Ask the Chief: the shine makes a fine Navy day

The shiny glow of my new concrete patio and driveway gives me a moment of pride. It is the same sort of pride I had when, forty-plus years ago, I had learned that the discipline required to spit-shine your boots to the point the inspector could see his reflection, polish brass belt buckles and other metals to a glow, and to present a spotlessly clean and sharply pressed uniform, marked a Navy man’s accomplishment of minimum standards set by the inspecting authority. While in training and then again in our units, inspections followed prescribed “field days”. Every surface from overhead to the crevices behind the urinals in the head were meticulously cleaned to remove debris and stains. The shine on the waxed decks were routinely reapplied, scrubbing off the old floor wax, reapplying new and buffing them to a high gloss. The regimen we practiced to achieve that shine carried over to the meticulous manner that every Sailor applied to the equipment that each operated and maintained. Being acknowledged by the Executive Officer, often the prize for the least number of observed inspection “hits” might be an extra night of liberty or bragging rights among your peers.

Though it has been more than twenty years since I last had rolled up my coverall sleeves and set about scrubbing for a shipboard field day, the shine I observe on my new sealed concrete patio and driveway fills me with a “little” Navy pride. Even the strong odor of the sealant when it was first applied a few days ago, brought back memories of the blue terrazzo deck coating and sealant my team and I applied during an in-port maintenance period. I must admit I have not worn dress shoes all that often in the last decade or so, and it has been a few years since I really put a spit-shine on them. I believe the last time I really did so, was either for a wedding or a retirement.

When you live in a dusty environment as we do in eastern San Diego County, meticulous cleaning might be required more frequently than the four times a day our shipboard crew did so. My spouse and I, as dog-people, have settled for a little dust though we clean deeply before others drop by to visit. Now that we have all but completed our outdoor spaces and it is the season (for San Diego) to host parties, we are probably going to schedule field days routinely from this point to show off a tight ship. However, the shine that greets my eyes looking from driveway to back pation is nothing less than invigorating. And I am hearing myself say once again: I am having a fine Navy day.

Ask the Chief: listen and comprehend

I recall a time when listening, and comprehending what I heard, was not one of my strongest qualities. Boot camp “helped” me change that weakness.

“What is your major malfunction, Numb***s?“, the Company Commander bellowed at me. Because everyone was part of a team, he explained when one member fails, the team suffers: He continued, “EVERYONE – DOWN and give me Twenty [pushups]!!!”)

Active listening, which at that time meant, listening intently to the Company Commander (Drill Instructor in the Marines) internalizing or instantly responding to his instructions. For some, it was coerced, due to members of the team encouraging a weaker recruit to focus. Those who successfully completed recruit training, gained skill in listening and comprehending what they were told, so they might become effective sailors, soldiers, airman or marines. However, those proven methods for military cohesion and performance are unsuitable for most other occupations.

Active listening

A service my business provides administers one of the state licensing exams. We provide test candidates with instructions about the exam beforehand and monitor them during the test. Though I repeat myself four times about the bathroom policy or warn about message-capable devices being prohibited during the exams, someone with a need to use the restroom, or another having a cellphone or IWatch on their person, after the timed test begins, tests me. As a matter of state policy, once an exam begins, nobody can be out of eyesight, to prevent cheating. This includes a requirement to monitoring in the bathroom. While a matter of ethics and not necessarily comprehension, there are sufficient reports of people distributing images of the test questions to reinforce these policies.

Most of our test candidates are prepared for admission to the state test. Some have not listened nor understood what they must bring to be successfully admitted. One of the most arcane line items for many teens and Twenty-Somethings, is a properly- sized, properly-addressed and properly-stamped envelope to receive test results by mail. With an Internet of tens of billions webpages and videos, a remarkable number of the young have not searched for things they do not understand. A significant number have not reviewed test checklists – for the acceptable identification, a pencil, envelope, and state application form -which are sent by mail or email from the test administrators a week or two before the test.

Language comprehension

A number of candidates are not adequately prepared to take the state exam due to their lack of English language comprehension. Where the secondary school system or junior colleges may be structured for English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, trade schools on accelerated schedules often omit competency tests (in written or oral skills) as a prerequisite. However, some skills with a state or Federal licensing requirement, are tested only in English.

