Sunday, February 28, 2010

Breakfast with Jack

This morning I had breakfast with my Uncle Jack. He retired from active duty with the Air Force in 1978 and is currently living in the Orlando area. I am attending an analytical instrument conference in Orlando, so we could get together for a visit.

At a small table in Einstein's Bagel Shop we talked about the military from various angles. One subject I have not written about that was on both of our minds is how the military evaluates soldiers and airmen and how one bad evaluation can end a career. Jack told me about a colonel he worked for who looked like a future general. this otherwise rising star made a high official in the Ford administration angry and his career ended there. He talked about other people he knew who got the one bad evaluation and Poof! career blows away.

And the technique is simple. All evaluations are terribly skewed so that the actual "average" score for any given rank is far above the middle of the scale. When I was on active duty in the 1970s, Army enlisted evaluations were on a 125 point scale. The "average" score was 117 for Sgt. E-5s. For a 1st Sgt. it was 122. Back then, a good evaluation had each block completely filled superlatives if you wanted to say that a given NCO was really great. Lots of people got 125-point scores, it took more to say that someone was truly outstanding.

On the other hand, if you wanted to screw someone, all you had to do was put an honest score in the boxes and less than gushing prose in the comment boxes. The sergeant with a score of 110 or less and half-filled comment blocks was a shit bag. Everybody reading the form knew this for the rest of that soldier's career.

Some of the best people in my unit got screwed in exactly this way. More on that later.