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Interview with Merrill McPeak [May 29, 2007]

Merrill McPeak:

Okay. My name is Merrill A. McPeak, M-C-P-E-A-K. Nickname is Tony McPeak.

Gary Rhay:

Where's the Tony come from?

Merrill McPeak:

I don't know. You'd have to -- my middle name is Anthony so it could be that. It's something my mother started calling me so it stuck, unhappily.

Gary Rhay:

Well, tell me how you get involved in the military, and specifically the Air Force.

Merrill McPeak:

Well, I went from Oregon to California, Southern California for college, and I entered down there -- I graduated from high school in Grants Pass, Oregon, but I went to San Diego State. The Korea War was over but they still had a healthy ROTC program and I was a scholarship kid down there so money was short and -- they actually paid you to join the ROTC in those days so I joined up mostly for the dollar day. Every three months they gave you a check for ninety bucks and the only thing faster than the speed of light was how quickly I cashed that check.

Gary Rhay:

Well, at some point or 'nother you transitioned in --

Merrill McPeak:

Yeah. When I graduated I was a so-called distinguished military graduate of ROTC. So -- I don't know why because I am not much for parade grounds, still to this day. But anyway, they offered me a regular commission and I did not take it because I thought it should go to somebody who wanted to make a career out of the Air Force. But then I went to flying school, kind of fell in love with flying. And I was -- again, I was what they called a distinguished graduate of flying training and they offered it to me again, a regular commission. And I took it on the understanding that it didn't make much difference. It couldn't hurt you to be a regular officer. I could still resign my commission, and I fully intended to. I had no concept that I would ever stay in the Air Force. But I went to a fighter squadron and sort of got involved in flying fighter aircraft and the camaraderie of the fighter unit and the challenge and enjoyment of just flying fighters. So I sort of got strung along. Every time I was about to get out of the Air Force why I would get offered a good job and I ended up finally staying long enough where I said well, I might as well hang around for a while and make this into a career, and that's sort of what happened.

Gary Rhay:

What was the first aircraft -- the first fighter that you had flown?

Merrill McPeak:

My first squadron was an F-104 squadron at George Air Force Base in California. And I went mach two in my first flight in an F-104, sort of the dollar ride, you know, the back seat ride that a new guy gets in every squadron, but we took it out to mach two. And when I retired from the Air Force thirty-seven years later I've never been faster than I was on that first day as a, I guess probably I was a first lieutenant by that time. But as a lieutenant I flew as fast as I ever did. We've made a lot of progress in aeronautics, don't get me wrong, but one of them has not been to get faster. It's been to get stealthier, it's been to get more accurate, it's been to get better avionics, know what we're doing better, but not faster.

Gary Rhay:

Tell me about the 104. That plane has reputations both ways.

Merrill McPeak:

Well, I've got upwards -- well, not quite a thousand hours in it. I was an instructor later with the Luftwaffe in the F-104G down at Luke. I always loved the airplane. It felt good, felt like putting -- the best airplane I ever flew is the F-16 but sort of the F-104 had that same feeling, that you were small, you put it on, you felt like you could get in the fight and nobody would notice until you -- until you were pretty dangerous. And so I liked it, loved the airplane, have a couple -- couple ocean crossings in it because we used to rotate into Europe out of George Air Force Base and we had an air defense commitment that we pulled in Spain, at Moron, Spain, sort of protecting the B-47s that were forward based during the early part of the Cold War. Bottom line is I loved it. We did lose a lot of people. We lost in my squadron six people in that twenty months or so I was in that squadron, and including I lost two flight commanders, the guy that checked me out in the airplane, and the guy who succeeded him. So it was an easy airplane to fly, but unforgiving in the sense that it had all -- if the engine quit, and they often did, it had all the gliding characteristics of a set of car keys. So you could -- I mean, we did have a high loss rate. But it was a wonderful airplane. I mean, it was the only airplane since the Wright Brothers to hold all of the important records, the absolute speed, time to climb into any altitude. And the absolute altitude record was over a hundred thousand feet, a hundred and three thousand or something like. Marvelous airplane. Just what every lieutenant needs is an airplane like that and a credit card so he can buy gas.

Gary Rhay:

And the next aircraft you transitioned into?

Merrill McPeak:

Well, I went back to the F-100. I went overseas from George. I had flown the F-100 in combat crew training so went back to an RAF station in the UK, RAF Woodbridge, and flew the F-100, which I had flown before so I had to get recurrent in it. And again, I spent four years over in the UK. The mission there was pulling alert with a nuclear weapon so we called it Victor Alert. I was there for the Cuban Missile Crisis. A grim faced -- (Telephone ringing.) Can we cut it here?

Gary Rhay:

Sure.

Merrill McPeak:

Fire away. I'm sorry. Where were we? I was in the UK.

Gary Rhay:

You were in the UK and it was the Cuban Missile Crisis and you were just about --

Merrill McPeak:

Yeah. I was on alert that night. In fact, Mike Duggan, who was the Chief of the U.S. Air Force just before me, and I were -- we were on alert together the night Kennedy came on television and announced that -- the embargo and any attack out of Cuba would be considered an attack out of the Soviet Union and so on. He looked bad on BBC television. It turned out, now history tells us, that he was under the weather, feeling a little sick or something. But he looked grim as heck. I remember Duggan and I -- now, here's two lieutenants sitting alert together that will eventually become two four-star generals and success -- he was the thirteenth Chief of the Air Force and I ended up the fourteenth chief, sitting on alert together watching this, and we kind of looked at each other and went back -- we kept our target folders in a safe because they had a lot of top secret material in them. We both casually got up, went back and got out our target folders because it seemed like at the moment that that would be a time to do a little study on what we needed to do there. So it was an interesting time. I enjoyed the time in the UK. I went to jump school with the Army over in Germany during that period so I ended up with a paratrooper qualification too.

Gary Rhay:

You also mentioned combat crew training. Perhaps you could explain that a little bit.

Merrill McPeak:

Well, in the Air Force system when you come out of flying school you go to combat crew training, which is another, in my case, six months or so of training. You have your wings, now you're a pilot, but you're essentially useless until you get checked out in some operational system. In my case it was the F-100. I went through F-100 training at Luke Air Force Base and Nellis before reporting to an F-104 squadron and having to transition immediately on coming in the door into the F-104. So I was there at George for a year and a half or so, then was assigned -- reassigned to the UK, to RAF Woodbridge where I had to transition back into the F-100. When I left there I went to Luke as a gunnery instructor in the F-104 so I had to transition back into the F-104, except it was the German version, the F-104G. And I was a gunnery instructor there for a year or so, and then joined the Thunderbirds, the Air Force aerobatic team, so I had to transition back into the F-100. So I went back and forth between the F-100 and the F-104 two, three times. It was really good training because nowadays a pilot will usually be sent to a type of squadron and can fly that same aircraft then for the rest of his career. But airmanship of just going back -- different missions, different aircraft, I think is good experience and so I regard myself as lucky in that regard.

Gary Rhay:

Well, you've given us a good description of the 104. Perhaps you would take a moment and talk about the F-100 and how it was to fly.

Merrill McPeak:

Well, as you may recall, the F-100 was a -- sort of a big F-86. It was an F-86 with an afterburner on it made by the same company, North American. It was rushed into test in an effort to get it into Korea because we were having problems with the MiG-15, especially on top speed and altitude. So we thought if we could get an F-86 type of aircraft with an afterburner we could match the speed and other characteristics of the MiG-15. We didn't get it there fast enough. It did -- it was operational too late to take a hand in the Korean War, and as a consequence -- but as a consequence of its rapid development it really did have some operational problems. So it wasn't the easiest aircraft in the world to fly. Sophie -- Do you want to stop here while I take care of this problem? The aircraft was not particularly stable. You had to hand fly it all the time. And it didn't have an autopilot, what we would today call an autopilot anyway. It had some kind of lash-up, which wasn't very effective. And it -- the engine compressor stalled quite a bit under heavy -- any kind of a G load you had to be careful with the throttle. All those problems have been solved now in modern fighters. But it was really the first of the century series of fighters, the first aircraft that was supersonic in a level flight, and I liked it. I've got well over two thousand hours in it so it got to become home for me.

Gary Rhay:

You described some problems, the instability and things that would seem to take that out of the arena of the Thunderbirds, and yet, you were flying that for the Thunderbirds.

Merrill McPeak:

Yeah. Thunderbirds flew it for many, many years. But the -- you know, it was a difficult aircraft to fly well in an air show. And it's really a tribute to the skill and the training that the team undergoes. The Thunderbirds fly, at least when I was on the team, they flew easily twice as much flying time as a pilot in a routine fighter squadron, and it's all in -- most of it it's in short flights. I mean, the air show is thirty minutes, and you do mostly air shows and practices for air shows, so you get a lot of short sorties, none of this two-hour flight business. So you get a lot of takeoffs and a lot of landings. So instead of twenty hours a month that you might get in a squadron, you get closer to forty, and it's intense training, very concentrated, a lot of sorties for that amount of time. So your proficiency just zooms when you're on a team and you can do things with the airplane that frankly you wouldn't want to try in an ordinary squadron.

Gary Rhay:

So what was the selection process?

Merrill McPeak:

Well, all the team members, the fliers are volunteers and you have to apply to the team. When I applied to the team probably a hundred guys applied for every opening. And the team has six guys flying, and three are old and three are new so you change out three every year so you always have three veterans and three rookies. The first time I applied I got to the finals but did not get selected. Second time I was lucky and got selected for the team. That happens a lot because the team selects their own pilots from this list of volunteers and so they get to know you maybe the first time, and at least -- you know, I hope that's what happened in my case, and they sort of put me down in the bullpen and then I was called the next time. So it's highly competitive. A lot of it is based on, since you spend so much time on the road, we spent like two hundred seventy days a year of TDY, and you're living in a motel somewhere, a lot of it is based on sort of personal compatibilities. But a lot of it is skill, and you know, if you can't -- if people don't regard you as a fairly strong pilot you're probably not going to get on the team.

