Air Force MSgt. Mandy Mueller, 39th Medical Operations Squadron medical services flight chief, reads a holiday letter on Dec. 11, 2019, at Incirlik AB, Turkey. SSgt. Joshua Magbanua
Photo Caption & Credits

Letters

March 26, 2021

We love letters! Write to us at letters@afa.org. To be published, letters should be timely, relevant and concise. Include your name and location. Letters may be edited for space and the editors have final say on which are published.

SAGE Advice

In the spirit of the new fad about sustainability and recycling, might I propose a replacement for SHIELD (Strategic Homeland Integrated Ecosystems for Layered Defense) [“See Forging a Shield for the Homeland,” January/February, p. 40]. 

It’s a four-letter [word] that starts with an S: SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment). It was an acronym invented about 1957 that described a new and innovative approach to Continental Air Defense. It described the dawn of the digital age; I think back then it was a subset of Pushbutton Warfare. One thing I like about the name is its built-in OPSEC [operational security] feature. It is so vague it could mean anything!

MSgt. Michael R. Betzer,
USAF (Ret.)
Lancaster, Calif.

Special Guardians

So, since it has been decided that members of the Space Force will be addressed as “Guardians”, why was it decided to name it’s junior enlisted ranks as “Specialists?’ Can someone please explain why the decision body did not give a nod to early Air Force ranks? These “Specialist” ranks could have been named: E1: Guardian 3rd Class; E2: Guardian 2nd Class; E3: Guardian 1st Class. Much like the early Airman 3rd, Airman 2nd, and Airman 1st Ranks of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Each rank, like the Navy, could be addressed as: 3rd Class, 2nd Class, etc.

Seems to me, too far easy. Apparently, no one gave it any thought.

CMSgt. Jay Wilson, 
USAF (Ret.)
Gainesville, Va.

Space Force leaders say they did indeed give this issue a great deal of thought. Here’s what Chief Master Sgt. of the Space Force Roger A. Towberman said at AFA’s virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium in February: “The Specialist ranks are one through four. We were very deliberate [in deciding] we’re not going to call them first, second, third class. We’re going to treat them more as one group, where the levels within that group are mostly in the control of the Specialists [themselves]. … Long term, what we see happening is that I come in, and when I can prove I can do X, Y and Z, then I get promoted” to the next Specialist rank.—The Editors

The 2 Percent

That quote by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr.  [See “Verbatim,” January/February, p. 16] really hurt as it implies that there has been bias against Blacks for at least 30 years. I served for 23 years (1960-1983) as an officer in USAF and of course wrote or endorsed numerous APRs [Airman performance reports], inspected barracks, discharged Airmen, and so forth. Never once did race enter into my decisions. I let the facts guide my decisions.

I can’t imagine how our instructor pilots must feel, but I’m glad they did not pass along the Black pilot who couldn’t handle his/her aircraft. I think our safety record attests to their diligence.

Rather than lay a guilt trip on all of us who came before, let’s celebrate the fact that the United States Air Force is and always has been the best in the world.  And let’s get the 2 percent guys together with aspiring young Blacks to tell them what it takes.

Lt. Col. Tom Currie, 
USAF (Ret.)
Westerville, Ohio  

Throughout my 20-plus years as a reservist, I served as an Admission Liaison Officer (primary duty/additional duty) for over 10 years, serving to promote the office accessions programs through both the USAF Academy and USAF ROTC programs. I know for a fact that we have brand-new second lieutenants whose first assignment is as a minority affairs officer [with the] role to promote USAF opportunities in the minority communities. Yet, General Brown infers that there is “something in the way” preventing African Americans from becoming pilots. 

As an airline pilot for a major U.S. based carrier, I know that my airline has over 6,000 qualified applications on file to fill 1,000 pilots slots in the coming year (pre-COVID) due to the large number of retirements. During a company sponsored video Q&A, the director of recruitment for my airline stated that amongst those 6,000 applicants, there are 11 percent “self-identified minorities” and 2 percent women … and that they would hire as many as possible. He also stated that the main issue when it came to hiring minorities and women was that there were very few applicants, and very few in the “pipeline” of civilian training.

