By lex, on October 16th, 2007
From a nice young man. Asked for some advice:
I’ve been reader of your blog for the past two years or so. I don’t really post replies but have done so on occasion. A little about myself – I’m a young JG in the oldest fighter squadron in the Navy. I’m set to deploy on my nugget cruise (soon).
I guess I am writing to ask for your advice. You’ve written many times, and many “more experienced” officers have commented on how they’re envious of the situation I’m in, first cruise about to begin, career barely started. What then, sir, would you do over again? What would you do differently? What would you do the same?
I guess it’s just nerves that is prompting me to write this. Please don’t regard my nerves as cowardice. Merely an uncomfortable feeling – not knowing how cruise is going to be, not knowing what to expect, worrying that my bombs hit the correct target, and the sort. Either way, cruise begins in a few days. I hope to make the most of it.
Keep writing sir, the stories are quite humorous. I sometimes forward them to my folks or friends as a, “yeah, that’s how it is and written more eloquently than I could have.” Thank you again for your time.
It’s harder than you’d maybe think to answer a note like that. I’m a gray old goat and even though I haven’t learned very much, neither have I forgotten anything. But I do have a tendency to run on. Ask my kids.
It was sincerely asked though, so I thought I’d share with the rest of you what I shared with him, knowing that there are many service members out there who have their own hard-won wisdom to add.
“I think just by asking this question you’re on the right track. It means you’re open to the notion that you have a lot to learn – and you do. You’ll never stop. I could go on and on about it I suppose and bore you to tears, but the best advice I could give a nugget aviator or JO is to try your best to authentically enjoy yourself. Which is *easy* to do in a Med liberty port, but can be harder on your 40th straight day on the line. It’ll start to feel like groundhog day a bit. People will start to feel sorry for themselves after a few months on the line. If that happens to you, try to imagine getting hit with an IED on your 14th month in Bagdhad. It should perk you right up.
But, although it sounds like BS? Attitude is *everything.* Show up five minutes early with a smile on your face. Appreciate the value of being quiet on the radio. When your time comes to talk, speak authoritatively in the fewest possible words. Volunteer to help out when something needs done – chances will be everywhere. Pick something that’s hard – TAMPS software for mission planning, or a complex weapons system like HARM – and learn everything there is to know about it, become the subject matter expert. Take the jobs you’re given as though they were the ones you *really* wanted even when they weren’t. Before you finish something up and send it forward, ask yourself if it really reflects your best work – if this would be something you’d want people to remember you by. Be proud of who you are but not prideful. If you eff up, fess up – bad news gets worse with time. Never give anyone any reason to question your integrity in the least way.
Remember that you’re in the fleet now, and it isn’t just about you anymore. When a Sailor routes a request chit up the COC asking for a special privilege, dig a little on him. Look in his service record, see what his last eval said, put some gouge on a 3×5 card and send that up with the chit. Shows your department head and XO/CO that you care enough about him/her to do your homework. If you’re a division officer, spend time with your people and really care about them. Put yourself in their shoes, see where they sleep, if they’ve got pillows and rack curtains and a blanket. See how and what they eat, and ask yourself what you’d want somebody to do to prove that despite conditions that can be terribly reducing, somebody actually gives a shit about them. Don’t expect to be their friend and don’t expect them to thank you – after all, you’d only be doing your job. And don’t play games: They can tell when you’re faking it, and trust me, your leadership will know if you’re never around.
Learn how to fly your machine like your life depends upon it – it does. Learn how to fight it like others’ lives depend upon it – they do. Accept the fact that you’re never going to have the whole picture, but never stop trying to build it anyway. Keep your knots up – in a big brawl, turn to kill, not to fight. Come home with your wingie though, or don’t come home at all. If you’re going to drop any piece of ordnance off your jet, live or inert, combat or training, you’d better know exactly where it’s going and what’s on the other end. We don’t get any do-overs.
Set tough goals for yourself. Stretch your mind. PT. Have fun ashore, but never be the guy that everybody talks about the next day. Take pictures. Write your mother.
That should get you started. In a week’s time you’ll be all settled in. In a month’s time you’ll be perpetually sleepy, hungry and horny – just like everybody else. In three month’s time you won’t remember any other life. In six months you’ll be a veteran.