Index – The Best of Neptunus Lex

On March 6, 2012 we lost Lex. He died doing what he wanted to do, teaching Naval Aviators how to be even better.

For many of us, the Lexicans, he became more than just a blogger but a friend.  Carroll “Lex” LeFon not only enjoyed writing, but he enjoyed the interaction of the “commentariat”, many of whom he called “the best friends I never met”.

Soon after his accident, his website, Neptunus Lex, went down. If it weren’t for one Lexican, who copied and pasted most (about 70%) of his posts for later reading, “the lightness of Lex”, all 9  years’ worth of his work, would have disappeared into the digital ether.

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In Memory of CAPT Carroll “Lex” LeFon, and the Wonderful Community He Fostered

Welcome. The idea was floated that a ‘talk amongst yourselves’ blog would be a good addition to for the Non-Facebook Crowd. Here it is.

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Introspection

By lex, on January 9th, 2011

The Chairman sees the need for the services to do a little self-evaluation after a decade on the line:

As he enters his last year as the nation’s top-ranking officer and as the military enters its 10th year of war since the Sept. 11 attacks, Admiral Mullen is openly voicing concerns that professionalism and ethical standards across the armed forces are being severely challenged by the longest period of sustained combat in the nation’s history…

“We’ve learned a lot about ourselves in the last decade; some of it’s been pretty unpleasant stuff,” Admiral Mullen said in an interview. “I want us to understand what we’ve seen, to a depth that we can ensure that our moral compass stays true, our ethical compass stays true.”

The conference is the first such introspective session into “military ethos” organized specifically at the request of a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It will examine a subtle set of political and social challenges to military integrity, like a potential slide toward partisanship among the officer corps, especially retired generals and admirals acting as television commentators, and whether the behavior of up-and-coming leaders fits with the image the military as an institution wants to exhibit to the nation.

A particularly relevant topic on the agenda is how the next generation’s generals and admirals should express their best, unvarnished military advice to the nation’s civilian leadership, and what to do when they disagree with the eventual policy. Admiral Mullen has said there are just two choices: an officer obeys the policy and follows it with enthusiasm or resigns.

Hovering over that discussion will be memories of the bruising, closed-door debate about shaping a strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan that many at the Pentagon and the White House said soured civilian-military relations…

The discussion is also expected to touch on whether service members have the right to a different persona online, like on Facebook or in a blog, than they do in uniform.

If this is to be a free and open discussion, might be it could do some good. If it’s to be an exercise in message control, not so much.

Given that military subordination to civilian rule is inbred and given, there are three issues at play here, really: 1) The open role of flag and general officer retirees, who are (finally) free to express their opinions publicly, 2) the behind-the-scenes role of serving senior officers who, having given their best professional military judgment and seen it disregarded by the political arm, found a way to make their disagreements public, and 3) bottom dwelling scum suckers like your humble scribe, who – whilst on active duty and then again after retirement – have had the temerity to punch up above their station.

I fully agree with The Chairman that serving officers of flag and general officer rank have the right and responsibility to give their best military opinion on the instant question and then fall in line behind policy. This is nothing new, and what those same officers would expect from their staffs: When it comes to execution, it’s either get on the train or get run over by it. You’re on or you’re off. Get on board or join the wounded.

We shoot the wounded.

When it comes to retirees, I think I beg to differ, with certain caveats: A warrior can be a warrior up to commander/captain rank (O-5/O-6), but I suspect that when you become a flag officer you have to also be a bit of a politician. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Politics is the art of the possible, and the possible shifts with the winds of the zeitgeist. Which can be hard for the officer corps especially, brought up to think in terms of black and white, of right or wrong, of absolutes: Winds might blow ten degrees one way, and they might blow ten degrees another, but the runway doesn’t change. In a democracy there is inestimable value in graybeards free of political constraint voicing their opinion on the public stage, so long as their pecuniary interests are understood. If the retired three star thinks that the political branch is making a huge mistake because they’re reacting to a misinformed public opinion – always the strategic center of gravity in a democracy – that’s one thing. If he’s disagreeing because of his relationship to Big Huge Contractor, that’s another thing entirely. The people have a right to know, and it doesn’t much matter how much that steams the collar of a serving four star who has his own political master to placate. While the military is indeed subordinate to the civilian branch, we swear our oaths to the enduring Constitution, not to transitory governments.

