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).

Good thoughts

Remember happiness doesn’t depend upon who you are or what you have; it depends solely on what you think.

Dale Carnegie (via brainyquote.com

The world spins on its axis without any consideration how that affects humanity. Many live and die without learning that happiness is not measured in what we accumulate, nor in how others perceive us. For those who spend their lives in desperate search for meaning, perhaps the childlike wonder we once held seems an old and immature way of thinking. We become conceited. We search for answers to questions that do not leave us content. Some wear themselves out seeking happiness through knowledge, position, or imposing their will upon others. Some contend with one another over ideas. Worse, is when a child’s sense of wonder is quashed by such thinking. Unhappiness is certainly an unfortunate consequence of becoming an adult in the modern world.

Perhaps it is the human condition, to be blinded to the simple pleasures of the world that has existed for thousands of millennia without requiring our intellect to reshape the mountains or influence wind and wave. In our hubris with which we perceive the world, do we miss the opportunity to enjoy the days we have been granted? It is truly one of the great misfortunes of maturity, that we do not recall what it is to feel awe of the world we held as children.

1 My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.

3 Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

  -Psalm 131 (NIV)

I am not one who fears what is beyond my understanding or control. It is enough for me to entrust my family and happiness to a Power that is timeless, and perfect. Those like me feel awe and security in a God who holds the Universe in His hands. I am closer to the time I return to dust than my childlike wonder years. It is a blessing to be able to enjoy, through a child’s eyes, the wonder of the world where everything is new. A few hours spent with our grandchild, I marvel, at his mirth when I make faces to entertain him, and when I am entrusted to hold the dried leaves and twigs he gathers on our walks in the park. When I respond to his outstretched arm, carrying him from one adventure to the next, I consider that God himself still carries me. And that fills me with good thoughts.

Ask the Chief

leadership

I heard a great sea story once about an engineering problem given to a room full of Officer Candidate School students. Given a number of requirements, they had to calculate how to get the job done. Every pencil in the classroom was furiously calculating away but for one student. That student, a Navy Chief Petty Officer, had written, “Find a Chief Petty Officer. Tell him, “Chief, I need this flagpole erected. Today.”

One of the best leadership tools has been around four thousand years.

  • Seek Advice:
    • 22 Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed (Proverbs 15: 22)
  • Don’t talk so much
    • And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words (Matthew 6:7)
  • Arrogance loses to humility every time
    • When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom (Proverbs 11:2)
  • Set the example for others
    • 13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. (James 3:13)
  • Listen, and learn
    • let the wise listen and add to their learning,  and let the discerning get guidance— (Proverbs 1:5)

Leadership books are written by the thousands, to distill for others the principles and lessons of leadership. Some look for quick guidelines and surefire tricks. Others look for the “rules” to impress on others or for the means to skirt “around” them. Many realize that leadership is as much developing character as it is authority and taking action. Just as a military veteran understands that we are under authority, and those authorities are under authority, it is through the lessons of Scripture, ultimate authority desires us to seek Wisdom, and reverently follow our Creator.

You have two basic rights

I am dusting off and republishing a few of my oldest efforts blogging. Rough around the edges. Originally published in July, 2009.

My old Senior Chief back in the days before political correctness blanched most of the testosterone from the military, used to introduce himself to his charges, “You have two rights in this world, one, to live, and another, to die. Gentlemen, when you f*** up, I will take one of them away from you!” I was the Petty Officer assigned to escort restricted and brig confinement -bound men at the NTC San Diego Correctional Custody unit, when the Navy Training Center and not an artsy community/ civic center.

It was his responsibility – and by delegation, mine as well, to attempt through proper application of discipline and hard work to turn last-chance misfits – clowns, chronic whiners, and immature boy-sailors into rule-followers, and rehabilitated men. There were of course, two alternatives that several ended finding – discharge at the convenience of the government, or hard time at the Navy Brig – and then discharge.

After those formative days of my youth, I see my responsibility as training young people in my charge, Sailors in my Reserve unit, recent graduate-engineers at work, and especially my sons, to help them develop along the right course. There is a culture in the military that juniors respect the senior enlisted mentors, as this is how the former progress to becoming the latter. In the civilian workforce, particularly in companies which nurture and reward excellence among all employees, there is a lot of the same cameraderie, cross-training, and shared purpose.

