Monday, May 23, 2016

Why mass-suckage?

Dang!  Has Sarge been on a roll lately or what?  As of 1300 Sunday, 180 comments on 6 posts?  Not bad for our little corner of the blogosphere.  But, as I sit here warming up in the bullpen, I'm a little nervous as I prepare to make my pitch.  
Source

Oh well, in for a penny, in for a trillion dollars (a small homage to his post on Taxes, in case you didn't get it).

A comment by Dave ("...Saw the beginnings of mass-suckage in the late sixties.") got me to thinking about Sarge's post, the two GOFOs pictured therein and WTF has been going on in the Air Force.  I've been wondering about that for quite some time and the Service's apparent death spiral is, in fact, one of the reasons I decided to retire.  Dave's comment got me to ponder when I first noted that spiral, since the comment indicated it had begun long before I had joined. 

I think the first suck-based reality check occurred when I was a Senior in College.  I started College in '73 and it's now '77. The ROTC detachment had about 250 cadets.  About half were on contract, meaning they had "taken the queen's shilling" and had committed to the Air Force.  The rest were undecided underclassmen.  Of that hundred or so upperclassmen, about half were holding pilot slots, which really only meant they had taken the flying class I physical and met those requirements and had a desire to fly. So, roughly, 25 per class.  

It's early in the spring semester.  Graduation requirements are all but met.  We've put in our dream sheets, not that they carried any weight whatsoever for the pilot candidates.  Like we'd turn down Vance because we didn't get Williams?  Yeah, right...

In any case, we're notified of a mandatory meeting of all the Senior cadets.  I show up at the appointed time and the Professor of Aerospace Studies (PAS), the O-6 in charge of the detachment, walks in with the rest of the staff.  He doesn't look happy.  He begins with "As you all know, the military in general is beginning a drawdown in forces.  That drawdown will affect you....."  My "Oh S4!t" meter pegs.

He speaks for a few minutes as the staff is passing out envelopes.  He then directs us to open the envelopes and read the enclosed letter.

It begins "The Air Force is reducing the number of pilot slots to comply with a mandated reduction in force size...."  I stop reading at that point and fold it up.  I'm pretty well devastated and sit there thinking "Now what?"  I notice similar expressions on the faces of nearly all the guys in the room.  "Good Lord, how many got axed?"  One guy, who's blind as a bat and going to Missiles, let's out a whoop!  "I guess he's staying."  Which was ok, he was a nice guy, with a very pregnant wife, so I'm relieved for him. 

The PAS dismisses us and as I get up to walk out, he stops me and offers congratulations.  I'm dumbfounded.  Congratulations because I lost my slot?  The only thing I've wanted to do all my life?  I just look at him.  He asks to see my letter.  I hand it to him.  He reads it, lets out a sigh and hands it back to me.  He says "Read the last line...Only!"  I read it.  "Congratulations on having retained your pilot slot."  That was the only difference between my letter and the one that went out to all the other pilot candidates except one other.  Two of us retained our slot out of 25.  

Some personnel wienie figured it was easier to write one letter and add an additional line to the few that made it rather than write two separate letters.  Thanks buddy!  I thought about that letter later on when I was on a staff tour and heard the line "Bottom line up front."  Wish that had been the policy at Air University.

I'm commissioned and have finished UPT.  I'm now at Lead-In Fighter Training (LIFT), learning the basics of maneuvering and employing a fighter while actually flying an aircraft I'm already checked out in, the AT-38.  

Unlike UPT, where the majority of IPs are Lieutenants or junior Captains on their first flying assignment (First Assignment Instructor Pilots or FAIPs), the IPs here are all experienced fighter pilots with at least two tours under their belts and many of them have combat time.  Most are senior Captains with a few junior Majors thrown in.

If arrayed into some kind of matrix based on skills, I'd describe it as a standard bell curve albeit centered further to the right on the competency axis than most flying squadrons.  

I learned quite a bit about flying, fighters and the Air Force from them.  One of the things I did note, however was that quite a few of them had their papers in.  They were leaving the Air Force,  this was in the last few years of the second worst President ever's term and there were plenty of reasons for people to leave.  And the airlines were hiring.

