Once a Fighter Pilot: The Story of Korean War Ace Lt. Gen. Charles G. "Chick" Cleveland.
Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.
--Leonardo da Vinci
Warren Trest has produced a fine, realistic, technically rich book. Writing with historical credibility, he is persuasive in presenting the public and private life of Lt Gen Charles G. "Chick" Cleveland, Korean War ace. The text is an admirable, eye-opening, intimate, and honest journal of an Airman who has lived a significant life of service to the Air Force and local community. Once a Fighter Pilot is of special value to anyone interested in the life and times of a fighter ace and in the character, integrity, and core values basic to effective leadership. If the history of the Air Force is but the biography of significant individuals, then it is most appropriate that Trest has written this book. Cleveland's numerous key leadership positions and decorations form an envious record of exceptional service to his country, worthy of special recognition: an honored West Point graduate, a three-star general in the US Air Force, and the 17th commander of Air University (AU), among other accomplishments. Full of sharp insights, Trest's narrative offers an authoritative, gripping account of a senior leader who serves as an example of what it takes to succeed with honor in both the military and in community service. The book's 12 chapters address that vital topic in a compelling and straightforward way.
Perhaps the two most important events in our lives occur on the day we are born and the day we determine why we were born. The son of an Army couple, Lieutenant Orestes and Katharine Cleveland, "Chick" was born in Honolulu on 13 November 1927, nicknamed for the men in his father's regiment who called themselves "Chicks." That unit, the 19th Infantry or the "Rock of Chickamauga," was known for its valor and bravery during a particularly hard-fought Civil War battle. Thus, even from birth, the future general had an abiding, soldierly connection. From an early age, the young Cleveland found himself excited by airplanes and put together an aircraft kit before he was five. During his plebe year at West Point, Cleveland sensed that he wanted to enter the air service following graduation: "The wild blue yonder--that's the life for me." Indeed, da Vinci's comment on the allure of flight embodies Cleveland's love for that calling. This commitment and devotion to flying have been and remain a central feature in his life.
Cleveland flew F-86s as a respected flight commander during the Korean War, receiving a Silver Star for gallantry in action. This pilot's pilot accumulated more than 4,300 flying hours, including over 3,700 in seven different aircraft. His lionhearted love of aircraft and his extraordinary combat flying skills reached a major milestone when the Air Force recognized him as the 40th jet fighter ace of the Korean War for his five confirmed kills of enemy aircraft in dogfights over "MiG Alley." The book emphasizes Cleveland's willingness to experiment with new or updated aircraft and to provide detailed reporting on his findings. This work contributed significantly to quickly learning the capabilities of these platforms and to the growth of their missions. His wartime adventures extended to Vietnam where he served as executive assistant to Gen William Westmoreland, commander of US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam.
Students of war, command, leadership, and administration will learn much from this book. Cleveland emerges as a flexible, pragmatic communicator and problem solver who sought ways to let people in his command know that he valued them and listened to their concerns. The author writes that as AU commander, Cleveland had three primary goals: (1) to emphasize war fighting as a major aspect of professional military education, (2) to make more effective use of the university's resources in contributing to the greater Air Force mission, and (3) to strengthen the already substantial relationship between Maxwell Air Force Base / Gunter Annex and the Montgomery, Alabama, community. Cleveland believed that he was reasonably successful in achieving all three of these stated goals. Trest points out that under the general's command, AU made notable progress in research, strategic thinking, formulation of Air Force doctrine, and development of the Air Force Wargaming Center. As commander, Cleveland also stressed leadership over management in the curriculum and strongly held to the belief that standards of conduct, combined with good housekeeping practices, are the basics for any influential military organization-- even one dedicated to education, such as AU. Believing it essential that the university's programs be made available to as many qualified individuals as possible, Cleveland gave the AU Associate Program his full attention. The reader also learns that the general worked forcefully to make AU the Air Force's collegiate center--not only for officers but also for noncommissioned officers and civilians. The book suggests that Cleveland remained firm in his resolve that the key to AU's success resided in a well-balanced mix of professional civilian educators and military personnel working together to change student behavior and educate through solid teaching, insightful learning, relevant knowledge, and innovation. Standing on his principles, Cleveland believed that the university should become an independent major command, maintaining that aligning AU under Training Command resulted in no great savings in staff or facilities and even created the negative perception of subservience to the training ethic. The general's premise reflected the thinking of many senior educators that professional military education and training missions were different, as were their aims, goals, and strategic outcomes. Cleveland has long maintained that both education and training are necessary for force development but that their dissimilarities call for the separate tailoring of theory, organization, and application.
Trest notes that Cleveland is one of Montgomery's most distinguished and accomplished citizens, explaining clearly and convincingly why this is so. Even before reporting to AU, the general let it be known that working with civic leaders would be a high priority, especially in terms of making AU resources available to help the community grow and develop. One such program--Maxwell-Gunter Help Educate for Local Progress (MAXHELP)--involved volunteer efforts in computer assistance. In Montgomery, Cleveland closely engaged with the mayor and chamber of commerce in taking civic and business leaders on tours of several major Air Force installations to give them better insight into the missions and operations of the service.
Regarding the more personal side of the book, Trest relates that Cleveland met his late wife, Fran, at West Point during his last year as a cadet. She and their four children were the love of the general's life. The Clevelands were a family and did what a family does--care for one another. Having known Fran Cleveland and having served in her husband's command, this reviewer is convinced that without Fran's support, understanding, patience, and love, General Cleveland probably would not have experienced the success he attained. The author rightly asserts that Fran stayed connected, informed, and engaged in her husband's life. She shared a deep sense of pride and responsibility in contributing to the morale and well-being of Air Force people--doing so even in the midst of demands that spouses and families must endure, such as permanent changes of station, temporary duties, long hours, and the dangers of combat. The photograph of Chick and Fran at West Point in 1948 is most striking, conveying better than words can express the oneness of this inseparable couple.
In sum, this is a splendid book of a splendid life--that of General Cleveland, a hero anyone can root for. Trest recounts that although an air ace and an officer of considerable achievement, Cleveland never confused himself with someone important. Neither hyperindividualistic nor self-conscious, he simply wanted to possess the uncompromising virtue of credibility. The author succeeds admirably in making General Cleveland's example accessible to us all.
People who wonder about the purpose of their lives need to know that happy endings in the military are indeed possible. From this life-affirming assessment, readers learn that General Cleveland lived a venerable life of caring shaped by tenacity, values, and principles of duty, honor, and country learned long ago on the plains of West Point and executed in his Air Force experience. Once a Fighter Pilot provides an excellent foundation for inspiring leadership. Its lessons learned are of special value and worthy of emulation for those of us who strive to become more effective leaders and make a difference in our own lives and the lives of others.
Richard Lester, PhD
Dean, Ira C. Eaker Center for Professional Development
Maxwell AFB, Alabama
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|Publication:||Air & Space Power Journal|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2013|
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