The Military Role-A New Awareness

May 1, 1981
The release in mid-January of the fifty-two Americans held hostage in Iran triggered an outpouring of public sentiment that surprised hostages and commentators alike. Clearly, this event touched a deeper nerve in the public mood than had been anticipated. Part of the explanation lies in the conjunction of their release with the inauguration of a new President, whose victory reflected a dramatic shift of public opinion. I believe that these two events are related and that there are broader conclusions to be drawn with respect to changing public attitudes toward the value of national service and the necessity for increased military preparedness.

Value of National Service

Somewhat to their embarrassment, our fellow countrymen returning from Iran were hailed widely as heroes. Some of the hostages were quick to point out that the title of hero was better reserved for the brave men who gave their lives in the attempt to rescue them from their captors when the prospects for their release seemed desperately slim.

Others looked back further, to the Vietnam conflict, and compared their experience with that of the Americans whose captivity was considerably more arduous and, in many cases, lasted up to five times as long. This comparison was also drawn by several journalists and veterans of the Vietnam War, who noted the marked difference between the euphoric welcome accorded the fifty-two released from Iran and the reception that awaited thousands of young American servicemen who returned from Southeast Asia either unheralded or to mocking abuse.

As our nation continues to heal itself from the divisiveness generated by Vietnam, a serious scar remains, reflecting our collective neglect of the veterans of that conflict. I am hopeful that the exuberant response to the release of those Americans who endured capture in Iran was, in some measure, intended as an atonement for the indifference shown to Vietnam veterans and to the suffering of families who lost loved ones there.

The nation has developed a renewed appreciation for the risks and the sacrifices that go hand in hand with representing and defending American interests around the globe. This understanding reflects growing awareness of the dangers posed by a heavily armed and increasingly assertive Soviet Union, the need for stronger defenses to protect our interests around the globe, and the essential contribution of those Americans who choose to serve their country. With this greater public appreciation should go an increased pride in service to America—pride in country and pride in uniform.

The serviceman’s pride in his role of service to country was damaged seriously in recent years when antimilitary sentiments were widespread and insufficient pay caused economic hardships and demonstrated further that the American public no longer valued his service. Fortunately, and none too soon, there has been renewed public recognition of the value of military service and actions to improve compensation have gained support in the Congress. The resulting legislation has done a great deal to restore a more equitable standard of living for military personnel.

Recognition and Leadership

There are two further points regarding military compensation. First, it is clear that the nation paid a severe pride, in the form of losses of experienced personnel, for allowing military pay to erode to levels unacceptable for many career servicemen. I hope that this lesson has been well understood and that, in the future, the needs of military members and their families will be better tended.

Second, pay alone is not the answer to maintaining an adequate force of skilled career personnel. Even more important is public recognition of the worth of military service and the status that honorable service provides. Uniformed military service is not just a “job”—individual satisfaction and motivational must stem from patriotism and pride of service.

This point is well understood by Air Force men and women. It accounts for the fact that so many of our professionals have continued to stay and serve on cold flight lines and at lonely outposts, to endure alert duty and prolonged TDYs, and to carry the additional load created by undermanning and declining experience levels even when their monetary compensation was clearly inadequate. I am very proud of their performance. They prove that the attributes of pride, accomplishment, dedication to service, and simple love of country—patriotism—are still strong currents in the mainstream of Air Force life.

These priceless qualities must be preserved and nourished at every level of organization. The most important ingredient for a climate that fosters professional, dedicated performance is good leadership. Given the current experience levels in the Air Force at large, whether on the flight line, in the laboratories or wing, or at higher headquarters, the need for responsible, competent leadership is even more compelling.

Young supervisors, NCO and officer alike, are shouldering responsibilities normally reserved for more senior, seasoned people who have profited from years of experience. Air Force leadership has been good traditionally, but the situation we face is demanding and requires renewed emphasis on better leadership at all levels.