The one thing that sticks in my mind though was which type people were leaving.  It wasn't the people at the far right of the Bell Curve.  They knew they were good and were going to go far in the AF.  Strangely, it wasn't the people at the far left of the curve either.  It was the people in the middle, and they were leaving in droves.  I'm pretty sure that of the Captains that were eligible to separate in my squadron, to count the ones remaining wouldn't require even one hand.  

That gave me a little niggle of worry, and I couldn't quite put my finger on why I was concerned.

It was the same thing at RTU and when I got to Kunsan, and joined the Juvats.  Most of the mid-grade Captains had their papers in and were getting out and flying with the airlines.  I served that tour and returned to the US just in time to see Reagan inaugurated and the Reagan buildup begun.  Flying hours were abundant, new jets were developed, all was well in the world, but the damage was done.

My opinion is, to revisit the Bell Curve theory, the great ones stayed because they knew they would run things, the good ones, the ones one or two standard deviations either side of the center of the bell, left because they knew they could make it on the outside and didn't see any reason to stay and live with the way things were going.  And the ones to the left, stayed because they knew that if they stayed, they'd make it because there was no one else left.  The AF had to promote them.

And they were right.

At some point in my education, I came across a thought that went something like this.  Grade A people hire Grade A people because they know they can handle them.  Grade B people hire Grade A or Grade B people because they know they need the quality product and can live with the difficulties.  Grade C people hire Grade D people because they need to feel important.

I think there's some validity in that.  It certainly seems true as I look at people around me today in the Public Education field.  But back to the Air Force.

The great ones (Grade A) hired Grade A people, and the AF prospered for it.  But the Reagan Buildup is underway and the AF ran out of Grade A People, so Grade B people filled in, and tried to hire Grade A or B people but there weren't any available.  Grade C were hired which resulted in their promotion.  They then hired the Grade D people and promoted them.  That cycle has continued ever since.  

After my second operational flying assignment, I was assigned to Holloman as a LIFT IP.  TAC at the time had what I thought was a wonderful program.  Our flight suits were modified with a small patch on the right sleeve, just above the cuff.  A small piece of cloth was sewn on that had a silver star on it for each 500 hours of Pilot in Command time a pilot had.  So if he had 1 star, he had between 500 and 999 hours of time in a fighter.  Two meant 1000-1499 and so on.  If a pilot had even one hour of combat time as pilot in command he was authorized to wear a gold star.  Two gold stars meant he had 500-999 hours of Combat time.  I showed up with 1 maybe 2 silver stars. I was comfortable with them.  They were where I should be in my career at the time.  Ed Rasimus was my IP during IP upgrade.  He had 9 total stars  (4500 hours) with 3 of them being gold (between 1000-1500 hours of combat time).  He wasn't the only one with similar credentials.  Bill Ricks (one of the other Lt's in "There is a Way") was the ADO and had a similar sleeve full.  As did Vegas.

In short, with a quick glance at a pilot's arm, you got an instant assessment of his credibility.  

The Air Force quickly figured this out and "Experience Stars delenda est".  Before that happened though, we had a new wing commander assigned.  Vegas had hired me as the Wing Scheduler, which meant I had to brief the wing commander every Wednesday on the following week's flying schedule.  The DO (Vegas), ADO (Ricks), Maintenance Director, the four flying squadron commanders as well as the academic squadron commander and a few other flunkies would all be in attendance.  It was usually a blood bath.  But it was almost always a predictable blood bath.  You see, the wing commander had two white stars, same as I.  Two of the 5 squadron commanders were in the same general category both with number of stars and color thereof.  The other pilots in the room had rather more stars in total and all had multicolored stars.  The brickbats thrown by the first group all had to do with spelling errors on charts or how they could be better worded to make their points.  Or they really raised a howl if I featured a statistic that made them look anything less than absolutely excellent.  The brickbats thrown by the second group were all about actual problems with the schedule and ways to fix them.  This went on for about 6 weeks and I was getting tired of it.  I went to my Squadron Commander and asked him for advice.

