When it comes to North Korea,it’s good to know that our military has its priorities straight

The headlines have been deeply disturbing:  North Korea, led by an unstable 20-something, has reinstated war against the United States and South Korea after a fifty-plus year hiatus in active hostilities.  Admittedly, North Korea hasn’t fired any shots yet, but its rhetorical volleys have been incendiary.  Just yesterday, it cut the single communication line that ran between North and South Korea.

Although the full scope of North Korea’s nuclear capability is a mystery (indeed, the full scope of its entire military is a mystery), we know that it’s spent the last fifty-plus years building weapons aimed at Seoul.  Even if 90% of them are duds (entirely possible given North Korea’s fizzled rocket exercises living standards), the 10% remaining could wreak havoc on the densely populated South Korean peninsula.  Japan would also be in North Korea’s cross hairs.

With the war drums beating, the United States Navy is hard at work keeping a sharp eye on the most significant threat to the United States — climate change.

No, that’s not one of my typos.  That’s really what Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III said.  Even the très liberal Boston Globe seemed taken aback:

America’s top military officer in charge of monitoring hostile actions by North Korea, escalating tensions between China and Japan, and a spike in computer attacks traced to China provides an unexpected answer when asked what is the biggest long-term security threat in the Pacific region: climate change.

Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, in an interview at a Cambridge hotel Friday after he met with scholars at Harvard and Tufts universities, said significant upheaval related to the warming planet “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen . . . that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.’’

“People are surprised sometimes,” he added, describing the reaction to his assessment. “You have the real potential here in the not-too-distant future of nations displaced by rising sea level. Certainly weather patterns are more severe than they have been in the past. We are on super typhoon 27 or 28 this year in the Western Pacific. The average is about 17.”

Put aside the fact that huge bodies of new, verifiable evidence show that all the hysterical climate models were grossly exaggerated.  Nature is just doing what nature has always done.  But even if you too believe that climate change is imminent and apocalyptic, right now you  need to stay focused on the fact that, with North Korea threatening imminent nuclear hellfire, our Navy is concerned focusing its efforts on hypothetical threats twenty or more years down the line.

Since I’m a big fan of the Navy, I absolutely refuse to believe that Admiral Locklear has drunk that deeply of the Kool-Aid.  This must be some elaborate double-blind technique.  I can think of two sneaky reasons to explain this idiocy:  The first is that the Navy is deliberately ignoring North Korea in order to show that the U.S. is a strong big dog, disinterested in a little dog’s inane yapping.  In other words, Locklear is engaged in an elaborate power play.  The second is that this is a ruse to hide the fact that the U.S. is planning a major and immediate response if North Korea sends so much as a toy dart over the Demilitarized Zone.  Even as the North Koreans think that we’re dumb as rocks, we’re planning a big defense or assault.

I hope I’m right.  Otherwise, our nation is in deep doo-doo.

Hat tip:  Ace of Spades

The Battle of Midway Commemoration; or, jury rigging is a good thing

Jury rigging: “Jury rigging refers to makeshift repairs or temporary contrivances, made with only the tools and materials that happen to be on hand. Originally a nautical term, on sailing ships a jury rig is a replacement mast and yards improvised in case of damage or loss of the original mast.”

Humans have always made do with what’s on hand.  There is a special significance, though, attached to the fact that the phrase English speakers use to describe this universal practice — “jury rigging” — has a nautical origin.  It reminds us that the Navy is often far from home, and even far from land, and that it must make do with what it has.  Its fixes and patches and imaginative restructurings of existing items may have to last for several months and thousands of nautical miles.  Because of this necessity, the Navy manages to be both the most tradition-bound of the services and, in crunch time, often the most innovative.

At last night’s Battle of Midway Commemoration in San Francisco, jury rigging was the name of the game, and I mean that as a high compliment.  Several things did not go as planned, but it didn’t matter.  A little jury rigging here, and a little jury rigging there, and the evening sailed through with flying colors and heads held high.

