Monday, December 31, 2012

'Tis the season

Christmas, short days, long nights, cooler weather (ummm, actually cold here). I do enjoy the carols and Christmas music - but not right after Halloween. From about Thanksgiving on is good, feels right, like when I was a kid. If you haven't yet, thinking about gifts for those to whom you will give gifts. We usually keep our eyes open all year looking for the right gift for someone so that there's not really that much shopping to do by Thanksgiving.

Having said that, my bride and her mom along with others of the All Girls Spending Team (hat tip to Lex) head out for the Black Friday Follies. One of several activities that are appropos of the season.

One particular Saturday my bride and I were of the occasion to be walking along Church Street in downtown Burlington. We were specifically there to purchase a gift for some friends of ours from a shop on Church Street. Said shop being the only location we were aware of to purchase this item. We swung by the Three Tomatoes, an Italian restaurant we frequent when in the area. It's doorfront is at street level, but the restaurant is actually located downstairs. An enjoyable atmosphere that brings us back repeatedly with good, local, fresh produce served in the Italian art (as my German friends would say). Emerging on to the street once we had finished with our repast we found a typical Vermont afternoon in December - cold and snowing. As we strolled along we enjoyed the ambiance of walking hand-in-hand, enjoying the decorations and the Christmas spirit invoked when outdoor decorations are accented by falling snow.

It reminded me of the Kristkindl Markts in Germany sans the gluehwein and gemuetlichkeit that are the hallmark of the real thing. Again, with many happy memories of previous times in previous locales.

Cards. Specifically Christmas cards. Reminders of times in our lives, moments of our past encapsulated in a card with simple greetings, hand written notes, and form letters updating one and all of their family's doings for the past year. You will frequently hear folks denigrate the whole idea of once a year sending of a card to someone that you don't feel enough about to maintain more contact during the year.

That would be one way to look at it.

But as the cards come in, I look at the names on the return address and remember the folks behind the address. Seeing these names invokes memories of the people behind the names, of the memories we shared with them, of the point in our lives in which we met them. For instance, we received cards from several friends of our time in Texas. We moved there after I retired from the Army, when I started my corporate life in a place we'd not previously visited. Our daughter had already completed her freshman year of high school and had to change high schools. Our son visited the middle school and immediately deemed it a prison. When we arrived at our new home at 4:30 AM, it was in the high 80s and my bride was ready to melt down. Fortunately, the dogs and the guinea pigs were more sanguine about it.

But, it was a good time. Both kids attended and graduated from high school during this time. Learned to drive, learned to date, did that awkward high school-teenage thing while we were there. Pool parties, Boy Scouts, proms, and all the things that kids do during this time. We became empty nesters while we were there and relearned how to be a couple again. We reforged our relationships with our children as the relationships became one with adults instead of kids. Different but still satisfying in a way that defines our and their new status in life. And we had friends that we celebrated things large and small with. So, it was a special time for us and seeing these names brings it all rushing back.

Cards from Florida, Massachusetts, Texas, California, Minnesota, New York. Friends, family, former coworkers. Friends from our time in the civilian world, friends from our time in the military. Our new friends have only been our friends for about 15 years. Our old friends double that. Each card a moment in time for people we fondly remember.

No, we aren't as close as we once were. No longer seeing each other on a daily or weekly basis. But we mattered enough to reach out each year anyway. To maintain that connection, tenuous though it may now be.

And I discovered that I really enjoy seeing the cards come in and remembering these folks from our lives. The memories they bring back, good times, good friends, part of our past, and immutably part of us.

I hope that you have the same experiences this season. That the incoming cards bring the same simple joy that we are experiencing. 'Tis the season.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The chirping in the night.

I saw a picture of a woman being cradled in the current President's arms with a comment about how he would ensure that she got help, which was not forthcoming as cameras are a "spot in time" with no conscience about following up. Not counting the MSM photographer having no conscience about this coverage, not bothering nor caring if he followed up or even tried.

Once the photo op is over, the moment is over as well.

"Yeah baby, I'll call you . . ."

So what? So, I've watched several of these scenes unfold. I remember Kanye West saying "President Bush hates black people" because the folks in New Orleans weren't getting help fast enough. We're in the second term of the first black president and a lot of neighborhoods and homes in New Orleans are still uninhabitable. Seven years have gone by, billions of dollars spent, now into the more understanding president's second term and they're still left hanging.

Fast forward to Tropical Storm Irene. It's been over a year and Vermont has still not recovered, homes are still vacant, state facilities still not restored. Promised funds won't be forthcoming. The President promised but those funds won't come. The moment was over a long time ago for Irene, but not the victims of Irene.

This was driven home to me Monday night while out running, repeated two nights later while out running again. I ran in an area that I haven't run in since before Irene came. I crossed the river and turned left, down the neighborhood in the dark. On one side of the street, houses, lights, life.

On the other side of the same street, the side of the street with the river, only two houses are still alive. The rest are zombie houses, vacant staring eyes looking lifelessly out at the street. Those houses are no longer alive, but they're not quite dead either.


No trespassing signs. For sale signs.

Families gone, dreams gone, lives interrupted and ripped asunder.

No help.

For all of the promises, the government just doesn't have enough money. Not for everyone. Not for all the dreams and hopes that have been promised. The fact is, when the rent is due, everything else has to wait or get skipped.

I watched and have read about the cost of Superstorm Sandy and it's impact. The burned areas, the flooded areas. People who now understand that previous coverage of storms like this in areas normally far removed wasn't of stupid Rednecks down south, but of people who got caught in a storm of immense power. One that is heading one way one minute, and another the next. That can dump unimaginable amounts of water propelled by similar winds. People who found that they just couldn't bear to leave their homes, where their children took their first steps. Where they raised or are raising a family. Or left and came back to find that their life is gone. Wiped away in a manner that they never imagined could happen to them. Literally unimaginable to them in that part of the world.

Once it happens in New Jersey, New York City, Long Island, Staten Island, it changes the narrative. It suddenly becomes real and different. Suddenly the victims aren't some ignorant rubes, but civilised folk who live in the civilised part of the country. Folks who are about to learn that the government can't do everything that it's CEO has been promising. Can't do everything that they thought that they were getting when they re-elected the smartest President ever.

Though I can think of one president that actually was a Rhodes Scholar. For real.

I thought of this as I ran along that street both nights. Especially the second night when I observed something that had escaped my notice the first time.


It's late November and temps lately have been only in the 30s during the day and low 20s or less at night. This has been the weather for awhile now, yet I hear chirping. From several houses comes the sounds of smoke detectors with low batteries chirping.

No one is coming to change those batteries, no one cares anymore. Not FEMA, not the President who, having been re-elected, no longer needs those photo ops to remind folks of one more thing that he has not accomplished.

Many of those who suffered from Sandy are facing a similar future. Sadly, this is likely to be a fate still to play out for many of them.

Ask not for whom the house chirps. It chirps for thee.

marcus erroneous

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Having participated in a discussion over at Bou's place (see the link on the right, Boudicca's Voice and the current post, Flippin Bird) I'm inspired to post for Thanksgiving. We'll be at the gathering of the clan again, enhanced by my brother-in-law bringing his family out for this year's festivity. So, we'll have about 30 or so folks for Thanksgiving in a house that dates back to 1791.

