America Does Not Like a Winner

Cam

We say America likes a winner. It speaks to our values and our heritage. We are a nation born of hard work, commitment, and perseverance. Those traits made us great and still make us great. The harsh reality of my opening sentence, however, is that it’s not true. Not in sports. We like a winner only when we see his face rubbed in the dirt. All the better if it’s an inglorious fall riddled with humiliation. We not only want the humiliation to happen, we want to watch it happen and bathe in it like warm, soapy water after a camping trip. It just feels so good.

You don’t believe me? I’ll illustrate it clearly with three examples.

  1. Tom Brady. Tom Effing Brady. Just the name makes your blood boil, doesn’t it? I could expand this discussion to encompass the entire New England Patriots franchise, but I don’t need to in order to make my point. You should like Tom Brady, but you don’t. Not unless you are a Patriots fan. If you’re not a Patriots fan, you not only don’t like him, you despise him. That bastard. Those movie-star good looks. The super-model wife. Four Super Bowl rings. Ten trips to the AFC Championship. And those Ugg advertisements. Ugh!! You have deluded yourself into believing that you hate him because he is a cheater. Or a whiner. That has nothing to do with it. You hate him because he wins, and he wins a lot. He has probably won at your favorite NFL team’s expense countless times. He wins because he has a competitive fire and a strong will that is very, very rare, even at the elite NFL level. You should like him. He presents a great story. He was disrespected for a very long time. Even at Michigan, all he did was win, but he couldn’t hold a starting job because Drew Henson was more of a prototypical big-time quarterback. Then comes the NFL draft. He was the 7th quarterback taken that year at 199th overall. He was left on the cutting room floor – completely disrespected. He was drafted behind Spergon Wynn. Spergon Effing Wynn. And yet here he is Tom, still battling with the league’s best at the age of 38. What a great American story, right? That’s why you hate him.
  2. Cam Newton. Cam Effing Newton. Cam stirred a lot of interesting emotions entering this Super Bowl. I would not call him verbose. I would say he speaks his mind and doesn’t pretend to be someone he is not. I find that admirable. The two cases in support of the Cam-haters are that he stole a computer at the University of Florida and that he celebrates too much on the field. Regarding the computer, he paid for his crime and left the school. He gutted out a year at a Junior College before transferring to Auburn and dominating college football in a way that I haven’t seen since. If you can’t live with the fact that he paid for his crime and then moved on, then there is no use in further discussing it. Does he celebrate too much on the field? I think so. It certainly isn’t my preference. But I’ll tell you this: he’s consistent. He did it when they were 7-9, too. The difference is that back then, no one much cared. It wasn’t an issue until he started winning, and winning a lot. That’s when everyone started to notice. They not only noticed, they started getting pissed. I will admit there are a lot of Denver Bronco fans in this country. Additionally, there were a number of football fans who wanted Peyton Manning (swoon) to go out on top. But by far the largest number of fans who picked sides in this Super Bowl did so only with an interest in seeing Cam Newton pummeled and disgraced. How dare he flash that million-Watt smile and have fun while going 15-1! It’s time for him to be put in his place! What stories dominated the Super Bowl’s aftermath? Cam lost. Cam humiliated. Cam quit. Cam fumbled. Cam sacked. Cam disgraceful. No, I was not impressed with his presser, but so what? He’ll learn and he’ll do better. Herm Edwards and Tony Dungy will see to it. Give the kid a break. He’s twenty-efffing-six years old. At that age, my drunk ass was getting fireman carried through a dark alley in Hong Kong by one of my squadron mates. Forgive Cam for not being raised from birth to play quarterback in the NFL like……
  3. Peyton Manning. Ahhhh, Peyton. Just the thought of him makes you dizzy with infatuation, doesn’t it? The smell of roses in the air. We can’t get enough of Peyton. He makes us want to cook chicken parm and eat Papa John’s Pizza. And the family. Oh, that family. Don’t you just love them? Archie. Eli. That other brother. There are a lot of reasons we like Peyton. In spite of the fact that he was a front-runner every year, he never won the Heisman trophy. His college teams were good but never brought home the hardware they thought he would help them acquire. He played for the Colts without much of a supporting cast. He finally got a well deserved Super Bowl win, though more often than not, he wilted in big games. As we’re reminded by the announcers 1000 times per game, he’s a “coach on the field”. Even in the midst of this most recent Super Bowl win, he had the lowest quarterback rating of any winning quarterback in Super Bowl history. Anyone with a football brain knows that John Elway is praying he doesn’t come back. Yet we love him like no other. He’s the kind of guy we can get behind. We’re comfortable with him. He just fits. It feels like we could hang out with him and have a Budweiser. He blends that “aw shucks” every-guy demeanor with the characteristics of a Southern Gentleman. You get the impression that you have a lot in common with him. Only you don’t. He is football royalty. The biggest controversy (before HGH allegations – oh my!) in his life was choosing Tennessee over Ole Miss, his father’s alma mater. But he’s our man. He has given us enough success to celebrate with enough failures to make us comfortable with our own stumbles.

