Forty-two years ago, a kid from a dysfunctional family got off a bus from the airport at the entrance to the U.S. Navy Recruit Training Command, San Diego. The following eleven weeks for me and my fellow recruits physically, mentally, and spiritually reshaped us into a military unit and family. Through shared sufferings, goals, and mindset, we changed from unruly civilians into Sailors.
The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof. – Richard Bach, novelist
After a few years in the military and several more as a civilian, the Navy again became my “family”. Abandoned by an unhappy wife (she later was diagnosed with mental illness), my military family was preferable and predictable. During the years that relatives would not talk with one another – or with me, one divorced parent lay dying in hospice and the other was living purposely alone in the Sonoran desert. I rarely spoke with one of my mother’s siblings, never with the other or her daughters, and only after my mother’s passing have I deliberately and earnestly sought conversations and visits with my father’s relatives.
Here’s a news flash: No soldier gives his life. That’s not the way it works. Most soldiers who make a conscious decision to place themselves in harm’s way do it to protect their buddies. They do it because of the bonds of friendship – and it goes so much deeper than friendship. Eric Massa
Over twenty-six years in the military, twenty years of fellowship in my church, eighteen and a half in marriage, and in fourteen years with a company where I just retired, did I develop a trust, a bond, mutual respect and joy with people I was related to only by common experience. My marriage is a gift of trust and joy shared not through shared DNA; it was her children accepting me and them accepted as “our kids” – proving that DNA does not define family.
35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John 13: 35 (NIV)
So when you see two or more veterans gathered together, laughing, crying, and swapping stories, they likely are not related, nor may they even be from the same service, or of the same generation, but all have common experience. They are family.
Every November, my friends and I go (tent) camping in Yosemite National Park before the first snow. All of us are members of the same church in San Diego, but more than just “members”, we all make an effort to be united as Brothers, in Christ. This is more than just a Sunday worship service, or playing a game of Mexican Train together in a warm room of a Yosemite Valley hotel. We have each others’ back and watch out for each other.
While my spiritual brothers and I share a bond of common faith, it is not the same as the brothers – and sisters I have served alongside in the military. For twenty-six years, I wore the uniform and swore my allegiance to serve the Constitution and nation against all enemies foreign and domestic. And through several conflicts, long deployments, and looking out for families while others were deployed in war zones, all were responsibilities my peers and I shouldered. Many of us spent holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries away from loved ones.
While we give thanks for all the blessings we have in this life, these do not come without responsibilities to act justly, practice gratitude, give generously, and to treat others with respect. As military veterans and patriotic citizens, we are also compelled to stand against those who would tear down what we have worked – some at the risk of bloodshed – to preserve.
So on this Thanksgiving holiday, I think of all that my family has been experiencing this past year. I have gratitude for my God, and my fellow veterans and their families. Whether we are serving together now in the army of Christ, or served ( or still serving) in the uniform of our country. May you have a safe and joyful holiday.
All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea whether it is to sail or to watch it we are going back from whence we came.
~John F. Kennedy , Newport dinner speech before America’s Cup Races, Sept. 1962
I have never learned to sail a wind-driven vessel, nor do I recall the difference between a sloop and a ketch. That said, it does not mean I have no familiarity with ships, storms, life aboard ship, or the special bond that seafaring men (or women) have as a crew at sea. For eight years out of a twenty-six year Navy career, I was a member of ships company, on a Virginia-class cruiser, a Spruance -class destroyer, and a converted amphibious transport dock-turned-command ship (for the U.S. THIRD Fleet). I have spent months at sea repetitively in the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans, Mediterranean, and Caribbean Seas. Perhaps the readers of this blog, merchantmen and military navymen (and women) have also looked upon Naples, Italy with Mount Vesuvius as a backdrop in the early morning. As a Petty Officer on a ship that was one of the very first Navy visitors after forty years of the Cold War, made port in Varna, Bulgaria. On deployment to enforce blockade of Saddam Hussein’s illicit oil trade after the Gulf War, transited the Suez Canal and made circles in the Red Sea. Like the apostles of Jesus two millennia ago, I walked the streets of old Jerusalem, visited Cyprus and Crete, Turkey and Greece. Gazed upon the ruins of ancient seafaring civilizations four thousand years old. I’ve ridden trains on a day’s liberty time as a Pacific Fleet sailor between Yokosuka and Tokyo, Japan, and as an Atlantic Fleet one from Marseilles to Paris, France.
