Disrespected

Somewhere, Mrs. Stamps (my third grade teacher) is standing with her shoulders slightly slumped and shaking her head. She has just heard one of her students use a noun as a transitory verb for the hundredth time and feels like her mission of bringing proper English to the children of Mt. Vernon Elementary School has been a failure.

I am not sure where the word disrespected originally came from but I am quite certain it would not have been on any flash cards we would have been issued back in the day. The word “Respect” was of course. A powerful word which was meant to be used for elders, people in responsible positions, and leaders of almost any kind. Disrespect (a noun of course) was what you displayed to someone when you failed to show them the proper respect due to them. Disrespected has just crept into the lexicon and is used to express unfair treatment or actions towards someone.

I mean no disrespect when I say that it annoys me to see a perfectly good English word misused in that manner. Mrs. Stamps was just a very thorough teacher and I feel compelled to try and follow her example, if for no other reason out of my respect for her sacrifice.

I also mean no disrespect to the young former soldier who wrote an article about leadership in the Patriot News this weekend. Frankly, he has done much to serve this country with three tours in Iraq and I am grateful for his service. I just think he missed the mark about what good leadership should be in a functioning military unit.

The main subject was really about the high level of suicide for returning Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers. Statistics are very blunt about the number of soldiers who are coming home with problems. The number of unemployed veterans is higher than non-veterans statistically (just like it was after Viet Nam) and the medical problems are very much a real situation. These men and women do need our help and we as a nation must be ready to put our collective minds and resources together to help them.

The soldier’s main premise however is that one of the main reasons there are so many problems is the added stress caused by poor leadership. As he lists his examples of men being yelled at for not having their “cover” on quickly enough outside, you can almost feel the anger in his writing. He breaks it down in the final few sentences when he talks about being disrespected and having your rights stripped away. If only the Army would choose leaders who didn’t do any of this, the added stress would be gone and no one would be judged unfairly.

Anyone who has done three tours in a combat zone has my respect for his or her service. But even the most remarkable service does not make you a subject matter expert in any particular topic. While leadership has been discussed before in this series of writings, good leadership is not without its moments of demanding exacting standards.

I have never been in combat so it is unfair of me to say that I am more of an expert in that situation. I have been engaged with other units that could have been considered an enemy if not just an opponent. The tension during those engagements was very real and very stressful. When you are trailing a guy for a few weeks and every sound could betray your position or intent, stress never quite leaves the boat. Even out of the control room, there is a heightened sense of awareness.

As a Chief Petty Officer, there were probably a few times that I pulled a struggling young sailor through a small passageway he was resistant to travel through. Leaving them where they were was unacceptable and sometimes action needs to be taken to encourage and enlighten them. I once had an entire division that was struggling with respect for authority. Together we came back to a more traditional place but it was not by me giving up my leadership role.

I am not sure the military will ever be a place where we will completely eliminate stress. Frankly, when I am diving a 630 foot monster through a raging sea, I am not particularly focused on the feelings of one of my sailors. I want them to be laser focused on the mission at hand and be ready to react to any of the hundreds of things that could go wrong at any moment. The survival of that ship at that moment is paramount to completing our mission and we can worry about how we feel at a later date.

I have a confession to make. I probably raised my voice a time or two during my years as a Chief and even as a Chief Warrant. I am not necessarily proud of the moments, but at that time, I felt it was one of the tools in my pouch that was needed.

My belief is that the ultimate way of showing respect for the people who served under me was to teach them to demand better from themselves. Showing them that halfway measures were acceptable may have made them feel “respected” I suppose since I allowed them to give sub-par performance. But if it caused the loss of one life or the ship itself, it would have been the highest form of being disrespected (Sorry Mrs. Stamps, I truly am).

Mister Mac

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