When I was but a wee junior officer, which feels very recent but was not, we detached ourselves from the tethers of the island of Honshu, Japan and settled upon the shores of Guam. It was a treat to be there and fly there. The bars and restaurants were plentiful and most everyone spoke English. After a full day of sprinkling rockets and Walleye on a deserted isle, we descended upon Tumon Bay to celebrate our victory over a bunch of rocks and coral that didn’t put up much of a fight.
We concluded our ribaldry at one particular establishment and set about to find another. During the process, one of our group – a friend and squadron-mate – had taken umbrage with the behavior of a bouncer who was working the entry and exit. I don’t know the cause of it, not even to this day. What I do know is that my fellow junior officer hastily decided to throw a punch off his back foot that landed squarely on the nose of this cantankerous bouncer. And lo did his punch find its mark, to the tune of 250 pounds of Samoan quickly finding its way to the wooden deck. It was a great punch. I still find myself enamored with its efficacy. The rest? Well, it ended predictably. Where there is one bouncer there are four, and they descended upon us with incredible speed and notable vexation. Our steely crowd of courageous naval aviators, with stern resolve but glass jaws, was no match for them. It’s tough to imagine, I know.
Our hero fell for one of the classic blunders. In making his decision to throw a punch, he asked himself what he wanted to do and not what he wanted to accomplish. Although that punch must have felt incredibly good as it mashed the cartilage in our antagonist’s nose, the ultimate result was a good bit less desirable, for a sore face does not make a good resting place for an oxygen mask under high G.
The leadership of our Forward Deployed Naval Forces in Japan also fell for this classic blunder. In the wake of an incident whereby a petty officer allegedly drove under the influence and struck two cars and injured two people, said “leadership” launched a knee-jerk reaction that is mind-bending, even by modern military standards. If you try really hard, you can almost hear them behind the closed doors of the conference room, “Well, we have to do something!” And do something, they did.
- Sailors are prohibited from drinking alcohol, on or off base.
- Off-base travel is restricted to official business (since rescinded).
Think about this to let the severity and ridiculousness sink in. Imagine yourself as a Navy Commander in your 40s. You didn’t really want to go to Japan, but the detailer talked you into it. She said it would be good for your career and enhance your prospects for O6. You reluctantly took the job, but were pleasantly surprised at how much you enjoyed Asian living on the tip of the spear. Until. Until the day you discovered you weren’t allowed to have a glass of wine with your spouse. In your own home. How about a night out for sushi? Out of the question. It’s not that you aren’t allowed to leave the confines of Yokosuka base because someone is concerned for your safety; it’s that you are being punished for something you didn’t do. Moreover, you are being punished for something that happened on an island 950 miles away. And Okinawa is, ironically, an island covered by members of other branches of the armed services, who are not being punished. Delicious, innit?
We’ve all either witnessed or are aware of the boot camp / plebe summer / OCS technique whereby the entire squad is punished when one person is late to formation. The idea there is that you can teach the squad to take care of and look out for one another by holding them all accountable. It helps make them think and work like a team. Don’t mistake this current debacle for that. They are not even in the same category. This is forcing everyone through a day or two of training kamp in order for them to understand the gravity of something they didn’t do. And as everyone knows, telling people not to carouse surely means they will not. It’s just as effective as getting everyone in a room and telling them that rape is bad. The truth of the matter is that the ones who would do it aren’t listening.
If you find yourself at one of life’s critical decision points, don’t ask yourself what you want to do, ask yourself what you want to accomplish. In this situation, if the goal was to discourage those who seek overseas duty and disincentivize good behavior, well…. mission accomplished.
First there was this.
Then there was the tragic end of this young man’s life.
Little G (g) Bernacchi, if you can hear me, and I suspect you can, you did a great job dealing with the emotional aftermath of this tragedy.
Readers can watch his media statement here.
You were a model of poise and leadership. You were a great ambassador of the legendary Blue Angel leaders of the past, and you showed us why you earned that job.
I will say of Jeff Kuss what I usually say in these situations. We never met, but I knew him. And he knew me. Were we given ten minutes at the O-Club, we would turn into long lost brothers. Had we been in the same squadron, I would have harassed him, gently at first. The harassment would increase every so slightly in its intensity until he finally decided to fight back. When he did, a smile would creep across my lips, because that’s what I wanted him to do all along.
I don’t know what happened in Smyrna, TN. For now, it doesn’t matter. My only hope is that when the time for practical matters comes along, there is something to learn. The only issue of consequence in the immediacy is grieving and healing. That will be tougher for some than it is for others.
Please lift up and pray for (in accordance with your custom) Jeff’s family. They now have a spiritual hole that can never be completely filled. It is times like this when the real benefit of having people around you who really and truly care is made manifest.
If you would, kindly consider making a donation here for this Great American’s young family. Don’t do it because Jeff was a Blue Angel. Do it because he is a warrior who died doing the very dangerous business we all love.
