It is quite frustrating to hear the daily cacophony from the left and Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, et al., about Lt. Bush escaping his military responsibilities by hiding in the Texas ANG. In the Air Guard during the Vietnam War, you were always subject to call-up, as many Air National Guardsmen are finding out today. If the 111th FIS and Lt. Bush did not go to Vietnam, blame President Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, not lowly Lt. Bush. They deliberately avoided use of the Guard and Reserves for domestic political calculations, knowing that a draftee only stirred up the concerns of one family, while a call-up got a whole community's attention.
The mission of the 147th Fighter Group and its subordinate 111th FIS, Texas ANG, and the airplane it possessed, the F-102, was air defense. It was focused on defending the continental United States from Soviet nuclear bombers. The F-102 could not drop bombs and would have been useless in Vietnam. A pilot program using ANG volunteer pilots in F-102s (called Palace Alert) was scrapped quickly after the airplane proved to be unsuitable to the war effort. Ironically, Lt. Bush did inquire about this program but was advised by an ANG supervisor (Maj. Maurice Udell, retired) that he did not have the desired experience (500 hours) at the time and that the program was winding down and not accepting more volunteers.
So no points for LLLs sarcastically saying that Pres. Bush defended Texas from the VC. His squadron was involved in defending the entire U.S. from the Soviets. It also might be hard for some folks to understand that one can rapidly travel across the country (i.e. leave Texas) when flying at Mach 2 in a fighter jet.
Sadly, few of today's partisan pundits know anything about the environment of service in the Reserves in the 1970s. The image of a reservist at that time is of one who joined, went off for six months' basic training, then came back and drilled weekly or monthly at home, with two weeks of "summer camp." With the knowledge that Mr. Johnson and Mr. McNamara were not going to call out the Reserves, it did become a place of refuge for many wanting to avoid Vietnam.
There was one big exception to this abusive use of the Guard to avoid the draft, and that was for those who wanted to fly, as pilots or crew members. Because of the training required, signing up for this duty meant up to 2½ years of active duty for training alone, plus a high probability of mobilization. A fighter-pilot candidate selected by the Guard (such as Lt. Bush and me) would be spending the next two years on active duty going through basic training (six weeks), flight training (one year), survival training (two weeks) and combat crew training for his aircraft (six to nine months), followed by local checkout (up to three more months) before he was even deemed combat-ready. Because the draft was just two years, you sure weren't getting out of duty being an Air Guard pilot. If the unit to which you were going back was an F-100, you were mobilized for Vietnam. Avoiding service? Yeah, tell that to those guys.
The Bush critics do not comprehend the dangers of fighter aviation at any time or place, in Vietnam or at home, when they say other such pilots were risking their lives or even dying while Lt. Bush was in Texas. Our Texas ANG unit lost several planes right there in Houston during Lt. Bush's tenure, with fatalities. Just strapping on one of those obsolescing F-102s was risking one's life.
I used to live a few miles away from Hill Air Force Base in Utah. There were many Air Force and Air Force Reserve pilots in my church. Most of them got called up to go to Iraq during Desert Storm. I remember one pilot, after returning from Iraq, recalling the flak hitting his F-16 as he flew one of his missions. And every year there were at least 1-2 pilots killed while doing standard drills at home. I could see Kerry et al. mocking Bush's military service if he had been a desk jockey, but a fighter pilot? Come on guys! Is that all you got?
Critics such as Mr. Kerry (who served in Vietnam, you know), Terry McAuliffe and Michael Moore (neither of whom served anywhere) say Lt. Bush abandoned his assignment as a jet fighter pilot without explanation or authorization and was AWOL from the Alabama Air Guard.
Well, as for abandoning his assignment, this is untrue. Lt. Bush was excused for a period to take employment in Florida for a congressman and later in Alabama for a Senate campaign.
Excusals for employment were common then and are now in the Air Guard, as pilots frequently are in career transitions, and most commanders (as I later was) are flexible in letting their charges take care of career affairs until they return or transfer to another unit near their new employment. Sometimes they will transfer temporarily to another unit to keep them on the active list until they can return home. The receiving unit often has little use for a transitory member, especially in a high-skills category like a pilot, because those slots usually are filled and, if not filled, would require extensive conversion training of up to six months, an unlikely option for a temporary hire.
My father, who was in the Army Reserve until he retired recently, had a full-time job in addition to his part-time service in the reserves. His schedule was fairly flexible and he could make up drills that he missed for family or employment reasons.
Finally, the Kerrys, Moores and McAuliffes are casting a terrible slander on those who served in the Guard, then and now. My Guard career parallels Lt. Bush's, except that I stayed on for 33 years. As a guardsman, I even got to serve in two campaigns. In the Cold War, the air defense of the United States was borne primarily by the Air National Guard, by such people as Lt. Bush and me and a lot of others. Six of those with whom I served in those years never made their 30th birthdays because they died in crashes flying air-defense missions.
While most of America was sleeping and Mr. Kerry was playing antiwar games with Hanoi Jane Fonda, we were answering 3 a.m. scrambles for who knows what inbound threat over the Canadian subarctic, the cold North Atlantic and the shark-filled Gulf of Mexico. We were the pathfinders in showing that the Guard and Reserves could become reliable members of the first team in the total force, so proudly evidenced today in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It didn't happen by accident. It happened because back at the nadir of Guard fortunes in the early '70s, a lot of volunteer guardsman showed they were ready and able to accept the responsibilities of soldier and citizen — then and now. Lt. Bush was a kid whose congressman father encouraged him to serve in the Air National Guard. We served proudly in the Guard. Would that Mr. Kerry encourage his children and the children of his colleague senators and congressmen to serve now in the Guard.
In the fighter-pilot world, we have a phrase we use when things are starting to get out of hand and it's time to stop and reset before disaster strikes. We say, "Knock it off." So, Mr. Kerry and your friends who want to slander the Guard: Knock it off.
COL. WILLIAM CAMPENNI (retired)
U.S. Air Force/Air National Guard
Amen to that! My father, while in the Army Reserves, served in the first Gulf War. Many reservists served in Vietnam and are serving in Iraq and Afganistan today. Kerry and the Dems would do well to stop denigrating those who served in the ANG and other reserve forces. It won't win them any points with independents. Seriously, no matter how Pres. Bush served, the Dems would still criticize him for it (unless he got the Congressional Medal of Honor). Now it's time for them to cease and desist, and start addressing real issues, like the WAR ON TERROR.
Update: Here's yet more evidence that Bush did in fact show up for duty in Alabama. But I don't expect that an apology from Michael Moore et al. will be forthcoming.
Update: Many in the blogosphere has addressed this topic. I like this article by NRO contributing editor Mackubin Thomas Owens. The most important point, I think, is this:
One cannot be AWOL while a reserve or Guardsman in a drill status. One is meeting the required number of drills (one weekend per month and two weeks active duty training some time during the year) or he is not. If one is in an unsatisfactory drilling status, the commanding officer of the drilling reservist or Guardsman can notify the individual that he will be separated from the service after 12 unexcused drills. Once notified, the individual can make up the unexcused drills and return to a satisfactory drilling status.