Work Hard – Play Hard: Tom made hard work fun
Though the work at Eglin remained serious, Tom knew that esprit de corps positively impacted his personnel. Tom initiated events such as Friday Happy Hour at the Officer’s club, summertime Wild Hog (Tom’s nickname) parties on the beach, and skits lampooning “management.” During one “Dining In” event (without spouses) organized by Tom’s crew, a new high ranking civilian with an extreme ego told the group how lucky they were to have him as their leader. With a nod from Tom, his well-placed personnel retrieved the Tux-laden speaker and dropped him into the bay nearby.
Tom, understandably so, received a bit of admonishment from his superior, but held his ground in that he had been assigned to plan the event including the entertainment. Mentioning that the “other side” could plan the next one, they certainly did. This time, they organized a “Dining Out” (with spouses) and targeted Tom for the same water treatment. Recognizing the attempt, Tom upended a table sending food and drink airborne. The attempt subsided quickly and Tom remained dry.
Boyd liked the camaraderie instilled by Tom. He frequently joined in lunchtime games, and in typical Boyd fashion, remained ultra-competitive when others simply enjoyed playing. Boyd liked winning and hated losing. Tom set the stage one day during Football and basically stacked Boyd’s team with the more athletically challenged personnel. After a time, Boyd discovered the plot and stomped off the field, taking the football with him.
Mr. Wizard Moves to Washington: Pentagon
In May of 1973, Tom was asked to interview for the Air Warfare Office under the Director of Research and Development at the Pentagon. After interviewing, Tom saw a good friend of his John Ahearne, who had been a Professor at the Air Force Academy and had spent summers at Eglin with Tom doing research. Ahearne had asked Tom if he would work as the Director of Tactical Air Division under Program Analysis and Evaluation, and Tom agreed to take that job instead. Ironically, Chuck Myers, the test pilot Tom and Boyd met previously, got the job to which Tom originally had applied. The fact that Christie and Myers held these two extremely influential positions proved invaluable for years to come.
In 1974, with James Schlesinger as the Secretary of Defense, Tom and Chuck Myers participated in the flyoff program of the YF-16 / 17. Both remained on constant alert for any changes to Air Force R&D appropriations for these fly-offs. The #3 Pentagon official, Malcolm Currie, Under Secretary for Defense Research and Engineering, sympathized with the Air Force in wanting to dismiss funding for the lightweight fighter program. However, Tom and Myers put together a 5 year plan for budgeting the advanced development and procurement program and had “spies” in the comptroller office that gave them warning every time the Air Force removed money from budget.
While Tom and Myers continually fought the Air Force on budget items, they needed help from Schlesinger. Through Bing West, Assistant Secretary of Defense, they got word to Schlesinger that the Air Force kept taking money from the budget. Schlesinger wanted a meeting with Tom and Myers. During the meeting, Tom and Myers highlighted that the Air Force would be reticent to desire a cheaper airplane with the current force structure and instead recommended expanding the Air Force aircraft inventory to gain Air Force buy-in.
Schlesinger talked to the Air Force Chief of Staff, General George Brown and let them expand both the number of Wings, and also equipping current units with less than optimal aircraft. With Schlesinger’s backing, the Air Force finally submitted to adopting the Lightweight Fighter (which became the F-16) program. Interestingly as well, both Tom’s and Chuck’s immediate bosses either outright or passively supported the Air Force in trying to extinguish the budgeting for the program. Tom received a handwritten note from his boss stating “Get off the Air Force’s back, they will buy the Light Weight Fighter when they are damn well ready.” After hearing about this, Schlesinger met with the two bosses and Tom remembers the next day getting another note from his boss saying to “make it happen.”
In early 1975, on a Friday when the Air Force was going to award General Dynamics with the F-16, a decision to delay was made. Suspecting Northrup interjected at the last minute, Tom’s Boss, John Ahearn happened to be standing on Tom’s doorstep at 2 AM Saturday morning when Tom and his wife returned from an event. Ahearne had received a call from Schlesinger that a critical report had been overlooked and Northrup lobbied for this to be completed before any announcements were made. Ahearne and Tom went to see Lt Gen “Bobbie” Bond at 7 am Sunday morning to ask for assistance with report. Bond responded with “It’s your F’in airplane, you write the report.” (expletive deleted). Tom and Ahearne wrote the report, submitted to Schlesinger, and to Tom’s knowledge never used as the announcement for the Lightweight Fighter resumed Monday.
Trying to solidify the A-X program, Tom participated in a seminar at the Pentagon featuring Hans-Ulrich Rudel. In an effort to determine the most important aspects of Close Air Support, a roundtable with Tom Christie, Pierre Sprey, Bob Dilger, and others listened and questioned Rudel regarding his experience. With 519 confirmed tank kills (which required that the tank be blown up and visually seen by another witness, but in actuality more than twice that many), Rudel answered extremely pertinent questions that contributed to the A-10 development. Since Rudel never renounced his beliefs – the newspapers highlighted the meeting.
To this day – without any one of those three, Christie, Myers, or Schlesinger, the Air Force F-16 (and the A-10) may have suffered the chopping block and never made it to production.
