Farewell, CAPT Carroll LeFon, USN (Ret)

March 12th, 2012 by xformed

Updated: 3/12/2012 PM.

It’s been a week now, since the phone call from AW1 Tim popped up on my phone in the early evening. I was busy at Home Depot, so I figured “I’ll call him back tomorrow.” Later that evening, before shutting down for the night, I saw the back channel emails and listened to Tim’s message. As soon as the first “F-21 crash” hit my ears, I thought as they did, and s they did, prayed we wouldn’t hear the worst of news, yet still knowing, the minimum: The pilot had died. Bad news would be coming for someone.

I’m not sure exactly when I found Lex’s Blog, but this I know: It was some of the most engaging writing on the blogs, right up there with a Army National Guard CPT from California and the Army Tanker who rolled into Fallujah. All of them were real, and discussed life in the active duty word in terms I could connect with.

Over the many years of reading, along came the only line, highly factual novel: “Rythyms.” What an incredible read that was. I’ve told countless people “it reads better than a Clancy novel, and has enough detail to keep us (vets/military members) in it, yet he explains thing happening on the ship and in the cockpit so people with exposure to the life will understand.” Something about his way with words. He could seat you in the plane, make you feel the launch and the thrills and the boredom and the terror of night landings…

His blog became my “hub” or gateway to other websites in the MilBlogging world, being the first one I checked in for news, humor, analysis, and just life stuff that Lex would write.

I began admiring his writing from the words on the screen standpoint, but also saw something special…actually, many things:

  • He was a mentor: Many posts on his site are related to the advice he gave, or was asked on him. Not only did he had great answers, that he shared, he turned the commenters loose to help out. Oh, what amazing guidance, from the old school to the current crop of those in uniform. The comments on any post at his site are not to be missed.
  • He was a humble leader. Many of his stories were encoded with that understanding of “the system.”
  • Well read, beyond the NATOPS manuals and the like, in classical literature, philosophy, and history.
  • He was a leader who valued those working with him. The stories told that, but in this world of blogging, his site was a lot of him leading the way, then having those in the blogoshpere/virtual peanut gallery take over to
  • He was a man of conviction. Solid vision.
  • A family man, who cared deeply about his real family, and his extended ones.

The man was many things. I only briefly met him and spoke with him at the 2006 MilBlogging Conference. I sometimes emailed him, with questions, or things I found that may be of interest. Some links got published…..I had a response where they were appropriate.

He inspired me at many levels. I, having seen the opening line of his work “Rythyms,” commenced my own version, having stood my first watches as an assigned officer on a replenishment ship that ran with Battle Groups, and many a time, I was watching the carrier to our port side, first as a Junior Officer of the Deck, and later, as the Officer of the Deck, responsible for the comings and goings of the ships alongside, the helos off the aft deck and the supplies moving via “connected replenishment” (CONREP) or by helo (VERTREP). I learned a lot, and he story gave me a foothold by putting the eyes of the OOD of an AOR into the picture. The story is “Life in the Fat Ship Navy,” and is presently an uncompleted work. I have been fortunate enough to have received a few emails over the years, saying how I took tham back to many years ago, and got their minds churning, remembering the sounds, sights and smells of it all. A tribute to Lex’s style, which I endeavored to “mimic.”

But that wasn’t all. His virtual demeanor constantly made me think as to how I might communicate more fully, yet concisely. All of his writing was a model of how to do that….and it begged for being an absorbed quality.

Years ago, I stumbled upon “High Calling: The Courageous Life and Faith of Space Shuttle Columbia Commander Rick Husband”, a similar man, by my best recollections of the read. Devoted to their families, their profession and their faith. While Col Husband’s wife, Evelyn, penned that wonderful book, telling the story of a great man and leader and husband and pilot, Lex’s readers have been able to do this, telling stories of all manner of his life and interactions with others, and conveying how they were blessed by CAPT LeFon’s life. In a week, there are over 1400 comments on the Open Thread, put up by the only other person who could log onto Lex’s Blog, Whisper. If you’d like to see, as someone on Facebook pointed out, what the “dash” on your headstone represents, there are about 1400 descriptions there for the world to see.

