The Naval Intelligence community is saddened, once again, by the sudden loss of one its members, this time one who was still on active duty.
Captain Kyle "Topper" Lawrence Leese, passed away at the age of 51 on 19 July 2023 after a brief illness. At the time of his passing, he had served as an intelligence officer for nearly three decades. CAPT Leese is survived by his wife of 24 years, Joanne; their eighteen-year-old son, Evan; his mother, Laraine Leese-Filla and his stepfather, Tom Filla; his extended family in Canada; and a myriad of friends, sailors, and shipmates on whom he has left an indelible impression.
Born in Camden, NJ on 6 May 1972, and raised in Haddonfield, NJ, CAPT Leese was an avid Philadelphia sports fan and attended Eagles and Phillies games whenever the opportunity arose. He attended the University of San Diego on a soccer scholarship and earned degrees in History and Anthropology in 1994. He obtained his commission via the Navy’s Officer Candidate School in 1995 in Pensacola, FL. He is also a distinguished graduate of the Naval War College, with a master’s degree in National Security Studies.
CAPT Leese began his Naval Intelligence career with Fighter Squadron Forty-One (VF-41) in Virginia Beach, VA. From 1997-1999 he served as the intelligence officer for the Black Aces where he was given the call sign “Topper” because he would always top any story that his squadron mates came up with. He was instrumental in the development of tactics using the TARPS pod that VF-41 used successfully during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Southern Watch.
After VF-41, then-LT Leese took orders to United States Southern Command, Miami, FL (1999-2002), serving as liaison to the Joint Special Operations Command; J2X Collection Planner; Chief-J2 Collections Plans, and executive assistant to the Chief of Staff. His next command (2002-2005) was Fleet Intelligence Training Center-Pacific (FITCPAC) in San Diego, CA, where he served as an instructor for a variety of courses that included Strike Planning, Navy Special Warfare Intelligence Course, and Operational Intelligence. During his time at FITCPAC, then-LT Leese deployed to JTF-HOA, Djibouti, Camp Lemonier (2004), serving with JSOTF-HOA and J2X. From 2005-2007, he served as the Assistant Intelligence Officer at Commander, Strike Force Training-Atlantic, in Norfolk, VA. His responsibilities included certification of all East Coast deploying operational Navy and Marine Corps units’ intelligence departments as combat ready in all aspects of intelligence, including HUMINT collection and Management, targeting support to strike warfare, and operational intelligence. From 2007-2008, he attended the Naval War College in Newport, RI.
While at the War College, he was selected to train as an assistant Naval Attaché and was then designated for assignment to the American Embassy in Beijing, China. Prior to deployment to China, then-LCDR Leese spent two years undergoing intensive training, including fifteen months of Mandarin lessons. That training prepared him for promotion to full Commander and service from 2010-2012 at one of our most demanding diplomatic posts.
Following his time in Beijing, then-CDR Leese was selected to be the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence (N2) for CTF-70/Battleforce Seventh Fleet, forward deployed and embarked onboard USS George Washington (CVN-73) in Yokosuka, Japan (2013-2015). From 2015 until his passing, CAPT Leese served in several positions of importance in the greater Washington DC area. They included serving as a member of the Naval Intelligence Activity (2019) and the OPNAV staff, leading a cross-functional team responsible for delivering the Engineering Level Characterization of the Adversary (ELCA) roadmap. On the N2N6 staff at the Pentagon, CAPT Leese served as the Senior Naval Intelligence Officer-China, and as the Senior N2N6 representative to the Naval Strategy Panel.
CAPT Leese’s work at CTF-70 resulted in him being awarded the Excellence in Intelligence and Information Warfare Award (EIIWA). The EIIWA is given to those intelligence professionals who deliver outstanding, actionable intelligence to operators and decision-makers responsible for safeguarding U.S. interests and the interests of our partners throughout the Far East. CAPT Leese also received the following awards throughout his career: the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation and Achievement Medals, and the Navy Commendation and Achievement Medals. He also received a variety of unit and deployment awards.
CAPT Leese, "Topper", never did anything half-way. From his love of all things Philly, to learning multiple languages, to every job he did for the Navy, Topper was always "all in". He will be greatly missed. Fair Winds and Following Seas, Topper.
A funeral service will be held at Our Lady of Lourdes, Arlington, VA, on 7 August at 1:30pm, followed by a reception. Internment at Arlington National Cemetery will take place at a later date. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society.