Friday, February 28, 2014

28 February 2010

My Dad on the Wannsee
West Berlin, late-1940s
My father was born in 1928, on the 6th of June.

When he was eleven years old, Germany invaded Poland.

When he was thirteen years old, Japan attacked the Seventh Fleet at Pearl Harbor.

When he was seventeen, he convinced my grandparents to let him drop out of high school and join the Army. Both of his older brothers were already in the Army. Uncle Louis (the oldest of the three boys) was with the Army Air Forces in the Pacific. The next oldest, my Uncle Charlie, was an infantryman with Seventh Army in Europe. He too had dropped out of school to do his duty for his country.

While Germany had surrendered less than a month before, the war was still raging in the Pacific. His two older brothers were serving, he felt he had to get in before it was too late. Over my grandmother's strenuous objections, my Dad enlisted in the Army.

By the time his training was done, the war was over. Japan had surrendered. Nevertheless, Dad wound up on a troopship headed for Europe, specifically Berlin, Germany.

Though the Berlin Wall wouldn't go up until 1961, Berlin was already divided. There were four sectors back then, American, French, British and Soviet. The portion occupied by the Western Allies would eventually be called West Berlin. At the time it was all just Berlin.

Dad had many interesting stories of his interactions with the Soviet occupation troops who would, from time to time, wander into the American Sector of Berlin.

Like the time Dad and one of his buddies had "borrowed" a jeep to go do something. Something which the Army probably frowned on, officially, but in practice turned a blind eye to. At any rate, Dad and his buddy were driving down some Straße, surrounded by rubble mind you, because Berlin looked like this when my Dad was there -

As they came around a corner, there in the middle of the road was a Soviet officer, pistol in hand (aimed at the jeep) with the other hand in the air signaling my Dad and his buddy to stop.

Well of course, they stopped. Then the Soviet jumped into the back of the jeep, waved his pistol in the air and said "Go!"

Go they did.

As they motored through the ruins of Berlin, from time to time the Russian would gesture with his pistol and the jeep would follow that new direction. Eventually they were very close to the Soviet zone, what would be known a few years down the road as East Berlin.

At that point the Russian indicated that the jeep should stop. (I should also note that said Soviet officer was, according to my Dad, completely and totally drunk.)

The inebriated officer of the Soviet Union dismounted from the jeep, turned to the two Americans and (gesturing with his pistol) pointed back the way they had came and said, "Go!" And go they did.

Dad had a lot of great stories from his three years in the Army. Most of them spent in Berlin. I often wondered what Dad did in the Army, technically speaking he was a supply sergeant in the Signal Corps. He and another guy manned the supply room. They had a captain in charge who pretty much believed in "live and let live". He would show up at the supply room only when he needed something. Most of the time he was "elsewhere" as Dad would put it.

When I queried Dad later in life what he meant by "elsewhere" (I was in the Air Force then) he told me that the good captain was shacked up with a Fräulein (young German lady), which was most certainly against Army regulations at the time. (Who knows, that's probably still frowned upon.)

So Dad and the other sergeant in the supply room had a great deal. They also figured that, as both of them weren't really needed there, that one guy could take a few days off from time to time and see the rest of Germany. So they did, with the captain's knowledge, if not his actual blessing.

Well, one time, when it was Dad's turn to play "happy wanderer" their captain was sent home, back to the States. In his place was a brand new second lieutenant.

Dad met the new lieutenant when coming back to the supply room on a Monday after a kleine Reise (little trip) down to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bayern (Bavaria). By the way, beautiful countryside he informed me. I've been there, I agreed, breathtakingly gorgeous down that way.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

New Lieutenant: "So sergeant, where the Hell have you been?"

Dad: "Well Sir, it was my turn to be away from the unit."

New Lieutenant: "Your turn?" (Looking at the other supply sergeant.)

Dad: "Uh, yes Sir. My turn."

New Lieutenant: "Did you have a pass?"

