All posts in “Navy”

Midway 74 Years Later and the Dauntless on My Desk

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In every battle there is a moment when the combatants, and the world, seem to catch their breath. It is a fleeting moment, lost in the blink of an eye. But in that same blink, everything changes. Such moments are borne of desperation, of courage, of plain dumb luck. But they are pivotal —  for what was before is forever changed afterwards.  – SJS

SDB-3Of the 200-some odd models that populate my study and other places around the house, there is but one on my desk. It isn’t a plane that I have flown (though not for a lack of desire), nor is it even one I have had a working relationship with when I was on active duty. Indeed, it is one I have yet to even see in person except in a museum. That plane? It is an SBD-3 Dauntless but not just any Dauntless. It is in the colors and markings of the VB-5 “Black B1″ Dauntless flown by LT Dick Best at Midway. The reasons I have it there are manifold and it serves as a daily reminder thereto, some of which are gathered and summed below.

“As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”
– Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, December 2004

The Navy in 1942 was very much that kind of Navy — the one you have (had). Ships and aircraft that were in transition from an earlier age of technology and warfighting that hadn’t quite got the kinks worked out, whose replacements that did were still on the drafting boards or just now beginning construction and were months, if not years away from combat. Tactics that had been developed by “disruptive” innovators that had, as yet, to be fully tested in battle. A command structure that suddenly found itself engaged in worldwide fleet and joint operations. In light of these conditions, several actions had to occur prior to 4 June 1942 to enable the American victory at Midway.

Command and Planning. A theater commander, not a remote staff in Washington, needed to run the war in his theater at the operational level and below. Nimitz understood his forces and his commanders. He knew the thin line by which they hung and yet he trusted his task force commanders and their subordinates to be both aggressive and calculating in carrying the fight to the enemy, as epitomized in his OPORD for the coming battle:

In carrying out the task assigned, you will be governed by the principle of calculated risk, which you shall interpret to mean the avoidance of exposure of our forces without good prospect on inflicting, as a result of such exposure, greater damage on the enemy.

In studied contrast to the run-up for the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese planning for Midway was poorly thought out, egregiously evaluated, gamed and haphazardly executed (cf: the entire submarine picket plan). Indeed, it was put together and executed in such a toxic atmosphere of arrogance and bluster that even when one of the final wargame sessions showed American forces gaining an upper-hand because of gaps in the air search pattern, referees for the wargame manipulated the environment and other factors to bring about a successful conclusion for Kido Butai. As for dealing with changing factors at sea, commanders were loath to step outside the boundaries of the plan and demonstrate initiative. In studied contrast were the actions of the Americans from Nimitz’s orders based on calculated risk to Dick Best’s last minute change in targets. Curiously, the Japanese in planning a double prong approach with the diversionary strike at the Aleutians also broke one of their founding principles – that of concentration of forces. By diverting forces on a mission of questionable value and success for territory that would prove to be exceptionally harsh on man and machine they gained little, if any strategic value outside of propaganda for an over-wrought plan of entrapment.

One other, not inconsiderable item was the quality of intelligence and analysis provided, especially that of the cryptological staff hand-picked and led by CDR Joe Rochefort and LCDR Ed Layton. Much is made of the means by which they tricked the Japanese into revealing Midway as the intended target, thereby allowing Nimitz and Spruance to position the numerically smaller US forces to gain maximum advantage in the coming fight. Yet, again, one doesn’t just snap the fingers and wish this into existence. Rochefort and Layton were in this position because of recognition by their leaders, early in their respective careers as JOs possessing a particular or unique set of skills that needed to be developed and nurtured; skills that didn’t conform to what passed for the “traditional” career path and so incurred some risk on the part of the two officers in embarking on the same, especially in the fiscally austere climate of the late 20’s and 30’s in a Service not given to iconoclasts (or at least advancig their careers). Key to this discussion was the fact both officers spent time in country learning their Japanese language skills, underscoring the concept of understanding a culture and its nuances in addition to learning a language. In time, this understanding paid dividends as Nimitz encouraged Rochefort to think like the Japanese commander. All too often in the “modern” Navy we find such persons are marginalized and squirreled away in a niche many times as terminal O-4/O-5s because their utility and talents are poorly understood, ineffectually applied and careers haphazardly managed. So much so that when an intelligence gap is revealed, the system goes overboard and fills numerical gaps while papering over the quality ones. I have to wonder, even today, how many “analysts” are given over to a full, deep study of Chinese language, history and culture, to arrive at a fuller appreciation of Chinese strategic thought and execution, not unlike  their Russian cohorts (who, once the Cold War was over, were widely purged as being “unnecessary in the new peace” – Reset anyone? – SJS). My answer of late seems to be — not much as it seems individuals, groups and whole organizations are caught up in the wonderment of bright shiny objects (niche weapons) without an understanding of their purpose, application and the human factors behind them.

