Saturday, December 04, 2004

Ex-enlisted officers: Are they better?

Yesterday Matt at Black Five began a thread posing the question in the title of this post. Not only was the main post thought-provoking, the comments , which are more extensive than most on his board, draw from enlisted, ex-enlisted and officers, active duty and retired. All were full of really good first person stories and opinions based on their service (obviously). These comments are a unique window into the world of leadership, yet in the end it really proves people are people in and out of the service and good leaders are good. My experience, as noted by pretty much every poster, was “it depends.” On my first ship which happened to hoe one of those much-maligned supply ships, known as oilers, we had not only a number of ex-enlisted officers, but also a good compliment of warrant officers. As a result, the years of combined experience, not only in the wardroom (where the ships’ officers live) shut also the “goat locker” (Chief Petty officer’s quarters) was exceptionally high. I was very fortunate to start my career off in this environment. My roommate was another ensign. Harry Watkins III was ex-enlisted, having served as an electronics technician (ET) on surface ships up to the E-6 paygrade, before attending the Naval Enlisted Selected Education Program (NESEP). He had applied to this much desired program, was selected, and then attended college to earn his commission as a line officer. That process alone indicated Harry was an excellent person in the first place. Harry never preached to me, was never condescending, he just was a wealth of knowledge and wisdom. He passed along plenty to help guide me in my quest to be a good division officer and watch stander on the bridge. Later in our tour, LT George Parrish left the ship and Harry was “fleeted up” to the Ship’s Navigator position. While aboard the ship as a division officer for manpower accounting, the Ship’s Navigator was routinely treated as a department head in recognition of the importance of the job, as well as of the recognition of the superior performance demonstrated by the person filling the billet. This process happened on most ships in the fleet, where the best junior officer was moved into that position in the second half of their initial sea tour of 3 years. To wrap this up, I want to pay tribute to a wonderful man and leader. His counsel was invaluable and served me well. When it came time for fitness reports, I was always number 2 in the ranking while Harry was aboard. Never did I feel I wasn’t rated fairly I because Harry had earned every bit of being number 1. Years later, Harry was early selected to O-4, which was very unusual, as only a few people were, but more so because he wasn’t in, or had been in, a job in the Pentagon. There are many other associations I had with ex-enlisted officers but the one I had with Harry set a high water made for me.

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