An OCS Failure

When I went through Officer Candidate School (OCS), I refused to let myself think of failure. Since I was enlisted before I arrived, I would have returned to my enlisted community if I had gotten kicked out. And then my detailer would have his way with me. Any “hot-fills” he had trouble filling would of been mine for the involuntary taking. Here is the story of Greg Fisk, an Officer Candidate who did not make it. He lasted less than a week. And while I went through OCS in Pensacola, he was at the new OCS in Newport, Rhode Island. Not an impressive showing, but he was honest with his retelling of the experience. You gotta want it. . .

Wrapped in a Flag

I should not be so snorty at the fate of the two middle Belarusian honor guard soldiers draped in the Belarus state flag and the Minsk city flag below. It happened to me at OCS. A flag slowly wrapped my face and I stood for the whole ceremony like that. Still. . . heh heh.

The Belarus state flag, left, and the Minsk city flag cover the faces of Belarusian honor guard soldiers as they attend the celebration of the anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Minsk, Belarus.

Special M1 Garand for Sale

I can’t look at an M1 Garand without thinking of my Drill Instructor yelling at us during rifle drill. My M1 at OCS had a trigger problem and no matter my tinkering, I could not get it to snap back perfectly. I’ll bet this beaut, awarded by the SecNav in 1997 to the winner of the All-Navy Match, has no such problems:

M1 Garand, a Navy Trophy Rifle awarded by the SecNav

This auction is for an M1 Garand in 30-06 Caliber that was awarded by the Secretary of the Navy to the winner of the “ALL NAVY MATCH” in 1997. The rifle was shipped to the winner from the the CRANE Naval Weapons Center. The documentation will be included, the documents are, the Shipping Document, the registered Mail Receipt and the Data Sheet. The rifle was manufactured by SSpring Field Armory in 1953, the barrel is marked SA 5-53. There is NBO trophy plate attached to the rifle, this was kept by the winner and never attached.

Current bid is $1,300, but the reserve has not been met.

An Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Korea, and Vietnam Vet

United States has many places for retired folks to stroll out their golden years in peace. Presumably, these neighborhoods are cheaper, with available services nearby. If you are retired military, especially Navy or Marine Corps, many of you’all don’t leave San Diego or the Norfolk area.

In my gym this morning, I had three conversations with retired vets. One was a Surface Supply Corps guy who taught at the local high school. He felt embarrassed because even though he had retired many years ago, he asked me if I was in the Marines or the Navy. I smiled and said, Navy, and took it as a compliment. Maybe you Leathernecks might be insulted. Nothing I can do. Blame the Supply Corps and their weak uniform recognition.

The second was a quiet, elderly man. He had been stationed at the ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) base over in Point Loma. You know of it? he asked.

Yes sir, my dentist is over there, I said before leaving him and the locker-room.

And the third veteran was one I had chatted with a couple of times in the past. He looks about 65 years old. Except, he fought in World War II, after enlisting at age 16 in the Marine Corps. I’m 86, he had told me once.

I see him working out on one of the machines as I head toward the door.

Hey sir, save some weights for us, you can’t lift ‘em all!

He laughs. Keeping my weight. I was 123 pounds when I joined up. Not anymore. My rifle and bayonet were way over my head when held to my boot.

Marine Corps, are you not the Department of the Navy? I ask with a wicked grin.

He shoots me a look of miscomprehension, before boxing my arm. I guess so.

How long did you stay in the Marine Corps?

Three wars, he replies. (Not, I retired. Not, I did my hitch. Not, I did twenty years. But, three wars.) World War II, in the Pacific, I was shot twice. Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal. Korea, and of course, Vietnam.

I look at my watch. I am late for work, I had lifted weights after cardio. Still, I listen as he continues.  You hear all these guys saying they have PTSD? I had it. We all did. You better not creep up behind me. It’s all part of war. 

How was coming back home?

Different in each one. They offered me a slot at OCS when I was in Korea. I was a Staff Sergeant then. I could sign on as an officer, but I would have returned to Korea.

You still can, we need you!

He laughs. Me and this other guy both got talked to. He took it, and retired a Major. I passed and retired a Sergeant Major. I’m just a guy. A Sergeant. I didn’t have no education. I was happy.

You miss it?

Yes I do.

How was Vietnam?

What you read and what you hear are nothing close to what happened. You know Tet?

Sure.

I was there. Our first day was rough. But after that, we kicked the dog-crap out of the VC. Sixty, Seventy thousand dead. Or more. There was none left for us to fight.

I have always thought you all deserved better when you returned.