At the same time, many non-native speakers of English successfully complete training through schools, local governments and community programs that provide classes in ESL to prepare immigrants and adult learners for careers. As for those who fail to certify for licensing, some get the assistance to gain comprehension in written and spoken English for their career field. Some find members of their ethnic community to assist them and they eventually may succeed.

incentivize listening and comprehension

As a retired Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer, I have more than thirty years experience witnessing how a structured system of training, and of unbending standards – in performance or conduct – could advance someone from weakness to strength. People who are incentivized to succeed, provided the tools to do so, and not given special accommodation nor lowered standards, will succeed. The issues that are central to success in one’s country of residence is skill-attainment and comprehension. It is a systemic failure, both in the public sector (government bureaucracy) and society when people are not adequately prepared to be self-sufficient. However, it ultimately is the individual who determines whether they comprehend the information they receive. And the individual has to engage the trainers to gain that comprehension. While some are unmotivated and squander the opportunity, others may find another school or resource that offers additional training in listening or language comprehension. Once these challenges are resolved, I will welcome the day the greater challenge for test candidates, is to properly address and affix postage on a business envelope.

Ask the Chief: IGWT AOPC

There are certain folksy “wisdoms” that accompany someone going into business for themselves. Some have not stood the test of time; however, not all customers are trustworthy just as not all sellers are ethical. But when learned and applied, most of these will enable the self-employed to succeed.

  • the customer expects a service to be performed on time and at the agreed fee
  • offering a price discount is a way to draw customer interest
  • customer and entrepreneur both understand the scope of work prior to acceptance; additional work requires an additional fee
  • buy now, pay later is a service to generate sales; this should only be offered to reliable, repeat customers
  • count out the customer’s payment and any change due, at the time of service
  • in God We Trust; all others pay cash (IGWT AOPC); this is particularly important with new customers who may wish to pay with credit that the processor refuses.
  • respond quickly and appropriately to negative feedback (especially online)

Cleaning house

To someone other than a veteran, the idea of possessing only the minimum essential items to sustain life, military preparedness, and fighting effectiveness, may be strange. To a fighting force, whether a ground, air, or naval unit, storage space comes at a premium. Mobility, which means a fighting force’s lethality or in defensive situations its survivability, requires individuals, units, or battlegroups to necessarily limit the amount of stuff to drag along. Too much stuff not only means complicated storage, but the likelihood of being unable to have sufficient resources for things that break down or need more maintenance.

if it cannot fit in your seabag, you do not need it

Civilians entering military service are conditioned to this sort of thinking in the first weeks of recruit training. We are issued seabags, ruck sacks, or compact lockers to store our gear. It’s the sort of preparation for young military men and women to pare down to essentials. Of course, as some sailors I served alongside got financially stable, they tended to acquire things like clothes to go clubbing, camping, scuba, fishing gear, or golf equipment. Others developed hobbies that require a place to store equipment. Self-storage facilities thrive around military communities. Yet these facilities are not necessarily catering to single people. Young couples starting out get caught up in the consumer culture that drives so many economies. So the idea of traveling light as a uniformed military member runs into a civilian mindset of “accumulation”. It arriving in – or exiting – middle age with the more common tweaked backs, and moderating enthusiasm for having stuff one has not touched in years, saving money and preparing for retirement that brings us back to traveling “light”.

Helping move a family member into his family’s first home proved to be one of those occasions where my inner-voice of incredulity of what two people can accumulate in a few years struggled to remain “inside”. Relatively little of the thousands of odds n’ ends that we boxed, bagged and stowed on a moving truck or in personal vehicles would likely be missed if lost in the move. In the end, the young family should make a decision about their possessions and whether to begin disposition. Yet the odds are that they like most of us, will just stow everything in an outbuilding until some future time.

What the experience over the past weeks has wrought is to create an angst in me What am I leaving to my children, my spouse or another to wade through? For the twenty years prior to my marriage, I rarely owned anything more than what I could carry in my car. Increasingly, I have gone through things I have accumulated, but only disposed of items that I “wouldn’t miss” or have little value to me. There are still hundreds of items I could shed and not miss. I thought it was my Boomer generation that liked to accumulate “stuff”. It starts off with small things, home maintenance projects, spare parts, projects that need work, and of course, “toys” we need to have to cope with all the long years of working. I’m nearing retirement now. I just do not have the will to go through my “stuff”.

