Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!

Air Force Academy Superintendent Plays Not My Job

Lt. Gen. Michael C. Gould
U.S. Air Force

Lt. General Michael C. Gould graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in 1976. After graduation, he spent many years flying planes in dangerous places, and now he's back as the Academy's superintendent.

We'll ask Gould to play a game called "It's a bit like the Air Force Academy, except they've got top hats." Three questions Eton College, England's oldest and most famous public school.

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PETER SAGAL, Host:

And now the game where we like to make people say to themselves, hey, I outrank this. High above this city of Colorado Springs is the campus of the United States Air Force Academy, from which Lieutenant General Michael C. Gould graduated in 1976.

Last year, after spending many years flying lots of planes in a lot of dangerous places, he became the superintendent of the academy. General Gould, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: We have a lot of questions to ask. But first, you're a pilot, of course.

SAGAL: I am.

SAGAL: Have been for many years. So what's your call sign? Maverick, Hot Lips, what?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: You're close.

SAGAL: What?

SAGAL: No, actually it's Coach.

SAGAL: Coach?

SAGAL: Yeah.

SAGAL: You don't get to pick your own call sign if you're a pilot.

SAGAL: No, the way...

SAGAL: It's chosen for you.

SAGAL: It's usually chosen in a real embarrassing way, as a matter of fact.

SAGAL: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Yours doesn't seem embarrassing, though. That seems actually kind of flattering.

SAGAL: Well, as it should be...

SAGAL: There you are.

SAGAL: ...for a lieutenant general.

SAGAL: Now talk to us a little about the Air Force Academy. The Air Force Academy, the newest of the three great service academies: West Point for the Army, Annapolis for the Navy.

SAGAL: Right.

SAGAL: So they set up the Air Force Academy in the '50s. Those other institutions are very old. This was new. Did you have to invent traditions so you could have that same kind of air of history about you?

SAGAL: Well, what we take pride in is, we continue to make up new traditions as we go along.

SAGAL: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: But we do...

SAGAL: I do that all the time.

SAGAL: Well, you got to.

SAGAL: So sometimes traditions come from history. Sometimes traditions are just when a bunch of faculty members get drunk off campus and say, wouldn't it be fun if we made them do that?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Oh yeah, here at the Air Force Academy, you got to get naked and jump through the hoop. Let's go. Come on, everybody does it.

SAGAL: I didn't know those stories were getting out.

SAGAL: There you go.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

M: Is one of the traditions singing "You Lost That Loving Feeling" a cappella?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: That was the Navy.

M: And will you do that for us, lieutenant general?

SAGAL: I would love to. Actually, Elvis is my favorite, if we could do a little Elvis.

SAGAL: Really?

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Am I correct? This would qualify as a morale-building exercise.

M: Does that uniform give you enough pelvis room?

SAGAL: If I wasn't wired, it - and you better describe how I'm wired up, since you - yeah.

SAGAL: Yeah, you're sort - you're wired up to our little radio outfit.

SAGAL: Right. But I can do it sitting down if it's...

SAGAL: Yeah, go.

SAGAL: Are you all right?

SAGAL: Go, go, go, yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

SAGAL: (Singing) You got the hup, two, three, four occupation G.I. Blues.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

SAGAL: Ladies and gentlemen...

SAGAL: Oh, yeah.

SAGAL: And I love this. I love this because I know how competitive you guys are, and now we're going to get calls from the West Point guy wanting to come on to do Sinatra - which I'm all for.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So you - I mean, I'm assuming that most of the cadets train as pilots; it is the Air Force.

SAGAL: It is. Air, space and cyber are what we're all about in the Air Force. And about half of our graduating class will go on to pilot training. The other half goes into a variety of different career fields to serve across the board.

M: Well, what do you mean cyber?

SAGAL: Cyber as in, I can't talk about it here, you understand?

SAGAL: Yeah, I understand.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I'm fascinated with the idea of this institution up the hill that teaches all these kids to fly these jets because I'm trying to teach one of my daughters to ride a bicycle without training wheels, and it always ends in tears. How do you teach these young people to fly vehicles that might actually kill them?

