Hovering Over Send Chapter 1

  • Published
  • By Col. Daryl J. Hartman
  • 911th Operations Group
I have lots of books. I'm not really a book collecting kind of guy, but over 34 years I've accumulated a fairly substantial library. At home I have an office, or man cave in the current vernacular, although I don't have a TV. It's just my computer, my "I love me wall", and lots of bookshelves (If you know Peg, IKEA of course!). I've got a "do it yourself" section, a theology section, a fiction section, a Ronald Reagan section, and a smattering of political references. On the other hand my library at work leans towards, shall we say, eclectic.

I have books jammed in the credenza, in the drawers, on the coffee table and every time I move I'm amazed at how many boxes it takes to empty the office. I've got Ayn Rand, Charles Colson, Natan Sharansky, and C.S. Lewis just to name a few, but there isn't really an overarching theme to any of it. Just things I find interesting.

At the top of the "interesting" list is a thrilling read entitled, "Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, 1995 Report to the President". In 1995 I was here at Pittsburgh as the Chief of Stan/Eval. A job I loved but, after 9 years and multiple ASEVs, decided to leave in 1999 for a DO job in Youngstown. But I digress. I remember clearly the day that the proposal was made by the DoD to close Pittsburgh and that moment is captured precisely in the Commission Report with the quote: "It's operating costs are the greatest among Air Force Reserve C-130 operations at civilian airfields". Well, we were gobsmacked! We knew our financial situation here at Pittsburgh. We only pay $25,000 per year to lease our property and it includes all fire fighting and crash/rescue services from the County. Greater Pittsburgh has an international reputation as the most efficient snow removal airport in the nation and the runways are open 24/7 with almost no interruption even with the occasional blizzard. The county even comes over and repaints the lines on our ramp for free. We could only conclude that either other airports pay the units to be there or there was something "rotten in Denmark", or at least Georgia.

We had some pretty smart guys here at the time, math/accounting types, so after the BRAC folks provided us their data base we were able to dig into numbers and it quickly became obvious that something wasn't quite right. "Someone" had taken many of the highest costs from all of the C-130 units and plugged them into the data for Pittsburgh and in some cases, numbers were just fabricated. AFRES had decided what they wanted the answer to be and had, through the plans office, made the numbers add up.

The BRAC commissioner assigned to talk with the 911th was a small businessman from Rapid City, South Dakota and as we started the interview I remember him brushing aside discussions of value to the community and economic impact. His perspective was that all communities suffer when their unit is closed and he just wanted facts. Well, when the cooked books were presented to him, his whole attitude changed. He gathered up the spreadsheets and headed out the door.

His conclusions were veiled in the paragraph: "The commission found costs to operate Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station were inaccurate. With corrected data applied to the COBRA model, the commission found Pittsburgh was one of the least costly installations to operate". As we all know, the commission eventually placed all C-130 bases on the list and made them defend themselves. The rumor was perpetuated, and the myth continues to this day, that Pittsburgh pointed the finger at all of the other units when, in reality by attempting to cook the books, HQ placed all units at risk.

Eventually Chicago closed, mostly because the mayor literally told the commission that he didn't want the unit there. General Macintosh came to Pittsburgh and apologized at a commanders' call for "mistakes" that were made and told us that "heads had rolled", or at least been move to other offices. But the end result was a community which now rabidly defends the 911th as it does all things "Pittsburgh" and offers its sons and daughters to its Reserve unit at a higher rate than any other C-130 unit in AFRC.

Luckily, we're much more enlightened these days. We've imbued our AF culture with TQM/6 Sigma/AFSO21 and all decisions are fact based/metric-micro-managed and we can be sure that everything we do is done to save the taxpayer the most amount of money and not to meet petty political parochial agendas.

'Til next time, "on glidepath, slightly right of course"