The First of January is a great time to assess my contributions to a blog devoted to things of interest to veterans and their families. I want to publish more sea-stories; however, to be a resource for military families and veterans I need, or rather, I must provide better content in 2020.
patience only goes so far when a veteran wants what was earned
For many veterans, myself counted among them, hold a cynical attitude of the amount of support that the State and Federal Government actively provides to veterans. Some of that is deserved due to standards of individual personnel hired to serve the veteran population, volume of work relying on undermanned office staff, and incompetence. However, the remedy for delays and ineffective support to veterans – customers and taxpayers – is an informed – and resolute veteran seeking redress. In my own situation, five months in determined pursuit of Navy retirement pay once eligible to receive it (a full year after initially applying) resulted in receiving up to date payment. This took letters to elected representatives, waiting hours on hold to speak to pay clerks, making visits to offices, and bringing in social media attention. The “squeaky wheel”, or irritable retired Senior Chief, gets the grease.
some benefits you may not know
Some of the benefits that veterans have now:
Leaving the military? Enroll within 60 days for Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CBHP). It provides 18 -36 months of coverage for transitioning vets and families
In the military services, it might still be a part of recruit basic training to train for chemical attack. In boot camp in the 1970s, I was marched into a gas chamber with sixty other personnel, all wearing our gas masks, and exposed to tear gas. Learning then that my mask had a poor seal, I very quickly ended up with tears and snot streaming inside the mask, hacking and choking when they had us pull it off for “full effect”! And I realized I would have been a casualty. And my poor carcass? filmed for a “here lies stupid” lesson.
That training has never left me. Even on a Thursday evening just before bedtime when my spouse in a fit of cleaning mania, liberally doses the bathroom off our bedroom in chlorine bleach. She happily scrubbed the mold and grime away. I wanted to be a good husband, and though I wanted to go to bed desperately, I offered to help. But the lesson I learned was to stand out of the way. I thought she wanted toothbrush to scrub the sink. In the best tradition of Chief’s wife (I’ve been long retired) she was scrubbing with a toothbrush to get the difficult grit!
No, she wanted a new toothbrush. For herself. At that moment I felt lower than whale excrement. And that’s something I haven’t thought about since it was applied to us in the first days of boot camp forty years ago. It’s okay she says. I can go to bed now. Except that the chlorine gas that she grudgingly opened a window to release – when I mentioned it – is already making me sneeze two rooms away. But it is okay. I probably would have died in boot camp anyway. My dumb#$# should have taken one for the team.
Doing research yesterday for a business venture, I stumbled upon an idea that may have some merit as an opportunity.
Taking out all the politics of immigration, in California as elsewhere, there are many people who seek employment with rudimentary skills in English if any at all. And some find opportunities to get skilled training for in-demand jobs. Assuming that people are legal residents when seeking job training or employment, what avenues are there for people, entry-level, working people to become functional in the so-called ‘native tongue’?
I witnessed people struggling with written English. While I know that many high school graduates in the United States, even college-bound Seniors, struggle with grammar and vocabulary, it is even more dire for the adult-learner who is foreign-born.
And thus, there is a demand for Teachers of English as a Second Language. And particularly teaching for jobs with a technical jargon that is difficult to grasp. The next step is to determine the investment necessary to find others with the necessary skill, certification, or degree. And then to do a costs-benefits analysis for your enterprise.
Reading some of my old letters my late mother kept in her scrapbook, I appreciate jogging memories of my initial service in the Navy forty years ago. At the time, I was stuck in limbo, waiting on orders, waiting on a medical evaluation, and bored. I had spent eighteen months training for a career as an electronics technician in San Diego, in Illinois, in Florida and again in San Diego. When I had received an opportunity to attend the Naval Academy, a medical evaluation accompanying the selection board was possibly going to prevent that. In the meantime, I was assigned to support a correctional unit on Naval Training Center San Diego, to guard and escort sailors confined and others pending transfer to the Naval Brig.
“January 13 1978
I was paid this morning and I have finally got some money in my pocket after being in the depths of poverty for the last week. I’ve been keeping a budget book to account for every penny. Setting aside a $120 to send to you to save for me, I spent most of my last paycheck on a stereo receiver and headphones. I got a great deal as the stereo store said it was a trade-in and not brand-new.
I have been chugging away at BE & E. My Learning Supervisor is better at getting the material across to me than reading the book. And I am frustrated at the computer based training – that I am taking remedial tests every time.