I have storage bins of electrical parts, copper tubing, and nearly full gallons of interior paint. Pictures, some framed, I have not put up for five years or more. And “collections”. I recently donated thirty or forty glass medicinal bottles from the last century. Dozens of books on various subjects I have not re-read in ten years. Some fragments of charcoal art from the 1920s and century-old stamps in an album I have held onto since age 13. Anybody want a 120 year old English ceramic vase, a slightly-worn New England carved chair, or a decade-old, still-unused bathroom exhaust fan?

The junk dealer is on speed-dial.

at your six

Since I retired from the daily commute (and 12-hour workdays) a couple years ago, I enjoy more leisurely weekday mornings several times a month. With the end to COVID shutdowns, I am again meeting old friends over breakfast or coffee. Wednesday, I met a Marine veteran I have known for nearly twenty years. As military veterans and Christians, we encourage one another with conversation from similar military experiences, current events and biblical perspective. While sharing a meal with people is an opportunity to encourage one another (Acts 2:42 -47), we also can be encouraging to, and encouraged by people we meet. As we waited for our breakfast order to be prepared, we watched a homeless woman at the next table enjoy a little coffee the café employee freely gave her. Paul and I engaged her in conversation, and she notably brightened. Though living on the streets, she was someone’s grandmother and hungry for some pleasant conversation. I bought her the same breakfast we were having; Paul and I returned to our conversation. As we finished our meal, we noted she had quietly moved on. While she was grateful for the kindness shown her, it was I who learned the most from the morning. As disciples of Jesus and as veterans, He leads us. Jesus fed and cared for the poor and hungry; He instructed us to do likewise.

“At your six” is a military phrase that is analogous to a clock; six o’clock is behind the 12 o’clock or lead position, or “I’ve got your back”

Ask the Chief: the little things

A young man’s resolve -this morning encouraged me greatly. He had arrived early to take his certification exams – which, among his peers, is sufficiently remarkable to be noteworthy. (As a military retiree, I am accustomed to the military tradition of being fifteen minutes early to something as being “on time”.) He unfortunately only possessed two of the four items needed to register. (One was an stamped self-addressed envelope to mail his exam results.) Apparently, his program administrator had not furnished him a specific document to register for the State exam. He was embarrassed and disappointed but he made calls to his administrator – at 7 AM – to obtain it. They hand-delivered the needed form to the test site at an agreed time so as not to reschedule his exam. Once he was registered, I joked with him that after that particular exercise, any nerves while taking the exam would no longer pose him a problem. Though he will not know it for a few days, he passed both exams and earned his certification. I have some confidence that obstacles would, in future, be opportunities for him to overcome.

For many, the statutory regulations that govern these certification exams including a certain proficiency in English comprehension, are not obstacles. For others, lacking the self-discipline to thoroughly prepare, to read the pre-registration letters, emails, text messages or phone calls, and to arrive for a state exam in a timely manner, make a successful outcome difficult. From a veteran’s perspective, the Admiral quoted here, is correct.

If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

William H. McRaven, USN (Ret)

Starting a career as an entrepreneur, a veteran may have only her life experience, wits, and an idea. Skills as active listening, experience of mentoring by experienced professionals and preparing thoroughly for most expected conditions, are basics. Just as in the military, in business, there are certain things that require the entrepreneur to think on one’s feet. And an idea of a product or service, is only as profitable as its feasibility in the market. A veteran should be willing to get advice, seek expertise, and commit or redeploy in another product or service or market.

You can’t change the world alone – you will need some help – and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the good will of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them.

William H. McRaven, USN (Ret)

A successful business has efficient operations and administration. Much of this is beyond the expertise of a new entrepreneur. Beyond computers and productivity software, calendars, and government licenses, fees and regulatory paperwork, engaging the services of bookkeepers, Certified Public Accountants, and specialized expertise may be required to maintain efficiency and regulatory compliance. In this area, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has offices in most communities to provide guidance to help entrepreneurs succeed.

Just as in the military, the failure to know statutory regulations, compliance – licensing, taxes, and record-keeping- is not often an acceptable excuse for non-performance. This means that businesses often are the clients of other businesses. Just as one’s own enterprise needs to have exceptional customer service with clients, the entrepreneurs engaged to provide service or products to your business needs to have the same standards. The business which loses clients to communication, operations, or staffing issues that financially impact their clients will not be in business for long. Friends, colleagues, good will, and a disciplined leader will make your destination attainable.

craigslist and sea stories

It was the tone of the ad on craigslist that caught my wife’s attention. We were looking for a used filing cabinet for our business and personal files.

