He was the best there ever was (just ask him) Reply

Once upon a time there was a young Machinist Mate serving on a ballistic missile submarine who inherited the job of Repair Parts Petty Officer (RPPO). I am pretty sure he did not know what he had been volunteered for but as in other collateral duties, there really weren’t a lot of choices. The guy who had the job previously had transferred during the off crew period so there wasn’t a lot of training. Fortunately, the Supply Chief was a pretty good guy and had a lot of patience.

MMFN 1074 001

The Navy supply system back then was pretty primitive. All parts were transferring into the new National Stock Number that would allow the management of the hundreds of millions of parts required to keep a fleet and its air wing working. Just on one submarine, there had to be some astronomical numbers of parts since stealth is best protected when you don’t have to run back into port every other day when something breaks.

Let me assure you that by the time I got to the George Washington, there was never any shortage of things that broke. I found that out on my second patrol as a brand new RPPO. Here is how it works: the equipment breaks, the mechanics tear it apart and if you are very very lucky, you get a list of parts you need. Then you fill out the duplicated request form 1250,  get it signed by your Division Officer and turn it in to the supply department so that they can find out if it actually exists on board. If it was really expensive, you also had to get the Engineer’s signature.

In most cases, its an o-ring (9Z-5330-00-1972) which is located in a storage bin in the supply shack and in the correct quantity you need. If, on the other hand, you are a brand new RPPO, the actual O-ring you need has not been used in 11 years and is in a storage bin someplace in the Missile Compartment lower level behind another bin that has 300 pound valves in it. Plus, the part is needed at 3 AM when the Supply Chief and your Division Officer are both in bed after a long day of drilling. The Chief has just told you that this is a HOT JOB (a typical term for something that will overcome all other priorities until completed and replaced by another HOT JOB).

In my career, I had many Division Officers and later used some of them as examples of what to do when I became one. But I found early on that some men who achieve the rank of United States Navy Officer fall into the category of “the best there ever was”. If you are Navy, you know the kind. First in their Class, athletic, Lady’s Man, Captain’s favorite and on and on. They exist in all services and in the civilian world. I think there was a much higher proportion in submarines and air wings just by the nature of the jobs. You need people who are smart, problem solvers, quick on their feet and basically some of the best of the best. The hallmark of such an officer is that they are not hesitant to announce their wonderfulness both subtly and very openly for all to see and hear. Put another way, they are always legends in their own minds.

(Disclaimer: in retrospect, I had many more of the kind of Officer I wanted to be than this kind… if your feelings are hurt by thinking you are lumped into the “I am amazing, aren’t I?” category, that’s on you shipmate)

My Div O was one of those guys. When I think back on it now, he could have played the leading man in one of those World War 2 submarine movies. He wasn’t really a bad guy, but he was pretty cocky. Even on the Conn, he pushed the edge quite a few times and always seemed to get away with it. The only thing he really didn’t like was being woken up for trivial stuff. Like signing the 1250 forms that were required for that Supply Chief to give the young sailor the needed parts.

The one machine that was the worst for parts was the old Oxygen Generator (previously talked about here  https://theleansubmariner.com/2011/07/22/boom/ )

The Bomb had more o-rings and seals in it than any other piece of equipment I have ever known. Every time it had a major leak inside the cabinet holding the cells, you literally had to replace all of them as you cleaned and rebuilt the generator. Any stray amount of dried out caustic could cause a ground which could lead to a short and potentially a fire. Since 3000 PSI of hydrogen and Oxygen were flowing inside the piping, fire was not the best thing that could happen.

The bomb had two major leaks that patrol. Fishman (the senior Petty Officer at the time) was charged with rebuilding it. The young RPPO would stay up with him for the length of time it took to tear down, figure out what was needed, write out the 1250’s and make the rounds to get signatures and parts. The first time, things went fairly well except the growing annoyance form the Division Officer on being awoken so many times as more and more parts were needed. Towards the end, he just stuck his hand out of his curtained bunk, grabbed the chit and scribbled his name. By the second time, he came up with a unique solution. He instructed the young Petty Officer to sign for him and give him a final accounting when the work was done (and he didn’t have to be awoken any more).

What made the process even leaner was when the Supply Chief felt that the RPPO had done this enough that he could just give him his keys for the night and go find the storage lockers themselves. In the Chief’s defense, he had done this with other RPPO’s in the past and never had an issue. But that was before Fishman needed a particular valve that cost over $2500.00. The work was almost done and we had been floating off of the O2 Banks  for a few days so the RPPO used his new procedure to get the parts and get the job done.

It wasn’t until the night before coming into port when the Supply Officer was going through the paperwork that he noticed this high value item and noticed no signature from the Engineer. Over dinner that evening, he asked if the Engineer had forgotten to sign the chit. The Engineer had no idea that he was on the hook for this extra few thousand dollars and called for the Division Officer to come down. When he arrived, he of course knew nothing about the expensive purchase and would look into it right away. Conveniently he forgot about the arrangement he had made and asked the Chief to start and investigation and relieve the young RPPO of all of his duties until further notice.