Soar with the angels, Jeff. The real ones. And because there are those among us who still operate aircraft and encounter dangerous situations from time to time, we’d appreciate an assist whenever warranted, wingman. I feel certain you’ll oblige.
I will let you read Admiral McRaven’s Op/Ed and form your own opinions. Before you do, a preliminary brief is in order.
I don’t know Admiral Losey. I do know Admiral McRaven. If he saw me across the room in a restaurant, he wouldn’t run over to say hello. If introduced, I would say, “I’m the guy who worked on X and briefed you on Y”, and he would say he remembered. That would be the extent of it.
I had the privilege of watching him work. He was impressive. He was (is) extremely innovative and charismatic. If you’re a proponent of the status quo, he’s not your man. If you’re interested in making something great even better, he’s your man. Perhaps that’s what he admired about Admiral Losey. It’s not for me to say.
What I can say, with more than a fair bit of confidence, is that I’ve watched the scenario he describes play out, and I’ve watched it play out more than once. It plays out like this.
Large commands – mostly staff and support commands – have a large number of civilian workers. Many of them are supremely devoted to the cause and work very hard. They put in the type of effort that was their hallmark while on active duty (if they served, and most did). Conversely, there are others who do little more than march in place. They had a retirement ceremony on Friday and came to work in the same office the following Monday in business casual. They are there because the job was available, and it didn’t involve a move, but it did involve a second government retirement. In some cases, they even had a hand in creating the civilian job while they were on active duty. Over time, they get very comfortable and grow increasingly resistant to change. When a particularly pesky senior officer comes along and it looks like the status quo is in jeopardy, and with it their comfort, they pursue one of two options.
- Wait the senior officer out. He’ll be gone in three years, and maybe he’ll get too busy to do anything that rocks the boat.
- If option 1 does not look promising, then you take him down.
And why not? There is no penalty for lobbing grenades from behind the impenetrable IG wall, nor any repercussion for fabricating and exaggerating. Moreover, after an unsuccessful campaign, there is nothing to prevent future attempts. It’s not even disincentivized. It seems to have worked in this particular case.
When I was a young boy my father, a veteran of World War II and Korea, schooled me on the downfall of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur, he explained, had overstepped his authority and shown blatant disrespect for the civilian leadership of the country. President Harry Truman relieved him of his command, and MacArthur retired soon thereafter.
Civilian rule of the military was one of the most fundamental principles of the armed forces. To believe differently was dangerous, my father told me. Dad strongly supported Truman’s action, and he made me understand the value of the civil-military relationship — a lesson I never forgot.
But over the past decade I have seen a disturbing trend in how politicians abuse and denigrate military leadership, particularly the officer corps, to advance their political agendas. Although this is certainly not a new phenomenon, it seems to be growing in intensity. My concern is that if this trend of disrespect to the military continues it will undermine the strength of the officer corps to the point where good men and women will forgo service — or worse the ones serving will be reluctant to make hard decision for fear their actions, however justified, will be used against them in the political arena.
Take the recent case of Rear Adm. Brian Losey.
Adm. Losey is the commander of all Naval Special Warfare forces — the SEALs and Special Boat sailors. I have known Losey for more than 30 years. He is without a doubt one of the finest officers with whom I have ever served. Over the past 15 years no officer I know in the SEAL Teams has given more to this country than Brian. None. As a young officer he was constantly deployed away from his family. After 9/11, he was sent to Afghanistan in the early days to help fight the Taliban. From there, Losey participated in the final march to Baghdad and then stayed in country as a SEAL Task Unit Commander. Afterward he served as the deputy and then the commanding officer of SEAL Team Six during more tough fighting in Afghanistan.
Later he was posted to the White House in the Office of Combating Terrorism. He made rear admiral in 2009 while at the White House. He was subsequently sent back overseas to Djibouti, Africa, to do a 15-month month isolated tour as the commander of all U.S. forces in the Horn of Africa. As a result of that successful tour, he was given command of Special Operations Command, Africa (SOCAFRICA).
SOCAFRICA was a relatively new command, which had been established to address the growing threat in North Africa. Located in the beautiful Swabian city of Stuttgart, Germany, it was initially staffed with military and civilian personnel from another nearby special operations unit. Although most of the men and women were incredibly capable, hard-working staffers, there was a small core who had been living in Europe for years enjoying the comfortable lifestyle in Stuttgart.
Upon Losey’s arrival in Germany, the situation in North Africa changed dramatically, and the fledgling SOCAFRICA had to quickly get on wartime footing. Brian Losey did just that.
Losey is a no-nonsense officer who knows what it takes to get results. Combat is hard. Lives are at stake. Being genteel and considerate of everyone’s feelings are not the qualities that will engender success. But although Losey can be a tough taskmaster, he is a “by-the-book” officer. Unfortunately for Losey, along the way to strengthening the command there were those who fought the change and through a series of whistleblower complaints sought to seek his removal.