Yeah. Maybe. I never got called nothing. No baby-killer. None of that. Maybe it was my look. I would’ve beat the pis out of anyone that did.

Sir, I say. I got to run to work. Thanks for chatting.

He shakes my hand and off I push through the doors out into a San Diego morning. I am late. But it was worth it. I don’t get to speak to heroes like that every day.

Oddly, enlisted Sailor, Marine, Soldier, or Airman is listed as the third-worst job by CareerCast.com to hold. In my eyes, most polls, lists, and surveys reflect bias:

In their annual career survey, an online job bank ranked one of the nation’s toughest, proudest and most critical occupations as the third-worst job to have: sailor.

Sailors stand at attention while manning the rails on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) as the ship pulls out of Naval Station Everett, Wash.

In fact, the CareerCast.com survey didn’t appear to appear to distinguish between the services; the category was named “enlisted military soldier,” but the photo accompanying it features four models in Navy uniforms (BDUs, crackerjacks, flight suit and summer whites). Only lumberjack (first place) and dairy farmer (runner-up) edged out enlisted as the worst-of-the-worst. (To be sure, newspaper reporter was not far behind at fifth-worst.)

To any young man or woman considering enlisting, I can tell you that joining the military is the challenge and time of your life. You can take my word for it or I can introduce you to an old Sergeant Major, the kind of man maybe we don’t raise anymore in this country. He’ll tell you, he wants back in. . .

Psyop-ing Yahoo Answers

Yahoo Answers is a charming site. A forum where newbs can ask questions and get mostly good answers from the opposite of themselves. Folks with good gouge. Unfortunately, the advice is not always perfect:

Q: What key differences between the Navy and Air force in regards to being an officer?

I am a senior in University, I am interested in joining either the Air force or navy, I have already examined benefits and life styles.I am interested in learning more about the process of going through OCS in the air force and navy. Are all OCS schools the same amongst all military branches?

A: i was in the military and i really just want to tell you please please dont do it. you dont know what they’re really trying to do. i know your little recruiter buddy wont tell you this but these people are bad. BAD. they will not inform you of things and they do things to break you down (more than i can explain here, not normal things) and they dont build you back up like they say they do. please understand i’ve been there and i know. please please dont go. you’re so much better than them. you’re not a slave. you’re a goddamn human being, and you have worth. please dont let them destroy you, because as soon as you sign that paper at meps, its over.

Heh heh. You are a g–d–n human being! The funny thing is that the answerer puts in her lousy response to dozens of questions. She hardly even changes it. Poor girl, she was destroyed by the military. By BAD people. . .

Errrrr-rah Marine, Cobra Blood!

Navy OCS, Pensacola Florida, ’05- We are standing in formation. Our drill instructor is talking to us in his usual low growl. Since I am tall, I’m in the back. And I can see everyone in front of me. Not that I look anywhere, but dead ahead. I ain’t dumb.

A supply officer candidate in the first row turns ever so slightly to watch a garbage truck pass. Big mistake. Our DI is all over him. Oh, so you like that truck?

No, Sir!

I think you do, Crazy. Tell him you like his truck.

I like your truck, the candidate says in a loud voice.

You had better yell there, Candidate. 

I LIKE YOUR TRUCK!

That’s right. Now all you, get in the grass and push. 

Into the crabgrass we run and crank out pushups. The grass’s rough, but after you get accustomed to pushups, and we are accustomed, they click by like clockwork. I even smile. To myself. While thinking: I like your truck!

Why, you might ask, would our DI be so concerned about eyeing a truck? Because it shows lack of focus. And focus is often required for survival in hairy situations:

Uncle Sam wants you — to drink snake blood, eat bugs and slaughter chickens.

A U.S. Marine drinks cobra blood Monday during a jungle survival program as part of Cobra Gold 2012, a combined military exercise at a navy base in Sattahip, Thailand.

U.S. Marines participating in jungle survival courses in Thailand are captured in a series of startling photos drinking cobra blood, noshing on native insects and beheading at least one live chicken as part of an annual training exercise with allies in Asia.

Some 13,000 soldiers from 20 different countries participated in Cobra Gold.

Known as Exercise Cobra Gold, the event brings together some 13,000 soldiers from more than 20 nations, including the U.S., Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea.

Get some. Cobra Blood.

What Not To Do Around Your Admiral

One of the joys of a semi-anonymous blog: I can share the following story. Of a near catastrophe I almost caused around our Admiral.

Rear Admiral (Upper Half)

But the Navy brought me up right. I learned me some of ‘dem fancypant manners at OCS. And if there is one thing I know about being a gentleman, we should not jump right into the entree, without first traipsing through the lesser courses.