My point is simple, based on my experience in both USAF and airline flying communities—there does not seem to be a barrier to entry, but amongst young minorities and young women there seems to be a lack of interest in pursuing aviation as a career, let alone serving as an aviator in the greatest Air Force in the world. So with that, my challenge to General Brown is to either demonstrate what is the direct barrier to entry for minorities to becoming a USAF pilot, or, when it is discovered that barrier does not exist, then to ask … why the lack of interest?

Lt. Col. Michael Wells,
USAFR (Ret.)
Highland Village, Texas

 The Air Force is Black and white, not blue. And it’s mostly white, and if you’re white you make rank and get promoted, and you have less issues across the board—you can make mistakes and you still have a career. Not so much, as a minority.

Pilot training is easier as well—I know—I was a USAF pilot and a minority. And if you’re not a fighter pilot? Forget it.

The senior leadership of USAF was educated in predominately white southern schools and they brought that systemic racism with them when joined, they became your senior leadership.

In reality it wasn’t their fault, that’s where they are recruited.

There are very few Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, MIT, [or] Ivy League college graduates that are USAF officers, let alone pilots.

When you attend a school that has very few minorities that you have to interact with, you bring those same traits with you to the military.

If you are a dark-skinned minority, you will be looked upon differently—ask the Chief of Staff. Better yet, ask the enlisted troops this question.

I, myself, was overwhelmed when General Brown was selected to be Chief of Staff.

All one has to do is look who they picked to be in charge of the 99th [Pursuit Squadron] Tuskegee Airman during World War II. He looked white, yet commanded minorities that were much darker than himself. That is written in stone.

For years, minorities who traveled in the ’60s had “The Green Book,” [listing] where they knew they could stay and eat while on the road—well, there is a Blue book, as well, for those of us who have served in USAF—what bases are good for minorities, housing, etc.

There is significant racial disparity in USAF and has been for years.

I applaud General Brown for taking this issue head-on, but unless the Majcom commanders take it seriously, this issue will fade away and go back to business as usual.

You can already see the handwriting on the wall, a blue ribbon commission on racial disparity, staffed by Active-duty minorities. You think they are going to tell the truth and put their careers on the line? Please.

Get some retired officers and senior and not-so-senior enlisted to be on the board that look like General Brown. You will get the truth then, but when you get it, what are you going to do with it?

You know what? They aren’t ready for that. 

Clarence J. Romero Jr.,
USAF (Ret.)
Marietta, Ga. 

Let me make sure I have this right … George Floyd, under arrest for passing counterfeit money, has his neck kneed on by a MN police officer and dies. Riots erupt over the nation all summer. During this period, the CMSAF at the time, CMSgt. Kaleth O. Wright, announces on social media that he is George Floyd. The highest ranking enlisted Airman in the USAF is George Floyd. How can the Airman sitting in the highest enlisted chair in the USAF say he’s George Floyd? If CMSAF Wright is George Floyd, then who’s the white “police officer” kneeling on his neck, holding him down … General Goldfein, the CSAF? It had to be a white guy over him in the Air Force.

CMSAF Wright has the right to feel anyway he wants to feel, but I resent the assertion that the Air Force I served in holds down Black men, especially when spoken by a Black man sitting at the top of the entire enlisted force!

Incredible. Then the Air Force decides to do a racial survey to see if there’s a racial problem. You’re kidding me, right? You just had CMSAF Kaleth Wright tell all the Black people in the USAF that he was George Floyd, held down by white people. What results did you expect to get? Something different than what the CMSAF said? Of course not! The results said Black Airmen felt discriminated against. The report also said there isn’t evidence of racism.

