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What Really Happened at NAS Pensacola, Part 2: “It’s a Complex World”

[Note: The piece we posted here on December 9 from from a former instructor at NAS Pensacola (What Really Happened at NAS Pensacola, and Why) has gone viral across the Internet and generated an array of compelling responses. Some are so compelling that I feel they deserve high profile posts of their own. Below is the first of those, from a former Air Force instructor who also trained foreign nationals during his military service. I found his information especially interesting as it provides insight about the personal interrelationships that become formed between U.S. military personnel and their international colleagues and students.]

From: Earl H. Tilford, PhD

I spent a good portion of my military life teaching in the Air Force and Army “Professional Military Education” systems at the Air Command and Staff College, Air War College and the Army War College.  I also have a doctorate in “American and European Military History, Soviet and East European Politics and History.”

The fact that Saudi officers assigned to Naval flight training are being afforded an opportunity to avail themselves of the finest military flying program in the world aside, since Saudi Arabia does not have nor probably ever will have an aircraft carrier, what are they doing in Pensacola?

That aside…

While I was at Maxwell I became friends with a fantastic human being from Saudi Arabia.  I never knew his real name because he preferred to be called simply “Bleuie.”  When Bleuie was a major at Air Command and Staff College he signed up for an optional M.A. in Military History offered by Air University in conjunction with the University of Alabama.  I taught several courses in that program, including “American Military History,” “Air Power History,” and “The Vietnam War.”

Bleuie’s English was not exceptional so he came to me for advice about hiring a tutor. I recommended a retired USAF officer with a PhD from Duke who had taught at the Air Force Academy.

When Bleuie finished the course successfully, he offered to fly me and his tutor to Washington to meet the Saudi Ambassador and stay there as guests of the his country.  We politely declined stating our official affiliation with the Air Force forbade accepting such generous gifts.   During his stay, Major Bleuie often broke bread with us.  He became a personal friend.

In 1990 I was elated to hear he’d made brigadier general and was returning to Air University as a student at the Air War College.  Then the Iraqis invaded Kuwait and Bleuie’s orders were cancelled.  I heard he was in charge of the Saudi Air Force’s Airborne Command and Control program.

The following year, I was gratified to see Bleuie back at Air University.  We hugged, and I noted, “You’re wearing Saudi colonel’s insignia.  I heard you were promoted to brigadier general.”  He answered that he was now a major general but he did not want to were his rank insignia noting that “too many foreign officers do that to lord it over their classmates.  I won’t do it.”

“Colonel Bleuie” showed up this time with his entire family to include several wives, a crew of servants, chefs, and bodyguards.  He rented an entire block of townhouses in a local apartment complex.

In those days I daily ran the six-mile course around the Maxwell Air Force Base runway which also included park and recreation areas.  On Sundays I’d see Bleuie playing soccer with his children and possibly other Saudi officers.  He acquired a mini-bus to haul his kids around.

At Christmas I received a nice invitation to the clubhouse at the townhouse complex where he rented.  It was an “Invitation to all my Christian and Jewish Friends to a Middle Eastern Feast.” Faculty, students to include a contingent from Israel, and their wives were treated to a fantastic evening of food, drink, and music.

Bleuie was a gentleman.  A kind and compassionate man.  I made several trips to the United Arab Emirates and to Israel in the years since.  I always hoped to run into him there since the trips I made to the region were connected to international security concerns, but I never did.  I also experienced Arab hospitality, which is lavish but also comes with certain strings attached.  From Tel Aviv to Dubai there are a myriad of cultures that clash with one another and with the Judeo-Christian West.

On my first trip to Abu Dhabi in 1998, I gave a presentation titled, “The Future of War.”  At that time I was Director of Research for the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute and we were tasked with looking out to 2015 to determine the strategic paradigm and what strategies might be appropriate for meeting future challenges.  We got it right, frighteningly so since we predicted massive unrest throughout the region and that Russia would not return to the global fray before 2015 and that by then China would be moving from regional to global hegemonic behavior.

During the question and answer period a Saudi colonel asked, “Do you think a war between the Christian West and the Islamic world is inevitable?”

I was caught off guard.  It was my first visit to the United Arab Emirates and the hospitality had been overwhelming.  I stammered a foolish answer. “Why no!” I exclaimed, then stupidly elaborated.  “Why we share so very much.  We love our families, we cherish freedom, we worship the same God.”

