Sadness and gladness of the Last Post

anzac poppy 2016

This was an editorial in one of the national newspapers for Anzac Day 1997…I can’t find any notes I may have made identifying the paper or the author…

The Last Post always makes me cry. I can’t help it. There is something in those crisp clear notes ringing out in the sharp-edged air of ANZAC morning that takes my breath away. It sets up a curious chemical reaction in the soul, where sadness and gladness are fused together and one is lifted out of oneself and into the unending reverberations of history.

The bugler speaks to the dead – the “glorious” dead – inscribed on countless cenotaphs and roadside memorials from one end of New Zealand to another. Not that there is anything glorious about dying. In the paintings of our country’s battles, the death of young men, far from home, in agony and fear, is seldom portrayed with much accuracy. We spare ourselves the horrors of war – and rightly so. Veterans of the real thing seldom speak of what they have seen and heard lest their words conjure up again the screams, the blood, the shattered flesh, the cries of “Mother!”.

The Last Post speaks to the silence beyond death; the space in which we contemplate the meaning of the final “sacrifice”. The Last Post asks us to ask ourselves “What did these young men die for?”

When I was a little boy, I would spend my ANZAC Days drawing pictures of soldiers climbing up the rocky hillsides of the Dardanelles. And, over the vivid colours of the battle scenes, I would print in the laborious hand of the young: “For King and Country”.

I do not think that there are many today who would die for the House of Windsor. But, in the silent crowds of young New Zealanders – more every year – who join the old diggers on ANZAC morning, I sense a longing to serve, to sacrifice, to give something back to their country.

The generations of New Zealanders born after World War II have been spared what the United Nations charter calls “the scourge of war”. It is a mixed blessing. To be sure, we have never had to hold our friends in our arms and watch them die or receive a telegram informing us of the death of a loved one. But neither have we experienced the powerful sense of unity with which a nation at war is infused, not the bonds of comradeship forged when men and women from all walks of life are brought together and transformed into a  fighting force.

Most importantly, the post-war generations will never know what it feels like to play for history’s highest stakes – when the issues of ultimate significance hung in the balance.

I often ask myself: “Is political activism a substitute for war?” “What is it that we go on protest ‘marches’?” “Why do we seek out those moments of ‘confrontation’?” When we see that line of helmeted police officers, their long batons drawn; when we experience that lonely thrill of fear, that sudden rush of adrenalin, are we not, in our own way, playing soldiers?

People often ask me: “What’s wrong with today’s young people? Why aren’t they protesting like we did?” My answer is brutally simple: “Because of what we did” Our generation has reduced those “issues of ultimate significance ” – Roosevelt’s “four freedoms” (freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom from want, freedom from fear) down to just one: the freedom to buy and sell. Once a year, on ANZAC Day, we call forth the dead and invoke the myths that animate our nation. In the half-light of dawn, as the bugler draws out our tears and we “remember them”, remember the living also, and never forget that there are greater things to die for than a balance sheet.

And remembering other young soldiers in other wars…

Something wicked….


A couple of days ago, a friend had what he called a rant on Facebook…

Religion is not to blame for all the world’s problems. If you believe that the eradication of religion will fix humankind then your faith is more misguided than those you believe you are better than.

Religion is not the problem. If you believe there is no God (or Gods), then people cannot be doing God’s will. Therefore their actions are their own, and they choose to commit atrocities. This would indicate that the behaviour is in their (or our?) nature and is not the fault of religion. It cannot be both fantasy and the font of all evil. People will always find excuses for their actions.

I get to mix with many religious groups of different faiths and denominations. The vast majority are communities of people who are interested in living their lives with generosity, selflessness and tolerance. They do this actively in their wider communities – actually practising being nice to people without trying to convert them. Sometimes they seem like the last bastion of selflessness in our materialistic, consumer, celebrity-focused society. Working with them is refreshing.

Religion is not the problem nor the solution. It just is. However there are some evil bastards who will use any tools at their disposal for power. They should be the targets of our wrath, not the constructs they seek to pervert for their own means.