Everyone will form groups, break up, reform groups, rinse, lather, repeat. It's the sort of thing that families do, or used to do and this clan does it well. It's my wife's clan and it's a tradition with them that I hope outlives the current generation of matriarchs. We have vegetarians, vegans, carnivores, omnivores and liberals, conservatives, young, old, and everything in between. My kids used to be the little kids scampering around, they've subsequently been replaced in that role and are now where we were when I joined the clan.

There are taboo subjects, black sheep, and everything else that family has. Not dysfunctional, as I believe that word is over used now.  Families have things that happen, fights that break out, simmering issues and so on that are life. If everyone is living their lives and anyone is following their passions, then there will be clashes. The Cleavers never existed and families have always had odd uncles, alcoholics, and every imaginable shade of individual. It's life and learning to live with family, warts and all is what we do.

Despite this tradition, where one of the matriarchs hosts Thanksgiving, my wife has had plenty of opportunities to prepare this meal - by her own hands. We were a military family, so we moved around a lot and she had to cook Thanksgiving dinner for us where ever we were. So she learned, burning up lots of long distance time back when that was an expensive thing to do. Unlike now. And it was worth it, except for the first time. The first time we used Billy Beer. Which kind of dates us.

She cooks the bird upside down in a V-shaped rack in the pan. She covers it with some spices and bastes it with beer during the cooking process. Two, MGD or Michelob are the preferred beers that she uses. Guinness is too heavy she said in answer to a comment from Bou. She prepares the stuffing and stuffs the bird with what will fit, the rest being baked in a casserole dish. The last of the beer is poured over the bird at least an hour before it is done, then an hour before it is done we pull the bird from the oven and flip it over so that the  breast can brown. We pull it from the oven when the button pops out (we usually use a Butterball bird) and let it sit for a bit. Then we pull the stuffing out and mix it with the stuffing that was not baked in the bird to spread the flavor into all of the stuffing. It works well. Then the slicing and the dicing, so to speak, begins.

In 2009 we had Thanksgiving with our aunt and uncle in central Florida where we did the deep fried turkey thing. You'll see the one picture of me lowering it in

and then 45 minutes later pulling it out. What you don't see are the lines marked inside of the pot showing how far to fill the pot for various sizes of turkey. My uncle spent time figuring out those volumes by empirical research (a fancy, scientific term for "trial and error"). This to ensure that when he cooks the bird he doesn't overfill the fryer.

It is not immediately obvious that you have overfilled the pot. As the level keeps rising in the pot while lowering the bird in most folks try to see if they can get away with it instead of having to ladle out hot oil over a hot burner. Which causes you to have to tell your wife that dinner will be delayed, something no American husband is wont to do concerning Thanksgiving dinner.  Only after the bird is completely lowered in does the oil overflow, catching fire and usually igniting other things, like your garage or your patio. Subsequently your family makes the evening news when your house or garage burns down and held forth as how not to do this. And everyone laughs at you, which ends up being the least of your worries. Regarding deep frying turkeys there are a couple of other issues to consider. Ensure that the bird is thawed, a frozen turkey will cause oil to splatter out and burn you and or other bystanders. Likewise ensure that the thawed bird is as dry as you possible can else the water will hit the oil and cause the previously mentioned splattering. Which can cause you to drop the bird in, slosh oil out and into the burner starting an oil fire. This will ensure many years of the story being retold with great relish at family gatherings relating how you screwed the pooch that Thanksgiving. Despite all of the above, it is a tasty way to cook the bird, but you really do have to do your homework and pay attention. I specifically asked my uncle to walk me through this so that I could do it once before trying it on my own someday.

Over the years we've usually used the Butterball turkey, the overwhelming majority of the time, but we have also done the deep fried version (as per above) and once we ordered a fresh turkey. I don't remember how good it was, but I have no memory of it being bad. Still, no special memory of it tells me that it was only okay. Asking the head chef here elicited a "Meh" response, make of that what you will.

Over thirty years we've had lots of good experiences and I was fortunate to spend everyone of my Thanksgiving holidays with my family. Operational deployments hit other holidays, but not this one. Others in the military have not been so fortunate, including my son two years ago.

I give thanks for the blessings my family and I have received and for the men and women in our armed forces who spend this Thanksgiving deployed for us.

marcus erroneous

It is finished . . .

Seven months is a long time normally, unless you're trying to blog, then it flashes past with extraordinary rapidity. A blink really. Gone before you know it.

I spent the previous 18 months working on my post-graduate degree and finally finished it in May and graduated in June. As busy as life had been then, it picked up speed over the summer and here I am now.

But, it is finished. I graduated and have my Masters of Science in Information Assurance. If I wasn't a geek before, I am now. The white cord denotes "With honors".

marcus erroneous

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Size is in the eye of the beholder

Something is going around up here and made a stop here at Gasthaus von Erroneous over the weekend. Thus laying me up starting Friday evening through Tuesday with fever and other side effects, mostly undesirable in the extreme. Illness is something I normally do not partake of, this weekend reminding me of why.

Whilst ensconced in the position of woe - laid up on the couch in front of the HDTV with cable, the DVR, and the remote, I was able to partake of some sorely missed viewing. More or less. The sad part is that I really was sick and feverish, so it was in large parts drifting in and out of sleep in front of an NCIS marathon.

Except on Sunday, Earthday. CinC Home has Frozen Planet set to record and it's set to use Tuner 1, meaning whatever is being recorded is what you view live. Changing away from that cancels the recording. FiOS it ain't. And on Earthday they had a Frozen Planet Marathon. The polar bears on the ice weren't the only ones drifting Sunday afternoon.

So, I'm laying there catching up on this weeks episode of Bones. It's about a guy with a terminal case of Short Man's Syndrome. In his case, it ends up being terminal. He lets it define his life, every aspect of it, from how he relates to his wife (won't discuss things with her, not manly) to his son's life (makes him take karate so he won't be beaten up in school for his size). He has his head handed to him when trying to rough up the sensei's daughter (by said daughter), that incident having been filmed and posted online and going viral. His life gets worse as the entire bar laughs at him about it and it results in his death at the hands of a much larger bully, precipitated by his insecurities.

I don't have this problem. I've traditionally been 6'4" though I'm now down to 6'3" and a little over 200. This is not an issue I've faced nor can readily imagine. To me, most of the world is shorter than I, so I don't see it. Despite that, I don't see the world as midgets. I don't immediately think, "I'm taller than he is". It's not relevant to me, it just doesn't occur to me.

I have a good friend of over 30 years who is not my size. Jerry is physically unimposing, from a distance, if you don't know him. True, he's not tall, honestly, I have no idea how tall he is or isn't. It's never occurred to me to ask.

He just doesn't seem his true height to me.

As old Army buddies do, we can go years without seeing each other. During this interlude, I forget about his true size, I think of him as Jerry, much larger in character than physical size. Consequently, I am always surprised when we see each other again how much smaller he seems physically than I remember him. I never envision him his true, physical size. That just isn't him.