I’ve written here before about the evening’s delights, but I’ll offer a swift re-cap.  The event takes place in the lovely Marines’ Memorial Club in downtown San Francisco.  The Club is housed in a beautiful Beaux Arts building from 1926.  The upstairs banquet and reception rooms have high ceilings with decoratively stuccoed walls, and are festooned with dignified images of various ribbons.  Just being there feels celebratory.

For me, though, what makes the evening is the people.  Formal dress is the name of the game, so the men are either in Naval Whites (gold trimmed and ribbon be-decked), tuxedos, or very nice suits.  (And yes, put a man in a uniform and he looks even more handsome than he usually does.  Go figure.)  The women are in evening wear, ranging from always-appropriate black to brilliant jewel tones.  Since this was my third event, I was happy to see familiar faces and they, bless their hearts, seemed happy right back to see me.

The food was delicious.  Well, what was really delicious was the Roast Beef.  After it was ceremonial paraded before the President of the Mess, who gave it his seal of approval, we got to dine on succulent, perfectly cooked roast beef, accompanied by mashed potatoes, and fresh asparagus.  Although I adore red meat, I can’t cook it to save my life, so I’m always delighted when someone puts a beautifully prepared plate before me.  There was wine, which I didn’t drink, but many did, so the room’s conviviality, already good to begin with, increased as the evening progressed.

The guests were an eclectic group:  retired Navy, active duty, Coast Guard (a huge, ebullient contingent), family members of the aforesaid service people, hanger on-ers (that would be me) and, of course, the Midway survivors, as well as a sprinkling of men who served in other theaters during the war.  I’m very sad to say that the number of survivors is dwindling fast.  My memory is that, the first time I went, three years ago, there were more than ten survivors attending.  This year, there were six, as well as three widows who represented their husbands so that the memory of their service would continue to be honored.  Still, dayenu, it was enough to have these six men and three widows there, and to hear once again the courageous, moving, often incredible stories of their participation in one of history’s greatest sea battles — and one that, thankfully, ended in America’s favor.

“So,” you’re asking yourself (or, after my intro, you should be asking yourself), “what made this a jury rigged evening?”  Many things.

To begin with, per the invitations, the originally scheduled speaker was Admiral Jonathan Greenert, who is Chief of Naval Operations.  Before taking on this enormous administrative job, Admiral Greenert was a submariner.  Since I know that the rules of the Midway Commemoration (or any formal Navy mess, for that matter) require guests to introduce themselves to the speaker, I went to the internet and carefully studied Admiral Greenert’s bio and memorized his picture.  I was ready for my social moment.

Except that Admiral Greenert was unable to attend, something I didn’t realize until much, much later.  In his place, we were fortunate enough to have Vice Admiral David Architzel, who is commander of the Naval Air Systems Command.  As best as I can understand, that means that he’s in charge of every airplane the Navy has, as well as being in charge of every decision the Navy makes about airplanes it would like to have.  Unlike Admiral Greenert, who saw service below the water line, Admiral Architzel saw service well above the water.  In other words, he was an aviator.

When I arrived at the reception, I made my way over to Admiral Winston Copeland (Ret.) (“Cope” to those lucky enough to know him), to say hello.  Cope looked great, as always, in his bright whites, complete with his unofficial opal studs (for which he gets fined every year because of the uniform infraction).  Mysteriously, his shoulder boards were missing, but as I find military uniforms somewhat mysterious as the best of times (i.e., I don’t understand all the information they telegraph), I quickly forgot about this peculiarity.

