Jan. 1, 2006
The Khobar Towers Issue

Thank you for your editorial in the November 2005 issue [“The Shadow of Khobar Towers,” p. 2]. Generals Fogleman and Schwalier are and will always remain examples of extraordinary military leadership. They may not remember me, but I remember them.

Maj. Christian M. Rubacha,

USAF (Ret.)


Several years ago, I attended a meeting at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. A young Air Force brigadier general, Terryl J. Schwalier, was the guest speaker. He gave a presentation about the raid on the Khobar barracks. He had been the commander and was sacked (my words) for the blame. His father, a retired Air Force colonel, was present.

The presentation was detailed with photographs projected, and a full account was given. I left the meeting with a deep feeling of sadness that a horrible event, perpetrated by [terrorists], had brought the career of a promising young Air Force general to a conclusion.

This event has remained unaddressed in the passing years. I had hoped that somewhere along the way a fair treatment of the subject would be [rendered] and justice served at the hand of a different “Commander in Chief.” Your article gives me hope that this may yet take place.

Maj. Philip G. Mack Jr.,

USAFR (Ret.)

Renton, Wash.

The editorial was extremely interesting until I got to the final paragraph only to find that your editor suffers from faulty math skills. He states, “To sum up: The Khobar Towers attack cost the Air Force 19 dedicated airmen, a talented commander, and a principled Chief of Staff.” What he failed to add in were the hundreds of injured personnel and the thousands of affected family members. What a slap in the face!

I was a resident of building 133 that evening. My suite was on the top floor and faced the parking lot. The scene following the blast was horrific. Changed forever are the lives of the people we helped out of that building. Their wounds were so severe I often wonder if they are even able to lead normal lives today. Luckily, my wounds pale by comparison.

To read that the only things Khobar cost us were 19 airmen, a fine commander, and a great Chief of Staff causes a deep welling of resentment in myself and most likely all those affected. Yes, Generals Schwalier and Fogleman were fine officers but what is more important here? The answer of course is very obvious to those of us who were directly involved. The frustration we feel at our government’s inability to bring to justice those responsible only adds to the hurt and resentment. After reading the editorial again, I get the feeling he feels these two officers were (and still are) more important than the injured troops and their families.

Do your math next time and maybe you won’t alienate so many enlisted members.

SMSgt. Michael A. David,

USAF (Ret.)

Eagle River, Alaska

The editorial did state that the Khobar Towers blast was responsible for “not only killing 19 but also wounding hundreds, many severely.”—the editors

Finally a definitive statement and position on the Clinton Administration’s shameful mishandling of the terrorist attack on the Khobar Towers. The disgraceful abuse of a fine officer, General Schwalier, resulted in his premature retirement and deprived the United States Air Force and our country of a much-valued leader. Shame on then- Secretary of Defense Cohen.

Brig. Gen. Ronald G. Severs,

USAF (Ret.)

Destin, Fla.

Mr. Dudney’s editorial is on target! From early 1998 to early 2001, I had the privilege of teaching case studies to all wing and group commanders attending their respective courses at Maxwell AFB, Ala. I read the numerous official reports available on the Khobar Towers tragedy, held interviews with key personnel, developed a two-hour briefing to present the facts, and had the presentation reviewed by leaders who were there.

The two-hour case study concluded with “lessons learned”—two of which align nicely with Mr. Dudney’s editorial (the others deal with areas not addressed by Mr. Dudney). First, it doesn’t matter how well you’ve done as a commander or how many accolades you receive from experts or your supervisors, at the end of the day you may be martyred for political reasons. Second, always do the right things for the right reasons—that way you’ll be able to look yourself in the mirror every morning for the rest of your life! I know General Schwalier has no problem looking himself in the mirror every morning, nor does General Fogleman. It is beyond me how Mr. Cohen could possibly look at himself.

Col. Henry W. Horton,

USAF (Ret.)

Fort Worth, Tex.

This is one of the most outstanding editorials that I have ever read. I thank you for this overall exposure. As you said, we lost 19 airmen, a talented commander being promoted, and cut short an outstanding Chief of Staff—all [because of] sick political work in our system.

You can never go back and correct mistakes like this, but the world should be constantly on the watch for the actions of former President Clinton, even today. Cohen, I pray he never darkens the door of any political office again. I thank you for this outstanding exposure.

Maj. Ray Roberts,

USAF (Ret.)

Denton, Tex.

