Lessons of a military life

#2. If you’re gonna be stupid, you’re gonna be strong!

Flashback to 1977

My Navy career had a lot of great life, management, and leadership lessons. Many are undecipherable to those who have not been in military service but range from teamwork, testing physical and mental limits, courage, decision-making, and taking responsibility before being given authority.   In Navy boot camp, the first thing learned is obedience to authority.  Line up, no talking, do not move,  and other commands.  A second is quickly having situational awareness, introduced to recruits around 0400 (4 AM) on their first morning with a barracks wakeup.  On my first morning,  a metal trash can was hurled clattering across the floor.  That, and a simultaneous yell of “Get your @#$ up!”,  by the Company Commander.

For 9 weeks  recruits are converted from civilians into military service men and women.  Attention to detail was another lesson.   A military uniform is worn is a precise manner and everything from stray threads to “gig lines” – proper alignment – and cleanliness are inspected.  Deviations from the expectation often result in exercise – pushups, situps, 8-count body-builders.   In addition, some “special attention” is paid, verbally, to the offender.  However,  everyone in the unit is afforded the same attention.  To build cohesion, the expectation is for others in the unit to help their shipmate improve for the good of the unit as a whole.  Making one’s bed, or rack,  had to be done in an equally precise manner.  Proper stowage of uniform items is also according to regulations.  It was the proper folding and stowage of underwear that earned me “special attention”.  I had reversed the left-right folds prescribed by the company commander.  For that and other misunderstandings, I  became the “Polack” – an endearing term – to the company commander until I graduated and became a “Shipmate”.

 Thirty years later (2005)

Half a lifetime later, I was again in training.  This time it was as a Navy Reservist selected for advancement to Chief Petty Officer (CPO).    There is a century and a quarter of tradition in the Chief Petty Officer ranks, where these senior enlisted men and women train and mentor enlisted sailors and junior officers.  Officers provide the mission and the direction.   Chiefs take their direction and delegate the execution to sailors they place in charge of their division. Chiefs oversee their divisional petty officers,  and they in turn, place more junior petty officers in charge of division Workcenters made up of several sailors. The purpose is to identify and mentor sailors to gain leadership skills and advance up through the ranks.  To be a trusted member of the Chiefs’ Mess, a First Class Petty Officer, who may be technically proficient,  has to be trained to think and act, not for self-promotion,  but to delegate and mentor more junior sailors.  Also, it is a Chief who deflects criticism,  rebuke or conflicting directions given by a junior officer to an enlisted person in their division.  It is the Chief who relies on advice from the years of expertise within the Chiefs’ Mess, to lead sailors, handle interpersonal conflicts, maintain discipline, and mentor junior officers to perform to the Commanding Officer’s expectation of warfighting proficiency.

As a Chief Petty Officer Selectee, prior to the promotion ceremony each September, each undergoes  a period of training (exercise, team-building, lessons in leadership, traditions and CPO history) and builds camaraderie within the Mess.  This formally begins when selection results are reported.  And there are invitations to Chief Petty Officers, both on Active Duty and Retired to participate in the “Season” to build the sense of identity as a Mess.

To this very day, I still chuckle over the introduction of our trainer, a Chief Petty Officer who carried a bullhorn with a frequently-used siren.  He combined exercise with Question and Answer sessions. We had “homework” every day, including Navy lore, songs, and so forth. We were supposed to share everything we learned and help our fellow Selectees with tasks and such.  If we “failed” the answer or task, our trainer had a memorable response:

“If yer (sic) gonna be STUPID, yer gonna be STRONG!”

And then,  “DOWN and give me twenty (push ups)!”

Everybody laughed, labored, and “suffered” together but everyone learned.  And everyone got stronger, leaner and became a member of the Mess.   But then, in the last ten years, politics, social pressures, and a lack of clear direction ( a military needs clear objectives), also affected the leadership at the deckplates.  But being a member of the CPO Mess,  “Chief Petty Officer, United States Navy”, is the recognition I will treasure for life.

I think a lot of the issues that were reported during the last ten or fifteen years within the leadership – the Chiefs and the Officer community – was due to abandonment or at least a minimalist approach, to training the Chief Petty Officers and mentoring junior officers.  I hear it is returning to the tried and true. 

Honoring John Harrison’s invention

Yesterday a Google doodle honored John Harrison, an 18th Century British craftsman and clockmaker (1693 – 1776) who won the Crown’s prize for developing an incredibly precise measuring device for determining Longitude.  For centuries, mariners had the sextant, which enabled them to determine where they sailed relative north or south of the Equator.  Calculated with a sextant and maritime tables, sailors determined position by the angle of the sun at noon to the horizon.