Let’s start with a brief sidebar, a little Navy hors d’oeuvres: a 2-Star Admiral is referred to as a Rear Admiral (Upper Half) and is abbreviated RADM. While a 1-Star is a Rear Admiral (Lower Half) and written as RDML. Three quick appetizers from the genius wikkans from wiki-land:

1. The uniformed services of the United States are unique in having two grades of rear admirals.

2. U.S. Code of law explicitly limits the total number of flag officers that may be on active duty at any given time. The total number of active duty flag officers is capped at 160 for the Navy.

3. By tradition in the United States Navy, when an officer is selected or appointed to flag rank all current Navy flag officers write the selectee a letter congratulating him or her for attaining flag officer status.

Why am I throwing out random, admirable facts? If it were not already obvious, I have a near train-wreck to recount. And the said accident is of my own doing. And I am stalling. For time. As in: trying to buy some. You rolling your eyes at me? Alright, let’s get right to it.

It is in the afternoon. Lunch has been had and I am walking across base. My Senior Chief and I are heading off to some briefing, the topic which long ago escaped me. Perhaps: alcohol awareness (ie: remembering where you stashed your Schlitz.) Or maybe: suicidal signs (which may push me towards that option, should I have to sit through another training on it.)

Black Navy Pump

My Senior Chief is a female and she wears pumps. (Ladies: I think that is the correct term, right? The dress heeled shoe? How did y’all come to call them pumps anyway?) When she clomps down our cement hallways, she is like a drummer-girl. You always know far in advance when she is about to arrive. Her pumps rat-ta-ta-tat in front of her minutes before she does.

The wide corridor is nearly deserted. I duck into the head while Senior runs back to her desk to grab her forgotten notes. (The head is the restroom, the latrine for all you ground doggies.) Senior’s heels echo from way down and I decide to surprise her as they get closer. I dry my hands and wait inside the doorway.

Grover: Hi Senior Chief!

My genius plan? To stick my head out sideways and in my best Grover voice (of Sesame Street infame) say: Hi Senior!

Before you grumble anything about propriety and the uniform, know that I am super-serious about most Navy matters. And the unique nature of our job, in that we have very few junior Sailors around, has brought me and Senior closer together than might normally be the case. Do I need any more excuses for my impending Thomas J. Foolery?

I am standing in the doorway, cuing up my Grover voice. His is a very throaty accent and I roll my tonsils out like a baker, revving them up. Something, some tiny filter, reminds me that I am a Lieutenant, not an Ensign anymore. And I don’t say anything. I actually hold back, stepping mutely out into the hallway.

Guess who marches by, in serious chatter with a Captain? Our Two-Star. He shoots me a quick, stern look. I greet him. Good Afternoon, Admiral. 

Afternoon, he replies, continuing on. He knows me. I have been in his office a couple of times. Not for any infractions mind you, just Navy things. Also, he pinned me when I got my warfare device.

Senior clatters up, fifteen feet behind them, her shoes echoing unabashedly. Senior, I have a hell of story to tell you, I begin.

There you have it. My almost train-wreck.

Let’s stick with the topic of Navy brass. Our new Chief of Naval Operations recently put out a video clip titled: Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert’s first message to the fleet.

The CNO, Admiral Greenert, with Jimmy Buffet

In my eyes, he was solid in his address. (Obviously, I would not say anything if I thought otherwise.) He comes across as real. And earnest, rather than pre-packaged.

It also does not hurt when a contractor, an old sub guy, tells me him and the CNO were LTs together sometime during the last century. Anyone who was once an el-tee is alright in my book.

I can say more on his delivery, his content, his demeanor, but I will let the salty YouTube commenters (with whom I may/may not agree with) have the last hurrah:

huskie767 said: Why do all commissioned naval officers go out of their way to insert the word “diversity” into their remarks? What does diversity have to do with anything? You don’t win wars because you have a black, white, yellow, green or gay person on your team. You win because the best are being the best. As CNO, Greenert should know that. I wonder why he suggest otherwise?

Admiral Greenert, New CNO, Old Sub Guy

Ak74fu2000 said: MILITARY QUOTE OF THE DAY:”When I joined it was illegal to be gay, then it was legal, but you couldn’t talk about it. Now it’s legal. I’m getting the hell out before it’s mandatory!

RickRMiller said: Bravo Zulu, sir! I really appreciate the fact that you state clearly that ours is a fighting navy.

