On the Shoulders of Giants

July 1, 1986

It is an honor to begin service as Executive Director of AFA and Publisher of Air Force Magazine in this, the fortieth anniversary year of our Association, when the sense of our heritage is especially strong. That heritage — which we celebrated a few months ago when three generations of airmen came together at AFA’s Gathering of Eagles — is far more than nostalgia. It reminds us of our purpose and provides us a yardstick against which we can measure our progress.

No one is better qualified to talk about that heritage and purpose than General Jimmy Doolittle, the aviation pioneer and war hero who, in 1946, became AFA’s first President. He describes AFA as “an organization founded by veterans who sought nothing for themselves, but rather were dedicated to the pursuit of national security and world peace by supporting the primary means for deterring aggression — airpower.” General Doolittle has also charged us to remember that this objective requires work at the national, regional, and local levels. “From the start,” he says, “it has been a grass-roots organization, supported by a thoroughly professional and dedicated staff in Washington.”

In our fortieth anniversary year, we are well positioned to carry out that charge, and we are doing so actively. Today, AFA has 230,000 members, nearly 25,000 of them Life Members, organized into 310 chapters in the United States and thirty-three overseas. Almost any day of any week, an Air Force Association chapter, state organization, or region somewhere is putting on a program to advance understanding of airpower. AFA has 253 Industrial Associates, and the Community Partner program — growing recently at the rate of fifty enrollments a week — has established tires for support from more than 700 local businesses.

Our national symposia and Aerospace Education Foundation roundtables enable us to present the views of leaders and thinkers in the fields of defense and aerospace. AFA awards recognize and promote contributions to national security. We disseminate reliable information and analysis not only through our monthly journal, Air Force Magazine, but also by production of films, videotapes, legislative reports, and other printed materials. In many instances, we are the source of information that would not be readily available to the public — if available to all — were AFA not here to provide it.

As my predecessor, Russell E. Dougherty, has said the accomplishments of AFA today are possible because we stand on the shoulders of giants, meaning those farsighted leaders who founded AFA and sustained it as it grew. Throughout our history, each generation of members and leaders has been able to build on the achievements of the generations that went before. Thus, the Association has become an instrument; perhaps promote understanding and support for issues vital to national security. We of AFA are a quarter million strong, and we are just as effective as we will ourselves to be.

It is important that we will ourselves to be very effective we have a huge job of informing and educating on our hands.

Sixteen years into the All-Volunteer Force, five years into the restoration of US military preparedness, and reduction adventure, signs abound that defense has begun to slip badly as a national priority.

In part, this is because the public either does not understand or does not believe that its security is threatened in an immediate way by the relentless buildup of Soviet military power. There is a vague perception that the risk is exaggerated and that the United States probably has already as much military capability as it needs. It does not weigh heavily on the public’s mind that the US Air Force lacks the number of combat-coded fighter and attack squadrons to meet its taskings, that total airlift available is woefully short of the amount required, or that the balance in strategic nuclear capability is drifting in favor of those who intend us harm. Unaware of the facts or choosing to ignore them, a great many people think that defense spending is largely to blame for the federal deficit. There is a growing mood that we must cut our military coat to fit the budgetary cloth, no matter what such a coat might cover or leave uncovered.

With each passing year, fewer Americans — and fewer decision-makers — have served personally in the armed forces. Accurate, timely information on defense issues is seldom available from the popular media. Along with forty years of heritage, we in AFA inherited an obligation from those giants on whose shoulders we stand. It is not enough that we ourselves be informed and understand. We must also inform others and make them understand, too. If we do not do this, who will

The program of the Air Force Association serves many constituencies: The general membership, as it goes about learning, teaching, and informing; the active-duty Air Force and the Air Reserve Forces; the education system that prepares the leaders and doers of tomorrow; decision-makers, as they struggle with the difficult issues of our times; veterans and military retirees, to whom we owe so much; the much-maligned but critically important defense industrial base; and above all, the nation we seek to protect and preserve.

As we begin our fifth decade, we are obligated by heritage and purpose to live up to the assessment made by one of our best-known charter members, President Ronald Reagan, in his message to AFA’s Gathering of Eagles: “It looks like that association of Air Force supporters we pulled together forty years ago has thrived. It makes me proud to have had a hand in getting AFA started, to see how it has grown and contributed to the security of our nation.”

This is our history — and our mandate for the future.