The Captain has me and another Officer heading out to various local ships for “customer service.” I enjoy it and usually recognize a shipmate or two. Last’s week visit was no different.
We rolled onto the DDG and to the space where we work. I started off on my usual spiel to the Sailors, what do you like, what don’t you like? Once they understood we were not there to inspect them and that there was no attribution, I filled pages in my notebook on positives and negatives. More of the latter than the former, but such was the job.
About halfway through, a Chief popped into our space. And I knew him. It took me a couple of seconds, but I placed him. He had been a First Class Petty Officer in my division almost seven years ago.
He had been our top Petty Officer and he had not changed. Perfect uniform, same command of our mission. At ease with the Sailors, but clearly a leader, like a savvy older brother. He had gone to Menwith Hill and then deployed since our division.
I then confessed something to him that I had done at his going-away lunch.
You know Chief, I said. At your going-away luncheon, I played at trick on you.
He looked at me sideways (not particularly liking where I was going with the conversation), but I continued. You got up to go to the head and I told your wife something.
I told her not to tell you, but you were one of our stars. But I made her promise not to say anything to you!
He laughed. After yesterday’s post on a less than stellar Chief, it is joy to share the story of a Chief who gets it. . .
I don’t know quite how to say this, but I’ve high-stepped a line in the beach sand that a naval type should not, no not ever, cross. I’ve stolen someone else’s honor. All for my greedy fingered consumption. There exists a precise term for such an occurrence, stolen valor. And I am most certainly guilty of it. To my eternal shame.
My happenstance started innocently enough in pleasant, downtown Kearny Mesa. This afternoon. (Cue mild bird-watching music from the PBS archives.) For the unknowing, Kearny Mesa is home to a large population of Asian folks. And I like to shop their stores for all sorts of delicacies. I strolled the aisles of Murukai Japanese Food Market, looking for my favorite tea. I found it, Genmaicha, a curious creation of green tea and toasted rice. Slangly, it is known as popcorn tea, due to (yes) its popcorn-like flavor.
My day would not be complete without some gyozas, so those too went into my basket. And I ambled over to the already long line. Still in uniform, I did not rate a second look from anyone. Naval Air Station (NAS) Miramar sat once right ’round the corner and before the Marines thieved ‘er from us, hardy naval folks were a common sight. Now she is known by the scalawag name of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar (MCAS Miramar), but that is a scuffle for ‘nother blogpost. I must confess my crime, free my gravy’d conscience from the cellar where it has cowered for the last three hours. Cold, shaken, and stunned.
To the front of the line I go: my tea and my beloved gyozas. The kid running the cash register did not offer me a bowed konichiwa like the last customer. Rather I get a casual: Good afternoon, Chief.
Now let me make it perfectly clear, the Chief I thought he was referring to, was the Chief employees all over the States sling, along with: boss, pardner, and hoss.
It did not dawn in my military mind that he thought me a dues-paying member of the Goat Locker. No Sir. I mean, No Chief. Never did that bright 100 Watt lightbulb (an old-school one without all the mercury) flicker magically above my shaved head. At least, not for the first two seconds.
What made my crime worse: I liked it. Is that so wrong? I smiled when the lightbulb finally sparked on. And when he told me: Have a good one, Chief, I did not (in good conscience) correct the boy. No, I sauntered out of Murukai Japanese Food Market: me, my popcorn tea, my gyozas, and finally a grin. Some smooth criminal I was. Guilty of stolen valor. Now which Goat Locker do I need to turn myself into?
I have been privileged to be part of some truly motivated divisions, both when I was enlisted and as an officer. And the common denominator was a great Chief. There is no substitute:
I’ll never forget my first division as an officer. There had been a suicide 14 months prior to me joining. And my Chief and I always worked to keep things upbeat. We PT’d the heck out of those Sailors. You can’t be depressed if you are giving it all.
I turned to my Chief one day and said: Chief, you are retiring, you got to download your brain for me.
With a twinkle in his eye and a defeated shrug, he said: I don’t know sir, I’m doing the best I can!
A great Sailor and Chief. I was his retirement officer (and his wife’s, two for the price of one) the following year. I would say the Navy is one Chief down, but that was years ago. And we’ve healed.
Coastie, a retired Coast Guard Chief, related this reminiscence of his time in the service:
“When I retired, I did not want much of a ceremony. I am a low-key kinda fella. But Coast Guard Regulations actually require a retirement ceremony (I looked it up to be sure) so I made an accommodation with my command.
My ceremony was underway, the day before we pulled into my last port. I wanted it as simple as possible. And it was.
The one thing I was sure to avoid was the long retirement speech every veteran has heard too many times. I didn’t know what to say until I recalled the decommissioning of the CGC Morro Bay (WTGB 106). It is a very poignant experience to send a ship to sleep. And I thought it a good source for my retirement speech:
In 1998, I decommissioned the Cutter Morro Bay. During the ceremony, each department head had a script to read when we reported to the Captain.
Mine was: Operations Department reports all rations have been dispensed, the cannons spiked, the navigation lights extinguished and the chronometers allowed to wind down.
I don’t have a lot to say here today that would beat that.
My rations are gone; no longer will the Coast Guard feed me. My cannons are spiked; no longer am I a warrior. My nav lights are extinguished; I will go to sea no more. My chronometer has wound down, my time is done. I thank you all.”
Thanks Coastie! I have served in nearly every single job in a retirement ceremony: MC, flag-boy, award-boy, usher, and retirement officer, among others. And that speech strikes me as one of the best I have heard. Just the facts. And then out.
As is usual, I publish military tales as part of the Next Great Military Blogpost project. Send ’em if you got ’em. . .