As a sailor, I knew that all time aboard ship (and on installations) was in reference to Zulu, or Greenwich Mean Time.  Greenwich, England marked the line North to South (0 degrees longitude) from which the longitudinal measurement was derived.  Given that the Earth’s rotation is very stable, the longitudinal measurement, west or east,  derived by accurately knowing Greenwich Mean Time to fractions of a second could be relied upon.

As a self-educated carpenter, artisan, and clockmaker, Harrison found resistance from the royal societies which issued a monetary prize for an accepted device that would meet the requirements for accuracy.  From his first tests aboard ship in the 1730s, over several decades, he improved on his design and finally, due the Crown’s influence, he was awarded the prize for his invention.  By the mid-1760s,  others had developed similar systems so the award was important in establishing John Harrison as the first one who accurately determined longitude.

An experiment conducted in this century using his once much-derided advanced design indicated only fractions of a second lag over the period of a hundred-day test.  Not bad for someone who was hundreds of years before the Global Positioning System.

walls, poets, and strategy

Good fences make good neighbors…  -Mending Wall, Robert Frost

Walls keep some things in and some things out.  While rivers, oceans, mountains and forests are natural boundaries, it is the inventiveness of men to construct un-natural boundaries declaring to all “this is MINE”.  Trust and brotherly love seems to have been lost with Cain setting out after killing Abel.  Fear and desire for control supplanted harmony.  Men created walls.

The Great Wall of China

Originally started in the Third Century BC, by Emperor Qin Shi Huang, this series of walls and fortifications was started with labor comprised of soldiers and convicts.  In the interest of security,  that labor had a terrible cost in lives.  History.com  states that perhaps 400,000 died during the construction.  Over the last millennium, a series of sometimes parallel walls fifteen to thirty feet in height and up to fifty feet thick at its base, the Wall was not really keeping anyone out.  Though often stated that is was intended to keep the barbarians – Mongols and foreigners  – out, it served mostly as a symbol.  Ironically, the Mongol rulers of China manned the wall to protect commerce along the trade routes of the Chinese empire.  It’s the only tourist attraction of the 21st Century visible from space.

The Maginot Line

Following the horrific casualties,  mustard gas, trench warfare and devastation of the First World War,  leaders in France, in the 1930s decided to build fortifications on the French-Germany border to prevent future incursion by Germany into France.  Part of the wall was not a wall at all, but a series of fortresses and used the natural steep terrain  thought to hinder the advancement of an enemy force.  Part relied on the thick Ardenne forests and did not wall off the complete border.   While the German army did penetrate the Ardenne forest and circumvented the Maginot Line,  the French also failed to seal the border with other nations.  Ironically, from the French side of the fortified line,  the Allied troops found that the defenses were difficult to penetrate as they advanced toward Germany in 1944.

Macnamara’s Line

President Trump’s insistence on a wall is another in a series of fence strategies – Russians partitioning Germany, the French in Algeria, and even during the Vietnam conflict.   On September 7, 1967 then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara  announced that an electronic barrier would be constructed to signal our forces when the North Vietnamese Army infiltrated south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) along the South Vietnam border with North Vietnam.  It was the second attempt in Vietnamese history to separate political entities of rival factions, for political and economic reasons.  Each faction was supported by a European power, one Dutch and the other Portuguese, seeking to expand their economic interest in the region.  That was in the 17th Century.

By the time the French were losing their colonies in Indochina to the Communist forces under Ho Chi Minh, they had successfully re-deployed their forces to their Algerian colony and were implementing a wall there that combined a lethal electric fence with anti-personnel mines.  It was a very successful effort, but the cost in personnel and public sentiment in France to the conflict resulted in the French withdrawing.   In Vietnam, by the mid-1960s, the United States strategy to oppose the infiltration of South Vietnam through troop deployment was not working.  And so an idea germinated to build a wall. While the military supported expanding the war into the countries bordering South Vietnam and the North, another group supported deploying technological means along with huge numbers of mines , against personnel and vehicle traffic, to impede the infiltration of troops into South Vietnam.  Through surveillance and aerial bombardment, the US attempted to thwart the use of the Ho Chi Minh trail.  Considering the issues that impeded the surveillance, detection, collection and dissemination of the intelligence gathered,  and the war’s huge cost in personnel, and political unrest at home, it was a failure.

