But we’re not ON a ship!

But We’re not on a Ship!

Perhaps nothing bothers me as much as that phrase. It usually comes about when I am trying to explain to a Sailor who has never been to a ship why they should do something a certain way.

“You need to accomplish task A before you start task B because on a ship, the situation will require it”

“But we’re not on a ship, this is shore duty, and this is easier”

Easier? Was boot camp “easier” than whatever you were doing before the Navy?

Easier? Is it “easier” to leave your family for an eight-month deployment on a ship or an eight-month deployment to the desert?

If the Navy was easy, it would be a pretty lousy place to work. In fact, I would estimate that if it was an easy job, our ranks would be littered with the laziest elements of our society rather than being filled with the very special group of volunteers who make it the finest naval fighting force in the world.

There is solid reasoning for applying sea-going concepts to shore based tasks. In fact, the Navy teaches this from day one. In boot camp, your barracks is called a ship. The mop is a swab and the floor is the deck. You sleep in a rack. You enter the building (ship) through the quarterdeck. You eat on the mess decks.

In “A” schools throughout the Navy, similar concepts are applied. A young Sailor’s vernacular will make a nautical shift from which it will likely never change, regardless of the length of their career. Many elderly Navy veterans of fewer than five years total service still use the “head”, go upstairs using a ”ladder” and correct verbal miscues with “belay my last”.

Why all the land-based focus on ship life?

To me, and I suspect to the folks who write Navy training doctrine, it is a matter of readiness. There are so many soul-deep transformations a Sailor must make from their first day assigned to a ship. It is not like anything else they will ever deal with. The very core of their decision-making processes will be flipped on its axis.  Their resolve, courage, commitment, professionalism and even integrity will be challenged more than they ever thought possible. To make those burdens easier to bear, a Sailor must understand the fundamental points of ship life before ever crossing the brow.

Good habits of communication, work ethic, procedure and discipline need to be second nature to a Sailor reporting to a ship for the first time. There will be no time to learn these things on the fly.

A good example, and indeed the example that inspired this note, is my observation of the excessive use of email as a primary source of communication for Sailors who have not experienced life on a ship.

I can count on one hand the times I emailed a task directly to a subordinate or a peer on a ship. It just isn’t practical. The chance that they can get to a computer at all is questionable at times, not to mention the constant lack of internet/email access. The fact that their common access card will be regularly locked out of the system just adds to the chances that an important email has only a small chance of getting read before a task deadlines.

Instead, I relied on myfeet.com. All of us did. It wasn’t always easy, as the person you need to talk to is never just standing beside you when you need to task them. They are, by default, almost always somewhere inconvenient (smoke deck, mess decks, head, berthing, flight deck, top of the 0-10 level taking photos). It does not matter. They must be tracked down and the message must be delivered. Right Now.

My observation with email is that the “fire and forget” nature of it leads to tasks going undone, and hurts accountability.

The other thing it hurts is leadership. Leadership at sea REQUIRES face-to-face tasking. It REQUIRES leaders and subordinates to have complete, concise communication. The ship itself survives on that very principle. Getting into the habit of communicating with your leaders, subordinates and peers strictly by email is robbing you of a chance to develop and perfect the skill of face-to-face communication.

Sure, I understand that it does not matter all that much if you send someone an email telling them what time you will be finished with a job, rather than walk over and tell them. Apply the same concept on a ship during a medical emergency, fire, flood or other critical evolution and things can get ugly in a hurry. Think those things are rare and don’t happen to folks in your rate?

I responded to two floods (real ones), two fires, three toxic gas leaks, two accidental deaths and a suicide. In an 18-month period of time. I am a Mass Communication Specialist, not a Damage Controlman.

Email is one thing. I could mention many others: lack of common courtesy, lack of initiative, laziness, lack of enthusiasm, poor attitude, etc.

“But we’re not on a ship. Ill make that adjustment when I get there. Let me enjoy shore duty.”

Shipmate, your shore duty is made possible by the brave men and women who are being forced to do the things I am asking of you. The least you can do is make sure you do all you can to prepare to relieve them properly.


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