Category Archives: Leadership

The Sailor’s Creed – a Controversy

By lex, on Thu – May 5, 2005

This may well sound like inside-Hollywood to those outside the service, but there’s a bit of a tempest in a teapot brewing in the naval ranks these days.

Turns out that a certain relatively senior officer (more senior than me, so I’m being a bit circumspect here) thought it would be a splendid idea if each and every day folks under his (distributed) command spoke the Sailor’s Creed aloud.

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Leadership, Lex, Naval History, Neptunus Lex

Hobson’s Choice


By lex, May 8, 2004

As set forth in U. S. Navy Regulations, the Commanding Officer is charged with the absolute responsibility for the safety, well-being, and efficiency of his command, except when and to the extent he may be relieved therefrom by competent authority.

The duties and responsibilities of the Commanding Officer are established by U. S. Navy Regulations, general orders, customs, and tradition. The authority of the Commanding Officer is commensurate with his responsibility, subject to the limitations prescribed by constitutional, statutory, international, and regulatory law including U. S. Navy Regulations.

– US Navy Regulations

Any officer in command of a ship, submarine or squadron is by courtesy called “the Captain,” regardless of rank (although in the less formal aviation Navy, the commanding officer is more often called “the Skipper”).

There is a distinction between a naval rank, and a position – you can reach the rank of commander, without ever receiving the position of command. Successful commander command is a prerequisite for promotion to the rank (as opposed to the position) of captain. Since so very few officers will ever achieve the rank of admiral, making the rank of captain defines a successful career. There are places in the country (San Diego is not one of them) where a captain with 30 years of service will receive retirement pay sufficient to ensure that he never has to work again. But retirement pay is not the objective – it is merely the least reward, for the opportunity to lead. For the chance to be responsible. For command.

Command at sea is the pinnacle of achievement in the career of a line officer. It is the culmination of years of service, professional growth, demonstrated leadership and technical expertise in his or her war fighting specialty. Having climbed through the ranks by selection for promotion by statutory boards, and careful screening by administrative boards, an officer will finally put the US Navy Command Pin on his uniform. It is for many of us the height of our ambition, and a treasured symbol of success.

Recently it seems as though those pins are being attached with explosive bolts . As prestigious as it is to achieve command at sea, to be “relieved for cause” is more than equally disgraceful. The March issue of the Navy Times reports that 22 commanding officers had been relieved for cause in the preceding 13 months. Another three have been relieved this calendar year, bringing the total for 2004 up to nine. These numbers are unprecedented, and disturbing.


The commander’s responsibility is absolute – his authority is commensurate with his responsibility. We are taught those words from the earliest days of our apprenticeship as officers of the line, that is to say, officers qualified to command at sea.

Hyman Rickover, the father of our nuclear Navy, had this to say about responsibility:

“Responsibility is a unique concept.  It can only reside and inhere in a single individual.  You may share it with others, but your portion is not diminished.  You may delegate it, but it is still with you.  You may disclaim it, but you cannot divest yourself of it.  Even if you do not recognize it or admit its presence, you cannot escape it.  If responsibility is rightfully yours, no evasion or ignorance or passing the blame can pass the burden to someone else.  Unless you can point your finger at the man responsible when something goes wrong, then you have never had anyone really responsible.”

An early case study that midshipmen still read was entitled “Hobson’s Choice.” The etymology of this expression escaped me until today: According to the Word Origins website,

Tobias Hobson (c. 1544-1631) was a Cambridge stable manager who let horses. He insisted customers take the horse in the stall closest to the door (the next one up) or take none at all. Hence, a Hobson’s choice is no choice at all. He was made famous by Milton. The phrase dates to 1660.

I had always presumed it to come from the name of a destroyer named the Hobson, which collided with the aircraft carrier Wasp in 1952, based on an eponymously named Wall Street Journal editorial.

The CO of the Hobson had been asleep when his watch team on the bridge allowed his vessel to approach, and eventually collide with Wasp, turning into the wind to launch and recover aircraft on a dark, foul night. He was awoken, assumed the conn, issued some dubious orders and died in the collision, one of 176 to die that night.

