Archive for March, 2012
It has been said that in a world intricately and inexorably connected, individually, we seem to draw apart from one another. That those connections we have are tenuous, virtual and of little lasting substance or effect. Like spiderwebs on the wind, we connect and (temporarily) bond with whatever object we come in contact with, only to be pulled apart and float until the next object enters our space. We see this in our personal and professional relationships on a regular, daily basis. And yet, every now and then we are reminded of the ties that bind – that survive the immediacy of the moment no matter their outward, gossamer appearance; which bespeak a deeper level of common interest and shared values. We are reminded, if you will, that no man is indeed, an island.
The events of the past few weeks have underscored the above for me. In no short order, I learned of the loss of three persons of note to myself, and to many others around them. They were many things to many different people – writer, poet, leader, aviator; but in the end they each, in their own way, made a difference. There was CAPT Carroll LeFon – Lex to almost everyone, whose legacy and loss has been chronicled here and across the web. His writing is timeless, coming from the head and heart with the rare ability to find common points of intersection with his readers and relate a story in such manner that even those who never tasted salt air or viewed the world through sun-drenched canopy could readily relate. We saw that gift brought to life last night at our gathering in DC and across the nation and the world as people from all walks of life came together to pay honor to his legacy. But did you know that three of the JOs under him when he was a VFA squadron CO so many years ago screened for command this past week? There’s a living legacy for you.
On the way to the wake last night I also learned of the passing of CAPT Ed Caffrey, USN-ret. Himself a gifted aviator, CAPT Caffrey was a leader and pillar of the Hawkeye/Greyhound community. The term “people person” is overworked to the point of material failure in this day and age, but he was an original in that manner. There are today, many a former VAW and VRC CO, XO and Department Head who were mentored (again, an overwrought but apropos word here) during his tenure as CO and AEW wing commodore. More than a few of us, myself included, owe a deep debt of gratitude for his support and advocacy on our behalf and on the behalf of the VAW/VRC community. Easy words to say now, but there was a time when the community had, shall we say, less than enthusiastic support at the CVW level and higher because of the “support” label broadly brushed on anything that didn’t have an “F” or “A” in the 2-letter designator (and if it had an “H” or ended with a W or Q, well, bonne chance mon ami and don’t let the hatch hit you on the way out). More than that, he cared deeply about people – his people, be they residents on the Breezy Point seawall, his nav division on JFK, students at Naval War College or even later, students at Valley Forge Academy. Just ask the recipients of the VAW/VRC Memorial Fund which he took the lead in establishing. He made a difference.
And there was Jeff Huber – a retired Hawkeye NFO and writer with a pen of steel and a mind of sharper wit. Jeff was another ground breaker for the Hawkeye community, as Skippy-san so very eloquently lays out in a fine tribute over at his site today. Jeff had the courage and determination to drag E-2 tactics out of the moribund 50′s and 60′s and lay the foundation for the missions that lay just over the horizon — Kosovo, Desert Shield/Storm, Southern Watch, OEF and OIF. Later he took that same determination and sought to be a conscious for a Service and country that seemed determined to ignore its roots and founding principles. I didn’t always agree with his assertions – but they provided a reference point and more importantly, a prompt for me to evaluate and re-evaluate my own assumptions and analyses. Too often today people want to reside in the “amen” section and decline to think critically for themselves – deferring instead to the opinions and assertions of others whose best or only attribute is their shrillness.
Different paths, with seemingly random co-mingling or intersections – what are the ties that bind? In each case you are witness to someone who deeply cared about their nation, their Service and the people under their charge or in association. Each, in uniform and in retirement, sought to continue to serve, in their own way and do what they could to better their fellow humans and the Navy to which they had dedicated a substantive part of their life in its service. Some few years back the Navy was casting about for a definition of ethos. I and several others demurred on the end, corporately derived and committee driven statement that emerged from the “process” preferring instead to point to the 200+ years of example driven ethos and the principles detailed therein. Of things like service before self, courage in the face of overwhelming opposition – of conviction and standing firm for principles when all else was sinking beneath the waves. If I were asked today for more recent examples, I can think of none finer than the three I highlight above — outstanding aviators, naval officers without peer and human beings who cared deeply about and for their fellow mankind.