As a parent, though, raising boys who were as independent-minded and stubborn as mules, was work! These teens were self-disciplined only to the extent of things which held their interest – guitars, skateboards, and motocross bikes. Perhaps memory of similar behavior in those young men from the Correctional Custody days, urged me to impart some cautionary pearl of wisdom. Often the effect was wrath and counter-accusation, and exasperated red-faces. It would have been so much easier to find “a fan room”. (a Fan Room is a noisy air handling compartment where 2 could a disagreement with a few fists, without a public display). But political correctness has broken down all the means to apply discipline at any age.
Too much is thought of individual liberties, psyches, and others well-being, to the detriment of everyone from classroom pupil, to those helmsmen of a warship or even public transport operators. Policy which prohibits certain behavior (texting on cell phones while operating a train) is only effective when the individual has ingrained self-discipline.

Were it within my ability, I would like to see a return to the days of the old Senior Chief at NTC. A good butt-kicking would nip a lot of these problem behaviors.

the answer is forty-two

In the late 1970s, a British radio program, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy introduced me to brilliant satire, a science fiction story, and more of the British wit I already enjoyed in another British show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus. A book (Douglas Adams), television and a 2005 movie popularized the story for fans.

For those who are not fans, the story introduces us to Arthur Dent, an ordinary English guy, completely lacking in self-confidence, who finds one morning that his home is scheduled for demolition by the local government planning commission – to put a highway where it sat. He commiserates with a friend, Ford Prefect, who it turns out is an extraterrestrial who has come to rescue him. Apparently some galactic planning commission intends to destroy the Earth that day, to put through some highway of its own.

The story involves several humorous jabs at bureaucracy, technology, space travel, romance, and political incompetents. At one point, the plot story describes that some galactic beings – in the form of common mice – commissioned a computer to answer the question, “what is the meaning of life, the universe and everything?”. The answer, “42” confuses them, so they seek a second computer to find the specific question that “42” satisfies. Before they could get a satisfactory answer, the computer – Earth – was destroyed for that highway mentioned earlier. At the end of the story, everything is made right again with a newly-assembled planet Earth, but the mice-beings and their quest for the eternal answer are thwarted by Arthur.

Sometimes I think that the eternal answer to the meaning of Life will continue to elude most people. For the rest? Love your neighbor, enjoy the time you have, and most importantly, do not misplace your towel.

“Golden years” or “Fools Gold”?

The idea of outliving my money scares the hell out of me. But worse, would be to have a chronic health problem, and being unable to get the help needed to maintain a “quality of life”.

Unless the United States becomes insolvent, a military retiree or a combat veteran will not go without some social or health services. Being eligible to obtain certain benefits or services, however, is not a guarantee of actually receiving aid. If the person seeking benefits does not have an advocate- either a relative or some knowledgeable case worker – the system may never actually connect the need with the claimant. In recent months, a veteran who had been eligible, for decades, for a benefit – and had not received it – was compensated by the Veterans Administration with back pay. This was a significant boost in that veteran’s access to healthcare and standard of living. In another case, a combat veteran, with a heart condition, received lifesaving surgery, and when his deplorable living conditions were investigated, received a stipend and moved to suitable housing.

Recent requests for aid from an elderly family member, not a veteran, living thousands of miles away, highlighted a similar dilemma. Care is available, but several conditions including a debilitating nerve disease, a passive nature, and the anonymity of living in a huge city complicate matters. Yet, with services and people available to render support, a mentally-competent person, elderly civilian or veteran, has to voluntarily accept assistance. In this instance the relative refused it.

As a veteran, a retiree, and having a close network of family, friends, social and civic organizations, I will unlikely face the prospect of outliving aid. For many though, without “connection” and proper planning during a person’s working life, post-retirement “golden years” can be disappointing “fools gold”.

Photo by Monica Silvestre on Pexels.com

taps

Photo by Sharefaith on Pexels.com

An Army veteran and great-grandfather, Rudy was buried Monday. This nonagenarian was full of life and wisdom up until he died, and it was evident in all those who shared his impact in their lives. After an Army enlistment, he spent a career in industry. And his interests were just as varied as his life: step-father and father, an artist and sculptor, avid tennis player and golfer. Asked for advice at various times he would tell stories guiding the person asking to decide the answer for herself.

At the graveside for the rendering of military honors, an Army bugler played “Taps. The most memorable scene most in attendance missed, was noted by a child’s grandmother during the playing of “Taps”. His 14-month old great-grandson had been squirming, smiling, and making “mam…mam” noises for most of the preceding service. But the little boy became still in his mother’s arms, and cried silently as the bugler played.

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Revelation 21:4