"Boss, how do I avoid getting beaten up at the scheduling meeting every @#$@@!! week?"

He said, "Send the slides to the commanders the morning of the meeting, so they can get their excuses in order.  And, don't worry about any comments except from the DO, ADO and Maintenance Director.  And me, of course."

I thought that was very telling.  

And that was after only a couple of cycles.  The wing commander went on to where a couple of stars.  Vegas and Ricks retired as O-6s.  Ras made Major at the first opportunity, 3 years below the zone, and retired as a Major. 



 I came back to the states after 3 years in PACAF and went to a fighter bar.  Nary a person wearing experience stars to be seen.  

The people who were/are in the left hand corner of the competence bell curve are now running the circus.  After 20-30 years of this self selection, any competent people have all but been driven out before they're selected for O-5 command and almost certainly before any further command because competency is not attainable for the incompetent. The competent must be eliminated. A new found method of eliminating the competent leaders is the IG system, where any perceived slight by a commander of a person in their command is an IG complaint, veracity is not required.  This complaint becomes the kiss of death for that commander's career and quite possibly their personal life. Problem solved, competent officer removed from competition and another turn of the Air Force's death spiral is completed.

There used to be a saying in the Air Force. "There's only two kinds of people in the Air Force, Fighter Pilots and Shoe Clerks.  Being a Fighter Pilot is not an AFSC, it's an attitude.  A shoe clerk is someone who has forgotten that the mission of the Air Force is to fly and fight."  That statement, being rather un-PC, has no doubt been abolished.  The Shoe Clerks have won.

BTW-I believe my Wife, the former Personnel Officer, was solidly in the Fighter Pilot category, as is Sarge.

40 comments:

  1. I have often wondered how we got to the current state of affairs in our old service. I saw something similar in the Senior NCO ranks, figured it was just an enlisted thing. What you say makes perfect sense.

    I see the same thing in industry. It gets worse every year. I have some thoughts on all this. Perhaps I can keep the rage down long enough to post about it. We'll see. (I have been fairly outraged about damn near everything lately.)

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    1. Fortunately, my experience with Senior NCOs was different than yours. There were some who fit the bill, but the majority I encountered were worth their weight in gold. Then again, I didn't get into many back offices which is where the Officers of that ilk tended to hide. I'm assuming that would be the same for any other's also. Can't go out on the hot and humid flight line, got to take this important phone call from.....?

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  2. I see this in my company as well. There are only a couple support staff left after the last buyout that are worth anything. I used to have several go-tos; now, only one. (comments on the semicolon are encouraged)

    I figured that the unemployable stayed, and the tired, talented, hard workers left. Our talent pool isn't even ankle deep anymore. Not sure where that leaves me. I take a lot of pride in my work. I rail against ineptitude. But being a OF (old fart), I'm not sure I'm worth a second look in today's business world.

    Ah, the joys of growing old.

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    1. Yeah, that "old" thing makes Santayana's saying sting that much more doesn't it?

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  3. I believe you are exactly correct.
    Some years ago when asked why the organization had so many idiots, I said the good, smart people move on, but the idiots never leave, and eventually there are so many of them they take over.

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    1. You're a brave man, Sir John! Talk about speaking truth to power.

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  4. Spot on IMO. I suspect that most or perhaps all of the incompetents believe that they are at the center of the universe and cannot imagine the possibility that anything -- ANYTHING -- could be more important than themselves.

    The day I rolled into my first squadron -- a FIGHTER squadron -- the Skipper told me that he'd never met a corpsman who was worth his salt. Welcome to the bigs! I proved that I was reasonably good at medicine, but it didn't take me long to prove that I SUCKED at being a sailor and a squadron member. WAAAY too selfish and self centered. But the Skipper set me upon the path of righteousness, in rough and ready, snacking on the young fleet fighter squadron fashion, which was pretty much what was needed. To paraphrase Frost, two roads diverged on the boat and I, I was guided to the path less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. Joe Dog commanded TOPGUN and retired as an 0-6. He was judged to be not E-lite enough to be a real navy leader. This was away back in the 80's.

