HOW TO BE MARRIED TO A MARINE FIGHTER PILOT--A Marine Corps pilot's wife: F-4s, F/A-18s and aviators from my perspective.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Marine F-4 Phantom Foray

November 1-4, 2012, San Diego

Mike "Lancer" Sullivan
Bob "Fox" Johnson
JP "Monk" Monroe

The contact email is:
We are now ready to proceed with the greatest ‘mother of them all’ reunions - the "Marine F-4 Phantom Foray". San Diego, as the home of so much Marine TACAIR, has been selected as the site of preference.

The primary goal is to bring together all participants of the Marine Corps community (aircrew, maintenance, administrative and other personnel who have supported the F-4) for long overdue recognition of their exceptional contribution to Marine Aviation History.

The two committed speakers we have for the banquet are the current Commandant of the Marine Corps, who flew F-4s, and the former President of McDonnell Aircraft when the F-4 was the King on the Block!

Wives, girlfriends, family and friends are invited and encouraged!

The selected hotel is the Town and Country Resort, which so many of you are familiar with. The dates are Thursday 1 November thru Sunday 4 November 2012. Early arrivals will be Wednesday 31 October and checkout Sunday 4 November. The room rate is $113 + 12.5% tax per night and we have booked 400 rooms. We hope to grow this number and encourage each of you to forward this information to your friends. If you plan to attend please consider reserving your room as soon as possible so we can gauge potential additional needs. A room deposit is required but you can always cancel your room later and get a full refund. Hotel reservation information is at the end of this email. 

Communication regarding the reunion will be conducted exclusively by email from Armed Forces Reunions, Inc. Mailed-in registrations must be paid via check or money order. Advance sales of shirts, caps and other memorabilia will be available from a merchant who is giving us a huge break on prices. Further information on this will be provided later. Items will not be for sale at the reunion.
  • Thursday – Welcome Aboard Reception. Possible Early Bird Tour Friday - Tours to USS Midway, Flying Leatherneck Museum, & Open House by MAG-11
  • Friday Evening - Squadron Dinners (arranged separately by sqd. leaders)
  • Saturday - Pictures, Memorial Service and a Farewell Banquet
  • Sunday - Farewells
A large, centrally located Ready Room with beverages and snacks will be open throughout the reunion. All are welcome! We also have on hold several suites and smaller meeting rooms should squadrons wish to have their own Ready Rooms. These are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Also, function space is being held for squadron dinners on Friday night. Groups may choose to contract with a local restaurant instead. Squadron dinners are to be planned directly with the hotel by the squadron leader. Squadron leaders should contact Molly Dey at Armed Forces Reunions, Inc. for further info on individual squadron Ready Rooms and Friday Dinners.
Let’s all work together to make this an historic event! Ideas and volunteers are always welcome.

Semper Fi,

Mike "Lancer" Sullivan, Bob "Fox" Johnson, JP "Monk" Monroe

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Rank and Flying

The main job an officer had in the squadron was to be a pilot or RIO. Pilots were judged on their competency in the air, whether they were ‘a good stick’. This ranking went on a scale from “a damn fine stick’ to ‘unsafe at any speed’.

Lieutenants, once they earned their wings, needed to fly often to build up competence, confidence, and situational awareness. Good RIOs helped with the training after the training command sent the young 'uns to an operational squadron and the best RIOs helped keep them alive in bad situations. With a nugget, also known as an FNG--Fucking New Guy, a RIO had to keep an eye out for trouble on the horizon of the lieutenant's experience and a hand ready to command eject. Generally, lieutenants knew less than they thought they did and were an exemplar of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing. A strong squadron scheduled flights to give the lieutenants the experience they needed everyday. When not flying, FNGs were good for weekend duty and holiday duty, voting officer, drug and alcohol officer, mailroom duty, mess officer, dues collection--anything that had little or no effect on actual flying operations.

With luck, lieutenants became captains. Captains flew. The backbone of the operational squadron, the good ones helped both ends: training the lieutenants and getting work done for the OpsO, XO and Commanding Officer. But they had no grey hair, no responsibilities to worry about except to become the best damn pilots in the free world and beyond. Every fighter pilot wanted to stay a captain forever.

Eventually captains either left the Corps or were promoted to major. Majors in the squadron were the OpsO who scheduled flight, the XO who took care of the admin and kept the CO happy, and the Maintenance Officer who made sure the planes all took off each day. Responsibility was their life. Once in awhile they got in some flighttime, at least enough to maintain flight status and flight pay, but the dark specter of Life After Flying hulked over their lives as shit hot pilots.

