You want me to do WHAT sir?

Most of us remember Newton’s First Law of Motion:

An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

A 688 class submarine operating submerged has a displacement of about 6900 tons. So it goes without saying that if it is motion, it will take some effort to stop it. If it is going really fast, it will take a bit longer. Even maneuvering on the surface at a slower speed dictates paying attention to Newton’s First Law. Underneath the surface, the consequences can become much more serious much quicker since you really can’t see anything in front of you (other than what sonar and your updated charts may have told you).

So it takes a great deal of faith and trust on the part of the planes men and the Dive Team when the Captain comes into the control room and orders the Officer of the Deck to take a twenty degree down angle and ring up all ahead full. It takes even more faith to respond when he says right full rudder. (Don’t try this at home by the way).

You can feel the boat starting to shake a bit as it responds to the increase in throttle. Your heart beats a little faster as you see the trim angle respond to the maneuver. You try to plant your feet on the rests in front of you as you push the yoke of the control planes  forward.  Faster and faster with each second and all around you are the small items that weren’t stowed for sea, rolling like marbles on a steep hill racing to reach the bottom. Time ticks by and the digital indicators are starting to whirl faster and faster. Without even thinking about it, you start to hope that something will be done to overcome Newton’s First Law. You know that the only something in this case is the man standing (or leaning in this case) over by the Officer of the Deck chomping on an unlit cigar.

He orders full rise on both planes and the boat shudders to respond. It’s right about then you realize that what seemed like a long time was less than a few minutes and you start to breath as the depth gage slowly turns positive.

Is it just because you were ordered to do it that you responded? Maybe to an extent. You would probably do it whether you fully trusted the guy or not, but if there is trust, all of the things that needed to be done before that dive were done in a way you had faith that they were done.

I was lucky to have some great Commanding Officers. Almost all were at the least very good, but a few stick out in my mind as great. Commander Bill Previty was one of those guys. He came on the San Francisco during the second part of my tour there and from the moment he got there the mood of the boat was lifted. It was obvious by his mannerisms and his presence that this was a skipper you wanted to go to sea with and probably to war as well. No offence to the previous captain who commissioned the ship, they were just different.

What makes a great leader? Why would you be so willing to do the things needed to shake out a submarine?

I am sure most people have their own answers but mine are pretty simple. First, I need to trust the guy. His training and background need to be such that I know when the unthinkable happens, he is not going to lose his cool. Next, he needs to be consistent in the routine. That means that in the day to day activities, he is not going to let things dangle or put to hard of a rope line around them.

We all have an expectation of what our leaders should be. Firm but fair. Criticize in private and praise in public. Remember that you are leading men not children. Give each man his due respect no matter what station he is in life. Remember that each man plays a role in the team and is valuable for his contribution. See the possibilities in people not their weakest points. And for heaven’s sakes if there are weak points, help the person with real encouragement not cynical badgering. In short, that person should be someone like Bill Previty.

Most of us have had leaders of the other sort as well. I always used to think that sundowners were abused as kids and it was the only way they knew to do what they called “leadership”. Everything is a crisis, every small affront is personal, only a few select people would be in their inner circle and everything was always the fault of some junior officer who had somehow failed to live up to their expectation. The crew were generally miserable and performed as best they could if only not to take a beating for failing to hit the marks the old guy set. The request for transfer box is always full and the Chaplain is kept busy on overtime.

Because the second type of leader often plays people against each other, trust is always in short supply. People are reluctant to stick their heads out of their holes for fear of getting them chopped off. Creativity is squelched and rewards are few and far between. Why in the world would anyone think this is the most effective way to lead? Experience has shown that if that person holds the reins of leadership so tightly, when the situation gets out of control, they do not have the tools or the support to survive the storm. In most cases when that happens, their response is to beat harder.

There is a third type of leader and I think they are the most dangerous of all. This type is the one who always has his eye on the escape hatch. They are already planning for their next promotion so they hate anything and anyone who would keep them from reaching their goal. The current assignment is really nothing more than a necessary stepping stone so they really don’t make much effort to get to know the men. Problems are for the other guy and delegation is not only an artful dodge, it is a mandatory skill.

With the third type of leader, most issues won’t surface until long after they are gone and the problems have festered into a huge blazing sore. Moral is completely shot, trusted leaders are betrayed by his ambition, and if something does go wrong, he is quick to offer up a human sacrifice. If there are conflicts on his own staff, it is easier to just “let them work it out” among themselves. The sad thing is that they seldom do. This type of leader also tries to surround themselves with people who will make him look better. But they quickly learn that there is no reciprocity for their contributions.

When the tough assignments come in, the third type of leader will often quickly volunteer if their name will be prominent. But when things get sticky, they have already groomed the senior staff to understand that they were innocent and someone on their staff had hidden the problems from them too.

If you are smart you will learn to survive both type two and type three. If you are even smarter than that, you will learn never to trust them and develop skills to work around them in order to get the job done. If you are lucky, you will get a chance to serve with one of the Previty’s of the world. I would have then and still would today fallow that man anywhere he wanted to go.

Mark Twain once said “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too can become great.”

Thanks Captain Previty.

Mister Mac

2 thoughts on “You want me to do WHAT sir?

  1. So Mac, did you also have Kevin Mooney as CO – and were you aboard when SF hit the ‘uncharted’ undersea mountain?? Had a similar incident (much less serious but still quite unnerving) on a boat off the coast of Spain a number of years ago. I knew Kevin prior to his taking command and we still stay in touch from time to time. Did not know Joey Ashley but have met his Dad.

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