Three Petty Officers of the United States Navy

October in Georgia and the leaves know it and turn yellow. They pile in bored rows along the curb waiting for the wind, the streetsweeper, anyone. I crunch through a pile down the path to work. It is my last day as an enlisted Sailor. I am a Petty Officer Second Class and I’m shorn like a lamb. Officer Candidate School will surely bring yelling and I don’t want my hair to be the cause.

Three people must sign my check-out sheet before I can load up my car. One Soldier, a Chief, and then my Leading Petty Officer, my LPO.

I sit down next to the Soldier. He is 24 and can’t find any part on his body with both hands. Or one hand. He has no leadership ability, but I don’t say anything and nod as he talks to me.

I give this speech to all the guys who head off to OCS after being enlisted.

I want to choke him out and just tell him to sign my sheet. But I don’t. He outranks me and I listen. One intention in getting my commission is to avoid being lead by clowns of his caliber.

I don’t remind him of the time he tried to call me back into work after I had gone home. But he had dialed the wrong person with my same last name. He settled on writing me up for an Article 92 violation. Failure to follow a direct order. I refused to sign it, telling him I wanted to speak to my Chief. He backed down.

He is wet behind the ears and his failure is that he does not know he is green. Nor that I ran an extra twenty miles a week to work off his crap.

Finally, he initials my check-out sheet and I plod up the stairs to my Chief. She is new to her rank. And she too wants to give me a speech. Hers I will listen sincerely to, without clenching my jaw.

Remember where you came from, Petty Officer NavyOne, she said.

You bet, Chief.

She passes me my Evaluation (known as an Eval.) My scores are the highest they have ever been. Apparently, getting selected for OCS is good for my career.

And don’t forget who runs the Navy, Petty Officer.

I nod. I know, Chief. Chiefs run the Navy.

You will do great at OCS. She stands, shakes my hand and I leave. Into another room, I duck. My LPO has a big mug of coffee in his hand.

You talk to Chief yet?

Yes, CTR1. (CTR is his job in the signals field. The 1 is for Petty Officer First Class.)

Don’t forget who runs this here place.

Yeah, Chief already ran me through it. Chiefs run the Navy.

He snorts into his coffee and stares at me incredulously. Hell no. Chiefs don’t run the Navy. The First Classes run the Navy. Chiefs sit on their asses and eat donuts.

I laugh, he signs my sheet, and I am off. Through the door, away from work, outside, over the leaves, to the barracks. Maybe I sleep before hitting the road to Pensacola. Maybe not. But OCS comes and goes. I am stronger and smarter and then I roll through three ranks, Ensign, JG, and then Lieutenant. And suddenly, I have a whole handful of First Classes working for me.

Two in particular shine. One is rough around the edges. A pirate. Lives on coffee and cigarettes. He has been through one of the rougher deployments in the last 15 years of our Navy’s history. I can’t say much else on that.

But behind his lack of polish, is a professional. He spends his off-time, when we are not flying, studying his target, learning old gear again. For months, he is stand-offish with me. He is also friends with my old LPO. One day we are airborne and he laughs his smoker’s rasp.

You know what sir, I think we are going to get along.

I too laugh. And he is no longer stand-offish.

The other First Class is the opposite. He is polished. Confident. Lazy. He strolls into a video-teleconference (VTC) twenty minutes late one morning. And we are almost ready to go on camera, back with our home unit. I am usually even, calm. Most times. But that day, I growl at him. The Chiefs around me smile. He apologizes and it is over before it even began.

Another night, we are waiting in our crew van for our meal box before we fly a night mission. It is just him and me. And he raises the topic of his recent Eval. It is good, high even. He wonders how to get higher.

Petty Officer, you are lazy and feel entitled. You have the talents to be the top guy here easily. But everything is always about you, I tell him

He agrees with me. Sir, I am just surprised I am ranked so high. Really tells you about these other guys, huh? 

Maybe. I switch the conversation.

I leave that theater and go to my new command. During the next Chief’s cycle, both the Petty Officers make Chief.

Who would you rather have working for you, the cigarette-eating Chief with jagged edges or the entitled, talented glory hound? The latter could be one of the top Chiefs at any command he goes to. And the former will have his bosses wondering what hole he crawled out of until they see him work. And then they will search for the same hole to get more of him.

Presentation versus competence. It is slippery slope. When deployed, we truly need the competent, rough one.

But at a shore station, guys like that have to brief seniors and be more staff-like. The other Chief might shine there. Still, I can’t stand entitlement, so maybe I want our coffee-veined Chief, the Sailor’s Sailor, at my shore station too.