Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

A General Airman: Millard Harmon and the South Pacific in World War II

Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

A General Airman: Millard Harmon and the South Pacific in World War II

Article excerpt

Last summer's forced resignations of U.S. Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and Chief of Staff T. Michael Moseley scratched old scabs produced by decades of contention between the Air Force and the Nation's wider military establishment. Disputes over the proper role of airpower predate the court-martial of Billy Mitchell in 1925. In the years since, these arguments have been marked by transcendent issues, such as the command and control of aircraft, and matters more idiosyncratic to time and place, such as the pattern and practice of Air Force procurement programs. Setting aside whatever may be the relative merits in this most recent flap, the stewards of the Nation's air arm and those of the Department of Defense have been at this debate for a long time, sometimes with depressing results.


One indication of the persistent ebb in these relations is the dearth of Air Force representation among U.S. geographic combatant commanders. Since the passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act in 1986, these officers have been the senior military men most responsible for fighting the Nation's wars. From that time, only three Air Force officers have held these vital positions, a scarcity that extends back to the birth of the Air Force in 1947. In fact, from that time to now, many dozens of Army, Navy, and Marine Corps officers have occupied these powerful positions while fewer than a handful of these commanders have come from the ranks of the Air Force. (1)

Parochial Service interests might explain some of this imbalance. One recent attempt to assign an Air Force officer to a geographic combatant command illustrates how Service prerogatives have torpedoed Airmen's chances for these influential posts. In 2004, President George W. Bush nominated General Gregory Martin, USAF, to lead U.S. Pacific Command, long a bastion of Navy admirals. General Martin was supremely qualified for the job, not only possessing the expertise of his Service but also blessed with the comprehensive mind required of a joint force leader. Once in the Senate, however, his nomination crashed against the shoals of Navy interests. Senators with close ties to the Navy seized upon Martin's passing association with the ill-fated scheme to lease aerial tankers from the Boeing Corporation, dooming his chance for selection. Shortly thereafter, yet another admiral assumed command in Hawaii, as they had since before World War II. Martin's stillborn chance was remarkable not for its outcome--for the Air Force is often left the odd man out when it comes to these jobs--but for how close he came to command. Most Airmen never get anywhere near a Presidential nomination for a geographic combatant command.

Becoming an Airman

If examples of Airmen as true geographic combatant commanders are few and far between, some flyers have served brilliantly in billets requiring expertise in more than air matters and in jobs where obligations ran well past narrowly construed Service interests of any color or hue. One such officer was Lieutenant General Millard F. "Miff" Harmon, the senior Army Air Forces officer serving in an Army--not an air forces--billet during World War II, whose service has hidden in the shadows for far too long. His younger brother Hubert, the first superintendent of the Air Force Academy and namesake of the school's Harmon Hall, has garnered most of the family's name recognition. But the older Harmon's service was every bit as illuminating.

Born into an Army family in 1888, Miff Harmon graduated from West Point in 1912, entered the Infantry, and served in the Philippines, which was the proving ground for so many of the Nation's bright young Army officers in the early 20th century. In 1916, he transferred to the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps and was a pilot in the Punitive Expedition into Mexico, making him among the first few American aviators to serve in combat. …

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