Jerry's physical size does not define him. I don't know that it ever did. I can't see him ever letting something that insignificant define him, he defines himself. I have seen him explain to others, worried about their physical stature to quit complaining when they are taller than him. While others may let their physical size affect their lives, like the character in the show did, and ruin their lives, Jerry has not. Jerry's joi de vivre is infectious. He loves life and lives it like those that know it is not a given live their lives. He's a man of God, he's a husband, he's a father, he's a funny, good guy. And he's my friend.

He is who he is and he walks through life just like I or anyone else. He defines his life, not his circumstances.

A couple from our wedding, still friends who are similarly blessed without the burden of being overly tall. They are both similar to Jerry, I don't remember them as their true size until we get together again. Then I am reminded that their true, physical size is not their "real size" as I always think of them. That aspect of their lives does not define them and their world, they define it by their force of character and the way that they live.

All three of them do, however, walk in my lee for to enjoy the goodly shade and windbreak thereof. A fact that took me years to become aware of.

What are friends for?

And so, I felt sorry for the character that his life, and ultimately his death, were defined by limitations that he imposed upon himself. It's too bad he never met Jerry or my other friends to learn how good life can be. It's too bad that he insisted that his actual size had to be so limiting and defining.

And Sunday night I climbed into bed, fully bundled up with flannel jammies. And socks. And flannel sheets. And blankets.

I climbed into my normally warm, northern New England bed. And shivered.

My wife regards me as a wondrous generator of BTUs during the colder months. I throw off heat like a brand new paratrooper losing singles in a strip club. Can't seem to shed them fast enough.

Something she finds useful on sub-zero nights up here in Northern Vermont.

But not Sunday evening. I lay there shivering in my fever despite my nice, warm bed.

My normal routine is to climb into bed and lay down on my back. Shortly thereafter, Kaylie, one of our cats, comes in to join me. I lift the covers with my right arm allowing her to walk down my side, turn around at my hip, then walk back up to my arm. She lays her head on my arm, then lies down next to me. I lower my arm over her, tucking the covers in around her neck. She rolls into me and we both drift off to sleep.

Kaylie is about 13 now and her bones prefer my warmth, so she rolls into my nice, warm body and is able to sleep warm and comfortable. Sunday night when Kaylie rolled into me, that was just the extra heat that I needed. Once I felt the body heat from all twelve pounds of her up against my 200, I warmed up and fell asleep.

That little old cat, who normally finds me her soothing source of heat on cold days and nights, provided me the warmth and comfort that I needed on Sunday night in my feverish state.

Sunday night, my "little buddy" was big enough for me when I needed her.

marcus erroneous

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Breaking the landing gear

Regardless of the aircraft, there is some training required. To minimize losses and decrease training time there are a number of techniques employed for the student pilots. First, there's the physical. While I'm not sure how much fun it is for women, for men there are parts of it that are less than enjoyable. My experiences seriously predate both Don't ask don't tell and it's repeal. As I'm out of crayons, I'm not going to draw you a picture. If you know a Sky God (even if they're one of those types that just has to have a motor to hang on to) ask him to explain. Actually, either of my sky brethren or sistren could explain it for you. But I digress. . .

So, physical in hand, you apply. This means going bowl in hand to a number of folks, begging for a slot. If you're on a HALO team, it's a much easier process. You just have to try to get one before the other battalion's HALO team is getting one. When you're already on a HALO team, yours is a fate determined less by if than when you'll go. If you're not on a HALO team, then you should become a serious student of Machiavelli to improve your chances at getting one of these highly coveted slots. If you are stationed at Ft Bragg, where HALO school is held, making nice to one of the instructors is a time honored, though not honorable, way of getting into the school.

The school can process only so many folks a year, each SF Group has three HALO teams (one per battalion, twelve members per team), the Ranger Battalions need some HALO folks, the 82nd Airborne Division needs some, various and sundry other units need some. The need and demand (desire too) outweighs the supply.

And being HALO qualified is cool, so there's that.

These slots require money to pay for food, lodging, transportation costs, etc. So there's an associated monetary component to it as well. Did I mention that being HALO qualified is cool? Unlike Ranger school, there's no suffering, privation, or field duty. Actually, compared to most of the schools that you can go to in Special Forces or Special Operations in general, HALO school is a gentleman's course. It's got its privations and things that are difficult, lots of hard work, bad conditions, early wake ups, late nights, hanging out on a hot DZ without any shade, but for a SpecOps school, it's considered Club Med. Plus you get to jump a lot. Skydiving Military Free Fall (MFF) jumping, which is the fun kind. Mostly.

Did I mention that being HALO is cool? Ah, well, okay then.

So, you show up and the fun begins. That is, they first try to disqualify as many as they can, while their friends fellow SF soldiers standby just in case there's an opening. We would not want a valuable HALO slot to go to waste, for that would be an insult to the American Tax payer that is funding all this. 20+ years and you might have noticed my distaste for the process whereby they tried to get their buddies in that first day at our expense is largely undiminished.

So, they screen records during which I learn that I've previously broken my left leg.

Really? Do tell.

Apparently so, from what the chancre mechanics tell me. But, long ago, in a land far, far away, it was broken and was not just a badly sprained ankle. Who knew?

Training finally begins for us few, us lucky, lucky few. Equipment, theory of falling, theory of canopy deployment and why being fat, dumb and stable is a good thing ( more properly as flat, relaxed, and stable). Why doing your best impression of something hurtling towards the ground like a Cirque du Soleil tumbler is not the best way pass the course or live a long life. Yeah, that's me, Mister Narrowminded, it's an acquired skill. Still, falling face to earth in a stable position allows you to see where you are, check your altitude, and perform a number of other tasks. It takes some work at first for most. Being too stiff will make you wobble a bit like a falling potato chip, typical of novice jumpers. Eventually you learn to relax a bit and it gets easier to stay stable. From this position your parachute will safely and reliably open with a stable flow of air flowing over you, helping to ensure that your parachute (which I keep referring to as the canopy) will come out, unfold, inflate, and finally deploy over your head with all of the material and suspension lines in their proper positions and alignment.

Sometimes, you're too stable and the air flowing around your body forms a quiet spot against your back, which is where the parachute sits and deploys from. Despite the fact that in military free fall parachutes there is a large, spring loaded, pilot chute to get out and grab some air to start pulling the canopy out, sometimes that quiet spot of air mitigates against that process. For times like this they teach you to look over one shoulder to see if anything is happening back there, said process tipping you a bit and providing for some air to slide across your back, catch that pilot chute and the main canopy, and start the entire deployment process. That being getting that bundle of air catching material off of your back, into the air, and slowing your descent.

This is known as a Good Thing.

The parachute unfolds, the suspension lines come out,  and you can look up and watch it happening above you, the final step being that the slider (a square piece of material that slows the opening of the canopy, making the opening more gentle) slides down the risers and stops above your head. Grab the two loops of material that are your brake lines and pull them down out of their stowage pockets, then test the brakes on this beast by pulling them both down to around your waist. Here you're looking to see where the stall point is when pulling them down. This gives you a feel for how the 'chute is handling and what the air conditions are like.

More on stalling later.

Look around and see where the others are in relation to you (hopefully you're not rushing headlong towards one), and how much altitude you have remaining.

