My ex-fiance got tired of hearing from me. I’d email her every morning (my afternoon) and say good morning to her. This would upset her on the weekends, as she didn’t have revellie at 0600 as I did. But, it was too tempting not to email her and have her blackberry wake her up, when I am sitting at my computer banging out 1650s.

It’s not that every service member is blessed as a Yeoman is with having email constantly available (EMCON permitting). But, the ability for service members while deployed to keep in contact with their family is exponentially greater than it ever has been in the annals of history. What you will hear from most people regarding this is how great of a thing it is–how families will not seem so distant, the little details of life known to the service member. But, those little details from home aren’t always great, and significant others don’t like being woken up early on the weekends (well, maybe at first. For the first couple of months. But, by month three or four–sleep is more important and the novelty of emails from Sea has worn off).

Subtly, this increase in communication has placed an additional burden on the service member. Once you’ve talked to someone back home for a while, and you’ve gotten through all the questions about the weather, and if you’re safe and how you’re liking it, the conversation turns to what life is REALLY like while deployed. It’s not fun–I mean it can be, it is an adventure and most of the people you’re deployed with are good people. But, there is a reason why less than 1% of the United States has served in uniform–It’s hard and you have to put up with a lot. In describing such a life, I think I have had to be the most careful with my Mom. There’s nothing wrong with this, nor am I saying that my Mom is one to over react, or over-worry about things. Rather, from my point of view, I don’t want to say anything to her that would make her worry more for her son. Of course, in talking to my Sister I feel much the same way and then to a lesser extent my Dad. Friends, meh, I’ll just tell them the funny things that happen, as that’s all they want to hear about anyway.

What makes it so difficult to describe the life we live is that outside of the context defined by the skin of a ship, it is hard to have the right perspective on what is actually going on. Regardless of how well I articulate that context, it tends to be something that one HAS to experience (what Ayn Rand calls an “ostensive definition”). Flying jets and helicopters off ships IS crazy. Sleeping in the Ship’s Office cause the 1MC doesn’t work in the berthing IS crazy. But, there is a method to the madness, and that method only makes sense given the circumstances in being deployed. In attempting to explain such circumstances to my Mom, or anyone back home borders on the impossible, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I’ve more or less had to figure this out on my own, as all service members do. This reality is one of those tacit understandings that we all have learned by being deployed. To date, this arrangement has worked alright. There has been no need for what can loosely be termed as ‘communications training’ for service members beyond OPSEC and INFOSEC, because the amount of time service members could possibly spend communicating with their families was very brief, and the odds of getting into things that could cause tumult ashore was small.

However, I think this may well have changed things.

My son and I emailed each other and I sent him some boxes – you know, care packages – and he called me once. Just once. We touched base and he mentioned that the heads still weren’t flushing. He expressed his frustration at the fact that things had been flushed or shoved into the system that shouldn’t have been. I still didn’t take the situation very seriously. I only thought about looking into the system. I mean, what can I do about that? It’s the Navy. I can’t do anything to influence the Navy!

That’s Mom. And, well, Mom got the CO to respond, at length. It’s a helluva situation, and I have to stop short of saying that a Sailor’s Mom was wrong for what she did. Things like this with Sailor’s families is not altogether rare, either. Being a Yeoman, you open much of the mail that comes to the Ship. Some of that mail is from the United States Congress asking about a letter or phone call they received from a Sailor or their family. Then, your Chain of Command scrambles to get the gist of a letter back to Congress down on paper, and YN2 goes ahead and Yeoman-izes it, with the hopes of returning Congressional correspondence in the mandated time.

There’s good reason why service members and their families can write their congressmen about things they think are wrong. There’s a story where Nimitz was riding back to his home one evening during the war. As they were driving, he had the driver pick up a Sailor who looked like he had one-too-many. That Sailor, too drunk to realize who he was talking to, went on-and-on about how lousy his command was. The next morning, Nimitz made a surprise visit to the command and got confirmation on everything the drunk Sailor had said and Nimitz had the the situation taken care of. But, in all honesty, those situations are the exception rather than the rule (which is why that story from Nimitz is even remembered).