Gary Rhay:

We'll fast forward to Vietnam, unless there's something you feel would be significant between then.

Merrill McPeak:

No.

Gary Rhay:

Go ahead and talk to us about what you were doing in Vietnam and what --

Merrill McPeak:

Well, I went from the Thunderbirds directly to Vietnam. In fact, I didn't wait to check out in another airplane, which I probably should have. I should have gone in the Phantom, the F-4, which was by the time I went to Vietnam in the late -- I guess I flew my first Vietnam mission on Boxing Day, December 26th of 1968. I was on the Thunderbirds in '67, '68, flew my last air show November of '68, moved the family, you know as you had to do, they threw you out of base housing when you went to Vietnam, which is something I never could not understand, went through a jungle survival school, got recurrent because on the team you don't do any bombing or gunnery, you're flying air shows so I had to get a couple gunnery missions to get qualified, and got over there and flew my first mission on December 26th, as I say of '68, out of Pho Cat. But the only reason I could do that was because I went in the F-100. I should have, you know, in retrospect gone ahead and gone to F-4 transition and then gone over in what would have been then the sort of leading edge fighter. But I was in a hurry, I thought I was the last fighter pilot to get to Vietnam and I didn't want to be left out of the war and I thought it was going to end, and of course, it went on for a while after I got there. So I ended up flying in-country sorties for a while, in-country close air support, and then I was asked to go to a special operation called Misty, which was a commando sabre operation, I think was its official name, but it was a special group of pilots who operated in Laos against the Ho Chi Minh Trail, basically flying the two-seat version of the F-100, the F-100F, and doing daylight reconnaissance up and down the trail and directing attacks as forward air controllers in Laos. As you know, in country we had forward air controllers flying OV-1s and twos, and that was safe enough in country. Well, not real safe, I mean, those guys got shot up pretty well. But it was certainly unsafe in Laos and in Northern Vietnam where the Triple A was a real problem. The in-country threat was small arms fire and automatic weapons really and so with something like a jet aircraft this ought not to be a concern. Now, unhappily we lost a lot of airplanes, but basically it was guys who got careless or for some reason got down in the into that small arms environment and didn't know how to handle themselves in it and so got caught. But in Laos it was -- there was Triple A and so you had to -- you had to have some speed if you were going to go down and look for targets underneath the trees along the trail or hang around long and do forward air control and put in strikes. So this special outfit was organized called Misty. Originally it worked in route pack one, which is Southern North Vietnam, north of the DMZ. But when the bombing halt was called by Johnson in along about October of '68 Misty moved its whole operations over on the other side of the mountains to work the Ho Chi Minh Trail from Mu Gia Pass south to the tri-border region. Actually, the trail came down from Mu Gia, Van Khoi and entered south -- entered in numerous places south of the DMZ from the Tchepone area into Kason, that area, and then further south into the A Shau -- there was a spur into the A Shau Valley, and then further south into the central highlands where the Army was at Kontum and Pleiku, and then on down to the tri-border area and even into Cambodia where it penetrated all the way down to near Saigon at the Parrot's Beak, in that area. So it was a very long, very complex, rather highly developed road, LOC, and hard to keep track of. I mean, the truck traffic coming down there was pretty -- pretty large volume, even in '68. And of course, it got -- '68, '69 because most of the time I was working against it was in the spring and summer of '69. Later after we withdrew and Vietnamization occurred and so on it got even more developed. I mean, they paved the road and so that when -- when forces entered Saigon it wasn't VC, it was NVA regulars with tanks and SA-2 missiles and a whole panoply of modern -- more or less modern field army, all of it brought down the trail by these tough guy truckers that we were trying to stop in '68, '69. Anyway, I went to Misty really before I should have because Misty was a special operation, it was manned by volunteers from all the F-100 wings around the theatre so people came up from Tuy Hoa, Phan Rang and Benoi and joined the wing at Pho Cat to be in this sort of twenty -- I think we had twenty-one guys in there, twenty-one-person special operation that was going over and trying to stop traffic, pretty much did stop traffic in the daylight hours but in those days the night belonged to the other side and so it kind of crawled at night with traffic. I was in that -- there was a hundred mission tour limit on Misty, and I never got to a hundred. I got to ninety-eight missions. It was a hundred missions, or four months, and at the end I was a commander of Misty so I was the last commander of Misty at Pho Cat Air Base, and then I moved the unit down to Tuy Hoa. Pho Cat transitioned from F-100s to F-4s so we had to move the F-100s down to Tuy Hoa and I was the first commander at Tuy Hoa, but only kept the command for a few days and they transitioned to a new guy. So I was stopped just sort of my hundred hour Misty package. But those were tough missions. They were long missions, two refuelings every mission. We'd go in, we'd fly directly in, let down, make an initial reconnaissance up the trails. Our first sortie in the morning was there right at O dark thirty, I mean, crack of dawn because we wanted to catch whoever we could that was still on the trail that had broken down, you know, and hadn't been able to get off the road. We'd catch them in the morning and then go out and refuel twice and come back in. By the time we flew that whole sortie it was four hours, four thirty, four forty-five I think was about average mission duration. All of it -- a lot of it down low, going fast, turning under Gs constant, doing a constant weave so you wouldn't get bagged by Triple A. And those were tough sorties. In fact, I -- that's the closest I ever got to flying a hundred hours a month. I got almost a hundred hours in the F-100 and then I had a sortie out of Da Nang in the 02. I actually got over a hundred combat hours in one month, I forget which month it was. But you get tired with a hundred hours of low altitude turning, you know, so ninety-eight was probably good enough.

Gary Rhay:

We were talking on the way up, because I flew in Vietnam in a recon aircraft, about the difference between being on the ground and being shot at and being in the air and getting shot out and the kind of detachment the aircrews have from the noises of combat, if you will. Do you want to speak to that?

Merrill McPeak:

Well, I only got hit once in my airplane, and I remember that a bullet that missed went right by the canopy. And of course, early enough in their flight they're supersonic, the bullets are, and I could hear a little ping as it went by, a little supersonic mach wave. So it's not that you don't hear the noise in a jet. If it comes close enough you can hear the noise. But I agree, it's not sound that is the clue for an aircrew. Usually in the daytime it's hard to know you're being fired at. Sometimes you can see the muzzle flashes if you're just looking just right. Often they'll be dust kicked up around the gun and sometimes you can see that, or smoke. The best gun they had was the twenty-three mil Triple A gun check design. We used to see it in a twin barrel version. And they fired a fifty shot -- I think they had a can. It was built fed out of a cab on each side and they would fire fifty rounds. But every tenth round or so unignited fumes would go off, which must have been uncomfortable for the gunners, you see this big old flash. So occasionally you could see that flash as the unignited gun fumes ignited. It was spectacular. You could see it quite easily at night. But often you wouldn't see any of that in the daylight. What you would see is the little puff clouds as the rounds self-destructs towards the end of its trajectory. All Triple A's rounds are explosive, unlike small arms fire or machine gun or something like that which has just got a solid round, you won't see anything unless there's tracer, and again, even tracer, you can't see, except at night. But when the -- but when a Triple A round nears the end of its trajectory it will self-destruct to keep the round from falling back on gunner's head. So you'll see these little puff clouds as the thing goes off, and you can tell caliber that way. Fifty-seven is fired in a four-shot clip, thirty-seven in a five-shot clip. So if you see four little puff clouds you know that's probably fifty-seven, or if it's five that's thirty-seven. But twenty-three millimeter it's often a string because they'll fire a fifty-round belt fed. So air crews spent a lot of time looking at those little puffy things. And you see them -- you see on television, the B-17s of World War II floating through these flak clouds. Well, a lot of that is the round self-destructing, not proximity fusing or something like that, which you'll have prox fuses with eighty-five millimeter or some really high caliber Triple A. So some of that was proximity fusing, but a lot of it was self-destructing in these flak clouds. They're not near as dangerous as you might think because you can tell a lot about what's being shot at you by just watching the flak cloud.

Gary Rhay:

Much easier to sit here and discuss than to do, I imagine.

Merrill McPeak:

I don't -- I don't regard it as -- as -- you know, from my point of view, and I don't wish this to sound arrogant, but there was no earth man that could touch me. I mean, I never felt any kind of vulnerability. So if they want to get in a contest between airman and earth man, I'm all for it. I'd would never want to be on the other side of that. But I always felt when I was strapped on the airplane that the other guy needed more help than I needed.

Gary Rhay:

How bad is it?

Unidentified speaker:

I can hear it. We need to change tape.

Gary Rhay:

Let's change tape. It's been a whole new learning experience for me to be working with this video. I'm a retired painter, and this video business --

Merrill McPeak:

Right.

Gary Rhay:

Okay. We were discussing your time in Vietnam, and you mentioned that you had flown close air support in country for a while. Why don't you just talk to us about a typical mission and some of the problems with those.

Merrill McPeak:

Well, the typical mission wasn't really worth talking about. We called it trees in contact. You know, there is a mission that is very worthwhile, it's called troops in contact. That's when you get called by the system, this close air support system will tell you that some battalion commander out there thinks he's got something that's worth -- has heard a noise and wants help. Usually that troops in contact turns out to be nothing, but every once in a while there's really something going on on the ground and our green men down there need help, and that's the most rewarding type of mission you can have. It didn't happen to me often enough. One time I recall I was leading -- after I left Misty I went back into a regular -- actually, I was a wing staff weenie for the rest of the six months but I was still leading sorties, and I led one over to Laos and -- on a four ship, and on the way back we got an emergency call, one of the special forces camps was under siege. (Telephone ringing.)

