National Guard April 2012 : Page 32

STATE OF THE AIR NATIONAL GUARD An insular corporate process atop the Air Force dims what should be a bright future for our organizaiton Groupthink By Brig. Gen. William R. Burks HAT IS THE State of the Air National Guard today? In a word, great. We’ve been conducting overseas operations continuously since before some of our youngest members were born. A better question may be, what is our future? The an-swer here is less clear. We’ve certainly earned our place in the future, and the nation needs us. But our way ahead rests in the answer to another ques-tion: Would a U.S. military service actually keep more than 65 golf courses in lieu of combat power and home-land security capabilities. Faced with such a choice in its fi scal 2013 budget sub-mission, the Air Force did just that. In a statement to reporter Michael Hoff man of Military. com, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said, “The Department of De-fense has yet to put on paper their reasons for closing the 911th [Airlift Wing], all the while [the Air Force intends] to maintain at least 65 golf courses. This is simply unac-ceptable.” To most, this might seem incomprehensible. But it’s not if you’ve ever worked in the environment that permeates Headquarters Air Force. I did from 1996 to 2009. First and foremost, all of the people that work for the Air Force in the Pentagon are extremely hardworking, loyal Americans who have sworn an oath to defend the Constitution. They’re also extremely dedicated to the insti-tution of the Air Force and all of them are “good airmen.” They’ll move mountains when leadership calls on them. W Unfortunately they’ll also move mountains they merely perceive that leadership wants them to move. This goes for the civilians that work for the Air Force, too. And it is here where the corporate memory is stored. This institutional recall can be brought to bear on crucial decisions without regard to political reality or the fast-changing world in which we live. And all of them at Headquarters Air Force—airmen and civilians alike—work under the grinding pressure of unrealistic deadlines. It is this work environment that has created “group-think.” I GNORING A LTERNATIVES Social psychologist Irving L. Janis coined the term in 1972 in a publication called “Victims of Groupthink.” Janis said groupthink occurs “when groups are highly cohesive and when they are under considerable pressure to make a quality decision. When pressures for unity seem overwhelming, members are less motivated to realisti-cally appraise the alternative courses of action available to them. These group pressures lead to carelessness and irrational thinking since groups experiencing groupthink fail to consider all alternatives and seek to maintain una-nimity.” The real problem, Janis stressed, is that the conclusions and/or assessments produced by groupthink have little likelihood of bringing successful results. 32 | Na tional Guard