Dad: "Uh, no Sir."

New Lieutenant: "Very well. You're dismissed."

That week Dad learned that he was being given the opportunity to make sergeant again. Seems the new lieutenant was a very "by the book" kind of guy and the other sergeant was a low-life prick. The other sergeant denied all knowledge of Dad's whereabouts and denied that they had this little system in place.

So officially Dad had been AWOL (Away Without Official Leave). His fellow sergeant sold him out. So Dad became a private. Again.

Well, Dad did manage to climb back up through the ranks to corporal before he left the Army. But the good old days were definitely over.

Things went downhill from there it seems. From 24 June 1948 – 12 May 1949, the Russians decided that they wanted all of Berlin, not just their half. So they blockaded Berlin. Nobody gets in, nobody gets out.

The Berlin Airlift

In response, the Western Allies organized the Berlin airlift to carry supplies to the people in West Berlin. Aircrews from the United States Air Force, the British Royal Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the South African Air Force flew over 200,000 flights in one year, providing up to 4700 tons of necessities daily, such as fuel and food, to the Berliners.

By the spring of 1949 the effort was clearly succeeding, and by April the airlift was delivering more cargo than had previously been transported into the city by rail. The success of the Berlin Airlift brought embarrassment to the Soviets who had refused to believe it could make a difference. The blockade was lifted in May 1949 and resulted in the creation of two separate German states. The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) split up Berlin. Following the airlift, three airports in the former western zones of the city served as the primary gateways to Germany for another fifty years. - Wikipedia
The West had bigger cojones back then. (I'm sure nowadays the State Department would issue a strongly worded statement and the Obummer would mutter about red lines which shouldn't be crossed.)

Oh well...

Time goes by. Too fast at times.

In late 2009, Dad began to get very sick. We didn't go up to New Hampshire for Christmas that year, instead we went down to Virginia to spend Christmas with our daughters. A decision I've somewhat regretted ever since. But everyone tells me how bad Dad looked. I've seen the photos, Dad looked gaunt and weak. He'd gone from being a fairly robust and healthy 81-year old to a very frail looking old man. Still and all, I sometimes wish I would have been there. Hindsight is ever 20-20.

The year 2010 found me traveling away from home for work. I talked to my Dad a number of times from the hotel while I was on the road. It helped, Dad was always a fount of wisdom and advice. But by early February things were getting much worse.

I could hear the pain in my Dad's voice every time we spoke on the phone. But I always figured it was something he'd fight through. He always had come through in the past.

One week I got the call from my Mom that I should come up to New Hampshire to see Dad. He was in the hospital and things weren't too good. The WSO flew up from Oceana to go to the hospital with me. She'd just learned she was pregnant and wanted to tell her grandfather in person.

Well, Dad was in a medically induced coma. It was a last ditch effort by the medical staff to give his body the opportunity to heal itself. At least that's what they told us.

A week later, I had another call on Sunday afternoon from my Mom. It was four years ago today.

"You need to come up here. They're going to take your father off life support as soon as you get here. There's nothing left."

In agony I drove the four hours to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire. That was perhaps the longest drive of my entire life. I remember it was cold, there was snow on the ground and there was a full moon in the sky. A typical, beautiful New England winter's night.

My brother, The Olde Vermonter, met me in the parking lot of the hospital. I had a last cigarette and we went in.

An hour later, they took my Dad off life support. He regained consciousness for a few moments. He looked around the room, I know he saw his three sons there.

But his last glance was at my Mom. He looked at her, his wife of 57 years. That moment seemed to stretch for an eternity but was probably no more than two seconds.

Then he was gone. My Dad was gone.

I don't care what anyone tells you. The pain never goes away. The sense of loss is always there, hiding, waiting to strike out when you least expect it.

All that really happens is that you learn to deal with the pain. You learn to put the "howling emptiness" into a dark closet of your mind and hope it stays there. Which normally it does, life goes on. We bury our dead, we mourn their loss and then we get on with life.

