The Wheels and the Wheel Book
By: David “Mac” McAllister
I’m probably dating myself here, but when I entered the Navy, I never spoke to a Chief Petty Officer unless I was in the shits. Rarely did I speak to a First Class and thought that a Second Class had the authority of God. My LPO was a Third Class, and he took care of all my needs good or bad. I didn’t go on liberty with him and I damn sure didn’t call him Bill, Frank, Joe or whatever his first name was for two reasons, 1. It just wasn’t done and 2. To this day I don’t know it.
When I made Third Class, I was introduced to the proper use of the Wheel Book. It was a small green memorandum book issued by the supply system. Every petty officer had one. I was taught to create sections in the Wheel Book. One section was devoted to the men that worked for me. This is where I kept track, on a daily basis, of their performance (good and bad), job assignments and watch qualifications. Another section was for maintenance and cleanliness of my assigned spaces. I kept track of what work needed to be done as preventive as well as corrective maintenance, work that was assigned by my seniors, a record of work completed or deferred, and work that required outside assistance. The third section was devoted to supplies. What supplies were required to be on hand, what needed to be ordered, what was ordered, status and funding info.
As you progressed to higher pay grades, the Wheel book progressed as well in complexity and scope. An informal document at best, the only one that needed to make sense of it was the keeper. The Wheel Book was as much a part of the Petty Officer’s life aboard ship as his pecker was on liberty. The Wheels of the ship ran it from the pages of their Wheel books.
Then along came programs such as PMS, PQS, SFWL and POAM to name a few. These were designed to allow the junior officer to get a handle on the workings of his division and make accurate reports to a higher authority on what he thought he knew. However, the Wheel Book was still the underground nerve system and heartbeat that the petty officer ran things with and the dipshit Division Officer was often left, by his own doing, with the short end of the stick. Therefore, in an effort to meld the JO’s programs and the Petty Officers Wheel Books into a seamless system, the labor intensive programs were delegated to the Petty Officers. As usual, the shortcomings of the JO’s fell on the shoulders of the Wheels. Consequently, the added, unnecessary and unwanted administrative burden of these programs robbed and taxed the Petty Officers time preventing him from doing his main job – hands on supervision. Petty Officers, over time, morphed into being administrative leaders weakening their main roles of being working leaders and supervisors. Of course, this gave the JO’s more tea and crumpet time to compare lineal numbers, decide who gets to sit where at the wardroom table and other such promotionally important matters.
Often we wonder how did the Navy get to the point it is today. How did we become so focused on social and political correctness? Why has military decorum ebbed? Why is the Navy so top heavy while being asset short? Could the root of the evil forces at work today be traced back to the demise of the Wheel Book and the consequential neutering of the Wheels?