An Officer and A Gentleman

An Officer and A Gentleman

By: Garland Davis

I met a few bad officers and many good ones.  I recall two who were really fucked up and tried to pass off their screw-ups onto their enlisted subordinates. There was an ATF, home ported in Pearl.  The leading Commissaryman and Supply Division LPO was an MS1.  He told me that in the absence of a Supply Corps Officer, one of the other ships officers is assigned a collateral duty as the ship’s supply officer.  The Communications Officer, an Ensign, was assigned as Supply Officer. The ship was in a yard overhaul and scheduled for REFTRA afterward. 

Division officers were told to update their Watch Quarter and Station Bills.  The Ensign did so and failed to assign a cook to the Galley as a GQ station.  The CS1 went to the Ensign and told him that one of the cooks should be in the Galley for GQ.  The Ensign jumped down his throat, telling him, “I am the Supply Officer, I will decide on GQ stations, you are just a cook and have nothing to say about the manner in which I run this division.” My friend gave him an Aye Aye sir and said no more.

During REFTRA, GQ was scheduled twice a day for the first week.  The first day at sea, GQ was passed shortly after 08:00.  All the cooks left the Galley and went to their assigned stations.  GQ secured at 10:45 and “Dinner for the Crew” was passed at 11:00.  There was nothing prepared for dinner.  The Ensign storms into the Galley and confronts CS1 telling him that he is being placed on report.  The steward comes and tells CS1 that the Captain wants to see him.  He explained to the C.O. and XO what had occurred.  The Watch Quarter and Station Bill was immediately re-written by the CS1 and the Ensign was relieved of all duties and sent ashore by the CO.  I guess this was the proverbial “Last Straw.”

I am all too familiar with another incident.  It was after the CS and SD ratings became the MS rating.  As the senior MS, I had duties other than food service.  The Wardroom Mess Attendants and non-rated MS’s were required to clean stateroom and carry officer laundry to and from the laundry.  The officers made their own bunks and stowed their gear.  I had the responsibility to conduct periodic inspections of staterooms for cleanliness.  I had been tasked by the XO to report to him the officers who were not making their bunks and were leaving their gear adrift.

The ship was scheduled for an SRF Yokosuka availability after an IO deployment.  We had about two weeks to Singapore, an operation with the Aussies, and a stop in Subic before Yokosuka.  All divisions were to have work requests ready by departure from Singapore.  The CPO Mess and the mess decks were crowded with Chiefs and LPO’s writing work requests for needed work.  No one wanted to be writing work requests instead of enjoying liberty in Singapore. We completed the deployment and entered Yokosuka.  SRF came aboard with approved jobs to be completed.  There were no work requests for R-Division.  The Cheng was upset and called the Ensign R-Div Officer on the carpet.  The Ensign had taken leave in Singapore and had met the ship on arrival in Yoko.  He told the Cheng that he had instructed the HT1 to submit the work requests.  The HT1 swore that he had submitted the work requests to the Ensign prior to the ship’s arrival in Singapore.  There were a number of us that recalled the HT1 sitting in the Mess Decks writing work requests.  The Ensign charged HT1 with dereliction of duty and he was reduced to HT2 at Mast.  He swore that he had written the work requests and submitted them to the Ensign. .

A few days after Mast, I was inspecting staterooms.  In the Ensign’s room there was an extra two drawer filing cabinet lashed to water lines and a wire-way.  I told the mess attendant to untie the cabinet, move it, and lash it to the foot of the bunks.  When we moved the file, a sheaf of papers bound together with a large paper clamp fell from behind it.  I looked at them and realized that they were the missing R-Div work requests.  I carried the work requests to the XO and told him where I had found them.  The XO and I went to the CO’s Cabin and explained it to him.  The CO immediately reinstated the HT1.  As for the Ensign, The captain put him on the pier. I have no idea who was on the receiving end of that transfer, but I sure felt sorry for the poor bastards.

The rest of the officers that I recall were first rate. They were professional and competent. I have been proud of the quality of individuals, officer and enlisted, with whom I rode Haze Gray Steel in the Pacific Fleet. This is not patronizing bullshit… At this stage of the game, honesty doesn’t bring special liberty or constitute ass-kissing.

There were two kinds of officers… The ‘engaged’ and the ‘disengaged’. Some officers, for very understandable reasons, maintained their distance from those of us who berthed below decks. To them, the old adage ‘familiarization breeds contempt’ or at the very least an erosion of awe and respect forced the situation.

Looking back, I find that to have been bullshit. Through the hindsight of my almost seventy-two, years, I realize that I respected ‘engaged’ officers the most. An officer who was not above dealing with subordinates on a personal level. An officer who would extend the hand of personal friendship and lead by virtue of the reciprocal respect generated by the concept of working and living as a team. The idea that someone has to ‘call the shots’ principle you learn on baseball diamonds and football fields of elementary and high school. Things you learn from Boy Scout leaders and Safety Patrol Captains your own age.

An ‘engaged’ officer is one who does not feel that having a cup of coffee in the CPO Mess or the crew’s mess or visiting a sick sailor in the berthing compartment will forever scar them with a scarlet letter or the unforgivable sin of fraternization with the untouchables. You never forget that kind of leadership.

You remember the time everyone on the ship was out of cigarettes during operations in and out of Viet Namese ports with no chance to buy smokes and the Warrant who passes his pack of cigarettes around, smiles and says, “You guys will probably get lung cancer from this.”

“Aye Bosun, we’ll try like hell. I’m buying the first one when we hit Sattahip”

“If that’s the case, Stew, I’m drinking it.  Now let me tell you about Barcelona.”

Then there was the time you are laying on your back in the Naval Hospital, Yokosuka with IV tubes in your arm a catheter stuck in the end of your dick and a drain running from your nose.  You have had one-third of your stomach removed because of peptic ulcers that came close to killing you.  You knew that the ‘Old Man” didn’t have to come visit you. That a man in his position must have things a hell of a lot more important in his life than visiting some ‘flat on his back Chief Stewburner  in a place, stinking of ether and alcohol.

There were other very fine officers who would not have done that for a variety of very valid reasons, but you do not get a great feeling when you recall their names and faces.  You just remember they were damn competent officers, good men who chose to keep their distance and maintain some kind of mystical social separation.

I am not one who cared for or resented an arms-length relationship with certain individuals who took their meals in the Wardroom. I believe that if a man is honest in his belief and conducts himself in accordance with what he feels is correct; then good men are obligated to accord him respect.

We have all seen officers’ hats on tables in exotic locations, not normally frequented by preachers (although I have bumped into a few Chaplains in some rather strange places.) We have seen coats with shoulder boards hanging on hooks in certain establishments. You know those that sold intimate companionship with the meter running. I am sure each of us has assisted an officer back to the ship when he was “under the weather.” It all came down to a shipmate helping a shipmate.

When our DD-214s turn yellow, our hair turns gray and we start scheduling yearly prostate exams, we all become family and on a first-name basis. We piss in the same head, eat at the same tables and wear the same kinds of obnoxious “old man’s clothes.” We tell lies and put our arms around each other’s shoulders and laugh.  Laugh about things nobody else will understand. We introduce the women in our lives to each other and we are family.

And, you know what? The God Damn world maintained its scheduled rotation and did not fall off its axis.

 

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A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.

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