Next weekend I am thinking of the YMCA’s military special to Disneyland – everything including bus ride and ticket, for $14.75…. “
When I read these letters I recall that my focus was split between very difficult technical training, spending money slower than earning it, having a good time, and the things a sailor thinks about: cars, girls, staying out of trouble, and so on. And taking care of my mom.
“February 18, 1978
…it’s been a week since I was home for that short visit…. I’m expecting to finish BE and E School (Basic Electricity and Electronics) in seven working days and then ice and snow! (I was scheduled to transfer for further training at the Great Lakes NTC north of Chicago) I have been trying to spend money and save it at the same time….
I bought two books ” How to Buy Stocks” and “How to Build a Fortune Investing in Land””
“July 3 1978
Class 7825C, ET/A school Bldg 520, Great Lakes Training Center: Thunder and lightning this weekend. Thank you for the ever-increasing moral support. It helps this “screw-up” when I seem to be trying and trying over these multiple -choice tests and I miss the question because I don’t put down my first choice but over think them! Why can’t I learn! Some solace in that I got my PO3 raise today. A whole $10.
Congratulations on your new friend and you both seem to be on the same “astral plane”. And my little sister has a boyfriend! She is growing up fast. I ran into a friend who is very close to a bachelors degree having taking a lot of courses through the CLEP tests. He’s looking at Officer Candidate School and making some career-connections with several officers involved in the program. He’s shared with me several of the courses and tests to take should the Annapolis thing not get accepted. Studying electronics harder will give me a mental breakdown. I need some thing different.
I looked at that Naval Academy application. I think they want someone who is a cross between O.J. Simpson and Albert Einstein, not me!”
In the year between my initial training in San Diego, and returning back to San Diego, I had been undergoing technical training and screening for a government security clearance. Between the training, standing watches, and liberty in Chicago and Milwaukee, I was also trying to figure out if I could afford a TransAm like one in the movie Smokey and the Bandit. It was nearly eleven thousand dollars. I couldn’t. I did learn a lot about weather. Playing pool in the barracks. Guys who were playing some role-playing fantasy called Dungeons and Dragons. A summer music festival at the Navy Pier in Chicago. And working on cars. Being in the best physical shape of my life while in Pensacola, Florida. Running several miles a few times a week that started from a dare between roommates in the barracks while attending CT – school. A circuit of the base, inside the fence was about four miles. We would run it twice a night.
“Letter dated August 2 – 5, and 8, 1979
It’s the second day of August, and in one day following the
most insane twenty-four hours I have yet spent at TPU (ed: Transient Personnel Unit), I think I shall be ready for the funny
farm very soon.
Let me tell you some of the the goings-on at our “Hotel California”. Yesterday, we got a new boatload of lunies (sic) plus one who is trying to put one over on us that he’s nuts, and he is getting my goat.
Another case is my boss Chief Heller. His retiring soon and he continues to drop in
on Bldg 23 if only to holler and cuss everyone.
It is just as if he’s giving out a daily dose of castor oil.
Still another example was last night’s supposed-to-work-flawlessly relief of the day watch. A PO1(Petty Officer First Class) who knew he had duty never showed up, and despite all my efforts couldn’t be found anywhere on-base. No one knew who I was looking for- even though he was supposedly assigned to the same working area! So, as a result, an overworked PO2, a good friend of mine, was forced to stay all night as well as his morning workday.
In addition, I was forced to work late (a 13-hour day) which
it turns out shall be my regular working hours.
It was either that or work 10 hours plus have an extra watch in TPU
every three days.
Today was continued insanity when, in the early afternoon, one of our “mental” cases went berserk and smashed a wood-covered (barricaded) window with a chair. He demanded to go to the brig or he would do more damage! It’s a good thing I don’t sleep there- I don’t know if some night I might get my throat cut by one of these scumbags.
Tonight I went to the PO Club with two friends, George, who works in the NTC Police/Decal Office, and June who also works there. We all had a good time. But what occurred later is interesting. Well, June got very drunk, I was sober and George nearly so. June had to be talked into being escorted to her barracks. George (who went with her) in her car and I followed behind in mine. June wandered all over the road at speed and I sped up to catch her. And out of the dark an NTC (Naval Training Center) police vehicle pulled ME over. Luckily, he was a friend but since I was “rocketing along” at 20 or 30 MPH, he wouldn’t let me drive back to TPU. A quarter-mile walk later I was sober; June was the one all over the road – I’m sure the cop saw her. That will be the last of my “good Samaritan” gestures.
