Friday, March 25, 2011

Time for a cup of coffee

When I was a division officer on my first ship, I started out in engineering.  I was leader of a rough and tough bunch of engineers.  They were the salt of the earth.  Many came from the middle of the country and the first time they saw the ocean was when they got underway with the ship for the first time.  One of my senior enlisted was a rough and hard man.  He did mince words and told it like he saw it.  I am not certain I saw Senior Chief smile many times.  There were a few occasions.  Let's just say, it was good to be on his good side and BAD to be on his bad side. 

I had been on the ship for about 4 months and qualified to Engineering Officer of the Watch.  As a very junior officer, this was quite a feat -- I owe it all to the engineering enlisted who made sure I knew what I needed to know to pass the oral exam.  They made me visit every little hole, in every space in the engineering plant.  They made me stand every watch station from the messenger to the top watch.  All the while, making sure I learned what I would need to know.  AND I qualified thanks to their efforts. 

One day after I had qualified, I was standing Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOOW).  The whole 1200 lbs, pressure fired boiler engineering plant at my command.  I was on top of the world.  Not in the Titanic, on the bow of the ship, arms spread, wind in your face, KING OF THE WORLD..... No, this was different.  The engine room was over 100 degrees in temperature.  We were in the bowel of the ship.  Night and day had no meaning.  We didn't get to see the sun.  Think of the scene from Titanic when they run through the boiler room with men shoveling coal or the engine room with the grand turbines without the fancy dress...

It was on one such day, I would learn a new lesson.  Down into the space came, Senior Chief.  He made a tour of the space.  This was not uncommon for Senior Chief.  Even when someone else had the watch, he wanted to make sure his engine room was performing at tip-top shape.

He went down one side to the lower level and returned up the other.  In his hands, he held shoe laces from someone's boot.  He showed them to me and the top watch and then placed them in his pocket.  He then took a seat in the top watch chair and grabbed the microphone for the in-space communications (this was an amplified circuit so the watchstanders could hear over the roar of the engine room noise).  It was quite loud in the engineroom.  Single hearing protection was always worn.

Senior Chief looked at me with a knowing smile and said, "Now, we have some fun, SIR!"

With that, he started yelling into the phone.  His amplified voice BOOMED in the space.  From the lower level of the engineroom, we heard the watchstander yelling (without the aid of the in-space amplified circuit) about something.  Then still yelling, he comes up to the upper level.  He stomped over to Senior Chief still yelling.  His tirade focused on Senior Chief (never a good idea) that someone has stolen his laces.

Senior Chief calmly looked at him and said, "How can someone have stolen your laces while you were on watch IF you never sleep in the lower level?"

"I DON'T KNOW!  BUT someone has stolen them!  SEE!"  Showing Senior Chief his laceless boots.

Senior Chief calmly (this is a bit wierd because Senior Chief is not the calm personality if you know what I mean) took the laces from his pocket.  Holds them up for the Lower Levelman to see.  "NOW!  TELL ME AGAIN HOW YOU DON'T SLEEP IN THE LOWER LEVEL ON WATCH!" (edited from its actual wording)

The young man grabbed the laces and retreated to the lower level.

At this point, my lesson begins.  Senior Chief looks at me and calmly says, "Sir, I think there is a cup of coffee in the Chief's mess with your name on it.  I got the watch!"

I nod.  "How long is my cup gonna last me, Senior Chief."

"I'll call you when your cup runs out."

I depart the space in search of my cup of coffee.  When I arrived in the Chief Mess, my Master Chief Bolier Tech looked surprised and said, "Sir, you can't leave the engineroom when your on watch!"

"Senior Chief said he had the watch and there was a cup of coffee up here for me."

Master Chief smiled and poured me a cup.  I am not sure what happened in the engine room while I was having my cup of coffee, but it lasted about 45 minutes.  When I returned, every one was happy to see me relieve Senior Chief and have him leave again.  There was never a repeat of the sleeping incident. 