You can only imagine how crushed the young RPPO was as he realized he was being charged with forgery. His hopes of getting promotion were gone but more than that, his fear of being sent to the brig were heart breaking. After spending so many hours without sleep and completely fixing all of the broken equipment before coming back into port his reward was to be accused of doing something that violated the UCMJ. SO he did the one thing that made sense and put in a chit for a request mast with the Captain.

For the next two days there was no word of anything. All talk of punishment was on hold since so many people were now involved. To his credit, the Supply Chief owned up to his actions. That gave the young man a great deal of respect for him which stayed with him  throughout his career. The boat pulled in and the in port activity in preparation for the crew change took over all of the attention. Finally after three days, the Captain was coming down the brow after midnight and the young Petty Officer was on topside watch waiting for his relief (who was late again). Mustering up all of his courage, he said “Captain, when will I get my request mass?” The Captain didn’t seem mad to be asked, he just looked kind of sad. “Come down to the wardroom when you get off watch and we can talk”.

After getting relieved, he went to the wardroom. The Captain was sitting there and none of the stewards were around. He offered the young man some coffee and directed him to sit down. Then he began speaking.

Captain:“This was a pretty rough patrol wasn’t it?

RPPO: “Yes sir”

Captain: “I understand you were a large part of repairing the machines that broke. That must have taken a lot of time and effort.”

RPPO: “I was just trying to do what I was supposed to Captain”.

Captain: “You know Lieutenant ####### is a fine young officer with a great career ahead of him. He is leaving the boat for an important job with Squadron after this patrol and everyone seems to think he will go a long way in the Navy. I think for that reason it might be good if we were all able to just put this little incident away and move on from here. After all, a questionable mark on his record could affect his future.”

Did he just say that? After all the pain and heartbreak, that was it? What about justice?

Captain: “I think if we all just chalk this up to experience we can all just say we learned something and that’s the end of it.”

So that was it. At 0130 in the Wardroom, a gentleman’s agreement was reached  and the Lieutenant walked off the ship the next day never to be seen or heard from again by the young man. He did leave one last reminder though. A few days later the chief sat down with the young man and gave him his Evaluation that had been signed by the departing officer. The marks were fairly average and expected. But the most burning words were lined out and initialed by that officer.

“Petty Officer MacPherson has assumed the job  of Repair Parts Petty Officer. He has performed well as RPPO with no supervision.”

36 Years later and I still keep a copy of that eval. As I grew older I would look at it from time to time as a reminder of what kind of Chief and an Officer I wanted to be. The real lesson is to deal in an honest way all the time and you won’t have to worry about what people think about you or who they say you are. Take responsibilities for your actions and your people will know that you truly are the “best there ever was” … even when you know you are just another person trying to be the man you want God to think you are.

By the way, I also kept the copy of the letter from the CO dated a few months later to MM3(SS) MacPherson

GW 1975

Yes I know it was a form letter… but it did give me the motivation to keep moving forward.

By the way, what have you done for your troops today?

Mister Mac

Heroes Rarely Brag, But Uncles Often Do Reply

I have four nephews on active duty. I am extremely proud of all of their contributions in a generation that is better known for the self-centered pursuit of individual gratification. Of all four, Ian was the one who has been the greatest surprise and has provided some of the greatest moments. Petty Officer Anderson was a sports star in high school but not overly ambitions in non-sports endeavors. Like a lot of kids, he probably had his fair share of rebellion and could challenge  you even without trying sometimes. He was alway big for his age and never ceased to amaze me when he came to visit.

I have four distinct memories of Ian from his youth. The first is when he visited us in Indiana where we were working after retirement. I had a favorite chair that was called “The Commander” by the manufacturer. It was a one and a half man chair with a slick reclining lever on the side. At the end of a long day, I loved coming home and slipping quietly into the embracing arms of the Commander and gently pulling the lever to bring my feet to a level position that equaled my heart.. A cold (or hot) toddy completed the relaxation cycle. Did I mention that I loved that chair?

On the second day of one of Ian’s visits, he showed me an amazing display of his athletic prowess. From about six feet away, he launched his lanky frame high in the air, twisted his body for a backwards landing, and upon landing flipped the chair up in one motion of his hand to a fully extended position. I should have probably applauded but I was too appalled as I heard the Commander creak and groan under the weight. After a short but direct conversation on proper use of a monumental seating instrument, he got up and went to find something else to do. As I sat on the chair, I noticed a distinct starboard list. Apparently Ian had been practicing for the move all afternoon because the Commander was never the same afterwards. When we moved, I had a memorial service for it as the men came to take it to its final resting place.

