Monday, March 19, 2012


My faithful reader, Azulao asked me to ponder loyalty in a comment a few weeks ago. So here I ponder...

I have worked for bosses before that I felt disloyal to for whatever reason. Different leadership styles, different personalities, perspectives, whatever, have made it difficult to work for them. So this is not my first time toeing a line which I would rather draw another way. And certainly, these days, I'm still living it on a daily basis. There is an issue being debated right now that goes to the very core of one of my hard-learned, deeply-rooted institutional beliefs. Do we pay for it or not? Every atom of every molecule of every cell of every muscle and organ and bone in my body screams, yes, we ABSOLUTELY *MUST* pay for it. But the Boss has a different priority. 


"Aye, aye, sir."

And back I go to the drawing board for a stronger argument to use next time.

I think a lot of loyalty issues, both in my world and in academia, come down to altitude (tee hee...sorry). Or put another way by Chris McGoff in The Primes, "Big Hat-Little Hat." The Big Hat is worn by the Boss, looking at things from a 3,000 foot level (warning: I suck at aviation metaphors, so my apologies if I get the numbers should get the point anyway). The Little Hat is worn by the individual projects/programs/departments, looking at things from, if not the flight deck, than at least a low hover (see, better if we include a shipboard reference). Detail versus big picture; scope versus intricacy. Neither one is wrong or right, just different. And both have their necessary place.

Amusingly, I have an anecdote on nearly this very issue from today. I was in a meeting (shocker), trying to lead a couple of programs to the trough of shared responsibility. I think I even got them to drink...after pushing their heads into the water and forcing their lips open, figuratively speaking (seriously though, did we have to go Slide.By.Slide to make a decision?). But as the thirst for resolution to a common problem was slaked, one of the program reps decided to make a snarky remark about being forced to share the trough with yet a third program. Now I always know at least a second or two beforehand, when I'm gonna to say something I'm likely to, if not regret, at least wonder what the hell made me say it out loud. I got that feeling, and then said, "Sir, one team, one fight...we're all on the same side here." There was a moment of awkward silence from the other O4s and O5s in the room, and then the conversation moved on. But *really,* we (collectively, me included) spend too much time hidebound in our own opinions and tiny little worlds. I think there's another entire post on this little concept of being stuck in our comfort zone...but I'll leave it for another time.

But referring back to The Primes, I'll quote Chris's recommendation (pg 145-146 in my 2011 version published by Victory Publishers, NYC, NY):
"1. It's a right-versus-right dilemma, as opposed to right-versus-wrong.
2. The implicit dichotomy of this PRIME can't be eliminated, only managed.
3. People need to be clear about which hat they're wearing when they speak.
4. It's fair to advocate for your LITTLE HAT but not to the detriment of the whole."
I think that there is a major difference between the military, especially the Coast Guard and the academic world. That is, the CG has a well-defined, concrete goal...whichever mission an individual joined to be a part of, search and rescue, law enforcement, national security, environmental protection...all we Coasties have a common goal. One Team, One Fight. 

I'm not sure the same can really be said of academia. What really is the goal of Universities? Is it teaching the students? The research being done? The prestige/reputation of the institution? Pleasing alumni with a popular sports program? Without that baseline commonality, people's interest diverge quickly and divisively into little kingdoms of influence which continually battle over the same resources.

A, I have no idea if I even came close to what you were talking about. I think it comes down to the fact that you have to believe in something to be loyal to it.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Very Good Day

I had A Very Good Day. It started with this morning's run (well, it actually started with a *looong* overdue conversation last night, but that...that story's just for the conversation's participants right now). I spent the entire drive in debating whether I should do the easy thing, and run on the treadmill, or take a chance, dare do something new and find my way outside to run along the waterfront. It looked like it would be warm enough and light enough to run outside. But I hadn't looked at a map of where to go, just had a general idea of where might offer a good trail. And oddly enough, I was a little intimidated by the idea of how the badge/building security thing worked going out the loading dock door. I decided that was a *lame* excuse for not taking advantage of light and temperate conditions. The guard looked a little annoyed at my uninformed fumblings, but I made my way out with minimal difficulties.

It was still pretty dark when I left the building, with the eastern sky barely shifting to deep purple. It occurred to me somewhere about half-way up 2nd St, that this really wasn't the best neighborhood and it probably wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done to be running in the barely-light by myself. I'll carry my knife next time. The waterfront was deserted, and the fish market quiet. I hung a left under the bridges, and took the path around to the Jefferson Memorial.

I haven't spent nearly enough time out in the history of this city, so I was gleefully delighted to find myself in the midst of three beautiful memorials on the banks of the Tidal Basin this morning. I paused for a moment to appreciate Jefferson, silhouetted against the sky streaked with the early pink and gold of dawn. Then I made my way, backwards through the FDR Memorial, so I saw Eleanor first in the "Fourth Term" section, then FDR in his wheelchair, and the fountain. I loved the weathered patina of this memorial. A little further on was the Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial, which I slowed to walk through because there were signs that said no running. And I wouldn't have wanted to run anyway...I would have missed the inspiring quotes along the marble sides that built to the mountain of despair, from which the stone of hope had separated.