—Updated portion—
Shortly after posting, I remembered a few back channel and out in the open discussions Lex and I had. We professionally “CPAed” (Closest Point of Approach) certainly by an association, if not within a few hundred yards of each other in the summer of 1979. It would have made Lex a 3rd Class Middie, on cruise aboard the USS NICHOLSON (DD-982). I was in the Ingalls Shipbuilding yard, as part of the commissioning crew of USS LEFTWICH (DD-984), still, at the time, uncommissioned. I recalled the USS NICHOLSON pulled in on the West Bank yard side for dry docking to repair damaged propeller. It seems she had been backing into a slip in GTMO during Shakedown training and found a coral head near the landward end. Turns out, Lex was aboard at least at the time of the grounding incident, but we found our connection via the Commanding Officer of NICHOLSON at the time. It seems the discussion was something about how “Black Shoe” leadership was so much different from that of the Aviation community. Of course, he could say this then, in the mid-2000s. Turned out I was on DESRON 32 when the same officer was the Commodore, and that, was something we shared in common, despite being separated by time, community and coasts across our careers.
—End Update—

We lost a great man. His wife and family are left with but a legacy, but also the gratitude of many who were positively touched in this life by a man who was larger than himself, yet never penned (typed) a word that would lead you to believe he was anything more than one of us….and in that, there is a great lesson for me.

Category: History, Leadership, Maritime Matters, Military, Military History, Navy, Stream of Consciousness | 3 Comments »

2/25/2011 “WRAP Pack” CNA and Birthday Celebration

March 11th, 2011 by xformed

As is the manner of it is to gather every other Saturday AM, last time we met, we celebrated the birthday of two of our members (2 USMC (Ret) Colonels), as well a recognition of the Centennial of Naval Aviation (CNA).

If you have an excellent eye for history, there is some of them in the video…..

The creator of the document that became known to me as the “EDORM” (Engineering Department Regulation and Organizational Manual) is present,

along with the high time and most traps pilot in the Vought F7U Cutlass. A RA-5C NFO, several P2V/P-3 pilots, three “‘Shoes,” two Army types from the Vietnam Era, a A-1 pilot with VA-196, and a Navy Cross recipient are all around the table, as well as the two senior Marines, who both flew in WWII.

Category: Army, History, Marines, Maritime Matters, Military, Military History, Navy | Comments Off on 2/25/2011 “WRAP Pack” CNA and Birthday Celebration

66 Years Ago Today: The Battle Off Samar

October 25th, 2010 by xformed

The anniversary of one of the most significant battles in US Naval history took place on Oct 25th, 1944, near the island of Leyte in the Philippines.

Monument to Taffy 3, lead by RADM Sprague, USN (click to enlarge)

The story of Taffy 3 at the Battle Off Samar has been the subject of many books, one that I particularly enjoyed was the “Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors” by James Hornfischer.  Beyond the strategic and tactical discussions, it was filled with interviews of the men who survived, making it a very personal look at such a battle.  I have found this more than interesting, as my computer instructor was CAPT Amos T Hathaway, USN, and I served on the USS CARR (FFG-52), which was named after GM2 Paul Henry Carr, the MT 52 Gun Captain.  It was also the day an American Indian, CDR Ernest Evans, CO of USS JOHNSTON (DD_557), earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.

While I enjoy the history of “Black Shoes” fighting to the end in a war that became dominated by carrier warfare between opposing naval units, the aviators of Taffy 3 displayed the same courage, attacking Japanese battleships, and cruisers with the .50 and .30 caliber machine guns and in many cases, empty bomb and torpedo racks. They did so to add to the confusion of the Japanese crews, to help keep any effective volumes of fire from being focused on but a few targets.

In 2004, I did an extensive post on the battle.  You can read it here.  It was the final battle between surface combatants, and the story of desperate times, which crew rose to the challenge.

Category: Geo-Political, History, Maritime Matters, Military, Military History, Navy | Comments Off on 66 Years Ago Today: The Battle Off Samar

The Fleet’s Combat Systems are a mess….go figure! Some history

June 29th, 2010 by xformed

This began as a reply to a comment at CDR Salamander’s place.  In the past week, it has come to light that the Fleet has major problems keeping their maintenance up.  Most disturbing is the remarks by VADM Phil Balisle’s, USN (Ret) report on the lack of readiness of the AEGIS Radar Systems.

The sad part is things to have kept this on track were in place in the early 90s, and by the mid-90s, some senior officers, one in particular who had failed the examination, made sure the inspection mechanism was retired when he got to COMNAVSURFLANT Staff as the Combat Systems Readiness Officer.

I decided to leave part of the quote over there, and keep going here, to save space…and for those interested in the history behind this, and what, if anything, it may have prevented.

Interesting.  Back to the early 90’s when ADM Kelso determined we’re pursue TQM/TQL with a vengeance, the famous demo was the red bead/white bead input, and how, without TQM/TQL, you can’t shoot the assembly line worked, it’s management, who has not ensured a proper input resource is actually to blame.

