Two years ago, I had the tremendous pleasure of interviewing Mr. Elliot Billings, a pioneer in Marine Corps Aviation flying early biplane dive bombers. I just learned yesterday he recently passed away, a painful reminder that with the passing of each veteran we lose rich memories and invaluable experience. I have included Mr. Billings’s obituary to illustrate the full, wonderful life he lived (emphasis my own):
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I’m working some odd hours this week and I guess I haven’t been following the news carefully enough: RADM Rindskopf, the youngest commander (26 years old) of an American fleet submarine during WWII, passed away on July 27.
Admiral Rindskopf would receive the Navy Cross, the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for his wartime service. He later served as commander of two submarine flotillas and of the Navy’s submarine school in New London, Conn. After being promoted to admiral in 1967, he was assistant chief of staff for intelligence to Adm. John S. McCain Jr., commander of the United States Pacific Command during the Vietnam War and father of Senator John McCain of Arizona.
I remember him attending the Submarine Birthday Balls held at the Naval Academy, where he loved engaging the midshipmen with his stories and reflections. I always enjoy hearing from our veterans, and we all are missing out on their experiences and wisdom when one passes away…most especially when it is someone such as RADM Rindskopf.
I came across an article that isn’t about the Navy, but provided for some interesting reflection on the role individual discretion should play in everyday work. A lot of good stuff there. I apologize for a large block of quotations, but I can’t say it any better than they do:
“Using case studies from a wide range of fields, [Schwartz and Sharpe] argue that our institutions, structured as they are around incentive and punishment, prevent us from good practice, from doing our work with purpose, empathy, creativity, flexibility, engagement, and temperance. In a word: wisdom…
Professional life, at its best, combines a sense of mission with wise practice. Professionals who have the “will” and the “skill” to do both good and well—and are given the discretion to deploy effectively their expertise and sense of calling—are those who are most fulfilled in their work, who are happy with what they do and whom they serve. Schwartz and Sharpe write, “We are happiest when our work is meaningful and gives us the discretion to use our judgment. The discretion allows us to develop the wisdom to exercise the judgment we need to do that work well. We’re motivated to develop the judgment to do that work well because it enables us to serve others and it makes us happy to do so.”
What cripples this judgment, and makes us unhappy in our work, is a culture of rules, one based on audits, incentives, and punishments. Schwartz and Sharpe show how this rules culture demands universal principles and scripts no matter the context, and marginalizes imagination, empathy, and courage.”
I then began to wonder what this would look like in the Navy and in particular the nuclear Navy. We’re always told to utilize the watchteam, drawing on their experiences and judgement to decide the best course of action. The reactor operators and electrical operators are experts in their panels, who take pride in being able to shift the electric plant quickly or safely and efficiently startup the reactor. As EOOW (engineering officer of the watch), we’re tasked with leading the watch in maximizing propulsion and maintaining reactor safety.
How can we best lead professionals who have the will and skill to accomplish this mission? Allow them to contribute their hard-earned expertise and discretion (in accordance with written procedure of course). What exactly does this look like in the nuclear Navy, though?
Very curious what this would look like:
“Canny outlaws” offer hope for our institutions. “Canny outlaws” are creative, flexible, improvisational individuals who find ways around the rules that constrain their professional practice. Yet they alone are not enough; we need “system changers,” people who find new ways of doing things and are able to implement them on a broad scale. Practical Wisdom gives us a rather inspiring framework and set of strategies for finding those new ways, and it might persuade more than just canny outlaws that doing so is pretty necessary if we are going to continue to find value in our work.”
Just woke up and am getting ready to head in. I’m currently working the midnight shift and will be standing my first watch in the simulators today. Hopefully the scram switch will go untouched!
I just started the midnight shift at prototype, working from 1930-0730. As it was our first day working shifts, we had an orientation brief where it was announced we killed Bin Laden. After welcoming us our crew chief asked if we had any questions; there was a long pause, and then finally someone asked if we really killed him.
I came home to check Facebook and saw photos and videos uploaded from midshipmen as they celebrated. One of them made it to RealClearPolitics and thought I’d share it with you. Wish I could have been there for this!
Update from Admin:
Courtesy of the LA Times:
While discussing Arlington’s outdated record-keeping over dinner one night last summer, Ricky — who had just gotten an A in his Programming 1 class at school — announced, “I can fix that…”
Ricky didn’t have his driver’s license yet, so he hitched a ride with his mom on her 45-minute commute from their home in Stafford, Va., to her workplace in Washington. He hopped the Metro the rest of the way to the cemetery…
One afternoon while he was out here taking pictures, a woman asked, “What number is my son?” She wanted to know where he fell in a casualty count that is nearing 6,000 for both wars. Ricky couldn’t answer her, but later he told his mom that he didn’t want them to be numbers; he wanted them to be remembered as people….
He spent afternoons in a bookstore poring over Web development manuals for the right program language to create the site. At night, in his family’s study, his computer hooked up to a 40-inch flat screen and his keyboard on a snack table in front of the couch, he input hundreds of names, photos, links to obituaries and newspaper accounts; he created a space to blog tributes.
For me, this story is about how an 11th grader responded faster to the needs of the nation than the Army. His project is another example of how the the proliferation of web/programming skills changes our expectations for large, bureaucratic organizations. Tech-wise, his project is relatively simple. His genius lies in responding to a need without waiting for someone else (the Army) to do it.
