04/22/08 — Fancy footwork: Defense secretary’s comments made even him squirm

View Archive

Fancy footwork: Defense secretary’s comments made even him squirm

Defense Secretary Robert Gates started backtracking almost as soon as the words were out of his mouth about the quality of the contributions the U.S. Air Force has made to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He did not mean the airmen who are serving abroad, he told the officers gathered at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.

He meant the brass — the people who make the decisions in Washington.

That was supposed to make the young leaders he was speaking to feel better, we guess. In the meantime, his comments blasted all around the world.

In the end, Gates said he was referring to getting the Air Force leadership to think outside the box, and to facilitate adding new dimensions to the Air Force contributions to the war effort. He even went so far as to say that there were roadblocks in every branch of the military to new ideas and better ways of getting the job done.

Gates spent most of the day Monday trying to get his foot out of his mouth — and the corrections continued for hours after the Maxwell speech.

The debate over his criticism is for another time.

Let’s deal instead with the effect his words had on those who are serving.

Here’s the truth: There are always better ways to accomplish tasks and people who are resistant to change. Managing a military effort with someone else controlling the purse strings is a challenge no matter how you look at it.

But as far as heart, warrior spirit and sharing of resources, there is no branch of service that has not stepped up and shown the enemy that this is a country to be reckoned with on the battlefield and that this is a team effort. And the Air Force has been a leader in that commitment, sharing personnel as well as expertise to contribute to the overall war effort.

So while Gates might have had a few bureaucratic quibbles, he has no beef with those who are actually out there doing the job.

So, let Gates and the generals handle how to get the job done. That is why they have those fancy titles.

For those who are actually on the ground, doing the fighting, rest assured. This country — and its leaders — know how hard you are working and the sacrifices you have made. We couldn’t be prouder.

Now, all we have to do is train our defense secretary to think before words come out of his mouth, and we really will be battle-ready.

Published in Editorials on April 22, 2008 11:13 AM