In that same trip, my better half decided that Ian would help out around the house and he was given some lessons on how to use my lawn tractor to cut our lawn. I showed him the brakes and the levers that would raise and lower the deck. I showed him the lever that controlled the speed with strict instructions. Never never never go above this line (speed) and always watch where you were going. After the incident with the Commander, I had great confidence that he would be the safest mower in the world. Later that afternoon I got a phone call from my beautiful bride saying those fateful words: “Now Bob, don’t be mad.” I wonder why people say that. You know its only going to prepare them for the thing that will eventually make you mad. Ian had called her at her office and told her that the tractor had somehow oversteered itself and somehow the speed lever was stuck on high when it happened. The resulting collision with the fence not only permanently altered the fence but made the front end of my tractor (did I mention it was new?) look like the beginning of one of those  Allstate commercials.

I did not kill him. I do not think I even yelled. My smouldering retired Chief Petty Officer looks probably did more harm than any words. I am eternally grateful I did not. A few days later, my favorite dog suffered a twisted stomach. We didn’t even know what that was until the next day when the vet pronounced him dead on the table. Ian laid with Duncan in the hallway all night long trying to comfort him. He never left his side and I believe was the one comforting thing that Duncan had in his last hours. This gangly teenager showed a compassion that to this day makes my eyes water.

The fourth memory came one morning when Ian was having difficulty getting up. We have never had children before and were probably not prepared for his inability to arouse himself at the required time. I understand that happens quite often with younger people. He on the other hand had never been awakened by the gentle sounds of a bugle being played next to his head. The results were quite amazing. He jumped to his feet and barely caught himself before he almost unleashed a string of words that would have made a seasoned sailor blush. He still remembers that day but frankly we never had trouble getting him up after that morning.

After 9 11, Ian, like many young people felt the urge to do something. His older brother had already joined the Navy and I think he was really convinced that he wanted to go on something that didn’t sink on purpose or even spend long periods underway. So he surprised us all and joined the Coast Guard. I was unable to go to his boot camp graduation but I can tell you I was very sad about that inability on my part.

He has continued to amaze us with his service and progress. He quietly has done things I can only imagine. But recently he was called upon to do some things that made me proud that I contributed a chair and a tractor in the development of his skills and abilities.

This was from a Post I had up on Facebook from a few days ago. Sometimes its easy to forget that giants walk among us. As the recent hurricane came raging up the east coast, my nephew Ian was ordered to stay in his command center somewhere in Virginia while everyone else was evacuated. Even as his family was sent inland, he stayed the course and was ready and able to answer the calls to direct resources for critical rescues. His role is to direct rescue efforts during life’s storms and casualties. Recently, his innovation, tenacity and ability to improvise resulted in something amazing.

This was the post:

“I am not sure how Facebook really works. I never know who sees what I post. But I want to say this for the world to see. I know a real life saver. Not just someone who puts on a uniform, but someone who has the strength, courage and ability to use his gifts to save a life. That man is Ian Anderson, a Petty Officer in the United States Coast Guard. His actions saved a man’s life. It doesn’t get much better than that. I would be proud to serve with him anytime, any where and any place.  You will never know how proud I am of you nephew. Semper Paratus. We are lucky to have men like you willing to serve.”

CWO2 USN (Retired) Mac

One Very Proud Uncle

Sound the Collision Alarm, Flooding in Lower Level Engineroom forward 3

Not really sure which I had more respect for on a submarine; fire or flooding. I think most people who aren’t in a flooding situation will tell you that a fire is more feared. Between the round shape of the hull and all the stuff that can burn, fires have a tendency to spread pretty quickly. Plus, because of the nature of the stuff that typically burns, a lot of smoke is released which explains why we drill so much using emergency breathing masks that are temporarily opaque to simulate reduced visibility.

Flooding was the casualty that gave me recurring dreams though. You might even say they were nightmares since I do remember struggling to get out of my rack in a cold sweat only to find that the berthing area was all quiet except for Petty Officer T’s incessant snoring. I would sheepishly crawl back into the rack hoping no one had seen my momentary panic. But I can assure you I did not fall back asleep no matter how long we had field dayed the boat prior to my short sleep.

When they actually do sound the collision alarm, you don’t ignore it. In your head, you hope it’s a drill but if its done at an unusual time with no hint of a drill coming, you definitely get an adrenaline rush. I think that after five boats, that’s why I still sleep so light. I think if my wife ever really wanted to push me to the next world, all she would have to do is wait for some night when I was in one of my rare deep sleeps and rig up a collision alarm next to my bed.  Yep, that would just about do it as I tried to pull the curtain on my rack aside and hunt for my poopy suit only to find that I was not ready to answer the alarm. Can you spell heart attack?