The lesson we were to take from this was one of accountability – A CO who allowed his ship to become hazarded, even if he was asleep in his stateroom, was still accountable to the Navy, and to his crew. As brand-new mids, some among us at first thought this somewhat unfair – I mean, the CO could not be in all places at all times. But we were instructed again about authority, responsibility, and accountability. The CO qualifies the watch standers – he had delegates to them his authority for the safety of the ship and crew. But the responsibility is always his, and he is always accountable.

The dreaded words on official correspondence relieving a CO will often read of the superior commander’s “loss of confidence” in the CO’s ability to command. This loss of confidence can stem from several reasons, although there is usually a straw that breaks’ the camel’s (commander’s) back. Some wryly attribute such actions to a violation of the “three kisses” rule.

– You may not kiss another ship (collision at sea – navigational buoys count too)

– You may not kiss the beach (run her aground)

– You may not kiss a shipmate (a relatively new phenomenon)

There seems to be no common thread linking all these CO’s getting the ax – and I think that’s what most disturbs naval leadership. The Navy gets pretty small at the top, and I know a number of these folks – almost all of them exceptional individuals, carefully screened for their responsibilities. But now their careers are ruined, and that’s just the way it goes. Because while I truly believe we are not a “zero defect” organization, I also know, as do my peers, that you absolutely must get the big things right. You must safeguard your ship and crew – that’s Hobson’s choice. In other words, no choice at all.

I’ve been in the Navy man and boy for 26 years, and I’ve seen a lot of changes. This at least, has not changed.

From that WSJ editorial:

“On the sea there is a tradition older even than the traditions of the country itself and wiser in its age than this new custom. It is the tradition that with responsibility goes authority and with them accountability. …for men will not long trust leaders who feel themselves beyond accountability for what they do. And when men lose confidence and trust in those who lead, order disintegrates into chaos and purposeful ships into uncontrollable derelicts.”     


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Hizzoner’s Last Flight


There’s something that you’ll want to go read over at I don’t know; ask the skipper:

It wasn’t necessarily his last flight evah. It was his last flight in that particular tour of duty, in that squadron, on that boat. Then again, there was certainly no guarantee of another sea-based sortie. This fella – if I remember the callsign correctly – we will refer to as Tex from this point forward. His call sign sounded similar. It might have even rhymed.

Go read the rest.

Make sure to add the blog to you daily read too. Lots of great stuff there.

What a great way to hang up the spurs.


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Filed under Airplanes, Good Stuff, Leadership, Lex, Lexicans, Naval Aviation, Navy, WWLD

Edward “Butch” O’Hare


Butch O’Hare and his F4F-3 Wildcat. Stud.

Most of you will recognize the namesake of one of Chicago’s international airports. What you probably may not know is that today in 1942, the USS Lexington came under attack by Japanese G4M “Betty” bombers while in the Japanese-held waters north of New Ireland.


A flight of 9 Bettys approached the Lexington from an undefended side, and Lt. Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare and his wingman were the only aircraft available to intercept the formation. At 1700 hours, O’Hare arrived over the 9 incoming bombers and attacks. During the engagement his wingman’s (LT. Marion Dufilho) guns failed, so O’Hare had to fight on alone. He is credited with shooting down five Japanese bombers and damaging a sixth and probably saving lives aboard the Lexington (although she was scuttled at the Battle of Coral Sea in May that year).

VF-3: Front row, second from right: Lt. Edward Butch O'Hare.

VF-3: Front row, second from right: Lt. Edward Butch O’Hare.

As a result of this engagement O’Hare was promoted to LtCDR and received a Medal Of Honor. The citation reads as follows:


Medal of Honor – Navy
Rank and organization: Lieutenant, U.S. Navy
Born: 13 March 1914, St. Louis, Mo.
Entered service at: St. Louis, Mo.
Other Navy awards: Navy Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross with 1 gold star.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in aerial combat, at grave risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, as section leader and pilot of Fighting Squadron 3 on 20 February 1942. Having lost the assistance of his teammates, Lt. O’Hare interposed his plane between his ship and an advancing enemy formation of 9 attacking twin-engine heavy bombers. Without hesitation, alone and unaided, he repeatedly attacked this enemy formation, at close range in the face of intense combined machinegun and cannon fire. Despite this concentrated opposition, Lt. O’Hare, by his gallant and courageous action, his extremely skillful marksmanship in making the most of every shot of his limited amount of ammunition, shot down 5 enemy bombers and severely damaged a sixth before they reached the bomb release point. As a result of his gallant action–one of the most daring, if not the most daring, single action in the history of combat aviation–he undoubtedly saved his carrier from serious damage.


