Thursday, October 23, 2014

In Memoriam

Out in California, in the San Joaquin Valley, lies Naval Air Station Lemoore. Home to five Carrier Air Wings (2, 5, 9, 11 and 17 - 5 is forward deployed to Japan) and 20 fighter attack squadrons (four of them forward deployed with CAG 5), NAS Lemoore is the newest and largest Master Jet Base in the United States Navy.

Overlooking the runway at Lemoore is that bronze statue above, dedicated to the men and women of Naval Aviation from NAS Lemoore who lost their lives in the line of duty, serving their country, faces to the foe.

The WSO sent me a few photos after her return from a deployment to Key West. I can't wait to get out there and see the memorial for myself. It means a lot to me and to many others.

The insignia of the units which call Lemoore "home" line the way.

The second one in is VFA-2, The WSO's outfit.
Pinch might recognize the next one after the Bullets.

A little further up (VFA-25) - Lex is wearing that patch in his photo at the top o' the blog.

In position off the statue's starboard side is a memorial to Captain Carroll LeFon.
To which so many folks contributed.

Shortly after the statue was put in place and a ceremony to dedicate the site was held, the Navy's Blue Angels, on their way to Fleet Week in San Francisco, put on a small show to salute the new memorial. (The next two photos are from the NAS Lemoore Aviator Memorial Association Facebook page.)

Those who were there tell me that it was a wonderful display by the Blues, the perfect finish to the commemoration of this place. Why, you may wonder, is this memorial so meaningful to me personally?

I spent 24 years in the Air Force, most of it in aviation units. My son-in-law and my youngest daughter are in Naval Aviation. Everyone who has spent any amount of time in an aviation unit either knows someone, or has friends who know someone who one day...

Slipped the surly bonds...

Climbed sunward...

Swept up the long, long delirious burning blue...*

And didn't come home.

I knew someone, I called him friend.

I remember him and those like him, never to be forgotten. I pray.

From an idea...

Dook and the sculptor (Facebook)
To reality...

For those who may be interested.
NAS Lemoore AMA is a non-profit organization founded by LCDR Erik "Dook" Kenny and LCDR Ben "Julie" Charles, both stationed onboard Naval Air Station Lemoore. Over the past year, the AMA has raised enough funds to build a memorial dedicated to all aviators attached to NAS Lemoore who lost their lives. 
The memorial is a 7' tall bronze statue that overlooks our main runway, 32L. The statue is surrounded by memorial grounds, filled with donor bricks of those who graciously donated to our cause.
Erik and Ben, along with three local board members, Charlie Meyer, Travis Lopes, and Guy Brautigam, continue to fundraise to support the familes of the fallen and future military and community efforts. We still have bricks available (4x8 and 8x8 bricks) so please send us a message or call Ben at 361.816.1986 or Erik at 410.499.4130 if you are interested.
The different ways to donate are:
  • Send a check payable to NAS LEMOORE AMA to 230 Lake Drive, Lemoore, CA, 93245
  • Call Ben at 361.816.1986 or Erik at 410.499.4130 for a credit card donation
  • PayPal account at
Donations of $250 will received an engraved brick (4x8) that will be part of the memorial, $500 - engraved brick (8x8) with a logo, visit their Facebook page.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

*From High Flight - John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


And then in the desert, when the sun comes up, I couldn't tell where heaven stopped and the earth began. It was so beautiful.*

There’s been a fair amount of reflection underway here since I read Sarge’s post about the loss of a tree.  His sentimentality in that loss is understandable, and he’s not alone in that type of thinking.

I haven’t always been as introspective as I am now.  During a particularly challenging phase in flight training, I was struggling to keep up.  An instructor recommended listening to some self-help tapes put out by Anthony Robbins.  I instantly discounted that advice as I couldn’t for a moment consider sitting down and quietly listening to myself, much less a personal development guru.  That type of self-motivation was not for me then, but I suppose I would be more open to it today if I felt it was necessary.