Merrill McPeak:

That's my fax machine. Is that going to cause a problem? Anyway, one of the special forces camps, I forget, Doc Hut or I forget the name of it. Anyway, the other guys were inside the wire and so they diverted us because they wanted us to strafe. And I don't know if -- you probably remember those special forces camps were postage stamp size, usually with a couple of rings of concertina wire around them. And when we got there the bad guys had put these mattresses or something over the concertina wire so they run over the mattress and get inside the thing. And I couldn't see anybody on the ground, couldn't see anybody to shoot, but they said just strafe between the wires, you know, the rows of concertina wire. That's pretty --

Gary Rhay:

-- long distance --

Merrill McPeak:

I hope -- are you going to take this -- edit this thing when you get done?

Gary Rhay:

We won't edit the copy we send you.

Merrill McPeak:

No, please edit it. I don't -- Special forces camp, we -- I was reluctant to strafe that close because -- Gary Rhay:: Because the fax --

Merrill McPeak:

Because that's close, even for strafing. We probably were within fifty or a hundred meters of their little -- they usually had kind a built-up area of sandbags with a tin roof kind of deal and then some yard around that, some cleared fire -- field of fire, and then the concertina wire and maybe a hundred meters. So -- but the bad guys were inside the wire so we went ahead and strafed. But my point is there weren't many sorties like that. Mostly it was going out and you'd contact a forward air controller and he'd say well, okay, and he would usually have something up his sleeve that he would like to bomb and it would be a tree line or it would be a bend in the river or someplace where he thought they might have stored supplies, maybe some suspected bunkers or something like that. It was just baloney, just nonsense, waste of time, waste of ordinance. We called it trees in contact. Everybody knew we were going through the motions. We were generating sorties and they had to be used, basically. And so I ended up flying two hundred and eighty-five combat sorties officially. Many of them -- some I never counted. I always say and my official biography says two hundred and sixty-nine sorties, but my flying record shows two hundred and eighty-five. I just didn't count the whatever that is, sixteen, because I thought they were so worthless. But a lot of them were worthless so we were wasting time, talent, money, ammunition, everything else. Sort of an aspect of the Vietnam experience that I think a lot of people share, that we were off on the wrong strategy here, the wrong tactics.

Gary Rhay:

This -- these Misty missions are interesting. You say you were flying the two-seat version. Were you flying with two guys --

Merrill McPeak:

Yes. Yeah. The format was to take turns. You know, you would fly one day in the front seat, the next day in the back seat. The guy in the front flew the airplane and dodged the bullets and so on. The guy in the back was an observer with binoculars. And for a time we even tried to go over there and do it at night with night vision. We borrowed a Starlight scope from the Army and it didn't work very well, but we tried that. The guy in back would carry cameras. We did some of the best photo reconnaissance of the entire war when we were just ordinary fighter pilots, not reccy guys. But we got the first actual film of a POL piled pipeline that was laid from the north through Laos. And we got pictures of bladders of supplies being floated down the river and stuff like that. It's kind of some unusual stuff. It was quite a developed infrastructure over there. You know, the Ho Chi Minh Trail covered an area about the size of Massachusetts or something like that. So it was a big area, it was expropriated by the North and they used for their purposes. And trying to find something there was tough. You would look for, you know, some difference in the -- some different shade of green that would show you maybe the camouflage was a day too old, that kind of thing because you're looking for truck parts back in the trees, storage areas, living facilities. They had a lot of people living on the trail. So anyway, it was a tough job, an interesting job. We never succeeded in stopping movement down the trail. And because there was enormous dedication and skill on the other side. These guys were tough guys. Wish we'd had them on our side. By comparison our allies in the south were just going through the motions. These guys were tough. I remember one time I caught a truck on the road right at dark, I mean it was nautical twilight. So the sun had gone down already and I caught this guy headed south. He was one of these aggressive truck drivers, you know. The safe guys, the conservative guys, you never got them because they never hit the road early at night, they always parked plenty early in the morning so that sunlight wouldn't catch them on the road. It was the good guys we got, the guys who wanted to get that extra kilometer under their belts so they hit the road a little early. This guy was one of those. And I went by him and I just kept on with my little weave along the trail, but as soon as I was out of sight I quickly circled back and got lined up with where I thought he might be and saw him just at the last minute, quickly got to -- got the sites on him and squeezed off maybe one round. Now, you can't fire one round. Those are -- those cannons fire like -- in the F-100 like fifteen hundred rounds a minute or something like that and you can't get on and off the trigger fast enough. It's like trying to open the refrigerator door and get it closed before the light comes on. I mean, it's just impossible. But the gun just went burp and I just hit the guy right in the windshield. And as I circled back around to do battle damage assessment the truck was burning. It must have had ammunition because it started cooking off, the truck was secondary explosions. And I saw this guy hanging out. The door was blown open on the cab and he was sort of hanging out the side. And I thought jimminy Christmas, one of the good guys. Then the Triple A started. The Triple A was very disciplined, at least the NVA Triple A was very disciplined. There was some Paphet Lao guys over there that also has guns and they would shoot at you all the time, didn't make any difference. But the NVA guys had good gun discipline and they would only open fire if you were going after what they were there to protect. Now, you could bomb all around them and if it didn't make any difference they would never come up. But you point your nose at the target, the specific target that they were there to protect and they would -- it would get your attention. But after I got this truck burning then I must have been -- three or four Triple A sites on both sides of the trail started up and it was dark enough I could see the tracer. And I had a guy in the back, typically as we were in Misty, was saying giving me advice on the interphone about let's get the hell out of here. But I was always very saddened at the fact that we had got this guy who by every -- by every measure would have qualified for a guy you'd want to have in your outfit.

Gary Rhay:

You mentioned you were hit one time. Can you tell us about that?

Merrill McPeak:

Yeah. A little hole through the wing, no problem, went over. I only noticed it because, as I say, a round went by the canopy and I heard it so I looked over and I saw this little jagged -- you know the jagged edges of -- it was a small arms guy that got me, like somebody with a pistol or something. So -- but battle damage is battle damage. So I had a guy in the back who was a Marine Corps guy. The Marines had a forward air control operation up at Pleiku, their call sign was playboy, good guys. They did mostly in-country facking for the Marines and I Corps. But they were interested in us so this guy got in touch with me, I was a commander down at Pho Cat and so -- and he was the commander up at Pleiku and so we got in a phone call contest and he said let's exchange. So he came down and he rode in my back seat on this one mission where I actually got a hole in the airplane. And so I said to him hey, we got a good excuse to go to Thailand. And of course, Thailand was like R and R if you're in country. I mean, Thailand, the people are friendly, smiling faces, you could go off base. I was never off base in Vietnam. So we went over and landed at Udorn and reported we'd had battle damage, they needed to come fix the airplane. I knew I could fly it back to Vietnam whenever we wanted to but this was a good excuse. So we went over and landed there and had a heck of a good time, went to the club and had a good time, this Marine and I, jarhead and I.

Gary Rhay:

Any other missions stand out that you want to discuss or mention?

Merrill McPeak:

Well, I had one kind of sad mission. I remember thinking how futile this all was. (Phone ringing.)

Merrill McPeak:

What the heck is that? I remember strafing a water buffalo herd. In fact, put us in on this herd and -- the F-100, the single-seat version had four twenty- millimeter cannon. The two-seat version in Misty had just two cannons because they needed to make room for the guy in back. But when you fired four of these twenty-millimeter cannons at fifteen hundred rounds a minute each you're putting out six thousand rounds of twenty millimeter, and our combat load was a mix of HEI and API. These are explosive rounds. They're not ball ammo. They blow up when they hit something. And when you hit a water buffalo with a twenty-millimeter explosive round it's -- it takes care of the water buffalo, and it's pretty obvious. And when we were -- when we strafed this herd we probably got half a dozen of these things that we killed. They were just out in the open along a river but it was in VC territory, a free fire zone. And I remember feeling pretty bad about that afterwards. I mean, that's some kind of war, you know. I don't think it's bad to kill in combat. It's an honorable thing to do if the war is honorable, if it's a just war. But killing water buffalo is not exactly why I thought I'd, you know, I signed up. So it left a bad taste. And too often, quite frankly, that was true of our sorties in that war. They seemed to be sort of a mindless destruction rather than attuned in any operational way with a strategy that made sense.

Gary Rhay:

How would you then characterize or summarize, if you will, your experience in the war? You've kind of done that already. Some of us came home kind of disillusioned and some of us came home determined to do better the next time or to make sure that the country didn't do this kind of thing again.

Merrill McPeak:

No. I was, and am, a professional. This is a line of work that I chose. I was not disillusioned because I didn't have any illusions. I was not drafted and sent someplace I didn't want to be. I never complained about it. I hope I haven't given the impression of complaining here. There's been enough whining about it. You go where you're told to go and you do what you're told to do and that's the job. But it doesn't mean you have to stop thinking. I mean, it was obvious to me and to all of my friends that what we were trying to get done there was disconnected from any rational notion of what was going to succeed. But I did not share the experience of many of my friends, particularly in the Army, who came away feeling betrayed, you know, the Vietnam syndrome, so to speak. And perhaps the Army had more reason. In the Air Force there was no fragging of officers by -- or senior NCOs by draftees. There was no dope. Plenty of drinking. I mean, alcohol was the dope of choice. But no racial division. You know, I heard after I had joined the Air Force about Korea where some pilots would go out on the runway and do the engine run-up and find some imaginary thing wrong with the airplane and abort. I never saw that, anywhere. So the Air Force performance in Vietnam was something I'm proud of. I mean, we wasted a lot of time, energy, ammunition, airplanes and airmen, but we performed well. We did what we were told. And you know, we produced awesome sortie rates. We -- you know, the record of our combat action is pretty good. We learned some lessons about how we needed to fix the equipment we had, and we fixed it. I mean, the next -- we had to fly the F-4 as our leading aircraft because we didn't have a fighter. The Air Force had not paid attention to the tactical mission and we corrected that and I was part of it. We then went to a generation of Air Force designed airplanes, the F-15 and the F-16 that are wonderful. We fielded the stealth fighter. We went to work on precision guided munitions, and you saw all of that in Desert Storm, the fruit of that reform. But we didn't think we needed to reform the Air Force. We needed to change our equipment, improve our training and so forth. But we didn't come away thinking this is something fundamentally flawed that has to be changed. And so my criticism is not of the Service or how we performed there. So often I hear others criticize the country, you know, for sending them there, but what they really should have looked at was their own performance and figured out how to fix it. Now, to give the Army some credit here, they did change. They did fix it. It's a much more maneuver-oriented Army now than it was then, and much more professional. Training standards are higher, performance has been better since Vietnam. But on balance a lot of that was needed. The Army's performance in Vietnam left a lot to be desired.

