THE LAST THING WANTED
I found the article “Air Force Orders Ops Pause to Address Suicide” very interesting [“World,” September, p. 20]. I am a “Suicide Survivor.” On July 1, 1994, my wife, an Air Force staff sergeant, took her life. I found the article interesting, but the understanding of suicide within the Air Force has not improved after all these years—and frankly—is flawed and naïve. Yes, the Air Force is correct, each suicide is unique. Each has a root cause, and leadership up-and-down the chain of command must identify why the airman chose to take his or her life. To give chaplains a gun lock for gun cases is ludicrous.
In the case of my wife’s suicide, there was a lock on the gun case, but she cut through the gun case. The Air Force needs to address the root causes of suicide and take action to address the cause. Leaders must ask each other why is it OK for an airman to take his or her life. As a family member, I still ask myself that question—WHY?
As a former tech sergeant, noncomissioned officer in charge, and USAF aircrew member, I understand the stresses that come with the job and the ops tempo. Long hours and tours of duty cause undue stress on the Air Force member and their family. The Air Force leadership must focus on programs that will assist the airman with coping skills and take the time to assist an airman that is going through difficult times in his or her professional or personal life. If an airman is having some difficult times, a simple, “How is it going today?” or “Have a seat, let’s talk” or “Can I help?” or “How can I help?” [could make a difference.]
There is one thing I never wanted to be, and that is a “Suicide Survivor.”
I’m a Veterans Advocate for the Department of Veterans Service in Nevada, and have taken a suicide course, plus I am taking another next week called Safe Talk, and there are also courses on PsychArmour. [We] have a full-time person dealing with this in Nevada in the Department of Veterans Services. I agree with Lt. Gen. Richard W. Scobee’s [points about] family life and finances causing a lot of stress, but the best course of action is to train supervisors and family members to look for signs. I do not believe the government is putting enough resources into mental health services. Our county is putting magnetic signs about this on the sides of their vehicles.
In the past I have run into discrimination in hiring due to being in the Guard and have been suspended from jobs due to being in the Guard. I have been fired four times due to having a service-connected disability. Even with all the programs for vets in the past 20 years, you still have the same problems out there.
RIBBONS AND BANGLES
I totally agree with Commander Bradford’s comments [“Letters: Chest Salad,” September, p. 8], that the time has come to stop awarding medals and ribbons that mean essentially nothing, other than having served at a particular time period. I also enjoyed his pointed sense of humor describing the “Distinguished Potato Peeling Medal.“ Decorations should be limited to service members who encountered foreign armed opposition or who were in danger of hostile action by enemy forces. Let’s stop the “fruit salad,” feel-good awards. Also very important, to quote Cmdr. Bradford, “staff hero” awards must be made junior in precedence to those related to armed conflicts. The Veterans Affairs Administration allows only three awards to be noted on the VA Card: Medal of Honor, Purple Heart, and Prisoner of War.
The order of precedence of awards and decorations needs to be addressed and updated. For example, the American Defense and the National Defense medals are listed above the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, which is awarded to those who actually participated in a United States military operation. To get them listed in proper order will take a joint services committee review by all branches of the military. As a side bar to the reference about Herman Goering and his love of medals, there was one he was never awarded, the Knight’s Cross, because it was determined “he didn’t earn it and therefore he didn’t deserve it.” United States military awards and decorations are a reflection of the person and their service to our country. They are worn with great pride by all members of the armed services. Let us keep their meaning intact.
I’m wondering why members of the armed forces need to wear ribbons at all. No other profession wears awards and citations. A display wall at home is sufficient.
I was surprised to read the shot across the bow of the Air Force’s awards and decorations program rendered by an Air Force outsider. No doubt that Cmdr. Bradford had good intentions, but there were some misperceptions that warrant further discussion.
The Air Force Personnel Center website lists 89 ribbons (many of which are actually medals) that airmen notionally can earn. There are also others that could have been received during time with/in other services. The object is not trying for “blackout bingo” over the course of a career, just recognition where it is due.
You can learn a lot from a military member’s ribbons if you’re knowledgeable as to what to look for. In the case of the female airman second class (the Air Force hasn’t had that rank since 1967) that Bradford met, he should have just asked the airman about her ribbons. I bet she’d have proudly shared the backstory on each and every ribbon she wore. For her, it would have been a trip down memory lane.
There’s little doubt that some ribbons are the modern day equivalent of “participation trophies.” The Air Force is really a microcosm of today’s American society, which encourages such group recognition.
