Archive for the 'Aviation' Category
Lots of traffic over at Salamander’s Place, and at POGO, regarding continued problems with the Littoral Combat Ship program. I have commented on this struggling and costly program several times, and will refrain from doing so here, with the exception of a paraphrase of a comment that Sid made at Sal’s:
The Littoral Combat Ship is not built to survive combat in the littorals.
LCS was constructed to house weapons “modules” that do not exist, and in fact, consist largely of the theoretical.
Speed was going to be the capability which allowed LCS to avoid trouble. And now that single capability is negated by the fragility of the design that was required to reach those speeds.
Summed up thus:
IT (IS A) COMBAT SEAFRAME THAT CANNOT PERFORM ITS MISSION IN COMBAT THAT IT CANNOT BE EMPLOYED IN while RELYING ON SPEED THAT IT CANNOT MAKE, (THAT) WILL COMPRISE THE MAJORITY OF THE SURFACE COMBATANT FLEET OF THE US NAVY…
Someone, ANYONE, with a wide stripe on a sleeve tell us that he is wrong. And WHY he is wrong.
Here and elsewhere much has been written of the Doolittle raid, from the bookstand to Hollywood and the curriculum of War Colleges the world over. Coming fast on the heels of the stunning blows barely four months prior a malevolent arc of destruction and defeat stretching from Pearl Harbor back across the Pacific to the Philippines and the rest of Asia, the raid was, no, is emblematic of the American fighting spirit and ability to improvise on the fly and conduct improbable operations on the field of battle. From John Paul Jones’ raid on the English port of Whitehaven to putting a man on the moon barely a decade after the first tentative attempts to launch a satellite, our history has been replete with no small number of audacious operations. Of all these though, the Doolittle Raid is probably the best known and yet, there are aspects that still remain shadowed. To be successful required meticulous, but rapid planning. In short order an idea, germinated in Washington had to be planned, practiced, logistically provided for and executed in an air of ironclad secrecy. This in an age where “netcentric” and “JOPES” weren’t even a mirage on the horizon. As always, it was having the right people in place to do the heavy lifting behind the scenes that laid the groundwork for success. In the case of the Doolittle raid, there were four naval officers, one you have heard of, but two or three others you just as likely haven’t, who played key roles in the planning of the raid.
CAPT Francis S. Lowe: A member of the USNA class of 1915, a 1926 Naval War College graduate, a submariner, then-CAPT Low was assigned as Operations Officer on ADM King’s staff at CINCLANTFLT, and later followed him to Washington when King became CINC, US Fleet and CNO. Among his duties as Operations Officer was overseeing the ASW operations of the fleet, and it was in this capacity that he flew to Norfolk, VA in January 1942 to review the status of the USS Hornet CV-8. Chambers Field (the original, now part of the heliport today) had the outline of an aircraft carrier painted on it for FCLP (Field Carrier Landing Practice) which is used to maintain some of the skills necessary to conduct flight operations off an aircraft carrier – to include launching with a minimum of deck space available. It was during this trip that he observed some B-25s making passes at that outline in a mock attack and realized that twin-engine aircraft would fit on the deck of a carrier and wondered if the B-25s would be able to take off from a carrier. Upon his return to Washington, he mentioned his idea to the Admiral who thought it had merit as did General “Hap” Arnold (USAAF).
CAPT Donald Duncan: A 1917 graduate of the USNA, and holder of a MS in Radio Engineering from Harvard as well as a Naval Postgraduate school grad, then CAPT Duncan, a naval aviator with extensive carrier experience, was King’s Air Operations Officer and the one to whom it fell to evaluate the possible use of the B-25 from a carrier. In 30 handwritten pages, he outlined all the necessary details and precepts for a successful strike in a feasibility study forwarded to King and Arnold recommending the use of B-25s and oversaw the proof of concept flight that showed the Mitchell bombers could indeed, launch from a carrier deck. Subsequently he also oversaw the necessary logistical and administrative details needed to get the bombers to and onboard the Hornet at Alameda Naval Station.
