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20 Years of PC

Posted by Jolly on September 13, 2011

2011 marks the 100th year of Naval Aviation, and the 20th year of the “Politically Correct” Military.  Most of us equate Tailhook 91 as the beginning of the end for fighter pilots acting like fighter pilots.  Some may argue, and rightly so, that the PC military began long before the Tailhook fiasco.  The Morale Suppression Team targeted more than just US Naval Aviators following Tailhook.  

In the USAF we saw a dramatic change in attitudes toward the Fighter Pilot culture in the 1990s. Politicians like Pat Schroeder went full AB pushing for witch hunts in the middle nineties that declared War on the Fighter Pilot culture.  O-Clubs became vacant on Friday nights and fighter pilot traditions began to fade away into the sunset.  We were viewed as immature kids, not warriors blowing off steam.  These traditions that were being snuffed out were created by Men flying combat missions far away from home, looking for ways to relieve the tensions of war.

I had this article forwarded to me by Metz from Proceedings Magazine, September 2011.  It is written by a former Secretary of the Navy, John Lehman.  Mr. Lehman does a commendable job laying out the history behind the first 100 years of Naval Aviation and the effects of the PC movement on the Warrior Culture.  The article is a must read for the student body at Fighter Pilot University.  

Proceedings Magazine - September 2011 Vol. 137/9/1,303
by John Lehman

The swaggering-flyer mystique forged over the past century has been stymied in
recent years by political correctness.

We celebrate the 100th anniversary of U.S. naval aviation this year, but the
culture that has become legend was born in controversy, with battleship admirals
and Marine generals seeing little use for airplanes. Even after naval aviators
proved their worth in World War I, naval aviation faced constant conflict
within the Navy and Marine Corps, from the War Department, and from skeptics in
Congress. Throughout the interwar period, its culture was forged largely unnoted
by the public.

It first burst into the American consciousness 69 years ago when a few carrier
aviators changed the course of history at the World War II Battle of Midway. For
the next three years the world was fascinated by these glamorous young men who,
along with the Leathernecks, dominated the newsreels of the war in the Pacific.
Most were sophisticated and articulate graduates of the Naval Academy and the
Ivy League, and as such they were much favored for Pathé News interviews and War Bond tours. Their casualty rates from accidents and combat were far higher than other branches of the naval service, and aviators were paid nearly a third more
than non-flying shipmates. In typical humor, a pilot told one reporter:  “We don’t make more money, we just make it faster.”

Landing a touchy World War II fighter on terra firma was difficult enough, but
to land one on a pitching greasy deck required quite a different level of skill
and sangfroid. It took a rare combination of hand-eye coordination, innate
mechanical sense, instinctive judgment, accurate risk assessment, and most of
all, calmness under extreme pressure. People with such a rare combination of
talents will always be few in number. The current generation of 9-G jets
landing at over 120 knots hasn’t made it any easier.

Little wonder that poker was a favorite recreation and gallows humor the norm.
In his book Crossing the Line, Professor Alvin Kernan recounts when his TBF had
a bad launch off the USS Suwanee (CVE-27) in 1945. He was trying desperately to
get out of the sinking plane as the escort carrier sped by a few feet away.
Looking up, he saw the face of his shipmate, Cletus Powell (who had just won
money from him playing blackjack), leaning out of a porthole shouting “Kernan,
you don’t have to pay. Get out, get out for God’s sake.”  No wonder such men had
a certain swagger that often irritated their non-flying brothers in arms.

Louis Johnson’s Folly

By war’s end more than 100 carriers were in commission. But when Louis Johnson
replaced the first Secretary of Defense, Jim Forrestal—himself one of the
original naval aviators in World War I—he tried to eliminate both the Marine
Corps and naval aviation. By 1950 Johnson had ordered the decommissioning of
all but six aircraft carriers. Most historians count this as one of the
important factors in bringing about the invasion of South Korea, supported by
both China and the Soviet Union. After that initial onslaught, no land airbases
were available for the Air Force to fight back, and all air support during those
disastrous months came from the USS Valley Forge (CV-45), the only carrier left
in the western Pacific. She was soon joined by the other two carriers remaining
in the Pacific.