USAF Chief of Staff Gen. [Charles Q. Brown Jr.] says the percentage of black pilots 30 years ago was 2 percent.  And, he says, it’s still 2 percent today. Does that prove racism? Does that prove the system is rigged against aspiring Black youth to become pilots? You can repeat the current mantra and say, “yes,” but I disagree. It’s not my fault. It’s not the Air Force’s fault. It’s not America’s fault. It’s the Black family’s fault. But, we’re not allowed to say that because that doesn’t fit the narrative.  

 It’s not the Air Force’s job to increase Black pilot percentages. It’s the Air Force’s job to set factual pilot standards and requirements. Then, it’s up to the young aspiring American to pursue his pilot goal. I didn’t apply myself well in high school, so I didn’t have the grades to become an AF officer and pilot.  That’s on me and my parents, not the Air Force.

I served in our Air Force from 1983 to 2013. The Air Force I served was not racist.  There were racists in the Air Force, just like in America, but the Air Force wasn’t racist. I’m sad to see the slow destruction of our Air Force, our DOD, and our nation.

CMSgt. Jerald Akers, 
USAF (Ret.)
Forest, Va.

I remember joining the New York Air National Guard in 1993 and, at that time, one could not be asked if they belong to an extremist group. This was started in the Clinton administration. When I was in the Air National Guard, I did not notice extremist individuals.  If anything, I saw diverse opinions, not all were the stereotyped conservative views.

TSgt. Joe Domhan, 
NYANG (Ret.)
West Babylon, N.Y.

 Collateral Damage

I read not the first paragraph of Michael J. Dunn’s [letter] [See “Letters: Scud Hunting,” January/February, p. 5] on the right of the US Army to acquire and use theater ballistic missiles as counter-fire weapons, before I concluded that this man is either woefully ignorant of a great number of battlefield realities, or frankly unpossessed of the slightest care over the risks of collateral damage plus blue-on-blue attrition. He advocates for the right of the Army to immediately launch a counter-fire mission within seconds of detection of incoming missile attacks. 

Anytime a counter-battery mission is ordered, it is essential to implement a protective bubble of airspace, and ensure that all aerial assets in the line of trajectory are cleared out, both at the origin of the launch and the destination.  The risk of blue-on-blue without doing this is obvious. Yet, Dunn makes zero mention of this reality. Instead, he directly asserts that tactics of over 30 years ago were used for questionable reasons, as though we had back then the same technologies as today.  It’s a specious argument, lacking in fairness.

 The reason we sent F-15E’s out into the Iraqi desert was because, back in 1990, they represented the best available weapons with which to track down and kill SCUD launchers.  It was never considered, not even by Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, a mission with realistic chance of great success, but instead a political effort to convince the Israeli government to avoid launching their own counter-Scud military missions, likely involving a degree of military ground force occupation of the launch areas, and thereby unraveling the coalition.  It is therefore outrageous for Dunn to use the F-15E counter-Scud mission as an object of his derision. There was zero aerial counter options in World War II against the V-2, but does anyone dare assert that the Royal Air Force was incompetent because they could not interdict them!

Had pinpoint precision theater missiles, and GPS-aided rockets and artillery been available back then, they would have been employed consistent with their range limits. Still, the employment would have required the necessary deconfliction to ensure we did not perform the enemy’s job for them, by killing our own forces in the effort, or causing a tragic civilian death incident.

Dunn’s ridiculous argument provides the best argument against what he’s advocating for, which is the right of ground forces to be able to launch thousand-mile ballistic missile, rocket, and artillery strikes, as counter-battery missions, within seconds of threat acquisition. Provided the same ground units are willing to completely forgo all aerial support missions, including counter-air, plus completely eliminate all civilian air travel within an entire continent, then his advocacy might make some sense. But, in the real battlespace he speaks of, the course of such theater weapons requires significant deconfliction, likely including civilian air traffic. 

