United States Air Force Captain (Ret) Ed Lawton lost his long battle with cancer Monday, August 6, 2012, and it is breaking my heart.
The vast majority of you who will read this have no idea who Ed Lawton was, but I’m going to tell you who he was to me.
It’s been so long that I don’t recall all of the specific dates and lengths of time, but I remember Ed and who he was for me and the role he played in my life during a very violent and dangerous tour of duty with the United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations.
I arrived in the Republic of the Philippines in June 1987 as a young Non Commissioned Officer in-Charge of Air Force Office of Special Investigations District 42 Tactical Counterintelligence Collections and my world soon went to hell in a hand basket, as they say.
In August 1987 we had what was at that time the bloodiest coup attempt in the history of the Philippines and it was our job to cover and report on it. It was like watching a war movie without the benefit of a movie theater or television.
In late October 1987 the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) Communist insurgents carried out their first attacks against U.S. personnel in they’re just over ten year history and it was a coordinated attack at 5 locations around Clark Air Base. That’s the day my life changed forever.
As the next few months passed I argued with District 42 and AFOSI leadership to expand our office from one OIC, an NCOIC (me) and collector to a six or eight man office in order to more effectively cover two-thirds of the island of Luzon and five U.S. military facilities in our AOR.
In 1988 that dream happened and Captain Ed Lawton, prior enlisted, became our OIC.
During the next year we experienced more terrorist killings, untold threats, somewhat dangerous missions and worse. As the NCOIC I broke a few rules in order to get the information needed to protect U.S. military resources and personnel.
I violated U.S. federal law, Air Force regulations, AFOSI regulations and the Status of Forces Agreement between the U.S. and the Republic of the Philippines. I argued with junior and senior officers from general on down including Captain Lawton.
Just about any other officer would have had me courts-martialed or Article 15’d, but through it all Captain Lawton had my back and protected me from physical and career harm. I remember one night when I was having a particularly difficult time that Ed actually came to my house and slept on my couch just to keep an eye on me and support me.
In time, we were the best tactical counterintelligence collections shop not just in the Philippines, but in the world and that included the CIA, NCIS, NSA and everyone else. We had more collections items and a higher accuracy rate than anyone. That’s important because before that Congress and the Secretary of the Air Force was considering taking away AFOSI’s tactical counterintelligence mission completely and had openly made that threat, as I understand it and was told.
Ed used to call me in his office and talk about how he didn’t get along with the other officers because he was prior enlisted. We had several officers in the organization that were ring-knockers (Air Force Academy graduates) and some career officers from ROTC – but he was like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and not allowed to play in any officer games. He was no longer an NCO and “not really an officer.”
He confided in me and I confided in him. As his NCOIC I used to go into his office and close the door. I sat down and told him how he was killing us with his micro management. He’d agree and confess his sins and promise to do better, but it was shortly business as usual.
He told me once that he micro managed because he knew how dangerous our jobs were and he just worried about us. With anyone else I’d have thought they were blowing smoke up my ass but with Ed I believed it. He always had our backs – literally and figuratively.
Sometime after I left the Philippines in 1990 Ed began experiencing medical problems. Eventually he was diagnosed with some type of cancer – I don’t know all of the details – and was evacuated back to the States for several surgeries. The surgeries left a gaping hole in his back that would not heal and for the longest time his wife had to change his dressings daily and irrigate the wound.
Ed was in a wheel chair, from what I understand, for the rest of his life, as it turns out, but still found a way to work as a switchboard operator at the White House every Wednesday. He sent news items out to all of us over the years and never stopped fighting for veterans.
I didn’t receive regular emails from Ed, but just every couple of months. I received my last one about two months ago and it was about Veteran’s healthcare and said nothing about his condition worsening.
Today I opened an email from a mutual friend who served in the Philippines with us and learned that Ed lost his battle with cancer Monday.
I have a hole in my heart for this great man, great military officer and great friend. I pray, although I already know the answer, that God will accept and keep Air Force Captain (Ret) Ed Lawton in his loving bosom and bestow his many blessings upon Ed and his family.
Goodbye, Ed, and thank you for helping me through the toughest time in my life. I hope that if I have any struggles in my life even close to what you have endured that I handle them with the grace and style you displayed for us all.