If I ask nicely, will you please pray for the Fippingers?

When I was 23, my best friend in all the world died in a water skiing accident. It was shocking. I was shocked. We were all shocked. He had just graduated from law school. He was a first cousin, and we had grown up together. In the aftermath, I remained close with his parents, my aunt and uncle. Many years later, I asked them if they were better – if they had healed. They had not. They told me that they could never recover from something so horrible, and that they lived with the loss of their son in an acute manner every single day. Aunt Emily told me that “no parent should have to watch their children go before them”.


This story hits very close to home.

The body of a missing 20-year-old surfer who may have fallen off a cliff while camping was found in the waters off Mexico by his father, who had been searching for him from a plane.

Scott Robert Fippinger, a junior at California State University San Marcos, was found Thursday afternoon by his father, Eric Fippinger, a retired Marine colonel and pilot.

Scott Fippinger had gone camping at a cliffside campsite about 10 miles south of Rosarito Beach with three friends when he got up and left his tent around 3:30 a.m. Jan. 14.

His friends said they saw his cellphone light on and assumed he got up to go to the bathroom. When they awoke the next morning, he was not in his sleeping bag.

Ripper is a good friend, a fellow TOPGUN bro, and a world-class officer of Marines. You’ve not met a finer officer. I promise you.

Each year, naval aviators are required to take an open book NATOPS test, among other things. The open book test is not difficult. It is simply long and arduous. Most pilots have a copy of the answer key and use it to ease the pain. I remember when someone offered Ripper a copy of the answer key. He wouldn’t accept it. He offered no judgment in return, but he also made clear that he would not compromise his integrity just to save an hour or two, no matter how meaningless the task. Stout like an oak, I tell you. Character not for sale.

And so I ask that you lift Ripper, Leslie and the rest of the Fippinger family up in prayer. They are strong, but they need to feel the warmth of our community and the love that knows neither condition nor limit. If prayer is not your tradition, please offer positive energy and pleasant thoughts. It’s all appreciated.

Take a look at the above picture. What’s up, handsome?! He doesn’t look like a kid who was simply along for the ride. He looks like a kid who was in charge of the ride. Special. Scott, please grab Lex, Wes, Landon, Basher, Chowdah and all the others and tell them that we miss them dearly. Get the whole lot together and shine your light on us. We are better because of our time with you. You left holes in our hearts, but we will see you again soon. Not too soon. We’ve more work to do here.


PSA: New Navy Commercial


All indications are that the “global force for good” was not particularly well received, even among ardent Navyophiles. Just be thankful you were not part of the “Army of One”. Who wants an army of one? That’s not a very powerful army. Taken as it was intended, and therefore not literally, isn’t teamwork a fundamental premise of military service?

Worse yet were those God-awful Air Force commercials that made Iron Eagle look realistic by comparison. You might think that a service branch with a huge collection of sexy aircraft would have an easy time making great advertisements. Not so.

“The Shield” first aired during the Army-Navy game. That was a step in the right direction, in my humble. Most of the readers over at CDR Salamander’s place agreed.

Tonight, the Navy is releasing a related follow-on.

The 30 second commercial will air during ESPN’s coverage of the Aspen 2015 X Games, beginning Friday at 10:30 p.m. EST. A 60 second version will be added to the America’s Navy You Tube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/UnitedStatesNavy) as well as other social media sites.

“Pin Map” highlights the service’s unique ability to operate around the world–on, above and below the sea. It ends with the tagline “America’s Navy” and is intended to build awareness of the full spectrum of unique roles of the Navy and its personnel.

Tune in. If you are like me and have little intention of watching the X Games (apparently they are not targeting middle-aged males), you can watch the commercial on the America’s Navy YouTube Channel. It will post after it airs live.

Have a great weekend!


Chris Kyle and Unsolicited Commentary from the Idiocracy


There is a story. It is about a man from Texas who is inspired to join the Navy by news of a terrorist attack. Like many from Texas, he is self-sufficient and fiercely independent. As it also turns out, he is gifted with a rifle. He applies for and is eventually accepted for training at the Basic Underwater Demolition School. He graduates and becomes a SEAL.

