CMSAF Arthur “Bud” L. Andrews
Arthur “Bud” Andrews was born on 9 March 1934 to a loving mother and a father who “was a disciplinarian in the true sense of the word.” He was raised in Boston with two sisters and a brother and attended the Cathedral of Holy Cross, Bancroft, and Rice public schools, and the English high school. In 1953 Andrews decided he “wanted to show at least my parents, especially my father, that I could do something, hold a job, and become something,” so he enlisted in the Air Force.
Andrews served four years as an air policeman before separating following his initial enlistment. A year later he enlisted again and served tours at Shaw AFB, South Carolina; Kadena AB, Japan; Ubon Royal Thai AFB, Thailand; and Tyndall AFB, Florida. As a technical sergeant assigned to Tyndall, Andrews began his first of 10 years as a first sergeant, a job he called “one of the most rewarding jobs in my career.”
Gen. Lew Allen Jr. selected Andrews to be the 7th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force (CMSAF) in the summer of 1981. During his tenure, Andrews challenged NCOs to focus on the Airmen they led and to care for them and their families. He focused on cultural changes, believing it was time for Airmen to “think ‘we’ instead of me, me, me.” He also traveled extensively, believing it was important for the CMSAF to hear from Airmen firsthand. Andrews retired from the Air Force on 31 July 1983 but continued to motivate and encourage Airmen by serving as the deputy executive director for public relations in the Air Force Sergeants Association’s international headquarters. He passed away on 26 October 1996 after complications from heart surgery.
The Air Force Historical Research Center interviewed Andrews in September of 1986. During the interview, Andrews discussed his experience as an air police investigator, his passion for the position of first sergeant, and the importance of education for enlisted Airmen. The following are edited excerpts from the conversation.
To begin the interview this morning, Chief Andrews, I would like to know about your early military service. Why did you join?
My driving force, as I look back on it, to join the service was patriotism and that type of thing, but I think there was a mood around the people I hung around with that that was the thing to do.
Down deep, my own personal feelings, which I don’t know that I mentioned it to anybody until now, were I just didn’t want to hang around the corner, smoking cigarettes, whistling at the girls, and getting an odd job here and there. I wanted to make something of myself. In fact, I wanted to show at least my parents, especially my father, that I could do something, hold a job, and become something. Now, bear in mind, I had no intentions—absolutely none—except to serve four years and get out, and I did. I served four years. That was it, and I got out.
I finished my tour [at Fairfield Air Force Station (AFS), California], which was, I think, 18 months or two years, and I got out. I had a 1949 Cadillac. People say, “Oh, that’s a classic.” Well, in those days it wasn’t a classic. It was just a plain old simple used car. I can’t believe it, even to this day; that Cadillac did not have a heater in it. I left on the 20th or the 21st of January in 1957 and drove through the Mojave Desert and Needles [California] and Flagstaff [Arizona]. I ran out of gas and money in Wichita Falls, Texas. [Laughter] This is as true as true can be. I went into a motel, not an elaborate one, just a motel, and I stayed there. I got up, and I looked for a job every day. There’s a great golfer by the name of Lee Trevino, and I heard him say one time that you don’t know what pressure is until you are making a $2 putt and you don’t have $2 to pay when you lose. Now that’s pressure. I would like to mention to Lee Trevino that I think what pressure is, is to have a hotel room, or a motel room in my case, no money to pay for it, and getting up every day and looking for a job, hoping to pay for it at the end of the week.
[A year later], I went back to Boston, Massachusetts, and again I stayed with my sister and brother-in-law for about three months. One day I woke up—and I knew I was going to do it—left the house early in the morning, went to the [South] Boston Army Base in south Boston, and said, “I do.” I reenlisted. I lost a stripe because I had been out over 90 days, or 89 days I think it was in those days, and it was almost 14 months. I came home and told my mother after I had done it. [Laughter] She said, “You shouldn’t have done it. You should stay.” I had put my application in for the state police job. I waited, and I waited, and I didn’t get any response or notification, so I kind of got a little discouraged. I just had to have something to do. I made the decision that I had better do it now, so I went and reenlisted.
When you went in the first time, what career field were you in?
That was really a bucket of worms. Some people are mechanically inclined, and some people cannot change a tire. I’m almost to that point. I am not mechanically inclined. I’m sorry; I cannot. I can change a tire, but I just can’t do mechanical things and take engines apart and put them back together again. I don’t understand it, but that’s what I qualified for, at least in those days. You really never knew what you were qualified for. To this day, I don’t believe it was what you were really best suited for. It was really— and I’m not saying this was wrong—but it was the need of the Air Force at that particular time. I went into the aircraft mechanics—me in mechanics! I honestly tried, but I washed out. I washed out of that class at Sheppard AFB [Texas]. That was just not my bag—it was not. I washed out, and I went through a board. They would determine that I had tried and had done my work. I had done my homework, and I just couldn’t adapt to that mechanical type of environment of taking things apart, aircraft and everything else.
So I was assigned to the security police at Sheppard AFB, and I was very, very happy. That was really the beginning of my Air Force career where I started to see things differently. Prior to that, with the mechanics, I was dissatisfied. I knew I couldn’t do it. I tried, and I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t pleasing myself, and I wasn’t pleasing my instructors. But with the military police, I was determined to learn those facets of that job to the best of my ability. I can say now after all these years that I believe I’ve done almost every facet of the military police that there was—town patrol, security, law enforcement investigations, even industrial security. The only thing I didn’t do was to handle a canine, which I would have loved to have done. That was the only function, I believe, that I did not get to handle in the security police field. I stayed within the security police field 13 or 14 years. It was a very rewarding career. I had a lot of exciting times in the security police, and I accomplished a great deal.
In fact, I guess the highlight of my military career was when I was at Shaw AFB [South Carolina]. I arrived there in 1960 or 1961. Of course, I was an Airman second class because I had just come back in 1958. I was an Airman first class when I got out in 1957, but when I reenlisted I lost a stripe. I am a two-striper now, and I’m trying my very, very best to get that other stripe, and they are just almost nonexistent during the 1960, 1961, 1962 timeframe. Very, very few were ever even promoted. I happened to get promoted. At that time, they allowed me to just fill in temporarily with an investigation that was going on. It was basically a stakeout. They were looking for somebody, and so I got that. I was very fortunate—I found the guy that we were looking for. I found him in a house in a pantry underneath the sink, so they allowed me to stay a little bit longer and then a little bit longer, and so I didn’t get out of investigations. I stayed in investigations, which was very exciting because no two cases were ever the same, no two robberies, no two arsons were the same. The enjoyment I had was finding out who did what when I was not there, and I had to put all the pieces together. The highlight of my military police career was, again, at Shaw.
Why, while you were at Fairfield AFS, California, didn’t you see the Air Force as a career at that particular time?
