Air Force MSgt. Mandy Mueller, 39th Medical Operations Squadron medical services flight chief, reads a holiday letter on Dec. 11, 2019, at Incirlik AB, Turkey. SSgt. Joshua Magbanua
Photo Caption & Credits


April 27, 2023

We love letters! Write to us at To be published, letters should be timely, relevant and concise. Include your name and location. Letters may be edited for space and the editors have final say on which are published.

Good Reads  

As a Vietnam War-Era vet, I read with great interest the article [April, p. 54] by Colonel Meilinger on the books every Airman should read to understand America’s lost war in Southeast Asia. I don’t have any of those he mentioned in my library, but I intend to check my local public library to see if they do. 

That all said, however, I was disappointed that he did not include what I feel to be one of the best first-hand accounts of why America failed in Vietnam—“A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam” by Neil Sheehan. At nearly 800 pages, and small print covering the entirety of most every page, it is a challenge to read, but it explains very well what apparently were the issues and problems in our ‘loss’ of so many military men and women, as well as thousands of civilians in this long and drawn-out conflict. 

Covering hundreds of locations in-country and hundreds of interviews with people actually involved, it accounts for so much that may have not been known to the general American populace. It was a war we could have won but failed to, the blame going to military leadership—or lack thereof. 

I highly recommend anyone interested in a ‘bottom line’ read this book for a deep understanding of our involvement in Vietnam.

Maj. Darrell Hayes,
USAF (Ret.)
Bellevue, Neb.

To Honor

As usual, I enjoyed reading through the March 2023 issue. I particularly enjoyed Dwight S. Mears’ article on Honorary Promotions. However I was surprised and disappointed that he did not include Gen. Benjamin O. Davis as a subject in his article. Graduating in 1936, he was the first Black cadet graduated from West Point since 1889.  Lt. Gen. Davis, commander of the Tuskegee Airmen during WW II,  retired on Feb. 1, 1970. 

He was awarded a fourth honorary star which was pinned on by President Bill Clinton on Dec. 9, 1998. His biography should be read by everyone, an American hero’s story of overcoming tremendous adversity his entire life and achieving success as an Air Force leader.

Capt. Phil Bachman,
USAF (Ret.)
Colorado Springs, Colo.

Take Command

Two things are equally dangerous and equally disturbing in military operations: not shooting when you should, and shooting when you don’t know what you’re shooting at. Both can equally cost the lives of U.S. forces, civilians, and allies. Both always undermine the trust and confidence the American people put in our military leadership.
This was on full display in January and February 2023 when our military leadership, NORAD, NORTHCOM and the White House took no action when a Chinese spy balloon traversed Alaska, Canada, and the central part of the United States as recounted in the article, “Concerns over China reach new heights,” March 2023 [p. 22]. Not only were numerous national security sites (not to mention the American people) exposed to risk, the failed decisions of our military leaders were on full display. While no one was killed, national security secrets were put at risk, and the trust and confidence of the American people was undermined because no one knew when to shoot.      

What the article does not mention, is the decision to shoot down three other “objects” (the Pentagon stated they did not want to use the term “balloon”) when the same leaders fully admitted that neither they, nor the pilots, were fully sure what they were shooting at. Even though they did not positively identify (PID) the targets, in their zeal to not repeat the Chinese balloon experience, they shot anyway. To date, the “objects” have not been recovered. To date, the Pentagon has not stated exactly what they shot down. 

Unfortunately, we’ve seen this before from the same Pentagon and White House leadership. On Aug. 26, 2021, at the height of the Afghanistan withdrawal, U.S. forces providing overwatch security at the gate of the Kabul Airport, had eyes-on a suicide bomber. According to Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews’ testimony before Congress on March 8, 2023, the security team had intel that a suicide bombing was imminent. The intel included a detailed description of bomber. Sgt Vargas-Andrews testified that from the intel, he “PID’d” the bomber. 

He reached out to his team leader, who confirmed the PID. They requested permission to shoot, only to be told by their commander, that he did not have engagement authority, and “did not know who had engagement authority.” Minutes later, the suicide bomber denotated. Because the leadership did not role-play “when to shoot,” 13 Americans were killed, another 45 were wounded (including Sgt. Vargas-Andrews), and 170 Afghans were killed. 

Three days later, on Aug. 29, 2021, in their zeal to not allow another suicide bomber access to the Kabul Airport, CENTCOM and the Pentagon authorized an “over the horizon” strike on a “target” they suspected was a bomber heading to the Kabul Airport. In the immediate aftermath, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with the Secretary of Defense at his side, called the strike “righteous.” But within hours, it became clear that they did not know what they shot at. The strike killed 10 civilians including an aid worker and seven children, and further undermined the trust and confidence of the American people and our allies in our military leadership.
The disturbing part of “balloon-gate” is the pattern that continues to highlight poor decision-making of our Pentagon and White House military leaders. They do not know when to shoot, and when not to shoot. And to date, no one has been held accountable. Their decisions continue to undermine the trust and confidence of the American people. And they ask us to trust them with Ukraine?

Col. Seth Bretscher,
USAF (Ret.)
Lafayette, Ind.

When I read “Myth Busting” the title of Tobias Naegele’s editorial [March 2023, p. 2], I said, “Yes.”  I’ve been myth busting this … about balloon’s since the first news report. And then I was immediately deflated when I got to the third line in the piece and Naegele refers to the event as, “… a wake-up call to the nation.” In my heart I thought, maybe, just maybe the experts were consulted and Naegele would, in fact, myth bust.  Instead, he played right into the hands of our adversary.  

