All posts in “Reflections”



Call this one – “Generations.” From the left — my Grandpa (father’s side), first generation American of German descent who left his home in Illinois to join the Army and head off to the War to End All Wars, serving in France with the AEF. Next my Grandpa Jack – Army, Signal Corps who served from Alaska to the beaches and cliffs at Normandy, on the cutting edge of radar and long-haul communications.  Then my Dad, Bill, Army, Coastal Artillery and Signal Corps, Pacific Theater, also working in radar and other leading edge technology.  And me, Navy, Hawkeye NFO (there’s that radar link again, must be in the genes) and CO, VAW-122; Pentagon/9-11.  All volunteers.  Some served longer than others – some continued to serve in other ways.  Proud of ‘em all and what they did.  

And across the width and breadth of this great land, let’s crack open the old photo albums, dust off the VCRs, load up the DVDs and for those vets still among us, let’s talk to them about their service.  Because there are many a family with history like this in the land of the citizen soldier, and the memories need to be preserved.  So on this forthcoming Veteran’s Day, to all who have served and those still serving – God Bless and thank you for your service.



A Christmas Homily: 2013


Christmas comes at a time of year where we, perforce, count our blessings, tally our losses and generally reflect on the year past. We find this action common across national boundaries and racial divides and, all too commonly, it ends there. The accountant’s take of the past year and if the blessings outweigh the losses, then it was a good year and we can celebrate and be joyful.

For that is the spirit of the season, right? We raise a toast, pause (ever so briefly) to recall those less fortunate and get on with the business of unwrapping gifts, breaking our fasts (such as they may be) and settle in for whatever entertainment is provided to us. Some of that may include songs of the season – “carols” as known by some. We dutifully (and at times, atonally) mix Rudolph, Santa and desires for front teeth with angels and a baby while wishing for “peace on earth.” For most of us, the story behind some of those carols are shrouded in the mists of history, their quaint language, un-afflicted as yet by a modern re-write, twisting our tongues and puzzling our minds over what they mean – but it passes. Soon, we are into the New Year, deep into the distractions of the various sporting events and planning for the months to come. And so it is that another Christmas passes with maybe one or two things remembered until we repeat the cycle at the end of the next year.

My intention here is to hit the “stop” button and offer some points to ponder and reflect upon this Christmastide. There is a story I would like to relate about one of those carols, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Morn” and how something written 150 years ago can have relevance today.

The carol is an 1872 adoption of a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – which itself, was written during a time of deep despair and loss on the part of Longfellow…

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

December of 1863 found Longfellow a desperately heartsick man. Two years earlier, the love of his life – his wife of 18 years, Francis Appleton and mother of their children, died of severe burns when the dress she was wearing caught fire. Despite his own efforts to extinguish the flames (and suffering burns on his face – leading to the now trademark beard), Francis suffered burns over most of her body and died the following morning.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The Carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;
‘For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’

Still grieving the loss of his wife two years later, another matter weighed heavily on his heart – the status of his oldest son, Charles. When the Civil War began (the same year Francis died), Charley initially resisted the impulse to join the Army. Henry, a strict abolitionist, had tried to dissuade his son from joining as well, but by early 1863, Charley could resist no more and sought to join the fight.

Offered a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry, he accepted and was commissioned on March 27, 1863. Charley entered on his new duties with enthusiasm and was assigned to Company “G” of the 1st Massachusetts. From thence he saw action first at Chancellorsville and then Culpepper (having missed Gettysburg while recovering from typhoid fever and malaria). On November 27, as part of the Mine Run Campaign, while in a skirmish during the battle of New Hope Church, Virginia, Charley was shot through the left shoulder. The bullet traveled across his back, nicked his spine, and exited under his right shoulder. He missed being paralyzed by less than an inch. He was carried into the church and then by ambulance to the Rapidan River. On December 1, 1863, word was received at the Longfellow home in Cambridge of Charles serious injury. Henry and his younger son, Ernest, left at once for Washington, D.C. where they finally met up with Charley and brought him home. They reached Cambridge on December 8 and Charles Appleton Longfellow began the slow process of recovering. In fact, so serious were his injuries that this Christmas morn, his recovery was still in doubt. Indeed, throughout the land, the course of the war and fate of the nation was still believed to be in doubt, despite turning back Lee’s forces at Gettysburg.