Mexico’s  “wall”

Mexico -Guatemala

Studies  do not get a lot of attention in the media when they do not enhance the current pro-immigration ( in Orwellian newspeak, illegal is blotted out by those who ignore law that does not suit them)  sentiment about a border wall along the southern US border,  cite the abuses that tens of thousands of migrants passing through the border with Guatemala and Belize. Drug traffickers, criminals, migration officials and corrupt local police are chiefly responsible.  Workers are exploited at very poor wages from the migrant population at the border.

For any worker who complains to the government about the exploitation,  the process is  typical of bureaucracy – requiring paperwork, a series of hearings attended by the complainant, and any finding in favor of the worker,  put responsibility on him to report the findings to the employer.   As for the Mexican government response,  they deport illegals or arrest them.  In the article this information was described, then -President Vicente Fox – seventeen years ago – stated how he was implementing a development corridor and better conditions including amnesty for illegals working in Mexico with forged documents.  For a government and its proxies, the lobbying groups in the United States,  to hold America accountable for trying to stop illegal migration,  a metaphor of dwellers in glass houses throwing stones at the United States is readily apparent.

Lost in all these historical perspectives of walls and borders are the people who suffer from the criminals, profiteers, corruption, unkept promises, fear and cynicism.  And that is from those who are living legally within a nation.  Walls have rarely been effective for very long in the history of civilization.  And the political systems that rely on walls, when everyone else is trying to dig under them, bribe the guardians at the gates, go around them, go through or encourage rebellion within the walls will not have security.

While politicians debate walls,  consider Robert Frost, neither political nor a polemic, on the nature of walls:

Mending Wall

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

VADM H. Denby Starling, II — honor365

Vice Adm. (ret) Starling began his last assignment as commander of Navy Cyber Forces at its establishment on Jan. 26, 2010. There he was responsible for organizing and prioritizing manpower, training, modernization and maintenance requirements for networks and cryptologic, space, intelligence and information operations capabilities. He concurrently served as commander Naval Network Warfare Command, where he oversaw the conduct […]

via VADM H. Denby Starling, II — honor365

Voyage to the bottom of the sea

Whatever became of the U.S. Navy  undersea lab experiments of the 1960’s and ’70s?

 

CAPT George Bond, USN,  lead the research effort for the Navy that lead to something all recreational SCUBA divers rely on today.   (No, scuba was invented by a partnership between Frenchmen Jacques Cousteau and E Gagnon (1)).  Dive Decompression Tables.

SeaLab I, II, and III were the result of experiments on divers working at depth where avoiding decompression sickness, “the bends”, meant long periods of decompression to recover from only minutes exposure.  Underwater, at depth,  breathing surface air, as in the scuba cylinders or through a hose-diving helmet, would result in gasses building up in the diver’s bloodstream.  Without stages of ascent and wait time,  the gas would form bubbles in the person’s tissues causing pain, injury and even death.

Research investigated long-duration exposure underwater, living and working in habitats at different depths (up to 600 feet) whether there were negative effects and finding that a single decompression regimen at the conclusion of the experiment were sufficient to prevent injury.  Studies during this time on nitrogen narcosis have provided recreational and commercial divers today with reliable timetables for recovering  or decompressing, and the effects on the body.   Other developments from the SeaLab program was the development of neoprene which everyone from divers to surfers now use in prolonging exposure to cold seawater.

One notable research participant for the Navy was both a pioneering astronaut as well as an aquanaut.  Scott Carpenter, was the second American in space, in the Gemini program, and was an “inner space” pioneer.  He spent a then -record 30 days in SeaLab Ii offshore La Jolla, 200 feet beneath the surface.   Later,  in SeaLab III,  an experiment in underwater welding resulted in an accident where one researcher died due to asphyxiation.  This was a factor in terminating the experiments in SeaLab III.  But the research into saturation diving by the U.S. Navy continues today.  In point of fact, it was this continuing research that has lead to special operations involving saturation diving and part of the training for submarine rescue operations.    The Office of Naval Research (ONR) Undersea Medicine program is the descendent of these undersea experiments.

http://www.navalunderseamuseum.org/endbell/

https://www.onr.navy.mil/en/About-ONR/History/tales-of-discovery/sealab

(1)  In 1942, Cousteau and Gagnan co-invented a demand valve system that would supply divers with compressed air when they breathed   

Falling star

It is a stressful time to be a General Officer in the United States Armed Forces.  An Army Major General,  Ryan Gonsalves, was on the short list to get his third star,  or promotion to Brigadier General, when he abruptly inserted combat boot in mouth.  An article asserts he made some colorfully blunt and condescending assessment of a Congressional delegation and particularly offended a female staffer.   He should not have been so colorful.  Perhaps he could have watched “A Few Good Men” for insight in how not to be condescending.

