Look in the Mirror, AFA
You have a cover story in the July/August 2020 edition titled, “Black and Air Force Blue.” You then dedicate nine of 64 pages to the race issue in USAF, yet you can only muster 13 White men as AFA Nominees for the National Office and Board of Directors [“Airman for Life: Nominees for AFA National Officers”]. Do you even bother reading your own stories? Is AFA that monochrome and homogeneous? This certainly does not represent the USAF that I served in.
Col. James “Mookie” Sturim,
I found the cover article “Leveling the Field” as well as the article immediately following it “Black Airmen Speak Out” to be well-written and very eye-opening, which is why I was stunned when I reached p. 60 and saw the nominations for the 2020-2021 Board of Directors, all of whom are older White males!
Might I suggest that you go back and revisit that nomination process to help address some of the issues you raised in the cover article?
Patricia A. Thomas-Fuller
Thanks for advancing the conversation on race relations in the July/August edition; this is long overdue. In the same edition, I noted that all nominees for National Office and Board of Directors share three characteristics: old, White, and male.
Lt. Col. Dennis W. Butler,
Well, That Makes No Sense
Reading the article about the next Chief of Staff of the Air Force’s top priorities and his measures to boost USAF readiness [June, p. 25], I became confused when I read that the Heritage Foundation’s suggestion to “re-establish standing operational readiness inspection (ORI) teams.” Did we disband ORIs from the duties of our Inspector General teams? The article goes on: Individual squadron readiness assessments throughout the Air Force are now conducted by the unit’s squadron commanders themselves.
Are you kidding me? This is like putting the fox in the hen house. I believe it is this kind of lapse in judgment and decision-making that led to the Minot [Air Force Base, N.D.,] to Barksdale [Air Force Base, La.,] nuclear fiasco a few years ago. Whatever happened to the no-notice Phase I ORI and the follow-on Phase II ORI? A commander’s career depended on what the IG team reported, and some were relieved of command based on what we used to call “less-than” performance.
I spent two years on the USAFE IG team, from 1986-88, and a couple more on the NATO TACEVAL [Tactical Evaluation] team from 1996-99, and I can tell you doing inspections the way we did resulted in a much better readiness to support our mission. We saw some commanders relieved, but others really were meeting or exceeding requirements. Also, our reports were shared across the command so others could learn from the errors, and be better at what they do.
Please tell me I am missing something in reading this article.
Col. Frank Alfter,
Time to Speak Up
While the loss of two aviators in the T-38 crash last November was devastating and condolences go out to their loved ones, one of the worst “lessons to learn” is the wrong one [“World: Air Force Halts T-38 Formation Landings,” June p. 31]. Almost 15 million flight hours in the past 50-plus years, and an average Class A mishap rate of less than 1.5 per 100,000 flying hours makes the T-38 one of the safest airplanes in the Air Force. It’s time for a 1,000-plus hour T-38 Instructor Pilot (IP) to speak up.
One of the easiest things in the T-38 syllabus is “leading” a formation landing. It is a “straight-in” landing, except you land on one side of the 150 foot wide runway, three times as wide as the T-38. At Vance [Air Force Base, Okla.,] with a 9,000-foot long runway, there is plenty of room to “roll out to 100 knots” before aero-breaking, giving the trailing wingman a little extra room to get stopped. Since the landing was “straight-in” there were miles on approach to establish runway alignment, glide-slope, and power settings.
To blame the T-38 for acting with its predictable aerodynamic characteristics after “flying” it back into the air (touch-down should have been around 150 knots) at very low speed (premature aero-braking), turning the short wings into “speed brakes” by further raising the nose (loss of lift = high drag), applying 30 degrees of rudder and then not expecting bad things to happen is not the fault of the T-38. The student “holding right rudder” input was not something that would have allowed the T-38 to “save” the developing situation. Recovery procedure, by the IP if necessary, should have been lowering the nose and relanding the T-38 straight-ahead (little/centered rudder) or applying afterburners and doing a “lead aircraft go-around” for another landing. The wingman would then transition to a single aircraft landing. Sadly, this was an avoidable “landing” accident not a “formation” accident.
While on it, the T-38 Reserve IP program deserves another look. Undoubtedly they all have “impeccable reputations,” but that’s not the point. Mostly they come in one week a month, fly twice a day or three days with whichever students are available, once on the other two days, and then they are gone until next month. They don’t get to recognize a “good” student’s “bad” habits like their regular IPs do, so they aren’t ready to “grab the stick” as soon as they should and take over when flying with a “good” student who is starting to go “bad.”