After a few minutes of chit-chat, Cope introduced me to his friend Admiral Architzel and Mrs. Architzel.  They were charming.  Mrs. Architzel explained that they’d both flown out from Maryland, which should have given me a clue that something special was going on.  I remained clueless, merely remarking on the fact that it was so nice that they took the time to make the long trip for this evening.  I then turned to the Admiral and asked (yes, I really asked), “Are you active duty?”  The Admiral didn’t even blink at this inane question — proving indeed that he is both an officer and a gentleman, not to mention a very nice human being.  Instead, he explained his job to me and took a few minutes to discuss how computers have changed his work.  After that conversation ended, and I drifted off to say hello to other friends, I heard another women asking the Admiral about his submarine experience, proving that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t get the message about the change.

When the dinner portion of the evening began, after the Color Guard displayed the flag, a technical failure meant that there was a sudden silence rather than the Star Spangled Banner.  With considerable presence of mind, the President of the Mess proposed the name of one of the guests to sing the anthem.  So it was that, instead of having a tinny recording, we ended up hearing a glorious a capella mezzo soprano rendition of our National Anthem.  That’s jury rigging with style.

The evening went as I’ve learned to expect.  We remembered those who have not returned from the wars, and there was a lot of amusing badinage around uniform and behavioral infractions.  The resulting fines all go to fund the Committee, of course, so people paid up with good cheer. It was in this portion of the evening that we I learned what happened to Cope’s shoulder boards.  It seems that, in the flurry of packing, Admiral Architzel had forgotten to bring his along.  Knowing that both a fine and some good-natured joking were in the offing, Cope nevertheless gave Admiral Architzel’s his boards to use for the evening.  Jury rigging again, folks.

As has been the case before, one of the highlights of the evening was the singing, and I’m not just talking about that surprising National Anthem.  The Intel group stunned everyone by singing their Intel song.  Not to be outdone, we were treated to an enthusiastic, if somewhat unmelodious rendition of the Coast Guard song.  The highlight of the group singing, though, was the Seabees, because this year they came prepared:  they’d provide the Vice with instrumental music, and they had their lyrics down pat.  No surprise, then, that the audience clapped along, keeping time with these two stalwart Seabee singers.

Considering that the evening was distinguished by flexibility in the face of change, it was a rather pleasant surprise to listen to Admiral Architzel’s speech, one that focused on the Navy’s adaptability.*  He began by pointing to an interesting historical confluence:  This year marks both the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 (which started on June 18, 1812) and the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Midway.

As you may recall, the War of 1812, although it ended somewhat inconclusively, numbered amongst its battles some surprising America’s victories over the British Navy in the Great Lakes battles.  In both cases (1812 and 1942), the Americans were at a disadvantage.  In 1812, the British ruled the seas.  In 1942, the Japanese thought they ruled the Pacific, having disabled or destroyed large parts of the American fleet six months earlier at Pearl Harbor.  Nevertheless, in both cases, through a combination of good training, hard work, and significant intuitive leaps, the Americans prevailed.  It was the intuitive leaps that Admiral Architzel highlighted in his speech — those moments when men, rather than following a pre-defined plan, recognized Field Marshal von Moltke’s dictum that “No plan survives its first contact with the enemy.”

Nor is that intellectual flexibility limited only to the upper ranks.  While history books celebrate the admirals, that same enthusiasm, discipline, and adaptability must travel all the way down the ranks in order for any Navy to present to the enemy a simultaneously coherent, well-trained and well-organized fight team, and an adaptable, flexible entity that can jury rig as needed to deal with the exigencies of battle. Any organization that becomes too rigidly stratified lacks the ability to adapt to changing situations and therefore to survive those changes.

The Navy, which gave birth to the very word we associate with “making do” illustrated in 1812, in 1942 and, again, last night, the flexibility is the name of the game.  And when it comes to a formal dinner, that combination of rigidly observed tradition and free-wheeling jury rigging, makes for a very enjoyable evening.

_____________________

*I didn’t make notes during the Admiral’s speech.  My summary is based upon my sometimes shaky memory, so my apologies to the Admiral if I’ve misrepresented anything he said.

