Conveying a simple message

In the manufacturing business as in the military, communication, particularly between two speakers of the same language, is not simple nor should anyone assume what you say will be understood by the recipient of your message.

This is painfully obvious when dealing through email.

An email sent to a group of people, including two managers, a technical peer, a manufacturing engineer, a logistician, and a quality assurance engineer, was received very differently. At least two managers told me my report was, in a word, unintelligible. My basic mistake? Adding too much detail, and confusing the recipients. I tried to answer / direct my answer to 3 separate audiences in one email.

To correct this, a man I respect offered this simple formula. In the email, subject line:” <project> <problem> will require < new part/ software/ repair/ test”. In the email body: “Approval request to issue a replacement <widget part number> for <internal customer/ test/ troubleshooting>”. (Period)

In a new paragraph, “DETAILS:”

And keep it specific to that ONE issue. And brevity is key.

After I cooled off, the situation reminds me of the time, long ago, when my Division Lieutenant asked me for a status on some equipment on his problem report. When he stopped me ( I was really a greenhorn then), he asked me to state my response in ten seconds or less:

” System requires a new <part>. $10,000 with exchange. Will arrive next Tuesday.”

hiking veterans

Wearing a “veteran” ballcap starts conversations.

Lord’s soldier

The “San Diego Chargers” jersey worn by a twenty-something man I met near the summit of Angel’s Landing trail prompted me to ask whether he was a Los Angeles -based fan or one from San Diego. From Temecula, Californi, he and his buddies were up in Zion for a “men’s retreat”; among the faith community, that is “code” for a spiritual bonding time. We talked about our respective churches and our military service. As a Navy veteran, he asked me whether I had been to the Philippines; his father had joined the Navy from there. Eugene was an Army veteran. I told him about my son, an Army veteran. Eugene knew Fort Bragg. He and my son, were sort of, but not quite, following in each respective fathers’ footsteps. One of his companions was a veteran of the Iraq war. Both were now college students. As we talked, I encouraged him to endure the bureaucracy of the VA medical evaluation process (he had gone once and was discouraged by the red tape) to get service-connected injuries treated – or compensated. Being young men of faith as well as warriors, these newly encountered Brothers encouraged me. Like me, though my friends and several dozen people attempted the narrow and very physically-demanding ascent to the “Landing”, I knew these guys had nothing to prove to themselves. Military services do the difficult every day. The impossible generally takes just a bit longer.

DOD recorder

There weren’t but one or two available seats on the crowded shuttle bus from the Temple of Sinawawa stop in Zion National Park. It was a thirty-minute ride back to the parking lot. Looking tired and a little irritated, the large man ( solid, not stocky) squeezed into the last available seat, directly across from me. He looked at my ballcap and thanked me for my service. We chatted. He was taking in Zion while his wife was at some military event in San Diego. He is a civilian archivist for the DOD, which lead to talking about history, this blog, and travel. Apparently, Lake Powell should be on my “bucket list”. One of the things that all this military reminiscing lead to was to get some coffee prior to starting back to the hotel in St. George.

View of the Virgin River in Zion NP. Angel’s Landing trail.
Though some start, few finish the ascent to the very top

“Airdale” trucker

Tomahawk night launch, Red Sea, 1993

On Saturday morning, the motel cafe was busy. All eight little tables were occupied. At one table, a man about my age wore a Desert Storm veteran ballcap. I asked him what service, and he responded Navy. I was also a Desert Storm veteran. He offered me a seat. Mike had been an Navy “airdale”, the Navy nickname for a member of the aviation support community. An aviation ordnance technician, he served a carrier airwing in the Persian Gulf during the conflict. We chuckled about engineers who design but never actually tried to use some things in aircraft he worked on; trying to remove an assembly where you could neither lay flat or reach overhead comfortably, but in one case having to crouch the whole time removing it. My companion, a retired DOD engineer, feigned dismay. A couple of comments he made, however, suggested he was a little more ‘dismayed’ than he let on. The trucker at the table across from us was also a military veteran, though from the prior conflict. As Mike and I chatted about the Navy, missed advancement opportunities (if only those darn Master Chiefs would retire so others could move up the career ladder!), and life after the military, the more I got to thinking how a community, a brotherhood, sisterhood, or more accurately – a large extended family one can meet all over the country.