In my T-38 flight room we had a photo over the door of a crashed T-38 at the end of some runway with the caption: “Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous … unless you get low and slow! Don’t!”
I am here today because I had been trained to make formation landings.
In 1975, I was the squadron commander of the 75th Tactical Fighter Squadron at England Air Force Base [La.,] (an A-7 unit). We were going to deploy to Panama and needed to brief the 9th AF commander on our plans. The wing commander and I planned to fly to Shaw [Air Force Base, S.C.,] in A-7s for the briefing. When we got ready to penetrate at Shaw, the weather had gone bad, and my flight lead (wing commander) asked if I wanted to make a formation approach and landing on his wing. I said yes, and we started down.
The clouds were so thick that I had to overlap wing tips in order to keep in formation. As we let down, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that my flight instruments were spinning, but could not divert my attention to check because of the thick clouds. We broke out about 300 feet and a quarter-mile and made our formation landing. Then, I checked my instruments and realized my platform had dumped due to an electrical problem, and I only had air speed and altitude. If I had not made a formation approach and landing, my best option would have been to bail out. Formation landings do require good formation flying, but if done correctly can be beneficial.
Col. George Kennebeck,
Welcome to the New Team
Congrats Chief [JoAnne S.] Bass for working hard and being good enough to be selected Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force. As a first sergeant and senior enlisted airman, I sat on lots of selection boards in the ’80s [and] early ’90s. I realized that the young women were outshining the guys. They were laser-focused, well-spoken, and very competitive. I told the guys, to be competitive they would have to step it up. If they didn’t, the girls were going to win it all.
Well, they just did.
CMSgt. L.T. Jarrett,
Different Times in Service?
There is another letter immediately following mine from a Lt. Col. David J. Wallace [“Letters: Minuteman and Service People,” June, p. 6] that contains some questionable information. I served all of my 20 year career in SAC (Strategic Air Command), including 19 years in Minuteman operations and maintenance. Five of those years were at higher headquarters and on the SAC IG team. I consider myself to be well-versed in early Minuteman operations and feel it necessary to challenge some of the statements made by Wallace.
I have never heard that the Minuteman system was envisioned as automated to the point of not requiring a crew. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay was never at SAC during the lifetime of Minuteman. He left SAC in 1957 to serve as Air Force Vice Chief of Staff. He was made Chief of Staff in 1961 when Minuteman was being constructed and made operational. In fact, a lot of his history is centered on some of his questionable demands during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, and it was at this time that the first Minuteman wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., was rushed to partial operational status to serve as a national defense, if necessary. So, I am also doubtful that General LeMay selected the first crew members from aircrew members or gave spot promotions to those who achieved “S” (Select status). I never met any of those people. I was on the first combat-ready crew at Ellsworth Air Force Base [S.D.,] Wing II, and my crew was the one to accept the first Minuteman flight made operational in early July 1963.
Wallace also states that, “Soon, the monotony and apparent simplicity caused boredom in the crew force—it’s not fun, like flying. Aircrew members soon returned to the cockpits, never more to burrow underground in missile launch capsules.”
Wow, talk about 180 degrees wrong! The Minuteman Education Program I described in my letter was supposed to be the solution to all that planned monotony. But the monotony NEVER arrived, nor did the simplicity. Crews working 24-hour shifts in the launch control center barely had time to do any study and were happy to get a few hours sleep. Otherwise, alarms were constantly going off and the security system on the missile sites themselves (each 3 to 5 miles apart) was so poor that they had to be manned 24/7 by armed guards. Usually, four guards per site were required, so that two could be in rest status. The two-man policy required two be on duty at all times. These people had to be rotated and fed while on duty, and that fell to our Mobile Strike Team whose primary duty was to investigate alarms from unmanned missile sites. But, with so many manned, the team did little more than act as a taxi service and meal delivery team. As best I can recall, that went on for several months. But, not all of the sites were yet operational, so it did become somewhat better as the newer sites were opened with improved security equipment.
The missiles themselves gave us various alarms that required maintenance response, and it was not unusual for a control center to have three to five maintenance teams working in their flight of 10 sites and requiring communication almost constantly. The point is that things were hectic, and certainly not monotonous. Our schoolwork did not get done on duty as was planned, so we did all that at home on our off days, when we also attended classes.
Crew members seldom left crew duty before three or four years in order to complete their master’s degree requirements, and, by then, more young officers had been brought in while the original crews had gained experience, and the once younger crew members were now much more experienced and capable of commanding a two-man combat crew. So, while captains and majors were frequent crew commanders initially, it gradually became captains and lieutenants who were well-experienced. But, one thing that Wallace seems to have overlooked is that personnel picked for crew duty had to have the requirements to fit into the education program at the base where they were assigned.