My taste in entertainment has changed from when I was younger as well.  Going to a movie or watching a rental over pizza was once more to my liking, but I can’t remember the last time we did that.  Going to a play would have bored me in my 20s, but now pushing past middle age, my wife and I visit a local theater on a regular basis.  I’ve also shed most concern about what others might think of me, gaining a level of confidence from that attitude.  Additionally, I’ve learned to relax, not always rushing around, taking the slow lane at times, both literally and figuratively.

As my wife and I get older, we are starting to see a few minor health issues pop up, mainly for me, but I know that’s par for the course.  However, we’re fortunate to have good and affordable health care.  We’ve talked about being empty-nesters as our kids are also getting older; In a couple years the teenangster will be off to whatever Art School she impresses the most, and eventually our son will be out of the house as we help him to become more independent.  While my wife has already had to deal with the kids not needing her as much, having a house to ourselves also means we’ll be able to travel more.  With maturity also comes a mortgage with an end in sight, and greater savings with which to do more for ourselves.  While these changes that come with age may at first be unwanted or unwelcome, they are part of a life that also brings about positive aspects. 

Then again…

I don’t know the demographics of the readers here at Chez Sarge, but I doubt the Millennials are represented in force.  Middle to later-aged folks is what I’d expect.  For that group, it’s also the time in life where we start experiencing more loss.  Statistically speaking, we have met or we know more people, we’ve seen our fair share of car accidents, know those who have had heart attacks, breast cancer, etc.  So it’s hard to get past middle-age without knowing someone in your inner or outer circles who have gone from this life.  Within Naval Aviation, the statistics are only surpassed by ground forces I would expect.

Warning:  Graphic Video

Another that I can't seem to upload:  here  

What losses have I experienced?  I’ve seen the breakup of my parent’s marriage, which actually was a good thing for her and us;  Later, my mom dying from cancer.  Several pets have come and gone in my life, including one that was such a part of the family that it hurt very much.  Still does if I think about it. 

I’ve always had pets, but our Beagle Molly grew up with my children and had such a personality that she is greatly missed.  We only had her until she was 10, a brain tumor taking her from us.  Her buddy, our rescued Jack Russell is still here at 16 years old, and he’s seemingly forgotten her now.  With that loss, that he’s been able to assume the mantle of Alpha Dog in his pack of one.  He’s a lucky one, living over three times as long as he would have had we not adopted him moments before he was to be put down in the Hillsborough County Shelter.

There’s been the loss of a few shipmates, like Graham Higgins with whom I went through Flight School.  He was in the back of a VF-213 Tomcat which crashed into an apartment building in Tennessee when his pilot was trying to show off.  

Scott Zellem, another flight school classmate whose VS-35 S-3B Viking crew crashed into a mountain in the Western Pacific. 

Z-Man on the President's left.

The crew memorialized.
And of course, Lex.

Some of these losses we expect.  Naval Aviation is an inherently dangerous sport.  Being an Infantry Soldier is even more so, especially during wartime.  Someone dying on the battlefield or in an aviation mishap is something we know will happen sooner or later.  So while we’re saddened when it comes, we know it’s a risk that comes with the job.

My mother had been a smoker since her teens; heavy smoker later in life during a stressful stretch at work and the troubles within her marriage.  After the divorce, she quit smoking and hadn’t picked up a cigarette for 14 years before the cancer came, but the damage had been done.  That was a sad loss of course, but it dragged out for a bit and we knew it was coming after our confidence in medical science, a confidence gained from her being a nurse, started to fade.

Fall has finally arrived here in San Diego, with cool, but comfortable nights.  I love the crispness in the air, but will miss the warmth of Summer.  The inevitableness of the situation with my mother also came like that change in seasons, slowly, but it couldn't be stopped, and yet I was conflicted in how I felt about that.  I was, of course, sad to see the end, but I knew it was better for her, and so I almost looked forward to the end so she would be relieved of her suffering.   