I came in to do four years, and I was going to do it—and I was going to do it honorably. I was going to do as much as I could for that period of time. I made Airman first class prior to getting out. I had it almost a year before I got out, so I made Airman first class in about just a little over three years. That was a good progression. A lot of people who will listen to this or read this won’t understand that during the fifties you had to be four years plus before you could become an NCO [noncommissioned officer], namely staff sergeant. There were no staff sergeants made under four years. There was only one way you could be a staff sergeant—you had to reenlist. That was automatic. You just were not a staff sergeant with under four years. That was just a law of the military.
My time came, and I decided not to reenlist. I was going to go back home and see which way I wanted to go. Like I said earlier, I got in that Cadillac....Years ago when they released you, they gave you the price of bus fare from your discharge point to your home of record. If you really put it into perspective, it was really not that much money, and it didn’t really get me very far. I had to really watch each and every penny, and, even then, I ran out of gas and ran out of money in Wichita Falls, Texas. I don’t think that I was extravagant in any sense of the word.
I think if I really sat down and put it all into perspective the reason I came back into the service was because of the times. Don’t misunderstand me that I was not patriotic; I was. I think we, all of us, come in the military for a combination of many reasons, and that’s good. I think it’s wrong and it’s unfair for a person to come in for one specific reason; i.e., education, travel, or money. If he comes in for a combination of those reasons—education, travel, excitement, adventure, or whatever you want to call it—and he gets a little of each, he’ll be happy. If he gets his education and that’s all he wanted, once he gets that, then he leaves everything else and he’s out, or he gives up his career and gives up his opportunity. I’m not saying don’t come in for an education, but don’t come in just for one specific thing. One of the primary reasons I came back in is that here I am now, I had spent four years in the service, got out, and stayed a year still away from home. I had been home once or twice in those four years. I think I had been home in the five years from 1953 maybe 60 days if you put them all together. Now here I am. I’m five years, and I come back. I’m happy to be home with my family and everything else. That’s not the issue. The issue is, the people that I left in 1953, the boys and the guys that I hung around with, were still on the corner, still smoking cigarettes, still whistling at the girls, and still without a job. After a while I said, “I don’t want to become involved in this rut. I don’t want my life to be a measly manner of existence.” I saw, even though they were my friends, they did not have a goal. They were just getting up and doing nothing. Those who were working were working just for pocket money, nothing for a future or nothing for a savings. I just said that I had better do something because I felt that I would become involved in that rut. Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. That’s a truism. I felt that if I stayed there I might fall into that trap. Whether unwillingly or willingly, I might just fall into that trap. So that’s when I decided.
Back when you were in, was there some stigma attached to being in security police?
As I remember, if you washed out of tech school and wound up in—
They gave you transportation, security police, or food service. Nine out of 10 guys would have—out of those nine guys, three of them would have got security police, the other three got transportation, and the other three food service. There’s no doubt in my mind that that’s how it worked.
I saw more to the security police than a lot of people saw, whether it was the powers that be or whatever. I saw a good vocation. If I decided to get out, at least I would have a vocation: law enforcement. To me it was a reputable job. It was a good job, and if you took it to heart, you were helping other people for the most part. In the big picture you were doing something for society. That’s really how I saw it.
Some people came into the security police for the reason that they had a little bit more power, some of the young kids, and they did. The security police wielded a great deal of power, especially in those tech schools. We have come a long way—oh, have we come a long way. I couldn’t fathom it. Here I am, I’m on Sheppard AFB. I’m the low guy on the totem pole because I’m a washout, and I’m just in. So these people whom I’m working for and who have two and three stripes—I’ve got one stripe on my sleeve—they’ve been in the air police since basic so they know all of the ropes. They are the experts so to speak. They put me on the ammo dump. They start you off at the ammo dump. The ammo dump is the lowest job you can possibly have in the security police, at least during those days. In fact, it was so bad that I had to report to guard mount 30 minutes early because it took you 30 minutes to get out to your post. I had that more times than not. You just walked around a barbed wire fence, and there were some boxes in there. It could have been ammo; I don’t know what. You just walked around it day and night. But I knew that if I did my job and I did it right, I’d get a better job. Sure enough, I got Wherry housing, the gate. That doesn’t sound like a big whoop-de-do, but when you are working the Wherry housing from an ammo dump, that’s a big step up. Then they give you patrol. You ride with somebody on the base for your tour of duty. Then, when you really get good, they give you the main gate. Now this all took some time. This was not overnight. So I progressed from the ammo dump to Wherry housing and then from there to riding on the vehicles, the carryall vehicles, and going for the money at the bank on pay day because they paid in cash in those days.
We would go down in two or three carryalls, going to the bank, and we would wheel it out in big bags and take it to finance. They would count it, and 16 or 17 policemen would secure that building for three or four days until the money was paid. That was also a good job. You were progressing. Then they give you the main gate. That was a big deal, the main gate. That’s where everybody saw you, visitors and officers. That’s where the main hub of the base was taking place. Then the ultimate, at least for Sheppard AFB, was town patrol. If you got town patrol in those days, you had your act together, you were clean, you were neat, you knew your job, and you were visible to the public of Wichita Falls, Texas, and also to help the GIs out. I got town patrol, so I was happy with my assignment. I did the ammo dump, the Wherry housing, the patrols, the finance, and the main gate, but really the ultimate was town patrol. That was a very, very select few.
In those days, the rules, the laws, or the regulations, you didn’t deviate from them. Military clothing could not be worn with civilian clothing. That was a taboo.
Some of the things that went on in those days in the fifties, if it was pouring down rain— I didn’t think it was right, but I had to go along with it because I was the low guy on the totem pole—and a guy was coming out to go in town and he had his raincoat on, they would make him take it off and send him all the way back.
Those days are gone, and we’ve really come a long way. We really have. Those weren’t really bad days. I think it was just that the Air Force was not all that old. You are talking about 1947, and I am only talking about 1953. We are not talking about being that old. I think we had a lot of growing pains. The Army had been in existence for 200 years or more before, so when they separated, it wasn’t all that traumatic. For the Air Force, it was different people. Those are some of the things that were not right. We don’t do those things today. I really believe that the Air Force takes care of its people today, more so than we had ever dreamed about 15 and 20 years ago.
Has there ever been any thought given to providing counseling for those who have dropped out of not only tech schools but washed out of flying school and things like that?
Yes. The percentages of washouts are astronomically lower than they were in the fifties and the sixties. I contend that the reason is that the testing that’s done as the guy or the gal comes into the service is so designed now that we can tell you what you are really benefited for. You’ll hear, and I’m sure that people who listen to this or read this who have been in for 20 or 30 years will hear, the story that it’s not what you know, it’s what they want you to do. I know people and you’ve heard war stories or horror stories where this guy had gone through all of the culinary schools you could think of. He was a chef and a half. He could prepare the meals from nothing, and they sent him to medic school or something. They sent him to something that was absolutely directly opposite of what he was trained to do. Those days, for the most part and for the vast majority, are gone because today when the guy or the gal goes in and goes through the recruitment process, there’s a stepping- stone to each and every facet of his induction—the testing, the physicals, and everything.
