In 1980 I was assigned to a aircraft supply depot at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. We provided parts to repair C-141 and C-5 cargo aircraft. Our maintenance guys literally spent all their duty hours cannibalize parts from one downed aircraft to repair another, simply because we didn't have spare parts to keep the fleet flying. President Carter had cut so much from the Defense Budget that it left all of the services crippled. In the case of the Air Force, half of our entire fighter, bomber and cargo fleet were down for lack of parts.
So, it was no surprise to any of us in the military when those helicopters crashed in the deserts outside Tehran in a failed attempt to rescue American hostages. Something that Carter, and every Democratic President since, failed to learn is that, if you shortchange your military, don't expect military success when it is critically needed.
Flash forward to November 4th, 1980. I went to work that day, after going out early and voting for President Reagan for President. That day was like any other. The maintenance crew would come in and request an aircraft part, we'd check the warehouse shelves, find nothing to offer them, then certify "zero balances" which gave them permission to cannibalize another aircraft in a desperate attempt to get another aircraft in the air.
I returned home that night, tired and frustrated, in despair because neither I nor my fellow service members had done little that day to support our larger Air Force mission. So, I came home, donned my running shorts, slipped into my Nike Waffle Trainers, and went out for a long jog around the base.
As I set out on my run, I plugged the earphones of my little radio in my ears, and began slogging through a light rain. As I ran the music on the radio was interrupted my a news flash....Ronald Reagan was already being projected as the winner of the Presidential election of 1980.
I was so elated by the news. Reagan had promised to restore the military to its previous greatness, his entire campaign was one that promised a "new morning in America". We in the military were desperate to hear those words. On Carter's watch we had seen America in decline. Carter had given away the Panama Canal, built by Americans, by American taxpayers. We had watched in frustration as the Iran Mullahs took and held hostage our entire diplomatic corp. We had been lectured to by Carter, our citizens charged by him as lazy and uninspired. Happily, on this day, Reagan would change all that. He beat Jimmy Carter like a drum...winning 44 of the 50 states and taking all but 44 of the electoral vote. (Four years later he would take 49 of the 50 states).
Reagan, on the other hand, offered the idea that the American people were as great as ever...but their government had failed them.
So, as I ran through the base that evening, running along the shore line of Pearl Harbor, the rain stopped and a rainbow appeared just over Ford Island. I took that rainbow as a sign that things in America just might get better.
And it did. Less than one hour after Reagan's inauguration Iran released our hostages...because Ronald Reagan had promised to bomb Iran into the stone age had they not. One of the first things Reagan did was to give the military a desperately needed pay raise, and he restored the military funding for spare parts that brought our aircraft operability ratings back to full strength. And it was Ronald Reagan who built up our military so strong that, when the Soviets tried to keep up, it bankrupted them and led to the destruction of the Soviet Union, brought down the Berlin Wall and freed millions from Communist oppression.
When Reagan came into office the inflation rate was 15%. Americans were unemployed in vast numbers, and if you wanted to buy a home the interest rate on home loans was 20%. President Reagan was able to wring inflation out of the system, relaxed business regulation that spawned Home Depot and Walmart, Apple Computer and a thousand other business success stories, and launched the greatest economic expansion in American history.
Flash forward once more...to 1994. I was in Saudi Arabia when I heard the news...from Reagan himself...that he was in the early stages of Alzheimer's. I read his poignant letter to the American people, expressing his great love for this country, and his fondest wishes that our greatness continue.
I sat down and wrote a letter to President Reagan. In that letter I expressed my thanks for what he had done for the country, and most especially my appreciation for restoring our military...insuring the sacrifices we made in the service of our country really mean something.
i don't know if President Reagan ever got to read my letter. But each year, on my birthday, I get a birthday card from the Reagan Presidential Library. It's always such a happy reminder that we once had a Commander in Chief who loved and respected the military, one who deeply loved the country of his birth.
Nancy, yesterday morning you rejoined "The Gipper". Please tell him we miss him....we miss him a lot.