And so it was, this New England Christmas morning, when in the depths of despair that he heard the bells ringing through the Bostonian streets – hearkening to that glorious proclamation in Luke:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
(Luke 2: 13-14, KJV)

But each peal of the bells only seemed to highlight the disparity between the biblical proclamation of joy and the ever grim news on earth – of no peace, no joy.

Taking up pen and paper, his last refuge in a world of despairingly ill news, he began to write. And when he wrote challengingly of the mockery of peace by hate – of the power of the canon over the carol, he answered with heaven-sent grace, of hope born on the knowledge of a future certainty:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!’

Despite his despair, despite all the trappings of gloom and fear, Henry’s faith in the power of God and man to join and transcend the horrors of war gave birth to this song, inspired by his hearing the ringing out of the Christmas bells.

Now on this Christmas Eve I ask – do you hear the bells? The promise of peace, real peace the Savior’s birth portends? That in the midst of wars and rumors of wars, of earthquakes and pestilence and the evil man is able to heap upon man that there is one whose birth, life and yes, death and ultimate resurrection was as a sacrifice for you and I that we might come to know peace — real peace? Why not take a break in the hustle and flow of the secular part of the holiday and ponder for a while on the spirit? John 3:1-21 is as good a place as any to start.

Stop, pause, ponder, and marvel at the real gift of the season – it was offered, after all, free for you and I.


Submitted with All Our Wishes for a Blessed Christmas.



Holiday Lights – of a Different Kind

milius_r620x349 071219-N-4658L-110

While stationed in Norfolk (on active duty) one of our family traditions come Christmas was to head up to the Naval base after Christmas Eve service and take in the sights of the ships dressed out in holiday lighting.  From sub to destroyer and big deck amphib and carrier, almost all were dressed out in one form or another – some to such an extent that it rivaled the nearby skyline for wattage.  One thing, however, was always foremost on our minds as a family – of those who were over the horizon, on deployment that wouldn’t be home this holiday.  As a family, we were pretty sensitive to it given the number of Christmases (and anniversaries, birthdays, etc.) I’d been deployed and so we always kept them in our thoughts and prayers every holiday season.

Underway OperationsPACIFIC OCEAN--

Including even now, as a retiree …

 “O  Eternal Lord God, who alone spreadest out the heavens and rulest the raging of the sea; vouchsafe to take into Thy almighty and most gracious protection our country’s Navy and all who serve therein.  Preserve them from the dangers of the sea and from the violence of the enemy; that they may be a safeguard unto the United States of America and a security for such as pass on the seas upon their lawful occasions; that the inhabitants of our land may in peace and quietness serve Thee our God to the glory of Thy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.



“That’s One Small Step for A Man…” Neil Alden Armstrong (1930-2012)

Sad word today that Neil Armstrong – Naval Aviator, test pilot and first man on the Moon, has passed.  Neil Armstrong typified the “quiet professional” whose coolness in extremis events were exemplified in flying the X-15 and especially so on orbit as commander of Gemini VIII when things suddenly went very, very wrong (@ the 8:12 point).  That same coolness during an emergency and quiet, detailed approach to problem solving were key factors in his selection as mission commander for Apollo 11.  He was, in a manner of speaking, the antithesis of the silver screen’s version of the test pilot, and reveled in his engineering nerdiness – “I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer.”  That same quiet professionalism characterized his post-astronaut life back on Earth when instead of seeking the spotlight, he took to a lectern instead.

Neil Armstrong—Neil Alden Armstrong (1930- 2012 )  was born on 5 August 1930 on his grandparents’ farm near Wapakoneta, Ohio, to Stephen and Viola Armstrong. Because Armstrong’s father was an auditor for the state of Ohio, Armstrong grew up in several communities, including Warren, Jefferson, Ravenna, St. Marys, and Upper Sandusky, before the family settled in Wapakoneta.

