CMSAF Richard D. Kisling
Richard D. Kisling grew up as a farmer’s son in western Iowa. Born on 22 November 1923, he grew used to early risings, often milking the cows and finishing other chores before heading to school for the day. He was nine when the Depression began taking a toll on his family. With 10 children to clothe and feed, there was little money to go around. Overalls and a pair of new shoes become luxury items.
Like many men of his era, Kisling was drafted into the Army in July 1944, just one month after the Allies landed in Europe. A year later he found himself in Germany negotiating the repatriation of displaced persons with the Soviet Union. He left the Army in 1946, but quickly rejoined the Army Air Forces in 1947 just before it officially became the US Air Force.
For the next 26 years, Kisling served in a wide variety of roles. As a young enlisted Airman he was a personnelist, then became a first sergeant and later a recruiter. He became the third Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force (CMSAF) on 1 October 1971, selected by Gen John D. Ryan. During his tenure he led the opening of the Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy (SNCOA) and tackled issues such as housing and pay. He passed away on 3 November 1985, just shy of his 62nd birthday.
The Air Force Historical Research Center interviewed Kisling multiple times from 1982 to 1984. During the interviews, Kisling talked about his experience in Germany following the end of World War II, the development of the SNCOA, and the roll high year tenure played in retention and promotion. The complete interviews can be accessed on the Air University Library online research center.
Portions of the interview are printed below. The order of some of the questions and answers has been adjusted to depict a chronological reflection on the life and career of Richard D. Kisling.
Your biography shows you were born in November 1923, in Iowa. Did you have this traditional Iowa farm life of the 1920s there?
Absolutely. We were farming with horses. We would get up early. My dad would, I suppose, get up 3:45 each morning, the year round, and about five o’clock he would make sure we were awake. My younger brother—two years younger than I am—and I would get up, and we would help milk the cows and do the chores before we went to school. When we got home from school in the evening, we had just the same old reverse.
Then we would go back to doing the chores. I remember one of the things I fought with my dad about was in the middle of the winter, the fact that we were going out after the evening meal and milking our cows. He thought the cows should be milked on a regular basis——at five o’clock in the morning and seven o’clock at night, but we would never change those. We finally convinced him, I think about 1938 or 1939, that we could do our outside work before we came in out of that real tough weather.
What about the Depression? Did that really hit your family pretty hard?
Very much so. I guess I really start remembering it about 1932, probably. I remember my dad was raising quite a few hogs, not many cattle. We always had a lot of milk cows, but we didn’t have too many beef cattle. He would ship hogs to market, and they wouldn’t even pay for the trucking. Corn was selling for two or three cents a bushel. There was no money. Shortly after that the drought started, and that made things worse. I guess we had probably about five years that were very, very depressed. We were lucky to get a pair of overalls in the fall and a pair of new shoes at the start of the school year. There wasn’t money for anything. I remember we didn’t even have a radio until about 1936. I lost my mother in 1934, which really complicated things for my father and for all of us, that large family.
You graduated from high school, when then?
In 1941. I went in the service in July 1944.How did you finally get into the service then?
When they changed my draft classification. I went down to Fort Crook, Nebraska——now Offutt AFB——and took my pre-induction physical. I think it was less than a month that I had notice to report. I went up to Fort Snelling and processed through Fort Snelling, up at Minneapolis–Saint Paul [Minnesota]. At that time, I had hopes of getting into the Navy or to the Army Air Corps. They went down the line, “We’ll take you and you and you,” and it just happened to be my lucky day, I guess, that I got into the infantry. (laughter)
In infantry training, by this time they had invaded Europe and the war was drawing to a close. Did you guys think you were going to get in on it by this time?
We were kind of hoping that maybe the war would end, but no one seemed to think that in the infantry training business. They were dead serious about what they were teaching us.
Along about the end of the basic training, they started trying to get volunteers to go to paratroops. We talked about it a great deal, and finally I decided I would go. They were paying a lot of money to be a paratrooper. Our pay was $50 a month in those days. We were lucky. I got in when they were paying some money——$50 a month, and you got a whole $50 a month extra if you were airborne. The big clincher was...I guess they talked us into volunteering through a little bit of coercion. We could have a threeday pass if we would volunteer. Quite a sizable group of us from around the Sioux City [Iowa] area volunteered and went to trooper training down at Fort Benning [Georgia]. Lucky for me, I think, I had a bad appendix. I didn’t know it, but I couldn’t take the long runs. My side was really bothering me, so I was eliminated out of trooper training.
At this time now, they were moving people over to Europe because of the Battle of the Bulge. They were flying people over. The first time they had flown anyone over. A guy by the name of Emms from Salt Lake City [Utah] washed out at the same time. We were told we were going to be on our way to Europe, and somehow they got us on the wrong orders, and they sent us up to Camp Gordon, Georgia. (laughter)
We never did figure out how we got to Camp Gordon. We were sent to an infantry training company up there. The mission of this training company was giving them four or five weeks training to the people that they were pulling out of the Army Air Corps. At that time they were pulling a lot of people out of the Army Air Corps to train as filler replacements and ship them overseas. I think the second or third day we were there, Emms and I were down at Regimental Personnel, trying to explain to them that we shouldn’t be there, that we were supposed to be on our way to Europe, and no way. We stayed there a couple of months and, finally, they decided it was wrong. In the meantime, I had tried a little bit of everything, doing a lot of cooking. I volunteered to be in there; I was pulling a lot of KP and I volunteered to work as a cook. But it took them a couple of months to get this straightened out and get us on our way overseas. It was along in the spring, then, of 1945 before I ever got overseas.
Did you fly over to Europe?
No. We went up to——what is the Army post just north of Baltimore [Maryland]? Fort Meade [Fort George G. Meade]. We went to Fort Meade, and they had us in a holding station there, in the processing station, for about a month. It took a long time. Everything was manual. It took about a month to get us processed, and then they sent us by troop train up to Camp Myles Standish, by Boston [Massachusetts], and we boarded the SS Mariposa. The Mariposa was an old luxury liner that had been commandeered. We set out, without an escort——of course the war was still on, but they were changing course every three minutes. This was good enough, apparently, at that part of the war that we weren’t really in danger, although we were under very strict blackouts all the time.
You got there in late April or early May.
About late April.
The war ended when, 7 May?
I think 7 May, something like that.
Did you ever hear a shot fired in anger then?
Yes, we did. In riding this troop train up through France, there were some pockets that had been cut off in the fast movement through France, through the northern part of France, and there were still some battles going on. But personally, I never fired a shot, and I was lucky that I wasn’t one of those that was turned right around and sent to the Pacific; the fact that I was married gave me some points. I guess that is one advantage.
What was Germany like immediately after the war here?
Germany was terrible. The buildings were all devastated; there was nothing in the shops—very little food. Once in a while you could find a black-market restaurant that was in business. Even the beer wasn’t good because it wasn’t aging.