Gary Rhay:

Okay. So now we're in the post-Vietnam era and you're at this point beginning to take on the positions of great responsibility within the Air Force.

Merrill McPeak:

Well, I came out of Vietnam as a major and went to Armed Forces Staff College and went to the Pentagon as a staff officer, major, in plans, war plans part. Actually, the deputy chief of staff for plans and operations has a plans piece of it, or had a plans piece and an operations piece. I was in the plans part. Originally I was sent into the Southeast Asia plans because it was thought I knew something about Laos since I had it memorized. At least a big piece of it I knew like the back of my hand. But I wasn't a senior officer after that, I was just a junior staff guy. In fact, one day they came across and said they wanted me to go over to another branch of plans, the Middle East branch because we were trying to get the Israelis to go along with some -- at the time there was something called the war of attrition going on in the Middle East between Israel and Eqypt. The Soviets had gotten involved, moved some SA-2s along the Suez Canal and even introduced pilots. Soviet pilots were -- Russian pilots were flying out of Egypt. It was a very dangerous situation. And to get the Israelis to back away we had proposed a package of military assistance, some of the munitions we developed for Vietnam and electronic warfare, jamming pods and so forth. They wanted a fighter pilot to go over and help because the guy who was doing this over in the Middle East branch of plans was not a professional fighter pilot. So I said okay, fine. They said they'd send me over for thirty days. Then it became sixty days. Then it became until we can write a fitness report on you, you know. And three years later I walked out of the Pentagon having spent the whole period working on the Middle East problem. And I got to know a lot of the guys in the Israeli Air Force pretty well, was in and out of Israel a good bit and worked with Israelis coming to the United States. Anyway, I was in that period I was -- my problem, the Middle East problem was on the front pages a lot. And in the Pentagon if your problem is on the front page you get to be known by the chief of staff, and that's what happened to me. I was promoted early to lieutenant colonel, the first time I wasn't deep selected to major, I was on-time performer up until then. I was promoted early to lieutenant colonel, and the very next time to colonel. So I was wearing my lieutenant colonel leafs, silver leafs, four months when the promotion list to colonel came out that I was on. Surprised everybody, including me. So in connection with that I got also selected to go to National War College and I left the Pentagon to go to National War College, and while there pinned on my eagles, and now I was an embarrassingly young colonel that nobody knew what to do with. So I was sent down to MacDill and transitioned into the F-4 and started flying Phantoms and lasted there I think six months before I was essentially fired, being considered too young as a colonel and went back to Washington to enter French training, spent three months in French training. I was supposed to go to Cambodia to be the air attache to Cambodia, but Cambodia fell before I could get through French school. And so out of that I ended up going to New York City to the Council on Foreign Relations, spent an academic year there as the military fellow dealing with all these high rollers from Wall Street and the Kissinger crowd. And came out of there and was offered a job back in tactical air command by the guy who had already fired me once from MacDill, so I said thank you very much and I took a competing offer for not as good a job, quite frankly, in Europe as the base commander at Mildenhall. So I spent then the next six and a half, seven years in Europe. I had five jobs. So I was moving on about one-year increments at that point because I went -- as a colonel I was a student at National War College. I spent six months as the assistant director of operations at an F-4 wing. I entered French training. I went to the Council on Foreign Relations and then I had five jobs in Europe. So I had ten assignments as an O6, the last of which I got promoted to brigadier general. So I mean, I was on a very rapid treadmill at that time, trying to find a colonel job I could do. But --

Gary Rhay:

Let's take just a second, if you don't mind, and maybe you -- let's -- if you would give us an assessment of the Israeli Air Force --

Merrill McPeak:

Well, in the early '70s the Israeli Air Force was not big enough that it had exceeded the size that you could be a good small organization. I don't know what size it is that you grow out of that. They eventually did grow out of it. They are out of that now. But they were still small enough that everybody could recognize everybody else's voice on the radio. You didn't have to use names. You could just sort of make a transmission and you say oh, I know that guy. And they could tell by the transmission how bad the emergency was just because they knew you, you know. So you had that kind of small unit dynamics going for you that really makes for great effectiveness. And they at the time I think pound for pound were the best air force in the world, best tactical air force. They didn't have ICBMs and all the rest. They weren't in space so they couldn't compete with the U.S. Air Force in all aspects of the mission, but tactically, pound for pound, squadron for squadron probably the best air force in the world, and their record showed that. Now I think they've gotten big enough to where they're slightly bureaucratic and they have committees and all the rest of it so they're not quite as good. But they were terrific in those days. And the guys that I got it know were the cream of the crop because they were the ones that got sent to the United States to do training with us or I worked with on trips to Israel, very, very good guys. And I knew every -- I was lucky. When I was Chief of the Air Force I went back on an official visit to Israel and they invited every ex-chief of their air force, and I knew them all. It's the only air force in the world where every ex-chief was still alive. That's unusual. I think it's no longer true, by the way because they have had a couple deaths since then. But at that time every single one of them, going back to Ezer Weizman, who is the son of the founder of Israel, Chaim Weizman, and who himself was later the President of Israel for a couple of years, had been very prominent in the founding of the Israeli's air force, still had a black P-51 -- black Spitfire that he flew on, you know, their annual air force days. Interesting guy. And I knew all those guys so I was sort of lucky in that I was not present at the beginning, but still the founding generation was still around and I got to know quite a few of them. They were good people. Had a tough air force.

Gary Rhay:

How about the F-41? Do you want to give us an assessment of the F-41?

Merrill McPeak:

F-41 was a Navy airplane, designed by the Navy for fleet air defense. It was an interceptor really. Had two J-79s. It was built to withstand the rigors of carrier deck operation, which meant that it was -- we called it the rhino, you know. Very inelegant. Built by the Pittsburgh Bridge Company or something like that and powered by God almighty. And so it was an inelegant design, but you know, it's hard to be critical. It carried the ball for the Air Force for a long time as our primary fighter, and certainly better than anything we had until we invented the F-15, which was a much better airplane in every way, an Air Force design, an elegant design. You have sixteen, even more elegant. My all time favorite airplane. I checked out in it as a three star so I was getting past the point where I could expect to become famous as an ace, unhappily. I checked out in the F-15 as a four star, so even worse. And I only have like a couple hundred hours in all those aircraft. I was a wing commander in the F-111 and so, once again, I got a couple hundred hours. In those aircraft I flew late in life, the F-111, the F-4, the F-15, the F-16 I never really went to the ground school and went to the simulator and spent the months that you need to really be a solid guy. So --

Gary Rhay:

Okay. You were discussing later on --

Merrill McPeak:

Well, I never got the full check out. I was always given a quick senior officer check out. And as a consequence, I was never good enough in any of those airplanes to be a credible combat guy. I was good enough to fly it, you know, because that's basic airmanship and it's all the same. But the -- in modern aircraft especially the F-15 and F-16 you got what they call the piccolo, you have to play the piccolo because all the switches, all the important ones are on the stick and throttle. In the F-16 it's a side stick controller so beautiful position. And when I was chief I insisted the F-22 would be built in this configuration. So we had a big argument between the F-15 community who has the stick out here in between your legs and the F-16 community who -- it's the side stick controller. And I had time in both airplanes so I knew that I wanted the side stick controller and that's what's in the F-22. So going ahead, the future of the Air Force will be this configuration. It puts you square in the cockpit. It clears out all this real estate between your legs and it really puts you in a configuration you feel like fighting in. But anyway, the switches are all under here and I was never good enough with these doggone switches, I was always hitting the wrong one. So I would be camped out at somebody at six o'clock pulling lead and ready to shoot and I would hit the radar reject button instead the super surge switch and I would have to start all over again. That's the kind of thing that you can only get proficient at if you go through the school and you go through the simulator and you spend a lot of time working on just the finger work, and I never got that good. So -- but I flew more F-111 sorties, you know, and I always flew with -- that was a two-seat airplane, side by side, and I never flew with an instructor pilot or a pilot. I always flew with what we call a wizzo, a weapons system operator because I think that's the way you lead an operation, is from the front. And later in -- when Desert Storm came along I was the chief. I went over to Saudi Arabia in early January '91 and flew six sorties in a single-seat F-15. I was the only chief of staff of the Air Force to date who has stayed current in single-seat fighters and flew single- seat fighters. In fact, when I came into the Pentagon there was a regulation that said generals could not fly except with an instructor pilot in the airplane with them, so I rescinded that regulation. And as I say, I was able still to go over to Saudi and fly half a dozen sorties and then come back. And the President heard about it, had heard I was over there, invited me over to lunch in the White House and asked me for an assessment of whether we were ready or not. But I could do that and do it credibly with aircrews. You know, the chief ordinarily -- I think from an aircrew standpoint a little bit interesting when the chief of staff walks in the room and sits down at a mass briefing, as I did in the UAE for the first day's effort which we were later going to fly in in Desert Storm, but it was like a sixty ship exercise. I was number four in a four ship of F-15s going out to protect the F-16 striking force. We had Italian Air Force guys going to pretend to be opposition air and the F-15 job was to clean these guy out, sweeping ahead of the F-15 strike force which was coming in at low altitude. We went out, hit tankers, radio out, you know, no coms situation because we were pretending this was a surprise, first day of the war kind of deal. I think it's an interesting -- it's interesting for everybody in the audience when the chief of staff walks in and says he's going to fly one of the fighters by himself. So I feel -- I mean, I always felt strongly that you had to lead this operation from the front, and I was unhappy about having to go back to Washington but my place of duty was obviously in the Pentagon for the actual war.

