Bad Conduct -- or Cover for Bad Morale?
The Air Force just announced the firing of a 2-star general named Michael Carey. He was in command of the 20th Air Force, with 450 ICBMs under his control. His boss, Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, said, "It's unfortunate that I've had to relieve an officer who's had an otherwise distinctive career spanning 35 years of commendable service." The reason officially given was "conduct" and somebody leaked that it was alcohol abuse.
Perhaps that is the true and only reason, but something seems odd here. A quick internet search reveals Carey as a model officer who joined as an enlisted man and, through hard work and education, received a commission and rose to general rank, earning a long string of honors and awards.
A more detailed internet search found something strange -- just a few months ago, the famous RAND Corporation, think tank for the Air Force for 50 years, authored a study claiming that the officers who manned Carey's ICBM siloes were severely demoralized. They complained of "poor leadership" and "sagging morale," and wished for "leaders who will listen." According to an AP article at the time, this has "captured the attention of the service's leaders." And yet, the general was not fired for this.
In a telephone interview with the AP, Carey said that despite the various complaints, morale is "not bad," and that on a recent visit he'd found the missile crews "optimistic and upbeat." "They are not unhappy."
So which is it? Why are the missile crews not "unhappy" but complaining about "poor leadership"?
If the general has a serious drinking problem then of course he should be relieved of command. But is that really the reason? He must have been extensively scrutinized when selected for promotion to major general less than two years ago. That is a very short period of time to go from "let's promote that excellent leader" to "let's fire that drunk."
Perhaps the "poor leadership" the missile officers complain about is NOT the fault of General Carey, but of those way above him. Our president and secretary of defense are doing things that harm the military and make a military career an unattractive option. One need only look at the recent debacle with death benefits to know that the current administration is not the friend of the military. Perhaps that is the real source of the poor morale. Perhaps this was the real topic of the still-unpublished complaints heard by RAND researchers.
And perhaps Gen. Carey was supposed to "contain" this report, taking the fall and diverting attention. What he said to AP wasn't following that script. Maybe, for the good of the troops, he tried to alert the higher-ups as to the real situation. Or maybe he was a little too vocal about where the blame should really fall.
If there is any truth to this speculation, there would be no better way to shut him up than to fire him and allege alcoholism. But if anything like this has happened, why isn't he screaming the truth from the mountaintops or the pages of AT?
Realize that generals don't become rich while in uniform. They make a nice salary but it's just a fraction of what equal rank leaders make in the civilian world. Their big payoff comes after retirement, when their good name, experience, and inside contacts lead to top executive positions and fat consulting salaries. Getting cashiered for "alcoholism" just a few years short of retirement means that his supposed inside contacts won't answer his phone calls, and that corporations who do business with the government wouldn't touch him with a ten-foot pole. It means life in a trailer park, not on Park Avenue.
If there is any truth to this speculation, it leaves Gen. Carey with only two options -- shut up and recover his good name and retirement opportunities, or run to the press, blabber about being railroaded, and start checking out the trailer parks.