Monday, February 20, 2006

Navy Leadership (Part I)

My second CO on the USS Reeves had a saying. “A ship is judged by how it looks and how it communicates.” If the ship was rusty, had a bad paint job, if it couldn’t communicate properly via radio or signal flags, then there must be more things it couldn’t do well, such as fight. So we learned to live by that motto. I certainly did.

I was the First Lieutenant as we started to make our exit from the ship yards. After a complete refit that lasted over 18 months, we had made some major changes to the inside of the ship, and I was in charge of the outside of the ship. I quickly became adept in the art of Navy painting. Deck Grey, Haze Grey, Macine Grey. So many types of grey. But my job was a losing battle. The ship was older than I was, made of metal, and sat in salt water. Rust was just a part of everyday life. So it was a constant battle to stay ahead of the rust spots, the worn paint, and off the CO’s sh!t list. To say that I was micromanaged, would be an understatement. Not a day would go by where the CO hadn’t found some spot that he wanted fixed that day. And I would listen to him and then I would explain what everyone else was working on. And if he didn’t want those things done, then I would pull the guys from another job to fix this problem, or I would add it to the list for tomorrow. He never liked when I did that, but it was the only way to stop getting constantly re-directed and actually get something done.

Our sister ship, the USS Sterritt pulled in Pearl Harbor after their deployment and like most returning ships, they got the good parking spot. There are a couple of ships berths (aka parking spots) on the main waterfront that are close to the McDonalds, Enlisted and Officer Clubs, the main gate, etc. So those prime parking spots usually go to the ship returning from deployment.

About a week after the Sterritt pulled into Peal Harbor, they moved to the other side of our pier in the shipyard so they could get some minor work done. The next day as I walked down the pier, I started to smile. The Sterritt looked like sh!t. Big rust stains running down the side of the ship. There were huge patches of paint that had fallen off and rust was coming through the primer. Most ships usually do a total paint job before they return from deployment so they will look good when they pull up to the pier. But the Sterritt hadn’t done that and you could tell. I smiled because I knew we were going to look so much better than our sister ship, and the CO would probably be so mad looking at them that he would leave me alone. I was wrong.

As I wandered topside checking on my guys, the CO comes up to me. I pop a salute and say good morning and then next thing I know he’s got a death grip on my arm and pulling me towards the bow saying “Come with me.” As I was dragged away, my guys just shook their heads. They had seen this routine before and it usually meant long days for them. The Captain drags me to the very bow of the ship and points to the Sterritt. “Look at that.” He said. “LOOK AT THAT.” I did. And it was not pretty. He turned to me said very quietly: “If we ever look like that, I’ll cut your balls off. Do you understand me? I'll cut your balls off.” I said the only thing I could, “Yes sir.” And then he stormed off.

My Bosunsmate Chief had been called by the guys who had seen the Captain drag me off and had come up behind the Captain and me, but he dared not interfere. “So what did the old man want” he said after the CO left. “My balls.” I replied.


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