Thanks to each veteran for your service, and my thoughts go to each family whose veterans never returned home from duty in battle as well.
I served my entire Air Force career at a desk from November 1984 until December 1994.
The most exciting thing I did aboard an Air Force aircraft was when I was securely strapped in for some extra flying time following a return to my home base from a temporary duty assignment. The wing commander aboard was on the same trip, and he flew us home to pick up flying hours.
It was easier from our remote location to fly with an operational crew on some temporary duty assignments at other bases than to schlep to an airport.
His landing before, most folks on the flight disembarked, was the smoothest airplane landing I’d experienced in my life. The smooth arrival in a 35-knot tailwind didn’t even awaken the plane’s maintenance crew chief.
I was asked – to my surprise – to stay in the KC-135 refueler when I was first asked if I had ever seen the painted desert in the Texas panhandle. I was also surprised that I was addressed as Chip, and not Staff Sergeant Davenport.
Oh, we flew over the painted desert in the Texas panhandle, alright… and the wing commander executed a barrel-roll with the passenger aircraft equivalent of a Boeing 707.
When we landed, I picked up the “what happens in Vegas” and I was thanked for my work at the other base. It was a feeling like sitting at the cool kids’ lunch table.
Hats off to this guy. He was a great leader who led us to celebrated levels of operational readiness ratings. I recall he flew at least 40 B-52 missions over Vietnam unharmed. That barrel roll was very easy for him, too. I didn’t see it coming.
It was an assignment from 1992 through 1994, the final leg of my service, and within those years, from February 1993 until my work was done, my assignment had a Hollywood-ending feel to it in a location perceived as a boring, backwater for those who weren’t assigned there yet.
I arrived there from one of the Air Force’s largest, most – shall we say - corporate bases: Wright-Patterson. I gained valuable experience at Wright-Patt, performed my work well, but a small victory I had there did not take the shape of a Hollywood ending.
Instead, I realized I had to settle for a very unceremonious win with a final, final chapter still written by “the man” during a phase in my life where I had even less humility than I have now.
I’ll preface this next lengthy anecdote with these thoughts, transitional for usefulness among athletes in all levels of sports, too, so there’s the bone I’ll throw for those seeking a Sports section column this morning.
First, don’t ever dumb yourself down in your manner, nor in your work. I don’t try to find a simpler word in a print media sports article or column piece in present day. I just use words coming naturally to me.
It’s perceived by many we in print media are directed to deliver content readable at a certain – and not very high - grade level. However, my editors, past and present, have never asked me to dumb down anything.
To each of you, I’m grateful.
Second, most of the decisions made about a person will take place when he or she is not in “the room where it happened.” Make sure you’ve cultivated a solid group of allies. You’ll need at least one person to stand tall for you in a room where you’re not admitted.
There are two times in my life this worked well for me. Let’s discuss one of them.
Military service members waive tranches of their human rights when they swear in for service in the armed forces regardless of one’s specialty or paygrade.
Some examples of things an airman could not do during my time in service were:
Abuse drugs, grow long hair, protest in uniform, physically fight anyone, fail to show up to work without an extenuating circumstance, and disobey your boss’s orders… lawful orders, of course.
Most of these are easy to avoid if your approach to military service and/or responsibility as an adult are a normal part of your life. When people would ask how difficult these things were for me to avoid, I usually chuckled because most of what we were “signing away” wasn’t good for us anyway.
I was just fine towing the company line.
Perhaps the most calculated risk I took could have been an incident where – without the presence of witnesses – some who also previously served in the Air Force but were now civil servants – my response to an unreasonable order almost resulted in insubordination.
One value – not so much a human right - I was not going to relinquish to the Air Force was intentionally dumbing myself, or the quality of my work, down for any reason.
My work was interesting, but not glamorous, and - because I didn’t mind lawfully (important in military life) venturing out from my comfort zone - my extra effort afforded me some access to interesting projects well above my enlisted paygrade.
I remember conducting what the Air Force Systems Command (as it was named at the time) called a Cost Schedule Control Systems Review (CS2R we called it) at General Dynamics in Fort Worth, Texas in the summer of 1990. This specific site visit required my participation because some of the review was conducted In a facility requiring an appropriate level of security clearance.
It was one of the examples of work I did well above my pay grade. My colleagues were typically middle grade civil servants on the management track (or in management roles), and company grade officers.
