Leaders lead not persecute

A story I heard today set my jaw, got my dander up, and got me to thinking what sort of incapable hands, and I am speaking of the enlisted Navy khaki community – have my Brothers and Sisters in the CPO Mess (Retired) left behind?   In recent years, story after story of accidents,  improper behavior (fraternization) and issues with ships, aircraft and installations continue to be reported.   The Navy’s top enlisted Sailor, the MCPON, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, resigned due to allegations of improper leadership this year.   And I heard today that a Sailor, who happens to be a career top performer and a person who shares my faith (and a member of my congregation), is being allegedly PERSECUTED by the unit CPO Mess for  (allegedly) sharing values with another sailor.    Honor? Courage? Commitment?

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honoring the WWII sacrifice of 4 chaplains

I have to wonder what has happened to the Navy I served for twenty-six years.  For as long as people have put to sea, spiritual beliefs have gone to sea with them.  For the last two centuries, members of a faith community have been guaranteed the freedom of expression, worship, and other rights, as well as equal protection under the law.  I certainly understand that everyone is entitled – and in the military particularly – to believe whatever they want to believe – as long as the mission and the team performance are not negatively affected.  A conscientious objector in charge of a weapons system is not expected.  A polygamist or adulterer is not expected to respond to policies that define conduct  which brings discredit the unit.   A person with addiction, particularly to alcohol or prescription drugs, is not the model of reliability in a moment of necessary quick response or judgement.

A search online on the topic of faith and military duty will reveal articles that support that servicemen and women of faith make better and more capable members.  And there has been at least one who was convicted at courts martial for refusing to obey orders to remove a display of religious quotes in her workplace.  That conviction was based in part on disobedience to a lawful order, and failure to demonstrate that she had taken all the proper steps via the chain of command to remedy her particular issues.

In the case of the Sailor I heard about today, I know that conduct was not the issue.  Disobedience and disrespect of a shipmate was not the issue.  If good people of faith,  technically capable and ethically sound, are forced out of serving in uniform,  then the nation as a whole suffers.  I do not expect all members of the military to share my Christian faith, nor even to have a belief in a supernatural Deity.   But I have known men and women in positions of responsibility whose conduct and attitude demeaned their peers and subordinates.  Some of those subordinates chose to leave the service at the end of their contracts.

fb_img_15287322881111Honor. Courage. Commitment.    Leadership in the armed forces of the United States is a privilege.  And respecting the spiritual beliefs of capable, ethical, and valuable members of the team is but one trait that an exceptional member of the Chief Petty Officer Mess can impart.

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.

 

 

May memories

A lot changes in forty years. In  May, 1977,  prior to my departure for Boot Camp at Naval Training Center, San Diego in October,  I was graduating high school.   Jimmy Carter was President, a fact that I thought, being a former naval submariner officer, would make him an excellent leader.   People didn’t want Gerald Ford as he had pardoned ‘criminal’ Richard Nixon, but I remember him for sending in Marines to retrieve the Mayaguez, which had been seized by the Khmer Rouge a month after the last battle involving U.S. troops of the Vietnam War.

In those last two years of the Seventies,  the Zumwalt-era of loosened grooming standards – longer hair, mustaches and beards worn by Sailors were okay.  Dungarees (bell-bottom style) and dixie cups, were the working uniform.   Pot was a problem on military bases including San Diego.   A community that now is marked by the upwardly-mobile, well-heeled beach crowd, Ocean Beach, was then a place where druggies and ex-military,  tattoo parlors and bars were less restrictive than up the coast near the UCSD campus.

A visit over the Coronado Bridge to the Naval Station Coronado, where carriers were berthed was my first view of a ship – the USS Recruit was a wood and metal reproduction on the Recruit Training Command, to introduce us to naming convention, etc – so did not count.  The ‘aroma’ of the interior of the USS Kitty Hawk was the first ‘knock out’ that I will never forget.  Jet fuel, grease, human sweat, urinals and generally,  the stink of at times, 3500 men (no women then) wafted fresh new sailors who had more recently been accustomed to PINE SOL clean scent.

At the time, I was a student learning to work on complex electronics and mechanical maintenance of teletypes.  Where I now cannot see without at least one or two orders of magnitude, I was able then to discern two from three centimeters adjustments.  The instructor was quite ADAMANT about that ability before graduation.   We had Iranian military students – this was prior to the Iranian Revolution – and when they were recalled by their government,  we were relieved.   Suffice it to say that American and Iranian hygiene were on different tracks.

In May of 1982,  with several of my fellow Russian Language students and the professor – I was able to travel  to Russia – prior to the end of the USSR (1989) – visiting cities – St Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev and Tbilisi.  If only for all but one – a socialist-  the trip was very informative and probably saved them and their future families from the ‘snowflake’ sensibilities, the mantra of “coexistence” and “socialism’s great”.  The people may have been interesting and interested, but the economy was a shambles. Ambition was reserved for the underground economy — some of whom are today’s Russian millionaires and billionaires.

In May of 1984,  I had been out of the Navy four years, attending the university in Tucson, Arizona.  Four three of those four years I had been actively involved in the Veteran students organization on campus,  and while peers were pursuing commissioning programs,  I was looking toward a government job after graduation.  Strangely,  in my second year after graduation,  when my graduate school plans went unfunded – I re-enlisted in the Navy -Reserve – that is.  The entreaties of one of my friends finally had me join his unit, only to see him quit!

After petitioning to resume an Active Duty career in 1987,  the next major May milestone I recall was May of 1997 when I was transferred from Norfolk, Virginia to San Diego, California.    1970 Dodge Chargers, if you could find one in decent shape were then ten thousand dollars or more,  homes which had been an unheard of, eighty thousand dollars – for an ocean view, were nearly eight hundred thousand,  and NTC was closed but for a few administrative medical functions.

And in the twenty years since that time,  friends and mentors went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq,  the Soviets became Russian trade partners, the Chinese became the world’s second-most powerful economy, the Islamic world tried to separate the economic need for the non-Islamic world – from the ideology that wants to reduce infidels to ashes,  and we are again at some form of odds over military preparedness against the adversaries that were no longer adversaries?

 

 

armed with coffee, savvy, and “can-do”

When I was in the military, my role -besides ALL the other roles that I was given, was to maintain electronic communication equipment.  Really, this was an ironic career choice.   I should have gone into the social sciences and language.  The irony is that,  for more than 30 years,  I have been very capable in problem-solving.  When I lack the specific skills I am not afraid to ask questions – usually over strong coffee.

for veteran success

In the military and in an industry, to be effective, a person has to be capable in the role they were hired to do; possess attitude and work ethic for team success, do more than what is necessary and to be creative in problem solving.  At times, it is knowing the proper department person to contact for a quick -turn shipment,  a service request,  or  who stocked a particular adhesive for a repair done outside of the production chain of command.   To advance personally and professionally, a veteran often stands out by mentoring new employees and providing a team manager a “go-to” person.  In the workplace today, there are so many social contracts, sensitive subjects,  and human factors which are at odds with the department production goals and veterans “can-do”, get-the-job-done expertise.  While almost every enterprise challenges workers to do more with less, a veteran generally wants a product that a military end-user would have perform flawlessly when needed.  It might take more veterans in each business unit to overcome some individuals who do not challenge plans, goals, and promises made by leadership,  and to challenge those peers who do only what is necessary to maintain their position.  b3882-10051720openhousecolor397

Problem-solving skills include experiences in a military career to develop civilians into capable specialists.   Raised in an environment that does not cater to individual wants,  does demand personal sacrifice,  and teaches attention to detail,   a veteran is unfazed by office politics,  used to changing priorities from managers and figures out what gets the job done.  Sometimes the response is a cheery dose of salty language.   Circumventing the labor to schedule, exchange email, and discuss tools and equipment needed is a skill many military veterans are well-versed.   The veteran has frequently used a barter program, the unofficial currency in the military, to accomplish a task.  At other times,  it means having the confidence to draw a stopping point and get more hands on deck to troubleshoot a complex set of issues.

working smarter

Once upon a time, I would work myself into burn-out.  I no longer set impossibly-challenging goals and am able to call in reinforcements without hesitation.     Being creative in solving issues, and not volunteering but being assigned, may get a  ‘hanger queens’ successfully leaving my test station.  I leave it to others to foul it up.

Remembering where I came from

Looking through old photo albums, when they were actually processed and printed on

paper,  I spent part of Saturday rewinding about 90 years of my family’s history through some dusty albums that were in my garage storage bins for several years.

my dad

Old photos encourage me.  Even seeing my father looking so athletic and proud with his young son dispels memories  of the many years he was crippled by illness.  My dad was a brilliant, funny and an athletic man.  I spent many years of my youth thinking of many negatives: when dad read something in the Wall Street Journal that said that glow-in-the-dark balls were unsafe, I was marched back to the toy store to get my change back.  When we went on road trips I was drilled on my multiplication tables.  Later when my mom and he were divorced,  and dad took me out on his weekend visit, we would go to nice restaurants,  but he always ordered the cheap meals and we filled up on the free rolls and butter.