Gary Rhay:

Summarize, if you will, that phrase that you've already used, you've already explained this quite well, but in brief summary why would you go to Saudi Arabia and fly sorties in a single- seat fighter.

Merrill McPeak:

Why not? I always felt that I -- you know, I think the warrior culture is important, and maybe especially in the Air Force where the fighting is done by and large by officers in airplanes. It's a rather small force that actually does the fighting in the Air Force by comparison with the other Services. But really across the board anymore it's a relatively small group of people that are at the point of the sword, point of the spear in combat, but especially so in the Air Force. So I wanted the warrior concept to penetrate to all one million people in the Air Force. And by that I mean, you know, four hundred plus thousand active duty uniformed people, half a million or a quarter of a million civilians, about a quarter of a million guard and reserve. Every single one of them ought to feel like they're not drivers in the motor pool, you know, they're not clerk/typists in the squadron, they are part of an operation which is permeated top and bottom by a feeling that they're in a warrior culture. I don't know how do that, to create that feeling except just to be one and to go out there and be at the sharp end. And so that's where I felt -- and I feel a general should be there. I changed the Air Force in a lot of ways, maybe only temporarily because nothing ever stays fixed in life. But one of the things I did was to make sure that generals could -- when they were in leadership positions they were required to fly. They must go do it. And I used to track them, their flying time. I sat in the Pentagon and got a quarterly report that I showed in front of the staff and everybody because I wanted it known widely that I was watching this. I tracked the flying time of our general officers in command positions, and if somebody wasn't getting his flying time I got him on the telephone. And if they were incapable of doing it anymore I replaced them with people who were capable so that -- so that down the chain of command I was confident that I had guys in position who were ready to lead this thing from the front.

Gary Rhay:

Leading from the front's a concept I'm very fond of.

Merrill McPeak:

Well, I don't know if you've noticed in the present dustup how high a percentage of officers have been killed. I think we've announced something like forty-five names and there's a good slug of officers in there. That's good. That's how you win. You know, add up how many officers are getting killed on the other side. Probably not very many. A lot of cannon fodder is being sacrificed, and we've captured a few senior officers. It's the officers who die, you know, that make a difference in combat.

Gary Rhay:

Let's go back to Desert Storm. Talk about -- you were in a position to -- eyewitness to the history making decisions. That's the single most successful operation in America's military history in terms of loss ratios and success on the battlefield with the objectives we were given. Summarize, if you will, why we did so well in your view.

Merrill McPeak:

Well, Desert Storm was a case where we saw air power match its promise. Air power had, up until Desert Storm, a very spotty record. The early hair on fire air power advocates, notably this Italian guy, Douhet, who wasn't a pilot, by the way, he was a navigator, and Billy Mitchell and other people like that were convinced that air power would correct what they saw as the perceived evils of World War I, and by the way, there was plenty of evil there. But they thought we could break lock on trench warfare and machine gun and attrition kind of fighting by leaping over all of that and taking the war directly to the enemy's heartland. And that all could be -- So the real promise of air power was reduced casualties. I mean, not just a cheap way of doing war because you wouldn't have to hire a huge ground force, but the fact is you could determine the outcome. The issue could be decided without a lot of battlefield losses. I mean, the millions of young men that were killed in the Civil War, the U.S. Civil War and in World War I, that's what these air power advocates were trying to avoid. Well, they had a glimpse of something that was a possibility but it turns out that it makes a big difference how you do something, and if you can't do it, if you're incompetent to do it then the promise is never delivered. And that's what happened in World War II. You know, we lost -- it was more dangerous to be a B-17 air crewman than it was to be an infantryman in World War II. The loss rate was higher. And in return for this very high loss rate our average miss distance on all bombing missions into Germany was one kilometer, you know, roughly three thousand meters -- three thousand feet. Now, that meant you had to send thousands of airplanes, like we had the thousand-airplane raid on the Schweinfurt Ball Bearing Factory, we lost twenty percent of the B-17s and we missed the ball bearing factory. So this is not -- this doesn't confirm the predictions of the air power advocates. Much the same is true in Vietnam. We sent hundreds of sorties against the Thanh Hoa Bridge and lost a lot of F-105s. People ended up serving time in the Hanoi Hilton and we never knocked down the bridge until '72 when we sent a single force ship up there of F-4s with laser guided bombs and put two great big holes in the bridge. It was never used again by the -- until repaired after the war. It was never used again in wartime. So the lesson we had to learn, and we learned the painful way -- well, a couple lessons. One was that all the way through the Vietnam era the Air Force was led by former Army officers. I was the first Chief of Staff of the Air Force that had never worn an Army uniform. The one before me only wore it because he was a West Point graduate so he never served any time in the Army. The one before him had spent some time in the Kansas Army National Guard so he wore green, and all the rest of the guys were really graduates of the U.S. Army. We had -- you know, the social revolution that has to occur is more important than the technical revolution. The true potential of new machinery waits around for its realization until you get the guys who understand the concept and how to execute it. So by Desert Storm what we had was an airman out in the theatre directing an air campaign who was a -- who had never worn an Army uniform. All he knew about was air warfare. And you had a chief of staff in the -- in Washington who was the same generation as that guy out in the field. In fact, you had a whole -- the Air Force was now led by people who were airmen, that's all that'd ever done. They were professionals. And that made a big difference. And in that period we had developed an understanding of the importance of how to defeat ground defenses. We now know how to defeat ground defenses. We proved it in Desert Storm. We'd been bombing Iraq now -- we're in the thirteenth year of bombing Iraq and we have lost zero manned aircraft over that period, a remarkable performance because they've been shooting back in Iraq. So that whole period from the end of Desert Storm until today, including the very intense combat operations underway now, we've lost no Air Force aircraft. Now, that's remarkable. People haven't noticed it much, but that tells you that we know what we're doing in the air now, and we really didn't in World War II or Vietnam and that explains some of our lack of operational success. So now we know what we're doing and we have stealthy aircraft and we have munitions that hit what they're pointed at, and it makes all the difference. It's a huge difference. It's an inflection point, what they call. It's the difference between hitting a two-hundred-foot -- three-hundred-foot, you know, long fly that's caught for an out and a three-hundred-and-one-foot long fly that goes over the fence for a home run. You know, that's only a point zero three percent difference in performance but it's a binary difference in outcome. It's a one or a zero. It's an out or a home run. It's a failure or it's success. And so Desert Storm was the first instance of application of air power by people who understood how to do it and with equipment that was sensibly designed for the task. We've seen it confirmed though since then. Kosovo was an air engagement only and now Milosevic is in the Hague being tried for war crimes. We changed the government in Yugoslavia only through an eighty-five-day air campaign. Afghanistan, very similar story. We've had forces on the ground who performed very well, but small units, special operations guys. That was basically a question of hitting air targets and the end came surprisingly quickly. Here we turned something that was sort of a ragtag opposition into a very effective military force on the ground. The difference being we dominated the sky above Afghanistan. Now, this little thing that we're going through now, Operation Iraqi Freedom or whatever it's called, has been interesting because there's been a reversal of the Desert Storm sequence of events. That is, in Desert Storm we had a thirty-nine-day air preparation followed by short ground combat. In this case effectively the ground combat was launched first and -- and now there's been a sort of an operational pause and we're having an air campaign. And so we don't know the outcome yet. But I suspect here too -- now, the critics have said we're too small on the ground and that's because they don't understand the impact of air power. But we'll see, you know. Always lately the criticism has been this has taken too long, and it usually starts after the first day or two. So that's a pretty hard standard to meet, that the enemy ought to cave in in the first five minutes. So it's to be determined as we speak today.

Gary Rhay:

Do you think that that short war syndrome, if you will, to put a word on it, is one of the outcomes of the success in Desert Storm?

Merrill McPeak:

Yeah.

Gary Rhay:

We see the thirty-nine days --

Merrill McPeak:

Right. Yeah. We set a very high standard in Desert Storm. You know, I lost I think twenty-one people in Desert Storm, twenty-one. And fourteen of them were in a C-130, special operations force C-130 that should not have been hit, was in the wrong place at the wrong time and -- you know, a real problem from my standpoint because I've always thought that was a command and control failure. But anyway, you can't ignore that, it shouldn't be ignored. But if you set that aside, I lose seven guys in forty-four days of high intense -- you know, in very intensive combat, that's -- it's not just the short duration. It's the low casualty count that raised expectations, and I don't think unrealistically. The fact of the matter is we are now into a new combat era, an era that will be dominated by space and air forces and the technology of information. In all of that we lead the world by not just a little distance, but by a huge margin. We ought to welcome this development because it means we have a huge advantage now, and one that we can make more or less permanent. We've heard a lot about asymmetrical warfare in connection with people flying airplanes into the World Trade Center and so forth. We cavil against this asymmetrical warfare when it's used against us by people who find that that's the only kind of asymmetry they can produce. But every war that we fight going forward should be asymmetrical, asymmetrical in our favor because we want to hope that we can always bring in long range air and space forces to oppose enemies whose only strength will be in short ranged ground forces. That's a competition we can win and we ought to be able to win easily, relatively quickly and with relatively low loss rates.

Gary Rhay:

Talk about the push for guided munitions, why that occurred, what pushed the train.