SAGAL: You know, it's one of the funnest things ever. I'm an instructor pilot.

SAGAL: Is it?

SAGAL: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I should probably have you come and teach my daughter to ride her bike.

SAGAL: No, it's all about confidence and building the confidence that young men and women can do something very difficult, like riding a tricycle.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Isn't it hard sometimes at the academy - because I know that all the services have high standards and sometimes, people just don't make it. Isn't that - that must be a tough part of your job, to sort of let the kids know that they're not reaching Air Force standards?

SAGAL: It's true. It's one of the toughest things I have to do, is to tell a young man or women their career is over. But...

M: George Clooney will do that for you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: (Unintelligible).

SAGAL: Yeah.

SAGAL: Do you say things like, it's okay, you could probably still be a Marine? Do you say things like that?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I'm just going by what I've heard. Well, is there - I mean, we keep hearing about the rivalry between the branches. Is it tru,e or is it overblown? Does the Air Force hate the Marines who hates the Army who hates the Navy who hates the Air Force?

SAGAL: No, no, we love each other, and we all share the same mission. But we sure have a lot of fun in the athletic fields, in the competition.

SAGAL: Oh, yeah.

SAGAL: You bet.

SAGAL: You do that. But you, yourself, was an athlete at the academy, right? You're a football player.

SAGAL: I did. I played some football out here.

SAGAL: Yeah.

SAGAL: Coached a little bit.

SAGAL: Right. Do you still do that?

SAGAL: Well, I call the plays during the ballgames, if that's what you mean.

SAGAL: Really?

SAGAL: Yeah.

SAGAL: Can you do that as the superintendent?

SAGAL: I can do whatever I want.

SAGAL: Are you like...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: That's great. That's like President Nixon with the Redskins. You can call down a play. Look, dammit, I want to see a pass. And they have to do it because it's a military rank, right, they have to do what you say.

M: I think Peter's thinking of joining.

SAGAL: Really. I'm thinking of getting that power and abusing it, is what I'm thinking.

SAGAL: Well, only a select few come in. So...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Like you said, Peter, our standards are very, very high.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Fair enough.

M: Lieutenant general?

SAGAL: Yes, ma'am.

M: You're so self-possessed. And here's my question: When was the time in your life you were the most afraid?

SAGAL: Right now.

SAGAL: There you are.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: I don't believe it.

SAGAL: Would it make you more comfortable if we arranged for some antiaircraft fire? Would you feel more at home? We can do that. So I just want to ask, this is a favor, it's a personal favor.

SAGAL: Okay.

SAGAL: You are the superintendent of the Air Force Academy. You're a lieutenant general in the Air Force. You have authority. Carl really wants a call sign.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Carl, as you know, was a newscaster for 30 years, been doing this show for 12. He's an experienced magician. I'm just giving you some hints here. A gentleman, a scholar, do you think you can dig one up for him? Because if you give it to him, it's his, nobody can again say it.

SAGAL: Here's what we have to do, Carl. Come out to the bar at the Falcon Club. This is where call signs are born.

SAGAL: Sure.

SAGAL: And you have to do much more than you've done to earn a call sign.

SAGAL: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Well, General Gould, we have asked you here to play a game we're calling...

KASELL: "It's a Bit Like the Air Force Academy, Except They've Got Top Hats."

SAGAL: Now, the Air Force Academy goes back 50 years, that's a length of time. But compared to Eton College in Britain, the Air Force Academy is a young pup. We're going to ask you three questions about this most famous and oldest of the British public schools. Answer two questions correctly, you'll win a prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their home answering machine.

Carl, who is the general playing for?

KASELL: General Gould is playing for Dan Condon of Boulder, Colorado.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: All right, now I know actually...

SAGAL: Wouldn't you know it.

SAGAL: All right, here is your first question.

SAGAL: Okay.

