Retired Gen. David Jones, who passed away Aug. 10 at age 92 [“Jones a ‘visionary’ leader,” Aug. 26 issue], was a transformational military leader of the post-Vietnam period. Without his efforts, our military today would be less efficient and effective.
Gen. Jones left college to join the Army Air Corps shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, served in Korea and Vietnam, and was a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1974 to 1982 — a longer term than anyone before or since, with four years as Air Force chief of staff and four years as JCS chairman.
As Air Force chief of staff, Jones worked with Defense Secretary James Schlesinger to develop the high-low mix for Air Force fighter planes. By agreeing with civilian leaders that the Air Force could not afford to procure only high-end F-15s for its tactical air squadrons, but could carry out its mission with the less expensive but somewhat less capable F-16s, Jones ensured the Air Force would have enough aircraft to maintain 26 fighter squadrons.
While the high-low mix has become standard, in the mid-1970s it went against the Air Force culture, which wanted only the most advanced planes. Jones also freed funds for much needed modernization by launching initiatives that cut thousands of military and civilian personnel from the Air Force payroll, primarily by reorganizing the command structure and cutting headquarters staff, something the Defense Department is again trying to accomplish today.
As JCS chairman, Jones laid the groundwork for what became the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act. Opposed by his fellow chiefs and many political appointees, Jones pointed out that the military command system was dysfunctional and that the individual services had too much power and often worked at cross purposes.
A good example of 1980s’ inefficiency: Each of the services had its own transportation command. Even before the enactment of Goldwater-Nichols, Jones proposed creating a unified Transportation Command. Even though the proposal was embraced in 1982 by the JCS chairman, the Air Force chief, and the Army chief, the Navy’s civilian and military leaders undermined it by going off line to their supporters in Congress.
While others carried Goldwater-Nichols across the goal line, Jones was first to bring the problem to the attention of political leaders and, because he was a career military officer, provided the credibility and political cover for congressional leaders to take up the cause. Moreover, when he left office in 1982, he worked assiduously with other military retirees over the next four years to get them to embrace the legislation. And Transportation Command did finally come into existence in the late 1980s.
Gen. Jones was not perfect. He was the chief planner for the failed mission in 1980 to rescue the 53 American hostages in Iran. But he accepted responsibility even though a sandstorm had more to do with the failure than the planning. Moreover, he pointed out in his analysis of the mission that he and his fellow chiefs knew the mission was risky but felt the country must take risks to protect its interests, a philosophy he followed through his decades of service.
Korb is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He was assistant defense secretary under President Reagan.