Chinese spy balloons of this nature have absolutely zero tactical, strategic, or intelligence value. … They only distract us. The Chinese can do far more useful things from space, or from aircraft, or from the ground. And they do, everyday, every hour, in fact. And they are over and in the United States as we speak. 

What an opportunity, but now a colossal failure to speak truth to power.  We shot it down. Why do that? Why not track it and then try to recover the payload, intact. Find out what they were doing with it. We don’t have an unlimited supply of air-to-air missiles. Balloons are zero threat to our country. We don’t even protect our cities from aircraft or ballistic missiles … or satellites. Why would we protect our country from bags of gas? This is silliness. This is not myth busting and it’s certainly not leading our nation.

Jim Muccio
Fairfax, Va.

Groundhog Day

Just when you think the KC-46 couldn’t take another hit the March 2023 Magazine, p. 32, “New KC-46 Tankers Coming-but New Deficiency Revealed” comes out. The article opened with the Air Force awarding a $2.2 billion dollar contract for 15 additional KC-46 aircraft. My initial thought was we are going to buy another 15 non fully combat capable aircraft added to the fleet requiring extensive Time Compliance Technical Orders or Depot Field Teams to upgrade these aircraft once all deficiencies are corrected.

Either option will increase the workload on already stressed field units unless the decision is made that the aircraft be rotated back to the depot or contractor site and have the work done there. That would take the workload off the assigned unit and put the repair workload where it belongs. This would minimize the cost of deploying repair teams and all the required logistics for field repair.

The article also identified an additional Category 1 deficiency related to five cargo-related deficiencies, that were identified in the article. The Cat 1 deficiency was downgraded to a Cat 2 deficiency. This required coordination between the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) and the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center but neither agency responded when asked if this was done.  

This issue coming out this late in fielding the aircraft casts doubt about what other issues are lurking in the weeds. AFLCMC says this latest issue will be fixed by the third quarter of 2023. 

The article also talks about the RVS and stiff boom problems, as well as the ongoing fuel leak and crack problems. Unfortunately, the article says the fix for all of these is months or years in the future. The article also mentions that the Air Force may expand the buy of KC-46 aircraft rather than proceeding with a KC-Y buy in the future. 

 Its unfortunate that we have gone this far into the program when we could have had Boeing come out with a KC-46 B model with the old-style boom pod and boom installed. This would have eliminated the cost, downtime, and manpower needed to support the platform, but more importantly we would have a fully combat capable platform that is ready to go to war now. These issues have dragged on long enough and the Air Force needs to tell Boeing to get off the dime and get the permanent fixes in place.
As a side note the article mentioned that some of these deficiencies were just formalities due to the fact the KC-46 deficiency board hasn’t been able to meet often enough. I would think that with the technologies we have available these days, conference calls would make this a nonstarter. I feel bad for the Air Force folks wrapped up in this but those in the key positions need to take aggressive action to get all this fixed.
They owe it to the flight crews, maintenance folks, logisticians, and countless vendors who need to provide the components and hardware to make these repairs. It would be great to see future articles that say the repairs for these deficiencies are finalized and corrective actions have been initiated on the aircraft being built, and teams and locations identified for upgrades to the aircraft in the field. Kicking the can another few years down the road is not acceptable for the taxpayers of America.

CMSgt. John P. Fedarko,
USAF (Ret.)
Xenia, Ohio

A-10s to the Rescue

Referring to the March 2023 article, “Will Ukraine Get F-16s?” [p. 44 ] it occurs to me to ask if the Air Force has considered recommending Ukraine be offered the A-10? My A-10 experience includes about 1,500 hours and A-10 squadron command in the mid-80s in Europe. From RAF Bentwaters/Woodbridge and the A-10 Forward Operating Locations in Germany, we trained to blunt potential Soviet armor offensives much like the Ukrainians are faced with today.  

I was not involved in the Kuwaiti or Iraqi conflicts but the combat record of the A-10 there speaks for itself. 

Certainly I believe the Ukrainian Air Force should have the capabilities of the F-16 but it would seem a mix of A-10s and F-16s would give them both the ability to secure their airspace and lethality against enemy armor and troops.

 I do not underestimate the logistical challenges of basing and supporting modern fighter aircraft in Ukraine, but I would suggest the difficulties of training pilots and support crews, and operating from austere bases would be less problematic for the A-10 than the F-16. 

 I have been impressed by news reporting that Ukrainians appear to be highly motivated and resourceful when incorporating new technology.  I believe the A-10 idea is worth considering.

Col. Melvin Greene Jr.,
USAF (Ret.)
Spotsylvania, Va.

Follow the Leader

I had the great experience of spending a week with Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, along with Maj. Gen. Haywood S. Hansel and Gen. Ira C. Eaker.  I not only joined my Air War College classmates every day for five days of discussion by three great leaders, I was also able to be one of a small group of officers who had lunch with LeMay every day.  

I joined Strategic Air Command in 1961 and spent 23 of my 30 years in the command, learning a lot about LeMay’s ideas on standardization, evaluation, checklists and “doing it right.” 

One of his acts as commander in chief of SAC was forming base hobby shops, giving SAC troops some options for off-duty time at SAC bases. He was a big user of the Auto Hobby Shop. 

Col. Charlie Simpson, 
USAF (Ret.)
Breckenridge, Colo.