Archives For Military

Out of control–in stormy instrument flight conditions with broken navigation gear, overwhelmed by vertigo not knowing up from down and plummeting toward the concrete ocean–Diamond knew how this was going to end.

AV8 Aerial Refueling - USMCIt was an impossible situation. He would crash into the Pacific 1,500 miles away from family and home. In the best situation, his “tombstone” would be scattered debris from a Harrier jet; flotsam for a bar-tailed godwit to perch and rest on his own transpacific journey from New Zealand to Alaska.

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To a rookie naval aviator, Diamond seemed larger than life. I have one standout memory. My squadron had participated in a major air combat exercise near Las Vegas and a group of us Marines decided to feast on the garish temptations along the Vegas strip. Later on that evening, we ran into Diamond at Caesar’s Palace.

He was a distinguished combat veteran, the squadron’s operations officer and was loudly exhorting the dice as they tumbled across the green felt of the craps table. Wearing a silk shirt, drinking his fair share, sweating the yet to be revealed number and chatting up the blonde to his side, he was a piece of work. A terrific fighter pilot but a wild man nonetheless. I didn’t know him well but he could have been a character out of The Great Santini.

He was complex, no doubt, and driven by what, who knows, but it wasn’t God.

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The Heroes Among Us

February 6, 2013 — 2 Comments

reedThursday.

Great Mexican food, three darling little girls crawling over me like I was their favorite uncle, Chuck’s beautiful wife pulling out the stops to make me feel welcome–the unexpected benefits of being the new guy in the squadron. It was a memorable family night and I loved being included. I also wondered whether I would ever be so fortunate to find such happiness.

Chuck was Capt. Charles G. Reed and he and I were going to take two Harriers on a cross-country trip over the weekend. Standard fare, we’d log some instrument time, maybe play a bit over the desert–aerial combat maneuvering–and since we didn’t have to pay for gas, there was absolutely no downside.

Friday.

Chuck and I left Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, mid-afternoon. Destination? Miramar Naval Air Station Officer’s Club—the best Happy Hour on the planet. Beautiful San Diego. My request, by the way. Tom Cruise would eventually memorialize a typical Friday night in Top Gun. He got it mostly right but I never remember singing anything—too busy whispering ridiculous nothings to the famously abundant ladies. It was a target rich environment in the vernacular of fighter pilots.

Since we were going to depart Saturday morning for Las Vegas and then Seattle, we respectfully declined to drink to excess and just enjoyed ourselves as Marine pilots always do among a sea of star-struck Navy jocks.

Saturday.

We stopped at Nellis AFB in Nevada for gas and then headed for the environs of Seattle. Chuck had been a football player at the University of Washington and wanted to attend some big game. I had other designs. I had met a girl on an earlier trip and well, I was a heterosexual in my prime and my Cro-Magnon self had not yet succumbed to the mercy and love of our Lord.

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A Marine In Trouble

December 20, 2012 — 1 Comment

The first week of Recruit Training is exceptionally tough. Sensory overload. Conflicting emotions and thoughts run rampant. This is what transformation is all about.

Marine EmblemJon Hammar wanted to be a Marine and now he would be tested as never before. A lot of guys quit or break or give-up. He didn’t. He became a United States Marine.

I don’t know Mr. Hammer but as a former Marine I have a sense of him.

Over the twelve weeks of initial training, his every waking moment as a recruit was focused on the pursuit of the Eagle, Globe and Anchor––the great emblem of the Corps. Someday he hoped, or prayed, that he’d overcome his fears, endure the discipline, meet the challenges and find the warrior within and be awarded the Marine Corps Emblem. Then, for the very first time, he’d be addressed as Marine.

He would take an oath to support and defend the Constitution, to obey the orders of his superior officers, the President specifically mentioned, and undertake to serve a purpose greater than himself. He would be guided by the values of honor, courage and commitment and be bonded to a motto. Semper Fidelis. To always be faithful to his mission, his fellow Marines, the Corps and his country, no matter what.

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Many Thanksgivings ago, I received a gift. However, it took the guiding grace of God for me to understand it––years later––in the context of a spiritually bankrupt life.

City Lights

Ninety seconds isn’t a lot of time. Nonetheless, an event can grab each second by the scruff of its neck and slow its progression as if one goes from gliding on ice to walking in tar. Such a time warp happened to me.

In a minute and a half over the bustling city of Oakland, California, I was confronted with three possible outcomes: life, death or the harming of innocent souls. The irony is that the best result for me, that I would live, could mean that someone else dies.

When I arrived at my first squadron in Yuma, Arizona, I stood on top of the world. As a young lieutenant, I was cocky, indestructible, pure warrior. Inexperienced yes, but it didn’t matter. I was a Marine Harrier pilot, the chosen one. As training is the constant theme for all Marines, within the first month I departed on a cross-country hop to Naval Air Station Alameda, California. Even though I was a fighter pilot, I was still required to log enough instrument flight hours to keep my rating current.

