It wasn't a big story, but at the same time it wasn't a small story - and it did have a tiny connection with the budget fight.
It seems that two Saturdays ago the secretary of the Air Force, Donald B. Rice, took an Air Force jet to South Bend, Ind., with his wife and an aide, Lt. Col. Carl Tickel, when Notre Dame was playing the Air Force Academy. The cost to the taxpayer was $5,700.Critics of the junket felt that it was a waste of taxpayers' money, and the trip was an outrage to Pentagon cost-cutting.
But Rice's spokesman, Lt. Col. Darrell Hayes, insisted that the jet flight was "official business." The only reason that Rice flew out there was to discuss Notre Dame ROTC business with the cadets at the school, according to Hayes. Hayes was quoted as saying, "It was an official visit, and as secretary he is authorized to use Air Force aircraft for official business."
Because the stories vary so much we can only guess what really happened. As one who always takes the word of an Air Force spokesman as opposed to some crabby civilian, here is my scenario:
It was a quiet Saturday morning at the Pentagon, and Rice turned to his aide, Tickel. "I'm bored."
Tickel replied, "Why don't we go out to Notre Dame and review the troops?"
"That's a good idea," Rice said. "I like surprise visits. Can we use an airplane?"
"Of course," the colonel responded. "There is nothing more official on your schedule than this trip."
Rice, his wife and Tickel boarded the plane. When they reached the campus there was no one around. They kept walking until they heard roars coming from a stadium.
"What is it?" Rice asked.
Tickel peeked through a hole in the fence.
"I think they're playing football, sir."
Rice said, "We should go in because all our ROTC cadets might be there."
The three went inside. It was time-out and Tickel yelled, "All Air Force ROTC students come down from the stands and meet the secretary of the Air Force."
Five thousand students rose from their seats and gathered around the Rices, completely ignoring the game.
The secretary told them, "I want you to study hard and be good to your mothers. Never take a $3 bill from a drunken sailor. Thank you, gentlemen." The students broke into the Air Force hymn and saluted as Rice with his wife and Tickel walked out of the stadium.
Tickel said, "Don't you want to see the game, sir? It's Notre Dame vs. the Air Force."
"No, this is a strictly business trip. I'll see them play some other time when I'm paying for it myself."
That, dear reader, is the true story of what happened with Rice's plane. If you would rather believe Hayes' version, I'd like to tell you a story about a grizzly bear that went into the bar for a drink.