The Ties That Bind

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)

Posted by SteelJaw in Navy
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  • A very touching tribute SJS… Properly said, and wonderfully crafted (as usual). All good men, as are the majority who wear and have worn the ‘wings of gold’. A reminder to all of us, that it truly is important how we live our lives, if not for ourselves but for the people we touch.

    Thanks for reminding us…


  • BJ Armstrong

    In the first century of our Service’s existence, in the days of men like Decatur, Porter (Sr & Jr), and Farragut, before we tried to evoke our brothers/sisters from the Corps with “Semper Fortis” or other struggles with mottos or creeds (that continue to be brought up because our business management classes tell us all we must have “mission statements” that are new and exciting) the Navy had an unofficial motto. It was never codified in policy statement or congressional decree, it was made real instead through wardroom toasts and battle speeches, and inscribed over the doors of The Naval Academy Chapel. Belief in this precept has been joined by other names like LeFon, Caffrey, and Huber…and continues to be lived by the few who serve their nation at sea. To borrow a phrase with pop-culture currency, Damn Few.

    – Non Sibi Sed Patriae … Not for Self, but Country –

  • SJS,
    Well done, sir!

    And as for BJA (nice to meet you in person last night), we have too few of those folks you describe—everything rises and fall on leadership. The USN could use more straight-shooters and thinkers like Lex and a lot less genuflecting BS. For instance, if your boss’s ego is too sensitive for the truth, he should find another job, and not cause his subordinates to be silenced, or to “nuance” what they say. Too many of our young sailors hold their peace to save their career, while we need their insights more than ever.

    Last night I asked Mary to use her influence to get the Wylie book (Military Strategy) back in print (at least electronically)—our young sailors could use the prose of a leader who didn’t know what political correctness was, and spoke from the heart.

    Right now, we have too much at odds with BJA’s “Not for self” moniker. Self seems to be a predominant element in too many leaders.

  • CDR Lee Boehm, USNR

    Captain Edward C. Geiger, USN (RET),an E-2C Hawkeye legacy passed away today suddenly, of natural causes. He is mourned by his wife, Cheri Geiger, his son, Lt Joshua Geiger, USA (now serving proudly in in Afghanistan), and his many lifelong friends, who will all mourn his passing. I cannot express how much I am wounded by his passing. I shall miss him dearly, as he was was was my friend for over 30 years.

    CDR Lee Boehm, USN (Ret)

  • Now Ned Geiger too? I am crushed – he was a great role model for us up&coming Hawkeye NFOs back when the community was trying to move past the Vietnam era and a great person to be around. Damn…
    w/r, SJS