And I am honored to have worn the uniform and served with them.
(crossposted at steeljawscribe.com)
As our ground wars in Asia come to an end (for now) we’ll need to come together as a nation and seriously address the long term needs of our warriors who have been to hell and back again.
Brave men and women, all.
Many of the decision points in our lives can be sorted into four specific guiding questions. They provide an excellent means of evaluating our decision, our choices, and most effectively melding what we need with what we can afford. The questions can correspondingly apply to selecting a college, or to prospective employment. They work well when designing and building a house, or buying a car. Purchasing insurance. Even when deciding on marriage. What are these four questions?
- What can I live with?
- What can I live without?
- What can’t I live with?
- What can’t I live without?
Simple questions, really. But their answers require a good deal of thought.
They are also questions that should be asked when developing National Security Strategy, and its subcomponent, National Military Strategy. Those questions need to be asked as we determine the size, posture, and capability of our military and its supporting industrial base. Those four straightforward questions must eventually be asked of our Navy at a number of different levels.
The first is to address the size and capabilities/capacity of our Navy. What can we reasonably expect our Navy to do? For how long? In how many places at once? Hard questions that demand realistic and informed discussion. Currently, we have a Cooperative Strategy that cannot be executed under any but the most benign conditions on the world’s oceans. How long are we going to continue to make promises to ourselves and our allies that we cannot keep? What are we willing to have the courage to say openly that we cannot do with current capabilities?
Related to the above queries, but not identical, is to ask how big will our Navy be. Numbers tossed around in the previous decade and a half range anywhere from 340 down to the current 285-ish. (The disparity of 55 ships is equivalent to the strength of two Royal Navies, so it isn’t trivial.) Yet, the budget realities and the cuts made to shipbuilding projections point to a number closer to 260, if not lower, by the end of the decade. While it is true that 260 modern warships have tremendous combat power, it is also axiomatic that they cannot have the same global forward presence that 340 warships, some with somewhat less capability perhaps, can have.
The next level at which the four guiding questions need to be asked is the level of ship design and shipbuilding. This cannot be done in isolation, but must be informed by serious and exhaustive discussion regarding what Admiral Zumwalt called the “high-low mix”. How many capital ships of extensive capability are required for our missions, and how many of lesser but more appropriate capabilities does the Navy need? It is this level in particular that the Navy seems unable, in fact abjectly refuses, to answer. Not every ship needs every capability. When we believe it does, we end up with multi-BILLION dollar platforms chasing skiffs off the Horn of Africa, and a fleet so expensive that the risking of a single unit for a dangerous but necessary mission becomes all but unacceptable.
There has been much discussion of those issues in the pages of Proceedings, and among Naval Officers and strategic thinkers, Naval enthusiasts, and the legions of the Great Unwashed who blog the intertubes. One of the more interesting remarks in this regard was an assertion, perhaps rightly, that with its current philosophy and unwillingness to address the high-low question, the Navy is incapable of building a platform in between the under-gunned and unsurvivable LCS and an Aegis-capable Arleigh Burke.
So the question of the mix is not new. Captain Jerry Hendrix wrote of it with his Buy Fords, not Ferraris in the April 2009 Proceedings. Discussion at the last three USNI/AFCEA West conferences was rich with commentary. In this month’s Proceedings, Norman Polmar evokes Plan URR with his A Paradigm Shift, asking whether a much larger number of STOVL carriers would be more effective than a small and likely shrinking number of $15 billion dollar CVNs. (A hat-tip woulda been nice!) When I asked the question of high-low mix at this year’s Shipbuilding Panel in San Diego, the panelists all but admitted that there hadn’t been much discussion on the subject, and that the goal was still 313 ships.