LT Henry L. Miller: A 1934 graduate from the Naval Academy and native of Fairbanks, Alaska, then-LT Miller was a designated Naval Aviator. A multi-engine pilot and graduate of the Bombardier course at Sandia base and the All Weather course at Corpus Christi, he was serving as a flight instructor and Personnel Officer at Ellyson Field, FLA when tasked to train Doolittle’s pilots on takeoff techniques from the limited deck of a carrier. Shifting operations to Pierce Field (one of the outlying fields at Eglin AB – literally out in the sticks) LT Miller not only trained the raiders on take off techniques, but was also principle in teaching the finer points of shipboard life in general and accompanied them as operations shifted to Sacramento, CA and all the way to launch from the Hornet, 700 nm from Tokyo.
LT Stephen Jurika: Born in Los Angeles while his parents were visiting there, then LT Jurika grew up in the Philippines where his dad owned a number of plantations. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1933 and served as a naval attache at the American Embassy in Tokyo before World War II. As the USS Hornet Association’s website notes, the plot thickens from there:
Being fluent in the Japanese language, he was able to collect significant information about the Japanese military and industrial capabilities, even photographing many of their sensitive sites. From August 1941 until October 1941, he reported to the Director of Naval Intelligence, providing a great deal of information about the Japanese threat, including specific information about the new “Zero” high performance fighter. In October 1941, he was involved with the commissioning of USS Hornet (CV-8), initially serving as the Flight Deck and Intelligence Officer. In mid-January 1942, he consulted to Captain Donald Duncan who was then conducting a feasibility study about launching a bombing raid against Tokyo. Lt Jurika provided a great deal of information about the types and locations of high priority industrial and military targets. Two months later, when the Hornet was carrying the Doolittle Raiders to their launch point, Lt Jurika spent many hours briefing them on the locations of the high value targets and optimum flight routes.
He also had a personal contribution to make to the raid:
One bomb was decorated with Japanese medals, donated by Navy Lieutenant Stephen Jurika, who had received them during pre-war naval attaché service and now wished to pointedly return them to a hostile government. (NHHC)
Each officer would go on to serve with distinction in the war and afterwards. CAPT Low took command of the cruiser Wichita and saw action from Africa to the Pacific. Returning to the US he was Chief of Staff for Tenth Fleet, running ASW operations in the Atlantic theater of operations and finished the war as Cruiser Division SIXTEEN supporting the invasion at Okinawa and strikes against the Japanese homeland. After the war he was in charge of the surrender and neutralization of all Japanese Naval installations in Korea and reported in November as Commander Destroyers Pacific Fleet, serving until March 1947, when, upon his advancement to Vice Admiral, he was given command of the Service Force, US Pacific Fleet. In November 1949 he returned to the Navy Department to conduct a special survey of the Navy’s anti-submarine program, and in February 1950 was designated Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Logistics). He continued duty in that capacity until May 1953, when he became Commander, Western Sea Frontier, and Commander Pacific Reserve Fleet. He served as such until relieved of all active duty pending his retirement, effective 1 July 1956. He was advanced to Admiral on the basis of combat awards.
CAPT Duncan would become the first CO of the lead ship of the Essex class CV and see action in the Marcus Islands and Wake. From here he would serve as CARDIV commander, CINCPACFLT Chief of Staff, DCN(Air) and finally DCNO before retiring in 1957. Following the Doolittle raid, LT Miller commanded an Air Group on board USS Princeton (CVL-23), and during the remainder of the war he had command of Air Group SIX stationed on board USS Hancock (CV-19). Following the war he served in the Navy Department until July 1948, first assigned to writing Air Operations Instructions, later serving as Executive Officer, Air Branch, Office of Naval Research. For two years he served as Public Information Officer on the Staff of Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, and from June 1950 to August 1952 served successively as Executive Officer of Composite Squadron SEVEN, and of USS Leyte (CV-32). Graduating from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in 1953 and, he reported for duty in the Strategic Plans Division at the Office of the Chief of Naval Operation. Subsequent assignments saw him in command of USS Hancock, commander of CARDIV 15, and later, off Vietnam, CARDIV 3/Task Force 77/7th Fleet Carrier Strike Force. On July 22, 1959 Miller was commissioned a Rear Admiral, and was appointed Chief of Staff and Aide to the Commander Naval Air Force, Pacific. Rear Admiral Henry Louis Miller commanded Carrier Division FIFTEEN, which is the Anti-Submarine Hunter-Killer Task Group from May 1961 to June 1962. Admiral Miller also served as Assistant Chief of Staff for Plans, Joint Staff, Commander in Chief, Pacific, during the time when the turmoil in South East Asia escalated. He then assumed command of Carrier Division THREE, a Heavy Attack Carrier Task Group, and at the same time he took command of Task Force, SEVENTY-SEVEN, and the Carrier Striking Force of the SEVENTH FLEET and in this capacity, took the first nuclear power Task Force into combat with the enemy in Vietnam.
