Former Air Force One crew members hold special event at museum Monday

Published: Friday, February 17, 2017 @ 1:04 PM
Updated: Saturday, February 18, 2017 @ 3:46 PM

One of the nation’s most historic treasures, the Boeing aircraft used as Air Force One for eight United States presidents, is on display at the Museum of the United States Air Force.

Crew members who flew aboard Air Force One presidential aircraft from the Nixon to Obama administrations will answer the public’s questions on Presidents Day at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

The former crew members will be at the museum from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday.

The museum houses the largest collection of U.S. presidential planes, from the first that flew President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the propeller-powered VC-54C nicknamed the Sacred Cow, to SAM 26000, a Boeing 707 known as President John F. Kennedy’s Air Force One.

The presidential collection was one of the centerpieces of a new $40.8 million hangar that opened in June 2016.

“This program allows people who are associate with these presidential aircraft to engage our visitors with personal stories and interesting facts about the history and heritage of this magnificent presidential collection,” Teresa Montgomery, chief of the museum’s special events division, said in a statement.

RELATED: Museum aims to add latest Air Force One to its presidential fleet

Other presidential aircraft include President Harry S. Truman’s plane nicknamed “The Independence,” a VC-118 that was a military version of the pioneering DC-6 commercial airliner; and President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s air transport dubbed “Columbine III,” a Lockheed L.-1049 Super Constellation.

SAM 26000 is among the most famous aircraft in the world serving eight presidents, from Kennedy to Bill Clinton.


Air Force museum spreads its wings with $40 million expansion

Groups clash over Wright-Patt invitation to ‘faith-based’ event

Published: Friday, August 11, 2017 @ 4:54 PM

            Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. TODD JACKSON | STAFF
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. TODD JACKSON | STAFF

An advocacy group led by a high-profile lawyer has offered to back Wright-Patterson Air Force Base after a complaint was filed by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation over a base-wide email inviting employees to a simulcast of a “faith-based” leadership summit this week.

The American Center for Law & Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based group led by Jay Alan Sekulow, a private attorney who has represented President Donald Trump in broadcast and media interviews recently, is the chief counsel of the group. Sekulow was one of two lawyers who signed an Aug. 7 letter to base commander Col. Bradley McDonald offering legal assistance to fight the complaint.

MRFF president and founder Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein had demanded an investigation into the base wide email sent last month and punishment for those who sent it, contending it ran afoul of Air Force regulations and should have been sent only to “base personnel on religious index email lists” that represent Protestant-affiliated “contemporary, gospel and community” worship groups.

He also pressed base leaders on whether personnel would attend the simulcast Aug. 10-11 during duty hours at taxpayer expense or on their own time.

“There’s over 1,000 (Department of Defense) installations all over the world and Wright-Patterson is one of the worst when it comes to violating the separation of church and state,” he said.

RELATED: Group wants Wright-Patt to investigate email it describes faith-based

The ACLJ said the email did not violate Air Force regulations, as the MRFF has contended, and the exercise of religion in the military was protected under the Constitution.

In the ACLJ letter to McDonald, Sekulow and fellow attorney Robert W. “Skip” Ash argued the MRFF’s and Weinstein’s allegations were “baseless” and Wright-Patterson was under “no obligation whatsoever” to conduct an investigation or respond to Weinstein or his group.

“The MRFF and its allies want to remove all semblance of religious expression from the public sphere in the military,” the ACLJ letter said in part. ”…. Mr. Weinstein is known for making bombastic, over-the-top views about persons of whatever religious stripe who disagree with his views and his personal ideas on what constitutes acceptable speech and conduct under the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

Representatives in both organizations have strongly criticized the other for its stand on religious freedom in the military.

An ACLJ spokesman referred a request for comment Friday to a blog posted by Ash. In the blog, Ash further disputes the MRFF’s contention the emailed invitation was a misstep by base officials.

“What is actually gone here is any semblance of reason and logic in this matter on the part of Weinstein and MRFF,” Ash wrote.