Until the anniversary of the date arrives again. And you remember.

If you're lucky, you remember the good times. Spent together. The stories he told you when you were a kid. I do. But today, try as I might, I mourn my Dad once again.

And think back to a cold, cold night in February.

The Friday Flyby - 28 February

F/A-18F Super Hornets of Strike Fighter Squadron Thirty-Two (VFA-32)
(The WSO's old outfit)
Naval Aviation. When you say that, most people think of this...

USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) in the Persian Gulf
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ricardo J. Reyes

But aircraft carriers and their embarked air wings are NOT the sum total of Naval Aviation. No Sir. No Ma'am.

Mustn't forget the hard working men and women of the maritime patrol squadrons! The P-3s...

P-3C Orion of Patrol Squadron Nine (VP-9) - "Golden Eagles”
U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Elizabeth L. Burke
...and the new kid on the block, the P-8.

P-8A Poseidon of Patrol Squadron Sixteen (VP-16) - "War Eagles"
U.S Navy photo by Personnel Specialist 1st Class Anthony Petry

As most of you know, I'm all about military aviation, having served 24 years in the US Air Force. You might also remember that my youngest (The WSO) is a Naval Flight Officer (NFO, think back seater), currently assigned to VFA-2 "The Bounty Hunters" out in California. Her husband (Big Time) is a Naval Aviator (think pilot) assigned to VFA-122, "The Flying Eagles" as an instructor pilot, also in California. NAS Lemoore to be precise.

While Master Jet Base Lemoore doesn't have quite the same allure as Master Jet Base Oceana (in Virginia), it's kind of grown on me. Sure, no beaches anywhere in sight but hey, it has gray painted birds of prey which go very fast. That makes up for a lot!

F/A-18F Super Hornet of the "Bounty Hunters", Strike Fighter Squadron Two (VFA-2)
(The WSO's current outfit)
U.S. Navy photo by Midshipman John Ivancic

F/A-18E Super Hornet of the "Knighthawks", Strike Fighter Squadron One Three Six (VFA-136)
(Big Time's old outfit)
Photo by Nick Thomas

Of course, there are birds no longer in the fleet but I mention here because they served with distinction. (And the next photo is, of course, Tuna's old ride.)

S-3B Viking, Submarine hunter, surface warfare and tanker
Jack of many trades
E-2C Hawkeye, Airborne Early Warning, the carrier's "eye in the sky"
EA-6B Prowler, Electronic warfare and attack are it's specialties.
EA-18G Growler, Electronic warfare and attack - will eventually replace the Prowler
A-6 Intruder, Designed to put bombs on target.
First time, every time.
AV-8B Harrier of Marine Attack Squadron Two One Four (VMA-214)
The Black Sheep
U.S. Navy V-22 Osprey aircraft operate from the flight deck of the USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7)
Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Mike Jones, U.S. Navy.
SH-60F "Seahawk" assigned to the "Eightballers" of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Eight (HS-8),
conducts plane guard maneuvers near the U.S. Navy nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74).

U.S. Navy Photo by Photographer's Mate Airman Tina Lamb. 
CH-46 Sea Knight of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 (HMM-364), the "Purple Foxes"

While it's not glamorous and it doesn't fly in combat, how do you think the ship's company and the air wing get their mail while out at sea?

C-2 Greyhound (aka the COD, Carrier Onboard Delivery) of Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 30 (VRC-30), the "Providers"
You've probably noticed by now that you've seen Marine and Navy aircraft up until this point. According to one source I've seen (and which I agree with) the Coast Guard flying units are also part of Naval Aviation. Hey, they go out in all kinds of weather to rescue folks, investigate suspicious goings-on at sea. Yeah, they deserve a mention here!

US Coast Guard MH 60 Jayhawk Helicopters
Coast Guard HH-65C Dolphin helicopters from Air Station Miami.
And of course, no post on Naval Aviation would be complete without that arm's best recruiting tool...