LT Jurika followed the Doolittle raid with an assignment to COMAIRSOLS on Guadalcanal as Air Ops officer, a tour which included a special operation that earned him a Legion of Merit. Returning briefly Stateside as a torpedo instructor, he returned to sea as navigator on the USS Franklin (CV-13) and in this capacity, was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions on the bridge in the wake of the attack and devastating explosions and damage that almost sank Franklin. After the war and a variety of foreign service tours, retired and began a career as a professor at Stanford University and the Naval Postgraduate School.
Note: The oral histories of several of the principals involved with the Doolittle raid and battle of Midway – including that of Stephen Jurika, are available through the Naval Institute via the ‘print-on-demand’ program. I think the advent of the 70th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid and the upcoming Battle of Midway observances would be a great time for the Naval Institue Press, in line with the Strategic Plan released at last week’s Annual Membership meeting, to announce it was making e-book versions available of these histories. w/r, SJS
Let’s get this list going.
As an observation and a nod, not a criticism (of course) of our Vice President Joe Biden – who observed that, “You can go back 500 years. You cannot find a more audacious plan. Never knowing for certain. We never had more than a 48 percent probability that he was there.”
Because this will be a list, compiled into one blog post, whatever you put in the comments (respectfully and to the point of the post) we will incorporate into the post – then delete. Please submit your comments to us here or via firstname.lastname@example.org or give us your submissions via Twitter or Facebook . And when the first 500 hits it, [UPDATE]: WE WILL MAKE A BRACKET COMPETITION.
Give us your best of the best who were audacious – winners or losers – those who dared. We will update the list daily, no repeats – so dig deep when your favorite has already been mentioned.
Listed in order of submission and raw commentary (and without attribution and to protect the innocent):
500. SEAL mission per Vice President Joe Biden: Audacious on the part of our Commander in Chief, President Obama.
499. Japanese attack on Pearl was an Orange/Blue war-gamer exercise 6 or 7 years before 1941.
498. Entebbe, anyone? Or one might even argue that the raid on Bin Laden’s compound would not have been possible without the lessons learned from the even more audacious (if ultimately unsuccessful) plan of Operation Eagle Claw.
497. Lets start early. 1519 Hernan Cortez landed 600 Spaniards and about a dozen horses at Cozumel. He BURNED HIS SHIPS so there was no way to escape, and he and his men had to fight to the death. He led his men to destroy the entire Aztec Empire something that no invader had done in over 6 centuries. In the process he actually convinced the Aztecs that he was THEIR GOD.
496. Henry V at Agincourt – Nope, too early.
496. (Do-over) ”Kedging“- How USS Constitution Sailors evaded 170 guns of HMS Africa, Shannon, Belvidera & Aeolus!
Dare I say George Washington before the Battle of Trenton? Christmas Day 1776.
George Washington Crosses the Delaware in the dark of night to attack the British in Trenton.
For me there is one and only one #1. Without it an army driffs away, an idea dies, a piece of paper signed at the greatest personal risk becomes meaningless. General George Washington’s decision to attack Trenton on the morning after Christmas 1776 with a night march of impossible proportions couples not only audaciousness, but the greatest risk. For me it is the single most important moment without even a close second in American history, and for the idea of freedom as the world knows it today, possibly. My own telling here: http://
494, Eben Emael and the raid to free Mussolini
493. CDR “Red” Ramage, USS Parche, Pacific, 1944: as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Parche http://
492. Col Robin Olds, Operation BOLO Mig Sweep, North Vietnam, 1967 http://user.icx.net/
491. Doolittle Raid Doolittle Raid, 1942…(while a japanese radio broadcast stated, almost to the moment of the attack, how Japan would never be attacked, with air raid sirens suddenly going off-a “baghdad bob” moment)…which in turn, caused grave consternation, and thus triggered rash action by the Imperial Japanese Navy, resulting in catastrophic loss at Midway, with which they would lose their offensive initiative for the remainder of the war…despite efforts to regain it at Guadalcanal and others.