Merrill McPeak:

Well, we all saw as a result of what you might call studies and analysis -- you know, this is mathematics, this is game theory. You know, you can plot very definitely -- in fact, we do this. When we plan attacks against targets the planners sit down and they say okay, what munitions are we going to use and what's their -- how close are we going to get those munitions. We call that CEP, circular air probable for the use of that munition. So we say okay, we need to put so many munitions on this target with such and such a CEP in order to have a high probability of its destruction. So once you figure out how many munitions you have to put on, then you back that into how many aircraft it takes to carry that many munitions and that's the sorties you -- you -- you order up. That's the way planners do things. So we knew, we've known for a long time that if we could get that CEP figure down we could get the number of munitions down that we'd have to task, get the number of aircraft down, and so we reduce our loss rates immediately. By instead of sending a thousand B-17s we send a flight of four F-4s, or one 117, you know. So we know, we've known for a long time there was a direct connection between effectiveness in combat, efficiency in combat and how close you hit with the munition. So it just takes -- it just -- you know, we already in Vietnam we were introducing laser guided bombs, the first generation called Pave Way One. You had to designate -- you had to send out two aircraft because the laser designator was in one aircraft and the laser guided bomb was dropped by another and this required some complex tactics and so on. So Pave Way Two we put the laser designator on the aircraft that was actually dropping the bomb and so forth. So we got better and better at this. By the time of Desert Storm we had principally laser guided munitions and EO guided munitions, electrical optical guided, that is to say a television camera roughly in the front end of the bomb. And we also had some other guidance means. We had Maverick missiles that were guided on infrared signatures of the target. The real precision guided munitions revolution started with air-to-air munitions, where we said hey, this is hard to shoot somebody down with bullets, let's build a missile that guides on his engine heat. So we had Sidewinder missiles forever. I mean, I fired a Sidewinder in combat crew training so that goes back a long ways. The mindset that we had to get to was how do you take the same idea of precision guided air-to-air munitions and apply it to air-to-ground munitions, and we were just slow in doing that. But eventually we did it. We had the early versions by Vietnam. By Desert Storm we had better laser guided munitions and some of these TV guided munitions, EO munitions, but we didn't have near enough of them. Something like six or seven percent of all the bombs dropped in Desert Storm were precision. The rest were dumb bombs, just as dumb as any dropped in World War II, and by the way, with about the same effectiveness, not as World War II, but our average miss distance, our CEP in Vietnam, all bombs dropped was about a hundred meters. So it was an order of magnitude improvement over World War II. World War II our average miss distance was maybe a kilometer, a thousand meters. In Vietnam, maybe a hundred meters, three hundred feet. And in Desert Storm the unguided munitions we dropped had about the same results, about a hundred meters. Now, a hundred meters is okay, it will cause people on the ground to sit up and take notice. It will not kill a tank, it will not kill artillery. You have to hit a tank or artillery, even an APC. A hundred meter miss on APC you probably didn't put it out of action. Maybe you were lucky, you know, and a piece of shrapnel hit it, but blast damage from a hundred meters isn't going to get it. So most of the bombs we dropped in Desert Storm were in this hundred meter miss distance category. Only a few, relative few were the precision bombs, but everybody saw that those were the munitions that made the difference. And so after Desert Storm I was sitting around a table with the Secretary of the Air Force talking about lessons learned. One of the lessons was laser guided bombs don't help you through weather, and the weather was surprisingly bad in Desert Storm. We brought back an awful lot of laser guided bombs that we didn't drop, just brought them back and landed with them. You can't laze through clouds. So we said why don't we design a precision guided munition that will go right through bombs -- right through clouds, doesn't care about the weather, and let's make it cheap enough for goodness sakes, so that we can buy a lot of them because, you know, we ran out of tomahawks in Desert Storm, we ran out of these -- EO munitions are pretty expensive. You have to buy a television studio, you know, and put it in the front of a bomb, that's pretty expensive. So we sat -- the Secretary of the Air Force, Don Rice and I sat at a table and said okay, we want a bomb that costs us no more than twenty thousand dollars and it has a ten meter CEP, so another order of magnitude improvement. We went from World War II, a thousand meters, Vietnam, a hundred meters, we want to go to ten meters, order of magnitude improvement. Now you can kill tanks with a ten meter miss. But with ten meter bombs some of them are going to be zero. Some are going to be right on the hood ornament, and so that's what we wanted. So we wanted a ten meter bomb and we wanted it for twenty thousand dollars and we wanted it to go through the clouds, not pay attention to weather. That -- I wrote the specs down, sent this down to my weapons procurement guys and said get working on this. They come back and said can't be done, it's going to cost forty thousand dollars and it's going to have a fifteen meter CEP. And I said baloney, I want it ten meters and twenty thousand dollars. That munition's called JDam. It's being used now in large numbers. And it's being used in large numbers because we can afford to buy large numbers. It came in on cost, by the way. It came in better than the CEP. It uses GPS technology to do, in effect, satellite guidance. So it is good for any fixed target. It can hit any fixed target because we know their coordinates. Now, it's not much good against moving targets because they move and so we don't know what the GPS coordinates are at the new position until some soft guy on the ground puts a laser designator on it and reads the coordinates out and tells whoever is up there in the sky dial in these GPS coordinates, and then it works that way. So that's not good enough. We need to solve the problem of moving targets, or I should say mobile -- moveable targets. Often a moveable target like tanks in Desert Storm is holed down in some sandbag position and we don't have coordinates on it because it's not a bridge or a building or something like that, but it's not moving very fast. We got rid of those with tank planking, what we called, using laser guided munitions and just taking them out one at a time because laser you don't -- you just put a spot on the target and the bomb goes to it. So any target, even moving if it's moving slow enough, you can get it with a laser guided bomb, you just move the laser along on top of it. But a tank that's holed down in a dug in position that's not -- that's a moveable target, but not a mobile target, and that's that easy. But we need to get at this problem with a munition that's an all weather munition. Tracking moveable targets in weather, that's the last kind of challenge we -- There's so much money sloshing around in the American economy. It's a wealthy place.

Gary Rhay:

You know, that's an interesting point. The military in America isn't very well paid. I mean, it is, but you know, there's a lot of controversy.

Merrill McPeak:

Yeah. If you're in it for the money you've made the wrong selection. On the other hand, they could not have given me enough money to pry me loose from, you know, my fighter aircraft. I just loved it. And nobody I knew would pay you at all. I mean, you can get paid to fly in this country if you want to be in the bus business, but nobody else is going to pay you to strafe and do formation aerobatics and that stuff. That's good stuff.

Gary Rhay:

We were kind of discussing Desert Storm from a higher level. We were talking about precision munitions. Would you feel comfortable talking about the decisions that led to the air campaign followed by the ground campaign and the players in that?

Merrill McPeak:

Well, the principal players were in theatre, Swartzkoph and his airman, Chuck Horner. Buster Glosson was a very important guy in the planning of the air campaign. In Washington I tried not to get in the way. I helped when I could. I called Horner from time to time and I had a staff working full time helping on the planning especially -- we were closer to the sources of intelligence in Washington so we were able to do some targeting, give them some good ideas and so forth. But I would have to say that you should blame General Swartzkoph. It was -- he was the joint commander out there and he had thumbs up or thumbs down authority and responsibility for the air campaign. He did some things and -- that I would have done differently as a consequence. But he did rely on Chuck Horner too and Buster Glosson and other airmen in position to -- he followed their advice pretty well, and as a consequence, that air campaign went off pretty well. When I went over I stopped and visited with Swartzkoph. I told you about being over there before the thing kicked off. And he was not anxious to get a lot of help from Washington, and I don't blame him. You know, he was running the war, that was totally appropriate. But so I tried to give him a little bit of help behind of scenes usually -- mostly working with Chuck Horner. You know, I don't -- I wasn't real proud of Desert Storm because I thought that we -- it cost too much and we -- you know, I sent in every airplane I could, not because I thought they needed more air power there, but because the Navy sent in every aircraft carrier they could. I think Swartzkoph asked for three and the Navy gave him five aircraft carriers. The Marines ran in a huge amount of air power. They had heck of a lot bigger than the standard air wing slice in there. Of course, the Army had more helicopters in there by far than I had fixed wing airplanes. So this was a rush by all of the Services to get as much force structure in there as possible. I felt it was unseemly, a kind of a competition, you know, of trying to look good here. But I had no choice but to join in the bidding. And I called Horner occasionally and said hey, I got some more here, and finally he said I've run out of places to park airplanes. So we had -- we had a -- an embarrassment of riches there on the air side. And the ground side was much the same thanks to Colin Powell and the whole theory of decisive force. We had way more ground power than we ever needed or ever really usefully used. In the end then Freddie Franks managed to stumble, in my judgment, in moving it fast enough. I have frustration for Swartzkoph and for all the rest of us was the 7th Armored Corps moved so slowly. But maybe -- maybe we should have had less air in there and less ground in there and -- but it was an aspect of the Washington competition, the inter-Service rivalry as much as the size of the threat or the size of the mission. And because the Saudis and the Kuwaitis and others paid the price, I mean, they wrote us a check, we could afford to ignore the cost. Now, this time we're going to pick up the bill for what's going on and we ought to pay some attention to the price tag. I've always thought we should anyway. Cost ought to be a parameter that's taken into consideration. Not that you want to sacrifice lives because you didn't want to spend dollars. No, you can always get more dollars. So I would always spend one dollar more rather than one dollar less to get it done. But I wouldn't double or triple or ten X the cost when it's not needed. And Desert Storm is an example of where we brought a sledge hammer to do the job, you know, we could have done with a claw hammer.

Gary Rhay:

You've alluded to it, the National Command Authority really staying out of the war versus Vietnam they were pretty involved in the war. Do you think that's also one of the lessons we've learned, and do you see that continuing, that trend continuing?