My shipmates, none truly close to me, I mourn briefly.  Lex is sorely missed though.  However, that is different from the more personal loss like a parent.  However, since we knew the cancer was taking my mother away, and that her death offered her respite, that loss too seems different.

So as I reflect on both my life and this post, I realize that with age comes some wisdom, hopefully some wealth, maybe a bit of sophistication or varied interests, but also varied degrees of loss.  However, one loss that we’re not supposed to experience is the death of a child.

Unfortunately, I have.  No, not my own child, nor a direct family member, but the 12 year old son of a very close family friend and brother-in-arms- a Marine Corps Pilot.  He was the older brother of my Godson, and the loss hurts deeply.  It was a horrible accident just over a week ago, and I can’t imagine how my friends are coping.  They have a deep faith and take some consolation from it, but I’m sure it doesn’t stop them from replaying the day over and over, doing it differently each time, trying to prevent what occurred.

While I wouldn’t change a thing in my life, being quite happy with my current state of affairs, I would like to go back and somehow change what happened that day, saving my friends from such grief.

This is the song sung at his memorial service.  It's a cover of Hillsong United's "Oceans."It's a beautiful song and it was an excellent choice by his sister, because in Hawaii, where his family grew up, his name means Ocean.

Farewell Kai, we'll miss you and life is a little less bright without you in it.

*Scene and quote from Forrest Gump

My Air Show

First T-6 pass was offset about a quarter mile to the west from Chez Sarge
Those of you who keep track of such things may remember my second Sunday post, it was a simply glorious day weather-wise. Sunday night was very cool, as a matter of fact one of the vehicles in the Sarge's motor pool actually had what I call proto-frost on the windshield. (Sort of "almost but not quite frost", it feels frozen but you can't decide if it really is. Too thick to be dew, too thin to be ice.)

Just realized that I digressed due to a brief discussion of the weather. Sort of a blog version of a weather divert, but we're back on track now. You are free to move about the cabin. But when you're in your seat, keep your seatbelt on. Our flight attendants will be serving drinks shortly.


Oh yeah. Sunday, cutting the grass which also sometimes turns into a beer post as Buck (and others) have noted. This past Sunday was different though. Here at Chez Sarge at "lawn mowing halftime" (wherein I take a break between doing the front yard and then the back, in olden times I would have a smoke, as this is the New Age I don't do that anymore. What? Oh yeah, digressed again, didn't I?)

Okay, "lawn mowing halftime," Sunday, we're taking a break and what do my finely tuned ears acquire in the distance? Why, it's the drone of a military piston engine. There's nothing like it to those who know what to listen for.

Shortly, yup there it is, our local T-6 Texan, off to the west. Well let me tell you, the cell phone camera was out and deployed in right quick fashion. Locked on and ready to capture aerial goodness. The first and next three photos are of that first pass.

Texan in the sun.
Circling around for another pass...
What's that? Can't see him?
He's in that circle. Which is NOT a gunsight pipper.
I kind of felt like an anti-aircraft emplacement, tracking this guy around the sky. But I think he was on to me, his second pass was nearly directly overhead. Had I been a AAA site (pronounced triple-A, acronym for Anti-Aircraft Artillery) and had the Texan been "carrying," I would have been toast.

T-6 Texan, rolling in "hot"
Again the T-6 is circled as my tracking software re-acquires the "target"
This is gonna be close!
Tracking... tracking... tracking...
TAKE COVER! He's right on top of my position...
Definitely a T-6 as you can see in this zoomed in picture.
(If you look carefully, you can see the star on the underside of the right wing.)
Headed south, RTB.
(RTB = Return to Base...)
Another zoomed in view.
Headed home no doubt.
Still tracking...
Now he's too far for good cell phone pics.
(Not an oxymoron anymore, I like my cell phone's camera.)
After the airshow and after finishing the lawn, it's time for a brew.
Or two.
Had the Honey Crisp Apple Wheat first (to cut the dust) and then indulged myself with a Pumpkinhead Ale.
Hi-Yo Shipyard, Away!
Later on in the afternoon, I saw a pair of hawks circling nearby. Tried to get them on video, they kept circling away, keeping the house between my camera and themselves.