Central Pennsylvania has been sounding the flooding alarm a lot the last few days. Remnants of Hurricane Lee (tropical storm?) moved slowly through our area similar to what Agnes did almost forty years ago. All up and down the Susquehanna Valley, people who like a nice water view are getting an up close and personal encounter with the water they love so much. Central Pennsylvania is a beautiful area with rolling hills, large expanses of open farmland and gentle streams and creeks that provide a nice backdrop on a sunny day. The typically winding and dipping roads are actually one of the fun things when the weather is nice since it provides you with an experience somewhat similar to what a Le Mans race would be. But when the skies open up and pour ten inches of rain in a day, all of those characteristics work against her.

There had been a lot of rain recently which helped to saturate the ground. Another Hurricane had recently passed to the east but dropped lots of water all through the tributary areas. Lee’s arrival came at a particularly bad time and its slow-moving nature made it a very productive rain maker. Those back roads quickly develop into dangerously unexpected obstacles from fallen trees and accumulated water. If it happens in the night, it becomes harder to see and results in a lot of accidents. Making the wrong choice in which route you travel will almost always result in unexpected delays at best and something much more tragic at their worst. This storm also affected the major highways which line the rivers and streams here. I have never seen a large stretch of the turnpike closed before but it was needed this time to prevent people from getting trapped.

Mandatory evacuations were in place all over the Harrisburg and Hershey areas. We still have electricity so far and water but many of the communities are already under a boil water advisory. The one thing I noticed was that even though the word had been put out days before that this was a very high possibility, how completely surprised so many people were that they would have to be evacuated. Plus, you could tell by their comments, how unprepared they were for even the most basic needs. The shelters are full in all of the counties around us and almost all of those people brought little to nothing with them. The worst part is that in the low-lying areas, they will not have much to go back to.


I seriously wish there was a giant collision alarm that I could sound. I wish even more that people would take preparation more seriously before the big event. At the end of the day, it’s still a choice isn’t it. Even the best preparations will not overcome the really big events. But being ready for the types of possible casualties in your area might just mean that one of the first responders won’t have to risk his or her life for someone who didn’t think they would ever be a victim. Well, off to the Church to help dry out the basement. Hopefully the rain will stop soon.

If you have a spare one, a lot of really nice people could use your prayers. The new water ride at Hershey Park is not very welcome at all.

Mister Mack

If you want jobs, quit b!tching and join the 21st century 4

The name of this blog is the lean submariner. Most of the stories I write are based on leadership and submarines because those are my passions. But I am afraid for my country. Without embracing new strategies and new methods, we will lose the rest of our manufacturing capability at the very time we may need it. The part about history you must remember is that our strength in wars past has been our manufacturing capability to overcome our enemies.  Once you have lost the capacity to produce what is needed, you become a servant to those who have not. Lean Manufacturing is a key and critical component to return us to the fore front.

What is Lean Manufacturing/Lean Production?

Lean techniques are the systematic identification and elimination of waste (80%), and the implementation of the concepts of continuous flow and customer pull. The benefits that are often achieved using lean production systems are 50% lower production costs, 50% less personnel on existing processes which allows for better reallocation in new product lines or services, 50% less time to field new products, higher quality, higher profitability, higher system flexibility, and more… However, by continually focusing on waste reduction, there are very few limits to the benefits that can be achieved.

Five general areas drive lean manufacturing/production: cost, quality, delivery, safety, and morale. Just as mass production was recognized as the principle production system of the 20th century, lean production is viewed as the key success production system of the 21st century.

What is the Lean Enterprise?

The ‘Lean Enterprise’ encompasses the entire production system, beginning with the customer, and includes the product sales outlet, the final assembler, product design, and all tiers of the supply chain (to include raw material mining and processing). Any truly ‘lean’ system is highly dependent on the demands of its customers and the reliability of its suppliers. No implementation of lean manufacturing can reach its full potential without including the entire ‘enterprise’ in its planning.

What are the elements of Lean Manufacturing?

The basic elements of are waste elimination, continuous one-piece workflow, and customer pull. When these elements are focused in the areas of cost, quality, and delivery, this forms the basis for an effective lean production system.

Key Lean Definitions

Value – From the perspective of the customer, those aspects or features of our products they are willing to pay for.

Value-added – Those production steps that transform raw materials directly into the features for which the customer assigns value.

Non-Value Added – Anything you do that the customer is not willing to pay for (MOre commonly called “waste”

5 Why’s – a simple technique, used to reveal the ‘root cause'(as opposed to symptoms) of a problem. The technique asks ‘why’ the symptom
occurred, ‘why’ the situation which allowed the symptom exists, and so on, until the root cause is finally discovered. Eliminating the root cause prevents the symptom from ever occurring again. If it does occur, the root cause was not properly addressed.

HINT – if your ‘5 Why’ exercise always seems to be pointing to ‘operator error’ as the root cause, you are probably going down the wrong path. Operators only do what our production systems allow them to do, so the root cause is in our systems, not our workers.

In this ever competitive world, the question is, can America compete any more?

