DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
May 30, 1995

WILL THE AIR FORCE CRASH AND BURN?

"What did you do, flunk out of flight school?" A retired Air Force major writes. He'd concluded that since I beat up the Air Force so much in this space I must have a heavy-duty grudge against the boys and girls in blue.

Ain't so.

I never once gave being a Fly Boy a thought. I can't walk a straight line and chew gum at the same time. I carry no vendetta against the Air Force; they have kept me and the troops I've been with alive and supplied on too many battlefields over the last 50 years.

My job is to be a watchdog for the truth. If I find the brass putting our warriors in harm's way, violating the honor code or wasting taxpayers' money, I make it my business to nail them.

In today's military, there is a culture of deceit that spread like cancer during the Cold War when most people were too frightened of the Soviets to ask too many questions about the whys and wherefores of our military system.

Dishonesty exists within all branches of the armed services, but the Air Force seems to be first among the thieves. Perhaps their leaders are such fumblers they get caught more often; or is it just plain arrogance?

Alan Diehl, the U.S. Air Force's former top civilian safety official, recently said U.S.A.F. crash probes are routinely sabotaged by senior officers seeking to please superiors, hide culpability and avoid embarrassment. Diehl has told the Pentagon that at least 30 accidents have been covered up by "incompetents, charlatans and sycophants." He said, "These cases are just the tip of the iceberg."

An Air Force full colonel who recently retired agrees with Diehl's assessment of the Air Force's integrity problem:

"One of the reasons I voluntarily left was that misuse of taxpayers' money was becoming more common, and integrity and common sense were becoming less common. One day I looked at the pictures of my chain-of-command, decided that I'd only follow one or two of them into combat and knew it was time to go.

There were a lot of senior officers with character and integrity. Unfortunately, they've been booted out, retired in disgust or shuffled to do-nothing jobs. They've been replaced by the climbers whose concerns are not efficiency, morale, productivity or effectiveness, but rather self-promotion by pleasing the brass at any cost.

Today's emphasis is on yes-men, on appearance rather than substance. During times of drastic cuts, we were doing without modern training equipment, but we did have landscaping -- shrubs, lava rock, curbs and brown paint everywhere.

It goes on to this day. Retired officers are getting around dual compensation laws by using 'personal services contracts.' C-21 aircraft (Lear jets) are sent around the country on short notice to pick up generals.

Three or four people are sent temporary duty to vacation spots when one could do the job. A senior officer stationed in Florida keeps his family in New Mexico and regularly returns home at the government's expense (to give 45 minute briefings).

Others cut temporary duty orders to high cost areas rather than nearby bases to draw more per diem and stay in hotel suites rather than base billeting. The Pentagon is loaded with retired generals and colonels who avoid dual compensation laws by being 'the only one for the job.'

Bottom line -- YOU'RE RIGHT! There is an integrity problem within the U.S. Air Force."

Where there's smoke, there's fire. Mr. Diehl, the anonymous colonel and the others who have written to me can't all be wrong.

Covering up air accidents is criminal, but the corrosion of integrity among the Air Force's top brass is even more dangerous. There are great men and women in the Air Force, but the best haven't gotten to the top because of proven corruption within the promotion system. A serving U.S.A.F. colonel says, "Most of our wounds are self-inflicted. We're our own worst enemy."

Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman, has his work cut out for him. He needs to talk to the sky troops muy pronto and get the straight skinny, before his once proud institution becomes just another statistic for Mr. Diehl.