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March 07, 2012

Captain Carroll "Lex" LeFon (USN, Ret)...RIP

It's a strange world we live in where we are friends with people we've never met. That's the beauty of this internet thing of ours. The tragic part is when we lose one of the friends we haven't really met but we known them, or at least the part of them they choose to share with us.

While we are still stunned at the loss of Andrew Breitbart, many of us follow the world through the eyes of milbloggers have lost another friend, Lex of Neptunus Lex. It wasn't the random and almost unfathomable loss of a man in his prime passing on his way home but rather an ever present possible outcome for a man who slipped into a fighter jet and took the skies.

In Better Days...Lex and his wife

There will be plenty of investigations, talk and not doubt more than a few recriminations about the crash itself (you can read about it here) but I'll leave all of that for others and another time. Today I'd like to share a few thoughts about a man who served his country, took many of us to sea with his words and loved a family that can only be devastated today.

I never served in the military but I love the Navy. When milbloggers started appearing on the scene a few years back I sought out Navycentric ones as much as possible. As much as I love folks like Bubblehead, Froggy, CDRSalamander and the gangs of Information Dissemination and the USNI blog, Lex was always my first millblog read. Partially it was the writing and the stories that captivated me but we also shared something...we were both pilots. Now, I'm taking some liberties there because a man with thousands of hours in high performance military jets and hundreds of carrier traps like Lex only shares the title "pilot" with someone like me who has a single engine private license in the broadest possible sense. But it's an important sense. There's something about being at the controls of a plane when the weight comes off the wheels and you are flying. I can't explain it but Lex could and I loved living vicariously through his stories.

It was a joy to see him transition from a retired fighter pilot used to thousands of pounds of thrust and speeds measured in mach numbers to planes that put out a few dozen horse power and weren't much faster than your average car and probably not any faster than his motorcycle. But it was flying and that was enough, it was everything. Slowly you could see in his writing that Lex was coming to love the joys of more basic stick and rudder flying and the sheer joy that comes from a well executed landing. Again, it's another feeling I can't explain but Lex could.

Not surprisingly though that wasn't enough for a man who spent his adult life flinging himself and his machine through the air and he took a part-time job flying mock dog fights for tourists, recipients of birthday presents and the like. But it was flying and that was everything.

After leaving the service Lex moved onto a job with a defense contractor that seemed to involve more computers, algorithms and meetings than a guy like Lex could stand. So not too long ago he took the leap and went to work for a defense contractor that provided adversary fighters to help Naval Aviators training for upcoming deployments.

As I said, I didn't know Lex and he didn't know me except for what we'd read from each other. And that was enough. We exchanged a few emails from time to time or a note on Twitter but when I needed to find out how to help someone get an embark on a carrier out San Diego I emailed Lex. Less than an hour latter I got an email back...from the public affairs officer for the Chief of Naval Operations. Yeah, that's the kind of guy Lex was.

His blog was more than sea stories or "and there I was in the cockpit" tales, it was politics and life, including the painfully personal and joyful pride.

Personally I think the crowing jewel of his writing was an amazing series of posts he collected under the title "Rhythms", which chronicled the events of a carrier deployment. I wrote to him to suggest he send it to a publisher. He replied he did but there wasn't any interest since it really wasn't in novel form and that maybe someday he'd revisit it. With the increasing popularity of e-books I meant to write him to see if he'd explored that but I never got around to it. I also always figured I'd make it out to San Diego, the city he seemed to have a love (weather) hate (cost and traffic) relationship with and buy him one or two of his beloved Guinness. It was not to be.

You can read more tributes to Lex here or if you're so inclined, stop by his site and leave a word for his family (his wife and 3 kids, including his son who is now a Navy helicopter pilot).

Fair winds and following seas, sir.

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posted by DrewM. at 08:04 PM

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