America is fond of its Navy SEALs. They have often been called into heroic action and accomplish things that most of us wouldn’t even think are possible. It’s not that they are perfect. They are not, because they are human beings. They make mistakes just like all of us do. But they are winners, and America loves a winner. It is okay to have something or someone for which you can cheer and from which you can draw inspiration. You should not be made to feel guilty about it.

What we admire about SEALs is that they represent the best of us. Again, that doesn’t mean they’ve never been inebriated and done something foolish. I promise you many of them have and still do. That is a separate discussion. I’m talking about perseverance and the indomitable human spirit. When SEALs are in training, and the sand that works its way into their boots is slowly chewing their feet into a bloody mess, they keep running. When they are getting tossed about in frigid waters with core temperatures bordering on hypothermia, they gut it out, even though the only thing standing between them and a hot shower is the utterance of a simple phrase to the closest instructor, “I’m done”. Their will to win is without parallel. Their determination indefatigable.

This particular SEAL, Chris Kyle, did four tours in Iraq as a sniper. He was a good sniper, which is akin to saying that Jack Nicklaus was a good golfer. Chris had 255 probable kills, with 160 of them confirmed by the US Department of Defense. Balancing his duties as a father and husband with his duties as a warrior was a struggle. One need not be a licensed therapist to understand why.

Chris’ duty, and his proficiency in carrying it out, surely caused him many sleepless nights. Just the same, he was unapologetic. I see no need for him to apologize. He signed up in the service of his country and served it, in his particular niche, better than anyone in recorded history. I’m glad he was on our side. You don’t dabble in warfare. You bring your adversary to his knees and you show him with great ferocity and certainty that he has only one remaining option. Okay, two options, but one should be completely unappealing.

I don’t see this as a controversial story. It does not glorify war. It does not even attempt to justify war. It is about a man stuck in the middle of a war, and how that war impacts him and changes him both during and after.

Given that, how in Hades did this turn into a referendum on cowardice, Bush 41, armed conflict, invaders, Quentin Tarantino, and why Slurpees are better than Icees? Is this one of those situations when someone looks for any opportunity to make a statement even if it has nothing to do with the circumstances of said situation? “This gas pump reminds me of the time I saved a man who was being attacked by a polar bear.”

Michael Moore, no one cares what you think. Your life peaked at Fahrenheit 9/11, if you can call that a peak. It was a good run, man. Seth Rogen? I can’t think of one reason I would ever listen to anything you have to say. Do us all a favor, both of you, and delete your Twitter accounts. We will all be better off without your inputs. If you must remain engaged, stay relevant. If the acting is poor, or if the production is shoddy, or if you find flaws in the movie’s premise, by all means share your thoughts. I’m not going to listen to them, but at least you’ll be on topic.

Although I agree with him, I don’t need to hear from Dean Cain either. He seems like a nice enough guy, and I know he went to Princeton, but he was a lousy Superman. That’s enough for me.

I am completely fed up with Hollywood’s unsolicited political and social commentary. Can you tell? I don’t seek retirement planning advice from my gardener, so I’m not sure why I would seek advice on national security from an actor with a high school degree who has never done anything but pursue a career in show business. The last thing I need is a lecture on global warming from a guy who travels in his private Gulfstream GVI.

Ignore the idiocracy. Go see the movie. Enjoy it for what it is, even if it makes you cry. It’s not a war story; it’s a human story. Isn’t that what our journey is all about?


Separate is not Equal


Because I am a white male, as I assume many of you are, that is the prism through which I see the world. That is also the perspective from which I will write this post.

I went to high school in a suburb of a fairly large Midwestern city. No one there had big-oil money, but we all had quite enough to get by. Parents were very involved in every aspect of school life. Academics were superb. Our sports teams were dominant. Life was good. In this school, we had exactly one African-American – a female. I was a fairly popular kid at my school. I’m not bragging. I just was. I worked very hard, within the realm of the influence I had with other students, to make sure she was accepted. To whatever extent it was possible, I wanted her to be comfortable and fit-in. As near as I could tell, she was and she did. I certainly never heard of anyone being mean to her or excluding her. Then again, I never directly befriended her other than casual greetings in the hallway between classes, so I might never know. Perhaps that was my shortcoming.

When I first saw this young lady, I was struck by the magnitude of what she faced. I tried to picture myself at a high school where every single other student was black. I would have been terrified. Not because I feared physical harm, but rather because I feared total isolation. I lacked the ability to fully grasp what it’s like to be on an island. I can’t know exactly what life was like for her. Just the same, I shouldn’t be faulted for trying.

I think we did a good job of making her feel like a part of our school. On the other hand, I don’t recall that she ever had a date for homecoming or prom. There is fitting-in, and there is total acceptance. She was probably somewhere in the middle. Was hers an awful plight? No, of course not. Many African-Americans 30 years her senior could only dream of such “problems”.

In spite of our advances, there are still those whose biases run far too deep to heal any racial divide. I had a few local friends in a lovely Southern coastal town. They were good people. Salt-of-the-earth types. They routinely exuded a level of kindness and benevolence that is all too rare. There is nothing these people wouldn’t do to make your life better. In your worst hour of need, they would come to your rescue and give you the shirts off their backs.

And so we found ourselves one day at a Sunday afternoon barbecue. However you might imagine a Sunday afternoon barbecue in a large backyard adorned by a long boat dock is probably very close to reality. The smell of hickory wafted through the air, its smoke gently kissing an assortment of carnivorous delight en route. Jet skis buzzed the inlet. Kids climbed the dock’s railing for to exhibit gymnastic feats, their skin red from both under-rotation and over-rotation on alternate attempts. Men gathered. Women chattered. There was beer. There were margaritas. And sweat. Oh, the humidity.

One gentleman made casual mention of a shooting that had taken place the previous evening at the side of a highway running out of town. The logical questions ensued. Who, what, where, when, why?

“Oh, just some old n*****.”

I felt as though someone shoved an ice pick down the top of my spine. How was it even possible that those words escaped that man’s mouth? I was at a complete loss. I couldn’t reconcile that sentiment, or those words, with the person who spoke them. Everything I had ever witnessed led me to the conclusion that he was a good person. So how? How does this happen? There is only one explanation. Those beliefs are taught at an early age, and as such, they are completely accepted. They become a part of life, no different than washing your hands before dinner. That’s not to say they aren’t despicable. The only way to rid ourselves of this pestilence is to pray that the cycle of inheritance is eventually broken. The best way to break that cycle is for the heir to reject what is handed down to him.

For all its folly and foible, the military has done a good job with race relations. Are there racists in the military? Of course. Are there mistakes made in the name of diversity? Certainly. Still, the military is a results-driven organization. It does not exist to make a profit. I will gladly tell you, as a guy who has been in a few significant leadership positions in the military, that mission accomplishment is color-blind. Just give me the person who can best do the job. I don’t care if he (or she) is black, white, Chinese, Puerto Rican, Inuit, or Mayan. On this day, I’m particularly proud of my African-American friends who have risen in the ranks and been selected for positions of command. They arrived there not because someone did them a favor, but on the strength of their own performance and achievements. What an example they set.

Most of us will never know what it’s like to have someone look at us and form opinions based solely on what they see. Think about that. Would you want to be judged by someone who knows nothing about you? The concept itself is uncomfortable, and the ensuing discussion is even more uncomfortable. But uncomfortable discussions are not only acceptable, progress requires them. Progress is all we have.

Preach it, Dr. King.

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

I should have invited her over to my house for movie night.


Not Every Fairy Tale has a Happy Ending


It is not often that I will simply post a link to an article and not offer lengthy commentary. If that was my majority play, I’d be offering you nothing you couldn’t get from your Facebook News Feed. Piecing together a series of news articles is never what I had intended for this blog, albeit still a work in progress.

