By lex, on October 22nd, 2009
When I was a squadron CO, I got a report one morning that one of our young female sailors had been taped to a chair and rolled around the hangar bay by some of the junior night check maintainers. A first class petty officer had wandered by and laughed off the whole thing, which had only lasted a few moments. The sailor had considered it all kind of a lark, an initiation rite. She was not in the least offended.
I asked the command master chief to call for an unscheduled quarters at shift change. With the entire squadron assembled, I reminded them that I had repeatedly talked to them about the perils of hazing, or anything approaching the line, how I would not condone it nor look the other way. I told them that I was done talking. Stand by.
I always hated doing captain’s mast, it never failed to make me feel low afterward. Never really liked the power imbalance in place, the judge, jury and executioner aspect. Never liked having to see one of “my” people reduced in rate, fined, or confined. I liked them all, or nearly all of them, and hoped the best for them. I understood the need for discipline though. And truth be told, I believe I played my role well. Never lifted my voice even once, never had to. By the time a sailor stood in front of me he had probably already been shouted at plenty.
But I had each of the individuals involved up on charges, including the first class. It takes a little time to get the paperwork right, the charges explained, rights read and initialed. I told the legal officer they could all head home when the process was complete. I was up in the ready room the next day, the podium in place, the charges read. The chiefs and officers standing around the room to bear witness and give character references. Five sailors standing in the passageway at parade rest in their dress uniforms. In one door, out the other. Saved the first class for last.
He was a company man, a man who’d put in 14 years and had the expectation of making chief. He stood before me resigned to his fate, the prospect of having traded all those years of hard work and performance against a moment laughing when he should have intervened. The chance to be a leader cast aside.
I let them all off with warnings, nothing permanent in their jackets. The offense itself was, I truly believed, just a bit of roughhousing and no harm intended. Theater perhaps, but talking about it hadn’t worked, and it was time to take things up a notch.
They had lain hands on a sailor against her will and seized her up. Leadership had failed. It had the potential to become serious.
These things do, if you don’t clap a stopper over them early.