And… rest.

Wherever you sit in the political spectrum, whatever deity or belief system you may or may not support, this is a pretty damn fine summary of the foe we face in the second decade of the 21st Century.

For almost two and a half decades, we have submitted to the myth that war can be precise and sterile, safe almost, despite all contemporary and historical evidence to the contrary.

That ‘Greatest Generation’ succeeded because they mobilised their nations to defeat evil…not 8-5, not Monday to Friday, not just those who cared or those who needed the work…defeating evil is not something that others do…

That more may have died in less publicised and less public locations takes nothing from the attacks in Paris nor does it count that Paris once committed an act of war against us…Paris now is exactly what it is…a deliberate goad to the West…some people should be careful what they wish for…something more wicked this way may come and it’ll be looking to settle some scores…

What happened in Paris last week was evil. Sponsored and spurred by a small group of ‘evil bastards’…who will not be swayed let alone defeated by Tricolour photo filters…nor even the red of spilled blood…only the cleansing blue-white fire of instant sunshine…

Kiwiscout Walks Aotearoa : Beginnings

Kiwiscout Walks Aotearoa : Beginnings.

Pat Beath has been a colleague and a mate for many years and I am most happy to support his latest endeavour, a charity walk along the Te Araroa Trail from Cape Reinga at the top of New Zealand’s North Island all the way down to the township of Bluff (where the best oysters come from) at the bottom of the South Island.

It’s an easy 3000 kilometres (well, easy to write anyway) and Pat’s given himself 5 months to complete the walk – for those that are numerically-disadvantaged, that’s an average 20 kilometres a day, every day, for five months…and while it may not sound like a lot, and yes, most of it will be through New Zealand’s unbeatable scenic beauty, it is a serious distance to walk…in case, you didn’t notice, New Zealand has the occasional hill, and then there’s that always inconvenient stretch of water separating the Islands – really, a defining point of islands when you think about it…

A little about the charity that Pat is walking to support…Shine is a national organisation that counters all natures of domestic abuse…providing a range of integrated services to do what works to stop domestic abuse – from answering that first call for help to a free national Helpline to securing victims’ homes; their other services include KIDshine, Safety First (crisis support), Safe House, No Excuses men’s stopping violence programme, training programmes, and more.  I don’t think it really needs any explanation beyond that – definitely a cause worth supporting and you can do that right here at Givealittle.

I’ll be following Pat’s odyssey and hope to walk a ways with him as he comes though this part of the country…

pats walk owhango

…this part of the country…

Pretty much turn left at Owhango and follow the Traverse to the Ed Hillary Centre…as a point of reference, Mt Ruapehu is the big white thing at the bottom of the image, with Mt Doom just to its north, and Owhango is where the track makes a 90 degree turn into the bush……it looks like the track abruptly just ends there under the shadow of Mt Doom but it’s really only a provincial boundary change…

pats walk wanganui

…some more of this part of the country…

…the trail hooks back past Ruapehu to the headwaters of the Whanganui River for a longish paddle down to the town of Wanganui (no ‘h’!) to follow along the west coast into the Manawatu…

Pat’s ambition is to raise $10,000 for Shine but as of Day One (today) he already has almost a grand on the clock and I am sure that will rocket higher as more and more of the green beret-ed community get in behind him…

A Warrior Passes


Last weekend, Kereama Graham Hare Wirangitakina passed away at his home in Waiouru. Known to many as Graham Wi or just Wiina, Graham was a friend, colleague and mentor to many of us. He was laid to rest yesterday.


One of the many tributes to Wiina, said that this video montage was one of his favourites – as it will be for many who passed through the gates of Dieppe Barracks in the 1980s although it might be entitled The Usual Suspects

I’ve taken the liberty of including some of the tributes to Wiina to illustrate the man and the effect that he had on so many…

Hey brothers. We carried our bro into the Wharenui at the Waiouru Marae and he looked so at peace after his years of silent suffering. For those of yous that haven’t seen him for some time, he progressively got worse over the years. Spoke to his brother and mum, as sad as it is, it was a blessing in disguise and he is now at peace back with his whanau in the sunny far north. He will have a catch-up with his long lost bro Andy Warren in heavenly peace. ONWARDS brothers.


