A Call to Honor
In the Air Force’s Black Ceiling I devoted an entire chapter to famed Tuskegee Airmen Col Charles E. McGee. I entitled that chapter “Hang A Star On That Man.” The purpose of that chapter was to show unequivocally, that Col McGee’s unparalleled combat flying record and his military record are deserving of his promotion to Brigadier General. You can read that chapter at the following link: https://www.bublish.com/bubble/stream/10465
Col McGee is the only person in Air Force history to fly over 100 combat missions in three major wars: 136 in World War II, 100 Korea and 173 in Vietnam, a total of 409. He was a three-time squadron commander, a Chief Maintenance for a fighter Wing, a base commander and the first African-American officer to command a stateside Wing after desegregation:
o Commander, 44th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, Commander, 7230th Support Squadron (Jupiter Missile support), Commander, 16th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron
o Commander of Gioia del Colle Air Base, Chief of Maintenance, 50th Tactical Fighter Wing
o Commander, Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base (Commanded Wing and Base)
Col McGee is also a highly decorated combat leader and commanded a flying unit in Vietnam. He had a distinguished 30-year career, and his decorations include the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, Distinguished Flying Cross with Two Clusters, Bronze Star, Air Medal with 25 Clusters. An excerpt from the Washington Post highlights the stellar nature of Col McGee’s accomplishments:
“When he retired highly decorated in 1973 from active duty, McGee had flown 409 missions. During a 1994 Tuskegee Airmen Inc. convention in Atlanta, keynote speaker Gen. Ronald Fogleman, then Air Force chief of staff, cited McGee for holding the record for flying the highest number of fighter missions over three wars.” (Hopkinson, 1999)
Though it would later be discovered that other pilots had higher combat sortie totals in Vietnam, Col McGee is the only Air Force pilot ever to have flown over 100 combat mission in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.
So why didn’t he get promoted to Brigadier General in the early 1970s? I believe that the Air Force of the early 1970s was not ready to put a star on an African American fighter pilot with one of the greatest combat flying records ever seen. That will always be my assessment, and I share more than enough support for that opinion in “Black Ceiling.”
What is Col McGee’s assessment? Col McGee received what he believed to be an unfair downgrade on his performance evaluation from a general at HQ 7th AF after addressing a maintenance deficiency which upset the general. His evaluation was downgraded despite receiving an “Outstanding, almost never equaled” from the Deputy Commander for Materiel and the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing Commander.
While Col McGee did not challenge the downgrade of his ’70 -’71 evaluation, his family, myself and many notable others feel it was a reflection of the Air Force and society in the early 70s and decided to address it by pursuing a retroactive promotion to Brigadier General.
In addition to the downgrade that Col McGee received, the Air Force made a draw-down decision to pass over Colonels in two successive year groups that were approaching the 30-year mark. I believe this drawdown would not have adversely affected Col McGee if he had received the ratings and career opportunities that his prior flying record and career accomplishments warranted.
I will now detail the actions that have been taken since the publication of “Black Ceiling” to obtain a retroactive promotion to Brigadier General for Col McGee. I would like to point out first that this type of action is not without precedent. President Clinton retroactively promoted Lt. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., famed commander of the Tuskegee Airman, to four-star general in 1998 at the age of 86.
- Col McGee’s family took grassroots actions to get their father promoted retroactively via the support of other interested individuals and through social media
- Col McGee’s family secured the support for an honorary promotion to Brigadier General from the offices of Illinois Senator Richard ‘Dick” Durbin and Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen
- Col McGee’s family contacted former SECAF Deborah Lee James who then contacted the office of the US Air Force Legislative Director inquiring about retroactive promotion
- The family was advised to pursue an honorary promotion versus a retroactive promotion (with the permanent restoration of pay and benefits via records review and Board of Military Corrections)
o The rationale was that the Board of Military Corrections would be a challenging, lengthy process, that would likely be unsuccessful
o Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. did not receive retroactive pay
o The family was also advised to pursue an honorary promotion attached to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (a.k.a. military budget bill)
o NDAA is the name for each of a series of United States federal laws specifying the annual budget and expenditures of the U.S. Department of Defense
- Col McGee’s honorary promotion package was not completed in time to be included in the 2017 NDAA legislation
- Col McGee’s honorary package was submitted to the Air Force’s personnel staff and ultimately Secretary of the Air Force (SECAF) for approval, in late November 2017
o The hope was that all SECAF staffing actions would be completed so that Col McGee’s honorary promotion recommendation could be included as an item in the 2018 NDAA
o The staffing actions stalled and the recommendation was not approved by the Air Force or DoD in the May timeframe as had been hoped
o Col McGee’s recommendation did not get included in the 2018 NDAA
o The staffing actions stalled and recommendation was not approved by the Air Force or DoD in the May timeframe as had been hoped
o Col McGee's recommendation did not get included in the 2018 NDAA
o If inclusion in an NDAA is the only way to gain approval of Col McGee’s honorary promotion, then it will be delayed at least another year, until the next NDAA
o The family’s goal is to award the honorary promotion while Col McGee is still alive. He is 98 years old
- Col McGee’s honorary promotion package has been combined with an honorary promotion package for Lt Col Richard Cole the last surviving member of the Doolittle Raiders, now age 102
o Lt Col Richard ‘Dick” Cole was Co-Pilot for Colonel Doolittle as he led 80 Airmen on the famed “Doolittle Raid” on Japan in 1942 (Associated Press, 2017)
It is disappointing that the honors for these two great military men have been caught up in the bureaucracy that often encumbers typical staffing actions. The goal of honoring these great men while they are alive and can still be great ambassadors of the Air Force has been placed in jeopardy.
It is my belief that the staffing actions needed to honor these great men has been delayed unfortunately because the details of their great heroism and devotion to our country are more than 50 years removed. The tyranny of present actions tends to trump the work of honoring those that have gone before.
In addition, we have only been able to obtain the help of the previous Secretary of the Air Force and the previous Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force. It has been my experience that as much as the former staff would like to help that their influence is diminished once they leave office. Further, because it is the job of lower staffing elements to build solid recommendations for a senior member of the staff, I doubt that the current Secretary of the Air Force or Chief of Staff is even aware of these efforts.
I served most of my Air Force career on a staff of some sort. I served on a Center Staff, two Major Air Command Staffs and the HQ US Air Force Staff at the Pentagon. I know that often the “squeaky wheel” gets the grease. I call attention to the staffing delays at risk of alienating the staff members and others that have helped move this great effort forward. However, we must do everything in our power to honor the great men and women who have gone before us.
I close this chapter with a request for prayer based on the Scriptures below. The McGee family and a team of retired officers (senior and junior), high-level civilians, and Congressional staffers have done everything we can do in the natural to “give honor where honor is due.” Join us in a prayer of agreement that the favor we need is granted and that everything will fall into place so that these great men can be raised up in promotion and honor in a manner that befits their great accomplishments.
Psalm 75:6-7 (KJV) “For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.”
Romans 13:7 (NKJV) “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”
Proverbs 3:3-4 (KJV) “Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart: So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man.”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish