It happens to the best of us: you meant to send an email to one or two people and, whoops, now you’ve accidentally blitzed your entire company or your school. For the sender, the “reply all” incident (also known as an “email storm” or a “Replyallcalypse”) is a thing of dread and humiliation; for the recipients, it’s often both hilarious and annoying.
Which is what makes it so funny that the U.S. Air Force has an email address that would appear to allow a single person to message the entire USAF. The address, dubbed “AF all,” was originally revealed to Gizmodo by an amused “whistleblower” who witnessed an episode involving the address and thought it “was too funny not to share.”
An Air Force spokesperson confirmed to Gizmodo that the incident occurred, though with no small degree of confusion: “I’m not sure who created that distribution address, so I’m not sure how that is possible.”
According to images of the email thread shared by the tipster, a “replyallcalypse” happened when a low-level clerical employee at Ramstein Air Force base in Germany sent out a query about a computer issue at the base, subject line “Logo appearing on our screern [sic].” She wrote, “Please help us !!!” about an ugly and outdated logo that would not quit the screens at Ramstein. She called it “this horrible green statement.”
Unfortunately, she accidentally added the “AF-All” address, which appears to have forwarded the query to droves of Air Force personnel stationed at different bases.
The recipients of the email thread were not pleased. One person, a Lt. Colonel Matthew S. Judd, of Wright-Patterson Air Force base in Ohio, replied bluntly:
Good Morning, I’m sorry to hear about your computer issue, I really have no idea what your issue is or have a good solution to the problem, but here’s a shot anyway:
Unplug device, head for the second story, open window and throw it out the window, should get rid of the green screen. I hope this helps.
Others skipped the snark and went straight for anger and confusion. One person, replied:
Mrs. Pritchard. I’m not sure why you put me on this string but I’d appreciate it if those who are involved in your issue would reply to you land [sic] not “all”.
Yet another person, Lt. Colonel John Fesler, who is based in Washington D.C., merely offered the following: “PLEASE stop using ‘Reply All’,” he wrote, which seems to imply that this sort of thing has happened before.
Others from bases in Texas, Florida, and New York all chimed in with annoyance and confusion. Gizmodo reached out to them about their feelings regarding their overloaded inboxes, but did not hear back.
When asked about the incident by Gizmodo, Ann Stefanek, chief of media operations at the Air Force, told us:
It appears that an individual did inadvertently send an email to an AF-All email address. The individual was looking for help with a computer issue and mistakenly added the wrong address.
I’m not sure who created that distribution address, so I’m not sure how that is possible.
Why the heck the Air Force would have a reply-all email distribution that could so easily be abused is anybody’s guess, but it certainly seems like a giant headache—and a potential liability. It is unclear if the email is still active or whether a member of the public could use the address to spam the entire Air Force. Gizmodo asked Stefanek if that was the case but we have not heard back.
Matt Novak contributed reporting to this story.