Former Top Air Force Official Slams Trump over Reported 'Losers and Suckers' Remarks

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Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James.
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III speak about an investigation involving missile launch officers during a press briefing Jan. 15, 2014, in the Pentagon, Washington D.C. (U.S. Air Force/Scott M. Ash)

The Air Force's former top civilian is responding to reports from last month that President Donald Trump made disparaging remarks about members of the U.S. military.

In an op-ed titled, "As Secretary of the Air Force, I met many airmen -- no losers or suckers," published Thursday in the Colorado Springs Gazette, Deborah Lee James, who served as the service secretary between 2013 and 2017 in the Obama administration, gave personal examples of airmen she said she was privileged to meet, know or appreciate for their service and sacrifice.

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Among the 660,000 airmen she oversaw, she met "patriots, warriors, mothers and fathers -- courageous and selfless individuals willing to make tremendous personal sacrifice for a greater cause," James wrote.

"That's why I am so incensed by President Donald Trump's purported comments about our military," she added. "He has called general officers dopes and babies, has mocked prisoners of war, and he has questioned the integrity of career military officials. According to the Atlantic Magazine and confirmed by Fox News, he even called members of our military losers and suckers. During my tenure as secretary of the Air Force, I met many airmen. Never once did I meet a loser or sucker."

James cited examples, including Maj. Dana Lyon, whose husband, David, was killed in a roadside bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, as well as Master Sgt. Brian Williams, who lost his left leg while clearing a Taliban compound. Instead of medically retiring, he decided to extend his service as an amputee.

"Dana Lyon is not a loser. Brian Williams is not a sucker," she said.

James noted others, such as Charles McGee of the famed Tuskegee Airmen and John Chapman, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2018, making him the first U.S. airman to receive the military's highest award since the Vietnam War.

McGee "has inspired a generation of service members by showing that we are stronger and more innovative when our force includes Americans of all races, ethnicities, genders, geographies, and backgrounds," she wrote. "Charles McGee is not a loser."

Chapman, a combat controller assigned to the 24th Special Tactics Squadron, originally received the Air Force Cross for his actions on March 4, 2002, in Afghanistan. After being shot several times and presumed dead, he regained consciousness and engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat, fighting alone on a mountaintop for about 70 harrowing minutes.

"I had the privilege of leading the fight against bureaucratic politics to upgrade John's commendation to the Medal of Honor," James wrote. "John Chapman was not a sucker."

The president has acknowledged both McGee and Chapman in separate ceremonies.

In February, Trump decorated the 100-year-old McGee, a retired colonel and one of the last of the legendary African-American pilots who escorted and protected bombers in hostile territory during World War II, with an honorary promotion to brigadier general. The Fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act gave Trump the authority to promote McGee, as well as Richard "Dick" Cole of the Doolittle Raiders.

"Charles McGee was born in Cleveland, Ohio, one century ago," Trump said during the 2020 State of the Union, where McGee was a guest. "After more than 130 combat missions in World War II, he came back to a country still struggling for Civil Rights and went on to serve America in Korea and Vietnam."

Trump noted that he had signed the NDAA several weeks earlier. "Earlier today, I pinned the stars on his shoulders in the Oval Office," he said. "General McGee, our nation salutes you. Thank you, sir."

In 2018, the president presented Chapman's Medal of Honor to his widow, Valerie Nessel, in front of their daughters Madison and Brianna; Chapman's mother Terry; and sister Lori at the White House. In the audience was then-Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and then-Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, as well as other service leaders and members of Congress. James was also there.

"We're gathered together this afternoon to pay tribute to a fallen warrior, a great warrior, Technical Sergeant John Chapman, and to award him the nation's highest and most revered military honor," Trump said during the ceremony. "Now, John will become the first special tactics airman to receive the congressional Medal of Honor."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

Related: Report: Trump Disparaged US War Dead as 'Losers,' 'Suckers'

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