Only later as an adult, I remembered that he would drive across the country from his job to attend my middle school and high school graduations.   He took a teaching job near our home so he could spend time with me.  At that time he was still trying to get half his body to respond after a stroke – and dealing with people who would equate debilitation with stupidity.   Far from it  – even in that condition.  He graduated near the top of his class in high school and in college as an aerospace engineer but also played sports.   He probably was motivated to excel as my grandfather’s occupations seemed to change as jobs came and went.   Instead, he worked in missile propulsion and development in the early years.  (Which likely helped me to get the jobs I held that involved trust.)  My father died 28 years ago while I was in the service.  I did not find out for two years.

mom

My mother was a good-looking woman;  as sharp mentally as attractive outwardly.  And it must have been quite the catch for my father.   When my maternal grandparents emigrated from Ireland at the end of WWII, she had to contend with Seniors in high school making fun of her accent.  In New Jersey they did not have much else to poke fun at.   She had graduated at the top of her nursing class at Mount Sinai Hospital, and as an R.N. worked with infants, intensive care, emergency treatment, and supervision.  Looking back at my teen years, it no longer seems odd that she pursued a dream to become an english literature scholar and college teacher in middle age.  She became a nurse for the career opportunity that would always be useful and financially secure.  But her passion was elsewhere. 20170423_150516

Mom’s aged photos showed several beaus – a soldier who looks like he only just lost out to my dad;  and some guys who might have been doctors, attorneys or business people.   Among her circle of friends included a Nobel laureate.  But the family photos bear witness to the changes that time, health, and fortunes – waxing and waning produced.

After deciding to marry again, she later learned that her second husband was attracted to children.  That divorce sealed her future as a bitter woman, more inclined to spend her savings on old horses, rescue dogs, cats and a burro.   You see, I have a sister, an adoptee, whom I have rarely spoken with in forty years.  Robin never forgave her mother for divorcing my father and subjecting her to abuse.   We went separate ways after I initially joined the Navy – and she was the one who suffered at the hands of my mother’s second husband.  After thirty years, we last spent any time together in the few months after my mother’s passing six years ago.

son

I chose to go into the Navy as much for the adventure,  the training – which has become the means I earn a living,  and for several veterans’ benefits, as I did to make a clean break from the family.   That’s actually the ironic part,  as I returned after my first enlistment to the same city, Tucson,  to attend the University of Arizona.  My father, still living at the time, moved to Tucson, and I spent time with him and with my mother – still my most ardent cheerleaders for my success.

I can only speak for myself, but I realized around the age of 39, that all of life’s successes mean less than how you handle failure.  Raised with a concept of the spiritual, but never seeing God,  I was continually trying not to be the sum of my upbringing and family.   But after twenty years of a changed life,  I recognize suffering allowed me to treasure the family I have now.   I realize that there is a God that cares for us, but does not force us to engage with him;  most of the world is suffering at the hands of people. For the goodness and love to have any impact, overcoming self-centered attitudes,  misgivings about our childhood,  misgivings about our marriages or children or jobs or finances or health have to be overcome.  Some people blame God for being on the sidelines. Others have no room for God.  Still others have god in their schedules but not in their driver’s seat.

And that is why I can look at these photo albums of people and places that shaped my life with contentment.  I appreciate family history but I am not bound by the people my parents became nor am I limited by my own shortcomings. I trust in my heavenly Father and Lord.   And the future does not hold any fear for me.

Patton can’t wallop away “fatigue”

An article I read online about veterans who are suing the military to upgrade their discharges, indicates an ignored mitigating factor was their Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It was a stigma for soldiers in many conflicts to suffer ‘combat fatigue’ and the military did not have any mental health programs to help their suffering.  World War II’s most infamous case of a leader who abused soldiers suffering what we know today as PTSD, was General Patton.

I do know what it is like to live with someone who suffered with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Thirty years ago, I was in a relationship with a woman whom I came to learn was not schizophrenic but rather suffering from PTSD.  In the course of dealing with her middle of the night terror attacks, suspicious looks, angry stares, horrible accusations and anorexia,  I was not trained, nor was I sufficiently mature enough, emotionally, to help.   At the time I was in the Navy, stationed at an installation outside Washington, D.C.   Over a period of several weeks everything came into the light.   My job performance started to suffer badly.  I was exhausted;  one Monday,  I failed to go to work at all.   And then,  banging on my door, my supervisor, a Chief Petty Officer in whom I confided my struggles,  had come to check on us.

Instead of being brought before NJP – nonjudicial punishment,  my supervisor verbally reprimanded me, and took charge- giving me direction about how I should lead my household.   In the late 1980s,  mental health, counseling – family or marital, and the host of ills that military members succumb to in combat  was still in its infancy.  And if PTSD was hardly recognized in the civilian population, how much less so for our veterans.   I found resources for us to attend counseling.  I would love to say that everything turned around and became goodness and light.  It did not.  Less than ten years later, I learned that she had succumbed to her health problems.   For those suffering mental health issues,  it is always continuing steps in recovery.  But the sufferer has to be as engaged in getting healthy as those around him or her remain committed to helping.  It is time for the military – and the VA – to make every effort to alleviate the mental health issues that were aggravated or incurred as a result of military service.   It is only right to help warriors with tools and understanding who are suffering.