The answer is not only we can, but we must. We truly invented modern manufacturing and have watched it steadily erode away because of our own selfishness and divisions. Management and labor both have their own share of the blame. If we are ever going to get out of the economic mess we are in now, it will require a true sense of partnership.

The days of outlandish demands on either side are over. Standing on a platform and calling your fellow stakeholders names will only ensure two things: your voice will eventually be gone and so will the business you depend upon to make your living. Class warfare has never worked and never will. It weakens us as a society and allows our enemies to take the lead over us. Any leaders who promote this warfare are not leaders at all.

Lean manufacturing requires partnership between all of the participants. It is the only way to carve the fat out of the business processes we have now and gain the ultimate reward: a return to world-class leadership and innovation. We either compete or we will end up being nothing more than sellers and buyers of other people’s goods in a greatly reduced society.

Mister Mac

Labor Day Weekend 1

The lean submariner will be taking a few days off to prepare for a journey next week.

Its Labor Day weekend which is kind of ironic considering the jobs report that just came out this morning.

Please say a prayer for those who are serving us, those who have served, and those who gave their all for us.

Also pray for those people who are having a hard time this weekend with no job and little leadership working to help them.

I will be back in action next week. Please take time to enjoy the important things in life this weekend.

If you are travelling this weekend, please remember to be safe on the roads. The family you save may be your own.

God Bless You and God Bless America

Mister Mac

The Ultimate Irony 2

On August 31, 1911 the USS Utah was commissioned. This battleship was a Florida class ship and the only one named after the state of Utah. The Captain of the ship at commissioning was William S. Benson, a Battleship sailor to the core. He later went on to become the first Chief of Naval Operations in World War 1 and a strict traditionalist.

Utah 1911

It was Benson who said he could not "conceive of any use the fleet will ever have for aviation" and he secretly tried to abolish the Navy’s Aviation Division. However Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt reversed the decision because he believed aviation might someday be "the principal factor" at sea with missions to bomb enemy warships, scout enemy fleets, map mine fields, and escort convoys. Grudgingly allowing it a minor mission, the Navy slowly built up its aviation.

UTAH Forecastle

One of my many hobbies is to collect Blue Jacket’s Manuals. These are the manuals issued to every sailor in basic training to help them prepare for their future roles as men-of-war (or is it people-of-war these day?). The manuals have been around since 1902 and were first written by Lieutenant Ridley McLean, USN. You can view the older copies on-line here: http://bluejackets-manual.com/index.html

I love reading the older ones (pre-WW2) since the attitudes of the leadership were strongly displayed and taken as pure gospel. There is absolutely no doubt that the battle line was and always would be centered around the mighty Battleship. The Tenth Edition was printed in 1940 (I have my Grandfather Parkin’s copy) and is a fascinating read. All of the left over traditions from the previous war are included in the way the book is written and its content.

The Battleship is of course listed as the pre-eminent ship of the line. In Chapter 24, General Features of Ships of the US Navy are listed. Under battleships, the following description is listed:

“Battleships are heavily armored, carry heavy armament, and are of moderate speed of about 20 knots. They are designed to fight any vessel anywhere.

All battleships have a huge fuel capacity and a long cruising radius. All battleships are heavily armored at the waterline and carry thick armor in the barbettes leading to the turrets, thick armor in tubes leading up to the conning and fire control towers, and thick armor in wake of the uptake space of smoke pipes. All turrets are heavily armored. A heavy protective deck of special steel covers the vitals of the ship.”


Prior to the second world war, the Utah had seen valiant service in Vera Cruz Mexico and served an important role during the first world war. As newer battleships were built, the Utah was relegated to auxiliary roles as a training ship for anti-aircraft weapons and as a target ship. This was a very important role and these words from the Official USS Utah Memorial Organization capture this role best:

“The legacy of USS Utah was ever-present in the struggle of the Pacific. The training it had provided to the pilots, warships, subs and antiaircraft gunners enabled the Pacific Fleet to be an effective fighting force early on. The testing weapon system had allowed that fleet first-hand experience in working effectively. The ship had contributed significantly to the scientific testing of remote systems, gunnery training and aerial attack. In a larger sense, Utah helped prepare America for war.”

The beginning of Utah’s end came on December 7, 1941. From the ship’s history :

“One of the first vessels attacked by the Japanese was Utah. Commanders Genda and Fuchida, planners of the attack, had ordered their pilots to ignore the training ship, which as a non-combat ship was not worthy of attack, but eager pilots dropped two torpedoes on Utah and the nearby light cruiser Raleigh. One torpedo slammed into Utah‘s port side at 8:01 a.m. as the crew raised the flag on the fantail. Some minutes later a second hit the same area.”


It didn’t take long for the Utah to start its roll which would end in the deaths of many sailors. It is incredibly ironic that the first ship to be sunk in Pearl Harbor was the same ship commissioned by an Admiral who once claimed that Naval aviation was a waste of time.