SAGAL: Eton College was founded in 1440. It's near Windsor, by the way. It was founded by King Henry VI and as such, it's had centuries of tradition. For example, in the 16th century, Fridays were special days reserved for what purpose? A, rat hunting; B, flogging; or C, whiskey drinking. Every Friday they'd all go off and do what at Eton?

SAGAL: Was it a precursor to getting their call signs?

SAGAL: Yes, exactly. Oh yes, it's actually true.

SAGAL: It's C.

SAGAL: It was whiskey drinking. No, it was actually flogging. Flogging Fridays were days for flogging at Eton. Corporal punishment was always a big part of Etonian life. They only ended the tradition in 1983.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: All right, you still have two chances here. Next question, Eton's playing fields are famous, not least because of the Eton field game. It's played only there. It's sort of like Quidditch for real people.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Which of the following might happen in an Eton field game match? A, the parthan kicks a twizzle off sides, and thus has to camber; B, the bup scores a rouge after hitting off an opposing behind; or C, 14 planets are tallied, but only the key wins the grander.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Hey, Paul, how about a hint?

M: I tell you, when that happens, it's a corker.

SAGAL: So one of those things. I mean, if somebody were doing play by play at an Eton field game, they might say one of those things. Was it the parthan kicks a twizzle off sides and thus has to camber; the bup scores a rouge after hitting off an opposing behind; or 14 planets are tallied but only the key wins the grander?

SAGAL: I'm going to have to say B.

SAGAL: You're going to go for B, the bup scores a rouge? You're right, sir.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

M: Wow.

M: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: The way it works is, a bup is like a forward in soccer. A rouge is a point you get after hitting the ball off an opposing defender's body. He's called a behind. And then being the first person to touch it after it goes behind the goal line. Clear?

SAGAL: Clear.

SAGAL: Everybody ready to play?

M: And that's when the flogging begins.

SAGAL: Exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: All right, this is exciting. One question to go. If you get this right, you win. There are student societies at Eton, some of them going back centuries and chief among those is the Eton Society, known as Pop. Once upon a time, only Pop members, or Poppers, had what special privilege? A, they could relieve themselves on a particular tree on campus; B, they were given special canes with which they could beat other students whenever they liked; or C, they were the only ones allowed to chew gum, and no one else could.

SAGAL: I think to be consistent with the floggers, we'll go with B. Yeah.

SAGAL: Yes, very good. You are correct. Flogging, as we said.

M: Wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Thank you.

SAGAL: It was an important part of life at Eton, and Poppers could flog whoever they liked. Carl, how did the general do on our quiz?

KASELL: Two correct answers, Peter, so General Gould wins for Dan Condon.

SAGAL: Well done.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

M: Does the general know what he wins?

M: He wins...

M: A flogging.

SAGAL: I love it.

SAGAL: There you go. Hey, just out of curiosity, I know you don't flog, but how do you instill discipline? Is there punishments at the Air Force Academy?

SAGAL: There are. We have a lot of different punishments. Probably one of the most - or least favorite is marching tours.

SAGAL: Marching tours?

SAGAL: Yes.

SAGAL: What is that?

SAGAL: A tour is one hour of marching back and forth with a rifle, looking straight ahead in your dress uniform. It's fun, it really is. You ought to try it.

SAGAL: Really?

SAGAL: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: And when you were a cadet, did you have to do that? Did you ever get yourself in that Dutch?

SAGAL: Me?

SAGAL: You.

SAGAL: Come on, now. No, actually we do have an honor code there. And I have a classmate, Doug James, out in the audience, so I'll be honest with you. I have marched a tour.

SAGAL: You have marched a tour.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Lieutenant...

M: Does being on this show compromise your authority in any way, shape or form?

SAGAL: It compromises my integrity a bit.

SAGAL: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: We appreciate you making that sacrifice, sir.

SAGAL: All right.

SAGAL: Lieutenant General Michael C. Gould is the superintendent at the Air Force Academy...

SAGAL: All right.

SAGAL: ...in Colorado Springs, Colorado. General Gould, thank you so much for your service. Thank you for your presence here today.

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