Departures

I’m gonna have to postpone my examination of the TSM piece mentioned below, having unexpectedly run across another one at WRSA that led me to…well, first, we have this obit and remembrance for a legendary Naval aviator:

We wake to the sad news that Snort (Capt Dale Snodgrass, USN-RET, callsign “Snort”—M) died in a crash yesterday. I was honored to interview him in 2000, but it wasn’t our first encounter.

In 1985, I was there in the crowd as a teenager when he awed us all in the Tomcat at the Pratt & Whitney airshow in East Hartford. I have chills this morning thinking of the chills I had then, watching the Tomcat in formation with the other Grumman cats, and I do believe it was a missing man formation.

RIP, Snort. Thank you for taking the phone call from a young writer with no credentials, but who was thrilled beyond words to interview the legend.

I imagine so. Follows, a repost of his 2010 interview with CAPT Snodgrass, which runs below one of the most famed photos of Tomcat derring-do ever captured, which I cannot possibly resist running here.

You can practically hear those jet-jock sized Big Brass Ones all a-clank just looking at that pic. On to the interview.

If you’ve researched information on the F-14, it is pretty likely that the name Dale Snodgrass has appeared somewhere in what you’ve read. “Snort” is virtual legend in the Tomcat community, and with more than 4,800 hours in the F-14, he is the most experienced Tomcat pilot in the world. Over a 26-year career in Naval Aviation, he had moved from being the first student pilot to trap an F-14 on a carrier to commanding the US Navy’s entire fleet of Tomcats as the Commander of Fighter Wing Atlantic. Now retired, Snort is on the airshow circuit, flying a wide range of aircraft, from the F4U and P-51 to the F-86, MiG-15, and MiG-17.

The accolades for Snort’s flying are long and distinguished…twelve operational Fighter Squadron/Wing tours, including command of Fighter Squadron 33 during Desert Storm, the Navy’s “Fighter Pilot of the Year” in 1985, Grumman Aerospace’s “Topcat of the Year” for 1986, a US Navy Tomcat Flight Demonstration Pilot from 1985-1997, and numerous decorations for combat and peacetime flight.

This is all good stuff, well worth reading in full if you’re any kind of military-aviation guy at all. But then we get to the part that stopped me COLD and made my eyes bug out comically.

What was your most tense moment in the 26 years?

From a combat perspective, it was when I had a flameout over Iraq while executing a last ditch surface-to-air missile defense. I was leading a night Fighter Sweep in support of an A-6 strike on a power plant on the north side of Baghdad.

As I said, the story of Snodgrass’ close encounter with an Iraqi SAM, which caused a flameout that in turn brought on a 15k-foot altitude drop, leading to an attempted air-start of the dead engine whilst flying through the middle of a thick triple-A barrage, is all good, gripping stuff for sure. But what slammed me betwixt the orbs was the part I bolded in the last line. Because see, I happen to know a little something myself about that A-6 strike he mentioned. In order to explain it, though, we’re going to need to make a little side-trip here, to another obit from 2015.

Reggie Parks Carpenter, 51, Captain, United States Navy, died from sudden cardiac arrest in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on February 3, 2015. Captain Carpenter, from Cherryville, North Carolina, graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1985 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communications. He was commissioned an officer in the Navy via the Aviation Officer Candidate School, and received his aviator “Wings of Gold” in 1987. Captain Carpenter, also known as “Regbo” to fellow aviators, bravely served in the defense of the United States for 29 years.

He flew tactical missions in three jet aircraft, in four operational squadrons, and over six aircraft carrier-based deployments, including one as an exchange pilot with the French Navy.

A graduate of the U.S. Naval War College with a Masters in National Security and Strategic Studies, the personal highlight of Captain Carpenter’s career was his tour as commanding officer of Strike Fighter Squadron EIGHTY THREE (VFA-83), an F/A-18C Hornet squadron at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, VA. His final tours of duty, which he also enjoyed immensely, were in military diplomacy. He served as Naval Attaché to France, from 2007 to 2011, and to Argentina, from 2012 to 2015.

Captain Carpenter was a highly decorated naval aviator who earned many awards and medals during his career, including the Distinguished Flying Cross. A devoted, loving husband and father, he was also a kind, passionate man with quick wit and boundless zest for life. Captain Carpenter is survived by his wife, Suzanne, and daughters, Avery and Caroline; mother, Barbara Cannon; sister, Kelly Stewart; brother-in-law, Bob Stewart; and many loving friends and colleagues from all over the world.