The memorial to the Utah and her sailors is on the back side of Ford Island. I lived in Barracks 55 in the early seventies and used to run by the place where she rested. I always thought it was a shame she never got more attention for her sacrifices. Up until today, I didn’t realize how important her role really was.

What pre-conceived notions and ideas are you holding on to today? As we face the future of Naval warfare, do you think the leaders and planners are seeing the possibilities for the next conflict? Or are we clinging too tightly to our own “Battleships”?

Mister Mac

A Shiny New Coat of Paint Reply

I think that one of mankind’s greatest achievements is the evolution of paint. I also believe it is mankind’s greatest admission of imperfection.

I have been intimate with paint since I was a young boy. My Grandfather had an old boat on the Monongahela River in Western Pennsylvania called the Dawn. She was a forty-eight foot cabin cruiser originally built for the Great Lakes that Grandpa Bob had bought before I was born.

HMS Dawn

The Dawn had twin Gray Marine diesel engines http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gray_Marine_Engine and an Onan Generator for a power supply. Since she was built for lake cruising, she carried a weeks worth of water, fuel, and had real anchors on the forward teak deck. She was a deep hulled boat so we had to be careful on our many trips up and down the rivers. A basic radar, sonar and marine radios kept Grandpa on top of all the dangers a river can present and the full lifeboat was the only one of its kind I can remember growing up on the river.

Robert W. Parkins

Smaller boats would wait for the Dawn to come by at full throttle since the wake was large enough to create a mini-ski ramp out of water. We use to sit on the back deck and wait for the next boat to take us on. Grandfather was a Commodore in the Coast Guard Auxiliary who had served as a River Patrol officer during the War years up and down the smoky corridors of the steel mills lined on either side of the rivers. He was very careful to make sure the Dawn was as ready as she could be to face any danger. But there was one danger that no amount of preparation could forestall:  The corrosive effects of the river on the painted hull.

As much as the Dawn was the envy of most kids along the river bank, she became one of my hardest tasks as a kid. Part of our payment for the numerous rides we would take during the summer was scrapping and sanding the hull in the spring. No matter what kind of paint Grandfather tried, every spring we would end up scraping most of it off and applying the new brand. The rivers of Western PA are much cleaner now that the mills are mostly gone but in those days they were fired up day and night and the coolant waters eventually ended up in the rivers. That is why they were built next to rivers after all.

The mines in that part of the country also had a lot of runoff which was probably not monitored as well as it should have been. Remember the clean water act wasn’t even signed into place until 1972 and by that time I was on my way to Boot Camp to get some serious exposure to chipping, sanding and painting. So for at least a greater percentage of my young life, I could be found with my brothers walking up and down the hull of the Dawn which was cradled at Engels boat yard.

Young Sailors

The imperfection was the use of wood which had been the standard material for boats of its kind for more generations than I can imagine. Wood obviously was an acceptable substance because it allowed for some level of buoyancy and was relatively easy to manipulate into shapes with the tools and technologies of its day. But having to use something was a self inflicted admission that the greatest minds of the day could not come up with a better substance. Until metal was able to replace it. Finally, in the case of pleasure boating the miracle of all miracles: fiberglass.

The day the dawn was sold and replaced with a Chris Craft House Boat remains one of my most bittersweet memories. No more forward bunk room where we fought off imaginary pirates (on our way to Pittsburgh to actually see the real Pirates play). No more lifeboat drills and the difficult maneuvering that was required to navigate the locks on the Allegheny and the Mon. But, no more painting either. Except for a few touch ups done by the professional boat yard guys, our days of painting were behind us forever. Or in my case until I first met the George Washington in Guam coming back from an extended patrol.

Where in the world did all that green crap and all those barnacles come from? The GW had to go into dry-dock for some quick repairs and I even found out more about hull painting. It wasn’t until I reported on board the Halibut a few years later that I really discovered the fine art of painting as we prepared her for decommissioning. Despite the fact that I was a highly trained steely eyed killer of the deep, I was quick to realize that even steely eyed killers had to man a brush in order to cover up man’s imperfection.

That’s right, imperfection. Obviously if some one had designed it well enough or created the right material, it wouldn’t need paint now would it? Have you ever tried telling that to a Chief? Yep, Chief John was seriously unimpressed with my interpretation of man’s inability to overcome his imperfections and actually increased the amount of painting I would get to experience. I learned pretty quickly to keep my observations about philosophy to myself. I believe the Chief was pretty happy I made that discovery all by myself.


I don’t know where you are sitting right now as you read this, but look around you at all the imperfection. Your walls, your furniture, and probably your ceiling are probably a tribute to man’s inability to make the perfect surfaces. Unless you live in a log cabin (which probably has a clear coat of something to protect the wood) you are probably surrounded by paint. I think we have just come to accept that it will be a part of our lives (which undoubtedly makes the paint companies very happy by the way).

