Defending America
David Hackworth
1 April 1997


Last December, Air Force General Robert T. Newell was relieved of command, demoted and forced to retire. An investigation revealed he'd twice embraced a female subordinate and that these gestures were prompted not by soldier camaraderie but pure lust.

Six months before, Air Force General Terryl J. Schwailer was in charge when 19 airmen were killed and 500 wounded in a terrorist bombing at his base in Saudi Arabia. A Pentagon investigation revealed that intelligence reports specifically warning of the attack were ignored and all the essential steps were not taken to protect our warriors in what an Air Force colonel described as the "plushest billeting complex in the world."

Unlike Newell, General Schwailer was not punished. Instead, he was reassigned to a top Air Force job in the Pentagon and would have been promoted to major general except for outraged citizens demanding this be stopped.

What angered the protesters was that right after the attack, retired Army General Wayne Downing had led a presidential task force to Saudi Arabia to find out what happened. Downing, a former Green Beret and a straight-shooter, determined that Schwailer was negligent as were his chain of command from his boss, Army General J.H. Binford Peay, to the top Pentagon brass.

Downing's damning report contained sufficient facts to assemble a firing squad for a little target practice on General Schwailer and his goof ball aides. But the Air Force -- not to be shot down by an Army general -- decided to out-maneuver them by convening their own investigative team. Wonder of wonders, the Air Force "truth squad" found that the only person negligent was, you guessed it, Downing.

In the Air Force's whitewashed report which was leaked to the press, Downing was accused of applying old fashion military standards. You know, standards like accountability, like a commander being responsible for all his unit does and fails to do.

The Air Force brass also reckoned that airmen don't think like groundpounders, they're too involved with zipping around in the sky to know zilch about what happens down in the dirt -- a worry since they've been securing atomic bomb-laden air bases for decades.

Air Force brass have talked a lot lately about where the buck stops, but then holding an offender's feet to the fire seems AWOL when it comes to Schwailer. Many airmen say these days a double standard exists in the Air Force. One rule applies to connected guys like Schwailer, another to everyone else.

Two examples:

* A pilot was killed when his F-15 crashed in Germany during takeoff in May 1995, and the Air Force court-martialed two sergeants even though those at the top had known what caused the crash and failed to fix it.

* Two F-15 fighters shot down two U.S. Army helicopters over Iraq in 1994, killing all 26 people aboard, and only one person, an Air Force captain, was court-martialed. The guilty brass not only walked, one is on the comer list for promotion.

Different spanks for different ranks. But dare not explain these double standards to the loved ones of the airmen who died because Schwailer didn't know his job or do his duty.

Just hours before the terrorist attack, he submitted a report about the recreational defects at the base, but the report failed to mention any security shortcomings. A broken ping pong table was a big deal, while protection of the troops went on the back burner.

Defense Secretary William Cohen ordered the Air Force to take a second look at their "whitewashed" report clearing Schwailer and to start living by all their PR accountability/responsibility noise.

If the final Air Force report is not corrected to hold accountable Schwailer and his gang who put comfort of the troops over commonsense, Cohen should sack the Secretary of the Air Force and carpet-bomb all the others who cooked up the cover-up and leaked to the press.

In the 1950s, Air Force General Curtis Le May zapped anyone who sinned regardless of how connected they were. His maxim was: "I don't have time to distinguish between the unfortunate and the incompetent."

This rule should be applied to all ranks in the Air Force rather than one saying it's okay to kill your own people, but never, never chase skirts.

Schwailer should at least get what Newell got.

The end