At the time, I was the commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa. I worked with Gen. Carter Ham, who commanded U.S. Africa Command and had operational control of Adm. Losey, to investigate the complaints.
The investigation we initiated determined that Losey’s leadership style, while brusque and demanding, did not warrant his removal. The Navy subsequently recommended Losey for two stars, and he was confirmed by the Senate in December 2011.
Although the Navy inspector general absolved Losey of any wrongdoing, his promotion was put on hold pending DOD inspector general resolution of the complaints. Nevertheless, the secretary of the Navy agreed to reassign Adm. Losey to the premier job in Naval Special Warfare — command of all the SEALs.
During the past three years as commander of Naval Special Warfare Command (WARCOM), his staff has consistently ranked WARCOM to be one of the best places to work in the Navy. He has passed all Navy IG inspections with flying colors, and the retention statics for his young officers and enlisted is exceptional.
However, in the course of those three years, the whistleblowers from Stuttgart continued to pursue Losey’s removal and resignation, routinely submitting new complaints to prolong the process and hold up his promotion.
A series of DOD inspector general investigations were reviewed by the Navy leadership and, once again, Adm. Losey was found not to have violated any law, rule or policy. In fact, it was clear to the Navy that the personnel action taken by Losey against the complainants was not reprisal. He was recommended again for promotion to two stars.
Despite the Navy’s multiple endorsements, certain members of Congress chose to use Losey’s case to pursue their own political agenda. They held hostage other Navy nominations until Losey’s promotion recommendation was rescinded. The ransom for their congressional support was Brian Losey’s career and, more importantly, his stellar reputation.
They portrayed Losey’s actions as a case of the big guy seeking retribution on the little guy-whistleblower. In fact, it was a case of a few guys fighting to maintain their comfortable life at a time when others were at war and needed their support.
However, in today’s environment, when a leader challenges a whistleblower, there is an automatic indictment of the leader’s character. Questioning the whistleblower makes you guilty until proven innocent. And it is clear in this case that certain members of Congress didn’t care about Losey’s innocence. Nor did they seem to care that he has sacrificed more for this country than most members on Capitol Hill — or that the emotional strain of this investigation was devastating to his family. It is clear that all these lawmakers cared about was political leverage.
The case of Brian Losey is a miscarriage of justice. But the greater concern for America is the continued attack on leadership in the military.
During my past several years in uniform, I watched in disbelief how lawmakers treated the chairman, the service chiefs, the combatant commanders and other senior officers during Congressional testimony. These officers were men of incredible integrity, and yet some lawmakers showed no respect for their decades of service. I saw the DOD Inspector General’s Office frequently act as judge and jury, apparently accountable to no one, dismissing the recommendations of the services and ruining officer’s careers. I watched time and again how political correctness and pressure from Capitol Hill undermined command authority and good order and discipline.
Although we in the military understand the absolute necessity to serve and respect our civilian leaders — and every good leader understands and appreciates the value of anonymous complaints to ferret out bad leadership — we also need civilians to understand that a strong military, particularly an all-volunteer one, needs the support of our civilian leaders, not the constant refrain of disrespect that seems so common in today’s political narrative.
Last month, after the decision to rescind Rear Adm. Brian Losey’s promotion recommendation became public, Losey addressed his junior officers. Instead of being angry and bitter over the outcome, Losey had nothing but praise for the Navy and the nation for which he has served so long. He encouraged the young officers not to get discouraged about the ruling against him, but to recognize that this is the greatest military in the world and we are fortunate to be part of it.
I would echo Losey’s sentiments. But to keep this the greatest military in the world, to preserve the strong civilian-military relations we have so long enjoyed, we must recognize that respect works both ways. Every time an individual lawmaker’s political agenda undermines the integrity of the men and women in the military, we weaken the fabric of the uniform.
In light of the challenging times in which we find ourselves, politically and strategically, we cannot afford to have a military that loses respect for its civilian leaders. My father was right. The strength of America always rests with our nation’s civilians. God forbid we should ever see it differently.
Retired Adm. William H. McRaven is former commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command.
Allow me to be the first. Perhaps I can even set the proper tone.
Congratulations again to all the selectees! You should be justifiably proud of your accomplishments, and equally pleased that the board found you deserving of such a grand opportunity. Command is special. There is nothing like it.
I hope you got your first choice of duty assignment. If you did not, I hope you find the Navy’s choice for you acceptable. If you do not, I hope you can be open-minded enough to give it a chance before damning yourself to three years of unhappiness. At the risk of being a Pollyanna, you may just find that what you perceived as a curse was actually a blessing.
My recent posting of the Aviation Command Screen Board results, and the comments that followed, made me realize two things. I feel compelled to share only one of them. I believe the common understanding of the process and what should or should not happen is flawed. It’s arrogant of me to say that, I admit. It relies on the assumption that I am smarter than you (the collective you), or that I know things you don’t. I don’t take that burden lightly. I’ll make the case; you can judge.