    Flash forward to this weekend when I talked to an Air Force shoe salesman who had recently been honorably discharged at the end of his first enlistment. With 50 percent disability for sleep apnea. Because he gained 150 pounds over the last four years and is to fat to be able to sleep without choking on his own lard. And is grievously wounded because the VA won't give him 100 percent. So he'll only get $1,200 free money for the rest of his life. And OBTW, he's now got a civilian job for life with the chair force, doing his former job at five times the salary. Could have been a contendah with real leadership. Now pretty much a waste of skin (a LOT of skin) who assumes that everyone should honor him for his chairborne service to the nation.

    I'd guess that qualifies as an example of mass suckage.

    End of rant.

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    1. $1,200/month, more than $14,000/year for the rest of his life I should say.

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    2. Thanks.
      Shoe clerks gots to be shoe clerks. Glad to see my Taxes are going to good use though. It's not the waste of skin that bothers me. I've got no use for skin. The oxygen he wastes though...

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  5. Another very good read, thanks! It has been sad watching the AF degrade from when I was in forty plus years ago. I've come to believe that a serious look at folding the AF into the other branches is warranted. Focus on PC, head in the sand, doubling down on the F-35, lying GO's -nope, sorry boys, time for you to leave the stage.

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    1. Thanks. Yes it has been. I don't know if disbanding it will work (the law of unintended consequences is raising its ugly head), but whatever it takes to fix it, will have to be drastic.
      Back in the day, what it took to fix it was called "Combat". AF Leaders were pilots, pilots flew combat and leaders led in combat. Some didn't come home, but those that didn't lead in combat weren't promoted. Those that led and survived were. That's how we got people like Olds, Risner, Thorsness, Rasimus, and just about everyone on the masthead above. Now, we've had Personnel Officers as the Superintendent of the AF Academy. WTF? No wonder, AFA grads lately have been so careerist.

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  6. Gotta start teaching that winning is a part of the scheme of things.
    There's more to it than just showing up.
    It isn't a popularity contest.

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    1. Winning is not politically correct, therefore is not a desirable outcome. Lord! Help us!

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  7. (nny)U Skip has it right. Winning was not a part of the ROE in SE Asia except in the hearts and minds of those men who were right there, right then. Those who led (Locke, Shawe, COL OLDS (!)) were generally thwarted in their desire to accomplish the mission effectively with minimum loss of life. The dikes, the power plants, Kep Airfield, etc., etc. were ripe for the picking way back in '65.
    Once upon a time, in November of '65, I was told to go to Saigon from Ubon to do a PR thing with reporters. I was met at the bottom of the aircraft access ladder by an O-6 who chewed on my skinny bottom for some time because I had somehow flown over some part of NE Cambodia (about three miles into their airspace) when cleared "direct" to the airport. Oh well, it was better that getting shot at. But it has stuck with me that it was a highly political (read PC) war.
    I guess I was in the middle of that bell curve, but I knew a lot of command guys who were on the good side and a few who were moving to the bad side. It was an honor to serve with most. It was certainly an honor to be able to serve in the 1115 AFSC and learn the things that I did, do the things I did and most importantly uphold the oath I took (which incidentally, I believe still is in effect).
    Wow! What rants this AM.

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    1. 5 of my 7 fighter squadron commanders I thought were outstanding. One of the two not so outstanding ones went on to wear 2. Batman (one of the better ones) went on to wear 3. The rest all retired at O-5. My Eagle wing commander went on to wear 3. He was the only Wing Commander that I truly respected as a leader. He was also a damn fine Eagle driver. If you didn't bring your A game to an air to air ride with him, you were quite likely to be in the movies.

      I concur on the Oath being in effect

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  8. " Idiots are an extremely dangerous species - they should be shot on sight before they encounter their peer ,as they team up and by then, they have become in-f@&#-ing vincible "

    Wise words from my ex

    P

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    1. Ewwwww. I hadn't thought of the reproduction angle. Although, we did have a couple of stars here in the local district who mated and produced a progeny. Said progeny grew up wanting to be a teacher and attempted to take the exam, failing it 29 times. As I look around the district and see some of the people with their license and wonder how they passed, it gives me great pause to think what would happen if she ever found that particular acorn.