August 5, 1979
Yesterday I finally bought the 10-speed bicycle I was [going to get you] shopping two weeks. I’m sure you will love it, as a matter of fact I wanted to buy one for myself from the same people. Now I have only one detail to work out and that is how to get it home. Two possibilities are open to me, but I don’t know how much it will cost me to ship it, so if you don’t mind I am going to wait till I hand-deliver it.
In other news I have been heartened by a lot of mail, especially yours and from Nana, but I’m going through a lot of ups and downs. I’m almost at the end of my rope as far as this Restriction/ CC (Correctional Custody) “babysitter” job goes. Today I got yelled at for these a@#$@#$ goofing off even as I have been trying to imitate Attila the Hun with them .
I’m starting another entry in the ‘journal’ after putting the
pen down for two days. I am just putting down thoughts as they come to mind. My
mind is awfully screwed being run ragged.
I think I will drop this topic in favor of other topics to ramble on
Tomorrow I’ll begin packing a few things for the trip to San Francisco and I’m going to hopefully make a weekend out of it. What is your reaction to the earthquake this week? It think it is about time for the city to fall into the sea?
It’s all a bit tedious. I’ll hopefully be home sooner or later. “
These letters bring back some of the missing names – and the memory -recalling the faces of those Chiefs at TPU. These memories seem as fresh as having occurred yesterday. The more I recall of those months in school, in training, and time at the transient barracks, I am amused by the complaining, angst, self-righteousness, stubbornness, and shock of having to work long hours. In this particular letter, the reference to “Hotel California” my mother probably would have missed – her musical taste was stuck in the early 1960s and she never heard of the Eagles. But I was fortunate that my mother, who pursued a second career as a college English teacher around that time, and worked a full-time nursing job, never pointed out my ‘overworked’ complaints. As I look back after forty years of military and civilian jobs – on my youngest co-workers and their peers – their complaints about fairness, working conditions, and emotional safe-spaces are more their age than something “we” never did.
Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile. Vince Lombardi
In the military, in business, school, one’s faith, family, and pursuits, leadership is a challenge that not everyone aspires. However, it is a rewarding opportunity for some who embrace it . While people may naturally recognize a person with the qualities that make a good leader, fewer know that leadership can be developed. Some confuse position with leadership, and other confuse management with leadership. Sometimes opportunity is looking for someone to lead, but fear, doubt, or improper motives get in the way of leading. What are the characteristics that identify individuals as strong leaders?
8 Characteristics of good leadership
Forbes magazine published research that examined what makes a good leader:
Sincere enthusiasm. Belief in a company, it’s mission, its employees and its products cannot be faked and have that person succeed.
Integrity. Giving credit where it is due, acknowledging mistakes, and putting quality ahead of the bottom line, is another.
Excel in communication. Great leaders are effective communicators. They instruct, listen, discipline and motivate those they lead. Weakness in these areas can demotivate and generate sloppiness.
Loyalty. Leaders are loyal to their people. It is tangible and benefits are seen in the employees having the tools and support to do their work. Leaders protect them in times of conflict or crises. And in turn, that loyalty is given back to the leader.
Decisiveness. Leaders make decisions, take action, and calculated risks. They know that consensus -building takes much effort, creates indecisiveness and perceived weakness, and results in applying band-aids instead of solutions.
Competent as managers. Good technicians, business people, or a skilled athlete do not translate into managing people to excel. Competence means people can inspire, mentor and direct others.
Empowering others. Leaders can recognize and foster in others to perform, possibly make mistakes, take some risks and be creative in achieving the objective.
Charisma. Good leaders are approachable, friendly, and sincerely care for those they lead. People follow those they respect and like.
The motivational coach who for more than twenty years has helped many succeed in business and life, Tony Robbins , adds confidence and positivity to these principles. A leader generates confidence in non-verbal ways as well, in manner of dress, maintaining eye contact when speaking to another, and practicing self-control (not fidgeting). A leader radiates positivity, focusing on that, and not negative “what ifs”.
The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves. Ray Kroc
The mentorship I learned as a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy underscores these principles. For more than a century, the Navy has relied on the most senior and experienced enlisted Sailors in their particular specialty, the Chief, and the wisdom and expertise of the Chiefs’ Mess, to execute the mission of the officers appointed over them. They were not only mentoring junior enlisted sailors, but also the green junior officers that were appointed in the command or unit. The training I received encompassed these mentioned characteristics. But it adds some important fundamentals:
When a Sailor was asked “when” he became a Chief Petty Officer (leader) and was confused by the question, the seasoned Chief responded that he, himself, became a “chief” when he decided to act and think as one. He just waited for the uniform (rank) to catch up.