Community. Often it starts with a ballcap, a veteran-themed t-shirt, or other, and an interest in getting to know someone.

club for erudite Old Salts

A Thursday evening discussion with an acquaintance over cigars, as retired Navy Chiefs, we were amicably discussing the Navy “salty” life, adventure, and places familiar to each of us around the world. With a lifetime of experience including travel to the same parts of former Soviet bloc countries, we then opined on 21st Century socialist nations. While rigid politically, some tacitly approve of workers ‘capitalist’ use of an underground economy to support their families. He illustrated discussing the merits of fine Cuban cigars he obtained. Skilled cigar rollers have access to tobacco, paper and other accessories to make – after the day’s production was completed and inventoried – some personal cigars to provide under-the-table income. He learned of accessing such side channels during global business travel. And tonight, the ‘entrepreneurial’ wheels in my mind started turning. In a Progressive future, there will always be those who obtain – and those who will then purchase – a premier cigar.

126 years young

It’s a birthday celebrated by a whole lot of people. Navy people, specifically, and to whom, the shortened form of applicable address, such as “Good Morning, Chief”, “Senior”, “CMC”, etc is heartwarming even to a Chief retired now for nine years. On April 1st, 1893 the United States Navy formally instituted the paygrade of Chief Petty Officer (CPO). How does one become a Chief? To echo a Brother Senior Chief many years ago, posing the question of a “Selectee” (and then answering her bewildered look), “I decided to work and act like a Chief Petty Officer. Then waited for the uniform to catch up.”

Together with rating examination scores, selection eligibility criteria, and a service record review by a board of senior Chief Petty Officers, candidates are selected. And once selected, a process of mentorship, instruction, leadership exercises and camaraderie ensues. This had been, and after a brief adjustment period, was reinstituted: the CPO initiation. Those of us who were selected to the rank of CPO, in whichever specialty rating we served, whether male or female, Active Duty or Retired, are all Brothers and Sisters in a worldwide fellowship, the Chief Petty Officer Mess. And in the grand scheme, the CPO takes care of the enlisted, mentors junior officers, executes the mission, all while leading from the Deckplate level.

For more on the history of the Chief Petty Officer, see this link to the Navy publication All Hands.

Navy Chief, Navy Pride!

grinders and coffee

Mention grinders to an older Navy veteran, generally brings to mind the large parade ground we marched around in Bootcamp.  But “grinder” also means a particular type of sandwich. In Southern California, while there are different names: submarine sandwiches, hoagies, and grinders, there are some places that are vastly different than the franchises that pop up everywhere.  And in El Cajon, California, not far from my home, is an institution 50 years in the making, The Grinder.

I actually only stopped in Thursday night at the request of my son, a Vocational Nurse working the evening shift, for a sub specifically made there.  It might have been my first visit though I have lived in the area twenty years.  After a long workday and a long, rainy evening commute,  but I would drive an extra few miles for a sandwich.

It was not a fancy place.  A video game table of the sort I had not seen in thirty years  was against the wall.  On the walls, were  Navy-themed art, a Bible quote,  articles on the history of this deli, a plaque honoring fifty years, and pictures of local kids.  But the one I noted just before ordering was the image of the late Chief John Finn,  Medal of Honor recipient (Pearl Harbor) on the wall. The kids working there know whose picture it is.   San Diego County is a military community, and El Cajon in the part known as “East County” is home to a large population of veterans going back to the Second World War.

“where do we eat and what show do we go to?”

On date night, quickly planned,  even the retired Senior Chief’s understanding wife may have felt a grinder was sub-expectations.  The mall was packed with Friday-night families.  As it turned out, a little pastry and coffee with live music at a coffee house we like was perfect.  We knew the music and lyrics; the acoustics were okay, and probably because the band and their fans are all about the same ages,  they concluded at a reasonable hour on a Friday night.  7:30 is almost bedtime.

So much for foodies partying into the wee hours (7:30PM)

immigration kon and tiki

One of the major issues in North America and European countries today is immigration. Politics and basic economics drive the debate, regardless of which side one supports. Perhaps it is worth considering – by all parties – for thousands of years, new arrivals brought talent, art, foodstuffs, and skills in navigation, or farming, or just hardiness. There were no aid agencies or politicians, and the adaptable survived. Across vast distances and different continents, it is no wonder that these were first undertaken by sailors, military men, and adventurers.

