From Michael M. DunnPresident & CEO, the Air Force AssociationJanuary 11, 2008
AFA is pleased to learn that the United States Air Force has rectified a decade-long injustice against an outstanding former general officer—Terryl J. Schwalier.
The Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records, having conducted a voluminous and confidential review of his case, recently concluded that he was the victim of "an injustice" and never should have been denied his second star. The board ruled he should regain that star, retroactive to January 1, 1997, and that he be placed on the retired list at the grade of major general. The Air Force affirmed the board's decision with an official order dated Dec. 21, 2007.
Schwalier, as many recall, was a brigadier general who was unfairly blamed by the Clinton Administration in the 1996 terrorist bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, in which 19 airmen died. Though the Senate had confirmed his promotion to major general before the Khobar Towers attack, and though no evidence of wrongdoing ever was produced, Defense Secretary William Cohen on July 31, 1997 cancelled this second star and effectively ended his career. Cohen alleged that Schwalier "could have and should have done more" to defend Khobar Towers.
For more than 10 years, Schwalier persevered in seeking redress. He has finally succeeded. The Air Force's action was entirely logical and proper. We applaud it, as will any fair-minded person.
We at AFA have more than a passing interest in this result. We have followed the case in detail from the beginning, and it has been a matter of discussion among many in AFA who have had considerable experience in the responsibilities of command. Our view over the intervening 10 years has been strong and consistent: Those responsible for the deaths of the Khobar Towers airmen were the terrorists —not the commander who did everything reasonably within his power to protect them. In fact, General Schwalier took more than 100 separate measures to protect airmen under his command.
We have pressed that message on two secretaries of defense. AFA Executive Director, John A. Shaud, in a July 28, 1997 letter to Cohen, declared, "In our opinion, there is no way that Brigadier General Terryl Schwalier can be held at fault. What happened is that his command took casualties in an attack by an adversary. Without the security initiatives he put in place, the casualty toll would surely have been higher."
Shaud went on to say, "We urge you to consider the precedent and message that would be sent by a finding against General Schwalier. The message seems to be that reasonable attention to security (or any other area of responsibility) is not enough; a commander becomes punishable if he leaves anything—anything at all—undone, even when discovered with 20/20 hindsight. That is a very tough standard for mortals to meet. It will also tend to put your field commanders in a self defensive mode, and that is not what you would want. Except for propitiating those who demand a sacrifice, there is nothing to be gained and some things to be lost by acting against a conscientious officer who did his best under difficult circumstances."
In a June 1, 2006 letter to Secretary of Defense Donald L. Rumsfeld, AFA Chairman of the Board Stephen P. Condon had this to say: "To us, it is obvious that General Schwalier never should have been blamed. His men died in an act of war, one that was no different from the August 1998 attack on US embassies in Africa, October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, or September 2001 attack on the Pentagon." Condon noted that none of these events produced such harsh punishment of individuals.
"A decade ago," Condon went on, "one administration bowed to political forces demanding a sacrifice for the deaths at Khobar Towers, and the result served neither justice nor US security interests. Today, a decision by you to act on his [Schwalier's] behalf would go far toward ending the injustice that continues to weigh on a conscientious military officer who did his best in a difficult and dangerous situation that was not of his making."
We still believe that all of those words are true. Neither justice nor security was well served in the handling of the Khobar Towers case —either in 1997 or at any time since. Finally, though, justice has been done. We are free to refer to this fine officer as Major General Terryl J. Schwalier, USAF (Ret.).
For that, we—and all of America's men and women in uniform—can breathe a sigh of relief.
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