One gentlemen I know summed it up well.  For millennia, men have used power to obtain sex; however, in the same time, women have used sex to obtain power.  At the extremes we have seen abuses. Effective warriors in history, such as Alexander, Charlemagne, Ulysses S. Grant and Omar Bradley were effective leading people and changing the course of history.   However, I would think that a general in the second decade of the Second Millennium would have some acumen.  For the last two hundred years, the United States military has had civilians making policy, authorizing budgets, and setting priorities for national defense.   Many times this has been contrary to the advise of the seasoned warriors who know that adversaries and potential adversaries respect the threat or the actual implementation of force.

Yet a parent’s advice to a child aggrieved about many things should still be a fundamental truth. Apparently, the wisdom of picking one’s battles carefully was not heeded by this general.  Perhaps he reflects the current Commander-In-Chief in that regard.  And unfortunately it seems, this general officer has learned that indeed, the “pen (to strike his name from consideration) IS mightier than the sword”.

 

climate elementary (school)

the debate

Many people, myself included, refused for a couple decades to acknowledge that people could really affect the weather.   My religious beliefs hold that God is in control of all things, yet God did put Adam as steward of the planet.  Whatever your belief,  in my lifetime, I have witnessed barely breathable polluted air over Southern California,  rainy years, drought years, colder and milder winters,  hotter and milder summers.  Hurricanes.  Tornados.  Floods.  Climate change is the topic that every schoolboy in the industrialized countries of the world has had stamped into their consciences in recent decades.   Everyone from politicians in California to European “Green” parties demand humanity stop using resources that are “proven” to destabilize our climate and pollute the planet.  For the last twenty years, politicians debate and people divide into camps.  But does anyone really know a solution?

“something must be done”

pelosiThere have, as yet, been no realistic nor popular solutions proposed nor any process enacted.  One nation refuses to hinder their industrialization by employing technologies they cannot yet afford to mitigate pollution.  Other nations have no solid infrastructure to enact regulation.  In the First World, taxation is the first response to climate change, but hinders any real discussion or experiments at solutions that are not “lobbyist”-championed projects. (Several of these have all-but-embezzled millions of tax dollars.)  For those of us who work many miles from our homes,  lack of public transportation to get there is at odds with the government actions to dissuade personal vehicle use.  (Population in most cities outside California is many factors more dense so personal vehicles are less efficient than mass transit.)

climate impacts humans

Geologically, human existence has been a blip on the clock.  It is still unclear whether volcanism, sun spot activity, and tectonic forces are responsible for the oscillations in weather over millions of years.  Weather changes created Ice Ages and in-between glacial periods caused sea level change. Drought, lasting decades and even centuries,  put pressure on feeding ancient populations  and caused ancient civilizations to decline.

hohokam-canals_hohokam1-courtesy-arizona-historical-societyTwo in the Americas,  Hohokam and Anasazi civilizations were very advanced, yet may have faded – centuries before European visitors – due to extended periods of drought.

A volcanic eruption of Santorini in the Mediterranean was a primary factor the successful Minoan civilization faded around 1500 BCE.  From the Bible and other texts, years of record crops followed by drought and famine in the Middle East occurred.   Yet history teaches us that human beings in sufficient numbers can alter the environment as well. The millennia that Middle Eastern, Egyptian, Roman and Greek people cut the “cedars of Lebanon” for ship timbers and structures has all but eliminated them.  copper-t1.

In northern Michigan 7000 years ago ancient ancient people mined copper; tailings and debris left behind tell the stories before 19th Century mining began there.  But the growth of the world population and the demand for resources have caused more debilitating changes in many aspects on the planet.    In more recent times,  denser populations along the coasts – the heavy industrialization using coal, oil and natural gas for energy first in the Americas and Europe, then Asia and Africa have had unrestrained and inefficient (heavily polluting) consequences.  After several decades, each region in turn developed a conscience about limiting “acid rain” and early deaths from lung diseases and cancers.  Before  government management in the Americas, clear-cutting forests and mining were damaging what we later preserved through government intervention.  This is still rampant in Brazil and the Amazon Basin.

deforestation_3277528b
Amazon deforestation  

Strip mining that ruins the land and the chemicals used to extract metal poison groundwater in many developing economies.  Of course, the topic that give California Jerry Brown the largest headache,  is burning hydrocarbon fuels for energy,- releasing billions of tons of chemicals that were deposited over millions of years within the last  century or two.