The CO was a Lieutenant Colonel. Only one per squadron. Being a CO of a fighter squadron in the Marine Corps was an honor, a privilege, and life-changing. The good ones maintained ties throughout their lives to those who served willingly under them and at their wing.

But not all get there.

In the Air Force, aviators fly. Someone else does all the other jobs in a squadron. The Marine Corps, with a smaller force and budget to draw on, needs all Marines to do their duty: to run the 3 mile PFT; to know how to carry a rifle, to load, shoot and clean it; to serve with the grunts on occasion and learn what the Marines are doing on the ground when they need fire support.

Aviators fly, but good Marines do more than that. Good Marines support the whole mission, the operation of the squadron, the training of the lieutenants and stepping up to the responsibility of the rank of major and above. A Marine who never serves a ground tour, never does a favor for his Monitor (the guy in a cubicle in the Pentagon who has to fill all the billets), that guy--he thinks he's Peter Pan, but he's just a lost boy. 

I knew some of those lost boys. Some never married, never should have. A few people I knew loved the flyboys and married them. Usually those boys stayed in NeverNeverLand, while the spouse took care of the real world.

My favorite people knew that Tink's fairy dust wouldn't last forever and they accepted grounding in reality. Just as a squadron needs real Marines, so we need men and women who get married, have children and teach them right from wrong; people who do their best to do what's right.

I know my guy misses the rush of pushing the envelope, a cat launch off a pitching deck, a perfect ACM against a worthy opponent. But I love him for everything he was, has been since his last flight in a Hornet, and still is today.

When were you last captain of your soul?

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Expect the Unexpected Part 2: Flight Suits

The green Marine flight suit with its multiple pockets, zippers and velcro served many practical purposes. Velcro allowed for squadron patches and nametags to be changed out as needed when changing squadrons or when the guys wanted to "look good at the field" of an O' Club away from home. Some favorite nametags: "Dick Gazinia" "Hugh Jardon" and "Roger Ball".

The Marine Corps, frugal to the core, issued one or two new flight suits a year. Lenny "Toad" Bucko, a Marine fighter pilot who flew the MIGs out of Tonopah for Red Flag, attached to the Air Force for the tour. He remains awestruck with the number of gadgets and flightsuits he found in his locker when he checked in. "Five!" he said. "And they told me to just let them know if I needed more," confirming rumors the Air Force got the good stuff.

Flight suits had front zippers that zipped both ways, allowing aviators to "take a leak" while strapped in the seat. A few intrepid souls used them to continue on their quest to "look good at the field" by ball-walking at the O'Club--unzipping from the bottom, pulling out the family jewels, rezipping down, and then talking to women as if nothing was unusual.

My guy's multiple pockets carried a variety of items, all accessible with the g-suit on. The outside sleeve had narrow pockets for US Government black pens, and a zipper to a compartment underneath for a pad of paper. The baggy side pockets on the legs held the most important items for survival.

He kept flint and steel; firestarter--a rectangle, the size of Double Bubble pink chewing gum, of a waxy substance that pulled apart into cotton ball shreds; a signaling mirror--an ingenious 3 by 4 inch mirror with a hole in the center to allow sighting on an oncoming ship, plane or helo; Charms--yes, the candy; bottled water, a survival knife, a shroud cutter switchblade capable of cutting through fifteen shroudlines at a time, a survival radio, a pen gun flare, a green flashlight with an optional red plastic lens to keep the light from affecting night vision, and a foil space blanket (thank you, race to the moon!).

And he always had a John Wayne key, also known as a P-38 can opener, in his flight suit for ready access to the C-rats in the raft. Everything had a lanyard attached. Even if he dropped some lifesaving item, he still had it attached to his suit.

He never expected to eject. He never had to. But he was prepared if it should happen.

There are times when my purse resembles the pockets of his flight suit. I always carry a small flashlight--in the old days I had a mini Maglite, now I've converted to an LED with my iPhone (the flashlight app) for backup. I carry gum and breath mints, a Kind bar, aspirin and migraine meds, my Kindle with 1500 books on it, extra pens (though the black US Government pens have disappeared into the junk drawers of time), reading glasses, sunglasses, a glasses repair kit, money (sometimes more, sometimes less, sometimes just plastic), a glass nail file, nail polish, Jelly Bellies for my grandkids, hand lotion, my moleskin notebook, Tide-to-Go, and sometimes a bottle of water.

