Air Force Core Values

W.J. Astore

I was thinking today about my old service branch’s core values. No — not “more fighters, more bombers, more missiles” or “put bombs on target” or “jet noise is the sound of freedom” or “show me the money!” or that old Strategic Air Command classic, “peace is our profession.” No — the core values all airmen are supposed to uphold — integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do, in that order, sometimes abbreviated as integrity, service, excellence. How’s the Air Force doing here?

Not well, I’m afraid. Think of “integrity,” which I think of as truth-telling. Over the last 20 years, and indeed over the life of the service, going back to 1947 and before, the Air Force has consistently overestimated the accuracy of its bombing and consistently underestimated the number of civilians and non-combatants killed by that bombing. And that’s putting it charitably. In reality, the Air Force has conspired to advance an image of airpower as surgical and precise when it clearly isn’t, and indeed never has been. My old service branch advances this image because it’s good for the Air Force. It’s really that simple. Such image-making, i.e. lying, may be good for the Air Force budget, but it isn’t good for integrity. Nor is it good for America or those unfortunates on the receiving end of U.S. munitions.

Turning to “service before self,” I think of a system that when I served often stressed and rewarded self before service. For example, the promotion system in the military was structured to reward the hard-chargers, the overachievers, Type-A personalities, the thrusters and the true believers. Perhaps this is true of most bureaucracies, but the emphasis on ticket-punching and hoop-jumping in the Air Force was conducive to a narrow form of achievement in which “service” played second fiddle, when it played at all. Another way of putting it is that a certain kind of personal selfishness is more than acceptable as long as it advances institutional goals and agendas — a quite narrow form of service, if one is again being charitable.

And now we come to “excellence in all we do,” which brings to mind all kinds of disasters, such as drone strikes that kill innocents, or wayward generals, or cheating nuclear missile crews, and so on. But I’d like to focus on recent procurement practices, such as the lamentable F-35 jet fighter, which was supposed to be a fairly low-cost, high-availability fighter but which even the Air Force Chief of Staff now compares to a Ferrari, i.e. super-expensive and often in the shop. From tankers that can’t refuel to fighter planes that can’t shoot straight to nuclear bombers and missiles that the country (and, for that matter, humanity) simply doesn’t need, the Air Force’s record of excellence is spotty indeed.

What are we to do with a service that is so unwilling or unable to live up to its core values? Well, as usual, accountability and punishment are out of the question. I guess we’ll just have to give the Air Force more money while hoping it’ll reform itself, because you know that strategy always works.

The F-35 “Ferrari”: It costs a lot and is often in the shop, but it looks kinda sexy. Too bad the F-35 was supposed to be a reliable workhorse, not a temperamental stallion. Interestingly, the inspiration for the Ferrari symbol of a prancing horse came from an Italian fighter pilot during World War I.

18 thoughts on “Air Force Core Values

  1. Sacred Surgical Strikes

    Quietly one cannot go
    About an amputation.
    Neatly neither can blood flow,
    Nor sap and sawdust ever grow
    Where limbs fly off and butchers crow:
    In slaughter, their salvation.

    In abattoir and arbor, they
    Perform the surgeon’s mauling.
    The animals and plants they slay
    Efficiently, both night and day,
    Dismembering what doesn’t pay
    To live — a breed appalling.

    But doctors of divinity
    Have sworn in sacred theses
    That what man wishes, man can do:
    The rape of many by the few;
    The just deserts, the proper due
    Of GAWD’s own chosen species.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2014

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hard to perform “surgery” with bats and clubs and sledgehammers.

      Of course, surgery is supposed to save lives, at least in medicine. The idea of a surgical strike suggests some people are tumors that must be cut out and destroyed so that others may thrive. Too bad those “tumors” are healthy tissue, often enough, and the “surgery” often makes matters worse. The “surgeons” and their suppliers prosper, though, so there’s that.