So, if you ask me if I ordered the code red, my answer is no.  But I am sure the answer from engineroom watchstanders that day might be a little different.

My lesson that day was the boss sometimes needs to go have a cup of coffee when his workers need to work something out.  A lesson I would apply later in my career.  Another story to follow.........

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

My Dad will pay for it!

             As Katie goes through the college hunt, taking the SAT, applying, being accepted, awaiting the scholarship and financial aid letters to arrive, I am reminded of my days in recruiting when we would guide young people to apply for the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) scholarships.  Here's one of the stories which came out of that experience.           

             Each year we would have a large push for NROTC scholarship applications.  So, I was making calls to young people one late afternoon trying to increase the number of applicants.  I had made dozens of calls talking to parent and prospective applicants explaining the program and answering their questions.  At the end of the conversation, I would always leave them with the web site address and ask them to consider applying. 

My efforts had met with mixed results; responses from enthusiam to the opposite end of the spectrum.  No one shouted obscenities or anything like that.  Let's just say, NROTC is not for everyone. 
After a few hours of calls, I dialed the next number to yet another possible applicant and the father of the young man answered.  I told the father who I was, why I was calling and if it was ok for me to talk to his son.  The father agreed quickly, excited almost that I had called.  He quickly got his son.  I could hear the father tell the son who I was and the son needed to listen to what I had to say.  Well, I braced for a combative conversation with this young man. 
We ended up speaking for the better part of an hour.  We discussed his plans for the future. The young man told me he was applying to the United States Naval Academy.  Well, seeing the advantage swing more in my favor, I told this young man that Navy ROTC was a great plan B to the Naval Academy.  The end result was the same, a commission into the US Navy.  NROTC midshipman do many of the same events during the summer as USNA midshipman.  All these points we met with positive responses.  Great!  I was going to be able to put one in the win column.
At the end of our conversation, I thought the young man was sold.  I asked if he would apply for the Navy ROTC program. His response, "No."
I was floored.  I thought we had made a connection.  I thought he was very positive about what I was presenting.  I reviewed my notes I had been taking during the conversation.  What had I missed? 
When I asked why he didn't want to apply to the NROTC, he replied, “Well, if I don’t get into the Naval Academy, I am going to go to Europe next summer before starting school in the Fall.” 
"Ok.  You can still go to Europe next summer before starting college and NROTC in the fall.  There is no problem there."
"Well, I am just not all that interested in the NROTC."
WHAT!?  Ok, slow down and get him back on track.  "Well, ok.  Let me ask you this.  If you don't get an NROTC scholarship, how are you going to pay for college?"
“My dad will pay for it all.  He'll pay for college and all my vacations during the summers in between my school years.  Then when I graduate, I will join the Navy.  I still want to be in the Navy, but if I don't get into the Naval Academy, I want a normal college experience.  I don't want to do NROTC.” 
I was tired.  I didn't know how to respond to counter his thought process.  AND I don’t know why, but something made me ask for the dad again.  Eagerly, the son called for his dad (who had gone into the next room during our discussion).  The son turned over the phone.
“Sir, you seemed really excited when I told you why I called your son tonight.  I have spoken to him for about an hour.  I thought he was sold on applying for the NROTC scholarship.  But he just told mehe didn’t want to apply for Navy ROTC.  When I pressed him for his plan B on paying for college, his reply was, ‘Dad will pay for it all.’  Sir, if you are independently wealthy and good with that plan, please accept my apology.  I am sorry for wasting your time this evening.  If not, I wanted you to know what your son was thinking.”
“He said what?  What is his plan B?"
I told the father what the young man had said. 
"What was the web site again?  He will be applying as soon as I get off the phone.”
The son did apply that evening.  His name appeared on the roster of applicants with whom my NROTC coordinator was working.  I am not sure if he was selected.  I am not sure if he is in the Navy.  I do know there was a father who was thankful someone took the time to let him know what his son's plan B was.