With his decision to tap Gen. Norton Schwartz to be the next Air Force chief of staff, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has done two things.
First, he has smashed an Air Force culture ceiling by putting into the top job a pilot who does not come out of the fighter or bomber community.
Second, Gates has put into place someone who can help heal the rift between the Air Force and the Army, one that has grown in recent years over the Air Force’s heavy-handed move to take ownership of the Joint Cargo Aircraft — originally an Army program — its seeming stinginess in getting to ground commanders badly-needed UAV assets and the service’s lack of interest in sending Airmen to help out on Army missions.
“A couple of things about ‘Norty’ Schwartz that a lot of folks didn’t realize [before] – he spent a lot of time in the special ops arena,” said a retired four-star who, like Schwartz, once headed U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. “And any of our blue suit guys who have spent time in the special ops arena have a tendency to be closer to our Army brethren and others. I think that’s a positive thing.”
According to several former field and general Air Force officers, there does need to be some fence-mending after the last five or six years.
Terry Stevens, a retired colonel and personnel officer familiar with Air Force manpower and budget issues, said it was Moseley who fought the “in-lieu-of” program that helped the Army flesh out its ranks in Iraq and Afghanistan with Airmen. Moseley also balked at aggressively getting unmanned aerial vehicles into theater until Gates and Congress recently insisted he deploy them.
And at a time when Air Force missions around the world already were stretching its personnel thin, Moseley ordered a force restructuring that envisioned cutting 40,000 positions so that the money could be redirected to weapons programs such as the F-22 Raptor.
Taken together with the more widely known controversies — including nuclear weapon snafus, corruption scandals and impolitic budget manipulations — Moseley was seen as the head of a service with serious problems.
“I believe that General Moseley is an honorable man with the best interest of the Air Force in his heart, but he was not as politically aware as he should have been,” Stevens said. “He also couldn’t seem to see the big picture from the Department of Defense’s perspective.”
Another retiree, a former wing commander speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Air Force had become estranged from everyone, including its own people.
“Over the last five or six years, the Air Force has continued to lose credibility on the Hill, lose credibility with the Joint Chiefs and with the other service chiefs, and it lost credibility with the Airmen whose feet are on the ramp,” he said. “I’m pleased to see that Gates is cleaning house.”
Retired Maj. Gen. Paul Weaver, a former director of the Air National Guard who flew and commanded fighter and mobility units, said Schwartz would be “a great leader.”
Schwartz, Weaver said, was Air Force director of operations at the Pentagon for several years under Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure, which Weaver said is a testament to Schwartz’s “strong character and strength.”
“I think he’ll be able to calm the storm here [in Washington] and move things forward,” Weaver added.
Weaver also believes that Gates’ decision to move Gen. Duncan McNabb — currently the deputy Air Force chief of staff — to take over Schwartz’ command is a smart move for the Air Force and one that will make McNabb personally happy.
“I think Duncan probably has a smile on his face from ear to ear going back to [Scott],” Weaver said. That’s because McNabb, until assigned to the Pentagon last year, had been commander of Air Mobility Command, a job McNabb loved. McNabb has been a transport pilot throughout his career.
“He always said the greatest job in the world was commanding AMC,” Weaver said. “He did a fantastic job there.” McNabb also made friends on Capital Hill during his time at the Pentagon and during past testimony he has given to congressmen, Weaver said.
“The people love him on the Hill. He’s extremely credible,” Weaver said. “I’m thinking that of anybody, if they’re going to tap Schwartz for chief of staff, they needed somebody who, as we go forward in the new tanker area we’ve got to have somebody [at Transcom] who really knows mobility very well. And McNabb knows it better than anybody. He’s very good and it will be a new team in the Pentagon.”
Taking McNabb’s place at the Pentagon will be Lt. Gen. William Fraser III, a bomber pilot who had been in line to take over Transcom if time and circumstance had not scuttled Schwartz’s original plan to retire.
With his rise to chief of staff, Schwartz is the first to break the fighter/bomber pilot mafia’s hold on the top uniformed job. Not only does he come to the job with mobility background, but in Air Force helicopters as well.
He has flown MC-130 Combat Talons and MH-53 Pave Lows and MH-60 Blackhawk special ops helos, and his operations background goes back to the final days of Vietnam. At the time, he was a crew member taking part in the 1975 airlift evacuation of Saigon. By 1991 he was chief of staff of the Joint Special Operations Task Force for Northern Iraq during the first Gulf War.
— Bryant Jordan