DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
February 21, 1995

THE GOOD HANGMAN

Iowans and all Americans are fortunate to have a good man like Chuck Grassley in the U.S. Senate. He's a smoke-bringer and a fire-eater. Don't cheat, don't lie, don't steal taxpayers' money on his watch, or he'll nail you. Ol' Chuck is not the typical go-along-to-get-along Washington senatorial porker. He cares about America and is a hangman when it comes to government waste.

Last week, Chuck tore into Defense Secretary Bill Perry when Perry came to the Senate with his tin cup asking for $2.6 billion for operations in Rwanda, Haiti, Somalia and ex-Yugoslavia. Perry said if he didn't get the money, warriors wouldn't train and force combat readiness would go to hell.

"Mr. Perry," Grassley responded, "the unfunded operations may not be the only culprit. I happen to believe that big chunks of your readiness money are being wasted -- poured down a rat hole. I am referring to the wasteful and arrogant use of special airlift aircraft by Air Force General Joseph W. Ashy and possibly other senior Air Force officers as well."

Chuck Grassley has uncovered that Ashy not only flew back from Italy in a 200-passenger aircraft all alone except for his 21-year-old female aide, but also had flown there in a bigger plane with only his wife. Ashy -- no Cheap Charlie with taxpayers' money -- flew his household furniture back and forth, too. Total cost for these four flights: about a cool million bucks. The Union spent about $6 million to fight the Civil War. Or, to put it in 1995 perspective, about 24 such flights by generals in a hurry.

Air Force sources say Ashy's flights are part of a broader and long established pattern of abuse by the top brass who use military aircraft to "travel like royalty."

Retired Warrant Officer R.A. Grimaldi writes, "For many years, millions of dollars have been spent ferrying Air Force brass...under the guise of training or other concocted official reasons." Grimaldi says many of these flights are unnecessary, or would be more cost effective using commercial airlines. But here's the rub: the high brass view "USAF Airlines" flights as "their entitlement," and "commercial airlines are for the common travelers, such as the taxpayers."

All who have worn a military uniform have seen this kind of abuse, but few can explain it as well as Grimaldi: "To understand how things like this happen, one must recognize that in many ways, the military is a feudal system. Four-star generals are akin to dukes, with powers far beyond those which are evident. Bases within their dukedom are fiefs with loyal barons in attendance. The entourage they command has vast resources (taxpayer dollars) responsive to the general's every demand. The highly disciplined system reacts almost instinctively in liege-like fashion. The general has virtual life or death fiscal control (taxpayer dollars) over fiefdom needs and the careers of aspiring future dukes. In essence, it is a well-refined, self-serving system."

Busting the system is the hard part. Grassley decided to have the General Accounting Office find out the scope and activities of "USAF Airlines." He prepared a letter to the GAO, and to give it more weight, circulated it around the Senate hoping more senators would join his cause and sign on. You guessed it: he got zero signatures. An aide explained: "Senators like to fly free, too." Matter of fact, an Air Force major alleges he flew presidential hopeful Senator Phil Gramm and his wife to India's Taj Mahal for "a joyride at taxpayers expense."

Grassley told Perry that if all ten Air Force four-stars flew around like Ashy, "We are talking about enough money to train an M-1 tank battalion or an F-16 squadron for a month or so." A source close to Perry said, "He got the word, loud and clear."

As long as we have watchdogs like Grassley and alert citizens like Grimaldi, the nation isn't terminal. If we could just wake up more citizens and get them to raise hell, too, we could climb our way out of the corruption swamp into which our nation is sinking.

Maybe it will happen after the OJ show ends, hm?