When we moved up south of Kassel [Germany] for occupation, we picked up a lot of new people. When we first moved up, we went into a little town of Bad Wildungen, set up our headquarters in an old spa hotel. This is in the area of Germany where they have all the baths. So we occupied one of the biggest hotels there, really a nice place. It hadn’t been shelled. We were in there about three days and Corps came along. They said, “Okay, division, you have got to get out. We are going to take this over. This has been our plan.” So we had to move out to a very small town about three or four kilometers from there.
Was the Army supposed to be ferreting out Nazis?
Yes. We had several missions. We had CIO [counterintelligence office] and CIC [counterintelligence corps] that were reporting to us, and our division was picked to be the division to establish the repatriation of the displaced persons. My boss, Colonel Spryer——and this would have been late in 1945, probably around September or October 1945—had several meetings with the Russians, and they established the parameters for the exchange of the DP [displaced persons] across this zone up there. It never worked out right. I remember our first exchange—first I should tell you, his first meeting with the Russians, Spryer came back, and he had what looked like an old milk carton that they used to carry the bottles in filled up with bottles of vodka, real Russian vodka. He had taken over whiskey, and they had given him Russian vodka. That was our first taste of vodka. That, with the weak beer, made a pretty good drink. (laughter)
When we got ready for the repatriation, we found that we just could not trust them. We were supposed to exchange, say, 200 people a day. We would process our 200 people, and we would end up getting 400 or 500 or 600 people, and they would say, “They are people that you sent over to us that you shouldn’t have sent.” So the repatriation really never worked out.
Who were you repatriating?
These were displaced persons who were living in the DP camps. We had a lot of DP camps. I know in the city of Salzburg there was an area, and there must have been a couple thousand people in this DP camp.
Were you anxious to get home at this time?
Yes, I was anxious to get home. I thought, “Well, I will get back, and I will get to my old job in the exchange. Then I will see if I am going to become a farmer.” And I thought, maybe, I would go back to school.
We were all supposed to step right back into the positions we had before—the same place. I found out that wasn’t true either. A guy that I got to be a good friend with, who was probably about the same position in the company when he had gone into the service a short time before—three or four months before I had started there—came back, and he expected to step in at his level, plus other people had been hired expecting to stay at their levels. So it just wasn’t that good.
When did you actually get out of the Army then, in 1946?
I got out the first time in 1946. I went back in 1946 and then got out in 1947 and into the Army Air Forces.
Did this seem like the career you wanted to pursue?
Yes, this seemed like the career I wanted to pursue, but after I had met the girl I was going to marry, my second wife, and we got married, I decided what we ought to do was go overseas. There were a lot of good overseas places.
I had a friend [W02 John Uram] who had become a warrant officer, a master sergeant who had become a warrant officer. He was working up at the personnel processing squadron in New York. I had talked to Mr. Uram, and he said, “If you get up here, I’ll make sure you get to Europe.” So I volunteered for the European theater. In those days you couldn’t volunteer for a specific place; you volunteered for a theater. I volunteered for the European theater. I thought I had it all greased with this warrant officer. I got up to the processing station up in New York, and Uram had retired. So suddenly I found myself going to Wheelus Field, Libya, which turned out to be a good assignment for me. I went in there as a staff sergeant, and of course, shortly after that the Korean War broke out, and I was promoted rather quickly to tech sergeant and then to master sergeant. I was there for about six or seven months as the chief clerk in the squadron, and then I moved up to become the first sergeant.
What squadron was this?
1261st Air Transport Squadron. That just turned out to be a very, very good assignment for me. I had no idea when I went in there I would ever want to be a first sergeant. I got into the job a little bit under pressure. We had a Mexican who was our first sergeant. We got a new squadron commander from New Mexico, and he did not like Mexicans.
Unfortunately, Sergeant Bello was not the world’s greatest first sergeant. I think about the second week this major, at the time, was there—he was very upset over the way Sergeant Bello was handling leaves for our people that were taking their wives or their families with them to Europe. At that time, you could take one leave a year to the continent from Tripoli. They flew you up and back. Some guy and his wife had planned to go and Bello had not processed the leave paperwork in time. It was there in his inbox. He could never explain to the old man how he processed these things. No one else could ever figure it out anyway. (laughter)
He called me in about a day after he had really gotten in trouble with the ops officer, because it was the ops NCO that was going up. He called me in, and he said, “Okay, tomorrow morning you are the first sergeant.” I looked at him. He said, “You are a tech sergeant. You are now the first sergeant. If you can do the job, you are a master. If not, I am going to bust your ass to staff sergeant.” I thought, “What the hell did I get into with this guy?” But it worked out fine. I was able to hack it. So I got into the first sergeant business.
How were the enlisted people you were working with in these days? Were they mostly World War II vets that had stayed in?
Most of them were World War II vets. We were starting to get a few young people but not too many yet. In this air transport squadron, we had a lot of old maintenance people, a lot of old radio operators, kind of like the Jake Schuffert. You know, Jake was a radio operator. The cartoonist, the guy who draws “No Sweat.”
When the Korean War broke out, were you ever scheduled to go to the Far East at all?
Our outfit was alerted to go to the Far East, and we went so far as packing footlockers full. We had our typewriters and office supplies and everything packed into footlockers because we were sure we were going to be moving. Then something happened, and they decided we didn’t need to go, but we were sure we would have to be over there in the transport business.
When you went into the Air Force, was there quite a bit of difference in attitude between the Army and the Air Force?
When I moved into the barracks at Chanute Field [Illinois], I couldn’t believe it. I moved into this open bay—of course they were all open bays then. But here were master sergeants, staff sergeants, tech sergeants, two stripers, and three stripers, and they were all calling each other by their first name, and they were saying, “We are going to go get a beer. We will go out someplace and do this,” whatever they were going to do. They were talking about their work. It was all on a first-name basis. This was really a shock to me, because in the Army, at that time, you certainly didn’t call anyone of senior rank by their first name. There was no association with them, and you never spoke to one of those unless it was in the line of duty as a question unless they spoke to you first. I couldn’t believe this. I thought, “My gosh, what a change!” I thought they were almost like civilians.
I remember in those days some of the people that were on flying status would talk about their officers, “Pete this” and “Pete that,” whatever it might be. I couldn’t understand this. Then I found out a lot of the crew members called each other by their first names. This was going on even in World War II, I understand. It was acceptable. They were flyers, and they all considered themselves flyers, so they weren’t rank conscious about that. I guess that is when I first started developing some officer friendships, about this time. I saw a lot of this, that officers would invite enlisted people to their homes or to go someplace, and it was acceptable. No one seemed to be concerned about it.
When you got this job as first sergeant then, how did it work out?