And there you are, hanging under a ram air canopy, so called because the air flowing through it (ramming through it) inflates it into a wing shape.

*Training Highlight: The animation on the right side of the page at the link is an example of how the emergency parachute release system works. It consists of three, interlocking rings, that ripple out of their lock, allowing the canopy to detach. For obvious reasons, it is affectionately referred to as a three ring circus. So now you know.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, you fly this sort of parachute to a landing. This parachute is maneuverable. The round types? Not so much.  This parachute can also allow you to land very softly.


This is not a given, however.

During the school you learn a number of things that prepare you to employ this sort of activity as a means of tactical insertion. You learn to exit properly, to fly on heading and grouped with your teammates, to open safely, to fly the canopy, to fly the pattern into the drop zone, and to land safely. All of these are perishable skills that must be acquired and thereafter practiced. Said practicing is fun, a fact not lost on commanders and others who do not believe that fun should be a part of training. This fact keeps them up at all hours of the night gnashing their teeth and distraught over how to eliminate said fun.

And we're under canopy, flying with our friends to where we enter the approach pattern. Enter on the down wind leg, you're flying with the wind at your back. Then to the base leg, turning so that you fly with the wind to one side, and finally, on to final.

The final approach is into the wind. At about 200 to 300 feet above ground you release the brakes (raise your hands above your head) and let the parachute run full bore (those of you who just can't do this without hardware, like wings, engine, systems, etc can go to sleep now) though I will say that doing this sans enclosing systems does get your attention. Nothing like doing 20 or 30 mph knowing that the only thing between you and the ground is your boots and fatigues.

Keep that thought in mind, we'll get back to it in a bit.

We're screaming along at full bore (I'm not going to dignify this speed as "full grunt", it just ain't) headed toward our rendezvous with the earth. The checklist is pretty simple, lower the rucksack that you've had hanging from your toes by letting it slide off. The landing gear for this contraption is already down and "locked" as it were. The only thing left to do is flare and land.

Yeah, that's it. Nothing to it.

Flying is a funny thing, that air that supports you has a mind of it's own, and I don't just mean winds  and stuff. I mean that temperature and humidity play a part in making it thicker or thinner. Much more and much less so, respectively. Enough of a difference so that there is a learning curve where the price is paid in bone and sinew. Like getting your first job, you can't get the experience to keep from getting hurt without jumping first, you can't keep from getting hurt jumping without getting experience first. The first few jumps they tell you to land at half-brake and do a typical parachute landing fall. But, to do a standup landing, you have to learn to flare at the right altitude.

That thickness stuff? Means a lot when you're a big guy, like me. 6'4" at the time, 185 plus equipment, boots, etc. Flaring is hitting the brakes on the 'chute so that it stops going forward. It pretty much stops going downward too at the sweet spot too, for a brief period of time.

Very brief.

You normally flare at about 10 to 15 feet above the ground (20 to 30 feet with combat equipment). This puts the perfect flare/stall point at the ground or just (6 inches) above it. Then you pull one toggle all the way down and the canopy comes down.


If you flare too high, you're suddenly stopped above the ground. That brief period of time is very brief. At this point, you are stalled above the ground. If you rock just your wrists, just a little, you can sink the canopy, a slow descent to the ground and get a soft landing. Rock your wrists too far or pull down with your forearm (too far) and the canopy will rocket backwards toward the ground, a race that you will lose.

This is a Bad Thing.

You then do a very credible imitation of Wiley E. Coyote where the canopy is on the ground behind you while you plummet to the ground in hot pursuit. People have broken their backs doing this, or legs, or just had a really hard landing. Mostly people break things when this happens. This sort of thing can happen when a gust of wind puffs while you're trying to land. Or you seriously misjudge where to flare.

Like when you're a student.

If you flare too low, you run into the ground carrying some speed. The lower you flared, the more speed you carry, the harder you hit. This can happen because the wind that was in your face suddenly dropped off just as you flared to land, robbing you of a necessary amount of lift at a critical moment. Or,  because you misjudged your altitude or the air density caused by the current temperature and humidity. This can happen if you seriously misjudged your flare.

Like when you're a student.

Remember that part about the only thing between you and the ground being your boots and fatigues? That your landing gear is an integral part of you?


About that.

When you flare low and hit hard, there really aren't any shocks, especially if you hit hard enough that you'd bottom out the shocks if you had any. Let alone a system that has none.

My fifth jump in HALO school was like that. I'm a big guy and despite my fourth jump (the first one where I was to perform a flared, or standing, landing) being successful, alas, 'twas not to be this time. It was hot out that day, I flared low, too low, and it hurt when I hit.

Really hurt.

Limping hurt.

Ah shit hurt.

The class leader was a reservist who worked in an emergency room as his day job. He looked at it that evening and gave me the bad news, broken. But, not completely broken. Without an x-ray, his guess was a stress fracture. My options were:

1. Keep jumping until I had enough jumps to graduate.  Suck it up in the meantime. This was number 5, there were 40 scheduled.
2. Keep jumping on it until it broke in which case they'd carry me off the drop zone, I'd be dropped but come back when it healed. 
3. Go on sick call and be dropped from the class and come back when I healed. About a year most likely. Hopefully.

Remember the part at the top of this post where I alluded to how hard it was to get a slot to this school?

Yeah, there's that.

Also, there's the whole part about where us SF guys hate to fail. Not a little bit, a lotta bit.

If you're guessing I picked what was behind Door Number One, you are correct. Every night I packed my leg in ice and stayed off of it. My buds picked up chow for me and brought it back to my room. I watched a lot of TV and got more sleep during that course than I should have, which in hindsight,  was probably a good thing. Mostly because of the money I saved not doing nightly debriefs over glasses of adult beverages in various venues with my buddies.

So, I avoided limping around in front of the instructors and kept jumping. Finally, after our night, oxygen, combat equipment jump, jump number 32, I had enough jumps of the prescribed varieties and quantities to successfully complete the course.

The following morning, after first verifying that I indeed had enough jumps to pass the course,  I presented myself to the HALO committee as having a broken leg. They verified that I was okay to graduate and they inquired as to how I broke it last night.

m.e. - Last night, says I? No, not last night.

HALO God - Then when? with a perplexed look.

m.e. - Ummmm, the fifth jump, says I, somewhat sheepishly.

HALO God - Is that so? says hizzoner. Well, no blood, no foul.

HALO God - Go on sick call and don't do it again.

On sick call, they examine me, x-ray me then send me to a consultation room to await the verdict.

Now, this is the Troop Medical Clinic where the SF guys from all the SF schools there at Ft. Bragg go for medical treatment, so I'm expecting it to be No Big Thing. They see guys like me for a living, they're used to the idiosyncrasies of guys like me. N'est pas?

The Doc comes in, puts the x-ray up on the viewing thingy and comments as to how while it is indeed broken, it appears to have been broken for awhile now and do I remember when it happened?

m.e. - Yes sir, I do. Do you have a calendar by any chance?

Perplexed look.

Doc - Yes, let me go get one.

Returns with calendar. I flip calendar pages back one page to the previous month.

m.e. - There, that's the day I broke it.

Insert "are you effing stupid/crazy?!?!" look here on doctor's face.