A sentimental service in a cynical society — our Navy

Sentiment: “refined or tender emotion; manifestation of the higher or more refined feelings.”

Ours is a cynical age.  The traditional values that defined us as Americans (weirdly old-fashioned ideas such as the belief that we are a wholesome, good and honorable culture) seem to have been jettisoned.  Even though I believe the majority of Americans are indeed wholesome, good and honorable, the message of our popular culture is jaded and immoral.

Children pick up on that.  As they head towards adulthood, they strive to imitate the cynical malaise that characterizes the world around them.  For some, it’s a mere pose; for others, it comes to define who they are.  To the extent our culture periodically veers away from cynicism towards sentiment, that sentiment is expressed on talk show couches by famous people and wannabes, all of whom willingly reveal the sordid details of their private lives to an audience of millions, hoping to elicit tears and cheap grace (and, perhaps, big bucks).

Our cynicism is also built into our disposable culture.  Historically, one of America’s sterling virtues has been that, unlike more ancient cultures on other continents, she is forward looking.  Nevertheless, up until recently, even as they were excited about the future, Americans still revered the past, which they saw as necessary underpinning for their endeavors.  American traditions also bound together a disparate population, one that arrived on our shores from all corners of the earth.

In the last generation, however, America has turned on her past with a vengeance.  Yesterday isn’t simply the past, its an embarrassment, whether in politics, pop culture, or education.  If the ideas aren’t of this moment, they are of no moment.  Too often, tradition isn’t something we honor, it’s something we ridicule.

True sentiment — that which taps into our higher and refined feelings, and that looks upon the past as a source of strength, not embarrassment — is hard to find in a society that mass produces crocodile tears for fun and profit, while sneering at that which came before.  I, however, had the great pleasure of attending an event that was indeed a sentimental journey, not into bathos and coarse confessions, but into the realm of bravery, loyalty and tradition (and, as is the case when all true emotions get tapped, lots of laughter).  On June 4th, I attended the 14th annual Battle of Midway Celebration, held to honor the living and the dead who fought at that important battle sixty-nine years ago.

I’m no military historian, and will only embarrass myself if I try to delve too deeply into Midway’s significance.  I do know this, though:  America’s victory there, a victory achieved against overwhelming numerical odds, conclusively established air power’s supremacy in battle, transforming the Navy into a force that dominated land and sea.  The Battle also marked a turning point in the war against the Japanese, destroying their seemingly inevitable Pacific triumph, and laying the groundwork for their ultimate defeat.  It is this triumph that we commemorated.

We are close enough in time to the battle that the victory at Midway isn’t something found only in history books.  It’s written in the flesh and blood of living men.  Six of those men honored us with their presence on Saturday night.  Another two were represented by their widows, so that their stories could still be remembered.

Memory is an important thing, and never more so than in the United States Navy.  This evening was hedged about with tradition and ritual.

After a cocktail party, the Members and guests are piped into the mess (that’s the dining hall for you lay people).  Once in, no one is allowed to leave without the President’s permission.

From the moment the Members and guests are seated, the ritual begins:  Officers’ call; Mr. Vice’s Opening of the Mess; the Parading of the Colors; a short, non-denominational Grace; the Tribute to the Fallen (more about that later); the President’s Welcoming Remarks; the Parading of the Beef (and a delicious beef it was too); delightful badinage between the President, Mr. Vice and the Members; the Recognition of the Heroes of the Battle of Midway; the Remarks from the Guest Speaker (in this case, Admiral Walsh, Commander, Pacific Fleet); and the Formal Toasts, to the President of the United States, to the various branches of the service other than the Navy, to people suggested by the Members (SEAL Team 6, the spouses and other loved ones who support the troops, the women who have served, and many others got their due), with the last toast reserved for the Navy itself.

