- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 28, 2014

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James became “violently ill” during a ride with the storied Thunderbirds aerial acrobatic team this week.

Commanders at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., thought it would be good PR to invite the relatively new secretary for a flight with its most famous squadron. Amid tight defense spending, there is pressure to demonstrate the worth of the Thunderbirds, which is back in the air show business after having been grounded last year when sequestration took hold.

But Tuesday’s F-16 flight did not go as planned in the cockpit for Ms. James, a former House defense staffer, Pentagon official and defense industry executive.

“Someone got the bright idea to invite her on the airplane,” said a source familiar with the incident. “She got violently ill.”

Asked about her visit to Nellis and her flight, Ms. James told The Washington Times: “I was lucky enough to observe various aircrews over multiple days as they planned, flew, and debriefed weapons school training sorties to learn firsthand about the missions I’m responsible for at Nellis and Creech [Air Force bases].

“This included flying with the HH-60 combat search and rescue and E-8 JSTARS battle management crews on scheduled mission training sorties. I was so impressed with the integrated, high-end training our new command and control, ground and air weapons officers receive at the U.S. Air Force Weapons School enabling them to be the best in the world at what they do.

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“While at Nellis, I also was fortunate to fly along with ‘Thunderbird #4’ and actually participate in a scheduled practice with the entire USAF Air Demonstration Team. They are tremendous Ambassadors in Blue, performing in front of more than 100,000 in Oklahoma last weekend.  I also learned to wait to eat lunch until after Thunderbird practice is complete!”

Ms. James, 55, a Clinton administration appointee at the Pentagon, became Air Force secretary in December.

A recent New York Times profile said that as a staffer for the House Committee on Armed Services, she was nicknamed “sledge” for the sledgehammer approach she took to the job.

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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