Response to a Comment

This comment from The Old New Englander deserves a post of its own.

Your profile says you’re a retired CPO, but that you don’t enjoy responsibility for others. I thought that’s what CPO’s did–surely you didn’t leave it to the officers.

The short answer is: I said I don’t enjoy it, not that I’m not willing to do it when necessary…and do it to the best of my ability. Leave it to the officers??? Please. Junior Officers are better educated recruits with an overly inflated sense of self-importance.

Ok. Anyone not interested in my history and philosophy of life can stop here because the long answer follows. Anyone who has ever read my stuff knows that I’m not capable of addressing a complex issue (heck, or a simple issue for that matter) without a dissertation so, consider this fair warning.

I was raised in a bit of a schizophrenic family. Not that my parents were dysfunctional or it was a bad family environment, just that my parents were VERY different in upbringing and attitude. My parents actually were very good at complementing each other, capitalizing on each other’s strengths and minimizing each other’s weaknesses. In short, I had a pretty darn good childhood. We weren’t rich and we weren’t coddled…in fact the farm life can be downright hard and unpleasant at times…but we were loved and cared for and taught how to be responsible, productive citizens. What more can you ask for?

Anyway, the primary difference between my parents was that my Mother was raised in a very devout Quaker family…which, of course, means that she was raised a pacifist. She is of the “violence is never the answer” mind. She hates confrontation and avoids it at almost any cost…even to the point of surrendering her own needs and wants in order to avoid having to defend them. She almost ALWAYS seems to be happy. She is, to this day, very meek and soft spoken, slow to anger nigh unto the point of impossible to anger, and quick with a smile and encouragement. She is a college graduate and received a Masters Degree from Ball State University. She was a school teacher for over 35 years and was very insistent that all of her children learn to use proper English, learn to read and write well and properly and learn how to act in polite company.

My father, on the other hand, was born to a dirt poor family in the mountains of Claiborne County Tennessee during the depression. His Mother and Father moved the family (all twelve of them) to central Indiana in 1938 in order to find work. He was raised in the standard rural southern tradition: Very religious, proud, independent, never asked for anything to be “given” to him in his life, slow to anger, but very strong in his convictions and opinions and not afraid to fight for his family or his honor. He did graduate from High School which was relatively rare for the area of the country he came from, but my Grandparents recognized the importance of education and insisted that their kids complete at least High School. Several of the younger kids went on to College and a couple even got advanced degrees. Pretty impressive for a poor family that many would consider “white trash”.

My parents never had any conflicts in front of us kids. They did all their arguing and compromising in private so that, when they confronted us with something, they presented a unified front.

There were some contradictions in cases where they hadn’t actually battled it out between themselves and there were some areas where they just agreed to disagree. For instance: If my mother saw us kids fighting, she would make us stop fighting and shake hands (or in the case of a particularly acrimonious encounter…even hug each other (shudder). My dad, on the other hand, would offer such helpful advice as “Ouch…have your momma put some ice on that after you’re done.” Or the classic: in a disinterested manner as he saunters past the altercation: “When you’re done there be sure to get them chickens fed.”

To get to the point: the combination of influences from both my parents created an interesting (and in my opinion, positive) confluence of personality traits in me and, to differing degrees, my siblings.

I am very independent and like doing things for myself. I don’t like asking for help and will avoid it at all cost, and I don’t like paying someone to do something that I can learn to do myself…even if I could afford to pay a pro. On the other hand, I’m always willing to help out when help is needed. Sometimes I get myself into too many projects and have to back off a little, but if I can, I will.

Because I’m very independent, I don’t like being told what to do personally. Don’t tell me how to live my life or how to complete a personal task unless I ask you for the advice. I’ve made it this far on my own, I must be doing something right. On the other hand, when doing things that affect other people. I very much want input because I’m afraid I’m not going to do it right for them. I want the other people involved to like the result and I’m very willing to sacrifice my wants and needs for the wants and needs of someone else.

So…if it’s a job I’m doing on my house, I don’t really care whether you like it or not, or think I should have done it [this] way…you don’t live there and I didn’t do it for you. But if it’s a job for the Church, or on someone else’s house…don’t expect me to tell you how it should be done…I’ll give you my suggestions if you ask, but ultimately, tell me how you want it done and as long as what you want is safe and legal, it’s going to get done that way regardless of what I think about it.

