The Air Force Chief Responds: Keep Writing, Col. ‘Ned Stark,’ and Join My Team


I have read with increasing interest three articles that appeared under the pen name “Colonel Ned Stark” suggesting major changes to the Air Force’s officer promotion system. The article in War on the Rocks and the two in Air Force Times were topped by similar editor’s notes explaining the use of a pseudonym, with both noting that this was not standard practice, but that they had allowed it “to protect the author from serious ramifications to his career.”

Ned, I can assure you your head is safe (I am a “Game of Thrones” fan too)! Not only do I agree with aspects of what you have written, I also love the fact that you have a passion for excellence and service that comes through loud and clear in your writing.

At an official gathering of generals earlier this year, known to many in our service as CORONA, I gave a copy of your article in War on the Rocks as mandatory reading and used it to initiate discussion around the service’s phased approach to overhauling officer performance evaluation and promotion systems. The approach starts with laying out “what we value” and goes on to identify changes we can make right now as we refine and restructure.

Want to hear more from Gen. Goldfein? He joined us for an episode of the War on the Rocks podcast. Click here.

As leaders, when we stop accepting criticism and feedback, we run the risk of further distancing ourselves from the airmen we are privileged to lead and represent. Don’t stop writing. I encourage others with similar passions on any issue to continue to contribute to this discussion or any others. Such is the nature of a profession-of-arms that debates serious matters. We must engage thoughtfully, humbly, and with mindfulness for operational security.

So, Ned, if you are willing, I’d like you to come join my team to help with the effort underway. There is a historical precedent.

In 1979, a frustrated captain wrote a poignant letter to the Air Force Chief of Staff titled, “Dear Boss, I Quit.” It got wide circulation well before the days of social media. Our 10th Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Lew Allen, took an interest in the author, Capt. Ron Keys, and made some major changes as a result.

We got better as a service because one officer wrote down his thoughts and a chief of staff paid attention. Ron Keys went on to become Gen. Ron Keys, commander of Air Combat Command.

Perhaps we have a chance here to repeat history. If you are up for it, I have a place for you to help Secretary Heather Wilson and me with a complete re-examination of our officer promotion system to ensure we are selecting the very best in our ranks for promotion and key responsibilities.

As you correctly stated in one of your articles, “this is about taking care of our airmen – the sacred charge of all Air Force leaders.” I couldn’t agree more.

This is exciting work and I need airmen with passion and understanding to help us navigate to a better place. I offer you the chance to take your ideas to the next level. And I can promise you there will be no chopping block.

Maybe you’re the next Ron Keys. If this doesn’t work for you, please just keep writing. Your chief is reading and listening.


Gen. David L. Goldfein is the chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force.

Image: U.S. Air Force/Greg L. Davis