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USAF Chief of Staff Welsh & the Crisis of Gutless Leadership

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In times of grave and unprecedented national security crises, the United States Armed Forces demands strong, unyielding, and effective leadership. Nowhere is this more apparent than within the headquarters of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where sterling leadership qualities and impeccable strength of character are the foremost job requirements. Unfortunately, the United States Air Force (USAF) Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III embodies a different principle altogether, namely an unwise ‘laissez-faire’ leadership approach that can be accurately summed up as follows: “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” In more pedestrian terms: “gutless.”

How else to describe the fact that, despite the mountains of evidence regarding the slowly-simmering “frying pan” of searing religious repression frittering away at unit cohesion, morale, good order, and discipline within the Air Force, Welsh still seeks to find a “compromise” with the rabid dogs of fundamentalist Christian theocracy and extremist militancy regarding the watershed religious protections from chain-of-command proselytizing embodied by Air Force Instruction 1-1 (AFI 1-1)? Hello, Neville Chamberlain? By cowardly capitulating to the demands that the USAF amend AFI 1-1, Welsh will be opening the gates to the further degradation of the USAF’s collective integrity and character. As dangerously freighted as the Air Force already is with its universally tribal, adversarial, communal and ritualistic culture, the last thing it needs is to be yet further transformed into a stomping ground for free-range proselytizing, coercive religiosity, and fundamentalist Christian crusading.

The Air Force motto is “Aim High.” So, too, should the bar for exemplary leadership be set. Welsh’s refusal to apply any cognizable backbone to the defense of AFI 1-1 directly contradicts the subsequent Air Force Instruction 1-2 published on May 8, 2014, entitled “Commander’s Responsibilities” and signed by none other than Gen. Welsh himself. Among the various rules and regulations is item 3.2, which reads, in salient part: “A healthy climate ensures members are treated with dignity, respect, and inclusion, and does not tolerate harassment, assault, or unlawful discrimination of any kind.”

The bottom line of AFI 1-2 is that commanders have the responsibility to combat “unlawful discrimination” in all forms, clearly including religious discrimination. Commanders must foster inclusion, which includes religious diversity. Commanders must safeguard respect, foremost among which includes respect for religious beliefs and affiliations (or the lack thereof), religious and non-religious minorities, as well as sex & gender minorities. As was the case with the time, place and manner considerations of proselytizing as covered by AFI 1-1, AFI 1-2 should have decisively ended the “debate” about whether proselytizing and “witnessing” by commanders, supervisors, chaplains et al was allowed on USAF bases and installations.

Yet, seemingly, breath-taking negligence and ethical poverty still reign supreme among the Air Force top brass. Welsh appears impotently unwilling or unable to do anything to remediate it. Indeed, it is even alleged that Gen. Welsh’s own Number Two right hand, General Larry Spencer, the Vice Chief of Staff of the USAF, deliberately and defiantly keeps an oversized copy of the Christian Bible prominently displayed on his Pentagon office desk lest any of his hundreds of thousands of USAF subordinates doubt where his primary loyalty lies. Never mind that such an in-your-face, sectarian display violates the currently still-viable time, place and manner restrictions of AFI 1-1 concerning the promotion of one’s personal religious faith to those subordinate to them in rank. And the only person in the entire Air Force NOT subordinate in rank to Gen. Spencer is his boss, Gen. Welsh.

Witness further the narcissistic spectacle of Gen. Welsh patting himself on the back, crowing to the high heavens about how he’s “very happy with the ethical fabric of the United States Air Force.” This specious, self-congratulatory song and dance couldn’t be any more ill-timed, considering that under his watch numerous scandals have erupted, laying bare the internal decrepitude existing within the highest echelons of the Department of the Air Force.