The final level at which those four questions above need to be asked is in the experimentation with “Optimal Manning”. Anyone who even occasionally glances at this site knows my aversion to reducing crews of ANY equipment or weapon platform below what is required to drive, fight, fix, and maintain. The biggest decision for the Navy has to be defining “optimal”, and to whom the term applies. Is it “optimal” for the Navy leadership to show reduced manpower costs to our Congresscritters while our warships continue to experience serious maintenance issues and are not mission capable? Do we want crews so thin that there is only time for eating, sleeping, and operating? No time for training in the myriad skills and requirements of basic seamanship, damage control, or weapons proficiency? Do we want crews that have no ability to absorb any casualties without compromise of mission?
Again, difficult questions. Senior Navy leadership, and senior Defense Department officials, are going to have to make some hard calls. The answer is not to exhort our Sailors to do “more with less”. That bit of self-delusional platitude is the path to a head-on collision with the realities of combat, with usually catastrophic results.
The discussions must be informed, serious, and realistic. And they need to be soon. In May, USNI/AFCEA will be holding the Joint Warfighting Conference in Virginia Beach. The theme is “Joint and Coalition Forces; The Inflection Point. What to Hold and What to Fold?” Without these discussions, commentary will again be nearly blind speculation, akin to a hand of five-card stud, but deciding which cards to keep and which to discard without looking at them. If we continue to insist on playing our cards in such a way, we ought not to be surprised if the betting patterns of our potential adversaries change accordingly.
I mourn the passing of a great naval aviator, a professional analyst of all things naval, and a soulful and compelling writer of poetry and prose.
Ray Mabus, SecNav
On behalf of the entire membership of the U.S. Naval Institute, our hearts and prayers go out to the LeFon family.
Carroll LeFon, Neptunus Lex, was a respected naval aviator who achieved warrior poet status for his excellent writing and writing style. He truly embodied the attributes of, “read, think, speak and write,” …central to our U.S. Naval Institute mission. He was a valued member of the Naval Institute, joining forces with us in 1986.
At the appropriate time we will discuss publishing the RHYTHMS manuscript – as several have suggested – with Lex’s family.
Again, we extend our sincere condolences from all of us at USNI. He will be missed.
VADM Peter H. Daly, USN (Ret.)
CEO, U.S. Naval Institute
Below is a guest post from LCDR Benjamin “BJ” Armstrong. He is an unrestricted Naval Aviator with over 2500 flight hours who has deployed as a Search & Rescue and Special Warfare pilot and as a MH-60S Detachment Officer-in-Charge. He is an occasional contributor to The USNI Blog, Proceedings and Naval History.
In Naval Aviation we have all lost squadronmates, students, friends, to the dangers of our beloved profession. Yesterday I added another to my own list, which slowly grows as we gain experience and seniority. This loss is a little different though. I never shook CAPT LeFon’s hand. I only knew him through his writing. I think there are probably many of us out here though that are in the same boat. His writing was what Papa Hemingway called “true writing,” which is the best kind of writing and what Papa said he always struggled to produce. Because of that, many of us felt that we knew him even though we had never met.
There are very few folks that mix our chosen profession as Naval Aviators with a love of meaningful words on the page. Seeing that not only an aviator, but a Fighter/Attack Guy, could mix thinking and writing with being a combat pilot and a respected leader gave inspiration to a Rotorhead like me. It is easier to leave the yellow brick road and take the path less traveled when you see that at least there are footprints in the mud.
