The Cable

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Exclusive: White House aides insisted F-22 be removed from Obama speech venue

When President Obama spoke to troops at Alaska’s Elmendorf Air Force Base last month, the unit there parked a shiny new F-22 fighter plane in the hangar. But according to multiple sources, White House aides demanded the plane be changed to an older F-15 fighter because they didn’t want Obama speaking in front of the ...

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When President Obama spoke to troops at Alaska's Elmendorf Air Force Base last month, the unit there parked a shiny new F-22 fighter plane in the hangar. But according to multiple sources, White House aides demanded the plane be changed to an older F-15 fighter because they didn't want Obama speaking in front of the F-22, a controversial program he fought hard to end.

"White House aides actually made them remove the F-22-said they would not allow POTUS to be pictured with the F-22 in any way, shape, or form," one source close to the unit relayed.

When President Obama spoke to troops at Alaska’s Elmendorf Air Force Base last month, the unit there parked a shiny new F-22 fighter plane in the hangar. But according to multiple sources, White House aides demanded the plane be changed to an older F-15 fighter because they didn’t want Obama speaking in front of the F-22, a controversial program he fought hard to end.

“White House aides actually made them remove the F-22-said they would not allow POTUS to be pictured with the F-22 in any way, shape, or form,” one source close to the unit relayed.

Stephen Lee, a public affairs officer at Elmendorf, confirmed to The Cable that the F-22 was parked in the hangar and then was replaced by an F-15 at the White House’s behest.

The airmen there took offense to the Obama aides’ demand, sources told The Cable, seeing it as a slight to the folks who are operating the F-22 proudly every day. They also expressed bewilderment that the White House staff would even care so much as to make an issue out of the fact that the F-22 was placed in the hangar with the president.

A White House official, commenting on background basis, told The Cable that yes, there were discussions about which plane or planes would be in the hangar, but that they were not meant as an insult to the pilots and other personnel who work on the F-22. The official couldn’t elaborate on why the White House aides felt it necessary to get involved in the matter in the first place.

The official pointed to Obama’s speech to the troops that day, where he praised both the 90th Fighter Squadron, known as the “Dicemen,” and the 525th Fighter Squadron, the “Bulldogs,” both of which operate the F-22.

Even so, the Air Force personnel thought it odd the White House wanted to display the older plane rather than the more advanced plane that, in the eyes of its supporters, represents the latest and greatest in American aviation.

The Obama administration fought hard and successfully to cut off production of the F-22 at 187 planes, a number Defense Secretary Robert Gates endorsed but that was hundreds less than originally planned and about half of the 381 planes Air Force leadership lobbied hard for in the years preceding Obama’s inauguration.

“It’s one thing to be against further production; quite another to slight the folks who are flying them in the operational world,” one source said, adding that “the F-15 pictured was put into service roughly around the same period when Obama graduated from college. It’s vintage.”

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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