It worked out fine. In those days all of the records were in the squadron. All of the personnel was done in the squadron. As chief clerk in the squadron, I attribute my fact to be able to handle this job and do it on the training I received from...my couple of years at Fourth Air Force. I didn’t know anything about the officer system, but I learned it very quickly.
[After a few years of it], I got to thinking maybe I should do something else, so I put in an application for the Recruiting Service. I went down to Abilene, Texas, for my interview. I was waiting in the office for the interview—at that time you had to be interviewed by a local recruiting station commander and several other people—and a guy came out and said, “You are going to have to wait a little bit. The deputy for air from the Southwestern Recruiting District is in here, and you will have to wait until he finishes with the commander. Then he will see if he can see you. If not, you will have to stay another day.”
About one and a half hours later, the door opened and sitting behind the desk was Col [Philip J.] John who had been the deputy base commander over Wheelus Field in Tripoli. He jumped up over that desk and greeted me like a long-lost friend and wanted to know what I was doing. I told him, and I told him what I was there for. He said, “How soon are you prepared to move?” I said, “Right away.” Ten days later I was on my way to the Southwestern Recruiting District down at Fort Sam [Houston, Texas]. I got down there just in time for Air Force to make a decision to split from the Army. I think I got there in about February, and in about May we moved over to Lackland [AFB, Texas] to set up the recruiting school and the 3504th Recruiting Group.
When you say “split from the Army,” what do you mean?
The recruiting. At that time our recruiting was joint with the Army. Army and Air Force recruiting was all together. We were sharing the same stations and had the same Southwestern District commander; he was an Army colonel.
The Air Force was always the deputy; it could never be the commander under that thing. We were having all kinds of problems in the recruiting business. I had no idea about it until I got there. The Army was trying to syphon off the best they could, and of course, they weren’t getting the best people, but they were really putting the pressure on the recruiters to meet the Army quota. It was more important for the Army to meet their quota than it was to meet the Air Force quota. So it was a tremendous opportunity to do something else. I thought I was going down there as a recruiter, but I found as soon as I got there that [Colonel] John intended that I work directly for him. I couldn’t do it while we were in Southwestern Recruiting District, but when we moved, then I became his group sergeant major.
Did the Air Force ever take any draftees after World War II? Do you recall?
Only a few, and they weren’t people that were drafted per se. They were people who failed to meet their Reserve obligations. They were called up, and probably only a handful of these.
And it was a four-year commitment for the new recruit in those days?
I think so. That has vacillated somewhat, but I think it has been primarily a three-year or four-year.
Was the type of persons the Air Force was recruiting a pretty good individual in these days?
Yes. Far superior to what they were getting in the other services, by and large. Across the board, we were getting good quality.
You were there for just a little over two years.
Was two years the normal tour in those days?
No. I was getting very hot to be tapped for overseas, so I decided I would volunteer to go where I wanted to go before I was picked to go. So I decided I wanted to go to Europe and had a chance. By this time you could volunteer for Europe and be reasonably assured you weren’t going to go to the Mediterranean or Turkey or someplace.
You went to this 48th Tactical Fighter Wing. This was the first combat unit you had been in in the Air Force. Was there quite a bit of difference now?
There was a great difference. When I got to the 48th Tac Fighter Wing, our wing commander was [Lt Gen Albert P.] Clark. A. P. Clark was just shortly promoted to general, shortly after I got there. “Big Red” went on to become the commandant of the Air Force Academy.
I see on your biography, they use the term “base personnel, sergeant major.” The Air Force didn’t have sergeant majors, did they?
Yes. We called them sergeant majors. It wasn’t a grade; it was a title.
Was the title even official, though?
I mean, on your orders it would read sergeant major?
Yes. Base personnel, sergeant major. When I got there, I was the personnel sergeant major...of the air base group. Then just a few weeks after I was there, we consolidated. We took the personnel records out of the groups. By this time, we had moved the personnel records from the squadrons to the groups, and then we pulled them from the groups and consolidated all of them.
In this consolidation, did you lose anything personally?
No, I gained really, because I had a small personnel shop under the air base group, but when we placed everyone into the group, then I became the base personnel sergeant major.
(Before we move forward...), you were in the military when it was integrated.
This happened in 1949 if you remember. I was at Hamilton Field [California] at the time, and I should talk to you about that.
Our squadron was right across—not an active running stream but a dry bed, California-type stream. There was a walkover between us and two barracks where the black enlisted personnel were housed at Hamilton. None of us in the immediate area that I was working in had ever worked with any black personnel. We would see them around the base, but we had no contact with them. When the desegregation happened, we picked up, oh, maybe a dozen in Headquarters, Fourth Air Force, and they went to great lengths to try to move them into separate areas in the barracks.
Rather than to have all of a sudden one barracks.
Rather than to have them all in one barracks. Little by little you could see that they tried to move back together again.
On their own.
Yes. I found this to be a problem, then, in the squadrons I had as first sergeant to really work this problem of keeping them separated, because there was a tendency to move together. A lot of first sergeants believed, “Well, if we have desegregation, we are going to have it, but in my outfit they are going to be in one area.” They were really poorly treated. Although we had desegregation, they were really poorly treated.
On a personal or an official basis?
I would say more on a personal basis. There was a lot of official treatment that really was a facade. When a person would walk out of a room, there would be language and things said that should have never been said. So I think it was one of the toughest adjustments—and it was tougher for the black than it was for the white.
How did you feel about it personally, about integrating the Air Force?
I thought it was a good idea. I could not understand why, if they were going to fight, they shouldn’t be entitled to the same things that I was. I had been through the South, and I found it very degrading to walk into a place and see a nice water fountain where you could get a drink and then see a sign that said, “Colored Only.” It was a pitiful-looking sight. I found that very hard to accept. Coming from the Midwest, the only black people I had ever seen before were people who worked in the packing house and doing those lower paying jobs in Sioux City. They lived in a very poor, run-down section of town on the west side.
After World War II there was this Doolittle Board— I don’t know if that was the correct name of it. But they took away much from the NCOs’ power to discipline troops and to command the troops. In other words, a lot of things that, during World War II and before, would have been accomplished by the first sergeant, now you had lieutenant colonels. Did you ever see the Air Force trying to give more responsibility back to NCOs as time progressed, or was it still a case of everything moving to—
Everything was moving to the officers until this time in 1975–76 time frame. What had happened, and I think I can best illustrate it by stating that when the Air Force started out in 1947, we had very, very few nonflying officers in the line of the Air Force. Almost all of our commissioned officers in the Air Force were pilots or navigators. While these people were assigned duties as squadron adjutant or personnel officer or whatever may be, their real mission in life was to fly. So what happened was that the NCO at that time was an NCOIC [noncommissioned officer in charge]. He was responsible for everything, and he ran the office most of the time. I remember even in the early 1950s, when I started being a first sergeant, many times I wouldn’t see my squadron commander until 9:30 or 10 o’clock. He would come by to sign the morning report. He would probably be going off on a flight, and there was no doubt that the first sergeant was really running the day-to-day administrative operation of the squadron, and it was true in all of the sections. It was in the early 1950s, really, that we started bringing in more officers who were not flying officers and started to give these people special jobs—administrative officers, personnel officers, supply officers, and so forth, not additional duty.
