28 March, 2012

Carroll Lex LeFon: The Goodbye (and it was good)

Yesterday, Captain Carroll "Lex" LeFon was sent to his reward with all the honor due him and the warm and happy memories of those who knew him. Even the weather seemed to cooperate, as it was a crystal clear but crisp day, and you could see for miles from the top of the hill in Rosecrans where the service was held (picture taken prior to the ceremony).

I'm terrible at estimating crowds, but there were nearly three times as many people as seats to sit in. Most of those in uniform waited for others to sit and when the available seats were filled, stood in neat rows in the back, as if the chairs delineating those rows were simply invisible. It created a beautiful column of people with their Navy and USMC covers sparkling in the sunlight.

Every person involved honored Lex without any misstep I could see. The bagpiper who played for at least 10 minutes before the service was absolute perfection to my musical ear. The Chaplain obviously knew of whom he spoke, borrowing paragraphs from URR's post at the USNI blog and other tributes, and receiving murmurs and exclamations of agreement when he invited the assembled to affirm that Lex was indeed a gifted writer.

The wind was quite intense, and the flag unfurled and furled in honor of Lex whipped and snapped violently in the breeze, but the two sailors completed their task with precision and perfection as they battled the gusts. The female of the pair turned precisely and knelt in from of Lex's wife, obviously offering her more words than the standard, "Please accept this flag on behalf of a grateful nation and the United States Navy," though the wind prevented her quiet words from carrying.

In an amazing "coincidence," moments before the honorary rifle shots and the playing of Taps began, a single Hornet took off from nearby Naval Air Station North Island. It appeared over the treetops in front and to our right just as the first notes sounded. It could not have been more perfect--the always-haunting Taps floating through the wind-whipped air as the plane most-associated with Lex's career faded into the cloudless sky.

There was then a very brief delay as we waited for the fly-by, and the Rosecrans attendant who had guided people through protocol for the military honors invited us to sit "in quiet contemplation." But as soon as Lex's wife heard the roar of the jets, she leapt to her feet, still clutching the folded flag in one arm as she stood on tiptoe in the center aisle, a tiny pixie of a woman reaching to the sky and waving in huge, wide arcs as a two-ship passed directly overhead. It was an F-18 Hornet with a Kfir tucked up very close on its wing, the bookends of Lex's flying career.

As the service closed, attendees were encouraged not to dally, but many took the time to pay their respects to the family. And others had a very long walk, as vehicles were parked down both sides of the road for quite a distance, such was the crush of people.

Following the service, we apparently had ATAC, Lex's employer, to thank for a great reception on Point Loma right next to the water and overlooking the San Diego skyline. Walking in the door, one instantly encountered the following display:

Sharp eyes will know what is in the upper left corner of the table, and as for myself, I was so gratified to see two of the pictures brought to the Shakespeare's March 9th get-together by SoCalPir8 and me front and center. Lex's wife had asked us for permission to take them with her, which we had gladly granted, so it was very touching to see them make a re-appearance.

The reception itself was near-perfection, with only one flaw that was soon rectified. As SoCalPir8 and an unnamed former naval officer stood at the bar, they both discovered there was not a drop of Guinness (for strength!) or Jameson (for courage!) in the facility. They instantly teamed up to solve the problem, cleaning out the Naval Exchange of all but one six-pack of Guinness and procuring two large bottles of Jameson Irish Whiskey as well. The bartender was a bit perturbed when they returned with Guinness and Jameson in hand, but graciously allowed the drinks to be placed on a corner of the bar for all to share. A number of Naval Officers and Marines alike were later spotted joining the formal toasts with a Guinness in one hand and a Jameson in the other.

The most poignant moment of the reception relates to what is in the lower right hand corner of the above picture. It was an informal moment, and I felt tremendously blessed to happen to have been close enough to see it develop. A distinguished naval officer in uniform was struggling with a tri-folded flag that was threatening to unravel its neat triangle when several of our troop of blog readers jumped to assist him. In the course of helping, it was discovered that he was the current CO of TOPGUN and he was bearing a very special gift, which he then instantly turned and presented to Lex's son and wife (click to enlarge, and note the date).

Yes, it was the flag flying over TOPGUN when Lex's plane went down.

I wish I could've somehow recorded every single detail and conversation of the reception, for it was truly the balm our souls needed--to be among those who knew and loved Lex as the great man he was. As the toasts began, I could hear Lex's voice in every story, see mannerisms and expressions described by family, friends and fellow pilots. And it was a joy to see the happiness and affection with which he was remembered.