490. Admiral David Farragut leads his ships into Mobile Bay, 1864. Approaching the mine field laid by the Confederates the USS Tecumseh (first in the battle line) hit a mine and exploded, shocking the entire fleet. The USS Brooklyn stopped dead in the water, and the Captain asked the Admiral for instructions. Farragut ordered his ship, the Hartford, to steam around the Brooklyn and take the lead, signaling his forces “Damn the Torpedoes…Full speed ahead!” The entire column of 14 ships passed safely through the mine field and took Mobile.
489. April 22, 1778. At 11 p.m. on this day in 1778, Commander John Paul Jones leads a small detachment of two boats from his ship, the USS Ranger, to raid the shallow port at Whitehaven, England, where, by his own account, 400 British merchant ships are anchored.
488. Captain Charles Stewart of USS Constitution taking on two warships simultaneously in February 1815.
487. Though unsuccessful, Desert One was audacious.
486. How USS Constitution Sailors evaded 170 guns of HMS Africa, Shannon, Belvidera & Aeolus!
485. Berlin Airlift
482. Market Garden (for a not-so-successful example)
481.Camp Century Greenland, 1959-1966.http://
480. Manstein Plan, France 1940 (replaced the original von Schlieffen plan), bait the allies into the low countries, cut them in half, and take the entire region in 6 weeks.
479. 1588, english channel, England vs Spain. English ships, more maneuverable, chipped away at the snds of the Spanish Armada’s ships (arranged in an arcing format) instead of taking them head-on. Forced the Spanish ships into disorder, and over a few days, whittled them down to near-insignificance…forc
Audacious to say the least.
478. 1970, USAF and Army Special operations crash land an HH-3 helicopter in the middle of the Son Tay prison complex in North Vietnam in an attempt to rescue 65 American POWs. The operation is carried out perfectly, but the prisoners were moved a few months earlier to different accommodations.
477. Operation Dynamo, the “miracle of Dunkirk” in WW2
476. Battle of the River Plate, 1939. One of the greatest psyche-outs in naval annals. Spee literally pulverized UK’s Ajax, Achillies(NZ), and Exeter. One’s fire control was out, another’s main gunnery was out, the third was mauled but intact. GS was also damaged, and thinking the UKs 3 were still coming after him (most would’ve broke off by then), he made for Montevideo…where he was told to leave within 72hours. GS was relatively intact, despite some damage, and could have re-engaged. Thinking there were more heavies coming (via the radio traffic of the 3, who remained, even though they would have been cut to pieces had the GS came out to face them), Capt Langsdorf scuttled the Graf Spee without a battle. 3 days later he shot himself. Sheer audacity, and well executed…using nothing but guile.(the truly genius strategist finds ways to war without battle-Sun Tzu)
475. The bayonet charge of Joshua Chamberlain on July 2, 1863 at Little Round Top during the Gettysburg battle.
474. Bridge at Dong Ha
473. 1918 Battle of Belleau Wood
472. June 1995 rescue of Scott O’Grady
471. Battle of the Bulge, with the Germans scraping up enough armor, soldiers and fuel to give the US and Allied Armies a real good scare
470. USS ENGLAND taking the bull by the horns, and sinking 6 Japanese subs in less than 2 weeks.
Secretary Mabus, CNO Admiral Greenert, and Marine Commandant General Amos,
Suggest you read an effective, efficient explanation of the ramifications of a really bad idea over at Tom Ricks’ Foreign Policy blog.
I wonder if the enhancement in personal readiness occasioned by breathalyzers will be worth the trade-off in flagging morale, professional insult, and perceptions of detached, out of touch senior leadership…
This is among the most paternalistic, professionally insulting concepts I’ve seen in all my years of service, and I’m not sure I will submit. Yes, I know my options, and I just may exercise them and go right over the side the first time the duty blowmeister shoves a plastic tube in my face and treats me like a drunk driver for daring to report for duty. To the CNO, CMC, CMC of the Navy, and SgtMaj of the Marine Corps, here’s my question: At what point will one of you four exercise your duty to tell the Secretary of the Navy, “Hey, Boss, WTF, over?” and that he really ought to fire whichever clown came up with this idea (?)