Flexibility and Adaptation to Changing Conditions. American plans for coordinated/supporting attacks on the Japanese were quite literally shot to hell with missed rendezvous, difficulty in locating the CVs and key elements (e.g., the torpedo attack) failing, as it was cut to pieces by Kido Butai‘s protective cover offered by fighters and AA. Even for the few that got off an attack before meeting the eternal deep, the torpedoes failed to properly arm and detonate; a reflection in no small measure of pre-war testing precepts and assumptions. Carefully crafted, scripted and geographically limited tests that ensured success in peacetime testing utterly failed the Fleet when it came time to put the weapon to the test in war, and at tremendous cost in lives and equipment.

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In case you passed lightly over that last, let me pause to re-emphasize that point — Carefully crafted, scripted and geographically limited tests that ensured success in peacetime testing utterly failed the Fleet when it came time to put the weapon to the test in war, and at tremendous cost in lives and equipment. By the way, this does cut both ways as adversaries then and now were and are prone to the same shortcoming.

In contrast, the Navy’s carrier-based dive bombers on the decks of Enterprise, Yorktown and Hornet represented a challenging, evolutionary process grounded in revolutionary views of naval warfare.

From 1923 to 1940, the US Navy conducted 21 Fleet Problems as it sought to understand, exploit and incorporate new technologies and capabilities while developing the tactics, training and procedures to employ the same should war present itself which, by the 1930s, was beginning to look more and more likely to the discerning observer. Conducted in all the major waters adjacent to the US, these problems covered the gamut of naval warfare from convoy duty, ASW, strike warfare and sea control. Most important, at least to this writer, was that this was the laboratory that tested the emerging idea of putting tactical aircraft at sea on board aircraft carriers. In doing so, the inherent flexibility of aviation across a broad span of warfare areas became apparent as the Navy’s leadership, rather, the Navy’s emerging leadership as epitomized by innovators from task force commanders, ship CO’s and down to squadron and section leaders, looked at naval aviation as something more than just a scouting force for the main battery of the fleet extant, namely the battleline.

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12 May 1938 Three Army Air Corps B-17s intercept the Italian liner Rex (inbound to the US).

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June 1942 IJN carrier Hiryu successfully evades high-altitude B-17 bombing attack.

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“Midway – The Turning Point” by Stan Stokes (http://www.stanstokes.net/#!blank/csac)

It was in this laboratory that the Navy developed the techniques and identified the requirements for long-range patrol aircraft and for carrier-based dive bombers, so different from the big, lumbering land-based bombers that the Air Corps’ advocates were saying would make ships obsolete by high altitude, “precision” bombing. Indeed, certain air power advocates in the military and in Congress were of a persuasion that no ship could stand to survive what these long-range, precision strike aircraft could deliver and moved to shift funds and support accordingly (Indeed, today we hear many of those same arguments ressurected against the carrier because of new classes and types of weapons whose unproven technical capabilites similarly trump what carriers could offer in defense. – SJS) Proof, however, would come at Midway when both forces were employed; the B-17s dropping their bombs from on high hit nothing but water because the fixed or cooperative targets they had practiced against in peacetime suddenly “discovered” maneuverabilty. But dive bombers from Enterprise and Yorktown ripped the heart out of the Kido Butai. And as the thousand-pounder from Lt Dick Best’s SBD Dauntless smashed through the Akagi‘s flight deck, a battle was turned and the course to winning a war was set. But it took visionaries to set the wheels in motion.