Please read this article about one in a series of tragedies that has struck the MH-53E community. It is a story that needs to be told; it is a story that needs to be shared. Have tissues nearby.

If you need a takeaway, I’d offer that leadership matters. And that decisions we make as leaders have far-reaching implications worthy of in-depth consideration.


Listed below is a brief history of significant events involving the MH-53E as compiled by the Virginian-Pilot. If you’re interested in further reading, there are a number of other articles about this platform available online. Start here, and you will see the links on the lower left-hand side. It’s really good, persistent journalism.


A History of Problems

There have been 15 serious mishaps involving Sea Dragons, claiming the lives of 30 sailors. No Navy helicopter has crashed at a higher rate.

Dec. 1981: The MH-53E Sea Dragon prototype, a variant of the Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion, makes its first flight. Within five years, the aircraft is the Navy’s principal helicopter for clearing submerged mines.

July 1988: A Sea Dragon crashes while conducting mine sweeping operations in San Francisco Bay, killing all eight crew members. A Navy investigation later cites human error as the cause.

Sept. 1991: Six sailors die when their Sea Dragon crashes in the Persian Gulf after taking off from an amphibious assault ship. The Navy cites human error.

Aug. 2000: The Navy and Marine Corps ground the entire fleet after a Sea Dragon goes off of Texas, killing four and wounding two. An investigation determines the swashplate bearing is to blame. It’s at least the third H-53E crash blamed on the defective part, prompting the Navy to require upgrades for the entire fleet.

July 2003: All four crew members are killed when their Sea Dragon crashes in southern Italy. A Navy investigation blames pilot error and mechanical failure related to a fire in the aircraft’s No. 2 engine.

Jan. 2005: A Sea Dragon crew from Norfolk Naval Station performs an emergency landing in the Atlantic Ocean after an aircraft sensor notifies them of a problem in the main rotor gearbox. The eight crew members are rescued.

Jan. 2008: Three crew members are killed and one injured when their Sea Dragon crashes four miles south of Corpus Christi, Texas. Pilot error is cited.

July 2012: A Sea Dragon crashes in Oman while attempting to lift a downed aircraft from a valley. Two Norfolk-based crew members are killed; three others suffer minor injuries.

Jan. 8, 2014: Three Norfolk-based crew members are killed and two injured when their Sea Dragon crashes into the Atlantic Ocean while conducting training. The cause of the crash is under investigation.

Photo Credit: www.aviationspectator.com


I Wish I Could Draw

Because if I could, I would draw this.



Or this.


Or this.

Charlie Hebdo Life of Mohammed Part 1

When I was at SERE school, one of the camp facilitators, well-known for his prolific use of enhanced interrogation techniques (torture, if you will), trampled on the Virginia state flag in an effort to cause me emotional duress. As best I could tell, he had used my social security number in order to determine my home state and get inside my head. What he did not know is that I was adopted in a state nowhere near Virginia, nor did I have any special affinity for Virginia. It’s a nice enough place, but I remember thinking that just ten minutes prior, I was lying unconscious surrounded by my own vomit. So if he wanted to trample on a flag, that was fine by me. In fact, I tried to act distressed because I wanted him to do it longer. I was as comfortable in that particular room as I had been for quite some time.

Fast forward a few years. Maybe more than a few. One of the atrocities committed at the Abu Ghraib prison facility was desecration of the Qur’an. In plain view of detainees, guards would tear out pages of the holy book and put them on the ground. They would occasionally step on them or put them in the toilet. The horror. The horror.

The “peaceful world of Islam” is being hijacked. The hijackers are so successful that they are threatening the authenticity of the phrase “peaceful world of Islam”. It’s happening right in front of us. And this isn’t something that started only recently. I have advice for anyone who would be or has been swayed to the violent fringe elements of Islam. Read carefully.

Faith is something that exists in your heart. You own it. It becomes part of your soul. For those reasons, no one can take your faith from you. It is unassailable. The Qur’an may contain what you believe to be holy words, but in its earthly form it is merely a collection of paper products. The same is true of any other symbol or talisman. What the symbol represents is sacred; the symbol itself is not. It is plastic. Or silver. Or some other meaningless material.