Eventually enough land bases were recovered to allow the Air Force to engage in
force, and more carriers were recommissioned, manned by World War II vets
hastily recalled to active duty. James Michener’s The Bridges at Toko-Ri and
Admiral James Holloway’s Aircraft Carriers at War together capture that moment
perfectly. Only later was it learned that many of the enemy pilots were
battle-hardened Russian veterans of World War II.

By the time of the armistice, the Cold War was well under way, and for the next
43 years, naval aviation was at the leading edge of the conflict around the
globe. As before, aviators suffered very high casualties throughout. Training
and operational accidents took a terrible toll. Jet fighters on straight decks
operating without the sophisticated electronics or reliable ejection seats that
evolved in later decades had to operate come hell or high water as one crisis
followed another in the Taiwan Strait, Cuba, and many lesser-known fronts.
Between 1953 and 1957, hundreds of naval aviators were killed in an average of
1,500 crashes per year, while others died when naval intelligence gatherers like
the EC-121 were shot down by North Koreans, Soviets, and Chinese. In those
years carrier aviators had only a one-in-four chance of surviving 20 years of service.

Vietnam and the Cold War

The Vietnam War was an unprecedented feat of endurance, courage, and frustration in ten years of constant combat. Naval aviators flew against the most sophisticated Soviet defensive systems and highly trained and effective Vietnamese pilots.  But unlike any previous conflict, they had to operate under crippling political restrictions, well known to the enemy. Antiaircraft missiles and guns were placed in villages and other locations known to be immune from attack. The kinds of targets that had real strategic value were protected while hundreds of aviators’ lives and thousands of aircraft were lost attacking easily rebuilt bridges and “suspected truck parks,” as the U.S. government indulged its academic game theories.

Stephen Coonts’ Flight of the Intruder brilliantly expressed the excruciating
frustration from this kind of combat. During that period, scores of naval
aviators were killed or taken prisoner. More than 100 squadron commanders and
executive officers were lost. The heroism and horror of the POW experience for
men such as John McCain and Jim Stockdale were beyond anything experienced since the war with Japan.

Naturally, when these men hit liberty ports, and when they returned to their
bases between deployments, their partying was as intense as their combat. The
legendary stories of Cubi Point, Olongapo City, and the wartime Tailhook
conventions in Las Vegas grew with each passing year.

Perhaps the greatest and least known contribution of naval aviation was its role
in bringing the Cold War to a close. President Ronald Reagan believed that the
United States could win the Cold War without combat. Along with building the B-1
and B-2 bombers and the Peacekeeper missile, and expanding the Army to 18
divisions, President Reagan built the 600-ship Navy and, more important,
approved the Navy recommendation to begin at once pursuing a forward strategy of
aggressive exercising around the vulnerable coasts of Russia. This demonstrated
to the Soviets that we could defeat the combined Warsaw Pact navies and use the
seas to strike and destroy their vital strategic assets with carrier-based air power.

Nine months after the President’s inauguration, three U.S. and two Royal Navy
carriers executed offensive exercises in the Norwegian Sea and Baltic. In this
and subsequent massive exercises there and in the northwest Pacific carried out
every year, carrier aircraft proved that they could operate effectively in ice
and fog, penetrate the best defenses, and strike all of the bases and nodes of
the Soviet strategic nuclear fleet. Subsequent testimony from members of the
Soviet General Staff attested that this was a major factor in the deliberations
and the loss of confidence in the Soviet government that led to its collapse.
During those years naval aviation adapted to many new policies, the removal of
the last vestiges of institutional racial discrimination, and the first winging
of women as naval aviators and their integration into ships and squadrons.