One of the disturbing trends I have seen in workplaces over the years however is to use paint to avoid having to actually fully adopt lean principles. Don’t get me wrong, I love the feeling of a workplace that has just gone through a dramatic change because of a dedicated effort. I like the progress charts, the before and after pictures, the happy faces of the workers as the plant manager comes down to congratulate them on their success.

The disturbing part is the rush to get the paint on without understanding the root causes of why it needed painting in the first place. The simple (and wrong) answer would be to scoff “Well of course it was dirty and scarred up… this is a factory”. Really? You want to go with that answer? How about driving to the root cause of why is is dirty and scarred up in the first place. Didn’t the same hands that cleaned and paint the pace have that ability before you and your 5S program showed up?

You see the problem is that even though you have shined it and put a shiny new coat of paint on it, until you change the mindset of the people who live in that place, you will find yourself sometime in the near future staring at a place that need painting and deep cleaning again. Without a culture change that recognizes that the cleanliness and painting is all a part of problem solving and discipline building, you are doomed to repeat this as often as new plant managers rotate through your business.

Paint is a great partner and really helps to cover up the imperfection we design into almost everything. But never lose sight of the fact that you are covering imperfection. The real goal is to find the “fiberglass solution” more commonly known as continuous improvement.

I miss the Dawn sometimes. The throaty roar of those twin diesels and feeling the wind as you charged down the river are memories that will last a lifetime. But I sure am glad I had a few months off before I went into the Navy because of her fiberglass replacement.

Retirement 2

Mister Mac

If you are going to lead, LEAD! 8

You and your team are standing outside of a burning building. The fire isn’t very big yet but its obvious that it has the potential to become a major conflagration. Time is a key element in any damage control situation. Yes, it’s important to understand the threat in order to apply the right resources and equipment. But the real time to assess the threat is long before the threat emerges. Decisions have consequences. So do mistakes in most large organizations.

Back to the burning building scenario. Here is one of the strategies that I have seen that absolutely astounded me:

Let’s form a steering group!

This is an incredibly effective way for “managers” not to be tagged with any imminent failures. It’s somewhat logical to a matrix organization since it will give the illusion that all of the stakeholders will be represented and heard.

Scottish Settler 001

A steering group is kind of like back in the old west days when the savage Indians attacked the poor defenseless wagon train. You circle the wagons as quickly as you can and the theory is that you will be able to bring more firepower into play and hopefully last until the cavalry finally arrives. The “leaders” (minus the aloof Wagon Master who does not like conflict) all get their wagons settled in and meet in the middle to figure out what to do next. (Is this really the right place to start discussing what a good plan of action is?)

The Indians will then play their traditional role and circle the outer edges of the wagons shouting and screaming and allowing themselves to ride just slowly enough to be shot out off of their horses.

Here’s the rub: sooner or later the Indians figure out that if they don’t ride around your wagons, they will live longer. Not only that, but then they can probe you for your weaknesses and find the right spot to attack.

Let’s look at your circled wagons for a minute.

The first Wagon is called Cost. Formulating a cost and it’s resulting price is not that hard really. First, what do the materials and efforts to manufacture them into something new cost? How about your buildings and utilities? If you want a really good wagon, it will need upkeep and maintenance. Fancy wagons need good structure so you will have lots of policies and people to enforce those policies. As the wagon gets heavier with all those requirements, you will have to add more support structure to the wagon itself. Its like a never ending cycle.


Plus in some really big wagon trains, everybody wants to add something to the Cost wagon. Fees and inner company surcharges and handling charges and on and on add more and more weight to an already overweight wagon. It’s a wonder the axles don’t collapse from the strain. Also, right before the wagon train left, all of the drivers got together and decided this was really hard and dangerous work. Yep, you got it, the Teamsters were born (Local #1)

But one key element about price is often beyond your ability to really control. What is the customer willing to pay?

The second wagon is called Quality. This is a very important part of the wagon train because without quality the wheels will fall off. How it is achieved however is quite another thing. Every wagon maker has a different way of making Quality a priority. There is a cost for quality but it too is considered a part of the cost of doing wagon trains. The simple answer is that there are two ways of delivery Quality: you can either build it in or you can spend untold hours checking and rechecking. The bad part about the second choice is that sooner or later the people who build the wagons figure out that the need for built in quality is not so important. Sometimes you just have to make a few sacrifices along the way and not to worry: somebody at the end of the line will be checking anyway, right?

The third wagon is called Delivery. Frankly with the wagons in a circle you won’t be delivering very much. The people at the beginning of the wagon trail had all the best intentions and tried to base their decisions on provisioning and resources based on experience. But once the train left for the old west, there was no such thing as continuous improvement. You just keep slogging along through the rain and the mud and the snow until that one fine day when those pesky Indians show up.