Kereama Graham Hare Wirangitakina, I have been thinking all week about how you have influenced my life, and finally I know what to say. Long before I became a father, you explained and showed me what fatherhood actually meant. Little did I know at the time, that conversation would shape my understanding of parenting. There were many other snippets of gold in my memories of you Cpl Wi (Cpl at the time), but to me, this was undoubtedly your greatest impact on my life. I will be forever indebted to the interest you took in helping mold who I am today.

I am sorry I cannot be there to say farewell, but I will certainly be charging a very full glass of Rum to you….many times. Take it easy Wi, thanks again and RIP.


Chur whanau just arrived back from Wi’s tangi and I can report that things went really well. Soldiers, whanau and friends came together…we sang, we laughed, we remembered, we haka’d, we had orders, we had confirmitory orders, we rehearsed, we got cheeky, we got angry, we took a spiritual journey to Te Reinga, we had the meanest weather, and we comforted one another.

Although it was a collective effort lead by capable men and women, a big mihi goes out to the bro Soli! Nei ra te mihi atu ki a koe te kaihautu o te waka nei. The spirit of Ngati Tumatauenga is well and truly alive…mai nga piki me nga heke we will always stand tall in the face of adversity. If I can sum it up in one word “SPEECHLESS”!!

E Winar, okioki i te atawhai o te Atua bro…till we meet again dear friend.

Te taimana whero
Taimana ki runga
Taimana ki raro
Taimana i te kura takahi puni

Whakamua! ONWARD…


Wiina’s generation shaped the New Zealand Army for the better part of three decades, and through that interface, they were also a formative influence on large parts of New Zealand society at all levels. If one word could sum up this generation it would be ‘standards’ – a closer runner-up for those who know them, might also be ‘mischiefs’…


Many of ‘the usual suspects’…

I don’t remember when I first met Graham Wi, as I knew him, it would have been as a very junior soldier in 2/1 RNZIR in Burnham or 1 RNZIR in Singapore some time in the mid-80s. But my most memorable recollection of him is from 1 RNZIR after it relocated from Singapore to the Manawatu in 1989. I think it was 1993 or ’94, and responsibility for conducting infantry corps training (infantry specialist training after recruit training) had passed to Alpha Company, 1 RNZIR. To regenerate the battalion’s numbers a lot of infantry soldiers had been recruited but the recruit depot in Waiouru was unable to handle the numbers and issued an ultimatum to the effect of ‘…you want them trained, you come and train them…’ As a result, 1 RNZIR sent a platoon commander, platoon sergeant, and some corporals to Waiouru to train a platoon’s worth of infantry recruits. Graham Wi was the that platoon sergeant.

When these young soldiers passed out of their recruit training and arrived in Linton, we were all struck by their professionalism, enthusiasm and standards – read between the lines, and you might gather that not all the products of the recruit depot at this time were as impressive. Then we started to to hear whispers from Waiouru that the 1 RNZIR training team that we had sent there might not have played by the PC rules and perhaps some of the recruits had been mistreated i.e. that their professionalism, enthusiasm and standards might be more due to fear than the infantry ethos and culture.

I asked Graham about it directly. His response was a disdainful glance north (towards Waiouru) “…Nah. All we did was introduce these young men to the concept of standards and the principle that those standards weren’t coming down to meet them…we set the bar and they all came up to it…it IS that simple…” In the months we worked with those young soldiers, that message came through again and again…they were there because they wanted to be there…they sought challenges for the satisfaction of overcoming them…

Kereama Graham Hare Wirangitakina’s generation taught an army to do the job right (regardless of your personal opinion on whether it needed to be be done or not), to be an example to yourself and those around, to fault-check and get the detail right, to push on that little bit further, over just one more false crest…


Onward, old friend…

UAVs: hit or miss?

out-00061Terrifying video captures moment German drone missed Afghan plane carrying 100 passengers by just two metre | Mail Online.

