Lex relates a tough story inside a great flying story. I’ve got a reaction to the nonflying part.
In nuke school the second time around, we had a guy in the class who was way older than us. Commander. His name was “Shifty”. It took a little while to figure it out, but eventually I learned that aircraft carriers are commanded by aviators, and that they get a speedy initiation into the Nuclear Brotherhood in order to understand what the carrier’s reactor officer is telling him about the engine on the ship. So we had Shifty, an “old guy”, in our class. Usually those guys are Anointed; if they survive the process of getting to the job, and they survive the preparatory tours and command tour on a carrier, they wind up with an admiral’s star. There’s no rule on it; that’s just how it is. There are a couple of jobs out there that just indicate Anointed status.
Shifty was a good classmate and nice to have among us prior enlisted ensigns trying not to sneer too loudly at the Direct Input Limited Duty Officers (college kids hired to teach at nuke school; LTs to us lowly ENSs). He hated hated hated nuke school–it is the antithesis of everything tactical air in attitude. We could empathize and would rather be somewhere else too.
Something odd was going on around Shifty. We were too busy to notice, what with post-Tailhook “sensitivity” sessions led by officers who we knew were in the strip club the night before, who didn’t exactly treat people with said sensitivity, and who spent the session pretty much gay bashing. Or so I heard–I found something else to do instead of wasting my time. (This was a time of big social change–my A school classes only a few years back had naked chicks on the presentations to “wake you up”, and first class petty officer instructors bragged about what they did on liberty in the Philippines and all that. That was going the way of the druggie and the casual drunk driver, but it took a while and some of the corrections were ham-handed.)
At the end of school in Orlando we moved to New York State for the second part of the training with a live reactor attached. I drove Shifty’s piece-of-crap K-car for him up to New York for a coupla bucks–one of those cars that talked to you, and had an unhappy talent for both Zen conundra (“
Your door. Is ajar.” It’s not a jar, it’s a door, isn’t it?) and inappropriate commentary (unhealthy speed on the onramp on NJ 17, pitch black, raining, slippery, is the wrong time to tell me “
Your windshield washer fluid is low“.).
Shifty passed prototype–just as bad a personal trial as nuke school, but a different flavor of suck–and I never saw him again. He was selected for O-6 before I met him–and I don’t think he ever put it on. He languished in D.C. until the bureaucratic game was done with him. I don’t think he was ever charged with anything, either.
This guy’s experience is what Lex is talking about. Mystery status, long Kafkaesque experiences, NCIS mistakes, some people doing bad things, some not; some people punished, some not–but no perceptible connection between bad thing and punishment. The system failed.
And it showed that failed status earlier, when the Iowa blew up.
I mentioned I went to nuke school in Orlando twice. The first time, I went as an enlisted man. One of my classmates, an electrician, failed out. Failure happened–I did the math once and noted that one third of my class didn’t finish every place I went until I went back to college. But this guy took it hard, as people do, and requested something East Coast.
My buddy was in that turret.
After some ridiculous investigation, some flag officers reported that a Suicidal Homosexual Sailor blew up the turret. Riiiight. A few weeks later Navy Times came out with a leaked ammo test that noted the propensity of World War Two-era gunpowder, rammed a little too hard, to blow up. Like in a 16″ gun turret, such as could be found on Iowa with my friend in it.
The investigating and correcting arms of the Navy failed miserably and caused more pain than was there in the first place.
Then came Tailhook. The Iowa explosion wasn’t bad enough to force change, but Tailhook was. Iowa involved many deaths. Tailhook involved very bad behavior, but no injuries, no deaths. Go figure.
And somewhere in those books and others lies the point of this story. Organizations change. The early 80’s Navy was coming out of the doldrums foisted upon it by the 1970’s–drugs, social change, drawdown, the Soviets, you name it. Zumwalt started addressing the ugliness. He forced some change at a fairly high personal cost–earlier this year I remember some retired one star bitching about how Zumwalt’s easing of haircut rules Ruined The Navy in a national magazine, decades later. Haircuts. Such a depth of feeling about that change.
Then came the young Secretary Lehman’s Navy, where big change was afoot. The times allowed rapid growth. Bad morale improved, then surged. Top Gun came out. Rickover got fired. Strategic Homeporting. Libya. Grenada. You name it. People in high places worked hard to find ways to break through the stultifying rules and get change made.
But after that change, while the organization was riding high, came massive ethical failure. By that I do not mean the incidents at Tailhook or on Iowa or any number of other things. I mean the followup. Bad things happen; what counts is how you deal with those bad things.
Now think of this paradigm in terms of Global Crossing or Enron.
I swear there is a parallel there. Change is good. Unrestrained change after a time is very bad. Ethics matter, even when saving the organization.
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