Sounds to me like someone decided, at upper levels to reject such thinking and just wing it and…blame the COs.  Wrong.  And bad for the future.  On another note, it was passed on to me, this sort of professional blood bath followed at the end of the Vietnam era, when, ships that had been run into the ground and had been denied maintenance, surprise, surprise…had major engineering accidents that killed many and wounded many more…Who’s fault?  The CO and CHENG, for not ensuring safe operations, while suffering from a paucity of parts.  The outcome begat the PEBs, and…for a time, the crews also were hacked to death (figuratively speaking in the professional realm), because they couldn’t get the plant safe…again without much help.  Then the shore side began to come on line and provide support, and things improved, but not after much real and professional blood was shed.  The beast grew to consume the lives of many.

Now, I have a personal peave:  CAPT Balisle’s first day @ CSMTT in 1992 (after his return from the Gulf War as the USN Rep to the air war) was spent in CNSL N5’s office (Bob Crawshaw), as I laid out how to make the CSA an analog of the OPPE,…

And here’s the rest of my addition to the discussion:

as it had been set up a few years earlier as a mini-INSURV by Pete Bulkeley. That was Feb. At a CSA Standardization Conference (at that time, the ISIC’s staffs did some of the CSAs), CAPT Bob Crawshaw asked us how we might retool the process, for a few reasons:

1) To not have it overlap with what INSURV did.
2) To be able to assess readiness in the Combat System’s arena and provide a method to modify the shore based training process based on measured results, in the same manner the Troubled Systems program, designed by CAPT Mort Kenyon and programmed/implemented by CAPT Bob Crawshaw, had done for equipment readiness.

I’ve got the full name of the program for the Combat Systems equipment not right, I’m thinking “Troubled Systems Program” (TSP), as I had the “TTP” (Troubled Training Program) concept tossed in my lap as a result of the discussion. I’ll leave that evolution to another post for the details…

By August, the plan was signed out (actually on the day I first met CDR Joe Sestak…history!) We changed it because the current form was redundant with many material inspections, and had only a hint “are they capable of training?” That changed. we had some checks of material for safety, then we ran the crews in CSTT drills, and did a DTE, which was graded on the INSURV std for that event: “Did the system work to spec?” CSAs were done about annually, and we collected a mountain of info. The plan was to be able to ferret out what knowledge holes and peaks there were in the fleet, to be able to help the shore based system adjust the input training. Almost got there…but I rolled. At the next job, I was actually in Mayport running a trial for the first stages of BFTT on a AEGIS CG, when we heard the new N5 @ CNSL had convinced CNSL to cancel CSAs as worthless…oh…yeah…he was one of the few COs that ever tubed a CSA, but I’m sure there was no agenda behind that.

So, there we were, with teams of 13-20+, going aboard ships (They always said the were glad we were there!) and scouring first the administration and safety, then the capability of the Combat Systems Training Team (CSTT), and finally a “detect to engage” (DTE) to check all but live firing checks of the AAW weapons system aboard. To pass the DTE, the systems couldn’t have any reported faults, then the detection systems had to be within 10% of max range, and simulated weapons had to be employed. Min-INSURV as noted above, but…all of this collected data for deeper analysis.

The point of the Combat Systems Assessment (CSA) was not to collect data, but to assess the ship’s readiness to join up with their respective battle groups for team training at that level. The byproduct was the scores listed on the grading sheets. It was a 3 part, 100 point each part check, using “refined professional subjectivity (for we can never have people be really objective).

My follow on job was managing programs at FCDSSA Dam Neck, one of them being the Battle Force Tactical Training (BFTT) system. Because of my work at the CNSL CSMTT/ATG CSTG, I regularly went to meetings about how to automate training and also what metrics the system could collect. That type of meetings led to me leading a team of very experienced Combat Systems trainers/evaluators from the AEGIS and other communities, to be able to compare the fledging software of BFTT to help in the grading of the training exercises. We did the human thing and the many civil service and contractor “experts” took their readings. It was a great opportunity to look at human reactions in a simulated battle problems, but what’s important in this history: The CSA inspections were canceled the very day we were aboard the TICONDEROGA Class CG conducting this test run.

So, after that person insight, we have VADM Balisle, who literally walked into check in and then rode with CDR Davis and myself to show CAPT Crawshaw my single page PPT Slide (yes, PPT did exist in the early 90s…but Harvard Graphics had been used not long before) about how we could meet his two requirements for a re-organized CSA process, ala the Total Quality Leadership/Management philosophy: Know what you know because you know it!

Consider what information may have been to short stop the horrific degradation of the ability of our ships to execute their missions as warships, if we had been as invested in the combat systems readiness, as we had and have in engineering excellence.

