In the US Navy you never know what is going to happen next, especially with the folks you work with on a daily basis. But you learn how to take whatever is handed to you without making a big deal. Which is a good trait to learn, especially when you’re the low-man on the totem pole.
We had this one guy, a 1st class in upper Engineering leadership, who every so once in awhile would say or do something that made everyone else wonder how in the hell he had ever made rank. He was a “Hull Technician” (HT) which is another word for the folks who weld or fix anything onboard ship; HT1 had been in the US Navy over 14 years, so one would expect him to have enough experience to know a thing or two about a ship.
I was extraordinarily junior, so I never asked questions, and was expected to “do as I was told” and I at least pretended to look the part when I was ordered to do something I knew was not right. But it was hard being so junior and having to deal with folks who really did not have any common sense for things that were glaringly obvious to the rest of us; but it taught me a thing or two about tact.
It was the spring of 2002 and all of us were in the shipyards down in Pascagoula, MS, overseeing the completion of the construction on our brand-new Arleigh Burke class destroyer. Because of my writing ability I was in charge of typing and rewording all the requests to the shipyard; it was tedious work, but it didn’t come without its moments of levity.
This one day HT1 runs into the office, and comes up to me, red and absolutely out of breath, loudly demanding, “You have got to stop everything and take care of this. Immediately!”
He throws down a piece of paper, which when I read it, I had to do a double take.
Me: “HT1, you want a deck drain in this space?”
Me: “Um, You know that’s in the bilge right?”
HT1: “Yes, I am aware of that!”
Me: “You really want a deck drain in a bilge???”
Me: “Ok, I am right on top of it then. I’ll get it taken care of,” and I take the paper as he runs off back out the door. It turns out the request was basically asking for a hole to be made in the bottom of the ship; and anyone who knows anything about ships knows this won’t work. So I set it down, and go back on with the work I was doing.
Then Chief comes walking in, and he asks if I have anything for him and I casually hand HT1’s request to him and wait. Sure enough, about 5 seconds later he asks loudly “What the fuck idiot wants a deck drain in a fucking Main Space???”
“Um, HT1 does, Chief.”
He laughs as he tells me “Put it in the “round file,” which basically meant throw it in the trash.
I did as I told, gladly.
The US Navy definitely taught me the meaning of FUBAR.
And learning to take those lessons gracefully was a huge step for me.