Saturday, January 29, 2011

They will come for you some day.... Live in Fear!

I had just assume the dities of Executive Officer of my DDG a week prior to this incident.  
A young Sailor was just returning to the ship from being UA.  (Unauthorized Absences --- he had left the ship without permission).  He admitted he was UA, offered little if no excuse for his actions, and took his punishment.  Then one day, he turned up missed.  He had left without the proper permission again.  Very strange.  He wasn't the type to get into trouble prior to his first incident.
I had a meeting with his supervisors.  I asked if they had any idea where he might have gone.  Where was he when they found him the last time?  He was in Kansas with his girlfriend -- I later found out she was pregnant.  They had a phone number but no address or name.  So, I thought I would call the phone number they provided.  My idea was to tell whoever answered Sailor Timmy (name changed to protect this young man) was in a lot of trouble.   I figured the parents of the girlfriend would tell Timmy (father of the daughter's child) he needed to get back to the Navy.  That was my plan. 
“Hello, this is the Executive Officer of the USS MYSHIP.  I am looking for Sailor Timmy.  May I speak to him please?”
“Hold on.  I’ll get him.” was the answer.
PLAN B.  Ok.  Didn’t expect they would admit he was there.  Think quickly!  What are you going to say when they come back and try to act like he wasn't there.  What to say......
“Hello, this is Timmy.”
OK!  PLAN C.  I didn’t expect Sailor Timmy to answer the phone knowing I was on the line.  Ummmmmm........
“Sailor Timmy, this is the Executive Officer.  Do you know who I am?”
“Yes, sir.” what?  “You are in a lot of trouble being UA.  Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir." 
So far, so good.  "Why have your gone UA?"
"My girlfriend is pregnant AND I came back to help her until she has the baby."
"Ok, I get that.  But the best way to help her is to come back to the ship.  You need to turn yourself into the authorities by tomorrow morning.  If you don’t, you will always have to live in fear of being picked up as a deserter.  Do you want your girlfriend see you hauled away in handcuffs?"
"No, sir."
"Do you understand you need to turn yourself into the authorities or you will be declared a deserter?  Do you know what that means?"
“Yes, sir.”
Now to drive my point home!  “Ok.  If you haven’t turned yourself in by tomorrow morning, you will need to live in fear.  Some day; I am not saying tomorrow; but some day, there will be a knock on the door and the sheriff will be there.  He will haul you out of bed, put you in handcuffs and haul you away.  Do you understand me?” 
"Yes, sir.  I understand.   I will turn myself in."
Like I said, I added that last part to scare the young man a bit. I never thought he wouldn’t turn himself into the authorities.  By the next morning, he had proven me wrong.  That is when the detective work kicked in full throttle.  I used the phone number to figure out where in the country the phone was.  I called the local directory assistance to see if they could help me narrow it down with the prefix number.  They got me to a county.  I found the number from that to the County Sheriff.  I called.  I explained who I was, for whom I was searching and that all I had was a phone number.  The Sheriff was more than happy to assist me.  He used the number to figure out an address, conferred with his Deputies and came to the conclusion they knew my Sailor Timmy. 
“Call you back in 30 minutes.”  The Sheriff hung up.
What did the Sheriff mean he would call me back in 30 minutes......
30 minutes later.  “Hey, we got your guy.  He was right where you said he would be.  What do we do with him now?”
Got  to love the Sheriff.  I explained what needed to be done and then the Sheriff said Timmy wanted to speak to me.  So, He put Sailor Timmy on the phone.  Sailor Timmy’s only words to me were, “It was just like you said.  The Sheriff just hauled me out of bed.  How did you know?”
“I just do, Sailor Timmy.  I just do.”

