MediaWatch: August 10, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 13

Rating Military Readiness

Since the Cold War, reporters usually focus on defense issues only when a liberal shibboleth is involved, like gays or Kelly Flinn, and tend to worry more about "full-funding" for Head Start than spare parts for Air Force planes. An exception to that trend was ABC’s John McWethy report on Air Force readiness on the July 16 World News Tonight. Reporting from Langley Air Force Base, McWethy warned: "Within the U.S. military and especially the Air Force, there is a growing sense of crisis. Weapons are aging, aircraft sit idle for lack of spare parts, long tours of duty in the Persian Gulf are killing morale and wearing out equipment."

McWethy quoted an opinion from General Richard Hawley, who claimed a "ten to twelve percent" drop in readiness. McWethy added, "But the numbers do not begin to describe the depth of the problem or the frustration it is creating on the flight line."

Senior Airman James Mullins angrily resented the state of the Air Force: "If I have to wait a month to get the part to fix the jet, and then the part I get doesn’t even work, how is readiness so good? The jet’s not flying, it’s sitting on the ground. The pilot’s not getting his training. In my opinion, readiness stinks."

Lieutenant Charles Collier, a maintenance officer, said that of the 21 jets he was in charge of, "on a given day we probably have ten." McWethy noted acidly "That means less than half of this squadron can fly. Pilots are also getting out in record numbers, going to airlines for better money and for a life that does not include long separations from their families." He also said that soldiers "fed up with long deployments for peacekeeping" are leaving for higher paying and less stressful jobs in the private sector. "They can still defend the nation, they argue. But they admit the erosion in their capabilities is alarming and may not be easy to reverse."