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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
A man with a long and dramatic history with the Air Force is taking over there. This month, General Norton Schwartz became the new commanding officer. His path in the Air Force began in the secretive world of special operations. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman has this profile.
Unidentified Man #1: Five a.m., the airlift from the American embassy downtown begins.
TOM BOWMAN: April, 1975, the American evacuation of Saigon begins. Taking part in that evacuation is a lanky Air Force second lieutenant, Norton Schwartz. He's a son of a New Jersey typewriter salesman who only got into the Air Force Academy because a leading candidate flunked his physical. Schwartz is a green co-pilot with a seasoned crew. They could hear the rumble of explosions off in the distance.
General NORTON SCHWARTZ (U.S. Air Force): You know, it was an exciting for a young fellow and a good way to get started.
BOWMAN: But it was another evacuation, a botched one five years later, that had a deeper impact.
President JIMMY CARTER (United States): Late yesterday, I canceled a carefully planned operation.
BOWMAN: President Jimmy Carter tells the nation about the failed attempt to rescue the American hostages in Iran.
Gen. SCHWARTZ: A searing experience, notwithstanding the fact, of course, that we lost five brave souls on that mission and had three others who were seriously injured.
BOWMAN: Not long after, Schwartz himself was training for a possible second rescue attempt, but it was never ordered. The hostages were finally released.
Gen. SCHWARTZ: I mean, this was all about bringing Americans home. And it's one of those things that I'm still cooking on gas, you know, now, 30 years later.
BOWMAN: Schwartz chooses his words carefully, the precise cadence of a pilot. He's tall, with sharp, angular features, could easily pass for Mr. Spock in his later years. He sits in a massive Pentagon office, unopened boxes piled around, the walls mostly bare. Schwartz will find a place on the wall for a framed copy of a Time magazine essay. It's a moving piece about that failed Iran hostage rescue and the mettle of the men who took part, titled "The Essence of Courage."
Gen. SCHWARTZ: I recommend you Google it, because it'll tell you a lot about what I believe in.
BOWMAN: What he believes in is the ethos of this special operator, the term the military uses for the elite commandos on the ground and in the air.
Major General JIM HAWKINS (U.S. Air Force, Retired): It tells what his inner being is like. The special operators really rely on one another and entrust their lives to one another.
BOWMAN: Retired Major General Jim Hawkins is a longtime friend who also says Schwartz, with his wide experience, is the right leader now for the Air Force.
Maj. Gen. HAWKINS: We have a guy who is not stove-piped in any one area of our Air Force, but truly has been exposed to all of it.
BOWMAN: Former bosses recall a quiet and driven officer. Jim Hobson remembers Schwartz arriving in Florida as a young captain to fly the Talon, a plane that brings commandos into the fight. Schwartz wanted to teach courses to lieutenants. Hobson thought he was foolish. The Talon training was among the most demanding. There was little time for diversions.
Major General JIM HOBSON (U.S. Air Force, Retired): So I said, Schwartz, your number one job is to finish first in the class. And if you've got time, you know, in the evenings or whatever to teach pneumatics, hydraulics and electrics to lieutenants, then be my guest. Well, he taught pneumatics, hydraulics and electrics to all the lieutenants and the captains that needed it, plus he finished first in his class.
BOWMAN: Rising up the ranks, Schwartz was always searching for how the Air Force could help in the fight. It's the Air Force itself that needs help now. Among the problems: an Air Force B-52 crew last year mistakenly flew nuclear missiles across country. But former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Air Force General Richard Myers, says the greatest challenge for Schwartz is financial.
General RICHARD MYERS (U.S. Air Force, Retired): What he faces is a lot of old hardware, all types of airplanes, and trying to get the budget to put the capital fleet, if you will, back on its feet.
BOWMAN: Schwartz acknowledges the Air Force will have to suppress its appetite for some of that hardware.
Gen. SCHWARTZ: But at the same time, I don't intend to be timid about explaining why it is that America needs to invest in its Air Force.
BOWMAN: That explaining will begin this winter, when a new Pentagon budget arrives on Capitol Hill.
Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.
SIEGEL: You can hear more from General Schwartz about his plans for the Air Force at npr.org.
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