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by, And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a gray mist on the sea’s face, and a gray dawn breaking.
A man I have known casually for years at a place I have written about many times, Liberty Tobacco, a cigar lounge in San Diego, California, is another Old Salt. We both have long careers in the electronics industry and worked at some of the same places in San Diego. But tonight we learned that we have been to the same places underway on ships, and to shore stations around the country. Twenty-five or thirty years ago is a long time in an age where, in a social media-world, memories last minutes or perhaps hours till another attention-seeker replaces them.
We shared memories of the school buildings for our respective Navy trades being across from one another on the shore of Lake Michigan. We were assigned to electronics schools ( perhaps five years apart) at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center north of Chicago. And we both have been through the fire-fighting trainer in Norfolk, Virginia. This is a large complex of buildings built to resemble shipboard compartments where fuel-oil fires are set ablaze. Into the heat, dense smoke, and real danger, crews are trained to combat them, and to become familiar with all the tools and roles needed to fight and preserve a ship. At sea, there is only your shipmates to keep your vessel afloat.
Other memories of putting to sea on your first ship get dusted off and refreshed while talking. The times standing watch on the ship’s Quarterdeck in the middle of the night alongside the pier in Italy, you can chuckle about the garbage barge alongside – with something moving (not human) in the shadows. Or noting wharf rats the size of cats rooting around a dumpster in the dark at the head of the pier. And realizing what “rat guards” on your mooring lines are designed to block.
Memories of winter rain in Panama that will soak you to the skin in minutes. One of the wettest places on Earth, the year-round rain recharges the waters in the Canal Zone powering the locks on each end of the Isthmus. Swapping stories of liberty visits in ports ten time zones away from home that are extended to a month when a casualty occurs. For one it was the ship’s screw (the propeller, in civilian-speak). Without a shipyard and drydock, this enormous thing had to be replaced underwater by specially-trained teams. For the other, when a gas-turbine engine has to be flown from the USA and replaced in the Netherlands Antilles. Due to a prior transit in a freshwater river in the Northeast USA, killing the built-up marine growth – and then immediate transit to the Caribbean resulted in the cooling inlets for that turbine being choked by dead organisms and engine destroyed by overheating.
The sea speaks a language polite people never repeat. It is a colossal scavenger slang and has no respect.
While some of my friends have experienced sea-sickness on a harbor ferry in San Diego bay, and worn the medical patches when first putting to sea on cruise ships and small frigates, these aids may become unneeded when accustomed to life at sea for months at a time. With merchantmen and Navymen, the camaraderie of sharing shipboard stories, having weathered hurricanes and strong gales in the mid-Atlantic and off the western coast of Mexico transiting from the Panama Canal, the memories seem only days old instead of a quarter-century. My shipmates and I have marveled at the different colors of ocean water, the patterns of currents, bright sunshine and placid seas turn gray-black and stormy within hours. I’ve been concerned for brightly color birds alighting on our ship as we leave port and then been still there twenty miles to sea. Crossing the Equator and the International Date Line, as a Navyman I have been both Pollywog and seasoned Shellback during the traditional ceremonies of the “Shellback Initiation”.
And some of the other ‘initiations’ like standing a first watch on the bridge – learning to always check your binoculars handed to you, especially at night. Some salty Bosun’ mate (Boatswains mate) may have first smeared a little shoe polish in the eyecups. Or being especially vigilant while manning instruments and reporting conditions during underway replenishment. Any sailor will acknowledge the gait at sea is unique, an adaptation to simply performing your duties while the ship rolls in heavy seas. Huge waves breaking over the bow of your ship become commonplace. Watching a smaller vessel in your group seeming to disappear in the trough of the waves and then pop up as the waves crash by. While performing maintenance on deck, looking out and seeing a small sailboat, manned by an individual sailor, pass alongside hundreds of miles from shore.
