Some things don’t change

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Ted Woolley
  • 4th Medical Support Squadron commander
Several years ago I came across an interesting find at a used book store, "The Official Guide to the Army Air Forces (AAF)." It was published in 1944, at the height of World War II, just three years before President Truman would establish the Air Force as an independent service.

The book is an orientation of sorts for the newly initiated Airman, providing a history of airpower, how the AAF was organized, what to expect during training and an overview of the air campaign against Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan. The cover displays the old "Hap Arnold" Star and Wings emblem, as well as a forward written by Gen. H. H. Arnold himself, who was at the time Commanding General, Army Air Forces.

Chapters include such titles as "What We Fight With," "How We Keep 'Em Flying" and "Our Battlefield." Several wartime photos are featured, including one of a B-29 Superfortress with the caption "Newest Weapon of the Global Air War." Indeed, B-29s would be used the following year, 1945, to drop atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and bring the war to an end.

As I flipped through the AAF guide, I chanced upon many stark contrasts to today's Air Force, such as pay charts showing a captain's base pay at $200 per month verses $3,712 today; aeronautical ratings included glider pilot and balloon pilot; number of Airmen was 2.4 million versus 332,000 today; maximum airspeed of the latest fighter plane at 425 mph verses mach 2.5 for a F-15E Strike Eagle; and my favorite, physical requirements for pilots 20/20 vision, but "no minimum" for number of teeth. A lot has changed in 67 years.

Yet I also found throughout the book a recurring theme we find as true today as it was in 1944: the importance of teamwork.

For example, the chapter "How We Train," states "... the trainees increase their proficiency in individual skills, then learn to work as a team ..." It goes on to emphasize the necessity of teamwork among aircrew, teamwork between aircrew and ground crew, and teamwork between operations and support functions. It then makes an interesting distinction: "...we must be more than trained individuals organized into teams. We must be trained individuals and trained teams."

Another section, "Working With Others," highlights the vital contributions of the civilian sector to the war effort and asserts that the close cooperation between the AAF and civilian counterparts "illustrates the fact that this is a war of a whole people."

Throughout the book, unity of effort among the Air Force and our allies is stressed as a crucial ingredient to victory, with combat photos and battle statistics presented as evidence. A section titled "Planning A Total War" describes combined operations of air forces with ground and sea forces as "the ultimate flowering of teamwork."

Again and again, teamwork at every level is underscored as being fundamental to successful Air Force operations. The introduction to the chapter, "What We Are," sums it up well:
"We have a saying in the AAF that 10 men in a bomber will never replace a combat aircrew. Similarly, 2.3 million men and 100,000 airplanes will never replace an Air Force. The AAF is, first of all, a huge team. Teamwork is the cornerstone of all our activities ..."

It's good to know some things don't change.