“Message to the Force”
Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman
Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force
Department of the Air Force
July 28, 1997
With the cryptic statement that he may have been “out of step with the times and some of the thinking of the establishment,” Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman on July 28, 1997, cut short by more than a year his tour as Air Force Chief of Staff and retired from active duty. It was a move unprecedented in the Air Force’s 50-year history.
Fogleman had several reasons for his action. The most important of these, however, stemmed from the disagreement between himself and top defense officials on what punitive action, if any, should be taken as a result of the June 25, 1996, bombing of the Khobar Towers housing complex in Saudi Arabia. In that attack, 19 USAF airmen were killed and hundreds were wounded.
Fogleman for months had emphatically argued against blaming the wing commander, Brig. Gen. Terryl J. Schwalier, for the disaster. The Chief told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it would be wrong to punish officers when, “despite their absolute best efforts, [troops] are targeted by somebody in an act of war and somebody is killed.” This kind of ex post facto sharpshooting, he added, would have a “chilling effect” on commanders. However, Fogleman’s conclusion clashed with that of Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, who, Fogleman knew, was preparing to take action against Schwalier. On July 31, three days after Fogleman’s action, Cohen went ahead and stripped Schwalier of a previously approved promotion to major general, ending his career.
For years, Fogleman declined any public comment on his action beyond a brief written statement. (He finally discussed it in an interview with Aerospace Power Journal, published in the spring 2001 issue.) Though Fogleman’s message to the troops was dated July 30, it was actually released on July 28.
July 30, 1997
As my tenure as your Chief of Staff ends, I want to tell you what an honor and a privilege it has been to represent everyone in the United States Air Force.
The timing of my announcement was driven by the desire to defuse the perceived confrontation between myself and the Secretary of Defense over his impending decision on the Khobar Towers terrorist attack. The decision to retire was made after considerable deliberation over the past several weeks.
On one level, I’ve always said that my serving as the Chief of Staff was a “tour” not a “sentence” and that I would leave when I made all the contributions that I could. After I accepted this position in 1994, I met with other senior leaders of the Air Force to discuss our goals for my tenure. We wanted to take care of the troops and their families, to stabilize the force, to set a course for modernization, and to develop a new strategic vision. During some difficult and challenging times, we have worked hard to accomplish that and more. Certainly there is more to be done, but the framework of the plan and the leadership [are] in place to move forward with the support and efforts of the magnificent men and women of our Air Force.
On another level, military service is the only life I have ever known. My stock in trade after 34 years of service is my military judgment and advice. After serving as Chief of Staff for almost three years, my values and sense of loyalty to our soldiers, sailors, marines, and especially our airmen led me to the conclusion that I may be out of step with the times and some of the thinking of the establishment.
This puts me in an awkward position. If I were to continue to serve as Chief of Staff of the Air Force and speak out, I could be seen as a divisive force and not a team player. I do not want the Air Force to suffer for my judgment and convictions. In my view, this would happen if I continue as your Chief. For these reasons I have decided to retire and devote more time to personal interests and my family, … but the Air Force will always be in my thoughts.
[My wife] and I have met a lot of wonderful American servicemen and -women—active duty, Guard, Reserve, civilians, and family members—and they will continue to be a part of our lives. We have been proud to represent the men and women of the United States Air Force around the globe and to serve in the finest Air Force in the world. God bless and keep you all as you continue to serve this great nation.