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Air Force Standards and Accountability

Gen. Ronald R Fogleman, Air Force Chief of Staff

Text of a video tape on the topic of Air Force Standards and Accountability produced following administrative actions taken against officers involved in last year's shootdown of two U.S. Army helicopters. Date of video: Aug. 10, 1995

I need your full attention today while I discuss a very serious matter for our Air Force. I made this (video) mandatory viewing for all officers, top-three NCOs, and senior executive service civilians because it is critically important. Commanders certainly may decide to show this to all of their people, if they choose.

The principle that good order and discipline are essential to combat effectiveness has not changed throughout the years.

Good order and discipline.

At the very foundation of those concepts must be standards that are uniformly known, consistently applied and non-selectively enforced. Our military standards are higher than those in our society at large because of what we do.

We defend our nation. The tools of our trade are lethal. We are held to a higher standard by the public and we are held in high regard by the public because of the integrity we demonstrate by holding ourselves accountable and others accountable for their actions.

That's what I want to talk to you about today --standards and accountability.

In the Air Force, we expect all members to live by the highest standards implicit in our core values: integrity, service before self and commitment to excellence. We should not and will not accept less. However, when those standards are not met -- that is, there is misconduct or behavior that does not meet our standards -- then it is our responsibility and our duty to hold people involved accountable for their actions and respond appropriately.

Depending on the severity of the action, the response might be disciplinary action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) or some type of administrative action, such as letters of reprimand or admonishment. However, to be effective, the response for a particular individual must be consistent. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

When I become aware that someone received a letter of reprimand for substandard duty performance or nonjudicial punishment for misconduct, and then I find out that person received a firewalled (superior) performance report for the same period -- or was picked up to be a supervisor or fill a choice job -- I wonder about the consistency of actions taken. This chain of events leads me to question the lack of accountability following an obvious breach of our standards. That's what I mean when I say our response -- holding people accountable -- must be consistent for all actions relating to the offender.

On 14 April 1994, two Air Force F-15s, under the command and control of an AWACS aircraft manned by a U.S. Air Force crew, engaged and destroyed two U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopters. Twenty-six soldiers, airmen, and civilians were killed.

Investigations were conducted and appropriate actions taken under the UCMJ. Corrective actions were taken to address issues involving command and control, training and equipment deficiencies. Until the completion of UCMJ actions generated by this event, I, and other senior Air Force and DOD leaders, were under a gag order which was intended to ensure the fairness of the military justice process.

The UCMJ actions were completed in late June 1995. Following that, the Deputy Secretary of Defense tasked the Secretary of the Air Force to conduct a review of all actions taken to include a review of administrative and personnel actions. The secretary tasked me to do that review and delegated extraordinary authority to me to assess the adequacy of evaluations, decorations, subsequent assignments, promotions and retirements.

I was tasked to address any discrepancy between administrative actions and other personnel actions, take or recommend further action with respect to this incident, and take action to correct deficiencies in the Air Force system. A key feature of my review was a concern that Air Force standards be clearly understood and the necessity that individuals be held accountable for meeting those standards.

In my effort to ascertain the adequacy and appropriateness of all disciplinary and administrative actions taken with respect to Air Force personnel involved in the incident, my focus first was on the military justice process. Having completed the review, I am comfortable with the military justice actions which were taken. The military justice process worked as it was supposed to after this incident.

I have great faith in the Uniform Code of Military Justice and nothing in my review has altered that. The proper balance between command involvement and individual rights was maintained throughout. I do not recommend any changes to the military justice process and do not see a need to initiate any further action in this area.

The fact that the conduct of some individuals did not give rise to criminal prosecution or conviction should not end the inquiry into the appropriateness of their actions. Air Force standards require far more than mere compliance with the law. They require that people display the extraordinary discipline, judgment and training that their duties require and the American people expect.

I am concerned about follow-on actions in the administrative and personnel areas. My review convinces me that in several instances people failed to meet Air Force standards and these failures are not now reflected in their records. I am convinced of this based on my review of the entire record of the accident investigation and the additional inquiries and investigations conducted on behalf of the Seventeenth and Eighth Air Force commanders.

I've also considered the statements and other evidence submitted to the decision authorities in response to various administrative actions which they took. These actions include letters of reprimand, letters of admonition and the creation of unfavorable information files.