Hhmm, perhaps they had RHAW* gear on board. Who knows?

*RHAW = Radar Homing and Warning

Monday, October 20, 2014

Cope Thunder

As I’ve mentioned earlier, Cope Thunder was up until recently, PACOM’s version of Red Flag.  With the eruption of MT Pinatubo and subsequent evacuation of US Forces from the PI, Cope Thunder was moved to Eielson AFB AK.  The exercise has been renamed Red Flag Alaska.  It’s airspace is 67000 sq miles as opposed to Nellis with 12000. 

Cope Thunder was both my first and last advanced aerial combat training exercise.  (The terminology is from Sarge’s official source.  My definition is “closest thing to combat without real missiles”.)  In between, I participated in a bunch of Red Flag and variations thereof (stories to follow). 

The other big difference in the exercises was airpace,  Nellis was big and for the most part over uninhabited desert.  Cope Thunder was not very big. 

Cope Thunder Airspace is essentially everything to the left of the black line
BTW that Heart Shaped object on the left side are the Spratley Islands 530 nm from Hong Kong, 180 nm from Clark

The measurement line on the map above is 95 miles long.  That’s forever in Rhode Island terms, but 10 minutes at combat speed in a loaded F-4.  It also was highly populated and thus restricted to subsonic.  Which the guys understand, but… the difference between high subsonic and transonic (where the supersonic shockwave starts to form and the sonic boom begins, but the aircraft isn’t technically supersonic) is only a few knots apart.  The technical difference between transonic and supersonic is lost to those on the ground for some reason.  

That restriction had the effect of further reducing the airspace.  Most missions were planned for a west to east attack axis going feet dry at Iba with a north west egress to the east of High Peak until feet wet.  Made the bad guys planning effort a bit easier. (They capped Iba and High Peak)

The other unrealistic airspace point was it was next to impossible to get into fuel problems.  In last week’s episode, I describe a low altitude high speed chase that terminated with a simulated kill just as Betty lets me know it’s time to go home.  Out of AB, steep climb to the high 40s, exit the airspace, turn south, enter initial, pitch out and land.  All without touching the throttle, except to pull it to idle in the flare.  Not realistic, even in a Korean Scenario.

I've heard that is not the case in Red Flag Alaska.  Fuel awareness is a big deal when you’re 500 nm from home.

So, Juvat, if it takes airspace the size of Alaska to conduct this exercise, why do we do this?

There’s a well-known phenomenon about aerial combat.  The most likely time for a pilot to be lost is the first 10 missions (the second most likely is the last 10, but "get-home-itis" is hard to train for). Both exercises attempt to train pilots as realistically as possible to get them the equivalent of those first 10 missions.  As such, the exercises were each about 2 weeks long. All three of the squadron’s I was in when I participated in the exercises deployed early in the week prior to the start. 

One of the coolest feelings I’ve experienced is to be the Mission leader of a hundred ship package at the end of the runway at Clark.  Takeoff time is fast approaching.  The last of the package is finishing arming and you can see that flight’s #4 salute the arming chief and pass a thumbs up to his element lead who passes it to #2 and just like the tumbling dominos the thumbs up races through the package and arrives at your wingman who passes it to you.  You’re a go!  Advance the throttles to get rolling, on to the runway and into burner.  Gear up, flaps up, out of burner.  #2 joins to tactical spread, #3 and 4 join to spread on the other side.  A wall of Eagles and we’ve only been airborne a couple of minutes.  Gotta love it!

