General Baginski was born in Baltimore in 1932. He graduated from Towson (MD) High School in 1948 and from the University of Maryland in 1954. General Baginski earned a master’s degree in public administration from The George Washington University, Washington, D.C., and is a graduate of the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., and the National War College, Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C.
He was commissioned a second lieutenant through the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program in February 1954 and entered active duty in April 1954. He attended flying training at Stallings Field, NC, and Webb Air Force Base, Texas.
During his early years in the Air Force, he performed various duties and held a variety of positions. He was a C-119 Pilot, a Personal Equipment and Survival Training officer, a C-130 pilot, a Transport Movement Control Duty officer, and a Director of Operations. He earned his Army parachutist wings at Fort Benning, Georgia, and was a Tactical Airlift Liaison officer with the 1st Cavalry (Air Mobile) Division in An Khe, Republic of Viet Nam. This diverse background provided a sound foundation for his follow-on assignments at the wing, command, and Air Force levels.
As the Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations, General Baginski was instrumental in influencing national policy – impacting global air mobility as we know it today. In his tour as the Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations, he simultaneously led the Angolan Refugee airlift delivering over 31,000 people to Portugal; and directed project Coin Alaska, which successfully delivered critical needed fuel and supplies to DEW line sites in what was the largest military airlift in the history of Alaskan theater operations.
Realizing that the growing role of airlift required the latest technologies, General Baginski pushed for and established the USAF Airlift Center at Pope AFB, North Carolina, to test and evaluate new technologies to further improve our worldwide airlift capability. He was also instrumental in implementation of the Inertial Navigation System for the C-141, the development of the Naval Emergency Air Cargo Delivery system (for resupply of vessels at sea), and development and testing of the VC-141B prototype.
General Baginski played a crucial and dynamic role in directing Military Airlift Command’s (MAC) response to several significant events that prompted the concern of the National Command Authority. These included disaster relief responses to the Guatemala, Indonesia, Turkey, and Romania earthquake and Guam typhoon disasters; the operation Snow Blow airlift response to relieve the Buffalo, New York, region; the airlift of essential supplies to Zaire, under siege by insurgent forces; medical team and aeromedical evacuation response for the Tenerife commercial jet collision disaster; the evacuation of Americans and American equipment from Ethiopia on short notice under severe time constraints; the spectacular, Mackay Trophy winning 5,124 mile C-5 airlift of a 40-ton superconducting magnet from Chicago directly to Moscow; the removal of human remains of American MIA soldiers from Hanoi; and the C-5 airlift of the Soviet MIG-25 from Mako Date, Japan, to an alternate site for Japanese “customs inspection.” Addressing Army concerns, General Baginski formulated and instated an Air Line of Communications from Dover AFB to Germany that vastly improved parts and essential cargo delivery time.
General Baginski was overseer in several key exercises that demonstrated the nation’s ability to project force, including Reforger, Brave Shield, Brigade, Jack Frost, Bold Eagle, Solid Shield, and Team Spirit. In addition, he engineered MAC’s first participation in the Red Flag series of exercises which resulted in a wholesale revision in tactical airlift and hostile environment concepts of operation.
Of crucial importance was General Baginski’s role in making the C-5 Galaxy’s air refueling capability operational through an intensive aircrew training program. He then directed the first use of this capability by supporting the deployment of F-4 and F-111 units to Korea after the Panmunjon tree-cutting incident.
General Baginski persistently pursued overall improvements to the airlift and rescue fleets through the C-5 wing modifications, C-141 stretch and air refueling (which added the equivalent of 90 C-141 airframes in cargo capacity), and Pave Low III programs.
As the Deputy Chief of Staff, Personnel, General Baginski was among the first to take effective action to accurately assess and redress the critical 70 percent plus pilot loss rate in the six to eleven year group. He convened the first Pilot Retention Working Group Conference in the Air Force, to underline career irritants and needed incentives. His efforts to improve flight pay were instrumental in the push for legislation that resulted in a 25 percent increase. He also reduced over 800 aircrew additional duties to 70 that directly related to flying duty. Unsatisfied with the 77 percent manning levels for C-141 and C-5 flight engineers, General Baginski instituted the Palace Panel program, which brought manning levels up to 90 percent within a year.
General Baginski initiated and pushed numerous ‘people’ programs that were paramount in reversing a perception of inadequate support for a better quality of life for Air Force members. He was in the forefront in support of pay and compensation initiatives in the Nunn-Warner Amendment and the FY81 DoD Authorizations Act which marked the most significant improvements in military pay in a decade. The 11.7 percent across-the-board pay raise and improved travel entitlements significantly improved morale and retention of crucial mid-level managers. He was equally instrumental in the creation of the Variable Housing Allowance and equalizing officer and enlisted TDY per diem reimbursement. Through his ceaseless efforts to improve compensation for Air Force members, General Baginski signaled that senior leadership was strongly committed to providing a rewarding and adequate way of life. When a work force reduction directed by Congress, and the presidential hiring freeze in 1978 were levied on MAC, General Baginski successfully reinstated over two-thirds of the over 600 aerial port positions directed to be cut, thereby protecting a portion of MAC’s wartime surge capability.