I’ve written it here before, and I’ll write it again. The Aviation Command Screen Board does a fantastic job of picking the right people. Is it perfect? No. Not even close. Is it good? Yes. It’s not just good, it’s very good. There are always fantastic people who don’t screen, just as there are slackers who do. I think we focus too much on that very small number and not enough on the majority who were given their rightfully earned place on the list. As for the mistakes? Our angst is often misplaced. We’re mad at the board, but we should focus our venom on the true culprit.
The true culprit, thank you for asking, is the leader (or collection of leaders) who has not done his/her job in properly evaluating his subordinates. On the one hand, you have the officer who looks, smells and feels like a community superstar but lacks substance. This officer is often ushered along from one tour to the next in spite of his mediocre results. The strength of his string of perceived successes is often so strong that no one is willing to be the one who tells Cinderella that midnight is coming early. When this happens, don’t blame the board.
On the other hand, there is the really great officer who screened for something other than a squadron (or nothing at all), and in everyone’s mind should have been a lock. That’s when we start using terms like “bad luck” and “short tickets”. Those quotation marks are there on purpose, as the terms they surround can not necessarily be taken at face value. Do some guys suffer from “bad luck” and “short tickets”? Absolutely they do, but they are few in number. The easiest assumption, of course, is that there is a flaw in the system, and that’s why this particular superstar was left without a chair when the music stopped. The true culprit, though, is not the system. The true culprit is the same officer in the paragraph above who makes a different mistake based on the same shortcoming – a lack of moral courage. The toughest conversation (that doesn’t involve death) you will have as a CO is the one when you tell a very strong officer that his dreams of being a fleet CO have come to a close. It’s such a tough conversation that most people won’t have it. Instead, they give one officer a six-month ticket and another officer a five-month ticket and leave it to the board. When the folks in Memphis make the wrong decision, it is not their fault, so don’t blame the board.
The Warrior Elite
I was tempted to title this “the myth of the warrior elite”, but I didn’t want to risk alienating anyone or misrepresenting my position. Some background is required. Please don’t mistake it for bragging.
My blood runs powder blue. I spent many, many years teaching at Fighter Weapons Schools. I was never the “put me on for red air” or “Isn’t there an FCF?” CO. I was a Level 4I and I used it. The number of my career flights that required a gradesheet is vastly greater than the number of flights that did not. I devoted an hour per day, without fail, to tactical study in order to make sure I could lead from the front. I did briefing labs and worked the TACTS console. As an O-6. Unlike those whose only strength is ball-flying, I didn’t make the greenie board the center of ready room attention. I actually had it taken down.
Why do I tell you all this? If I don’t, you’ll dismiss everything else I’m going to tell you.
Your job as a Fleet CO is not to be an SFTI (or GTI, SWTI, etc.) who wears O5 insignia and a command pin. You already have an SFTI. She’s an O3, or maybe an O4 select. He’s supposed to be the Jedi Knight who lives and breathes tactics all day. Let him do his job. You do yours. And your job, tactically speaking, is made up of three things:
- Lead from the front as best you are able.
- Make the effort!
- Fully support your SFTI(s).
Here’s a quick sea story about #3. On my third day as an SFTI, the jets I was waiting on to conduct a Level 3 check-ride rehearsal, one of which was being flown by Rocket 1, radioed from overhead the field. Instead of landing on time at home plate, they had collectively decided to save gas for an impromptu trip to Key West for blackened grouper sandwiches. Really. So yeah, #3 is as important as #1 and #2.
This modicum of tactical prowess is just a small portion of what’s expected of a CO. In fact, everything else comprises a large majority of your CO’s responsibilities and why she is getting paid by the Navy. There is the FRG to run. There are awards to hand out. There is Chief’s Initiation. Or CPO 365. Or whatever. There are schools. There is mandatory training. There are check-in briefs and check-out briefs. There are negotiations with the Bureau. I could go on and on and on. Your CO even has to be good at paperwork. You heard me. Paperwork. If he’s not good at paperwork, FITREPs are a disaster and people get horrible orders (see above). Believe me when I tell you that you don’t want a CO who is all warrior. It’s all about balance. Being a great pilot is simply not enough.
Everyone loves the totally committed warrior who focuses on nothing but being the absolute best tactician the world has ever seen. This isn’t your CO who still wishes he was an SFTI. This is your SFTI, and he’s not just any SFTI. He is a God with wings. In BFM, he has sliced through your entire squadron lineup like a hot knife through butter. He is so good, it’s impossible for him to fathom why everyone isn’t at least in the same ballpark in terms of talent and dedication.
But there is one duty this perfect killer cannot disregard no matter how much he loathes it. And it is a duty. An obligation. He has to be able to forge a working relationship with his CO. It doesn’t matter that the CO is a total leaf-eater who avoids tactical sorties like the plague and shortcuts the SFTI at every opportunity. He has to make it work.