Lex is one link in a small but strong chain of men who strapped themselves into an airframe, but were also known for picking up a pen. In early 1941, as Britain fought Germany alone, a young man named John Gillespie Magee rolled into his first combat squadron, the 412th Fighter Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Born in Shanghai, China to an American father and a British mother, Magee turned down a scholarship to Yale in 1940 in order to enlist in the RCAF and headed to Ontario for flight training. While in Britain in his operational training squadron (what we Naval Aviators would call the Fleet Replenishment Squadron) he wrote a sonnet which has become famous among Aviators everywhere. Only a few months after writing it, after being in his squadron for less than a month and at the age of 19, he died in a midair collision between his Spitfire and an Airspeed Oxford training aircraft out of RAF Cranwell.
This is for Neptunus Lex, not the first of those wearing Wings of Gold to leave us and not the last. Your brothers and sisters will always remember your leadership, your inspiration, your writing, and your flying…
by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds…and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of…wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up, the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, nor even eagle flew.
And while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space…
…put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
Neptunus Lex – as he was known in the Navy milblog community, Captain Carroll LeFon, USN (Ret.) to the rest of the world – is gear-up, flaps-up and well on the way for his final mission. You can hear why by following this link.
Back in the early days of the milblog world, there were very few. Lex was out there early in late ’03, and when I started in mid-’04, I was already familiar with his work as one of the few Navy voices out there. With Sean, Joel, Chap, Will, Skippy, EagleOne – it was a small group in the beginning and we all helped each other out getting started, and Lex was there for all of us.
I hadn’t been blogg’n for long when he first reached out to me – in a good humored way – to let me know that I may want to dial it back a bit. I think our conversation went something like this as an active duty Captain to active duty Commander;
Lex: “Not to tell you how to run your blog, but I think you went to far on that post yesterday.”
Me: “Am I on report?”
Lex: “No, just thought I would give you a little nudge on your last post, as it is a bit too much.”
Me: “I know. You’re right.”
Lex: “It’s OK, its your blog. You just might want to let it sit for awhile before you take it out of draft next time.”
After our initial email conversation, I teased him a bit as the “Navy milblog SOPA.” As at that time we were mostly to fully anon in many ways; we didn’t really know who was the senior active duty blogg’r – but we generally gave Lex the nod.
A gentleman, officer, good stick, good writer, and just plain good man. Over the years, we would comment on each others blog now and then – and exchange emails much more to share ideas, pass off tips …. or return to our original conversation. That was Lex; part blog buddie, part mentor, part philosopher, but a gentle professional always.
There were also a few projects we worked on together over the years in that way you can in the blogosphere. Always a pleasure to coordinate with as he was always focused on the goal of the collaboration – not himself. Thanks to the opportunities provided by USNI, I even had the opportunity to break bread with him a few times. He retired right before I did, and as I made that transition I watched Lex’s path.
The path that took him back to the aircraft. In a fashion, he died serving his nation as he knew best – in the cockpit.
In life, on-line and off, he built a strong network of acquaintances and friends – that too speaks a lot for the man – and most of us are in the same place right now.
On that note, I will leave Lex with a thank you, well done, and farewell for now.
When we meet again.
As the sun’s rays broke over the top of the eastern hills this morning, the military blogging community was coming to grips with the loss of a truly remarkable man. Retired Navy Captain Carroll LeFon, who was known to thousands by his “nom de blog” of Neptunus Lex, died when his Israeli-built F-21 Kfir single-seat fighter aircraft crashed at NAS Fallon at around 0915 yesterday morning.
The challenge in writing about such a man is that my command of the language to do justice to him is insufficient for the task, yet his mastery of words gave vivid understanding on most everything he chose to chronicle. “Lex” was one of the first and perhaps the best of those military bloggers (milbloggers), with a large and faithful readership that included his former Navy shipmates, other military types (including myself), former military types, and civilians of all descriptions. That readership came and stayed because Lex was far more than a milblogger who wrote about all things military. He had a wonderful gift with the written word, speaking to his readers as if engaged in a conversation at a back table of a favorite pub. His eloquence about military issues, his witty and often brilliant commentary on things political and social, always provided thought provoking reading. His commenters, even while disagreeing and adding rich commentary of their own, respected each other and revered their host.