Now bear in mind you can’t please everybody. Not everybody is going to get what they want, but I’m positively sure that whatever they do get in today’s Air Force they will be able to handle mentally. They may not like it, and that may not be their desires, but they will be able to take care of it and do a good, professional job. That’s the bottom line. The bottom line is that the needs of the Air Force have to come first. If we’ve got a thousand people and 950 of them are all placed where they are needed and we need 50 more in this one here, we can’t put 955 in this other area. We’ve got to fill that particular gap, but we won’t fill it with somebody who can’t do it. His or her tests will indicate clearly that she or he can handle that particular job.
If they just put away the fact that they don’t want that particular job or that particular assignment, they can do it. I think what enhances that today more so than it did in the past is that the [NCOs] today explain the big picture to these guys and gals. I knew I was a security policeman, but I didn’t know the big picture. I didn’t know what I was really doing, what I was going to be securing and that type of thing, and where I fit into the picture. I used to do a job, and I would go home after I did it, and I didn’t know if I did it good or bad. If I did it good, I didn’t know what I really did. You just did your job. That was the most important thing. If you didn’t, you were chastised, and rightfully so. Today, you not only do your job, but they kind of tell you where you fit in what you are doing for the Air Force or for the mission or for the country. It’s a little bit more in-depth other than just doing your job. For the most part, I think the [NCOs] and the officers alike tell their young enlisted troops where they are going, what they are going to do, how they are going to achieve it, and what they are going to do for the Air Force when they do that.
Did you see this stigma dissipate over the years that were attached to these pursuits like security police and food service?
Yes. But you are absolutely right. If you washed out of school, you got handled, “Well, you are going to security police.” In other words, you were a dropout. That was it. It was really not a good thing for most people. Some people tried very, very hard. They wanted to be a mechanic. They lived and breathed being a mechanic. Then when they washed out and they got security police, food service, or transportation, they were just devastated. I think they were devastated not so much because they got that particular job but because of the stigma that was attached to it. But as the years went on, the military police or the security police—the air police as we called it, AP, with the armband and all that—times changed.
With everything else, with time, education, and experience, we got some fine leaders in there who made the military police, the air police, the food service, or the transportation a meaningful part of the total organization. I guess it goes back to the fact they had to do something with the guy or the gal who dropped out. A lot of people didn’t want to go into the military police or to transportation or food service. Those were the ones that were lacking in personnel numbers wise, and that’s where they kept throwing them. Coupled with that, there was a stigma attached to it.
Look at it today. Transportation is a very meaningful part of the Air Force. Stop and think about it. You can’t go anywhere without it. We’ll just say let’s talk about Logistics Command.2 People say, “That’s a little nickel and dime outfit,” but let me tell you something. If we were to have a major conflict, a major war, I’ll tell you what, I don’t care how many F-16s and F-18s you’ve got, without Logistics Command you can’t survive—you cannot survive. Logistics, that’s getting part A to part B in a timely fashion. Am I right or wrong? Sometimes people think that—and I don’t think they do it with any prejudice—the aircraft is very important, but I’ve always contended, no matter how much we’ve paid for that aircraft, $25 million, $26 million—and I don’t care what the numbers are, and I don’t care how educated and how smart that pilot is—it doesn’t make a difference. You can get the biggest—just pick a name—[Brig Gen Charles E.] “Chuck” Yeager. I like Chuck Yeager, and I know Chuck Yeager. With him, a well-known man, he’s versatile; he’s experienced; he’s a great pilot; and he’s a great Air Force leader. Put him in the best aircraft we’ve got, but he can’t take off the ground unless that mechanic, that one-striper, pulls the chocks. That’s one way of looking at it. Or we’ll pull the chocks. Okay, he still can’t go until that young guy from transportation of the fuels puts fuel in there. And he still can’t get off the ground unless the avionics man has done his job. If he takes off, he still can’t do his job unless he can land. It’s just not one man anymore. It’s a combination of many, many, many people that are going to make the Air Force what it is today, and that’s how it is today—a combination of many, many, many people.
I think many years ago it was this outfit versus that outfit or this organization against that organization. I am happy to say that I think that those days are gone. I think they are bygone days, if you will. They are days of the past. The organizations, the transportation, logistics, Air Force Systems Command, all of those organizations are an integral part of the big picture. They always were, even back in the fifties, but people didn’t associate the air police with transportation and transportation with food service. But just think of it, those guys who walked those ammo dumps, or worked town patrol, or whatever they did, how much could they work them if they didn’t get fed through the mess hall? They have to eat. Look at the transportation guy. You couldn’t do your job if you didn’t have a vehicle to do it. You couldn’t walk the base, not proficiently. I think it was not me against them and all that. I think they were just organizations, and I just don’t believe, at least during my tenure in the fifties, that there was that feeling of unity. It was this organization against that organization and that type of thing. I left in August of 1983, and they have really come a long way.
Well, let’s get you back getting into your second tour in the Air Force. You mentioned that you got into investigative work. Were you ever in some type of formal training for this, or did you just do it on the job?
I did it on the job. Everybody has a forte to a certain extent. I do like investigative work or that type of a job. I listen to people, and when they say things, my mind automatically starts to gear up as to why they said it and where they said it. It’s not so much that I am critical of what they said, but I listen to people, and I can, more times than not, tell you if somebody is blowing smoke up my nose. [Laughter] I guess what I really liked about the investigative work was the excitement of putting together a puzzle: basically a crime. When you were home asleep or 500, 200, or 100 miles away, somebody did something. Then you went in there after he had done it or after they had done it, and you put all of the pieces back together again exactly how they did it, yet not being there when it was done. I really thrived on that. My military career, as far as the security police, was very, very rewarding. I was involved in solving simple larceny to murder. Arson, child molestation—I did it all. To me it was very rewarding to find what had happened when I wasn’t even there and putting all the pieces back together again, even if it was an automobile accident which involved a fatality on a rain-slick highway. You got there half an hour afterwards, and you put all the pieces together. That’s what I was excited about. I liked that, but I never had any formal training.
Did you come to the attention of your superiors as being adept at this sort of thing?
The only thing I can say is yes, and I say that with modesty. At Shaw AFB when they gave me that stakeout looking for an NCO—I think he was a master sergeant—they had been looking for him for a long time, and they knew that he was going to come back. They felt certain that he was going to come back to this house. He lived off base. I was put on the stakeout, and I did it day in and day out.
Now stakeouts, when you watch television, it’s done in 30 minutes or maybe an hour. [Laughter] You sit there for countless hours, six, seven hours, and it’s very, very difficult sometimes because it’s not always the best of weather. If it’s cold out, you can’t turn on your car because now people will know that you are in your car or keeping warm, which is also a safety factor. If it’s hot, well, you’ve got to contend with the elements, and it’s not as glamorous as people or as television lead you to believe it is. It’s boring, and it’s tiring. Then you go home and go to bed, and you get up and do the same thing the next day.