      Liked by 4 people

  2. In my last year in the Air Force (1972) I was working astro surveys (lat/Long/Az/Elev) on a North Dakota job (TDY) for missile sites. Tony had been on the geodetic surveys to establish geodetic positions for Jupiter Missles in Turkey in the late 1950’s. I remember we were discussing how unready some of the Minuteman sites were (down, not working) and he said that something like 40% of the Jupiters in Turkey were sometimes down at the same time. Those were pulled by Kennedy as part of the agreement with the Soviets, but they were going to get the dumpster anyway.

    That memory in turn reminded me of pulling up (another TDY, earlier, to put positions on a number of cinetheodolites on the range) to the blockhouse at the ordnance range about 50 miles north of Las Vegas (Nellis AFB). F-111’s (swing wing, side-by-side cockpit) were dropping dummy bombs. Several of them came in low and dropped their dummys in a big cloud of dust about 500 meters in front of the blockhouse. And we all laughed when the very ironic-sounding voice of the scorer to the pilots came over the intercom (the radio was patched to the speakers), “Only a mile and a half off, that time.”

    Followed a few weeks later by a missle from a drone helicopter that almost got one of our teams (not me) one night (we used the stars for position). Missed the truck and he had to see a ticked off colonel the next morning because he hadn’t contacted the blockhouse before moving. He wasn’t hurt, so getting in the trouble caused no end of mirth for the rest of us.

    I was reminded of the F-111 also, because it never got to combat before being retired (2010) for being both outdated and expensive and because it was replaced by F-18s until they could get their hands on f-35s. The F-111 was supposed to fill several roles but never really got there.

    And that in turn brings up the B-47 which had a really startling record of losses, only a couple in Soviet air space, a lot over the USA and a few other locations.
    In terms of being truthful it is interesting to look at three sources to see how the losses are handled differently in the write ups. I’ve long noticed how wiki editors get hold of non-favorable material and basically “clean” it up to be more palatable
    Listing of losses:
    Historian, former Air Force crew and intelligence officer H. Bruce Franklin (this is in his book) – something like 14 in 1958, others spread around.
    And, wikipedia: ~~ttps://
    Two topics to look at:
    1 – from the paragraph leading into “Later years”
    2 – section on Accidents and incidents

    But not only the military. Media too. When the hostage crisis happened, on day 142 Ted Koppel started the Nightline program and for 444 programs, we never once heard the reasons behind the revolution (first group getting rid of the Shah, followed by and trampled by the Islamists who put many of the first protestors in prison, executing a good number). Not once in all those 444 times did we learn about the CIA/MI6 coup in Iran in 1953 of Mohammad Mossadegh. It was the first in a series of coups executed by the CIA using locals as fronts. You can find the CIA documents online in declassed archives and also Eisenhower diary entries at the Eisenhower liberary in Abilene, KS. I found a ton of them. The complete absence of any background on Koppel’s part (until 2006 after he left ABC) makes me wonder how much collaboration there was, or what he thought was “access.”

    Anyway, apologies, didn’t mean to go down so many rabbit holes or be so long winded. I’ve got tons more, especially after heading down rabbit holes to review Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis” and “Persepolis 2) graphic novels for HPPR this week.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Forgot something I meant to put into the comment about Koppel’s 2006 account, after leaving ABC, an op-ed in the NY Times in which he brings up the 1953 coup for the first time in all those years as justification for his statement about the Iraq war that the US’s entire mideast policy and wars were for oil. Immediately after which he then repeated the canards about stopping communism and Soviet influence.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. It seems to me that blaming air force personel for planes like the F-35 and the tanker that can’t refuel is off the mark a bit. Those are engineering problems: as I recall, members of the US air force aren’t aerospace engineers, they’re trained as pilots and bombers etc. So excellence in all we do probably doesn’t include engineering, does it? I agree our air force, like most of our military isn’t quite what the Pentagon wants us to believe, but I think that’s the generals and admirals and the PR men who need to be addressed, not the lower ranks.


    1. I agree. It’s a systemic issue and the fish rots from the head. The generals tell us the F-35 is super-duper wonderful until a fed-up AF Chief of Staff finally admits it’s a temperamental Ferrari, which doubtless is an insult to Ferraris.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. When it comes to service and excellence, the Air Force is only one entity in the majority of organizations today that have abandoned both qualities.

