U.S. Air Force Fires General Who Threatened Airmen With ‘Treason’
He told them to shut up about the A-10 Warthog… or else
Three months ago, Maj. Gen. James Post — the deputy chief of Air Combat Command — warned airmen that talking to Congress about the A-10 Warthog is an act of “treason.”
On April 10, the U.S. Air Force announced it had canned Post from his job.
To be sure, the flying branch doesn’t like the A-10 and is locked in a battle with legislators over the attack plane’s future. But it certainly didn’t like Post making veiled threats. He made the comments during a January gathering of airmen at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.
“Anyone who is passing information to Congress about A-10 capabilities is committing treason,” Post said, according to former airman Tony Carr at the blog John Q. Public, which was first to report the leaked exchange.
“If anyone accuses me of saying this, I will deny it,” Post added.
Air Combat Command oversees the bulk of the Air Force’s combat aircraft, and has long wanted to ditch the blunt-nosed Warthog to free up money for the troubled F-35 stealth fighter.
Legislators have repeatedly blocked those plans, and supporters claim that retiring the low-flying A-10 — which is designed to help out troops on the ground — will cost American lives.
“What, you ask, could motivate the Air Force to surrender its moral soul at the altar of neo-fascism?” Carr asked. “The F-35 has become a matter of total stakes for the service.”
While the F-35s are struggling to get through tests, the Warthogs are flying daily missions over Iraq and Syria. Since November, the planes have fired almost 50,000 shells from their 30-millimeter Gatling guns in strikes against Islamic State, according to a recent report from the Air Force’s command for the region.
In addition, the Pentagon has deployed A-10s to Europe. With Russia backing separatist rebels in Ukraine and even threatening to nuke Denmark, the hard-hitting jets are show of force intended to calm American allies.
But Post warned against saying anything nice about the Warthog to Congress … if you’re in the Air Force.
Post’s comments created a firestorm on social media and in the mainstream press. Five days after Carr’s post on “creeping fascism,” Sen. John McCain demanded that Air Combat Command conduct a formal investigation into whether he violated any rules, regulations or laws with his comments.
“I apologize for any embarrassment or negative attention this has caused you and our leadership,” Post wrote in an e-mail to Air Force chief Gen. Mark Welsh shortly after the incident.
The Air Force’s Inspector General reviewed the situation and determined that Post had restricted airmen — intentionally or unintentionally — from contacting their elected representatives. Any such action violates federal statutes.
“Would a reasonable person, under similar circumstances, believe he or she was actually restricted from making a lawful communication with the IG or a Member of Congress?” the investigators asked in a March report.
The answer is “yes,” concluded the IG. The Air Force released a redacted copy of the report on its Freedom of Information Act Website.
The investigators differed about Post’s exact wording. But it was clear he said that it was treasonous to supply members of Congress with information about the A-10 and that he would deny making such comments if the matter came up in the future.
“Testimony indicated that Maj. Gen. Post’s remark about ‘denying making the comment’ brought laughter to the room, while his comment about Congress and treason silenced the room,” the investigators stated.
In addition, “while witnesses thought using the word treason was
‘inappropriate’ … or ‘over-the top,’ … some took it almost literally,” the report noted. “Others did not.”
Post categorically denied using the word “treason” or that he meant to stifle communication between the airmen and Congress.
“I never said, nor meant to imply to anyone that it was treason, disloyal or disobedient to speak or testify when summoned by Congress,” Post explained in prepared remarks read to the investigators.
“It was only an attempt to bring levity into the discussion because I believed it was essential for the members in the audience to listen and understand the importance of the Air Force’s decision with respect to the future of the A-10,” he added.
However, Post detailed to investigators his personal frustrations about the Warthog debate. He was clearly unhappy that Air Force personnel were disagreeing publicly with the Air Force’s official line.
“I then mentioned that some of the argument over the A-10 seemed to be misinformed, subjective, and in many cases emotional,” Post said.
“And finally, I said that for those in uniform to do anything contrary to what the Chief and Secretary have directed would be disloyal, or some might say institutional treason [or words to that effect],” he said, seemingly contradicting his own prior comments.
“I mentioned that it was disheartening, disappointing in fact, to read the slanderous comments made against senior leaders and the decisions they’ve made,” Post added.
Ultimately, the Air Force investigation concluded that Post’s comments were inappropriate, regardless of his intentions. In addition, investigators noted that none of the individuals at the gathering appeared to have had any intention of speaking with legislators about the A-10.
The future of Post’s military career is unknown. Although removed from his post as ACC’s deputy chief, Post remains in the Air Force — which has not demoted him.
“I do think being removed from command was a punishment and a positive step toward accountability,” Mandy Smithberger, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information, told War Is Boring in an email. The center is part of the Project on Government Oversight.
“But we continue to be concerned about the reports of retaliation and the lasting perception, as shown in the quotes in the report, that talking to Congress about the A-10 puts your career at risk,” Smithberger added.
A-10 designer Pierre Sprey agreed, suggesting that the Air Force’s report glosses over more serious issues.
The idea that no one in the Nellis conference audience planned to talk to elected officials is “total crap,” Sprey said, who also described it as a “really disgusting conclusion.”
After all, someone leaked Post’s comments at Nellis. Then after the Air Force publicized Post’s dismissal, Air Combat Command launched a less-publicized hunt for the leakers. This left airmen “terrified,” Sprey said.
The message was loud and clear — know your place.
“There is an urgent need for an investigation into the intimidation of the A-10 community,” Sprey said. “DODIG should investigate the Air Force Inspector General,” he added, referring to the Pentagon’s top watchdog.
In the end, time will tell whether Post’s sacking prompts a long, hard look at how the service does business … or whether he pops back into the public view with a third star.