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  9. Great post Juvat but depressing. I hate to think of my Air Force sinking to this
    level even though it's been obvious it's coming. And everyone's comments aren't
    helping any. (And how long before the Navy and Army do the same?)

    I've worked in education the last 28 years and the problems are hitting higher ed.
    The college where I work has been rated one of the top 3 in the nation for the first
    20 years I've been here but that's no longer true. The focus has gone from providing
    our students a quality education to simply focusing on the budget. The support staff
    here has been cut to bare bones and now they have an early retirement incentive with
    the goal of getting rid of as many full time faculty and staff so that they cans save
    money on salary and benefits and run the college with adjunct faculty and part time
    staff.

    The statement that "Grade C people hire Grade D people because they need to feel important"
    is definitely true but add to that the Grade C people also don't want the competition from
    Grade A,B & C people for their position within their company!

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    1. Yeah, Sarge's posts got me fired up (my story and I'm sticking to it). Having spent a considerable amount of time with the other services, to one degree or another (though lesser), they're all in the same boat. The big difference between them and the AF, is they have a definite line between Combat Arms and other career fields. A fighter pilot in the Navy or a Tank Commander in the Army is not going to be competing for O-4 with a personnel officer. I did, it's very difficult for a fighter pilot in the AF to have an OPR say, "Leads (should be "manages" but I digress) 35 enlisted personnel handling assignment details for a Fighter Wing of 4000 people." My Wife. My "Able to lead a flight of 4 fighters without killing himself or others." doesn't stand up as well. I know what the difference is, any non-operational people on the board most likely won't.

      You make a good point about Grade C not wanting competition. I'll add that to the example next time I get on my soapbox. :-)

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    2. Totally agree, Juvat. The problem of experienced, rated people being in competition with unrated types like Supply Squadron Commanders has long been a bone of contention and dissatisfaction. As my Father (a WW II Regimental Commander in the 42nd Rainbow Div and subsequently 30+ yrs as a college coach)) warned me years ago when I foolishly thought my superior academic record and early AF accomplishments would take me anywhere: "Just remember this, son, the world is run by C students."

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    3. I should comment that luck also often plays a major role in promotion having nothing to do with skill or cunning. My 1st Cousin Lt Gen C.M Talbott (Winner of the Bendix Air Race in 1955 in an F-100C--he was 20 yrs older than my Mother) had a roommate at WP. (Class of '43) who married his sister and was probably a better officer than Maurice, truth to tell who selected Arty , made O-6 but never made Flag rank despite being selected as an elite into the Armys atomic Nike Ajax/Hercules program as a very jr O-4--by definition of being selected seen as superior to most of his arty cohorts. I once had a Marine Brig Gen tell me in Vietnam who had just been at the War College in Carlisle with Al Hughes that Al was "One of the Army's BRIGHT YOUNG STARS." He continued: "Doesn't say much but when he does everything is exactly on point." But despite being thought of as being an Army "bright young star" by a Marine General he never made flag rank. I have some thoughts on why which I think might be food for thought. Might submit it to Sarge,,

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  10. As a somewhat interested and curious outsider observer of our "Junior Sister Service," it has been my opinion that the newest Branch has no use for warriors except in direct combat. Once activity on the "two way shooting range" ends, the jettisoning of warriors begins. There has been no place for the BG Frank Savages' in the USAF since the Korean War. Don't get me started on what the advent of the Aviation Branch has done to Army Aviation. regards, Alemaster

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    1. And not much room for the Robin Olds's since Vietnam. I'm going to have to file away for future reference "Two way shooting range". I like that analogy.

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  11. My active service was fifty years ago. We had 1st and 2nd Lts who were two years ROTC products. With few exceptions, frat boys. Career NCOs tended to have marginal skills for anything but soldiering, again with a few exceptions. Lots of alcoholics.

