Monday, June 8, 2015

Spotted Owls

So, There I was…* About to board a United 747 flight from HNL to IAD as I PCS’d to what would be my last duty assignment.  I was an alternate on the Squadron Commander list but hopes that someone would be removed from the list (temporarily of course, for non-prejudicial reasons) seemed to be in vain.  I was going to what was popularly referred to as the “Puzzle Palace” or my frequent moniker “The Northern Virginia Penitentiary for wayward Fighter Pilots” AKA the Pentagon. 
Shot was taken in 98, so somewhere in this picture is little old me.

Ever the optimistic naïf, I had high hopes that this was a good assignment, after all my job title was “Director of Air Superiority Programs”.  I mean Wow!  I’m going to direct Air Superiority Programs, how cool is that?

Yes, well….

I rejoin with my family as I had been TDY for about a month immediately prior and my family had gone on ahead of me.  I came home from TDY outprocessed from CINCPAC and Hickam housing and flown the long flight from Honolulu.  Spent a couple of days getting settled in our new home and finally am now reporting in.

I take care of all the personnel stuff inprocessing with the Air Staff with no hiccups  (A benefit of having a Personnel Officer for a wife.) Now, I meet my new Boss.  He shows me to my desk.  

Remember, the view from my desk at Camp Smith extended from Diamond Head to my left to Barber’s Point on my right.  My new view is of an office mate’s desk abutting mine to the left, a cement wall straight ahead by about 3 feet to another office mate’s desk abutting mine to the right.  Ah well, still I’m going to be directing Air Superiority programs!  I ask my new boss what the job entails.  He says “Hang loose, Juvat, I’ll get back to you on that.”  


Over the next few days, I take care of all the usual in processing chores and do quite a bit of sightseeing around the building.  I learn that if you know where you are going, you can get anywhere in the building within 5 minutes.  I also learn the secret code that tells you where in the building an office is located.
There were some very interesting and moving displays in various areas of the building.  I spent a bit of time wandering to see what I could see.  One of the more striking memories is of the civilian women in the building.  They would be dressed very professionally all the way down to their shoes.  Almost invariably, they would be wearing gym shoes.  When I got comfortable enough to ask our secretary for an explanation, she said the concrete floors throughout the building were very hard on the feet for anything other than gym shoes.  Which made sense, but it jogged the senses.

So, I’ve been there a few days, and am frankly starting to get bored.  I’ve completed the required course on PPBES.  The PlanningProgramming Budgeting and Execution System foisted on the military by, as Prairie Adventurer likes to call him, Bobby Strange AKA Robert McNamara.  I’m not sure why I had to take that as I’m going to be directing Air Superiority Programs, right?

One morning, I get called in to the Boss's office and he says, “Juvat, we’re reorganizing the Force Directorate structure and creating a new board to handle Information Warfare.  I see you’ve got a Masters in Information Systems.  You’re going to take over that board today. Your new office will be blah blah blah."


So I grab my stapler and name plate (hand carved in the PI when I was with the Juvats, it’s got an expletive and the word Communism carved on the back) and move on down to the new digs.  

The new Boss had been an A-10 driver and Squadron CO during the first Gulf War, had a few “Real” decorations and was a great guy.  Grabs me by the arm, drags me into the office and introduces me to the staff.  Himself and the secretary.  Says we’ve got interviews for a couple of Majors this afternoon and he wants me to be a part of that.  I say, that’s great Sir, but what do we do?  He replies, “Well, Juvat, we have a 5 Billion Dollar Budget and you’ll need to manage it.  Take money from one program to fund something with higher priority.  Defend the budget from the other boards as well as Congress and other loathsome political creatures and when necessary cut money from the least valuable programs when directed.” 

In short, I have entered the lowest depths of hell, and will always be known as the guy that shut down the SR-71.

As part of the spinup process, the two Majors and I meet with all the PEMs (Program Element Monitors, the program budget experts) to become familiar with the pro’s and con’s, wants and needs of their program.  In addition to the SR-71 (which BTW had a budgeted cost of $1 million every time it took off), we had AWACS, Rivet Joint, Weather (the Doppler radar system that feeds the weather app on your phone?  Yes, you’re welcome) and a large number of other programs. 

Simultaneously with this interview process, we’re also attending the briefings between the PEMs and Congressional aides.  In one of these meetings, I noted a strange response from the PEM of a STRATCOM program and made a note to check on it later.

It’s been about 6 months now, the Defense Budget has been passed (back when Congress and the President did that sort of thing), and we’re at a pause in the budgeting process where things are a bit slow and we can catch our breath.  It’s a Friday around 1100, the two Majors are out for a run, the Boss is TDY and I’m the sole person in the office.  The phone rings and I answer it.  “Information Warfare, Lt Col Juvat speaking, how may I help you Sir?”

“Juvat, this is BG Schmuckatelli.” (BG Schmuckatelli is the director of Forces and while not really his name, he was a Schmuck, but he is my Boss’s Boss if you get my meaning.)

“Juvat, the President(D) and First Lady(D) are traveling to Washington State this weekend.  I need $10 million of execution year (current year) money by 1300 today.  Spotted Owl Relief Fund or something.  Have the transfer paperwork on my desk by then.”
Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis)

“Yes, Sir.”

“Where in the heck, am I going to find ten million dollars in 2 hours?  I can’t poll my PEM’s and see if anybody MIGHT have something to pony up.  I’m just going to have to take it.”

Then I remember the conversation between the PEM and the Congressional Aide.

I file the paperwork and call the PEM and let him know. 

A remarkable quantity of good Scotch was consumed that evening.

It’s Monday morning about 0645, I’ve been lucky.  My wife and I got slugged in by a lead footed Congressman, so am at work earlier than usual.  As I unlock the door, the phone is ringing.  I quickly drop my stuff and pick it up.  “Information Warfare, LtCol Juvat speaking, how may I help you Sir?”

“Col Juvat, this is General Habiger.”  Now, General Habiger is the director of USAF Personnel, My Wife’s Boss’s Boss’s….you get the idea.  My Wife is up for Lt Col and He’s also the guy that will publish the Squadron Commander List.  So I squelch the first response that starts out of my lips. “Yeah Right, Stop Fire Trucking around!”  I mean Lt Generals don’t call Lt Col’s directly.

“Yes, Sir, what can I do for you?”

“When would it be convenient for you to meet in my office?”

“Sir, I can be there in 5 minutes.” (His office was on the other side of the building and up 2 floors.  Out the door, down to the A ring, two corridors, up two floors, out to the E ring two doors right. Piece of cake.)

“Thank you, see you then.” Click

I’m off to the races.  As I’m scurrying through the building, I’m trying to figure out what this could be.  I figure it’s got to be good news for my Wife.  He’s going to pin the Lt Col rank on her or congratulate her on a new job, something.

4 minutes, 15 seconds after the click (yes, I checked my watch), I open the door to his outer office and, unnecessarily since we’ve met, introduce myself to his Secretary.  The look on her face tells me this is not good news as she tells me to go on in.  I think a funeral dirge started as I knocked on the door.


“Sir, LtCol Juvat reporting as directed.”

“Have a seat Juvat.

There’s a large round conference table to my left and on it is the General’s flight cap.  

With 4 Stars!

As I start to sit down, I offer him my congratulations on his promotion.  He acknowledges that and tells me he’s taking over as the STRATCOM Commander and would I be so kind as to explain why I took 10 million dollars from his operational budget?


“Sir, BG Schmuckatelli directed me to find $10 million dollars.”

“Yes, but why me?”

“Sir, I had two hours to find the money.  When your PEM was briefing the Congressional Aide and the Aide reduced the program by 5 million, the PEM didn’t raise an objection.  When I asked him why he didn’t fight the take, he replied he thought they were going to take 15 million.  Since he had planned for a take of 15, I knew where the 10 million was.”

