Sunday, April 17, 2005

Courage Senators, Courage

When teaching leadership, one of the most difficult concepts to get “buy in” on is the idea of moral courage. Essentially this is meant to prepare future leaders with the idea, that at some point in their careers, they may have to step up, and in the face of severe adversity or consequence, do the right thing.

This is the office equivalent of knowing that if you stick your head out of your fighting hole, you will be drilled between the eyes…you may know that that peek is entirely necessary to keep your unit from being surprised, no one will really know if you did it or not, but you know that it must be done, so up your head goes…or, worse, you stay hunkered down.

Officers are often faced with these choices in their careers…sometimes the correct intervention is rewarded, often it is punished. The effective leader does his best to avoid such showdowns, for there is very little good done with early Changes-of Command, or relief of assignments. But often there is no other way, and the officer, SNCO, troop, must stick his nose into the fight regardless of anticipated consequences. The mediocre leader avoids these confrontations, even when necessary, rarely is this responsibility avoidance noticed, but it has it consequences nonetheless.

Long digression coming, but worth it.

My father was passed over for Major in 1966 for the second time. I was in fifth grade and understood little about what was going on, in fact I was never told of why we moved away from Marine bases until I was solidly ensconced in the NROTC program. My mother related the story through twenty minutes of tears. It was obvious the pain of a career change for my mom and dad, with four kids in elementary school and no job, had left its impression. My dad was a “trash hauler.” He left A-1D Skyraiders after Korea for the friendly skies of cargo. He was tasked to evaluate the “brand new” KC-130 simulator in Arkansas. He found several critical deficiencies and would not sign it off for acceptance as FMC (Full Mission Capable). While still on site, he received a call from the HQMC Project Officer, and he was told to accept the simulator. He refused. The Project Officer was a member of the Major’s promotion board the next year. Dad doesn’t make the cut. Terrible.

Was it? Turns out, my dad did land a job. They lived within two hours of my grandparents for the next 30 years. My mom went from a substitute teacher to elementary school principal. They went from base housing to owning a home and two cottages. They put four boys through college in 10 years. When my father died in 1988, St. Mary’s was packed with friends and family from all across the state of Michigan. Terrible? A blessing. My mom, in her seventies, receives support from friends on both sides of the state.

My father never said a word about the circumstances surrounding his separation, and he had only the fondest memories of the Corps, and nothing but good things to say about it.

Family curse.

There was the time after the first Gulf War, when I took over as the squadron S-4 (logistics/embarkation) when I let my captains and lieutenants enjoy the summer going from airshow to airshow. The only caveat I interjected, was that they actually, REALLY needed to learn their jobs before the fall. Up to this point, they had demonstrated to me little technical knowledge of their specific job requirements. One captain, with his only fitrep to this point a glowing “combat” report, was the first into the hopper. He received six “excellent” grades, vice the expected all “outstanding.” He complained to me, with no effect. Shortly I was called into the XO’s office and pressured to change the grades. I refused. That was quickly followed up by a visit to the CO’s office…with the same result. Shock of shocks…next fitrep for me…worst Major in the bunch. Killer.

About six months later we deployed to Japan. The squadron ended up with several overlapping and complex mini-deployments. All were handled remarkably well by my team. So much so, I clearly highlighted on the Captain’s next fitrep that he had clearly matured as an officer, and that he was now at the top of his year group. I backed this up by nominating him for a Navy Commendation Medal, which he received. Now, was he better off for my actions or worse off? He was clearly a better officer. I was clearly headed for the waste bin.

I became the Aircraft Maintenance Officer of a gun squadron in the summer of 1993. Through an interesting set of circumstances, we basically stood up from scratch. On the day I arrived, we had eight airplanes, four officers, including me, and about ten technicians. Bosnia was just heating up, and a couple of months later, a single seat squadron deployed to Aviano, with us on tap to follow them in three months. This kind of pressure quickly highlighted that my Ordnance Officer, a Captain, was failing. Finally, we had to relieve him, two weeks prior to deployment. I was offered a CWO-4 with a boatload of personality, and a few troubles of his own, but off we went. Within a month the CWO-4, known as FISDU Phil, had turned that division around. They quickly were competing with my Powerline team for the “best” division. In the end, FISDU Phil and his team had loaded over 4 million pounds of ordnance, without ONE incident, in a little over four months. FISDU was due to rotate early, so I wrote him up for a Navy Commendation Medal, which he richly deserved. A few days later, in passing, the Admin Officer said that the CO had rejected the award. When I confronted the CO, the first words out of his mouth were “when I got my Navy Comm…” I had to remind the CO that it was not about him and his one individual award, it was about rewarding the men that had made his deployment successful. I continued to argue. It got heated and lasted until he correctly caved-in. On the way out the door, I let him know that I had 24 more awards from my department coming his way...all were awarded. Mine got lost in the mail I guess.