“Text or call”, the ad said. “I don’t do email”.

It said to contact the seller between “0800 and 2200, that’s between 8 AM and 10PM for you landlubbers”. The number was phonetically spelled to frustrate scammers and telemarketers. The ad continued that the seller did not want payment in anything other than cash. When I read the ad on craigslist, I “knew” this was another old Salt.

In the manner of two old shipmates, though meeting for the first time, it was typical Navy. He challenged, “You got your shots?” (Meaning of course, the COVID vaccine.)

I replied. “Which ones? Hepatitis? Anthrax, Cholera, Typhoid? – I’m a Sailor- had ’em all”

Laughing, he retorts, “No the one that hurts like hell!” The mystical shot with square needle story, I winked knowingly.

His wife gave the two old Salts a smile and went inside the house. “She’s heard it all before”, he chuckled. We swapped stories on the places and ships we had both seen. And that was thirty minutes after we traded greenbacks for the cabinet we put in my SUV. And that is no bull**. (Comments edited for you landlubbers out there.)

child’s play for old Salts

Age merely shows what children we remain.

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Playtime

I am taking the opportunity to play again. Watching our grandchild once or twice a week, we have taken every opportunity to go to parks to run with and after him. With nice Southern California weather, time to run through the grass, over the little bridges, and then feed ducks at the lake. As Zander gets a little older,. he more boldly climbs up jungle gyms. Sliding down slides, he directs us to follow after or to catch him – over and over again. Sitting on his uncle’s lap he enjoys swinging on swings. But not that high he says. And as “mam-mam” and “pop-pop” get a bit more winded, we suggest going to get a little frozen yogurt and then to “mam-mam’s” house to play. Even though a pandemic year has stolen time from us all, It is unavoidable that both preschoolers and grandparents still have grown older. Yet it is pretty much a given that clambering around a jungle gym and marveling at child’s play, this old Salt feels younger for a little while.

Ask the Chief:Formula for success

The month of March is touted as a time to recognize achievements by women today and in history. In my social media feed, warriors, astronauts, authors and civic leaders are presented as outstanding examples and role models for their gender. I am married to one such as these, whose circumstances thirty-some years ago might have dictated a much different path had she not had the internal motivation and applied herself to becoming a Registered Nurse, then an educator, a program director and lastly, an entrepreneur. My interpretation of a formula to succeed in Life, has a lot to do with personal motivation and how much someone applies herself or himself to the task.

Results (R) equals Motivation (M) times Application (A), in a Skill (s) that is in demand, in a society.

Eric Saretsky

A story published by wearelatinlive.com that was distributed in my Facebook feed is one of these success stories that strikes me as representative of the possibilities that many, particularly in Government, act as not being possible by the majority in the United States. The story of Diana Trujillo, Director of Flight Operations for the Mars Perseverance Rover, speaks to a Latina immigrant from Columbia who came here, not speaking English, and with $300 in her pocket. Working as a cleaning women, she attended community college, then transferred to a university and became one of few women studying to become an aerospace engineer advancing to her position today.

CMDCM Barbier

Another story that was remarkable was a video interview published online by Mike Rowe. He interviewed a young lady, who is a highly-skilled specialty welder earning a six-figure income today. This young lady, with a passion for fancy eyelashes seen in the video, applied herself starting with a high school elective, after realizing that a teenager’s idea of a career in medicine was not really her goal. And there there are the examples of my female Shipmates from my years serving in the United States Navy. Two in particular have always reminded me of the formula I noted earlier in this post. One, a now-retired Admiral, Linnea Sommer-Weddington, began serving as an enlisted linguist, and after earning a college degree, received a commission. Twenty-five years later, facing a mid-career health situation, she had the tenacity to overcome it and through her leadership example, experience and skill, advanced in her career to Flag rank. It was her motivating those she lead to also reach their full potential that impacted the second female I am reminded. Navy Reserve Command Master Chief Kristie Barbier , I had the good fortune to serve alongside and lead for a time as the Senior Enlisted Leader for a Reserve unit that then-Commander Sommer-Weddington headed. Kristie’s expertise in her civilian occupation supported the Department of Defense. In her military role, ambition and skillset, she volunteered for service in the combat zone of Afghanistan. Through skills and exceptional leadership, she earned the highest Navy enlisted rank and serves as a Command Master Chief today. While this may sound extraordinary to many, there is one other caveat that makes these stories noteworthy. All of them were accomplished by females raising families or other ventures who shaped their circumstances – instead of being burdened by them.