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My Veterans Day Tribute

November 12, 2012 — Leave a comment

The military has played a significant role in my development as a man. My father and brother were decorated Marine aviators, I served in that capacity as well, and some of the finest men and women I’ve ever met––the best and the brightest indeed––served and continue to serve in the armed forces.

Veterans-Day-2012When I began this blog over two months ago, one of my first posts concerned the Republican National Convention. I titled it Blood On The Sand. The Republican nominee for President, Governor Romney––for the first time in sixty years––did not mention war in his acceptance speech. It was clearly a strategic move but it saddened me. No acknowledgement of the heroic men and women who are fighting wars for America in faraway lands? That seemed like a stunning and misguided tactic. So I vented.

At the time, maybe seven readers had visited my site (let’s see, if I have access to five computers, that means two readers net). I shared the following in that post but since only two folks read it––perhaps twin British boys googled bloody sandbox and mistakenly got me––I thought I’d present it today as a tribute to our magnificent veterans. And my adjective is not an overstatement. The below was my experience on a particular day but every veteran and active duty member has an equally memorable story to tell. This is an excerpt from my upcoming book A Leaf on Water…

A day in the life.

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From a religious and/or conscience perspective, there are ample reasons to not re-elect President Obama. But what about his leadership skills as President and Commander-in-Chief? Are they up to the task? I take a pragmatic but unique approach in answering that very question.

In my post “A Moment In Time – Service, Sacrifice, Honor,” I began by mentioning the deaths in Libya of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, information management officer Sean Smith and security personnel Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty––heroes all who died in the service of their country. Over six weeks later, the Benghazi story, highlighted by a stream of disconcerting news, has somehow metastasized into an American tragedy. Furthermore, the search for answers is apparently being thwarted by our government––for the moment, reasons unknown.

If the following news reports are true, the United States government––at the least––is guilty, intentionally or unintentionally, of misleading the American public. Beyond that, time will tell.

Judgment

First, the sequence of events as we know it.

  1. Days/weeks leading up to the Benghazi attack––repeated requests for additional security forces in light of growing threat. Denied.
  2. Just prior to attack––requests for additional security forces/military backup. Denied.
  3. During consulate attack––requests for military backup. Denied.
  4. During subsequent attack on CIA Annex––requests for military backup. Denied.

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My brain pistons were working overtime this morning. In pondering the next two presidential debates and the myriad issues at hand, are we on the cusp of one of the most important elections in American history?

The above consumed one cup of coffee.

Military Symbols

Starting my second cup, a triad of related thoughts jumped front and center; our military, the political gamesmanship that is putting our armed forces in the crosshairs of danger, and purpose.

  • On January 2, 2013, the U.S. defense budget will undergo the most dramatic and dangerous cuts in its history. Unless Washington acts.
  • Because of the failure of politicians to agree on a deficit reduction plan, the 2011 Budget Control Act automatically cuts about $500 billion from the defense budget. These cuts fall on top of the already agreed-upon $487 billion in reductions. All told, about $1 trillion in cuts over a decade. This is a recipe for disaster. Are we really intent on inviting catastrophe?
  • Purpose is a divinely mysterious topic that has great fascination for me––especially its interrelatedness to the messiness of life. How are we supposed to figure out what God wants us to do with our lives? Moreover, how does one reconcile purpose with lives cut drastically short? Perhaps I can put it another way. I don’t feel guilty for being alive when so many exceptional people in my life have died. But sometimes I wonder, “Why not me?” I’m referring to the honorable men of the Navy and Marine Corps who blessed my life but are no longer with us. I’m also alluding to the possibility that more men and women may die, perhaps needlessly, due to the antics of Presidents and Congress.

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In 2003, the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting was awarded to Alan Miller and Kevin Sack of the Los Angeles Times for their revelatory and moving examination of the AV8 Harrier, nicknamed “The Widow Maker,” that was linked to the deaths of 45 pilots. Some of the men killed were my squadron mates and close friends. I think about them often. I honor their sacrifice with the following story.

AV8s Afghanistan - The Crash

After I finished Naval flight training and received my wings, I headed for Cherry Point, North Carolina. Since I had finished at the top of my class, I had been selected for the AV8 Harrier and the jet’s six-month training program was based there. I was both nervous and excited, as the Harrier was the premier Marine Corps fighter jet.

I was also honored in that the pilots selected for the program were generally steely-eyed veterans, the best in the Corps. However, until my tenure, the jet was considered too dangerous for new guys. The axiom among established Harrier pilots was it took a year before one could fly the jet without being scared spitless.

If I remember correctly, my training class consisted of seven pilots: four experienced ones transitioning from other fleet jets and three nuggets recently out of flight school. It was a good group of men. Yet barely two months later three of us had crashed, presumably due to pilot error in all cases. One of us was dead, another’s career was ruined and the third had to wait weeks under the pall of screw-up until he was cleared of any missteps. I was that third.

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