Sunday, April 10, 2005

“The Most Valuable Commodity on the Ship is My Rest.”

This post is a comment on leadership philosphy. While I was XO, my Captain, Commander Wade Johnson, would lock his cabin door at 2000 (8:00PM) when we were at sea. By that time, the "normal" work day had ended, I had taken "8 o’clock reports," written the "Night Orders" (navigation and operational directions for the evening hours for the bridge and Combat Information Center (CIC) watches), the Battle Orders, and had sat down with him, getting his approval on those two important documents, as well as discussing any crucial outstanding issues, and the next day’s schedule. I usually was in his cabin by about 7:15PM and out about 15 minutes later. That sequence set the conditions for routine operations that evening, and concluded his work day. It was far too easy, in all the sea going tours I had, to extend the work day, using the quieter time of the night to get a few messages reviewed and signed, or follow up on outstanding issues, with out the frequent interruptions that seemed to be a characteristic of the day time. All the commanding officers I had worked for, besides Wade, never seemed to set this boundary for themselves, and it wasn’t uncommon to see people (sometimes that "people" was me) taking advantage of this up to Taps (2200, 10:00PM). The captain of the ship can be awakened for all sorts of reasons. While it’s nice to plan things for the night, other vessels, not part of friendly forces, and sometime even those of the friendly forces, that you didn’t know were in the area, are on a course to come within some set distance from the ship, which required a report to the Captain. Any unusual weather, astrological, or oceanographic phenomena requires a call. Casualties to equipment, or personnel on the ship, or on a ship in company were more opportunities to call the CO. Messages may be received requiring a change of plans or schedule, and the captain needs to know. On some nights, I have been known to call many times during a 4 hour deck watch, as there were that many things going on. To constantly have your sleep interrupted, as most all of us know, wears on you. Try doing that for 6 month periods at a time, let alone the 1 year tours the Army and Marines are doing right now. In many instances, your call requires a decision from the Captain on the acceptable course of action, or, at the least, his coherent acknowledgment of the report. The commander’s judgment in these moments are critical. Obviously, the more worn out the captain is, whether from avoidable, or unavoidable conditions, the greater possibility to make an error, when responding to the watch stander’s call. When Captain Johnson told me about his door being locked at 2000, he explained that his rest was crucial for making the right decision, in some cases, this would require an immediate and correct reply, to avoid loss of life, or prevent damage to the ship. I knew this subconsciously, but had never thought of the issue of the CO "guarding" his rest for this purpose. Over time, I saw the value of his clearly stated position, where he ensured he was in the best condition to manage the most critical issues of the ship. His point was merely "routine" work was to be done at the end of the routine day. Emergencies were welcomed anytime, for that was his job to handle them. This story came to mind, as I had recently begun reading a blog by a company commander in Iraq. I had gotten used to his daily postings, that were well written, and a very interesting view into the daily life of someone in the midst of current events. On the day of the attack by the terrorists on Abu Gharib prison, there was no post, nor was there for the next few days. It was disconcerting, and I found myself checking for something new every time I had a moment to get near a computer. After all, if I miss a day of posting, it may merely mean I felt like crawling under the hood of my other car and seeing if I can figure out it’s lack of power. If a blogger in theater misses, there is a reasonable chance it’s for much darker reasons. When he returned to posting a few days later, he explained he had just been too worn out, and needed to catch up on his sleep. As an officer in a command position, he needs that, as would any NCO, or fire team leader. The in theater bloggers bring us a wealth of first person reports, which are enriching, yet it is often done as they sacrifice their rest time, in an already stressful environment. I’m grateful for his writing, and I sure hope he only blogs when he’s rested.

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