Ask the Chief: we follow orders

“.we follow orders..Or people die”

A Few Good Men, (1992) movie, line uttered by Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson)

As a retired Navy Senior Chief, I spent 26 years following orders of those seniors-in-command, whether directly from Commanding Officers as their unit Senior Enlisted Leader, or indirectly, while carrying out my assigned duties, watches, or maintenance tasks during my career. As a civilian, I am trying to follow our State officials, medical experts, and emergency First Responders who have been asking the public to minimize their comings and goings. While the military has both non-judicial punishment and legal proceedings to enforce “social distancing”, in the civilian world, the public is “strongly suggested” to follow State Emergency guidelines for public safety. Some will always decide they know more than public safety officials. As we have seen during hurricanes, people who refuse to evacuate the path of the storm are frequently requiring rescue or hospitalization when disaster strikes.

Tonight, as I contemplate that the Governor of California has issued a Statewide mandate to limit public contact by restricting gatherings and use of public venues even further than two weeks ago, I think how an old veteran can be a model for others. It is the eleventh hour, and our political representatives have finally stopped fighting among themselves, and are seeking to do what is best for our citizens. Given the example of places like Italy which has been overwhelmed by the number of critically ill, we have only days till the numbers of the ill exponentially exceed our response. This thought about the eleventh hour, reminded me of the orders I learned in bootcamp forty years ago:

Eleven General Orders of a sentry

  1. To take charge of this post and all government property in view.
  2. To walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert, and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing.
  3. To report all violations of orders I am instructed to enforce.
  4. To repeat all calls from posts more distant from the guard house than my own.
  5. To quit my post only when properly relieved.
  6. To receive, obey and pass on to the sentry who relieves me, all orders from the Commanding Officer, Command Duty Officer, Officer of the Deck, and Officers and Petty Officers of the Watch only.
  7. To talk to no one except in the line of duty.
  8. To give the alarm in case of fire or disorder.
  9. To call the Officer of the Deck in any case not covered by instructions.
  10. To salute all officers and all colors and standards not cased.
  11. To be especially watchful at night, and, during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post and to allow no one to pass without proper authority.

I have not practiced military drills in the ten years since retirement. I might leave the heavy lifting to younger service members. But I am observant as to what has been lacking in the years, months and recent weeks leading up to the coronavirus response within the United States. Clear direction, unified communications, and orderly process. Precision and calm, measured response to emergencies requires frequent practice. That is what our shipboard drills honed into us, Collisions at sea and terrorist attacks are not the time to practice. In the eleventh hour, the nation needs to heed the “best practices” to minimizing the casualties from this pandemic.

promises to veterans and other prevarications

More than one hundred years ago, satirist Mark Twain called out statistics as just another fabrication people use to make a point. Everyone but perhaps, bureaucrats, understand that statistics are misused to appear to support whatever position people want them to hold. But sometimes they do have a role. A statistic I read earlier this month indicated that TEN THOUSAND people turn sixty-five every DAY in the United States. As a military retiree whose last period of service was in the Navy Reserve, the milestone I finally reached this year – was turning sixty. I have a lot of company.

While most are rolling their eyes or stifling a yawn at this point, I ask for your patience for another minute. One of the promises that the United States Government makes to men and women who serve in our military, is to care for them, particularly with health care, and financially compensate a veteran should she be injured as a result of service. For those who make the military a career, the Government promises to provide retirement pay. But as any reasonable adult knows, the Government bureaucracy, whether it one is seeking a drivers license, a building permit, a legal restraining order, or applying for military retirement pay, is a labyrinth of processes and procedures, and delay. While I am personally affected, I wondered what the scope of the issue might be with fellow veterans NOT getting what is owed to them.

From published figures, some 0.4 percent of all Americans have served in the U.S. military. Out of a United States population of approximately 300 million, that might be a total of 1.2 million American veterans living today. For the sake of argument, if 0.4 percent of the 10 thousand people turning 60 daily are veterans, that is four hundred every day. Another statistic reports that fifty percent of living US veterans were Reserve or National Guard member. If only 5 percent of those reservists or Guardsmen served for at least twenty years and retired, twenty “gray area” ( what the Navy calls eligible military retirees prior to age 60) apply to their respective military departments for retirement pay – EVERY DAY.

apply early

Twenty years or so after most Active Duty men and women complete their careers, retirement pay paperwork is processed by military pay offices and by most accounts, is automatically forthcoming. However, the fact is, in 2019, a Reserve or Guard member who should receive retirement pay, has to apply to the military branch to start the process. Pay is not automatically processed. Worse, the military department processing retirement cautions that the member should apply at a minimum ( in January 2019) eight months prior to the eligible month one turns sixty. The retire is cautioned to submit verification of all their service time (“point capture”) to correctly calculate the retirement benefit.