As cheesy as it sounds, I walked out of that space refreshed and, (ugh, really?) rejuvenated.

The whole run was a good reminder that sometimes (lotsa times, I think -- many more than we usually realize), it's better just to dare.

The day in the office passed with a smile on my face. I even think I did a decent job on an analysis of a proposed initiative (though not without significant input from discussions with my sponsor and office-mate (two separate people) and the XO). And there was cake...from a birthday celebration for a couple of the ladies across the hall.

The only minor frustration with the day was leaving...lots of other folks in the office had huge worklists for a meeting planned for tomorrow afternoon. And as much as I wanted to and offered to help, there was really no way for me to usefully contribute. I finally decided the best way I could add to the effort was to get out of everybody's hair and go home...That made more sense when I said it to myself. Now it just sounds like a pathetic excuse to leave.

But, all in all, A Very Good Day.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

More Observations

Totally off-topic, but *way* more important than my silly ramblings: My thoughts are with the friends and family of CG-6535's crew, lost early last week in a crash in Mobile Bay, AL. I didn't know any of the four men, but I know people who know them...and any loss in a service as small as ours is deeply felt.

Shiloh Thomas over on, wrote an excellent piece on what the crash means to us...I'll let you read her words, because she did such an amazing job of summarizing pretty much exactly how I feel about it.

Rest in peace, brothers.

(PS--I've never met Shiloh, or whoever she is behind her pen-name, but I love, love, love!! her posts. Not only is she a great writer, she also has a strong sense of self and thoughtfulness that makes our junior enlisted ranks so much more powerful and effective. And I guess I'm more than a little jealous that she's operational :) I wish her the best success in her career, and just *know* she'll rock at whatever she does.)

I've been in the office for a month now. And I have a few more observations. First, my time horizon has changed. Used to be that I'd plan for the next patrol or the next inport...never more than three months down the line. And on the last couple of ships, never more than a month or two away (well, except for that whole drydock nonsense). Now, I'm staring at Two.And.A.Half.YEARS of the same schedule: alarm goes off at 0500, out the door by 0530, in the gym by 0600, cleaned up and at the desk by 0715. Leaving varies by an hour or two...anywhere from 1730 to 1930 pm so far. Get home, get dinner, fix breakfast and lunch up for the next day, clean the litter box, go to bed. Get up and do it all again the next day.

I tried meeting friends out once or twice during the week...just doesn't work. If I'm not asleep by 2100, the whole 10- to 12-hour workday turns into a complete torture session the next day. So any social life is relegated to the weekends...though thankfully I've got some friends that chat me up on facebook in the evenings so I don't have to live totally alone under my rock.

Two and a half years. The same thing. Day after day. How the *HELL* do people do this for lifetimes?

Don't get me wrong, I'm totally digging the job...just not the sameness of the schedule. Isn't there some opsec lesson to be learned here -- some need to vary your routine so the bad guys aren't able to get a bead on you. And it gives a whole new meaning to "working for the weekend."

Second, there's a whole new vocabulary. The three favorite terms I've noticed so far are:
--wirebrush: it means to dig into a statement made (usually by a program), looking for unstated assumptions, questionable data, faulty logic and lots of the time, just plain lazy analysis. This is what our office does. We wirebrush...everything. Ya know how you count the times a speaker says some catch phrase (I had a soil chemistry professor who used to always say, "in point of fact." Was distractingly annoying)? I'm preeeety sure if I counted how many times "wirebrush" was said in our offices, I'd have more hash marks on the page than I had quarters in the wardroom cuss jar on BOUTWELL.
As used in a sentence: XO to a Reviewer, "We need to wirebrush the numbers supporting that funding request, make sure the parts and people add up."

--good staff work: all that wirebrushing, applied with some sensibility, solid research and insightful recommendations will prompt the phrase, "good staff work." It's pretty much doing our job, but doing it really well.

--pink dot city: what happens in the building after 1601, and about 1400 on Fridays. We've got this cool little communicator system, which we use to IM with other people in our IT system, and each person has a little dot next to their name indicating their status: red means busy, yellow means away, green means available. Pink means logged out. Hence "pink dot city" means that the largest majority of people on any one email are logged out for the day.

Third, just a quick observation about meetings. I haven't been to a single meeting yet with less than a dozen attendants. And the most so far was a meeting I went to this least two dozen people, including about a half dozen admirals (totaling maybe eight or nine stars).

But this morning's meeting did solve a mystery for me. Late last week, I wore a short-sleeved shirt in the gym for the first time (and yes, I was pretty freaking nervous about it). I was on the treadmill when a distinguished-looking gentleman got on a stationary bike close by. Just by his appearance, I figured he was at least an O6 or GS15, but I didn't recognize him. I kept catching him looking at my arm...not rudely or anything, just kind of interested-ly. I almost asked him if he wanted to take a closer look at it after I got done running, but figured that might be rude on my part. So I just let it go. But he was at today's meeting and I found out who he is. His interest in my tattoo made a lot more sense after that.