There is much more I could disagree with, but I realize that Wallace was probably in the force much later than I was (I retired in 1981), so I did want to object to his characterization of the early days of Minuteman and set the record straight for those of us who lived through and experienced early Minuteman.
Lt. Col. Bill Norwood,
A Disaster, Certainly
General [Douglas] MacArthur’s defeat in the 1941-42 Battle of the Philippines is one of the most ignoble chapters in American military history. You are so right in “Disaster in the Philippines” [November 2019, p. 46] that Short and Kimmel were hung out to dry after Pearl Harbor. The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor should have been detected, and there were a dozen errors made that could have placed the islands in a better posture to defend itself. It was different for the attack on the Philippines. MacArthur had a full 10 hours warning—that actually was days, given the Japanese attacks on Singapore and targets up and down the Asia coast.
It seems the general felt he knew better, and waved off the warnings. Discord among the branches also did not help. MacArthur detested the Navy at Cavite, who in turn ignored him. The Navy was already making plans to pull out even before the attack. In the case of Air Force General Brereton, I think the main stumbling block was MacArthur’s chief of staff, Sutherland, who discounted the Air Service and by not letting Brereton brief the general sealed the final fate of the Philippines.
I have read both War Plan Orange (WPO) and Rainbow 5, and they are indeed “offense” plans and, as a last resort, then go on the defensive. The plans were there, but not the will to implement. It seems that MacArthur, high atop his suite at the Manila Hotel, might have held out some dream that the Japanese would declare Manila an ‘open city’ and bypass the Philippines. No way. The Imperial Army’s aggressive actions in China was a clear indicator that a scorched earth policy was the rule of the day.
And when MacArthur ordered the Christmas Eve evacuation to Bataan, the disaster was only compounded as a large number of troops were nearly cut off at San Fernando and Lubao. If WPO was deemed a defensive ops order, then they failed to read the fine print because this withdrawal was equally as disastrous. Lines of empty Army trucks pulled out of Manila for Bataan, leaving behind warehouses full of critical ammunition, food, and supplies.
As the commanders of Pearl Harbor were grilled, MacArthur was appearing on the cover of Time magazine and receiving the Medal of Honor (MOH). In one last footnote to history that is hard to explain, the general twice scuttled attempts to award the defender of Corregidor, Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, the MOH. After returning from POW camp in China in late 1945, Wainwright was called to the White House, and without asking MacArthur, awarded the Medal of Honor by President [Harry S.] Truman.
MacArthur may have had some brilliant military moments, but Philippines in late 1941-early 1942 was not one of them.
On Race, Unrest, and USAF
If we want merit promotions without any bias (either for or against the candidate), sanitize the promotion file [“Leveling the Field,” July/August, p. 28]. Promote a “random number” vs. a person’s name. Just as the Air Force, and soon the Army, no longer require one’s picture—to prevent “name and gender bias,”(either for or against), the Air Force should also scrap names.
Assign a random seven-digit numeric code to each file. The first three digits are the AFSC and the last four digits are random. The candidate is then evaluated against other seven-digit numbers and let the better candidate be promoted. This would remove ALL doubt of who presents the better package and deserves promotion.
Scrub all officer performance reports of name and gender and send up the files for a truly unbiased promotion board.
No discrimination, no bias, no quotas. A totally fair and unbiased board.
Problem solved, unless of course the powers that be actually want a biased board—and there’s two sides to that as well.
Lt. Col. Dano Cotton,
I served as an enlisted Airman from 1968 to 1988, and I do remember seeing many examples of overt racism early in my career. Toward the end of my career this seemed to have morphed into more of a covert bigotry. I remember that as a staff sergeant in the late 70s, I was asked by a senior NCO to recommend a replacement to fill a position on a four-man team. The Airman I recommended was Black and the SNCO balked because this would create an all-Black team. I insisted, the SNCO relented, the Airman joined the team, and the team continued to perform their mission successfully. I always thought back then it was people who were racist and bigoted, but the Air Force as a whole was committed to equality.
Yet, here we are, 32 years later, and equality is still just a goal, not a reality. Was I really that naive back then? Maybe so. My Air Force, our Air Force, must do better and can do better. General Brown and Chief Bass have their work cut out for them. From what I have read and seen so far; I think they are both up to the challenge. Our 75th anniversary is just two years away. Let’s hope that long before our 100th anniversary we will be able to say that the only important color in our Air Force is Blue.