The Navy PERS-912 website displayed a notice in August 2019, that requests received in JANUARY 2019 were being processed at that time. A couple calls to the Navy, of hour-plus wait times, finally indicated that records had been forwarded to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) for payment. At no time during the application and ensuing wait, did the Defense Department reveal that there was an additional backlog (delay) in processing records once the DFAS received a retiree pay claim. It took a visit to the local Congressional representative’s office to learn that the Government had many of the staff processing these sort of pay matters RETIRE without planning for their replacement, and no additional personnel were being hired in 2019.

I wonder if these retired civil servants have to wait more than a year for their check from Uncle Sugar?

pure faxing magic

I got a chain letter by fax. It’s very simple. You just fax a dollar bill to everybody on the list.

Steven Wright, comedian http://www.brainyquote.com/

My at-odds relationship with technology, like copiers and fax machines is very likely material for a Steven Wright comedy bit.

Pure Faxing Magic

I have spent nearly forty years employed in the technology sector. Beginning with vacuum tube systems and basic electronics, by the later years of my career, I would assemble, program and debug very complicated encryption devices.

Nevertheless, copiers, the collating, multiple paper-size, scanners-with-email, touch-selection types have me looking like a kindergarten kid with paper,crayons and glue. I make a call to my ‘work wife’, our senior department Admin for assistance – or I avoid everything but printing.

In the Navy, I was first introduced to facsimile machines in the late 1980s. Who knew that these would be part of my job description with my new business. Between the drum life “nearing the end” messages (what is a drum?), a Mode button (one must select to actually RECEIVE the fax transmission!), and what to do when either the power or the telephone line drops out, I have learned how to respond appropriately. I do not get exasperated.

fax machines
not a musical instrument nor a museum piece

I learned steps from my IT point of contact at our customer sites (somehow nursing instructors always seem to fill in for technical experts on staff):

  1. Wait.
  2. Hit the “Mode” button.
  3. Cycle the “power” button.
  4. Call the “Help Desk” or the site administrator’s assistant.

Art of Costco shopping

alliances and diplomacy

The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Photo by San Fermin Pamplona on Pexels.com

I have reached a point in life that shopping in “big box” stores disappoints me. Twenty-five years ago, the big stores were a curiosity, since as a single man, I never imagined the option to buy a year’s supply of toilet paper at one time, a 10-pack of chicken thighs or steaks, or ketchup by the gallon. People were nicer then, too. As you drove in the parking lot – at 2 mph – a customer might say, “hang on a minute and you can have my spot”. The clerks at the checkout would chat with you – both your kids play baseball at the same high school. The three people in line at checkout would not fume at a little friendliness. You might see your child’s teacher, or coach, or your co-worker shopping also. It was a time when buying something foreign-made ( Japan, Mexico, or Latin America) was a good deal, and not going to start a debate on politics or foreign policy.

Continue reading

lies, damn lies and politics

I started to think about Mark Twain this week, how I am at the same age when he began writing some of his most biting satire about politics, religious hypocrisy, bigotry and the nature of people.
Whatever he was as a critic of Government, he always believed in supporting the nation and his writing made people think. While I still see the fundamental good in people and role of a loving God to help change flawed humanity, I am sorely disappointed by and feel a powerless spectator to, the downward spiral caused by politics and politicians. What can a journalist do?

expose arrogance of power

A Senator chastised schoolchildren visiting the Congress who urged her to support legislation proposed by a ‘socialist’ Freshman Congressman and one of her colleagues. It could have been a moment to explain that legislation needs to be carefully studied as to the impact on the governed. But she would not be dictated to. In prior years, letters I sent her as a constituent in the Senator’s district, specifically urging support for issues she opposes, generated form-letter responses. A one-time Political Science graduate, I am angry that important issues are not often acted upon by our elected representatives. Increasingly, actions are opposed ideologically, becoming a test of wills between Legislature members and the Executive Branch. While many support “Progressive”national politics and condemn “capitalists” or “conservatives”, there are no substantive debates of the merits and the failings of policies, but often incoherent and confusing ‘sound bites’.

highlight ethical and unethical governance

Government agencies specifically charged with protecting the safety and sanctity of the nation’s citizens respond instead to political power brokers, lobbyists and vocal opponents of the nation’s fundamental principles. Elected representatives and un-elected bureaucrats refuse to operate on Constitutional and nationally-unifying principles, but at other times defend their positions using the same principles they previously refuted. Most unsettling, is that some politicians will use the formerly apolitical agencies of Government to investigate opponents or enhance political agendas, and when opposed, conclude that the victorious majority must either be “deplorable” and bigoted, clinging to outmoded ideas and philosophies, or have colluded with extra-national agents.

