16 March 2013

C-123 Contamination News - So Much More To Come

There is such a messy time ahead with more and more messy news about the C-123 Agent Orange contamination. A time with news of what was done and left undone. A tale of integrity and honor put aside. Of forgetting "We do not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do" in the performance of one's duty, whether commissioned, enlisted or civil service. A tale of silly little mistakes and acts of bad judgement leading to thousands of veterans suffering. Still, it was, to paraphrase Dickens, "the best of times."

I love the Air Force. If only we'd have invented "Once a Marine, Always a Marine" for our service...Once an Airman, Always an Airman has a fine ring to it. Except for not having those cool swords and high-collar white uniforms like the Navy, and stuck with "Off We Go, Into the Wild Blue Yonder" instead of serious music like "Anchors Away," I love the Air Force. Think about it...a sailor's memorial service has those tears flowing like rivers as "Anchors Away" or "Eternal Father" plays from the organ, but an airman's memorial service has only "Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder" playing, inviting mourners' embarrassed smiles and with no hope of tears for the poor fallen airman! Still,  I think the Air Force is the best thing in my life. It was the best of times. I love the Air Force.

Having left my family back at Dreux Air Base, France where my dad was stationed and where I graduated from an Air Force high school, then hitchhiked on cars, ships, trains and airplanes, 7000 miles from France to California. I walked onto March AFB near Riverside, California for my first Air Force physical in 1964. Worked my way through college over the years with a single goal...an Army commission which I was offered in 1973. Instead, a love of flying led me to the Air Force, first enlisted and then commissioned (thanks to Colonel Kosakoski). Life turned out to be Air Force, all the better! I love the Air Force!

As an Army brat himself, my pop Army CWO Hank Carter might have preferred my walking into Madigan Army Hospital in Fort Lewis, WA. My grandpa was Army BG John Wesley Carter. My mom and dad, all my "lifer" uncles and one aunt, were proud that our family's generations of career military service would continue for a fourth generation of me and my many cousins (sadly, all Texas A&M). I was so proud that the Air Force would even consider letting me wear their honorable uniform. It was what our family did.

We span, in my family's continuous service, duty on the Western Plains oppressing the First People, duty through World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, to duty in the AOR for Gulf One. From horseback to jets. General officers, field grade officers and young privates, it didn't matter commissioned or enlisted. Over earlier centuries, it was service in the famous First Minnesota and the Civil War. It was what our family did, happy at the end of a career to earn a nice bronze marker simply noting name, state, wars served, rank and honors. A resting place among comrades.

All beginning in the Eighteenth Century with Colonel Joshua Carter and his sons taking up arms in colonial militia of Massachusetts and Virginia, and on that first Patriots Day telling the Red Coats at Concord that it was time for them to go home. My grandma's front window in Saint Cloud had a WWII banner with six blue stars, and fortunately her husband and five sons came home. From Okinawa to Iceland to North Africa to Sicily to Normandy to the Rhine, it was what our family did.

Then an Air Force captain on April 19 1990, I was at the Battle Green reenactment at Lexington, near their famous Minute Man monument. The dark, cold and foggy morning, and suddenly, just like the militia did centuries ago, hearing the Red Coats' muffled drums approaching in the distance. Terrified but dedicated, the farmers stood and held their ground as long as they could. I suddenly was amazed...listening to those frightening distant drums and understanding finally what they did, standing up to a foe with no hope of victory. Little hope of surviving at the beginning of a very long war of independence. Like so many others, it was what our family did.

We were what might be called "Old Army." Army folks so consumed by "Duty, Honor, Country" that we didn't care about living in unairconditioned Quonset huts at Fort Bliss with my mom sweeping snakes and tarantulas out in the summer, or the pay. House guests ranged from senators and ambassadors to general officers to PFCs, all men of honor, some with the Medal of Honor. We "broke starch" in our fatigues, trying to look sharp. Even old-time silly stuff like not wearing blue jeans in the PX was tolerated. Growing up to be just like Dad and growing up to make Grandpa proud...three career grandsons with two Army and me, the aberrant Air Force guy. Cutting my wedding cake with Grandpa's sword. Over my decades wearing gabardine, bush jackets, Ike jackets, 505s, 1505s, BDUs, finally a baggy green flight suit and silver wings I was most proud of. It was what our family did.

Seven years an Army field medic. Seven more an Air Force medevac crew member. Thirteen more as an Air Force officer. Flying, teaching, Pentagon TDY, training at the Fort Devens EFMB course. SOS and greasy omelets with friends at midnight chow at some remote base after the airplane is tied down following a long, long fight. Chapel in a GP-Medium tent or the Air Force Academy. Friends weddings and funerals. Twenty more an Air Force retiree trying to help recruit, swear in recruits, run errands for recruiters, help with AF Academy Liaison, give speeches. I still wish I could have done more. And now helping with C-123 Agent Orange issues but too sick to do enough in the time left. Like everyone else I flew with in those old warplanes, for nothing more than my love of the Air Force - proud of the Air Force the way it is supposed to be. It was what our family did.

My point. There are messy, unpleasant but truthful revelations coming out over the next few months about Air Force and VA actions over the decades which followed the first official awareness of C-123 contamination by Agent Orange. Revelations about actions which should have been taken, actions which should not have been taken, decisions to permit personnel toxin exposures to be ignored, press manipulation, inadequate IG investigations...messy stuff. Millions of dollars wasted. Perjury.

Deadly illnesses allowed to progress without prevention. Coverup. Stuff allowed to happen, or at least slip by uncorrected, by people who were not proud enough to keep the Air Force the way it is supposed to be. People who failed to bring it, and themselves, onto the path of honor. Mostly, folks involved are long gone into retirement. But not all...some are still wearing uniforms. Uniforms they failed to wear with the honor expected of them by the President who, as per their commission, reposed special trust and confidence in them. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." The worst part will be told.

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