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The Air Force and GWOT; "An Egregious Failure of Leadership"

Posted Jul 21 2008 10:17am
Friday, July 15, 2008 was like any other morning. I got up, turned on my pc, fixed my coffee, and sat down to check out what was happening in the world. My typical morning of checking my email and catching up on the news while rubbing the sleep out of my eyes was quickly transformed. I checked my email to find an article sent to me by a fellow Air Force spouse on the east coast. As I read the article, I found myself instantly wide awake and shaking from head to toe with complete disbelief and outrage! It really takes the extreme to anger me to the point that I am shaking from head to toe. This was not just any article.

Friday, July 15, 2008 brought confirmation of the truth to not only myself, but God knows how many other Air Force families around the world who have children with autism or any other disability for that matter, who have been unable to access Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) funds for respite as the Marine Corps, and Army have been able to. The article, investigated and written by R. Jeffery Smith, ran in the print and online versions of The Washington Post. You can read the articleHERE.

I am an Air Force spouse. I am proud of my husband’s service to our great nation, and I am proud to support my husband in his service to our nation. Were it not for the fact that our family personally has experienced a failure of leadership at many different levels during the course of his service; I would most likely just be upset at the obvious abuse of power, and the misuse of taxpayer monies. But that is not the case.

My husband and I have four children. Two of our children have autism. From day one of his service, I (and at times both of us) have been yelled at, cursed at, intimidated, threatened, and advised to put our younger son in foster care, when we have sought answers to questions, sought help, or sought advice in challenging the status quo in an effort to help our children. The last time these things happened to us, was exactly that, the last time. It was either put up or shut up and I chose to do neither. What started as an effort to help my own children rapidly transformed into an effort to help all children. In my naivety, I thought we were the only family this was happening to. How wrong I was, as it is estimated that across all branches of services, 1 in every 10 families has a child with a disability.

My fellow Air Force spouse and friend on the east coast who sent me the article is one of many friends I have made on my journey of advocating for children with autism. The Air Force may be the first responders to a terrorist threat or attack in the air, but their actions on the ground in their seemingly willful and complete lack of response, services, and support for Air Force families with special needs children, in the midst of the “attack” of the autism epidemic, is absolutely shameful.

So the Air Force top brass believes it is appropriate use of taxpayer dollars to allocate 16.2 million dollars to build cushy seats for their top brass asses to sit in? While our families go without much needed services and support? If this is their line of thinking and reasoning, I guess the Air Force doesn’t really mean it when they say “family first”. And I guess they don’t mean nor adhere to their OWN core values either. Integrity First. Service Before Self. Excellence In All We Do. Unless they mean that the officers and enlisted below them are to adhere to the Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence In All We Do. Our family and that of many others I personally know, have certainly not experienced those qualities from their own leadership. When one looks to simple management principle’s that outline something to the effect of; the office is only as good as the manager, it all makes sense.

So I surmise from what is being experienced by Air Force families who have children with autism; the top brass seem to have little to no integrity. Their own ass – I mean Self - comes before Service (remember cushy seats). Their Excellence In All We Do means, leather color and seat belt color changes to those cushy seats, it means those seats must swivel at the perfect longitudinal direction, and on and on, etc. Yes, Excellence In All We Do for the top brass ass, to the tune of 16.2 million GWOT taxpayer dollars.

Maybe if we all lived in the air, the response would be adequate???

Danielle Brian, Executive Director, of the Washington non-profit group Project on Government Oversight (POGO), stated in a letter to Secretary Gates that this Air Force program “is a gross misuse of millions of taxpayer dollars…” and an “egregious failure of leadership”.

While I believe this might be appropriate language to address the issue with Secretary Gates; it is weak given the reality of the sacrifice our families make, and what our families with special needs children endure. I’ve done the calculations, and that wasted 16.2 million dollars would have gone to unimaginable lengths to help our Air Force families with services, support, and respite care.

The Marine Corps and Army, upon hearing the failures of the Extended Care Health Option (ECHO) program failures to provide respite as “promised”, took immediate action to meet the needs of their families with children with autism. The Navy is on board and will do so as well at the beginning of fiscal year 2009. (You can read more about the failures of TRICARE, ECHO, and the DEMO project here on my site.)

My friend was telling me recently there was a study done some years ago which looked at leadership across the different branches of services. The results do not surprise me. One of the situations looked at in the study was that of chow hall “etiquette”. In other branches of service, the officers made sure their men all ate before they did. Not the Air Force. While I was talking to my friend I commented that when you break it down and put it in parenting terms; any good parent is going to make sure their children eat before they do. It’s parenting instinct, and its leadership instinct. My friend totally agreed.

It is time for our Air Force leadership to “feed” their members and families by way of services and support, including access to respite through GWOT funds. Can we afford NOT to help the families of our first responders in the air who help protect this great nation of ours? I don’t think so.

About the Author: I struggle with finding a balance between writing realistic journalism pieces that may be just a tad *cheeky*, and pieces which are inspiring and stir others to action. I find that when you’re telling the cold hard truth, this is at times a difficult balance to strike. Angela Warner
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