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McPeak backs LO schools foundation

by: JILLIAN DALEY - Merrill Anthony 'Tony McPeak' spoke before about 100 people at a fundraiser at The Bank of Oswego last week.A former U.S. Air Force chief of staff and retired four-star general delivered a speech on the interconnectedness of leadership and education at a benefit for the Lake Oswego School District Foundation last week.

Gen. Merrill Anthony “Tony” McPeak presented his “Educating for Leadership” address to more than 100 attendees at the fundraiser in The Bank of Oswego on State Street.

“If you want to have even a small possibility of a generation of peace and prosperity — educate people,” said McPeak, a Lake Oswego resident.

The audience remained hushed during the oration of McPeak, who served as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. McPeak, 77, was the Air Force chief of staff during Operation Desert Storm, a major U.S.-led offensive during the Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s.

During a question-and-answer session after McPeak’s lecture, Lake Oswego resident Bill Mathers said: “What do you think the problems (with education) are, and how do you think we should go about fixing them?”

McPeak said it is a budget problem that he doesn’t know enough about to formulate a solution.

One man wondered if McPeak still hopped in a plane, and he replied that he is now “plane-less” and too busy to fly. Asked if there’s a difference between male and female leaders, McPeak joked that he knows the difference between men and women but hasn’t noticed a difference in how they lead.

The gathering included longtime supporters of the foundation who reached into their pockets again to support the school district’s strained budget. The nonprofit foundation contributes 94 percent of its proceeds to teachers’ salaries, giving $1.8 million last fiscal year.

Foundation Executive Director Mary Puskas said McPeak’s backing is an honor.

“We just have some extraordinary people in our community, and we are very fortunate that they support all the efforts to make this community a better place,” Puskas said.

After the event, several audience members picked up a copy of “Hangar Flying,” the first installment in McPeak’s three-volume autobiography, The Aerial View Trilogy.

The book details his years as an ace flyer and officer serving in the Vietnam War. The former command pilot has logged more than 6,000 hours in the air, mainly in fighter aircraft.

He hadn’t planned to pursue a long military career but fell in love with flying.

“It’s this world of isolation in which you can dream and mature,” he said.

In 1959, he was a fighter pilot in a squadron, and by 1969, he led his own squadron at an air base in Vietnam.

McPeak said he discovered as his responsibilities grew that heading organizations of thousands of people presents greater challenges than guiding a small group.

“I had entered a world in which it was impossible to do everything myself,” he said.

Leading is a complicated game, he said.

“You play three-dimensional chess on an imaginary board with virtual pieces with some moves you know and some moves they don’t tell you about,” McPeak said.

McPeak served in the Air Force from 1957 to 1994, garnering several awards for bravery and leadership, including the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross and Vietnam Service Medal.

“The ones that count to me are the ones you get in combat,” he said.

He also faced danger during the two years he performed at air shows with the Thunderbirds, the Air Force’s elite aerobatic squadron. A technical failure at one performance caused his plane to explode, sending fire into the cockpit.

“I was the first Thunderbird to have an accident in front of a crowd,” McPeak said. “The wings came off. I had to jump out of the airplane with a parachute.”

Dan Heine, The Bank of Oswego chief executive officer and president, said McPeak, a friend of his, has many great stories and nuggets of wisdom to share.

“Not only does he have very strong technical skills, but his human skills, this very unique quality he has — people want to follow him,” Heine said. “He is a true leader.”

Growing up in rural areas throughout the West Coast, McPeak graduated from the San Diego State College Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program. He obtained his master’s degree at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., also finishing the executive development program at the University of Michigan School of Business. He graduated from the Armed Forces Staff College in Virginia and the National War College in Washington, D.C., training schools for top officers.

He currently is an investor. He is also a family man, wedding his wife, Ellie McPeak, a former Lake Oswego city councilor, 56 years ago. The couple have two sons and two granddaughters.

Heine honored McPeak’s wife during the fundraiser.

“Ellie, thank you for sharing your husband with our nation,” he said.

McPeak keeps apprised of foreign relations, saying he believes President Barack Obama was right to be cautious about throwing military support behind the Syrian rebels. They are freedom fighters, but terrorist group al-Qaeda also supports them, and it’s hard to know who will be leading the country when the dust settles, McPeak said.

American forces stayed too long in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said.

“You have to get in, do the work and get out if you want to be a true success, and we got in and didn’t do the work right and overstayed,” McPeak said.

The countries could use an advisory presence, but America’s presence no longer seems to be wanted, McPeak said.

“I fear we have outstayed our welcome in both countries,” he said.

He said regardless of whether North Korea has the capability to strike the United States with a nuclear warhead, the dictatorship has nuclear weapons it could employ, and the country is the greatest threat to U.S. national security.

“I don’t think we ought to minimize this problem,” he said. “I think we ought to pay attention, a lot of attention.”

Learn more

To purchase a copy of “Hangar Flying” and to view last week’s speech, visit generalmcpeak.com. Copies of “Hangar Flying” are available at Graham’s Book & Stationery, 460 Second St. McPeak has finished his autobiographical series. The next book, “Below the Zone,” about his swift rise through the ranks, will be available this summer. The last book, “Roles and Missions,” about his time as chief of staff, will be released in 2014.

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