For everything there is a time

By lex, on January 8th, 2004

And for each thing a season.

And right now, I think it’s time for a rant. I received a resignation letter from a junior officer recently. Not the one I blogged about here , a different one. A resignation letter is a two-part document: the first page or so is a statement of particulars; name, SSN, service entry date and resignation eligibility date. You have the opportunity to state whether or not you’d like a commission in the reserves.

Page 2 is an attachment, a chance to express your reasons for leaving the service. Most folks who leave the service will talk about family separation, or opportunities “outside” that can’t be passed up. Most will express gratitude for the opportunity to serve, tinged with regret on the decision to leave. It’s mostly apple pie stuff. And it isn’t really read by anyone more senior than a LCDR detailer at the bureau of naval personnel. It’s not going to change the course of this old boat even one half of one degree. The only folks who will read it are in the officer’s chain of command, and that one detailer. Who will read it, mutter “hmph” and forward it to the separations branch, marked “endorsed.” Some time later a message will come to the command, thanking the officer for his faithful service, and wishing him the best of luck. We’ll hold a farewell, wish him well, and move on.

Every once in a great while, you see a letter that carries as an attachment a screed. This particular letter was of that nature. And maybe I’ve become a company man without quite noticing, but it made me mad enough to spit nails.

This young gent got his four year degree at USNA, on the taxpayer’s dime. He went to flight school, and has paid off his obligated service that comes with both those accomplishments – he has every right to try life out in the wide, wide world. But his “reasons for leaving” letter pointed out that he did well in flight school, but still didn’t get the airframe he really wanted. He did well in his fleet training squadron, but got sent to a fleet squadron forward deployed in Japan, a place he didn’t really want to go. While there, he worked for officers he considered to be of inferior quality, and wouldn’t want to work for them ever again. He did a great job in the squadron, finished competitively, and so was offered the chance to come to our staff, in San Diego. He could have gone just about anywhere, but he chose us – it’s considered a plum job.

This is all just so much wanking.

Orders are orders. Misery is optional. There are no guarantees. If you don’t get the aircraft platform you really wanted, you can either bloom where you’re planted, or shrivel up and die. And it’s not anyone’s fault, and it’s not personal – it’s just business. The needs of the service are paramount.

The service. Remember that word.

As far as the tour overseas, in Japan – well, that’s where we send our best junior officers. The training establishment can’t support the forward deployed folks quite so well, so you send the self-starters. And it’s a great operational tour, which he admitted loving, and obviously excelled at.

As far as not admiring your next tier leadership, from my point of view you can either curse the darkness or light a candle. Some of the best teachers I ever had were the worst leaders. I learned what not to do, by example. Or, you can take your ball and go home, I guess.

As far as orders to our staff, leading afterwards to a ship tour, a carrier tour, it’s important to understand that there is a karmic balance to orders in the Navy. If you get a good deal, you are expected to do a payback tour, a hard tour. Having completed the hard tour successfully, you are now entitled to a plum. And so on. So when this young man tried to get orders back to a squadron for a second JO tour, his request could not be accommodated. He didn’t fit. He was having his good deal now, and somewhere else, someone was earning the job he wanted.

Now, when he was leaving his first tour, he could have chosen a job as a weapons and tactics instructor – a hard job, but a prestigious one, definitely career enhancing. The plus up for doing that job successfully is that you go back to the fleet for your “super-JO” tour. That is the quid pro quo. As a senior guy, wearing a WTI patch, you’ll break out competitively, move seamlessly into your department head job in the cockpit, and have a superior chance to screen for command down the road. Command at sea is the coin of the realm.

Lots of fast-trackers go that way, some choose other paths. But the choice is theirs, and opting out to live in San Diego in a nice staff means that you’re going to pay Peter eventually aboard a big gray boat. Two years, then back to the fleet in your aircraft. It’s considered a small price to pay by the company, but it overwhelms some folks.

And really, there’s no place in the fleet that needs super officers more than our aircraft carriers. A Catapult and Arresting Gear Officer job (a “shooter” tour) is not looked upon with glee by anyone. Long, dangerous hours on the flight deck in all conditions, always on call. But having done that hard job, the company will smile upon you.

And here’s the thing – as a division officer aboard a carrier, especially on the flight deck, you’ll have 80 to 100 18-20 year olds for whom you may be the one person in the world who really gives a sh!t about them that can actually do something to make their lives better. Whether they get to eat one hot meal a day, get 4 hours of sleep, get their laundry back or have curtains for the racks, to provide them the merest shred of privacy will be entirely on your back. These are real people, with real dreams doing an incredibly demanding, reducing job, and we desperately need caring officers to, well, care.

But my man can’t be bothered. It’s below his dignity. He’s getting screwed.

Wanker.

At some point as an officer, you’re supposed to realize it really isn’t all about you. You’re supposed to realize that you’re in the service, and that with service comes sacrifices. Aviators can be forgiven for forgetting this at times. All through the training track, it really is all about them. All of the instructor pilots, all the infrastructure, all the investment is designed to make them weapons of war.

When you get to the fleet however, you are typically assigned a division officer job, with 30 – 60 Sailors who depend upon your leadership. A chief petty officer, a senior enlisted with 14-18 years of experience, is assigned to “assist” you, really to train you. If you finish your first operational tour and still think it’s all about you, you weren’t paying attention. It is a team, you are a part of it.

And it’s worthwhile remembering that this company honors sacrifice, honors service, honors teamwork. It honors honor. For each negative spin of the karma wheel, comes a positive spin. We’ve got hard work to do, we need good people to do it, and they will be rewarded.

But if you can’t dedicate two years in 20 year flying career to serving out of the cockpit without wanking about how you’re getting screwed, then I really don’t care to share my Navy with you.

Don’t let the screen door hit you.

</rant>

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2 Comments

Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, Uncategorized

2 responses to “For everything there is a time

  1. Jimmy J.

    An excellent rant. One that every young officer should be exposed to during his first tour. The thinking of the Navy detailers back in the Puzzle Palace can seem inscrutable unless you are clued in to the how and why. I know it seemed that way to me. Good COs should, share that enlightenment with their JOs. None of mine did.

  2. Pingback: Index – The Best of Neptunus Lex | The Lexicans

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