MSgt. James W. Roosa,
I abhor racism, and recognize the need for equal opportunity for—and treatment of—women and minorities, and assiduously attempted to apply that throughout my career.
However, I cannot help but note that “targeting” specific groups for special attention and awarding privileges to attempt to redress the imbalance is part of the problem as that, in itself, is ‘reverse discrimination’!
Until those exhibiting racism and misogyny are weeded out, and individuals are recognized, judged, and accorded their positions on merit—i.e., by their abilities and the content of their character (to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)—to do otherwise is mere ‘tokenism’ which only fosters more resentment in the ranks.
Easier said than done, I know.
Col. Ken F. Smith,
The article was based on single source data provide by the Air Force. Based on what I read, USAF is in for another round of social engineering. … Bless your hearts.
If done internally, it will probably be about as productive as General [Merrill] McPeak’s [Total Quality Management] and bicycle projects. General [Larry O.] Spencer’s comments may have said it all. Apparently, his superiors told him that to get ahead he would have to work harder than his peers. When I was a lieutenant, that is exactingly what my squadron commander told me. In fact, my Dad also told me that at an early age. I’m sure many got the same advice. General Spencer and I took it, and some didn’t. As far as having mentors, the AFMyVector and other online programs “aren’t bearing as much fruit as the Air Force would like.” That may say more about the individual than the program. Back in Texas they say, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.” Anyone who doesn’t work harder than his peers and take full advantage of every opportunity offered just might not get promoted. There is a lot more to selective promotions than just doing a good job, and to blame lack of promotions on race seems like a stretch. Individuals also need incentives, so taking away early promotion is really dumb! That will certainly level the field.
If the Air Force really wanted the answer to promotion disparity, they would contract an independent (outside) firm to study all the data and provide an unbiased report on the issue … then we would see if the system is broken or needs to be social re-engineered to level the field.
Col. Quentin M. Thomas,
I don’t think you told the complete story. Most of the article was summary statistics of promotion rates for the past decade, presumably some sort of averages from 2009 to 2019. But, no data were presented to indicate how we are doing over time. For example, what were these averages during the previous decades? Has the Air Force improved? What trends have we measured over the past decade? Have the promotion percentages for minorities improved or not?
Also, choosing a parameter like past promotions is choosing to track the outcome, rather than the opportunity. Are the opportunities for promotion equal regardless of race? No way to tell from the few anecdotal interviews that accompanied the promotion data. Is the Air Force goal really to level the outcome as stated by Lt. Gen. [Brian T.] Kelly? Better to ensure the opportunities are equal rather than the outcomes.
Col. Dennis Beebe,
The enlisted promotion data graphs are misleading because it does include the percentage of women promoted in their respective races. The Average Enlisted Promotion Rates: 2009 to 2019, for senior master sergeant are 10.5 percent White and 13 percent Black. To know how many women factored into the equation is valuable to see if more disparities exist. For example, if 10.5 percent are White and 5 percent of those promoted are female, this is a huge disparity considering women are 20.6 percent of the enlisted force. Without this data in the equation, you are painting an incomplete picture of the data presented.
SMSgt. Michael J. Nichols,
Deputy Fire Chief,
Kadena Air Base, Japan
I’m a 30-year Black retired Security Forces (air police, security police) Chief Master Sgt. (1966 to 1997), compelled to respond for the first time.
As a 43-year military and civilian law enforcement officer, no one is more dispirited than I am by the police actions seen in the Minneapolis video involving the death of George Floyd, no matter the final investigation and legal outcome. However, the succeeding violence, looting, and murder is just as abhorrent and counterproductive. As the widow of retired Black police Captain David Dorn stated, “Looting, destruction, and mayhem doesn’t save Black lives, it destroys Black lives.” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood and later Malcolm X came to understand that these acts of violence, destruction, and murder were counterproductive.
Furthermore, I resent the implication that racism is systemic in America’s police force. I know from personal experience that the majority of law enforcement officers are noble, valiant, and honorable. Their courageous and humanitarian deeds exponentially eclipse isolated unfavorable incidents.
The perception that systemic racism exists in the Air Force is also an insult to the many senior leaders who strive to uphold the laws of equality, opportunity, freedom, and justice. Every military individual has the same avenues for redress of grievance as their civilian counterparts. Where there is racial or other injustice, there is an absence or neglect of leadership.