The program plays out, a perfectly choreographed ceremony, comfortingly familiar to all involved.  Within the big ritual are smaller rituals.  When the room toasts POWS and MIAs, one touches the glass to ones lips, but does not drink, in honor of those who have no food or drink.  The Tribute to the Fallen isn’t merely a moment of silence to acknowledge those who never returned home from the service.  Instead, it is a physical memory in the form of a table set for one, with an empty chair, an inverted glass, a bitter lemon slice, a fragrant rose, and so on, each symbolic of loss and faith.

The Dining Out (a formal Naval dinner to which guests are invited, as opposed to a Dining In, which is sans guests) goes back hundreds of years in military history, back to Europe in the 18th century, when officers would gather together for fun and food.  Both Dining Out and Dining In have changed to accommodate the military’s needs, with World War II playing a large role in limiting the occasion, in both frequency and scope.

Since the War, though, formal Dinings (In and Out) have crept back into the Navy, and I’m not surprised.  The Navy exists in a dynamic global environment, one in which changes to weapons, intelligence, and national allegiances that once took place decades now occur in mere years, or even weeks.  In this shifting world, ritual is a touchstone of normalcy.

Tradition also allows for true sentiment.  The Tribute to the Fallen that I mentioned above isn’t commercial performance, intended to garner Nielsen ratings.  Instead, in a room full of men and women who have served, who are serving, and who intend to serve, it is a reminder of the solemnity of their profession, and of the fraternity that offers both sweet (adventures, camaraderie, a testosterone-rich environment in an otherwise rather feminine culture, and cool stuff, in the form of weapons and equipment) and bitter (death and loss).

The most moving part of the evening, of course, was the Tribute to the Midway Vets.  Each had a story of bravery, fortitude, loyalty and luck.  Here, in honor of his 90th birthday, which he celebrated with us on Saturday, I’ll share with you the slightly abbreviated story of Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Lloyd Childers, of the USS YORKTOWN.

Lt. Col. Childers was then a Navy gunner-radioman in the rear seat of a torpedo-bomber assigned to the YORKTOWN.  His was one of the planes aimed at the Japanese fleet heading for Midway.  Hours after the take off, his place was attacked by a dozen zeroes, both head on and from all sides.

During the battle, Lt. Col. Childers fired a 30 caliber machine gun at the zeroes.  The zeroes returned firing, riddling both the plane and Lt. Col. Childers with bullets, one of which broke a bone in his leg.  Lt. Col. Childers kept firing.  When his machine gun jammed, he grabbed is pistol and kept firing.  “Shooting at the zeroes with a pistol seemed futile,” he later wrote, “but it made me feel better.  Then a miracle occurred — the zeroes left us.”

The zeroes may have been gone, but Lt. Col. Childers’ travails weren’t over.  When his aircraft limped back to the YORKTOWN, it was to discover the ship dead in the water — although Lt. Col. Childers was so weak from blood loss, he was unaware of his plane’s dire situation.  The pilot struggled to find another aircraft carrier, but eventually had to ditch the plane near a destroyer.  When Lt. Col. Childers was pulled from the water, he had perhaps a half hour of life left in him.  He celebrated his 21st birthday in sick bay and, as I said, his 90th birthday with us.  He went on to serve through the remainder of World War II, in the Korean War, and in the Vietnam war, where he commanded a helicopter squadron and eventually flew 300 missions.

Although Lt. Col. Childers survived, so many others didn’t.  As it happened, he was the only surviving gunner in his entire squadron, a sad fact that choked up RADM Thomas Brown III (Ret.), who was retelling Lt. Col. Childers’  story, and that left the rest of us grabbing for hankies or surreptitiously dabbing at our eyes with our napkins.  We weren’t witnessing cheap, pre-manufactured sentiment.  This was the real thing, the “manifestation of the higher or more refined feelings.”

