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Strut On Out Of Here And Let Me Do My Job!

, , , | Working | October 6, 2021

When I was in the US Navy, I was a machinist. I operated lathes, milling machines, drill presses, etc., manufacturing parts for broken or damaged equipment. Most of the time, it was fairly stress-free. Machinists work to very exacting specifications — thousandths of an inch — but there’s usually loads of time to get the job done right. The machinist’s motto is, “Safety, Accuracy, then Speed.”

Being the Navy, emergencies of all sorts have a tendency to arise. Since I was the most experienced machinist — and the shop supervisor — I tended to handle most of the emergencies, though my apprentice machinists frequently helped.

One night while the ship was at sea, the storm we were travelling through damaged one of the control struts which stabilized and adjusted one of the ship’s critical communication antennas. That particular antenna would no longer track the satellite and compensate for the ship’s movement to stay focused on the satellite. This particular communication system belonged to the Admiral who used my ship as his flagship, so repairing the strut was a top priority. I therefore got rousted out of my bunk to make a new control strut. One of the ship’s electronics specialists met me in the machine shop with the equipment manual so I could figure out how to make the part. We started getting dimensions from the manual and comparing them to the broken strut at the workbench in my shop when someone started hammering at my door.

All Admirals have a cadre of staff officers to handle administrative issues, and these officers are often extremely senior Captains and Commanders (O-5 and O-6) who get assigned as Staff officers to train them up for possible future promotion to Admiral. In many cases, the senior officers in an Admiral’s staff out-rank the ship’s commanding officer. 

When I opened the top half of my shop door, the Admiral’s Chief Of Staff (CoS) — a very senior Captain (O-6) — started bellowing at me. He was a Flight officer, the type who looked down on anyone who wasn’t a Flight officer. He was also a graduate of the Naval Academy and was known for believing all Enlisted personnel were thieves and liars while having little to no idea how the nuts and bolts of the Navy work. He’d had run-ins with ship’s force enlisted personnel several times in the six months or so he’d been aboard. I am a Machinist First Class Petty Officer (E-6), and the Staff officers are not in my chain of command. Despite the Chief Of Staff’s rank, I do NOT work for him. 

Chief Of Staff: “The Admiral’s comms are down! You need to fix it! Now!”

Me: “Yes, sir. I’m working on it.”

Chief Of Staff: “Well, hurry it up, d*** it!”

The Chief Of Staff stormed off in a huff, which was probably his favorite mode of transportation. I closed the shop door again and got back to making a working drawing of the strut I needed to make, with help from [Electronics Specialist], also a Petty Officer First Class. We hit a snag right away, since the manual specified the strut must be made of a particular grade of stainless steel we did not have on the ship. [Electronics Specialist] and I chose a similar grade of stainless steel I did have in stock, and then he headed up to his office to start filing a “Departure From Specifications” report while I started cutting stainless bar stock to the proper length on the shop band saw.

I suddenly heard a thunderous hammering on the shop door.

I shut off the saw and opened the door, only to find the Chief Of Staff outside. Before I could say anything, he started bellowing again. 

Chief Of Staff: “What the h*** is taking you so long? The Admiral’s comms are down!”

Me: “Yes, sir. I’m working on it.”

Chief Of Staff: “You’re not working fast enough! That antenna is critical! Stop f****** around and fix it!”

Me: “I’m cutting the material right now, sir.”

He let out an incoherent bellow, followed by a foot-stomping exit.

I shook my head and left the top half of the shop door open, then went back to cutting the bar stock. I mounted the metal between centers in the lathe and got started roughing the dimensions for the strut. Suddenly, I heard more bellowing at the shop door. Note that the lathe where I was working was visible from the shop doorway, and it had only been about ten minutes since the last visit by the Chief Of Staff. I finished the cut I was making and then shut off the lathe and went back to the door to find the Chief Of Staff having a prolonged hissy-fit.

Chief Of Staff: “Aren’t you done yet? This is a critical system, and it’s completely useless until you fix it! What is taking so d*** long?”