While the Japanese were the first to employ massed striking power using carriers and the strike at Pearl (and subsequent actions through SE Asia and the IO) validated the philosophy, they also failed to comprehend the inherent flexibility of carrier-based air and thus eschewed opportunities to utilize it in other scenarios, such as armed scouting, which in turn, led to less than robust search plans and reliance on out-dated search aircraft and methodologies.  They failed, in modern parlance, at C2ISR. The American practice of armed scouts for one, developed during the previously mentioned series of war games would prove time and again to be a critical discriminator allowing a quick first strike while alerting and enabling the larger force to disable and destroy as demonstrated in Lexington‘s strike on both Saratoga and Langley during Fleet Problem X (and replicated in Fleet Problem XI the following year), foreshadowing the American strikes on the Japanese CVs at Midway.

Training: The contrast between USN and USMC effectiveness in employing dive bombers at Midway was signatory. Using the same platform (SBD-3s) USN pilots scored major hits while minimizing losses to AA fire and fighters, whereas the Marines suffered significant losses for little, if any gain. The difference? Tactics, training and procedures or TTP. The Navy employed steep, usually greater than 70-degree, dives on the target whereas the Marines used much shallower, gliding approaches. The former minimizes your exposure time and profile to AA and challenges fighters which typically are not equipped for high angle dives, while increasing the likelihood of a hit.  Conversely, the shallower approaches employed by the Marines were more fitting to the requirements of close air support (as would be demonstrated time and again in the next few years in the Pacific island-hopping campaign). However, the anti-shipping approach requires considerable practice at obtaining the proper dive angle, avoiding target fixation and knowing how/when to pull out of the dive while avoiding over-stressing the airframe. Techniques and skills developed over time and encouraged and employed by informed and forward thinking leaders with lots of practice — underscoring the maxim about “training like you are going to fight” isn’t just a nice bulkhead slogan or Facebook meme.

Damage Control: Had the crew of the Yorktown not been so proficient in DC, particularly something as seemingly mundane as draining the avgas lines and filling them with inert gas prior to the battle of Coral Sea, the Yorktown may very well have been lost, leaving CINCPAC with only two carriers facing four, and forcing a different battle plan. Conversely, the almost lackadaisical approach the Japanese took in repairing Shokaku‘s damage or replenishing Zuikaku‘s air wing and repairing her light damage from Coral Sea’s action ensured their unavailability for Midway, keeping the balance of forces on a razor’s edge and enabling the Americans.  Damage control skills would be increasingly called upon as American forces pushed back across the Pacific in  the wake of Midway’s success.Slide1

Over the course of a twenty-six year career in the cockpit, on the bridge and ashore, each of these elements influenced and guided me; whether through self-study and actualization or in the form of guidance, direction and to use an overworked term, mentoring from others more experienced. As I progressed through studying and practicing my trade from the tactical to operational levels of war the lessons of Midway gained traction — more so in my latter years with the availability of new material and perspectives. In that time I have lived the difficulty of mustering and executing long-range war at sea strikes, even when aided by the (relatively) modern enablers of radar, UHF and SATCOM communications and networked datalinks. Of sorting friend from foe and assessing BDA and re-strike requirements. Of the difficulty in turning disparate bits of data into actionable intelligence and at the same time, understanding what we today call “left of launch” and “kill chains” – and how to defeat them through counter-ISR and -targeting efforts through operational and tactical maneuver and schemes.  Of providing reasoned discourse and advice to senior leaders who are bent on a particular agenda. Of building the “whole cloth” picture of a threat (or collection thereof) while eschewing the false certitude of a “slam dunk” in assessing the same and developing counters that may provide short term mitigation and while buying time for more effective measures in the pipeline or emerging on a thousand-plus whiteboards.

And along the way, even today in my present job, I wonder if and from whence the next Dick Best, Wade McClusky. Joe Rochefort, Ray Spruance, Chester Nimitz and Ernest J. King will come.