 

 

it’s elemental

Fire

Less than two months ago, the Sonoma region of California became an inferno.

171206124100-02-ca-wildfire-405-exlarge-169
Ventura, Los Angeles county, December 2017

This week, another tragic environmental calamity is occurring not only a couple of hours north of me in northern Los Angeles but forty miles north of my home, the Lilac fire,  in the hills at the edge of San Diego County.  Wind-propelled wildfires have consumed the lives, property, and dreams of hundreds of residents,  displaced thousands more. and killed dozens of stabled horses in the last days.  Ten years ago, my third of the county was being turned to charcoal by wildfire.  Coordinated effort of thousands of firefighters, military and civilians have managed to keep human casualties few while battling the environment.

Perhaps the Government and the governed can put down their acrimony long enough to work through “defensible space” in residential areas.  Tangible efforts such as clearing wider swaths of highways near open country might prevent vehicle-caused brush fires.  Remove diseased and non-native species of trees and plants, many of which are very flammable, by dedicated planned cutting and clearing.  Allow natural clearing through regular controlled burning.

Earth

170908-mexico-earthquake-4-ew-326p_e9ba9d74ca848450704463d0efc087fc-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000
Mexico 2017

Living at the tectonic boundaries of continents, Asia-Pacific and western North, Central and Latin American residents, earthquakes, and the infrequent volcanic eruption destroy  property, kill people living in un-reinforced structures, and wreak havoc. The residents of central Asia suffer a major quake every dozen years of so. A decade or more ago, a major earthquake severely damaged eastern Japan, and one previously induced tsunamis from Thailand to India. Volcanic eruptions occur over a geologic timescale, so it is often ignored by people from Indonesia, to Naples, Italy, to some Caribbean island residents who live on their slopes.

For those who live at tectonic boundaries, nations can provide technical expertise with construction, but it will be up to the affected nations to employ these methods and materials.  While many nations do not have infrastructure, others have corrupt or ineffective leadership in their economies.

Water

22live-strom-1-master675
aftermath of Maria, Puerto Rico

Hurricanes or cyclones or typhoons, and tornadoes are either more damaging now – or are more reported in the twenty-four hour news cycle.  El Nino or La Nina cyclic ocean heating or cooling contribute to heavy growth of fuel for fires in wet years in the western US, then in dry years contribute to tinder-dry fire conditions;   hot winds blowing toward the Caribbean from western Africa mix to become tropical depressions and then storms that churn into the Caribbean,  the Gulf of Mexico or Eastern seaboard. For this hemisphere, it is a roulette wheel every June through September where storms will make landfall.   Hurricanes in 2017 have ruined large swaths of the Caribbean,  and flooded southeastern Texas.  For other hemispheres, cyclones or typhoons  have often killed many and displaced thousands in the Philippines, and coastal Indian Ocean countries.

Nature has a way of mitigating hurricanes through dense miles of mangrove swamps;  humans building in flood-prone regions, building over land that would absorb or deflect flooding has had devastating effects.  Home owners who have properties along the beaches where hurricanes have come ashore frequently make a choice to live there, yet the debris that piles up and down the coastline is environmentally damaging and take a long time to remove.  With storms such as that which struck New York in winter, or Houston, or Puerto Rico and the eastern Caribbean this year, there may be more frequent and stronger storms in future years.   Sea walls, restored wetland, stronger levees, stockpiled supplies and more durable materials are some of the things that people can demand.

Wind

160508054202-fire-storms-twister-van-dam-lklv-00024715-exlarge-169
Texas, (courtesy CNN)

From westerly ” Santa Ana” winds out of the deserts of California that dry out vegetation in the forests and hills every Fall (and sometimes Spring through Fall), to the tornadoes that develop in the Central and Eastern United States when cold air masses clash with the warm moist air from the Gulf of Mexico,  to hurricanes,  wind is a major force to be reckoned with.  As part of the whole climate debate, people want to use wind to generate power yet curse it when it accelerates fires, lift roofs off schools, blow down trees or sink ships at sea.  As a natural force, wind is not going to be stopped by human will.  However, more intelligent design for buildings may mitigate storm damage.

I am so exhausted listening to everyone blame climate change for the problems in the world.  It is not the weather “why” I care about.   It’s how the world population – as a whole – intends to alter in meaningful ways the slide to more unstable and unpredicable  future.   As long as there is President Obama-style unilateral initiatives  or Congressional “legislation”  or California bureaucratic fiats without real adoption in the new industrializing regions of the world – there is no leadership.    However social media page “Likes”, group-think, hysteria and the resulting inaction is a poor gift for future generations.