This particular time that I was picked to do it, I got the job for the surveillance because the NCO—he was a staff sergeant, and here I was a two-striper—was off somewhere. I got it because they needed a stakeout. I went with another master sergeant, and we staked out. We were pretty certain that he was in the house. Somebody was moving around in it.
We went into the house—and my partner, the NCO, said, “We must have been mistaken.” I said, “Let’s look a little.” We looked a little bit further, and I looked underneath the kitchen cabinets—why, I don’t know. I’ll be honest with you. It scared the hell out of me. [Laughter] I’m looking for the guy, but I’m not thinking I would find him under the kitchen cabinet under the sink. He had gotten in there, and I didn’t know if he was armed or anything else, but that’s where I found him. Anyway, I got the job, and one thing led to another. I got other jobs in the investigative field, where I uncovered larceny at finance, and somebody robbed the commissary, and we got him. At the time, to me it was a big, important job.
When did you get your third stripe back again?
I got it in 1961. I got it there at Shaw AFB. This may not sound familiar to a lot of people, but I got it under what they call EWQ, exceptionally well qualified. There were only so many stripes. In fact, Shaw AFB got seven first class Airman stripes. Seven, and that was it for the entire base, all AFSCs [Air Force specialty code] and everything else. In those days you had to meet a board. You would meet the commander and a bunch of NCOs. I met NCOs one day, and then I met the commander the next. I made my Airman first class stripe under what they call EWQ. So, that’s when I got my stripe back. I came back in 1958, but I made my stripe back in 1961, and that was fast. At that time, it may not have seemed it, but that was very, very fast. Then I went to Okinawa [Japan] from there, and they put me in investigations there, and I worked investigations.
Did your name just come up for Okinawa, or did you put in for it?
My name came up. I was kind of surprised because I hadn’t been there that long. I went to Okinawa. I got there, and, of course, they look at your records, your performance reports. My performance reports reflected investigative, and that was what I had been doing earlier; so, they put me in there.
Were you still single during this period?
When did you get married?
I got married in 1969 when I went to Panama City, Tyndall AFB [Florida], and I came from Okinawa in April 1965. I met Shirley there. She was a schoolteacher at Moffett High School. She was a phys ed [physical education] teacher. It was a blind date.
Military-wise, I was at the security police there, and I had an opportunity. The base commander asked for me, and I got it by name. This was during the height of Vietnam, 1965, 1966, 1967, when people were going over almost on no-notice, seven-day, or 14-day notice. The protocol NCO for the base, a tech sergeant, got an overnight shipment to Vietnam; so, I was asked to go in and fill in just for a short period of time—a few months. Those few months ended up to be almost 18 months. I was the NCO of protocol, and I worked directly for the base commander—functions, dining-ins and -outs, and all that. It’s not as glamorous as some people think. [Laughter] You needed to know your protocol. You needed to know who was coming in, especially the black-tie affairs and that type of thing. It was a nice job.
I had a major I worked for. His name was Sterling H. Elmore. He was a good commander, but he was not a popular commander. He was not a popular commander for the air police. He was not popular at all. I think he wasn’t popular because he didn’t allow anybody to do anything. He had to be a part of whatever situation was going on. I don’t think he trusted people to their fullest. He always had his finger in whatever was going on within the organization, whether it was the first sergeant’s business or whatever. People took offense to that. They felt like they weren’t being allowed the opportunity to show what they could do for the organization. He became a little upset because I was working outside my AFSC, which was air police. The IG [inspector general] came in one day, and they also looked at the air police. He said, “Listen, this NCO over there is outside his AFSC.” I was a tech sergeant. I need to share that with you...I had made my promotion to staff sergeant and tech sergeant in Okinawa, but when I left the promotions hadn’t been released, so about a month later I got a message saying I was a tech sergeant. I was a tech sergeant at the security police and also protocol. He told the IG that I was working outside my AFSC and he wanted me back. Well, I had seen another side of the Air Force that I hadn’t seen. I had done the security police work, but I had seen another section. [The base commander] said that I had to go back, and I said, “Is there anything else I can do?” He said, “No, not really. My hands are tied.” I said, “Well, I would like to be a first sergeant if I could.”
To make a long story short, he put in the request for the first sergeant. This was just a very brief time in the Air Force history that they selected tech sergeants to be first sergeants. Within a year you had to pass the test and be promoted or else you reverted back to your other AFSC. In other words, you couldn’t stay in there indefinitely. You only had a period of time as a tech sergeant first sergeant to be master sergeant or else you had to go back to your other AFSC. The Air Force sent back a message to [the base commander], and they gave me 13 different assignments that I could have applied for. Not one of them was Tyndall AFB, and I wanted to stay there. The first sergeant, who was a master sergeant, was working for the transportation squadron at Tyndall. The powers that be made arrangements for him to go to CBO [Consolidated Base Personnel Office] because he was an ex-personnel man. He was willing to go back to personnel in his AFSC, and they would put me in there with transportation. So, I did get to stay at Tyndall, and I worked for a Maj. Forbes. He was the commanding officer, a good commanding officer. He knew his troops, and he got things done. I stayed there, and I was Tyndall’s first and only and youngest tech sergeant first sergeant. It’s somewhere in the archives that I was the youngest tech sergeant and only tech sergeant in Tyndall AFB history.
I made master sergeant the first go-round. I made it six months later, so I did very well. I made staff, tech, master, E-8, and E-9 with the minimum time in grade. I was a chief master sergeant at 19 or 20 years.
You mentioned in (the past) that your time as first sergeant was one of the most gratifying periods of your career.
It was. I guess the reason I really wanted to be a first sergeant was that every first sergeant that I had going up prior to becoming a first sergeant, I cannot recall one not being professional. Well, now that I think about it, I can find one. He knew his job absolutely inside and out, but there were some gray areas with him. I think for the most part first sergeants treated me very, very well. They were concerned about my future, and I saw that as a positive sign. So, I wanted to be a first sergeant for a combination of reasons. First of all, I considered it to be the most important enlisted job in the organization. I thought it was the nerve center and that you could influence people much better as a first sergeant than you could as an NCOIC [noncommissioned officer in charge] of a section. An NCOIC of a section was limited to that section, but as a first sergeant, you had all the sections under your control in your approach to things, your professionalism, and your leadership. I think people saw you in a different light. I tried very hard to display professionalism in every sense of the word. I believe in professionalism. Even today I believe in it, whether you work in the military or civilian life. If you are a professional, I think you will go much further than if you’re not.
You had to be a lot of things as far as a first sergeant. I think first sergeants don’t get the credit that they honestly deserve because they are a combination of so many things. They are a father confessor. They are an intermediary for domestic problems. There are alcohol problems; there are drug problems; there are domestic problems; and there are discipline problems. Not everything is negative, but they have a lot of those things going on, and they have to be able to handle it and to keep the mission going. If everybody came in with a problem and it wasn’t solved, it wouldn’t take very long, and you wouldn’t have an outfit. It was good, and I enjoyed it.