My earnest hope is that they are out there and when the time comes, when the battle hangs in the balance, when that moment of despair, courage or plain dumb luck offers the opportunity to turn events on their ear and gain the upper hand, that they will seize it with vigor and exploit it in the traditions of our Service.

As was done 74 years ago at Midway.

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“Air Raid Pearl Harbor. This is Not A Drill.” *

* Telegraph from Patrol Wing Two Headquarters warning of the attack on Pearl Harbor

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives:

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Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

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2014 Hawkeye-Greyhound Symposium POSTEX

 

50yrs1-e1402447129923 Did you miss the Symposium this year?  Fear not – all you would like to know may be found over at the Hawkeye-Greyhound Association’s site – pics, briefs, and a summary.  Just head over here

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Tit-for-Tat Weapons Procurement: You’re Doing it Wrong

 

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Congressman Randy Forbes (R-Va) has delivered a letter to the Army Chief of Staff outlining the need for Army to develop and deploy long-range anti-ship missiles.  Because China has:

Randy Forbes letter to Gen. Ray Odierno — 2014-10-10 by BreakingDefense

So much shallow analysis here and accompanying articles – one wonders where to start…

1. Be careful about discussing either re-opening the INF Treaty or abrogating it all together. The Russians are spoiling for the least little pretext to walk away from it and are likely poised for a breakout in MRBM/IRBM fielding – which would be a bad thing overall but especially for Europe (cf. l’affaire de SS-20). Oh and “breakout” – one of those Cold War terms, where another country suddenly fields a system (usually nuclear) in capabilities and quantity that leave a gap in terms of years before it can be adequately countered. Years which constitute a window of opportunity for mischief (at best) by the guy fielding the system to play the field. Precisely where we were in 1979 as Jimmy Carter fumbled around to find a workable deterrent to the SS-20 acceptable by Europe.  Which begat the GLCM and more importantly the Pershing II deployments as part of the Two Track approach that was executed under Reagan. But times were different then because:

2. In 1979 we had a fairly robust industry (not as robust as the Soviets) insofar as battlefield BMs went – the Pershing II was already well under way for development and deployment. Today? Because of INF and a general stagnation in terms of long-range, sub-ICBM development as a result, we have…nada. But that might be moot because:

3. Where are you going to put these missiles? Guam? Japan? China has strategic depth and interior LOC’s to support and conceal a land-based *ground-mobile* ASBM which complicates counter-targeting. ‘Just kill the launchers’ you say? Given our (not so) stellar record in that very endeavor reaching all the way back to Operation CROSSBOW in WWII, plus the fact you’d be directly attacking a nuclear near peer — well, that requires some cogitation. Oh – and by concentrating a force like that on an island you are painting a nice big sign that says “strike me first.” But even that is somewhat irrelevant because:

4. What is your target? The Chinese ASBM is quite clearly meant to exercise control over the broad ocean areas in/around the 1st island chain and inside – as are their ASCM forces which are more numerous and dispersed. Also, clearly, it is meant for capitol ships. Just saying we will build a system to take out PLAN ships beggars the reality of real-time OTH-T and something the armed forces have had to deal with for sometime now – what will the ROE be to permit their use? Anyone remember OUTLAW SHARK? Bueller? Bueller?

So how about this. let’s set aside this silly talk of tit-for-tat ballistic missiles and instead focus on putting long-range (500km+), supersonic (Mach 2+), over-the-horizon ASCMs on our surface combatants and subs. All of them. Expand the target set. Sell them to our allies (if they haven’t already begun work). Make them capable of being launched from all variants of the F-35 such that F-35Bs off an America-class LHA can provide another layer of complexity to PLA leadership. Make the P-8 and B-1/B-52 compatible for carriage so that they can hangout outside of PLAAF/PLANAF fighter range and salvo missles at PLAN ships. heck, why not even give it a LACM capability too. Too much you say? Can’t be done you say?  I know a few overseas firms that would argue otherwise.