During my career, I met two of the original Tuskegee Airmen: Lt. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., 13th Air Force Commander, while controlling entry to his command center on Udorn RTAFB, Thailand, 1968-69, and later years, stateside, hearing Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. during one of his speeches on Americanism and patriotism (subjects very dear to me). I later met the first Black Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, Chief Thomas N. Barnes, during his visit to Griffiss Air Force Base, N.Y. While I was proud of these Black military leaders, I was also proud of the many other senior Air Force commanders and noncommissioned officers of all races who inspired me through their demonstrative faith, leadership, and love of country. They taught me that when subordinates understand the standards expected of them and are given the opportunity to achieve and exceed those standards through common sense techniques of leadership and management (training, counseling, and follow up), then most subordinates will feel respected, excel, and earn promotions and commendations, no matter their race. I credit my successful and decorated career to programming others to succeed.
General [Anthony J.] Cotton mentioned “Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks—and the list goes on …” suggesting that murder by White police officers is systemic and commonplace. That is not true, and I would encourage him to research the FBI and NCIC (National Crime Information Center) statistics, and he will find the numbers do not support his claim. The mainstream media purposely distort and outright lie about the circumstances of many racial incidents to incite racial tension, and too many Black people have overreacted or fallen prey, during my lifetime. Cases in point include Florida’s George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin, Missouri’s Michael Brown/ Officer Darren Wilson, Baltimore’s Freddie Gray/six police officers, Atlanta’s Rayshad Brooks/Garrett Rolfe, and Houston’s Jazmine Barnes.
General [Richard M.] Clark mentioned his 18-year old son rode off one night for a Black Lives Matter protest in Washington, D.C. I encourage General Clark to explain to his son the distinction between supporting “Black Lives Matter” for legitimate, positive change and supporting the BLM, a movement aided by an embedded terrorist organization, Antifa. Both are avowed Marxist organizations with cleverly crafted names to deceive the public, yet are fomenting hate, chaos, and destruction. Their charter is dedicated to the destruction of the traditional American values: the nuclear family; religious institutions; American history; and independence. Their goal is to erect a Communist Utopia (all confirmed by Homeland Security Congressional testimony). Amazingly, many American corporations and notable celebrities contributed to their own demise by donating hundreds of millions of dollars to these groups, creating a revolving door for arrested criminals to continue the destruction of our communities.
I educated myself on the national media coverage of racial incidents while serving in Thailand and Vietnam, 1968-1971. Today’s media coverage is very much like the agenda-driven coverage of the Vietnam War protests, embedded with radical leftists such as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), Black Panthers, and several other anti-American organizations.
I was born and raised extremely poor in a segregated South in late ’40s through the mid-’60s. Despite the racism and poverty, our faith and the family values of our community, churches, and schools instilled in us a sense of self-worth, taught us absolute rights and wrongs, and encouraged us to be positive and always judge other people individually by their merits. Most Black Americans share the same core values of faith, patriotism, freedom, and respect for the rule of law—values that guide our progress toward equality, tranquility.
However, the curriculum in schools and colleges today is embedded with “social justice” issues guided by a political agenda filled with anti-American, anti-military, and anti-religious bias and hate. I was inspired to join the Air Force when a recruiter visited our high school. Many schools and colleges today have banned military recruiters and ROTC programs.
When some students in my school opposed standing during the Pledge of Allegiance or reciting Christian prayers based on their religious beliefs, we respected them without bias or condemnation. However, we didn’t eliminate the Pledge of Allegiance or ban prayers, nor modify the education curriculum or standards of conduct to accommodate them. People of the Muslim/Islamic faith believe in Sharia Law. However, we do not change our laws or Constitution to accommodate their faith or Islamic laws.
Today, military leaders are stifled and even paralyzed by a multitude of other social experiments thrust upon them by an ideological driven alliance of media, politicians, and educators. Leaders should be protected from these distractions in the interest of military readiness.
Therefore, it is impossible to sufficiently address racism in our military and civilian culture today unless we address the ramifications of politically correct bias and ideological hatred pervasive today in politics, education, and the media.
CMSgt. James Fullwood,
Correction: In the September issue, two letters to the editor were inadvertently combined. Below is the correct, complete letter submitted by Col. David R. Haulman, USAFR (Ret.). We sincerely regret the error.—The Editors
I’m both encouraged and impressed by the superb credentials identified for each of the AFA candidates for National Office and the Board of Directors. I can’t help but wonder, though, what a lot of others of us might be thinking: How can AFA get more former Air Force pilots involved at the highest levels of the AFA? It appears that only one of the thirteen nominees ever piloted Air Force jets. Our AFA founder, Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, might have wondered the same thing.
Col. David R. Haulman,