Pitiful attempts at contemporary journalism like this get right up my nose! Not only is it poor practice to take an incident that occurred nine years ago and portray it in such a manner that it appears to be a recent occurrence, it is even worse to do it on a topic that a. the ‘journalist’ in question clearly know nothing about; and b. in such a manner that all the ignorati out there that take the internet as gospel will break out their pitchforks and torches.

In all fairness, I may be just a little sensitive with regard to the time issue as I have just completed a university marking marathon in which I have been disappointed at the number of students that think that they can take an incident in one point in time and link it casually to another event some time later.

It’s also a beef I have with Max Boot’s latest book Invisible Armies where he takes a stance that a coercive approach to quelling irregularity, insurgency and other signs of unrest amongst ‘the people’ is counter-productive and ultimately leads to the downfall of the coercing regime. I take issue with this because

a. I think that historically, the coercive approach has actually been more successful than more populist forms of maintaining peace and order;

b. it is a big leap to link the downfall of a regime to the sacking of a city or decimation of a population some centuries (yes, centuries, not decades) before’ and

c. there are just as many indications that ‘peace, love and we’ll-build-you-a-schoolhouse’ approach to pacification is not that successful, regardless of its current contemporary favour.

The constructive advice I give to students in my markers comments is to to construct a timeline of events that MAY be relevant to their argument and then to examine that timeline to see if they can still draw a causal line between an event and the outcome that they wish to link it to e.g. did coalition application of Warden’s Rings theory, specifically to Iraqi leadership, in the 1991 Gulf War air campaign directly lead to the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2004? It almost sounds plausible until out into the context of time…Ms Becky Evans of the Daily Mail – and Max Boot, if you’re reading this – might wish to take note…

UAS operations are no more or no less safe than manned aircraft operations so long as the EXISTING rules are followed. In the case cited above by the Daily Mail, a combination of procedural air traffic control and air crew issues lead to the situation of the near miss, an actual collision being avoided by the crew of the UAS. The involvement of a UAS in a flight safety event does not automatically mean that the UAS is at fault. In another popular example of the dangers of UAS, where an Air National Guard C-130 struck an RG-7 Shadow in Afghanistan, the C-130 was at fault.

The Daily Mail does nothing but stir up ignorance and conceal the issues that do need to be addressed i.e. those of operators, of manned or unmanned systems, that fail to apply the minimum standards for safe operation of aircraft in a specific airspace environment. UAS are small and often fly close to the ground, making them very difficult to detect with time to take evasive action. As a result, airspace management ‘bureaucracy’ like NOTAMs, SPINs, ATOs, etc becomes so much more important for providing the situational awareness required by the operators of manned aircraft: might is only right until it gets to(o) stoopid

‘…with great power comes great responsibility…’ and thus the operators of (more powerful, bigger, faster) manned aircraft have the responsibility to ensure that they deconflict with UAS approved to operate in a  given area of airspace. There is little to be done about the cowboys on either side of the manned/unmanned fence that do not play by the rules e.g. the jet jocks that think that flying in a combat zone means they can zoom and boom wherever they like, or the private contractor that just flips their undeclared Ebay UAS into the sky because everyone knows that ‘…it’s a big-ass sky…’ apart from breeding those elements out of the aviation culture and fostering a sense of air-mindedness amongst anyone that thinks they need to operate an aircraft (with or without seats).

Here is New Zealand, small UAS fly commercially almost every day with the permission and blessing of the Civil Aviation Authority. They fly in and over urban areas, and in controlled airspace. How do they get away with it? Because the operators reviewed the rules, assessed the risk and offered a mitigation philosophy to the CAA. When, and only when, that mitigation philosophy was accepted, they were in business – literally.