Butch O’Hare receives the Medal Of Honor from FDR (with wife Rita at his side)

There’s a bit of fable involved in the tale of Butch’s entry into the US Navy. It makes for a great story but it’s just a fable indeed. Butch’s dad was Edward “Easy Eddie” O’Hare who was a tax accountant for the infamous Al Capone. O’Hare played a key role in Capone’s prosecution for tax evasion and as a result of working with the Feds, the rumor was that Butch received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in return. A great story indeed.

Easy Eddie was later assassinated (from Wikipedia):

O’Hare was shot and killed on Wednesday, November 8, 1939, while driving in his car. He was 46. That afternoon he reportedly left his office at Sportsman’s Park in Cicero with a cleaned and oiled Spanish-made .32-caliber semi-automatic pistol, something unusual for him. O’Hare got into his black 1939 Lincoln Zephyr coupe, and drove away from the track. As he approached the intersection of Ogden and Rockwell, a dark sedan rolled up beside him and two shotgun-wielding henchmen opened up on him with a volley of big-gameslugs. Edward Joseph O’Hare was killed instantly. As his Lincoln crashed into a post at the side of the roadway, the killers continued east on Ogden, where they soon became lost in other traffic.

Butch himself was later killed-in-action on 26 November 1943 while leading the first-ever night time fighter attack to be launched from a carrier.

If your ever at O’Hare airport and in terminal 2 go see the F4F-3 recovered from Lake Michigan:











In the finest tradition of the Naval service, Chicago’s very own.


Filed under Airplanes, Flying, Heroes Among Us, History, In Memoriam, Leadership, Naval Aviation, Navy

The Daily Lex – November 3rd


Originally published November 3rd, 2008.


Filed under Leadership, Lex, Naval Aviation

Highly Unusual

The Navy has pulled an admiral from the command seat.

Verrry interesting, but no relevant info beyond the words “inappropriate leadership judgement.” One wonders about how such an event develops, and who it is that looks at the information available and decides it is time for a change of command temporary reassignment at this level.
Any of our august group have more for us to digest? Maybe it’s just about the strawberries…


