People and Relationships
Christian fighter pilots are military officers, and there are things that pilots will do simply because they are the appropriate thing to do due to their professional position. A pilot’s presence may be “expected” at the annual Air Force Ball, the wing Christmas party, or an enlisted promotion ceremony. Each of those events has its own unique structure and traditions. The pilot’s cost for such an event will probably be significantly more than the cost to younger personnel because officers generally make more money and are subsidizing the attendance of younger troops. While some less socially-inclined pilots may view such activities as an “inconvenience,” there are generally no moral arguments for avoiding them. On the contrary, they often give a Christian pilot the opportunity to interact with many officers and enlisted whom he rarely sees. Still, he must decide if the activity is appropriate for his attendance. In my experience, wing and group functions tend to be more formal and controlled, while many squadron parties I have attended have been raucous and out of control.
The Officer’s Club
Another frequently mentioned part of officership is the Officers’ Club. The O’Club is a “tradition” that spans decades. It provides relatively inexpensive (and sometimes free) food as well as ample opportunity for social gatherings. The dues vary by base, anywhere from $5 to $25 a month, depending on the location. To obtain a club card an officer is required to apply for a club-sponsored credit card, as it doubles as the membership card. Over the past few years the popularity of the Officer’s Club has waned, probably because the Air Force culture has changed slightly. One wing commander attempted to correlate membership at the O’Club with membership at a country club, which only seemed to emphasize the generational difference between his peer group and the younger officers. Being part of a country club was prestigious to him and his colleagues; to the younger group, it was the equivalent of a retirement community. Also, with military obligations around the globe drawing members’ time, fewer are willing to spend time or money at the club. A few years ago, being a member of the club was a virtual requirement; even today, a base’s senior leadership will still encourage its new arrivals to join the club, though they no longer maintain lists or harass the non-members to join. In general, they’ll make their pitch and drop the issue. Though there is nothing wrong with it, I chose not to become a club member primarily because I didn’t expect to patronize the club much; I didn’t want to pay dues for something I wasn’t using. In the past several years I have had one or two occasions where membership would have benefited me. Otherwise, I have seen no negative impact as a result of not being a club member. For those that are continuously “highly encouraged” to join the O’Club, though, joining may be the less controversial decision.
Another “officer thing to do” is known as the Company Grade Officer’s Council (CGOC). Composed of officers from all specialties from lieutenant to captain, they form a committee and gather for social events, organize trips, and often participate in volunteer and charitable activities. Unfortunately, the CGOC and the fighter pilot communities tend to have strained relationships with little shared professional respect. Pilots have a flight “rating,” and are therefore referred to as “rated” officers while non-pilots are called “non-rated.” At one base, the pilots referred to the non-rated officers as “trees” (in reference to the camouflaged BDUs that they wore), while the non-rated officers called pilots “bags” or “zipper-suited sun gods” (in reference to the flight suit and implied arrogance). Because fighter pilots have fluid and full schedules, they rarely have the availability to attend the CGOC meetings or frequent lunches, which often means that the attitude and actions of the CGOC do not reflect that of the rated officers. The frequent CGOC gatherings—particularly those during the duty day—give pilots the impression that non-rated officers don’t work as hard as they do, which only widens the gap between the two groups. Some people participate in the CGOC only to gain face time with senior commanders, but the CGOC can be a good organization; more importantly, it is composed of a pilot’s non-rated peers. Statistically speaking, pilots will probably be in the minority in any group of officers, and this includes gatherings like Bible studies. They should attempt to foster good relationships with non-rated officers, and a good relationship with the CGOC is one means to that end.
A somewhat smaller but no less important group that a Christian fighter pilot will interact with is his superiors. A fighter pilot must respect, obey, and support his superiors. If he’s given a directive with which he disagrees, he may voice his reservations in private, but once the superior ends the discussion, he supports it in public. He should never speak poorly of his superiors in front of his subordinates. There may be times when it feels difficult for a Christian fighter pilot to support a non-Christian superior. So long as a superior’s actions and orders are legal and ethical, a Christian is bound to obey and support him. If a superior’s directives are in conflict with the commands of God, then they are probably inconsistent with military law and are illegal. In that case a subordinate should express disagreement and, if necessary, refuse to comply. Officers are not compelled to obey unlawful orders. Taking a principled stand in the face of a superior officer requires strong personal ethics and moral courage. Knowing when to make such a decision requires prayerful discernment. Ultimately, the Christian must remember that God established authorities and he is commanded to obey them.