Armstrong developed an interest in flying at age two, when his father took him to the National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio. His interest intensified when he went for his first airplane ride in a Ford Tri-Motor, a “Tin Goose,” in Warren, Ohio, at age six. From that time on, he claimed an intense fascination with aviation.  At age 15, Armstrong began taking flying lessons at an airport north of Wapakoneta, working at various jobs in town and at the airport to earn the money for lessons in an Aeronca Champion airplane. By age 16, he had his student pilot’s license—before he even passed his automobile driver’s test and received that license and before he graduated from Blume High School in Wapakoneta in 1947.   Immediately after high school, Armstrong received a scholarship from the U.S. Navy. He enrolled at Purdue University and began his studies of aeronautical engineering. In 1949, the Navy called him to active duty, where he became an aviator, and in 1950, he was sent to Korea. There he flew 78 combat missions from the aircraft carrier USS Essex.

After mustering out of the Navy in 1952, Armstrong joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). His first assignment was at the NACA’s Lewis Research Center, near Cleveland, Ohio. For the next 17 years, he was an engineer, test pilot, astronaut, and administrator for NACA and its successor agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  In the mid-1950s, Armstrong transferred to NASA’s Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, where he became a research pilot on many pioneering high-speed aircraft, including the well-known, 4,000 mile-per-hour X-15. He flew over 200 different models of aircraft, including jets, rockets, helicopters, and gliders. While there, he also pursued graduate studies and received a master of science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California.

Armstrong transferred to astronaut status in 1962, one of nine NASA astronauts in the second class to be chosen. He moved to El Lago, Texas, near Houston’s Manned Spacecraft Center, to begin his astronaut training. There he underwent four years of intensive training for the Apollo program to land an American on the Moon before the end of the decade. On 16 March 1966, Armstrong flew his first space mission as command pilot of Gemini VIII with David Scott. During that mission, Armstrong piloted the Gemini VIII spacecraft to a successful docking with an Agena target spacecraft already in orbit. Although the docking went smoothly and the two craft orbited together, they began to pitch and roll wildly. Armstrong was able to undock the Gemini and used the retro rockets to regain control of his craft, but the astronauts had to make an emergency landing in the Pacific Ocean.

As spacecraft commander for Apollo 11, the first piloted lunar landing mission, Armstrong gained the distinction of being the first person to step onto the surface of the Moon. On 16 July 1969, Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin began their trip to the Moon. Collins was the Command Module pilot and navigator for the mission. Aldrin, a systems expert, was the Lunar Module pilot and became the second person to walk on the Moon. As commander of Apollo 11, Armstrong piloted the Lunar Module to a safe landing on the Moon’s surface. On 20 July 1969, at 10:56 p.m. EDT, Neil Armstrong stepped down onto the Moon and made his famous statement, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Armstrong and Aldrin spent about 2.5 hours walking on the Moon, collecting samples, doing experiments, and taking photgraphs. On 24 July 1969, the three men splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. They were picked up by the aircraft carrier USS Hornet.

The three Apollo 11 astronauts were honored with a ticker tape parade in New York City soon after returning to Earth. Armstrong received the Medal of Freedom, the highest award offered to a U.S. civilian. Armstrong’s other awards coming in the wake of the Apollo 11 mission included the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, 17 medals from other countries, and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.

Armstrong subsequently held the position of Deputy Associate Administrator for Aeronautics, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC, in the early 1970s. In that position, he was responsible for the coordination and management of overall NASA research and technology work related to aeronautics.  After resigning from NASA in 1971, he became a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati and served from 1971 to 1979. During the years 1982 to 1992, Armstrong served as chairman of Computing Technologies for Aviation, Inc., in Charlottesville, Virginia. He then became chairman of the board of AIL Systems, Inc., an electronics systems company in Deer Park, New York. At the time of his passing, Armstrong was living on his farm in Lebanon, Ohio.  (NASA)

Fair winds and following seas … and may you rest in peace.

Midway 70 Years Later and the Dauntless on My Desk

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

Of 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.  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 overly 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 of 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. 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 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.

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 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.

In contrast, the Navy’s carrier-based dive bombers on the decks of Enterprise, Yorktown and Hornet represented an 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 observer, 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.

