Fast jet flying club?: the perspective from across the pond

Last week I looked at the backgrounds of the UK Armed Forces chiefs of staff over the past 20 or so years, and what effect this might have on the outlook of their service.

The conclusion was, largely, that the RAF’s high command has been overwhelmingly been in the hands of former fighter pilots, while no officers with a background in the more humdrum fields of logistics or battlefield support have made it to the top of the tree.

By contast, Royal Navy and Army Chiefs of Staff seem to have had a more diverse background, both individually and in terms of the different people who have risen to the top of the pack.

But are these trends unique to the UK, or do they transcend national barriers? As a bit of a comparison, I thought I would take a look at the equivalent commands in the US. The findings are pretty interesting to say the least.

US Air Force

The US Air Force’s career structure is uncannily similar to that of the RAF – Fighter pilots are very much the top dogs. Apparently Norton Schwartz’s appointment as Chief of Staff was made deliberately to buck the trend, as the Secretary of Defence was keen to have someone other than a Fighter Pilot in command. The main difference with the RAF is that senior officers in the US Air Force have the opportunity of more ‘star’ commands before reaching Chief of Staff level, whether they be functional home commands of the command of air components in joint combat commands.

Norton Schwartz – Airlift (mainly C-130), US Transportation Command

Michael Moseley – Fighters (F-15 Eagle), Central Command Air Forces

John Jumper – Fighters (F-4 Phantom), Airlift (C-7 Caribou), US Air Forces Europe, Central Command Air Forces

Michael Ryan – Fighters (F-4 Phantom), US Air Forces Europe

Ronald Fogleman – Fighters (F-100 Super Sabre), US Transportation Command, Deputy Commander Korea

Merrill McPeak – Fighters (F-100 Super Sabre, F-104 Starfighter, F-4 Phantom), Southern Command Air Forces

Michael Dugan – Fighters (F-100 Super Sabre), Attack (A-1 Skyraider), US Air Forces Europe

Larry Welch – Fighters (F-4 Phantom), Strategic Air Command

Charles Gabriel – Fighters (F-51 Mustang, F-86 Sabre), US Air Forces Europe

Lew Allen – Bombers (B-29 Superfortress, B-36 Peacemaker), Air Force Systems Command

US Navy

US Navy Chiefs of Staff have a broadly diverse experience base. Most have commanded a number of ships, and the modern trend is for former Destroyer and Cruiser Captains. For a Navy based on the power of the supercarrier, very few have actually commanded a carrier, although some have commanded Carrier Battle Groups. During the Cold War aviators and submariners were in a prominent position.

Gary Roughead – Destroyer (USS Barry), Cruiser (USS Port Royal), George Washington Carrier Battle Group, US Pacific Fleet

Michael Mullen – Tanker (USS Noxubee), Destroyer (USS Goldsborough), Cruiser (USS Yorktown), George Washington Carrier Battle Group, US Second Fleet

Vern Clark – Gunboat (USS Grand Rapids), Destroyer (USS Spruance), Destroyer Squadrons, Carl Vinson Carrier Battle Group, US Second Fleet, US Atlantic Fleet

Jay Johnson – Naval Fighters (F8- Crusader, F-14 Tomcat), Theodore Roosevelt Battle Group, US Second Fleet

Jeremy Boorda – Minesweeper (USS Parrot), Frigate (USS Farragut), Saratoga Battle Group, US Naval Forces Europe

Frank Kelso – Submarines (USS Finback, USS Bluefish), US Sixth Fleet, US Atlantic Command

Carlisle Trost – Submarines, US Seventh Fleet, US Atlantic Fleet

James Watkins – Destroyers, Cruisers, Submarines, Sixth Fleet, Pacific Fleet

Thomas Hayward – Naval Fighters, Aircraft Carrier (USS America), US Seventh Fleet, US Pacific Fleet

James Holloway – Naval Fighters (F-9 Panther), Attack (A-4 Skyhawks), Aircraft Carrier (USS Enterprise), US Seventh Fleet

US Army

US Army Generals also come from a broad experience base, both as individuals and as a group. Unlike the British Army, where an officer stays within his Regiment until reaching ‘star’ rank, in the US Army it is not unknown for officers to transfer frequently, and hence gain experience in more than one arm. As in the British Army, it is not unknown for an infantryman to command an Armoured Division, for example. It is also noticeable that more US Generals appear to have Airborne, Ranger and Air Assault qualifications, even if they have not served in the relevant units. Commanders in Vietnam usually became Chief of Staff of the Army, probably due to the profile and experience that the war in South East Asia gave them.

George Casey – Rangers/Mechanized Infantry, 1st Armoured Division, Multi-National Force Iraq

Peter Schoomaker – Armoured Cavalry/Special Forces, Delta Force, US Special Operations Command

Eric Shinseki – Infantry/Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division, Seventh US Army

Gordon Sullivan – Armour, 1st Infantry Division, Deputy Chief of Staff (Operations and Plans)

Carl Vuono – Artillery, 8th Infantry Division, Training and Doctrine Command

John Wickham – Infantry/Airborne, 101st Airborne Division, US Forces Korea

Edward Meyer – Armoured Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division, Deputy Chief of Staff (Operations and Plans)

Bernard Rogers – Infantry, 5th Infantry (Mechanized) Division, US Army Forces Command

Frederick Weyand – Artillery/Intelligence, 25th Infantry Division, II Field Force (Vietnam), Military Assistance Command (Vietnam), US Army Pacific

Creighton Abrams – Armour, 3rd Armoured Division, V Corps, Military Assistance Command (Vietnam).



Filed under Army, defence, Navy, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Fast jet flying club?: the perspective from across the pond

  1. x

    As fond as I am of the regimental system there is much to be said about trickle drafting used by the US Army.

    It hasn’t done the RN any harm; especially as the fleet has reduce in size and the number of common systems has grown. Though Sir Louis Le Bailey did write a paper discussing introducing a regimental type system for the RN.

    Further it should be noted that US law states only aviators can command carriers. You will note that all carrier commanders have a tanker or large stores ship listed on their resume. Can’t be seen to be totally ignorant about big ship handling in front of the “fish heads.”

  2. James Daly

    I wonder whether it would be good to see more secondments going on across the armed forces- might not be popular to start with but would help with across the board thinking. JHC, JFH and PJHQ must have helped in that respect – its one of the benefits of ‘jointery’.

    It is sad indeed that the Regimental system has such strong pros and cons. The loyalty and healthy rivalry that it encourages is plain to see. But it doesn’t do much for overall cohesiveness. Its the legacy of the British Army being a loose collective of armed bands, geographically based. But at what point do we need to ‘get over’ history? When Mike Jackson wanted to merge the Scottish Battalions a few years ago there was an almighty uproar. Its sad, but at the same time sadly inevitable. Regiments merge and disband, its always happened and will in the future.

    I can’t think that introducing a Regimental type system in the RN would be healthy – its too small to work I should think. Its bad enough reading in Falklands memoirs of Aviators looking down their noses at everyone, Submariners looking at everyone through a periscope, and everyone looking down on the salthorses.

    It makes perfect sense to me that a naval aviator SHOULD make a pretty good CV Captain. Lin Middleton commanded Hermes admirably in the Falklands, thanks to his background as a jet pilot. And submariners should also make good anti-sub officers – poacher turned gamekeeper, you might say.

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