Perhaps it’s only a coincidence, or maybe the Air Force is doing a little, belated house-cleaning in its senior ranks.
Whatever the reason, a second general officer with a troubled past is calling it quits.
Major General Larry New, who was fired from his job as an operations group commander after a fatal helicopter accident in 1998, has announced his retirement.
The news was disclosed in an Air Force senior officer announcement, released today by General Richard Newton III, the service’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel. The actual retirement for General New was not disclosed.
In his final active duty assignment, New served as Director of the Joint Theater Air and Missile Defense Organization, part of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. According to his Air Force biography, General New’s responsibilities included chemical, radiological, biological and nuclear defense; air and missile defense, and personnel and infrastructure protection.
Before assuming his current post, General New served as Director of Operations at Air Force Material Command Headquarters, located at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. Previous assignments included a tour as Vice Commander of a NATO Combined Air Operations Center in Turkey, and leadership of the 325th Training Wing at Tyndall AFB, Florida.
New’s elevation to those posts was rather remarkable, given the events of 3 September 1998. Early that morning, two HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters, part of the 57th Operations Group at Nellis, collided during a training mission. Twelve crew members--six on each chopper--died.
The youngest of the victims, Airman First Class Justin Wotasik, was one month shy of his 20th birthday.
At the time of the crash, the commander of the operations group was Colonel Larry New.
A six-month Air Force inquiry blamed the crash on pilot error, but found severe problems with “operations tempo, training and leadership” in the 66th Rescue Squadron, the unit which suffered the mishap.
Investigators found that the unit had been on a continuous combat footing for more than five years, making frequent deployments to Kuwait and Turkey, in support of No-Fly Zone operations over Iraq.
But the service also found fault with Colonel New. The accident investigation board determined that New should have done more to find—and correct—problems in the rescue squadron. As Air Force Times later reported:
Investigators said New believed he had solved the 66th Rescue Squadron’s problems when he relieved from their jobs a weak squadron commander and a first sergeant. But actually, the report concluded, New had treated just the symptoms.
New also didn’t provide the new squadron commander and base safety officer a safety evaluation of the rescue squadron, called the Operational Health Readiness Assessment, written by the Air Force Safety Center at New’s request.
The new squadron commander had been in his job three weeks when the crash occurred.
Board president Col. Denver L. Pletcher concluded about New’s performance, “... I believe the 57th OG commander failed to mitigate known safety hazards within the squadron that directly contributed to this accident.”
The disaster at Nellis put New’s career on hold. In 2000, his nomination to command the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin AFB, Florida was put on hold by the Commander of Air Combat Command, General Ralph Eberhardt, and his successor, General John Jumper.
However, New was later promoted to Brigadier General and he gained command of the Tyndall wing after Jumper became the Air Force Chief of Staff.
General New’s phoenix-like rise sparked renewed questions about how the service promotes--and sanctions--senior personnel. Normally, a loss of command after a major accident is a career killer, but New overcame that obstacle, pinning on his first star four years the two choppers went down.
New received the promotion over objections from members of Congress and some of the family members of the dead crewmen. They believed that New should have faced greater accountability over problems in his former command--and their deadly consequences.
With 32 years of active duty service, General New enjoyed a long career. But a decade after that fateful event in the Nevada desert, there are some who still believe that Larry New didn't deserve that first star, let alone the second.
New's retirement comes barely a month after Major General Stephen Goldfein announced plans to step down. Goldfein, another former Nellis commander, was sanctioned earlier this year for steering a $50-million audiovisual support contract to a firm that included a retired Air Force general among its partners.
General Goldfein was the leader of the Air Warfare Center at Nellis at the time the contract was awarded. It was later cancelled by the Air Force, and a subsequent investigation revealed improprieties in selection process.
ADDENDUM: Passed over for promotion to Lieutenant General, New was at the end of his career. But we also wonder if the recent, high-level shake-up of Air Force leadership also influenced his decision. Major General New had a long relationship with General Mike Moseley, the USAF Chief of Staff who was fired from his post in early June.
When New was commander of the operations group at Nellis, his wing commander was none other than Mike Moseley.