It would not surprise most to hear that Lex was supremely competitive, and one pilot spoke of how over the years they'd end up in a wrestling match each time they encountered one other, including when they met up again as employees of ATAC. A female voice piped up from the back, "He's not kidding. Right there in the hallway, giving HR a heart attack. The liability!" The original speaker added that since he always had about 30-50 pounds on Lex, he could win in the first 15 minutes, but that "he'd beat you 45 minutes later." He never, ever gave up.

Lex's nephew was only two years younger than him due to Lex's sister being significantly older, and reported the same kind of story. He also put a poignant spin on another event, one I had never considered in that light. As Lex had written on his blog, he rolled his old Jaguar convertible his senior year at the Naval Academy (giving him the nickname "Car-Roll"). But the nephew added some information, pointing out that Lex had landed upside down in a ditch with the car suspended by the sides of the ditch, a configuration that surely saved his life. "I look at every year after that as a gift from God," the nephew said, "And Carroll made the most of that gift." He added that we shouldn't so much be sad that we lost Lex relatively young, but be joyful that we had him for far more years than we had every right to expect. I was reminded again of Patton's admonition that we not mourn, but rather celebrate that such men lived.

Others told great stories about Lex's wit, including one involving a sister squadron smuggling a live rooster aboard ship that insisted on crowing at inopportune times because it was kept in the dark 24/7 until they were far enough out that it chouldn't be sent back on the COD plane. Unfortunately, that hiding place was next to Lex's stateroom. One day Lex spotted a leader of that sister squadron and went storming down the ship's passageway, reporting, "Your damn J.O.'s brought a barnyard alarm clock aboard and the damn thing's broke. It keeps going off at 3 o'clock every damn morning!"

One particularly delicious story involved someone who had spent time with Lex in staff work, involving the cutting wit Lex fortunately kept sheathed most of the time. I suspect those who watched Lex engage trolls on his blog know exactly of what his fellow officer spoke...

Thanks to Lex's son (SNO), we also got the full story of Lex's reaction to SNO's decision to go into helicopters instead of jets. SNO said that the thing he'll always remember his father saying was "nothing." After SNO made his aviation choice, he had called his father. "What did you get?" Lex asked. "Helicopters," SNO replied. There was dead silence on the phone. As the silence extended, SNO became concerned. "Are you still there, Dad?" he asked. "Yes," came the calm reply. "I just thought you said 'helicopters.'" SNO affirmed the accuracy of his father's hearing and received the response, "Did you not get jet grades, or something?" He had, but had chosen helicopters and soon explained why. SNO reported to the assembled crowd at the reception that once Lex recovered from the shock, his father made it clear how proud he was of SNO going his own way, something that Lex had always celebrated and for which SNO expressed his deep appreciation and gratitude in his toast.

The most hilarious moment was supplied by Lex's two beautiful and equally-poised daughters. They referenced the PX90 video workouts Lex favored when he needed to return to fighting shape for the ATAC job, describing them as great for "using to work out, or watch for tips, or just to listen to as your father pants in the next room." It absolutely brought down the house.

Kat, his youngest, said that for 17 years it had been her life mission to tease, harass and generally humble her proud, competitive and driven father, a role she obviously relished. She reported that one day recently she had heard two thumps coming from the 2nd story of her home and called out, "Dad, are you okay?" He reported from his upstairs room that everything was fine but she knew better, running to check on him. "I arrived to see a yoga video still running," she said, "and my father laying on the floor just like a tipped cow. I said, 'Did you fall over doing yoga?'" She giggled, and then perfectly imitated his resigned tone. "Yes. I think I broke my hip." She looked down with amusement as she must have that day. "Would you like me to help you get up?" she asked with laughter in her voice. Again with the resigned and monosyllabic reply, "Yes."

It was delightful to see those two girls in action, full of such love and affection, and so very obviously their father's daughters, marked with not only his features but his wit and playfulness. And of particular delight to me was to discover that they spoke just as quickly as their father did. Comment was later made by the CEO of ATAC that some people in his employ had trouble understanding a word Lex said because at times he spoke so fast. As a fast speaker myself, I loved it!

Lex's family made him proud yesterday with the strength, courage, poise and warmth they exhibited through what was surely a wrenching day for them. And those who have been concerned that the family continue to have the support they need will be gratified to know that Lex's son was sustained by a number of squadron mates in attendance, as well as several Marines from his ROTC days. The girls were well-accompanied by a table full of their young friends, and the room was awash in love and support. During the toasts, Lex's wife was hailed as a mother to the military base neighborhoods they inhabited, and honored for her mentoring of the younger military wives. His children were honored for their military service in SNO's case, and the strength and resiliency the daughters displayed in theirs.

The family has a long road ahead, as anyone who has lost a loved one knows, but they will be accompanied on that road with a large and dedicated team of brothers in arms, coworkers and friends who will never allow Lex (or those he loved) to be forgotten.