Your editorial brought back some bitter memories. I was a colonel on the Air Staff at the time of the inquiries into the Khobar Towers attack. In fact, I headed a vice chief’s working group tasked to compile information for senior Air Force leaders to use in briefings and meetings on this subject. It was clear that Brigadier General Schwalier had taken a very proactive approach to improve force protection and, considering the perceived threat at the time, had done all that a reasonable commander should have been expected to do, and then some. Unfortunately, it was also clear that there was enormous political pressure in Washington to find someone “at fault” for the casualties. It was a sad day when the Downing Commission dutifully handed the SECDEF General Schwalier’s head on a platter, and a gross miscarriage of justice. Downing’s (and subsequently the SECDEF’s) conclusions were weak and unsupported by the facts and good military judgment.

As it turns out, Khobar Towers was one of the early salvos in what we today call the Global War on Terror. Fortunately, others have not followed the precedent set by Khobar Towers. Subsequent attacks on two US embassies in Africa and the attack on the USS Cole did not result in the ambassadors or commander being similarly railroaded, even though they had the lessons of Khobar Towers to guide them. Today, had we followed Cohen’s logic, we’d be relieving commanders from their posts every time an attack on a facility kills a soldier in Iraq.

It was unfortunate for the Air Force, but understandable, when General Fogleman apparently got disgusted with the whole mess and left. It’s been equally unfortunate for the country that we took our eye off the ball when it comes to who the proven state sponsor of terrorism really is. It is Iran and never was Iraq.

Brig. Gen. Scott Van Cleef,

USAF (Ret.)

Fincastle, Va.

Thank you, Mr. Dudney, for your editorial on the Khobar Towers bombing and specifically the public support for Brig. Gen. Terry Schwalier. Those close to the events knew then what you have so accurately stated—that Terry Schwalier, despite all his skill and action in force protection, lost a promising career by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Actually, for the Khobar Towers residents and USAF, he was probably in the right place at the right time. I’ll explain.

As chief of support plans at 9th Air Force, my last official act on duty was to stand up and man the crisis action center at Shaw AFB, S.C., in response to the Khobar Towers bombing. In that capacity (from August 1991 till my retirement in August 1996), I had the opportunity to brief all the commanders of the 4404th Composite Wing and to aid and assist in their force protection measures. It is ironic that Terry Schwalier implemented more force protection measures than any of his predecessors (who all were serious and arduous in fulfilling their responsibilities for their six-month stint as commanders).

My own security police staff officer was serving as General Schwalier’s SP chief when the bombing occurred. He briefed me regularly on the force protection plans and actions taken by the wing commander and his staff. I believe that without those documented actions and particularly the responses of the security personnel who were posted that evening and warned the residents, there would likely have been more than 19 deaths that night.

General Schwalier’s vigilance and accountability were rewarded with a career-ending assignment of blame from the SECDEF. General Fogleman, a tough, principled officer, did all that he could and then resigned his position early. Terry Schwalier is no “woe is me” commander, but were I in his shoes, having my Chief of Staff support me the way General Fogleman did him would help to offset the pain of being dealt with the way he was. And I imagine that his anguish would not have been from losing his job so much as being told formally that he was responsible for the deaths of 19 comrades.

Col. George G. Giddens,

USAF (Ret.)

Fredericksburg, Va.

Ho Chi Minh Trail

The authoritative article “The Ho Chi Minh Trail” [November, p. 62] is long overdue. It is must reading for anyone who “wants the facts” about the Vietnam War. In the interests of preserving history, a detail on p. 65, which appears to say that the AC-47 was not used after 1966, deserves correction.

I was commander of the hospital at Udorn AB, Thailand, from July 1969 to July 1970. As a flight surgeon, I flew on a number of AC-47 Spooky missions over Laos during that time. I believe that most of our missions were in support of ground combat units, rather than truck interdiction on the trail. However, the aircraft and crews should be recognized for their important contribution during that time.

Col. Paul A. Stagg,

USAF (Ret.)

Cambridge, Md.

As an AC-130 Spectre aircraft commander at Ubon in the first half of 1972, I resent the intimation that truck kills were exaggerated. The only trucks we could claim were those we captured on tape actually burning or exploding. When the 105 mm weapon was introduced, it took 7th Air Force a while to count trucks hit by it because they did not explode or burn, they just disappeared.

Lt. Col. Robert A. Nagle,

USAF (Ret.)

Tucson, Ariz.

Compliments to Air Force Magazine and John T. Correll for the well-documented article “The Ho Chi Minh Trail.” It brought back many historical memories for me, as I was assigned to the Defense Analysis Division of the 7th Air Force Intelligence Directorate in Saigon, South Vietnam, all of 1966.

At that time, our job was not only to track enemy defensive weapons systems on the ground but also to analyze the bomb damage assessment (BDA) of targets that were struck. Determining the damage to targets in the Rolling Thunder area was fairly easy because the enemy SAM and AAA sites were fixed, and the poststrike photography clearly indicated what damage was done to the target.

