War on Iraq

Air Force Brass Get Luxury In-Flight Seats on Taxpayer's Dime

A new report finds the Air Force is spending counterterrorism funds on very fancy seating for military and civilian leaders.
This piece originally appeared in PEEK.

I know it's been a long war, with a lot of egregious waste and all, but perhaps you recall the one about KBR's embroidered towels, that sordid episode in which a KBR contractor was told by a higher up that, when ordering towels for U.S. soldiers in Iraq, he should be sure to get them with the company logo stitched on them, so that the troops would be sure to know which corporation provided them with terrycloth goodness in a war zone. Never mind that the bit of embroidery tripled or quadrupled the cost of the towels. "This is a cost-plus contract," the supervisor said. "Taxpayers pay for that."

Like KBR's empty trucks, the towels became a symbol of contractor fraud and the profit-driven abuse of the American people that, aside from the war itself, has become one of the major scandals of the Iraq invasion -- a "profound waste of taxpayers' money," in the words of Sen. Byron Dorgan.

Of course, those are war profiteers. They're in the business of being shameless and crass. But what happens when the waste is not about profit padding by mercenaries but, rather, about padding the derrieres of military commanders?

Well, this.

Last week, the Washington Post reported that top Air Force brass "sought for three years to spend counterterrorism funds on 'comfort capsules' to be installed on military planes that ferry senior officers and civilian leaders around the world, with at least four top generals involved in design details such as the color of the capsules' carpet and leather chairs, according to internal e-mails and budget documents."

"Production of the first capsule -- consisting of two sealed rooms that can fit into the fuselage of a large military aircraft -- has already begun."

So, what exactly is a "comfort capsule"? A glance at the design (helpfully posted alongside the article) reveals them to be pretty much what they sound like; sort of ultra-cozy VIP cubicles; what the average office workspace might look like, only airborne, with leather seats and flat screen TVs.

Also, "an Air Force document specified that the capsule's seats are to swivel such that 'the longitudinal axis of the seat is parallel to the longitudinal axis of the aircraft, regardless of where the capsules are facing." For there will be no air-borne nausea aboard military flights -- this is war, dammit! Air Force leaders must be able to "talk, work and rest comfortably in the air," according to Brigadier General Robert H. McMahon, one of the military men responsible for carrying out the comfort capsule project. From their inception, McMahon made it clear that the "comfort capsules" should be considered "world class" accommodations.
Explaining his instructions to subordinates, McMahon said he used the term "world class" "in just about everything I discuss. … That represents an attitude." He said he wanted to "create an environment that whoever was riding in that would be proud of," the government would be proud of and "the people of the United States" would be proud of.
Because if the American people can't be proud of the Iraq occupation, by god they will admire the seats of empire.
Liliana Segura is a writer and activist living in New York.
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