He lives on in so many...

Update: ATAC has really gone above and beyond what could be expected, for both Lex and the family now left behind. Just one in the multitude ways that above-and-beyond was expressed was in ATAC's creation of a 100 memorial challenge coins, a couple of which--gifted from Lex's wife herself--graced the hands of a few military bloggers and readers by the time the reception was over. One side of the coin displays the ATAC name and logo. The other appears below.

Lex's very civilian neighbor of 10 years was in awe of it, telling us that his coin would now be used a placemarker on golf outings, as whenever he and Lex went golfing the day would end with drinks. "I would turn around and there would always suddenly be two drinks in front of me," he recalled with tears welling in his eyes. "A Guinness and a shot of Jameson. That's what Lex always said, 'Guinness for strength, Jameson for courage.'"

To Lex!

[cross-posted at The Castle & The Lexicans.]

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07 March, 2012

The Hole in Our World

Rest in Peace, Captain"Lex" Lefon...

John, himself a leader of men, said it best: “He was the leader you wanted to be led by.”

A civilian myself I cannot claim the personal experience that proves John’s opinion true, but I felt it instinctively, and I saw that truth borne out in how men and women I admired responded to him. Every good word I have seen heaped on his memory these last hours is simple fact. He was that good—as a naval officer, as a patriot, as a writer, as a thinker, and as a man you would be blessed to have in your corner.

I was one of those so blessed. I never quite knew whether to call him mentor or friend, for there are reasonable restraints when a married male and single female separated in age by well over a decade get to know each other. So there was little baring of the souls, though at times we each let down our guard a bit and gave a peek into our respective burdens and regrets. And you’ll never convince me I gave as good as I got on the friendship front, for he was the wiser and more sophisticated Southern Gentleman who seemed to always say and do the right thing while I was the bull in a china shop, not always knowing what I was plowing into, and sometimes in my inquiries too brazen by half.

But there was playfulness and teasing at times, and thought-provoking conversations on topics as weighty as the factors in generational poverty and the moral effects of justified killing. And there were kicks in the pants when I needed them, and gentle restraint in the needed rebukes he directed my way.

I learned so much from him, about courage and perseverance, about leadership and compassion. He was an amazing mix of restrained ego and genuine humility, for I don’t think he ever forgave himself for his mistakes, and I have little doubt that his last thoughts included terrible guilt for what he knew his beloved family would shortly be experiencing.

It was his passion for his family that truly defined him for me. His deep admiration for his wife as displayed on the blog was echoed “in real life.” He adored her without reservation and truly believed he didn’t deserve her. He once said before I met her that he thought she and I would have a lot in common, and I considered that high praise, for someone who would have Lex’s esteem must be pretty special.

Like any passionate father, he shed tears of love, sorrow and fear for his beloved children. He marveled at their gifts and I know his heart broke over and over at their sufferings no matter the source of their pain. One of the few times our conversations were deeply revealing was when he shared his concern for his struggling teenager and I attempted to give him a bit of insight into a typical teenage girl’s mind—one of the few areas of humanity he didn’t seem to instinctively understand.

As for me, I have written before about what he did for me on a personal level, and I do not want to be more revealing on that account, only to say that he was (of course) absolutely right in his evaluation and challenge of me. My deepest regret is that I didn’t tell him HOW right he was. I had been wanting to do so, and had made a mental note to reach out to him in recent weeks. I waited too long…

Already I am seeing that my story is not unique, and that doesn’t surprise me a bit. For all his claims that he could be “cold” or “remote” (his words), he seemed to be a lover of humanity above all. Possessed of the spirit of a warrior with the heart of an Irish poet-storyteller, he strongly rejected the label of Warrior-Philosopher, but I became more and more convinced over the years that he was exactly that.

When someone passes on, it is common to say, “We are diminished by the loss.” Never have I known someone for whom this was more true. And here we must add another well-worn phrase, “We are better for having known him.” I certainly am. My dear boyfriend, knowing the effect Lex had on my life, took to saying that he wanted to shake Lex’s hand to thank him for helping make me who I am. The handshake happened at an English/Irish pub last year, but the opportunity to say why it was so warmly given was never afforded. I can only hope that Lex’s startling powers of perception somehow divined the intent anyway…

Captain Carroll F. “Lex” Lefon, you left the world a far better place than you found it…and with a gaping hole that will never quite be filled.

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Captain, Departed

I first published this in May 2008 when Lex retired. With the awful news of yesterday, I have nothing to say. Only tears to shed for all who loved him. Those words I wrote upon his retirement are even more true today. I will try to write more in the near future, but not now. My heart aches too much for words...

