Armed Services Top Brass Not Typical of Officer Corps

By ROBERT C. TOTH, Times Staff Writer
Source: LA Times, Sunday, May 20 1984, front page

An excellent, well-researched article, which my personal experience in the USAF Squadron Officer’s School, as reflected in the accompanying article’s Letter to Robert Toth, fully supports. ~ Don Chapin

WASHINGTON – With the dawning of the Space Age and the development of guided missiles, the number of pilots in the Air Force has dropped steadily-until today fewer than one of three officers is a flier. When it comes to top brass, however, pilots still dominate the highest ranks: More than four out of five Air Force generals are fliers. A similar pattern, although not so striking, exists in the other military services. Certain favored branches win a disproportionate share of the top promotions.

These patterns cast disturbing doubts on the fairness of promotions in the armed services’ officer corps. More important, they raise questions about whether these practices lead to premature retirements of less-favored but vital specialists and even whether the top men exhibit biases that distort critical Pentagon decisions. In the Navy, more admirals are aviators than any other specialists, even though most naval officers command surface ships. Similarly, all 12 of the Army’s four-star generals today came from the infantry, artillery or armor-the so-called “combat arms” –although these branches make up only 25% of the Army’s total officer corps.

Critics charge that examples abound of biased judgments and policy distortions flowing from these promotion patterns.

The longstanding Air Force policy of preferring manned bombers over unmanned missiles, for example, is widely credited for the overwhelming number of pilots among the top brass. Most recently, the Air Force dragged its feet on developing air-launched cruise missiles, apparently in part out of fear that those weapons would become more attractive and drain funds from the new B-1 bomber.

Similarly, the Navy chronically calls for more aircraft carriers, cynics have suggested, because one-third of its admirals are aviators rather than because of the huge vessels’ military virtues.

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