In my book “The Air Force’s Black Ceiling” and it’s soon to follow sequel, “The Air Force’s Black Pilot Training Experience,” I note that when minority officers are given the same opportunities, they achieve the same results as their non-minority counterparts.
In “Black Ceiling” I point out the importance of black officers becoming fighter pilots as the first step on the developmental rung of a ladder that can culminate in four stars. Without this first key developmental step, it is virtually impossible for a black officer, or any officer for that matter, to achieve the highest positions in the United States Air Force specifically four-star command of flying forces and Chief of Staff.
I certainly mean no disrespect to non-rated or non-fighter pilot four stars. Of the eight previous back four stars only one, General Chappie James had command of fighter forces, and then only in an intercept role. Make no mistake true diversity in the Air Force can only be measured in the Air Force can only be achieved when all the doors are open. The door that has opened for Lt Gen Brown is truly a significant one.
If confirmed Lt Gen Brown will become only the 9th black officer to achieve four-star rank and the first to command PACAF. The Air Force has still never had a black officer to command its premier commands: ACC/TAC, Global Strike Command/SAC or USAFE.
Looking at Lt Gen Brown’s career, we see all the elements that would be present in a non-minority “shiny penny” who was purposefully developed: fighter pilot, fighter squadron commander, aide-de-camp to the Chief of Staff, command of two fighter Wings and Commander of flying forces in Iraq. (AFCENT). Lt Gen Brown’s path proves out what I discuss in my book: which is that it takes the “same ingredients” to make a black four-star as it does to make a white one. These ingredients include: “door opening, mentoring, top-cover, combat operations experience and being placed in the right jobs where talent can be observed”.
Chapter Excerpts from
“THE AIR FORCE’S BLACK CEILING”
It takes Most of the Same Ingredients
“Edgar Puryear author of ‘American Generalship’ “conducted more than a hundred one-on-one personal interviews with four-star generals and corresponded with and interviewed more than a thousand officers in the grade of brigadier general or higher” over a 35-year period. I will draw a lot from his incredible body of work to demonstrate that greatest ingredients to making a general officer, particularly a four-star have not changed in the last century. From his body of work, I will show unequivocally that mentorship, sponsorship and top cover are far more important than natural talent.
The cream does not rise to the top by itself. I will show in the careers of some of America’s greatest general officers that, though they were brilliant officers, without high-level top cover/intervention at a key roadblock, high-level sponsorship for an assignment at a key career juncture and mentoring by peers or senior friends, that these officers may not have ever become generals, certainly not 4 stars and above.
In my research for this book, I have seen discovered that it takes most of the same ingredients to make a general officer, whether that officer is white or black. The making of a four-star is not a mystery; the pattern has been the same since WWII. We have seen in the Creech system and as far back as the careers of Eisenhower and Marshall that these ingredients include door opening, mentoring, top-cover, combat operations experience and being placed in the right jobs where talent can be observed. One of the things that black officers have traditionally lacked is what Edgar Puryear in his book refers to as “door opening”:..”
Go Find Me a Major
“I’ve studied the bios of the Air Force Chiefs of Staff (CSAF) and former Commanders of TAC/ACC. In the following table, I have listed the CSAFs from General John Ryan to the present, but my focus was CSAFs during the “Creech era.” I have already shared in the chapter on General Creech about how his system selectively identified non-minorities for grooming, mentoring and developmental assignments. As I studied the paths of the Creech proteges, the officers who became CSAFs as part of his system, the thing that stood out to me the most was how relatively junior officers, were identified for selection to key jobs on the TAC or in particular the HQ USAF staff. I wondered how does a senior captain or junior major come to be known as a shiny penny, an up-and comer?”
Does The Cream Always Rise to the Top
“Further in the chapter in this book on the Creech system I’ve shown that TAC senior officers had the benefit of an intensive development, training, mentoring and sponsoring process that had not been previously seen in the Air Force. If you take two officers at roughly the same talent level and you take one and give him more frequent and demanding assignments, greater breadth of assignments, intensive coaching, high-level top cover and endorsements, etc., eventually not only does the sponsored officer look better on paper (records, awards, etc.) he will be better. If he survives the process, the sponsored officer will have been strengthened by tougher and more rapid moves, he will be more seasoned by being exposed to the way senior officers operate/make decisions.
The point of highlighting these principles in the careers of so many of the military’s finest officers is to squelch from here forward the notion that minority officers haven’t risen to the top merely because they are not the ‘cream of the crop’, the top third of their college class or in some lofty percentile of the collegiate preparatory exams
…I will show that talent alone is not enough to make the upper echelons of military rank
…On some level we all know that but when it comes to minority officers making the highest ranks a sort of selective amnesia kicks in and instead of noting the absence of mentoring, high-level sponsorship and high-level top cover, as it pertains to these officers, we try to look for an answer in their pre-commissioning academic credentials.”
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