Thursday, January 27, 2011

It takes a village

One of my jobs was the Commanding Officer, Navy Recruiting District, Seattle.  I had the largest geographically dispursed territory (ie, Washington states, Northern Idaho, Montana and Alaska).  Trying to recruit the youth of America from these diverse areas each presented their own challenges.   
So, when my recruiters from Alaska told me we had a young man (native Inuit) who had scored exceptionally well on the practice aptitude exam, I was excited for the recruiters and the young man.  He can from a very remote village on the northern shore of Alaska, far above the Arctic Circle.  A rare potential recruit.
Once I had review the paperwork and saw the test scores I authorized the young man to travel to Anchorage, Alaska on the Navy’s dime.  A few days later, he arrived in Anchorage.  The recruiters met him at the “bush plane” terminal at the airport.  The bush planes take off from a “pond” a little ways from the Anchorage Main terminal.  You see the pond as you approach main terminal.  It is surrounded by little shacks, each shack sheltering the pilots for the different destinations. 
The recruiters make sure the young man is delivered to the hotel to spend the night.  They make sure is fed and understands when they will pick him up for breakfast and take him to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS).  Then he is left there in his room. 
The next day bright and early, he is picked up.  He is allowed to eat just a light breakfast.  The recruiters take him down to the MEPS for his in-processing.  The first stop is the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) exam.  The ASVAB measures your aptitude for different vocations.  It will be used to determine several things.  The applicant’s possible vocational fields as the name suggests but more importantly, his eligibility to join the military.  He must score at least a 35 to be eligible to join the US Navy.  However, by all indications of the practice test, he should score well above 50.  A score above 50 will open lots of doors of opportunity for this young man.  We all wait in anticipation.
The exam is over.  The grades revealed.  The frantic call to me. 
“Skipper (the affectionate name given to a commanding officer), the applicant scored a 25.”
“25!  What was the score on the practice exam?”
“Well, then he should have score much better.  What is wrong? “
“Don’t know.  What do you want us to do?”
Of course, the recruiters wanted to know what to do now.  Haha!  Things didn’t go as planned.  Skipper, what do we do?  Well, my first thought is something wasn’t right with our applicant.  He was from a very small village.  This might have been his first and only night in the BIG city.  Maybe he didn’t get enough sleep.  Maybe he ate way too much for breakfast.  Maybe he was confused by the questions.  The answers came back from my recruiter quickly that none of these were the reason for the low score.  I had two options.  1. Put the young man back on the plane and perhaps bring him back to Anchorage at a later date to be tested again.  OR 2. Request a retest of the young man.  This second option would mean one more night in the hotel.  A cheaper option if I could be convinced he would do better on the second try.  More questions needed to be asked.
“When you went to the village to meet with the young man, how did you administer the practice exam?”
“I didn’t travel to the village.  I just sent the exam up to the village to be taken.   We got the school teacher to administer it to the applicant.”
“Ok.  Ask him if there was anything unusual about the way the exam was given.”

Silence for a few minutes.  Then the answer came.
“No, he described the conduct of the exam.  It all sounds pretty normal, Skipper.  The teacher gave it to him in the school room on the school’s computer.  He said, it was a big event in the village.  Everyone turned out.”

I thought about that last statement before answering.
“What do you mean the whole village turned out?  It is the middle of winter.  It is way below zero in the village.  Where did they all ‘turn out’???”

Then came the answer for which I was searching.  The village people were so excited the young man was taking the test which would determine if he the US Navy would have him travel to Anchorage to join, they all attended the examination – they would all proctor the exam.  They all (50 people strong) stood in the one room schoolhouse as the young man sat at the computer.  The young man would read the question and all of the possible answers aloud.  He would announce in a loud voice his answer.  If someone in village didn’t think it was right, they would make a sound until he chose correctly.   The village had scored a 45.  Individually, the young man had scored only 25 of those points.  Perhaps, even less. 
Unfortunately, I had to send the young man back to his village.   It took a village to earn this young man a trip to Anchorage.  It might be the only time he will ever see a city that big.  He never returned to take the exam again while I was in command.   I asked my recruiters to check on him and see how he was doing.  They told me he was doing well.  I often wonder what he is doing.  I am sure he is surrounded by a loving village who only wanted him to do well. 
He is one of my favorite applicants.  I wonder if he knows how much he touch my life even though I never met him in person. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sometimes you need to bet your hair.