"Break the Culture"

1991 marked the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the end of the Cold War. But
as naval aviation shared in this triumph, the year also marked the start of tragedy.
The Tailhook Convention that took place in September that year began a
scandal with a negative impact on naval aviation that continues to this day.
The over-the-top parties of combat aviators were overlooked during the Vietnam
War but had become accidents waiting to happen in the postwar era.
Whatever the facts of what took place there, it set off investigations within
the Navy, the Department of Defense, the Senate, and the House that were beyond
anything since the investigations and hearings regarding the Pearl Harbor
attack. Part of what motivated this grotesquely disproportionate witch hunt was
pure partisan politics and the deep frustration of Navy critics (and some
envious begrudgers within the Navy) of the glamorous treatment accorded to the
Navy and its aviators in Hollywood and the media, epitomized by the movie Top Gun.

Patricia Schroeder (D-CO), chair of the House Armed Services Committee
investigation, declared that her mission was to “break the culture,” of naval
aviation. One can make the case that she succeeded.

What has changed in naval aviation since Tailhook?

First, we should review the social/cultural, and then professional changes.
Many but not all were direct results of Tailhook.

‘De-Glamorization’ of Alcohol

Perhaps in desperation, the first reaction of Pentagon leadership to the
congressional witch hunt was to launch a massive global jihad against alcohol,
tellingly described as “de-glamorization.” While alcohol was certainly a factor
in the Tailhook scandal, it was absolutely not a problem for naval aviation as
a whole. There was no evidence that there were any more aviators with an alcohol
problem than there were in the civilian population, and probably a good deal fewer.

As a group, naval aviators have always been fastidious about not mixing alcohol
and flying. But social drinking was always a part of off-duty traditional
activities like hail-and-farewell parties and especially the traditional Friday
happy hour. Each Friday on every Navy and Marine air station, most aviators not
on duty turned up at the officers’ club at 1700 to relax and socialize, tell bad
jokes, and play silly games like “dead bug.” But there was also an invaluable
professional function, because happy hours provided a kind of sanctuary where
junior officers could roll the dice with commanders, captains, and admirals, ask
questions that could never be asked while on duty, listen avidly to the war
stories of those more senior, and absorb the lore and mores of the warrior tribe.

When bounds of decorum were breached, or someone became over-refreshed, as
occasionally happened, they were usually taken care of by their peers. Only in
the worst cases would a young junior officer find himself in front of the
skipper on Monday morning. Names like Mustin Beach, Trader Jon’s, Miramar, and
Oceana were a fixed part of the culture for anyone commissioned before 1991. A
similar camaraderie took place in the chiefs’ clubs, the acey-deucy clubs, and
the sailors’ clubs.

Now all that is gone. Most officers’ and non-commissioned officers’ clubs were
closed and happy hours banned. A few clubs remain, but most have been turned
into family centers for all ranks and are, of course, empty. No officers dare to
be seen with a drink in their hand. The JOs do their socializing as far away
from the base as possible, and all because the inquisitors blamed the abuses of
Tailhook ’91 on alcohol abuse. It is fair to say that naval aviation was slow to
adapt to the changes in society against alcohol abuse and that corrections were
overdue, especially against tolerance of driving while under the influence.

But once standards of common sense were ignored in favor of political correctness,
there were no limits to the spread of its domination. Not only have alcohol infractions anonymously reported on the hot-line become career-enders,
but suspicions of sexual harassment, homophobia, telling of risqué jokes, and
speech likely to offend favored groups all find their way into fitness reports.
And if actual hot-line investigations are then launched, that is usually the end
of a career, regardless of the outcome. There is now zero-tolerance for any
missteps in these areas.

Turning Warriors into Bureaucrats

On the professional side, it is not only the zero-tolerance of infractions of
political correctness but the smothering effects of the explosive growth of
bureaucracy in the Pentagon. When the Department of Defense was created in 1947, the headquarters staff was limited to 50 billets. Today, 750,000 full time
equivalents are on the headquarters staff. This has gradually expanded the time
and cost of producing weapon systems, from the 4 years from concept to
deployment of Polaris, to the projected 24 years of the F-35.

But even more damaging, these congressionally created new bureaucracies are
demanding more and more meaningless paperwork from the operating forces.
According to the most recent rigorous survey, each Navy squadron must prepare
and submit some 780 different written reports annually, most of which are never
read by anyone but still require tedious gathering of every kind of statistic
for every aspect of squadron operations. As a result, the average aviator spends
a very small fraction of his or her time on duty actually flying.