Maybe we should quit over-analyzing athletes and just accept them for who they are. I’d wager our best role models are found elsewhere.

Then again, we could opt to selectively express our outrage while ignoring gems like this from Super Bowl MVP (does he count as a role model, now?) Von Miller after playing an incredible game against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship. With regards to Tom Brady…

I tried to rub my nuts on his face.

Finally, some class. Stay in school, kids!


I had to migrate my Facebook Profile over to a Page. It was the right thing to do because I’m representing a blog, and it also protects your privacy. Many of you who were my Facebook Friends migrated over as Fans, meaning you gave my page a “Like” automatically. Many others did not transition so well. A technical glitch, according to Facebook. If you’d be so kind, please “Like” my page so you’ll get an update when I post. Thank you!

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Like a Captain Who Commands His Ship from Shore

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We have talked – in the past – about my efforts to keep this medium afloat amidst a busy schedule and other demands. I appreciate your patience to that end. I like what we’ve built and I’ve no desire to see it wash away. One proposal that keeps us all active, while also retaining my ability to earn a salary, was for me to start conversations that you all finish.

Well, here ya’ go.

For more than two years, the Navy’s intelligence chief has been stuck with a major handicap: He’s not allowed to know any secrets.

Vice Adm. Ted “Twig” Branch has been barred from reading, seeing or hearing classified information since November 2013, when the Navy learned from the Justice Department that his name had surfaced in a giant corruption investigation involving a foreign defense contractor and scores of Navy personnel.

Worried that Branch was on the verge of being indicted, Navy leaders suspended his access to classified materials. They did the same to one of his deputies, Rear Adm. Bruce F. Loveless, the Navy’s director of intelligence operations.

More than 800 days later, neither Branch nor Loveless has been charged. But neither has been cleared, either. Their access to classified information remains blocked.

The full story is here.

I’m not sorry to say that I don’t get it. I don’t get it at all. Spare me the stories about managing the personnel and providing leadership. We could hire a GS-14 to do that. If you are the head of Intel you have to be able to Intel (is that a verb?). I can’t think of a single other scenario where the Navy would allow this. I know first-hand of O-5s and O-6s who lost security clearances and were removed from their positions because of potential ties to the GDMA Mess. It may ultimately be proven that they did nothing wrong, but they weren’t allowed to stay in their jobs while that decision was made.

I will further add that this is not fair to Rear Admiral Elizabeth Train, whose name has come up several times as the nominee for the N2/N6 post. And what of our taxpayers? And what of our Sailors? Everyone deserves better.

Your turn.

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A Strange, Utterly Confusing, If Not Confounding Week

Most of you know me as verbose. Not this time. I’m channeling my inner Hemingway. There are so many moving parts here that I can only tie them together, guide you along my thought process, and let you decide.

I like our President. I mean that sincerely. He is a good man with a good heart. I respect him and the office he holds. This does not mean that I endorse his foreign policy. I generally do not. Last week, he told the world that the United States is still the greatest nation on earth. I agree. He also played down the capability of our adversaries. I do not agree.

While he spoke, this happened.

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It’s painful to look at that picture. I’m grateful our young men and women are home safely. Beyond that, all I can say is that it’s embarrassing. Humiliating, even. It’s hard for me not to tie such events to our bungling policy. The JV team is tough to distinguish.