Speaking of the Vietnam era, many of the interviewees that I’ve talked to, military members, resented the fact that they became the whipping boys for the Vietnam situation, and they felt it was purely due to the ineptitude of our political leaders that made them the whipping boys instead of the other way around.
I think you are right, more so than you are not. I guess if I had to put some sort of a picture as to how the American GI was held back during the Vietnam War, if you could picture a military Soldier, however you image him, and have one hand tied behind his back, that’s how I looked upon the Vietnam War. But if you turn that Soldier around, I think you will honestly see, in my mind’s eye, a group of politicians holding his arm. That’s how I looked at it.
But even though I didn’t agree with all of the political views, I had to believe in the orders that were given by my superiors. I said it time and time again, that we came into the military, swearing some sort of an allegiance, to obey our country, the laws, and the officers appointed. To me that’s a solemn oath. I don’t think you or I or anybody can take that and say, “I will do this, but I’m not going to do that,” and “I’ll do this, but I won’t do that.” It’s not being robotic. It’s not just being some sort of robot for somebody with periscope vision and not having some sort of a thought process of a decision of your own, but it’s necessary that you listen to the superiors. In the event that they are not giving you the orders and they are doing an injustice or a damage to our way of life and everything else, there are all kinds of means of getting around that, either legislative or congressional or just retiring from the military, if you feel that bad about it. I just don’t think that people can pick and choose what orders or policies that they are going to accept. They cannot pick and choose. I don’t think we are in that kind of a job. And it isn’t any different if you work for Delta, Anheuser-Busch, or any major corporation, GTE, Chrysler. When Lee Iacocca or August Busch III says, “This is what I want, and this is how I want the operation to work,” you are not going to say, “Well, I’ll do this, sir, but I’m not going to do that.” How long would you have a job? So, it isn’t just the military. The impact on the military is that if you don’t do it, you could very well put yourself or your country behind the eight ball; whereas, you are putting a company’s statistics or their percentages of growth and net profit where you could hurt them. When you are talking with a military guy and gal about disobeying orders and policies and picking and choosing, you are not talking about a gross net profit at the end of the year. You are talking about freedom or the lack of it that you are going to have if you continue. You can’t pick and choose what orders and what policies and what rules or regulations you are going to adhere to—not in the military.
You were a first sergeant of the 483rd Organizational Maintenance Squadron at Cam Ranh Bay [Vietnam]. What types of personnel problems were you faced with? Were they any different there than what you had experienced prior to your arrival there?
No. The biggest problem in that organization was drugs, to be very honest with you. I mean cocaine. If you were devious and had that kind of a way about you—and I’m sure some tried—you could make a great deal of money, but maybe not so much there because the little vials that they were selling for maybe $2 was anywhere from 96 to 97 percent pure. That was, in the eyes of those who use it, the best there was.
That same vial, back in the States, was cut down maybe 30, 40, 50 times. What was happening to our troops over there—not only the fact that they were taking it and were getting hooked, and, of course, destroying the mission in many, many respects because if you are on that stuff, there is no way you can handle the mission. We are not talking about just getting up and flying around for a Sunday afternoon. We are getting up and flying on a very, very important mission. In addition to that, the guy would go back if he got undetected. Now if he was to buy it on the street he would have to buy it at maybe 50 or 60 times more than what he had to pay for it there, and it wasn’t one-third as far as potency as what he had over there, so he was really spending hundreds of dollars a day just to keep up with what he was getting there for $2 or $3. We did have quite a bit of a problem in Southeast Asia.
Were you able to turn this around?
Yes, I think we all did because we caught them. The awareness that we had a problem was very, very evident. It was mostly the younger troops. I think I found in our organization one tech sergeant that may have been involved, and the rest were these two- and three-stripers. Why just the young stripers and not the senior NCOs? That’s debatable. During the whole tenure there, I think we only had one NCO who was involved, and he was not only using it, but I think he was selling it. That was more of a serious crime than just the use of it. I think we turned it around, not just in my organization but in all the organizations because of the efforts of very responsible people. I say again, the first sergeants were a very focal point and the commanders and also the OSI [Office of Special Investigations]. In that organization of people, I think we turned it around a great deal but nothing like we would have liked to. You don’t want to see that.
Was this a 12-month tour that you were over there on?
Yes. I think I came back a little bit early though. It may have been 10 months. I think what happened is that they really got an influx of military personnel. Even though your 12 months were up, you really didn’t get to go home unless you had a replacement. In an organization of a thousand people and you are going home, they wanted to have a replacement. I think I left there at probably nine and a half or 10 months, maybe about two months early, because there was an influx of first sergeants coming into the field, and I was happy.
How did you wind up at Keesler [AFB, Mississippi]?
I went to Keesler from Cam Ranh as a first sergeant, and I had the student squadron.
Did you want that sort of thing, or was that just automatic?
I can’t recall what my dream sheet was for what base I wanted, but Keesler was fine. I had no objections with Keesler. I had never been down there—well, I was years and years ago only for about maybe 30 or 40 days when I first came in the service. It was a good assignment. I had the 3392nd Student Squadron, and it was a good assignment. All in all, it was a busy assignment. I had a lot to do. I think the busyness came about not so much from the numbers but because every six weeks we would receive x number of troops from Lackland [AFB, Texas] on a bus. This was their very, very first touch of what you call the military after Keesler. This was their first indoctrination as to how they were going to be looked at and serve either in the tech training school or at their first assignment. It was challenging. First of all, the basic military training, they kind of take them from a rainbow type of a situation, with all kinds of colors of clothes and hats and everything else, and just kind of put them into an organized group. They give them to the units, and now it’s the units’ time to pick up exactly where Lackland left off and mold them into regular, honest-to-goodness Airmen or military members. I think the basic military training schools are really doing their jobs. They were putting those men and women out.
As I remember Keesler, I would see a troop get off the bus, and he would almost walk at attention and would salute almost anything that walked. Everything was “Sir,” and it was brisk, but it wasn’t three or four weeks later that if you looked at that same individual that you saw, you wouldn’t see that “Yes, Sir” and “No, Sir.” Sometimes it would be “Yeah,” and the briskness was gone. It really bothered me a great deal. I blame the personality drop or the military drop—I don’t know how you want to call it—the change, from three or four weeks ago when he got off that bus from Lackland to what he is today, on supervisors. You don’t have to give them the same regimented thumbs-on that you did at Lackland. Lackland was nothing but molding that guy or gal. I think what happened was that they allowed them too much freedom at one specific time. They got off that bus and had never seen anything, and all of a sudden they were basically free to go and do what they wanted to do. I think it was too quick, too fast, and I know that some of the NCOs in the managerial or the supervisory capacity allowed that young Airman to be too familiar with the supervisor. I think it just broke down from there. It was so evident. I had more discussions on this, and I talked about this so many times. You couldn’t believe it...a man would get off that bus on the first day of April in 1978, and four weeks later you couldn’t recognize him in a crowd. He was not that polished guy.