The genie of small UAS proliferation is already out of the bottle, and it is unlikely that it will ever get drawn back in – not when camera-equipped UAS can be purchased from any Toys’r’Us – like so many other genies, small UAS are something that we need to get to grips with and the time for that is now…


21st Century Military Operations

Martin Dransfield also presented at Massey on his return from commanding the New Zealand PRT in Bamiyan Province in Afghanistan in 2010. That was an insightful perspective into aspects of that operation well beyond what has been reported int he media and I am sure that this one will be equally enlightening…

Martin Dransfield 21st Century Operations

Centre for Defence and Security Studies Public Lecture

Colonel Martin Dransfield’s career has spanned five decades and has included tours to Northern Ireland and to the divided city of Berlin during the 1980’s, the Sinai as part of the Multinational Force and Observers mission, Timor as the second New Zealand Battalion’s Commanding Officer in 2000, and Afghanistan as the Commander of New Zealand’s Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamyan during 2009 and 2010. He has just returned from a two year tour as the United Nations Chief Military Liaison Officer in Timor Leste, which culminated with the United Nations successfully closing down the mission in December 2012.

Based on these experiences he is well qualified to comment on today’s operational environment. Moreover, as New Zealand ends its missions to Timor Leste, the Solomon Islands and Afghanistan, Colonel Dransfield’s personal observations provide a useful insight into Joint, Multinational and United Nations approaches to operations. He will share these thoughts during a forum in Massey on 15 May 2013.

Leading from the Front

Major Wilson pictured here in 2010 speaking with then Defence Minister Wayne Mapp. (c) Dean Kozanic

The following statement has been issued by the New Zealand Defence Force on behalf of Major Craig Wilson, the officer commanding Kiwi Company at the time of the gun battle with insurgents in Bamyan, Afghanistan, on 4 August.
“I am writing this statement for release to the general public. Until I am well enough, these words will have to take the place of me speaking directly.

“All six of us wounded personnel are incredibly pleased at the way LCpls Pralli Durrer and Rory Malone were honoured by their Army units and the nation more generally over the weekend. We are thinking of Rory and Pralli and it gave us great comfort to see them appropriately honoured.
“Our first thoughts are with the families of Pralli and Rory and I look forward to meeting the families in person on my return to New Zealand. I appreciate the support being provided to the families of our fallen, which I know will be coming from so many compassionate people in the country we serve and love.
“We are very much thinking of the Durrer and Malone families and their friends, as well as the families of all the guys still out doing the job in Afghanistan. We really appreciate the support of the New Zealand public, and I am hopeful that that public support will be ongoing to the families of the men and women still delivering the mission in Afghanistan.
“With regard to the other injured men of Kiwi Company, I have been very proud of their conduct. We have tried to be as strong as possible. I am sure I speak for us all when I talk about the support we have received.
“This initially came from our mates on the ground, who in some cases risked their own lives to get us out of immediate danger and provided immediate first aid. Then from our medics – who have been consummate professionals all tour and stood up yet again.
“Finally, from our headquarters and support personnel who brought all the external support to bear that we needed; who made the best of what was an incredibly difficult situation; and, as always, made the troops on the ground feel supported.
“I would like to also publicly praise the coalition troops who responded in support of the situation – especially the MEDEVAC helicopter pilots and crews who are some of the most skilled and brave unsung heroes of the Afghan theatre.
“Thanks also goes to the many coalition medical teams through the chain of evacuation that in some cases saved our lives. In all cases they made us feel safe and secure. The public of New Zealand should know that these Dutch, German and American medical teams treated us like their own countrymen, working tirelessly and with great skill.
“I would like to thank our military leaders and their staff back in New Zealand, who through their hard-working liaison officers have made us feel as though heaven and earth is being moved to keep us supported, and getting us home to our families quickly, where we all want to be. We look forward to reuniting with our family and friends, getting our medical treatment finalised, and getting back on with things just as soon as we can.
“With regard to the incident itself, I and the other wounded look forward to formally passing to the New Zealand Defence Force, at the appropriate time on our return, the knowledge and detail of this battle that we possess. This battle was very fast, very complex, and came down to a pitched gunfight where the insurgent force had many advantages over us at that moment. The full story is yet to be pieced together.
“Judging by the nature of my wounds, my days as an operational soldier are probably over but I will continue working for my soldiers now and over the next while to ensure that they are accredited the respect and recognition that their actions in Bamyan deserve.
“While this was a major combat engagement, it is what our men and women work and train for. I know Kiwi Company will have continued on committed to their work in Afghanistan because they are a professional group, and that’s what soldiers do. 
“Finally, I wish to thank the public of New Zealand for their support of all our service personnel on operations everywhere. It is really important to us, especially when times get tough.”

