Once upon a time, the American fighting man was revered and respected. Desert Storm validated the professional military and the effectiveness of our military forces. Our military was built on technical excellence and promotion of the most fit for duty. In my own experience as an F-15 pilot, I saw how this played out in one of America’s premier fighter units. From afar, I have watched this system be destroyed from within.
One of the stories from World War II that sticks with me is when General Patton slapped the soldier for cowardice. He did not do so in malice, but to set a standard. Patton was fired for the incident, yet the message was one that from top to bottom, American fighting men had to be warriors.
The Air Force Academy was built around that warrior spirit. Those in the first classes saw Greatest Generation in their youth and just missed the Korean War as teens. They served in the very beginning of the Cold War and everyone understood the importance of their service. They and the classes they commanded at the Academy were the first to fight in Vietnam. Classes in the late 60s and early 70s graduated, attended pilot training, and went off to combat. In the early 80s, President Reagan gave graduates a new sense of patriotism. This was my generation.
The Class of 1986 graduated just short of 1000 new officers. We were not “recognized” until graduation week. This is the period where freshmen, doolies, were required to walk everywhere at attention, be prepared for upperclassmen questions, like days to graduation or Schofield’s quote, and drop for pushups for “gazing” at upperclassmen. We endured a Hell Week that sent hundreds of our classmates to the hospital. Some might have called this hazing, but it was a right of passage. It tested our willingness to preserve to achieve a goal. I was a terrible cadet and tried to quit twice in my freshman year. But for my officer commander, “Captain America”, a West Point grad we all feared, I would have. In the end this whole experience equipped me for combat and adversity in civilian life.
As an F-15 pilot, I flew over 420 hours in Desert Shield/Desert Storm. My superior training, and fortitude afforded me by the difficult Academy experience, allow me to function in combat at the highest levels. We flew missions over Iraq from Day 1, encountering surface-to-air threats, in addition to Iraqi MiG-29s. Later we dragged a KC-10 into southern Iraq, so that our 4-ship could chase down a high value asset being escorted by 8 MiG-29s. Ironically, the most terrifying night was refueling amid thunderstorms, resulting in vertigo. It took every ounce of my willpower to convince my subconscious that I was flying right side up. All this I attribute to my days at the Academy.
My squadron did not tolerate pilots, who despite technical competence, yet lacked the warrior spirit. One of my early F-15 instructors, Mongo, told us we should kill something every day, even a fly, to hone our killer instincts. Many reading this will think this sounds insane. It is the very essence of the warrior spirit that all combat unit members will understand. Every unit has their traditions. Those incapable of internalizing the warrior ethos are moved on.
Fast forward 30 years to 2016. I returned to the Academy for a reunion. I had for years told my wife about stories of walking the strips on the terrazzo and interrogations by upperclassmen at Mitchell Hall. Almost immediately, I sense something was off. It was only September, and I didn’t see any doolies marching along at attention. Then we went to Mitch’s and freshmen were getting the food first, rather than the upperclassmen. We were told they need to make sure the doolies were getting proper nutrition. Then they started talking amongst themselves. My wife did not believe my stories any longer. Later we were told by the Superintendent, LTG Michele Johnson, that kids today did not have the same sense of honor and we now had to be mindful of their feelings. My classmate, Todd Wood stood up and asked something to the effect “what do our enemies care about their feelings”.
It had all begun to go wrong with the previous Superintendent, LTG Mike Gould, who declared that diversity was critical to unit cohesion. Since when do your squadronmates or foxhole buddy care about diversity? What about his ability?
At the time, I had hoped this was an aberration, and with the election of a president who cared about America, we would see a reversal of course. Despite his best attempts, President Trump was resisted by those who had been promoted by President Obama at every turn. And once Trump was out of office, the new President Biden began to unwind the limited progress that President Trump had made.
Those leaders in the new diversity first culture have been tested in combat and found wanting. From operational mishaps to the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, these “leaders” have failed. There are good men and women serving today, but new leaders from the military academies and those in senior leadership are ill prepared. They are more worried about gender pronouns than the enemy at our doorstep, Communist China.
A USAFA grad, Brent flew F-15 combat missions during Operation Desert Storm. After completing his service, Brent immigrated to Israel, where he was drafted into IAF active service.