We Are A Nation At War

March 30, 2020

By Lt. Gen. Bruce “Orville” Wright, USAF (Ret.)

We are a nation at war, and our U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force remain in the fight every day, at every hour, to fight through the attack. The enemy is stealthy, fast, mobile, ubiquitous, and smart. All viruses are. They learn just like most enemies do and adapt through mutation. This enemy doesn’t rest, respect borders, nor discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. There’s no “front” and “rear.” Everyone is a potential target—or collateral damage. In spite of the threat and dangers, and in direct confrontation, our Airmen and Space professionals are not deterred or discouraged.

At Spangdahlem Air Base, our 52nd Wing, and at Lakenheath Air Base, our 48th Wing Airmen continue to fly F16 and F15E sorties.

Our C17 operations continue around the world.

Last week, our U.S. Space Forces launched their first space mission as a new Service, and continue to operate our GPS constellation – absolutely integral to worldwide relief operations, and our global economy.

Our Airmen remain directly responsible for nuclear deterrence and serve every minute and hour of the day with courage and selfless commitment across Global Strike Command as they continue to be prepared and ready.

Airmen and Space Force professionals are not retreating from a tough fight!

The last time we faced a similar enemy and thousands of Americans died on American soil was on September 11, 2001. In its immediate wake, our nation stood together in mourning the devastation. We joined in supporting the first responders in New York, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pa., and in applauding the armed defenders who took to the skies to defend the Homeland and deployed overseas to destroy the enemy’s ability to attack our homeland again.

We had symbols to unite us then. The smoldering towers, President Bush climbing atop the rubble to promise that “soon, the entire world will hear us;” a giant AMERICAN flag unfurled over the damaged Pentagon. We rallied, inspired by the heroes of United Airlines Flight 93. “Let’s roll” became our mantra. We had the memorial service at the National Cathedral, with the Battle Hymn of the Republic reverberating from the sanctuary directly into our hearts.

Unprecedented legislation like the PATRIOT Act was enacted in record time and new agencies like the Department of Homeland Security were birthed seemingly overnight. Then the military went to war—a war our Air Force has been fighting since 1991 and the Joint Force is still fighting today. For much of our nation, life went on as usual. Continuing life as normal was the imperative. To do otherwise would allow the terrorists to win.  

This pandemic is different. Business, as usual, isn’t an option and our military cannot slay this enemy. As of this writing, 1,000 servicemembers, DOD civilians, and contractors have been tested and 250—25 percent—have tested positive. Though this is a young, fit, and healthy population, there has already been a fatality.

This war is being waged by EMTs, doctors and nurses, scientists and lab techs. Like New York’s firefighters and servicemen in the fall of 2001, these warriors are exhausted, outnumbered, and under-equipped. Some may be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task ahead. In contrast to 2001, they worry about bringing the contagion home to their families.

Investor and mathematician Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s best-selling 2007 book, The Black Swan, seemed eerily prescient of the terrible economic downturn that struck the following year. More than that, it gave a conceptual framework for thinking about potential risks that, while unlikely, could prove highly destructive.

Both 9/11 and COVID-19 are Black Swan events. That is, they are outlier events beyond our normal experience and expectations, and delivering an outsized impact. The black swan concept gained currency during the Great Recession and its aftermath, provided a compelling way to think about the simultaneous crises in banking and housing.

In a way, of course, both 9/11 and the current pandemic were predictable. The former was preceded by two separate declarations of war on the “Zionists and Crusaders” by al Qaida, and by several major terrorist attacks. Prior epidemics—the Hong King flu, the Swine flu, MERS, SARS, Ebola, Zika—all sounded alarms. As far back as 2007, Hong Kong University biologists warned in a medical journal in 2007 that welling bats in open markets, as is common in China, was nothing more than a super health “time bomb” that could spread disease worldwide.

Pandemics happen. The Spanish flu that struck Europe and the Americas at the dawn of the 20th century and the Black Death—the bubonic plague—that laid waste to Europe and Asia in the 14th century are real-life examples. Our modern, global world, with intercontinental air travel and food, medicine, and other goods shipped half-way around the world, accelerates the speed of transmission. 

Readiness to deter and defeat national security threats can never be taken for granted, and our nation was not as prepared for this challenge we could have been. And in its aftermath, we must ensure that we are better prepared the next time. Yet be assured: our nation and our way of life will survive this crisis, as it has survived other crises before and will survive others that follow. We are stronger than the threats we face.

Be wise. Rely on trustworthy news and information sources. Your Air Force Association remains committed to clear and frank communications and we are posting well-sourced, factual information daily on our website. Air Force Magazine is also there for you: A trustworthy news source covering developments that impact our Air Force and Defense Department and, most of all, Airmen and their Families. Stay tuned to AirForceMag.com.

Information is also available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Presidential Task Force website Coronavirus.gov. Never hesitate to call your doctor or medical professional for advice.

Looking ahead as a nation, we must rethink our supply lines and our economic practices. The United States did not pay enough attention to the effect of growing reliance on China for not just cheap manufactured goods but for staples, from electronic components to pharmaceuticals. With a global supply chain reliant on just-in-time logistics, disruptions in one part of the world can cut short supply everyplace else. 

COVID-19 should create bipartisan pressure to adopt policies ensuring key U.S. industries—medical supplies, pharmaceuticals, and more—must be regionally diversified and include significant manufacturing capacity right here in America.

Although we cannot see it now, spin-off effects from the panic and frenzy we have recently experienced will help fuel the coming economic recovery. Low oil prices will ensure cheap gas for summer drivers. Low-interest rates will spur home and car sales. Bipartisan support for legislation to support those worst hit by the crisis will benefit the nation.

We are blessed with U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space force Airmen and Space professionals, plus their civilian counterparts, to provide the national security and technological infrastructure and ingenuity to weather this crisis like never before; with a willing and muscular labor force that can keep food, fuel, and goods moving even as most of us stay home and avoid contact with others. No other nation on Earth is so capable as ours. Our nation will emerge from this more independent, more self-assured, and stronger than our rivals. They will not be able to say the same.

America is a resilient nation. We shall unite, persevere, and overcome. Let me conclude by quoting our Airman’s Creed: “I’m an American Airman: wingman, leader, warrior. I will never leave an Airman behind. I will never falter and I will not fail!”

May God bless you and our great nation.