Meanwhile, the civilian leader of our Navy, a man with a history of tinkering, announces his obsession with eradicating the word “man”. No more Rifleman. Fireman. Airman. Radioman. This smacks of a solution in search of a problem. I’m willing to admit I’m wrong. If someone is truly offended by this, I’m all ears. If I’m not wrong, I want an accounting for every man-hour spent on this science project. Oops. And someone tell Neil Armstrong he’s a chauvinist.

That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

Oops, again.

And now there is a prisoner swap. I applaud it. The $1.7B payout ($400M plus interest) to Iran is tough to swallow. I hope we have a way to recoup the funds if the Iranians don’t uphold their end of the deal. Admittedly, statecraft is an ugly business.

It doesn’t have to be this ugly.

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I can’t even post the picture of the apology. It’s too much. Mistakes are mistakes, but not every slip-up merits a global expression of regret. I’m trying not to judge. I’d like to see more pride.

As optics go, this is a dreadful one. Maybe it’s time to worry less about a Sailor getting inebriated in Hong Kong and worry more about our training and equipment.

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Sometimes the Good Ones Get Away – Busy Bee 604

Sometimes the good ones get away. CDR Hugh Magee was one of the good ones, and he certainly had a tale about “getting away.” Many of you more “experienced” readers may be familiar with Hugh’s story. For those of you who aren’t, I’m only going to tease you with a bit of his tale, and you’re going to have to do a little homework to learn the rest. Do the reading. When you’re done, pour a drink and raise your glass because, sadly, Hugh got away from us this week.

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During the summer of 1966 then-Lieutenant Magee was deployed with the Blue Diamonds of VA-146 as part of CVW-14 onboard RANGER (CVA 61). As a combat experienced Strike Lead he had flown 118 missions prior to manning up Busy Bee 604 (BuNo 149567) on June 25th. Just five days prior, restrictions were lifted that had previously prevented American aircraft from striking targets in and around the North Vietnamese capital of Hanoi and the coastal city of Haiphong. Excited by the possibility of inflicting some serious hurt on the enemy, Hugh and nine other Blue Diamond pilots joined 30 more aircraft heading north to strike petroleum, oil, and lubricant facilities near Haiphong. Enroute to the target-area the weather began to deteriorate and the strike was cancelled.   For several more days Hugh and the rest of this strike packaged briefed, dressed, walked, and sometimes launched – only to be shut-out by weather. The anxiety and frustration built until finally on June 25th, the entire strike package got airborne and headed north for the 20-minute trip to Haiphong. And, while the weather had improved slightly, in the end it still wasn’t good enough for the planned “ALPHA” strike. Divisions were split off and sent on to secondary targets.

Busy Bee One, Two, Three, and Four turned toward their pre-briefed secondary mission, but before making much progress in that direction they were directed to support an ongoing SAR effort. An A-6A from CONSTELLATION had been shot down near the coast. The pilot survived the ejection only to land ¼ mile off shore and well within the range of enemy coastal mortar positions. After a series of frequency changes and then visually locating the A-6 crew, the lead A-4 (flown by the Blue Diamond Commanding Officer, CDR Ed Schaufelberger) called “Busy Bee 1, rolling in.” Then 2. Then Hugh. What followed is an amazing tale of luck (both good and bad), remarkable bravery and regrettable loss.

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Painting by Ron McCarthy

Years after this fateful flight, Hugh graciously documented his story, The Loss of Busy Bee 604, and began sharing it with subsequent generations of Naval Aviators. In Hugh’s writing you can detect the irreverence, fear, relief, and exhaustion with which any carrier-based pilot is familiar. His ability to hold a group of young aviators captive with his TINS stories was remarkable. In the last few years of his life Hugh went to great lengths to pass along all that he knew and loved about Naval Aviation. Perhaps one of his greatest contributions was the conversion of old cockpit audio recordings into modern MP3 format. After countless hours, Hugh and a close friend of his were able to convert and re-record audio of his shoot-down and ensuing rescue; it offers a rare glimpse into the high-drama, teamwork, and kinship that has served as a hallmark of Naval Aviation for over 100 years.