Long before I became a Sailor, I recall reading the adventure of Thor Heyerdahl, a Norwegian zoological researcher and explorer. It was then twenty-five years after an impressive 1947 voyage his team made across the Pacific Ocean. Compared to the modern warships in which I traversed the Pacific Ocean, Heyerdahl – and by experiment, pre-Inca natives, constructed a thirty-foot boat, of reed and balsa-wood. With a banana-leafed thatch cabin and a single-mast, six men departed South America. If modern man, in a post-war world might feel exposed – a hundred miles at sea, no sign of land and no birds in the sky, what were the first explorers possibly thinking. I thought this with experience of riding a ship 530 feet (161m) at the waterline, feeling the speck he was in comparison to the ocean.

Thor Heyerdahl’s point in the mid-Twentieth Century was to test that people might have settled Polynesia not from Asia, but from the east – South America – fifteen hundred years ago. A second settling might then have come from North America- British Columbia – by way of Hawaii, five hundred years later. Through radio-carbon dating, sweet potatoes which originate in Central and South America, were subsequently (1991) found by archaeologists in thousand-year old sites in Polynesia. (Since 2005, scholars debate which group came first – Polynesians to Hawaii or Hawaiians into Polynesia).

If you have not read Thor Heyerdahl’s account, Kon-Tiki, and you have a bit of the ocean-adventuring spirit, I suggest adding this to your list. I intend to revisit his story. Perhaps while eating a sweet potato.

Ask the Chief

“veteran” is gender-neutral

Some of my closest shipmates, friends, and mentors are female Sailors, officer and enlisted. Many, like me, are no longer on Drilling Reserve nor on Active Duty. Some have retired after long and distinguished military careers. Some have continued to support fellow veterans with active engagement with organizations such as Honor Flight. Some I served with are successful attorneys, realtors, and teachers. Some are corporate executives, software engineers, and human resource managers. Relatives who formerly served in the Marine Corps and others beginning careers serving in submarines.

Many of my peers in the years since the Gulf War served in war zones. Thirty-seven thousand female military served in the Gulf War, where many served in roles that exposed them to Scud attack and IEDs. Five female soldiers were killed in enemy action and two were taken prisoner. Since then, nearly a thousand female military members have been injured (843) or killed by hostile action from the USS COLE bombing in Yemen, to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. [At the time of this writing, a female Chief Cryptologist, a linguist, was killed along with two other military members and one DOD civilian in a terrorist bombing in a Syrian town.] Women actually have been in combat, have come under fire, been injured and have been killed serving in the US military since the Revolutionary War. History documents that women disguised themselves as men in order to serve since the Revolution, in the Civil War, and until physical exams were instituted in the early 1900s. Nurses were recruited before the First World War.

Beginning in 1979, women graduated from the military academies. In 1994, female midshipmen augmented the male crew of a Spruance-class destroyer, the USS PETERSON, several summers while I was aboard. Since 9/11 I have known females serving year tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, providing intelligence, communications, logistics, and medical support. However, beginning in 1993, women began serving as combat pilots and flying sorties over Iraq. In 2013, Defense Secretary Panetta lifted the ban on women serving in combat roles. The impact of female veterans serving in increasing numbers and in more front-line occupations will increase the need for physical and mental health services, more VA female providers as well as gender-specific services. One statistic indicated that the number of female service members has quadrupled in the forty years since 1973. By the end of the first decade of the new Millennium, female veterans grew to 10 percent of the veteran population.