Me: “With all due respect, sir, every time you come here and demand an update, it makes the job take that much longer because I have to stop working in order to tell you I’m working on it.”

Chief Of Staff: “You can’t talk to me like that! I’m a g**d*** captain!

Me: “Sir, every minute I spend talking to you is a minute I can’t work on manufacturing the strut. I was actually manufacturing the strut on the lathe when you arrived. I had to stop making the part in order to talk to you.”

Chief Of Staff: “Work faster! This is for the Admiral!”

The Chief Of Staff stomped off down the passageway. Instead of getting back to work, I walked down the passageway to Central and had the watch-stander get the Chief Engineer out of bed to deal with the Chief Of Staff. After explaining the problem to the Chief Engineer, I went back to my shop and got back to work.

After a bit more than an hour, I finished the part and called [Electronics Specialist] to come get it. I carried the finished piece over to the doorway to wait for him and was surprised to find the Top Snipe — the most senior Chief Petty Officer in Engineering — sitting in a chair outside my door. For those unfamiliar with Navy ranks, Chief Petty Officers are senior non-commissioned officers (E-7 to E-9). They are the institutional memory and the backbone of the Navy, just as senior Sergeants are for the other services. Even Admirals cut Chiefs a lot of slack.

Me: “Hey, Chief! What are you doing out here?”

Chief: “Running interference for you. The Chief Of Staff tried to come hassle you about the antenna strut a couple of times after you talked to [Chief Engineer], but I sent him out to the mess deck to wait.”

Me: “You’re kidding.”

I poked my head out the door and looked. Sure enough, the Chief Of Staff was pacing back and forth in the otherwise empty mess deck, glaring down the passageway toward the shop.

Me: “Cool! Thanks for the help, Chief. Job’s done, and I’ve already called [Electronics Specialist] to come get it.”

Chief: “Not a problem. Don’t worry about any blowback from the Chief Of Staff; Command Master Chief and I will have a word with the Staff Leading Chief Petty Officer before breakfast. [Chief Engineer] says you can skip Quarters in the morning. Go ahead and sleep in until you relieve the Central watch for lunch.”

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Just Don’t Be A Military Brat

, , , | Right | CREDIT: ISpilledMyWine | September 30, 2021

Three girls come into the restaurant where I work.

Girl #1: “Do you have a military discount?”

Me: “Absolutely! We do, and it’s 10%.”

Girl #1: “Okay, cool. Thank you!”

I take their order and bring out the food. Later:

Me: “Before I drop off the checks, can I see the military ID so I can apply the discount?”

Girl #1: “Yeah, hold on just a second. And also, it’s actually my dad’s. Is that okay?”

Ummmm, what? No?

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Following Orders… Literally

, , , , | Working | September 17, 2021

Back in the mid-1980s, I was a junior Non-Commissioned Officer that worked across from a Major in a cubicle farm. I didn’t actually work for him — he had several dozen junior enlisted and NCOs working for him — but my desk was just the closest to his.

I was the single person in charge of tracking all computers and peripherals for the unit, and I was writing software and creating databases and procedures for a couple hundred new computers that were to be installed in a different building, so my BS tolerance was fairly low. The fact that I also reported to a full Colonel granted me a bit of leeway in my ability to get away with things.

The major stepped into my cubicle.

Major: “Sergeant [My Name], I need a copy of this floppy disk right away.”

Me: “Sir, can you ask someone else to do it? I’m kind of busy.”

Major: “No, you’re closest, and I need you to do this now!

Me: “No problem, Major.”

I take the disk, walk over to the copy machine, slap the disk onto the glass, and make a paper copy of the disk. I hand him the disk and the paper.

Me: “Will there be anything else, sir?”

He looked like he was about to blow a fuse, but I just went back to my desk and continued my assigned duties. He didn’t say anything else to me, but I heard him go over to one of his NCOs and get the disk copied.

I did have to report to my Colonel to answer the Major’s complaint about me, but when I gave my side of the story, the Colonel laughed. The Major was also told that if he wished to task me with anything, it needed to go through the Colonel.