 

CDR Francis Hugh Magee, USN (Ret)

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While still attending high school CDR Magee joined the U.S. Navy Reserve, serving with inactive Naval Reserve Surface Division 3-2 in Stratford, Connecticut. After completing high school, CDR Magee joined the Regular Navy in October 1953. Following bootcamp and one year of Electronics Technician “A” School, he was selected for submarine training. He graduated from Submarine School in February 1955 and subsequently served aboard USS CAVALLA (SSK-244), and USS BARRACUDA (SSK-1).

Following his promotion to Electronics Technician 2nd Class, CDR Magee applied to and was accepted for flight training in October 1956 at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. He completed the advanced jet syllabus at NAAS Chase Field, Beeville, Texas and was commissioned an Ensign and designated a Naval Aviator in July 1958.

CDR Magee served subsequent tours as an A-4 Skyhawk attack pilot in Attack Squadrons VA-94, VA-55, and VA-146. He served as an instructor pilot at both VA-125 and VA-44. CDR Magee finished 22 years of distinguished service as the Weapons Officer onboard USS MIDWAY (CVA-41), and then finally as the Aircraft Maintenance Officer on the staff of Commander Light Attack Wing Pacific, NAS Lemoore, California.

CDR Magee completed 247 combat strike missions in Vietnam during a two-year period. He was awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses, 27 Air Medals, five Navy Commendation Medals, two Navy Achievement Medals, and the Purple Heart. He was personally presented with the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross by South Vietnam’s President Thieu onboard CONSTELLATION. CDR Magee’s closed out his logbook with over 4,000 hours and 780 traps. After leaving the Navy CDR Magee earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Fresno State University and a Masters degree in Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.


Written with contributions from an anonymous reader.

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Merry Christmas. That is all. Just….. Merry Christmas.

I posted this video last year. I will probably post it every Christmas for as long as this website exists. It is brilliant – and perfect – in its simplicity. If you edited it you would only lessen its effectiveness.

My dearest wish is that this season finds you with contentment, peace and happiness. If that’s too much to ask, and it probably is, I hope things are trending in that direction.

I present Linus. Preach it, brother.

Merry Christmas.

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An Update on Buddy

buddy

In the wake of any tragic incident, there is invariably an onrush of support, which is very welcomed, also invariably. Protracted conflicts, however, are won not with staccato-like bursts of energy and commitment. They are won via hard-fought incremental gains earned while others rest. They are won when our resolve is tested and not found wanting. We find victory only after forgoing every off-ramp to the path of least resistance. Such is the case with our fellow warrior Buddy.

The attached is from Phil Work. As you’ll recall, he is the father of the young lady pictured above. As these updates arrive, I will post them so we can remain at Buddy’s side for the long-haul. For now, I ask that you not allow these updates to become routine. Nothing about his current life is routine. Riding alongside him during this marathon is the least we can do. So reach deep and lift him up in a manner that suits you.

And about that Beat Army thing? We did. Again.


Buddy Marshall Update: After five weeks of critical care in Fresno and Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia, Buddy has transferred to the Magee Spinal Rehabilitation Hospital, also in Philly, on Dec 7. He has immediately started twice daily regime of physical and occupational therapy under the care of PT’s Patrice and Mandy. He also has speech therapy and training in swallowing techniques. He is strengthening and making steady daily progress in small but positive increments. The patient care team at Magee are terrific, kind, compassionate and caring experts in rehabilitation, just what Buddy needs! He is estimated to remain at Magee for 3-4 months. Please share and keep praying and pulling for Buddy. He’s on the way back, but still needs our help! He was to spend part of today with some good Navy buddies watching the Army-Navy football game which was held close by at Lincoln Field. Go Navy, Beat Army, Go Buddy!

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The Parable of the Disappointed Pilot (Greenie Board!)

paddles

Back in our first days of FCLPs in Kingsville and Meridian, every carrier pilot learned that predictability and procedural compliance take students much further toward the end goal of carrier qualification than does occasional, flash-in-the-pan brilliance. The instructors develop trust in “the process” – in this case, the student’s ability and willingness to adhere to procedure. We don’t “trust” that a pilot is going to fly an OK pass every time, but we do trust that he’s not going to lead the low. We don’t “trust” that a pilot is going to have a 100-percent boarding rate, but we do trust that she isn’t going to spot the deck and then make an unsafe play for the four wire. The difference is subtle but important in a profession with such narrow margins for error. Of course, this is not to say that we shouldn’t value the pilot who has a consistently great GPA and boarding rate – we should all be so fortunate. Instead, I am suggesting that if both the instructor (or fleet LSO) and the pilot trust the process, we can develop a reasonable expectation that the grades and boarding rates will take care of themselves. More importantly, we’ll meet the overarching objective of getting safely back aboard the ship. It is crucial for both parties to trust the process – trust the system.