Nor were these higher feelings reserved to those of us with a few years wear and tear.  At the table behind me was a young seaman, a little the worse for alcohol, who reacted with open emotion to each story told.  From behind me, I heard him punctuate the speeches with his own call and response.  “Those were real battles.”  “They were heroes.”  “That was a war.”  “Go, Navy!”   His outbursts were a little distracting but, mostly, I found it charming and, indeed, important that a young man could be so attuned to the traditions and greatness of his branch of the military.

I’ve wandered around a little here, but I trust that you’ll excuse me and give me credit, too, for feeling true sentiment about Midway, about the commemoration, about the Navy and about America’s armed forces generally.  We as Americans, especially those of us who have not served, are so fortunate to have a Constitutional military that, time and time again, has drawn from the ranks of our sons and daughters to defend our country and our freedoms.

May I suggest that, if you feel some positive sentiments towards our military, you show that feeling by joining a military support and education organization.  My pet organization, of course, is the Navy League, but I know that the other branches of the service have similar organizations.  Or think about making a contribution to Soldiers’ Angels or the Wounded Warriors Project or the USO.

Cross-posted at Right Wing News

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What’s not to like about the Blue Angels? *UPDATED*

You know it’s been a good evening when Mom, Dad, and the kids all leave a party ebullient.  The party in question was a fund-raising reception aboard the USS Hornet, which is a floating museum.  The guests of honor were members of the Blue Angels team.  My husband was a bit dubious about the whole thing, but I bought the tickets, and bullied, and arranged, and fought my way through two hours of traffic to make it happen — and I am happy to report that I was in the pleasant position of being able to say “I told you so” as to something delightful.

Let me start with the mise en scène.  The USS Hornet, which is docked at Alameda Point (formerly the Naval Air Station Alameda), played a significant role during WWII.  The Hornet museum’s own website spells out precisely what a debt we Americans owe to the Hornet and the men who served on her.  Here are just some of the highlights:

One of twenty-four Essex class aircraft carriers, the CV-12 was named Kearsarge when her keel was laid at Newport News on August 3, 1942. After the first carrier HORNET (CV-8) was sunk at the Battle of Santa Cruz in October 1942, the Navy changed the name of CV-12 to HORNET to carry on the name of her predecessor.

By the conclusion of World War II, she had amassed an unequalled combat record.

Commissioned only 15 months after the laying of her keel, HORNET and her green crew were rushed through their shakedown cruise in only 14 days instead of the usual 4 to 5 weeks.

[snip]

In June 1944, HORNET began seven weeks of intensive air strikes in the Marianas Islands including the strategic islands of Saipan, Guam, and Tinian. During this period more than 3,000 sorties were flown from HORNET’s flight deck against Saipan. VF-2 would distinguish itself by splashing 233 Japanese aircraft. During the Battle of the Philippine Sea on June 19th, Hellcat pilots from HORNET destroyed enemy aircraft with no losses in what came to be known as the “Marianas Turkey Shoot”.

[snip]

On June 24th, while conducting raids against the Bonins Islands of Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima, VF-2 pilots downed a record 67 enemy planes in one day. HORNET participated in the Western Carolina Islands operation with air support strikes on Peleliu. By September 1944, HORNET VF-2 had the distinction of being the top fighter squadron in the Pacific with more total victories and more “ace” pilots any other fighter squadron up to that time. Out of the VF-2s 50 pilots, 28 were confirmed aces, having scored five or more victories in aerial combat.

[snip]

On the morning of February 16, 1945, HORNET kept a date the old HORNET (CV-8) had made some 34 months before when she conducted the first carrier strikes on Tokyo, neutralizing air fields and hitting shipping and targets of opportunity. Strikes began in mid-February against Chichi Jima and Iwo Jima in preparation for the Marine invasions. HORNET aircraft rocketed, bombed, and strafed positions on Iwo Jima for six straight days in direct tactical support of Marine operations there. When Iwo Jima was secure, HORNET turned her attention once again to Tokyo, pulverizing airfields in the metropolitan area.

You can read the full history here.

