Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Air Force runs into public relations messes

Things haven’t been so hot for the U.S. Air Force recently, what with a basic training sergeant getting 20 years for sexually abusing female recruits and the wild and weird story of a C-17 that landed at a small civilian airport in Florida, apparently by mistake.

I feel sorry for the “Airedales” because I once dreamed of being in the Air Force. To me, it was the “wild blue yonder” service, and when I was in the Marines and saw how the Air Force guys lived (nicely) I wondered if I should have tried harder and joined the Air Force.

In the case of the abusive sergeant, it really is hard to feel any sympathy for the trainers who abused their authority to get their pleasures from female recruits. They damaged the Air Force, impaired readiness and short-circuited the careers of the women for their own nefarious benefit.

Staff Sgt. Luis Walker tried everything to avoid his just deserts for his crimes, begging for leniency in a letter, crying in court, whipping out his wife and kids, and pleading the need to guide his sons, but court-martials have little tolerance for those who try to push the buttons. The next 20 years of his life will be quite different from the past few years, as he adjusts to military prison’s routines.

As for his wife and kids, he should have thought of them before he embarked on his bad behavior. Sometimes, “I’m sorry” isn’t enough, and the waterworks don’t impress anyone.

I once wrote, after a scandal involving male Army trainers who had sex with female trainees, that it was dangerous in the military environment to give male trainers so much authority and control over women, and that abuses were nearly inevitable. I had thought that the sight of a man giving a speech to fellow soldiers on the need to behave might have an effect, especially if the soldier giving the talk was now a private, and his sleeves bore the dark imprints of the rank insignia that once was worn on them.

I guess sergeants need more persuading.

A long time from now, when Walker leaves his military prison cell for the last time, he will have no money, no rank, no status, no VA benefits, nothing. If it were up to me, after his trial I would have ripped those service ribbons off his chest and torn off that rank insignia. He is a disgrace to that uniform, and he won’t need them where he’s going.

The other trainers charged probably will face the same terrible ordeal. They may gripe that they’re being made an example of, but that’s too bad. Judgment among NCOs is essential, and when an NCO shows bad judgment, he or she must be removed immediately from authority to maintain the credibility of the command.

Oops, wrong airport?
The news seemed hard to believe at the time. I had heard that an Air Force transport had landed at Peter O. Knight Airport, a small general aviation field on Davis Islands near St. Petersburg, but initially thought it might have been a small twin-engine prop plane that the military uses as a transport.

It’s entirely possible for pilots to mistake Knight field for MacDill Air Force Base, but squeezing a giant C-17 on that short runway? Well, for the flight crew, which probably will never touch the controls of any flying machine again, it was their last – and best – landing. They must have worn the plane’s brakes down to nothing to get stopped before running off the end.

On a video someone shot, you can hear the howling roar of reverse thrust as the plane tries to slow down. I wonder: When did they realize they were not landing on an 11,000-foot runway at MacDill but a 3,400-foot runway? Or did they wonder why there were so many civilian airplanes at a military base in these times of heightened security? Or why the runway was so narrow?

It’s all a big mystery.

The one big danger of landing on a runway that’s too short is that while you can get stopped in time – I read about that when I was getting my license – you might not be able to take off because the runway is too darn short.

After the people on the plane and its cargo were unloaded, the plane – with a different flight crew – managed to get off the runway and fly the hop to MacDill, probably with just enough fuel to get there.

Unlike Walker, I kind of feel for the flight crew. As we used to say in the Marines (more colorfully), they are in a world of doo-doo now, and I bet that a lot of people with scary looking rank insignia are asking them some really tough questions right about now.

The pilot and co-pilot probably are wondering if it’s time to give up the commission and go back to civilian life. I don’t think they’ll face a court-martial, but all it takes nowadays is one mistake to ruin a career in the military. The Navy has shown little tolerance, too, of screw-ups with its expensive hardware.

Wrecking your career, Navy style
While thinking about Walker’s case, by the way, I was reminded of a scene in a 2006 documentary about an aircraft carrier’s deployment. There was a lot of frustration because the ship’s planes did not drop a single bomb in its Iraq support service (that time), but the biggest event probably happened before the ship even entered the Indian Ocean.

A film crew had been following this one petty officer first class, and he was basking in the adulation of being named the top sailor in the squadron of ships heading to the combat zone and was on his way to being a chief petty officer. That is, until he hooked up with a female E-3, had sex with her and ended up going to captain’s mast.

She at first said it was rape, then said it was consensual, and they both were shown being inspected while on “restricted” duty on the ship after it left Hong Kong. The woman was hardly an example of the Navy’s finest, and I would have ejected her from the service just for being stupid, a fact she had already demonstrated.

As for the petty officer, he managed to destroy his reputation, the respect of his superiors, his future advancement (no promotions for five years, and zero chance of ever making chief petty officer) and his responsibilities. Ironically, he was supposed to be the sexual assault victim counselor if a female sailor was sexually assaulted on liberty.

As he noted, all his plaudits and awards were meaningless, and he was just another crewman on the boat. He tried to blame booze, but the reality was he just fubarred his career, pure, plain and simple.

Such punishments may seem harsh, but in the military people need to realize it’s not a game, it’s reality. Most folks make it through their military careers without getting into trouble, but those who choose to misbehave are and were an object lesson for us all.


July 22, 2012 - Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , , , ,

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