About the incident:
On 4 August, Kiwi Company came to the support of the Afghan National Directorate of Security who were under attack by insurgents. The NDS sustained two deaths and a further 11 personnel, including one civilian, were wounded. The New Zealand Defence Force sustained two deaths and a further six wounded.

About Major Wilson:
Major Craig Wilson was shot in the shoulder and received multiple wounds to his lungs, ribs, collarbone and shoulder-bone, as well as artery and tissue damage, and has lost the use of his right arm. However, doctors anticipate that he will regain some if not all function after likely many months rehabilitation. All of Maj Wilson’s wounds have been effectively treated, except the nerve damage where treatment/rehabilitation will commence after his return to New Zealand.
Maj Wilson is a married father of three, who lives in Burnham.
In 2007, he received the New Zealand Gallantry Decoration – NZGD – for events while serving with the New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan in 2004.
The NZGD is the third-highest military decoration for New Zealand. It is granted in recognition of ‘acts of exceptional gallantry in situations of danger’ while involved in war and warlike operational service.

My Little Life: Idiocy

My Little Life: Idiocy.

Mama M has a very angry (and quite rightly so!!) post on the idiocy of those who persist in driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI).

Down here, it’s more commonly known as Drunk In Charge, or DIC and there is similarly self-righteousness being displayed by the dope-smoking community at the apparent invasion of their rights as NZ Police step up their campaign against those that drive under the influence of drugs other than alcohol.

Apparently we don’t actually have specific legislation that makes being in charge of a firearm while under the influence a specific offence but maybe if we did it might help some people join the dots between being under the influence for whatever cause or reason and being in charge of a lethal weapon.

Living rurally as we do, taking DIC/DUI seriously can be a bit of a social damper as there’s not really the option of catching a taxi and picking up the car in the morning if we go out and have a couple too many – we limit ourselves to one or none drinks if we are going to drive with none generally being the preferred option – and have realised that there is something to be said for having teenagers living at home (once they have attained a full drivers license). So we rarely go out and drink unless we have accommodation in location – and that doesn’t mean that instead we just have big benders at home either – not just from some concept of social responsibility but because we have both seen the human cost of those who flaunt common sense and decide that it does not apply to them. Personally, I have no problem with those who drive under the influence and only take themselves out  – I’m a big advocate of preemptive natural selection – but those is so rarely the case and it is the other occupants of the vehicles, other road users and pedestrians who so often pay the price for one driver’s blatant selfishness and irresponsibility…

fly further on to the stars, friend

I got a call from Rowland Harrison at Hawkeye UAV yesterday to tell me that retired naval aviator, Carroll LeFon, aka Neptunus Lex, had been killed flying a F-21 at NAS Fallon.

I never met Lex but corresponded with him a  couple of times after Rowland introduced me to his blog in 2009 and always found his blog an insightful perspective into the world of military and general aviation, also also into his ‘take’ on world events. In my ever so humble opinion, one of the better blogs around and certainly an inspiration for the rest of the military blog community.

