Opinion: ANG, Air Force look ridiculous with puppet video response

Eric Dehm
April 19, 2018 - 1:05 pm

Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Hughes

I never, ever thought I'd say this.... but the Air National Guard needs to take itself a little less seriously. 

I don't know about you, but when I see a headline featuring a scandal surrounding a video shot by the military I brace for some truly horrendous stuff. I expect some wikileaks shenannigans, or perhaps an NCO being openly expressing her distaste for fellow servicemembers, with a dash of racism added, while in uniform. I do not expect to take a deeper look and find that the story in question revolves around a puppet, but that's the situation we are in now.  

I'm referring, of course, to the story surrounding the "scandalous" video of a Master Sgt. in the Tennessee Air National Guard re-enlisting with a dinosaur puppet on her hand. If you haven't yet heard about this, here's the brief breakdown of what happened: A PAO-type Master Sergeant is seen in a video performing the oath of re-enlistment with a dinosaur puppet on her hand. 

That's it.

There's no foul language. There's no nudity. The puppet isn't casting aspersions on the Air Force. There isn't even a funny voice accompanying the puppet's mouthing of the words. Of course I can see how some would say it's improper, and I might even agree. I never included a puppet in any ceremonies during my 13 years in. My only desire for my re-enlistment ceremonies were to do them someplace where I could have a beer afterwards. Still, while I thought the video wasn't a great idea, I wouldn't call it outrageous by any stretch. 

Turns out some people thought the puppet was tantamount to swearing the oath under an ISIS flag. The outrage was swift from those folks, with quite a few veterans among them, as they began calling for heads to roll over what they termed "disrespectful," "unprofessional," or worse.

When I first saw the video, I figured there might be a verbal, or even written, counseling coming down for those involved, if that. I mean we had a senior officer and a senior NCO in the video, nothing major would happen to them. Boy, was I wrong.

Those people calling for heads to roll? Well, they got their wish. 

First, Air National Guard Director Lt. General Scott Rice  (Who you can see in the image above posing for a fun "selfie" with some Ohio ANG Airmen) put out a statement expressing his "shock and dismay" and pledging to get to the bottom of the issue and find out who was responsible. I can clear up the bottom of the issue. It was a dinosaur puppet appearing in a re-enlistment video. You're welcome, sir. I read that response and feel like I'm hearing a 3-star comment on a serious case needing investigation. That statement would make sense if a nuke had gone missing for an hour, not for a T-Rex's cameo in an unofficial video.

Next, the Tennessee ANG announced the punishments. Namely, that the Colonel performing the ceremony was demoted to Lt. Col and immediately retired. The Master Sergeant was removed from her position, and it sounds like her time in uniform is likely over. Even the NCO filiming it has been removed from their position and faces unknown additional action.

Here's the Tennesee Guard's official statement: 

Here's my official statement: 

This is not a good look for the Tennesee Guard, the ANG, the USAF, LTG Rice or MG Haston. A minor issue has been made exponentially worse by their extreme overreaction. Just look at the (now former) Colonel. Here we have a man whose career spanned decades and, seeing as he was promoted to that rank, must have been a top performer. that same man has been fired because some people got upset about a puppet.

Meanwhile, how many other Colonels and Generals in the Guard would you estimate have faced little to no punishment for turning a blind eye to things like sexual assault, hazing or any other variety of truly serious non-puppet related incidents? I'd wager there have been quite a few. How about taking a guess at the number of Airmen with alcohol-related incidents that put their lives, and those of others, at risk yet have been allowed to stay on duty over the years? Tons. I know a few. 

Some will say (Like the good Major General up above) that this had to be done because it "took such liberties with a time-honored tradition." Here's the funny thing about that tradition: it's one where people have, for many years, tried to find ways to do it differently.

For example, there have been countless underwater ceremonies where SCUBA enthusiasts re-upped (I've been witness to two in person) and I've never heard of anyone losing rank or a career over those, which is odd when you consider that the oath of enlistments were unintelligible due to the fact that they were "speaking" through a regulator. How dare they take such liberties with a time-honored tradition! George Washington would never have re-enlisted a soldier under the icy waves of the Delaware, he was too busy crossing it! 

Here's a legitimate question surrounding those SCUBA ceremonies. If no one hears your oath does it even count? Probably not, which is why those re-enlistments tend to be little more than photo opportunities of a re-enactment with the actual ceremony taking place separately on shore, to ensure that everyone involved did things on the up-and-up. It seems we have a similar case with the dinosaur puppet. The MSgt has a young child and made the video specifically for the child's enjoyment, and we've heard that it was separate from the actual ceremony which was performed separately.

Another funny thing about that time-honored tradition is that the re-enlistment is a celebration, and one of the few opportunities for the one signing away more years of their life to do things "their way" in a profession where that isn't typically an option. The MSgt didn't whip out a puppet at a memorial service, she wasn't carrying the casket of a fallen Airman with the other hand, she was at her reenlistment and wanted to have some fun with it at, literally, no one's expense.

When this was brought up in the comment thread of a Facebook post, I read some tightly wound vets putting forth responses including "Show me in the regs where it says that a mock ceremony isn't held to the same standard?" That comment was responded to with "No, you show me in the regs where it says dinosaur puppets aren't allowed in fake ceremonies, or real ones."

In that comment battle the victory went to the 2nd guy but in the real-life situation that's unfolded around this video, there are no winners. We've got quite a few losers though!

First we have the Air National Guard/National Guard/Air Force. With their scorched-earth response, they look like humorless over-reacting hardasses with strong hints of an inferiority complex. And the inter-service ribbing will continue regardless. For instance, it's impossible for me to read about this story without imagining a room full of Air Force brass having the following conversation: "People think the Air Force is soft? Well let's show 'em how hardcore we are! Now could I have another glass of that lemonade? It's delightful! What's my tee time today Major? Do I have time to go to yoga first? Is the command golf cart all charged up?"

And of course the biggest losers are the Airmen whose time in uniform have now come to a premature end over something so minor, and so silly. No lives were endangered, nothing offensive happened, yet we have three careers, of three senior personnel with what one can only assume were honorable backgrounds, destroyed. For what? A puppet? Say that out loud to yourself and tell me it doesn't sound utterly foolish.

The saddest part is there was a simple solution to this. Handle it in house, quietly, and it goes away, I never write this and the Airmen involved continue serving their nation and the great state of Tennessee. Instead, with the public stand taken by the powers that be over this, of all things, we now have lives are ruined and the ANG/AF brass look like a bunch of scrooges who gave out a metaphorical death sentence over what was, at worst, a harmless error in judgement.

Good job guys, way to aim high!