The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. Jacques Yves Cousteau (brainyquote.com)
For the many who are serving or have served honorably in uniform, we have a bond that few understand. For those who have spent several months, several years, or a working life, at sea, we have another strong bond that years and decades later we recall clearly. Perhaps it is indeed the stirring of the salt in our blood, the sea spray on our skin, and the experience of working together in times of routine, in danger and in emergencies when we all realize just how we are and will always be, Sailors.
When I was a younger Sailor, traveling from foreign port to foreign port, I encountered a lot of outgoing people engaged as vendors, tour guides, shopkeepers and restaurant owners. Often their families were the wait staff that ran these places or made the things that provided their living. When your livelihood depends on people, there is an advantage in being a “people person”.
When I was a kid, I was actually an introvert. A gangling kid with poor eyesight, I was not the best athlete nor a glib talker and jokester. From several moves, a lot of activities that caught my interest, studying people, and experience in several professions from ranching to construction, furniture sales and auto parts counter work, I got to talking with and taking an interest in people. I worked as a bartender and waiter before I went into the military. One of my dreams, long before I became a technical worker in the telecommunications industry, was opening a bar or restaurant based on what I visited in foreign places. A kind of dive that had “atmosphere”. With all that experience of these exotic places and tourists from every part of the world I thought it would be fun. I had been working in bars and restaurants prior to my military service so it was somewhat familiar. I learned to speak, or at least communicate in three foreign languages, Spanish, French and Russian.
The service industry depends on people-skills as well as a strong work ethic. Marketing. Being a good listener as well as an observant and diligent service provider. And have a good memory for people’s names, their likes, and so on. In France in he early 1990s I saw the “smash sandwich” vendors – paninis as America now knows them – and thought it was a novel idea to bring to these shores. With the buxom women staffing these kiosks, the Toulon vendors served a lot of sandwiches. In Turkey, shoeshine boys mobbed visitors, appearing at the dock where our ship’s water taxis deposited them. These kids knew how to say “shoe shine” and make small talk about sports, whether you were an American sailor, a Brit, an Arab or perhaps even Chinese tourist. Even sailors wearing sneakers were not overlooked by boys with pats of shoe polish. In the markets, almost every vendor spoke some foreign tongue.
Interviewing, like selling, takes skill and people-smarts
Just as there are people who do not understand the difference between “selling” and “buying”, there are people who do not understand that the interview is a skill that one perfects. Preparation, listening, knowing what and how, to answer a question is part of the interview. Confidence, balanced with humility, and understanding the requirements of the job being sought as well as knowing something of you prospective employer, can win the interview.
Technical professionals I have coached have earned an offer of employment, not only from their preparation, but knowing how to “answer the question being asked” with sufficient detail, but not enough to get bogged down. It is a marketing opportunity to show that you will be an asset to those doing the hiring, but not telling them as much. And to win their trust, through your personality and likeability.
I know others who are successful gardeners, pool men, insurance agents and financial counselors. Some are musicians. Others are artists and writers. And still others with a love for and enough experience in hunting, fishing, camping or motor sports, they made professions as guides and teachers. And they connect with their clients and employers, with the same people-smarts.
Commitment and self-improvement
Practicing interviews, such as the “elevator talk” or meeting people in social settings, is valuable. Listening to people’s names and observing details about those you converse with, not only makes the other person feel valued, but aids in your ability to connect with your message.
Books I have read recently and recommend to everyone, engineer, actor, or military member in transition, include How to Start A Conversation and Make Friends, by Don Gabor (Simon & Shuster), and the classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People , by Dale Carnegie. Another great read and short, is The One Minute Sales Person, by Spencer Johnson, MD, and Larry Wilson (Harper Collins). There are also many good books and websites on personal development, the interviewing process in the social media age as well.
In a job interview, a prepared and confident person builds a relationship and earns trust with the interviewer and the employer. Beyond the hiring process, as an employee or consultant, you continue being a student of the company, the people you meet, and learning by asking the right questions. There is also the times and places you can market yourself for new opportunities in the company, and by demonstrating value – increasing the bottom line, can use the same interviewing skills to ask for raises as well.
As a manager, you are still engaged in the sales profession. Whether as team leader, morale booster, mentor, recruiter or discipline agent, you still show the “customer” the value of the company and role that person fills, which provides their needs and their relationship to the team.