Based on the timing of this post, some readers might be asking a logical question: what about when the system – the process – doesn’t work the way we think it should? Let’s stick with the carrier environment and look at an experience many of us can relate to. EVERY single carrier pilot has flown a rails pass into the three wire and then stood smartly while Paddles read him a Fair. It stings. We know we worked our tails off to fly a solid pass and are disappointed to learn that Paddles thinks less of our work than we do. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all experienced this debrief, and if we’re really honest with ourselves, most of us will admit there were times when we didn’t handle the situation as well as we should have. Did we argue? Did we roll our eyes? Did we sulk back to the JO eight-man, grumbling the whole way about those lying, blind, good-for-nothing LSOs? We forget that our reaction to disappointment says more about our character than do the patches on our jacket or the colored tiles on the wall. We forget that there are principles and goals that dwarf our personal ambition. The best pilots take the debrief in stride and continue plugging away. The best pilots, though not immune to disappointment, understand that there is more than personal satisfaction and affirmation involved here. The best pilots – the best officers – understand that though they didn’t get recognized with the grade they felt they deserved, the process worked. They got back aboard safely, which we dare not forget is the ultimate objective.

Let’s stick with the theme, but play with a hypothetical. Let’s suppose that after being read his Fair, the pilot went to his Skipper and complained about the gross injustice that had just occurred. Ideally, the boss would point out to this pilot what a privilege it is to be serving his nation in such an impressive manner, and that his complaints call into question his understanding of selfless service. Hopefully, the skipper pointed out to the pilot that being allowed to fly gray jets, orange and white jets, helicopters, or big lumbering props for the Navy is a damn good deal, one that many strive for and few achieve. Not satisfied with this response, though, the pilot boldly decides to approach CAG to discuss the sub-par work of his staff LSOs. Fortunately for the complainant, CAG is sympathetic to the struggle and orders the grade changed. Of course, there are no secrets on the boat, and word travels fast that grades are negotiable. You didn’t get the grade you thought you earned, the grade you thought you deserved? Go to CAG. He’ll hear your story and might even help right the apparent wrongs of the world. In the process of doing so, he’ll marginalize his LSOs and undermine the foundation on which the entire enterprise rests. CAG will send the message that getting what you want is more important than larger organizational objectives. Now, pilots know that they don’t necessarily have to bring their best each and every time they roll out behind the ship. Sure, they’ll work hard enough to not kill themselves, but why strive for repeated excellence when you can show up with “good enough,” and then count on negotiating your way to a better grade? What can we surmise about the level of trust the LSOs have in the pilots and vice versa? Remember, this “system” only works if both parties trust one another to place organizational objectives ahead of individual gratification and self-interests.


 

Although this post is loosely related to the concept of the greenie board, the actual intent of my parenthetical comment in the title bar is to serve notice that this post is written by the Greenie Board. Capital letters. Greenie Board-Actual.

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Aviation Major Command as a Buffet

You just pick what you want. It really is that simple. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

CAG

The term I want to discuss first is the Friday news dump. It is well-known, particularly in political circles, as a best practice for shoving a story into the corner and hoping no one pays it any attention. The viewing public goes off to the opera, or on a weekend trip to the Cape, or to the Strike Fighter Ball, and while they do, the story dissipates. When everyone comes to work on Monday, the story no long exists. The later into the day on Friday you can execute the Friday news dump, the better off you’ll be. Was the late-Friday release of the Aviation Major Command Slate a deliberate Friday news dump? I can’t answer that question. It would not surprise me. It’s a better plan than hoping for a Clinton scandal.

These are last year’s CAG selects.

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These are this year’s CAG selects.

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This is the current CAG slate.

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Have at it, Sherlock Holmes. It’s elementary.