Spies Like Us
While Tom managed the Program Acquisition and Evaluation team, Boyd was never far away. Boyd managed to find Tom’s office nine out of every ten days and soon Tom’s shop became the next Red Scare. The Air Force assigned officers that would “spy” and report back to the Air Force any anti-military or anti-Air Force sentiments. Anytime Pierre Sprey, John Boyd, and Tom Christie met, these spies would report back who was visiting Tom Christie’s office. In one circumstance, a woman from a pro-defense magazine, ran through the office taking pictures of everyone present at the time. However, the “red scare” from their office did not exist.
Tom the Wizard, also had “spies” that helped weave a military reformer web. In reality, Tom’s truthfulness, proficiency, tactfulness, and leadership brought him close to many contacts throughout the government. These contacts kept Tom’s group informed and by reciprocity, Tom kept them informed. Tom’s ability to connect to information resources and to maintain those relationships provided the taxpayers with better DoD tested projects, accurate tests, and truthful reports. And if some of these reports got “buried,” well, the Wizard ensured these reports found the right places.
When John Boyd retired in 1975, Tom gave office space dedicated for John to continue work. When Pentagon officials learned of this, questions arose about how Boyd got this job and how much he got paid. Tom stated that Boyd remained unpaid and still upset with the situation, officials demanded that an occupant with an office should receive pay. He began paying Boyd $1.00 per year as Boyd would never take money during retirement. Tom ensured Boyd had an office from 1975 to 1989 when Boyd finally moved to Del Ray, Fl.
Movin on Up
Between 1979 and 1985, Tom served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for General Purpose Programs under the Program Analysis and Evaluation. Within this position, Tom’s office routinely said “no thanks” to programs not meeting the evaluation criteria.
In early 1981, with Caspar Weinberger as Secretary of Defense, an addendum to the Defense Budget was added to get rid of the “trash” in the defense department. Weinberger desired to let the B-1 program remain inactive after the Carter administration ended the program and go straight to the B-2. However, after a call from Ed Meese, then Counselor to President Reagan, Weinberger kept the B-1 program and found another program to cut. The remaining 30-40 A-10’s left on procurement list were “cut” to show the efficiency of cuts.
In 1982, Tom aided in orchestrating sweeping legislation to establish the Operational Testing and Evaluation as an independent agency within the Office of Secretary of Defense (OT&E). With the help of other Military Reformers such as Pierre Sprey, the independence would counteract epic failures of testing that occurred during Vietnam and after. Reporting directly to Congress rather than service branches, the office would plan meaningful operational tests and report those results to Congress. Congress passed the legislation in 1983 and the first Director, Jack Krings, took over in 1985.
In 1985, Tom became the Director of Program Integration in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense, Acquisitions. Humorously, Tom’s new boss stated that although Tom had spent the last 6 years knocking down projects he wanted, he needed Tom in Acquisitions to deflect any further attempts. Keeping this position until 1989, Tom retired from Civil Service for personal reasons.
Institute for Defense Analysis
Retirement didn’t last long for Tom and he found a position at the Defense think tank, the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA ). Tom became Director of the Operational Evaluation Division at IDA with a staff of 100 that supported the Defense Department Operational Testing and Evaluation. Throughout the 9 years serving at IDA, Tom’s group identified multiple problems with testing practices that led to more comprehensive test procedures.
Director, Operational Test and Evaluation
While at IDA, Tom was intimately familiar with the OT&E and was asked in 2001 to transfer back to the Pentagon as the Sixth Director of Operational Testing and Evaluation. Overseeing such projects as the Interceptor Ground-based ICBM missile defense and the F-22 – at any given time, the shop might be testing or evaluating 50 different systems. Without direct input, the service branches abhorred the power and independent nature of OT&E and routinely lobbied to stop funding. Many systems being tested met contentious ends.
During testing and reporting on the USAF predator, Tom remembers a report forwarded to Congress stating that the Predator testing did not meet the effectiveness criteria. Darleen Druyun, then Principal Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force for Acquisitions, brought several Generals to Tom’s office complaining about the report to Congress. After throwing the report across Tom’s desk with several expletives, Tom asked if there was anything erroneous about report. She said no, but she wished the information wasn’t on the cover page since Congress rarely read the following pages.
At one point, Donald Rumsfeld needed to show efficiency and military spending reductions. Presenting this to OT&E, Tom proposed cutting the FB-22 and the Army Crusader. Cuts to large programs such as these led to resignations of high profile personnel that lobbied Congress to keep these alive.
Curtain Call – End Notes
Tom’s story, from difficult childhood to nationwide recognition, encapsulates the strength and perseverance traits needed to “go against the grain.” Tom’s brilliant ability to maintain ethics while navigating bureaucratic webs led to the creation of Energy Maneuverability, F-16, F-18, A-10, and countless other National Defense projects. With military reformers and Tom’s persistence, perhaps the most under-rated but extremely important achievement, the establishment of the separate Operational Test and Evaluation agency that spared the Department of Defense numerous highly touted and high cost but failed military systems.
Retiring in 2005, finally, Tom resides in the DC area in the same house for the last 47 years. Keeping up the Eglin Friday Happy Hour tradition since moving to DC, (except these transpire on Wednesdays at the Fort Myer Officers Club), Tom only stopped attending this past March due to this national pandemic, understandably so. Witty and sharp, Tom enjoys screening the headlines for the latest Defense research and testing progressions.