If Anakin Skywalker decides to stand firmly by his principles instead of finding middle ground, he will divide the squadron into two camps and likely tube his career. When that happens, don’t blame the board, and remember that Joan of Arc had a hand in her own undoing.
Timing does matter, and it’s unfortunate that it does. But it’s not the only thing that matters, and in the hands of a capable CO (see above), its effects can be mitigated.
In my world view, if anyone cares, the effects of timing are most acute in the O4 to O6 ranks. Just ditch the change of command FITREP and go to semi-annual FITREPs. The Navy does nearly that many anyway, and I’m not sure why the CO departing the command should have one last chance to put his fingerprints all over everything. Those fingerprints have long-lasting effects, as erasing them causes a great deal of collateral damage.
I apologize for the format, but I wanted to get this out quickly to everyone. Hearty congratulations to the selectees! There comes a time when this list mostly just makes you feel old.
> LESLIE KYLE PORTER
> RAGUSA ANDREA MARIE
> ADAMS JOSEPH REID
> AYOTTE DAVID WINSTON JR
> HAINES ETHAN DANIEL
> HALEY RICHARD DANIEL
> JACOBI LOREN MATTHEW
> JAMISON BRIAN A
> LOFORTI FRANK MCGINTY
> MORLEY PATRICK DENIS
> NEWMAN CHANDRA STEPHANIE
> PERSIANI MATTHEW N
> PROUTY TREVOR JOHN
> UPRIGHT CHAD KIRBY
> VALENZUELA SANTICO J
> BANZ JUSTIN DEAN
> BIZZARRI DAVID ANTHONY
> CRUZ NORMAN B
> EISENSTATT THOMAS J
> ELIZONDO ROBERT K
> HUTTER ERIC D
> MARTINS DANIEL M
> MURPHY DANIEL MICHAEL II
> NADDER JOHN CHRISTOPHER
> NERY GREGORY S
> RUSSO JASON PAUL
> STEACY STEPHEN D
> HILBURN JOHN AUSTIN
> MCCARTY KEVIN LEWIS
> MULCAHEY MATTHEW T
> NELSON JOHN WILLIAM
> NESSET CHRISTIAN REMBOLDT
> ROWAN CHRISTOPHER STUART
> THOMPSON SHANNON MARIE
> TIPPETT JASON EUGENE
> WINSTEAD RICHARD MAURICE
> BELL ERIC J
> CARRILLO GUILLERMO I
> CARSTENS RYAN R
> COLEMAN JOHN C
> OLSON MATTHEW C
> STEPHEN MICHAEL ROSS
> YENIAS STEPHEN VINCENT
> HEIL ADAM NICHOLAS
> ACEVEDO RAUL TOMAS
> BEAN ADAM T
> BROADWATER BRIAN CHARLES
> CATALINA LOUIS FRANCOIS IV
> DARTEZ DAVID J
> FRANK WILLIAM P
> HALLIGAN JUSTIN THOMAS
> HAMPTON NICHOLAS S
> HOCKYCKO KENNETH BRYAN
> JAMISON DALLAS RIDGEWAY II
> JAQUITH BRENT HANSSEN
> JASON KYLE BLEI
> KITTS DANIEL EUGENE
> LITTMAN ROBERT R
> LOVELESS DAMON BENJAMIN
> MCNATT KEVIN RAY
> MORGAN MATTHEW JOHN
> MORRISON SAMUEL PATRICK
> NIESWAND MATTHEW JOHN
> OLDHAM DOUGLAS WARREN
> PEVERILL DUSTIN WILLIAM
> SAUNDERS NICHOLAS PATRICK
> SWAIN LUKE JONES
> TIMMESTER SCOTT KEVIN
> WALBORN BENJAMIN DAVID
> WESTPHALL DANNY FRANK JR
> WILLIAMS CHRISTOPHER STEPHE
> WILLIAMS JASON ROBERT
> WITT MICHAEL KEITH
> WALKER JEFFERY ALLAN
> WASHBURN JERROD E
> BISHOP MICHAEL D
> BUKOLT MICHAEL PETER JR
> DAVIS THOMAS RYAN
> GEGG PATRICK MICHAEL
> HAYMON MICHAEL JAMES JR
> KIRKLAND HAMISH P
> MCKERRING MATHEW JOEL
> OREILLY PATRICK KEVIN JR
> PIANETTA JOHN THOMAS
> SCHNEIDER BRIAN JOSEPH
> TRUMBULL MICHAEL P
> WILKERSON ROBERT ALLEN
> VQ (T) OP
> GARDNER DAVID MURPHY
> HAYES JONATHAN TESMER
> TRARON, HELTRARON, TACRON, WEAPON SCHOOL
> BROGREN JOSEPH DANIEL
> BROWN CHRISTOPHER M
> DAVIS FRANK WILLIAM JR
> FULLER JOSHUA PHILIP
> HAGY DUSTIN R
> HARRIS BARNET LOUIS II
> HESS CORY F
> HOOVER SHANNON L
> KAMAS MICHAEL G
> KEAVENY MICHAEL P
> MILLER MARK J
> PICKERING THOMAS PIERCE
> POPE CORY DEAN
> REFO TARA ALEXANDRA
> ROSSI GIANCARLO
> THOMAS ERIK MICHAEL
> VITRELLA STEVEN EDWARD
> WEGMUELLER DAVID JOHN
> WHETSTONE DAVID W
> WHITE DOUGLAS MICHAEL
> BRIG, FASFAC, MSC, MWTC, NRD
> CIGANOVICH JOHN HENSLER
> HAESLER JOHN MICHAEL
> HART PAT WYATT
> KELLEY JOSHUA GRANT
> KENDRICK CHRISTOPHER JAMES
> SCHROEDER KEITH
> SCHULTZ STEVEN J
> UDDENBERG CLIFF J
> TEST AND EVALUATION
> GEPHART ANDREW D
> RIOUX GLENN P
> THARP MATTHEW JAMES
> BERTI RANDY JOSEPH
> BITTLE KEVIN DAVID
> CERESOLA REECO DELL
> EDGE ERIC WALTER
