John Q. Public is juuuust about the only blogger out there focused on the Air Force. Sometimes, he strikes me as a bit of a gadfly, but mostly it is obvious he loves the Air Force, and is troubled by the institutional shortcomings he sees therein. Fair enough. We criticize all the services frequently, but do so in the hopes of correction, not spite.
Take, for example, the service’s traveling show choir, Tops in Blue (TiB). At an opaque but reasonably estimated annual price tag of $10 million, TiB generates zero operational benefit while leaving the work centers of three dozen airmen short-handed for a year at a time. It is a mobile monument of waste, showcasing the unwarranted frills that became normalized deviations in the huge Cold War Air Force but are entirely hostile to the notion of fiscal responsibility in an era of austerity. Yet, despite SECAF’s insistence that every dollar must count, TiB persists, surviving sequestration even as needed aircraft and airmen are liquidated to save money.
Yes, the Air Force has a traveling Broadway style song and dance review. Airmen already in the service can audition for the program, and then spend a year traveling to various bases giving their performances to audiences consisting of senior leadership, prominent local civilians, and the general population of a base.
But JQP points out a few issues with this.
- It costs money. Most of the money actually comes not from the taxpayers, but from Morale, Welfare and Recreation funds, which monies are collected from post exchanges and other similar sources for the benefits of troops, well, morale, welfare and recreation. Obviously, the money used for TiB is not available for other, likely more pressing MWR needs. And the logistical needs of TiB also impose hidden costs, such as transportation, lodging and allowances for rations per diem that could be used elsewhere.
- It takes Airmen away from their parent unit for a year at a time. Units are always shorthanded. And when an Airman is seconded to TiB, it is for one year of what the services call “permissive TDY.” That means they’re still technically assigned to their parent unit. And because of that, the unit cannot receive a replacement for the touring Airmen.
- No one likes the show. Seriously, most people don’t even know about it. But it’s the most trite, awful “entertainment” around.
- JQP has several sources telling him that being a part of TiB is no bed of roses itself, and that the troupe is routinely treated poorly.
Now, before you think I’m just kicking the Air Force when they are down, lemme tell you this. The Army has a nearly identical touring show, and at a minimum, items 1-3 apply every bit as much to the Army’s troupe.
Worse, our show isn’t named “Tops in Green.”
No, dear friend, the show is The Army Soldier Show. Yes, the ASS.
It’s Army entertainment like you’ve never experienced before. The Soldier Show is a live Broadway-style variety performance featuring our best talent. It’s singing, it’s dancing and it’s amazing!
You may think I’m being a tad harsh on the dedicated Airmen and Soldiers who go through a lengthy audition period, and face a year of separation from their homes and families to bring you this fantastic entertainment. Maybe. Or maybe I’m not being harsh enough on what is clearly an outdated institution and should be put out to pasture.
By the way, I loathe that Lee Greenwood song.
Addendum- /snerk/ a friend a few years ago mentioned that the Soldier Show was the only place for openly gay soldiers before the repeal of DADT/