We still had our warrant officer program at that time, but the warrant officers were never really recognized as being the man in charge. There was always that stigma that they were neither commissioned nor noncommissioned, neither fish nor fowl, and they just were never really well accepted in the total Air Force, although you will find general officers and you will find senior enlisted people that would tell you that warrant officers did a hell of a good job. Looking back, we did not take, really, our best qualified people to move them into the warrant officer grades. We didn’t take all master sergeants, for example. And if the system is working correctly, your best people would have been your master sergeants back in those days. We took a lot of tech sergeants to move into the warrant officer field. Although they were good technicians, they too did not have any real management training.
Was not that the theory, though, of the warrant officer, that he was more the technician?
Yes, and we had some good technicians.
He wasn’t supposed to command troops.
He wasn’t supposed to command troops, but I would think he would be expected to be more of a leader along with that, although he was not in command of troops.
When did the Air Force do away with the warrant officer?
We just retired our last one two years ago, but we stopped selecting warrant officers in the mid to late 1950s.
(Going back to the early sixties), what was the retention rate in the Air Force?
It was fair, but we were getting more and more into the proficiency pay business, and that really was not helping us. That was starting to split the real esprit in some of the units because some people got it. We never, for example, paid our aircraft maintenance people proficiency pay at this time, because they said, “There are too many. We can’t afford to pay it.”
Did you have a lot of people bailing out of the Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC) or system they were in, trying to get into these—
We had a large number of people who were trying to be cross-trained and get into something where they would get proficiency pay. Many times a field would be open more for promotions because it was a relatively new field, and they would try to get into it. By the time they moved, the field had closed up.
On this proficiency pay, did they have skill testing in effect on that?
Yes. We had boards set up to check and see if they were proficient, but primarily you would have a technical representative on the board and you would have three or four other people to comprise the board—one of them being the personnel officer. Many times these people were working with classified materials that they could not discuss, so you had to leave it up to the technical advisor to say whether you were technical competent or not. It was a weird system.
You mentioned you had thought about staying in your 20 and getting out. What had changed your mind on this idea?
By this time, I had decided that—I had looked around a great deal at what was going on in the civilian job world, and it wasn’t that great. A lot of the reported salaries were good, but here again, with no formal education, I just couldn’t step out into a good job. By this time now with the two girls, I was beginning to think I had better get serious about trying to build something so we could educate these girls, so they wouldn’t have to start out at the bottom of the rung like their dad had. My wife felt very strongly about it, too, that we ought to be able to have some economic stability. About this time the job market was really not too good on the outside anyway.
There was a little recession there.
Yes. So as a chief master sergeant, I was fairly comfortable. There was no problem. There were very few chiefs at that time, and you were guaranteed you would get quarters, so I decided I was going to stay.
Then you got this assignment to Frankfurt, Germany.
I was sitting in my office one day, and I was thinking about where I would like to go. My wife and I had talked about it. I suddenly recalled a man that I had gotten to know by reputation that was in the Security Service. This guy was known as the greatest manipulator of assignments in the Air Force. So I called Hugh T. Smith, who was also a chief master sergeant, and talked to him. He really didn’t remember me. I had been stationed at the recruiting group in Lackland when he was in Security Service down the hill at Kelly [Field AFB, Texas]. But he said he would like to help me. He said, “We do have several assignments. We can put you in Turkey; we can put you in Bremerhaven, Germany; we can put you in Frankfurt, Germany, or we can put you in Alaska. How about you calling me back and letting me know which one of these jobs you would like to have?” I called him back the next day, and I said, “I really thought about it, and I don’t want to go to Turkey, although it looks pretty good. The brochures looked very good to us. I know I don’t want to go to Alaska. I would like to go to Frankfurt, Germany.” He said, “Frankfurt happens to be our region headquarters.”
Region headquarters and intermediate headquarters. Since I had no experience in that command, it really would be better for me to start at a lower echelon. He wanted me to really think about it. He tried to talk me into going to Elmendorf [AFB], Alaska. I finally called him back and said no. The only thing I would take would be Frankfurt, Germany. Within about 10 days, we had our orders and were on our way overseas.
You were over there four years. Then I notice you came back to this title of noncommissioned officer in charge, Programs’ and Requirements Division, Deputy Chief of Staff, Personnel, Headquarters US Air Force Security Service. Boy that was a good job title.
It was a good title, better than the job. We came back. There was really no choice of getting out of the organization, and we even wanted to go to San Antonio [Texas]. We had had one tour before in San Antonio and liked it. We thought it was the logical place to go. We came back and went into the personnel programming shop.
The first Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force was picked in 1967. Had you paid much attention to this?
Yes, from the day that I saw the first announcement in the Air Force Times, I was vitally interested in the program. I remember coming home after reading that Air Force Times and saying, “That’s the job I really would like to have.” I tried to follow [CMSAF] Paul Airey as well as I could. Basically, it was what I read in the Air Force Times, but little did I realize at the time that I was going to have an opportunity to really start working towards it.
Were you eligible to be plugged in on that first selection?
On that first go, I was not. I did not have enough service. It was on the second go—when [CMSAF] Don Harlow—that I had enough service.
You say you followed this procedure. Had you ever gotten together with other NCOs as your level, at this time or before this, talking about such a position or billet in the Air Force?
I recall years and years ago that a lot of us had discussed it because the Marine Corps had always had a sergeant major.
TWe had always discussed that we felt we ought to have someone up there; we ought to have a sergeant major of the Air Force, and we could not understand why we did not have one. The Marine Corps had one. There was not a great deal of publicity but enough to let the world know that they had one. So when this announcement was made in the Air Force Times that they were going to have the position and finally when they selected Paul Airey, there was considerable discussion at NCO gatherings.
In the European Security Region, we had a strong NCO group that got together every month, not only for fun and games but we got together to talk about serious business and what we could. When I got back to headquarters, I found out that this was an offspring of their brainchild because they had a highly structured senior NCO council that got together. This included all of the top three—all the 7s, 8s, and 9s. They would get together once a month. They would have guest speakers. They had a sergeant major of Security Service, primarily administrator, but he did have a rapport with the commander of Security Service. He would run the meeting and bring us up to date on the different things that were going on in the command. So I felt that command was one that was really ready for it.
I was going to ask you then. Was there not in existence, in a very ad hoc, unofficial way, a lot of command chiefs? In other words, didn’t most commands at this point have kind of chief senior advisors in an unofficial capacity?