The Blue Angels
This post is dedicated to the men and women of Naval Aviation and to the memory of...

CAPT Carroll "Lex" LeFon, US Navy (Retired)
Naval Aviator
Commanded Strike Fighter Squadron 94 (VFA-94), the "Mighty Shrikes"
Executive Officer of TOPGUN (One word, all caps)
1960 -2012

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Jeeps and Dangerous Activities (Action Figures, Again...)

The Official Ride of GI Joe
Back in the day...
Some of you may remember this post, (yes, you should go read it) the one about action figures. (They. Are. Not. Dolls. Dammit!) In the comments I promised a sequel. I made that promise to my brother (The Olde Vermonter) and to my childhood buddy Greg. (Who are both FRaVMotC.)

This is that sequel. As the title and the opening photo suggest, the sequel involves jeeps. GI Joe sized jeeps. And steep hills. Let your imagination ponder that for a bit. Let that thought simmer and bubble in your mind until you...


Get on with it? All right. If you insist...

So one year, not long after Stony and his identical twin brother, er, Stony, had enlisted in our neighborhood forces, a Navy GI Joe had been "recruited" into service as well. Along with Chief Cherokee, Johnny West and a couple of Joes from down the street (one of whom had a funny accent and said his name was Ivan!) our forces were now fairly substantial.

Navy Joe being "recruited".

Ivan, who swears he's not a Commie...

But of course, these guys had to walk everywhere they went. Rumors were flying that the bad guys had vehicles!

Alleged "bad guy" car.

Alleged "bad guy tank 1

Alleged "bad guy tank 2

So the bad guys had tanks and cars and the like. This walking into battle just wouldn't do! We needed to equip our boys with the finest equipment we (i.e. our parents) could buy!

So what did our government (i.e. our parents) provide for our boys?

See that lead in picture? Yup, jeeps. The boys were going to have to go up against tanks with jeeps. Two of 'em. But not to worry. Here's a show that was very popular when we were kids -

That's right, The Rat Patrol. All these guys had was two jeeps and they fought tanks every week! And kicked butt. Every week. (Hhmm, everyone in The Rat Patrol had a different hat. What was up with that?)

So the jeeps shouldn't be a problem. Except we would have to go into battle short-handed. Remember Stony (and his identical twin brother, er, Stony?) Yeah, the guy who can't bend his legs and therefore cannot sit in a jeep. Yup, they'd have to stay "in the rear, with the gear."

Of course, both Stonys argued that they could stand in the back and man the searchlight! We tested that concept, Stony and, er, Stony, kept falling off the trailer. And OSHA said it wasn't safe. (OSHA?)

So the Stonys were left behind when the Joes went off to war.

Unfortunately for the Joes, we discovered that it was a lot of fun to load all the Joes in the jeeps (we had two, à la The Rat Patrol) and then roll them down the steep hill behind our house.

After witnessing the results, the Stonys didn't feel that bad about being left behind. Well, until Jack (the C.O. of Ivan's outfit) thought it would be neat to see what would happen if we drove the jeeps through the headquarters area.

Let's just say, it wasn't pretty...

Joe recovering from the ride...

Of course, nowadays the Joes have much better equipment.

That's a Marine halftrack!

So do I still play with action figures?

Of course not!

But on occasion, they do have to go out on maneuvers. Ya know, to stay current and all. But that's it, no moving them around and making machine gun noises. No, no, never.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

New Navy Blog is Underway

While visiting over at EagleSpeak, I noted that the good Captain had a post up regarding a new "Navy-centric" blog.

Which goes by the name of I don't know; ask the skipper, good stuff therein. Check it out. (The title alone is worth the price of admission. No, it's free. It's just an expression...)

As the proud father (3) and father-in-law (1) of four "Fleet" Lieutenants (three still on active duty), I am always on the look-out for Navy stuff. Good Navy stuff.