> MASSEY CLAYTON B
> POLITO MICHAEL AUSTIN
> WINDOM MICHAEL
> FOLSOM STEPHEN ALAN
> HARPER RONNIE C JR
> KELLY TIMOTHY JOHN
> KENNEDY MARK ALLEN
> SUDDUTH RAYMOND
> SECOND COMMAND-IN-GRADE
> BICKEL BRANNON STEWART
> DUFFEY GRADY GENE JR
> DUFFY MATTHEW JAMES
> GENDRON PATRICK EARL
> ILLSTON ERIC PHILLIP
> LOCKE TOMMY FRANKLIN JR
> ROCHELEAU SEAN PATRICK
> WEYENBERG MARTIN LLOYD
> WHITFIELD RICHARD WEBB
This blog would not exist were it not for him. Whatever it is we’ve created is because of him. Such claims are over-used, and often times not true. In my case, they are true. I assure you of it. There is a zero-percent chance I would have ever started a blog without the inspiration I drew from Lex and his blog. I sensed an unfulfilled need, perhaps in myself, and for better or for worse, we are here.
My first readers – my core readers – were the Lexicans, so called because they loyally followed Lex. And doesn’t every constituency deserve a cool name? I am grateful to them. Thank you, Lexicans. Over time, my audience has both grown and morphed. It occurs to me then, that many of you never knew Lex, and some number less were never even exposed to his writing. Let us bridge the divide.
Lex is Carroll Fairfax Lefon. He was an old school Virginia gentleman who found his way to the Naval Academy, as you can see in the enclosed graphic, which closely chronicles his Navy journey. Lex was an All American fencer at Navy – a chosen pursuit more appropriate than you could ever imagine.
I first met Lex during my junior officer tour. He was a role model and mentor at a time when there were few to be found in that pay grade in my particular locale. He was ice-cold behind the boat. I had never seen anyone better (read more about that here). And he was a formidable opponent when fighting the jet, even if prone to bending the rules (wink) from time to time. Because fair fights are stupid, he said. In combat there are winners and losers. Dead men tell no tales, and what is life if there is no tale to tell?
I probably knew Lex as well as anyone not connected to him by blood or law. This is not to boast. There were others who could claim likewise: Beef, Oyster, Woody, and Trim to name a few. Lex and I simply had a lot in common. We had nearly identical views of whiskey and beer, both marveling at how a hearty brew like Guinness can be low calorie. We shared good books and a common understanding of good writing. We had a similar view of how the world should be (but rarely was). We both loved golf. I had his number for the longest time, until one day when I did not. The easiest way to describe Lex is to say that he was really, really good company. Maintaining a friendship with him did not require effort. I colored outside the lines from time to time, as is my nature. He nudged me back inside the boundaries. It didn’t hurt. I knew it was necessary, and I preferred the nudge come from him than from anyone else. The only sting was that which accompanies disappointing the teacher you admire.
We served together again at the crystal palace of TOPGUN, where the wine flows like water and the angels sing on the hour. Lex worked in Training Systems and eventually became the TOPGUN XO. The TOPGUN XO is not a job for which you are screened. It’s usually held by the senior post-Department Head on staff. Lex took the post and relished the opportunity to run admin interference and fend off the Man so the steely-eyed JO killers could focus on breaking things and hurting people. Life was good.
Lex went on to command the World Famous Orange-Tailed Shrikes of VFA-94. He was a good Skipper. There is no denying it. He would tell you that there were things he could have done better and chose not to. How that played out is not in dispute. Whether or not Lex considered that a regret is up to you. You’ll have enough information to form your own opinion soon enough.
