September, October, and November have “military birthdays,” and for many years I've written columns those months about the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps respectively.
September, October, and November have "military birthdays," and for many years I've written columns those months about the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps respectively.
Ergo, this being mid-September, it is time for a column highlighting the Air Force, whose birthday is today, since it dates from Sept. 18, 1947.
The U.S. military started using aircraft shortly after lighter than air devices were invented. The first use of aircraft by the military was during the Mexican Punitive Expedition into Mexico in 1916, an expedition led by an unknown Army brigadier general named John J. Pershing. He wouldn't stay unknown for long, nor would one of his aides, Capt. George S. Patton. The air unit of the Army was under the signal corps from 1916 until 1947, on this date, when the U.S. Air Force was created under the National Defense Act. So in both world wars whatever happened in the air occurred under Army designation.
Then and now, both the Navy and Marine Corps had and have air units of their own, and the Coast Guard has helicopters, and perhaps fixed wing aircraft I'm not aware of.
The Navy and Marine Corps had detachments at CGSC at Fort Leavenworth before WW II, but I was never successful in tracking down when the Air Force established one. Since the Air Force sends the most students to CGSC, the Air Force Element is the largest of the three so-called "sister services."
In past years I've highlighted the Air Force by publicizing its annual formal ball in September. Alas, the USAF Ball has gone the way of many Army balls, which is the way of the dinosaurs and other extinct creatures. For the first time since I arrived in 1978, there is no Air Force Ball this year. That's a shame, as I was always invited to set up a historical display, three tables of super Army Air Corps and USAF items for ball attendees to look at and enjoy.
In a past column, not that long ago, I said the Air Force had yet to have a CGSC graduate as its chief of staff, although Gen. Joseph Ralston, class of 1976, was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff several years ago.
But time marches on, and former Maj. Mark Welsh III, CGSC class of 1988, now Gen. Welsh, is the 20th Air Force chief of staff and first Army CGSC graduate. He plans a visit to his Leavenworth roots soon to speak to the current CGSC class.
In my 26 years at CGSC I met many Air Force students, and all I got to know were super sharp and appreciated being at the prestigious Army school for a year. One I got to know in the 1990s, Maj. Jay Lindell, was the deputy commandant of the USAF Staff Officers School in Alabama for a tour. I lost track of him as a major general serving in Afghanistan.
During my days at CGSC three USAF students, all of whom I'd known, returned as colonels to head the Air Force Element. When the third one came back, it seemed perhaps time for this aging cavalryman to retire before a former student's son came as the AFE's leader.
I even bought my home in Leavenworth from an Air Force student who remained on the faculty and was leaving when I returned to CGSC as a civilian. When I first looked at the house I notice an old flight suit with paint on it in the carport.
It had lieutenant's bars on it, and he said it was one he'd worn in Vietnam, had painted the house in it, and it was headed for the landfill. I told him that it had to be part of the deal for me to buy the house, which it became, and it was on display at every subsequent Air Force Ball.
Regrettably it will remain in a box in the attic at least for this year. But I won't bury the box it is in under too much stuff, as there is always next year and, perhaps, a return for the ball.
I extend a happy "birthday" to all the flyboys and flygirls out there. Off we go.