Top gun tells all, takes on 'armchair generals'

Retired after 36 years, this lieutenant general was bothered by what he was hearing on TVand wanted to set the record straight.

Published April 21, 2006

BALLAST POINT - Some days Lt. Gen. Michael "Rifle'' DeLong wanted to bust the TV. He burned when some "armchair general,'' his name for certain military men turned TV talking heads, analyzed events irresponsibly from their living room.

Few people know more about waging war on global terror than DeLong, a three-star Marine Corps lieutenant general, now retired after 36 years of service. His last post, deputy commander of U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base, made him No. 2 to Gen. Tommy Franks from 2000 to 2003.

As second in command, he briefed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld daily as they conceived and implemented Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He personally put together a coalition of 55 nations, an entity he feels is more powerful than the fight against terror itself.

Compelled to set history straight, DeLong wrote Inside CentCom: The Unvarnished Truth About the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, published in summer 2004. "I was hearing things that needed countering, and the administration wasn't doing it,'' DeLong said. "I wrote it for Middle America - for Kansas and Iowa to know what I saw, why we went to war, why we were successful.''

DeLong admits the military made mistakes and in his 200-page book details the intelligence available at each step. He reveals that pantyhose saved soldiers on horseback in Afghanistan from chapped legs.

He has no doubt Saddam Hussein hid weapons of mass destruction in Syria and Lebanon in the 48 hours before the United States began bombing.

His book is not autobiographical, even though it is written like an adventure novel. He survived more than 1,400 combat missions and 5,600 flight hours in 25 series of aircraft.

"I've been shot down three times in Vietnam, dodged sniper rounds in Somalia and in the last six months, seen improvised explosive devices (IEDs) explode in front and behind me on the road between the airport and Baghdad,'' DeLong said.

DeLong, 61, always knew he would be a Marine aviator, like his father, Phillip, a double ace fighter pilot who shot down 11 Japanese planes in World War II and downed the first two Chinese planes in Korea.

He joined the Marine Corps in 1967, upon graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy with a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering. He earned a master's degree in industrial management in 1975 from Central Michigan University.

After retiring in September 2003, Shaw Environmental & Infrastructure Inc. hired him to generate international business for the Shaw Group, a $3-billion engineering, manufacturing and consulting company.

At the same time, Regnery Publishing gave DeLong and his co-author/agent Noah Lukeman six weeks to produce a manuscript.

DeLong devoted 18 hours a week to writing and editing via cell phone and e-mail while working for the Shaw Group in the Middle East, Russia, Canada, even Cuba. He's been to Iraq nine times in 18 months, overseeing building and security at a new Iraqi army base near Mosul.

He won't return, however, until the security improves.

"I've pulled all my people out of Iraq,'' he said, adding "the amount of money being made is not worth the risk.''

While he's circling the globe, his wife, Kathy, who has moved 17 times in 20-plus years of marriage, is overseeing construction of their new home in Ballast Point.

For now, home is a beach cottage in Treasure Island.

"It's such an asset to have them retire here,'' said former Mayor Dick Greco, who met the couple when the city hosted events for MacDill brass. "He's fought in every war in his lifetime ... given everything to his country so we can live here in peace.''

DeLong bumped up against a different combatant when it came to promoting the book. Speaking on 100 radio shows and 70 TV shows, including The O'Reilly Factor, CNN with Lou Dobbs and Hardball with Chris Matthews, taught him to quickly spot the hosts' agenda.

"I've always been wary of the media. I respect them and I choose to work with the ones that respect me. But I don't understand them. That would be like saying you understand your wife," he said, chuckling.

Once the book tour ended - he estimates the book has sold 10,000 copies - he turned down network calls for his views.

But he has been talking to Hollywood folks. Discussions are under way to make a documentary-type film using his book to explain the inner workings of today's military.

In his book, DeLong takes readers on the ride of his lifetime. Along the way, he hopes they pick up the key to his success.

"Agree with them or not, treat people with respect and dignity, and normally, they will treat you the same way," he said.