I have struggled so much with what to say here, how to honor someone I am honored to know.

Ever since I first read this, I've debated whether or not to say anything more. Thinking Lex was going to have a retirement ceremony where people would get up and say wonderful things about him tipped me toward the negative on that debate. Wouldn't want to give him a swelled head, ya know...

But here I find out the man is trying to slip off into the sunset sans horse, and so I'm calling him out. I figure I get the chance to say this either now or at his funeral. And I firmly believe that nice things about a person should be aired before they die.

He's not the only amazing person the Internet has allowed me to know, but he's the one retiring today, so he's the one I'm gonna talk about.

When I started reading Lex's blog nearly four years ago, I was so struck by his writing that I sat down and "penned" him a fan letter--something quite out of character for me. Buying into his "old man/back in the old days" shtick, I figured him to be much older than he was, and so told him he was almost old enough to be my father, something that soon became a running joke between us. He responded graciously, and I immediately dug into and devoured his archives, sending emails with honest (but often impertinent) questions and comments as I read. I'd never met a fighter pilot, nor known someone who had devoted his life to military service, and so I was fascinated by a world I'd never thought about before in any real depth.

Well, kissing-up seems the right way to start things off with a pen pal, because I quickly went from adoring fan to humbled friend as we discussed ideas and pondered issues, separated by geography. By email and by blog, his inimitable way with words communicated things I'd never considered, and gave me glimpses into worlds I would never know. I always felt honored that someone of such a powerful intellect and wide-ranging experiences took the time to educate and engage little ol' me, and I thanked Al Gore for inventing the Internet--for without that our paths would never have crossed.

But Lex has been more than entertainment and a naval education. He has taught me about toughness, about honest self-evaluation, and about when to shut up (though sadly these lessons are still not fully learned), and when to let people do nice things for me even though I know I can never repay them. And most importantly, he taught me to ignore the fear and just step out and do it.

The things he did for me and taught me were not life-shaking or startling, but they were valuable, and over time they accumulated into a weighty gift of actions and lessons that will endure.

During my nearly two years of ugly employment when I first moved out here, Lex repeatedly reached past my whining and complaining and challenged me to change my situation. I am sorry to say that I didn't immediately respond to that challenge, and subjected him to quite a bit of whimpering, as I would "lie and bleed a while" (as he often said) for far longer than I should have.

I'll never forget complaining about my job when I saw him the day I got to visit NIMITZ and having him respond by challenging me to question how I could be a better or more savvy employee, and then giving me an honest assessment of what I was facing in future employment. A week later, he forwarded me a very good article about job interviews--"A short read, but worthwhile," was his only comment. I felt the unspoken poke that echoed our conversation: "So what are you gonna do about it, hunh?"

When I finally picked myself up off the floor permanently, ignored the fear, and began to reach for what I wanted, Lex was there to challenge me again. He loaned me the perfect book all about making a career change, but he didn't just hand it to me. He talked strategy, laid out interview scenarios (asked me the tough questions I didn't want to consider, then shot down my inadequate answers before helping me construct better ones), and offered insightful advice on what I was about to undertake.

Fortified by Lex's demonstrated faith in me (why would he take the time if he thought I was hopeless?), and armed with new tools to identify what I truly wanted and what I had to offer, I finally was headed in the right direction. But when I returned his book, he once again had to suffer through more of my whimpering. In response, he perceptively and compassionately challenged me to take the last courageous step I needed to. Having finally learned that it is best to take Lex's challenges, I did.

I now have two jobs and a bright future ahead of me for the taking. And while I still find myself somewhat surprised at where I am and what I do (and where it could all end up), I no longer find it incomprehensible--I know my value and I know my potential. My confidence grows daily.

As I wrote recently, I owe so many people so much for how they sustained and encouraged me these last two years. And standing in the front row of a chorus of amazing people who gave me better than I deserve... is Lex. A wonderful motivator, and a fine leader.

If this is the impact he can have from the distance of pixels and a few lunches, I defy anybody to tell me he didn't leave an indelible mark on the men and women of the U.S. Navy.

Lex, thank you for your service, your sacrifices big and small. Congratulations on thirty years of a life well-lived. I can't wait to see what the next thirty bring you. From my corner, I vote for thirty more years of great happiness and success (in all its forms) that you so richly deserve.

Four bells... Captain, United States Navy - retired, departing.