Weinstein, who called the ACLJ’s criticisms “laughable,” said most of the membership of the New Mexico-based MRFF is Christian, but includes those of other faiths or no faith. “Our foundation, our job is to be the demanders of the commander and you can’t do that quietly,” he said.

RELATED: Church/state violation alleged at Wright-Patt

The Global Leadership Summit was to be simulcast at a religious chapel education facility in an off-base Wright-Patterson housing area on Aug. 10-11, officials said. The Willow Creek Association, affiliated with the Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, was to host the summit set to be simulcast to more than 600 locations. The summit included both faith-based and other high-profile speakers outside the religious world, an event website showed.

The base-wide email invitation was signed “Your W-P Chapel Team.”

A Wright-Patterson spokeswoman said the July 17 emailed invitation was “consistent with the Chaplain Corps’ mission.”

“Wright Patterson places a high value on the rights of Air Force members to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all,” base spokeswoman Marie Vanover said in the statement. “The email advertising this event was consistent with the Chaplain Corps’ mission. For matters of leave, Air Force personnel follow Air Force guidance and instructions.”

Base officials would not comment further Friday.

RELATED: Bible removed from POW display at Wright-Patt medical center

The MRFF will continue to seek answers through a Freedom of Information Act request filed with Wright-Patterson, said Weinstein, a former Air Force lawyer.

“This is a typical response that we would see that they are not addressing any of the substantive violations,” he said. “… This is the response we expected. It’s a nothing burger.”

Weinstein, who said 42 mostly Christian military and civilian personnel at Wright-Patterson objected to the email invitation, vowed the MRFF would take the FOIA request to court if necessary.

“It’s rock and roll, but it’s hardly over,” he said. “They will have to respond to the FOIA.”


Russia spy plane flying out of Wright-Patt

Air Force buys two Boeing 747s to replace current Air Force Ones

Russia spy plane flying out of Wright-Patt

Published: Thursday, August 10, 2017 @ 10:59 AM
Updated: Thursday, August 10, 2017 @ 11:47 AM

5 spy planes you should see at the Air Force Museum

A Russian surveillance jet that landed at Wright-Patterson on Wednesday and reportedly created a buzz when the plane flew over Washington, D.C., will be at the Miami Valley base today as it flies missions over the United States, authorities say.

The flights are perfectly legal under the Open Skies treaty and coordinated with U.S. authorities who were aboard the Russian Tu-154, which resembles an airliner, on agreed-to routes over the East Coast on Wednesday, officials said.

Russian spy plane spotted at Wright Patt

The flights have taken place between Russia and the United States and 32 other nations since the treaty took effect in 2002 to ensure all sides live up to arms control agreements. The treaty lets each country fly over the entire region of other nations that signed the agreement.

RELATED: B-17 returns to local skies seven decades later

Frank Jenista, a former U.S. diplomat and a Cedarville University professor, said the reason the flight got “special attention” this time was because the Russian plane flew over the nation’s capital, a restricted airspace particularly since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The Associated Press reported the low-flying plane, which the U.S. Capitol Police alerted would fly over the Capitol, created a buzz on its route over Washington that included the Pentagon and other sites. The plane, which carries both cameras and sensors, is allowed to fly as low as 4,000 feet.

The Russian surveillance flight happened when congressional scrutiny of alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. election continues to be investigated and U.S. and NATO military aircraft have had a rising number of close calls in the skies with Russian aircraft at levels not seen since the Cold War.

RELATED: World War II warbirds will rumble over Dayton. You can fly in one.

The Open Skies treaty is meant to reinforce the old adage trust, but verify.

“The whole idea is no surprise,” Jenista said. “A lot of wars have been caused by misunderstanding or misinterpretation of other people’s intentions. In this case, Open Skies is designed to put the cards face up on the table.”

David Darrow, a University of Dayton associate professor in Russian studies who has traveled to Russia several times, said the treaty was designed to heighten trust “in a world where we can blow each other up at the touch of a button.”

“The more transparent we can be about what we’re doing, the less chance that somebody is going to go off half-cocked and do something that’s going to have a catastrophic effect,” he said.