Were you able to change anything?
I think I changed it as far as the organization. We NCOs talked about it. That also was a period of time of familiarity. NCOs didn’t feel that it was any big deal to be very familiar with the one-striper. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that they weren’t equal. They were equal as an individual and as a personality and as an education, but as far as grades, they were not equal—and they cannot be equal.
Out of that little scenario that we talked about being polished, being ready, and being willing to serve and organized and disciplined from basic and all of a sudden, “Don’t ‘Sir’ me. You are not in basic anymore.” From there it got to the point where the young Airman was confused. He really was confused. I’ve had them tell me that they didn’t understand how it could be so different. When they went to basic they were not willing to accept any of this, but they were in fear, not petrified fear but fear that they had to do the right thing, fear of the unknown. They didn’t know what was going to happen if they didn’t do it. They weren’t going to be beaten. They didn’t know what was going to happen; so, they did it out of fear. But it didn’t take but maybe seven to 14 days, and they realized what they were doing and that now they were working as a unit. In basic military training today, I’m convinced that if you and I were to go down there today and go through that process, you and I would not graduate, not at all, unless we were a team player. You can’t graduate from basic military training today unless you are a team member. So this young Airman got this team-oriented thing, and all of a sudden he’s told, “Don’t ‘Sir’ me. You are not in basic military training anymore.” Whatever the TIs [training instructors], the drill instructors, did was destroyed in a matter of seconds. That bothered me quite a bit. Things have changed now.
It was during that period that you also attended the Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy at Gunter [AFB, Alabama]. How did you greet the idea of attending that particular course?
I ran. I was told by some NCOs, “You don’t need that. Don’t worry about it. You’ll get promoted anyway, so don’t worry about it.” It wasn’t so much getting promoted with or without it. It was an opportunity. I didn’t do as well as I could have done in school...and I didn’t want to lose an opportunity again. Here I had an opportunity to go to school with some of the top NCOs in the country and some of the best faculty. These people were experts in their field, and I did not want to pass that up.
It was nine weeks, but I didn’t want to pass it up. So I absolutely ran, and I did not get selected for the second class. The first class was already picked when it all came down through the channels. The class was already picked, and that was a very prestigious class. [CMSAF Thomas N.] Barnes was in it, I think, and [CMSAF James M.] Jim McCoy was in it. A lot of top NCOs were in it. I didn’t get the second class because I was passed over, but I was selected for the third class, so I went to 73-C. It was one of the highlights of my career. For such a short period of time, nine weeks, it was good.
Can you give me a brief synopsis of the sort of things that you dealt with in that nine weeks?
Just everything—human relations, management, and leadership. I guess the best thing that I got out of it was the classroom exchange between the other NCOs on world affairs and issues. The auditorium was fine. You went there and listened to guest speakers who were very, very polished and very, very versed on whatever the subject may be, but I think the benefit I derived was from the classroom exchange. This was the first time that I had ever really sat in that kind of a 12-, 16-, or 18-man class, which is small, and really exchanged our thoughts. There was academic freedom, where you could say what you wanted to say. The school helped you in so many ways. It made me a better NCO. I thought I was a good NCO when I went there, but I know I became a better NCO because of that school. The only thing I can say to whomever is eligible to go to that school is that they should go.
The story during the first five or seven years of that school was that, “I’m an E-8, and I’m a chief. What can you teach me?” That was not the attitude to have. It was kind of prevalent though, and a lot of people didn’t want to go to the school. There were a lot of good NCOs who didn’t want to go for a combination of many reasons—maybe the family separation, and maybe they’ve got 24, 25, 26 years, and they are already a chief. They can’t get promoted by going to the school. But I have yet to hear from an NCO who went to that school and said he didn’t enjoy it. He’s happy, and he came back saying, “You’ve got to go.” That’s probably pretty much predominant throughout the leadership schools in the Air Force and the other academies—the NCO Academy down at Kirtland AFB [New Mexico] or whatever base you want to pick. I have seen countless times where people left their organization dragging their heels, leaving their heel marks on the pavement, and then coming back and probably being the best spokesman for that school than anybody else could have ever been. I have seen that time and time and time again.
What grade were you when you attended?
I was an E-8.
Was that generally the makeup of the class?
The majority were E-8s. There were chiefs in there, and some of them didn’t want to be there. It was a new school, and in 1973 it was only the third class. Was it going to fall through the proverbial crack another year from now? There were mixed emotions. Was the school going to be funded? Was it going to get better, or was it just going to be one of those flashes in the pan? All those kinds of comments came out: “Why should I spend nine weeks there, and next year it will be disintegrated?” That was some of it.
As you and I can see today, it’s not only there but it’s bigger, better, and stronger than it has ever been. The support came basically from the Air University [AU] and Air Training Command, or, technically speaking, Air Training Command, and then it reverts to AU, am I right? Today the emphasis and the support, although it’s under AU, really comes down from the Air Staff. They support it, and they believe in it. There are not too many schools that you get three- and four-star generals to come to and to address. The chief of staff of the Air Force, Gen. [Lew, Jr.] Allen, came down there and spent two hours down there on the stage. He told them what he thought and what was going on and fielded their questions.
Gen. [Charles A.] Gabriel went down there, at least once if not twice. Gen Alton D. Slay went down there. These are times where people of this caliber and position are wrapped up in major, monumental decisions for the defense of the country, but they find time to go down there and to tell them what’s going on and also to hear how they feel about whatever. I gained a great deal from just being there. I applaud it. I think it’s one of the best institutions the Air Force has as far as the learning process. I just think it can’t do anything except get better.
Let’s talk about the senior enlisted advisor position. What do you think of the concept of senior enlisted advisor?
I think the program is very good. I think it’s beneficial in that the senior enlisted advisor, whether at the base or the wing level, is the eyes and the ears of the commander of that base or that wing. The philosophy that I think that the enlisted advisor should be doing is having a pulse on the enlisted corps within that organization that he’s working with. No matter how good or how energetic or how many hours the commander or wing commander works, he can’t get down into all of those trenches as often as the enlisted advisor. So, he is really basically the eyes and ears of that commander.
I think the program, when it first started out, was probably not meant to do what it’s doing today. When it first came out...people would just go directly from their job site right to the base commander’s office. In putting in this position as the senior enlisted advisor, that was going to be the door that the young man was going to come to, and it was the responsibility of the enlisted advisor to solve that man’s problem before it got any further. In other words, in a sense maybe it was just a roadblock or a hurdle—but not in the sense that it was to diminish the guy or the gal coming up. It was to take the load off of the base commander or the wing commander and that echelon and let the enlisted advisor work the problem as much as he possibly could. He had the authority and the green light to go to the people who could solve that problem, whether it was the commander of the medics if it was a medical problem, or he could pick up the phone and call the commander of finance if it was a finance problem. He had the authority to do what the base or the wing commander would have done. But, as it turned out, it not only went from that but it went to other things, mission-oriented things. It got bigger and bigger and bigger, where the enlisted advisor was doing more and more and more. That’s not bad, but it’s just that he’s got more of an area of responsibility today than he did back when it first started, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s working fine.
