family bonds

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

http://www.wiseoldsayings.com/family-drama-quotes/

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

https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/eric_massa_481858

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.

Carrying water

def. Carry water for (someone) 1. To serve, assist, or perform menial or difficult tasks for some person, group, or organization.

Ten years ago, as a retired Navy Senior Chief, the first thing I had to adapt to was my immediate loss of seniority and status. The tradition and status acquired over twenty-five years meant little to the non- military working public. As in most professions, a job in the commercial technical sector is judged only on your performance. Meeting the required output of widgets particularly at the fiscal end of the Quarter when the resources, software, or parts needed to meet the quota finally become available. Packing up an expensive piece of equipment and hustling it to FEDEX, or renting a delivery truck and driving it a hundred miles to another facility, is somewhat like carrying water for my boss.

Unless you have been working in the manufacturing world for a number of years, as an older technician, it seems that adapting to rapid changes – in technology, in workforce culture, and in tasks each employee is asked to perform, is more difficult. In engineering, procedures often lag product development. Cross-training peers is often as much how much they observe as giving them polished instructions. For some, it is jarring to be hindered by processes or lack of information, or age, or when she has been willing to “come out of retirement”, but is feeling her contribution is wasted.

Additional study, asking specific questions, and bringing one’s strengths to the job is necessary. Willing to do whatever is required, despite not being in a “job description”, helps the overall mission of the company. Working with a curmudgeon is difficult.

I have found that courtesy, whether toward peers, couriers, janitors, IT support, or supply clerks is repaid in kind. With more than a quarter-century of military service, working initially with folks cleaning toilets, and later reporting to Admirals and senior Government executives, character and a dedication to excellence count toward career success.

the measure of a Man

In hindsight, one of the things I miss the most about military service, is the camaraderie.  In particular,  when independently- acting individuals, which all civilians are,  go successfully through the crucible that begins in boot camp or basic training, that shared experience is indelibly stamped on one’s character. Sit three individuals from three different eras and three different branches of the military, and quite soon all will be talking, laughing and swapping tales as though they knew each other for decades.

From boot camp, individuals are shaped and reshaped into a highly-effective team in their units, in field operations and exercises, in ships or aircraft,  armored vehicles or in combat squads. There is a common jargon and understanding that comes from overseas assignments, difficult environments, passable chow, and either adrenaline-pumping action or numbing boredom.

And one day, it all comes to a end.  A final enlistment concludes with retirement, and with the hanging up of the uniform,  so end also the phone calls from your peers or your “reporting senior” (the officer you report to).  Also,  the periodic transfers, carefully-written evaluations, frequent deployments, and daily Physical Training ( running along the beach at 5AM) – and periodic assessment – are left to others.

Sadly, unless the now-retired military member obtains employment in a profession closely allied to the military,  the camaraderie of the Chiefs’ Mess: the traditions, courtesies, and respect that a Chief Petty Officer has earned in the naval service are only weakly understood by a civilian employer and less so by your never-serving civilian supervisor.

Fortunately for many of my friends in uniform, a transition from military life to a civilian career or self-employment went smoothly. Bringing the same focus to task accomplishment, a university degree, or a business resulted in continuing success.