NAS Pensacola, Before Tropical Storm Isaac

If you’ve been to NAS Pensacola, perhaps “in town” for OCS, the mere sight of these buildings should give a pucker. If you’ve never been on-base, then enjoy this pleasant picture of Sailors working in advance of Issac, the hurricane:

Students at Naval Aviation Schools Command at Naval Air Station Pensacola carry sandbags in preparation for Tropical Storm Isaac.

Who Is Protecting Our Rights?

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently visited one of my favorite places: the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. He took some questions from the crowd. Trust a Marine to come up with a great one:

Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Hope Booth, a 16-year military veteran, asked Dempsey how to protect military personnel in family court issues.

Booth lost custody of her son in 2000 during a divorce custody hearing. She said that her frequent deployments and moves were used against her in court.

“They see us as unstable parents because we move around so much,” Booth said. “It’s kind of hard, because on one hand, the courts are telling us we’re unfit parents and not good enough to take care of our kids. On the other hand, they tell us we’re heroes because we’re protecting Americans’ rights and freedom. Who is protecting our rights and freedom when we come back?”

Dempsey, who eschewed the podium and spoke from the middle of the aisle, looked stunned.

This is something that needs to be addressed by someone. We need protection at home.

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.

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.