Yesterday’s story in Politico, Air Force Crew Made an Odd Stop on a Routine Trip: Trump’s Scottish Resort, has raised a thick cloud of smoke. Rachel Maddow devoted her entire opening segment to it last night. The incident in question involves a USAF C-17 cargo plane which, on a flight from Alaska to Kuwait, landed at Prestwick Airport in Scotland for crew rest and refueling. The crew stayed overnight at Donald Trump’s nearby Turnberry golf resort, where food and lodging costs far exceed military travel per diem rates.
On its surface the incident is disturbing. But wait, there’s more. A number of other USAF cargo flights have made the same stopover, running up an $11 million bill in fuel and landing fees at Prestwick, while bypassing the nearby USAF base at RAF Lakenheath, England. Congress has opened an investigation, but so far the USAF has not handed over any of the requested documents.
What the smoke seems to signify is that the Trump administration is propping up Prestwick Airport, which in the past has lost money for the Scottish government, while at the same time drumming up business for Trump’s golf resort, which also has been operating in the red, yet another apparent violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause. Moreover, it seems US Air Force leadership is complicit in the grift.
This morning, on Twitter, I saw a number of tweets from USAF cargo and tanker crew members, saying that stopovers at Prestwick have been going on since before the Trump administration took office, though most of the crew members also stressed that when they stayed overnight for crew rest, they billeted at local hotels whose rates were within those authorized by the USAF for crew travel, not at Trump’s expensive golf resort.
I don’t know the USAF cargo and tanker world, but I do know the fighter world. I’ve performed many cross-country and international flights. The rule was—and I’m certain still is—you landed and refueled at USAF bases whenever possible. Sometimes you’d have to land at a joint-use civil & military airfield, but you’d park and refuel on the military section of the ramp. When you flew overseas and no USAF bases were within reach, you’d land at foreign airfields where the USAF has a joint use agreement with the host country. Sometimes you’d be sent to a civil airfield for an airshow, where you and your jet would be on display with other military aircraft, but those events were pre-arranged and approved by the USAF. I never once dropped into a purely civil airport on my own, though if I’d ever had an inflight emergency that required me to land on the closest piece of concrete, I would have.
So I guess my first question would be whether we have a joint-use agreement with the Scottish government for stopovers at Prestwick, and I bet the answer is yes. I know I’ve heard of USAF crews stopping at Prestwick before, maybe even before the current administration. I think the more important issue here is lodging and per diem for crews staying overnight.
I know every time I filed a travel voucher for per diem and lodging expenses, the local USAF finance office would scrutinize it closely. There were only two times I ever stayed at an expensive civilian hotel: once on an overnighter to Washington DC, where I couldn’t get a room at any of the military bases in the area and had to stay at the JW Marriott, and once when I was part of the PACAF commander’s entourage on a trip to Singapore, where they put us all up at Raffles. Those were exceptional events, and had I ever elected on my own to stay at an expensive hotel on a regular cross-country or international flight, finance not only wouldn’t have reimbursed me, they’d have sicced the OSI on me for trying to pull a fast one with taxpayer money.
And then there’s this story, from way back in 2014: Donald Trump Pledges to Make Prestwick Airport “Really Successful.” One sentence in particular stands out: “The Trump Organisation has chosen Prestwick to service the nearby Trump Turnberry resort, in which the businessman plans to invest £250m.”
Okay, overnight refueling and crew rest stops at Prestwick, while not routine, are a thing and have been a thing for a few years now, but the news article from 2014 points out obvious financial ties between Prestwick Airport and Trump’s nearby golf resort, putting the lie to protestations that USAF aircraft stopovers are no big deal. And how can anyone excuse military personnel staying at Trump’s golf resort? Given Trump’s record of abusing his office to make money for his own businesses—from official White House guests paying to stay at Trump’s Washington DC hotel, to Trump’s recent proposal to hold the next G7 meeting at his own Doral resort, to VP Pence’s recent stay at a Trump property in Ireland located more than a hundred miles from official functions in Dublin—there’s a fire at the heart of the Prestwick story.
Well, grifters gonna grift, and color me shocked to learn Trump has found a new way to prop up a money-losing business. My real disappointment here is Air Force leadership. I guess they’re all careerists now, afraid or unwilling to buck anything Trump demands, and I shouldn’t be surprised. But I was still serving when Air Force Chief of Staff General Ron Fogleman resigned on principle after the Clinton administration demanded he scapegoat a USAF brigadier general for the terrorist bombing at the Khobar Towers complex in Dhahran in 1997. The scapegoat, BG Schwalier, had been well aware of the threat, had taken over a hundred active measures to prevent such an attack, and had requested additional security resources a number of times prior to the attack. Standing up for an officially-designated fall guy took some balls. Ron Fogleman was my commander during my first F-15 tour; he was and is one of the military leaders I truly look up to. I was never more proud to be part of the US Air Force then when General Fogleman stood up to a craven political/military complex.
Where are the Foglemans of today? Corruption comes from the top, and Trump has corrupted everything.
© 2019, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.