A leader is not about his or her achievement, but fostering development and leadership skills in others. When a Chief empowers others, so that they succeed, this benefits that individual, the mission, and the community of leaders.
A leader still requires the mentoring and support from other more-seasoned and successful leaders, whether through study, personal relationship (mentoring) or community of peers. The Navy Chief’s Mess, including former (retired) and current Chief Petty Officers is a community that serves this function in perpetuity.
United States Navy Chief Petty Officer Creed
During the course of this day, you have been caused to humbly accept challenge and face adversity. This you have accomplished with rare good grace. Pointless as some of these challenges may have seemed, there were valid, time-honored reasons behind each pointed barb. It was necessary to meet these hurdles with blind faith in the fellowship of Chief Petty Officers. The goal was to instill in you that trust is inherent with the donning of the uniform of a Chief. It was our intent to impress upon you that challenge is good; a great and necessary reality which cannot mar you ─ which, in fact, strengthens you.
In your future as a Chief Petty Officer, you will be forced to endure adversity far beyond that imposed upon you today. You must face each challenge and adversity with the same dignity and good grace you demonstrated today.
By experience, by performance, and by testing, you have been this day advanced to Chief Petty Officer. In the United States Navy ─ and only in the United States Navy ─ the rank of E7 carries with it unique responsibilities and privileges you are now bound to observe and expected to fulfill.
Your entire way of life is now changed. More will be expected of you; more will be demanded of you. Not because you are an E7 but because you are now a Chief Petty Officer. You have not merely been promoted one paygrade, you have joined an exclusive fellowship and, as in all fellowships, you have a special responsibility to your comrades, even as they have a special responsibility to you. This is why we in the United States Navy may maintain with pride our feelings of accomplishment once we have attained the position of Chief Petty Officer.
Your new responsibilities and privileges do not appear in print. They have no official standing; they cannot be referred to by name, number, nor file. They have existed for over 100 years, Chiefs before you have freely accepted responsibility beyond the call of printed assignment. Their actions and their performance demanded the respect of their seniors as well as their juniors.
It is now required that you be the fountain of wisdom, the ambassador of good will, the authority in personal relations as well as in technical applications. “Ask the Chief” is a household phrase in and out of the Navy. You are now the Chief.
The exalted position you have now achieved ─ and the word exalted is used advisedly ─ exists because of the attitude and performance of the Chiefs before you. It shall exist only as long as you and your fellow Chiefs maintain these standards.
It was our intention that you never forget this day. It was our intention to test you, to try you, and to accept you. Your performance has assured us that you will wear “the hat” with the same pride as your comrades in arms before you.
We take a deep and sincere pleasure in clasping your hand, and accepting you as a Chief Petty Officer in the United States Navy.
2 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit,if any tenderness and compassion,2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2: 1 – 4
Your spouse did not come in your seabag
Up through the late 1980s, the military services did not yet offer the kind of training and support that married service members need. When training was introduced, the first programs were the ombudsman that informed the unit commanders about the family support systems for the military members in their unit. Classes through the Family Service Centers in life basics, credit, budgeting, child-rearing, shopping, nutrition, and employment opportunities for the military spouse started a little more than two decades ago.
Is marriage outdated?
For 2017, the U.S. Government (CDC) issued these statistics for marriage and divorce in the United States:
Number of marriages: 2,245,404
Marriage rate: 6.9 per 1,000 total population
Number of divorces: 827,261 (44 reporting States and D.C.)
Divorce rate: 3.2 per 1,000 population (44 reporting States and D.C.)
One-quarter as many divorces as weddings in 2017! While divorce statistics have declined a bit, the number of people cohabiting and not getting married may be part of the statistics. And what factors contribute to divorce? Without going into the data, it is probably the same things that people all say – financial difficulties, different goals and attitudes, infidelity, mental or physical abuse, health issues, and so on. People whether gay or straight, and if examined, probably in any other country, have the same issues. A lack of common, unifying principles, beliefs, or values that treat each person with respect and worth.
The recipe for a failing marriage is actually based on our human nature. Take two self-interested emotional people and put them legally together. Remove intimacy, common goals, and a support network of family and friends. Add long separations due to the nature of the military job, a culture that is generally foreign to a civilian spouse, and the dangers that any day, a training accident or hostile action can mean a complete life change for either person in a marriage.
