Military Leadership part 3: Stories Out at Sea

By: Sean Peters

Date-time group: 211831Z MAR 88
Location: 2102N5 15807W1 – Pearl Harbor OPAREAS
Scene 1: USS Brewton (FF 1086) operations office. ENS Peters, the Electronics Material Officer (EMO) is having a discussion his department head, LT Brown (OPS), about the status of the AN/SPS-40B air search radar, which is inoperable.
Peters: Morning, OPS.
Brown: So, EMO, what’s the status of the 40 repair? It’s been down for quite a while now.
Peters: Umm, sir, they’re still troubleshooting it.
Brown: Actually, no they’re not. Your guys discovered late last night that the magnetron had failed, and we’re going to have to CASREP the thing because we don’t have the part in stock. I guess I don’t need to ask whether you’ve written the CASREP yet. How come I know more about this situation than you do?
Peters: …

Scene 2: USS Brewton OE division office, later that morning. ENS Peters is discussing the situation with ETC Bibb, the leading CPO for the division.
Peters: Chief, you’re killing me with this SPS-40 thing. How come you’re giving this info straight to OPS? I look like a dumbass now.
Bibb: Sir, you weren’t around. And he came in and asked. What was I going to do? I had to tell him something.
Peters: Umm, ok. Can you at least give me a call next time if he gets to you first?
Bibb: Sure thing, sir.
….

Date-time group: 062133 JUN 89
Location: 2150N8 15843W1 – near Kauai
Scene 3: USS Brewton (FF 1086) Engineering Log Room. The Chief Engineer (CHENG), LT Powell, is examining the tagout log. DC3 Fentress is on watch in the space.
(over the 1MC): [boson’s pipe]: Heads forward of frame 77 are secured until further notice.
Powell: That’s odd. Fentress, do you know what that’s about?
Fentress: No, sir.
Powell: Where’s Mr. Henderson?
Fentress: Haven’t seen him since quarters, sir.
Powell (via 21MC): Bridge, DC.
OOD (via 21MC): Bridge aye.
Powell: Why are the heads secured up forward?
OOD: We got a report that that the head in the forward crew berthing was overflowing, and the HTs were investigating. They requested heads be secured for the time being.
Powell: In the future, please be sure you discuss this kind of thing with me before making an announcement – the CO is going to be calling me for an explanation.
OOD: Bridge aye.
Powell (to Fentress): I’m headed for the forward CHT pump room to see if I can figure out what’s going on. If you see Mr. Henderson, have him join me up there.
Fentress: No problem, CHENG.

Scene 4: The forward CHT pump room. Two petty officers have removed a spool piece from a 6”, floor to ceiling pipe, and are ramming a device that resembles a large plumber’s snake into it. HT1 Loconte is supervising them. LT Powell enters the space.
Powell: Morning, HT1. What’s going on?
Loconte: Sir, the shitters in the forward crew’s head started overflowing, and we figured the problem was that this downcomer was blocked.
Powell (looks closer): Uhh, HT1. This pipe runs all the way to the forward head in officer’s country – it’s like 4 stories high. What’s going to happen when they…
Powell is interrupted by a flood of raw sewage, which splashes over everyone in the space and accumulates to a depth of a few inches on the deck.
Powell: God dammit. Ok, call up to Fentress and have some of your other guys get into their poopy suits and start cleaning this up. (weak laughter from the petty officers)
Powell (glaring at the petty officers): we’re going to have to clean ourselves up and report to sickbay for a gamma globulin shot.