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16 October, 2010

A Man Fullly Alive

I have been reading Christopher Hitchens' great memoir, Hitch 22 and now admiring his reaction to the challenge of likely-fatal cancer, admiring not only his amazing mind but the courage to

In earlier times, without derision or irony, this would have been called "humanism," a delight in all things human -- in wit and wine and good company and conversation and fine writing and debate of large issues. Hitchens' joy and juice put many believers of my acquaintance to shame -- people for whom religion has become a bloodless substitute for life. "The glory of God," said St. Irenaeus, "is man fully alive." Hitchens would hate the quote, but he proves the claim.

..."To the dumb question 'Why me?' the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?" He is, in some ways, a particularly reliable, clear-eyed witness -- unclouded by sentiment, free from comforting illusions, even illusions I view as truths. It is like watching a man assault Everest with only a can opener and a Q-tip. There is honor in the attempt. And the longer the assignment continues, the better for all of us.

Read it all.

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06 October, 2010


I seemed to run into a lot of tear-inspiring items today. So, grab a tissue and let's get it over with all at once...

A hero who fell in battle:

It’s the result of a considered decision, made in a moment of solitude and earnestly committed to over and over again. It’s a decision that you’ll go down fighting. A decision that your own life is not more valuable than the lives of your team. You can live each day hoping that the prepared for moment never occurs. But when it does, you recognize it, remember what you promised, take stock of all you have and step into the breach, with the full knowledge of what it will cost you: Everything.

Those left behind:

Gunner, a bomb-sniffing dog mustered out of the Marines for canine post-traumatic stress disorder, has found a new home with Deb and Dan Dunham, whose Marine son died in Iraq protecting the men beside him.

Beneficiaries of their sacrifice:

[h/t to Cassandra for the 2nd link]

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02 October, 2010

Military Spouse of the Year

This video says it all.

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30 September, 2010

The Little Things

I've been a fan of Bruce Willis ever since Moonlighting, but not being a particular fan of action movies, I hadn't see Die Hard until tonight.

Of course, any movie about terrorists is seen through the prism of 9-11, but I think I've gotten pretty good at setting that aside in order to see an older movie for the individual bit of fluff that it's supposed to be.

Can't do it with Die Hard, though.

Cop gets to carry his gun on the plane? Jarring, but kinda amusing in a "ain't it funny how different things used to be?" way. Set it aside, keep watching, and you'll lose yourself in the movie.

Terrorists blow up an office building (even if it is just the roof), complete with stuff raining from the sky onto the people below?

Not so amusing. And not really all that entertaining, even if the good guys win in the end.

Kinda makes me wish I'd seen Die Hard... before. I bet it was a ton of fun--must've been, because it made Willis a superstar. But I can't tell, 'cause I can't see it with a pre-9/11 mind.

I suppose one gets used to the big changes and the big losses of innocence.. we develop emotional armor against the ways we all think and live differently since then, the images of the battlefield, the names, the endlessly-reverberating consequences. It all still hurts, each story tears at the heart and brings tears... but they don't shock us anymore. Maybe we have learned to expect them?

But the little things... they sneak up on you... Like a movie that sets you up so perfectly to root for the all-too-human hero, to scoff at the idiot FBI agents, too cheer as the good guys swagger off into the figurative sunset in a limousine with everything wrapped up in a pretty bow... but it all clangs so terribly off key, now.

You don't feel like cheering... because a perfect-pitch film from 1988 doesn't hit the same notes in your psyche anymore, doesn't make the same connections.

Because the good guys don't always win. And terrorists who blow up office buildings are a little too real. It's not escapist entertainment anymore.

The little things... the little ways that prove the changes... It's harder to have armor for them.

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29 September, 2010

Geaux Saints! *cringe*

As a Chargers fan, it pains me to write this but I have to give credit where credit is due... ;)

From a resident of Louisiana who forwarded this to me: This is being circulated all over New Orleans. FYI the Saints also did Rehabbing with the Troops through WWP & there was NO PR for it. The guys even came to town preseason and not a news story. That is how it should be sometimes!

Here are more reasons to be a Saints fan. CJ is the son of a VP at my company who wrote the email below. CJ was seriously wounded in Afghanistan and as you’ll read in the email below, has been in Walter Reed for a very long time and has endured many surgeries. When the Saints went to visit Walter Reed after leaving the White House, they heard about the Louisiana native and were all excited to meet him and all spent a very long time with him. We look at the Saints as a big deal, but even after just meeting the president and being honored as champs, they all recognized and knew that CJ is the real hero.

(Original email below:)

Attached are a few pictures from yesterday. New Orleans Saints came to Walter Reed after their visit to the White House. Notice a couple of things:

1. CJ is standing in each picture. Since Saturday he has worn his shoes all day, walked everywhere (Saturday was 1st time he has worn shoes and walked more than 5 steps in 53 days), and refuses to get in his bed during the day. He is getting stronger physically which is going along with his mental and spiritual strength which has been there all along.

