Airmen on social media are celebrating a rare victory for the little guy after a major general intervened to grant an enlisted airman 42 days of primary caregiver leave to spend with his newborn son, which his unit commander had denied.
In a memo posted to the unofficial Air Force subreddit and the popular Facebook page Air Force amn/nco/snco, Maj. Gen. Joel Jackson, commander of the Air Force District of Washington, wrote that the airman was “improperly denied primary caregiver leave” after the birth of his child. “As such, I grant relief by approving your primary caregiver non-chargeable leave for 42 days.” The Air Force District of Washington confirmed on Friday that the memo is authentic.
You’d think that obtaining primary caregiver leave to spend time with your newborn would not require the signature of a two-star general, but in this case, it did. The airman, whose username is Xertez on Reddit, said the drama started about six months ago. His wife had just given birth and they decided that he would be the primary caregiver. However, his commander, who Xertez said is a lieutenant colonel, believed that he had the authority to approve that decision.
“I was spoken to by my commander & first shirt,” Xertez wrote on Reddit. “My commander made it perfectly clear that what he says goes. My first sergeant made it perfectly clear, in no uncertain terms, that I should do what the commander says, that I am wrong about the AFI [air force regulations], and that this won’t be going any higher than him.”
Boy were they wrong. Xertez said he followed up the meeting by sending a rough draft of an application for redress to the unit area defense counsel on Aug. 29. Service members are allowed to jump the chain of command to address perceived wrongdoing under Article 138 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and that’s exactly what Xertez did. First, he submitted an informal complaint to his commander, and when the commander allegedly declined to grant his redress, Xertez submitted a formal article 138 complaint on Nov. 1, he wrote.
In his complaint, Xertez said that his commander refused to approve the primary caregiver leave entitled to him under Air Force Instruction 36-3003. Typically, the primary caregiver is the parent who gives birth, the Air Force Instruction says, but in some cases the military member who did not give birth may be designated the primary caregiver. The regulation clearly says that “the covered service member shall designate the child’s primary caregiver,” not the commander, Xertez pointed out.
“After communicating this to him over e-mail and informing him of this verbally, he deprived me of the right” to 42 days of primary caregiver leave, the airman wrote.
To verify Xertez’ claim as a primary caregiver, the commander requested specific medical information that was outside his jurisdiction as a commander, according to Xertez. In response, the airman said that information “was between myself, my spouse and her doctor.” In his formal complaint, the airman requested that the commander “rescind his policy that requires proof of primary caregiver status” outside of the constraints set forth in the Air Force Instruction.
Apparently, someone was listening. After waiting nearly three months for a response, Xertez said he finally got a decision back on Jan. 31 saying that the case had been decided against his commander and that the airman would be granted the 42 days of primary caregiver leave.
“I decided to follow up with the decision of that post so that others may benefit from my actions,” Xertez wrote when he posted Wednesday about his odyssey on Reddit. “This is in hopes that others will be able to utilize my paperwork to both avoid going through this process themselves, and maintain access to their rights.”
Readers applauded the story, and several posted memes celebrating Maj. Gen. Jackson siding with Xertez. Some even expressed sympathy for local area defense counsels in case they get swamped with Article 138 complaints from airmen seeking justice for past slights from commanders.
“Imagine being in a position to give your commander paperwork,” wrote one reader on Reddit.
That statement reflects a feeling shared by service members across the military: that they have little recourse to counter their superiors even when they are in the wrong. For example, one Army captain had to fight his chain of command for a year to overturn a reprimand that violated his right to free speech. Service members are also routinely forced to live in disgusting, moldy barracks that are straight-up health hazards.
“Everyone is well aware of the conditions of the barracks,” one Marine told Task & Purpose in November on condition of anonymity. “Lot of guys have brought it up, but the people they bring it up to just don’t listen.”
Fortunately for Xertez, someone did apparently listen. He just had to climb far up the ladder to find him.
UPDATE: This article has been updated to reflect that the Air Force confirmed Maj. Gen. Jackson’s memo was authentic