POLITICO reported on Wednesday the Russian surveillance plane also flew near Bedminster, N.J., where President Donald Trump is on a working vacation. The website said the trip’s route “appeared to be an attempt to troll” Trump. The jet also flew over West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania, POLITICO said citing tracker data.

RELATED: Russian spy plane that flew near Wright-Patt trolled Trump

Daniel S. Gaffney, a Defense Threat Reduction Agency spokesman, said he could not confirm any locations the Russian jet flew over until the mission is over.

Richard Aboulafia, a senior aerospace analyst with the Virginia-based Teal Group, said surveillance planes process signals and shoot photos in different places and angles orbiting satellites aren’t able to reach.

“You can get great imagery from a satellite as long as the satellite is on the right path and you don’t mind looking straight down basically,” he said.

More than 1,200 Open Skies flights have been flown over the years, according to Gaffney. Through mid-May, the Russians had flown more than a dozen Open Skies missions over signatory nations. 

Equipment is certified to ensure it meets treaty obligations and the surveillance images must be made available to nations that signed the agreement, he said.

Wright-Patterson spokesman Daryl Mayer confirmed the Russian plane at the base.

RELATED: More jobs coming to Wright-Patterson, officials say

“We had the standard notification in advance that it was going to happen and it happened exactly the way it was supposed to,” he said.

Senior U.S. intelligence and military officials have expressed concern that Russia is taking advantage of technological advances to violate the spirit of the treaty.

Steve Rademaker, former assistant secretary of state for the bureau of arms control and the bureau of international security and nonproliferation, told Congress in past hearings Russia has imposed restrictions on surveillance over Moscow and Chechnya and near Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two breakaway regions of Georgia now under Russian control.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Defense experts divided on how to handle North Korea

Published: Thursday, August 10, 2017 @ 5:00 AM

            A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer assigned to the 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, deployed from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., refuels during a mission from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, flying in the vicinity of Kyushu, Japan, the East China Sea, and the Korean Peninsula, Aug. 7, 2017.
A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer assigned to the 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, deployed from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., refuels during a mission from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, flying in the vicinity of Kyushu, Japan, the East China Sea, and the Korean Peninsula, Aug. 7, 2017.

President Donald Trump has warned North Korea could face “fire and fury like the world has never seen” because of concerns the rogue nation may have the ability to launch nuclear-tipped missiles at the United States, but experts are divided on how best to deal with potential threat.

Some argue additional economic sanctions and collective diplomatic pressure are needed to pressure the rogue state to give up its nuclear weapons arsenal which reports place between 30 to 60 nuclear bombs.

But how far North Korea has advanced its ability to fit a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile is a point of disagreement among defense analysts, said Lisa Collins, a Korea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. D.C.

RELATED: How Wright-Patterson trains cyber warriors

NASIC eyes North Korea

While acknowledging North Korea’s missile capability as “a real threat” to the United States that “should not be taken lightly,” it has not demonstrated capability in two key areas, said Gary A. O’Connell, a former chief scientist at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

NASIC assesses the missile capabilities of North Korea, Russia, China and Iran and other countries and informs the nation’s highest-ranking leaders of its findings.

O’Connell noted North Korea has not shown it has a warhead that can survive the heat of re-entry through the Earth’s atmosphere nor demonstrated an ICBM has a guidance system that would hit a target area with accuracy.

RELATED: B-17 returns to local skies seven decades later

“They may feel they already have those problems solved, but until they can demonstrate it both to themselves and to the world they’ll always be a question as to whether or not it’s a viable weapon system for them,” he said.

The United States has invested in anti-missile technologies to counter the threat, he said.

In a wide ranging ballistic and cruise missile threat report released this summer, NASIC reported North Korea “has an ambitious ballistic missile development program” and has exported missile technology to Iran, Pakistan and others. The pace of North Korea ballistic missile test flights “increased dramatically in recent years,” NASIC determined.

Among other advancements, those developments included launching two satellites into space, the unveiling of a road-mobile ICBM, and a test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile with an unknown range that has not yet deployed, NASIC reported.

RELATED: World War II warbirds will rumble over Dayton. You can fly in one.