I’m not surprised by this. In fact I’ve known it was coming for a full year. It was only a matter of where and how. Still, I can’t help but be disappointed. I waited for the Hail Mary that was not to be. Aaron Rodgers was nowhere to be found.

For the first time in……. ever, I really don’t have much to say. I know that comes unexpected to those of you who have become accustomed to my blog posts. You know, the ones you wish were less wordy so you didn’t require a restroom break while reading.

If you have some emotion you need to vent, you can form it in the shape of condolences and send it to one or both of these guys.

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They were up against an immovable force. They never had a chance, and no one likes to play a rigged game. The basketball has to be smaller than the hoop, or there is no reason to play.

Others, in particular the Airborne Early Warning and Rotary Wing types, might also take exception. In an environment with too few opportunities, there was at least one less, and you couldn’t have known that from the outset. Maybe you don’t need acknowledgement from the VFA mafia, but rather more billets in SECNAV’s office.

You might recall when the “I’ll move people around on the major command select list as I see fit” e-mail came out, it was followed by the results, and it came accompanied by this reassurance:

The AMCSB adjourned this morning.  The Air Boss has reviewed and approved the selections, as recommended by the board.  No changes were made to which category an officer was selected.

It should have read:

The AMCSB adjourned this morning.  The Air Boss has reviewed and approved the selections, as recommended by the board.  No changes were made to which category an officer was selected from this year’s board. Last year’s board? That’s a different story altogether. We have a guy whose gear has been hanging at VFA-106 for a few months. We were just waiting for the right time to announce what has been a foregone conclusion for some time. We hoped no one would notice.

To the muckety-mucks: the next time you find yourself searching for a concrete example of the admittedly abstruse “lack of trust in senior leadership” concept, look no further. It’s right here.

Editor’s Note: Kindly remember that we don’t do hate on this website. Also, this is not a referendum on a broader topic.

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A Holiday Without Peer

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I took this picture at a golf tournament about a month ago.

I won’t subject you to the litany of reasons why, but this is my favorite holiday of the year. This is also my favorite time of the year.

I have no desire for an endless summer. You can’t fully appreciate the sun’s warmth on your skin if it never rains. You can’t fully appreciate the joy of happiness if you don’t feel the occasional sting of sadness.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Veterans Day and Meaningful Service

I’m taking a different approach today, my usual trope being worn out and all. Before I do, I want to briefly discuss the picture above, and the generation it represents. It has taken me time and maturity, the latter of which came slowly, to fully appreciate them. My lack of full commitment is superficial in that I can’t ever imagine a time later in life when I would put on a uniform and walk in a parade while waving a small American flag. That’s too bad, really. But that gentleman and I come from a different place. There is a chance that he was plucked form a small Pennsylvania town and hurled into combat after only minimal training alongside men he had only recently met. His real training occurred on the job, bullets whizzing by his all-too-thin helmet. There is also a chance that he hid some medical defect in order to make sure he was able to go. I salute you, sir. And whether or not I’m supposed to say this any more, I thank you for your service.

The below letter was sent to me earlier this week. The timing was fortuitous. There are many salient points and parables woven throughout. I don’t predict you’ll have trouble picking them out. For those who have already decided that they won’t navigate the wall of words, focus on the bold print.


I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your posts over the past few years.  They never fail to generate a tiny glimmer of hope that reason and rational thought can and could be applied to the NAVAIR behemoth.  Please indulge me to share some background before I get to the real reason behind my correspondence.

I am part of the “Exodus”, however small or large, I am one of those guys (2004 year group) on that golden path who just had enough.  Not bitter and jaded though, a little frustrated maybe, but more fortunate and content.  With each and every job I found myself in yet another unique and lucky circumstance where I somehow reached down and pulled a fist-sized diamond of a mission or assignment.  Here we go:

After being one of the first SNAs to fly the new T-6 (albeit I did have to survive Air Force primary at Moody, AFB) I was assigned Helos. Just like that the little 5 year old who had worked every waking moment of his whole life to be a Navy fighter pilot saw his dreams vanish in an instant.

“Oh god anything but helicopters, I didn’t even put that down on the sheet.”

