Look closely, you might find a grain or two of salt. More so, you’ll find a bunch of sea water. Don’t take me wrong, I’m not saying I’m experienced. But, I’ve seen the block, at least. I know what comes with a deployment, and I relish the idea of many more to come. Just the same, though; I want to go back and whisper into that kid’s ear. That kid who looks just like me, yet has “NON-PO” on his CAC card.
Want to know what I would whisper into his ear? For me to tell you that I need to tell you this, first:
“Flight of the Intruder” by Stephen Coonts.
Besides flying, he also acted as the squadron’s personnel officer, supervising a chief and [five Yeoman and Personnelmen]. The only portion of his administrative duties that he did not visibly detsest was his work as awards officer. He drafted the citations and recommendations for medals and gave them to the X.O. Harvey Wilson, to approve and forward up the chain of command. Lundeen kept a thesaurus on his desk that he referred to constantly as he drafted the award citations. He would gleefully read his better efforts to Jake as proof positive that the military in general and the navy in particular were “all [‘Effed] up.”
A long quote–I know. But, it is for good reason. I came right out of Boot/A-School to SAN ANTONIO. I knew nothing, I had no idea what it was to be aboard ship. I only knew I was going to do what Sailors are to do. I looked forward to it with relish. But, halfway through the tour, I began to wonder–I began to ask: What the hell was I or anyone aboard thinking. I would look around, and only be able to think that all any of us were able to accomplish was far, so very far, short of the standards held by those who came before us.
But, no. I was wrong. Part of my problem was the fact that I was privy to the writing of others, who would question what we as a Navy we doing. With all the challenges we face, all the ‘supposed’ shortcomings we have as a Fleet, I was reading ALL OF IT! God, what a mess my Ontology was–it was so hard. Imagine yourself, standing there at your DC locker, attempting to fit that experience into reading the writings of those 5-6-7 pay grades above you, let alone the amount of years they served. It was not an easy fit; truth be told, it didn’t fit. Ontology formed by experience does not juxtapose well with reading words. Especially when not much of it is favorable. Why? Here’s why…
I had a massive lack of context to place into anything I would read in regards to the challenges faced by the Navy in relation to acquiring new hulls, weapon systems, or anti-access strategies. To use a Thanksgiving analogy, I was child sitting at the adult’s table. The line between what was being discussed at the various blogs and what I was living on the deckplates is not a linear one–it’s non-linear, and filling in the aspects of a non-linear relationship is a painful one to live.
This is not to say that those writing such words as my mentors (CDR Salamander, Ray Pritchett, Steeljaw Scribe, CDR McGrath, as well as Byron, and any number of commentors on blogs) were misplaced, or wrong for finding such virgin ears such as my own. Rather, that such words do not give context anywhere near as well as experience does.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that it was a difficult tour aboard the USS SAN ANTONIO. Everyday was a new experience, as I am sure, that the cliche of any day deployed is ‘groundhog day’ falls flat aboard any Grey-hull. Christ, it was my first tour, after-all. But, those experiences have taken sometime to settle-in, as have the words of wisdom from the blogs I read since day-one of Sea Duty.
So, then, what have I come to? Heh, yeah, it’s in lines of what I read in the quote above.
The military is chaos. War, and it’s analogs (any deployment), is chaos. It’s going to be a mess, it’s going to be no where near the order and rote-reactions that we portray to the public at large, and this isn’t a bad thing, either. In a manor of speaking, what separates the wheat from the chaff in terms of those who serve is who can deal, or who wants to deal, with such circumstances. Such a notion isn’t that far removed from ‘civilian’ life either.
Why do we train and drill constantly? Because we need to deal with the known before we can sufficiently deal with the unknown. On deployment–doing what we’re paid to do–the unknown is concentrated even during the best and most irrelevant (read: administrative) of circumstances. So, when faced with such a reality, it doesn’t jive with any expectations one may have preconceived regarding the military.
I’ve never had a Chief who didn’t try to articulate this fact to me. It’s not that every Chief failed at explaining this to me. It was that I had ‘read ahead’ in a sense. So, their explanations to me had much more to contend with in terms of my ontology before it could become an accepted fact… Man, it wasn’t easy. But, after Afghanistan; after a FIFTH Fleet deployment, and nearly a year of duty with NATO; after something like 20 books and hundreds of blog posts–Chief’s words are starting to sink in, I’m starting to understand.
The chaos will never end. The situations you find yourself in are going to always be new, and it is your duty to find the way forward–to recommend to your superiors what you think is the best course of action. More so than anything else, the devil is in the details. When you’re sitting there, and are attempting to articulate the challenge you face–as well the way forward–it’s almost inherent, that you will leave out some detail that really matters, but seems ill-fit to mention during the brief discussion you have. What results is an impression during the first moments of taking action, that the whole of the Navy is ‘effed up.’ As that YNSN, just starting out, your only default position is that the whole enterprise of the Navy is ‘effed up from the foundation up. That EVERYTHING is wrong, that you alone know how to fix the foundation, and will be able to improve everything by fixing this foundation. Some people call this idealism, and stop there. They think that when they reach these first challenges that cannot really be fixed, that any further movement beyond them–without really fixing them–is selling out, and accepting less than should be.
Maybe they are right; I’m not going to tell them they are wrong, at least. But, just the same, when you move beyond and start to see the other aspects of reality in an organization that exists primarily in the unknown, you start to see reasons that might not jive with the more foundational aspects (E-4 and junior) of being apart of the organization. It is at this point that you start to understand the nature of a non-linear relationship.
What I am left at to this point, is that I know nothing. just as when Socrates (I think I am right, when I attribute this to Socrates) went to Delphi and was told by the Oracle that he was the wisest of all the Greeks, because he knew that he knew nothing; I feel that because of continuing to read of my profession and those who have gone before me that I have THAT much more to learn. For a Sailor junior to me–even for those newly minted ensigns–I feel it is my duty, to now help them become accustomed to the random, the unexpected and even the unacceptable.
…If I could only go back, and tell that YNSN that it’s ok, you’re dealing with the unknown just as everyone else has. Maybe then, it wouldn’t have seemed that impossible and difficult to him…