His post was a daily read for me, and several times a week I would push my chair back from the desk and think (and sometimes say) “Damn! I wish I’d said that!” or “I wish I could write like that!” Lex wrote eloquently of the human condition, both in and out of uniform, and had an appreciation for others who did, as well. We had in common a love of Kipling and the classics of martial poetry and other such works, and I would always smile to read them quoted at some appropriate juncture or situation. His remarkable Rhythms, a superb narrative of a day in the life aboard a CVN, is suitable for publishing. (USNI?)
But Lex did something extraordinary in his missives. In the impersonal world of the internet, he gave us glimpses of himself. His writing brought his readers into his cockpit, where he described in common terms the joys and challenges of flight and what it took to be the exceptional pilot he was. He also wrote incredibly lovingly about his wife and children, his love for them and pride he felt, and the worries he carried as a husband and father. And he managed to do so without intruding into their lives or his, but in a way that allowed us all to share just a little of him.
Lex chose to re-grip the flight controls to serve again the Navy he loved, by doing what had been his passion (outside of his wife and children) for his far too brief time this side of heaven. He helped to train Navy pilots to be better Navy pilots, and accepted the concomitant risks long after his time in uniform ended. The value of men such as he cannot be overestimated. His loss leaves a hole, a void, that never really is filled.
Our thoughts and prayers to his wife, his Navy pilot son, and his lovely daughters. Theirs is a deep grief that cannot be assuaged by the words they will read today and in the coming days. But perhaps, as that grief lessens, they can be warmed with a pride of having been the greatest treasure of such a remarkable man.
Captain Carroll LeFon, United States Navy (Ret.) has stepped into the clearing. Far more than most, he will be missed.
When I first thought about serving my country, I considered the Air Force, but decided I’d rather be in the military instead. My father told me once that in the Army, you’d live like rats and die like gentlemen. In the Navy, you’d live like gentlemen, and die like rats. I rather counted on living, and that has made all the difference.
Quote Yeats to me and you’ve won my heart…
The guy could write. In three sentences in his first freakin’ post he managed to pull up a forgotten truism, allude to the poet Robert Frost and mention Yeats. It’s not all grunting and emoting in this world, you know; there is poetry in it, and too few military people admit to being poets. CAPT Lefon was a prose poet. He referenced Guinness and The Hobbit and poetry and classical history. He treated people as equals and kicked the tails of fools. There was a beloved wife, two daughters and a son, a beloved Old Dominion and a San Diego, California house draining him of extra money, his sincere dislike of the night trap. All of these came up in occasional conversation, and would include painfully honest hints–and then a full monty confessional description–of a troubled child on the brink. We remembered that he was once XO of TOPGUN, and that it was one word and all caps. We knew how much he hated being competent in a cubicle, and the joy of being able to escape the rule that “once you retire you never are in full grunt again”. We know enough of his family to mourn along with them. Could write, I tell you.
He even linked me every once in a while, inspiring me to better work on my now-defunct blog (I work in a bit of a sensitive field nowadays, thankee–I used to be okay at writing, I suppose). He was gracious when I called him on things (even a defense of Mr. Rogers). I could depend on the man. Lex had an unashamed faith and had beliefs as well. He even has–crap, had–an entirely separate site, the Flight Deck, for people to hang out at the bar and jaw about whatever.
He took care to support and help out newer milbloggers. That support was needed in the 2005-2007 timeframe. I remain firmly convinced that the milblogs were essential to combating information warfare and the narrative of the 2005-2007 Iraq kerfuffle, putting truth out there when untruth was on the airwaves, and providing stories and comments you could not find anywhere else.
And he talked of homecoming. From 2003:
At that moment, everything you have experienced is almost worth it. The moment will not last forever, but it is enough.
