Laughlin, While Citing Resource Shortages, is Using T-1 Sorties to Haul Party Supplies

BS Meter

Last week, Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) sent Air Force Chief of Staff Gen Mark Welsh a strongly-worded letter. He asked Welsh to explain why a pilot recently cleared of false drug charges in the “Miley Gate” scandal remained barred from requalification in his primary duty as a flying instructor. My coverage of the letter and the idiocy behind it was enough to get a retired 2-star off the bench to unsuccessfully defend his prior decisions as he unintentionally raised new questions about Air Force handling of this and other disciplinary issues. You can read about that entertaining exchange here.

The reason provided to the pilot by his chain of command for refusing to get him back in the air — that Laughlin Air Force Base lacks the resources to conduct his retraining — makes no sense. The requalification course he needs would require only 3-4 sorties and perhaps two weeks to execute, and would provide Laughlin with an additional — and sorely needed — instructor pilot. The wing’s instructor manning shortage is severe enough that the Air Force Personnel Center is reassigning mobility pilots with as little as one year at their current duty stations to the base to address the problem. Another pilot in the same squadron recently completed requalification under similar circumstances. It took ten days.

But the strongest impetus for Hunter’s tough questions is probably Laughlin has been openly and brazenly wasting flying hours and manpower, making any argument based on resources ridiculous. A recent email to all pilots in the 86th Flying Training Squadron solicited volunteers for a slew of upcoming airshows and static displays. Spouse orientations, civil leader flights, incentive flights, and a host of other non-mission frivolities have unfolded on a constant basis for as long as anyone can remember. According to my sources, T-1 instructor pilots are inappropriately utilized across the wing as protocol specialists, visit coordinators, and paperwork pushers.

These sorts of things are, unfortunately, far from unique to Laughlin. They’re part of the “normalized deviation” of waste and distraction predominating across the Air Force. VIP visits, community interactions, and publicity stunts aren’t free. They consume productivity. The radical atrophy of the service’s support structure and the voluntary hemorrhage of manpower over the last decade have exacerbated the problem, requiring all who remain to be their own administrators and supporters while they simultaneously work to accomplish the mission.

But none of this institutionalized nonsense excuses Laughlin’s transparent duplicity on the requalification of “IP-7,” who spent 18 months having his life eviscerated by a false drug allegation and simply wants to get back to work. Recent events demonstrate just how obvious Laughlin commanders and their bosses at Air Education and Training Command are willing to be when they lie to their own officers and mislead Congress. This is corruption not even trying to obscure itself, and should raise alarms.

Laughlin has plenty of resources in its T-1 squadron, and we know this is true because of the photo displayed below. It’s a capture of the scheduling board in one of the squadron’s flight rooms. Note the scribbled “CWF Party Run” about midway down the schedule on the right side, adjacent to a showtime for a crew to an “Out and Back” (O&B). This is a sortie that operates to another airfield, refuels while the crew plans the return leg, and then flies home.

Party Line (1)

“CWF” refers to Chennault International Airport (KCWF) near Lake Charles, Louisiana. “Party Run” refers to the fact that the entire sortie was flown to retrieve discount gourmet sandwiches and other party supplies and transport them back to Laughlin for something called the “Single Airman’s Dinner.” Yes … your Air Force flew a whole mission, at several thousand dollars per flying hour, to haul shrimp po boys back from Louisiana … while claiming it is short on resources.

I’ve blurred the names of the pilots stuck with this sham of a flight, but according to sources familiar with the mission, no essential training was conducted. In fact, one of the two pilots scheduled for the mission was recently decertified from instructor status after he talked to Congress about the “Miley Gate” matter (more on that additional victim of this mess in another installment). 

This is simple. If Laughlin has enough spare flying hours and manpower to re-purpose a T-1 as a winged food truck, it has enough resources to retrain a pilot whose life was ruined by the chain of command’s abuse of power. It also has a moral duty to do the right thing by that airman.

Resources are not the reason this pilot is condemned to a desk. Those saying otherwise are lying. They know they’re lying, and they should be held accountable.

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