Thursday, April 28, 2005
Officer Counseling, or Lack Thereof
As a matter of setting the stage, I’ll begin here: During my career, there were many periods of time when retention was a big issue. In the Surface Community, that meant enlisted retention. This is a very important issue, and once more, it is in these times. The program for enlisted counseling was well laid out, and I’ll have to admit, until I was XO, I spent more time making sure the nuts and blots of my primary duty were in place, and then, somewhere down the available time line, enlisted retention issues were given time, mostly when the XO made a big issue of getting all those required counseling sessions in. While I was XO (88-90), it was one of those times when we needed to retain about 30% of the “1st term” sailors. I dutifully laid out a plan to make sure we did our job, and it even began to sink in as to how important it was. I rode herd on the Department Heads, and made sure the Division Officer and Chiefs followed through. It worked. In the process of making sure our enlisted counseling efforts were in place, I found out (much to my surprise) that there was a parallel officer counseling program. Here I was, with 12 years of service under my belt as an officer, and then I found out there was a program I hadn’t ever been exposed to. No one ever had mentioned it in “Little SWOS,” Department Head School, XO Afloat, nor any inspection I had ever been through, This including the dreaded “Command Admin” one, which did through evaluate the “retention” program (read “enlisted retention” program). I can’t say I was completely left out, as any time I asked a senior officer for advice, they always made dedicated time to sit down with me, and have substantive discussions on the matter of upcoming career choices. I didn’t ask but a few times. All the while, as I found out sometime in 1988 or 89, my chain of command had had an obligation to regularly sit me down and counsel me on my future. It hadn’t happened. I stayed in, because I just was always going to be in, not because I didn’t have anywhere else to go. One time, just one time, in a semi-informal setting, the Operations Officer on my ship (I worked for the Combat Systems Officer), while we stood a watch in Combat Information Center (CIC) took me aside, since it was very quiet in our independent steaming status, looked me in the eye and asked “What are you planning to do in the Navy?” His name was LT William Malone. He is probably one of the least most likely officers I served with to expect he would be the only one to ask me. He and I had a long talk that watch, about the Surface “Career Path.” I doubt he did this because it was in the OPNAVINST on officer counseling, but he did it because it was his opportunity to help grow the community. The thing that also amazes me is I worked for some outstanding officers through 20 years of service, but they were deficient in this regard. How many junior officers (JOs) took a hike, not even realizing there might be something ahead of them, if they stayed in? Here’s the point. I only heard of my peers ever talk about being pulled in and being counseled on career choices. While we were very junior officers, generally while we were in our first sea tours, when we got our fitness reports (those usually being done on an annual basis), we might get a pat on the back, a few “rudder orders” on doing some skill (related to our present duty assignment) better, but it was usually a short session, and not a forum to ask a lot of questions about “where do I go from here?” The one that did talk about it was a Surface Warfare Officer who applied to and was accepted for a transfer into the Civil Engineering Staff Corps. While he was in his indoctrination, they had to write out their career goals, and then they had a lengthy 1 on 1 with a senior Civil Engineer. I’m sure, particularly in the aviation arena, the “JOs” were regularly pulled aside to ascertain if their multi-million training would be available to the Navy after their 5 year obligation was up. I’m sure the good sticks got special attention to make sure they convinced them to hang around. I know they and the nuclear capable officer were plied with lots of money, which sounded like a lot, but, if they took it, I now understand it was a great bargain for the taxpayer in retaining them. For you officers out there, think about your experience coming up in the ranks. Did your boss ever sit you down and help you formulate your path for the few years to come, let alone possibly out to the end of your career, so you might ensure success in attaining your goals? What different choices might you have made, if only someone with more time in grade had bothered to show you what was available? If you are an officer with officers working for you, have you taken time to check the plans of your subordinates? Do you see someone with promise that you’d hate to see resign their commission? How about making some time to set them up for a successful path. It will be well worth the effort. Also, take a look around at your service’s regs and see if it’s something you should have been doing all along. You’ll look like a hero of administrative warfare, on top of retaining those sharp officers that your troops deserve to have lead them in the future.