Yes, they did.
This was kind of unofficial, wasn’t it?
It was sort of unofficial. They called them their sergeant majors. At the time Paul Airey was selected, and I was able to go back and recount all of this because of the correspondence I read later on, there were several major air commanders that came to the chief of staff when they decided to go with this position with their personal recommendations. “Here is my guy, and he is the guy that you should select. He would make an ideal man for you.” There were numerous of these letters that I found in the file. People had these people working as sergeant majors.
In 1966 the first-term reenlistment rate was the lowest it had been in 12 years. Do you recall that at all?
I recall that very vividly. I recall when Paul Airey moved into office in 1967, one of the first things he set up was a program that every top three should get a junior Airman to reenlist.
There is a name for it...
I forget the name of the program, but that program was worked and worked well. It was milked until the old cow ran dry, but there was some misinterpretation in that program, and there was a feeling that we were only concerned with the top three grades and the lower three. The midrange NCOs, then, were left out of the picture. The right way to work that was to really work through the chain of command and work through those midrange NCOs to motivate those people to enlist, but because of the way the program was articulated, there was a lot of misunderstanding about that program.
(The) idea of the NCOs encouraging first-termers to reenlist was called the “Top Three Program.”
Every top three was supposed to get one, and a lot of people interpreted that not only to get him, but you took him home with you; you took him to lunch and you did all of these things to really motivate him. Well you (know) what happens. Here are all of the top NCOs, and they are dragging all of these young troops around, and the midrange NCOs are saying, “What the hell is going on? He is getting favoritism and all those things.” I don’t think that was Paul Airey’s intent at all, but that came out as his program, and if anyone has to bear the brunt of it being a bad program, well, Paul Airey has to suffer that because everyone referred to it as Airey’s program.
Was it successful in any sense? I get the impression it was not very successful.
I don’t think it was too successful. Although we kept some first-termers we might have lost, we demotivated a lot of midrange NCOs and lost some midrange NCOs.
Promotion boards disappeared for the enlisted grades in 1969. Did you ever get involved in an input of (how) they should go or they shouldn’t go or your impression of how they worked?
No. I didn’t get involved at that time with it because we didn’t happen to be at a level where we had anything to say. We supported the initiation of the WAPS [Weighted Airman Promotion System] program. We thought that would be a good program particularly for the people of that command. I had been sitting on promotion boards, it seemed like all my life—but for a long, long time. On the command board, it really boiled down to looking for demotivators for promotion when you reviewed the records because they were so good. Most of us would devise a formula—so many points for this and so many points for that—so we could go through these records and try to come up with a reasonable evaluation.
How honest were they in your mind, these promotion boards?
I think by this time the promotions boards we were having were quite honest, because they were at a level above where you knew most of the people individually. You had to know some individually. If you take it back to the old boards that we used to have at the bases years ago, I would like to think that some of us were good at our jobs that got selected, but a lot of it was based on who you knew and how well your reputation was. If you established a good reputation on that base, you had a good chance of being promoted. But you could have been the best guy at Minot AFB, North Dakota, and go to Wheelus Field, Tripoli, and until you established yourself on Wheelus, you didn’t stand a chance of being promoted. So you were really starting at the bottom every time you made a move.
We would look at records and have good recommendations in the records and couldn’t do anything with them because, well, “He hasn’t been on the base long enough. I just don’t know how well he is really going to do. I know this is what the colonel said at Minot, but he has to be here at Chaumont a little bit longer before we can promote him.” That was a lot of it.
Then, of course, the rumors on a base. Bases that were fairly small bases, everyone knew what everyone else was doing, or they thought they knew what everyone else was doing. So promotion boards were really quite vicious in a way. I know I would have been selected a board earlier for master sergeant when I was at Wheelus Field except they had an enlisted man serving on the board, and they asked this enlisted man who he would promote, and he said, “I think you ought to promote him.” “Is he a good friend of yours?” “Yes. We happen to be friends.” “Okay, we will take this other guy.” (laughter) I know that for a fact.
In 1968 you had the SKT [specialty knowledge test], promotion fitness exams [PFE], supervisor’s exam. These were all new things at that point. You were down at Kelly. Was there a lot of confusion as to how these things were going to be used initially?
I think people were a little bit resistant to accept the fact that they had to have two tests. They had a PFE test, and then they had an SKT test, and why did they have to have all of this?
In this testing, in any sense did you hear this complaint, “Well, hell, I can go out and fix this F-4. But when you test me on paper—
We have always had that. Of course the book answer is that we can teach people to take tests. I think we can. If they have the proper aptitudes to begin with, we can teach them how to test.
You then found yourself in a how-to-take-tests situation?
Right. You had to convince these people that we can—there was a waiver provision, too. You could get a waiver for these.
How did that work?
You could go before a board, and they could agree to waive your tests. We had several who tried to get waiver after waiver after waiver rather than apply themselves and learn how to study and then learn how to take tests.
Did you find the situation that tests takers were getting the promotions rather than the doers?
That was a perception for a lot of people. That was a perception of the doers that the test takers get all the promotions. But I think all in all, when it was all said and done, it pretty well equals out. The people who are the doers could be better if they would take the time to read or learn how to read. I think most of it was reading and comprehension to begin with, because if they could read and comprehend, then they could also take the tests. They would know how to answer. And I guess we still have a little of this fight going on. We still have some people saying, “Well, we have a percentage of people who still can’t take tests.” I suppose that is so, but it is because they have never really had to test. They have been able to get by.
Was there an APR [Airman Performance Report] inflation? Did this happen as things went on?
Yes. Initially, when we started the Airman Performance Report, we had controlled ratings, not as hard and fast controlled as we had under the officers a few years ago, but at the top of the form, it gave you a breakout. So many people out of—I can’t remember the numeric thing—but a certain percentage of them, one could be exceptionally well, and one had to be on the other end. Then it broke down so the average would be in the middle. For a while reports sort of stayed that way, but it wasn’t long until people began to say the reason they didn’t get promoted was because they didn’t have a high enough performance report, so they started pushing it over and pushing it over, and the next thing we knew, everyone was firewalled on the right-hand side. I don’t think that was absolutely necessary for a promotion. I think I was fortunate that I had some honest raters who did not rate me completely over the right hand in everything.
An expression in the report: How am I to improve myself? I think that helped me. It never slowed me down from any promotions. I was one of the real fortunate. I was promoted the first go on the E-8 and the first go on the E-9. I think we would still have people that would be promoted that way, particularly the top grades now that we have the WAPS and we also have the board that takes a look, too. I think the board can adjust those things.
In the 1970s there began to be talk now of doing away with the draft and getting to an all-volunteer force. Did that come down to your level yet at all?
How did you feel about that?
