Thursday, February 25, 2016

Day One Thirty Six, Influence: Buzz Moseley

When Gen. T. Michael "Buzz" Moseley stepped down as Air Force chief of staff on August 1, 2008, troops lost a leader who gave everything he had to America's airmen. I wrote about nuclear accidents, Moseley's advocacy for the F-22 Raptor (and other robust systems)—and about his firing by Defense Secretary Robert Gates—in my book "Air Power Abandoned." Get a signed copy direct from me or find it for your Kindle.

Fighter pilot
Moseley is a fighter pilot and combat commander who rose to the top and was at ease among Washington bigwigs. He loves the Air Force and its traditions and is comfortable among airmen of all ranks.

On a ceremonial visit to France in May 1977, Moseley took along a contingent of crew chiefs and relatively junior pilots. He could have spent most of that trip hobnobbing with big shots. He chose to spend much of his time rapping with staff sergeants and captains. An affable man who drew genuine pleasure hanging out with the troops, Moseley enjoyed reminding airmen that they are part of history, part of something bigger than themselves.

In the end, Moseley was never able to spend enough time with the troops. Some of his efforts went awry, like an Airman's Creed that is all but incomprehensible. He might have had more time for everyday airmen if the nation hadn't been caught up in two wars and if the Air Force weren't feeling the strain from being in continuous combat since 1991.

Moseley wanted a new service dress uniform. Many liked the idea. More, it seemed, thought it was a waste of money while Americans were in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I've witnessed the evidence that Moseley was right in wanting airmen to look more military. I watched a tourist in a hotel ask for directions from an Air Force colonel, in the belief that the colonel was a bellhop.

Moseley's critics didn't get it. The fact is, it costs very little more to introduce new service dress attire than to continue using the existing uniform. The chief's proposed change is apparently dead now, and we are the poorer for it.

Also dead is Moseley's plan to merge aircraft maintenance into flying squadrons. In part because of his sense of history and of how things were done in World War II, Moseley wanted crew chiefs and pilots closer to one another. Maintenance officers opposed the plan because it intruded on their turf. As with the dress uniform, Moseley was right and his critics were wrong.

Moseley's wanted to recapitalize the Air Force. Who could argue against that, when our average aircraft is now 24 years old, compared with 8 during the Vietnam era? His belief in the need for a new air refueling tanker was heartfelt and powerful.

Moseley also pushed hard for a new combat rescue helicopter and recused himself from the selection. Years later, we still have neither the tanker nor the helicopter.

To his credit, Moseley spent his tenure making the case that airpower is the decisive force in warfare and that the Air Force is a fighting service, not an appendage to the ground combat branches.

Critics may argue that Moseley's reach exceeded his grasp---that he leaves office with too many goals unfulfilled. But in my view, Moseley is a visionary who was right most of the time. Those who follow him have a high standard to meet.

Moseley had every right to leave his duties with his head high. We are all richer that he was among us.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Day One Twenty Five. Influence: Robert Des Lauriers

Robert Des Lauriers was one of hundreds who fought America's wars and whom I interviewed later for books, magazine articles and newspaper columns between 1955 and 2015.

All were different. Few were as straightforward and as matter-of-fact as Bob when talking of being co-pilot of a four-engined B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber in battle high over the Third Reich.

My life has changed recently but those 60 years of writing history military may be my best contribution to the world, along with being an Air Force veteran (1957-60) and a Foreign Service officer (1964-89),

It took time to learn how. My training field was the men's magazine adventure genre of the 1950s to the 1970s where I learned to write about action in crisp, short sentences without the faux-patriotism, sentimentalism, and fawning over veterans that in later years became unfortunate fixtures in American life. You won't find me plugging the "greatest generation" pastiche or—that most irritating of habits—thanking someone for his service. After the men's magazines I wrote books—character-driven narratives of war— including one in which Bob Des Lauriers has a part.

Brave deeds

B-17 bomber crews flew at altitudes, typically 28,000 feet, where temperatures were often below zero Fahrenheit—there was no point in carrying drinking water on the flight; it would freeze—and where oxygen was needed for survival. They not only flew there, they fought there. They were pitted against a formidable adversary with fighters, flak, training and discipline. "I saw a Nazi Me 262 jet fighter climbing behind us on over Nurnberg  on February 21, 1945, and I thought, 'We don't have anything that like that. How can we fight that?'"

Bob was born in Waukegan, Illinois, went to high school after his family moved to California, and completed high school after the family moved to Hawaii in time to witness the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack. He played the trumpet, was in drama class, and saw Adolf Hitler in news reels. "I wasn't one of those people who always wanted to be a pilot.
I was interested in architecture."

Bob jointed the 34th Bombardment Group in England and flew 35 missions, apparently all with the same pilot, 1st Lt Dean Hansen. Later in life he was famous an an architect who designed many churches in Southern California.

He also designed mosques and schools. Before he died in 2013, Bob had become a friend and a fan of my history book, "Mission to Berlin."

When I think about what it took to climb aboard a freezing B-17 and venture into the high cold to face the Luftwaffe over Berlin, I will always be in awe. Bob Des Lauriers and his crewmates were very young men—it was possible to have a 10-man B-17 crew in which no one was yet old enough to vote—and they did what was asked of them.

I interviewed many who flew our most famous warplanes—B-24 Liberator, B-29 Superfortress, P-38 Lighting, P-47 Thunderbolt, P-51 Mustang, and the Korea era F-86 Sabre. I interviewed Americans who got into the air at Pearl Harbor.  I interviewed the American who performed history's first helicopter combat rescue in Burma in 1944. And, yes, I interviewed many who fought in Korea and Vietnam. I became friends with recipients of the Medal of Honor. I covered wars in Panama, the Middle East, Sarajevo, and Somalia. I saw Americans at their best.

Time of change

Around 2015, I wanted to make two major changes in my writing career. I wanted to change from traditional publishing to self publishing. And I wanted to change from history to fiction. I made both changes with my alternate history/science-fiction novel "Hitler's Time Machine," which you can get on Kindle or in hard copy directly from me.

In October 2015, I was diagnosed with a primary brain tumor called a Gliobastoma Multiforme—look it up here. I had brain surgery in December and am now completing chemo and radiation therapy. This type of tumor is always fatal, typically within fifteen months with the kind of treatment I'm getting, In the meantime, there is always no pain or discomfort. I'm still here. I'll still me. I'm still doing most normal stuff.

You can still call me on (703) 264-8950 or take me out for lunch.

The aeronautical-minded among you will note that the model plane on my desk is flying east.

In January 2016—post surgery—my crime novel "Crime Scene: Fairfax County" was published. You can get it in kindle here or directly from me. This is the best way you can support me as I attempt to keep life meaningful—by writing yet another novel and blog entries like this—while enjoying family and friends and keeping spirits high.

I've trying to face my brain tumor the straightforward, matter-of-fact way Bob Des Lauriers faced Hitler's flak and fighters. Someone told me I'm brave. Not at all. But it became my fortune to walk among some of the bravest men who ever lived. Men like Bob are going to help me get through this.