Due to the intricacies of professional relationships and the fact that a superior is generally older and more established, a Christian fighter pilot may have difficulty proactively witnessing to a superior officer, though the desire may be great. It is a veritable military tradition that superiors “thank God” for their successes in change of command and promotion ceremonies. In their farewell speeches I have heard many officers thank God for their successes, even if they hadn’t mentioned God up to that point in their tour. At one event I saw a commander and operations officer both claim God as their “number one priority”—though neither had demonstrated that in any aspect of their lives. In fact, their lives showed that they believed the opposite. Outside of a unique personal relationship with such a superior, there are few opportunities where I feel it is appropriate to confront such a person over the discrepancies in his life. A unique circumstance that I encountered was working for a commander who attended the same church that I did. Regrettably, his language and life at work during the week did not reflect a Christ-centered relationship. Had he been an equal-ranked peer, I would have had little problem speaking with him about the inconsistencies in his life; however, because of his rank and his position of authority over me (and his apparent comfort with his inconsistent lifestyle), I could find no appropriate situation to have such a conversation. While some may believe it was a missed opportunity, even now I do not know if there was a proper way for me to have such a discussion with my superior.
Another military group that Christian fighter pilots can significantly influence is the enlisted corps, primarily the small contingent of life support, intelligence, and aviation management specialists in the squadron. Generally speaking, enlisted troops look up to pilots by virtue of their rank. The example a Christian pilot portrays as a leader has the ability to directly affect the personal conduct and eternal future of many. Unfortunately, pilots have little contact with the greatest concentration of airmen and sergeants located in maintenance (as of 2003, maintenance separated from operations to form their own squadrons). When a pilot reaches a place where he is actually assigned “his” jet (and is so lucky as to get his name on the side of it), he will also have a dedicated crew chief for that plane. That presents him with a unique opportunity to have a distinct professional relationship with that airman or sergeant. Knowing his name and actually caring (not just knowing) about his family and personal aspirations will go a long way to fostering a positive relationship. A little praise goes a long way, and spending a few minutes actually talking to them when a pilot steps to his aircraft will do wonders for their perceptions.
Some fighter pilots have poor relationships with enlisted troops. They may maintain undue familiarity with enlisted personnel and show them little professional respect. Because fighter pilots maintain familiarity with each other, often calling higher ranking officers by their callsign rather than their rank, they tend to transfer that familiarity to the enlisted troops in their squadron. Strange as it may seem, enlisted troops appreciate officers who maintain a professional bearing. More than many pilots enlisted troops tend to take pride in their bearing, appearance, and overall job professionalism. By maintaining a professional relationship with the troops in the squadron a Christian fighter pilot will almost certainly be different than the majority of others. By being professional with them, he compliments their professional conduct and gains their mutual respect.
As an officer a Christian fighter pilot should strive to be the most professional military member that he can. A professional fighter pilot and officer sets the example in all aspects of his personal and official life. This means that he follows the rules: he gets his car registered on time, files his voucher before the deadline, and accomplishes the training he’s been ordered to—regardless of how asinine he may feel that it is. While it may seem obvious to say “follow the rules,” there are some pilots who choose to ignore such “minor” details. There are a few times when an officer can skip or ignore mundane tasks and get away with it while an enlisted troop could not; this is one of the many unfortunate examples of “RHIP,” or Rank Has Its Privileges. A professional military Christian officer should avoid the perception that he avoids certain requirements by virtue of his rank; rather, he should hold himself to the same standards as those around and below him.
An officer should have a professional military bearing, including a uniform that is within regulations. Most non-rated personnel who wear BDUs or blues/Class As that require ironing and maintenance already look down on pilots for having easy-wear flight suits. With a few notable exceptions, pilots rarely have shiny boots. A pilot with a fine glossy finish will likely be favorably noticed (and also receive some jibes from fellow pilots). A pilot should at least keep them polished enough so that they stay black. His hair and uniform should be within the standards and regulations. He should always be on time or early. He should never be late. (An old, cynical Air Force Academy quote used to be “If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late.”) If that means he has to keep a calendar or appointment book then he should do so—he should never expect someone else to remind him of his duties. He must accept personal responsibility for his actions. Many pilots lose the respect of the enlisted troops because of their inability to act as professional officers. By striving to be the most professional officer that he can, a Christian fighter pilot will garner the respect not only of those who look up to him, but also of his superiors.
A Christian fighter pilot should always strive to live his life to the highest moral standards. There are some things, though, that are neither moral nor amoral—they are simply the expectations of an officer. Whether it’s attending the Air Force Ball, relating with non-rated officers, superiors, or subordinates, a Christian fighter pilot should strive to be the most professional officer that he can. By holding himself to the highest professional standards a Christian fighter pilot will gain credibility and the respect of all around him.