VADM Balisle was a key player in getting this in place, even though it was my staff of an LDO LT (Now CAPT Russ Wycoff, USN (Ret)) and room command full of excellent E-8s and -9s, who all were the team who made it happen.

Because one CO got ripped for failing, then…after a major failure in the combat systems world, got assigned to CNSL Combat Systems Readiness post and got the ear of the new CNSL (after VADM Paul Reason, who ever that was) to cancel what might have been a firewall against future failure.

I have no input now, being out of uniform for over a decade, but it pains me to hear it has gotten like this.

Comments?

And it you were one of those many Division Officers who had to sit with me and discuss PQS, I’d like to hear from you. And CSOs/OPS Bosses who also got to sit and discuss qualifiactions and training…drop me a line.

Category: History, Leadership, Maritime Matters, Military, Military History, Navy | 1 Comment »

General Dynamics Conducts Blog PR Campaign

December 23rd, 2009 by xformed

Regarding LCS-2.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that….

I received an email from a member of their Advanced Information Systems Department, letting me know he works with the LCS program and also provided a link to a video of the LCS-2 on the GD website.

Here’s the text of the communique (sent Tuesday, December 22, 2009 2:51 PM):

With an interest in Navy affairs, I have read posts from your blog and thought you might find this video interesting. The LCS or Littoral Combat Ship is a program the Navy is developing for relatively small surface vessels intended for operations in the littoral zone (close to shore). It is “envisioned to be a networked, agile, stealthy surface combatant capable of defeating anti-access and asymmetric threats in the littorals.”. Two ship classes are the first examples of the LCS in the U.S. Navy: the Freedom-class and the Independence-class.

The company I work for is part of the team designing and building the Independence-class which took the unique course of using a trimaran design. When facing pirates, terrorists or other asymmetric threats, this unique and forward design makes the ship fast, highly maneuverable and geared to supporting mine detection/elimination, anti-submarine warfare and surface warfare, particularly against small surface craft. Wanted to share this video we produced in case you found it interesting.

http://www.gdlcs.com/media-center/videos/lcs2-independence

I’m sure he has a vested interest n naval affairs. I call it a paycheck in these lean times.

Anyhow, General Dynamics is putting their workforce in play to even let us little guys know, how special a ship almost as big as an FF(G), with a 57mm gun, is going to work great in the close in, shallow waters, chasing pirates.

Yeah…that’s the main threat of the future. I sure hope the Chinese wake up and smell the coffee and begin to employ small groups of men in small boats, armed with RPGs to take us on. It sure would save a lot of money for them.

I did respond with a polite “I don’t think this ship fits the bill…too big for close in, too little for real sea battles, and and that the 57mm gun was a joke, at best” message.

But who am I, but one blogger of many?

Category: Military, Navy, Public Service | Comments Off on General Dynamics Conducts Blog PR Campaign

Today in History: Linebacker II Begins

December 18th, 2009 by xformed

When the enemy thinks they can stall peace talks, how do you respond?  With a diplomatic tools that “communicates” beyond the Paris meeting room.

On this day in 1972, Linebacker II, the largest air campaign since WWII began, with Air force and Navy planes filling the skies over North Vietnam.

For 11 days, the fury of America was unleashed over their capital and sea ports. On this day, 189 bombers (B-52D/Gs) and 39 support aircraft from the 7th Air force, and Navy and Marine Corps assets (EB-66/EA-6B/KC-135s/F-4/A-6/A-7/F-111/F-105), as well as SAR (Search and Rescue) aircraft took to the skies for a night attack. This mission targeted airfields and warehouses.

3 B-52s were shot down, and three more heavily damaged. One F-111 was also shot down, as the North Vietnamese put and estimated 220 SAMs in the air.

This afternoon, I attended an MOAA lunch and one of the men there reminded the MC to mention the history of today. It turns out that gentlemen had spent time in a B-17 over Schweinfurt, B-29s over Korea and B-52s over Vietnam. I suspect he was in the cockpit for this operation, but I did not have the opportunity to speak with him, as the room was full of living history.

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Category: Air Force, History, INternational Relations, Marines, Military, Military History, Navy | Comments Off on Today in History: Linebacker II Begins

“Commander, US Fleet Forces, Arriving!”

July 25th, 2009 by xformed

Admiral John C Harvey, Jr, USN just took over US Fleet Forces 7/24/2009 and launched his blog.

Top level forward thinkers, engaging the world and his sailors. BZ, Admiral and welcome to the blogosphere and all that comes with it.

Category: Blogging, Leadership, Maritime Matters, Military, Navy | Comments Off on “Commander, US Fleet Forces, Arriving!”

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