There are always unexpected events in our lives with our children, our spouses, our friends: a car accident, an illness, an estrangement. My purse and his flight suit won't protect us. We have to keep our mind and hearts just as prepared.

I am expecting the unexpected and I'll be ready.

Also published as a column in the Military Writers Society of America's monthly magazine, Dispatches. MWSA Column

Friday, March 30, 2012

Fighter Pilot Rule for Life: Lowkey Information

The first plane my guy flew was a T-34 propeller trainer, the T-2 was his first jet, then the T-2B, a twin engine T-2 jet, the TF-9 jet trainer, and finally in VMFA-333, he flew the Phantom F-4. All of the planes were double-seaters with an instructor or a Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) in the backseat ready to tell him when he was doing it wrong. It served a dual purpose to have dual seats. The backseaters kept the valuable plane from terminal damage and also kept the young, brash, and maybe-not-yet-up-to-snuff pilot from terminal damage. A lot of time and money had been invested in both aircraft and aviator.

If a pilot had figured out a way to auger into the ground or lost his S/A or departed from controlled flight, a RIO or instructor would verbally help him get his act together. The best RIOs and instructors kept cool in the lightning storm. The idea wasn't to destroy the young pilot's confidence but to train him up to be a calm, steely-eyed gunslinger with wings and sidewinder missiles. Even after leaving the training command there were many times an extra set of eyes or another brain proved valuable. When worse went to worst, the RIO also had a command-eject capability.

And then in 1983, the new latest fighter arrived at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station: the F/A-18 Hornet, a single-seat, high-tech aircraft that featured computerized instrument panels, nine on-board computers (more now!), and television screens to aid in bombing run accuracy. The training squadrons had two-seat planes, but once finished with the flight simulator training and the instructors, no RIO flew as a backseat driver or failsafe guy.

McDonnell Douglas had a solution. They asked a secretary to record some standard warning messages in a calm, female voice. (Millions of dollars went into research to determine that a female voice was easier to hear in a stressful situation) The F/A-18 Hornet voice warning system was called by the aviators Bitchin’ Betty. In the worst of circumstances, her voice is composed and measured: “Left engine fire. Left engine fire” or “Bingo Fuel. Bingo Fuel.”

Here's what I've been wondering: why does my beloved other ignore my voice in disasters? Could it be that jumping up and down screaming and using tons of !!!! does not make my point better?

So I've been practicing. I keep my voice low and slow. "Honey, you are about to turn left on a red light and I do not think that tractor-trailer sees you," and "You might want to bring your wallet that is on the bedside table before we leave with our luggage to catch a plane to Timbuktu," and "Darling, the ladder you are climbing to put lights on the second story of our house has not been latched properly and is about to collapse."

Not my fault if he does not hear my reasonable warnings. Not my fault, but in a marriage we both suffer the consequences.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Military Writer's Society of America's Book Discussion Forum March 23-25

Please join us for the Military Writer's Society of America's first book discussion forum running March 23-25 on the MWSA site. I am honored that the topic will be my memoir, WING WIFE: HOW TO BE MARRIED TO A MARINE FIGHTER PILOT. Joyce Faulkner, President of MWSA will be the moderator.

I encourage everyone to participate, even if you haven't read WING WIFE, especially if you have written, are in the process of writing, or are thinking about writing a memoir. We'd love the perspective of military types--Marines and other services--aviators and/or their spouses. Everyone's comments will be useful.

The idea is to talk about craft and to talk about the military experience.

Writing Techniques for Memoirs Link:

WING WIFE Content and Message Link: 

If you are not a member and want to comment on a thread, write Joyce at and ask to be added to the site.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Lost Friends

Captain Carroll LeFon USN (retired) RIP
It's not a penny found on the street
Scuffed, darkened and pocketed.
It requires penny after penny after penny
Of time and thought and laughter
Accumulated in a Mason jar in the kitchen sunshine.

I carried the jar
Toward the maple table to count moments,
To plan a shared splurge when the phone rang.
I answered
And the jar fell to the tile shattering
Into pennies rolling, clattering, circling,
Glass shards everywhere.

I scooped them into piles.
Blood dripped from my hands
To stone squares, on clear glass running red,
On piled and scattered pennies.

There's not a good way found
To lose a friend.

