Von Lipsey, Roderick K. 1959—
Roderick K. von Lipsey 1959—
Fighter pilot, U.S, Marine Corps
“I was glad to have the opportunity to serve my country,” is how Lieutenant-Colonel Roderick von Lipsey acknowledges the Distinguished Flying Cross he was awarded after a daring Desert Storm air strike into Iraq. “We worked as a team,” he says, about the Defense Meritorious Service Medal he received as an outstanding aide-de-camp to former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell. “A great learning experience,” is his assessment of the year he spent as a special assistant to White House Chief of Staff Thomas F. McLarty III.
Von Lipsey has always regarded patriotism, teamwork, and the promise of new experience as the three essential ingredients for job satisfaction. He has never had trouble finding them in the U.S. Marine Corps, for whom he has traveled the world in the roles of fighter pilot, tactics and weapons instructor, and researcher on security issues. In addition to constantly-expanding ways to use his talents for leadership and organization, his enthusiasm for his work has brought him several military honors as well as a place on Time magazine’s 1993 list of promising young professional people: “Fifty for the Future.”
Roderick von Lipsey’s road to the U.S. Marine Corps began in a Philadelphia household headed by Police Officer Karl von Lipsey and his wife Mary-Elizabeth, a teacher. Theirs was a disciplined family, with steadfast values about integrity, responsibility, and the need to select goals with care. These maxims were constantly underscored with another parental adage: a good education is a key to future success, and well-worth whatever personal sacrifice it takes to achieve it.
To ensure their son this vital start in life, Roderick von Lipsey’s parents sent him to private schools where smaller classes meant closer attention from the teachers. As expected, these benefits came with hefty price tags, but were worth every hour of overtime it took to meet the bills. First at the Norwood Academy and later at La Salle College High School, Roderick received an excellent education, augmented during his high school years with a wide range of sports and cultural activities.
At a Glance…
Bom January 13 1959, in Philadelphia, PA; son of Karl (a police officer) and Mary-Elizabeth (a teacher); married Kori N. Sehake, Education:Norwood Academy (Elementary: 3rd grade on); La Salle College High U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, MP, 1976-80; Catholic University, Master of Arts, 1989: Amphibious War fare School, Quantico, VA; Private Pilot’s License, June, 1980,
US Marine Corps Training in leadership, Aviation and Air Combat aircraft, 1980-83; Phantom squadron maintenance department, Fort Beaufort, South Carolina, 1983-88; Promoted to Captain, 1984; Logistics Department Head, 1986; NATO exercises in Europe, 1986; Marine Fighter Attack Squadron, at MCAS Kaneohe Bay, HI, 1989-91; Aide-de-Camp to Chairman of the joint Chiefs of Staff, 1991-93; White House Fellow, 1993-94; Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow, 1994-95; MCAS El Toro, Santa Ana, CA, 1995.
Member: Council on Foreign Relations (New York); International Institute for Strategic Studies (London).
Awards: Distinguished Flying Cross (with Combat V); Defense Meritorious Serivce Medal; Single Mission Air Medal (with Combat V); Strike/Flight Air Medal (with Numeral 4); Joint Service Commendation Medal; 2 Navy Commendation Medals; First Lt.Col. Robert Johnson award, for leadership and contribution to aviation studies while participating in the Aviation Occupational Field Expansion Course; Roy S. Geiger Award on completion of the course.
A latchkey kid with eclectic interests, he plunged into ice-hockey and ballet, enjoying the rough-and-tumble competitiveness of the sport as much as the precise, studied movements he learned in dance classes. “Each taught me something about coordination that improved my performance of the other, “he later recalled, though he acknowledged that ballet had added a little something extra. “It gave me a love of music, which remains one of my greatest pleasures.” Drama was also a particular favorite, involving frequent rehearsals that gave him plenty of time to socialize with other student-actors and their teachers.
Even as a teenager, Roderick von Lipsey was obviously an excellent team player. Yet sixteen years later he looked back on his high school self as a “fairly unremarkable student,” with the usual adolescent uncertainty about his future. However, all ambivalence was neatly banished one day when a young midshipman visited La Salle College High School on a recruitment mission for the United States Navy. The young naval officer was typical of the poised, patriotic graduates that the U.S. Naval Academy had been grooming for leadership since its 1845 establishment. Crisp and self-confident, he was a perfect role model for a high school senior on the edge of adulthood. By the end of his visit, Roderick von Lipsey had no further doubts about his prospective career. He had made up his mind that the road ahead began in Annapolis, Maryland.
