The military is a strange place for a civilian to find themselves. There are a lot of differences that I wasn’t expecting, even though I grew up in a military family. Both my father and his father spent over 20 years in the sea service, but they never used the lingo at home. A floor wasn’t a deck, and a wall wasn’t a bulkhead. To me, the Navy was about keeping the Russians from “sucking the paint off your house and giving your family a permanent orange afro.” I had only seen it from the outside.
My first command was made up of sailors and officers that were more or less just like me. We were all reservists, all did the same job, and all had the same sorts of backgrounds. College-educated, in our 30’s, and few of us had any prior military experience. Our job can best be described as “white-collar.” It involved computers and Accelerating Our Lives ™ one PowerPoint slide at a time. It wasn’t until I got to my second command that I saw the “real” Navy from the inside.
I was re-assigned to a squadron here in DC. The squadron was (roughly) half active duty and half reservists. Comparing it to my first assignment is nigh-on impossible. I’m not talking apples and oranges. I’m talking apples and car tires. Both are more or less round, but that’s about it.
Not long after I got there, one of the active duty sailors had gotten himself into a bit of trouble with the base police. I’ll just say that the phrase “resisted arrest” was used in describing his infraction, as was the word “alcohol”. Funny how those two always seem to go hand-in-hand.
Our CO threw the book at him. Busted down to third class, took some of his pay, and anything else he could think of. A hard man, he was. Hard, but fair. Any one of us would have received the same punishment.
The next week was our change of command, we got a new CO. The following month, the squadron was mustered in the hangar for quarters. The new CO told the assembled masses the details of what this sailor had done, and what the punishment from the previous CO had been. Then he said that due to the exemplary performance record of this sailor, he was re-instating him back to his previous rank, and removing all other restrictions.
It was at that moment I noticed that the guy in front of me was weeping. It was him.
To a civilian, this was all very strange. That sort of thing just doesn’t happen out there in suit-and-tie land. People you work with may get drunk and fight with the cops, but details are always vague, and everything you hear is through the office grapevine. The boss certainly doesn’t call an all-hands staff meeting to discuss the details. I can’t think of a single civilian job where a boss has that kind of power.
It was then when I realized just how much authority a military commanding officer has. Especially in the Navy. The buck stops with them, and they hold the lives of every sailor in their hands. If absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely, it sure as heck better be transparent.