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March 9, 2012
To LexBy Greyhawk
I'll tell you something I noticed about Lex, but it's at the end of this ramble. First, a confession: I used to tell lies about Neptunus Lex. I'd call him "One of the best writers in milblogs," but the truth is, he was the best. No shocker there, I think everyone who read his blog knows that. It's hardly fair for me to say it now, when he can't humbly deny it.
Of course it's hardly fair that he could write true, first-person stories about being a fighter pilot, something most of us could only dream of doing. It gave him an edge on the rest of us. But doing something and writing about it are two different skill sets, and Lex was one of the very few mortals to be gifted with both. (Hey, even Chuck Yeager had a co-author on his autobiography.) And as for the fighter pilot bit, "Lex could tell a rousing story of painting his house and you'd read it and be glad you did." I quote myself there. If you hadn't gathered from such an observation that any others I'd made about him being merely one of the best writers around was an understatement (really - the "in milblogs" qualifier isn't needed, either), then I failed. What can I say? I am no Neptunus Lex. He was the best of us, we all knew it, it didn't need said.
There are any number of brief testimonials to him on the web now. Here someone who once served with him recalls that "We shared a passion for air warfare and saber fencing."
And here's Matt Gallagher, who himself might have been the last milblogger in Iraq, and whose own write-ups of his adventures there landed him in a spot of trouble among the higher-ups (and split the opinions of those others of us milbloggers who might have had an opinion, which we mostly kept to ourselves, as we much appreciated him regardless). Matt was Army, a junior officer, and Lex was Navy, and very senior.
Though I never met LeFon in person, we exchanged many emails, and he was one of the first to email and tell me to "stay frosty," in the wake of my own blog getting shut down in 2008 by command. (For a young lieutenant, certain that he'd stoked the full ire of the military beast for one rambling blog post, to hear reassuring words from a retired TOPGUN pilot was ... comforting, to say the least.)
Stay frosty, our saber fencing aficionado fighter pilot said. More than a mere slogan, that was exactly the right advice, delivered at exactly the right moment, to someone who needed it from someone who really was, simply put, the most interesting man in the world.
He left us much too soon, and left us much to talk about. None of us are up to it just now.
Here are the last things he wrote about flying - about the flights he made in the last week of his life. WX CNX is shorthand for weather canceled; here Lex writes well of flying and not flying. But that's followed by a busy Saturday: "There are very few things to admire about a 0500 brief on a Saturday morning. The Weapons School lost some sorties during the course of the week due to weather, and quality being the measure by which all things are reckoned, they would have to be made up. . . ." But Early Go is not a complaint, it's about the seriousness of the flying business.
Headed back to the field down low to stay out of the way. With plenty of gas left I hugged the deck and shot the gaps between mountains and foothills. Popped up when clear of the fight to fly a ground controlled approach, just for the training that was in it. It's important to work hard at such things when the conditions are easy to ensure that you can do them when they're not. And yes, the controller overshot my turn to final. I was on deck by 0830 or so, having flown more Kfirs before 0900 than most will fly in their lifetimes.A Streamer is a parachute that fails to properly deploy. The parachute that earned itself a title in the next entry in Lex's collection of flying tales was expected to slow his jet upon landing, and did not.
I supposed it had to happen eventually, everybody has one in time. And I had mine yesterday.By the time I read "Streamer" I'd already heard the bad news, and those words took me back to Andy Olmsted's final bit of prose, written pre and posted post. I thought for a moment Lex had done the same, but this was not the case. "Streamer" was an account of something went wrong the day before, something he walked away from, another lesson learned. That made it similar to Rain Seal, the first post in his last series. Therein another little piece of the plane that failed earned itself a title.
It's funny how quickly you can go from "comfort zone" to "wrestling snakes" in this business.
That quote from "Streamer." I think many might conjure the wrong mental image from that - that most of us imagine something out of Indiana Jones. But I suspect the guy who wrote Streamer and Early Go and Wx Canx and Rain Seal wrestled snakes with his heart rate only slightly elevated from comfort zone level. He was frosty. Those posts don't have exclamation points. He didn't use them, they were not in his vocabulary.
Had you noticed?
So when you fly at Lex's shoulder - which is what you do when you read his words - don't add imaginary exclamation points to what you hear him say.
Those of us who knew him - whether we met him or not - will tip a bit of Guinness tonight at 6 Pacific, wherever we are. If you can't make that time, any other will do.
And leave a comment here. I have it on good authority there are those who will much appreciate it.
Posted by Greyhawk / March 9, 2012 3:46 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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