Open Letter: Former Airman Questions General’s Use of Taxpayer Funds

Air Force Gen. Darren W. McDew addresses the audience and troops during the U.S. Transportation Command assumption of command ceremony at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, Aug. 26, 2015. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tristin English.
Air Force Gen. Darren W. McDew addresses the audience and troops during the U.S. Transportation Command assumption of command ceremony at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, Aug. 26, 2015. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tristin English.

Ed. Note: Kayce M. Hagen is the pen name of an Air Force veteran with strong views and the communication skills to match. She’s written here before on the subject of sexual assault prevention — an article that touched a nerve across the Air Force and beyond by questioning whether the approach taken by leaders was worsening rather than addressing the problem. This time around, Kayce tackles a different subject, but one nevertheless related to the conduct of senior leaders. Through her own sources, Hagen learned that Gen. Darren McDew, commander of US Transportation Command, spent part of Thanksgiving weekend training for qualification in the C-37. She’s got a few strong opinions on the matter, makes valid points, and raises important questions. Should four star generals be qualified as pilots? Is it necessary? What justifies the expenditure? It’s a longstanding tradition and something of a sacred cow … one long overdue to be questioned and one senior officials should be questioning on their own initiative. Kayce isn’t waiting around for them to find enlightenment. Enjoy. -Q.

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Dear General McDew,

Do you end every Thanksgiving weekend by raiding the Air Force coffers for $60,000? Was it mission essential, cutting into others’ holiday weekend to ensure that you were picked up in a C-37, the military designation for a Gulfstream V, and flown to Savannah, Georgia for a two-day Senior Officer’s Course? I wonder, do American taxpayers know that a portion of their hard earned money is allotted to a fund called “Four Star Generals’ Hobbies”? And if no such fund exists, then where did the spare cash needed to fuel the jet, pay the landing fees, dole out per diem for you, your aide, and your personal security detail, and pay for the flight course come from?

An even better question would be, how does one justify learning to fly a C-37, when there isn’t a single C-37 to be found at Scott Air Force Base, where you are headquartered? You have a squadron of C-21s on your base to take you wherever your heart desires, why not fly one of those in your spare time and call it a day? While it’s true that the regulations stipulate a senior officer who has attended the course may fly from either seat under instructor pilot supervision, is it really necessary? More importantly, is it safe? If this is just so you can get behind the controls when you’re carried around in a G5, does that justify the expense of your training or the disruption that will be caused when you decide to fly? Isn’t the whole point of having dedicated airlift so that you can remain productive while you’re being ferried around? How can you be doing the work of a four star commander if you’re flying the jet? If you don’t need to do the work of a four star while being ferried, shouldn’t you just buy an airline ticket like everyone else?

Your presence in the pilot’s seat of an Air Force C-37 doesn’t keep another overtasked pilot home. It doesn’t free up a pilot to put warheads on foreheads. It does ensure that an extra pilot sits in the back of the plane and stares at the walls while you look out of the front windscreen and make the houses get bigger and smaller. It puts extra stress on the instructor pilot, having a four star general in the seat next to them. A four star general who learned to fly this airplane in a two day simulator, and then flew a pilot proficiency sortie back to Scott to be dropped off again. Which is interesting, considering the men and women who usually occupy those seats spend well over a month in Savannah learning what you did in two days’ time. It’s rather disconcerting, when you think about it.

A breakdown of your trip can be approximated like this:

$20,000 for the Senior Officer Flight Course.
$40,000 in gas to get you there and back, fly your sortie, and get the airplane back home.
$1,500 in Per Diem for you and your party.

These numbers don’t include maintenance man hours, handling fees, flight hours put on the aircraft, or medication for the ulcers this nonsense undoubtedly gives the actual aircrew. In an era of tightened fiscal responsibility and budgetary transparency, how do you justify effectively spending two Airmen’s salaries in two days? How can you possibly explain away this textbook case of Fraud, Waste, & Abuse? For the cost of your Big Adventure, the Air Force could have held on to two of our best investments, two of our greatest weapons: our highly trained Airmen. Instead, you ineffectively invested that money in yourself.

Many Airmen were thankful just to receive a paycheck this past weekend, so tell us, Sir, what are you thankful for?


Kayce M. Hagen

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