Pending confirmation by the Senate, Air Force Brigadier General Richard C. Harding is set to achieve something rare in the military--or perhaps we should say something that was once rare in our armed forces.
Once approved by the Senate (a mere formality at this point), Harding will become the next Judge Advocate General of the Air Force, and be promoted two grades, to Lieutenant General. In other words, he'll earn his second and third stars at the same time, and advance two ranks at his pin-on ceremony.
As Air Force Times explains, Harding's unusual promotion is the result of a grade change for his new job. In 2008, Congress mandated that the service's top attorneys be three-star generals. At the time, the USAF only had two legal officers at the two-star level; one of them (Major General Jack Rives) was elevated to lieutenant general. With the projected retirement of Rives and his deputy, Major General Charles Dunlap, the Air Force had to dip into the ranks of one-star JAG officers to find a replacement.
And, oddly enough, this isn't the first time an Air Force officer has catapulted two grades in the flag ranks. Last year, Colonel Kimberly Siniscalchi was promoted to Major General for her new job as Assistant Surgeon General for Nursing Services and Force Development.
Call us old-fashioned, but we've always believed this type of promotion should be limited to the most pressing circumstances (read: wartime), and given to individuals of exceptional merit and ability. No slam against Generals Harding, Rives or Siniscalchi, but their resume hardly compares to that of an Army Air Corps officer, who advanced from Lieutenant Colonel to Brigadier General in 1942.
This individual was an aviation pioneer who led the development of instrument flying. After joining the Army during World War I, he found time to earn both a Master's and Doctorate in Aeronautics from M.I.T. He was also an accomplished air racer, winning all of the major competitions of his day. As a Major in the reserves, he was also instrumental in planning the wartime production of aircraft, work that helped secure victory during World War II.
Recalled to active duty (and promoted to Lieutenant Colonel) after Pearl Harbor, the officer volunteered to plan--and lead--a retaliatory attack against Japan. In April 1942, with American fortunes at a low ebb, he led a squadron of B-25 bombers on a raid against Japan. The medium bombers were launched from an aircraft carrier, a feat that most experts deemed impossible. But the resourceful Lieutenant Colonel found a way to take off from the deck of a carrier, and trained his crews for the mission in minimum time. For his efforts, this individual received the Congressional Medal of Honor and was advanced to Brigadier General.
By now, most of you have guessed the name of this airpower legend--Jimmy Doolittle. He went on to command Eighth Air Force in Europe, leading campaigns that smashed the Luftwaffe. General Doolittle retired from the Air Force Reserve in 1959, but he continued to serve his country in various capacities for years. Jimmy Doolittle was promoted to full general (on the retired list) by an act of Congress in 1988. General Doolittle died in 1993, at the age of 96.
Those are the achievements of someone who deserved to skip a grade in his military career. By comparison, the bureaucratic requirements that dictated the recent promotions are no substitute for merit. The Air Force managed to function for more than 50 years with its senior JAG in the rank of Major General; surely, the service could have survived with a two-star in the Lieutenant General billet until enough qualified candidates could compete for the promotion.
It's also worth remembering that the service has long operated with a "one up or down" rule in the lower ranks, meaning that most billets can be filled by someone one grade higher (or lower) than the desired rank. We understand that the requirements are different in command billets and the flag ranks. But we still argue that a two-grade advancement should be limited to individuals with the accomplishments of a Jimmy Doolittle. Sad to say, but the Air Force hasn't produced one of those in many, many years.