Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Officer vs. Enlisted 

Milblogger Blackfive recently asked, and provided his input on, if prior enlisted service makes one a better officer. General concensus was that there is no hard and fast rule, and I'd say my experience backs that up. In the discussion, though, I was reminded of one of the most important things I learned as a Midshipman during NROTC.

I was on an LST during Third Class cruise (summer between Freshman and Sophomore years), living the enlisted life. One day I was assigned to clean the head, and as I was elbow-deep in a piece of gear my attitude was notably sour. "I can't believe this," I grumbled to myself, "I'm only here for four weeks and they waste my time doing this." After all, I could have been learning about RADAR or the communications equipment or navigation or hundreds of other topics that would be useful in my future as a Naval Officer. Instead I was on the deck in the head, two down and eight to go. And that's when it hit me, like a silver bullet between the eyes. Everybody on that ship felt exactly the same. Even the lowest non-rated Seaman Appentice had something more important to do than to clean other people's waste from porcelin. But it was still a job that needed to be done and I realized that as an Officer I would be called upon to lead people in all sorts of unpleasant and sometimes menial tasks simply because they needed to be done.

In retrospect, there was nothing about that ship's RADAR, navigation, engineering or anything else that was so unique or vital that I couldn't have learned later. I could always learn more about enlisted sailors' rates and jobs any time I needed. What I was on that cruise to do, however, was to learn about the enlisted sailor himself. I came to see that cleaning that head, feeling the frustration and anger that every sailor feels in the exact same situation was really one of the most important thing I could have done. I still didn't like it much, but I knew it needed to be done and that, for the time being, it was my job to do.

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