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November Commander's Corner

U.S. Air Force Maj. Jim Roth, 169th Force Support Squadron Commander, Oct. 29, 2014.   (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Caycee Watson/Released)

U.S. Air Force Maj. Jim Roth, 169th Force Support Squadron Commander, Oct. 29, 2014. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Caycee Watson/Released)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. -- (Disclaimer: This month's Commanders Column was written while literally immobilized by persistent neck pain and is clear evidence of the delirious television viewing habits of otherwise respectable individuals under the temporary influence of totally legit prescription pain killers.)

Without exaggerating, it's safe to say the average modern television viewer has at least 300 channels to choose from. At any given time, the injured, unmotivated or otherwise sofa-bound thus can surf to a dozen or more semi-interesting movies (one of which inevitably will be Patrick Swayze's Roadhouse). And, in my experience, at least a couple of those films invariably center on the exploits of some sort of military unit. Apocalypse Now, Braveheart, Tropic Thunder, the Power Rangers, whatever.

From my admittedly selfish (and questionably lucid) perspective as commander of the 169th Force Support Squadron, though, here's what I noticed while trolling cable's various movie channels. As far as I can tell, the absolutely mission-essential duties and responsibilities of the Force Support Squadron have been disregarded altogether by Hollywood. Shocking, right? There are plenty of action-packed films about fighter pilots ... Twelve O'Clock High, Redtails, Behind Enemy Lines and the ubiquitous Tom Cruise flick which shall not be named. Medics play key roles in Saving Private Ryan and Lone Survivor. You've got prisoners of war turned civil engineers in The Bridge Over River Kwai, JAG officers front and center for A Few Good Men, military air traffic controllers in United 93 and Father Mulcahey providing chaplaincy to the 4077th. Full Metal Jacket's Private Joker is a public affairs guy. Bill Murray becomes a lackluster security forces troop in Stripes. Star Trek's Lieutenant Uhura is a communications officer and her colleague Scottie is the legendary crew chief "doing all he can" to keep the Starship Enterprise boldly going.

But the Force Support Squadron remains inevitably and quite literally behind the scenes. That's just how we roll.

For those of you unfamiliar with the somewhat varied mission of our squadron, here's an excerpt from my Command Philosophy (shared with the 50+ members of our squadron in April). "The functional capabilities you bring to the table - personnel, manpower, education/training, sustainment services - have a direct and decisive impact on each Swamp Fox's ability to execute the mission.  You ensure we have the right Airmen in the right place at the right time and that they're ready, motivated and fit to fight. Our mission is to maintain the SCANG's most vital weapon system, to take care of our people. Our goal should always be better, faster service ... to provide the quality of service and support we would want for ourselves and our families. In other words, our goal, whenever possible, is 'yes'. When 'yes' is inappropriate, unrealistic or simply impossible, customer satisfaction remains our priority.  Detailed explanations and creative alternatives will help get us there."

Despite this sincere commitment and our team's invaluable contributions to the overall mission of the wing, I do understand Hollywood's reluctance to bankroll a script about our otherwise unremarkable activities. Next year's must-see summer blockbuster probably will not be about manpower statistics, enlistments or separations. Box office records are not likely to be shattered by a film focused on ID cards, PT tests, the Student Flight, lodging or the dining facility (with the obvious exception of Steven Seagal's heroic military cook in Under Siege). 

So, behind the scenes we'll proudly remain.        

But I'm telling you (somewhat shamelessly), when I stumble upon a Star Wars marathon on SPIKE TV, I can't help but consider the off-screen role of the FSS. Sure, the guys piloting the X-wing fighters and wielding the light sabers get all the glory, but, without FSS, the Rebel Alliance can't possibly defeat the Empire. You don't progress from Padawan to Jedi Master without a carefully documented career development plan and a number of 2096's along the way. You don't dispatch a huge contingent of rebel fighters to a secret base on the icy planet Hoth without a PERSCO team. Or send a strike team into a bare base situation on the forest moon of Endor without at least a SPEK kitchen to sustain them. If you suffer a service-related loss of limb or get frozen in carbonite ... that's an LOD. Those younglings under the tutelage of Master Yoda? The student flight that is! Lando Calrissian suddenly becomes a general? Not without a promotion order. The ridiculous Jar Jar Binks disappears without a trace ... thank you, selective retention. You participate in the destruction of the imperious Death Star ... twice? Those are OPR bullets, man, and probably at least a Meritorious Service Medal. Unlike the enemy (which is quite literally an army of clones), the individual members of this total force alliance each have specific, unique professional needs, and the FSS exists to fulfill them. 

They do so behind the scenes, sure. And there are undoubtedly numerous career fields far sexier than ours. But it's a fact. The wing's mission is dependent on effective manning, continuously improving personnel support and career management, extensive education programs and world class sustainment services. Simply put, if you're going to suppress the dark side and defeat the evil Empire, you've got to use the Force ... Support Squadron.

(This message has been brought to by sleeplessness and Percocet.) Semper Primus.