Some of your predecessors—
Who are they? (laughter)
[CMSAF] Paul Airey for one—
Paul Airey, the godfather. (laughter)
—was very upset with the title “Senior Enlisted Advisor.” He called it a “namby-pamby, nondescript title” that he wasn’t the least bit happy with. He wanted to call it “Chief Master Sergeant of MAC [Military Airlift Command]” or “Chief Master Sergeant of SAC [Strategic Air Command],” but his successors all vetoed the idea. They felt that it would detract from the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force position, and it never caught on. How do you feel about that title?
Let me say two things. I consider Paul Airey an honest-to-goodness friend and professional, equally. I consider him my friend. I’ve known him since 1976. I’ve known him whether he’s known me; that’s something else. But I do not agree with Paul that there should be a Chief Master Sergeant of TAC [Tactical Air Command] or SAC or MAC or Logistics or Systems Command or whatever. I think that the title of Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force—that’s it. There should be nothing else. They shouldn’t have any addendums to that or Chief Master Sergeant of TAC. There’s only one Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force. I think that’s the only way it should be, and they should not piggyback on that.
Senior enlisted advisor, what else can you call it? Base sergeant major? Now we are getting back into an Army terminology. We separated back in 1947 and became different, distinct, separated from the Army. Now we are the US Air Force, not the Army Air Corps. We needed to take new changes in titles and everything else. I think that senior enlisted advisor, after all of the conversation about it, will probably survive between now and whenever. I think all of the rhetoric and all of the discussion about changing the title has worn itself out. Personally, I don’t think it will ever change. I think it’s here to stay. There may be a better title for it. I don’t know what it would be. I hope sincerely that nobody tries to tack on a title saying “Chief Master Sergeant of” because there’s only one “Chief Master Sergeant of,” and that’s “of the Air Force.” If you start putting little additions on to that, I think you honestly will lessen the position that goes with that title. That’s my personal opinion.
WAPS [Weighted Airman Promotion System] was implemented in June 1970 after extensive research by the Air Force Human Resources Laboratory. From your viewpoint, how successful has the WAPS system been?
Totally successful, in my estimation. I don’t think that you’ve got from the predecessors of the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force any response other than that. WAPS is an absolute super program. I guess the Air Force has done as much for the enlisted guy and gal for their progression as is humanly possible. Simple, to the point, WAPS is here to stay, and it’s accepted—that’s the key word. It’s accepted by the enlisted force. It may not have been at the outset, because there were grumblings that it’s here today and maybe not tomorrow. That’s what probably bothers some people sometimes. Like the NCO Academy or the Senior NCO Academy: “It’s here today. Why should I go? It’s not going to be here next week.” There was that fear that it may not be here and it was maybe just a flash in the pan. It’s accepted, and it’s here to stay.
What are your views on the Community College of the Air Force (CCAF)?
Coming from an individual who really didn’t put his mind to the academics, I support any kind of an educational program, whether it’s the very basic leadership schools within the squadrons or the Community College of the Air Force. Just education in itself is just another avenue in which you can better yourself economically, emotionally, or mentally. I support CCAF. I don’t think we have enough. There are a lot of people in there. I don’t know what the figures are now, but I wish there were more people because today the Airman and the NCO or the enlisted corps has probably more time for that type of an education than they did many, many years ago. The reason that they have more time is that things are more organized today than they were 25 years ago. Things are just so much better organized, and people have more time, but I don’t think enough of the people are taking advantage of the Community College of the Air Force and other programs. Some are, but not as many as I would like to see probably.
One of the criticisms about not just the Community College of the Air Force but also the idea of getting a degree is that it has created the illusion in some Airmen’s minds of “Look, I’ve got a diploma now. I’ve got a degree. Promote me.” I think it was Paul Airey that pointed out that there’s much more to it than simply walking in with that diploma.
He’s right, and we’ve got to be mindful of the individual that walks around with that perception. Hopefully it’s not running rampant throughout the Air Force or throughout the military services. That parchment is only a portion of what has to be accomplished. You can put the piece of diploma or the parchment and time in grade into two different categories. Just because you’ve got time in grade does not mean that you are worthy of promotion; I’m sorry. There are individuals who feel that because they have x number of years or they’ve got the exact number of months’ time in grade for the next promotion that they should be automatically promoted. By the same token, this guy or gal walks in and says, “Listen, I’ve got so many credits and so many degrees. I need to be promoted.” There’s a lot more to it than that. You’ve got to have the experience, and you’ve got to have all the things necessary to be upgraded. Time in grade or the parchment, those are two individual things.
In an Air Force Times article dated 16 November 1981 you noted, “The new two-tier promotion system is necessary to correct serious imbalances.” This plan “gives shortage skills higher percentages of promotions in grades E-5, E-6, and E-7 to improve retention and encourage retraining into them.” In retrospect, how did this two-tier promotion system work out?
I don’t think it worked out as well as the Air Force envisioned it. The thought process and the motivation behind it was honorable. I just don’t think it had the backing, to be honest with you, of the majority of the working group within the Air Force. I don’t know what my predecessors may have said about that. I think the intentions of the program were honorable, but by the same token I don’t think it solved any of the problems that it was trying to solve. It was a means to the end, but it didn’t get there as the Air Force envisioned.
The bottom line to that is that I just don’t think it had the meat or the substance as the Air Force envisioned it to solve some of the imbalances and that type of thing. There was probably a great deal of animosity from people who were not in those positions, and they were being bypassed and promoted. I don’t think it did all that the Air Force would have liked it to have done. It was an honorable attempt to solve some of the problems, but I don’t think it solved the problems to the extent like TOPCAP [Total Objective Plan for Career Airman Personnel] solved a great number of the problems and WAPS solved problems. Even in those instances, you didn’t please everybody. Nobody was all satisfied. But I think on this particular program there was probably more dissatisfaction than there was acceptance of the program.
The 16 November 1981 Air Force Times noted that you supported the Stripes for Exceptional Performers (STEP) program, “which allows commanders to make a limited number of promotions to E-5, E-6, and E-7 without regard to an individual’s time in grade or test scores.” This system appears to counter the WAPS reforms, which were designed to do away with commanders showing preferential treatment to fair-haired boys. How did the STEP program work out?