It pays to be a smarta** sometimes.

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Luckily, This Lieutenant Dan Has Legs

, , , , , , | Working | September 1, 2021

I’m in the Royal Canadian Navy. There is a young officer in my unit whom we shall call Lt. Dan. I’m a senior NCO, Petty Officer First Class — for American readers, this is NATO OR-7, not OR-6). I don’t work for Lt. Dan directly, but we cross paths pretty regularly during the day, so we know each other to talk to. He’s a bit on the loud and brash side, but I’ve certainly worked for and with worse.

Lt. Dan’s car is in the shop being worked on, and on Friday, he gets a call around stand-easy saying it’s ready, so out in the smoker, he asks me if I can give him a lift. I don’t have a problem with that since it’s more or less on the way home for me anyway. Traffic is always heavy when the dockyard lets out and even worse on Fridays, and I’m stuck behind someone who wants to turn left across a stream of oncoming traffic. This is when the fun starts.

Lt. Dan: “F*** me, what’s his a**hole’s problem? Give him a honk; get his a** moving.”

Me: “Gotta wait for a break in traffic.”

Lt. Dan: “Well, pull around him, then!”

There’s a bike lane but it’s certainly not car-wide. Besides… it’s a bike lane. With people riding bikes in it.

Me: “No can do, sir.”

Left-turn man gets his break in the traffic, and we move on.

Next, it’s the stop-and-go coming up to the bridge ramp, and Lt. Dan is unhappy because traffic is merging and that means taking turns. He thinks that I should just push through and not let anyone in. On the bridge, every other driver annoys him in some manner, including someone who signals and then changes lanes. I’m getting annoyed with Lt. Dan, and once we clear the toll booth on the far side, I pull over.

Me: “Get out, sir.”

Lt. Dan: “What? Why?”

Me: “You’ve done nothing but b**** about my driving and other drivers and I’ve had enough. We’re about three klicks from the shop; you can walk or take a taxi.”

Lt. Dan: “You can’t just kick me out here; that’s illegal!”

Me: “That’s bull, sir. I’m not a taxi service; I can kick you where I feel like it. I was ready to kick you out in the middle of the bridge, but that would’ve been illegal.”

Lt. Dan: “You want to be charged for insubordination?”

Me: “Not particularly, sir, but you do you. Meanwhile, are you getting out or do I get one of the bridge police to come over?”

He got out with very bad grace and further threats of disciplinary action. I left him there to make his way to his car and thought no more of it.

It turned out that he really was daft enough to pursue it, as I got called into the coxswain’s office on Monday. (For US readers, the coxswain of a Canadian ship is the most senior NCO onboard — what you would call the Command Master Chief.)

The coxswain was already dubious about the story as presented by Lt. Dan, and my side of things pretty much cemented the matter being dropped. Needless to say, Lt. Dan does not get rides from senior NCOs at this unit any longer. The lesson here is to never piss off the chiefs and POs.

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He Should’ve Taken That Number With Him

, , , , , , | Working | August 24, 2021

I am a network engineer on a navy base. I was hired to take the place of another engineer who moved to a new building on base. I sit at his desk and use his computers, I have his desk phone, and I ate his leftover cough drops. I also have his old phone number, which has occasionally caused some confusion with people who haven’t checked the directory for updates.

The phone rings.

Me: “PAC Fleet Support, this is [My Name].”

Man: “Hi, I’m looking for [Predecessor]?”

Me: “He moved to a position in the NOC; I now have his former position. Is there something I can help you with?”

Man: “No, I was told specifically to talk to him. Do you have his number?”

Me: “He doesn’t have his own desk phone anymore. His team at the NOC shares one phone. I can give you their number and you can ask for him if he is not the one who answers.”

Man: “Oh… Wait, what about [phone number]? That’s what I was told was his number.”

Me: “That… that is now my number. It’s the one you just called, which is why you are now speaking with me.”

Man: *Pauses* “Oh, yeah… What’s the number for the NOC?”

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