I did the explanation of getting into HALO school thing for the Doc and pointed out that I had accomplished my mission. I had successfully completed HALO school.

He was ungracious enough to point out that I would not be jumping for awhile.

Did I mention that being HALO is cool?

marcus erroneous

Thursday, April 05, 2012

The Scientific Method

For the last few years I have been a judge at the Vermont State Mathematics and Science Fair. I've got a background in science-based disciplines, technical, physics-based stuff. It's quantifiable, measurable, and not governed by "consensus" but by physics. Repeatable, verifiable, quantifiable. ymmv

As my kids would say, "back in the day" I was a geek when it was not cool. Slide rule hanging from my belt, pocket protector with pens and fine tipped, mechanical pencils. Studying and using trig, designing and building circuits like flip-flops, decade counters, and other digital stuff back when no one really knew what digital was. Building digital clocks when they were still something unique and "modern".

So, I can relate. I did the science fair thing a couple of years in a row. Built a seismograph from an article in a magazine and ran it for awhile. Collected a few rolls of information, entered the seismograph in the school science fair and went from school to county science fair. The judges at the Los Angeles County Science Fair really liked that a seventh grader had done this and understood the science behind the device. But - I had not collected any data and then done the analysis. I had several sheets showing the output from the seismograph. Living in Southern California with tremors going on all the time that I had detected. Instances where a heavy truck had gone by and I explained how I could tell it from seismic activity. But no real data collection and analysis. Epic fail.

What do we have for our contestant Johnny?

So, I'm at the fair and there are a lot of good projects that I see that day. A couple where the kids involved said, "Gee, I wonder why this works this way?"  They did a decent job, but didn't really dig into the object of their study. Still, scientific method was used. Process good, no real curiosity, the initial experiment suggested no follow on questions to them.

C'est la vie.

Some of the others were middle schoolers and show really good potential. Good use of the scientific method, good rigor, nice analysis of the variables that could influence the results, data collected and analyzed (unlike some predecessors), and supportable conclusions drawn. Real science done at an early age.

A couple of them were just outstanding. Good understanding of the physics involved, excellent understanding of what variables and conditions affected their results, why they could have, and how they could have skewed results. In one case he also looked at return on investment (ROI) for anyone that would use his research and implement it. Nice touch, in high school and he already understands that for the average blue collar family, there has to be more in it than just being green. If even Kermit found it hard to be green, what about us non-amphibians?

And one student that really got her experiment. The more you spoke with her the more you were blown away by the fact that she got it. All of it. All of the physics that her experiment depended upon. How other factors, the physics of these factors, impacted her results. How viscosity could influence the results. Temperature. Bevels on the edges. Water flow and how it is affected by surface tension, which is in turn multiplied by the number of openings. In every case I asked the students, if you could do this experiment again, what would you change when you performed it again. If you were to perform a follow on experiment driven by the results of the first, what would it be? What follow on research was suggested by your first experiment? She had a number of interesting hypothesis suggested by her initial experiment.

One uniform characteristic exhibited by all of the students was that their conclusions were driven by their results and their conclusions were driven by the analysis of the results. So? Well, we see plenty of "science" nowadays that is supported by "scientific consensus" and is not repeatable. And where the "scientists" work to fit their data to the curve rather than fitting the curve to the data.

I'm no longer shocked when "scientists" and "researchers" announce what they are going to find before even examining the data. All of these kids plotted curves based upon their data. They weren't fixated on a pre-established conclusion where the hypothesis and data were only relevant in that they provided support and buttressed the conclusion. These kids are still budding scientists, unsoiled by what frequently passes for science nowadays.

But, there's still time. They still have many years ahead of them for the contemporary scientific community to teach them how to establish the "right" conclusion before going out to prove it. Creative statistics, curve fitting (and not the way you old timers learned it from your profs), and "socially responsible science" are still in their future.

Maybe that is why I enjoy it so much, I get to see them while they still think that science is about the truth of the physical sciences.

marcus erroneous

Addendum 7 April:

Here's a video about the fair. Five of the eight projects I judged got screen time, two of them were interviewed.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Time travel

Going up the steps into the Post Office yesterday I caught a whiff of something and flashed. No, I'm not Chuck, I am not the Intersect. Neither was it the "power surge" flash of folks going through their second puberty, not that I haven't had that "pleasure" - I have. Unfortunately it is age appropriate behavior for one such as I. And yet . . .

No music, no sounds, just a whiff of a smell walking into a small Post Office in Vermont and bang, you're somewhere else completely. In my case, 35 years ago in Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. I flashed to an old wooden building on a warm spring day on the distant side of Fort Jackson, SC circa 1977. It was Army Basic Training and we were getting some sort of class, Laws of Land Warfare maybe. I remember the day was warm and the building was old with a broad porch running the length of it, wooden screen doors slamming each time someone went in or out, the exterior coated with faded and peeling yellow paint. We were sitting outside on the ground in the shade of the trees, probably waiting for our Drill Sargent to show up.

For the drills, it was a good time to tend to something besides baby sitting a bunch of knuckleheads, unless we ran short or they ran long. Then we got to sit around and bs for a bit before life returned for what passes as normal in circumstances like that. Waiting for our Drills to pick us up and march us back to our barracks, stopping along the way for some extra training in marching specific maneuvers. Or how to handle our rifles; order arms, present arms, right or left shoulder arms, you know, "Army training sir". Stripes sans SGT Hulka.

In Basic, you marched as a unit most of the time. Everywhere. As a means of training, it is effective since you get plenty of opportunity to practice marching with no surfeit of feedback regarding your performance.

Simon Cowell really is a nice guy, if you get my drift.

For many of us it was a change from our usual lifestyle. All that walking was new for a lot of us used to driving everywhere and within a couple of weeks it had an effect. I'd like to say that we enjoyed the opportunity to walk through the woods. To observe the new flora and fauna we were exposed to after our prior lives in other climes.

I'd like to.

But I can't.

Suffice it to say that while many movies about Basic Training are pure Hollywood, some parts of them are accurate. 'Nuff said. The fatigues that fit us in the beginning got to be a bit baggy on us after a couple of weeks of walking everywhere. I think that may be why they waited a couple of weeks to fit us for our dress uniforms. I remember my dress uniform fitting pretty well at graduation and for many years afterwards. I got over it.

Our barracks sat at the base of Tank Hill, a prominent feature on the post whose notable feature was a couple of silver water tanks located on it. Okay, not guidebook quality, but it's the Army and immediately identifiable when seen. This is where most of the Basic Training units were located, arrayed in ascending rows of wooden, WW II era barracks, rising up the hill like a military housing tract. Most folks that attended Basic Training there usually reference the location of their Basic Training unit in measurements from Tank Hill even if their address wasn't on such tony heights. Immediately adjacent was a large depression that was set up as a training area outfitted with bleachers for seating during our periods of prescribed fun. We did things like marching, first aid, and some extemporaneous boxing on the odd occasion. But that's another story.

Something about smell does this in ways that nothing else seems to match. The smell of JP4 does that to me, bringing me back to times we hot loaded into C-130s, usually in preparation to jump. The hot exhaust from the four turboprop engines blasting over us as we approached from the rear of the bird, walking up the ramp, and on board. Domestic or international, the world was our drop zone and we had the keys to Dad's Herky Bird.

