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An Air Force that's flaming out

Posted By David Hackworth On 03/08/2005 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

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

Stars flashing and an impressive rack of “having been there” medals blazing on his chest, Thomas Fiscus cut a dashing figure in the halls of the Pentagon. He was a different kind of general, outgoing, friendly, a master of the Bill Clinton touchy-feely approach, a guy who always had time to mentor his female staff. By most accounts, he was the perfect major general.

He was also the Air Force’s top lawyer, a take-no-prisoners people-eater with a reputation as a hanging judge – especially when it came to adultery, sexual harassment or any boys and girls in blue caught doing the naughty, nonreg deed.

“Fiscus was known as the Darth Vader of the Air Force’s legal establishment for his zealous pursuit of sexual misconduct,” says retired U.S. Marines Corps Lt. Col. Roger Charles, who recently completed an exhaustive investigation of the former general’s formerly secret life.

Charles notes that several years ago, when a married female lieutenant colonel with an impeccable military record was nailed for adultery and her commander wanted to slap her on the wrist with an Article 15 nonjudicial punishment and let her retire, Fiscus fought for a general court-martial – at which she was found guilty and sentenced to be dismissed from the service. She committed suicide before the sentence was approved to preserve her retirement benefits for her family.

Last September, Jekyll was revealed as Hyde when the double life of the very-married, by-the-book senior enforcer caught up with him via an anonymous letter to the Air Force chief of staff. The investigation that ensued literally caught Fiscus with his pants down: He had almost as many uniformed playmates as the Air Force has B-2 bombers. He had sweet young things stashed everywhere, including on his Pentagon legal team – which allowed for quickies with the chosen, whom he also was kind enough to counsel about their careers and cook for while buck-naked.

Fiscus’ sexual inner circle included eager Air Force lawyers and enlisted paralegals, as well as Pentagon civilian employees. Preying primarily on the super-career-motivated Air Force femmes who figured getting especially close to the boss wouldn’t hurt their climb to the top, he managed to maintain a harem of more than a dozen girlfriends for at least a 10-year period while rocketing up the promotion ranks and somehow still remaining “a good family man.” And all his affairs were consensual.

No wonder the man made general.

Once top Air Force brass examined the tell-all inspector general report, they immediately went into max damage control. No question Fiscus had to go, but throwing the book at him was unthinkable. Not only are generals not treated as severely as lower-rankers, Fiscus for sure had dirt on enough of top management to make an uncomfortably hot TV series: “Inside the Air Force – Different Strokes for Different Folks.”

So Air Force Sec. James G. Roche ordered Tom, as he was affectionately called by many of his female subordinates – along with other terms of endearment such as “Homey,” “Cootie” and “Sweetie” – to retire last month at the grade of colonel, a two-grade bust following a nonjudicial Article 15 charging him with conduct unbecoming an officer, engaging in unprofessional relationships, fraternization and obstruction of justice.

He got away light. If he’d been a sergeant or a major, he’d be making shoes at a military prison on any one of the four charges. Instead, he’s probably playing golf at a country club, checking out the “six” of any women within his line of sight.

Many fine Air Force warriors are outraged by this hypocritical decision, especially in light of Sweetie’s role-model status as the top gun of Air Force justice. They say they’ve seen too many airmen get the boot or go to jail for far lesser charges and are furious that he’s been allowed to fly gently into the wild blue yonder.

“This is totally outrageous and another example of how there’s one rule of law for the troops and another for the generals,” says an Air Force judge advocate general attorney who’s asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation against his clients by the “very corrupt Air Force legal system.”

Corruption is like cancer. Unless it’s cut out, it kills its host. It’s about time the top brass checked their “six” and realized they’re an institution that’s going down in flames.


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