Young Sailors need something to focus their attention.  They need something tangible for them to gain if they are successful.  In the corporate world, it is bonuses or incentive pay.  In the world of a Sailor, it might be as simple as the hair on top of their boss’ head.  There have been two times in my Navy career when I bet my crew they couldn’t achieve a goal, a lofty goal.  In exchange for achieving the goal, I would present myself at a time of their choosing for a “barber” (of my choice) to remove my hair from my head.  Of course, I also had a skilled barber there to make it all better in the end. 
It was in 1994 as Chief Engineer on my flight 2 Oliver Hazard Perry frigate (FFG) – for those with little Navy understanding read that as “OLD SHIP” -- when I bet my hair for the first time. 
The goal for the crew; achieve a grade of GOOD or better on the upcoming Operational Propulsion Plant Examination (OPPE).  This feat was very lofty.   Most ships are SATISFACTORY.  Very few receive GOOD.  Still fewer receive the grade of OUTSTANDING.  AND this was in an era of some ships receiving UNSATISFACTORY and the Chief Engineer being fired.  When I was preparing to take the job, my contemporaries and I would joke.  50% is all we ask.  50% of the Chief Engineers of this day were being fired.  You do the math.
Well, this bet created quite a stir amongst the entire crew.  OPPE was an engineering event, but it took the entire crew to pull off a grade of good or better.  The engineers would need to get the whole crew involved if they wanted to see the top of my head sans hair. 
As we prepared for the OPPE, I focused my department on working hard while we were underway to constantly improve our ability to operate the plant.  We worked hard to improve our ability to demonstrate we could fight fires – an entire crew evolution.  We worked hard to improve the material condition of the engineering plant.  My Commanding Officer gave me lots of freedom to do what I needed to do without getting in the way of my progress.  He did provide me assistance in the form of augmentees (a tiger team) to my department to assist in painting. 
Other People Painting Engineering is what the rest of the crew called OPPE.  But it was a welcome addition.  The week prior to the exam, the Commanding Officer pulled out one more stop, he assigned each department an engineering space to deep clean under my supervision. 
It came down to the Friday before the exam.  The Commanding Officer asked for a meeting of my department senior leadership.  He wanted to know if we would be ready.  He polled all of my leadership and then asked me the question. 
My response:  “Boss, the engineers and I have some spit and polish to apply.  We will be working this weekend to make sure we have all the paperwork ready for inspection.  But the spaces are ready.  The crew is ready.  You have the entire crew out there right now wondering what you will be asking of them for this weekend.  They have busted their tails (ok, I probably used a different word here. Haha!) helping us get ready.  On Monday, we need them rested and excited for the exam.  If we make them work this weekend, they will be down.  I think you should go out there and tell the crew you met with us and have decide your ship is standing by for the inspection team.  Tell them to rest and relax and come back Monday morning ready to show the inspection team what we can do.”
Well, the Commanding Officer did just that.  There was an incredible cheer that went up from the ship.  The crew took the weekend and came back Monday morning ready for the examination.  As we say, we hit the deck plates running.  We were cruising through the examination.  We got underway early the afternoon of the first day.  Quite the feat.  The hair on the top of my head feeling a little vulnerable.
There were some bumps and bruises along the way.  But we got down to the final demonstration of fighting the fire.  Now, during the exam, the crew must go about its business as if it was a normal underway.  However, the crew always knows what is happening and is ready for this fire demonstration.  It is the last event. 
As the Sailors are heading to get ready to fight the simulated fire, one of the lead firefighters is a little too zealous.  He hits his head on a door way frame, knocking himself off his feet, where he hits his head again.  Two Sailors who are standing there think it is all part of the demonstration and react to render assistance.  The fire team comes together.  There leader does a quick head count and realizes one of the nozzle men is missing.  They call out for him.  The two Sailors rendering assistance tell the team leader the nozzle man is injured.  Without skipping a beat, the leader rallies his team and prepares for the fire fighting demonstration.  The demonstration goes flawlessly. 
In the end, some of the bumps and bruises we suffered were the reason why we only achieved a grade of SATISFACTORY.  AND to be honest, I was most likely to blame for the most of the bumps and bruises.  BUT we had missed the mark of a grade of GOOD or better nonetheless.  The crew was excited for having completed the examination so quickly – a mere 36 hours --but a little down that they would not see the top of my head. 
What is a leader to do?  I could have easily walked away from the crew my hair intact.  BUT I decided to gather the crew, I would yield my hair. As we watched the inspectors leave the ship, the crew celebrated by removing my hair.  First in a reverse Mohawk.  Then a BoZO the clown style.  Finally, they removed the hair in a patch work.  And then allowed the barber to make it all smooth and neat.
When I came to work the next day, the crew was still charged.  Telling stories of the experience.  Excited to have triumphed.  Wanting to touch my head and laugh with me.  It was a good use of my hair.  I think the best quote came from my daughter when I got home.  She said, “Daddy you’re funny.  Now put your hair back on.”  Haha! 
I learned that sometimes you need to give your people a focus point and the ultimate reward for achieving it.  And sometimes come through with the reward even when they miss the mark.  I gained a lot from being willing to do so.

Where our stories begin.......

I have been in the US Navy for over 27 years.  In that time, I have seen many different places; seen many different people and cultures.  All while I was surrounded by a cross section of US American youth.  Some educated on the streets.  Some educated in college; from rich and poor families; Enlisted and Officers. 
Bottom Line:  I was surrounded by US Sailors, Airman and Soliders.  Each and every one a unique person who has taught me some lesson.  They have taught me many things about life.  How I think.  How I react.  How I live my life.  Most of these lessons were not taught in school.  Many more will never would never see the light of day in a classroom.  But all are lessons of life and leadership.  The kind of lessons you only acquire leading people, dealing with the messy stuff of life.  All of these lessons will help you gain experience and become the foundational blocks of you. 
My foundational blocks permeate my mind with stories which I have decided to write down.

I hope you enjoy the stories..... I have enjoyed collecting them.