Sounds seem to be strongly evocative like smells and music. Just as the smell of JP4 evokes times in a 130, so too does the very distinctive sound of a 130. Even wafting across the air from afar, just hints of sound from a distant 130 is enough to catch my attention. Those four turboprop engines are a unique sound signature, etched into my memory after many years of hearing them.

And fast movers? I'll probably think of Lex every time I hear one now, more so every time I see a F-18. Definitely every time I see an Israeli Lawn Dart.

I still have no idea what smell it was that triggered the event. Or how that smell came to be at a small, New England Post Office. But I'm back now.

'Til the next trip.

marcus erroneous

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Measuring the man

What is the measure of a man?

It would be too easy to take this along the usual route, money, power, popular fame. I was tempted and restarted this post since I had started down that comfortable, familiar, trodden path.

But that is not Lex.

There is no Nobel Prize, no Oscar, no Pulitzer Prize, though I believe that's more a case of how far traditional journalism has fallen for the latter. There are the usual indicators however. There are some fairly important people that made the effort to let his friends and family know that they were well aware of who he was, as a military man and as a journalist. The Secretary of the Navy, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe who is also the commander of the United States European Command, and others have all commented and passed along their condolences.

Well over ten thousand posts of condolences on his blog.Throughout the threads you see the same heartfelt comments about missing him and the impact he has had on their lives. New blogs have sprung up spurred on by his example, taking the torch he has passed with his passing. Who knows how many cards will eventually show up making his family aware that their loss is also an international loss.

But, people who have never met him have traveled to his ceremony today. From across the country people who personally knew him and those who only knew him online have traveled to pay their respects to a man they all respected and who is now being laid to rest.

By all measures, he was a good husband, father, and provider. It was obvious how he felt about his family. Their successes were his joy, painfully obvious when he wrote of them. Their pain and tribulations were his as well, magnified through the lens of parental concern.

So, what is the measure of a man? He is measured by the good that he has done and how he has treated his fellow man. He is measured by the difference that he has made in the lives of his fellow man and the compassion he has shown them, great and not so. And by the way he treats even the animals of the earth entrusted to his care.

That is the measure.

You stand relieved sir, we have the watch.
Go with the thanks of a grateful nation and us your friends.
You will be missed.
Requiescat in pace Lex.

marcus erroneous

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Time & tide

It will be three weeks on Tuesday, the day that he will be laid to rest. Three weeks since he ran out of options, gas, and airspeed. And altitude. Three weeks since a witty, brilliant man passed from us in an accident that was as avoidable as his being able to willingly stop breathing. Three weeks since three children who are just on their way onto the path lost the guy that they will want to call on through the many years ahead when they have a question. Do I need to lime my yard in the fall? How do I get rid of fire ants in my yard? How much better gas mileage will I get if I change the air pressure in my tires, Dad? I am older than Lex and I still called my Dad to ask him questions that I still didn't have the answers to, until his death last year.

In those three weeks, a young man with several tours under his belt already sneaked out into a nearby village and killed seventeen people, many children. His brothers in arms were surprised, all of us were, this is not who we are in war. Back home another young man shot an even younger man under circumstances that are becoming less clear now that the perpetually aggrieved are on the scene to demand justice as they practice it. Which "they" and whose "justice" are as yet to be determined. I'm hoping we won't create another Richard Jewell in the process now that the MSM are on the scene. The President has officially weighed in, which is not a good sign for justice, but likely means that "fairness" will prevail.Given his record, I hope that I never do anything that has the President chiming in on my side.

During this same time frame we saw improvements in aviation technology. New materials, new techniques, and low emission flight. As with most new technologies, this one may or may not pan out. There seem to be some handling issues despite the unique materials used in the construction. After the initial competition the final design was selected. While there were some issues with scaling from the initial flying prototype to the final result, they seem to have done a good job of implementing the technology and remaining true to the designers vision. Obligatory aviation pr0n here.

Possibly NSFW, or not. ymmv

There is a story about an English King, Cnut (or Canute if you wish) that was constantly being flattered by his courtiers and generals. To hear it from them (incessantly, apparently) there was naught that he could accomplish but by royal command make it so. So, he set his throne on the edge of the beach and commanded the sea to cease advancing. It did of course continue its inexorable advance requiring the deployment of a platoon of the Royal Toweliers to attend to the damage to his majesty's state of dryness. His point to his court being that even a sovereign has limits to his powers. Subsequent sovereigns to this very day in sore need of this education. Pick one. Any one.

This incident predates Chaucer whose statement, 'For though we sleep or wake, roam or ride, Time flies, and for no man will it abide.' from his Clerk's Tale of 1390, has been quoted in various forms ever since. It may well be that Chaucer was well aware of Cnut's incident and had it in mind when he penned his subsequently quoth phrase. Or not. More to the point is the phrase that "time and tide wait for no man". The phrase predates modern English for good reason, it's ancient observation is as relevant today as it was so long ago.

Unfortunately, that means Lex. To be true to him we must move on, continue our lives without him, though the better for the knowing of him. Most of us have started posting again. I've got some of them on the right side here with more to follow as I find them. Newly formed is our collaborative effort The Lexicans with the hope that all of us pulling together can achieve at least a pale shadow of that which he did solo. And give us a different forum to discuss him and reminisce of him.

Me, I'm finishing my Master's. I'm working my way through 'Digital Evidence and Computer Crime', writing papers, doing labs, and trying to honor this place with some content. And working.

And sometimes stopping to look up at the clouds, enjoy the birds chirping, and love the simple act of being. Lex might be gone, but not forgotten.

 So, flee tyme! Begone merciless tydes! For while you abide not for us, he abides forever in our hearts.

marcus erroneous

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

But WHY?

It's been two weeks now since that terrible incident that resulted in what can only be referred to as a good friends death. Those of us that are Lexicans (some prefer Lexians) to a certain degree, just can't seem to move on. He's gone and we just can't get over it. It would be easy for someone to say, "What's the problem, it's not like you really knew him. He was just online to you".

You could say that.

You could.

I wouldn't, but someone could.

But WHY????

This past year I lost some people close to me. My Dad died a year ago last month. If you haven't been through it yet, losing a parent, I'm glad for you. It's tough. As with many things, it's a complicated thing though. First, there's the issue that they are gone, with the emotional issues that are attendant to that realization. All the realizations that he's gone, I can't talk with him again, and things left unsaid. There are the arrangements, telling the family which tears whatever bit of healing open again each time you inform another family member and have to relive it again.  You don't see him around any more. You go home and for the first time he's not in his chair and he's never going to be again. You sort through what was in his pockets, on his nightstand and dresser top. You have to go through his top drawer, that magical place you've never been before. It's an opening into him that you've never had as you see bits and pieces of his life that were important enough to him to keep though you have no idea what any of them mean. While I don't know the provenance of it, I have the kangaroo from his dresser top on mine now. The service and interment are painful but help to close the loop on this process. End of Phase I.