In 1987, American Artist Andres Serrano put a collection of his photographic “art” on display. His most notable work was a picture of a crucifix submerged in his own urine. He not only won awards, he was paid $20K by the taxpayer-funded National Endowment for the Arts. In the ensuing emotional aftermath, no one died. No one was even injured, because there was no violence whatsoever.

If you kill 12 people because you are offended by a cartoon that portrays your religion in an unflattering manner, you are an unstable human with no grasp on reality. Your actions in this particular case enable a direct comparison with other religions and organizations around the world. Why? Because Charlie Hebdo ridicules everyone and everything. No one is spared. France. America. Christianity. Judaism. Islam. Politicians. Celebrities. Of them all, only one entity responded with mass murder. You are showing your stripes, and they are so very unattractive.

From the beginning, there are those who would apologize for you and attempt to justify your actions. They seemingly have these articles saved on their hard drives and press send immediately after the senseless killing of innocent people. I do not find any of your previous terrorist attacks defensible. Some people do. I don’t agree with them but I understand their arguments. No more. You killed people over a cartoon. That’s not a good way to gain or maintain mainstream support.

The next time a cartoon makes you want to commit mass murder, try an approach from this playbook.

Yeshua said, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do”. For extra credit, run that play while you are being nailed to a cross.

Vive la France. Vive la liberte.


No Gun for the JSF until….. 2019

There is history here. It is worthy of review.

If jets can be sexy, the F-4 Phantom was a sexy jet. I realized this for the first time when, as a wee lad, I watched two of them land at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii. I was completely transfixed. They were loud. They were sleek. And they smoked like chimneys. I was too young to worry about early tallies on account of smoke trails. These planes were cool because they were belching filth into the skies, not in spite of it.


The F-4 initially entered service in 1960 and became a mainstay of the fighter force in the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. That all three services flew the Phantom is an interesting parallel. Regardless, it was originally designed without an internal cannon. The purists wailed and the progressives celebrated. Missiles are all the thing, they said. Sure, the first four letters of the word missile are M-I-S-S, but that was just a coincidence. No need for superstition. Technology had superseded the need for a gun. Only it hadn’t.

As it turns out, the Phantom needed a gun. Missions both air-to-air and air-to-ground demanded it. In a quick fix, the F-4 was mounted with a podded variant of the gun until later models with an internal cannon could enter service.

Bullets are a unique and special weapon. Although there are ways to improve their employment with technology, it is their simplicity that makes them so effective and lethal. There is no Doppler clutter through which survival can be enhanced. Flares do nothing but bounce off the canopy of the attacker. The only way to defend against a bullet is to physically displace yourself from its intended final destination. Against an adversary with a good set of hands and a firm grasp on 3D geometry, that is easier said than done. A dude who can break out the pistol without you realizing it’s coming is an artful master. “I never even considered the possibility that you were employing the gun right here”, said the young Padawan in the tape debrief. Sweeter words had never touched the Jedi master’s ears.

“But sir, the director pipper is nowhere near my aircraft.”

“Is it not? What is the range of the current radar lock?”

“1.4 nautical miles.”

“Would you say that you are well inside that range?”

“I would.”

“That is because it is a bad lock.”

“Phew! At least I didn’t get shot!”

“Don’t be so sure. It is too early for celebration. Let us now conduct stadiametric ranging and extrapolate the position of bullets at range using the gun boreline as an initial reference.” If only you could hear a heart when it is in the process of sinking.

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. That’s what they say. Which is why the gun/no-gun argument resurfaced during JSF’s development. The dreamers lost; the realists won. There was to be a gun. Unfortunately, like its host platform, it will not arrive on time or on budget.

The Pentagon’s newest stealth jet, the nearly $400 billion Joint Strike Fighter, won’t be able to fire its gun during operational missions until 2019, three to four years after it becomes operational.

