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WHY IS THE AIR FORCE IN UNIFORM? | 1999-06-19

One of the most profitable results of secession is going to be the fact that we will be able to reexamine all of the mistakes the United States takes for granted. In our new political system, we will be free to improve on all of them. I discussed some of these improvements earlier (See March 6 article, "How Tomorrow's Confederacy Will Deal With Tomorrow's Problems." )

At least one such major improvement occurred when we seceded last time. The Confederate Constitution contained great advances over that of the United States. Improvements happen when you get a fresh start. This is an excellent answer to use when people talk about the DANGERS of a new nation. One should reply by talking about the IMPROVEMENTS a new start can provide.

The United States has great difficulty finding enough volunteers for its armed services. But a new country might be able to avoid this difficulty by being free of the POLITICAL restrictions that our present armed services have inherited over the years.

Under the Reagan Administration, I was a Special Assistant to the Director of the Office of Personnel Management. Under the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, the OPM Director replaced the entire Civil Service Commission.

He is responsible to the president for the Federal civil service.

In Reagan's time, the civil service included about 1.4 million white-collar personnel and about 800,000 blue-collar personnel. Very roughly half of these civilian employees worked for the Department of Defense. I discovered that civilian workers could do many jobs better than uniformed personnel. Unfortunately for our national defense, the division between civilian and uniformed personnel is determined by politics, rather than by our real defense needs.

Under the present set-up, it is the lobbies, not military needs, that determine the number of uniformed personnel in each service. The former members of each armed service constitute a powerful lobby. Military advisors, who are drawn equally from each force, also have enormous influence on decisions. The result of this is that each of the major armed forces must, because of all that lobbying, be given about the same amount of funding. By the same token, each force must have about the same number of people in uniform.

But in the real world, is this rational? In a changing world, does it makes sense for each armed service to be about the same size, with very much the same number of uniformed personnel? It is for POLITICAL reasons that the number of uniformed personnel in the Air Force must be about the same as the number of uniformed personnel in the Army and in the Navy.

But if you think about it, this makes no sense. The basic function of the Army is to put enlisted men into combat, as well as officers. In the Air Force, almost none of the enlisted personnel go into combat. Their jobs are technical. They keep the planes flying, and it is only the flying portion of the officer corps that goes into combat.

In other words, everyone in the Army should be young and physically fit for combat. No one should be allowed to enlist in the Army unless he is young and fit. But the job of most people in the Air Force is entirely different.

Think of it this way: If you were a combat pilot, who would you prefer to have taking care of your plane? Would you like to have your plane serviced by a twenty-year-old who got a quick crash course in airplanes and is physically fit for combat? Or would you rather that the person taking care of your aircraft be a forty-year-old man who is very experienced? The young man in uniform is a LOT more expensive than the forty-year-old mechanic. There are lifelong benefits provided to everyone who has served in uniform. There is the cost of recruiting and training a new fit young man every time the last one's four-year enlistment runs out.

And there is another difficulty involved in putting so many Air Force personnel in uniform. Every person who enlists in the Air Force is a person who would have been able to enlist in the Army or the Navy or the Marines. A young person usually decides to join the service and then picks the branch he will serve in. If we cut back on the number of Air Force personnel in uniform, almost all of the Air Force recruits would be available for service in the other branches. The shortage of volunteers would be reduced, and it may even disappear.

Exactly how many Air Force uniformed personnel should be replaced by non-uniformed personnel? Granted that I am supposed to be an expert in everything, but even I would need a little time to study that question. But the general point I am making is obvious when it is stated without the lobbyists watching. The simple fact is that the mission of each armed force is different, so it doesn't make sense for each of them to have almost the same number of personnel in uniform.

Already, each of America's armed forces has hundreds of thousands of uniformed personnel and hundreds of thousands of civilian employees. All I am saying is that the proportion of each should change according to each service's particular mission.