Bush and Uncommon Valor Commentary
Col. John H. Wambough, Jr. USAF (Ret.)
George Bush and I were fighter pilots. Lt. Bush flew F-102s in the Air National Guard (ANG) -- 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS); I flew F-105s in combat -- 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS). Both our flying assignments were inherently dangerous -- Lt. Bush's because of the high performance nature of the fighter interceptor aircraft he was flying, the training required to fly the F-102, and the high risks that come with all weather (night and day) intercept missions.
Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic National Committee's Mr. Terry McAuliffe and the anti-war (weak on National Security) left wing of the Democrat Party have relentlessly attacked the service of Lt. Bush and by inference other pilots and service members in the ANG and Reserve forces as cowards and shirkers of responsibility for not being in Vietnam. Their flippant slandering of our Guard and Reserve forces in an effort to discredit President Bush and win an election is beyond the pale. They have no decency left.
Lt. Bush's opportunity to fly jets and serve his country came through the Air National Guard when he was 22 years old. Just like Lt. Bush, my goal as a young man was to fly high performance jet fighter aircraft -- both of us realized our dream. I might have been just a dumb fighter pilot but I don't remember looking ahead (and I'm sure Lt. Bush didn't either) to what missions we could be assigned -- peacetime or wartime. All we wanted to do as young men was to fly these magnificent flying machines (jets) and enjoy the opportunity to serve our country. (Contributing to the Air National Guard's Air Defense mission, Lt. Bush flew hundreds of hours in the F-102 -- the world's first supersonic all-weather jet interceptor aircraft; he served his country protecting the United States.)
Neither Lt. Bush nor I had control over mission assignment, where we would be deployed or how the service would task the units we were assigned. Lt. Bush would have gladly gone to Vietnam or anywhere else his unit was deployed -- but the reality was that young Lt. Bush had no say as to how his unit would be utilized to support our country's National Security interests. I guess you could say such decisions were above our pay grade. Lt. Bush's mission, as a squadron fighter interceptor pilot, was to intercept and destroy enemy aircraft inbound to the United States; for example, Soviet Nuclear Bombers. Remember, we were still in the Cold War in the 1970s with Air Defense a high priority mission. Today our Air Defense forces protect us against aircraft with terrorists onboard.
I can say from my experience that flying operational fighter jets is highly dangerous. People don't strap fighter jets to their backside if they are overly concerned for their future. While in F-105 training at McConnell AFB in early 1968, we lost five aircraft in six weeks (one aircraft crashed in air-to-air combat training; one aircraft crashed on the air-to-ground gunnery range; one crashed on take off; one crashed on final approach at a nearby airfield; and one crashed coming back from a cross-country mission). My nephew was killed while flying a Marine Corp EA-6B Prowler during a low level state-side training mission. I was in a flight where an F-105 pilot was killed while we were training on an air-ground gunnery range. Also, I've been in F -105 and F-111 operational units where a number of pilots were killed while training for their war time mission. We got really good at flying "Missing Man Formations" and doing memorial services for our fallen comrades and their families. I can assure you that Lt. Bush was continuously exposed to similar dangers during all weather scrambles and during training exercises as evidenced by the F-102 pilots killed in his unit.
Cowards (or people who lack courage) don't take on the risks that Lt. Bush did in flying Fighter Interceptor Aircraft. Flying jets in wing formation in the weather and carrying explosive ordnance on board is dangerous work. The pilots in these squadrons (including Lt. Bush) did what their country asked them to do. They performed their assigned mission and did it well. In November 1970, the Commander of the Texas Air National Guard, Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, called Mr. Bush, then 24, "a dynamic outstanding young officer" who stood out as "a top-notch fighter interceptor pilot.""Lt. Bush's skills far exceed his contemporaries," Colonel Killian wrote: "He is a natural leader whom his contemporaries look to for leadership. Lt. Bush is also a good follower with outstanding disciplinary traits and an impeccable military bearing."
As a Fighter Squadron Commander in the Air Force (F ņ 111E aircraft, 55 TFS, Royal Air Force, Upper Heyford, United Kingdom) and having been in fighter squadrons during my career in the Air Force, all I can say is that the young people who make up these squadrons (like Lt. Bush) are the cream of the crop, top performers, talented, courageous and willing to take on any mission challenge presented to them, anytime, anyplace and anywhere. Everyone in a unit realizes that they serve to protect the National Security Interests of the United States and that they can be mobilized -- with short notice -- to deploy anywhere in the world.
During the Vietnam conflict, military pilot training was greatly expanded to accommodate the increased need for pilots. Thousands of pilots were trained during this conflict, primarily to support mission and pilot rotation requirements. F-105, F 4 fighter pilots, and the pilots of other combat aircraft were routinely rotated out of the combat theatre after completing their 100 combat missions. That meant that other pilots needed to be trained to take their place. As the Vietnam conflict began to phase down around 1971, there was a surplus of hundreds of pilots in the U.S. Military, for which there were relatively few flying jobs. Thus, the active duty force as well as ANG and Reserve forces could be very accommodating to those who wanted to pursue alternative career paths (such as Lt. Bush going to Harvard Business School). In fact, these sorts of administrative actions (early releases) helped alleviate the challenges facing the services of a pilot surplus. Also, commanders were lenient in allowing individuals to fulfill their service obligations in ways not involving flying duty. Such arrangements were coordinated at the unit level.