Job satisfaction has steadily declined. In addition to paperwork, the
bureaucracy now requires officers to attend mandatory courses in sensitivity to
women’s issues, sensitivity and integration of openly homosexual personnel, and
how to reintegrate into civilian society when leaving active duty. This of
course is perceived as a massive waste of time by aviators, and is offensive to
them in the inherent assumption that they are no longer officers and gentlemen
but coarse brutes who will abuse women and gays, and not know how to dress or
hold a fork in civilian society unless taught by GS-12s.

One of the greatest career burdens added to naval aviators since the Cold War
has been the Goldwater-Nichols requirement to have served at least four years of
duty on a joint staff to be considered for flag, and for junior officers to have
at least two years of such joint duty even to screen for command. As a result,
the joint staffs in Washington and in all the combatant commands have had to be
vastly increased to make room. In addition, nearly 250 new Joint Task Force
staffs have been created to accommodate these requirements. Thus, when thinking
about staying in or getting out, young Navy and Marine aviators look forward to
far less flight time when not deployed, far more paperwork, and many years of
boring staff duty.

Zero-Tolerance Is Intolerable

Far more damaging than bureaucratic bloat is the intolerable policy of
“zero-tolerance” applied by the Navy and the Marine Corps. One strike, one
mistake, one DUI, and you are out. The Navy has produced great leaders
throughout its history. In every era the majority of naval officers are
competent but not outstanding. But there has always been a critical mass of fine
leaders. They tended to search for and recognize the qualities making up the
right stuff, as young JOs looked up the chain and emulated the top leaders,
while the seniors in turn looked down and identified and mentored youngsters
with promise.

By nature, these kinds of war-winning leaders make mistakes when they are young
and need guidance—and often protection from the system. Today, alas, there is
much evidence that this critical mass of such leaders is being lost. Chester
Nimitz put his whole squadron of destroyers on the rocks by making mistakes.
But while being put in purgatory for a while, he was protected by those seniors
who recognized a potential great leader. In today’s Navy, Nimitz would be gone.
Any seniors trying to protect him would themselves be accused of a career-ending cover-up.

Because the best aviators are calculated risk-takers, they have always been
particularly vulnerable to the system. But now in the age of political
correctness and zero-tolerance, they are becoming an endangered species.
Today, a young officer with the right stuff is faced on commissioning with
making a ten-year commitment if he or she wants to fly, which weeds out some
with the best potential. Then after winging and an operational squadron tour,
they know well the frustrations outlined here. They have seen many of their
role models bounced out of the Navy for the bad luck of being breathalyzed after
two beers, or allowing risqué forecastle follies.

‘Dancing on the Edge of a Cliff’

They have not seen senior officers put their own careers on the line to prevent
injustice. They see before them at least 14 years of sea duty, interspersed with
six years of bureaucratic staff duty in order to be considered for flag rank.
And now they see all that family separation and sacrifice as equal to dancing
on the edge of a cliff. One mistake or unjust accusation, and they are over.

They can no longer count on a sea-daddy coming to their defense.
Today, the right kind of officers with the right stuff still decide to stay for
a career, but many more are putting in their letters in numbers that make a
critical mass of future stellar leaders impossible. In today’s economic
environment, retention numbers look okay, but those statistics are misleading.
Much hand-wringing is being done among naval aviators (active-duty, reserve, and
retired) about the remarkable fact that there has only been one aviator chosen
as Chief of Naval Operations during the past 30 years. For most of the last
century there were always enough outstanding leaders among aviators,
submariners, and surface warriors to ensure a rough rotation among the
communities when choosing a CNO. The causes of this sudden change are not hard to see. Vietnam aviator losses severely thinned the ranks of leaders and
mentors; Tailhook led to the forced or voluntary retirement of more than 300
carrier aviators, including many of the finest, like Bob Stumpf, former skipper
of the Blue Angels.