Scene 5: Passageway through lower officer’s country. A fragrant LT Powell is on his way to his stateroom when LTJG Henderson (Damage Control Assistant, Division officer for R division) emerges from his stateroom.
Powell (attempting to maintain composure): Well, DCA. Explain yourself. What were you doing while I was supervising your troops?
Henderson (blinks several times): Uhhh, I was… keeping myself informed.
Powell (losing temper): YOU STUMBLE OUT OF YOUR STATEROOM, THIRD DEGREE RACK BURNS ON YOUR FACE, AND HAVE THE NERVE TO TELL ME THAT YOU WERE “KEEPING YOURSELF INFORMED”? (tirade goes on at length, about Henderson’s many shortcomings).
LTJG Henderson (not his real name) was relieved the next day, to be replaced by, uhhh, LTJG Peters. Also: “keeping oneself informed” became a synonym for “having a nap” for the rest of my time on the ship.

Date time group: 090332Z JAN 94
Location: 3654N8 07433W7 – Virginia Capes OPAREAS
Scene 6: USS Kalamazoo (AOR 6), conducting night underway replenishment (UNREP) with USS George Washington (CVN 73). The operations officer, LT Peters, emerges onto the signal bridge. SM2 Singletary and an SMSN are on watch.
Peters: Holy shit, it’s cold up here. I’m glad I put my coat on.
Singletary: Yes, sir. The QMs said it was down to 23. I heard it might snow later. I’m kind of surprised you could be up here, sir. Aren’t you busy during these things?
Peters: Actually, I get really busy setting it up and then getting us to the rendezvous, but once we’re on station, it’s all 1st LT and CHENG’s baby. Have you heard any news on your Seaman-to-Admiral package (author’s note: a commissioning program)?
Singletary: No sir. NC1 says it could take several months to hear.
Peters: Ok, well I’ll… (notices a blinking light from the carrier)… you got one coming in.
Singletary rushes to the flashing light station to assist the other watchstander, who’s still under instruction. They take down the message, returning occasional acknowledgement blinks as it comes in.
Singletary: Your timing is good, sir. This is their fire control officer, who wants to know if we can issue them this part (provides a chit with the message, including an NSN).
Peters: all right, I’ll go check. Do you need anything up here?
Singletary: well, sir, we could use some coffee, but the MS’s won’t give us any.
Peters: why the hell not?
Singletary: they said they had just washed the urns and weren’t making any more coffee right now.
Peters: God dammit, I’ll go grab the SUPPO.

Scene 7: USS Kalamazoo (AOR 6) wardroom. ENS Steele, communications officer and OC division officer, is watching a movie with some other junior officers. CDR Bird (SC), Supply Officer, is at the wardroom table looking at some paperwork.
Peters: SUPPO, I need some help. It’s like a billion degrees below zero on the signal bridge and the signalmen could really use some coffee.
Bird: Well, they can just call down to the mess decks.
Peters: They did that, but the MS’s turned them away. Said they weren’t making coffee right now.
Bird: those dumbasses. I’ll go have coffee sent up.
Peters: Can you also check to see if we can issue GW this part (hands SUPPO the chit)? We need to know real quick so we can get it to them before the UNREP is over.
Bird: I’ll check that right now too.
Peters: Thanks, SUPPO. I really appreciate it.
Peters: COMMO, can you step out into the passageway for a minute?
Peters (after stepping into passageway with Steele): Mr. Steele, have you checked on your signalmen lately? I don’t know if you heard my last conversation, but it’s cold as fuck up there.
Steele: Uhhh, no sir, I haven’t.
Peters: Well, I took care of their coffee situation. How about you go show some concern and go up there. Make sure they’re properly dressed. And wear a coat yourself.
Steele: Aye aye, sir.

The moral: junior officers, be with your troops. There’s a temptation to focus your attention on the meeting with the CO, or that paperwork you need to get taken care of, or getting your own qualifications squared away. And those things are important. But the action is with your soldiers/sailors/Marines/airmen. Sometimes they have information you need. Sometimes they’re not going about a job in the right way, which might get someone hurt. Sometimes their working conditions need to be fixed. Sometimes they need some horsepower from you to fix these things.
And sometimes, there’s not a thing you can really do to help, but you can still be there to at least share the misery with them. You care about their work and their well-being, right? Show it. Be with your troops. They need you.

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