Like I said, I’m not going to call-out Mom for devoting a Blog to the VCHT system aboard the BUSH. But, I will say that the burden is on the service member to ensure they don’t say something to their families that can then in turn, be taken out of context and cause needless headaches during a deployment.

I am well trained and versed in not violating OPSEC. But, the training for those things I could say, which may not directly cause harm to ship and crew, but could cause tumult or anguish back home, is not touched upon nearly enough during training. Our service members are going to be in a good amount of communication with home. Hell, they may even end up like me and get a gig blogging while they’re deployed. So, where is the training for that Sailor in terms of how to communicate with home while deployed?

Lastly, Ray, over at his place asks the following

Is the Navy simply “flattening the chain of command?” Are we simply observing the dynamics that comes with competing the hierarchical structure of the chain of command against the flattening of communications that has resulted from tools that allow greater accessibility? Is the Navy effectively balancing the flattening of and hierarchy of the chain of command?

Sailors posting across social media, writing blogs, and exhorting to the world all they feel is wrong with their command is not creating a flat command structure. A flat organization is created by more than just communication. It is created by actions. Communication as it has been done in this instance isn’t a sign that the Navy is flattening anything. In this humble deckplate-Sailor’s opinion, all the Navy has done here is respond to a blog which garnished media attention. In reading the post by the BUSH’s CO, they seemed to be tracking on the solution to the VCHT issues all along (has there ever been a ship without VCHT issues?). Going outside of your chain of command is the surest way to defeat ANY initiative to create a flat organization. Because, the sine qua non of a flat organization is harmony.

Posted by CTR1(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III in Cyber

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  • YNSN(SCW) Pawlikowski

    YN2, this is an incredible post. Perfectly addresses the issues raised by the instance you linked to, and gives me a whole new way to look at the power of social media / increased comms. I’ve always treaded lightly RE: bitching to family and worrying them, but I just added the thoughts you outlined to my pre-FB/blog posting armory of considerations. Thanks, and BZ on an outstanding discourse! V/R YNSN(SCW)

  • Lucien,

    Your final sentence is spot-on. Harmony—“and you don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note. Harmony is the marriage of the contrary and of the similar; marrying discordant elements…”

    The navy will have to learn how to train and lead under these circumstances—what we’re seeing to a great extent is self-organization in problem solving—outside the prescribed traditional bureaucratic lines. To many it may appear as disorder, but in reality is path of least resistance.

    When the navy built the sub base in Kings Bay, GA, they poured sidewalks on paths no one used. I heard a young sailor remark one day that the navy should have waited until six months after the base was open to lay the sidewalks—and use the trodden paths as a guide. Social media is doing that and will continue as technology improves—it will smoke out bad leaders and inefficient/non-responsive bureaucracies.

    How many CO’s have been relieved this year? 27? I’ll bet social media has some role in this high number.

  • Hi Lucien,

    I’m amazed you haven’t gotten more of a response to your very thoughtful post. You point out what may be one of the seminal issues of our day.

    Cordially, JSS

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    Yeah, I don’t know what gives, Scott… Maybe I’m just so brilliant, that everyone’s speechless? 😉

    But, I was thinking to myself earlier about families/spouses ‘feedback’ really only serves as another channel inside of “Implicit Guidance and Control” in terms of an organizations OODA-Loop. So, again, these ‘louder voices’ aren’t flattening anything, they are just becoming apart of the system already in place.

  • Hi Lucien,

    I agree with your last sentence, but would hasten to add the affect “louder voices” could have unintended consequences of truly disrupting the system in place. Just a thought.

    Cordially, JSS

  • Byron

    I thought it was very thought-provoking…and awesome. You’re quite the smart young man, Lucien.