I miss him already. I’m unable to write more; too many deaths close to me hit home this week. He’d like some Yeats. So, some Yeats and thoughts of his family. I don’t know if it’s a good choice or not–it might hit a little close to home. It’s Yeats. He liked Yeats.
TO A CHILD DANCING IN THE WIND
W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)
DANCE there upon the shore;
What need have you to care
For wind or water’s roar?
And tumble out your hair
That the salt drops have wet;
Being young you have not known
The fool’s triumph, nor yet
Love lost as soon as won,
Nor the best labourer dead
And all the sheaves to bind.
What need have you to dread
The monstrous crying of wind?
More – So much More
Chap – Pardon Him, Theodotus: Neptunus Lex: Carroll LeFon
UltimaRatioReg – A Remarkable Man Has Stepped Into the Clearing; Captain Carroll LeFon USN (Ret.) 1960-2012
CDRSalamander – Neptunus Lex: Thank You and Farewell
LCDR Benjamin BJ Armstrong – Laughter-Silvered Wings and Chasing the Shouting Wind
A Note from CEO Pete Daly to the LeFon Family
Susan Katz Keating: Neptunus Lex / Carroll LeFon: 1960-2012
Bill – There is a Universal Fraternity of Aviators…
The Armorer – We were bloggers once, and young.
The Armorer – Lex doing what Lex did best, and enjoyed the most. Flying
FbL – Hole in Our World
Milblogging – RIP Milblogger Carroll LeFon (aka Lex) of Neptunus Lex
Bouhammer - God Speed to a Warrior and a Milblogger
CDR Salamander – Neptunus Lex – Thank You and Farewell
AW1 Tim – One of our own
Grim – Sic Transit Lex
Steeljawscribe – Ave Atque Vale
Homefront Six – Fair winds and following seas…
Steve (The Woodshed) – Don’t Blink
Taco (The SandGram) – Carroll ìLexî LeFon, you are cleared due West
Teresa (Technicalities) – A Story Has Ended
Kanani (Kitchen Dispatch) – RIP Neptunus Lex: One writer pays tribute to another
Jonn (This Ain’t Hell) – RIP, Lex
MaryAnn (Soldiers’ Angels Germany) – Fair Winds, Lex
Cassandra (Villainous Company) – Lex
The Sniper - RIP Lex
Mark Tempest (EagleSpeak) – Beat the drum slowly
caltechgirl (Not Exactly Rocket Science) – Fair Winds and Following Seas
Navy Times – Crash kills pilot who blogged as Neptunus Lex
Soldiers’ Angels – Captain “Lex” Lefon
Tailhook Daily Briefing – Neptunus Lex
U.S. Navy Aircraft History – Well, That Sucks
Carmichael’s Position – Talk Among Yourselves
K-Dubyah (Little Drops…..) – Mourning…
Boudicca’s Voice – Lex
James Joyner (Outside the Beltway) – Captain Carroll LeFon, Neptunus Lex, Killed in Crash
streiff (RedState) – Milblogger Neptunus Lex Killed In Plane Crash
Bookworm (PJ Tatler) – Another Light Went Out : Milblogger Neptunus Lex Died Yesterday
xbradtc (Bring the heat, Bring the Stupid) – RIP- Carroll LeFon ìNeptunus Lexî
ALa (Blonde Sagacity) – In Memoriam: Capt. Carroll LeFon, Ret. a.k.a. Neptunus Lex
Sean (Doc in the Box) – Remembering Captain Carroll, Neptunus Lexî LeFon USN (Ret.) 1960-2012
Bullnav (Op For) – RIP CAPT Carroll Lefon, USN (ret), aka Neptunus Lex
LTC John (Miserable Donuts) – A Milblogger passes on…
DrewM. (Ace) – Captain Carroll “Lex” LeFon (USN, Ret)…RIP
Villainous Company: Lex
Your Tuesday moment of Zen…