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.  Proof, however, would come at Midway when both forces were employed — the B-17s dropping their bombs from on high hit nothing but water. 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 scouting, which in turn, led to less than robust search plans and reliance on out-dated search aircraft and methodologies.  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 whereas the shallower dives employed by the Marines were more fitting to the requirements of close air support. However, it requires considerable practice at obtaining the proper dive angle, avoiding target fixation and knowing how/when to pull out of the dive and to avoid over-stressing the airframe. Techniques and skills developed over time and encouraged and employed by informed and forward thinking leaders and lots of practice, underscoring the maxim about training like you are going to figh.

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, 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.

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.  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 buy time for more effective measures in the pipeline.

And along the way, even today in my present job, I wonder if and from whence the next Dick Best, Joe Rochefort, 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 in the traditions of our Service.

As was done 70 years ago at Midway.

Pearl Harbor – 69 Years Later


Sixty-nine years ago those words ushered in a period of unbelievable agony, trial, effort and sacrifice.  What was once before was forever changed afterward.  Jack-booted thugs bent on their “Final Solution” strode cobblestone streets of the land distantly remembered as the forebear of a new nation, a New World.  And across the broad expanse of the ocean called “peaceful” – because it’s discoverer found such contrast to the stormy passage he had recently survived, rampant nationalism was advancing at the tip of bayonet and crushing naval power.

The warnings were there – it’s just that being so far away; over the horizon in distance and mind, that what happened in the dim, exotic lands of East Asia just didn’t map to the concerns of Pennsylvania Avenue, Wall Street, or 5th and Main.  The Old World was in flame yet again, though by now it was beginning to appear that once more, the oceans would serve as a guardian to keep the Ancient Evil – Over There and our boys home, over here.  No more Beallau Woods, no more Marnes — no more Flanders.  The plucky occupants of a small island off the coast of that continent – protected again by the seas, had apparently staved off the onslaught of the German air force, which washed across the Channel and appeared to break on the rocks of “the Few” who rose in their isle’s defense.  Cause for muted celebration – but not really of our concern.  And now that industrial war machine had turned its attentions to the riches of the Eurasian heartland and engaged in battle with yet another statist foe.  Fascist against Communist, German against Russian; West vs Oest /Восток против Запада.  Let them slug it out and bleed each other white – not our concern.  Let the Old World and the Far East dissolve in flame and fury – we have our own problems and the great distances of the oceans to protect us…

Sixty-nine years ago a lesson was seared in a generation’s conscious and would underpin the awakening of a giant, heretofore unseen or much thought of.

A slogan was born and a promise made.

For the better part of the remaining century that followed, as plans were drawn, metal cut and bodies counted; that phrase lay, oft time unspoken, deep within the hearts and minds of men as they prepared for a war they hoped and prayed would never come.

It didn’t – and now, the problems at home seem so overwhelming.  An economy that can’t seem to pick itself off the deck.  A work force embraced by hopelessness of ever finding a job in a land of plenty.  And across the broad oceans, beyond the visible horizon old forces are stirring once again in different lands.  Scores to be settled – philosophies to be paid homage; resources to be gathered and sent homeward.

And a promise which rang with clarity across a land and through generations is but a fading whisper upon the ear.

Remember Pearl Harbor.

hawkeye2 E-2A

Reflections on the E-2 Hawkeye’s 50th Anniversary

This Thursday, 21 October 2010, marks the 50th anniversary of the first flight of the first purpose built AEW aircraft, the E-2 Hawkeye (actually, it was the YW2F-1).  Designed around the radar, rather than adapting an existing airframe, the Hawkeye symbolized function over form – from the 24ft “rotodome” prominently perched over the fuselage, to the quadruple tail and twin turboprops.  It wasn’t pretty – but then, it wasn’t meant to win beauty contests.

It was meant for far more deadly competition.

This odd appearing aircraft has been an indelible portion of my life as well.  Our acquaintance formally spans over three decades, thousands of hours aloft and over five hundred carrier landings.  Although I haven’t strapped into a Hawkeye since my last flight in December 1995 (not coincidently, the last VAW-122 flight as well), I still feel like I could walk out and with little hesitation, perform a preflight and system startup, it has ingrained itself as such in me.