Whether conducted by university personnel or, as in the case of Annapolis, by the prospective recruit’s congressman or senator, an interview for nomination is always a make-it or break-it process. Von Lipsey’s was no exception. Any hopeful candidate without a carefully-considered answer could well have been discouraged by the piercing question--What do you think is America’s main problem today? But even at the age of seventeen, Roderick von Lipsey had definite ideas of what that problem was, and how he wanted to help to resolve it. “We lack spirit,” he said. “We need national pride.”
In 1976, he entered Annapolis as a freshman and started on the leadership training, thermodynamics, and physics courses which are vital to naval officers serving in space-age submarines and ships. Once these requirements had been filled, he majored in English literature. During his final year as an undergraduate the English Department asked him to participate in a special program, by teaching a course, Introduction to Rhetoric and Literature, to academy freshmen.
Teaching was a pleasant sideline, but von Lipsey did not let it distract him from planning for the future. Like his classmates, he had been aware since his freshman days that his final career track would have to be mapped out before he graduated, so he had thought long and hard about different possibilities. In the end, the matter was settled in favor of the U.S. Marine Corps. His reasons were clearcut: “I saw there was an incredible degree of professionalism in the Marines, a deep spirit and strong caring for subordinates, and a long heritage.”
Though the U.S. Marine Corps has been a separate fighting force within the U.S. Navy since 1834, its beginnings date back to 1775, when anti-British feeling had just raised the curtain on the Revolutionary War. Historians tell us that the Corps won their first battle in the Bahamas in March 1776, and that their victorious exchange of unpleasantries with a British warship they encountered on their jubilant voyage home earned them a congratulatory visit from Commander-in-Chief George Washington. A masterstroke on Washington’s part, this gesture gave the newly-established Marines pride in their achievements and an appetite for service to their country that are still symbolized by the motto “Semper Fidelis”—Always Faithful.
In May 1980 “Semper Fidelis” became a watchword for Roderick von Lipsey, who was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps. Still a long way from the streamlined executive ability that stamps the well-trained officer, he began to learn the marksmanship, leadership, and infantry skills every Marine must master. Then, in January 1981 he went to Pensacola, Florida, then on to Kingsville, Texas, to learn to fly Trojan, Buckeye, and Skyhawk aircraft. This training earned him the designation “Naval Aviator,” but did not mark him as “combat ready. “To earn this qualification he spent the six months between September 1982 and March 1983 stationed at the Marine Corps base at Yuma, Arizona, where he learned to fly the F-4 Phantom.
Now a fully-fledged fighter pilot, von Lipsey spent the next four years gaining the background experience he would need to command pilots and maintenance crews under conditions of actual warfare. He passed several months learning the intricacies of aircraft maintenance and maintenance quality assurance. Then, shortly before a 1984 promotion to the rank of captain, he became the officer in charge of this service for top-flight Phantom aircraft maintenance.
A year later, his operational flying duties began to focus on the Hornet, a fighter plane whose designation “F/A” shows it can be used for either air-to-air or air-to-ground combat. Then, in 1986 came a deployment to NATO exercises in Europe and the Mediterranean. With six years of experience under his belt, Captain von Lipsey was tasked with both his normal flying assignments plus the formidable responsibility of logistics—moving supplies, troops, and weapons and vehicles from place to place. Attracted by the chance to expand his horizons, he organized the myriad logistics details with enough flair to merit a Navy Commendation medal.
In January 1987, von Lipsey was sent to the Navy Fighter Weapons School at Naval Station Miramar in California. Known informally as TOPGUN since a 1986 movie about it was released, the facility had been in existence since the Vietnam War years, when a dismayed Congress discovered that seasoned American pilots not only lacked the accuracy of their Vietcong adversaries, but were flying supposedly state-of-the-art aircraft that seemed inferior to the Communist-built MIGs. Tracing both deficiencies to defense-spending cuts during the Kennedy years, Congress established the Weapons School in 1969, and set its goal at all-round excellence for America’s fighter pilots.