So head on over and have a look.

Yes, now. We're done here for the moment.


R.I.F. raff

When I arrived in Japan for my first tour, I met a former squadron member who was no longer in uniform, but was still living in Japan.  Apparently his wife had a great job in Tokyo so they stayed in-country after the Navy kicked him out.  No, he hadn't embarrassed the service or had any conduct unbecoming, but he was unfortunate enough to have an "R" following USN on his name tag.  As an active duty reservist who had not yet been augmented to USN, he was "riffed" in the early 90s with a severance and his walking papers. Reduction in Force or RIF, is a lousy way to end a career.  I was told he kept his sense of humor though, because one night in the club, he wore a sign around his neck stating "Will Navigate For Food."  Later during that tour, my squadron was saddled with three "Super-JOs."  These were Officers coming off their first shore duty tour, and put back into the squadrons because the Viking community didn't have enough officers to fill the cockpits.

When the Navy disestablished all the A-6 Intruder squadrons in the early to mid-90s, sending many aircraft to the grave yard, quite a few pilots and even more Bombardier/Navigators suddenly found themselves without a platform and viable careers.  Some, but not all of the pilots eventually received transitions to other communities.  Whereas, far too many NFOs weren't as lucky, left with careers adrift, unable to continue flying and reaching necessary milestones for promotion and other aspects of career progression.

With those lessons learned the hard way, and still fresh on the mind of S-3B Viking community leadership, they were prepared when the call came for the Viking squadrons to go.  The community took great strides to plan out the "Viking Sundown" in order to take care of the Officers and Enlisted personnel.

The plan included a slow phase out of the aircraft over 8 or 9 years, just 1 squadron initially, increasing slowly, with no more than 2 squadrons closing down in any one year.  Aircrews and maintenance personnel were dispersed out to the remaining squadrons, with some aircrew transitioning to other aircraft.  BUPERS, or the Bureau of Naval Personnel,along with CNATRA- Chief of Naval Air Training, and the other aircraft communities were brought into the planning as well, with them all working together (including under-accessing student pilots and NFOs into flight school) in order to provide room in other squadrons for the men and women of the Viking community.

So while the A-6 community closure led to a glut of Pilots and NFOs on the market, and no coherent plan for their futures, the S-3B Sundown was planned to mitigate that effect.  All JOs would be offered a transition to other communities and a select few of the O-4 Department Heads would be selected for command in F-18, EA-6B, E-2C, and P-3 squadrons, all well timed to benefit all hands.

Except things don't always work out like you planned.  When somebody high up found out that he could save a million bucks by closing 2 squadrons in the first year, the whole sundown plan fell like a house of cards.  The timeline was shortened to 5 years, nearly double the rate that was planned, and the Navy couldn't adequately absorb the aircrew into other squadrons.   Money trumped the people, no matter what good intentions we had.

Corporations tend to cut with an axe as well- the stock price being all powerful- and they will lay off hundreds if not thousands of workers at a time, while closing stores or manufacturing plants.  Loyalty of the employee is usually irrelevant when it comes to the bottom line.

It appears that the Navy, and corporate America aren't alone in that thinking.

Here's an article that is quite harsh in the writer's assessment of the US Air Force's business practices when it came to making personnel cuts a few years ago.

Loss of Integrity: Deception On Rise in Air Force Drawdown

The Air Force version seems a bit more nefarious- asking for volunteers to take early separation or retirement, then pulling that rug out from under them by determining those with hands raised weren't eligible.  The COs of the units, and the Officer's peers could see those hands and knew which folks aren't as loyal as others, who weren't dedicated as they should be, and who shouldn't be given consideration for promotion, educational opportunities, and so forth.

Then the USAF later decides to RIF them anyway.

Money trumps people every time.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Aim High? But that's too hard.