RDML (Ret) Sommer-Weddington

As a veteran I have had the good fortune to work with people from every background and circumstance who volunteered for military service. Mentors and friends whose career success were shaped by application of a success formula whether or not they knew it as such. And in the civilian community, many with whom I have worked who strived to have the life they earned. Circumstances, from economic declines and health challenges, to worldwide pandemics will occur, but it is the ones who have skills that are continually needed who will thrive throughout. In my business today I see examples of civilian and veteran, men and women, young and older, immigrant and native-born, through exceptional work ethic and ambition, achieve certification. And sadly, I have witnessed those whose self-limiting formula delays their success.

In some I know, through my military experience and in my marriage, there is one other caveat that makes these stories noteworthy. Most of them were accomplished by females raising families; working while in training; in business with husbands or partners; or varying degrees of all of these. These are women who shaped their circumstances – instead of being burdened by them. And I have met men, immigrants, who have had skills, authority or respected careers in their home country who achieve competence in a new language and culture, and support their families working from the bottom upward, in a field that is in high demand.

perseverance

The “Perseverance” Rover landing successfully on the surface of Mars this week is a metaphor for the amazing success of a team – thousands of people – who rose to the challenge of putting that vehicle on a planet 300 million miles away. Human beings focused on delivering their best effort can make ambitious goals possible. This has been the case since before recorded history up through sending probes beyond our solar system. Over thousands of years people have advanced their understanding of the universe from erecting temples aligned with the relative movement of stars and planets, navigating across oceans, to physicists, engineers technical specialists, and support teams landing on other worlds. Closer to home, it is tragic that a microscopic organism, one (or more- mutations) of billions on our planet, in the 21st Century has killed or harmed millions of people across the world in the last eighteen months. Prompted by the urgency of finding a vaccine, a lot of dedicated people have been working to determine the nature of the COVID virus, obtain cooperation of billions to slow infection, and then test and distribute a vaccine to eight billion people in the last couple months time.

In both of these examples, the challenge of getting humans to work together, to seek to understand, or to solve a complex problem is tested. We can send probes to study Pluto and Oort Cloud objects, but preventing species extinction, or mitigating natural and man-made disasters seem impossibly difficult. Problems mobilize communities for a period of time, but it requires ongoing teamwork and collective vision to make meaningful change. However, if every person took the opportunity tomorrow and every day after that, to make a small yet positive change in thought and action, we can achieve goals. The book Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, by James Clear, introduces an insight into how in every endeavor, small yet continual process improvements can achieve incredible results. Perseverance is a necessary attribute whether it is landing on Mars or solving an endemic human problem.

blessings in 2020

Most of humanity would prefer that the year 2020 enter the history books more quickly. With the coronavirus pandemic, internecine politics, rioting, and literally, one Middle Eastern city “powder keg” detonation, the equally turbulent climate and economic missteps are salt poured onto an open wound.

20 He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.

Matthew 17:20 (NIV)

We have always existed when seeds of fear, mistrust, and hatred for one another sprouted. At a time when all of Mankind’s knowledge is available electronically, the vast majority of the Earth has not found harmony from that collective wisdom. Yet, there has always existed a means to such harmony. The metaphysical. While the source is intangible, His effect is not.

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

    for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,

    for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

    for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,

    for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,

    for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

    for they will be called children of God.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:3 – 12 (NIV)

Read with a heart attuned to the spiritual, the Gospels reveal a God who loves us, teaches us, and holds us accountable to him and to one another. In the collection of scripture Christians know as the Old Testament, (to Jews as the Books of the Law and the Prophets) God reveals his heart to us. Through ordinary men and women doing extraordinary things through their Faith in him, we learn the blessings of such living. From men and women who follow their own desires, we see the destructiveness of such behavior. As both God and Man, through his example, teachings, death and resurrection, Jesus fulfills all we are taught through the Old Testament. Both Old and New Testament open our eyes to embrace Jesus as the author and perfecter of our Faith. Through our hearts, to those who believe in Jesus deity, even the tiniest kernel faith will grow. Through devotion to prayer, his teachings, and one another relationships we will also “overcome the world” (John 16:33).