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Calling Gen. Abizaid

Editor’s note: Eilhys England contributed to this column.

According to the ditty, “They fly through the air with the greatest of ease, these are America’s brass-buttoned VIPs.” Actually, the U.S. Air Force calls these airborne admirals and generals “Distinguished Visitors,” but whatever the label, they’re jet-setting at taxpayer expense and screwing over the troops they lead.

Sadly, most of our gold-braided elite take advantage of their senior rank to carve out max perks for themselves, giving new meaning to the old saw RHIP – Rank Has Its Privileges. Too many of today’s star-bearers leave their brains and their ethics in their Kevlar pots somewhere between bird colonel and general, when they morph into Perfumed Princes interested only in self-perpetuation and pleasure.

At this point, some of you are probably thinking: sour grapes from a bitter colonel who didn’t make general. In fact, I quit the Army over the insanity of Vietnam in 1971 at age 40 as the Army’s youngest bird colonel on an exceptionally fast career track. With less than three months in grade, I wasn’t exactly in the zone for brigadier general (see my book “About Face”).

What’s got me zeroed in on the brass this time around is word that critical C-130s – the tactical workhorses of our Air Force – are being used to fly VIPs around Iraq on missions that reek of joy riding.

Last year, I wrote about the gross misuse of Army helicopters by Army generals, resulting in our soldiers dying unnecessarily. Gen. John Abizaid’s Central Command was the guilty party, and I’m told that our expose caused Abizaid to pull the plug on this abuse. But a Central Command officer reports that Abizaid’s staffers are back to their dirty tricks – only now they’re into C-130 planes.

“The four-star general in charge of Air Education and Training Command – Gen. Donald Cook – came out for his ‘retirement’ flight last summer. My boss gave him a C-130 to fly all over Iraq and even gave him a backup plane in case his broke,” reports an outraged C-130 pilot. “A stateside training command general has no business appropriating such a scarce resource in a combat zone to fly around and say goodbye to all his buddies while there’s a wartime cargo backlog. The DV (Distinguished Visitor) abuse of cargo aircraft is huge here in Iraq and disgusting, and nobody wants to take it on due to the obvious problems that would arise from their objections.”

Since most of the main ground-supply routes throughout Iraq are constantly being cut by insurgent attacks, this misuse of C-130 airlift means ammo and other supplies might not get into the hands of the grunts at the forward edge in a timely manner.

“I recall one day we had 17 C-130s operating in Iraq, and 14 were picked off by the DV folks,” roars a senior airman. “Little if any cargo was flown that day. I understand there’s not many ways for a general to visit Iraq because these aircraft are the only ones with defensive countermeasures, but there are inventions called the Internet (e-mail), phones and media teleconferences. I am not sure if anyone on high questions whether these VIP boondoggles are necessary.”

“The worst crap was when Central Command would schedule a C-130, then find another ride for their VIP and not tell anyone,” reports a blue-suiter in Qatar. “They wouldn’t cancel the C-130 mission because if their shady deal fell through, they’d have the C-130 as backup. They would then jet off on their alternate ride and not show up for the C-130. Since it takes about a day to get the cargo planned for the C-130 and also to get the crew in crew-rest prior to the mission, there was nothing we could do with the aircraft. It just sat on the strip … a wasted asset!”

“The problem that frequently arises is despite the cargo backlog, CENTCOM generals keep picking off C-130s to fly for ‘grip and grins’ good old boys’ get-togethers,” reports another justifiably upset warrior.

Obviously, Gen. Abizaid needs to lock some more heels together and once again remind his staff about why they’re there: to support our brave warriors all the way and not run an aerial circus for self-serving VIPs.