The Saudi colonel lept to his feet and yelled, “We do not worship the same god!  You are a polytheist infidel and not a worshiper of Allah!”  He continued until several robbed ushers intervened.  I stated something like, “I apologize for offending you.”  There were no more questions but I was invited back to speak a few more times over the years.

It’s a complex world.  We make alliances and not necessarily friendships.  Right now it is in our interest to ally ourselves with the Saudis against a common threat from Iran.  That will change as the world changes. But what we must do is harken to our own culture and, perhaps, take a cue from Shakespeare.  “To thine own self be true and it will follow at the night the day, thou canst not be false to any man.”

Earl Tilford

[Note: The additional information below came to me in an email from Prof. Tilford.]

I knew we trained Saudi pilots in the USAF, I was unaware the Navy did.  But knowing a number of Naval Aviators, including two of my brothers in law one of whom, Gerard Finnegan, trained the first female Naval Aviator, I think the training is awesome.  When I was looking around for a commissioning program as a college sophomore who wanted to serve as an officer and not a draftee, I inquired about USMC Platoon Leaders Course.  I opted for the Air Force because I could not fathom finding a vessel at sea from the air much less landing on one!

Much of my experience with foreign officers was in the PME programs, not pilot training.  They are not called “students” in the PME system because the command and staff and war colleges all grant some kind of M.A. in “strategic studies” or some such.  These degrees are not academic but they are accredited.  That being the case, many of these foreign officers come from places without certifiably good academic backgrounds.  This is, of course, unfair to Oxford-educated, or US-educated foreign officers who may possess legitimate undergraduate degrees.

This was brought to my attention when I was teaching a Vietnam War seminar at the Army War College.  I assigned a two-page, double-spaced writing task and offered as possible topics,

“My Lai Massacre, “ “Tet Offensive,” “First Battle of the Ia Drang,” and “Operation Rolling Thunder.”  A Greek colonel picked Rolling Thunder.  His paper was brilliant.  I was thrilled with its insights.  I also had written it for a Vietnam War encyclopedia.  He simply copied it and attached his name to it.

Furious, I went to the dean at the Army War College, telling him I intended to “throw the book” at the offender.  He said that would not happen, then pointed out had it been a US officer, he or she would be out with an Article 15.  But these were “Army War College Fellows” and not “Army War College Students.”

In the mid-1990s the first Russian officers came into the system.  The first Russian colonel assigned to the Air War College brought his wife, daughter and his son-in-law.  He was a jolly fellow who got himself named “co-chairman of the Combined Federal Campaign” along with the mayor of Montgomery, Emory Folmar.  His wife, daughter and son in law were artists who got active with the local art museum.  He spoke on life in Russia and the former Soviet Union to all the civic clubs.

When the day came for him and his family to return to Russia, they showed up at the Montgomery Airport with a lawyer to claim “political asylum.”  His claim was based on his wife, daughter and son-in-law being Jewish and historic anti-Semitism of the Russian system whether under czars, commissars, or whatever the former Soviet thugs now running the place claim to be.  The USAF nearly went nuts claiming he had “no job” in the US.  Judson College claimed they had just hired the colonel as an associate professor of Russian Language and History.  So he stayed.

The Army War College hosted two years worth of Russian officers.  After we got involved in Bosnia, the two students at AWC immediately went home.  The AWC runs followups on all its former “fellows” since in many cases they return home to become senior officers and occasionally take over their respective countries.  Every Russian officer we tracked was out of the Russian Army within a year of returning.

I teach at the University of Alabama and we are loaded with foreign students.  The Chinese are majoring in engineering and computer science, the Middle Easterners in computer science and business administration, and the Vietnamese in whatever but they will be good at it.

The best student I had at Grove City College was a young woman from Vietnam.  Her father, a former ARVN captain, was the chief engineer on the Saigon Electrical grid. Her mother, a former Viet Cong doctor, practiced medicine in Ho Chi Minh City.  They met when she was camp doctor at his reeducation camp.  This young lady graduated Magna Cum Laude and went to medical school.  She runs a clinic in Vung Tau.

[End]

As Prof. Tilford notes, “It’s a complex world. We make alliances and not necessarily friendships.”

Our current ‘alliance’ with Saudi Arabia needlessly cost three innocent lives last week in Pensacola. Those lives were lost due to idiotic policies put in place by political and military leaders over the last 40 years. It remains to be seen whether this latest in a string of unnecessary fatal incidents will result in any changes to the stupidity.

That is all.

Today’s news moves at a faster pace than ever. Whatfinger.com is my go-to source for keeping up with all the latest events in real time.

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