On Race, Unrest, and USAF
After reading recent letters to the editor regarding discrimination issues in the Air Force, particularly from those suggesting it never existed, wasn’t a major issue if it did, and if it does then it’s the Black family’s fault, I wish to provide my experiences and perceptions.
I’m a White male who enlisted in the Air Force in June 1971 after graduating from high school in Iowa, and I retired in December 2000. After basic I went DDA [direct duty assignment] to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, in September 1971, as a Law Enforcement Specialist. By June 1977, I had been convicted by SPCM [Special Court-Martial] for theft of government property and reduced to Airman Basic (I was on the E-3 promote list), received two Article 15s for disorderly conduct, was given a suspended Undesirable Discharge and placed on Probation and Rehabilitation.
During my Air Force journey I had four overnight stays in local jails for minor misconduct. I was also sentenced to six months in jail for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and assault and battery on two Ohio state troopers (It was a brief, but spirited fist-fight —I ultimately lost). But … they didn’t put a knee on my neck or shoot me; they just took me to jail. After serving 51 days I was released after paying a princely fine. Understandably, the Air Force adjusted my enlisted entry date by 51 days to August 1971. In June 1977, I put on staff sergeant, but had an Unfavorable Information File on and off until about 1980. The Air Force also allowed me to get a CCAF degree, a bachelor’s degree, and take several graduate courses via tuition assistance.
When I got my second Article 15, a Black friend of mine got his first—and only one—for disorderly conduct. I had been drinking beer, he liquor. I had a line number for staff sergeant and he for technical sergeant. I got a $50 fine and put on staff sergeant, he forfeited half a month’s pay per month for two months and lost his line number. We had the same White commander. I eventually was retrained as a paralegal, and I saw where minority Airmen often seemed to get more and harsher punishments than White Airmen for similar misconduct. Rate per thousand disciplinary reports frequently reflected this.
All the military and civilian authorities involved in determining how my misconduct would be handled were White. They rightfully dished out stern punishments and conditions, but in ways that gave me countless opportunities to rehabilitate myself and ultimately have a successful Air Force career, which lead to a successful civilian career, and now a comfortable retirement. I’m eternally grateful for their compassion, understanding, and tolerance. But it’s equally important to note many directly associated with my rehabilitation and ultimate success were Black civilians, NCOs, and SNCOs.
MSgt. George Cox fought to get me into the paralegal career field, which required a waiver due to my misconduct, because he believed I could succeed. One of his sons graduated from the Air Force Academy and retired as a colonel, another retired from the Army as a SNCO—not bad for a Black family in my book.
There was and remains racial imbalance both in the military and society that needs [to be] resolved. I’m absolutely convinced had I been a Black/minority Airmen, I never would have received my second Article 15, and likely not the first one; because I wouldn’t have been in the Air Force to accept them. If my circumstances and opportunities are the exception to the rule (whatever that may be), I’d recommend this concept be applied more equitably, especially when misconduct isn’t involved. Because, in the end, all the Air Force denied me was a couple less Oak Leaf Clusters on my Good Conduct Medal.
CMSgt. Brian Wygle,
Colonel Thomas’ letter regarding race, unrest, and the USAF [August, p. 5] is on point word-for-word, and cannot be over emphasized. I expressed the same sentiments during an oral history interview for the AFA, and was pleased to see his letter in Air Force Magazine.
[Also], Kudos to Lt. Col. Getz and Lt. Col. Noguchi re: “Rocking the Joint.” It might not hurt for senior commanders to take a refresher course on Soviet Military Power (c.f., Soviet Military Power, DOD, 1981). Soviet military focus was on the mission. Notice the designation of their armed services: Strategic Rocket Forces, Ground Forces, Air Forces, Air Defense Forces, and Naval Forces—“Forces,” not Force. The difference is subtle, but significant
CMSgt. Kenneth Benesh,
I read with interest that the military is having a problem controlling sexual harassment issues. This is a lack of leadership at every level. This is tough, so, why should it surprise me that senior leadership wants to pawn off the responsibility and accountability to someone else rather than really fixing the problem? Leaders, from team chiefs, division chiefs, squadron commanders, wing commanders, and on up the leadership line, need to be held accountable for any harassment in a ‘professional’ organization.
What happened to the independent chain of command for the Inspector General? There was a time when the IG spoke with power and authority if all other chains of command failed to help.
There was a time when a wing commander of mine was having trouble meeting suspenses on efficiency reports … it had become chronic. He called in every leader in the wing from lieutenant up and said, “The next late report means you get fired.” That was the end of meeting. Result, no late reports. You can say that is some old retired colonel just remembering the “good ole days.”
Leaders are paid to resolve tough issues. Failing to address tough issues by pushing them to a staff agency to resolve is nothing more than a failure of leadership at every level to do their job. Get off your collective butts and demand professional conduct at every level from and to every member … if not: “You are fired.” When will someone have the guts to do their job?
Col. Quentin M. Thomas,
One hundred eighty-two missiles were in Cuba in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and 100 were removed by Soviet ambassador Mikoyan. [Dragon Lady, August, p. 50.] One can ask are there any missiles still there? Do the math, 82 are unaccounted for.
There is some possibility that the Russians left some missiles in Cuba. Sadly, the Cuban Missile Crisis can be seen as ongoing.
James T. Struck
One thing I have never heard answered to my satisfaction: Why was there a decision made to forgo a direct view boomer station and go with the clearly flawed and inadequate TV vision system with its silly 3D glasses? [“Pegasus Power,” August, p. 32]. Is there some compelling reason the boomer can’t be in the rear, looking out through a window with actual 3D human vision? It’s an airliner, for goodness sake, pressurized all the way back.
My own tanker experience is limited to lying beside a KC-135 boomer watching some of my wing’s Eagles refuel back around 1990. It worked great! That was a Boeing airplane. Did they forget how to build refueling systems?
Is there a compelling reason?
MSgt. Bill Brockman,