Loren B. Thompson, a senior defense analyst with the Lexington Institute and a former nuclear strategy professor at Georgetown University, said there is “no chance” North Korea could strike the mainland United States with a long-range nuclear warhead because it lacks the technological capability, but that could change in a few years.

“The Pentagon can defend against a relatively small North Korean attack but the only real insurance we have to protect ourselves is to destroy the North Korea capability,” he said. “It is true that millions might die in a new North Korean war, but if the North continues acquiring nuclear capability, tens of millions of Americans could die.

“(President) Obama had a policy toward North Korea called strategic patience and it has failed spectacularly,” Thompson said. “It seems a new strategy is needed. The point is we’ve reached an impasse in our diplomacy and military action may be unavoidable.”

‘A new situation’

A military option “is actually high risk with not that much gain,” said Richard C. Bush, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

North Korea might have nuclear capability, but that does not mean it would be used, he said. He urged containment as a better strategy.

“We will be in a new situation, but it’s the sort of situation that we’ve dealt with in the past,” Bush said. “One choice we don’t have is a military option because of the almost certain dire consequences for our ally South Korea and I think we will never have the intelligence needed to take out all of the program.”

RELATED: General fears weapon systems not protected enough from cyber attack

Along with economic sanctions and additional deterrence measures, he said a broader coalition is needed to stand against North Korea’s missile threat.

“Mostly, it’s sort of having China understand that North Korea with nuclear weapons is as much a threat to their security as it is to ours,” he said.

The United States and its allies still have diplomatic and economic tools to use, Collins said. Last week, the UN Security Council — including China and Russia — unanimously passed a resolution seeking to curb North Korea’s exports of iron, coal and seafood by a third.

“We know that sanctions are not a silver bullet,” she said. “I think they are only one tool that we can use in the tool box that we have to try and build leverage to encourage North Korea to come back to the negotiating table to ultimately come to a deal to get rid of their nuclear weapons program.”

Past sanctions haven’t been as effective as intended “and a big reason for this is China” not fully enforcing the measures, she said.

RELATED: Air Force museum sees big climb in visitors

Defense Secretary James Mattis issued a statement Wednesday warning North Korea “should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people” while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has pushed diplomatic attempts toward North Korea.

Some analysts said Trump’s fiery rhetoric was not helpful to handle the crisis. North Korea responded it could target U.S. military bases in Guam.

Bush, who said Trump’s comments did not appear to be part of a coordinated effort, called the president’s remark “scary” and raised concerns about how such a threat might be handled.

“This is one of the consequences of not having filled out the administration with people who know what they are doing,” Bush said. “You really rely on those people in a crisis.”

Tony Talbott, interim executive director of the University of Dayton Human Rights Center, said both sides were playing to domestic audiences.

But he also said Trump’s rhetoric played into the hands of the North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un to unite that country against the U.S. The real threat is a chance for an arms race and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction could increase the likelihood they may be used, Talbott said.

“You’re doing something you think is increasing your security but you end up undermining your own security and that seems to be what is happening here,” he said.

RELATED: Bible removed from POW display at Wright-Patt medical center

Collins said Trump’s remarks help North Korea “maintain power and control within the regime” and may sow doubt and hurt alliances with South Korea and Japan.

“I think when there are threats like this and if South Korea and Japan take those threats very literally then that can create a lot of fear and concern within the alliance about the U.S. taking unilateral actions that might result in some very great damage to both Seoul and Tokyo,” she said.

Group wants Wright-Patt to investigate email it describes faith-based

Published: Tuesday, August 08, 2017 @ 5:00 AM

            Aerial view of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Area B.
Aerial view of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Area B.

The leader of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has demanded Wright-Patterson’s installation commander investigate an emailed invitation the organization said was sent out base wide in violation of Air Force regulations to invite people to a faith-based event.

MRFF argued the invitation to a simulcast near the base of the Aug. 10-11 “Global Leadership Summit,” which the organization described as a “fundamentalist Christian program” at a church in the Chicago suburbs, showed “egregious religious favoritism.”