Standing on the Hornet means one stands on something very close to hallowed ground if one cherishes, as I do, the notion of man’s God-given right to freedom. Because of its illustrious history, when one boards the Hornet, one is already primed to be impressed. We continued to be impressed once we had the chance to meet the guests of honor.

Although the event’s organizers had put together a lovely buffet, the food paled after the Blue Angels came on board.  (Incidentally, when I use the term “Blue Angels” here, I mean representatives of the entire team, both current members and newly assigned personnel, not just the fliers.)  We had the pleasure of meeting the flight surgeon, a lovely woman who left my daughter jittering with excitement at the thought of one day achieving a high-level non-combat role in the military; the men who keep the Blues supplied; three active fliers (including both a woman and Fat Albert’s pilot), as well as the new crop of fliers; the public relations person; and the guy in charge of aircraft maintenance.

Despite the varied responsibilities of the people we met, all of the Blues have certain characteristics in common:  First, and most obviously, they’re all lovely to look at (men and women alike).  This is not quite as fatuous a comment as it sounds.  The Blue team looks lovely because its members are all in superb physical condition.  I’ve always found actors, actresses and models, no matter how rubbed and buffed they are, rather uninspiring because their physical attributes have no useful purpose beyond the decorative.  As a utilitarian person who likes functional fitness, I’m very appreciative of people who represent the apex of the human body’s physical capacity.  The Blues, every last one of them, are in top shape and it’s nice to see that.  (By the way, you can see for yourself here what a glowing, healthy bunch the officers are.)

Second, without exception, these people were gentleman and ladies in the old-fashioned sense of the term.  They were kind to the children and courteous to everyone.  They looked us in the eye, spoke clearly, and, despite the crowds around them, made every person feel as if he, or she, was important.  Considering that those of us in attendance were all crowding around the Blue Angels team like star-struck groupies, the Blues’ graciousness was especially appealing.  Again, it was easy to distinguish them from the petulant stars who populate our media.

Third, and this is something I tried to emphasize for the kids on the way home, the make-up of the Blue Angels shows that reputation matters.  Three different people told me that, when personnel apply to become a part of the Blue Angels, it’s their personality that is the determining factor.  Regardless of their responsibilities (flying, medicine, PR, supplies, etc.), all are tops in their field before they even knock on the Blues’ door.  The question for admittance, therefore, isn’t the applicant’s abilities, which are proven, but his or her personality.  Since the Blues travel together 300 days a year, they have to like and respect each other.  Someone who is known to be unpleasant, lazy, selfish, or who has any other personality trait that precludes being liked, respected and relied-upon in a tight unit, has no chance of joining the team.  To be a Blue, it’s not enough to be good at what you do.  You also have to be just plain good — a mensch, a good person, a stand-up kind of guy (or gal).

Fourth — and this is something I’ve commented upon after every interaction I’ve had with men and women in the American military — the Blues manifestly love their work.  Each person with whom we spoke felt that his (or her) job has meaning and purpose.  It’s so obvious that none are just grinding through their days, putting in time and waiting for the pay check.  Everyone was passionate about his (or her) responsibilities, and about the Blues’ important role as a good will ambassador for the Navy.  It was so apparent that the Blues are people who get up in the morning feeling as if their work matters.  As in years past, I felt real envy that these people, when still young, were able to look at their skills and their values and then make a career choice that not only gives them great pleasure, but that serves their country.

And really, what more can one say?  I learned some useful practice stuff (the Blues rely primarily on their carefully honed senses, not on equipment, when they perform; every team member, regardless of his, or her, primary responsibilities, has a role when the planes take to the air; Blues fly in formation across country as they go from one venue to another; etc.), but mostly I was reminded, again, that our military attracts and cultivates the best and the brightest.

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UPDATE: I was remiss when I failed to point out that this event was co-sponsored by the Bay Area TAILHOOK Ready Room. It was a lovely evening, and thanks are due to all who made it possible.