State Of The Air National Guard

Brig. Gen. William R. Burks

An insular corporate process atop the Air Force dims what should be a bright future for our organizaiton<br /> <br /> WHAT IS THE State of the Air National Guard today? In a word, great. We’ve been conducting overseas operations continuously since before some of our youngest members were born.<br /> <br /> A better question may be, what is our future? The answer here is less clear. We’ve certainly earned our place in the future, and the nation needs us.<br /> <br /> But our way ahead rests in the answer to another question: Would a U.S. military service actually keep more than 65 golf courses in lieu of combat power and homeland security capabilities.<br /> <br /> Faced with such a choice in its fiscal 2013 budget submission, the Air Force did just that.<br /> <br /> In a statement to reporter Michael Hoff man of Military.Com, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said, “The Department of Defense has yet to put on paper their reasons for closing the 911th [Airlift Wing], all the while [the Air Force intends] to maintain at least 65 golf courses. This is simply unacceptable.”<br /> <br /> To most, this might seem incomprehensible. But it’s not if you’ve ever worked in the environment that permeates Headquarters Air Force. I did from 1996 to 2009.<br /> <br /> First and foremost, all of the people that work for the Air Force in the Pentagon are extremely hardworking, loyal Americans who have sworn an oath to defend the Constitution. They’re also extremely dedicated to the institution of the Air Force and all of them are “good airmen.” They’ll move mountains when leadership calls on them.<br /> <br /> Unfortunately they’ll also move mountains they merely perceive that leadership wants them to move.<br /> <br /> This goes for the civilians that work for the Air Force, too. And it is here where the corporate memory is stored.This institutional recall can be brought to bear on crucial decisions without regard to political reality or the fastchanging world in which we live.<br /> <br /> And all of them at Headquarters Air Force—airmen and civilians alike—work under the grinding pressure of unrealistic deadlines.<br /> <br /> It is this work environment that has created “groupthink.”<br /> <br /> IGNORING ALTERNATIVES<br /> <br /> Social psychologist Irving L. Janis coined the term in 1972 in a publication called “Victims of Groupthink.” <br /> <br /> Janis said groupthink occurs “when groups are highly cohesive and when they are under considerable pressure to make a quality decision. When pressures for unity seem overwhelming, members are less motivated to realistically appraise the alternative courses of action available to them. These group pressures lead to carelessness and irrational thinking since groups experiencing groupthink fail to consider all alternatives and seek to maintain unanimity.” <br /> <br /> The real problem, Janis stressed, is that the conclusions and/or assessments produced by groupthink have little likelihood of bringing successful results.<br /> <br /> One only has to look at the disaster of the Columbia space shuttle in 2003 to see what groupthink can bring about.<br /> <br /> In a paper titled “NASA and the Columbia Disaster: Decision-making by Groupthink?” Claire Ferraris and Rodney Carveth concluded that there was sufficient evidence to describe the faulty decision-making during the tragic flight as a result of groupthink.<br /> <br /> Another well-known shuttle disaster was described as groupthink by Ramon L. Rivera in his article, “The deadly disease of Groupthink,” in which he describes the disaster Of Challenger, which exploded soon after liftoff Jan. 28,1986. <br /> <br /> “The launch originally had been scheduled for six days prior, but a series of problems had caused delays,” Rivera wrote. “The day before the rescheduled launch, an engineer raised concerns about the o-rings and booster rockets. But the NASA team was anxious to get the mission underway. They ignored serious warnings that contradicted with their goal to launch as soon as possible.Ultimately, their poor judgment cost the lives of seven people.” <br /> <br /> Are those who work in the Air Force headquarters really susceptible to groupthink? They are a highly cohesive, Motivated and loyal group of professionals who work under some of the most demanding conditions and deadlines known to the military.<br /> <br /> The single-minded goal of Headquarters workers is to give senior leadership what it wants. But the culture prevents asking senior leaders if a result is what they really want for fear it may be interpreted that one was inattentive when the job was tasked.<br /> <br /> At Headquarters Air Force, it is considered far better to drive on, working on a product that may or may not answer senior leadership’s request, rather than to ask for a Mid-task vector check.<br /> <br /> To make matters worse, the pressures and the hours demanded of the Air Staff have been increased over time by the constant pressure to trim staff and reduce the use of outside contractors to perform objective analysis.<br /> <br /> There is great pressure to produce an answer quickly that can be justified based on the assumptions and the analysis. A person who questions the analysis or the assumptions quickly becomes an outcast, a naysayer, or a nonteam player who threatens the status quo.<br /> <br /> Anyone who questions the outcome causes everyone else to work overtime to come up with an alternative answer.<br /> <br /> As the system stands now, the ability to question the status quo only resides at the two-star level.<br /> <br /> Plus, the other work that piles up while you look for alternatives doesn’t go away. It now has to be done after hours or on weekends.<br /> <br /> In the world of the Pentagon, there just isn’t time to stop and look at all of the alternatives available. And staffers are not encouraged to try.<br /> <br /> This runs counter to what Janis offers as methods to prevent groupthink. Here are some others:<br /> <br /> .. Encouraging members to raise objections and concerns; <br /> <br /> .. Seeking input from experts outside the group;<br /> <br /> .. Assigning one or more members to play the role of the devil’s advocate; and <br /> <br /> .. Allowing group members to get feedback on the group’s decisions from their constituents.<br /> <br /> ‘GAG ORDER’ <br /> <br /> The last method above merits some discussion. Air Force senior leaders claim the Air Guard was a party to all of the discussions that took place in the development of the fiscal 2013 budget. However, anyone from the Air Guard who participated had to sign a nondisclosure agreement, in essence a gag order.<br /> <br /> This is a relatively new development. I never had to Sign such a document in the 13 years I worked in the Pentagon.<br /> <br /> The intent of the agreement is to keep information from getting out, even to impacted constituents. That’s bad enough. But they also serve to prevent outside ideas from coming into the process. Instead, the Air Force relies on its “experts outside the [Programs Objective Memorandum] group,” namely the studies and analyses office known as A9 or the RAND Corporation.<br /> <br /> These two entities, however, are nothing more than hired guns to justify or develop the assumptions and analyses to support the answers desired by senior leadership.<br /> <br /> The entire culture is one where the bosses are given the outcomes staffers think they want. Hence, the decision to retain the golf courses over combat power and homeland security capabilities.<br /> <br /> In the fiscal 2013 budget request, those answers would be that the cuts needed to come out of the Air Guard because it’s the Air Guard’s turn to take cuts after being spared them in recent years.<br /> <br /> So, what is an answer to the current situation for the Air Force?<br /> <br /> The first step has already happened, and that was putting the chief of the National Guard Bureau on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. However, his voice has to be heard loud and clear as an equal member.<br /> <br /> Second, the Air Force needs to open its corporate process. The governors and the adjutants general need to know what’s in the five-year Future Years Defense Program and how it may impact domestic response capabilities.<br /> <br /> The plan to remove the C-130s from Texas, to kill the C-27J program and to move aircraft from the Guard into the active component show that the Air Force has no real appreciation or understanding for what the Air Guard has contributed to the nation at home and abroad the last 20 years.<br /> <br /> Third, the Air Force’s corporate memory needs to operate in the moment. It must understand that past personnel and equipment changes all met a particular need at that particular point in time, and decisions about the future should be based upon the conditions—and only those conditions—expected to occur in the future.<br /> <br /> Fourth, the active-component Air Force must develop a real understanding and an appreciation for the Guard’s state missions. This means it cannot be concerned only with homeland defense—the away game—but also must appreciate and resource the homeland security mission— the home game.<br /> <br /> The fifth step may be the hardest to accomplish. It requires a culture change inside the Pentagon. The Air Staff Needs to implement whatever procedures or checks and balances are needed to prevent the groupthink mentality that curses and dooms their corporate process today.<br /> <br /> WORDS OF WISDOM <br /> <br /> Lastly, the Air Force needs to heed the words of Sen.Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who said, “The founders envisioned that armies [active-component forces] would be demobilized after conflicts and then raised again when needed. ... Our National Guard was intended to be the permanent military force.” <br /> <br /> Simply stated, the Air Force needs to realize it can reduce risk and find the answer to its budgetary problems by shifting force structure into the Air Guard, not by reducing it.<br /> <br /> The Air Guard’s history has earned its place in the way ahead. The only thing that can put that in peril is if the corporate Air Force is allowed to continue to groupthink.<br /> <br /> Brig. Gen. William R. Burks is the NGAUS vice chairman-Air and the Nevada adjutant general. His earlier career highlights include 29 combat missions as an RF-4C Phantom II master navigator in the first Persian Gulf War and a series of more recent assignments on the Air Force staff in the Pentagon during which he contributed to all four Quadrennial Defense Reviews.

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