A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. on Thursday, April 23, 2015, at Vienna Presbyterian Church, 124 Park St. NE, Vienna, VA. Interment with full military honors will take place at 3 p.m. on Friday, April 24, 2015, at Arlington National Cemetery.

You CF Lifers might begin to see where all this is going, I bet. For the shavetails, nuggets, and noobs, this oughta help clear things up.

The CF community suffered a serious loss yesterday, although most of you might not know about it. My “cousin”, Captain Reggie Carpenter, USN, died suddenly in Buenos Aires, where he was serving as naval attache, capping off a distinguished three-decade career as a naval aviator and diplomat.

He wasn’t really my cousin; he was actually my first cousin’s cousin, but his family and mine had been tightly intertwined for our whole lives; our fathers, uncles, and other kinfolk were all close friends from childhood, and the subsequent generations have all retained a sort of extended-family relationship ever since.

Those of you who have been around these parts a good while may remember him as “Regbo,” his flyboy call sign, or simply as “Cuz.” He did a fair bit of writing for the site back in its early years under those handles; he preferred the anonymity of them, for obvious reasons.

Y’all also might remember a post I did years ago from NAS Oceana, where the band had gone to play Reggie’s change of command party at the O-club there. He was taking over Rampager squadron, VFA 83, after having served as XO of the Sunliners. We didn’t get paid for the gig, or at least not in money; we got paid with twenty minutes apiece in the F/A-18 simulators instead. Which just made it one of the most richly remunerative shows I ever did. Hell, just hanging out at the O-club, meeting and hearing the sea stories of these “casual American heroes” as Reg called them, was payment aplenty.

He was a damned fine pilot, flying the A6 Intruder in the first sorties of the first Gulf War, then F14s, then Super Etendards off the Foch for a year as part of the officer-exchange program with the French. He graduated to the Hornet after that, and stayed in ’em for the remainder of his career. He was invited to join the Blue Angels and even toured with them awhile while he considered the offer; he eventually decided against it, and went to the War College instead. Back in his college days he got one of the highest scores ever on the Navy’s Pilot Aptitude test, and just moved on ever upwards from there.

Reg had a heart attack either on his way to or shortly after arriving at work yesterday morning in Buenos Aires (the family is still waiting for details on that); he’d just returned from an African safari with his beloved family. He was due to retire next spring; in fact, the last conversation I had with him was shortly before he left for the Africa trip. He asked if I wanted to attend his retirement party, and I assured him I did. We were talking about maybe having the band play for the festivities, in fact, and I was looking forward to seeing him again. He was 52, which is way too damned young to lose a guy like him. Hard to believe he’s gone so quick. He’ll be missed by all who knew him.

Rest easy, Reg, until we meet on the other side to pick some guitar and talk fighters and politics again. Your whole family was extremely proud of you, as well they might be, and your friends were glad and grateful to know you. Much love to you and your family, brother.

That, of course, is part of the obit I wrote for Reg right here at CF, which includes a photo of him leaning nonchalantly against his own personal F/A-18 that I took at NAS-JAX during a post-gig visit we paid him there once.

So here’s the payoff: that aforementioned A-6 strike over Baghdad on opening night of Desert Storm? Well, guess who else was out there along with Snort Snodgrass? Yep, you got it: none other than one Reggie “Regbo” Carpenter, that’s who.

Reg later sent a somewhat illicit cockpit video home to his (also my) Uncle Gene from that eventful night, along with a letter detailing a harrowing misadventure when his Intruder was struck by lightning (!!!) on the way back to the carrier, knocking out every electronic gee-gaw and instrument save for the gyrocompass. After being asked by the Midway’s comm shack if he wanted to attempt a trap on the carrier deck—sans all instruments and lights, at night, in a storm, no less—Reg opted for what’s known as “the better part of valor” and diverted to the airbase at Riyadh instead, where he landed his damaged aircraft without further trouble.

And that concludes tonight’s amazing tale of serendipitous coinkydink. You really just never know what you’re going to run across out there on the Innarnuts, do ya?

Men like Reg and Snodgrass are a breed apart for sure—capable men, courageous men, dauntless men, men without an ounce of give-up in ’em. Men whose vocabulary assuredly does NOT include discouraging words like “can’t” or “impossible.” As I so often say around here, we need all of such men we can get, and will never have enough of them. RIP, CAPT Snodgrass, and farewell. You too, Reggie.

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I read that he had an apparent heart attack? I would be interested to know if he had had the covid vax recently? Sad to wonder this, and maybe not the right time and place. But still, this is the world we live in and the questions we need to know the answers to going forward.

Barry

RIP, Captain. We need many more like you.

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