Even though the Joint Strike Fighter, or F-35, is supposed to join frontline U.S. Marine Corps fighter squadrons next year and Air Force units in 2016, the jet’s software does not yet have the ability to shoot its 25mm cannon. But even when the jet will be able to shoot its gun, the F-35 barely carries enough ammunition to make the weapon useful.

Look, I know acquisition programs are tough. Someone reading this right now is probably thinking, “It’s not a big deal. We’ve known this for a while.” But it is a big deal. Just because someone at the program office predicted this calamity doesn’t mean it isn’t a calamity. What floors me is that we are aware of the issue right now, yet we already know it’s going to take four years to resolve. Four effing years! Four! Is that registering with you?!

Here is what can happen in four years:

  • A mother can traverse four periods of gestation. The number of children? TOPGUN answer: it depends.
  • A President can serve out a full term in office.
  • We accumulate an extra calendar day because a year is really 365.25 days, not 365 days.
  • One completed round of summer and winter Olympics.
  • A World War (nearly).
  • An entire operational tour of duty. With an extension.

Add one more to the list. We can produce software that allows an aircraft to safely fire its gun. I won’t even mention that it took only seven years to conceive, test and execute a plan to put man on the moon.

Photo Credit: www.warthunder.com




It’s here. Or it will be soon, anyway.

I’m going to be as open as I can about this to assuage my guilt. The initial plan is to go with Google AdSense and then re-evaluate. I might branch out to some Amazon Affiliate activity in the near future. If I do, it will be for products that I use (or have used) and books that I’m reading (or have read). There will be no multi-level marketing. There will be no get-rich-quick schemes. There will be no magic drink for you to buy en route to exercise-free weight loss. There is plenty of information available about Google AdSense if you want to do the research. Google made $3.4B in 2014 through AdSense. I expect my take will be only a small percentage of that sum.

I’m just over a month away from the one-year point and my bills are coming due. None of this blogging business is terribly expensive, but the hosting services and software I run are not the cheapest available. My goal here, honestly, is just to fray the personal costs. Break-even is more than fine by me. I’ll contribute my time free of charge in order to continue bringing you mind-bending, bewildering, life-changing content.

Thanks for bearing with me.


President Obama, Golf, and Weddings


I don’t care how often the President plays golf, or as hizzoner and I referred to it, how often he visits the Ground Ordnance Loading Facility (GOLF). Such acronyms are very useful for ditching work or otherwise deceiving those who might take issue with said activity.

I also don’t care how often the President takes vacations, whether they are to Hawaii, Camp David or wherever. The President is never on vacation. His work just picks up and goes with him to an alternate location. I guarantee you he is still up early to receive his briefings at 0700, and I guarantee you he works late into the night. His family might be on vacation; he is not.

One of the primary reasons I don’t care how often the President goes on vacation or visits the Ground Ordnance Loading Facility is because I don’t want to see the insufferable articles that then compare his vacation/golf rates to Republican Presidents. My pass for using the “everyone else is doing it” defense was revoked when I was a child. It is the worst possible defense, and besides, you need not defend against senseless, ridiculous attacks. The comedian who battles every heckler will never get very far in his act.

As you likely know, a pair of Army Captains had to move their wedding from the 16th hole of the golf course at the Kaneohe Bay Marine Corps Base to an even better location nearby on short notice.


The move was made to accommodate a Presidential round of golf. There are, however, a few critical points omitted from the mainstream media coverage of this PR debacle.

  1. The golf course event managers made the decision without the President’s knowledge. They also claim that White House staffers and the Secret Service didn’t know. The former, I believe. The latter, I’m not convinced.
  2. When the couple found out that the President was going to be in Hawaii, they invited him to the wedding.
  3. The couple signed a waiver acknowledging the possibility of such last-minute changes, as do all those who schedule events at this golf course.

Basically, this is a non-story that turned into a story because it made for good headlines. My concern is that it distracts the public from issues that actually matter. With a collective attention span that is already critically short, we just can’t afford it.

By accepting the maxim that every mistake offers a valuable lesson, we can surely find one tucked away in a dark corner of this unfortunate episode. It is particularly salient for those of higher rank or otherwise in positions of leadership.