Which brings me to my final point. The point of my right to “a different persona online, like on Facebook or in a blog” than I had in uniform.

Which is harder than it looks.

I started this blog as a serving naval officer, recently returned from a war, with stories to tell and very much aware that there was a gap in understanding between the public we served and the forces that served them. I sought to enlighten and entertain, and to have my strongly held opinions be challenged and informed by those who both agreed and disagreed with me.  Although conservative by nature – but no Republican – I strove to seek a certain political ambivalence. I used a “different persona” because I wanted to shield both my superiors and my subordinates from any consequences of my online activities – as a terminal O-6, I had no illusions about personal impacts.

But then there was the Max Cleland case in 2002, which was awful. And which led in turn to the 2004 presidential bid of John Forbes Kerry, which was ridiculous. It was about that time that I shed my pretensions to neutrality and expressed a partisan preference. This was not an easy thing to do.

The military serves neither the GOP nor the Democratic Party – it is the country’s defense. It is not good for the country to believe that the military – or perhaps, more specifically, its officer corps – belongs to one political party or another. It’s not good for the military either.

But Kerry ran on a “secret plan” to end the war in Iraq, and most of us thought his plan consisted of losing it. Our military mission is to fight and win the nation’s wars – it’s understandable I think, even if perhaps not forgivable, why so many in the milblogging community came out against the candidacy of the junior senator from Massachusetts. And once you’ve broken the seal on that, everything else follows after. Tax policy, school vouchers; the list goes on. Sure, the officer corps tends to be conservative: Who else would lay their lives on the line at modest pay to defend the institutions of the status quo?

Fundamentally I think it comes down to this: It is not so much that the military became political, as that the military sensed that politicians were twisting national security issues to political ends. Politics used to end at the water’s edge. It doesn’t any more, and yet the legions still deploy, sent forward by the political class.

With respect, Admiral Mullen, I don’t think it’s us.

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A Fair Cop

By lex, on January 8th, 2011

Diana West has an interesting take on the issue of Enterprise‘s CO:

As one retired vice admiral put it to the Post, “What bothers me is that Capt. Honors’ behavior set a standard that allowed for sexual innuendo.”

Funny. What bothers me is that Capt. Honors’ behavior didn’t set any standard at all.

This should come as little surprise. Perhaps the greatest triumph of the Left in the last 25 years has been the junking of military standards regarding the sexes, a set of traditional attitudes that was slow to dismantle itself in the wake of the 1960s sexual revolution. Indeed, the military could be, and was, seen as a bulwark against the social changes wrought by a metastasizing feminism in the civilian world that would go on to kill, among other things, such concepts as “mixed company” and its prohibitions on “bad language” and other social shields. These had allowed for the existence of now-lost refuges such as reticence and discretion, which, in turn, provided shelter for a kind of privacy and intimacy that is all but unimaginable in our over-exposed world of TMI (too much information).

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Nostalgia

By lex, on January 4th, 2011

The WaPo’s Richard Cohen – who spent a couple of months in the army as a reservist, and is therefore counted among his peers as a military expert – is apparently longing for the good old days, when the Vietnam era draft caused patriotic liberal elites to burn their draft cards and the country to lose a war:

The all-volunteer military has enabled America to fight two wars while many of its citizens do not know of a single fatality or even of anyone who has fought overseas. This is a military conscripted by culture and class – induced, not coerced, indoctrinated in all the proper cliches about serving one’s country, honored and romanticized by those of us who would not, for a moment, think of doing the same. You get the picture.

Talking about the picture, what exactly is wrong with it? A couple of things. First, this distant Army enables us to fight wars about which the general public is largely indifferent. Had there been a draft, the war in Iraq might never have been fought – or would have produced the civil protests of the Vietnam War era. The Iraq debacle was made possible by a professional military and by going into debt. George W. Bush didn’t need your body or, in the short run, your money. Southerners would fight, and foreigners would buy the bonds. For understandable reasons, no great songs have come out of the war in Iraq.

