Vietnam to Libya: Was there a military culture change?

Dec 11 2012 - 3:24pm


Has there been a change in military command culture/ethos from Vietnam to Libya?

In May of 1972, I flew seven reconnaissance missions over Laos and Cambodia, the Battle of An Loc was ragging. That same month, the Air Force kicked off Operation Linebacker in North Vietnam. Monitoring frequencies up north, we tracked what was happening. At the beginning of Linebacker, an F-4 Phantom was shot down; Captain Roger Locher survived. From prior briefings he knew not to expect SAR (Search and Rescue) that deep in North Vietnam.

On June 1, Locher was able to contact American jets overhead. Calling, "Any U.S. aircraft, if you read Oyster 1 Bravo, come up on Guard." Stephen Ritchie, in one of the F-4s remembered Locher's call sign and answered. Locher calmly responded, "Guys, I've been down here a long time, any chance of picking me up?" Ritchie replied, "You bet!"

That same day a SAR mission was launched but was forced to abort because of heavy anti-aircraft fire, missiles, and MiGs.

On June 2, General Johan Vogt, commander of 7th Air Force consulted with Army MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam) Commander General Frederick Weyand. Vogt canceled the entire strike mission set for Hanoi that day. He dedicated all available resources, over 150 aircraft, to rescuing Locher. General Vogt said, "I had to decide whether we should risk the loss of maybe a dozen airplanes and crews just to get one man out. Finally I said to myself, "Damn it, the one thing that keeps our boys motivated is the certain belief that if they go down, we will do absolutely everything we can to get them out." If that is ever in doubt, morale would tumble. That was my major consideration. So I took it on myself. I didn't ask anybody for permission. I just said, "Go do it!"

Captain Dale Stovall's piloted his HH-53 helicopter deep into North Vietnam. Only when Locher rose out of the jungle canopy riding the Jungle Penetrator, were all of the Americans sure it was him. "We shut down the war to go get Roger Locher," Stovall later said. Stovall's citation described how "he willingly returned to this high threat area, braving intense ground fire, to recover the downed airman from deep in North Vietnam." Locher had evaded capture for 23 days.

I recorded in my logbook, "2 June 1972, Capt. Locher rescued!" Locher was flown to Ubon, Thailand. The first person to greet him was General Vogt who had flown up from Saigon. That evening he was greeted at the Officers Club by hundreds of individuals with an ovation lasting 20 minutes. What a morale boost it was for us who flew missions into enemy territory!

Now, compare this with Defense Secretary Panetta's response to the Benghazi assault in which U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were murdered in the attack. "The U.S. military did not quickly intervene during the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya last month because military leaders did not have adequate intelligence information and felt they should not put American forces at risk," Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Thursday "[The] basic principle is that you don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's going on; without having some real-time information about what's taking place, and as a result of not having that kind of information, the commander who was on the ground in that area, Gen. Ham, Gen. Dempsey and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation." (By Lolita C. Baldor and Donna Cassata, The Associated Press, October 26, 2012) Gen. Carter Ham is the head of U.S. Africa Command and Gen. Martin Dempsey is Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

If this is true, and I don't believe it for a minute, these commanders should be relieved ASAP. (at the very least they should step down out of shame!) If true, oh how our military standards/culture have rotted! Either way, Leon Panetta is unfit to serve as secretary of defense! He is naive in the extreme and clearly ignorant of military values. I'm positive he, the president, and the secretary of state gave the stand down order. Think of the message this sends!

What we have witnessed with Benghazi, is political corruption, professional malpractice, and fraud at the highest levels. Four Americans were murdered for attempted political expediency. The stench coming from our National Command Authority needs to be cleaned up immediately! Any self-respecting military commander would ignore a like order. They would experience communication failure; it happens all the time in the fog of war!

A retired Army colonel and Ogden native, Gary R. Stephens was a company commander of the 224th Aviation Battalion in Vietnam and Master Aviator with 75 reconnaissance missions. He was a National Security Fellow at Harvard and published, "Defense Department's Role in Humanitarian & Disaster Relief."

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