With mobile missile launch platforms, even a few minutes delay to secure such airspace clearance, would allow all but the most inept of enemy ample opportunity to vacate the place of fire employment. It is one thing for all FOB’s [forward operating bases] to establish their own localized fire control zones, have them published to aviators, and communicate immediate withdrawal orders, pending a counter-battery mission.  To extend that concept to an entire theater of battle is absurd.  Dunn, if he’s the expert he claims to be, should well comprehend all of this.

The best defense against enemy missile attack is to destroy their missile launch capability as part of the initial theater preparation mission. The interdiction and intelligence assets to find, fix, track, and destroy these enemy assets remains in the hands of the Air Force, and consistent with wise deconfliction measures, can also facilitate the responsible use of the counter-fire missions that Dunn references, but not in some matter of seconds upon launch detection, as he imagines. 

Maj. Ken Stallings, 
USAF (Ret.)
Douglasville, Va.

Remembering Yeager

Thanks for the great article and tribute to Chuck Yeager in the January/February issue [p. 27]. You did not mention the many flying hours in the F-100 when he commanded the 405th Wing at Clark Air Force Base, Philippines. Then-Colonel Yeager flew with our squadron (523rd Tactical Fighter Squadron), often including trips to Taiwan and gunnery sorties at Crow Valley Range. Although the wing also had B-57 Canberras and F-102 aircraft, he visited our squadron often and got on the schedule to fly the Hun whenever he was available. In those days, on the gunnery range there were friendly wagers of a nickel a hole (strafe) and a penny a foot (dive bombing). He was a very talented fighter pilot and took some money on the range, as well as losing occasionally.

He was great to work for and fly with, a fighter pilot in the truest sense.

Lt. Col. Steve Altick,
USAF (Ret.)
Yakima, Wash.

I would like to add some background about General Yeager’s enormous, but probably little-known, dedication to Aerospace Education. I first met him in 1963 at the University of Nebraska when I was a graduate assistant to Dr. Frank Sorenson (one of the two or three godfathers of Aerospace Education). Chuck was the keynote speaker for the “Lincoln Aerospace Days”, a week-long aerospace education program hosted by the University of Nebraska, Lincoln Public Schools, the State Department of Education, the State Department of Aeronautics, and Lincoln Air Force Base. Chuck spoke in a number of education venues that week including a seminar for Nebraska College of Engineering and the combined Military ROTC (Air Force, Army, Navy). At my request, he also dazzled the Arnold Air Society and Angel Flight in a special small group meeting one evening. In every venue, his genuine love of and dedication to his aviation domain and his sense of humor shone through.

Over the next 30 or so years, I was privileged to get to know him through our annual National Congress of Aviation and Space Education (NCASE). This conference, hosted by CAP, NASA, and FAA, attracted 1,200 to 1,500 educators each year from across the U.S. and Internationally. Chuck became a “staple” at that event, speaking from the podium, informal interviews with fellow aviation heroes such as Gabby Gabreski and Scott Crossfield, “in the halls” personal conversations with attendees, and, his favorite, spending hours at each NCASE with the CAP cadets. Some of the off-the-cuff stories he shared in each of those “conversations” were priceless and had the audience rolling with laughter while other stories were very serious and carried great historical and/or technical import. He spun his magic about aviation and space with these educators motivating them anew each year. Chuck, along with Scott, were the annual presenters at the distinguished Crown Circle of Aerospace Education Award banquet. 

Mary Anne Thompson
South Yarmouth, Mass.

[John] Tirpak writes that as a flying sergeant, Chuck Yeager was flying the P-39 after winning his wings. When he deployed to Europe he came into the P-51 and started removing German fighters and according to the rest of the story, he became an ace after his short time getting back into the air after being shot down and then with the help of the French resistance—getting into combat flying again—he again became active in shooting down German fighter to include on ME 262.  Then, according to the article, “He received a commission” and was promoted to captain.

Many years ago I questioned and queried AFA about a possible “flying sergeant” that had become an ace in the Mediterranean theater. I was advised that I had wrong information. I believe the same situation exists now, and I feel sure General Yeager was commissioned before he arrived in Europe.