About twenty years later, the TOPGUN mission had not changed. The facility still existed primarily in order to hone the technique of experienced fighter pilots to the highest degree of accuracy that they could achieve, so that they could return to their own squadrons and pass their expertise on to others. Von Lipsey fully appreciated this ceaseless search for perfection, summing up his grueling six weeks of lectures, flight simulations, and air “battles” against remorseless instructors as “absolutely the most thrilling and exciting training program, which taught me a lot about how to instruct others.”
On August 2, 1990, headlines all over the world blared the news: Iraq had sent hundreds of tanks trundling across its border to invade Kuwait. Meeting no resistance to his unwarranted stranglehold on one-fifth of the world’s known oil reserves, Saddam Hussein then closed all Kuwait’s ports and airports and began to shut down its communications with the outside world. Within the week, he was confident enough to announce that Kuwait had ceased to exist as a separate country and was now the nineteenth province of Iraq.
President George Bush reacted quickly. Ordering an American trade embargo, he urged all other countries to do the same. Warships began to steam towards the Persian Gulf. Huge transport planes brought American troops to neighboring Saudi Arabia; military personnel from other countries came to join the buildup. On August 7, 1990, the world unveiled a plan for a united stand against Saddam Hussein. Operation Desert Shield was born.
Captain von Lipsey left for the Middle East to join Marine Fighter/Attack Squadron 235. An accomplished instructor as well as a fighter pilot with the best training America could offer, he now had two new additions to his own extensive air combat schedule. First, he had to rehearse his pilots to keep them at the pinnacle of combat readiness. Then, he had to follow up his instruction with relentless testing, so that each squadron member could match any challenge the highly-trained Iraqi Air Force possessed.
United Nations Resolution 678 had given Saddam Hussein until January 15, 1991, to withdraw from Kuwait. He chose to stay, his soldiers chalking up a record of stealing and vandalism that left 50,000 cars wrecked, Kuwaiti museums and libraries empty, and even lamp posts and street lights uprooted and on their way to Baghdad. Tensely the world waited as the United Nations gave Iraq another few hours of grace. Then, before dawn on January 17th, a Tomahawk cruise missile left the USS San Jacinto stationed far out in the Persian Gulf, skimmed out over the water and soared more than 500 miles into downtown Baghdad. The first of 100 Tomahawks fired that day, it was step one in the liberation of Kuwait.
On the night of January 20, 1991, 35 aircraft from the Third Marine Aircraft Wing thundered down a runway off the coast of Saudi Arabia, took off into a swirling fog and began a 600-mile journey into Eastern Iraq. Led by Captain Roderick von Lipsey, the planes headed for a secret Iraqi air base, where they used cluster munitions and laser-guided Bornbs to demolish both the base’s maintenance and repair hangars and the web of railroad tracks which constituted its supply lines. It was a difficult double-duty and neither the mist nor heavy Iraqi antiaircraft fire made it any easier. But von Lipsey had studied the weather conditions earlier, and had decided that the fog could be counteracted to a certain extent by flying at an altitude low enough to show their targets without recklessly endangering the American aircraft. He was right. The Iraqi ground-to-air destroyed no Marine planes, and, as he himself said later: “The performance of the individual crews in locating and engaging the targets was superlative.”
Though Captain von Lipsey led other combat missions and flew more than 40 sorties during Operation Desert Storm, this particular operation went down in military annals as a special success. An announcement from the Secretary of the Navy tells us why: “Captain von Lipsey precisely planned, weaponeered, and led a strike package on a 600-mile night, inclement weather strike into Eastern Iraq.” Subsequent allied air attacks were not required on the targets.
The reward for this remarkable feat was the Distinguished Flying Cross—a medal Roderick von Lipsey shared with such previous legends of American aviation as Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart. But prized as the award was, it was not the only accolade awaiting his return from the Middle East. Though he had not yet received his expected promotion to the rank of major, in 1991 he was chosen as one of two aides-de-camp to then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell.
