Get Out of the Cockpit

Retired US Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe and former vice chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking at the first public presentation for the Global Air Chiefs Conference, told the audience: “I will give you something better than wisdom; “I’ll give you a fighter pilot’s opinion.” The visiting air chiefs received his remark with laughter, as he went on to say that he believes his topic for the day—“Why do airmen not have a voice in the national security debate equal to the impact of airpower on the battlefield?”—is true both for the US and many of the countries represented in the audience. He said: “Airmen are looked at as technicians. … In many ways we are our own worst enemy. We don’t want to leave the cockpit.” For example, said Ralston, retired Gen. Richard Myers, most recent airman to serve as Joint Chiefs Chairman, “didn’t get into that [joint] world until he was a 3-star.” Ralston urged the assembled air chiefs to push junior officers harder to do that at the major and lieutenant colonel levels. He said: “This is a problem faced by many of you—how do you prepare airmen to have a major voice in national security? … You are the chiefs of air forces. You have to take a personal interest in this.”