This final installment of “A Dying Breed” has been the most difficult to write. Not because I don’t know what to write, but how to write it so that all the non-flyers don’t want to lynch me. You see, this is the article where I talk about why the fighter pilot himself is good for the Air Force.
I never thought I’d say this, but “kids these days…!” We live in a day and age where competition is practically seen as a sin. In today’s society there are no clear winners or losers, and everyone gets a trophy just for showing up. The Huffington Post wrote about a school giving awards to kids alphabetically because they didn’t want any of the kids to feel left out. This mentality has taken root in our education system from grade school through college, where a study on grade inflation concluded 43% of all university grades handed out are “A”s! (an increase of nearly 30% since 1960.) What does this have to do with the decline of the fighter pilot? I believe it has everything to do with it.
Jean M. Twenge, PhD wrote a book in 2006 entitled Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled–and More Miserable Than Ever Before. Dr. Twenge’s studies indicate a growth in generational narcissism; Kids today are more egotistical and feel a greater sense of entitlement than the kids of previous generations. It is becoming more and more obvious this sense of entitlement is encroaching on every aspect of today’s society, including the military.
In today’s Air Force (and military in general) we need to ensure that tomorrow’s leaders are not chosen from an artificially evened playing field. Raw competition must be allowed to continue so the strong leaders rise to the top as they are prone to do. Many of those leaders in the past have been fighter pilots, a disproportional amount of them in fact. A master’s thesis submitted by a student at USAF Air Command and Staff College pointed out that in 2001 fighter pilots made up 5.3% of the Air Force, but held 67% of higher leadership opportunities. I suspect that if you were to look at that figure today, you would see a figure substantially lower than 67% as a result of artificial leveling of the playing field.
Is this a bad thing? Time will tell. What I do know is that by taking away fighter cockpits and leadership opportunities, there is less incentive for the high caliber men and women of the fighter community to remain in the U.S. Air Force.
General Adolph Galland, an accomplished German ace with 104 aerial victories makes this point much better than I. When speaking of the type of man drawn to flying fighter aircraft, he said:
“Their element is to attack, to track, to hunt, and to destroy the enemy. Only in this way can the eager and skillful fighter pilot display his ability. Tie him to a narrow and confined task, rob him of his initiative, and you take away from him the best and most valuable qualities he posses: aggressive spirit, joy of action, and the passion of the hunter.”
We need our most aggressive, persevering hunters on the tip of the spear. Without the allure of fast jets and forward firing ordnance, I’m afraid the “fighter pilot type” must follow the call of higher salaries and potentially more exciting work outside the military. We are already seeing the mass exodus.
If all the fighter pilots leave the Air Force, will we be left with incapable leaders? Of course not. I believe there will always be a pool of altruistic, sharp, very capable men and women who will step up and handle the job professionally. But why not stack the deck in the favor of the United States by gaining and retaining as many of this country’s best and brightest as we can? Competition is good for everyone – even the losers in the long run. Why not foster an environment that allows the best to step up and shine?
Series by Tally One Editor Rob Burgon
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