A Personal Note from Secretary Ray Mabus

By Whisper, on March 8th, 2012

I mourn the passing of a great naval aviator, a professional analyst of all things naval, and a soulful and compelling writer of poetry and prose – Ray Mabus, SecNav.

cross-posted at Naval Institute blog

The Navy Times story that broke the news:

Crash kills pilot who blogged as Neptunus Lex

By Joshua Stewart – Staff writer

Posted : Wednesday Mar 7, 2012 13:13:46 EST

Retired naval aviator Carroll LeFon, perhaps better known by the nom de plume Neptunus Lex, was killed in a plane crash Tuesday morning when his F-21 Kfir crashed at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nev., his blog confirmed.

LeFon, 51, retired as a captain in June 2008 after serving as an instructor at Top Gun and in various positions at several strike fighter squadrons.

In his civilian life, LeFon worked for Airborne Tactical Advantage Co., a contractor that operates simulated enemy aircraft with which student aviators train. But as a prominent military blogger, he was part analyst, part cheerleader, part critic and part poet who wrote about the Navy, his family, the military and global affairs with the casual tone, frankness and familiarity that flows through ready rooms. His sea stories were personal memoirs as well as parables.

ATAC and Fallon did not return calls for comment. The cause of thecrash is under investigation.

LeFon began blogging in 2003 during the early months of the invasion of Iraq. Like many other military bloggers, he initially wrote anonymously — it was and still can be problematic for service members to openly publish opinions.

Besides writing for his personal fulfillment, he tried to counter media reports that would tax the military’s will to fight, said Cmdr. Chap Godbey, a blogger, foreign area officer and the author of one of the dozens of tributes to LeFon to hit the web as news of his death spread.

“He was a guy who was able to put out the truth, put out first-hand reporting from folks and put out things that would not have gotten out any other way,” Godbey said.

LeFon’s blog chronicled his own experiences in the Navy, his transition into retirement and his second career in the civilian workforce.

He was thrilled to fly Kfirs as opposition forces because it meant that he would continue to operate one of the world’s most advanced jets, Godbey said.

The joy of having a second chance, not being over, that’s a big thing for fighter pilots, because once you’re done, you’re done. And that change hits people pretty hard,” he said.

Originally from Alexandria, Va., LeFon earned his commission through the Naval Academy in 1982.

“To this day, I cannot see the academy’s chapel dome in the distance without checking my watch to see if I am late, and wondering whether I am going to be in trouble,” he wrote in one of his posts.

He reported to his first squadron in the fleet, Strike Fighter Squadron 25, in July 1987. “Here is where I discovered that despite being the only male child in my family, I had twelve brothers,” he wrote.

Several other billets involved training, including a tour as an instructor at Navy Fighter Weapons School, better known as Top Gun. He was the executive officer and later commanding officer of Strike Fighter Squadron 94. He was with that squadron from June 2001 to July 2003.

Along the way he deployed seven times, serving on the carriers Constellation, Independence and Carl Vinson. He earned two Legions of Merit, two Meritorious Service Medals, the Air Medal (Strike/Flight Award), two Navy/ Marine Corps Commendation Medals and the Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal.

He leaves behind his wife and three children, including a son who flies MH-60S Seahawks.

Married to the best girl I ever met, who also delivered up three wonderful children. Don’t really know how I could be happier, or more blessed,” he wrote.

Getting it right

In regard to Vietnam, it is too easy to focus on the perceptions of ultimate failure without understanding what the conflict was about from all protagonists’ points of view, and to ignore what actually worked which was an awful lot of it. Vietnam offers some great opportunities for ‘Yank-bashing’ but in reality, it was a learning experience for all the nations involved.

Did the air war over Vietnam suggest a ‘best practice’ for the employment of air power?

Yes and in so many areas. All of the following capabilities today owe their current ‘best practice’ to the Vietnam air war:

  • modern air-to-air combat;
  • Combat Search and Reascue (CSAR);
  • aerial casevac and AME;
  • fixed- and rotary-wing gunships;
  • use of maritime patrol aircraft overland;
  • fixed- and rotary-wing air mobility;
  • Suppression of Enemy Air defences (like we would want to suppress friendly air defences) SEAD;
  • airborne C2;
  • Close Air Support (CAS);
  • air-to-air refuelling;
  • aerial special operations and support to COIN;
  • Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR);
  • UAVs;
  • precision strike;
  • Air-Land Integration;
  • airfield ground defence.