2. Color in his face is back and he has gained back about 15 of the 28 lbs he lost.

1. – CJ and Drew Brees
2. – CJ and Coach Payton
3. – CJ and defensive line
4. – CJ and Robin

The Saints were very gracious. If you are a fan, you can be very proud of the class they showed. Hospital staff said they spent more time there than anyone ever has. They told Robin CJ was special to them because he is from Louisiana .

They really went out of their way. They all signed his flag and one of them gave him a Saints hat and the rest signed when they came to see him. Coach Payton gave us his cell number and invited us to spend a weekend in New Orleans as their guests when CJ gets back to Mississippi .

Drew Brees must have signed 20 things and gave them to him. The highlight for us was when CJ gave Drew Brees his Wounded Warrior hat and Drew promised to wear it on the sidelines. He said he would get fined by the NFL for wearing it and he would make sure the fine was donated to the Wounded Warrior Project. THEN he asked for CJ’s autograph.

Not a bad day! I guess I am going to have to become a Saints fan!

Become a Saints fan? Never!!

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28 September, 2010


When a guy is wounded downrange, the medics often write medications and diagnoses directly on his skin, or on pieces of tape affixed to his clothing. This way medical personnel down the line immediately know important information about his care as he is transfered through the combat medical system. Click through for context.

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27 September, 2010

Righteous Anger?

I've been feeling drawn back into blogging, and I think this finally pushed the right buttons...

Lex wrote about a massage he received yesterday:

At some point it was revealed that I’d been in the Navy, and retired. This is something of which I am perhaps unseemly proud. There was an almost imperceptible pause in her ministrations, before she asked, almost casually, “Have you ever killed anyone?”

Just reading that, I gasped a little in surprise, amazed at her rudeness.
I took a moment to reply, before responding, “This is not a question we ask even of each other.” Nor was this a conversation I wanted to be in.

Her answer was a satisfied, almost triumphal grunt: “Exactly.” As though some point had been proven.

I sighed to myself softly, decided to let it go.

“I’m a pacifist,” she went on. “I don’t swallow any of it, Iraq. But my sister was talking about how many soldiers joined for college money. I never had any college money. And they knew that they might die.”

There are two guaranteed ways to make me see red instantly--hurt a child, or impugn/attack a veteran simply for who he is. I was seeing red as I continued to read. A shameful part of me was almost a little excited, alert for the crushing verbal blow I knew Lex could deliver, or the air-tight argument he would offer up next to decimate her silly statements in a single sentence.

But instead he ended up somewhere entirely different.

And I thought that maybe I needed to re-examine a post of which I'd always been a bit proud, because we're all trying to come to grips with something...
Hearing Bellavia talk about those parents made my heart hurt, made me angry. Kudos to him for obviously having the sense and the support system to not let such treatment get him down. But shame on those who use a misplaced sense of moral superiority to mask their own weakness, ignorance and fundamental lack of humanity.

Awfully judgmental of me, isn't it?

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21 March, 2010

Fuzzy Flight, Full AAR

[Pics are up!]

Quote of the day, after I climbed into the plane for the second time and sat down with one leg doubled under me and had to awkwardly readjust in that cramped space as Lex waited to strap me in (uttered in bemusement): "Sometimes I think you're 11 years old."

My puzzled response: "Because of the silliness, or the lack of grace [grace having been an earlier topic of discussion]?"

Lex: Because of the enthusiasm.

Yup. That would be it.

In short, I’m now firmly in the camp that believes flying is the most fun you can have with your clothes on. I think the first 5-7 seconds of any dogfight are magic. The rest? Well… you’ll see.

Lex is right, I was literally shaking as we waited for the pre-flight briefing.

I got there early and was watching the planes from the safety of the “lounge” when someone behind me said, “Hey, barnstormer!” and I turned around to see Lex.

“How ya doin’?”

“Pretty good,” I lied, extending a shaking hand. “I’m at the ‘now why in the world did I think this was something I wanted to do?’ stage.”

He reassured me it would be fun and I agreed, but something in my primal ancestry was obviously of a different opinion. So, having the engine problems before takeoff was a blessing because it gave time for the nerves to die down. By the second taxi out to the runway, I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

Once we were airborne, it got even better. I kept looking over my left shoulder to see our “adversary” Carlo and then grinning. I laughed aloud to see that little plane seeming to hover so close to us as we headed for the coast. Pure joy. Waves were exchanged, and pics of pic-taking were taken. Lex and I agreed that he would handle my video camera during one of the fights, so as to fulfill the demands genteel and polite requests of certain Lex fans.