Many ribbons have little to do with job performance, as Bradford surmised. A large number are authorized based only on where you served and the function you were assigned, regardless of individual performance. Today’s Air Force is a more mobile force, and short-duration deployments to overseas locations and/or combat areas can quickly add to an individual’s ribbon rack.
Bradford’s Distinguished Flying Cross comments demeaned those lifesavers that don’t fly the plane but are “simply being on the bus [aircraft].” The “swimmers” Bradford refers to are actually Coast Guard rescue. The “hoist operators” he mentioned were probably Air Force pararescuemen. As for nurses—one DFC recipient was a World War II flight nurse, 1st Lt. Aleda E. Lutz, who flew 196 evacuation sorties accounting for 814 combat hours. Her last medevac flight ended tragically when the C-47 transport, with 15 wounded soldiers she was attending to, crashed in France with no survivors.
Cmdr. John W. Bradford Jr.’s comment about decoration inflation brought to mind a story from my astronaut years. My commander for my second shuttle mission, Robert “Hoot” Gibson, was a decorated US Navy pilot. At a crew party at my home, my son, a Notre Dame USAF ROTC junior, commented to Hoot that he wore more ribbons on his ROTC uniform than Hoot wore on his Navy uniform. Hoot derisively replied, “You Air Force weenies get a ribbon for waking up in the morning.”
Fast-forward to the third day of our DOD shuttle mission (STS-27). We experienced a minor emergency in the form of a humidity-separator malfunction. Water was accumulating on the outside of the equipment and leaking into the cabin. The threat that it could be ingested into our avionics cooling system and cause electronic failures made it an emergency that required immediate action. Hoot and Bill Shepard, another Navy officer, had in-flight maintenance duties, so USAF pilot Guy Gardner and I grabbed cameras to document their work. As that was proceeding, I looked to Guy and teasingly said, “We’ll probably get a medal for this.” Hoot immediately looked up and answered, “Yeah, you guys will probably get the Air Force incredible service award with oak leaf clusters, shooting stars, and flames!”
The problem was fixed and the mission successfully concluded in December 1988, in time for the formal astronaut office Christmas party. All the military astronauts came in their mess dress uniforms, of course bedecked with their decorations. In my preparations for the party, I mentioned Hoot’s comment about the Air Force incredible service award to my wife and that sent her on a search of her mom’s costume jewelry. She located two large and very gaudy items of that jewelry and put them on ribbons. I hung one around my neck and gave the other to Guy Gardner to wear with his uniform. We then walked into the party together and up to Hoot, who immediately saw the obnoxious glittering baubles and remarked, “Oh my God, they really did give you the Air Force incredible service award!”
On a serious note, if the requirements for modern-era combat decorations mimicked those given for World War II air operations, most of us Vietnam-era aircrews would only be wearing one Air Medal.
OCEANFRONT PROPERTY IN ARIZONA
I found a couple of things in the July/August 2019 issue very interesting! First, Mr. Scott Shannon’s letter seemed to come from someone who has never seen an aircraft development or acquisition before [“Letters: Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” p. 3]. At some point, the same letter could have been written about the original F-15, F-16, F-22, F-35, and, I suspect, every other fighter ever developed.
Before we buy it, every aircraft is delivered, to paraphrase Shannon, immediately fully combat capable, is simply upgradeable, will be “fully tested (whatever that means),” the software will work perfectly, will be almost always 99-plus percent [fully mission capable], and never miss the target. Somehow, between the sales pitch and delivery the real world intervenes. I’m glad Shannon likes the F-15EX, but if he really believes all those things, I want to talk with him about a bridge in Brooklyn.
The other amusing comment was from the interview with Lt. Gen. Brian T. Kelly [“Questions & Answers: Specialty Officers Needed,” p. 12]. Kelly was quoted as saying, “The development and promotion system we have today has served us really well.” With all due respect to Kelly, of course, I’m sure every three- or four-star would make the same statement. Of course the system worked; it picked them. With that said, I have mixed feelings about the proposed new promotion system. Although much of it sounds good right now, I question our ability to change it after we identify the unintended consequences.
Another ‘new idea’ that was a ‘bad idea’ only to be resurrected, as they often are.
As I worked my way up the ranks, I was a C-130 pilot, acquisition officer, C-141 pilot, combat tactician (weapons instructor course-grad), transportation officer, senior logistician, log. group commander, systems engineer, and senior analyst in A9. After attaining the rank of O-6, I ran a systems integration office for C-17 beddown, ran the Iraqi Air Force Advisor Group, and retired as the chief of [test & evaluation] in AMC. I did these things because I could learn and adapt. That skill set me above the rest and earned me promotions (without sponsorship), not because I was a technician, but because I could lead.
