DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
5 May 1998

GOLD WINGS HAVE LOST THEIR GLOW

As a boy I knew the only thing between the beaches of my hometown and the Japanese armada was the U.S. Navy. But in late 1941, everyone worried because a lot of our fleet sat at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

Then our carriers miraculously escaped the Japanese pummeling at Pearl Harbor and went on to win the Battle of Midway in 1942. After that decisive fight, everyone in Santa Monica loved Navy air crews. We knew that without those heroes we'd have been slave labor.

As a soldier in Korea, I first saw those brave men in action. Their stubby Corsairs flew so low you could read the pilot's name on the side of his aircraft. They always put iron on the target, saving us line doggies more times than I can remember.

They were just as brave, daring and effective in Vietnam where once more they paid a heavy price. Thousands of Navy airmen were wounded, killed or captured doing their thing for the grunts down below.

I saw naval air in action again during the Gulf War. There, too, they were magnificent.

Today, they're deployed around the globe, including on two carriers in the Gulf -- only a hair trigger away from another shootout.

Sadly, since the Gulf War ended, Naval aviation has been falling apart. It's not just overworked and undermanned, it has lost its heart. Large numbers of aircraft are down for lack of parts, pilots are not flying enough hours to remain proficient and air crew quality has taken a back seat to politics and bad senior leadership. Air crews are quitting in droves because of an atmosphere poisoned by political correctness and top brass who won't fight it.

Last week Commander Scott Stewart sounded off. He told the Navy's top admiral that his elite F-14D squadron was not fit to fly and submitted a seldom used General Use Naval Hazard Report. In it he said that of his 14 aircraft, only two were "mission capable."

Stewart bravely said that he doesn't have spare parts, his pilots are only flying ten hours a month and his combat readiness has slipped off the radar screen.

He said in his official report -- a copy of which was sent to me by e-mail from a pilot in another squadron -- "I strongly believe that it is my duty to protect my aircrews and maintainers. Living at the end of the parts food chain can present difficult challenges and obstacles that may be unmanageable We no longer have the tools to do our job. We must provide aircrews with the requisite flights to get them 'combat ready' safely."

Commander Stewart is known as a stand up kind of guy. I am sure he is. It takes special courage to be a Naval aviator. It took a lot of courage too to sound off and tell his leaders the hard truth. Let's hope the top brass don't shoot the messenger but rather look hard at what's happened to naval aviation.

At how, for example, politics has allowed women and minorities to be awarded gold wings to fill quotas when they're not qualified to fly Naval aircraft. Pilots like Lt. Kara Hultgreen, who crashed her F-14 and died while trying to land on the USS Lincoln. An aviation safety officer said "We sure had a rash of problems with her Stuff male pilots would have lost their wings over."

Navy brass tried to cover up the crash in the interest of political correctness and got caught. They lied, claiming the accident was caused because of engine failure rather than pilot failure.

If the brass have any doubt about what they've done, they should take a look at the June PLAYBOY. It features Naval Flight Officer Frederica Spilman baring all. Air crew who have flown with her say the Annapolis graduate was "unsatisfactory" up in the sky, but "great company at sea."

A pilot asks, "Do you think after this article she could perform her duties on a six month carrier deployment with 5,000 horny sailors aboard? Sure she could - just like pigs take off from short runways!"

Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, the air skipper at Midway, must be rolling in his grave when he sees what's happened to his beloved naval air.

THE END