Arriving over the ocean, it was time to learn. As Lex positioned us for some space to do a bit of familiarization, the plane rolled for a solid turn… seemingly falling off a cliff. I involuntarily let out a long whoop of surprise and joy, caught off guard by the strength of the sensations. It was fantastic! I could hear the smile in Lex’s voice when he said, “Forget video. We need a sound recording of this!”

A short bit of instruction and soon it was my turn. Lex told me to get ready to take the stick as I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into.

“You have the plane,” he said.

“I have the plane,” I responded, as I’d been taught in pre-flight.

Lex’s hands went up, “You have the plane.”

Okay, what do I do with it, now?

But Lex was a fantastic coach. I didn’t want to be ham-handed about things and so was a bit hesitant. He encouraged me, adjusting in stages. “Good bank… Pull harder… harder… push over to bring down the nose…” (in pilot talk, we did: 10 degree climb, then descend; level turns of increasing bank angles; sustained nose low turns; power off stalls; a nose high, 2 g turn followed by a nose low recovery).

Somewhat to my surprise, I began to feel like I could fly the plane without crashing it, leaving my fears behind to enjoy the pull of the G’s and the float on recovery. There were a few moments where my head felt odd, but I chalked it up to overload from all the sensory input and new information, plus the slight disorientation of the Marine Layer below us that almost matched the sky above. I had a fleeting thought as I tried to process all the sensations I’d just experienced: I can see why this would be addictive.

As the plane leveled, out a little voice in my head said, “Don’t you feel a tiny bit funny?”

No, of course not. I’m fine.

I turned to plane back over to Lex. We set up for a demo fight with an imaginary opponent and “fight’s on” came over the internal com. I focused on Lex’s left hand as it pointed to the imaginary opponent, while the plane continued to turn. It was a brief fight (we won, of course).

Another demo, this time against real people with us as the victim to give our opponents a taste of battle, and then we reversed roles. “You’ll take the stick for this,” Lex said when he announced the final demo. My brain had two thoughts on the subject: “Don’t you feel a little bit funny?” And, “I don’t remember anything about BFM I learned with the plane-sicles in the pre-flight briefing! Something about a yo-yo, wasn’t it…?”

But Lex seemed so sure I was ready to go.

We lined up for the merge, my brain screaming, “You have no idea what you’re doing!!” We hit the merge and I made the rookie mistake of not keeping my eyes on the other plane. I honestly don’t remember what happened, but I think I banked pretty hard. Things got a bit fuzzy and I might have even closed my eyes. My brain couldn’t keep up with the input, nor shut down the part that shrieked, “What the hell are you doing flying a plane?!!” I followed Lex’s directions and somehow ended up with Carlo in my gunsights. Don’t ask me how.

Lex took back the plane after the kill and I tried to tell myself I was just a little dizzy and overwhelmed. A couple deep breaths and flying straight, and I’d be fine…

First real hack. Line up… merge… hard bank to the left… turning… turning… turning… my world went topsy-turvy and inside-out. Funny feelings of dissociation started bubbling up from my legs. The Feed Return Bag called like a siren from the seat pocket in front of me and my gaze settled there. No!!!

I looked back up to the left and everything spun, went gray.

“Uhoh. I don’t think I can do this…” I pushed the words out through the strain of the turn and the sensations I was fighting, feeling upside down even though I knew I wasn’t.

“Do you want to knock it off?”

I shook my head, trying to clear it. Nope. “Knock it off,” I heard myself say distantly, through a haze of confusion and overload.

Lex took the plane back immediately and I grabbed for the FRB, knocking the microphone away from my face on the way. Lex quickly leveled the wings and settled the plane. You would think that would’ve given me instant equilibrium, but you’d be wrong. I felt like someone had liquified my insides and they rolled around from head to toe. I think a return to the airport was even suggested, but I refused to give in and pulled things back together.

With Lex’s direction, we figured out what might’ve been contributing to the air-sickness (i.e. not keeping my eyes 100% on the other plane as we turned). With his encouragement that “sometimes people get sick at first and then they’re fine,” I settled in for the second hack with vigor.

“Fight’s on!” I banked hard again, and Lex’s verbal adjustments soon put me in a pretty good position high on Carlo’s tail, chasing him ever downward as he attempted in vain to gain enough speed to change the dynamics of the fight. I chased him right through the hard deck at 2,000 feet (score one for FbL!), and with a bit of straight-and-level time to collect myself with FRB at the ready, I could believe I was going to be fine.

Third hack was tough, though. Carlo wasn’t going down without a fight. I got in behind him, but we kept going round and round and round (and round) without a good sight picture. I was pulling hard and despite maintaining my focus on the other plane, losing my bearings again. Hazy sky, blue-gray sea and cloud-bathed land whirled past without discernible pattern as Carlo danced in and out of my sights. I finally made a major error and our situation flipped; it was a relief when he took the kill. At least then the world would stop spinning (I thought).