As the Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations, General Baginski realized that crucial programs needed to meet the nation’s requirement to deploy forces to any scale of conflict, required clear, astute advocacy and an innovative approach to solving present and future airlift problems. His intensive effort to develop concepts of operations and training support for the rapidly evolving C-X aircraft concept was instrumental in the command’s ability to knowledgeably address key areas of congressional inquiry in a series of hearings.
Concerned over MAC command and control, General Baginski guided several major enhancements in communications. He quickly integrated MAC into the WWMCCS Intercomputer Network (WIN) system, earning MAC praise from JCS observers that the command had the finest WIN program in DoD. Intratheater communications, addressed through General Baginski’s push to develop the Theater Airlift Management System (TAMS), greatly enhanced MAC’s ability to support the combat commands. General Baginski played a vital role in the development and activation of solutions to the airlift communications problems identified in international crises. As a result of his efforts MAC was able to compose and deploy forces that included MAC-dedicated communications.
A strong advocate of software management systems, General Baginski encouraged the development of the Airlift Integrated Management System (AIMS), the optimized Computer Flight Plan System, and the Flow Generator III (FLOGEN III) contingency airlift deployment scheduling systems. The latter system was a direct result of the lessons learned from CPX Nifty Nugget 78, and was a quantum leap in rapid information processing. The value of FLOGEN III was superbly demonstrated when General Baginski directed its use in the first test of the role of the new Joint Deployment Agency in CPXs Brisk Ride, Positive Leap, and Poll Station/WINTEX
Using innovative management of a temporarily reduced C-141A fleet, General Baginski precluded degradation of MAC’s support to the DoD community during C-141B airframe conversion. This conversion was followed up by General Baginski’s program to expand air refueling crews from 56 to 140.
When the establishment of the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF) signaled large changes in the control of national response options, General Baginski led heavy MAC involvement in testing RDJTF concepts of airlift deployment and employment. Exercises Bright Star in Egypt and Accurate Test on the Arabian Peninsula were highly successful tests of RDJTF over water deployments with air refueling.
General Baginski directed the highly successful and visible airlift responses to such major events as the redeployment of the Inter-African Peacekeeping Forces from Zaire; the deployment of show-of-forces units to Diego Garcia during the Iran crisis; the aeromedical airlift of American hostages in Iran; the airlift of Commonwealth forces to Rhodesia; the operation of Prized Eagle deployment of F-15s to Saudi Arabia; and disaster/humanitarian responses in Zaire, Liberia, Yugoslavia, the Fiji Islands, and the Dominican Republic. Most noteworthy were General Baginski’s close support for the valiant hostage rescue attempt in Iran, and support of the space shuttle launch and recovery. During General Baginski’s tenure, several milestones were reached in the exercise arenas: Spearpoint 80 represented the first non-stop air refueled CONUS-Germany-CONUS C-141B airdrop missions as part of Reforger; Proud Phantom was a demonstration of short-notice large-scale deployment capability to the Middle East; the first use of Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) aircraft in a large-scale exercise occurred during Reforger 79; and Brave Shield 80 featured the first deployment of forces under RDJTF operational control.
In 1974, General Baginski was honored by the enlisted troops for his outstanding support of the enlisted forces, when he became the twenty-fourth “Order of the Sword” recipient from Pacific Air Force (PACAF).
General Baginski was instrumental in resolving many complex problems vital to the Military Airlift Command, the Air Force, and the Department of Defense. In all of the important assignments entrusted to him, General Baginski’s leadership, dedication, and ceaseless efforts ensured the viability of airlift and air refueling as an effective instrument of national policy of the United States.
General Baginiski retired from the Air Force on 1 November 1984, after 30-plus years of distinguished service. A command pilot with more than 5,000 flying hours, his military decorations and awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, Air Medal with oak leaf cluster, Air Force Commendation Medal and Army Commendation Medal.
Since his retirement from the Air Force General Baginski has continued to be an advocate for the air mobility community. Working as a consultant with many aerospace industry company’s, he brings a lifetime of experience in air mobility matters to the table. Considered an expert in air mobility matters, he is often interviewed and quoted in the military and defense media.
General Baginski is a “Founding Member” of the Airlift/Tanker Association and has spent numerous years volunteering his time and energy to ensure its success. He is currently the Chairman of the Board of Advisors to the Board of Officers.
On any given day in HQ Air Mobility Command you may run into “Bagger,” as he has been affectionately called for many years, making his way from one appointment to another, sharing valuable insight with senior leadership, and still taking time to chat with young troops, sharing his experiences and his delightful sense of humor.
In short, General Baginski has devoted his life to creating a culture of air mobility, mentoring our current and future leaders, and striving to enhance the technology for our forces. He epitomizes what it means to be an American – he is a true patriot – and he is an air mobility statesman. His over half a century of extraordinary accomplishments make him truly qualified to be added to the honor roll of men and women whose insight and dedication helped build the most formidable and compassionate Air Mobility force in the world.
Major General James I. Baginski is truly worthy of being named the 2005 Airlift/Tanker Hall of Fame Inductee.