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January 24, 2003
Notes from the Pentagon

Hats off
It is not as contentious as the Army's decision to put nearly every soldier in a black beret. But the Air Force has its own cap quandary.

Headquarters has mandated that every aircraft maintainer — mechanics, munitions handlers — must be wearing a black baseball cap, with squadron emblem, by Oct. 1.

Not all airmen like the idea. Some call it a waste of time and money.

"Many people are upset that units will pay for caps out of [operations and maintenance] funds for daily operations," said one Air Force member.

"There are no standardization or controls over purchasing."

The Air Force issued a statement explaining the need for black ball caps:

"On 1 Oct 02, the Air Force began the transition to the Combat Wing Organization which pulled maintenance personnel from the flying squadrons and moved them under career maintainers in the Maintenance Group.

"In lieu of organizational changes it was essential to maintain the teamwork and synergy between ops and maintenance which is vital to our ultimate goal of combat success.

"The recent announcement changing the [battle dress uniform] configuration for maintenance personnel is part of a concerted effort to keep operations and maintenance teamed. Flightline maintenance personnel will be assigned to aircraft maintenance units within the new aircraft maintenance squadron."

An Air Force spokeswoman said each squadron will be responsible for buying the caps. For that reason, the Air Force does not have a total cost figure, she said.

CBW suits
Defense officials say the warfighting suits used to protect troops from chemical or biological weapons attack are inadequate.

"The suits are designed to defend against an attack," said one official. "What that means is that if you get hit, you put on the suit and run. They are not good for fighting."

The suit consists of a zip-up coverall, mask, boots and gloves known as the Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology, or JSLIST.

The protective power of the suits is limited by the length of time the suit's masks can filter weapons agents from the air. The filters are good only for several hours, the officials said.

The issue of chemical warfare protective gear is a major issue as U.S. forces head to the Persian Gulf region. Intelligence assessments say that if Saddam Hussein's regime is threatened, he will break out his stockpiles of chemical, nerve and blister agents, as well as germ weapons, including deadly anthrax, and use them against advancing forces.

Iraq recently imported a special silicon powder under the U.N. oil-for-food program that can enhance its chemical and biological weapons by helping the agents penetrate the suits.

Management shuffle
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld continues to fiddle with his staffing. The next move may be John Young, assistant Navy secretary for acquisition, to the post of director of program analysis and evaluation. Mr. Young was due to be interviewed this week by Mr. Rumsfeld. The PA&E job is an important one, giving direct advice to the defense secretary on big-ticket weapons.

Mr. Young would succeed Stephen Cambone, one of Mr. Rumsfeld's closest advisers. Mr. Cambone's nomination to be the Pentagon's first undersecretary of intelligence is now at the White House.

If Mr. Young gets the job, his replacement may be Suzanne Patrick, who is now deputy undersecretary of defense for industrial policy.

The big prize at the moment is the contest to replace Navy Secretary Gordon England, the-soon-to-be deputy secretary of the Homeland Security Department.

DISA day off
We reported earlier how military staff have been getting extra days off at the Pentagon through a device known as "training days." No one objects to giving field troops who often spend long days working extra time off.

But when President Bush has been trying to limit time off for federal office workers as a cost-saving measure, the practice of giving military office workers training days is creating problems.

The most recent example was the memorandum from Air Force Lt. Gen. Harry D. Raduege, director of the Defense Information Systems Agency in Arlington. The agency is a combat support agency that runs all the information systems for the military. The three-star general earlier this month gave his agency's 8,200 employees an extra day off to mark the Martin Luther King holiday, in addition to Monday, Jan. 20.

Civilians were allowed "liberal leave" for Friday, Jan. 17, and "a training day will be in effect for military personnel," Gen. Raduege stated in the Jan. 10 memo.

A source within DISA tells us the training day is excessive, considering the increased need for military readiness. "It seems to be politically correct," we are told. "Training days in the military are not training days but are euphemisms for giving time off to do anything but training."

Also, the extra day makes hundreds of contractors at DISA "less productive due to the lack of government people there to manage them," our source says.

The buzz on Abizaid
Pentagon chatter says Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld finally has his own man at U.S. Central Command to supervise a war against Iraq: Army Lt. Gen. John P. Abizaid.

Officials said the hard-charging Mr. Rumsfeld was not always happy with the way Gen. Tommy Franks ran the war in Afghanistan. He has worried that Gen. Franks, chief of U.S. Central Command, will not be innovative enough in waging war against Iraq.

Now, however, Mr. Rumsfeld has plucked a general from the Joint Staff at the Pentagon and sent him to Central Command as Mr. Franks' deputy. In fact, Gen. Abizaid is already at CentCom's warfighting command center in Qatar getting ready to direct a war.

It was an odd move, given that CentCom already had a deputy commander, who is staying at its Tampa headquarters. But it does give Mr. Rumsfeld a deputy in the Gulf region whom he fully trusts.

A favorite of the defense secretary, Gen. Abizaid is a West Point graduate and career infantryman who speaks fluent Arabic, a skill that should help with Persian Gulf allies.

He also speaks German and Italian, a skill that helped when he commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Germany in 1999-2000.

Winning the countryside
Amid the continued hunt for hard-core al Qaeda and Taliban, the U.S. military is slowly winning the war for the countryside in Afghanistan.

Among the many outreach programs is the "Adopt a Village" civil affairs initiative run out of Bagram air base north of Kabul.

American troops deliver clothes, food and school supplies, and meet local Afghans.

Jayson Spiegel, executive director of the Reserve Officers Association of the United States, tells us his group is gearing up to fight a new management reform from the secretary of defense.

The Guard and Reserve troops are paid out of three separate accounts annually appropriated by Congress. The Pentagon is proposing to do away with those separate accounts and put them under the control of the active force. This means the duty of paying reserves would shift from three reserve officer paymasters to three active-duty ones.

Mr. Spiegel's fear is that the active force will use the salary pot to meet its expenses first, leaving no money in the fourth quarter in late summer, when many Guard and Reserves perform their required two-week training.

"We see the beginning of the end of a viable entity," Mr. Spiegel said. "If you take away financial assets, you take away the Guard and Reserve."

The Guard and Reserve make up some 900,000 "selected reserves." There are now nearly 80,000 mobilized for the war on terrorism and a possible war with Iraq.

•Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters.

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

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