Not on my watch

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jeffrey Smith
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing, Director of Staff
Feeling short-handed due to the PBD 720 pinch or frustrated by our slow progress in procuring new equipment? Below are a few datapoints to contemplate our options.
  • We have 85 KC-135Es parked on our ramps. The Air Force doesn't have the authority to retire them, so they sit on our ramps where they still cost us $100,000 per aircraft per year, just to let them sit.
  • On Nov. 2, the Air Force incurred an F-15C mishap. The aircraft disintegrated in flight resulting in a fleet wide stand down of 700 frontline fighters. Although cleared to fly again a couple weeks later, the discovery of more structural damage in the F-15s prompted another stand-down on Dec. 3. 
  • The KC-135 tankers we fly have an average age of 46 years. Although this sounds really old, given an aggressive procurement program, we are scheduled to retire the KC-135 after 87 years of service. More amazing is the reality of defense contractors protesting the current KC-X bid. If this occurs, and delay of the KC-X is delayed by just three years, the last KC-135 will retire in the year 2082 when it is more than 120 years old. Just think, 120 years ago, the US Navy was still procuring ships with sails and powered flight was still 10 years in the future.
  • The Army Air Corp, which we've learned was ill prepared for the post-Pearl Harbor world, had more members than today's United States Air Force.
  • On a local level, we've seen the loss of admin personnel in the units, reduction on personnelist in squadrons and groups, drawdown of transportation mechanics, finance cut to 65 percent manning, our flight line is vacant; not of old aircraft, but of young aircraft maintainers, command post has seen a 2/3 cut, Military Equal Opportunity was cut by 50 percent, the Inspector Generals office dissolved, Chapel Support Staff cut by 50 percent, and Public Affairs by 60 percent. When a 9-level retires in these agencies, we get a 3-level to fill in the void.
Is this a tough time to be in the Air Force? Yes. So what do we do? In the short term, we need to evaluate what we do. The Chief of Staff of the Air Force has set our priorities as: Fighting and Winning Global War on Terrorism, developing and caring for our Airmen, and recapitalizing and modernizing the force. Each agency needs to evaluate its current list of duties. If an old task can not be tied to one of the three priorities above, we need to strike it from our list at hand.

For the long term, we need to continue to find innovative ways to still accomplish our mission. But we need to remember our country has been given a great gift - freedom. Sure, times are tight, but I can't think of a bleaker time to be serving one's country than during the 1777 wintering camp of Valley Forge.  
  • The Continental Army was continually on the ropes. Washington led the army to seven major battles--five of those seven were sound defeats. Given his lack of success campaigns, he had many critics, including many in the Congress, and some of his most vocal critics were his own generals.
  • Upon witnessing the Continental Army at Valley Forge, Lafayette wrote: "The unfortunate soldiers had neither coats, hats, shirts, or shoes. Their feet and their legs froze until they were black."
  • The Governor of New York visited the encampment and stated "An army of skeletons appeared before our eyes; naked, starved, sick and discouraged." 
  • The path to Valley Forge was marked by bloody footprints in the snow left by bootless men. Near naked soldiers wrapped in thin blankets huddled around a smoky fire of green wood.
  • Small pox, typhoid and pneumonia were the causes of many deaths. Out of the 12,000 men who arrived in Valley Forge, 3,000 soldiers died and another 2,000 left because they were so sick.
So what do we do for the long-haul? In drawing on lessons from George Washington at Valley Forge, we need re-examine the reasons why we took the oath and we must maintain honor and faith. After reading those who came before us preserved at Valley Forge, despite the lack of supplies, I believe we have a responsibility to carry on - no matter how tight things get.

The Continental Army could have begun conducting raids on local villages to feed and clothe themselves, but Washington also knew their cause was long-term. Washington's challenge wasn't just winning the war, but also knew his honor would be judged in the manner in which he fought the fight.

Finally, the Army endured at Valley Forge due to their love of liberty and hope for a better future for their families. With out a doubt, faith played a large role. Washington was reportedly very reticent to express any personal religious views, however, there can be no question his religious convictions guided him through the tumultuous times.

Yes, times are tight, but as a fighting force we've been their before. We have been handed a great gift of freedom and it is our turn to endure and to share this gift just as fellow Americans did seven and eight generations ago. I will never falter, and I will not fail - not on my watch.