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Preserving History: USNI, Kickstarter and USS Indianapolis

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WORLD WAR 2 was really the first multi-media war.  True – photography was present in the American Civil War (or as my late grandma used to call it “The Late Unpleasantness” among some of her milder epithets – but we digress).  Motion pictures were still embryonic and grainy when WWI burst on the scene and so most people’s information of the war came via print — newspapers mostly.  WW2 changed that as along with “traditional” media, a new breed of journalist, the photo-journalist, appeared and significantly added to the wartime narrative via imagery.  Human beings are visual creatures (and some say the male of the species especially so) and while the best of the traditional journalists could still catch you with a compelling story, it was the photo-journals that brought the war home.  In stark black and white or color (Kodachrome™ no less) we were flooded with imagery from the banal to the heart wrenching.  Through the pages of magazines like Look and Life we followed the war from the images of still burning ships in Pearl Harbor, across North Africa with Patton, above Occupied Europe in a Flying Fortress or from the decks of a warship like the USS Indianapolis, the war was in our parlors, soda stands, five-and-dimes and scattered about break rooms at our work places.  From the skyscrapers of New York, to the manufacturing plants outside Detroit to a Nebraska farm, the work of photographers like Edward Steichen (who assembled what came to be perhaps the most famous team of photographers during the war) gave heretofore unprecedented access into a global war supported by those most distant from it.

But it wasn’t just the “name” photographers who set this precedent.  Unheralded unit photographers captured and documented all the details of this massive war effort.  Photographers such as Alfred Joseph Sedivi, ship’s photographer onboard USS Indianapolis were every bit as important as the byline photogs and the story they told gives us today, a window into a piece of America’s history and heritage we might otherwise miss.  Except that today, that history, that noble heritage is literally crumbling away in the ace of the onslaught of time and environment.  The Naval Institute is endeavoring to preserve this heritage though and is working to both preserve and transfer photos to digital form — their first major undertaking in this effort is the preservation of  Sedivi’s work and other rare images from the Indianapolis.  Doing so requires fiscal support and hereto, the Institute is trying something new by funding through Kickstarter.  To quote the Institute:

the Institute has launched a effort to raise the funds needed to restore and digitize all 1,650 photos. With your generous donation, we can ensure that this important collection of photographs will be available for the survivors and their families, as well as historians, the public, and future generations. Once digitized, the collection will be made available for viewing online via the Institute’s website. More information about the photography collection of Alfred Joseph Sedivi in the current issue of Naval History magazine.  $3,000 goal would provide the funds to digitize the entire 1,650 photo collection and preserve the original photos, including preservation materials (archive boxes, poly slides for each photo). The Institute’s stretch goal of $7,000 would enable the purchase of a quality digital camera and copy stand mount allowing for the photo albums to be digitized without being taken apart.  The albums would then be preserved and properly stored in their original and current condition.  If funds raised total $10,000 or more, the Naval Institute will develop a traveling exhibition of the photographs to be displayed at museums and locations across the US. 

It is a worthy endeavor and early success would aid larger and more complex projects in the future.  Head over and read more about it here.  It’s our heritage at stake – let’s see what we can do to preserve it.

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Flightdeck Friday – Bonus Edition: “RAVEN ONE” by Kevin Miller

81UW5+-QwTL._SL1500_A good friend, fellow scribe and most importantly, a shipmate of the very best kind, CAPT Kevin Miller, USN-Ret. has just published his first novel, Raven One as an ebook with Kindle Books.  Hozer was an F/A-18 driver and served penance with me on the Navy Staff many passings of the Moon ago.  Over time we’ve gone back and forth over whether it was worth the effort to flesh-out the stories he was putting together into a skeleton novel and go through the grinding editing and marketing process to get published.  It is therefore that with a firmly penned OK that recommend this book to tailhookers and shorebound alike.  A quick bit about the book itself from it’s spot on Amazon:

Lieutenant Commander Jim Wilson, a fighter pilot aboard the carrier USS Valley Forge, is weary of combat over the skies of Iraq. He has been there many times since the late 90s, but now, as each passing minute draws him once again closer to combat, various other conflicts also complicate his life. His executive officer Commander “Saint” Patrick becomes unreasonably overbearing; his wife Mary, fed-up with their long separations, applies pressure for him to resign from the Navy; junior officers test his leadership skills as they act in unpredictable ways; and the raging sea outside serves as the only thing that separates him from events that will change forever his life and career. Imminent combat with the inhospitable and hostile countries over the horizon is the only constant he can depend on. 