train people to “think” and debate

Public education over fifty years has steadily replaced literature, debate, and ‘controversial’, i.e. unpopular, topics like physical education, wood shop, and trades-based career preparation, for gender and sexual identity accommodation, activism, and uniformity. Children who are raised to question classroom stances on topics that contravene their parents beliefs (prayer, football, ‘binary’ genders, or other ‘conservative’-supported subjects) are subject to administrative penalties and peer abuse. Colleges, once institutions that provided the foundations for an educated population in everything from arts to zoology, produce impoverished liberal service-industry workers with billions of dollars in student loan-indebtedness. But teachers, professors, and college coaches have wealth and comfort regardless of student success.

expose incompetence and waste

Local and state government may demand revenue (taxes and ‘fees’) for actions that do not materially benefits those taxed. Transportation projects that incur billions in wasted dollars for “trains to nowhere”. Bureaucrats demand ‘carbon credits’ exchanged those who use personal transportation to go to work. They charge higher fees for delivering power and water to residents, due at first to ‘climate change’ which others perceive historically as periodic drought. But then the government raises fees when residents conserve too much. In the intervening years, there are no projects to collect additional water or energy.

Courts rule against voter-supported legislation that a minority oppose. Or they issue injunctions that increase the cost and delivery time of a particular resource for years. Politicians and bureaucrats deliberately obstruct law enforcement officers, both state and federal, when executing their duties. Others release dangerous criminals into the community based on alleged racial bias at sentencing, only to have them offend and be re-incarcerated.

journalism: be not a tool of politics

What, if anything, can journalists do to help expose the failures of politics and Government? Ideally, journalists are the agents of the governed, investigating and exposing fraud, incompetence, and abuse of power. Journalists must elevate their craft, to withhold biases and favoritism toward a politician, an ideology, or ‘sacred’ conclusions, and report everything that may support or refute the subject. Of course, the twenty-four hour media business is a profit-driven business, and ego, power, and prestige are just as driving influences for journalists as is determining fact from fiction. When actors create false scenarios, or others rush to attack (like the MAGA hat student and the native American) that became widespread calls for violence and condemnation, the lack of proper investigation fortunately only resulted in embarrassment and lack of journalistic credibility. It may still result in a civil judgement in favor of a maligned victim. Journalism as the vanguard of the public suffer a loss of integrity in reaching conclusions before investigating the facts.

use of Mark Twain’s image: no copyright infringement is intended

“Lies, damn lies, and statistics”, popularized by Mark Twain, was his restatement of the quote by the Nineteenth Century English Parliamentarian, Benjamin Disraeli

warrior chromosome

One of the hottest political debates regarding military service in the United States during the last thirty years is the role for women. In my previous post, Ask the Chief: veteran is gender-neutral, I explore several issues that need to be raised more often in the national conscience: how does America support the veteran; does society, particularly other women, comprehend their co-workers and peers, (as reservists or on Active Duty) left their families, civilian jobs or school behind, and went to war particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq? In popular culture, the news, movies, cable and television, veteran conjures up both the warrior, and the sometimes addicted, sometimes homeless, conflicted man. Women too, are combat veterans, and have challenges with Government benefits, health and welfare issues no different than many other veterans.

A fascinating book that I began reading, is It’s My Country Too: Women’s Military Stories from the American Revolution to Afghanistan. Editors Jerri Bell and Tray Crow, have compiled a fascinating history, a page-turner, and relevant to today’s armed forces. Women whose recollections, memoirs, and diaries of service during the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries are few. Some heroines who did pass their recollections during depositions or speeches, often were edited or marginalized via male authors and editors. Modern research in archives and historical documents subsequently discerns fact from fiction. This book retells some fascinating accounts and implies many other women served as spies, employed in military units, came under fire, and were injured or killed in battles. At the time, and up through the early Twentieth Century, women would masquerade as men, with poor or nonexistent medical screenings for enlistment, and were only detected and discharged – or reassigned – when injured.

Those who had received military pensions, honors, and military burials from past conflicts paved the way for our female warriors and veterans today. And during the last ten years, attitudes and policies on the sexual orientation of service members and recruits has also changed. But the dialogue that inflames so many military members, veterans, policy wonks and Generation Y activists, distracts from the real stories and real problems: women have been serving in the defense of the nation since the Revolutionary War. And both their contributions and sacrifice has more often than not, been minimized, glamorized, or forgotten in history. And just as has been the case for decades, the mental and physical care of injured veterans, promised by the US Government over the centuries has been slower to respond to the female veteran.

In the next chapters yet to be read, the authors, veterans of the Marines, and Army, tell the stories of women in combat from the First World War through the War in Afghanistan.