People do not want to be “sold” but they do want to “buy”
Just as someone who shops for a new vehicle, kitchen appliance, or bringing on a new team member, the skill is in recognizing what motivates, interests or is valued by the customer. A customer looking for the security of business insurance is not going to respond to the agent’s ‘hot buttons’. And an employer is not going to be encouraged by a prospective employee’s focus on pay rate, vacation earned or working hours.
Interviewing requires diligent effort and practice. But the military member also has what many other applicants lack. Focus. Endurance. Attention to detail. And maturity. As well as experience working under stressful situations and deadlines. So take charge and carry out your mission. Interview, interview, interview. And I have benefited from fifty years of practice. I am no longer gangling, nor introverted. I have been a recruiter and meet people everywhere I go. Though my best friends will tell me I am still not “glib”.
Fair Winds and Following Seas. – Senior Chief (Ret.)
* Wikipedia repeats the quote attributed to Ronald Reagan that a politician is the second-oldest profession. Prostitution is frequently quipped as the “oldest” profession.
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Time for Physical Training! PT (Weight training, cardio, core strengthening)
Commence Holiday Routine.
Other than Monday, I took the whole week off making up for the push we had at the end of the Quarter last month. Time to catch up on honey-dos, and sort through the stacks of stuff piled on my desk in recent weeks. Probably have four books and two magazines that I want to read- mostly personal development topics that I need to read through. Plus about a hundred blog posts to read and respond to. Who has time to commute, slave away, and commute back – and have a life outside those parameters? Thus, the needed Stay-cation.
I wanted to say thank you to my blogging community friends who have hit the “Like” on my accidental wisdom 500 times. Ninety folks following have journeyed with me so far.
Check out my page on Facebook, if you are interested in joining my health and fitness challenge for the summer. Salty Dawg Fitness Group page
The dictionary defines concert, so the director said Saturday night, as “a musical performance given in public, typically by several performers or of several separate compositions. (2) agreement, accordance, or harmony.” It was an opportunity to enjoy an evening with a thousand fans of symphony music. From the audience standing and singing the Star Spangled Banner to a medley of famous themes like the Sound of Music, the night and the performance were wonderful. And the point in the concert where the conductor asked military veterans to stand and be honored was wonderful.
The night was planned several weeks ago for our friends and us, to have dinner and enjoy the season-opening concert, San Diego Symphony at Bayside – on the waterfront downtown next to the Convention Center. The evening featured famous American composers and included masterful choral singing. Yet the night was unnecessarily in competition with a harbor cruise “party boat” going back and forth in the harbor all evening. While the symphony conductor was the picture of grace and civility, the operator, just offshore of our venue, was deliberately negligent, blaring the distracting beat, “ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum” over and over, and over again. The conductor made light of it, and yet many of my fellow veterans in the audience (from 20 to 80 years in age) were visibly ready to form a boarding party.
It was a great metaphor for the “endangered species” of civility – particularly in America in 2018. On the way home by trolley, a young person zigged and zagged to step in front of us “old people” ( I spent 4 seconds before inserting my card in the ticket-dispensing machine) to try to get her trolley ticket first (until I harrumphed and she demurred). On social media, a person makes a comment both insulting the fans and actually containing some painful truth, of a particular topic (politics), and gets his (insert characteristic here) questioned. But the comment was deliberately meant to provoke anger.
I regularly encounter both Prius and BMW drivers who act as though they are the most important dignitaries on the road -tailgating, careening across lanes – to get two car lengths ahead – in rush hour. When I hold a door open as a courtesy for females (as I do for males) even among my workmates, there is a occasionally a woman under thirty who seems irritated that I did so. But age is not a predictor of civility. I see men my age with yard signs or bumper stickers that declare other human beings idiots, criminals or ignorant. It is common now for people to pick “sides”. There is no tolerance for differing opinion. And there is no standard where dialogue has to be reasoned, calm, and well-supported by easily (verified (and unbiased) observers.
How do we revert to civility norms?
I think that this decline in civility has both been inflamed by social media as well as our education system. For fifty years we have groomed people to believe they have the right to say what they want without consequences. A Utopian desire for harmonious acceptance, order, and a pain-free existence for everyone everywhere is not through government control. Either some are forced (Constitutional guarantees are repressed by power-brokers; disagreement is labelled “hate speech”) or are bribed (“living wage” increases worker support, recipients of “public assistance” are encouraged to remain on the “dole”) to be obedient, and the result is a lack of civility toward those who have different views.