Now is a time at testing for the Air Force, as it is for our country. The caliber of men and women in our ranks is adequate to the leadership and management challenges that lie ahead. And, based on the renewed public concern for military preparedness, I am confident that the nation is ready to step up to the serious challenge posed by the increasingly powerful military forces of the Soviet Union.

Air Force men and women must and will respond to these challenges—we lave no place for those who will not. We must have an even better Air Force—improved performance, increased pride in uniform, better leadership, and a tighter, ready organization. We have the best people; we have no choice but to demand the most from them and give them the leadership and the opportunity to do the job.

Necessity for Military Preparedness

The growing awareness and concern for the status of military personnel has been but one facet of a broader public interest in the condition of the armed forces in general, and the US-Soviet military balance in particular. This interest was triggered by the mid-1979 Senate hearings on the proposed SALT II Treaty and was intensified by subsequent events in Southwest Asia.

The prospects and problems of conducting combat operations in the Persian Gulf region dominated the nation’s attention as debate unfolded on such matters as the composition of the Rapid Deployment Force, access to facilities in Southwest Asia, and the readiness of us general-purpose forces to deploy and fight. The rising tide of national concern over military preparedness inevitably became a major political issue in the presidential and congressional election campaigns.

Reflecting this clear popular mandate to revitalize US military capability, the new President and the Congress are taking immediate steps to make large-scale improvements in the US military posture. The proposed FY ’81 Supplemental and FY ’82 Amendment to the Defense budget demonstrate the level of commitment felt by the new Administration to rebuild American defenses. In making its recommendations to the Secretary of Defense on these budget revisions, the Air Force established a clear set of priorities regarding what must be done to ensure strong, ready forces in the difficult years ahead.

First, we place primary emphasis on people programs. Our policies and actions must continue to be oriented toward attracting and retaining quality people. Dedicated and committed professionals are the essential foundation of a strong and ready combat force.

Second, we have concluded that despite urgent needs across all mission areas, our most important strategic nuclear modernization programs must be kept on track. Consequently, we have requested the funds necessary to meet planned initial operational capability dates for the MX missile and the air-launched cruise missile.

Next, in light of the growing potential for conflict that could embroil US military forces, especially in the vital Persian Gulf region, we have made a major shift in resources in the FY ’82 budget. This shift is reflected in a major growth in readiness and sustainability accounts, a growth which, within the fiscal constraint of the Defense budget submitted on January 15.1981, came at the expense of significant reductions in aircraft procurement.

We have requested funds to support substantial increases in spending 10r replenishment spares and operations and maintenance accounts, and significant increases in buying air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions. Undergraduate flight training will expand, operational crews will fly more frequently, and we will begin to make headway in reducing the large facility maintenance backlog.

Reflecting the new Administration’s commitment to improve US defenses, President Reagan has asked the Congress to provide significant additional funds for both FY ’81 and FY ’82 that will allow further improvements to readiness and sustainability, will go some way toward restoring aircraft production programs, and will take a major step toward the development and acquisition of a new bomber to ensure the future viability of the strategic triad and Air Force capability for global projection of power.

The Path Ahead

The military services are emerging from a prolonged period of inadequate public attention to the state of our armed forces and to an expanding Soviet threat. There are many encouraging signs that the nation has come to recognize the true situation and is prepared to make the adjustments necessary to rebuild its defenses.

This will not be achieved overnight or within a single budget; therefore, the path ahead is still demanding. However, it is gratifying to know that the contributions and sacrifices of the military professionals who labor to provide a stronger defense posture are appreciated by a newly aroused, concerned America.

Gen. Lew Allen, Jr., USAF’s tenth Chief of Staff, is a 1946 graduate of the US Military Academy. After completing flying training, he was assigned to SAC as a bomber pilot. In 1954, he earned a doctorate in nuclear physics and spent the next seven years in the nuclear weapons field. From 1961 to 1971, General Allen filled a variety of assignments associated with space systems. Following duty as Director of the National Security Agency and Commander of Air Force Systems Command, he was named Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force in April 1978. On July 1 of that year, General Allen became Chief at Staff.