But the bureaucracy is slow to react. As recently as 2016, veterans seeking care at VA facilities reported being mistaken for caregivers, spouses, or questioned their veteran status. Additionally, in contrast with employer-provided health plans, the VFW survey reports respondents found the VA required co-pays for preventative-care prescriptions including contraceptives.

veterans helping veterans

In a recent program, “Returning the Favor”, Mike Rowe whom many may recognize from “Dirty Jobs” fame, featured a male Iraq War veteran who runs a gym in Austin Texas, and through Make a Vet Sweat helps fellow veterans overcome Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder through exercise. It was in the course of the show, one of the female veterans served discussed her career-ending injury resulting in her own PTSD. Since the Gulf War time, I have known that female servicemembers have been in combat, risking death and injury, from hostile fire, IEDs, and terrorist attacks just as their male servicemembers have. The availability of creative therapies for working through mental health issues helps each sufferer, whether it is animals, exercise, or outreach. And may help many veterans avoid prescription drug addictions.

veteran suicide has no gender

According to statistics compiled by the Veterans Administration, of veterans who attempt suicide, the numbers of female veterans were increasing from 14 per 100,000 in 2001 to 17 per 100,000 population by 2014. This may be due the increasing number of female service members since 2001. Studies report that suicide rate decreased between 2001 and 2014 for female veterans receiving mental health services. While in the overall population, male suicide is three times greater than female, men more often use firearms while females tend to poison or overdose. In a VA fact sheet published in August 2017, female veterans who reported military sexual trauma or harassment were more likely to commit suicide than other female veterans. And overall, female veterans are more likely to commit suicide than civilian women.

marriage and divorce

Compared to civilian women, female veterans were more likely to be married while in the service, and at younger ages than their counterparts. Thirty percent of female military members were likely to be married between ages of 17 and 24, while eight percent of civilian women were. And the same veteran age group was more likely to be divorced compared to civilian women. In 2015, a study found that female veterans of all ages were more likely to be divorced than civilians, but civilians were more likely to have been divorced more than once.

healthcare and homelessness

The VFW has considerable resources and political clout engaged in support of female veterans. They commissioned a survey, from December 2015 to January 2016, with 2000 validated Active Duty, Reservist, retiree and vet respondents, on issues and challenges for women veterans. The survey found that the Veterans Administration needs to hire female healthcare providers to treat female veterans unique concerns. Lacking the personnel, the majority of the female veterans reported they were not given an option to request the gender of their VA healthcare provider.

The survey also sought information on female veteran homelessness. Four percent (72) of the respondents reported being homeless, and of these, 46 percent reported living in another person’s home (‘couch surfing’). Seventy percent of the homeless veterans had children; a third of them reported having children impacted their ability to receive care at a VA facility.

education and employment

Since the end of the Second World War, female veterans, who made up less than 9 percent of all veterans, like their civilian counterparts, who had worked in the defense industries during the war, were less likely than male veterans to use the GI Bill, or did not pursue college education due to social pressure (women in the home instead of the workplace). Studies in 2015 on the educational level and employment of female veterans indicates that they obtain a Bachelors or higher degree later in life than civilian women, are more likely to work in management, professional and technical occupations (49 versus 41 percent), and more work for local, state or federal agencies than their civilian counterparts. Twenty-nine percent of veterans work in sales or office occupations compared to thirty percent of non-veteran women. [statistics from: report, National Center for Veteran Analysis and Statistics, February, 2017, see va.gov/vetdata]

veteran groups

To inform veterans of their benefits, aid them with specific needs affecting them, provide networking for employment and business opportunities, and lobby on their behalf with lawmakers, service-providers, and the public, there are several organizations. One of the largest organizations specifically focused on women veterans is the Women’s Veteran Alliance. This national organization holds regional employment workshops, networking ‘mix and mingles’, conferences, and opportunities for businesses looking to hire veterans. See their link for female veteran “allies” (referrals and local organizations) More information is available on their Facebook page.

Since 1970, the National Veterans Foundation, its founder “Shad” Meshad, a Vietnam veteran, has been meeting the needs of veterans with mental health counseling, with three hundred offices across the country. Staffed by veterans of all periods – Vietnam, Cold War, Iraq and Afghanistan, they provide counseling and referral. All of these are located away from VA hospitals. (The reputation of VA hospitals in the last couple decades particularly among Vietnam veterans has suffered negative exposure, “new management” and political promises to fix internal problems). NVF’s counseling programs particularly with Post Traumatic Stress, according to their information webpage, were called upon after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York after September 11, 2001.

States each have their own Department of Veteran Affairs. In California, CALVET has a resource page for female veterans, from housing assistance, advocacy to employment and health. CALVET also provides resources for groups and agencies to provide support to the veteran.

The Veterans Administration has a directory of female-veteran service organizations here

FB make a vet sweat