I never met him in person, yet we were friends. The first blog I followed when I started blogging, the blogger I stayed loyal to through the years. Wise words are like pennies collected on the street, as change, in drawers. In the end, we are richer for them.

Smart, a poet, a fighter pilot who loved his wife and family. I will miss him but there's joy in the words and photos and thoughts and friendships he nurtured on his blog Neptunus Lex. In the end I am richer for knowing him. We are all richer. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Find a Veteran Grave: Guest Post

There are over 6 million veterans and family members of veterans buried across the United States.  And when you want to pay your respects, it can be very hard to locate a veteran’s burial place.  The department of Veterans Affairs keeps a massive database of burial sites of veterans and their beneficiaries, such as spouses and children.  But this database is jumbled, messy and confusing.  But a new online tool has cleaned up this data and made it searchable and easy to navigate.  Now, anyone can easily find a veteran grave for free on

Users can search for a veteran by name, cemetery, date of birth, military rank and military branch.  Once you have narrowed down your search, you can click on a veteran to see the detailed information regarding their burial.  A map will help you locate the cemetery and the cemetery’s phone number will be displayed.  If you are logged in to facebook, you can also leave a prayer or note to remember the veteran. 

A similar online tool also powered by is the Medal of Honor Recipients database.  Like the veteran grave locator, the Medal of Honor tool allows you to search for recipients based on war, rank and name.

This is a guest post written by Evan Thomas, a student at UCSB that has partnered with FindTheData to help create these tools.  FindtheData is an unbiased search engine that allows you to compare everything from Section-8 Housing to Non-Profit Organizations.  If you have any questions or comments about the grave locator, feel free to contact Evan at evan_thomas (@)

Thursday, January 5, 2012


     My last post was not in the finest tradition of military wives. Anniversaries of death are private. Remembering the one who’s gone by crazy stories of times past is supported and lauded. So here's one story:    

     My brother Don, a first lieutenant in the Marine Corps, was coming to MCAS El Toro on his first cross-country from VMFA 333 Beaufort SC in 1969. We knew he was on his way home; he’d told us he’d let us know when he was close. 
     About the time he was supposed to arrive, we heard a jet. Not unusual, except this one got closer and closer, louder and louder, way too close and way too loud--so close we were sure it was going to hit the house so we ran outside. We stood on our front lawn in Claremont, California and watched a Phantom F-4 divebomb to within a hundred yards of the ground, then turn up into the sky, great gouts of flame spouting from its twin engines and as it arrowed into the sky, afterburners lit.   
     A neighbor with experience in the Korean War threw himself on his wife, knocking them both to the ground, certain the plate glass sliding door was going to shatter. Not one person had the presence of mind to get the tail number or remember the trefoil design on the tail. When MCAS El Toro was contacted, they responded with, “None of our jets are in the air.”  

     My brother had let us know he was close. He was almost home.   
     The picture at the beginning of the post of Don with his wings in his Marine green uniform isn't my favorite. He's smiling, but not his smile of appreciation for crazy antics in the air and on the ground. Here's a picture of him at the training command before he got his wings.
Wouldn't it be fun to hang out with him? Yep.

Monday, January 2, 2012

January 2nd

Thirty-two years ago today I called my sister-in-law in Beaufort. We’d talked to her and my brother on Christmas Day but it was the New Year and we’d not touched base on the first. Six o-clock at night, but he was flying. Three hops that day. Kath said he’d call when he landed from the last. I remember Kath and I laughing about married life. I remember her talking about what a wonderful holiday season they’d had and Don fishing for crabs off the pier with Tim, their eight year old. She mentioned his new boat, a Boston Whaler. Andy immediately wanted to talk to him about it. I had to tell my other half to stop trying to grab the phone because Don wasn’t there to talk to.

Don would never be there to talk to again--except in my head.

Some days I feel his loss as a little ache, a tiny “oh I wish he were here” or a “things would be different if...” This week, a student at Santa Barbara contacted me. He’s working to digitize all the information to locate veterans’ graves. He wants to write a blogpost for my blog. I wrote back yes.

Then I put in my brother’s name and San Diego, California. And found his grave marker.
A wave of grief and what ifs and loneliness and loss overwhelmed me.

He’s not there, in body or in spirit. Midair collisions at night over the water are not so kind to return an aviator for burial.

There is no timeline for grief. No right or wrong way to grieve. Hold your loved ones close when you can.

Today I am sad.