Four years ago today, Lex was taken from us in a tragic aviation accident. He left behind many things, not the least of which was a loving family I’m proud to know still. His beloved Mary is a world-class cook and Saint who often wore the bruises she collected from working with severely autistic children like a badge of honor. I’ll save the details of the children who don’t deserve to have their attributes (albeit wonderful) aired out in public.
Lex’s broader if not less important legacy is built on the many lives he touched. Excerpted below is part of a blog post he wrote in response to a request for advice about taking command. There are so many pearls of wisdom embedded herein I hardly know where to begin. Finding them is up to you. Behold, the unbearable lightness of Lex.
Oh, you’ve seen well enough I think to know what you’ll want to do, I have every confidence in your leadership.
As the XO, I tried to support the skipper’s plan, because that’s what I would have wanted in his shoes. That was pretty easy working for a guy like Oaf, it might have been harder with other guys I knew. Still, you don’t want the people choosing sides between the front office. Hope that you get lucky with your slate. It’s OK to come off as a hard ass on your first day, you can always ease sheets after. Hard to pull them back in though, when you start off as everybody’s friend.
You’ve probably got a better sense of my performance as a CO than I do. I do know that I tried hard to make it look like fun, tried hard to empower the CPOs to do their jobs and then hold them accountable for it. A lot of working with the troops ends up being a listening tour. People don’t need for you to agree with them or adopt their point of view. They do appreciate getting the chance to air it. With the aviators, I tried to emphasize the things I thought important; being combat lethal and taking care of our people. Don’t be afraid to speak from your heart.
I also tried to make my 15 months with the sheriff’s badge something I wouldn’t have to regret afterward. You’re not promised anything after command, so I didn’t want to become someone I wasn’t in the hopes of further advancement. You could change who you are – or seem to be – and still not make it to flag, or major command. And you’d have lost your self-respect along the way. I always thought if you gave it your best and it didn’t work out, then it probably wasn’t right for you. Whatever “it” is. But I may have been too downward looking, trying to run the outfit professionally and let the chips fall where they may. It might have been better if I spent some more duty cycles looking up a bit as well. If you get the CAG’s job some day, you’ll probably appreciate the same courtesy.
For example, I probably could have done a better job at keeping CAG apprised at what was going on inside the squadron, rather than surprising him – and his boss – when the occasional SITREP would come out. The regs are pretty clear on when such things need to be generated, but they raise a lot of eyebrows at the higher levels, and can lead to some second guessing. It never hurts to make the phone call first, so your boss hears about it from you. It turns out that there are flag staffers who sit by the message terminal lidlessly waiting for a squadron-level SITREP, in the hopes of getting to to tell the admiral about it first. If CAG gets a call from his boss and you haven’t spoken to him, he might come to resent it.
You’ll probably hate it, but as an XO, make the time to step up to the War Room while you’re at sea (if CAG lets you) and get a feel for what the heavies talk about, what slides they show, their body language. Most strike groups have a morning flag meeting, many have an evening war council. The first is all about today’s effort, the latter more of a long range rumination combined with a retrospective on the day just done. You’ll get a much better sense of what the CAG wants to brag to his boss about, and maybe you can help give him some talking points when its your turn. Get that stupid CDO letter from the ship’s CO as soon as you can, preferably on the outbound leg.
Shit happens. Leadership occurs in the aftermath. People who shoot messengers end up not getting any more messages. It’s a little like first aid: Stop the bleeding, protect the wound, treat for shock. There’s always time later for in-depth reconstruction, but it has to be more about preventing recurrence than finding the right dog to beat.
I didn’t think about this enough, but the CAG probably has ambitions of his own. I didn’t have a very high regard for one of the guys I worked for, neither as an officer nor an aviator. I probably could have done a better job masking my contempt. I don’t have much in the way of unctuousness inside me, and always had a positive loathing for careerist apple polishing in any case. But a lot of my former peers are now commanding aircraft carriers and air wings and I’m a retired guy in a consulting job, fooling around with a blog. On most days I’m OK with that.
And I don’t know that I’d do anything all that differently, especially inside the squadron. I am who I am.
You just be you. You’ll do great. All this for what it’s worth. Best, Lex
He was a great man gone too soon. Never perfect, always forgiven. Should you feel so moved, have a sip of the good stuff in his honor. Guinness for strength; Jameson for courage.
The decompression sickness (DCS) and Onboard Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS) problems that are being experienced in the Navy’s Strike Fighter community are extremely “concerning” to say the least. The current Navy Times article is the first instance of this issue getting publicity, even though this has been an ongoing problem for years. In my opinion, the Navy’s prevalent attitude of “we will get the job done at any cost” is the key factor in the suppression of these issues. The cost of that suppression is getting high.
