DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
17 Dec 96

THE CRITICAL MISSION OF THE FLYING BARONS

Last October, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili recommended to Defense Secretary William Perry that a plane load of retired brass and their wives be flown from Maryland to Belgium.

Perry approved the $50,000 plus flight because Shali convinced him that the participation of old fogies, such as retired General Bernard Rogers and his wife, at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) annual reunion, "will bolster good will among our NATO Allies. Our leadership is needed to provide cohesion in this critical program."

The "goodwill" also came from the four plus hours of "Happy Hour", "Darts Fun Games", a half day spent at the "Golf Tournament at the Royal Golf Club" and the plush lunch and dinner at the SHAPE Officers' Club.

More "goodwill" seeds were deeply planted at a one hour briefing by NATO CG General George Joulwan. Additional activities included a "Day trip" to Liege, Belgium. The U.S. cheerleaders for a bigger and better NATO visited tourist spots and brunched at the Officer's Club.

And yet still more "goodwill" was generated during the eight hour return flight as each of the 68 VIP passengers were again waited on in first class luxury by the four National Guard flight attendants who were called to active duty for this "critical" flight.

This mission tied up a multimillion dollar USAF Boeing 727 100 VIP aircraft, its crew of three pilots, two flight engineers, four attendants and one crew chief for five days .

Retired warrior Jeff Tobin tried to hitch a ride with the traveling barons and their baronesses and was told there were "no seats available." But, there were a dozen empty seats; I guess peasants can't ride with royalty despite USAF boss man General Ronald Fogleman's order that hitchhikers be they peasants or popes be carried when space is available.

The aircraft's pilot, Lt. Colonel Michael Hannin said, "It was a long flight" and his crew spent "three and a half days on the ground" in Belgium while waiting for their VIPs to spread their good will around Europe.

Hannin's individual traveling expenses, which were on top of his daily $214.18 pay and allowances, ran $650. The crews total traveling expenses were almost $7,000.

The flight was not a complete bust for Hannin and some of his crew. He and a few mates visited the Bastone battlefield where the famed "Screaming Eagles" made their heroic stand during the 1944 Battle of the Bulge.

So the old fogies scored with their VIP flight and tycoon like tour of Belgium, and the crew got some "active duty" time and had fun while pocketing some good expense dough. The only losers were, as usual, the taxpayers and our grunts who sure could've used the money to buy training ammunition.

The taxpayers have been getting zapped on this high altitude rip off since 1961 when General Lauris Norstad kicked off the first junket 36 years ago, and its been happening every October since.

36 times $50,000. That's almost $2 million bucks for the annual NATO "goodwill" reunion flight. That sum would easily buy a bunch of new machine guns to replace the worn out M 60 guns our kids are packing.

Goodwill can be damned expensive and hard to swallow, too. Especially today, when NATO is a cold war dinosaur scratching hard to justify its existence and when defense dollars are in such short supply that our trigger pullers don't have enough money for the hard training that saves lives down on the killing fields.

We're talking now about only one flight that our "SHAPE Ambassadors" enjoy as a VIP vacation every year. But are you starting to wonder about how many other VIP flights go winging around the world every day which also don't have a damn thing to do with defending America or improving the skill of our young people who fight down in the mud and do the dying?

I wish every member of Congress would look into all these VIP flights: just because a couple of bureaucrats like Shali and Perry say the "mission" is "critical", doesn't make it so.

Critical to what, continuing the worn out tradition of living on the fat of the land at the taxpayer's expense?