Losing a Friend
The news came as a shock. I made the connection between “missing man formation” and Lex LeFon with disbelief, hoping that it meant something else. After opening the comments section, I suddenly realized many others were coming to terms with the loss of a good friend. For the past six years, I had come to appreciate his writings, along with thousands of others (Neptunus Lex actually began 2003) which communicated patriotism, airmanship, incisive political commentary, humor and love of God and family. It was hard not to like him. Ultimately, I began commenting and I’d occasionally send a controversial article or interesting flying story to get his reaction. Here’s a a guy that earned a platform to speak: A naval academy graduate with a masters degree in systems engineering; commander of an operational FA-18 squadron, TOPGUN Executive officer; licensed Airline Transport Pilot; and an O-6 with a sphere of influence in U.S.Naval Training Operations spanning 55,000 sailors in the Pacific Fleet.
Last summer, I asked Lex if he could help with some background regarding another military pilot relative to a job opening and to my surprise, he expressed interest which led to subsequent phone calls and e-mails. He was smart, aggressive and had the necessary experience and background. We spent the full day together in Milwaukee where he impressed others that he had the “right stuff”. I had proposed a tentative offer working on my team, but during that time, ATAC had as well.
“Thanks for bringing me out and showing me the operation. I really do appreciate the confidence you showed but I got a phone call from ATAC yesterday and they are making me an offer to fly Kfirs for them out of Point Mugu, which I intend to accept. You only get so many flying years. My deepest gratitude to you personally for your thoughts and prayers over a difficult time, and thanks again for considering me as a part of your team. My very best wishes for your continued success.”
It left me to wonder “what if” but I know he wouldn’t have been happy in any other profession where the office didn’t have a stick and throttle within easy reach of the seat. It’s what he loved. You only get so many flying years.
His talented writing and wisdom attracted an articulate, high caliber, diverse group of “commenters” which I found unique in the blogosphere. I’m sure it’s awkward when everyone sort of “knows” much about the Lex history, placing him at a disadvantage when we’ve shared less about ourselves upon meeting him in person. I’m sure his wife Mary felt the same way when I greeted her on the phone with: “It’s nice talking with you!” and she’s thinking: “Who the heck is this guy on the phone?” Through his writings we became in a small way, part of the family-
One of the things we talked about on the trip back to the airport were differences in military versus general aviation and Lex believed there were inherently more risks associated with GA: Far less rigor and quality of training, fewer defined operating limits, reduced support for the “mission” and type of aircraft. Ironically, the high risk profession of flying tactical jets, especially an old F-21, claimed his life.
He left us too soon. Thanks go to Bill (Pinch) Paisley who e-mailed me this picture.
Fair winds and following seas. You will be remembered.