No, I’m not taking up a new hobby. A friend forwarded this from USA Today: The ‘John Wayne Saloon’: How Day Drinking Went Undetected at One of America’s Top Military Bases (USA Today is normally paywalled; this is an Apple News link and should work for you).

Long story short, military officers assigned to North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) headquarters at Peterson AFB in Colorado were running a clandestine working-hours bar in an unused office. Someone talked to a reporter; the reporter made inquiries; the NORAD commander shut the bar down and is investigating those involved.

Sure, that’s bad. Day drinking. I was a fighter pilot, one of a hard-drinking breed. But we drank after flying, never during. I won’t say no one ever took the controls under the influence, but I never saw that in 24 years of flying. We considered ourselves adults: every fighter squadron has a bar with beer in the fridge and hard stuff on the shelves, but during flying operations it’s a snack bar, a place to sit down for a quick sandwich between sorties … never a place to drink. Most senior officers in my day kept a bottle of good whiskey in a desk drawer, but it only came out after hours, and never for more that a celebratory round with subordinates after work.

This paragraph, toward the end of USA Today’s article, pisses me off:

Nor do all officers and senior officials seek permission for the occasional, end-of-week drink, according to several current and former Pentagon officials. Two commanders recalled a regular round of drinks in their Pentagon offices after the workday had been completed on Friday.

Get a grip, goody two-shoes reporters! If a round of drinks after work on Friday doesn’t define responsible drinking I don’t know what does.

Is NORAD important? Maybe that’s part of the problem. The USA Today article mentions the recent Chinese spy balloon shootdown, which to most of us in the business seemed at best undignified … akin to scrambling Steve Canyon in a multi-million fighter jet to frighten a student pilot in a Cessna who flies into restricted airspace. The article mentions the balloon shutdown twice, rather rubbing it in — and then holds up the annual tracking of Santa’s sleigh as one of NORAD’s most important missions!

In the 1980s I regularly intercepted and escorted Soviet bombers off the coast of Alaska; those missions were under NORAD control and important to the security of North America. American and Canadian fighter pilots under NORAD control continue to fly those missions today. Should an enemy nation ever launch ballistic missiles toward North America, it will be NORAD’s job to shoot them down. That’s pretty damn important.

Still, in my day an assignment to NORAD was not considered a good career move for an officer. We saw it as a backwater. I don’t know how it is today, but suspect things haven’t changed that much. If I’m right, perhaps that leads some to take their jobs less seriously than they should. God knows, the military’s day-late-and-a-dollar-short response on 9/11 didn’t help NORAD’s reputation either.

One thing the USA Today reporters get right:

The military has long struggled with alcohol abuse in its ranks, and related crimes like sexual assault.

True dat. There’s a direct tie between drinking and sexual misbehavior and abuse. Where USA Today gets it wrong: alcohol-related sexual assault is far from a military-only issue — it’s every bit as rampant in civilian life. I’d like to see USA Today take a hard look at what goes on in the law enforcement and fire fighting communities … or even (maybe especially) Congress!

Hey, did you hear Henry Kissinger died? I’ll bet Satan and his minions are day-drinking today!

3 thoughts on “Day Drinking

  • Heavy drinking was sure a US Army tradition when I was in it 1969-1971, the cooks were nearly all dipsos. If he was a good cook and not drunk all day he was stollen (TFG spelling) for the Officers Mess. In Vietnam the enlisted people were forbidden hard liquor and had to settle for, usually, warm beer. However our radar unit had a fridge and hard booze was available on the black market if you liked boilermakers, as who does not.
    I just read Robin Olds’s autobiography Fighter Pilot, the usual massive fighter pilot ego and enormous brass balls. In his case well earned and the Right Stuff for Operation Bolo if nothing else. He writes that interceptor assignment was tantamount to slow career death back then and he did everything he could to dodge it. And since he was a very well connected military nepo baby in DC and the Pentagon, he managed to avoid it.
    First I’ve heard of the well deserved death of the war criminal Kissinger, you made my day! Say only good of the deceased: Kissinger is dead- good.
    Tod recently posted…Two Vintage Single Speeders Return To MeMy Profile

  • We’re all easy targets for cable and online news outlets.
    Print and broadcast are still subject to truth in broadcast / print laws unless clearly submitted as editorial or opinion.

    That said, I remember all to well, advising my officers and senior enlisted to think about how their actions would be perceived (and presented) on the front page of WaPo. It’s easy enough to leave our significant parts of a story. And online / Cable “journalists” are free to fill in whatever blanks they were too lazy to investigate.

    I’m really glad there was no internet (per se) during my early years in the service.

    Appreciate the heads up on Kissinger.
    Hadn’t seen that news yet.

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