We worked with boiler plate reports because some results from the review required specific verbiage to discuss the results. Other parts of the review permitted us to communicate in our own style used to comfortably discuss favorable and unfavorable findings with the defense contractors we reviewed.
I completed my work and shared the results with one of the more experienced reviewers - but not the team leader… yet - who reviewed content, grammar, and program management compliance.
It’s likely I dangled a preposition, perhaps strained a few sentences, and had one or two sections where I should have used boiler plate verbiage instead of my own communication style.
We always saved our hard-copy drafts and edits, and I followed up with some quick and easy changes.
The team’s leader, who was a field grade officer not on the trip, reviewed my work the week following our return from the contractor site visit. He was particularly interested taking a closer look at every page I prepared.
He looked at a very limited amount of red ink my teammate annotated on the reports, and then looked at the finished product.
I was called to his office along with my teammate for what turned out to be a stunning and offensive experience.
I was asked to furnish a report whose content quality was directed to be much more inferior than my original draft before the report was to be completed and forwarded.
“We appreciate your efforts here, Sergeant Davenport,” the officer told me. “You’re the first enlisted person to conduct a (review). This is not going to pass for a draft written by an enlisted member.”
The rest was blah, blah, blah because I was fixated in the insult, viewing it as the stupidest technical guidance I’d received at this point in my career.
I replied calmly, refusing to change anything.
I was then told the direction given to me was an order, and refusal to furnish a few additional errors was an ego problem of mine not serving the best interests of the Air Force, and higher-grade professionals.
He was basically telling me my effort because I was enlisted, marginalized those folks at higher paygrades with greater levels of education.
Additionally, I was told my assignment in a program management role was a privilege, and I could easily land somewhere in a more tedious role.
I replied, “Sir, how many Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) – and I know there are only a few of us serving as financial analysts - have the courseload I’ve successfully completed so far?”
For what it’s worth, I unapologetically noted my overall academic average at my tech school for this role was 98%.
I refused to dumb down my work a second time and was consequently told to return to my desk unaware of the fact a meeting was immediately initiated to determine the next steps resulting from what this officer viewed as insubordinate behavior.
What a shame. Well, what a sham. Both, I guess... not a typo.
The short-term outcome among the accompanying team members - including the teammate in the room with the officer giving me the stupidest order in my entire Air Force career - was they discussed this matter in a room with the director of our entire financial group at the lab. Although it would have been easy for them to watch enlisted fodder take a beating and adjourn to have one more discussion to order me to dumb down my work, at least someone in the room stood tall for me.
I do not deny being very scared when I refused – twice - to follow a field grade officer’s order.
My work in its organic form, was moved forward, unmolested by this officer’s stupid, insulting idea.
Whew! *sigh* Close call.
This is as close to a “W” you’re gonna get against senior leadership when you’re a 26-year-old NCO.
No one in the closest thing the military has to a big tech corporation (Air Force Systems Command) exited the room to arrive at my desk and pat my back saying, “You won. Good job.”
This isn’t how it works. It’s not Hollywood.
I knew my stand still had merit because they sent me on additional reviews when the security requirements warranted my participation.
Long term, in the spring of 1992 when I was departing due to orders to serve at my next base, I realized what concerned that officer in 1990 who had also moved on to another assignment.
They eliminated the enlisted position noting my knowledge, skills, abilities were commendable, but also an anomaly among most NCOs in the specialty code around the same paygrade bumps among the civil servants aboard the team were being rationalized.
I believe my next assignment selection was no accident. I left a huge high-profile base in a mid-sized city for an operational base surrounded by at least 120,000 acres of irrigated cotton.
Someone, it seemed, in the spring of 1992 made sure the final, final ending wasn’t a Hollywood ending.
We’re back in Oklahoma where I opened.
I was warmly greeted, as it is the nature of those folks in that gaining base’s state to do, but I was (inexplicably… wink, wink) watched closely and constructively coached during the first five or six months. While the reins seemed tight, and I sensed I knew why they were, I ended up working for what turned out to be one of the three best bosses I ever had in my nearly 39-year career.
I also upgraded my home life marrying my current spouse of almost 30 years, Shawna.
I guess my time in Oklahoma kind of turned out to be a Hollywood ending, right?