A close friend of mine who selected Marine Air out of the Academy will shortly head to Afghanistan. Strangely enough, he’ll beat out another good, mutual friend who drew infantry out of TBS–and he only had 2 weeks before commissioning and reporting to TBS! Needless to say, he’s not happy with this (being beaten to Afghanistan; he volunteered to get the jump on TBS).
While we were commissioned 11 months ago, John is actually the first friend and classmate I know to head to Afghanistan. Sure, it’s “only” a 5-6 month assignment to fill an IA billet, but it’s a curious feeling to actually know your classmates are starting to finally get out “there.” Invigorating in a way…? I’m sure many of you know the feeling and could describe it better.
In a way, the SWOs beat all of us to the punch. I saw, courtesy of Facebook, one of my companymates earned her SWO pin 2 months back. I regularly keep up with a rooommate who is on a destroyer out of San Diego; his ship just had a “Family Day,” and he had a lot of fun taking his mom out for a cruise. He’s looking forward for his ship’s overhaul to be completed.
Some of those who went to Pensacola are approaching the end of training, I think. My other roommate (a NFO) is moving to Corpus Christi soon, and I really should call him to see how things are going. Playing Call of Duty 4 online with each other really isn’t a good medium for catching up.
My class of submariners is preparing to start shift work at prototype. I’ll start with the midnight shift this Sunday (1930-0730) and rotate to new hours after about a week of this. This point represents about 1/3 the way to completing prototype, the final phase of nuclear training before reporting to a submarine.
Getting there, and less than 11 months till “there.”
Upon checking into the next phase of training, our CO encouraged us to keep a journal, write down our thoughts…and/or blog. So…
I am currently stationed in Ballston Spa, NY where I am continuing my training in the Navy’s nuclear power pipeline at “prototype.” Having completed Nuclear Power School, I am now preparing to operate a reactor. Currently, I am getting qualifications to operate the reactor the Navy has here and will qualify by early September. At that point, I will be qualified to start qualifying as an Engineering Officer of the Watch on a submarine. Then, I will head to Groton where I will attend Submarine Officer Basic Course after which I will report to a submarine. Should everything going smoothly, I would be reporting in late November/December.
That’s where I am in the grand scheme of things.
Right now, I am learning as much as possible about the many, many systems which comprise the nuclear plant up here. I arrive at the “site” (the installation is actually “owned” by the Department of Energy) at about 0700 everyday. My partner and I then come up with a plan for the day (what systems to tackle that day), grab the reference manuals and start studying. After we feel comfortable with the material, we take a quiz on the computer. Passing the quiz allows you to be tested by an instructor on the material, who can sign to the proficiency on the material in our thick qualification binders. Just to give readers an idea, we study 56 hours a week for 6 months. It’s a thick binder.
This past week went by quickly (as did the weekend), but we discovered a place which does $.20 wings on Thursdays, so that practically adds a day to the weekend, right?
Anyway, I’m trying to get back in to the blogging habit. One of my friends at Power School remarked that he wished he had kept a journal while he was at the Academy and I agreed. In the moment, JOs feel so busy; we are busy, but thinking, writing and reflecting are habits. I’ll try to get back into them.
Congressional elections are approaching and according to my Facebook news feed, EVERYBODY has an opinion. Hurray for democracy and free speech, right? My civilian friends are most certainly ethically unencumbered to express their choice for candidates/parties. But what is the best way for members of the military to express themselves in accordance with regulations? When it comes to online “speech,” it is sometimes a little unclear what the ethical choices are.
DOD Directive 1344.10 details the types and extent of political participation of members of the armed forces. For example, we may “Sign a petition for a specific legislative action or a petition to place a candidate’s name on an official election ballot, if the signing does not obligate the member to engage in partisan political activity and is done as a private citizen and not as a representative of the Armed Forces.” Suppose a member joins a group over Facebook supporting a legislative measure, surely he’s acting as a private citizen, right? What if he has set his profile picture to a picture of himself in uniform? Is he still really acting as a private citizen? It doesn’t seem so to me–all the rest of the world sees is a member of the military supporting a political cause.
One thing is clear, we are not permitted to “[publish] partisan political articles, letters, or endorsements signed or written by the member that solicits votes for or against a partisan political party, candidate, or cause.” This should extend to online activity. Think before you update your status!
While nuclear fission is a “blast,” it’s probably not as exhilarating as hunting pirates or as poignant as some moments overseas (USNI bloggers are all over the globe these days!). Nuclear power school has certainly proven to be the most competitive academic environment in which I have been. We’re learning three technical subjects at once with at least one test per week.
The first test, covering the basics of the reactor, fell on the Wednesday following Labor Day Weekend. Before the schedule had been released I had booked a flight to DC, arriving back in Chucktown (Charleston) on Monday evening. One of my roommates had a similar predicament.
Let me tell you, the basics of a reactor aren’t really that basic.
As I would be gone all that weekend, my roommate and I put in some extreme hours starting a week out from the exam. 0530 wakeup, returning to the house around 2200+ a few times. Upon arriving at the airport, we found our flights were delayed…giving us a perfect opportunity for one more hour of studying.
Gotta head to bed; physics exam on Wednesday. If any NUPOC/ROTC/Academy/prospective nukes stumble upon this and have any questions about power school, feel free to ask in the comment section.
- A History of the Navy in 100 Objects #48: Models of HMS St. George (1701) and USS Missouri (1944)
- Engineering and the Humanities: The View from Patna’s Bridge…
- A History of the Navy in 100 Objects #47: British Dockyard Models
- A History of the Navy in 100 Objects #46: WWII Japanese Radio Headset
- The Media Circus