Merrill McPeak:

No. First of all, I think it's a mistake to think the NCA stayed out of Desert Storm. They were pretty actively involved. But active involvement on the part of the President and his senior civilian advisors is a natural consequence of the technology that's available today. You know, in the old days it used to take a hundred days to sale a ship out India or something like that with orders for the viceroy. In the meantime, you know, he's three months behind realtime in the event. It takes him another three months for his dispatches to get back to the UK to fill them in on what's -- so I mean, essentially what you had to do is you picked the best guy you could find and send him out to be viceroy of India and you gave him kind of overall instructions. The Germans have a nice term for this when applied to battlefield conditions. They call it mission type orders. They don't say necessarily go take that hill. They say what might -- what I'm after here is to surround this guy, you figure out how to do it. That's -- mission type orders is a good idea. But modern technology is working against it because now the President does see what's going on in realtime, is -- knows that his election is on the line. George Bush's reelection is riding on the outcome of what's happening today in Iraq, and don't make any mistake about it. So he's, I would think, not inclined to let the thing get too out of control before he picks up the phone and makes a phone call. So in the age of instant communications we're going to see more and more what you might call meddling in affairs by the top political authorities, and it's inevitable. Might as well get used to it, quit whining about it and figure out how -- as a Service chief my concern was let me produce the most usable, effective, efficient combat air force I possibly can. If it's misused by some politician, and it will be -- if this country lasts a thousand years we'll have our Nero show up and fiddle while the Air Force burns so I know it will be misused. But my job is to make it the best possible combat air force I can and just hope that the American people select a good president that I'm going to quit whining about political guidance. That's-- you know, if I want to change that I better be ready to run for president, and I'm not ready to run for president.

Gary Rhay:

How about addressing --

Merrill McPeak:

Now, please give me another break in the action because that computer -- Okay.

Gary Rhay:

I was going to ask you to put into words the relationship between the military and the civilian government in America and how that relates.

Merrill McPeak:

Well, the Chiefs are marginalized now in a way that I have no objection to, but the principal contact between the uniformed military and the White House certainly is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. And so Colin Powell made a -- made much of that during the time he was chairman, he really was a very strong chairman, I thought a good chairman, did good work for the country. But the -- there used to be a connection, a line of communication from the Service Chiefs to the White House. You could go talk to the President any time if you wanted to. I guess you still can but it's much less -- it's -- the channel is now pretty directed through the -- through the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. And whenever there's a particular regional problem like we have there in the Middle East lately to the commander who has geographic responsibilities in that part of the world he often will get a little face time in the White House. In fact, I spent more time than I needed to in the White House and had more contact with both presidents I served than I really needed to from a business standpoint. I had a lot of social contact. But there is -- I mean your normal -- in your normal duty day you're very sharply focused on the organize, train and equip part of the problem you have to face, the organize, train and equip forces that you provide somebody else to use. So you're no longer in the operational chain of command and therefore your views on things like is this air campaign properly planned and executed -- being executed, that's something the President will ask the chairman, not the head of the Air Force, even though the chairman may not know much about air campaigns but he's the chairman and he's the contact.

Gary Rhay:

Okay. You mentioned the F-22 a little bit in retrospect. Talk a little bit about the overseeing of the next generation of technology during your tenure.

Merrill McPeak:

Well, I was more of an organization and training guy, rather than an equip guy. I said the service functions are to organize, train and equip. Those are our public law functions. So the future equipment of the Air Force is part of the Chief's responsibilities. But frankly, it's not a part of the action that I like as well. So my personal inclination was to work on how we're organized and trained. I did do some important work about equipage but it wasn't the -- most chiefs I think come to work every day thinking about the new equipment they're going to buy because that's exciting and it's big money items, and you can make a lot of mistakes there and you can -- you know, the six-hundred-dollar toilet sets get hung around your neck forever. So it's an area where there's both high risk and high reward if you do something right. I was not so comfortable with that part of the job. I mean, I was -- I did what I needed to do, but for me, the social side, the training side, the human being side is what wins in combat, not equipment. So I mean, we could have traded air forces' equipment with Saddam Hussein and still beat him, I hope. You know, if we can't, there's something wrong with the job I did. But we weren't well organized when I took over and we weren't trained as well as we should have been, and so I worked hard. The first year I was chief I called the year of organization, the second year the training -- year of training. The third year was the year of equipping the Air Force. So I got around to equipment but it wasn't my top priority. You know -- you know, I was forced do some uncomfortable things. I had to fire some people in the C-17 business because the C-17 was a huge scandal, cost overruns, wasn't being produced properly. I had to make a couple of trips to Long Beach, to the Douglas plant to try to get this thing back on the rails. Now it's turned out to be, of course, a huge success. The Army loves it. It's the only cargo aircraft that can really do a lot of the things that we need to have done. But at the time it came very close to being cancelled and I had to do some stuff there that was uncomfortable. I fired three general officers and a very senior civilian, just gave them their walking papers. And there were other -- you know, most -- for me the acquisition business, equipment acquisition is always bad news. It's this little old scuzzy thing that crawls in under your door and sits in the middle of your rug in Washington and stares at you and hops up on your desk and makes sure you have to pay attention to it because it's such a mess, but there's not much fun in it. And there is a kind of a symbiotic relationship between senior officers and defense contractors that I always found distasteful. I mean, I moved to Oregon when I got done and went into business for myself. I didn't go to work for Lockheed or Raytheon. You know, I did some consulting, let me be clear about that. But I didn't go onto anybody's payroll. And too many people, senior officers deal with these acquisition and procurement issues, retire, and go to work for the same people they were bargaining with the day before. And you know, I didn't like it. So I worked on it as I had to and I tried to keep things on course. I took requirements and made sure it was a military deal. And when I reorganized the Air Force requirements were in the secretariat, military requirements. So we had a civilian guy over in the -- working for the Secretary of the Air Force -- (Phone ringing)

Merrill McPeak:

So -- I don't know where I was. Where was I?

Gary Rhay:

We kind of finished talking about --

Merrill McPeak:

Oh, I had requirements working over some for some civilian. So there was a civilian in charge of saying what the next airplane was supposed to look like, including the F-22. So I went to the Secretary of the Air Force and proposed as part of an overall reorganization -- we reorganized the Air Force top to bottom, okay, floor to ceiling, the largest change. We did away with strategic air command. We did away with military airlift command. We did away with tactical air command, reorganized the whole thing. And part of it was reorganization in Washington. And I pried loose requirements and put it back in the air staff under operations. Always before requirements had been worked by the major air commands and so it was thought in Washington that it didn't make any difference that some civilian was doing this. I thought differently. I wanted to sign every requirement, every Air Force requirement. So I wanted them reviewed and I wanted it to be an Air Force requirement, not a strategic air command requirement that some civilian had blessed. So I -- you know, requirements is still in the air staff where it belongs. And so I did some things on the acquisition side that I'm not unhappy about. But the problem I wanted to work on most was the organization and training and heritage and culture of the Air Force, and that's what -- every day I went to work that was on the top of my priority list.

Gary Rhay:

Training is a harder thing to quantify.

Merrill McPeak:

Well, let's -- let's say yes and no. I wanted people who were more broadly trained, more flexible in their employment. And so we had three thousand specialties that we trained for and I reduced it seven hundred or something like that. The numbers are wrong here. But -- so I didn't want left eardrum surgeons. I wanted medical GPs who could be used to work on a variety of body parts, and I said the same thing about aircraft crew chiefs and weathermen and every other specialty in the Air Force. So you can't measure how much more flexible the Force is, but I can guarantee it's more flexible because we don't have all these subdivisions by narrow specialties anymore. And some things you can actually measure. If the Navy fighter pilot is getting twenty hours a month and your guys are getting eighteen hours a month the one thing you can do about training is make sure that you get more flying time than anybody else in the world, anybody else's air force, including the Navy's Air Force. So you can just insist on high standards, and some of that can be measured and some of it can't. But I reformed our training, again, from top to bottom, just as I reformed the organization of the Air Force. By the way, a lot of it has not stuck. So the forces of evil are always at work. And there was a famous expression, that rust never sleeps. That means that you have to put energy into this problem every day. And not all chiefs feel the same was as I do about it so they put energy into some other problem and the thing will naturally get rusty and begin to deteriorate. But every fifty years or so, and I was in the Air Force at the end, at about the time we hit the fifty year point as a separate service, every fifty years ago somebody ought to come along that's maverick enough to have a sort of clean sweep.

Gary Rhay:

Is that how you see yourself then, as a maverick?

Merrill McPeak:

Yeah. I don't -- I say that without any special -- I'm not trying to pat myself on the back. Mavericks are usually uncomfortable to be around. And you certainly don't want everybody to be a maverick in the organization, you can't stand that. I tried to protect mavericks myself when I was a commander or when I was chief. The very best people I had working for me almost never did what I told them to do, but they did something else that got where they knew I wanted to get. And often, if they had done exactly what I told them to do it would have been better, but I put up with that. I'll put up with mistakes as long as the guy is moving the thing along in a direction I want it to get and his intentions are good. Now, I don't want him out there deliberately sabotaging what I have in mind but I'll put up -- I give people a lot of running room, a lot of elbow room. And so the more of a maverick you are, the better. In fact, I often used to think that I ought to keep track of mistakes and the more mistakes -- promote the guy with the most mistakes because that means he's doing a lot of things. And you can't do a lot of things without making a lot of mistakes. If you want to lock him in the hanger, you know, padlock the hanger, keep the airplanes inside you're never going to have -- you'll never have bad news for the boss, never lost an airplane. So you're not doing anything when you're not making mistakes. So yeah, I -- it's not that I'm -- I'm not especially proud of being a maverick, but I think I was a maverick. And you would have to ask the Air Force, but I imagine they would agree.