Raven One places you with Wilson in the cockpit of a carrier-based FA-18 Hornet…and in the ready rooms and bunkrooms of men and women who struggle with their fears and uncertainty in this new way of war. They must all survive a deployment that takes a sudden and unexpected turn when Washington orders Valley Forge to respond to a crisis no one saw coming. The world watches – and holds its breath. 

Retired Navy Captain Kevin Miller fills his novel with flying action and adventure – and also examines the actions of imperfect humans as they follow their own agendas in a disciplined world of unrelenting pressure and danger.”

Here’s this link:  Raven One  now go and enjoy.

w/r, SJS

Of Skyhawks, ‘Saders and Sea Stories – TINS

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If, like your humble scribe, you spent anytime turning the pages of the Tailhook Association’s quarterly pub, The Hook, between 1991 and 2011, you undoubtedly paused for Jack Woodul’s column “The Further Adventures of Youthly Puresome” drawn from his deep reservoir of stories from his time flying the A-4 and F-8  – and other sundry endeavors.  They were (are) great stories and something those of us who came along in the immediate aftermath of Vietnam and before the PC police hijacked the narrative can relate and attest to.   In his own words:

We Naval Aviators of my ancient era occupy a shared space and time that was unique, heroic, funny, outrageous, and tragic. We circled the wagons against a society that repudiated us, picked off a bunch, and said frabb anyone that couldn’t take a joke. We share a common bond that I am unwilling to let perish when I am hustled off to the Non-PC Gulag.

Those stories, regrettably, ended after 2011 and eventually disappeared from the web, leaving me to resort every once in a while to make the trip to the basement, pullout the box(es) of old Hook magazines and pull a random issue for a YP fix.  And given the current baleful look SWMBO casts at my library of Hook magazines, I fear for their continued existence on this earth, at least in current form and not recycling in a dump someplace.  It is therefore with no small amount of joy to note that YP is available once again at a new, dedicated site:  http://youthlypuresome.com/  – and we’ve added it to the roll over there on the left under “Naval Aviation.”

BTW – these stories also formed the kernel of an idea with YHS that rattled around in his brain bucket until the blogging platform arrived.  So – while I count Lex, Sal, Xformed and Far East Cynic as my motivators for getting into blogging, it was through the auspices of The Hook and “Youthly Pursesome” that kicked my tail into writing outside of work or the classroom.  

Welcome back YP – we missed ya!

 

The E-2 Hawkeye At Fifty

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50yrs1This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the E-2 Hawkeye’s entry into Fleet operations.  Over the course of those fifty-years the aircraft has radically changed and grown in capabilities and mission focus, while visually remaining much the same as the first E-2A .  From Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq,  it has been a part of every conflict and some notable special missions. Developed as a purpose-built AEW platform to guide carrier-based fighters to intercept Soviet missile carrying bombers, it counts a multitude of missions that include battle management, post-disaster relief (air traffic control), SAR, counter-narcotics, and ASUW, to name but a few.  In its forthcoming iteration, the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, it will be a centerpiece in Navy’s integrated fires plan.  All that said, the E-2 also played a major role in my life for the better part of a 26-year career, and still influences it today.

So how do you recognize 50 years of service?  Well – you certainly throw a celebration – and this year’s Hawkeye Ball and Hawkeye Week in October will feature the 50 year celebration (more on that to follow).  An E-2C will be inducted into the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola (finally!).  And in the run up to Hawkeye Week this site and the Hawkeye-Greyhound Association’s site will feature articles on the historical background and lineage of the Hawkeye, along with personal memories collected from those who have flown and worked on the Hummer.  We’ll kick it off here in the coming days with an updated re-run of the CADILLAC I & II series from a few years back.  If any out there have stories or memories to share (and especially photos – we need photos particularly from the early days, due credit will be given and copyright enforced) please send them along.

Watch for the hashtag #HawkeyeAt50

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