I did not feel we should go for an all-volunteer force because I thought it would be too expensive, and we wouldn’t get a good cross section, although, the Air Force had not drafted people. We got a good cross section because people were motivated to come into the Air Force rather than wait to be drafted by the Army. I felt we would not get the good cross section of the people, and it would become too expensive, I feel that we are right in that situation today.
In 1971 a study began of off-base housing or living for unmarried (enlisted members). What was this in response to? Why was this now thought of?
We had a shortage of quarters, to begin with, and we were trying to upgrade the living conditions for our people. It was a matter of deciding how we would work it; who would be entitled and who would not be. The decision was that we would do it by rank, [starting with] the senior person. We found out it was not always working that way because we would have people that did not want to live on base, but because of the quarters availability when they came in, they would be assigned [quarters on base]. And we had some commanders who were not asking them, when they had an overage again, if they wanted to move off. Then vice versa, we had some that were living off, and they would be told they had to move back on because—we treated people a little bit unfairly. One place they would have to live off base because there were no quarters. They would have to buy furniture. They would get to the next place, and they would have to live on base. It was not only disturbing, but it was also financially difficult.
There were some people that felt they couldn’t be responsible, couldn’t be trusted. What are they going to be doing with all of this spare time off? We are not going to be monitoring them.
We discussed this in several major meetings. It came up in career motivation conferences, and it would come up in different places that I would travel. I think our people were always concerned, well, as an enlisted man, how are they going to handle themselves? Can they make their payments? Here they are old enough to be in the service and I think we have to show we have that kind of faith in them and give them support. We can’t automatically say because they are enlisted lower graders that they can’t take care of themselves.
Were there ever any problems?
There were problems; people that were used to someone getting them up to get to work on time couldn’t make it, some of them didn’t pay their bills. Initially there were problems, but I don’t think there were nearly as many problems as some of our people had anticipated.
You then became Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force in October 1971. You had been turned down when Harlow was named.
I had been turned down when Harlow was named. Two years later I surfaced at the board, and it wasn’t an automatic thing. Gen. [Carl] Stapleton did not say, “Well, you are going to be my submission.” We polled the field, and they held a board, and quite frankly, I didn’t know whether I was going to be the top man out of the command or not because we had other very, very good competitors, people who would do well in the job. It happened I was the [nominee], and I think I competed with 22 or 24 other people, at Randolph again. It was about two weeks later that I was notified that I was one of the people to come to [Headquarters] Air Force for an interview, but I was told not to discuss it with anyone other than my family, and the TDY orders would not show that I was in Washington for that purpose, and they would tell me exactly what to do.
I came in military air to Andrews [AFB, Maryland] and I was met by SSgt Ben McCarter who was working in the CMSAF office. Ben happens to be a captain now and has done well in his career. He met me, and he took me to the Twin Bridges Marriott motel. They already had the room reserved. He said, “Here are the telephone numbers for the office. You are not to call anyone or go see anyone while you are here in Washington. We will let you know when and where the interviews [are]. If you need anything, call us, but you don’t go anyplace except down to the restaurant to eat. “Don’t go out,” I thought, “My gosh, this is really super, super secret. It must be important. It is so secretive.”
About 10 minutes after he left, I looked at my watch. I think it was three o’clock in the afternoon. I thought, “I’m awfully thirsty. I think I’ll walk down to the bar and get a beer.” I opened my door, and at the same time I opened my door about eight or 10 doors down the door opened, and [CMSgt] Dick Stewart stepped out. He said, “What are you doing here?” I said, “What are you doing here?” He said, “I just finished my interview this morning. I am going to be catching a plane this evening sometime. Let’s go get a drink.” We went and had a drink and talked about it. But other than that I didn’t have any contact. Then I learned it was Stewart and [CMSgt Robert] Colpitt who were the two guys who were being interviewed with me.
Anyway, the next morning McCarter picked me up, and I went over to see Gen Robert Dixon. At that time, he was a three-star. It seemed to me like I sat in his outer office for an awfully long time. Finally, his door opened, and he came out and invited me to come in and asked me to sit down on the couch and told me to relax. I said, “How the hell can you relax at a time like this?” He said, “You have to relax.” He started giving me some probing questions...
Then I went down to see Gen. [John C.] Meyer. That was really a tough interview. It felt tough, not from the standpoint of questions, but he sat back of his great big desk; it was a very formal thing, and I was in a chair over by the side of his desk, and he smoked those big cigars and talked in those low monotones. I had difficulty understanding some of his questions.
From an audio standpoint.
Yes. I felt that, after I had that interview, I was really confused. I thought, “Well, I might as well go back to San Antonio because it is all over with.”
How long were you in there?
I would say probably about 45 minutes.
It wasn’t very long.
No, it wasn’t a very long interview…
We were told when we left there, “We will let you know whenever the decision is made.” About two weeks later, I was sitting in my office, and I had a call from base ops in San Antonio at Kelly, and they said, “There is an inbound coming in. It is going to be in here at five o’clock, and there is a colonel on there that has a package for you.” I had no idea what they were talking about.
I went down and met the plane. There was a colonel on there from Randolph AFB, coming back from TDY, who had a letter from the Chief of Staff saying that I had been selected. It also had a note on the outside of it that once I read the letter I was to call Headquarters Air Force and let them know that I had received the letter. As soon as I did, they released the message to all telling the world.
The next morning, I woke up and it was headlines in the San Antonio paper. I got front-page coverage on the San Antonio Light. That is a little bit different than how the announcement is made today.
When you moved your family up, where did you live then?
After the school year was over in June, we moved out to Andrews [AFB, Maryland]. There was an old farmhouse out there, out by itself, that they elected to set up as the quarters for the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force. They were supposed to have built quarters at Fort Myer [Virginia] for all of the senior NCOs of the services. For some reason they were never built.
Does the Chief still live out there?
No, he does not. [CMSAF Thomas N.] Barnes, when he replaced me, stayed in the same house. They added on a bedroom and a bathroom because he had a larger family. It was a nice little farmhouse. It had an open stairwell with a nice railing and a fireplace. It was very comfortable. The only thing, the basement leaked. We had a lot of stuff ruined because of water damage and mildew from the basement storage. But it was very comfortable. It was out by itself, and it was very relaxing. When you got home from a trip, you could go there and really be relaxed. Barnes lived there, but when [CMSAF Robert D.] Gaylor came in, Gaylor’s wife, he said, did not want to live out there all by herself, so they elected to take one of the newer sets of quarters that had been built on Andrews.
On the notes I have here, it says the Air Force was going to begin guaranteeing jobs to enlistees in July 1971. Was this something new in the Air Force?
Yes, this was something new. Before, everyone had been just handled by the recruiters, and once they got to Lackland, they hit the classification system. It was at Lackland where they made the decision which career field they were going to go into.
The Army had always guaranteed schools, hadn’t they?