Semper fidelis is not just a Marine motto
Always faithful. Regardless of someone’s spiritual understanding or lack of one, there are means to learn how to not merely survive, but thrive as a married couple. It does take effort and common goals of both persons – daily – to have a successful marriage. And it is not enough to be a member of the same spiritual, ethnic, or career community either. It is the commitment to learning, practicing what one learns, treating one another with respect and love and honoring your vows.
This week, our fellowship in church began a series of lessons from a book by Dr. Gary Smalley, If Only He Knew, for husbands and for wives, For Better or Best. The married men began with lessons on checking our tongue, by not spouting off sarcasm about things that irritate us, and not sharing your “fix it” strategies when your spouse is sharing her frustrations and needs. These only serve to alienate our children and spouses at home, and those attitudes can also negatively impact your work environment.
A second part of the introductory workshop covered protecting our spouse physically, emotionally, her honor, financially, and with sound principles. To which were also included our spiritual involvement. A husband should provide a safe and secure home by regular upkeep or maintenance. Vehicle maintenance, especially with working spouses is also part of that physical protection. Emotionally, we should learn to recognize the signs when our spouse is burdened. Sometimes, husbands can neglect the shared responsibilities for childcare and home. For most of our spouses who also have careers, this can be overwhelming. It is also a fact that many people suffer chronic depression, so recognizing the symptoms and seeking care for a spouse may be a responsibility of the husband.
Protecting a spouse from negative attitudes or disrespectful comments by other family members is protecting her honor. Financially, husbands need to protect our spouses – whether or not they are a two-income family- by setting sound financial goals, spending habits, communication and mutual agreement. Too many people “fly by the seat of their pants” spending more than their income each month. And then there are the sins that plague us as men – greed, lust, selfishness, envy, and arrogance or pride that if we men do not actively control – or apologize when something occurs – they can ruin our marriages.
The first book I read on the subject of developing a vibrant marriage was Strengthening Your Marriage, by Wayne Mack which I bought a few months before I got married eighteen years ago. This was the basis of a class that friends of ours, married then six years, taught us starting while we were engaged and then for several months into our marriage. In a future blog post, I will summarize the lessons from this book.
Over nearly two decades, our church has held several “marriage workshops” for members and invited guests. The principles that the speakers have shared cover the mistakes that even biblically-centered couples made. And the successful application of the principles in this article’s biblical quote. While I know that Christian couples who do not actively work at the principles for a strong marriage can fail, I am aware of couples married for decades who do not attend church but with the help they got and the lessons they learned from biblical principles and these sorts of helpful books and seminars, grew closer to each other and to God.
While assigned to a naval ship, from the early 1990s till the late in the decade, one of my additional duties was as a watchstander . I was part of the Quarterdeck watch which controls movement of personnel and material on and off ship while in port. The Quarterdeck watch is made up of an Officer of the Deck (OOD), a Petty Officer of the Watch (POOW), and a Messenger of the Watch (MOOW), under the general supervision of a Duty Section Leader and a Command Duty Officer. We all are charged with maintaining the safety and security of the ship – or station (Installations also maintain the same structure) while the vessel is in port.
To be qualified to stand a watch on the Quarterdeck, each person has to complete training requirements including firearms training. This is normally managed by a Petty Officer from the Armory, a Gunners Mate or Master-At-Arms. On this particular day, were at sea, and in calm weather. It was a time to renew my qualifications at a “range” set up on the fantail of the ship. We would shoot at targets in the direction of the open sea.
This was a time for refresher lessons on firearms safety. Handling of pistol, rifle or shotgun, hot weapons, jammed rounds and so forth. Occasionally we received instruction in prayer. Prayer? On one memorable occasion, a young Sailor, we thereafter called “Barney Fife”, was on the line with four of us, and the Range Master standing behind and to the left of our group. At the command to “Commence Firing”, after the first or second trigger pull, there was a “Zing!”, followed by an immediate “CEASE FIRING!!!” and “UNLOAD!” or something to that effect. One of our group had somehow discharged his weapon such that a slug ricocheted off the deck dangerously close to the Range Master.
Billy. This was the same young Sailor that one of the deck seaman with sound-powered phone ( for internal ship communications) had fooled into waiting for a shore-to -ship phone call while they both were on a sea detail. He was a good-hearted but slow-witted guy.
Thereafter, Seaman Jones (not his real name) was permitted to stand the Quarterdeck watch only as Messenger – and was not allowed to touch a weapon. We were assigned to the same duty rotation, and as I was generally the OOD watchstander, I would allow him only to stand downrange of me. While the Gunners Mate may have pronounced a saltier blessing in our young Sailor’s direction, I think we all were generally very thankful to the Almighty that day!