I'm the oldest son, I gave my father's eulogy. I found it oddly comforting that even Julius Caesar had been in my place. I returned to my home and dealt with my new life, the one without my father. Begin Phase II. While walking Oreo, our dog, it was a really beautiful day in the forest and I wanted to call my Dad and share it with him. And was reminded that I could not. Tears. Later in the season (we live up north where there are seasons), I was grilling outside and once I had finished placing the meat on the grill I reached for my cellphone to call my Dad and chat with him while grilling, my usual routine and was again slapped in the face with, can't call him anymore. Tears. While working out in the garage on a project I managed what I felt was a pretty innovative solution. Went to call Dad to share it with him and, you guessed it, can't call him anymore. Drill bits, which type should I use? Can't call him anymore. In many, many ways, mostly small, there are constant reminders that he is gone and it takes awhile to get used to it. My father-in-law passed away a couple of years ago, so both of my go-to guys are gone now. I call my uncle now. For now.

A couple of months after my father died, my oldest friend from growing up clutched his chest at work and toppled over dead. I'm only fifty-five and David was only a few months younger than I. We had bonded in the crucible of the third grade with Mrs. Bell who hated us both. My folks went to the first PTA meeting and my Dad came back and apologized to me that there was nothing he could do about her. David and I were not mainstream kids and were scolded and belittled by Mrs. Bell in class, adding to our outcast status with the other kids. So we bonded and stayed friends for life. I first heard "Dust in the Wind" on his record player, months before it ever hit the airwaves as David was Mr. Avant Garde. He got grounded (not an unusual occurrence for him) and sold me his concert ticket. 9th row, center in the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium for a new group that, when he purchased the ticket, no one had heard of. Two weeks before the concert it went from barely half-full to sold out. They had a song that went wild on the charts, "Bohemian Rhapsody" and I had a killer seat to see Queen on that tour.

A year ago at this time we were trading chat messages. While in Germany for work last April we were chatting again, things old and new. David was still sending me links to music he'd found that was artistically avante garde, but I found that I still appreciated his recommendations in music. Two weeks later he died. I found out when I went to his page and saw the notice put up by his father. Just a few days ago I put up a recommendation to David's page for a song I found that I think he'd like. For the rest of my life, as long as I listen to music (always) I'll have moments and songs that will bring David to life for me. Always.

Two weeks ago I posted on the Streamers thread where Lex posted he'd had one of the horizontal variety. I'd had one of the vertical variety and compared and contrasted the two types. I asked him how his sunset looked that night. I never received a response because shortly thereafter someone posted a news article about a jet accident and the death of a pilot. We haunted the thread until we found out it was Lex.

Yesterday morning, I got up and started my routine. Fed the cats and Oreo then headed off to work out. Returned, made my coffee and some oatmeal, then sat down for my morning routine. My second bookmark is Neptunus Lex. I hit it while on muscle memory, before I could stop myself. Same thing again this morning. When I get a moment and want to see what is happening, I hit my blog bookmark list and the second one is still Neptunus Lex. My first is the Belmont Club and when I come out of that, I instinctively hit Lex's page. In a way, he's there. You can not read his writing and not feel him still alive. I think that being virtual for many of us, his link is still there, unchanged, so he's still there. We didn't see him every morning across the table or in the office or at the coffee shop, so there is no absence of him in those places to reinforce things for us and help to make it more real. Because he's been virtual for us, it's still surreal that he's really gone. Like not being able to call Mom and ask her about a recipe, or Dad about what type of drill bit, or share a new group with David, you go to Lex's place and he's not posted something new.

Every morning I get up, feed the animals, get my coffee and read my blog list. And every morning I'm reminded, he's not posting any more. That's why.

Damn it this is hard to write, I still need to get a water proof keyboard.

marcus erroneous

Friday, March 16, 2012

Whither now?

In our Fortress of Reflection, where we wax and wane on things Lex, there are a couple of dominant memes. One is that Lex's demise reminds us of our frailty. A reminder that life is fleeting and oft taken for granted. In some ways, upon reflection it is not news to us. At face value that is. If you've not suffered a recent loss it's very easy to forget that we really are here today, gone tomorrow. As I dwell on the Lex thread I've neglected other threads that I belong to, where others that I have known or known of have passed in the last week.

 It came to me one day as I watched Number One Daughter back out of our driveway that I might be looking at her for the last time. Not because she was leaving us, heading to somewhere specifically dangerous, but because she was an American teenager heading out onto the roads of America. Given her inexperience and the danger that inhabits the streets of America she was heading out into, she could do everything right and still be killed on the streets. And this was pre-texting. This sudden thought all but dropped me to my knees like a punch to the gut.

 It was not a premonition, she left and later returned unharmed and having had no close calls. It was just an awareness of how fragile life is. A sudden dawning that my child was now participating in life in a manner that could suddenly snatch her away from me without warning or reason. Twenty years in the Army where some friends of mine died within minutes of me seeing them that last time had not prepared me for the mortal danger that is life on this planet for my children.

And for us, what happened to Lex is scary. He was a really good aviator, he believed in rehearsing the hard things during good weather because if it's hard under good circumstances, it's more so when the chips are down. So he walked the walk, he did the things that you should do to prepare you for when you roll snake eyes. A good pilot, who prepared, was careful, and didn't take things for granted. And it didn't matter, as some of them have said, "he touched the face of God and God touched him back and kept him".

There's an old saying in the Army, that the Vietnam vets taught me, "It's better to be lucky than skilled because one day you'll run out of skill". They had plenty of stories of guys that were successfully moving in on the bad guys only to jump into a shell hole for cover and have another shell land on them. And more recently with Lex, he ran out of everything, including luck.

Another thing is that his legacy is for us to go out and blog. To pass along that light that we shared in his community. Several have commented that with Lex gone, the magic is gone and we are likely to scatter. Several of us have decided to blog on and take that challenge. Several, this site included, were dusty and cobwebbed sites with little or no recent posts. But we see it as our job to take up that torch, to keep it lit, to go out and light up the dark corners of the Internet. To do what we can to fulfill the promise of blogging as Lex did so well.

Given his ability, it's a daunting task. It's a herculean task to write, then write again. And again. And again. He did so daily, several times daily, while in the military, while transitioning to a new career, while working on his post-graduate degree. Many of us have trouble doing so a couple of times a week, let alone daily. Lex wrote well, very well. I don't know about the others, but I feel like I'm writing using my feet and doing so in Sanskrit. It doesn't flow, it isn't natural, it's painful to do. I get lucky and my muse kicks in and then we're off to the races. Except for when it doesn't.

Number One Daughter helps me tremendously, I owe a large part of any skill that I have to her coaching me while I've been doing my post-graduate work. Soon to be finished. She walks that fine line between trying to help her Dad and not hurting his feelings. And she's been very patient with me, a gift of her mother.

 So, we're going out and trying our best. It's another way to deal with our grief and try to honor a man we miss and held in high esteem. We are part of his legacy, graduates of Lex's School of Blogalism, sometimes sans the talent, sometimes with some modicum of talent. But we know what it looks like when it's done correctly and we owe the world to try.

 marcus erroneous

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The thanks of a grateful nation

We have a place, we "Lexicans", where we can mourn in a private manner amongst ourselves. It is perhaps better described as an extended wake. We share our remembrances of Lex and our favorite posts by him, some of them seemingly prescient about his demise. But, he spent a career flying and attending memorials of shipmates who flew one time too many, well aware what fate could be his as well. He had looked inside himself and was comfortable with who he was and accepting of the fates of his chosen profession.