Dead Silence.  Eyes boring holes in me.  I’m wondering if McDonalds is hiring.

Finally.  “Good Take!  Don’t ever do that again, or I’ll make sure your next tour will be unaccompanied in Thule Greenland. Dismissed.”

Shortly thereafter, I received orders to the Joint Staff,Current Operations branch.  Life was better, not great, better.


  1. Sounds like you were in the very definition of a rock and a hard place, and you did the best with it as could be done.

    1. Yeah, in the era of the "Peace Dividend", most of the actions were a choice of "Horribly bad" and "Catastrophic".

  2. Ah yes--I did Fort Fumble 1976-80 under another "D". Had to convince the (female) Under Secretary of the Navy for Environmental Affairs that:
    1. Closing Mayport Naval Station because ships' wakes might interfere with turtle breeding was probably not a good idea. And,
    2. USN really should not be made to track each individual DU round fired from the Phalanx system and keep a file forever on it.

    I shit you not, as the Boatswain used to say.

    1. I have no problem believing either of those actions. I can only hope you were successful in defending sanity. Which is rarely a given.

    2. We were successful then. I rather wonder how it would turn out now.

  3. Guess not all battles involve bullets.

    1. No, and I learned that the ones that don't are frequently the bloodiest.

  4. Sounds like a position with a no-win scenario. You control the money, others want it, and you piss off whoever loses.


    How did this job compare with the one in Hawaii? (trying to keep a straight face)

    1. Nice summation, pretty much nailed it.

      Hmmm, let me think about that! Not very well. Had to pay my dues with the Pentagon tour, I guess.

  5. You were THAT guy? ;)

    The phrase "undaunted courage" springs to mind. That's gotta be hell on earth for a pointy end guy.

    1. On the plus side, though, I learned to appreciate good Scotch.

    2. Gotta take those plusses where you find 'em.

  6. BTW the $1million flight of the SR-71 didn't surprise me. When you think of a dedicated KC-135 there to meet it (more than one probably), special aluminum compounded tires (can you get a discount at Tire Rack?) I am not surprised.

    1. It's been a while, but I don't recall the program as having much other than Operations money in it (i.e. not R&D or procurement for other than spare parts). Even with that it was a large chunk of change. Not F-35 Large, mind you. but Large.

  7. juvat/

    IIRC one of several reasons the USAF made the SR-71 go away is that its costs came out of its hide--as opposed to the U2 being a CIA budget affair--that and the Air Force was concerned that it was stove-piping some of its best pilots and making them practically un-promotable beyond O-5 and forcing them out of the AF because of lack of a breadth of "command experience." (Just like the Special Forces types in the various branches had to be given a single, joint command in order to get people promoted and into flag rank)

    1. I can see that. The AF promotion system has always been a point of discussion between my Wife and I. I tend to think that the Line Officer in the Air Force should be more closely defined, more along the lines of the Army or Navy. Something along the lines Combat Arms and the Combat Support. So, I am competing against someone with a similar career track. As it is now, a 2LT Personnel Officer has more OER fodder in the "Command Experience" block than a Captain Flight Lead. I know, I was on time through O-5, the Wife was BTZ through O-5. Now, I firmly believe that she deserved every bit of that, but some of her peers.....

  8. I see that I'm late to the party. With that being said, great post Juvat. Just when I think you can't top your last one, you do.

    But gee, the guy who killed the SR-71?

    What are we going to discover next? Tuna shot JR? I shot the sheriff?

    Dang, we're a regular passel of scofflaws ain't we?

    1. But did you shoot the Deputy? Inquiring minds want to know.


    2. Humming... But I did not shoot the deputy... Guitar riff here...

  9. At least you weren't the coffee gofer...

  10. Should I be mad or glad? In that environment, I would have remained, FUZZ, Capt., Weather Briefer, Thule.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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