The lesson is this: be very careful about what you ask people to do, even implicitly. Especially implicitly. The Commanding Officer who complains openly about the parking lot might very well come to the office on Monday only to discover that a large number of his personnel were forced to work over the weekend in order to effect a complete parking lot overhaul. This benefits no one, because someone overseeing the parking lot overhaul is going to say, “The Skipper said we have to do this ASAP.”

Similarly, someone on the White House staff, if not the Chief of Staff, should have told the schedulers to be very clear about mitigating the impact of the President’s activities. He’s the President, so if push comes to shove, he’s going to win, but he at least deserves the chance to suggest they simply bypass the 16th hole. “Just put me down for a par.”

If you’re a 3-star Admiral who wants to visit USS AIRCRAFT CARRIER the day before a ten-month deployment, do you have the foresight to understand the impact of that visit? If you’re a staffer for said 3-star, do you have the stones to tell him that the crew is going to clean for a week straight and that those who should be enjoying their last free minutes with family will instead be at work?

Thus endeth the lesson.

PS – Happy New Year.


This Is the Way Combat in Afghanistan Ends, Not With a Bang but a Whimper


I was there. Not on day one, mind you, but from the beginning. I was proud of what we accomplished from the skies over Afghanistan. Very proud. The environment was very different. (Doesn’t everyone say that eventually?) It was not uncommon to hear an embedded controller say, “Do you see those vehicles at the base of the ridge-line bounded  by a creek to the east? Please bomb them.” In response, “Tally. Will do.” In time, procedures invariably became more stringent. Ultimately, pilots were forced to recite pages of ROE over a secure radio before releasing weapons. There might be a marginal benefit to such procedural compliance, but it’s mostly about being able to tell the press, Congress, and the international community that we did everything we could to prevent collateral damage. It’s not instinctive for a warrior to choose a weapon with a smaller warhead. For if 500 pounds of explosive is good, would not 1000 pounds be better?

We had e-mail and a passable semblance of internet in 2001, but little more. It was very difficult to tell how our part in combat operations fit into the larger schemes of maneuver. While the execution of swift violence and ruthless precision made us feel like we were winning, there was no tangible feedback that offered confirmation.

So we relied on other cues. Gradually, the voices of those communicating with us from the ground became less harried and urgent. Bombs fell from our wings at a rate that slowed inexorably. It wasn’t over, if such a conflict can ever be completely over, but we were winning in a rout. Senior Taliban officials interviewed just a few months into Operation ENDURING FREEDOM said their defeat was so resounding and thorough that they never conceived of going back. Times change.

Just a few years later, I was doing a stint at the Combined Air Operations Center. The CAOC, in concept, serves as the command post for air operations in a particular theater. During our several daily briefings with the decision makers, I noticed a significant increase in activity in Afghanistan. I could not help but think, “Have we not sewn that up?”

No, we had not. We slowly squandered what looked like sure victory in the first quarter. Finishing, as it turns out, is no longer our forte. We are learning (again) what every elite athlete in the world already knows. You can’t win a golf tournament on Thursday. You can’t win a 1500 meter race in 1400 meters. And you have to play a full 60 minutes to win a football game.

Instead, we are walking away. We are not walking away because the criteria for ending OEF were met or not met. We are walking away because we reached a chosen date on the calendar that married up to a campaign promise. Even more perplexing is that we publicly shared this chosen date with the enemy. At any rate, promise made and promise kept, at least in this case. It feels like someone is building a legacy, because if it’s our declared intent to degrade and destroy ISIL, why is not also our declared intent to degrade and destroy the Taliban? Because we’re tired? Because a new shiny butterfly has our attention?

I didn’t suffer in Afghanistan. My rear-end was sore from long missions, and that was the extent of it. I ate omelets when I returned. I took a hot shower. That’s not suffering. Others suffered greatly. Many gave their lives. This day – a day I’ve known was coming for a long time – makes me extraordinarily sad for them.

Me? I just feel empty.

Photo Credit: The Guardian