Air Force Carpet Bombing 2.0

Amid budget drought, service takes steps to keep its putting greens lush.

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Back in the old days, the Air Force punched holes in the ground the old-fashioned way: by dropping bombs from B-52s, like the 126,000 sorties they flew over Vietnam between 1965 and 1973 in Operation Arc Light.

On Wednesday, the service announced it is seeking help with a different kind of carpet bombing: conducting missions over the 38 greens and 36 tees (there’s a pair of practice putting greens) at the Bay Palms Golf Complex at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, along Florida’s Gulf coast. The base is home to U.S. Central Command, which ran the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the U.S. Special Operations Command.

Fittingly, for the Air Force, this process is known as “aerification.” It consists of running lawnmower-like machines outfitted with hollow tubes over the greens and tee boxes. These tines plunge through the grass and into the dirt, extracting soil cylinders the size of a man’s finger. “This requirement is to reduce compaction and open portals for water, oxygen and nutrients for the health of the turf grass,” the Air Force says. “Periodic Air Force exercises,” it adds ominously, “may require the contractor to vacate the work area.”

Carpet Bombing 1.0

The cost of aerification isn’t sky-high — a former golf course superintendent pegs it at about $250 per green or tee – but it does send a strange signal amid the Pentagon’s current budget woes. The roughly 10% budget cut mandated by sequestration has led to grounded airplanes, sharply-reduced training and furloughs. “Sequestration has driven us over the readiness cliff,” says General Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff. “We’re doing the best we can to live with the resources we’ve been given at this point in time.”

Carpet Bombing 2.0

One way to deal with such austerity would be to shutter the military’s golf courses. Why is the U.S. military in the golf business anyway? The Air Force currently operates 65 of the Pentagon’s 152 courses. We’ve never quite figured out how these links are vital to national security. After all, it’s not like the good duffers at MacDill would miss it: there are 72 other golf courses in and around Tampa.