While I was in, it worked out very well. Again, not everybody in the world was for it. If you weren’t promoted under it, you probably weren’t for it. [Laughter] If you were promoted under it, it was the best thing since Post Toasties. It was to get away from the time in grade and the testing. If I go back, in retrospect, and think about it, the reason STEP was put out, Stripes to the Exceptional Performer, is that some people are absolutely superior people, but for some reason or other—it wasn’t just designed because a guy or a gal couldn’t take a test. It was a combination of just absolutely many, many things, not just his ability or lack of ability to take a test. It was based on his professionalism, his leadership abilities, his qualities, and his work habits. This guy or gal who was considered for the STEP or ultimately promoted for the STEP was looked at with a fine-tooth comb. I think it was good because the numbers that were promoted under STEP affected the overall promotion nil. It had absolutely no effect whatsoever. You are talking about 100,000 Airmen, and now you are talking about x number of stripes for—how many did we have, 50, 150 Air Force–wide? I can’t recall the numbers, but they were ridiculously low and had no effect on the promotion system as a whole. But by the same token, it awarded that guy and gal who performed admirably in many, not just a few, but many, many, many areas an opportunity to get promoted ahead of somebody else or ahead of his time under the normal promotion system.
Some of my previous interviewees have voiced concern that because of pressure by women’s rights groups and so forth that the Air Force went overboard in putting women in previously male-dominated career fields, and some of them are rather vocal in stating that it was to the detriment of the overall good of the Air Force. Would you like to address that one?
Yes. You are right in the first part of your comment where some women’s groups may have had an impact on some of the decisions that changed some of our previous decisions as to where women would sit or be, but I’ve got to disagree with the other statement. I don’t know who disagreed. I find the women to be excellent managers and excellent military people. I don’t know who it is, and it’s not important to me who, but I don’t see it as a detriment to the Air Force or to the mission. I see that the women that we’ve got are very, very professional, and they have done a job in a lot of instances better than the male who was doing the job previously before them. They are dedicated, and they are probably a little bit more exact in many instances on certain things than their male counterparts. I disagree with...whoever said that.
According to any number of my previous interviewees, they strongly feel that social activists, primarily in Congress, have turned all of the military services into one big social experiment to the detriment of the overall fighting force.
I think they have too. I think you’re right if you look at the big picture, but if you are just looking at women—
No, this is not just looking at women. It’s looking at—
Your question originally was for women. I think, for the most part, they had a very positive effect on the military structure. In fact, I think it was a surprise to many, many people, because women were not considered an equal. I’m sorry; they weren’t. I don’t give a damn what anybody says. Even in my younger days, they were not considered. They were the weaker sex, and that was the name of the game, but they have shown in more ways than you can shake a stick at that they are very, very capable. There are women who couldn’t find a telephone in a phone booth, but there are also some men who couldn’t find a rabbit bleeding in snow. What I’m saying is that there are just as many males who are incompetent as there are women. I’m not weighing one against the other. There’s an even balance. I think the difference is that we held that women were inferior and they were not capable. I think for the vast majority, whether you admit it or not, they were misclassified as being incompetent, and we realize it now. I think we do as society, but I think we also do as the Air Force. I think the Air Force is very, very happy that we’ve got a caliber of woman that we got in.
I know these young girls who are only two- or three-stripers, and they are avionic technicians. When they were going through high school, they couldn’t spell “avionics,” but when they decided to join the Air Force, they were given a battery of exams—and the magical wand was waved. They put it all in the computer, and she did very well in this particular career field. They approached her, put her in there, trained her, and gave her some of the teaching that she needed. Here she is now; she’s coping with a $23 million aircraft, if not more. Three years ago she was probably, according to most people, just an average young girl banging around high school. Now here she is; she’s got her a future in front of her, and she’s doing us a great job.
Another issue that is certainly talked about a lot, both in the officer corps and in the enlisted, is the effectiveness reports or APRs [Airman Performance Report] in the case of enlisted men. As you are probably as aware as anybody, we’ve always had the tendency to inflate on these things, and we keep revising these things, looking for that perfect system whereby we can get around this, but it never seems to happen. What words of wisdom do you have in that regard?
If I could answer that question, I could probably make a lot of money. [Laughter] In fact, I’ve thought about it, and I wish I could answer the question because I would take out a contract and go to the Air Force, and I would probably be able to retire for the rest of my life. I would sell the program to the Air Force because I know the military would pay me more than anybody else would. [Laughter]
This is my opinion of the APRs. They are bigger than the Goodyear blimp. That’s how inflated they are. There’s just no getting away from it, but how? The only thing that we’ve been able to do—you can’t put a yardstick on it, and you can’t measure it—is that there is an inflation factor there. We know it, and you know it. You look at them, and you have to throw that in there somewhere. You don’t put it down as far as numbers, but it’s there. What really gripes me to no end to find is a one- or a two-striper or maybe even a three-striper with a nine APR. Where the hell can he go? He can’t go anywhere except up. Why we cannot give him a six or a seven is he will be dead in the water, because nobody else will give it. In other words, if you have been honest with your individual and you give him a true, honest-to-goodness reading and a six or a seven is exceptional, very well qualified, when you put him next to everybody else who got nines, he’s a dummy! In fact, you were honestly saying he has really got the potential and with time he is going to be a top NCO, but you have shot him out of the water. He’s dead in the water because of everybody else not going along with your way of thinking. You are not going to get everybody to go back down and do it realistically. If there was an edict from the president of the United States that nobody with two stripes or three stripes would get any more than a six, then every damned one of them would get a six. In other words, a six would be the highest. So you can’t break it. You’ll never be able to break that camel’s back. I wish I could figure out how we could do that. I would be able to rest pretty comfortably.
I don’t know how we can solve the problem. I remember when the APRs came out in 1960. You can look at my APRs. I got a six or a seven, and I was happy as hell. I was ecstatic to get a five or a six. I got five, and then I got maybe five and a half. The numbers equaled might be five and a half . Then I went to a six. I gradually grew into that position. Even though I have gotten nines, and, if you read those blocks, I’m no more a nine than the man in the moon. You had no alternative because everybody else was doing it. There was a brief—I mean very, very brief—period where commanders were told and supervisors were told to bring them back down, but that lasted maybe a reporting period. It had the same negative impact that it did on the officers’ corps. Talking about APRs, let me tell you. I really became irate during my tenure because I saw APRs which clearly, distinctly said— this is for tech sergeants and master sergeants—“This individual is not performing his job commensurate with his grade and not recommended for promotion,” and he was promoted. People will say, “That’s a bunch of crap. You didn’t do that.” That is true.
Are there any subject areas that I haven’t brought out during this interview that you would like to address?
The only thing that I have ever said loud and clear during my talks as the Chief was that I was very, very concerned about leadership. I think leadership is first and foremost. If you can’t lead those people, then you shouldn’t be in the job. A lot of people want to be leaders. I’ve always said, and I believe this, you cannot be a good leader until you are a good follower first. If you are a good follower, then you have the opportunity to be a leader. That doesn’t mean that you are going to be a leader because you are a good follower, but you have to have at least that one prerequisite of being a good follower before you can ever be a good leader.