“Where do we find such men?”
That memorable line is from the James Mitchner novel, The Bridges of Toko-Ri
, and refers to intrepid aviators launching from a carrier to untold dangers. They know they may not return. They do it anyway. They are warriors, rare but essential for victory. But there’s a disturbing trend in the military today, especially in the air fighter community. The warrior culture is being purged by briefcase-carrying non-warriors who care more about sensitivity training and thought control than the military’s main mission of fighting and killing, requisites for American survival.
The “attributes of naval aviators – willingness to take intelligent, calculated risk, self-confidence, even a certain swagger” laments John Lehman, former Secretary of the Navy, “are the very ones that make them particularly vulnerable in today’s zero-tolerance Navy.” He writes in the current issue of Proceedings Magazine
, a navy-connected publication. Zero tolerance means one strike and you’re out. Commanders, especially warrior-commanders, are being “bounced out,” notes Lehman, “for the bad luck [for instance] of being breathalyzed after two beers, or allowing risqué forecastle [shipboard] follies.”
According to Stars and Stripes
, the military news service, the navy fired 17 commanders last year and 14 so far this year (a number on pace to equal or better its record of 26 in 2003). Most active in this purging, writes Lehman, are the “political correctness [PC] thought police,” who, “like Inspector Javert in Les Miserables
, are out to get [the offenders] and are relentless.” Political correctness just might do more damage to American security than did the Germans, Japanese, and Soviets.
Ask Col. Greg “Mongo” Stroud, an air force wing commander, forced out by a superior to rid his unit of their “guts-ball” mentality: “This [general] never commanded anything bigger than an Air Control Squadron and somehow wound up in charge,” wrote Stroud in an email that has circulated the internet. “Well I have something to say about our changing Air Force and it’s quickly disappearing Fighter Pilot culture…The air superiority fighter and its PILOT are not dead, and the Chinese are so far not impressed with drones. I am tired of Fighter pilots suffering at the hands of all the pencil pushing…ladder climbing opportunists and [non-flying] managers who think they are leaders just because the Air Force is currently more interested in feelings and sexual orientation than fighting. Not all officers have what it takes to lead warriors, yet too many of them are in charge in our military. At this rate we may lose the next real war.”
The problem wouldn’t be so bad if the US was only fighting limited wars against rag-tag enemies like al-Qaida with little to no air force. But looming over the horizon is powerhouse China with hordes of jet fighters, new super carriers being launched, and a growing belligerence. Iran, too, poses an air threat. Ask any infantryman or sailor what airpower means. They’ll tell you you’ve got to have control of the skies or suffer a rain of death. Only well-flown and commanded fighters win the skies. Without it, defeat is almost certain.
The warrior purge began in 1991 at what Lehman calls”the Tailhook tragedy,” an annual gathering of naval aviators that got out of hand. Since airplanes became war weapons, those who flew them shed battle and training stress in post-mission parties. At this one, several women officers were groped and intimidated. “Whatever the facts of what took place there,” writes Lehman, the “grotesquely disproportionate witch-hunt” that followed spawned partisan political attacks like that of Patricia Schroeder (D-CO), chair of the House Armed Services Committee, who vowed to “break the culture” of naval aviation.
The post-Vietnam climate was right and her punitive efforts began a jihad against alcohol in the services. Officer and non-officer clubs, traditions in the services, were closed. Public drinking of any sort became a career ender, no matter the circumstances. Punishment spread to bad or risqué jokes, even casual remarks – anything that would offend anyone, especially minorities. Woe to any one who did not tow the line. Zero tolerance became the rule. And the “brass,” apparently more concerned with advancement, did not fight back. “Once standards of common sense were ignored in favor of political correctness,” writes Lehman, “there were no limits to the spread of its domination.”
It’s no secret that as part of the political correctness, women were rushed into the fighter cockpit and standards for them relaxed. Lt. Kara “Revlon” Hultgreen, the first female naval carrier-based fighter pilot, was killed trying to land an F-14 Tomcat on a carrier shortly after she was certified for combat. The formal investigation found “pilot error” as the cause. Male aviators were aware of such inequities and today, after repeal of Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell restrictions on gays in the military, aviators are sarcastically asking what requirements will be waived for the first transgender fighter pilot? The problem flared recently when a navy foundation celebrating the 100 year anniversary of naval flight basically ballyhooed women, black aviators, and military humanitarian efforts on its website while badly neglecting World War II, Korea and Vietnam. “I guess you never heard about [those wars, or the heroes who died in them] wrote Dennis Petretti, a former navy attack pilot, to organizers of the festivities. How about Top Gun and the Ault Report (which lead to the establishment of the elite dogfighting school which saved so many lives)? Too “macho? Not enough ‘pink bows and Teddy Bears’ for today’s navy?” An angry aviator, signing his name only as “Shadow,” was more direct. “This website is nothing but PC Bullshit…No mention of Halsey, Foss, McCampbell [WWII stalwarts]. Is there a single man on this net that feels ‘Women’s Contribution’ to Naval Aviation had any significant impact on Naval Aviation History? No way…Only assholes living and making a living in the bowels of Washington would buy that bullshit.”
The flap probably prompted Lehman, known as a strong secretary of the navy who built it up after the Carter years, to write what he did. Dogfighting a modern jet is one of the toughest skills on earth. The pilot is driving a rocket. Its systems require mathematician-engineer understanding and a pro athlete’s strength and eye-hand coordination. The enemy is either an illusive radar blip or supersonic spec in the pilot’s sky vision. Decisions are split second, usually irreversible, and deadly if wrong. There is no second place. Win or die. And those are just the basics. For a navy fighter pilot, add landing on an often pitching deck that seems a matchbox from the air and is almost invisible at night. And those describe the tasks of just your average fighter pilot. The best, their leaders, are even rarer. Race, social conscience, and sexual preference play no part in making the breed. With the purge ongoing, the answer to Mitchner’s question, “Where do we get such men,” may soon be “nowhere.” We’ve run them out and now that they are needed, we’re left with the briefcase carrying PC police and increasingly their adherents. Will they do the job?