Giving Rather His Due†¦Well, Sort Of

Let’s move beyond the documents for a moment. Okay, the documents were forged and CBS (and the DNC?) dropped the ball big time. This is the sort of thing you’d expect from, ahem, CBS. Anybody who has spent a day in the Air Force or Air National Guard could look at the purported memos and know they’re illegitimate. The Air Force has a manual dictating specific styles and formats for official correspondence entitled Tongue & Quill. From basic airman up the chain to general, it’s uniform. Apparently, former ANG officer Bill Burkett (source of the forged documents, Democrat operative and bona fide Bush hater) misplaced his copy.

But this column will look beyond the ham-handed attempt to discredit President George Bush’s military service. On the heels of the “60 Minutes” story, a panicked Dan Rather offered, “Today, on the internet and elsewhere, some people, including many who are partisan political operatives, concentrated not on the key questions of the overall story, but on the documents that were part of the support of the story.” He went on, “I think the public†¦understand that powerful and well-financed forces are concentrating on questions about the documents because they can’t deny the fundamental truth of the story.”

Fair enough. Let’s look at the overall story then, let’s look beyond Burkett’s handiwork at the Abilene Kinko’s, let’s look at the “fundamental truths.” They are 1) George W. Bush used preferential treatment and influence to land a pilot slot in the Air National Guard and, once in, 2) failed to meet standards by missing a mandatory physical.

Umm, so what? This is the breaking story? This is Dan Rather? This is the elite media. Personally, I’m astonished by the stupidity. Serving in the Clinton Administration as I did from 1996 to 1998, I saw up-close-and-personal just how effective the DNC political machine could be. I witnessed the circling of the wagons on a daily basis. The fact that the Dems are having another document “issue” should come as no surprise. (Where, by the way, has the Sandy Berger classified secrets in pants story gone?) The team of Hillary Clinton, Harold Ickes, Doug Sosnick, Bruce Lindsey, and Joe Lockhart. It was impressive. Now, I watch as the same machine with some of the same players implodes in a series of political gaffes and scandalous behaviors. How the mighty have fallen.

Here’s the reality, here’s where Rather and his big story, regardless of documents, falls well short.

Truth #1 is this: influence has always been, and will always be, used to gain a position in the Guard, the Reserves or active duty. Lieutenant Bush was no different than the other tens of thousands of pilots who entered service at the same time, nor would it be any different applying for a position in today’s Guard. The military is not immune from the forces of influence. I needed several letters of recommendation to realize my ambition of becoming an active duty Air Force pilot. Any young man or woman wanting to be accepted into our country’s military academies at West Point, Annapolis or Colorado Springs is required to appeal for influence in the form of appointment letters from their local congressman or senator. It’s the same influence that large corporations rely on to staff with talented people. No doubt, CBS relies on personal recommendations and referrals for the hiring of their employees. It’s a feckless argument.

More significantly, no one gets a free pass into the cockpit of a high performance military jet, I don’t care who they are or who their father might be. No one. Flying aircraft is a life or death proposition. Pilot training is a highly intense year of graded flights, aircraft simulators, academic tests, “show times” into the wee hours and studying late into the night. It is designed to stress the young pilot candidate to his or her maximum limits. It places the human body in regimes God never intended. It involves speeds faster than sound and forces several times that of normal gravity on the body. It involves formation flying in which your wingman operates another jet in “fingertip” position, just off your wing, in very close proximity, into and out of weather. Nobody who’s ever flown in this regime wants a silver spoon moron operating the jet right next to him with wings overlapping†¦nobody! In fact, General Walter “Buck” Staudt, Bush’s senior-most commander, disavowed any undue influence in the lieutenant’s acceptance into the Guard and made this point, “We were pretty particular because when he came back (from training), we had to fly with him.”

And not everybody makes it to graduation. In my pilot training class of 1983, half of the guys who started with me “washed out” or quit. Some weren’t capable, some couldn’t tolerate the physical requirements, and some didn’t want the stress. We had four aircraft accidents in my 12 months, tragically losing three lives. The night before I graduated from my year in training, a young student on a solo was killed in his final turn to landing, his T-38 crashing just short of the runway. It was a somber conclusion for those of us receiving our silver wings.

Bush began his ANG training in May, 1968. He completed six weeks of basic training, 53 weeks of pilot training, and 21 weeks of aircraft-specific training in the F-102 fighter interceptor. Guardsmen are annually required to complete 50 points (anecdotally known as “events” or “drills”). This equates to an average of a weekend each month. These drills are generally done at the guardsman’s discretion unless the particular unit has been activated by presidential order since most guardsmen and reservists have other job requirements.

Bush accumulated 253 points in his first year and an average of 196 points over the next three years. Bush’s aircraft, the F-102, was not deployed to Vietnam during his years of service. It was a Cold War interceptor, on alert around the clock, with the mission to interdict Soviet bombers should they challenge America’s borders. He could have been deployed at the discretion of the president.

Truth #2: failing to take a flight physical is not tantamount to failing to meet standards. It certainly doesn’t imply a tour to the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, or being AWOL, or escaping to Canada, as Michael Moore and Terry McAuliffe would have us believe. I failed to complete my flight physicals on time twice in my career. None of my commanders ever “ordered” me to do otherwise. Military pilots are not “ordered” to take their annual physical and failing to take one when required is not a failure to meet standards. The truth is this: military pilots are required to take a flight physical once a year and it is due at the completion of the individual’s birth month. Simply put, military pilots are expected to comply if they want to maintain their flying status. If they don’t, they lose their status until said physical is completed. There is no “suspension.” Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Killian’s alleged memo of May 4, 1972, ordering Lieutenant Bush to take his physical by May, 14, is not only false, its beyond the realm of reality. Bush’s birth month is July. He couldn’t have been ordered to have it accomplished early. It wasn’t Air Force regulation. If anything, he would have been told to make it up as soon as he could. Since he was occupying a non-flying billet at the time, there would’ve been little or no urgency.

John Kerry asked for his Navy service commitment to be shortened in 1971 so he could pursue a career in politics. The fact that he immediately went to Paris to meet with Communist officials from North Vietnam while still an officer in the U.S Navy should have been landed him a follow-on tour of duty at Leavenworth. But we digress. George Bush asked for a reassignment to a Guard unit in Alabama so he could assist in a political campaign. He had accumulated 570 hours of flight time to that point in his three years of active service, a very commendable performance coming as it did in fighter interceptors who average about an hour per sortie. Coming as they both did as the Vietnam War was winding down, neither request was unusual.

So, liberal elite media aside, Dan Rather’s twilight career and Bill Burkett’s apparent hatred for Bush notwithstanding, the fundamental truths are the story†¦and they are insignificant. The Swift Boat vets have delivered a devastating blow to Kerry’s campaign and self-proclaimed military heroism. The Dem’s modus operandi is to attack the messenger. In this case, despite the apparent scandal of forged documents, the message is lacking. It’s obvious that the DNC and CBS are looking for a Hail Mary pass. It’s inconsequential and it’s incomplete.


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