Monday, July 16, 2012

Where was the DIVO?

So the headline of the Navy Times is an article about the COB onboard the USS NEBRASKA having an affair with a female midshipman from the Naval Academy.

COB’s affair with mid put crew in middle

Only viewable if you have a Navy Times subscription. The synopsis (that you can find elsewhere) is that the COB used his power to cover up having an affair with a midshipmen, to include using his Government Travel Card on unauthorized purchases and pressuring the Radioman Chief onboard to give him a fake, unmonitored Sailor Mail account.

Although I have lots of thoughts about the situation, one that struck me from the article is that there isn't a single mention of a junior officer in the article. None. It's like Division Officers don't exist onboard the USS NEBRASKA.

And that, in my mind, is exactly where a large part of the problem lies.

When I first came into the Navy, I was promised (throughout Nuclear Power School, Prototype and Submarine School) that my Chief would somehow "raise" me to be a good junior officer. I couldn't have been more wrong: in my first three months, I went to three investigations because my chief (nuclear electrician type) had messed up three different work projects while we were still in the shipyard. Sadly, my EMC wasn't interested in mentoring me. Officers, in his mind, were there to do administrative duties. It really wasn't until I was the Assistant Weapons Officer that I got my first real chief, Chief Fire Control Technician Cox. Sadly for him, the Captain at the time hated FTs, so despite doing an awesome job, he never got the credit he deserved.

I thought that maybe my experience was limited to my boat, especially considering that the CO was fired. Sadly, the more and more I talk to other junior officers, the more and more I realize that they have been Division Officers in name only: the chief ran the division (sometimes effectively, sometimes not), they went off and did qualifications, and that was about it.

So, is this a dig at Navy Chiefs? Hardly. I love the Chief I have now. Chiefs play an extremely important role in the Navy. You can't run the US Navy without Chiefs. You need that solid deckplate leadership that gets sailors motivated, gets the job done, and gets it done right. My beef is with the fact that we have relegated junior officers to a glorified administrative role, and our enlisted and officer ranks are suffering for it.

Which brings me full circle to the above article. In it, the Radioman Chief admits to being bullied into lying by the COB. He was threatened, on a number of fronts, with being essentially ostracized from the Chiefs Mess if he didn't cooperate. And, being a junior Chief, he complied, until it finally bothered him enough to come out, and by then it was too late.

So, where was his DIVO? While the COB wields enormous power and influence on a submarine, especially underway, he can't fire an officer. He can't really threaten him too much unless he has a darn good reason. Sure, there are ways to "pressure" JOs into complying, but the reality is that if the COB is wrong on something, the DIVO has a line straight to the XO and CO.

I suspect that the DIVO, like all too many, has been relegated to an admin role. I bet he was told that running the division is the Chiefs job, that he needs to hang out in the wardroom and leave the Chiefs Mess to the COB. His EOOW, OOD, and submarine qualification is more important then anything he could possibly learn as a Division Officer. So while an obviously bad situation worsened onboard, the JOs went about their way because that is how we do things in the Navy.

We're better then that.

Officers are meant to lead people. Junior Officers should be getting their hands dirty, learning what their sailors do and how they do it. Nobody that I know of joined the Navy, made it through 4 years of college and survived being yelled at by Marine instructors to become a paperwork pusher that others have to salute. Nobody has fond dreams of routing CASREPs, submitting a DRRS-N input, or signing a stack of tagouts (although many, including myself, have nightmares about such things). It's something we do because we care about our sailors and about the mission. It's not our reason for existence.

Our Chiefs and Junior Officers are meant to be a team. The Division Chief brings the knowledge and experience to the table, while the Division Officer brings in new ideas and top cover. Both profit from the interaction. The Division Chief has every incentive to build up his officer. Eventually, that officer could be his Commanding Officer someday, and any faults that aren't fixed early will only manifest themselves later. For the Division Officer, it's a source of pride to lead the best division on the ship, something that you can't do if your Division Chief isn't enabled to do his or her job properly.

Neither the officer nor the chief was meant to be relegated into some stereotyped role of administrator/worker. They were meant to be 80% interchangeable, to be able to feed off of each others strengths while helping the other work on weaknesses. Working with your Chief should be a rewarding experience, one where you both contribute and learn at the same time.

It's about time we brought back our Officer/Chief team.