He had written of the loss of love, joy, and other simple experiences for those who precede us. He had seen it happen and accepted it as an occupational hazard. There are men who are willing to accept these things. By contemporary standards they are considered quaint believers in an old fashioned, bygone set of standards. They are not metrosexuals, not comfortable with relative standards, not concerned with being out of time. They used to be called "real men", men who knew who they are and not afraid to take a stand for something even if they be but one. They believe in a right and a wrong and not the contemporary relativism that seems to pass for, well, morals just doesn't seem to fit for what relativism doesn't stand for.

And those men believe in duty. And while we can not choose if we will die, we can have some choice in the manner of our death. For men like these would rather die for something bigger than themselves than spend their lives looking only to saving themselves. In "Act of Valor" the LT leaves a letter to his son. In it he admonishes his son not to live his life in fear but to live it well.

We are not afraid to die, but we are not rushing for the exit either. We are constrained to live life a certain way that does not allow us to turn away from what we must do but to stay the course. Sometimes, ultimately, our wives and families pay the price when they must continue on without us.

We cannot deny Death, we have not the power. We can only try to leave a legacy that says we were not in vain. And that was Lex.

It was posted by Lex several years ago and by one of us more recently that the separation is the hardest part. The absence of the husband and father from the family while so much of their life has passed. Irrecoverable experiences that are yawning chasms in our lives while we serve. He found it difficult to write of. His family had already given more than a family should have to give and now has had to give all of the rest of that time as well.

Absolutely, they have the thanks of a grateful nation.

marcus erroneous

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A light went out

Tuesday, 6 March, 2012 a light went out. At 0915 there was an accident, in the snow and the fog and the wind at Fallon NAS in Nevada. A “52 year old pilot, flying a 35 year old plane against 24 year old pilots” suffered an accident in which for reasons as yet unknown, resulted in his running off the taxiway into an ammunition storage facility and dying.

Below the fold news to the country at large. But not to everyone. The Secretary of the Navy sent his condolences to the family the pilot left behind. As did the Commander of the United States European Command, a four star admiral in the United States Navy. Pretty much all of the military bloggers in the United States have eulogized this pilot.

Carroll “Lex” LeFon, Captain, United States Navy, Retired. He spent a career in the Navy and retired after numerous carrier deployments with over 4,000 hours as a naval aviator flying first the A-7 and then the F-18 before retiring. Those that served with him know him for his wit, wisdom, his ability as a Naval aviator, and his ability as a leader. Could he fly? Yeah, the Navy sent him to be the assistant commander of TOPGUN. You may have heard of it, I think some guy made a training flick about the place.

He retired, something he apparently hadn't thought would happen, figuring something would happen to him first. But he did and moved to the civilian sector toiling diligently in a cube, still doing useful things for his Navy and doing the dutiful husband and father thing to support his family. From a glass cube at 30,000 feet at high speed to a padded cube at zero feet and no speed. And yet, there he was, still witty, still humorous, still smart and hard working impressing his civilian coworkers even on the ground.

What I and many others know him for is his writing, his wit, and his wisdom as doled out in his blog on the Web. Started early on he was part of the first wave of milbloggers, blogging on things military. And things not. His central theme was things military, but he touched upon politics, religion, life as a husband, life as a father, life as a military man, life as a Navy man, and life as a pilot. Especially life as a pilot. He would recount “sea stories” of various things that happened to him as a naval aviator, in the air and not. In the Army we call these “war stories” and they usually start out along the lines of “There I was, knee deep in hand grenades . . .” and you sometimes laugh out of politeness and sometimes you just laugh. When Lex told his you couldn't laugh because you were in the cockpit with him. Your heart would pound and your body would clench and you would know as best as is possible what it is like to fly without having done so. So much so that people, sometimes other pilots, would ask his advice and their feedback was that he was spot on in what he recommended for them.

On his blog reason and discourse were king. Prosaic and prolific, erudite and concise, he wove a fascinating dialogue on a number of topics. A community gathered around him where all were welcome to join the banter, lurk, or expound. With decorum and reason. Or at least with decorum. Sans decorum there are other venues for you that he would recommend. Graciously and not maliciously, but there are places for that behavior and his community was not one of those places. Tolerance and reason allow folks to discuss and interact with each other freely. And so they did, this community of Lex. Over the years the regulars would visit, discuss, or lurk. Getting to know each other, building relationships that even they were unaware of at the time. And the years passed, and this online community flourished.

And Lex, his blog is Neptunus Lex, toiled by day, was husband and father by night, and blogged by night and early morning as well. And read voraciously from what I can tell, as he was conversant on a wide range of topics. And flew on the weekends in some little planes where folks with fighter pilot fantasies could safely indulge with pilots, one of which was Lex, keeping you in the air and off the ground (except when that was what the flight plan required).

And it came to pass that Lex was offered the chance to fly fast movers again. Let slip the surly bonds of the cubicle and return to the skies to once again ply his trade as a naval aviator. Flying as an opposing force (OPFOR) for Navy pilots to help keep them honest by providing a skilled pilot, in an aircraft that they were not used to dealing with, flown by an adversary that would pounce were they to underestimate him. Being an experienced pilot he adapted to the new jet and flew again. And you could read it in his writing that he was fully alive again. And there were the occasional minor issues while flying this old bird of his. But he shared it all with us, in prose and video. And ultimately, flying one of these thoroughbreds of the sky caught up with him on Tuesday.

He posted, we discussed, and he didn't come back. The news showed up- an accident where Lex was flying at the time. The watch by the community on his last thread and the final, sorrowful confirmation that the accident was Lex and he had not survived. And we grieved. And we posted. And we exchanged emails amongst ourselves. And we came together. This community of widely varying people came together. First to grieve, then to honor him. From across the country and across the world. They reached out to each other to meet, to remember, to honor, and to celebrate the life of a man who had become their friend, in some cases their mentor.

During an email exchange with one, she wondered if her experience in grief over his passing was weird. My response to her was, “Not weird at all. Ultimately, each of us have to deal with our grief separately and without the blessing of Lex's silver tongued turn of phrase. More importantly than the endless memory of the Internet, where nothing is ever really forgotten, there are thousands of people whose lives have been touched by him. Each of those is a point of light that collectively are a greater testament to the man than anything that he could consciously have done. While Lex lives within us, while we tell people stories about him, while we share him with people that never knew him he lives on. His legacy is not just his prolific and erudite prose, it is all of us that miss him and will not let him be forgotten. So, tomorrow night lift a glass and celebrate his life and our fortune in knowing him.”

And so they came together to celebrate this life. Yeah, those relationships that they were unaware of? They discovered that they were friends who could come together and support each other. They gathered in their groups to meet for the first time in the flesh. Friends who had not yet met, as it were. Here in Vermont we discovered that we will continue the ground component of our friendship. I suspect that many others discovered the same thing, they were friends that hadn't met and were pleasantly surprised at the meeting.

So, on this past Tuesday a light went out. And in response a constellation went on.

Absent comrades.

Marcus Erroneous