Document created: 22 February 05
Published: Air & Space Power Journal - Spring 2005

Creech Blue: Gen Bill Creech and the Reformation of the Tactical Air Forces, 1978–1984 by Lt Col James C. Slife. College of Aerospace Doctrine, Research and Education (CADRE) in collaboration with Air University Press (http://www.aupress., 131 West Shumacher Avenue, Maxwell AFB, Alabama 36112-6615, 2004, 162 pages (softcover). mil/Books/Creech/Creech.pdf.

Lt Col James Slife’s book about Gen Bill Creech is a combination of biography and the history of airpower, with much of the two woven together to present a coherent picture of what influenced General Creech’s priorities and the challenges of satisfying those priorities. The author describes in some detail the general’s contribution to the development of tactical airpower and to the transformation of the broader Air Force, doing so with laudable authority and accuracy. That aspect of the work by itself would be well worth the reader’s attention. Slife singles out and illustrates the key attributes of General Creech’s philosophy of management and leadership—explicit goals based on a certain grasp of what is important; clear standards; individual accountability; reward for success; and no reward for failure. He also captures the general’s dedication to the principle that leaders can expect professional performance at all levels only if they provide a proper environment and full commitment to teaching, teaching, and teaching. This portrayal, however, would have benefited from a more compelling presentation of the intense focus that General Creech brought to each task. By any standard, he was the most demanding boss that I worked for in 37 years in the Air Force, although he managed to be demanding and supportive in the right balance.

Colonel Slife’s tendency to paint the general as an apostle of decentralized management is justified but incomplete. He did indeed believe that accountability demands decentralized authority and responsibility, but he also believed in strongly centralized standards and the education of leaders. In some respects, decentralized authority had such a strong basis in common education that after the latter had time to take root, there was little risk of making a serious mistake in exercising such authority. By the second year of his tenure as commander of Tactical Air Command (TAC), we had schools for wing commanders, for deputy commanders for operations, for deputy commanders for maintenance, for combat support group commanders, and others—personally taught by General Creech and his principal deputies. Those who failed to benefit from the education did not last long in senior positions.

The book’s description of the major airpower issues that shaped the general’s thinking and the development of tactical airpower, although less authoritative, is still valuable and of interest to readers. It is not surprising that the author had somewhat more difficulty with sources for this treatment, which are often decades-old memories of a period of intensely conflicting perceptions and rapid change. Specifically, the airpower-history approach overplays the significance of the strategic-versus-tactical argument on the outcome for Air Force combat capabilities and performance. It also spends more time on the Defense Reform Movement (DRM) than is warranted by its influence on outcomes.

As to the strategic-tactical matter, senior airpower leaders of the 1980s had decided that it was not worth that much attention. Fighter aircraft had been attacking “strategic” targets, and bomber aircraft had focused conventional attacks on “tactical” targets for decades, so it was not an equipment issue. As to the doctrinal aspect, there was growing awareness that the focus in the battlespace needed to be on the joint campaign with priorities set by the joint commander—not on an air or ground campaign—tactical or strategic.

Regarding the DRM, I was TAC’s deputy chief of staff for operations, commander of Ninth Air Force, Air Force component commander for the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, deputy chief of staff for programs and resources, and vice-chief of staff during the period covered in this book. -Although the DRM succeeded in extending the workday of people who had better things to do, the Air Force was never in danger of being overrun by this movement. Col John Boyd, often cited as a leader of the DRM, was more than a little conflicted by some of the issues. As the principal architect of the requirements for the F-15, he helped describe the need for range, weapons payload, and sensors for this aircraft. He also drove the acceleration and maneuvering demands on the design, which met requirements that grew out of his pioneering energy-maneuverability analyses. Later, he expanded the fog-of-war argument into a thesis that only simple systems will work well on the battlefield. The Air Force made a forceful case that complexity in the battlespace comes from the need to integrate large numbers of low-capability entities rather than from the mechanical complexity of those entities—a clear lesson from the strategic campaign/interdiction effort in Vietnam. Air Force leadership, which stayed solidly on course in the face of the DRM, carried the day in virtually every case.

The conclusions in chapter seven place both the issues and General Creech’s contributions in perspective. Creech Blue is well worth the time and attention that readers must invest to absorb its rele-vance to today’s events and those of the future.

Gen Larry D. Welch, USAF, Retired
Alexandria, Virginia


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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