DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
December. 13, 1994

WANTED: A CODE OF ETHICS FOR AIR FORCE BRASS HATS

Last September, Air Force Gen. Joseph W. Ashy flew from Italy to Colorado aboard a VIP C141-B aircraft. Although the plane can carry 200 passengers, only Ashy and a younger female aide were aboard. Others tried to catch a ride on a "space available" basis but were told "no hitchhikers."

This flight cost about $200,000. It tied up an $8 million aircraft with a crew of 13 which flew 14,650 miles over four hard days, as well as the two KC- 1 :t5 aircraft that refueled Ashy's airborne chalet. Meanwhile, the Air Force is stretched thin, trying to meet its many global requirements.

Ashy could easily have flown commercial. Total cost: $1,464.24. The Pentagon's inspector general is investigating the propriety of Ashy's flight and its cover-up.

During the two months I worked on this story, I encountered a heart- breaking absence of honor. Almost all those I interviewed had the attitude. "The public and the press are the enemy. so anything goes." The liars were all USAF officers who are oath- and duty-bound to hold to the highest standards of conduct. The glue that keeps the military together and makes it worthy of the nation's trust is a soldier's word. Military leaders aren't supposed to lie like desperate door-to-door salesmen.

One leader told me a whopper. When I called him on it, his knee- jerk response was, "I'm just following orders." I had to remind him that that's what Nazi soldiers offered as their alibi for murdering millions of people during World War II.

A straight-arrow USAF colonel confided, "Ashy's pulling every string he can to kill this story."

But the inspector general will uncover the truth, and the flight is just the top of the spear with Ashy. ABC's "20/'20" and Newsweek phones have been running hot with Ashy horror stories.

Then too, when the inspector general gets going, count on the liars caving in under oath. Their own necks will be more precious than the skin of those they were protecting.

Three aspects of this story trouble me

- USAF leaders lying. What if they say they aren't bombing a country and are? What if they say they destroyed the target and didn't? One such incident happened during Vietnam when a USAF general conducted a secret bombing campaign in Cambodia. Another occurred during the invasion of Panama when a USAF general lied about the performance of the new F-17 Stealth fighter.

--The waste of critical defense dollars. Bill Clinton just gave the Pentagon 25 billion additional dollars because it was broke. Yet, money's blown on abuses like the Ashy trip, with many USAF top brass believing that they're entitled to such luxury.

The USAF has a $1 billion fleet of VIP Special Mission aircraft that cost megabucks to operate. About 200 airplanes are used almost exclusively to fly big wheels, while our guys on the ground still pack the same guns and gear their dads carried in Vietnam. The Pentagon has more than enough money -- it's just not spent wisely.

-- The efficacy of the USAF promotion system and the Senate's confirmation process. In the last four years alone, Air Force Chief of Staff Michael Dugan was fired because he publicly compromised the Gulf War air attack plan, while 10 USAF generals have either been sacked or investigated for wrongdoing.

Recently retired Air Force Chief of Staff Merrill McPeak's judgment was openly questioned over (1) his uninformed comments that air power is the ultimate military solution and (2) his harebrained multimillion dollar new "doorman-style" uniform, which his replacement, Gen. Ronald Fogleman, Salvation-Armied on his first day in office.

Ashy's new job at Space Command is to advise the president on nuclear war fighting. That's Dr. Strangelove scary, which was Sen. Charles Grassley's (R-Iowa) take as well. But when Grassley questioned Ashy's fitness for promotion, he was told by the Senate Armed Services Committee that his reasons "lacked substance."

Congress must stand tall and find out how so many flawed people could be promoted to such high grades -- and then clean up the USAF top ranks before someone does something really stupid and takes our nation down with him. Good judgment and unimpeachable ethics are essential to military leadership and to America's survival.