Because this appointment usually went to an officer of far higher rank, this new post was a spectacular tribute to von Lipsey’s competence. Yet the implied praise was not the most significant memory the incident left behind. Instead, his reminiscences dwelled on his preliminary impression of the General: “He’s a very big man-very commanding. A very serious man, a talented leader who inspires loyalty. “Powell also inspired an energetic work force. A key player in strategic humanitarian operations involving starvation-wracked Somalia, Bosnia’s war zones, and refugee camps for fleeing boat people in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the general marched smartly through a dizzying schedule involving travel, press conferences, and contacts with embassies, which his aides-de-camp had to orchestrate into a seemingly-effortless whole. Initially as junior aide and later as the senior, Major von Lipsey planned itineraries, organized the General’s media communications, and handled the financial and security arrangements for 35 trips to Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Belgium, Somalia, and even Powell’s ancestral homeland, Jamaica. It all added up to a huge workload, but it brought von Lipsey priceless opportunities for travel, and it gave him membership in a team playing a small but indispensable role in America’s history. Yet, even this was not sufficiently fulfilling. Somehow he also found the time to earn a master’s degree in international affairs from Catholic University.
Von Lipsey’s two-year term of duty with General Powell was almost up when the prospect of a White House Fellowship arose. A program initiated during the Lyndon Johnson administration, this Fellowship offers up to 17 young Americans a chance to work with influential Washington policy-makers. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the inside workings of the Federal Government, but it did not tempt von Lipsey when a group of White House Fellows urged him to apply. However, he changed his mind when he received a note asking “Are you interested in this?” from Powell, a former Fellow himself. Easily clearing the entry hurdles of strong leadership skills and extensive community service, von Lipsey captured a coveted 1994 slot as a special assistant to White House Chief of Staff Thomas McLarty III.
One similarity between this new post and his previous position as a member of General Colin Powell’s staff was that both involved a great deal of travel. But this time von Lipsey’s role usually had little to do with itineraries or financial arrangements. Instead he often traveled on Air Force One with President Clinton’s entourage, providing national security updates and background information for McLarty at the United Nations General Assembly, the NATO summit in Brussels, and meetings with political leaders in Russia, the Ukraine, and Belarus.
From here, in 1994 it was a natural progression to a second fellowship, this time with the Council on Foreign Relations. One top priority issue at this time was international security, and the strategy under discussion was the prospect of expanding NATO’S 16-nation roster to offer membership and limited military participation to Eastern European governments. Von Lipsey was asked to join a task force co-chaired by the legendary Dr. Henry Kissinger, which had been formed to study this complicated question and its far-reaching implications. Although Von Lipsey was strongly in disagreement with the preference for rapid expansion that Kissinger favored, he forcefully presented his own compelling argument, thereby earning the respect of his co-members.
In mid-1995 the fellowship ended, and Major von Lipsey received new orders posting him to California. Once again, his duty to his country placed him in the cockpit of an F/A-18 Hornet, after, as he puts it “flying a desk for four years. “Soon after his return to active participation in America’s defense arena, von Lipsey received notification that another promotion was on the way— this time, to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
Brenner, Eliot et al, Desert Storm: The Weapons of War, New York, Orion, 1991.
David, Peter, Triumph in the Desert: The Challenge: The Fighting: The Legacy, New York, Random House, 1991.
Dorr, Robert F., Desert Shield: The Build-Up: The Complete Story, Osceola, Wisconsin, Motorbooks International, 1991.
Kinzey, Bert, The Fury of Desert Storm: The Air Campaign, Blue Ridge Summit, PA., Tab Books, 1991, pp. 44, 121-128.
Lawliss, Chuck, The Marine Book: A Portrait of Ameri ca’s Military Elite, New York, Thames and Hudson, 1988.
Mostyn, Trevor, “Major Political Events in Iran, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula: 1945-1990” Facts on File, New York, 1991, pp. 265-267.
Scholarships, Fellowships, Grants, and Loans: College Blue Book, 25th ed. New York, Macmillan Library Reference USA, 1995, p. 169.
Wilcox, Robert K. .Scream of Eagles, New York, Wiley, 1991, pp.96-99.
U.S. Department of State Dispatch, June 27, 1994, pp. 431-434. Supplement, July 1994, p. 28, De cember26, 1994, p. 351.
U.S. News & World Report, January 28, 1991, pp. 24-32.
Interviews with Major Roderick von Lipsey, U.S. Marine Corps, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, MCAS, El Toro, California. Assistance: U.S. Marine Corps, Joint Public Affairs Office: 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing/MCAS El Toro.
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