The plan wasn’t always to fly Hawkeyes.  Indeed, prior to Pensacola in 1978, my only other encounters were the occasional photo in a book or periodical devoted to something larger about flying and being confronted one morning by a picture of an E-2B, gear up, in a cornfield where it had crashed short of the runway at Offutt AFB out of fuel.  I still recall looking at that odd plane, with the big dome over the fuselage and wondering out loud who on earth would want to fly such a thing?  Of course, at the time, my heart was set on jets in general and the RA5C Vigilante in particular, but what did I know?

Social introductions came via VAW-122, then assigned to the Kitty Hawk’s airwing, one of two East Coast squadrons “on loan” to the West Coast while they were transitioning from the E-2B to the E-2C.  I was in VT-10 at the time, disappointed that the Vigi pipeline had just been closed and told I was too tall for F-4s, so F-14s were in the plan.  And if I continued to play my cards right in the simulators, classroom and most importantly in the air, then the VF pipeline in VT-86 awaited.  Into this plan, on a long, lazy Pensacola summer afternoon, the thrum of twin turboprops and a cold, dark interior lit by radarscopes beckoned.  Ever the flight hour hound, I of course leapt at the opportunity to go fly a fleet aircraft and see something a little different than what the back seat of a fighter might offer.  Two hours later, my world had been turned upside down.  I well recall walking from the aircraft, now sitting silently on the tarmac and thinking that this was truly an NFO’s airplane.  A week of arguing my case with the staff of VT-10, including a final pitch by the CO to stay fighters was met with assent to enter the ATDS pipeline at the conclusion of VT-10.

RVAW-120 provided the initial, up close-and-personal with this flying contradiction.  Before the days of glass cockpits and digital controls, pilot and NFO alike described the Hawkeye as having a “Star Wars” backend but a “Waldo Pepper” cockpit.  The backend, “tube” or CIC as it was variously known, held three aircrew – initially two NFOs and an enlisted Flight Tech, later changed to three NFOs.  All the controls and displays for the weapons system, centered on the radar, a great hulking one megawatt beast that was generated in the forward equipment compartment (FEC) and traveled to and fro through the waveguides just above our heads into the dome above.  In fact, well over half of that FEC was turned over to the generation, processing, cooling and troubleshooting of that radar.  And therein lay the first great trial and mystery, for if one could manage the setting of the radar processing, the positioning of the aircraft just so, wonderful results could be obtained.  Astonishingly small objects could be tracked, even in areas that “the community” maintained you couldn’t see.  It was the juxtaposition of the science of radar with the art of operations, and I learned from some of the best.

To the Fleet then I went and there the real education began.  If one word could describe the Hawkeye, it had to be “integrator.”  It was the Hawkeye that brought together the individual strengths of the rest of the airwing.  It wasn’t easy, as frankly the track record of our predecessors, the E-2A and E-2B could charitably be described as unfulfilled potential, and there was much wariness about what could be done.  But you worked and pushed and learned and worked some more.  It wasn’t uncommon to find someone from the VAW squadron stopping in the VF, VS, VA, VAQ and even occasionally HS ready rooms in preparation for a flight.  The reverse was substantially less likely.  The same held true for spending time with the carrier and when able, the AAW cruiser CIC personnel – brown shoes invading SWOdom’s deep dark inner sanctum, but there was method at work here and it centered on integration.  When aircraft from a sister service or ally joined the battle group for an exercise, it was the E-2 that brought them in, integrating them into the current flow of operations.  Much later, when jointness was being formalized under Goldwater-Nichols, we said we were joint before it was cool to be joint; such was the effect of the E-2.

The E-2 taught us to grow up fast and early – our peers and mentors in the squadron saw to that.  Moving to the center seat and attaining the Mission Commander qual as CICO was the goal.  But to get there one had to not only be an expert on the aircraft and airwing, but when required, assume the duties of composite warfare commander for the battlegroup.  This meant that on any given mission, in addition to all the regularly assigned tasks, you could end up running the air battle for the CVBG, a significant vesting of responsibility in potentially a very junior officer.  Just as the aircraft offered a platform that could integrate the disparate elements of the battle group and external forces, inside the aircraft you followed suite.  A good mission commander would be listening and talking on anywhere from 4 to seven radios and the intercom, while integrating a visual picture that included hundreds of surface and air tracks along with countless ESM tracks, all the while building a tactical picture in your mind of everything that was going on in a volume of over 3 million cubic nautical miles.  No other aircraft anywhere in the world, land- or sea-based could offer the facilities to enable that kind of situational awareness, and it took a special knack to do it right.