There are, of course, the armchair strategists and think-tankers who herald the
arrival of unmanned aerial vehicles as eliminating the need for naval aviators
and their culture, since future naval flying will be done from unified bases in
Nevada, with operators requiring a culture rather closer computer geeks.
This is unlikely.

As the aviator culture fades from the Navy, what is being lost?

Great naval leaders have and will come from each of the communities,
and have absorbed virtues from all of them. But each of the three communities
has its unique cultural attributes. Submariners are imbued with the precision
of engineering mastery and the chess players’ adherence to the disciplines of the long game; surface sailors retain the legacy of John Paul Jones, David G. Farragut and Arleigh “31 Knot” Burke, and have been the principal repository of strategic
thinking and planning. Aviators have been the principal source of offensive
thinking, best described by Napoleon as “L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace!”
(Audacity, audacity, always audacity!)

Those attributes of naval aviators—willingness to take intelligent calculated
risk, self-confidence, even a certain swagger—that are invaluable in wartime are
the very ones that make them particularly vulnerable in today’s zero-tolerance
Navy. The political correctness thought police, like Inspector Javert in Les
Misérables, are out to get them and are relentless.

The history of naval aviation is one of constant change and challenge. While the
current era of bureaucracy and political correctness, with its new requirements
of integrating women and openly gay individuals, is indeed challenging, it can
be dealt with without compromising naval excellence. But what does truly
challenge the future of the naval services is the mindless pursuit of
zero-tolerance. A Navy led by men and women who have never made a serious
mistake will be a Navy that will fail.

Dr. Lehman was the 65th Secretary of the Navy and a member of the 9/11 Commission.

Not to worry Dr. Lehman, Fighter Pilots Never Quit!


Posted by Jolly on
Got this from Lynn:

Hi Jolly

There were always a few politically correct people in a unit but we just poured beer on their bald heads when they became obnoxious.

I am glad that I flew when the spirit was still there and people left us alone.


Lynn Garrison
Posted by Jolly on
Got this from Sieg:

Outstanding article, Jolly! Thanks. I submit, however, Secretary Lehman engaged in a bit of PCness when he failed to mention, the actual beginning of the downfall of the aviator culture began when women became military pilots.
Posted by MickCooper on
From Mick:

Magnificant article, Jolly. Reading this was worth all the other things I've seen on FU. The part that makes me sad, though, is that I had hoped that the Navy and Marines had retained some of the original fighter pilot attitude that the Air Force has lost in its hard-over swing into political correctness with its loss of 'O' Clubs, loss of Friday night beer calls, loss of "dead bug", losss of real Dining Inns, and all the other things that made military life worth living -- besides the flying, of course.
Posted by Jolly on
Got this from Paul M:

Great post Jolly! couldn't agree more, but I am in awe of the warriors fighting in Afghanistan today (read "Lone Survivor" for an excellent account) On a side note, I remember few years back sitting next to a sweet old lady on a d/h flight who saw I was a pilot for Airline X. She said i might know her son-in-law. I said, yes, I'm sure with 4700 of us I do (right?) Well, her son-in-law is Bob Stumpf, and she regaled me with 2 hours of rants against "the wicked witch of the west," Pat Schroeder. She was funny as hell, too!
Posted by Jolly on
Got this e-mail this morning with a follow up article from some clown in the Washington Times, seems some in the Navy don't think PC is a problem...... REALLY?????

Ex-Secretary Says Navy Aviation Needs Swagger

Political correctness culture gives Lehman a sinking feeling

By Rowan Scarborough, The Washington Times

The Navy's former top civilian has rocked the service in a military journal article by accusing officials of sinking the storied naval air branch into a sea of political correctness.

Former Navy Secretary John Lehman, himself a former carrier-based aviator, wrote that the swagger and daring of yesterday's culture has given way to a focus on integrating women and, this year, gays.

Pilots constantly worry about anonymous complaints about salty language, while squadron commanders are awash in bureaucratic requirements for reports and statistics, he added.

"Those attributes of naval aviators - willingness to take intelligent calculated risk, self-confidence, even a certain swagger - that are invaluable in wartime are the very ones that make them particularly vulnerable in today's zero-tolerance Navy," said Mr. Lehman, who led the Navy in the Reagan administration.