The administrative actions taken by these commanders were within an appropriate range of options available to them. However, there were a number of performance evaluations completed that were inconsistent with administrative actions taken by higher level commanders. These performance evaluations failed to reflect that Air Force standards were not met by the ratee.

The actions of Air Force personnel that contributed to the accidental death of 26 friendly soldiers, airmen and civilians do not meet Air Force standards.

Therefore, on the authority of the secretary of the Air Force, I have personally issued supplemental performance evaluations for several officers which document failure to meet Air Force standards in areas such as job knowledge, judgment and leadership.

I believe comments in the performance reports are appropriate because of the circumstances and severity of the incident. Keep in mind that the purpose of the performance report is to provide an official record of an individual's performance and performance-based potential.

Administrative actions which are not visible to promotion boards and which, in many cases, go away after a period of one or two years, do not properly document the individual's performance--they do not document the fact that Air Force standards were not met.

Take a look at the front side of an OPR (Officer Performance Report). There are six performance factors listed with a brief description of each. These are Air Force standards. Things like "job knowledge" and "judgment." Again, looking at the front side of an OPR you'll find two blocks for each performance factor. Either the person meets Air Force standards or does not. That's pretty straightforward. But some people seem to have a great deal of trouble marking the appropriate block even when a person's failure to meet standards in one of these areas is apparent to everyone.

Am I saying that every failure to meet standards requires a front side markdown? No! What I am saying is that raters, additional raters and reviewers have an obligation to weigh the extent to which those they supervise have failed to meet Air Force standards and the impact of those failures. That is what accountability is all about.

When I conducted my review of the Black Hawk incident, the disconnects between the administrative actions and performance ratings concerned me. We cannot tolerate actions which appear to condemn inappropriate conduct one moment, condone it the next or, even worse, reward it. We absolutely must have consistency in administrative and personnel actions.

Some have asked if my actions in this case mean that all administrative actions -- such as entries into unfavorable information files, letters of reprimand or nonjudicial punishment -- now MUST be mentioned in performance reports. The answer is absolutely not.

Current Air Force directives give commanders wide latitude concerning performance evaluations and that's exactly as it ought to be. However, I expect commanders and supervisors to have the courage to do what is right. Doing what is right is often unpopular and difficult. But commanders and rating officials have a responsibility they must step up to. And when I say "rating officials," I mean every person who signs a performance evaluation report -- whether officer, enlisted or civilian.

I am also taking actions concerning assignments. I have directed that the F-15 pilots and certain AWACS crew members be disqualified from aviation service and duties involving the control of aircraft in air operations for at least three years. I took these measures because the actions of the officers demonstrated a failure to meet Air Force standards in the areas of leadership, judgment, and job knowledge.

Finally, I should mention one more very important point. My review focused on the accountability of those involved in the Black Hawk tragedy; however, accountability does not end there. I am also concerned about the actions of senior officers who failed to appropriately record the conduct of those involved. This is unacceptable. I have personally expressed my deep concern and displeasure to each of the senior officers in the rating chain.

In this case -- in every situation -- it is important for commanders and raters to remember that your ratings, comments and actions do not represent arbitrary action against the individual, but reflect an appropriate response to their misconduct or failure to meet standards. And recognize that your loyalty and commitment must be to the larger organization -- to the Air Force as an institution.

So, do not selectively enforce standards. You cannot afford to disillusion the majority by being lenient with those few who fail to meet, or choose to ignore, Air Force standards. The Black Hawk incident was serious. Lives were lost -- our people did not meet Air Force standards. Now, we are holding all involved accountable. But, there is one more action I believe we must take.

My review convinced me we need a full review of Air Force policy and guidance concerning the relationship between nonjudicial punishment and administrative and personnel actions. I have tasked the personnel community to look at our current policy and directives. We must ensure our guidance to commanders is clear and consistent.

The bottom line is simple: Air Force standards must be uniformly known, consistently applied and non-selectively enforced. Accountability is critically important to good order and discipline of the force. And, failure to ensure accountability will destroy the trust of the American public -- the very people living under the Constitution we swore to support and defend, and who look to us, the members of their nation's Air Force, to embrace and live by the standards that are higher than those in the society we serve.