Gary Rhay:

You gave an assessment of Colin Powell as the Joint Chief. Would you care to comment about President Bush as a commander and chief?

Merrill McPeak:

Well, I thought Bush was a wonderful guy, great man to work for. Barbara Bush was a wonderful person. I met him under kind of unique circumstances. My boss -- my predecessor, Mike Duggan, was fired and I was brought in. He had only been chief about three months, three or four months. So I never met the President as part of a nomination process leading up to be chief. I was a quick replacement because Desert Shield was underway already. And so when I went over in January and flew with these guys, came back, I was invited to the White House for lunch upstairs in the private quarters, just Cheney and Scowcroft, and the President and I, had four people for lunch. At the end of the lunch the President says come on in, I want you to meet Barbara. So she had slipped and fallen up at Camp David or somewhere, but hadn't broken her leg but her leg was in a cast anyway. So she was in the bedroom. Now, this is the President's bedroom I'm waltzing into, just the President and me walking in to meet the First Lady. Her leg is sticking out of -- from under the covers and she's in her pajamas. And you know, the cocker spaniel is over in the corner. And I'm meeting the First Lady thinking to myself here I am in the President's bedroom, the First Lady is in her pajamas for God's sake, nobody is ever going to believe this story. But that's the kind of people they were. They were very good people, nice people, good to work for. Powell himself was a wonderful officer. The most effective public servant I've ever seen. Really good. I disagreed with him often. I think I was the only chief who did so, the only chief I ever saw who did so. I'm the only guy I ever saw him get mad at. He was really angry at me at one point during -- in public in a tank, in a JCS meeting where I took an opposing view to the other guys. So it isn't because it was a love-in and we were close personal friends. He was my next door neighbor. The Chairman's house is right next to the Chief's house at Fort Myer. So we got along well, but we didn't see eye to eye on a lot of things. Nevertheless, having said all that, he is a wonderful public servant, was and is. And on many of the things we disagreed about, he was right and I was wrong. So I have a lot of admiration for him.

Gary Rhay:

You're a big man to admit you were wrong.

Merrill McPeak:

No, just the truth. On some of the things I was right and he was wrong.

Gary Rhay:

I imagine he admitted it too.

Merrill McPeak:

No, he wouldn't. He's not that big a guy.

Gary Rhay:

Well, you had a chance to see a different president --

Merrill McPeak:

Clinton.

Gary Rhay:

-- in a time of war.

Merrill McPeak:

Clinton was a charming man personally. Great personal charisma. You know, you loved him. The first -- I met him late at night very shortly after -- I think the next day after his inauguration he called all the chiefs over to the White House on the gays in the military issue. And I'll never forget, the new Secretary of Defense, Les Aspin, Congressman Aspin, former Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, he and -- he and the Joint Chiefs on one side of the table, and the President, the Vice President, Al Gore, and two and three of their senior civilian advisors on the other side of the table, what's his name, George Stephanopoulous, over sitting over in the corner quietly taking notes, I guess, because we read about it the next day in the Washington Post. That meeting was supposed to take place at four thirty or something like that in the afternoon. It was about six thirty by the time the President came in, which started the track record of his being late for every meeting I was ever scheduled to go to with him. And we sat down and talked about gays in the military. And every -- I mean, Les Aspin was, you know, conflicted here because every single one of us on the JCS side, uniform side, were going to give all the arguments why this was a dumb idea for him to follow through on his campaign promise of integrating homosexuals in the Armed Forces. And Aspin, of course, a political appointee and the President's guy, he's sitting there having to listen to this, and I imagine very uncomfortable. The President took it all in, nodded, you know. At the end of the -- it was a long session. At the end of the session came around the table, shook hands. When he got to me he put his arm around me, shook hands, you know, giving me the old political deal. He said you should have been a lawyer. I spoke last of the people around the table. The Air Force often gets to speak last because we're the junior Service and there's a protocol about how you'll speak. I got to speak last and I made, I thought, perhaps a little -- different arguments, but perhaps maybe not more cogent. Where I left off I think I said we all knew we had homosexuals serving in the Armed Forces but they were closeted. They didn't -- they weren't allowed to declare their sexual orientation and so it was a -- it was something we could handle. I mean, we sort of handled it informally, people looked the other way unless it got too egregious. At least that's the way it was in the Air Force. And we didn't really have homosexuals, and this may sound exactly wrong, but we didn't have homosexuals at the -- in fighter cockpits or at the sharp end of problem. They were in support activities and so forth, where if there was a break down in morale because of a lack of unit cohesion it wouldn't have an immediate impact like it does in combat units. So I think the JCS were concerned about the combat units, what happens in the foxhole, what happens in the fighter cockpit, what happens in the submarines, that was a concern. And so our concern was with allowing declared homosexuality, people hold a sign up and say here I am, you know, that we thought was a bad idea. And we thought that that point got through to Clinton because he's such a charming guy and it seemed like he understood, you know. Turned out it didn't get through to him. And so that again was an aspect of President Clinton that I grew to be annoyed with, not to admire, the fact that it always felt good when you were with him, you know, and then the next morning you woke up and it -- you felt like you had eaten too many chocolates or something. It was sort of a hangover from -- from a -- from an aspect of his personality which was that you didn't really know -- there was a question about square dealing here. So it was more an ethical problem. And I don't mean his personal problems, you know, sexcapades in the White House, I didn't care about that. It wasn't something that bothered me at all. But I do know or I think or I'm convinced that when you shake hands with somebody and you leave them with a certain understanding about how you're going to proceed, that you have to be able to take that to the bank. And I had reservations on that issue with Clinton. Very smart man, very bright. A lot brighter than most presidents, in my judgment, and a charming guy personally. But I always buttoned up my wallet pocket, and that's not -- that's not a comfortable kind of a relationship to have.

Gary Rhay:

Another touchy subject in the military as you achieved higher rank was the aspect of women in the military.

Merrill McPeak:

Yeah. Well, I was a lonely voice there against putting women in combat. I think the other chiefs were -- would have joined me, especially Frank Kelso who was the CNO at the time, but Tailhook was there, and Tailhook effectively marginalized the Navy and Marine Corps on this issue so they were handcuffed. They couldn't say anything about women without seeming like an aspect of Tailhook. The Army wanted to keep women out of combat positions but they were willing to settle for what they regarded as the hardcore, the infantry, the artillery and the armor, which women -- and special forces, which women are still effectively excluded from, so they won. They were willing to give up on combat aviation. So I was the only guy that said no, this is a bad idea to put women in combat cockpits and therefore I sort of stood out like a sore thumb. I got pretty well beat up by the press, not just the feminine press but the routine overall daily press, the Post and the New York Times. And when Aspin came in as SecDef the first thing he did was announce that we were rescinding the risk rule, which is the rule that had kept women out of the front lines, and therefore, they were going to be allowed in combat aviation. And he staged a Pentagon press conference with me, just the two of us, to stand up and make this announcement. So I got to announce how happy I was about this development when everybody in the press and in the audience knew that I was very uncomfortable with it. But I said -- and I didn't say I was happy with it. In fact, you know, when I was asked directly I acknowledged that I had severe reservations but the boss had said what the policy was going to be and my job was to either jump overboard or salute smartly and try to do it the best way I could. And I opted to salute and do the best job I could. I went out and found the best women pilots we had, and -- half a dozen of them, maybe more, maybe ten, anyway, some small number, and started them right away in combat crew training and fighter and bomber systems and -- and -- and allowed myself to be comforted with the thought that we were so good in the Air Force that it probably wouldn't make a war losing difference that we were mixing women in the combat equation. But I still am unhappy about it. I was unhappy we that had women POWs in Desert Storm, that we have now a woman POW in the present Iraqi operation. We've had KIA women. I don't think that's -- I don't think the battlefield has been made a better place by the presence of women on it. But maybe I'm old fashioned and out of step.Gary Rhay:: You served your country for a long time. You saw a lot of transitions in this time. Care to take a stab at summarizing your service or how you feel --

Merrill McPeak:

About what?

Gary Rhay:

How you feel about your time in the Service.

Merrill McPeak:

Well, I had my choice, you know. I could have gotten out at any time. I loved the life, loved the Air Force. If you cut me now I'll bleed Air Force blue. And it's a wonderful outfit. It needs to be fixed. You know, it always needs to be fixed. We got things we need to change. I'm very worried about too big a logistics tail, not enough teeth. So you know, if I were chiefed again -- four years is not long enough to really fix something. I mean, it's a good start, and I made a good start, but you need longer than that. And fixing the logistics tail is a job of a lifetime really. You would have to circle back because a logistics tail just grows on you while you're looking the other way. It grows on you while you're asleep, you know. But still at the end of the day we're a great outfit, great organization and good enough to survive even my being the head of it for fours years so -- now, I left it better than -- I left it smaller. You know, when I took over the Air Force the budget was ninety-five billion dollars a year. When I left it was like seventy-five. When you can figure out how to take twenty billion dollars a year out of an organization you tell me because that's no small job. And it would have been easy to leave it a weaker organization than stronger. And you know, I -- my claim is it was stronger when I left than when I came in the door, better when I left. So maybe others would dispute the claim. But it's a great outfit and I'm happy to have spent thirty-seven years in it.

Gary Rhay:

This last tape that we're doing right now won't go to the Library of Congress. There's a ninety-minute limit.

Merrill McPeak:

Well, you can cut the rest of this down to ninety minutes.

Gary Rhay:

We may do that. So I guess in closing here so you can get back to what other things you have to do, is there something you would like to say just for posterity's sake towards your family or anything like that?

Merrill McPeak:

No.

Gary Rhay:

These are your thoughts.

Merrill McPeak:

No.

Gary Rhay:

I'm out of questions, unless you have something --

Unidentified speaker:

No.

Gary Rhay:

I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this.

Merrill McPeak:

Okay. Well, it was fun.

 
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