And, an additional observation:
Leaders exercising their solemn duty to junior sailors and Marines, who have even a modicum of intuition about their charges, can figure out who is sucking the worm out of the bottle every night without resorting to the extraordinary insulting and distrustful measure of breathalyzing every shipmate who steps across the brow and every Marine who marches into a gun park.
Please read the rest. There are some additional and very cogent points about the damage this exceedingly unwise little contrivance will cause.
Trust, like loyalty, is very much a two-way street. Trust is also a funny thing. Like an ornate hand-painted vase, it takes great dedication and hard work, and not a little inspiration, to create; yet just one instance of careless handling can shatter it into a thousand pieces. Even if one was so inclined to spend the time required to glue all of those pieces back together, the result is never quite nearly the same.
These Sailors and Marines have stood watch and fought two wars in the last decade. They have sacrificed, fought, bled, and died doing their duty. They are magnificent. They have given you, all of you, far more reasons for you to trust them than you have for them to trust you. The stars on the collar, the wide stripes on the sleeve, the nameplate on the big desk, those things are purely ornamental if you don’t earn the trust and respect of those you lead each day anew. Just as every Second Lieutenant and Ensign, every Chief Petty Officer and Gunnery Sergeant must do. Every day.
You are marching quick-time toward shattering that trust and breaching the loyalty of those you lead. The reasons that make this entire course of action seem like a good idea are inconsequential compared to the negative consequences of implementing this professionally insulting and terribly misguided policy. Your junior leaders, commissioned and non-commissioned, are telling you so, and loudly, even if the Generals and Admirals haven’t the courage to do so.
Good leaders listen, instead of ignoring sage advice. Now is just such a time.
h/t to LtCol P and to “John Paul Lejeune”
Tomorrow, 11 March 2012, the storied USS Enterprise (CVN-65) will leave home port to ply the world’s oceans for the 22nd, and last time. As she is about to head toward Middle Eastern waters, the Associated Press published a nice piece about her, and the challenges that her crew of 4,000 face in keeping a ship that is older than most of their parents operating and ready.
Since SWMBO reminded me how expensive picture books were to print, I figured I would take advantage of this newfangled internet thing to post some pictures of the Big E, and relate some things about her 52 years in service. A good deal of these pictures will come from familiar places, such as NavSource.org, and DANFS, as well as some others included from various spots.
It is staggering to think of a ship 52 years in commission. How long is that? Here are some facts about Enterprise and her history:
The sitting Secretary of the Navy, William B. Franke, whose wife christened CVAN-65, had been born in 1894. He lived to be 85, and still died 33 years ago.
Enterprise’s first CO, Captain Vincent P. de Poix, Annapolis ’39, had been a World War II aviator, and is still with us at 95!
In February of 1962, Enterprise stood by to assist with the recovery of the first American to orbit the Earth, LtCol John Glenn, USMC, in Mercury 6.
Enterprise was a part of the Second Fleet force that established the “Naval quarantine” of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, October, 1962.
Enterprise was the first nuclear powered warship ever to operate in a combat zone, off Vietnam, December, 1965.
Enterprise remains the longest warship ever to put to sea at 1,102 feet, 2 inches.
On May 24th, 2011, a Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet of VFA-11 made arrested landing number 400,000 on Enterprise.
When Enterprise joined the fleet in October of 1961, she was one of 24 carriers, and the only nuclear-powered carrier, in a Navy of 870 ships. Today she is one of 11 nuclear-powered carriers in a Navy of 285 ships.
Enterprise deployed to Vietnam six times, Operation SOUTHERN WATCH three times, Operation ENDURING FREEDOM four times (about to be five), and Operation IRAQI FREEDOM three times. Her CO, Captain William Hamilton, was not yet three years old when Enterprise was commissioned, her XO would not be born for another five years.
Best of luck to all the Officers and Sailors who crew this venerable old warship. She carries a glorious name proudly. One day you can tell your grandchildren you sailed on her. When you return, she will pass from the Navy list and into history.
But perhaps her name can live on with CVN-80. There always should be an Enterprise in the US Navy.
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.