Finally I capped my windmill attacking with the MAG CO. The Group CO wanted to solo one of our jets to another base where another squadron was deployed. They were flying some hi-vis missions, but I knew that they had an aircraft down with a back seat ejection seat problem. I knew that if I didn’t go along, that the other squadron would cannibalize the part, and I would be stuck with a down airplane on return, with a 270-day seat inspection to perform. Not to mention, canning from an ejection seat is nearly never done, although ops types don’t always seem to grasp why. So, I went along, unwanted baggage, but necessarily protecting an asset from unnecessary down time, and possibly worse. The Group Commander made a point of yanking me out of a job that I had had for 17 months, and unceremoniously anointing me the Group Future Operations officer. He seemed happy to inform me the first time I failed selection for LtCol.

Hence Major Mike vice LtCol, or Col., or Gen Mike. Disappointed…yes. Discouraged…no. I have the best Facilities Management job in the country. Great pay, no deployments, daughter will graduate with her friends. Had I stayed in, I would have stayed in too long to get the great job I have now, and I wouldn’t be on the Board of Directors of the local Red Cross chapter, nor a Gubernatorial appointment to a State Codes board.

Simple lessons to Senators who worry about changing the Senate rules...find the courage. Do the right thing. Let the chips fall where they may. Maybe not getting re-elected will allow you to look at a legacy that has added stability and confidence into the judicial branch that is sorely needed. Your actions in breaking the Democrat filibuster, while risky, are needed. This is no time to play nice. Do the right thing, even if it means a new career in the end…change hasn’t hurt my family, and the reward is being able to look yourself in the mirror each day knowing that more good than harm was done with your actions. Stop the filibuster now.

Oh…FISDU Phil. It took Phil about 10 scheduled FISDU (Flights in Support of Deployed Units) flights to finally get out of Aviano…hence FISDU Phil. A great leader and a terrific personality.


74 said...

Gee, MM do all of us fail-selected guys end up in Oregon? My circumstances were somewhat different; much of it having to do with having a sort of Catch-22 designator. However, my telling the Admiral that I wasn't about to do what he wanted unless he put it in writing had a definite impact on my not making LCDR. It must run in families. I remember my father (a WW-II Naval Aviator) quitting his job rather than sign-off on a landing gear that did not test to specs. It put the temporary hurts on us financially but he too could look at himself in the mirror every morning.

Major Mike said...

Not sure Oregon is the factor, but it may run in families because we were well taught by our fathers. MM

Lindy said...

Great post. Thanks for the good work that you did, and I'm praying that our elected representatives find their backbones soon.

chaoticsynapticactivity said...

74 and Major Mike: You both have it right. I had to stand as an O-4 and tell a Commodore I didn't really care if it was his "best engineering ship" because his Combat System failed the detect to engage, I was obligated to fail them and report that to the type commander. I also had to listen to a O-6 yell at me about the stupid requirement to put a 4" wide red stripe around Harpoon launchers, with 2" white lettering "DANGER AREA", as he told me I made that up. Funny, I my guys found it in the Ordnance Pub (you know, the one the CNO's office puts their signature to.....) I got an XO ride, just never had command, but life is good...Good for you guys.

louielouie said...

"74" & mm, don't take this wrong, glad to hear you are the way you are.
while i was reading mm career history, it reminded me in some ways of "the billy mitchell court martial" movie w/ gary cooper that aired on TCM this weekend past.
figuritively, falling on your sword for the betterment of the service.

Major Mike said...

LL...actually, I wouldn't think of myself at the BM level, but thanks for the compliment...I mostly did it when it made a difference for the troops, and when the leadership was so far off base, I couldn't look the other way...a low tolerence for mediocrity. Thanks for reading.

Toni said...

I loved your posting. This tells people even when a situation looks bleak you can turn it into a positive. Same theory as lemons to lemonade. You never know where that road may lead.

JA said...

Thank you for a great post. If only more fathers would teach their sons such...

Site Visits
Blog Roll