Sunday, February 14, 2010

Are We Having Fun Yet?

My brush with the doctor and his somewhat ‘left wing, liberal’ attitudes towards the Sea Cadet program had caught me a little by surprise. Up until this point I had spent years dealing with naval personnel who were capable, intelligent and generally very supportive of our program. Everyone usually seemed very willing to bend over backwards to give us whatever guidance and help we needed. You have to remember that this was the 70’s and the general attitude in the civilian world was decidedly anti-military. This did not, however, extend to the ‘military family’. If anything, it made everyone even more anxious to be extra friendly and helpful. There were, however, a few notable exceptions –and I was about to run headlong into 2 officers who went out of their way to make life miserable for everyone associated with the program. At one point they would openly stated their intentions to stop the ‘boot camps’ and have the unit disbanded -and they were in a perfect position to do it.

The second day of training started very well. Everyone had settled in and we had just had a good breakfast in a mess hall that had been set aside just for our use. We assembled the cadets for “morning colors”.

For those of you who may not know, Morning Colors is held every day at 0800 (8 am). The American Flag is raised for the day. This little ritual never fails to impress me. In our case the cadets were lined up in formation, everyone standing at attention. Shortly before the flag is raised a bugle sounds a few short notes called “The First Call to Colors”. Everything s dead quiet as you wait for the time to reach exactly eight o'clock when the US Marine Color Guard, with rehearsed precision, begins to hoist the flag up and the music either plays the National Anthem or a bugle sounds “Colors”. The music plays as the flag is raised slowly to the top of the flag pole. The flag itself starts all folded up and then unfolds as it is raised, showing its red and white stripes and blue field with white stars. The command “Hand Salute” is shouted and arms snap up in unison as everyone faces the flag. It is all over in about a minute but its effect is a general feeling of pride. For one brief moment, everyone shares a moment of good old fashioned patriotic spirit.

I was just returning from Morning Colors and posting the “Orders of the Day” when a messenger found me and told me to report immediately to the base Executive Officer’s office in the Administrative Building. This actually did not surprise me too much because the base had just gotten a new Executive Officer and I had not yet had a chance to brief him on the Naval Sea Cadet Program or on the current training activity. I had made a courtesy call to his office a few days before this but the Exec had been busy getting settled in and his secretary said he would send for me when he had time. I was sure that this was why he was sending for me now.

I found up Larry and gathered up our training syllabus and materials and proceeded to the Admin Building. On arrival we were ushered directly into the office and found ourselves standing in front of 2 Navy Commanders, one sitting behind his desk smoking a cigar and the other standing by the window with his hands clasped behind his back. They looked enough alike to have been brothers and they were sharing the same hard scowl as they stared intently at us. The Executive Officer, sitting behind the desk, spoke first: “You are Lieutenant Graybill, the officer in charge of this kiddie outfit?” His tone and demeanor made it clear he was unhappy about something. I tucked my hat under my arm, stood straight backed and answered “Yes, sir. I am in charge of the training program for the Naval Sea Cadets”. He slowly looked me over, top to bottom and then said “What base personnel are assigned to you?” I told him that we had no full time base personnel assigned. Our instructors were with the Naval Air Reserve Unit and the Marine Detachment and our full time personnel were all Sea Cadet Officers voluntarily donating their time. His next question made his intentions, if not his motivations, very clear. “How do I get at you, militarily? What is your Chain-of-Command?” This question left me reeling. What in the world had we done, or had I done? What was he mad about? I decided it was best to be as vague as possible and buy some time - least until I could figure out what was going on. I could have said that, because we were on his base, he was actually the person in direct military authority, but since he apparently did not know this I decided to try a little diversionary tactic. I told him that the training was sponsored jointly by the Navy League and by the Naval Air Reserve Unit (NARU) and that I therefor answered to the Navy League President in Washington, D.C. and the Commanding Officer of NARU. I also said that we had a liaison officer on the staff of the Commander, 12th Naval District, so I also answered to the Admiral (this was only partially true, but my experience had taught me that using an admirals name usually slowed down bullies like this). My ploy worked. He looked at the other commander and said “OK, get a hold of the NARU Exec and tell him I’d like a meeting”. I was later to find out this other man was the base Operations Officer who had also just been transferred in. He then looked back at me and said, “I want you back in here at 0900 tomorrow morning. Is that your training syllabus? Leave it here so I can review it in detail. Bring your training schedule and a complete rooster of personnel with you tomorrow.” He then simply waived his hand in as if sweeping us out the door and said: “That’s all. You’re dismissed.

Leaving his office I looked at his secretary who smiled at me and shook her head as if to say “Yeah, I know, he’s a jerk”. Larry and I stopped outside the building and as I was lighting a cigarette (those were in the days before I knew better) my mind was racing trying to figure out why this guys was being such a hard case and also trying to decide what to say, or not to say, to Larry about all this. I still had to remember who I was and that it was important to set an example. Panic is highly contagious and what was needed now was some calm confidence.

Larry looked as if he was still in a state of shock, his face was pale and he fumbled getting out his lighter. Then and he raised his eyebrows, smiled and said “Are we having fun yet?” I managed a defiant laugh and said, “Well, we’d better get on the phones and see if we can find out what’s got this guy’s shorts in a knot. I’ll call the NARU Exec, he’s a pretty good guy, and see if he thinks we are going to have a problem. I think I had better remind him that our program and the training syllabus has been approved by everyone from here to to Washington, just in case this commander starts complaining about something. You get with the staff and make sure they know to stay on their toes. I have a feeling this could get worse before it gets better and I don’t want anything happening that will give them any ammunition." I then smiled and getting into the vehicle I said: "This may be nothing at all. He may just be having fun doing a ‘Captain Bligh’ routine and seeing if he could make us need to change our shorts.” Larry smiled and said “Yeah, well, it worked”.

We spent the rest of the day like a couple of college students cramming for a final while handling the "normal" daily problems, such as 'home sick' cadets, a broken water pipe and a muffler falling off one of the buses. We went over the rooster, the syllabus, the schedule and every other log sheet, document and piece of handout material we had. We were making sure everything was in letter perfect order. We did not know what to expect the next morning but we were determined to be prepared. If we had known the inquisition we would go through the next 24 hours we might have just packed up and gone home right then….

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