How can the Navy win a flyover…during a budget crisis?

by Craig Hooper on February 12, 2011

Over the next year, the Navy is gonna learn that a depression makes a bad time to party.

Today, as the U.S. Navy prepares to kick-off the ceremony-laden, flyby bedecked Centennial of Naval Aviation with a massive flyby in San Diego, the nation’s “Austerity-First” budget-trimmers are sharpening their pencils, ready pillory the Navy for each and every single display of “non-essential” civic boosterism.

For aspiring editors eager to connect with this generation of U.S. budget-cutters, ceremonial fly-overs make for easy copy. They are public events, occur at big celebrations and, well, they offer political-types simple examples of “wasted” resources.

In short, this is the sort of stuff reporters and editors love.

The criticism has already started: Look at the recent fracas over the F-18 fly-by at the Superbowl–over a closed stadium–which Austerity-Firsters hysterically reported as costing the Navy taxpayers(!!) $450,000 dollars. Here’s a sample, from all parts of the political spectrum.

This is toxic stuff. The story–with bipartisan appeal–gained national traction. And now, for the rest of the year, as the Navy celebrates the Centennial of Naval Aviation, the price of every single flyby–every single ceremony–is going to be written up someplace by some reporter eager to tickle the outrage of the Austerity-First crowd.

Mark my words: The “Austerity Firsters” are unappeasable–if it can make a headline, they’ll urge the scrapping of the USS Constitution, the Blue Angels and the elimination of all Fleet Weeks–you name it, they’re gonna do it. But first, they’ll use “simple” things like flyovers to break into the headlines and color public opinion. (Just wait till they find out that perfectly good planes were painted in “antique” legacy colors! Egad!)

That’s not all. With the influence of SECNAV Ray Mabus on the upswing, LOTS of folks in Washington (Aspirants to be the next SECDEF, anti-environment folks, politicos who are eager to attenuate the career of any Democratic national security leader, etc) are going to be quite willing to use the Navy’s perceived “excess” to dent and ding the SECNAV Mabus’ glowing reputation at the White House. (Don’t believe me? Read this–the Navy’s gotta watch its PR back…)

The Navy must prepare for this gotcha-oriented “Austerity First” journalism–by, well, cutting down the number of ceremonial flyovers (yes, the Navy must demonstrate it is belt-tightening just like anybody else!), but by also putting real time in prepping the Navy’s harried Public Affairs Officers (PAOs). Get going–enumerate all the flyovers and airshows. Figure out how many people these flyovers reach (and break that down into which Congressional Districts, too). Make Congress request flyovers for their districts. Show that these events are valuable–Talk about how accessible your activities are for people with low-to-no income, and remind reporters that event flyovers and airshows are not just for the handfuls who pay, but, in turn, are for those who, for lack of any other alternative, are out enjoying the Navy’s free show. Bring the Air Force into this–and compare the Navy’s flyovers with the Air Force’s frequent–and hopefully more frequent–participation in ceremonial flyovers.

Follow the example set by the Virginian-Pilot’s Mike Gruss, who wrote a gripping, first-hand report about the Superbowl flyover, showing his readers that a flyover is no simple thing, but a complex exercise in timing, navigation and air-ground coordination.

Get ready to be aggressive in rolling this meme back. Because if it gets settled as a fact in the national narrative, all it will take are a few PR-minded, Austerity-First politicos to turn the Navy’s wise, civic-minded efforts at outreach into indefensible examples of excess.

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February 12, 2011 at 5:25 pm

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Craig Hooper February 22, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Blacktail–

I like the idea of the NFL paying for the privilege of enjoying a fly-over. But sadly, they feel they offer a far larger platform for publicizing the Navy. I mean, a fly-over is certainly less costly than running a recruiting ad during the superbowl…

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Blacktail February 16, 2011 at 4:55 am

For aspiring editors eager to connect with this generation of U.S. budget-cutters, ceremonial fly-overs make for easy copy. They are public events, occur at big celebrations and, well, they offer political-types simple examples of “wasted” resources.
This *IS* a waste of resources. The US is on the edge of recession, $2.3 TRILLION that went into the Pentagon can’t be accounted for, we’re fighting a global war on two fronts. We’re at war, and countries do NOT win wars if they don’t ACT like they’re at war.
yet — somehow — it’s okay to burn JP8 while oil costs almost $100-a-barrel, waste the time, mental effort, and energy of a scarce and ever-shrinking workforce of pilots and groundcrews, and add airframe hours to the oldest, fewest, least-often-flown, and most fatigued fleet of aircraft the US military has EVER had.

If the NFL wants a flyover that badly, they can can spend a little bit of pocket change of the 100’s of Millions of $$$ that they make every year to hire their own stunt pilots, instead of leaning on Uncle Sam to pick-pocket money from the taxpayers’.
After all, it’s not like military demonstrations are SAFE;
http://www.johntreed.com/VIPdeaths.html

Mark my words: The “Austerity Firsters” are unappeasable–if it can make a headline, they’ll urge the scrapping of the USS Constitution, the Blue Angels and the elimination of all Fleet Weeks–you name it, they’re gonna do it.
The function of the US military, as defined by the US Constitution, is to defend the United States — not the US Military’s OWN IMAGE, which would be secure if it DID IT’S JOB COMPETENTLY. The DoD’s official Mission Statement is; “The mission of the Department of Defense is to provide the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country.” http://www.defense.gov/about/#mission
I don’t don’t see any legal provisions for tax-funded *Bread & Circuses* in these oaths.

That said, what exactly are the *combat functions* of Flight Demonstration Squadrons, a Marching Bands, or Sports Teams? Add to that the facilities at US military bases that usually include the likes of; “…a movie theater; three gyms; two recreation buildings that have phones, computers with internet connection, pool tables, video games and more; one chapel with various religious services and other activities; two large dining facilities; a fire station; a military police station; the Laura Bush education center where classes are offered through the University of Maryland University College and Central Texas College; two cappuccino bars, a Burger King, Taco Bell, and an Anthony’s Pizza pizzeria; two barber shops; two laundry facilities employing local nationals who do the laundry for those living on base; two press shops; a sewing shop; two massage shops employing mostly Thai women who conduct various massages and are regulated by military officials; a shoppette that sells snacks and drinks, some DVDs and CDs, some office products, magazines, and essential personal hygiene items; various local vendors who sell Kosovo souvenirs and products; softball and football fields; and more.” (Source: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/camp-bondsteel.htm )

…and what you get is an institution that has more in common with a *Community College* than national military.

If the problem-child US “military” isn’t given a financial AND philosophical spanking, it will NEVER grow-up into a competent military organization with a warfighting focus — and if it doesn’t do that, it will never win another war. Period.

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Craig Hooper February 12, 2011 at 9:25 pm

Have you looked at the stories? And then taken a peek at the angry letters-to-the editor out there? I wish I could be so sanguine, but I think the Navy would be darned foolish to not prepare for this sort of story popping up during the Centenial.

And when one of the final CPAC speakers from this weekend gets kudos for a wry quip about how the Navy has more admirals than ships, you gotta be freaking blind to see what’s coming down the pike.

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Charley A. February 12, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Non-issue.

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