Chief John Schmidt,
USAF (Ret.)
Tallahassee, Fla.

The call came over the radio that the wing commanding officer wanted to see the maintenance officer. We were on a fire power demonstration at Ramey Air Force Base, Puerto Rico, in the late 1960s and the weapons were not coming off the aircraft properly. I was the squadron munitions officer and acting maintenance officer at the time. I met him on the flight line and expected he would chew me out and demand results. However, he was calm and told me what they had done when he was in Vietnam. The load crews would tape the electrical lanyard to the Mer or Ter (ejector rack) and that seemed to help. He just talked with me like two people trying to fix a problem and not like a famous aviator who wanted people to be in awe of him—which I already was.

 I told him we would do our best. He said if everything went well the next day, he would wag his wings upon returning from the demonstration. I told the men about the discussion and said we had to be sure the weapons came off properly as we surely did not want to disappoint our wing commanding officer. Sure enough, Col. Chuck Yeager wagged his wings when the flight returned. That was one of the highlights of my Active and Reserve career.

Col. Mac Barnes,
USAF (Ret.)
Roanoke, Va.

Fighter Fight

 It seems to me that the F-15EX (which should be designated F-15F) would be a better fit for the ongoing Canadian fighter competition than the F-18F  [“See Joining Up on the F-15EX,” p. 30]. It has better range, payload, and radar antenna size, all of which will be key to any envisioned Canadian fighter operations at home in Canada or overseas on deployments.  The folding wings and carrier qualified landing gear are of no use to Canada. Now that the F-15EX is going forward, Boeing should change its bid.

In addition, note that if Canadian forces deploy overseas, they will likely deploy to land bases that may also have USAF aircraft, including our own late model F-15s, and therefore there would be logistical synergies. Additionally, it should be easy to fit something like the TCS [television camera set] that was on the F-14 into the sensor stub pylons under the intakes, which would be valuable for identification during Canada’s interception missions. 

I have a couple of questions that some Air Force Magazine readers may know the answers to. First, since the conformal tanks had been planned from very early in the F-15 program, partly to allow unassisted cross Atlantic ferry flights, why didn’t the USAF ever fit them to the C and D models? They would have been very useful for all USAF/ANG air defense missions, particularly the Icelandic deployments. I believe the Israelis fitted them on their A/B/C/D models. I have never seen an answer for this. 

Second, there seems to be discrepancies in the ferry range figures given in various publications over the years.  From sources going back decades, my recollection is that the various F-15 models had ferry ranges approximating 2,500 statute miles with three 600 gallon tanks, increasing to about 3,500 with the addition of the conformals. The E model supposedly gave up a tiny bit of fuel and gun ammo for an additional avionics bay. And then what explains the EX gaining 592 miles? 

Third, what were the specific aerodynamic concerns about activating stations 1 and 9 on the A through E, the outboard ones? Was it flutter? All these years, in a war situation, could those stations have been used in an emergency and just accept the limitations? I know the structure could accept it, were the wiring and the fittings installed?

MSgt. Chris Dierkes
Westhampton Beach, N.Y.

Reinventing the Boom

I got into the boom tanker business at the very beginning in 1953 in the KC-97. It was the tanker version of the Boeing Stratocruiser, and the first to use the ironing board position on the fuselage belly for the boom operator. It provided direct vision of the receiver. I don’t know whether it was Boeing or the Air Force who came up with the idea of locating the boom operator’s position behind the cockpit, but it was nuts. 

My grandson is flying the KC-135, which has been in the inventory since the early 1950s. My father, Gen. Orval R. Cook, was deputy chief of staff Materiel, 1951-1954. Boeing came to him with the idea of manufacturing a jet tanker and wanted seed funding. He told them that they could manufacture a commercial aircraft that could be modified as a tanker. Thus the KC-135. It should have been the same with the KC-46.

Lt. Col. Peyton E. Cook, 
USAF (Ret.)
Southern Pines, N.C.