    Interestingly, there was an opinion piece in Friday’s NY Times that proposed diverting much of the military budget to more useful endeavors, and the F-35 was used as an example. Here’s the link:

    The comments ran about 65/35 in favor of the proposal.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the link, Denise.

      Yes, I’ve been writing articles like that for 15 years. And “defense” spending keeps going up.

      This madness started after World War II with the exaggeration of the Soviet threat. I suppose our vast economy back then could afford some madness, but it can’t nowadays.

      I will repeat that if you want a higher minimum wage, socialized medicine that’s free, and student debt relief, your best option is to join the military. Even with those enticements, military recruitment is down.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. I’m just glad the Late, Great Carl Sagan isn’t here to witness this Age of Disinformation.., and stupidity! “It is clear that the nations of the world now can only rise and fall together. It is not a question of one nation winning at the expense of another. We must all help one another or all perish together.”– Author: Carl Sagan

    Liked by 5 people

  6. Denise, ‘they’ didn’t even listen to him in his day.
    There was, and still is, very strong institutional push back against his work regarding nuclear winter.
    And the beat goes on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sure there’s some crazy (Trump?) who thinks nuclear winter can cancel global warming.

      I remember when Trump suggested nuking a hurricane as a way of weakening it. Talk about the cure being worse than the disease! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. OK, you’ve jumped the shark there, Bill. I’m good at imagining disasters, but that possibility never occurred to me. However, it makes sense in the crazy way you describe it.


    2. I remember when he got on TV and spoke about nuclear winter. What a shocking and terrifying revelation that was! I suppose that, just as with climate change, it was too horrific for most people to internalize, so they just ignored it.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Regarding US core values, The New York Times will not publish my comment on their relentless anti-Russia/Putin Propaganda. The US is PUSHING for WAR, not Russia

    In 1962, the Soviets put their missiles in Cuba in reaction to the US putting it’s missiles in new NATO Member Turkey.

    I watched President Kennedy on TV October 22, 1962 announce the US Act of War with the total US Navy Blockade of Cuba.
    Soviet freighters were already in the Atlantic in transit to Cuba. The World waited with bated breath to know if WWIII/Armageddon was imminent?

    Americans are not that exceptional!

    AS NATO advances toward Russia’s Border, Putin is following that 1962 US playbook.

    It is warning the US and NATO, especially after the 2014 US orchestrated Coup/regime change of the Russian friendly government, installing the Neo-Nazi anti-Russian government Victoria Nuland said she wanted before the US Coup was even completed,.

    The US attempt to have Ukraine join NATO so US missiles could be deployed right on Russia’s Border, is just as unacceptable to Russia Today, as their missiles in Cuba were unacceptable to the US in 1962. The US was ready to start WWIII/Armageddon to prevent it.

    That is the present Danger to the World because the US does not negotiate in Good Faith as US MSM Projects that onto Putin.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s sometimes said that militaries are a reflection, obviously distorted to a greater or lesser extent, of the wider societies from which they’re drawn.

    The AF’s lack of integrity is a small symptom of much larger systemic rot, as we see in the U.S. political system. Consider this article today from Caitlin Johnstone. Here’s an excerpt:

    “the political system in this dark alternate reality is designed to look free and democratic, but there’s no real connection between how people vote and the way their civilization actually functions. An unacknowledged, unofficial alliance of plutocrats and government operatives makes the actual decisions about how money, industry, government, and military forces will behave from day to day, and this secretive alliance controls the official political system the public believes is responsible for overseeing those matters. What people call “elections” are actually just the public choosing between two lackeys of that ruling alliance, and their only meaningful disagreements are on how the will of those rulers should best be advanced.”

    That’s a tough-minded critique of American politics today, especailly at the federal level. Integrity? Not if your vote and views are ignored. Not if you and I have no say.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Thanks for the link, Bill. An sad commentary on the degradation of our Civilization, yet good to know you’re not alone seeing it’s real and not fiction.
    Line upon Line. Rule upon Rule. Thinking they are going forward, they are going backward.

    The top dogs in Caitlin’s novel have the means to prevent the people from coming together.

    Liked by 1 person

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