But the bond the Hawkeye and I forged wasn’t just in the air.  On the ground, ours was a close and at times, testy relationship.  As much evolutionary as revolutionary, the E-2 Hawkeye presented a bewildering array of cables, hydraulic lines, enormous canon plug connectors and a variety of black and gray boxes whose nondescript nomenclature belied the magic taking place in their innards.  With the overwhelming balance of my ground jobs in aviation maintenance, I had the opportunity, sometimes happily, oft times not, of really learning the ins and outs of what made the plane tick (or didn’t).  Joining and leading this expedition of discovery were a long procession of some of the smartest and most savvy maintenance men and women in all of aviation.  Just as it required both brain smarts and the touch of an artist to fly the aircraft or operate the weapons system, it took every skill from that of a EE major to the craftiest plumber to keep the aircraft up and flying.

Approaching repairs on the Hawkeye was often like questioning the Sphinx – many questions, fewer, if any answers.  Miles of wire and canon plugs with tens or hundreds of tiny, easily bent connecting pins ensured that there were few “easy” solutions.  Equipment, not thought of in the late 1950s was tightly packed into an airframe little changed from that time, ensuring flesh would be pinched, knuckles scraped and sacrificial blood shed in dark corners.  Temperamental hydraulics in remote areas would pick the most inopportune times to begin to weep – in quantities directly proportional to the distance from ready help.  Each aircraft, though nominally from a “production line” was in truth hand built and many assumed their own personalities.  Some were easy going and could always be counted on – others developed personas that only a Stephen King could love (and were christened accordingly).  As a post maintenance check NFO (aka “stunt mole”) you rapidly learned which ones to trust and which wouldn’t hesitate to bite your hand.

But it was through the “eyes” of the Hawkeye that my own view of the world grew and changed.  Through the thousands of hours there were times of extraordinary challenge and unrelenting boredom – of lives saved and fruitless search.  Through four squadron tours with the Hawkeye I’ve been at the center of world events and in the remotest, most God-forsaken reaches on this planet.  We’ve flown from the Arctic to equatorial jungles and Mid-eastern deserts.  We’ve chased Soviets, Libyans, Iranians, terrorists and smugglers.  Flight followed VIPs and directed S-3s on sinkers.  Tracked shuttle launches and joined desperate, fuel-starved fighters over a cold North Atlantic with a tanker in the nick of time.  Engaged F-16s in ACM and, hanging out of the aft ditching hatch, dropped little blue bombs on target barges.  Launched off pitching decks in a Mediterranean mistral and penetrated Olympian-sized thunderstorms off Central America.  In many respects, the person I am today is a reflection of time spent in the Hawkeye.

And so now we turn to the 50th Anniversary, noting as we do that in all likelihood the Hawkeye will continue flying well into the current century.  As I look at the latest iteration, the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, I marvel at the new capabilities it brings to the Fleet and am secretly envious of those who will fly it.  And still, even years after my last flight, the sound of an E-2 entering the break quickens the pulse and mists the eye. . .

Congrats Grumman and Hawkeye on your 50th and here’s to many more years of hunting.

Article Series - Centenary of Naval Aviation (1911-2011)