The services spend lots of money marketing themselves to attract quality recruits, and part of that effort is the slogan.  My Navy has had mixed reviews with its campaign of a few years ago:

It reflects more of the humanitarian assistance role the Navy took after the tsunami in Indonesia, the earthquake in Pakistan and several other incidents.  That slogan followed several others including, “Accelerate Your Life” (2001-2009), “It’s Not Just a Job, It’s An Adventure” (1976-1986), “You Are Tomorrow; You Are The Navy” (1988-1990) and “Let the Journey Begin” (1996-2000).  

The Marine Corps on the other hand has stuck with their tried and true slogan:

That one is really just a slight modification from "The Few. The Proud. The Marines," although they use both of these regularly, which are variations on a theme from the 70's and 80's:

Unfortunately, I couldn't find a picture of the poster I remember with that slogan- one with an incredibly bad-ass looking Force Recon Marine in full camo-paint, some rope coiled around his shoulder, and M-16 at the ready.

The Air Force has had a couple recruiting slogans as well, including “Aim High,” "Above All," "Cross into the blue," “A great way of life,” and “We do the impossible everyday.”  The above motto adds Fly-Fight-Win to their current one. The flying is obvious.  Fight?  Same thing, we're in the military, and fighting our nation's wars is our primary duty.  What about "Win" though?  To most, it means the same as fight- we fight to win our nation's wars.  

The Army however, might have a different view of winning.  You see, they've had a rather bad run as of late in regards to wins versus Navy in football.  It's been a looooong time since they've put anything in the win column against the middies from Annapolis, 12 years to be exact.  This probably hurts them greatly, enough for some to actually lose sight on the end-game- fielding quality Officers for the Army.  So much so that it led to an article in the Washington Post titled:  

West Point is placing too much emphasis on football

I remember how disgusted I felt after I first learned that the service academies recruit athletes, athletes that don't have to meet the same rigorous standards that the rest of the Cadets and Midshipmen have to meet.  I had 3 nominations to the USNA, but was unable to get an appointment due to only 20% of each entering class allowed to have corrected vision.  It turned out to be a blessing though, as regular college Calculus and Physics just about kicked my butt, and I'm not sure I would have survived the academic rigor that the academy demands.  Because of that, I believed that a person getting an athletic scholarship to the the academy, if not held to the same academic standards, was taking a slot from a more deserving nominee.  

I'm thinking the Army should co-opt the Air Force slogan, but modify it slightly:

An excerpt from the article:

On Dec. 15, shortly after Army football’s 12th consecutive loss to the U.S. Naval Academy, the superintendent of West Point, Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen , announced that he was considering institutional changes to build a winning program. “When America puts its sons and daughters in harm’s way, they do not expect us to just ‘do our best’ . . . but to win,” he wrote. “Nothing short of victory is acceptable. . . . Our core values are Duty, Honor, Country. Winning makes them real.”
Soon after, Army Athletic Director Boo Corrigan argued that West Point ought to take “an educated risk” by relaxing admission requirements in favor of superior football recruits. The superintendent has said that he does not intend to relax standards, but Corrigan’s views are backed by powerful alumni, including retired Brig. Gen. Pete Dawkins, a Heisman Trophy winner who has participated in three study groups assessing Army football. “I think it’s crucial that West Point stand out as a place of winners,” Dawkins recently said. Thus his view that it’s “entirely fair to accept some risks” in the admission of football recruits.
It's just an editorial, but if the Army actually goes through with anything like this, they're just completely forgetting what they stand for.  West Point's home page states that it has been educating, training, and inspiring leaders of character for our US Army and the nation for more than 200 years.  It goes on to say that the school provides a leader-development program steeped in academic rigor, military discipline, and physical challenges, all built upon a moral-ethical foundation.  Nothing in that statement says anything about beating Navy, and lowering standards to achieve that directly conflicts with the academic rigor and ethics points that the statement makes.  Read the whole article and let me know if it disgusts you.

Aim Low Army, Aim Low.