Yes, the Army had guaranteed schools, but the Air Force had not. So what we started doing then was the career job reservation system, so we could guarantee them that if they met all the qualifications that they were going to be an aircraft mechanic or a dental technician or whatever it may be.
Did you run into that perennial problem of young Joe Brown joins from [Omaha], and he ends up being an SP [security police] rather than a computer operator?
We had some of that, but when we started tracking it down after this system was devised, we found out that in many cases he did not understand. This was one of the reasons why Air Force went to setting forth in writing what the promises were by the recruiters.
Had there been recruiter abuse, so to speak, on this thing?
Yes, I would say that there was. The recruiting service may take objection to this, but there was. I know from my experience in the 3504th Recruiting Group that we had recruiters that were promising things, and they couldn’t deliver. But they got the person to Lackland, and they may have been sucked up by the MPs [military police] or the food service or something else, something they didn’t want.
As this began, had you gotten involved in promoting this thing over the years, this guarantee? Would that have been anything you were familiar with at all?
I was familiar with it from the fact that I had spent some time in the recruiting service and being a sergeant major on a base, a personnel sergeant major, I often times had people in my office who were complaining about the fact that they did not get the career field that they were promised.
TOPCAP [Total Objective Plan for Career Airman Personnel], that came in in the 1970s?
TOPCAP came in in the 1970s. That is the Total Objective Plan for Career Airman Personnel.
Do you think that was a good thing or a bad thing?
It was a very good thing because encumbered with this was the WAPS promotion system, the Weighted Airman Promotion System, and then we later tacked on to it the equal selection opportunity for promotion. I was there when we decided to go with the equal selection opportunity, and we made that decision to have every career field have the same opportunity for promotion selection. We also made a decision that we were going to have to reclassify people when career fields became overage.
Well, what happened...was that we never wrote the policies or the regulations to enforce that reclassification when we had an overage. As a result, we still have serious overages in some of our career fields.
We had talked early on, when we first started thinking about this, that if we were going to select a man for senior master sergeant, for example, and there were no vacancies, they would have to agree to go into another career area in order to get that promotion. But we had too many of the “do-gooders” that felt, “This is too stringent of a policy. We can’t do this. It isn’t right.” They had been in this career field, so we ought to leave them in the career field. Well, it is just common sense if you are running your own business, you are not going to pay people to sit around.
Did this TOPCAP also include this forcing people out of a certain career point if they didn’t get promoted?
Yes. It built tenure points so people would have to be separated if they weren’t promoted.
Is that efficient? In other words, if you have an E-5 that is doing a very good job and would be satisfied staying an E-5, do you have to promote him? Is it fair—use the word “fair”—to force him out of the military simply because he is not promotable although he is doing well. That is the argument as I understand it.
That is the argument, and that is still a good, basic argument. What do you do about those people who are really good in their chosen profession, and the Air Force needs them. They would never be managers or supervisors. You need some of these people. Perhaps the Air Force ought to take a relook at this and see what percentage of a career area they could keep as skilled technicians who are never going to go but really have that solid background. I would think there ought to be some way we could look at that today and do something about it.
Did you personally start getting letters from guys, “Hey, they are throwing me out of the Air Force?”
Yes. I received many letters and a lot of telephone calls on probably every base I went to from someone who was about to be forced out, saying, “Why can’t they let me stay?”
Well, I had to support the Air Force program. The decision had been made. Gen. Ryan was very supportive of the personnel programs, and my words from him were, “Let’s let these things work. We just have them; they are in, let’s let them work rather than start diddling around with them.” It happened particularly on a promotion. I thought we should authorize commanders to make some special selections for promotion like they can now. They have a program today where they can make some.
I was down to Kelly Field, and I was talking to [Maj. Gen. James G.] Randolph, who was the deputy commander of that AMA [Air Materiel Area] at Kelly at the time. We were getting ready to ship all of these F-5s, these T-38 trainers, over to Southeast Asia right at the end of the war. They had all of their engineers researching the best way for them to make the shipment, how to put them in the C-5s or C-141s, whichever they were using to fly them over. They were having a great deal of difficulty with this, very high-level people working on the configuration of how they should be shipped.
They found a staff sergeant who had been a loadmaster who was working as a cook in the galley of the aircraft assigned to that AMA commander. He said, “This is very easy.” He went over and worked it and set up a program how they could tear those things down and put them in and ship them. Gen. Randolph wanted to do something for this guy. I came back and talked to Gen. Ryan, and Gen. Ryan said, “Well, it is all well and good, but we can’t dork around with the WAPS promotion system. I don’t want to do it. The system is working. Let’s not foul it up.”
I am sure he was concerned because of all the pressure he had had from Congress, all the letters to congressmen. These things just died out after we got the Weighted Airman Promotion System. But until this day I still think the staff sergeant should have gotten a spot promotion.
I have note here that in fiscal year 1971, the first term retention rate was the best in six years. Do you remember why that was?
I think it was because our people were convinced that they had a lot of opportunity to see where they were going. I think the Weighted Airman Promotion System and the TOPCAP program, they could see where there was an avenue for progression, and I think that is why we had that good retention.
What do you think of—I don’t know if that would be classified as professional military education or professional military training? How do you feel about professional military education?
professional military education? I think professional military education is one of the best steps that we have taken in the last 30 years, maybe since we split from the Army. As we have become more and more sophisticated and tried to centralize more and more, we have expected people to step into jobs and perform those jobs without the benefit of a great deal of experience. So we throw them into these jobs, and they are supposed to be leaders and supervisors. I think we do a fairly comprehensive job on the technical training, but on the military side of the house, professional side, management side, up until about 1975–76 we really didn’t have our act together.
That came about as a result of [Lt. Gen. Kenneth L.] Tallman’s Air Force Management Improvement Group [AFMIG] that he convened during the summer of 1975 for Gen. [David C.] Jones. They looked at the entire spectrum of what was going on in the enlisted side of the house (and some on the officers to a degree) and one of the first things this group came out with was a statement: We need to professionally develop our noncommissioned officers like we do our officers. As a result, the Air Force built a five-phase professional military education system for the enlisted. I can see now that it is starting to pay real dividends. Looking back in retrospect, had we had it 35 years ago, it would have been tremendous. We depended on the process of osmosis, if you will, to teach these people.
The Senior NCO Academy was approved by Congress in the fall of 1972, and it officially opened in January 1973. Had you been involved in pushing this or getting it organized or going to Congress?
Yes, very much so. There had been some discussion before we opened it about making it a First Sergeant Academy. We knew we could not send all of the first sergeants to it, and I didn’t want to see that happen. I felt that all of our senior NCOs needed this type of professional military education, and to limit it to only one area would be wrong for the Air Force. So the decision was made then that it would not be the first sergeant school; it would be a senior NCO academy.