  1. Flightdeck Friday: Smoke and the Battle of Midway
  2. Flightdeck Friday: RF-8 Crusaders and BLUE MOON
  3. Flightdeck Friday: Midway POV – Wade McClusky
  4. Flightdeck Friday: 23 October 1972 and The End of Linebacker I
  5. Former VFP-62 CO and DFC Recipient, CAPT William Ecker, USN-Ret Passes Away
  6. CAPT John E. “Jack” Taylor, USN-Ret.
  7. Flightdeck Friday: USS MACON Added to National Register of Historical Places
  8. Tailhook Association and Association of Naval Aviation
  9. Flightdeck Friday: Speed and Seaplanes – The Curtiss CR-3 and R3C-2
  10. Flightdeck Friday: A Family Remembers a Father, Naval Officer and Former Vigilante B/N
  11. Out of the Box Thinking and Execution 68 Years Ago: The Doolittle Raid
  12. The ENTERPRISE Petition – A Gentle Reminder
  13. USS Enterprise (CVAN/CVN-65) At Fifty
  14. A Golden Anniversary: The Hawkeye At 50
  15. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy
  16. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part II)
  17. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part III)
  18. Reflections on the E-2 Hawkeye’s 50th Anniversary
  19. An Open Letter to “The 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation Foundation”
  20. U.S. Naval Aviation – 100 Years
  21. Doolittle’s Raiders: Last Surviving Bomber Pilot of WWII Doolittle Raid, Dies at 93
  22. More Naval Aviation Heritage Aircraft (But Still No Hawkeye)
  23. Naval Aviation Centennial: Neptune’s Atomic Trident (1950)
  24. Naval Aviation Centennial: One Astronaut, A Future Astronaut and Reaching for New Heights
  25. Flightdeck Friday Special Edition: The Space Shuttle – Thirty Years of Dreams, Sweat and Tears
  26. Flightdeck Friday – Postings from the Naval Aviation Museum
  27. Saturday Matinee: US Naval Aviation – the First 100 Years
  28. National Museum of Naval Aviation – Some Thoughts and A Call to Action
  29. Flightdeck Friday – 100 Years of Naval Aviation and the USCG
  30. Guest Post: THE U.S. NAVY’S FLEET PROBLEMS OF THE THIRTIES — A Dive Bomber Pilot’s Perspective
  31. This Date in Naval Aviaiton History: Sept 18, 1962 – Changing Designators
  32. Centennial Of Naval Aviation – The Shadow Warriors


Blame Wyeth…

The promise of 3.5 days away from the pressing business of the day job filled your correspondent with all manner of hope to catch up on writing and posts, which we will confess, has been a bit thin of late (blame *that* on the SM-3…but I digress).  So it was while wending my way through back-country roads Friday (the I-95 portion of my 70 mile, 1.5 hour commute being gridlocked by semis and tourists) that I began writing a number of posts in my memory — of the latest from the far corners of the earth covering a variety of technological and foreign policy issues.  Once the initial chores of the holiday were completed (preparation and smoking of the obligatory Boston Butt, l’affaires d’lawn, etc.) I would settle before the keyboard and screen and commence to write.

Except it didn’t happen that way.

See, growing up I was exposed at an early age to the art of the Wyeths — Andrew and Jamie.  The gritty realism of weather-worn faces and buildings in media that itself, echoed the bleached timbers of a New England seaside barn and in turn, eased the reality.  Many times while growing up there came a moment when I felt that rather than being an observer, I was instead a part of one of those paintings — the light and mood combining in just the right way to yield a “Wyeth moment” as it were.

And so it was with this weekend – where the keyboard was forsaken for a long drive on a bright, late summer afternoon through the northern Virginia countryside; and the laptop ignored for long sessions on a front porch as dusk turned to eventide, nature’s symphony and the occasional train in the distance providing the accompaniment.  Quiet evenings with a dog curled in the lap passing with easy conversation — with a daughter talking about her future plans or a wife sharing a knowing look. A series of moments to enjoy for what they were and weren’t.  To capture and keep for times ahead.

So — blame it on Wyeth;  Andrew or Jamie, your pick.

Echoes of a Loss

“Two days after she learned that a roadside bomb had blown up her husband’s Humvee in Afghanistan, Dena Yllescas began typing her first blog post for family in Nebraska.  Her daughters — ages 7 years and 9 months — were asleep. Friends, who had rushed over with casseroles and cigarettes, had gone home. The 29-year-old Army wife sat at a laptop computer in her kitchen in Texas and described how her hands had shaken as she listened to an Army captain catalogue her husband’s injuries over the phone. “I just wanted him to quit talking,” she wrote in the predawn hours of Oct. 31, 2008.”

It’s in today’s Washington Post.  Yes, that Washington Post…  Full story here — you really do need to read it.