    My youngest son is medically retired but still has many friends still serving. He is glad to be out of the political correctness/SJW/pro female bias even though he wanted to make it a full career. It is his belief if today's Army went against a well trained and equipped Army they would lose badly. I often worry about the anger he has about the current bullshit. One example. He was told not to wear his "brick" because it made the newer soldiers feel inferior. (It is one hell of a brick for an E-4 medic)

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    1. "He was told not to wear his "brick" because it made the newer soldiers feel inferior."

      "Private, if you feel inferior, do something about it. Work harder, make yourself a better soldier!" YGBSM! That statement raises my blood pressure and I'm not even involved.

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    2. I always looked up to the NCOs with lots of ribbons. Thought they just might know what the hell they were doing.

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    3. Nowadays it kinda matters WHICH ribbons they're wearing. A Skyblue ribbon with a few stars sprinkled on it? Without a doubt! This one, not so much!

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    4. Shows you what kind of fossil I am, juvat. I don't even recognize that ribbon. Must be waaay after my time, lol. Somehow I'm guessin' I shouldn't take the time to try to re-enlist just (do they let fossils re-enlist? :) ) to try to earn that award, n'est-ce pas? :)

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    5. Air Force Training Ribbon. Successfully complete initual training and presto, you have a ribbon. Also known as the Battle of Lackland ribbon.

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  12. And that cycle is starting again... dammit...

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    1. Yep. Won't be too many more before it hits the dirt.

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  13. I was in the Air Force in the 70's. I perspective is from maintenance. Senior NCO'S ran the Air Force from my point of view. The one's I was privileged to know lost sleep over operational readiness. Pilots needed a safe aircraft, where everything worked as advertised and full of fuel.My shop Chief instilled in me a sense of pride.Nothing thrilled me more than to see "my" aircraft leave the ground knowing the best maintenance in the whole world had been performed by professionals who cared and I was one of them. When I went to work on aircraft as a civilian I saw retired Senior NCO's taking orders from pimpled kids with an A % P license from Embry Riddle! Didn't know a sky hook from prop wash about aircraft but they were put in charge! I think everything has gone down hill, not just the services. god damned shame.I got out a SSGT. I should have reenlisted. One of the great regrets of my life.

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    1. I don't know if Senior NCO's ran the Air Force, but I do know that Senior NCO's made the AF run. A pilot can have a brilliant tactical plan for sweeping the enemy out of the sky, but if someone doesn't ensure that the engines will start when the start button is pushed, it's all for naught. Fortunately, my experiences with Senior NCO's were almost all favorable and I learned very quickly that I could rely on them to get things done. For that I'm grateful.

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    2. My experience with NCOs as a Deuce driver at Itazuke was always good. One of the reasons was that ALL OF OUR NAMES were on the F-102. I knew pretty much every scratch on it. McNamara killed off that espirit d'corps when he decided to let the fighters be scheduled by maintenance, not ops, in SEA. No names allowed anywhere on the beautiful Phantom.

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    3. My own experience is that the senior NonComs in maintenance were pretty damn good. Elsewhere? Meh.

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    4. The Wing at Kadena reached a compromise on the names on airplanes and flying "your" airplane. The maintenance guys would give us a list of tail numbers for each launch period. The ops guys could then rearrange them as desired within that go so that a given pilot could usually count on flying "his" jet a few times a week. I liked that. It helped me get to know the crew chief and his assistant. Vegas had advised me to visit the jet in the off times to see what was going on. I didn't do it too often, as I didn't want to intrude, but I think the crew chief appreciated my stopping by in the middle of the night when he was pulling engines. I know I got an appreciation for what was involved. Of course when he got selected for an orientation ride, it was in "OUR" jet, with an AB takeoff and a rocket ship departure. He had fun! (so did I)

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  14. @Dave/

    Yeah. bean-counter McNamara was a perfect example of someone who knew "the price of everything and the value of nothing." Unfortunately much to the disgrace of the nation and dysfunctional destruction of the armed services as effective fighting forces..

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    1. PS: Remember, it was McNamera who in a brilliant move gave us a SAC general as head of TAC..

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    2. War is an inherently illogical, emotional act. Trying to run it strictly following the rules of logic and mathematics is lunacy.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)