About the same time I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, a great conflict was coming to an end. No, I’m not talking about the invasion of Grenada. I’m talking about the conflict between two brilliant and dedicated Air Force officers. One was a brilliant leader who changed the nature of warfighting. The other was a brilliant manager who changed the nature of corporate politics. The leader was Colonel John Boyd. The manager was General Bill Creech.

Boyd redesigned the way the we think about battle. He introduced both the concept of energy management to air fighting and the concept of the decision loop to military tactics. He was a non-conformist in the ultimate conformist’s club.

Creech knew how to play the system. He became the famous for painting everything brown (even the backs of stop signs) and for introducing a formal method for incorporating system-wide mendacity into any organization, called “total quality management.” Even the name is deceitful. Talk about being thorough!

These two were contemporaries. They fought against each other on many fronts, but while Boyd was 60% genius and 40% nut, Creech was all business all the time. He resented Boyd for being 1) a better warrior than he was, and 2) being a nut. In the end, Boyd was lucky to retire as a full colonel. Creech retired as a four-star general and commander of Tactical Air Command.

I was thinking about these guys because I was reading about recent changes to the U.S. Army uniform. You may say I’m crazy, but I’m not the only one who makes a habit of reading about military matters. I’m interested in the Army’s peculiar uniform antics, mostly because I just am. I’m a military “buff.” I’m a veteran, but a lot of veteran’s are NOT military “buffs.” Buffs are a special–very special breed of nerd. Being entertained by the weapons of mass destruction is more than a little creepy if you say it that way. But let’s keep in mind that gleefully rubbing our hands together in anticipation of a murder mystery is also more than a little creepy.

It’s part of my “anglo-saxon heritage” that I like military history. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. The Brits like murder mysteries and take a potentially unhealthy pleasure in reading about death. It’s part of my cultural heritage (I’m at least 75% “British” in my DNA so sue me) to like to read about slashing and stabbing and shooting and blowing up. Carnage, when described politely, is The Way of My People.

I find the story of John Boyd to be very entertaining because I’m a bit of a nut myself, and who doesn’t like to read about a fellow sufferer who transcends mere stereotypes, does the impossible and comes out looking like Zorro to Creech’s fat federale?┬áMany times Boyd slashed a wicked “Z” onto the pouty belly of the corpulent Creech (symbolically, of course).

I was reminded of all this as I got down on the floor and kissed the sweet, sweet carpeting of civilianhood and thought about how much work I used to put into my uniform. After reading about the way the Army has completely befuddled soldiers’ uniforms, I went ahead and did some reading on what the Air Force might be doing to try to match the Army’s buffoonery. So far, anyway, the Air Force has avoided the worst of it.

But it’s still way too much hassle. The primary purpose of a uniform, other than just making sure everybody has clothing, is to allow for the immediate identification of infiltrators. Uniform regulations are so complex in order to make it possible to spot a “phony” a mile away. But, just as is the case with the new currency that is being printed, constant changes in uniform regulations make it difficult to know if you’re looking at a phony. It’s too difficult to know if somebody is in or out of uniform.

I don’t mean that military personnel don’t know–those poor bastards have to memorize every line of every regulation regarding attire. What can happen though, in a “push comes to shove” scenario, is that someone who is out of uniform, and is a BAD GUY, may claim innocence as a result of confusion over recent changes to uniform regulations.

I’m not saying it has or will happen. I’m saying it could. The complexity of uniform balderdash has already made it possible to bad guys to impersonate military personnel, for civilian goofballs to pass as veterans, and for the average soldier to go crazy trying to keep up with the latest “proper” wearing of her or his uniform.

I have feeling that somewhere, General Creech is smiling.

General Bill Creech

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