Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Let's stop the Sailor Worship

Are we worshiping our military members, to their own detriment?  Benjamin Summers seems to think so.  In his Washington Post article, he argues that he, and most military members, aren't heroes, shouldn't be worshiped, and that the whole "hero worship" is getting in the way of making real, needed changes to the DoD.  His article is Army centric, but I think it hits similar problems on the Navy side, with what I'll call "Sailor Worship."

We do a hard job in the Navy.  Our Sailors are constantly deployed, all the time, well before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan happened, and we'll continue to be deployed after they end.  We are the Nation's 9-1-1 service, responding quickly to any problem around the world.  It's a hard job, and most military members are underpaid, although once you factor in benefits, it tends to come out OK in the end.  For the hard work and the sacrifice, I'm OK with getting the occasional parade, free meal, or airline upgrade.

As an organization, like any large organization, we have our problems.  We have idiots that commit sexual assault, drive drunk, rob people, and even fake their own death.  Not everyone serves in combat.  I've seen people retire without a sea service ribbon.  The Navy isn't fair, and the saying "choose your rate, choose your fate" definitely applies.  There are plenty of Sailors who get respect from the public solely based on their ability to wear the uniform that don't deserve one bit of that respect.

The key to cutting through this is to remember that all organizations are made of people.  The Navy is no different, and while we may work with many top-notch Sailors, we have all likely worked with some duds.  For those in the Navy, the key is to encourage people to become better, and if you are in a position to grade people, do so fairly and get rid of the non-performers whenever you can.  I always emphasize to my Sailors how their actions, even when they think no one is looking, telegraph more than the actions of a normal person.

Another way to cut through this is to remember we volunteered and we get a pay check that we need to earn every day.  We raised our hand of our own free will and swore to defend the United States and to follow the orders of the President and proper military authorities.  Nobody forced us to do this, and nobody makes us stay after our term is up.  We are free to go, and in fact most people that serve only do so for 3-5 years.  We get paid on time, and despite what we may think of Congress, I don't remember ever being paid late due to hangups with the budget.

The biggest problem with hero worship is that we risk becoming a Navy for the sake of being a Navy.  We see this with CPO 365 when the training interferes with fleet operations.  We see this when the Navy wastes millions on uniforms without thinking of the Sailors that have to wear them.  We see this when we justify constantly sending Sailors home early while other Americans, who pay our salary, pull 60+ hour weeks with two jobs and still struggle to make ends meet.

Sailor worship gets in the way of being able to graciously accept the public's admiration of our service.  How embarrassing would it be for a Sailor who has skipped out of work to get a free meal paid by an American citizen that is working two jobs?  When I was in nuke school I got thanked for my service whenever I stopped at Lowes or the gas station on my way home, and I honestly felt embarrassed because I hadn't done anything for the Nation.

Let's earn the Nation's respect every day.  Let's be the Sailors our Nation deserves.  We need focus on earning the respect we're given every day, while doing our best to fix our own problems, or we risk becoming a self-licking ice cream cone of an organization.