Decompression sickness (DCS) is affecting the fleet at an increasing rate. The F/A-18 cabin pressurization system is designed to keep the cabin pressurized to an acceptable level for aircrew to operate the jet at high altitudes. Stable cabin pressurization is a critical component for aircrew survivability in extreme environments. The failures being experienced by the fleet are acutely troubling. Surging cabin pressurization with radical compression and decompressions swings are causing grave and debilitating injuries. Aircrews are being sent to hyperbaric chambers at an alarming rate. This type of decompression sickness is the exact same concern that scuba and deep sea divers encounter. The Navy has pilots with career ending injuries that can no longer fly due to DCS.
There are numerous issues with OBOGS that are causing aircrew to experience hypoxia. The main problem is that the system is not able to filter out all of the contaminants from the aircrews’ breathing air. This is due to several factors, first and foremost is that the specified filter media used in OBOGS concentrators is incapable of removing all of the contaminants ingested by the system. Another causal factor is that when these concentrators are refurbished after a certain amount of flight hours, the old contaminated filter media is not being replaced with new material. The units are reusing “cleansed” media after being reinstalled. The previously used material does not filter out the impurities like that of the new virgin media. So, the combination of a sub-optimally designed filter system unable to remove all of the impurities coupled with used filter media has led to a substantial increase in the number of hypoxia / histoxic cases. The Navy has been working on a new filter material for the last six years. This year, a new filter media is finally being released but it is reaching the fleet at an underwhelmingly sluggish rate, one air wing at a time. Additionally, initial results show that the new filter material is still unable to clean all of the contaminants from the aircrews’ breathing air. Hypoxia events are still occurring in jets with new filter media. How much longer is the Navy going to struggle with this problem before getting it fixed correctly?
Aircrew breathing “bad” air is a significant issue in and of itself. Not knowing you are getting bad air is a worst case scenario. Presently, the aircraft does not have a way to notify the aircrew that they are breathing contaminated air. The current system will only alert the aircrew when the oxygen concentration drops below a certain threshold. The existing monitor does not test the aircrews’ breathing air for impurities such as carbon monoxide or other poisons causing histoxic hypoxia. These “poisoning” cases are growing at a calamitous rate and flying aircraft with a critical survival system so severely flawed will ultimately lead to fatal consequences.
With such systemic problems, one might assume they would be fixed immediately. However, the Navy cannot seem to field anything in a timely manner. Instead of repairing these dangerous life support systems at any cost, the Navy is training aircrew on how to recognize when they are being poisoned and thus rewriting emergency procedures. The Reduced Oxygen Breathing Device (ROBD) was designed to induce hypoxia to aircrew in a controlled environment. The ROBD device lowers a pilot’s or NFO’s oxygen level to a point where they actually become hypoxic. The premise being that if the aircrew can learn what their individual hypoxia symptoms are, then they should be able to perform emergency boldface procedures to save their lives. Executing these emergency procedures properly gives aircrew approximately 5-10 minutes of 100% oxygen from an emergency O2 bottle. During this time the aircrew should regain enough cognitive ability to secure the bad air from OBOGS, descend to a lower altitude and land the aircraft without a problem. If the only problem was a lack of oxygen, this would be great. However, aircrews are being poisoned by contaminated air. In histoxic hypoxia, it can take over an hour of 100% oxygen to get these contaminates out of the aircrews’ system. In these ever increasing incidents, the aircrew are not operating at 100%. Confusion, nausea, and blacking out are just some of the symptoms of an aircrew member becoming hypoxic. These conditions make it difficult if not impossible to fly the multi-million dollar aircraft. Pilots becoming hypoxic can lead to an aircraft with an unconscious pilot at the controls. In this situation, no one knows where the jet will eventually crash into the ground.
While the Navy continues to look for a root cause, there are other lifesaving options that could be put into place immediately. Boeing developed a system that would keep an aircraft with an unconscious pilot from crashing into the ground. The automated ground collision avoidance system (AGCAS) was developed for a foreign country looking to buy Super Hornets. In a scenario where a pilot becomes unconscious and the aircraft is flying out of control toward the ground, think GLOC, hypoxia, etc., the system would give an audible and visual warning first. If the pilot failed to respond, the system would recover the aircraft, level it off at a set altitude, enter a turn, and squawk emergency. This would allow the pilot to regain consciousness and re take control of the aircraft. This was tested by numerous naval aviators at Boeing’s facility in St Louis. A simple software code has been available for years and is an easy upload into the aircraft. To this date it has not been installed and could have saved lives and millions of dollars in lost aircraft.
These problems have been plaguing the fleet for years. Why can’t the Navy fix these and other issues in a timely manner? We cannot afford to wait untold years for a solution. Currently, our leadership is willing to get the mission accomplished at any cost. Doing more with less is not working. At what point does the cost of life and aircraft exceed the amount of money it is going to take to fix these problems correctly?
The author is an FA-18 pilot with Department Head experience.
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.
- 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.
- 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……
- 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!