“There’s a war on and all I’ve ever wanted to do was to put on those gold wings, point my grey aircraft toward the earth and break stuff with it.”

I was told that the best chance of getting in the fight was with the air wing and then maybe someday HCS-4. So, I selected HS out of advanced and ended up deploying with CAG-8 on the TR in 2008.  I was in a great squadron and CAG, the workup cycle was fun and we were finally on station taking the fight to the Taliban.  Well, I was flying plane-guard and watching my buddies come back to the boat with empty bomb racks.  Don’t get me wrong, I was having a great time as the AVARM Div-O and a new aircraft commander.  However, most people who fail to ultimately achieve their goals move on to something else.  I, on the other hand, got to watch people doing the very thing I would give anything to do on a daily basis.  I couldn’t take it anymore.  I wasn’t angry, just determined.

I sought the advice of a former HS pilot who was now a DH in one of our Rhino squadrons who gave me the transition rundown. At this point in time I was right in the middle of my JO tour so I had to pull the trigger on this transition sooner than later, which meant it was time to sit down with the Skipper and XO  to politely tell them that I wanted to leave the community.  These guys were awesome. I mean, you’ve never met a front office that was more on the same page with each other and even tempered to boot. Even then I knew I’d never draw a CO/XO combo like this ever again. They were the kind of team that always had your back. Even keeled gentlemen who implicitly trusted you as a pilot and never once killed a messenger. I wasn’t afraid to ever bring them bad news but I’d be damned if I didn’t already have a solution in the next breath. This is the only reason I approached the CO with what would otherwise have been my professional demise. Even still, I was really nervous as I sat down on the naugahyde covered cruise box crammed in front of the first row seats in the ready room that night. He patiently listened to my case and told me to go find out about the process and we’d discuss it further. That was that. A day or so later I got a call from the SDO that the Skipper wanted me to come down to his stateroom.  I tossed on my flightsuit with all of the speed and nervousness that comes from being summoned to the top of the JO’s “last place on earth I want to be” list.  Here’s how it went.

“Don’t worry about that transition stuff right now. I need you and your roommate to pack your bags to leave tomorrow.  I’m sending you two out on the Anti-Piracy detachment with the XO.  Oh by the way, you two are going to be combat-crewed together.  Don’t eff it up, have fun.”

A couple of days later we were patrolling the Gulf of Aden, single ship, out of radio range, guns out, sniper team onboard, and looking for a fight.  That kind of freedom instantly erases any misgivings a 25 year old LT had about what was right or wrong with his lot in life, ever.

After we got home we did a unit PCS to Norfolk, transitioned the squadron from the SH/HH-60 to the MH-60S and moved to Norfolk. As the QAO, I got to receive 8 brand new birds from the factory and life was good. One morning in January, I was in the ready room watching breaking news about an earthquake in Haiti when the skipper walked in, called me a lucky SOB, and told three of us we had 90 minutes to go home and pack a 6 week seabag.  That night we joined 22 other helicopters on the Carl Vinson and headed south. Over the next 6 weeks, I logged over 100 hours doing some of the most meaningful and solemn work I will ever do. In stark contrast to the overwhelming sense of tragedy was the complete awesomeness of coming together with my RAG classmates, all senior JOs now, in the four other squadrons aboard, as we turned CVN-70 into CHN-70.  The Admiral let us have at it and we had a hell of a good time organizing and executing that mission.  It’s a whole other story unto itself.

Shortly thereafter I was picked up for the SEAWOLF WTI course and spent my shore tour at the HSC Weapons School in Norfolk.  It was a fantastic tour working in the air and on the ground with JSOC units, teaching CAS, and improving CSAR.  The autonomy that came with being a SME and the ability to have real impact throughout the fleet was amazing. The countless Air Wing Fallon dets and ARP workups were fulfilling and fun to facilitate and fly.  I even got to team up with another WTI and come up with the plan on how to best employ the new M197 20MM gun.  We were able to work out a drug deal with some 160th DAP pilots who hosted us at Fort Campbell to teach us.  Then we, as the new SMEs, turned around and taught the next squadron to deploy with it.  By the end of the tour I had worked out a Skipper to Skipper agreement that next assignment would be with the HSC-84 Redwolves.  They needed experienced pilots and their future was still bright at this point.  Things were looking up, we would stay in Norfolk, and HSC-84 was the place to be to get in the action.