One christian’s viewpoint
Most among the secular world see the faulty application of Christian theology by many as evidence of a faulty theology rather than faulty human beings. Any government that promotes officially-sanctioned multiple languages, cultural norms, legal precepts, and political ideologies, is not elevating civility among dis-unified people but instead further isolating individuals and groups into opposing factions. History is full of these lessons. “Balkanization” is a term where multiple ethnic, religious, linguistic, and religious fracturing is present. The first World War all the way through the “ethnic cleansing” in the former Yugoslav (Balkan) states in the 1990s were due to this fracturing. Fear and paranoia of people who will not assimilate is thousands of years old. But governments that accommodate the noisy separatists and neglect the “deplorables”, risk permanent balkanization. It has been the national identity, as “Americans” regardless of all the other factors, that has maintained unity in the United States since the Nineteenth Century. The resurgence of socialism in American culture, in the absence of a truly spiritual understanding of brotherhood, respect, looking after the ill and the truly desperate, leading a peaceful existence and having a strong work ethic, is not going to achieve a concert in America or elsewhere.
Secular proposals to restore civility in America
Americans can try to restore a civil culture through man-made effort. But how do people restore civility?
Restore ONE NATION: Celebrate our diversity in ethnic heritage but unify everyone who comes here – through the established immigration policies – to become AMERICAN. Stop using hyphen american in all our identifiers.
Establish ONE language. All business, education, judicial dealings, social interaction should be performed in English. Teach different idioms and language, but everyone who wants to be a resident must read, write and speak English in everyday situations. Make it mandatory to pass an oral and written exam within 24 months of arrival – with intent to remain – to reside in the United States, and become a citizen. Make the language a requirement to obtain any public assistance.
Restore the ONE culture. Quit the divisiveness of public – and public-funded institutions promoting ethnic separatism. Whatever color, race, creed, or political leanings, celebrate differences in the context of making the “melting pot” better.
Prohibit any public official or lobbying group on behalf of any non-citizens, extra-national allegiances, from campaigning to support non-citizens, foreign governments, or business interests seeking to change immigration policies without a national vote.
Restore GOD and belief in a Creator as acceptable teaching. Permit use of public property for the exercise of religion as with any other use. Get government out of the Belief business.
Spiritual beliefs that do not contradict the good order an unity of a nation, are not legally barred.
Atheism does not trump the rights of others to practice their spiritual beliefs in private or in public spaces.
Non-government employers and places of employment that express particular religious beliefs cannot be forced through legal redress to change policies (adding “abortion coverage” to a health plan for an employer that publicly “pro-life”). Employment conditions are still voluntarily accepted by both parties – employer and employee.
Public (government) employees are barred from expressing support for, or opposition to, insulting, belittling, or deriding a particular religious belief.
The judicial branch of government only decides whether an action violates the law, not whether it is moral, ethical, proper, or the “intent” of the law-makers
No elected official can refuse to enact voter-approved legislation that does NOT
cause physical harm to individuals or groups
bar individuals or groups from activities that do not seek to cause harm (violence, rebellion) or deny others their human rights
No institution of government can be used to manipulate public information, sentiment, or coerce support for a particular national political entity in power. This also means no institution of government can be manipulated to deny another political entity the fair and equal opportunity in elections.
No entity or institution serving the national interest – media service, local, state or national educational institution (public or privately-funded) can bar exercise of the Constitutional “freedom of speech”.
Civility is a voluntary ideal but some focused practices could improve civility:
Practice, starting in the home, schools, and social organizations that disagreement with the policies of a government official does not condone any action, outburst, or display abusing that office.
Accept the outcome of elections. Bring change through the ballot box.
Public figures or celebrities should not incite street protests and violence against law enforcement and other public safety officers.
Leaders of religious orders should promote peaceful doctrines, respect for authority, and practices among their adherents.
Engaging in personal attacks on or inciting abuse of the family members of a government official should be restrained by peers and not promoted as entertainment by media business, celebrities, and public officials.