As a Chief, however, it was my job to direct, to teach, to take responsibility for others and to give orders. I didn’t enjoy it one little bit but I did it because it was a part of the job. I actually think that my traits made me a better Chief because, even though I was responsible for the decisions and for the work getting done, I was always very conscious of the effects that the orders I gave, and the manner in which I gave them, were having on my people. I wasn’t a tyrant and my people responded to that.

They knew that I would go to bat for them when necessary and they furthermore knew how much I hated doing so but would do it anyway. For that reason, they were willing to make personal sacrifices for “me” (really for the Navy that I was representing in my role) with the knowledge that, if it wasn’t necessary, I wouldn’t be asking (or demanding) it of them.

I wasn’t always the most “popular” with the upper chain of command and I wasn’t ever the most popular among my peers…but my shops almost ALWAYS exceeded the production of any other. More than once I had Chiefs that fit the typical Chief “my way or the highway” mold mention to me that they didn’t understand how I could get so much work out of my people when I “coddled” them like I did. My response was “the fact that you don’t understand it explains why you can’t achieve it.”

In other words, because I knew how to put the hammer down when needed, but was reluctant to do so unless necessary, I think I was a better Chief and a better Leader for it.

But I never did get used to the whole “responsible for the actions of others” thing. I don’t like it, I never have and I probably never will.

For those of you who have never been in the military, let me explain: No matter how many orders I gave to get things done. No matter whether my orders were followed to the “T” or completely disregarded, regardless of whether my subordinates did THEIR jobs or not: the success or failure of my shop was MY responsibility.

If we failed to meet a quota or goal, when I was called into the Maintenance Officer’s office to explain why, the reason wasn’t “because my guys suck.” The reason was “Sir, I failed to properly motivate and supervise my subordinates.”

If one of my sailors went out and got a DUI…when called into the MO’s office, it wasn’t because “Sailor Joe is a drunk and an idiot.” It was because “Sir, I failed to properly train my subordinate about the dangers of alcohol and the consequences of DUI.”

If the MO or any person over me in the Chain of Command had to speak to one of my people for any reason other than to comment upon the weather or present a well deserved award…I wasn’t doing my job.

Likewise…whether I had anything to do with it or not…when my crew did well, I got a lot of the credit. I could be at home in bed during the balls to 08 shift (midnight to 8:00 in the morning) while the Second Class Petty Officer supervisor was overseeing 5 technicians performing miracles. The next morning, when all the birds are flying, all the training is done and all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed…I would be the one hearing about what a great job my shop was doing. It was my job to pass that along to the troops and to put them in for awards as needed.

When we did exceptionally well on a mission, project, exercise or inspection. I’d put my people in for all the awards I could…but it was “unseemly” for several lower ranking people to get an award and not the leaders, so, not only would I get a higher award (that I didn’t deserve), but the Division Officer would often get an even higher award (which he didn’t deserve); but that’s just the way the military works. The Admiral ALWAYS gets the credit for winning the battles, even if he was miles and miles away, safe on his flagship.

As you can probably tell, that kind of flies in the face of my upbringing

I did what was necessary for the performance of my duties. I took my oaths and responsibilities seriously. I led my people when they needed leadership, taught them when they needed instruction, accepted responsibility when they blew it and graciously accepted (and passed on) praise on their behalf when they excelled.

In some ways it was very satisfying and fulfilling. But in some ways it made me very uncomfortable. I’m glad I did it. Second only to raising two kids (which, incidentally, is very similar in nature) being a Sailor and being a Chief were the most challenging and rewarding things I’ll probably ever accomplish in my life. But I don’t want to do it again. I just want to live my life and have people leave me alone to make my own mistakes…and I’m perfectly willing to extend that courtesy to everyone else.

For anyone patient and interested enough to slog all the way through to the end. Thank you for reading. I hope I answered the question adequately.

By the way, if you pay The Old New Englander a visit, be sure to check out his beautiful sailboat. He is justifiably very proud of her.


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