"The political-correctness thought police, like Inspector Javert in 'Les Miserables,' are out to get them and are relentless."

Navy pilots have complained privately for years that a post-Tailhook Convention push to clean up conduct by aviators went too far.

The 1991 Las Vegas convention has stood as a black mark for the Navy because some naval aviators engaged in lewd escapades and excessive drinking.

An ensuing Pentagon investigation ballooned into one of the government's most extensive probes, as scores of officers were targeted and had their careers shortened. Feminists used the scandal to demand a change in Navy culture.

Now, Mr. Lehman, a New York investor who served as a bombardier navigator in A-6 Intruders, has aired in public what active-duty pilots dare not say.

His lengthy article adorns the home page of the magazine Proceedings, a forum for active-duty and retired personnel on naval issues. Proceedings is published by the U.S. Naval Institute, an independent association located at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

"Once standards of common sense were ignored in favor of political correctness, there were no limits to the spread of its domination," Mr. Lehman wrote.

"Not only have alcohol infractions anonymously reported on the hot line become career-enders, but suspicions of sexual harassment, homophobia, telling of risque jokes, and speech likely to offend favored groups all find their way into fitness reports.

"And if actual hot-line investigations are then launched, that is usually the end of a career, regardless of the outcome. There is now zero tolerance for any missteps in these areas."

The Lehman broadside coincides with the celebrations this year at military bases across the country of the 100th anniversary of naval aviation.

That celebration, too, got caught up this year in charges of political correctness. The foundation in charge of anniversary events posted a history online that emphasized women and minority advancement in naval air.

It virtually ignored the major air battles of World War II and Vietnam, where the role of aircraft-carrier operations gained prominence. A number of retired aviators protested, prompting the foundation to pull the presentation and write a new one.

Then there was the case of Capt. Owen Honors. The Navy fired him as commanding officer of the carrier USS Enterprise, after onboard raunchy videos he produced in 2006 and 2007 as morale boosters became public. Again, the Navy's critics leveled charges of political correctness.

Also this year, some aviators circulated a rogue uniform patch depicting the naval aviation culture as dead.

The Lehman article has stirred emotions on both sides of the debate.

A spokesman for Naval Air Forces Atlantic in Norfolk, Va., declined to comment, but the Navy is pushing back.

At the Tailhook Association's annual convention in Reno, Nev., this month, some active-duty admirals expressed their displeasure with Mr. Lehman's allegations, according to a retired flier who attended.

Some current aviators are defending the Navy's "officer-and-a-gentleman" push.

Lt. Christopher "Chandler" Moran, who identified himself as an eight-year naval aviator, posted a comment on Proceedings vouching for the current culture.

"Yes, perhaps we have some training that seems like a waste of time, but I'm not sure what exactly is wrong with being respectful of people who weren't previously allowed into the community," Lt. Moran wrote.

"Yes, perhaps some people who might have been good leaders are no longer in the community, ... but to say that the community is worse off is to marginalize all of the new members of the community.

"And trust me, regardless of who you are or what you believe in, you still need a thick skin in naval aviation," he added.

"You will get made fun of regardless of who you are. Women know this, homosexuals know this, everyone knows this. That part of the culture will not change.

"To assume that every women gets offended at every joke is not only ridiculous, but is rude to women. Respect is the real issue, and should we naval aviators not be called to a high level of respect."

Most posts agreed with Mr. Lehman.

A retired officer wrote that Lt. Moran's post was "filled with feminine hyperbole and the fruits of political correctness."

Jon Ault, a retired F-14 Tomcat pilot, said Mr. Lehman is publicly airing what a lot of fliers think but can't say.

"This country needs the 'hot shots,' the warriors, the big egos, the guys who are awarded medals of honor for running into, not away from, conflict." he told The Washington Times.

"As much as people hate us during peacetime, and as much as they love the daring bravado during times of strife, the need for such men will always be there.

"If we continue to suppress the warrior spirit, there will be no one left to defend the Constitution of the United States and we shall perish as a nation."
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