During the podcast, he said some disparaging things about how Marxist-Indoc has infiltrated the US military. “Our diversity, inclusion and equity industry and the training we’re receiving in the military via that industry are rooted in critical race theory, which is rooted in Marxism.” According to Lohmeier, he consulted with legal and public affairs about his book but was not required to submit it for review before publication. Now he’s out.

 

Army Public Affairs

Brigadier General Amy Johnston was removed from her position as the Army’s top talking head in October. Johnston had been head of the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs (OCPA) for almost two years when a climate survey revealed severe problems. In an almost unheard-of response, 100% of the uniformed members in her office reported a hostile work environment. 97% of the total number of responses, civilian and uniformed, showed a hostile work environment.

The people who worked in the OCPA are almost all senior in rank. Senior non-commissioned officers (NCOs), field grade officers, and civilians who have been around the Army for years. None of them are wet-behind-the-ears kids whose mothers never yelled at them. These are all long-serving soldiers who have probably seen and dealt with a lot. If they feel the workplace is hostile, it probably is.

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Brig. Gen. Johnston received her commission in 1991 and has spent the last thirty years in public affairs roles throughout the Army. Her biography shows she served at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), the Pentagon, United Nations Command, and a slew of Army bases around the world. Apparently, she had done something right in those 30 years. Now she’s out.

 

Aircraft Maintenance

Air Force Major Burton Field was relieved of command in October. He was the 757th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander at Nellis AFB, NV. Field had been in his position for a little over a year before he was removed. Before that, Field had been commander of the 1st Maintenance Squadron at Langley. Maj. Field is not being investigated for any wrongdoing, according to Nellis spokesperson Lt. Col Bryon McCarry. No wrongdoing, but a loss of confidence in his abilities.

 

Getting Them All

At Dyess AFB, TX, both a commander AND senior enlisted advisor have been removed from their positions. Major April Widman and Chief Master Sergeant Peter Tascione were removed from their positions early December. In a twist on the other stories, the 317th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, where Widman and Tascione worked, has had five different commanders over the last two years. That’s five new commanders. Toss the enlisted leader on top as the icing.

Apparently, Maj. Widman had issues with her troops seeking help for mental health issues. Under her command, mental health took a back seat to operations. Dozens of Airmen reached out on social media to shine a light on Widman, her senior enlisted leaders, and how they treat those seeking help. According to a story in Task & Purpose, Widman served separation paperwork to an airman at the mental health clinic he was in after attempting suicide.

A gavel rests on the judge’s bench in the courtroom of the 39th Air Base Wing legal office on Nov. 14, 2019, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. (US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

 

The Common Thread?

All these stories have the same basic outline: officer has command, something goes wrong, the officer loses command. What appears to go wrong, though, is that either the officer should never have been in command in the first place, or someone has a problem with how the officer is doing things. None of the officers above have committed crimes. None of them have even been charged with crimes. Their stories are different, and there is no common thread. Except one: all those relieved of command were relieved for “loss of confidence in their ability to lead.”

It is not an Air Force problem, an Army one, or Marines or Navy. It’s not a desire to do a bad job that leads to poor leadership. It seems to be the idea that if things aren’t going the way you think they should, it’s someone else’s fault. Lohmeier thinks the military is tearing itself apart from the inside. Johnston thinks her way is the only way. Field thinks…no one knows because there is no news forthcoming. Widman thinks those who need mental health help should suck it up.

 

Uncommonly Common

At least that’s how I would read this. That’s how it is portrayed. In reality, that is often how it is. I was stationed at Dyess AFB for six years. I did not work in the 317th but had many friends who did. Lo, those many years ago, the climate was just as bad. The overall climate at Dyess is not the greatest anyway, and the mental health clinics get a workout. I have escorted airmen to those clinics after suicidal ideation. It is not a fun place.

When commanders around the military are dropping like those proverbial flies, maybe it is time to give more than lip service to the ideas of resiliency and safety, and inclusion. The forever war has wound down. The branches have all divested millions of dollars in equipment over the last six months and regrouped back in the US. Now is the time to have a real “stand-down” and determine the path forward. Commanders who cannot lead a peace-time force need to learn or pass the baton to someone who can.

Maybe the common thread is right in front of us, and we are missing it.  What if the criteria by which we evaluate leadership in the military are changing?  Instead of the traditional qualities of character, ambition, confidence, curiosity, intellect, empathy, determination, and aggressiveness, the military promoted officers on the basis of their having the right thoughts about climate change, diversity, inclusion, and racial injustice?

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