Just as Lt. Bush's supervisor released him from the ANG to go to Harvard, I released a pilot from the Air Force months early (when I was Commander of the 4442nd Tactical Control Group) so he could participate in the pilot hiring cycle of Delta Airlines. I could have held this pilot to the end of his service commitment but chose not to -- since letting him go early created no hardship to our unit. Rather, it gave a pilot (who had served his country well) an immediate opportunity for a future career. I point this fact out so that the public knows that Commanders have the prerogative to make decisions that take into consideration the needs of the Unit and the needs of an individual ready to make a career transition out of the service. Having been a Squadron Commander, I can tell you this -- we know the status of our assigned personnel all the time -- everyone is accounted for. We reported the status of all our squadron personnel daily to a higher level in our organization. Likewise, Lt. Bush's Squadron Commander of 30 plus years ago (Lt. Col. Killian, now deceased), would have known where Lt. Bush was or, at the very least, how to contact him should that have been necessary. The bottom line: Lt. Bush's documented Air National Guard service exceeded the requirements set forth in his Guard contract and Lt. Bush received an Honorable Discharge.
As Lt. Bush completed his flying assignment in April 1972, F-102s were being phased out of the Air National Guard. What we know is that he served honorably; he flew fighter jets; he embraced the inherent high risk of flying an F -102; he served our country; he met his Air National Guard requirements and he received an Honorable Discharge. The attacks on Lt. Bush are designed to diminish Lt. Bush's service to our country in the eyes of our citizens and soldiers some thirty years after Lt. Bush received an Honorable Discharge. This is truly reprehensible and driven by political adversaries like Sen. Kerry, Mr. Terry McAuliffe and their left-wing media surrogates. (Go to cspan.org for the White House Press Briefing with Scott McClellan on 02/10/04 -- the impetus for me to write this letter.)
There is a much bigger story to be told than anything related to Lt. Bush's honorable service to our country. It is the story of a fringe element of the Democrat Party (as represented by Sen. Kerry from Massachusetts and Mr. Terry McAuliffe of the DNC) that will stoop to any depth to obtain political power to include: attacking the motives of our service members (ANG and Reserve); it is a fringe element that is willing to undermine the confidence of our fighting forces in their commander-in-chief in the midst of our global war on terrorism; it is a fringe element that places political power higher on their priority list than U.S. National Security; otherwise, they wouldn't be denigrating and diminishing ANG and Reserve Service in an effort to undermine the credibility of the commander-in-chief of our Armed Forces.
Political leadership should be looking ahead not behind. But since we are looking 30 years behind I will make several comments: (1) I served with true heroes, although none of the guys I served with ever considered themselves heroes -- they just put their butts on the line every day whether flying in operational, combat or training units; (2) Lt. Bush put his butt on the line every time he scrambled on an Air Defense mission. He is a true hero that our soldiers and citizens should be rightfully proud of; and (3) the service of our Guard and Reserve soldiers should never be denigrated or diminished for political purposes or to win an election -- as is being done by Sen. Kerry and Mr. Terry McAuliffe.
Like many veterans of Vietnam, I returned to a country that was, for the most part, unappreciative of the service rendered by our fighting forces. It is sad that this attack on our commander-in-chief results in reopening the feelings and wounds of bygone years, and brings back thoughts of many comrades in arms that never returned to United States -- having given their lives for their country.
Although it is fair to recognize Sen. Kerry's four month war record and medals, it is what he did after leaving the military that deserves the greatest scrutiny. He became a turn coat by misrepresenting to the American public what our soldiers were doing in Southeast Asia. As part of the anti-war movement with Jane Fonda, he maligned, mocked and discredited our soldiers while they were still engaged in battle. He lied about what our soldiers were doing in combat. He defamed our brave fighting men. The ultimate insult our citizens could inflict on the Armed Forces of the United States would be to vote into office (as commander-in-chief) the person who betrayed his comrades in arms while they were still fighting and dying on the battlefield and in air combat.
Further, military people understand that Sen. Kerry has voted against the major weapon systems needed by the military to carry out their mission. Additionally, he has voted against CIA funding of human intelligence needed to preclude attacks on our country (such as 9/11) and protect our citizens and soldiers overseas. Senator Kerry voted for the war in Iraq and then voted against funding the war after our troops were placed in harm's way.
As we all know, since Sept. 11, 2001 our country has been at war with international terrorism. Instead of supporting our national leadership (in taking the battle to our terrorist enemies), a cabal of power-hungry politicians, supported by the liberal media elites and their vitriolic followers, have done everything they can to undermine our war on terror, our troops and the commander-in-chief of our armed forces.
Today we look with pride at our service people who risk their lives everyday for us. I'm grateful that we now have a population that, for the most part, appreciates our armed forces and their efforts to defend us. We need to fully support our soldiers and their president. Our country's success in fighting the war on terror depends on our (1) supporting those that are on the front line protecting us and (2) standing by the president who is taking the battle to the enemy.
We have not been attacked in the United States after 9/11 because we have a president and an administration that have been proactive in going after the national security threats to United States. Just think about how our national security would likely have been handled by the anti-war left of the Democrat party and Sen. Kerry. We would probably still be debating what to do in the United Nations; Afghanistan would likely still be under control of the Taliban; Iraq would still be under the control of Saddam Hussein, and cities in the United States would have come under attack on multiple occasions as terrorist organizations were further emboldened by our meek responses. And it wouldn't be surprising if we were negotiating with al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations to preclude further attacks on our cities.
The question everyone needs to ask themselves before voting in November is: Who do you trust to handle our national security? I trust President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Dr. Condoleezza Rice and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. Who do you trust?