Filed under Leadership, Navy, Uncategorized

A Mk-76 Tale

Let me introduce you to the Mark 76 Practice Bomb. More commonly referred to as the Mk-76, the bomb is the mainstay of Navy flight training.
First thing to know is that the Mk-76 is not really a bomb, although it could kill you and it will put significant holes in things it is hurled at, generally at around 500 knots or so, from a fast flying Navy jet. The Mk-76 is blue, as is all inert practice ordinance. The movie buffs among you will instantly recall Tom Cruise in the movie Top Gun (I know, TOPGUN, all one word, all caps) preflighting his completely worthless in combat blue Sidewinders before going face to face with the dreaded enemy Migs.
The Mk-76 is only about 2 feet long, weighs 25 pounds, has a fat little front body and a set of fins welded to that body. The center of the bomb body and fins is hollow, there is a charge in the nose that goes off when the bomb impacts and the point of impact is marked by the white smoke from the charge. At night there is a visible flash.  The AF version of the Mk-76 is the BDU-33, it’s zackly the same bomb.
Naval aviators can spend a considerable amount of time on the practice range dropping Mk-76’s, they don’t cost a lot of taxpayer dollars and don’t blow the target to smithereens like a 500 pounder might.
I have a tale (that’s not a typo) attached to the Mk-76, and a lesson that I learned. The lesson is going to come first in this story: don’t aggravate the troops, and in particular do not cross Navy Chiefs. Ever. Things happen.
My first squadron was the A-6 RAG, and my tour there as a very junior officer (I was Mr. Vice at the annual Dining In 2 times, or was it 3?) brought me in contact with the best officers in the fleet–and occasionally some who might have thought they were the best.
My initial encounter with Lcdr. Ring Knocker (like Dragnet, the names have been changed to protect the innocent, if any) occurred whilst I was still a lowly RAG staff Enswine and not yet in the driver seat of the Intruder. No slight intended here for Lex or other graduates of the Highest of the Military Institutes of Learning On an East Coast River, but Knocker was the epitome of perceived status given by virtue of a certain diploma and ring followed by reasonable performance in the aviation world followed by promotion followed by…a bit of Headous Largeous, a curious affliction that may infect some, although the victim of such a disease rarely detects the symptoms in himself. HL can sometimes be diagnosed in fighter pilots, where confidence in their chosen arena is of the utmost importance–we must remember that second place is dead–and uncommon in the ranks of the attack community.
The HL symptoms were revealed when Knocker and I were working on some project or other and I asked a question of him, he supplied the answer, and I mentioned that gee, I didn’t know that.
The response was That’s why you’re an ensign and I’M a LCDR! Followed by Hohohohahaha.
I must admit that this small blustery event had no effect on me, when you are at the bottom of the command heap it seems that you do know very little, although it may show a lack of couth for others superior to point out such a deficiency. Whatever. Lcdr. Knocker moved on to a fleet squadron a few months later and I forgot about him.
Fast forward a couple of years and now I have advanced a bit, I’ve finished the RAG, am no longer an Enswine and have risen to the heady height of Lieutenant Junior Grade, thank you, and have arrived in my first squadron. I’m a nugget, a full fledged nugget.
Knocker is in my new squadron. We, the squadron, are at Navy Fallon on a weapons det, meaning we are there to refine our tactics and bombing before going to sea and maybe having to drop bombs on targets that shoot back.
And I’m going to the target today with a load of 12 Mk-76’s to practice system boresight bombing in the latest and greatest iteration of the Intruder, the A-6E. I’ll be flying on the wing of my lead for this event, Knocker. He is one of several Lcdr’s in the squadron, and from the muted comments at the back of the ready room from time to time I have already formed an opinion that perhaps, just perhaps, Knocker has ruffled a few junior officer feathers with his personality and is still afflicted with the HL syndrome. What I did not know was that Knocker had somehow, some way, also irked one or two maintenance chiefs. Irked them big time.
OK, the stage is set, a little bit about how to use the boresight system bombing in the Ugly. The pilot sets up a 40 degree dive at the target, 500 knots or so, put the luminous piper in the gunsight on the target, depresses and holds the commit button on the stick, and then commences a 4G pull up. The computer figures out the wind, bomb ballistics, distance to target, aircraft speed, dive angle, applies the current rate of interest on a 10 year CD (just kidding), blah, blah, blah, then lets go of the bomb at the precise point needed to put the bomb on the target. Beats the heck out of the old way–figure out a mil setting, dial it in on the manual gunsight, and try to put the fixed pipper on target, compensating for whatever wind you think is swirling about. At exactly the right dive angle, altitude, and airspeed, with the pipper on the target, the pilot hits the pickle button, pauses, and then commences the pull up. A well tuned boresight system was just plain wunnerful, it made things so much simpler.
Knocker conducted a thorough brief, and as we left the ready room to don our flight togs, I committed to the standard bet with Knocker, a buck a bomb. Best hit of each run. Could be a total of $12 on the line, but usually only about 4 or 5 bucks ended up changing pockets in the end.