I leveled the wings to no avail and I practically threw the stick at Lex, “Take the plane, take the plane!” I dove for the bag. I must’ve been quiet enough that Lex thought I was okay. A suggestion for a fourth hack was made and I accepted, saying I needed time to recover, first.

But it was not to be. It buillt rather than subsided. “Just stop the plane,” I wanted to say. “Where’s my parachute?” By that time, tears were streaming down my cheeks and I’m sure my eyes were rolling back in my head. Convinced my stomach was empty, I braced my hands on my thighs and tried to talk myself into feeling better. “We didn’t take video,” I managed to croak as I put my head down and begged my insides to find their proper places again.

Lex looked over his shoulder and suggested with enthusiasm, “We could video this!

I think I might’ve managed a strangled laugh, but I raised my head just long enough to give him the most withering look I could muster, which considering the depths of my agony, I’m sure was something to see. “I Am. Thinking words. That. I don’t. Say aloud,” I gasped between waves of nausea.

I heard a chuckle on the radio as Lex cheerfully offered, “Would a simple hand gesture express those words?”

“Yes.” Gasp. “Ex-actly.”

Lex burst out laughing.


Lucky for him, my hands were desperately needed to brace my torso against my legs and keep it from falling onto my feet. I was so ticked at myself. I’d been having so much fun and then my body had gone and betrayed me! The spirit was very willing, but apparently the flesh was far too weak.

I sat with my eyes closed as we began the return to the airport, for it took me several minutes to feel better. But as we hit the landing pattern, I was enjoying the sights again and even managed to believe I would enjoy a few more of those steep turns. The break from formation was very cool, as we were wingman and got to watch the underside of flight lead as he broke away. I loved that sense of falling away.

Soon we were safely on land. Lex popped the canopy the moment it was possible and said I could unbuckle. I sagged into the seat and tipped my head back as we taxied to Air Operations, the fantastic feeling of the cool breeze finally making me believe I was completely human again. Lex parked the plane and casually tossed out, “I’ve got some paperwork to do. You can hop on out…” He looked over his shoulder for the first time since we’d headed back to the airport. “…or not.”

It felt so good just to lay there with my eyes closed and the evening breeze drying me out. I really wanted to focus on the fun parts of the flight, but I kept getting distracted by a world that was still slightly tilted. I willed it to straighten up, my logical brain sharply reprimanding my wayward inner ear. Mind over matter? Hah! Every corner of my mouth was so dry that I literally struggled to talk. Mostly I just wanted someone to carry me to the nearest couch, but was too proud to say so.

Once I got myself upright, Lex was kind enough to pull out his iPhone and offer to photograph me for the blog, pointing out that I was a lovely match for the pale yellow walls behind me at the drinking fountain. But we settled for some nice pictures back outside with the plane.

Navy. It's the only way to fly.
[More pictures here!]

Carlo was a wonderful gentleman, and offered to email me pictures he’d taken from his position in the opposing plane.

I didn’t feel completely normal again until this morning. And yet, I think if offered the chance, I would do it again in a heartbeat. There is nothing like that first turn into a fight, nothing like the pull of the stick into your body as the Gs settle low, the quick flip from wings level to “fight’s on,” the gentle nudge over the top and the accompanying float as you swoop down from the skies… just awesome.

I am eternally grateful to my anonymous benefactor who made it all possible. It's worth every penny you can scrape together to make it happen for yourself.

Post Script:

I told my mother about the exchange that opens this post. She smiled and laughed and said, "That's what it is!" Then she paused for a moment before adding, "It's genetic. That's what your father was like." She later said, "I think that [enthusiasm] is something your father blessed you with."

I’m not sure that 11-year-old has made a lot of appearances recently, but there's a wonderful kind of freedom in doing something extravagant "just for fun..."

Post Post Script: Apparently low blood pressure and the remnants of a cold are both contributors to airsickness. Would've been nice if someone had told me that before yesterday, huh? ;)

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Fuzzy Flight

A taste, for those who are waking up on the East Coast expecting a full AAR:

We lined up for the merge, my brain screaming, “You have no idea what you’re doing!!” Merge complete, I made the mistake of not keeping my eyes on the other plane. I honestly don’t remember what happened, but I think I banked the plane pretty hard. Things got a bit hazy and I might have even closed my eyes. My brain couldn’t keep up with the sensory input, nor shut down the part that shrieked, “What the hell are you doing flying a plane?!!” I followed Lex’s directions and somehow ended up with Carlo in my gunsights.

Read More......