Second Look


By lex, on January 20th, 2010

Courtesy of occasional reader Scott, a second look at the explosively actuated command pin bolt issue from Strategy Page:

Only a small percentage of reliefs have to do with professional failings (a collision or serious accident, failing a major inspection or just continued poor performance.) Most reliefs were, and still are, for adultery, drunkenness or theft. With more women aboard warships, there have been more reliefs for, as sailors like to put it, “zipper failure.” There may have been more than are indicated, as sexual misconduct is often difficult to prove, and a captain who is having zipper control problems often has other shortcomings as well. Senior commanders traditionally act prudently and relieve a ship commander who demonstrates a pattern of minor problems and who they “lack confidence in.”

Many naval officers see the problem not of too many captains being relieved, but too many unqualified officers getting command of ships in the first place. Not every naval officer qualified for ship command. Only a small percentage of the 53,000 commissioned officers gets one. The competition for ship commands is pretty intense. This, despite the fact that officers know that, whatever goes wrong on the ship, the captain is responsible.

That tracks pretty closely with my experience. A ship, submarine or squadron is basically a small town, with its captain as the mayor. There is little privacy and there are very few secrets. In time, everyone will know everyone else’s business.

But few receive the day-to-day scrutiny of the kid wearing the command pin on the starboard side of his or her khakis. Command at sea is not a personality contest, but personality matters: If you’re a basically good egg trying hard to get the mission done while taking care of your people, there will be plenty of helping hands to reach out and catch you if you stumble. If, on the other hand, you are a slave driver or back stabber who somehow claws your way to the top, you’d better be perfect at your job – otherwise when you trip up, you will be encircled by crossed arms.

I had a mentor who told me that upon assuming command, I would be suddenly feel more powerful, my jokes would be funnier and I would feel more attractive – but only one of those three would be true, and the power aspect was conditional upon performance; the license to command was emminently revocable.

That wasn’t entirely the case for me, as I am convinced my jokes truly were funnier, for those 15 months.

And at the end of my tour, an air wing commander that I knew well and respected – not mine, by the way – told me that I would be surprised in a week or two how great the burden was that I had unknowingly borne, and how relieved I would be when I realized that it was no longer on my shoulders.

That wasn’t the case for me either, I was only cognizant of a sense of loss. And I got to have a band at my change of command.


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

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