Nothing like a detailer to mess it all up.

“I don’t care what you think you worked out, but Guam needs a Squadron Training Officer.”

FDNF it was.  We moved out to Guam to one of the largest helicopter squadrons in the fleet where I inherited the responsibility of the tactical readiness of 120 pilots and aircrewmen.  This squadron also has the unique challenge and privilege of maintaining a Coast Guard SAR/MEDEVAC alert 24/365 on top of providing two deployed expeditionary detachments.  A rapid series of unexpected changes of command had also left the organization with more than a few challenges.  It wasn’t all fun, but it sure was an enriching experience.  We were expecting child number three and the grind of the past 9 years had taken its toll.  I had made the 0-4 list on the first look and DH was sure to follow.  Did we want to keep doing this?  I deployed two days after our first child was born and the time away hadn’t slowed down since.  I didn’t really sign up to be a Skipper and command a squadron. I signed up to be a Naval Aviator and do cool stuff with airplanes.  That had definitely happened, lady “operational” luck had smiled upon me multiple times. I looked in to taking an FTS slot at HSC-84/85 and their future was uncertain as best.  Yeah I had had enough, it was time to try something else. I dropped a don’t-pick-me letter to the board and sought life elsewhere. Guam was a great experience. I flew 3-4 days a week and got to do some amazing work out there.  My bosses backed my decision to get out 110-percent and were extremely helpful throughout the process.  This was the perfect time to call it. Ten straight years in the cockpit, at the top of my game, and with no regrets.

So here I am, a first year MBA student at Columbia Business School in New York.  Thankfully there are two other members of the Exodus with me here.  A Cobra WTI “Chili,” and “Donger,” an OSPREY/PHROG pilot who also did a pump as a JTAC.

Now to the point of this email.

Chili and Donger are two of the three founders of The Wingman Foundation (wingmanfoundation.org).  TWF is a Marine and Navy Pilot run non-profit whose sole mission is post-mishap relief for those killed and injured in Naval Aviation mishaps.  This includes aircrew, passengers, flight deck and squadron personnel, and JTACS.  After a series of mishaps in the HMLA community and the first aviation loss in Operation INHERENT RESOLVE, Chili, Donger, and Bronco decided that passing the hat around the ready room just didn’t cut it or have any real longevity.  We fill in the immediate gaps where DOD doesn’t move fast enough.  Last summer a Camp Pendleton based Osprey crewman broke his back during a crash in Hawaii.  The Skipper called us and we had his wife at his bedside within 24 hours.  The bureaucracy just can’t really do that.   We are also forming a veteran surviving spouses network to be on call to come in to help if requested by a recent surviving spouse.  All immediate requests come through the squadron CO or OMBUDSMAN.  Longer term, we preserve the memory of the fallen through erecting and maintaining memorials while also having hometown streets or other venues renamed in their honor. These guys have done a great job getting word out on the Marine Corps side.  They brought me on as the Naval Aviation guy.  I’m currently reaching out to most of my contacts and plan to do an East Coast road show to give our pitch to the various COs and Commodores. We currently have about $120K in the coffers. We’ll be a CFC charity next year and are going to try to be a permanent part of the Tailhook/NHA/ANA festivities as well.  This spring we are holding an inaugural gala on the Intrepid and plan to have some heavy hitters in attendance.  Our goal is to run awareness of this thing all the way up to Naval Aviation Hallway.  Nobody on staff gets paid. It’s a small for-us-by-us team of nine guys who are on active duty or recently transitioned to upper-tier MBA programs.  We plan on doing this as long as it makes sense and then passing it down to the next generation of flyers.

You are always a great source of sage advice and I wanted to fire this your way.  While this letter was mostly an informational vent I would like to work with you to put out the word about the foundation on the website.   Thank You for taking the time to read this.  I sure enjoyed writing it all down today.  It really puts things in perspective.  Please check us out at wingmanfoundation.org and tell me what you think.

wingman


So there it is. No hidden agenda. Not a paid plug. Just goodness. For a small group of guys who stepped out of uniform, you can’t argue that they didn’t find a way to continue meaningful service.

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