AF remembers pioneer of DOD transportation

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Stephenie Wade
  • Headquarters Air Mobility Command
Retired Gen. Duane F. Cassidy, the first "dual-hatted" commander of both U.S. Transportation Command and Military Airlift Command, passed away Feb. 8 at the age of 82.

"Gen. Cassidy was a mobility pioneer. He will be greatly missed by the (Air Mobility Command) family for years to come, but his legacy will certainly live on," said Gen. Carlton D. Everhart II, the AMC commander.

In addition to forging the current path for mobility forces as the first USTRANSCOM commander, Cassidy flew both bombers and cargo aircraft. Born in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, Cassidy joined the Air Force in 1954. Upon completion of aviation cadet training, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and continued on to navigator training. In the early days of his career, he flew B-25 Mitchells and C-121 Constellations.

During a 1998 interview with the command historian, Cassidy said the missions he flew then as a young officer changed with rapidly evolving technology.

"We were flying with no communication equipment, didn't have modeling capability or understanding of electronics that we have today," he said.

One of the high points in Cassidy's early career came in 1956 when he supported Operation Redwing. He participated in the first testing of air-dropped hydrogen weapons at Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

But it was his assignment at Charleston Air Force Base, South Carolina, when he flew a mission that would impact him for years to come.

During the historian’s interview, Cassidy said the most notable mission he supported was the Hungarian crisis. It required him to fly more than 250 hours in a month to pick up refugees from Germany and take them back to the U.S.

It was this mission that made him realize what an important role he played in world events, he said.

Then in December 1958, Cassidy entered pilot training and was assigned to fly B-47 Stratojet bombers for Strategic Air Command and served with the 810th Strategic Aerospace Division, where he rotated to numerous assignments supporting B-52 Stratofortresses and Minuteman missile operations.

In 1967, he volunteered to serve in Vietnam.

He was assigned to the Republic of Vietnam, serving first with 7th Air Force before being transferred to the Military Assistance Command Vietnam Directorate of Public Affairs as an air briefer to the Saigon press corps.

He served in various positions in both Strategic Air Command and MAC throughout his career. Then in September 1985, he was promoted to general and assumed command of MAC. He became responsible for military airlift in support of unified and specified commands during war, periods of crisis and contingencies.

"He shaped the future of what is now Air Mobility Command," Everhart said. "We wouldn't have been as successful in Desert Shield and Desert Storm if it weren't for him. He fought for CRAF (Civil Reserve Air Fleet); he brought the C-17 (Globemaster III) online; and he helped articulate the importance of aerial refueling and nuclear support missions."

While serving as MAC commander, Cassidy developed a new National Airlift Policy statement, which President Ronald Reagan approved as National Security Decision Directive No. 280 on June 24, 1987. This new policy mandated increasingly close cooperation between MAC and the civil air carriers and substantiated the procurement of a sufficient number of aircraft to meet the documented airlift shortage.

He helped to devise training methods for increased proficiency in air refueling, according to the command history article. One training method was called the "tanker anchor," which was intended to create airlift flexibility. The method didn't get fully implemented due to funding; but it did set the stage for future developments in the air refueling world.

MAC supported several contingency and humanitarian operations during his four-year command, including flying relief supplies in September 1985 to earthquake victims in Mexico City; evacuations of the former Philippine and Haitian heads of state in February 1986; and the April 1988 textbook deployment of 1,300 security specialists from the U.S. to Panama to protect thousands of Americans living there.

Cassidy assumed command of U.S. Transportation Command upon its activation in 1987. He became responsible for unifying the Department of Defense global land, air and sea transportation. He was also the first general to serve as the "dual-hatted" commander of both USTRANSCOM and MAC.

"Gen. Duane Cassidy will be remembered as a husband, father, grandfather, friend to all, and the man who built our great command," Gen. Darren McDew, the commander of USTRANSCOM, wrote in a message to command personnel that shared the news of Cassidy's death.

"He was an exceptionally rare leader, an officer whose legacy continues to influence nearly every decision we undertake in the Department of Defense's transportation, distribution, and sustainment enterprises," said McDew when asked about the impact Cassidy continues to have on USTRANSCOM.

"Without his intuitive vision, particularly his deep understanding of the importance of enhancing our organic transportation capabilities with the strength and depth of American industry, our nation would certainly not have achieved the successes we have realized in war and peace over the last three decades,” he added. “We will be talking about Duane Cassidy the man, the officer, and our friend decades from now."

Cassidy retired from the Air Force Sept. 30, 1989, after serving for more than 35 years.

An ardent supporter of the Airlift/Tanker Association, Cassidy soon led the organization as chairman of the board of officers from 1999-2003 and was inducted into the Airlift/Tanker Hall of Fame in 2006.

"America has lost a great patriot, hero, officer and statesman," said retired Gen. Art Lichte and current A/TA chairman. "Gen. Cassidy's warm smile, engaging personality and outstanding leadership by example lifted us all to greater heights. A long-standing member and leader in A/TA, he will be greatly missed by everyone in the air mobility community."

A loving father and husband, Cassidy is survived by his wife Rosalie, daughters Diane and Susan, sons Mike and Patrick, and their families, including eight grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. Funeral services will be held at a future date at Arlington National Cemetery.

"Our Air Force family mourns the passing of Gen. Cassidy -- an American Airman, decorated war hero, and legendary architect of Air Force transportation," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. "Not only did he prove his worth in combat, he showed his heart in countless humanitarian missions around the globe. Although we can no longer swap war stories with him, we know Gen. Cassidy will guard and guide the ones who fly, both now, and forevermore."