Leaders are leaders first. Increasing the promotion rates for doers [vs. leaders] will only serve to further erode the confidence our airmen have in their leadership. A1 needs to get back to the proven truth that leaders should lead, not do.
As an aside, while I was working in A9 for an O-6 analyst, I told him quite rightly that the Air Force didn’t need any analysts—just smart pilots. We just don’t promote them.
Retired Lt. Gen. [David A.] Deptula does a good job of summarizing the advantages of using USAF bombers for maritime search-strike missions [“Maritime Strike,” September, p. 56]. However, he does not address how the high demand and limited number of airframes impact the viability of this proposal. Nor does he address the option to develop/deploy space-based assets for beyond-the-horizon cueing of submarine, surface ship, or airborne strike platforms. This is certainly within our fiscal and technical capabilities and is a force multiplier that should be considered, unless the real object is to lobby for more bombers. Finally, as a nine-plus year B-52 “crew dog” with extensive sea surveillance experience during the Iranian hostage crisis, I take exception to the graphic titled, “Bombers’ Range Advantage” that states: “Two B-52s flying at 600 knots can cover 140,000 square miles of ocean area in two hours.” No one can dispute the great advantage long-range aircraft have over surface vessels for wide area search. But I don’t think a B-52 can cruise at 600 knots.
First, I want to compliment retired Lt. Gen. David. A. Deptula on putting the focus on China in the Pacific. For too long, I think many Americans have been fooled by the carefully cultivated image of China as a cuddly panda bear. As the recent China suppression efforts in Hong Kong show, it is the Communists who are in charge, not panda bears. China has aggressively seized islands in the South China Sea that are clearly not in their exclusive economic zone and intimidated other countries to do so. Joshua Wong of Hong Kong has warned Taiwan that they may be next. Second, I think Deptula did an excellent job of showing how airpower can play a powerful role with a quick-reaction time. However, I worry about our thinking in terms of numbers.
Yes, China has a Navy with about 300 ships. Certainly, a force of 15 B-1 bombers carrying 20 anti-ship missiles each could go a long way to countering this threat. But I think we should be thinking in terms of how to counter thousands of ships. If we look back to D-Day, it is worth remembering that 6,939 ships were involved: 1,213 Navy ships, 4,126 landing ships, 736 auxiliary ships, and 864 merchant vessels. A force of 15 B-1 bombers, or even a greater force of bombers, is not going to stop 6,939 ships. I think we need to examine this issue more closely. Certainly some ships would be large enough to warrant a LRASM or Harpoon but many might be smaller, and even a SDB might disable or sink them. Maybe we need to think of additional delivery systems such as developing the capability of a C-17 to deliver standoff missiles.
Theoretically, it could carry nearly 100 Harpoons or 500 SDBs. A force of just 15 C-17s could be a potent weapon. This is just one idea. The important thing is to focus on the right threat numbers. Certainly, it can be pointed out that the Chinese do not have 4,000 landing ships. But the Chinese do have 5,000 large ships and countless smaller craft. Even if they are not purpose-built to be landing craft, they could get the job done. Let’s recall that 850 small craft not designed to be landing ships evacuated 338,000 troops at Dunkirk.
LOW-OBSERVABLE LICENSE PLATE
Regarding “From Out of the Shadows” in the September issue [p. 63]: There was another “unofficial” announcement of the F-117A besides those mentioned in the article.
More than 20 years ago, I was riding with fellow aviation artist, Mike Machat, in the Los Angeles area. We were astonished to see an automobile sporting a license plate that read: F117A. (I don’t remember if it included a hyphen.) Our jaws dropped because the license plate was an older style that was not issued after 1980. This meant that the classified designation was on display well before the Nighthawk was officially identified publicly in a blurry photograph in 1988. It was definitely not low observable. We were mystified.
That was where things stood until last year, when I mentioned the incident to a colleague who had worked with the B-2 program at Edwards AFB, Calif., back when both the B-2 and F-117A were being developed surreptitiously in adjacent facilities. She informed me that the license plate I described belonged to Denys Overholser, father of the Echo 1 computer program from which the Nighthawk was derived. She said that he had two cars and was forbidden to drive the one that bore the aircraft designation to Lockheed. She also related that the B-2 team referred to the F-117A by the term Faceted Array Reflective Technology, or FART. Mystery solved.
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