05/23/06 — Intriguing: $50 million publicizing the Thunderbirds?

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Intriguing: $50 million publicizing the Thunderbirds?

The Associated Press reports from Washington that the FBI is investigating a matter involving a $50 million contract awarded a private company to publicize the Air Force Thunderbirds.

According to the report, the Air Force had awarded the contract to Strategic Message Solutions over two other bidders.

The federal suit contends that even before the $50 million contract was awarded, now Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. T. Michael Moseley, approved providing the publicity contractor $8.5 million without any request for bids.

Of special interest locally is the fact that General Hal Hornburg is mentioned in the suit. He is a former commander of the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson.

Losing bidders for the $50 million contract say Strategic Message Solutions had an unfair advantage in that it had made recently retired Gen. Hornburg a partner in their company.

The suit says the head of the company had disclosed to Gen. Moseley and other senior officers Hornburg’s relationship with the firm.

Among Goldsboro citizens, Hal Hornburg is one of the most respected officers ever to command the 4th Wing. While commander here, he also was the hands-on officer in charge of tactical air operations in the immensely successful first Gulf War — a war in which Iraq’s military was brought to its knees by air power.

His ascension to four-star flag rank testifies to the respect he earned among his military peers.

It would be very difficult to convince our citizens who know him well that Hal Hornburg knowingly was involved in anything improper.

But one thing must jump out at many among us.

Why in the world would the Air Force be giving a private company $50 million to promote the Thunderbirds? They apparently are booked up two and three years in advance. The aerial demonstration team promotes nothing but the professionalism of the Air Force. It advertises no private products. No one pays to attend the performances. Expenses presumably are covered in the Air Force’s operational budget.

The Thunderbirds have appeared many times at Seymour Johnson AFB. This newspaper knows of no expenditures by private promoters to advertise the performances. The press here — and we presume everywhere — welcomes their appearances and promotes them as legitimate news events.

Perhaps Congress, not the FBI, should scrutinize this $50 million expenditure and demand an explanation of its justification.

Published in Editorials on May 23, 2006 10:01 AM