Then down the stairs to maintenance spaces to review the aircraft logs and system performance of our assigned jets. I noted with some pleasure that the bombing stats from the previous flight were good, my jet was a sweet bomber. Knocker, on the other hand, was standing next to me and looking at the stats for his plane, which were not quite so good. He looked over at the logs for my jet, and said Tell you what, yours is the better bomber, so we are going to switch planes. He swapped the logs and proceeded to study the maintenance record of what was now his sweet bomber. I stood silent, not really able to come up with a suitable remark. My trusty BN and I traded glances and a shrug of the shoulders, then checked the paperwork on what was now our jet.
Knocker finished his review and looked at the two of us. He grinned. RHIP, he said. HL had him in its clutches. His BN said nothing.
The four of us headed out to the flight line, our jets were parked side by side, waiting in the morning sun. The jets were new, they really looked good.
I finished my preflight walk around quickly and settled into the cockpit, my BN was already strapped in and checking out his system set up.
This is when the Maintenance Chief climbed up the ladder and stood on the top steps at eye level with me. He said Mr. B, do you have any bets on the bombing for this hop? Yes I do, Chief, a buck a bomb.
Well, says he, you’re going to win. Chief, I replied, I’m going to give it my best, thanks for the vote of confidence.
No, no, says the Chief. You are GOING TO WIN, says he. Look over there, he says, and leans back a little so I can see Knocker’s jet next to us. Knocker had just finished preflighting the starboard wing and moved around the jet to finish up on the port side. After he was out of sight, another Chief, who had been standing quietly under the starboard wing, moved over underneath the weapons rack where 6 Mk-76’s were hanging.
He looked over at us, and then reached up and grabbed the tail fins of the closest bomb. And twisted. Hard. Put his whole body weight into it. Bent the fins. The bomb was not going to follow a predictable path on its way to the earth. No way.
Then did the same on the other 5 bombs. The tail fins were going in multiple directions. He looked at the Chief next to me and smiled. The Maintenance Chief says to me, The other 6 on the port side will be adjusted as well. Have a nice flight, he says, and steps down to the ground, folds the boarding ladder into place, latches it, and gives me a thumbs up.
Whatever Knocker had done to get on the non sunshine side of the folks who run the show is still a mystery to me. Must have been that HL thing.
Off we went to the target, it’s a really clear sunny day in the Nevada desert, our pair of Intruders was cleared hot on the target and we went at it.
When lead’s first bomb hit 1200′ at 7 o’clock you know there was an eruption of sorts in Knocker’s cockpit. My BN and I erupted as well, a fit of laughter and giggles as we followed in our dive and scored a 50′ hit.
It got worse, or better, depending on which cockpit you were in. Lead’s second hit was somewhere in Nevada, and his remaining bombs followed suit, run after run, until all 12 blue bombs were gone. Gone all over the place, in no particular predictable order at all. One or two actually got close to the center ring, but that was purely by accident of dispersal. The safest place in Nevada when Lead was dropping his bombs was the Bull’s Eye.
I had a good day, my BN tuned up the system well on the way to the target, and we had a respectable 2 digit average, pretty good for a nugget.
We cleaned Knocker’s clock, would have given him a run for his money even if he’d been armed with the straightest bombs ever built. But he wasn’t.
Join up and RTB were uneventful, all the way back my BN and I were thinking of the free beers we were going to consume that evening.
After landing and shut down, Knocker was out of his cockpit and on the way to the maintenance spaces at a brisk pace, he was there for several minutes before I walked in the door. When I walked in, Knocker was in the midst of angrily describing how poorly the boresight system had worked for him. The first one hit 1200′ short, says he, and the next one was 1000′ short, so I fudged the system a bit on the next run and put the pipper long about the same amount. That one hit about 900′ at 3 o’clock. So I tried putting the pipper at 9 o’clock and that one….
The chiefs and system tech guys listened earnestly and asked what the pilot and BN thought might be the problem, the two of them had an idea or two, something about system velocities and ballistic calculations being out of whack, even though the readouts in flight looked good. Knocker said he wanted an extensive check conducted on the black boxes.  He wrote all this out, cataloging the erratic hits, and then he and his BN clomped up the stairs to the ready room. My BN and I were still standing at the maintenance desk submitting our flight data when the door at the top of the stairs closed.
And the poker-faced maintenance crew burst into muffled laughter. They tried hard not to be too loud. Backs were slapped, stomachs were held while doubled over with glee, and some laughed so hard there were tears in their eyes. My BN and I stood there just smiling, not joining in wholeheartedly because we had no idea what the original sin was at the root of all this. But we were getting an education.
HL is a dreadful thing, never let it get out of hand and aggravate the troops. Particularly Chiefs. Things happen.


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