Two Environments Requiring ZERO Failures, by Andrew Joppa

Two Environments Requiring ZERO Failures

by Andy Joppa


For this purpose, I will tell you stories from two environments that were part of my past life: 


My Becoming an Air Marshal


This story with some currency is when I applied to be a Federal Air Marshal in the early 70’s. Having just returned from Vietnam and looking for a life focus, a good friend and I took the Federal Air Marshal test. We both scored the highest in our region or area or office…can’t remember how that was defined. In any case, we both had the opportunity to accept that position. However, we were both talked out of it by the recruiting officer.


I will paraphrase after over fifty years what we were told.  He said…we were too bright. We’d be bored. While the job sounds romantic, we’d probably never have an incident in a twenty-year career. We’d just be glorified airline passengers in an endless loop. He added, our turn arounds at our foreign destinations, would be too fast to allow for any tourist like activity.


There was one deal breaker, however, that caused us both to turn down the job. He said…after all this concern with skyjackings calms down, you’ll be released to be a Border Patrol agent on the Mexican/American border. That’s where we’d probably spend the majority of our careers.


None of that came to pass till now. Earlier this month, the Biden administration announced Air Marshals, considered federal law enforcement agents within the Transportation Security Administration, would face mandatory deployments as the shortage of Border Patrol agents worsens. While that wouldn’t have been part of my career if I had accepted, here it was, fifty years later, exactly as predicted by the counsel we were offered.


I know that many of these current Air Marshalls would not have taken the position if they knew that was a potential within their terms of employment. Many of these fine people are now saying they will refuse that redeployment which, I believe, proves my point…and was the purpose of my story. We’ll have to see how that plays out.


What we don’t know is how many terrorist attacks were thwarted by the mere potential of an Air Marshall being on board; perhaps none…perhaps a hundred. In an interview, David Londo, president of the Air Marshal National Council, said, “Rank and file air marshals are going to refuse to deploy and risk termination,” as the Biden administration plan would strip 99% of commercial airline flights from federal protection.” For those with a fear of flying, this potential adds another psychological depth to their concerns.


 Their redeployment now sends a loud message to any would be terrorists that the skies are once again an open game for their nefarious activities. If this occurs, I believe that the President should be indicted and convicted on a charge of criminally negligent homicide. It’s another story of where ignorance presumes that a defensive capability is not needed because it’s worked to accomplish its primary purpose…minimizing the threat of aircraft related terrorism. In some corruption of logic, Air Marshals are apparently no longer needed because they accomplished the very reason for their existence.


Nuclear Responder 8th Air Force


There is another story that also has some currency. It has some similarities to the Air Marshal story above. I was in SAC (The Strategic Air Command) from early 1966 through late 1967. I would describe SAC’s mission as being the agent of preventing nuclear war between The Soviet Union and America by ensuring there would be MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction).


I was located at Amherst Massachusetts at 8th AF headquarters, associated with Westover AFB. There were three other initiating locations… SAC HQ, Offutt AFB in Nebraska, 15th AF at March AFB in California and 12th AF at Barksdale AFB in Louisiana. All had comparable capabilities but because of the fact that 8th AF had the most nuclear “hardened” installation, it probably would have been the initiating source for retaliation.


My office overlooked the theater of operations and was contiguous with that of the commanding General of 8th AF…who I was conversant with.  I did not “know him” …no airmen first class ever “knows” a general. My responsibilities had no decision-making capability. However, I was part of a process that would have initiated a nuclear retaliation.


When I was on the world-wide SAC radio hook up, I was 8th AF. Using that network, every radio, anywhere in the world could have heard that transmission. If retaliation became necessary, I would have been authorized to access that network and send all currently airborne B-52s to designated nuclear targets…all by codified means. I had other potentials but that was the most likely that I would have been involved with. Many of our drills did not involve predictions but potentials. The potential to strike anywhere should a nuclear event be precipitated from the most unlikely of locations.


What may be of more interest to you are some of the conversations I had with the commanding general of 8th AF in more relaxed moments.

First, and in general, there was never any thought given, preparation for, or conversations about, a first strike potential.  If that was happening it was beyond my pay grade and perhaps beyond even the generals pay grade. Never once was the possibility even alluded to or discussed.


Second and I think the most important…the General said that if we had to retaliate, we had failed. Our job was deterrence. The ability to retaliate only existed to create that deterrence. He also said… make no mistake, if that were necessary, he would not fail to act. He indicated that any presumption of The USSR that we might not act would increase the possibility of a first strike against us as it would eliminate the possibility of Mutually Assured Destruction. The general was a rational man who completely understood his mission.


As with the Air Marshals, the mission of SAC was to prevent something from happeningOnly if nothing happened could they be deemed successful. It can never be presumed they served no purpose because their success had minimized our exposures. It would have been just as absurd, and dangerous, to eliminate or reduce the capability of SAC, as is currently happening with The Federal Air Marshal group.

In the administration’s attempt to give the appearance of being responsive to the immigration invasion, they are willing to put every airline passenger at some unknown level of potential risk. This is exactly what would have happened if they had shifted all SAC members to the battlefields of current wars…merely, because it was presumed they weren’t needed.


There’s an old joke where someone is asked why he keeps snapping his fingers and he responds, “To keep away the elephants.”  The other person says, “But there are no elephants in this area.”  The snapper says, “See how well it works.”  The protection of the lives of 300 airline passengers or preventing nuclear war are not the “elephants” within that joke. These are both real potentials that were kept at bay by the actions of tens of thousands of dedicated Americans.

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