Mikey Weinstein, president and founder of the New Mexico-based MRFF, said in an interview more than 40 base-affiliated military personnel and civilian employees contacted him about the email, prompting him to send an Aug. 3 letter to base commander Col. Bradley McDonald, leader of the 88th Air Base Wing.

“The foundation wants the event suspended pending an investigation, an aggressive investigation, and those who have engaged in the violation should be visibly punished to serve as an example to stop what has been going on for years and years and years at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base which is fundamentalist, Christian supremacy, domination, exceptionalism and it has to stop,” Weinstein said in an interview.

RELATED: Church/State violation alleged at Wright-Patt

The former Air Force lawyer said the MRFF has “no issue” if the base wants “to advertise an event for any religious faith. It can be Satanism, it could be atheism, it could be anything, but they cannot send a base wide email and we made it very clear with our letter as to which Air Force regulations are being violated when they send it to everybody.”

The simulcast at Wright-Patterson was scheduled for an off-base housing area inside a chapel’s religious education facility, officials said.

‘Not sectarian’

Mathew D. Staver, an attorney and chairman and founder of the Florida-based Liberty Counsel, said Weinstein “overstates the case.”

“Just because it’s sponsored by a church doesn’t make it a sectarian event,” Staver said. “In fact, the speakers come from a wide variety of professional experience including the CEO of Facebook. This is an event that is focused on leadership and it is not sectarian so I don’t see that the (Military Religious Freedom Foundation) has any basis for the complaint.”

The Global Leadership Summit is sponsored by the Willow Creek Association, an affiliation of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. The summit was expected to simulcast to more than 600 locations nationwide, with more than a hundred groups in the Dayton area participating, said Susan Delay, an association spokeswoman.

Speakers scheduled at this week’s summit included Bill Hybels, founder and senior pastor at Willow Creek Community Church; Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook chief operating officer; Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative; Marcus Lemonis, star of CNBC’s The Profit and CEO of Camping World and Good Sam; Frederik Haren, a business creativity expert; and Michael Jr., a comedian, among others, according to the WCA.

Staver dismissed the claim the base-wide email violated Air Force regulations.

“I don’t think any military regulation was violated by this email because it’s not sectarian and it’s not focused on a particular religion,” Staver said. “It is a leadership event that would benefit a wide range of people within the military.”

Weinstein questioned if Wright-Patterson personnel would attend on their own time or while on duty. “It’s being conducted exactly co-terminus with duty hours at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, so who’s paying for this?” he asked.

Marie Vanover, a Wright-Patterson spokeswoman, acknowledged the 88th Air Base Wing, which McDonald leads, received the MRFF complaint. “We have received the email from the MRFF and are currently working it,” she said in an email.

She declined further comment.

RELATED: Bible removed from POW display at Wright-Patt medical center

Those who complained to the MRFF about the event did not want to file a complaint with the Air Force or the federal government because they feared retribution within the command, Weinstein said. MRFF has filed a Freedom of Information Act for more information.

The Wright-Patterson email invited personnel to attend the Global Leadership Summit as part of “a 2-day live simulcast, faith-based event,” according a copy provided by the MRFF.

The invitation noted the “faith-based event” would be “hosted by world class faculty drawn from corporate, academic, and religious settings.” It also noted some speakers “will incorporate Biblical leadership principles into every day decision making.”

A link in the email to registration of the event was not working Monday.

The invitation was signed: “Your W-P Chapel Team.”

In the letter to McDonald, Weinstein argued if the event was for religious education and/or worship than the email should have been “advertised” only to “base personnel on religious index email lists” that represent Protestant-affiliated “contemporary, gospel and community” worship groups.

Weinstein noted a pastor of the Willow Creek Community Church was listed as a main speaker at the event.

A July 27 Willow Creek Association press release described the summit as focused on leadership that emphasized: “grit,” “fearlessness,” “creative problem solving,” and “developing talent.”

“Willow Creek Association is committed to the singular idea that inspired, encouraged and equipped Christian leaders transform their communities. The leaders we serve are not just full time ministry staff, but leaders in all sectors of society committed to pursuing their grander visions,” the statement added.