I’m am sure that last sentence means something to Mr. Cohen. I just haven’t got the foggiest notion what it might be.

What is understandable is that, safely ensconced in his beltway cocoon, taking the taxi to all of the better cocktail parties in Georgetown, Mr. Cohen may not personally meet many people who have skin in the game. Not soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines. Not their families. Whose “proper cliches” he condescends to as they sacrifice their youth, and sometimes their lives, in the service of something larger than themselves.

He should get out more.

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Round Up

By lex, on January 3rd, 2011

Two out of three pax got sick on me yesterday, and I was beginning to fret. As was, one presumes, my weekend employer. Who stands to gain no word of mouth when that selfsame mouth has been wracked with expectorant contortions.

Firstus was a husband and wife team, herself a comely and voluble internal specialist veterinarian. Which I guess I thought they all were, not knowing that veterinarians had specialties, like. Hizzoner was very nearly a mute, confining his responses to monosyllables. I was left to wonder – not for the first time – about the strange vagaries in life that throw two people on the same boat.

He was a big feller too, and I’ve noticed a certain trend among the retired policemen, firefighters, building contractors and the like, once they’ve gained a certain avoirdupois: They often get sick.

I have no overarching theory as to why this should be true. I only make the observation.

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Wind River

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This has been an unusual year, as far as movies go. I have seen 2 memorable movies this year, which is 2 more than the average year. The first was Dunkirk, of which so much has been written nothing more need be said. Well, one more thing.

If seeing it at an IMAX theater (recommended), don’t buy your ticket 30 minutes before the show and expect a good seat. I sat in the 3rd row craning my neck ever upwards at the 6 story screen. Which necessitated my seeing it again.

On the advice of a fellow Lexican (MarineMom) I went to see Wind River. It is a limited release movie but if your area has it I’d recommend it. It is about the death of a young Indian woman, and the interaction of the young urban FBI agent (who had jurisdiction), played by Elizabeth Olsen) and the Wyoming Fish and Game tracker, played by Jeremy Renner.

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Besides the beautiful cinematography of the Wyoming landscape, it has a wonderful screenplay with many memorable lines and scenes.

Dealing with grief was one of the subplots.

Recommended.

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Formation Go

By lex, on December 18th, 2010

Military aircraft typically fly from point to point in formation. The two-ship formation offers mutual support for the minimum tactical aviation element while reducing the burden of gaining individual flight clearances. It also permits an efficient use of airspace and provides an opportunity for leadership; a senior aviator often serves as mentor for his more junior partner.

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Forgone Conclusion

By lex, on December 13th, 2010

Pilot error was to blame for that C-17 crash at an airshow in Alaska last summer:

A pilot’s overly aggressive maneuvering and overconfidence were blamed in an investigative report on a C-17 plane crash at an Anchorage military base that killed all four airmen on board.

Besides pilot error, the crew on board was also faulted for failing to notice the dangerous situation that culminated with the plane stalling and crashing into some woods July 28 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

“The mishap pilot violated regulatory provisions and multiple flight manual procedures, placing the aircraft outside established flight parameters at an attitude and altitude where recovery was not possible,” the report’s executive summary says…

Pacific Air Forces, based at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, released the results of its investigation Friday evening.

The probe “found clear and convincing evidence the cause of the mishap was pilot error,” the report says. It also found evidence that other factors including overconfidence and misplaced motivation contributed to the crash.

When a crew augers in so spectacularly, it’s tempting to stand on the sidelines and play the critic. But we have to keep in mind that the pilot in command put everything he’d ever been taught, everything he had and everything he ever would have had into that decision. He believed in it so completely that he laid his life and the lives of his crew on the line for it. Everyone who ever flew with him, or taught him, or fought alongside him lost the opportunity to influence him in such a way as to avert this disaster.

The fact that he was wrong is not an opportunity for those left behind who have not faced what he faced to stand in judgment – it is a tragedy. A tragedy we should all learn from and teach to.

 

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