But, how do you get to this point?  The Saturday prior to the Monday startex would begin with a mandatory aircrew meeting.  That would begin with the typical hoorah speech about great training, but…restriction this, airspace that, no supersonic, no lowfly, blah, blah, blah.  In one ear, out the other, no contact with brain matter in transit.  Cope Thunder found a way to get our attention. They showed us this video. The crowd was yucking it up at the start but got very quiet by the end. I apologize for the quality. The training is realistic and mistakes have real costs.

Ok, Boss, you got our attention.

Two other videos from Cope Thunder, taken about a year before I got to Kadena, some pretty cool cockpit stuff in both. The first has some pretty good HUD video of gun kills.   The second is taken from the back end of a 67TFS F-15D, and given the beeps and squeeks coming over the intercom, the pilot didn't give any breaks to the back seater.  As Buck would say, when you got nothin', roll film.

 Rest in Peace, Trout 21

Sunday, October 19, 2014


'Twas a fine day.

Weather was perfect for the mowing of the grass. Not too cool, not too warm.

Just. Perfect.

Found this song, I don't know why I like it so. But I do. The lyrics touched me.

Sunday Afternoon

Why are you inside? That grass isn't going to cut itself.
As Sasha the cat points out, there is grass to be cut.

I've waited the better part of 36 hours and the grand experiment appears to be a failure.

For Friday night when I got home from work, I decreed that the grass must be cut.

I have waited and waited to no avail.

No helpful lawn fairies cut the grass in the wee hours of the night.

Therefore, as always, I need to put on my "big boy pants," sally forth and fire up the mower.

So for the next couple of hours, I will be chasing the roaring beast back and forth, hither and yon.

Cutting the grass.

And people are amazed when I tell them "I like winter."

I shall return.

We'll keep an eye on things from here. You got this?

Yeah Anya, I got this.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Who Cries at The Death of a Tree?

Behind the fence which bounds our property is a small copse on a vacant lot. The trees there are starting to change the color of their leaves, many are already shedding summer's glory as winter prepares to sweep south into this land hard by Narragansett Bay and not far from the mighty Atlantic Ocean.

I have seen these trees bending to the power of a hurricane. I have seen them as the first leaves began to bud in the early spring.

These trees have provided shade in the hot summer when I needed a break from chasing the lawn mower around the yard.

I have watched the first flakes of snow floating from the sky, gently caressing each branch as the snow fell silently to the ground.

I have also seen them in the harsh winter's light of a roaring blizzard when it seemed nothing could possibly live in such cold.

For fifteen years I have watched these trees, this remnant of a forest which once spread nearly unbroken from the shores of Cape Cod to the beginnings of the Great Plains on the other side of the Mississippi.

Today I came home and something felt out of place. Something seemed to be missing.

Something felt, not right.

Looking again at "my" trees I couldn't see it at first. How do you see that which is not there?

Then I realized, one of the trees was gone.

If you look at that photo, the two tall trees just back of the shed, there is a gap. You don't know this, but I do. A tree once stood there. Brother (or sister) to the one just to the left of the gap.

I walked in a bit of a daze towards the garden. Looking over the fence, there it was, a tree, fallen to the earth. Cut down by some human with a chainsaw.

I don't know the reason. Perhaps it was diseased. Perhaps the owner of that vacant lot wanted the wood and might return later to cut it up for firewood.

I don't know the circumstances, I don't know the whys and wherefores of the need to cut that tree down.

All I know is that there is a gap in the skyline, a hole.

I remembered one fine spring morning listening to the song of a cardinal high in that tree. He was happy, spring was in the air. Winter was dying.


Now that tree is no more. Never again will the cardinal sit high in those branches and sing his song of spring. No more will the birds find shelter in its leafy embrace.

That tree is gone.

So I ask you, who cries at the death of a tree?

I do.

Perhaps I grow too sentimental in my old age...