David H. Hackworth
January 10, 1995
USAF: BANDITS AT TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH
A few weeks ago, I wrote in this space and in Newsweek about Air Force General Joe Ashy's $200,000.00 flight from Italy to Colorado. A commercial ticket for Ashy would have cost you, the taxpayer, $1,464.24.
I have since been besieged with calls, faxes, letters and documents alleging similar flights by other high ranking USAF officers, along with other charges ranging from sexual harassment and misconduct, such as drunk driving, to squandering defense dollars on inappropriate, ego-driven projects, to double X-rated dalliances on golf courses.
I want to share one of these letters with you, since it sums up the experiences and frustrations of so many others:
"As a member of the Air Force, we prefer to be called by our corporate alias: The Aviation Corporation of America! Why? Well, then terms like 'duty-bound,' 'so help me God,' and 'solemnly swear' have no meaning. The duty of a corporate executive is career advancement, muddle the truth if it hurts, and spend until the money runs out. When things get tough, quit. It's only a job!
General Ashy's debacle shouldn't surprise anyone. As they said about the late President Nixon, 'They all do it, he just got caught.' Throughout the upper ranks of today's Air Force is the elitist attitude that nothing or no one counts but the system. The good old boy network that promoted every general and colonel you meet was accomplished by not doing what is right, but by doing what is expected. And so continues its lineage.
As you search the military tier system you will find soldiers and airmen who live the highest standards of conduct, work the longest hours and do this for a small but acceptable paycheck, and equally important, a sense of duty and pride. Unfortunately, it stops at the top.
How long can an organization continue when the ruling class, the chiefs and senior 'leaders' are crowned by the Grace of God and clothed in noble robes of blue, answerable to no one but the system that put them there in the first place? Just visit any military base and witness the disparity of living conditions between the enlisted and officer housing. Sit in on a meeting with the base Civil Engineer and find out what work orders are really of absolute priority. (Paint the general's house at all costs). 'Rank has its privileges.' Honesty, duty and ethics aren't part of this proverb!
Well, my fellow citizens, you thought taxation without representation went out two centuries ago? And the only blue blood, upper caste aristocrats were at Windsor Palace? Just stop by any base headquarters and ask to see the person in charge, and you'll see what attention you get. Remind them that you pay their salaries (and their lavish perks) every time you pay taxes (just don't park in their reserved parking spaces).
Does it take Congress or the media to teach these people that there is more to being a leader than cocktail parties, golf carts and travel vouchers? And after all the fuss is over concerning General Ashy, what does he really stand to lose? After a career of stepping on others and wasting our money, the worse he will face is retiring at one less star, at a salary most of your readers would love to accept in exchange for hard, honest, and self-sacrificing work.
Rob a bank and they call you a bank robber. Rob the pockets of every American, and they call you...SIR!"
I asked a Pentagon insider how the Air Force top brass stacked up with the other services in the integrity department. He said the USAF honchos are hands down the best at being the worst.
The new Air Force "Top Gun," Ronald Fogleman, recently said, "Nothing destroys effectiveness any faster than a lack of integrity."
Fogleman has a reputation as a straight-shooting problem-solver. Based on all the horror stories I've heard, I'd suggest Fogleman arm himself with a giant can of Brasso and spiff-up his tarnished top brass muy pronto.
The Air Force's flying machines and warriors are the finest in the world, but the integrity of its top leadership is in a steep and sorry nose dive.