Apr 02

Day 2 of Positive Impacts – CTISC Mike

When I was a young sailor in the United States Navy, I was a good worker, but a lousy sailor. My home life was not great, and it was impinging on my mental and physical health.  I have a natural tendency to do things well with autonomy, and reacting badly to micro-management, the SOP for the USN. I was also a pudge-ball who spent his entire military career in jeopardy of being ejected for being mildly outside standards. None of this make for a good sailor.

My life was made bearable, and my value as a human reinforced, by a chain smoking Senior Chief who had no reason to take notice of or interest in me. He was, as the military parlance goes, my sea daddy. His name was Mike, but I am not giving his full name for a number of reasons, one of which is national security. Another reason for withholding his name is that he was not the type of guy who would want recognition.  Finally, I don’t know where he is now.  I will tell you this, he was all that kept me same during some very dark days.

The first time I came to his attention was shortly after arriving at my command in Spain.  I was giving a task to keep me busy. See, my job was to go out to sea and do “stuff.”  When I was not at sea, I did “other stuff.” Lots of the other stuff was tedious.  In this case I was giving a task that was set to take a whole year or so.  Here is the declassified version: it involved other groups that hated our groups, mostly because we acted like drunk sailors when we were sober.  I had to make them happy, and against all odds I made them happy in about a month. It is one of my four proudest moments of my professional career. (The others are a managing a data center design, learning SQL programming in a day, and designing, writing, and deploying a custom help desk software)

Mike was a taller, leaner man- a skinnier Tom Skerritt from Tom Gun.  He enjoyed Marlboro Lights 100, Spanish Beer and getting the job done. He appreciated my skills with language, thought recognized I was capable in Russian, not excellent.  His Russian was excellent. I can’t give any examples, as the joke goes, without risking a $10K fine and 10 years in jail. Trust me, he was good. He took to coaching me as a sailor and protecting me when I was uneducable.

During my first year in the command, my recommendation for removed by the Command Master Chief who was a skeletor like gentleman who found body-shaming to be virtue, Now, honestly there were standards in place and I could not meet them consistently. In fact, I was gaining weight after starting shift work, becoming a father, and finding out what eating cheap, fresh foods in Spain were like. Something big happened in the Navy, and everyone was deployed. As the fat guy, I got to stay behind.

I moved back to day shift and found myself as the primary point of contact for the branch I worked. I replaced two senior chiefs, twelve LPOs, and a seven or eight senior seaman. I had under me, three seaman new to the command and working 8 hours shifts. My job was to train them, not let any balls slip, represent the branch with senior leadership, and replace everyone else. I did well and when I came back Mike praised me for my calm, collected success.

That was when the Navy tried to kick me out.

Mike found a solution.  For six months, rather than doing my normal job, I was to work with the Seabees. That’s a different story, but basically I was doing construction through the spring and into the summer.

During this time Mike met with me personally to check on how I was doing. He reminded me to keep up my technical skills, to get rest when I could. Like the rest to the time I worked for him, he provided clear, sharp advice that was not some sort of cookie cutter platitudes, but advice that was geared to me, because he took the time to know me. It was advice that would keep me sane despite the frazzling disconnect between the Navy and myself.

Eventually I returned to my job, got a few deployments in, and even made seaman of the quarter. When I returned to my work, I became a political animal. I cared less about getting the job than creating the illusion of getting the job done. My primary focus was being the Coffee Petty Officer. I was in charge of coffee. It gave me great visibility, but nothing to be proud of. Becoming Sailor of the Quarter. was a Pyrrhic victory because I didn’t earn it for the work I had done.  I earned it because I always made sure sugar was stocked along with non-dairy creamer.

Mike still, made sure I was the nominee. He wanted to recognize my real contribution. He wanted me to be proud of the command. But, but also, he wanted me to know something else.

When he re-enlisted and his move from Spain was imminent, he gave me advice that mattered most of all to me. He told me to get out of the Navy, grab my children, go get a job, and make a life for myself.  He was very clear that while I was an exceptional person in his eyes, I was in the wrong place.  He encouraged me emphatically that wrong choices can be replaced with the right choices.  Usually, I know, things are bad because of my own decisions.  Sometimes, he assured me, It’s not me…it’s just a bad fit.

So, Senior Chief Mike, is my influence today because when things are down, my direction is wrong, I know to ask myself what I can change, what parts are just a bad fit or external factors. I don’t always ask it, but I know it.

But, the real influence on me from Senior Chief Mike is this: reach out to people who are struggling, be there for people n need. Don’t stop just because it’s the persons own damn fault.



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