I may have missed one or two minor capabilities but the development of best practice, which lies predominantly at the tactical and operational levels, is largely separate from the outcome of the conflict, certainly from victory. In fact, it might be said that the best catalyst for learning is a good punch in the nose.

Curtis Le May said he could have ended the Vietnam War inside two weeks. Do you think this was possible?

Without a doubt. Le May was a strategic thinker and it is unlikely that he was only thinking in terms of targeting only North Vietnam. The two key enablers for North Vietnam’s war effort were the Soviet Empire and China and Le May would have been considering what things they might hold more dear that sponsoring a sideshow conflict in Indochina. This is not to say that he would propose physical attack on either nation or its assets but certainly the big stick might have been waved in other geographic and political areas. This was the time of Eisenhower’s and Kennedy’s nuclear brinkmanship over Matsu and Qemoy, Berlin and Cuba.

Having said that, there has never been any doubt that the USAF and USN could have shut down the flow of ALL military aid into North Vietnam in a week: North Vietnam only has a very small number of ports and railway links through which this aid travelled and these were always off-limits to the campaign that was conducted. Without the external war aid, ranging from AK-47s to SA-2s, coming in by ship and rail, North Vietnam would have had little more than moral support to provide its forces in the south.

What do you think are the essential conditions for an interdiction, denial campaign to be successful? – and – were they met in the Vietnam War?

There are four key conditions to a successful air interdiction campaign:

  • political will,
  • clearly defined objectives,
  • knowing what to strike,
  • having the means to strike.

Only the latter two were consistently present in Vietnam until the Easter ’72 invasion and LINEBACKER II campaign at the end of the same year. Note, please, that both campaigns were successful…go figure…

The interdiction campaign was at the operational level while along the Trail and in South Vietnam itself tactical actions were conducted daily to constrain the flow of reinforcements and supplies to anti-government forces. If the operational campaign was successful, then the tactical actions would have been less challenged. It may also have meant that it would have been less necessary to conduct airstrikes into Laos and Cambodia, especially since North Vietnam’s ability to influence and intimidate those governments would have been reduced by a successful campaign north of the DMZ.

In considering current events, the current sham of a campaign in Libya only meets one of the four criteria, that of being able to hit things with a hammer…

Is it true to say that the Vietnam experience represented a massive failure of air power?

As per my response to the first question, not even.

Not only were most aspects of airpower employed well, many were developed and taken to a much higher level throughout the war. To fixate on one aspect of the air war, a relatively small one in the timeline when the various bombing halts are taken into consideration, and based on that one aspect, declare the whole campaign a failure of air power is grossly over-simplistic.

Was air power unduly restricted by political considerations?

Yes and this has been well documented since the end of the war. This is not to say that a strong political will in the White House would have led to a victory for South Vietnam as there are no guarantees in war, and less so in the complex environment that was post-war Indochina.

Johnson was an internalist, not an internationalist like the four Presidents before him and Nixon after him. Like Barack Obama, another internalist, he inherited a war he neither started nor wanted or cared about. Surrounded by senior advisors who understood systems but not politics, and who personified Eisenhower’s warning against the ‘military-industrial complex’, Johnson took it upon himself to personally run the air war bypassing his air power professionals. Unfortunately, this is nature of the military beast in most western nations where the military is subordinate to civilian control. All we can do is educate…or go start a junta in South America someplace…ours not to question why…

We can see another example of political considerations affecting the application of air power in the way that the false lessons of DESERT STORM led to the false perception that a similar approach would bring the Serbs to heel; and again in Iraq and Afghanistan where SECDEF Rumsfeld favoured the use of air power over the use of ground forces.