At that time a Col. [Robert K.] McCutchen and Ray Warren were there. Col. McCutchen had two secretaries that were working with him along with Ray Warren and this other individual that moved over when they moved to Gunter [AFB, Alabama] to really get this thing going. I thought it was one of the best things that happened for the Air Force.
Had you gone to Congress to testify on this?
I had not. The testifying had all been done, but there were still decisions being made, like the first sergeant business and so forth.
Was there some meaning that it was put over at Gunter rather than on Air University, Maxwell AFB, Alabama?
I think the real reason was that there was not space on the AU for it. As I look back now, I think it is a good thing that it was established over at Gunter. I think it probably has more prestige being away from the officers, separated from the rest of the AU. A lot of people will argue that and say, “No, it would give it more prestige if it was right there on the circle with all of the rest,” but I think there would be problems. There wasn’t adequate office space, auditorium space, classroom space, or billeting for the people. As a result, what they have done at Gunter, they are going to have a very first-class facility when this new construction is finished. The new dorms they are getting are all very, very nice, and it is going to be really a first-class school. When you talk to people in the other services that go there that have gone to their schools, there is just no comparison. Our school is just head and shoulders above the rest.
From the onset, was it hoped for or planned for down the road that a NCO would eventually run the organization?
We were talking about that, but the thought was at that time in the Pentagon, “We are going to give you a full colonel, and the colonel will be the commandant. You cannot have an enlisted commandant in charge of this school.” Really, the thinking didn’t start changing on that until the Tallman AFMIG Group of 1975. It was after that that people started talking seriously about trying to make that a senior NCO position. It took Gen. [Charles G.] Cleveland to do this, and he did it despite the objections of some of his superiors who said it wouldn’t work. I think it worked very, very well. They picked the right man for the job, and I think that is what we have to do on all of them.
Was the Air Force leadership structure opposed to the SNCO Academy down there as it developed?
There were some pockets of resistance. Some people thought we were going too far. What are you going to do with these people when they get out? Well, we did have a problem until 1975–76 when we started really trying to do something about better jobs, because these people came back and I think for the most part they were better qualified than most of the company and field grade officers they were working for. They certainly had had their horizons broadened, and in many cases they were more ambitious than they ever were before. They started thinking about trying to do something.
You were interviewed for the Air Force Association Magazine in January 1972. You talked about you wanted better housing and pay—of course that is standard. That is like more money or something—and more PME for NCOs. The three things you noted in the negative sense were you thought first-line supervisors were being bypassed, and there was a lack of knowledge about the Air Force itself by the enlisted people. What was the problem there?
Absolutely. We had people who were specialists. They really didn’t understand their job, how their job contributed to what the Air Force was doing, what the Air Force mission was. They couldn’t see that the supply guy at Kincheloe AFB [Michigan] didn’t understand that his job was very important to making sure those birds were launched every day. If he didn’t do his job right, someone didn’t get the supplies whether it be in the housing or wherever. People couldn’t do their jobs that would really support getting this done. I felt that our first echelon supervisors were being bypassed, particularly with this business of this emphasis on human relations, that they weren’t having to work the problems. They didn’t take an interest in their people. They were told not too many times. “You don’t have any control. Let him or her go do whatever they are going to do, but you don’t need to get into it.” Things do not run smoothly in any organization structured like the military service unless everyone along the line that is responsible is involved.
Did the drawdown of the Vietnam War now make your work easier or harder, or did it make any difference at all?
I don’t think it made too much difference. Although we had a lot of troops over there that were not too busy, I think we had more problems. There was more tendency for involvement in drugs, more alcohol, and so forth, and more chance for people to stop and think about things and complain more.
Did you have any participation in this Operation Homecoming when they brought the POWs back from Vietnam?
No, I did not. As I look back in retrospect, I probably should have forced myself into it. I was not invited to actively participate in this thing, but a little older and a little wiser, I think, I would have forced myself into this thing.
We were talking about PME. The Air Force, of course, down at Maxwell they had that leadership management school. Some would say that you can’t manage a military organization—you cannot use entrepreneurial concepts in a military organization. You cannot take these entrepreneurial business operations and methodologies and everything and try to run an air force. Do you think there was a time or is a time that the Air Force has tried to be too much like a business?
Yes. We have had times. I think it has only been in the last six or seven years that we have really gotten serious about getting back to leadership being number one and management being a subset of leadership. We spent a lot of money sending at least our colonel-level people to management schools outside of the Air Force, sending them back to college to get master’s and so forth, management being the big thing. I think now that we have arrived, and we have since 1975–76, at the decision that management, while important and while we need it—it is very important—it really is a subset from a military standpoint to leadership. Leadership is a predominant requirement.
Do you think you can teach a man to be a leader, or once again, is that something that has to be born into an individual?
I think you can if you start early enough and provided he is put in an environment where he sees—besides the schools, you have to put him in an environment where he sees leadership by example. If he doesn’t see it, then the schools are not going to pay great dividends.
Did you ever develop, in your career, anything that became Chief Kisling’s leadership technique? Did you ever develop something that you found useful?
Number one, I think first of all, you need to be up front with your people, and you can’t play one person against the other. You have to treat all of the people that are working with you the same. They have to be treated fairly. You have to listen. This is one thing that I have tried to do, and one thing that a lot of people fall down on is they fail to listen to their people. I found this with my children, and I see it now with my little grandchildren. You have to hear what they have to say. Even if you know what they are going to say, you have to let the person say it the way they want to say it because they want to make sure that you understand what they are talking about. Far too many people don’t have the time to listen. I see this today. It happens a lot at the senior level. They say, “I don’t want to hear that. I don’t have time to hear it. I know all about it.” Well, you kill a lot of initiative and you lose a lot of confidence of your people in you when you don’t have time to hear what they have to say.
I also think you need to exhibit, when it comes to leadership, the leadership—if you are an active duty Air Force man, you really need to exude that 24 hours a day no matter where you are. It has to be the same whether you are in the club or whether you are out to a social event, and I don’t mean stilted, as it is in the office. You can’t just become a different person. And you see a lot of people that completely change once they get into a social environment and everyone is their friend. Then when they get to the office in their work environment, down on the flight line or wherever it is, they don’t have time for any of these people. They get caught up in their own importance in these jobs; I think they have to remember the only way they can ever be successful is for their people to be successful and to give the people that are doing the job the credit for it. Far too many times we have section heads and division heads, particularly in the staff business, that rewrite things. A lot of them rewrite it just so they have their name on the piece of paper. So if there is going to be any kudos, it is going to be to them. By the time people get to those jobs, they should have enough confidence in themselves to know that the people above them are really looking at: What are you doing with your people? How well are you developing your people? Are they able to produce? That is what leadership and management has to be. Those are rather basic and rather simplistic. I think those are the things that I really consider on looking for leadership.