14 August 2012

This Pretty Much Sums It Up

I am walking away from the Navy knowing two simple things:
  1. The submarine force is still the military's best of the best with so many promising, intelligent and progressive men and women leading the charge for a better, safer America.
  2. We need to not be doing this shit anymore because the people leading those wonderful people are, well, not really helping the needed advancement. 
I need to back this story up a bit and point out that a major theme of many discussions around this house is the generation gap between those who are currently commanding submarines and those who are serving as department heads.  The culture clash between all the people left behind during the "dot com" era and the millenials is crushing the submarine force. The common theme amongst all the department heads and junior officers getting fired is that the commanding officers are not doing a great job leading*.  Most served commanding officers (those who did their tours and have since moved on) say they would never fire anyone because it would call into question their leadership abilities if they couldn't make someone learn to do the job right.  Currently serving commanding officers seem to be taking more of an "if I fire anyone who makes me look bad, no one will ever know I am doing badly.  Right?  RIGHT?" approach.  One of our friends even had his CO deliver a lecture in which he made no bones about how expendable all the department heads are and he can replace anyone, at anytime, and all would do well to remember that before they do anything that makes the boat, and by extension him, look bad.  This weeks after being the second boat on the CT waterfront to fire an Engineer within days of passing the most rigorous engineering department exam the military has to offer. Talk about your hostile work environments.

This all came to somewhat of a head when Vice Adm. John M. Richardson held an "open spouse call" for wives to come and chat and ask some questions.  I was unable to attend (my husband had to work late because hey, what do you know, a Vice Admiral was visiting, the irony is palpable), but I hear it was quite the show.  These women wanted to know what was happening and why their spouses no longer had job security and just what was going to be done about it.  Poor Mr. Richardson...probably should have seen that one coming, I certainly did. If these women can notice in a matter of weeks that something is rotten in Denmark, why has it taken the Navy years, and a few thousand tanked careers, to notice? I don't think our dear Vice Admiral appreciates that line of questioning. Most submarine higher ups don't like being challenged especially by prissy little women, an important lesson learned during my brief stint as Ombudsman on our previous boat.  Since then things have been pretty ugly here on the waterfront. 

The grand finale came while we were out of town. I only learned about it today when normally I would have had the gossip way earlier.  A Commanding Officer was fired because he had an affair, got the girl pregnant and then, when he had to relocate/end it he....wait for it because you can't even make this stuff up...faked his own death.  Yeah, you heard me.  Faked. His. Own. Death.  All the details are here.

This is the kind of person that you routinely see serving as Commanding Officers in the submarine force.  This man's delusions of grandeur, clear personality disorder and general disregard for the lives of others perfectly sums up the traits displayed by many of the flailing skippers on the waterfront here in CT.   If a man thinks he can just shrug off a woman carrying his child with a poorly executed e-mail, it is not hard to see how he will fire as many sailors as is required to hold on to his job. If you will be a jerk for sex, you will be a jerk to the nth degree to keep your livelihood and reputation.  So thank you Mr. Ward for perfectly exemplifying everything I have been trying to articulate. 

The sad part about the situation is that change is coming and five years from now, the submarine force will be a whole new creature.  By then, the force will be exactly the kind of place that Chris would love to work.  Unfortunately, for now Chris can do more to make that happen from the outside than he can by trudging along inside the machine.  Our loyalty to submarines runs deep and true, but it is just too hard to fix a system while struggling so hard to survive within it.  My feelings on all this are, as illustrated by how much time I spend rambling about it all, mixed.  I feel sad that we are ending this phase, but so happy for our new plans and relived that we are no longer working in world where people like Mr. Ward are leading the charge. 

* I will concede here that why the current crop of captains feel this way is worth addressing. What kind of system places COs in a position where scrambling to fire scapegoats is the only way to ensure career advancement?  A really bad one.  


Alicen said...

You nailed it! We are living the good life right now (insert major sarcasm here) and basically the ENG position has very unrealistic expectations. For all they are expected to do it is simply not possible for one human being to do it and end up alive. The CO's of these boats only exacerbate the problem.

I think Brian may be safe but only because his CO has major PTSD and if he fired someone then the rest of the boat would start talking. Now this is rightfully so since he was almost blown up overseas by an IED. This being made worse by the fact that submariners can't be appropriately treated for anything since EVERYTHING is disqualifying. Heaven forbid we treat insomnia or depression rather than making a person suffer and spiral down into a blackhole, many of whom never climbed back out.

We are planning to high tail it out of the submarine community as soon as we possibly can. I really hope some major changes are coming for all the future submariners or the Navy is going to lose many of the good ones. It's really sad that a person has to go to work everyday debating whether to "quit" or hoping they are fired to end the insanity.

PS - Fake his own death, that downright crazy! Though it doesn't surprise me.