Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Jackie's Bedroom Furniture

The Air Force recently caught flak for its plans to build a small number of VIP comfort pallets, so that senior officers and civilian officials can travel in style, even when flying in "ordinary" transport aircraft.

Budgeted at just over $7 million, the pallets are supposed to provide "world class" accommodations. Never mind that the USAF already operates a fleet of VIP aircraft. Nothing's too good for the brass, or their civilian counterparts.

The pallet controversy reminded one of our readers of another example of Air Force extravagance, from almost 50 years ago. In the summer of 1963, Jackie Kennedy was pregnant with her third child; apparently, Air Force leaders were concerned that Mrs. Kennedy would deliver while visiting the family compound in Massachusetts, and they feared that maternity ward furniture at nearby Otis AFB wasn't up to presidential standards.

So, an enterprising Air Force officer hit on a solution. With $5,000 in taxpayer dollars, he purchased a top-of-the-line bedroom suit from the Jordan Marsh Company, as political science professor David Barrett recounts. Better yet, the service tried to score some p.r. points off the purchase. A Captain at Otis posed proudly beside the furniture, as cameras rolled.

Unfortunately for the Captain, that purchase also wound up in the pages of the Washington Post. And, President Kennedy was none-too-pleased. He voiced his anger to his the Pentagon's chief spokesman and his Air Force aide, General Godfrey McHugh. Recordings of the phone calls have been preserved, and can be accessed through History News Network.

JFK's outrage is genuine, but there's also a sense that he's playing for the tape recorder, trying to make the best of a bad situation. Lest we forget, there was something of a direct pipeline in those days from the Oval Office to the Post, courtesy of Benjamin Bradlee. Kennedy knew that his comments would find their way into the press, putting him on the right side of the controversy.

Flash forward 45 years. Political reaction to those Air Force pallets has been muted, at best. To our knowledge, neither the House nor the Senate has demanded cancellation of the program, or threatened to strip funding from the project. And the White House has been equally silent on the wasteful enterprise.

The reasons are painfully obvious. While the pallets are often depicted as perks for senior officers, they will also support travel by elected officials, including senior members of Congress. It would appear that few Congressmen or Senators want to ride into a war zone in a troop seat, munching on an MRE or Box Nasty, particularly when more pleasant digs are available.

Sadly, Congress is more addicted to VIP airlift than our military leadership. Passing through SE Virginia this afternoon, I noticed a Boeing 737 Business Jet, in Air Force markings, practicing touch and go landings at the Newport News Airport. As I recall, that particular model is a personal favorite of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Congressional leaders.

But many of the VIP jets can't travel into global hot spots. In that case, when our Solon's have to rough it, they plan to "make do" with those expensive comfort pallets.

9 comments:

BuckeySandy said...

"The reasons are painfully obvious. While the pallets are often depicted as perks for senior officers, they will also support travel by elected officials, including senior members of Congress. It would appear that few Congressmen or Senators want to ride into a war zone in a troop seat, munching on an MRE or Box Nasty, particularly when more pleasant digs are available."

In my 20 years of being a C2 specialist saw only a few incidents of abuse by senior officers, but lost count the number of occurrences of abuse by "our" elected or appointed officials and their staffs.

More than once we jumped through hoops to satisfy a "whim." And frankly, the worse ones did not have an "R" after their names.

Spook86 said...

Sandy--One of my early mentors in the AF was a Buff driver who had also pulled a tour as a C-21 pilot. He was "scrambled" out of Offut, in the middle of a snowstorm, to pick up a Congressman and his staffer, on a fact-finding mission to Vail, Colorado.

When they arrived, the weather in Vail was marginal. They pulled up and popped the door for the Congress-critter and his aide. As you might imagine, the aide was young, female and blonde. Both were intoxicated.

The Congressman waved at my friend, then an AF Captain. "You, grab my bags and get them on the plane." The Captain refused and told his co-pilot not to touch them either. That triggered a nasty row that lasted until the Congressman found some civilian bag handlers in the terminal to load them on the jet.

My friend never made it past Lt Col, but he did have the satisfaction of standing his ground, an refusing an unreasonable request.

As I said in my post, the reason that no one on Capitol Hill has demanded cancellation of the pallet program is because a lot of Senators and Congressmen were salivating at the prospect of using them. If the AF suddenly announced plans to cancel the program, there would be lots of howls--in private, of course.

BTW, VIP airlift is not run by AMC, but out of the Vice Chief of Staff's office. That shows you how much the service bows and scrapes to fly our elected officials around the world, and keep them happy.

sky said...
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