Shane Osborn and Responsible Conduct

By Ed Timperlake

“O hear us when we lift our prayer for those in peril in the air”

“Gentlemen, we’re having this little problem of chronic violent death…” Tom Wolfe’s great line in his books about military aviators “The Right Stuff.”

His skillful writing captures the difference between the danger of military flying as compared to their peers who have never worn a uniform yet can posture about how tough they are compared with the courage of military aviators.

At one time Naval aviators, excluding combat, had a one in four chance of being killed, and over a fifty percent chance of ejecting from a crippled domed aircraft. Fortunately those statistics have greatly improved.

As a navy pilot I ejected around 500 feet and was presumed dead, I can down in a raging fire so it took a considerable effort for the SAR helo to verify I was alive.

My pregnant wife, was asked to go home from an evening event with fellow squadron wives because “something happened.” The Navy wanted to make sure the Chaplin could deliver the news of my death to her privately.

When Lt Shane Osborn, in one of the most skillful acts of flying in Navy history saved his crew he was appropriately awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, it was very well earned and deserved.

Now he is under a vicious attack that he somehow should have done something different then save the lives of his crew.

From his DFC citation:

“Lieutenant Osborn displayed superb airmanship and courage. Despite extreme damage to the aircraft, including loss of an engine, nose radio, all airspeed and altitude information, and structural damage to forward portions of the fuselage and control surfaces, he heroically regained control, directed appropriate emergency procedures, and coordinated the crew’s efforts to safely land the aircraft. “

“Lieutenant Osborn’s dedicated efforts ultimately ensured the survival of twenty-four crew members and preserved a vital operational asset.”

The words capturing Lt Osborn’s great skill in saving his crew are somehow missed by those who have never worn Navy Wings of Gold.

Critics should be confronted by a US Pacific Commander’s own words:

What Shane did was make a series of good decisions, and they were in accordance with Navy guidance, to land the airplane,” he said. “Given the circumstances, he did exactly the right thing (and) subsequently led the crew in doing a good job while they were detained.”

If voters want to weigh Osborn’s military record in casting their vote in the U.S. Senate race, they should make sure they are getting their information from a credible source. Thanks to retired Admiral Prueher for making the record clear.

Lincoln Nebraska Journal Star Editorial March 28 2012.

Or words taken from

His actions also earned the endorsement of retired Adm. Thomas Fargo, who headed the Navy’s Pacific Fleet at the time and had authority over the mission.

“I thought they made exactly the right decision,” Fargo said. “We’re talking about a peacetime reconnaissance mission. My view is there weren’t any better choices.”

Tim LaFleur, a retired vice admiral who once headed the Naval Surface Forces command, said he would hesitate to second-guess a pilot in a life-or-death situation.

“I personally think that’s an awful lot to ask someone, to give up their lives in order to save an airplane,” said LaFleur, now with the defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton in San Diego.

“When you’re fighting for control of an aircraft, 20 to 30 people on board, you don’t have time to do a threat matrix.”

To second guess a Naval Aviator who did everything humanly possible to save his crew is very bad form and obviously politically motivated against the facts of the incident.

As the voters of Nebraska decide who will be their next Senator they should realize that Shane Osborn acted with honor and courage. 

At one brief moment of life and death testing in the South China Sea Lt. Shane Osborn made sure a Navy Chaplin would not visit the next of kin of his own family and his crew with the most horrible news imaginable.

And Senator Osborn would have a very strong impression of the actions of the Peoples Republic of China as they expand into the Pacific to threaten their neighbors and confront American military forces on the Sea and in the Air.

He has met them up close and personal.

Ironically, with all the focus on what or what Osborn should have done with regard to the PRC, left outside the discussion is what the US gets for its military dialogue with the PRC. 

Notably in the years prior to the incident, the Clinton Administration allowed very sensitive military technology to go to the Peoples Republic of China. In addition very senior members of the Chines Military and others like Triad Gangsters and Arms merchants were hosted at the White House. Military to Military exchanges were fostered and encouraged by President Clinton.

When are we going to address the real issues of Chinese espionage and the limited utility of military exchanges with the Chinese, rather than wandering back into history and making it up?

Ed Timperlake was Commanding Officer of VMFA-321 a reserve Marine Fighter Squadron and first Asistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Congressional and Public Affairs.

For a look at the continuing challenge of PRC espionage see the following:

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