August 11, 2003 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The chief of the Indiana National Guard has approved F-16 backseat rides for several Democratic contributors or activists. By contrast, about half the number of Indiana civilians flew in nearly twice the time under Buskirk's predecessor. And only two donated to Democrats.
Buskirk, a major contributor to Democrats himself, signs off on the hourlong rides in the back seat of the state's only two-seat F-16.
Since 1997, nine of the 11 riders he has approved have given Democrats $237,557. He also approved a ride to one Republican contributor, who gave $3,639.
The two Democratic donors under the man Buskirk replaced, Maj. Gen. Robert J. Mitchell, gave $24,497.
Buskirk said there was no connection between donations and the flights. The flights cost $3,559 each and serve as training for the pilot.
Democratic Gov. Frank O'Bannon, who appointed Mitchell and Buskirk, also sees no link between the donations and the flights. He concedes however that the choices made for the flights are more than a coincidence.
"I think it's the people that you know and associate with (who receive rides), and I think General Buskirk has been active in a lot of organizations, and one of them is in politics," the governor said.
But it remains "curious" that many of the flights were offered to Democratic donors.
Promotional flights on military aircraft are provided to civilians by all branches of the armed forces. They are intended to spread the word about the military and help with recruiting.
Backseat rides in one of the two F-16Ds from the 181st Fighter Wing in Terre Haute also have been given to Indiana Guard members, U.S. military and government officials and national and foreign dignitaries. Most go to reward ground crew members in the Guard.