However, keeping track of enemy defensive positions and assessing the damage in the Barrel Roll and Steel Tiger Operations was quite a different matter. Targets were difficult to find and the enemy AAA guns were all mobile. [The discussion in the article on] keeping track of the “truck kills” was right on! The problem was continuous, in the morning, but mostly at night. The bombing and strafing of trucks was like trying to kill thousands of ants pouring out of an anthill.

Moreover, it was quite possible that not only did we have a difficult time keeping track of the trucks damaged or destroyed, but also in all probability there were multiple hits by different aircrews on the same convoy of trucks. Everyone needs to understand that when aircrews are being shot at, it is difficult to remember just how many trucks had been strafed or killed at the end of each mission, especially at night on the trail.

I remember thinking to myself then, that, with our sophisticated high-performance aircraft and expensive high-tech munitions, we wished we could have reported more lucrative target kills than trucks. It did not surprise me that critics in Washington disparaged the numbers of trucks reported damaged or destroyed by the Air Force. The kill counts fluctuated continuously.

Lt. Col. Tom Burke,

USAF (Ret.)

Daytona Beach, Fla.

I was the executive officer of the National Photo Interpretation Center group responsible for interpreting all the tactical, strategic, U-2, SR-71, drones, and satellite photography. I signed off on all the briefing boards made from these systems. It was very evident that the bombings were not stopping the movement of supplies to the South, and we made numerous briefing boards to that effect.

While McNamara in his “Light at the End of the Tunnel” briefings would show the bomb craters on the trail taken from high-altitude missions, he did not show the photos of what happened afterwards. On the tactical missions about dusk, we would spot the North Vietnamese troops—singly, and in groups or in columns, pushing bicycles loaded with up to 500 pounds of ammunition and supplies, threading their way through the bomb craters. We also saw pack animals carrying large loads, along with individuals carrying loads on their backs. What McNamara also didn’t relate in those briefings was that within a week, most of the bomb craters would be easily filled in and the trucks were rolling again.

Dino A. Brugioni

Hartwood, Va.

Remembering Gabby

What a wonderful article on one of the Air Force’s greatest icons! I’m retired Army, but have always wondered why great combat leaders such as Gabreski, Hub Zemke, and Donald Blakeslee were denied promotions to star rank. I can only figure that it was jealousy between the “planners” in Washington and the “operators” in the war zones.

William W. Dubbs

Southern Pines, N.C.

Rebutting Superpower Standoff

Major General Russell’s comments under the heading “The Superpower Standoff” [“Letters,” November, p. 5] contain several errors.

The Thor IRBMs in England were carefully excluded from the negotiations with the Soviets by agreement between President Kennedy and Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. The British Prime Minister offered up the missiles to Kennedy, but, as the transcripts of their telephone conversations reveal, Kennedy excluded them from the discussions. Further, those missiles were not “all under control of SAC.” The Thor missiles had been formally transferred to the Royal Air Force and were owned by Great Britain. Their (American) warheads were under joint control.

The missiles in Italy were Jupiter IRBMs, not Thor missiles. There was no “missile base planning” for Italy, as those missiles had already been installed and became operational in April 1961, more than a year before the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The United States agreed (1) not to invade Cuba and (2) to remove the Jupiters from Italy and Turkey (the first of which became operational in November 1962) in return for the Soviets removing from Cuba their ballistic missiles and Il-28 Beagle tactical bombers (six of which could carry nuclear bombs). Significantly, the agreements did not cover removal of the 90 Soviet nuclear warheads in Cuba nor the 68 aboard a merchant ship moored in a Cuban port—because the United States had no knowledge that nuclear warheads were actually in Cuba.

Norman Polmar

Alexandria, Va.

Thanks for the Memories

In reading the article “Spirits of Guam” [November, p. 44], I was very surprised to see the picture of Tibbets, the grandson of Brig. Gen. Paul W. Tibbets Jr. Paul Jr. and I graduated from flying school together in the class of 38-A. This brings back a lot of memories. Paul and I performed many of our flying duties as teammates.

The last time I saw him was at a class reunion in San Antonio. So many of our classmates have passed on that we do not have reunions anymore. I have managed to make it to 93. Wherever Paul is, I would like to wish him many healthy years.

I, too, have a grandson who just graduated from flying school. He was pinned with the second lieutenant bars I got in 1938. He is assigned as a crew member on an AC-130.

Lt. Col. Jesse A. Tobler,

USAF (Ret.)

Shelton, Wash.

Do you have a comment about a current article in the magazine? Write to “Letters,” Air Force Magazine, 1501 Lee Highway, Arlington, VA 22209-1198. (E-mail: letters@afa.org.) Letters should be concise and timely. We cannot acknowledge receipt of letters. We reserve the right to condense letters. Letters without name and city/base and state are not acceptable. Photographs can­­not be used or returned.—the editors