The fourth wagon is called Safety. Since the day the wagon train left the trail head, Safety has been a pain in the Wagon Master’s butt. It always wants to be first. Around the campfires at night Safety keeps agitating and agitating and the Wagon Master (who really doesn’t like conflict) finds the arguments pretty persuasive. So do the Teamsters. The wave of anxiety keeps rising until it drowns out all the other reasonable voices. They know safety is important, but at what cost? If anyone waivers, Safety pulls out it’s charts and gruesome pictures and keeps badgering people with the famous words “Do you want this on your conscience?  DO YOU???”

At one point Safety even convinced the other leadership members to reduce the amount of powder in their weapons. After all, that much powder has been proven by OSHA to be a dangerous element. Someone could get hurt so it must be dealt with NOW at all costs. Rather than being a balanced and integral part of the train, Safety finally overcomes Cost, Quality and Delivery in importance and virtually drowns out the last wagon: Innovation.

Innovation used to be first in the wagon train when it started. The riders on this wagon were the lifeblood of the train and constantly came up with better and better designs and tools. When the folks at the destination end of the trail first contracted with the wagon train company, they liked the idea that innovation was going to be leading the train. But somewhere along the way innovation started getting in the way of cost, quality and delivery. Safety had always turned a jaundiced eye towards innovation for all the risks involved so it didn’t take much for that poor little wagon to slip further and further back in the train.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to be the last wagon on the train. You are constantly eating someone else’s dust, you rarely know where the wagon train is going any more and you just kind of slip into a state of suspended animation. Hopefully you had enough innovative contributions at the beginning of the trail because Lord knows you aren’t making much headway now. Frankly, Innovation is kind of glad the wagons are circled now since they don’t have to keep up the illusion of needing to make any forward progress.

This time the Indians do not do what the wagon train expects them to do. They realize that if they have better ways to overcome Cost, Quality, Delivery and Innovation, the wagon train will be defeated. (Even the Indians don’t want to mess with Safety.) Word has it that Safety has direct connections with the Great Spirits (AKA Human Resources) and it would not be wise to directly challenge it. Instead, they flood the path with sharp arrows and animal droppings forcing Safety to form endless committees to discuss the potential dangers. Since there are limited resources in the wagon train, this will draw fighters away creating even greater weak places for the Indians to take advantage of.

All the while, the committee has been meeting feverishly in the center of the wagons. Some have argued for more and more resources and a better place in the train that will emerge from the crisis. Some sit in their places, quietly waiting for someone else to screw up. Their main theme is “never make eye contact”. Rather than actually being at their wagons and helping to fight back the attack, they have been busily putting sticky notes on the white board, surfing the internet and having frank discussions about what is really wrong. Rather than use their years and years of actual experience to lower their Cost, improve their Quality and and make their Delivery more effective, they have huddled in a circle outside of the hearing of the rest of the people in the wagons.

The only hope left is the arrival of the Cavalry.


The cavalry has been off at a week long seminar getting in touch with their emotions and failed to understand the real threat at hand. When they do arrive, the train is fairly decimated (but imminently safety conscious). The Captain calls out, “Who is in Charge here?” The Wagon Master emerges from his private wagon looking harassed and haggard. He has been busy telegraphing headquarters giving them hourly updates on the threat. His fingers are stained with ink from the many graphs and charts he has been creating for the eventual post mortem.

The Wagon Master looks at the devastation in shock and utter surprise. His glowing reports on progress to headquarters were littered with vague connotations about “beating the enemy at his own game” and “the tide is about to turn now” even though he had rarely stepped out of his luxuriously paneled wagon during the attack. He turns to the Cavalry Captain saying: “I formed a steering group. They knew the importance of the outcome. They controlled all of their own resources with no interference from me. I supported them all the way by staying out of their way. I just don’t understand why they failed…”

You and your team are standing outside of a burning building. The fire isn’t very big yet but its obvious that it has the potential to become a major conflagration. Time is a key element in any damage control situation. In my humble opinion, forming a steering committee is the biggest surrender of leadership you could commit. Competition is the fire. The building is your business. It takes leadership to really deal with crisis and change. Leadership involves risk. If you routinely put a committee between yourself and the fire, you will all get burned.

Mister Mac

Mandatory Disclaimer

No one living, dead or yet to be born should ever be perceived as having been represented in this short allegorical illustration… I apologize to any Indians of any tribe who may be offended by this fictional diatribe… I love you guys and have spent a lot of money at your casinos to prove it… my sincere apologies to all Safety Professionals who’s goals in life are to prevent injuries and permanent damage to their people (I know that none of you would ever put your inflated ego ahead of anyone’s safety or career)… and to all of my Brothers and Sisters in HR, you know I respect you in an appropriate way that is non-committal, deemed to be offensive, and certainly not intended to breach any known or unknown policies in regards to race, creed, color, sex, sexual persuasion, fevered imagination of an imaginary threat or in any way that might possibly demean or diminish any individual freedom or right in anyone except myself and all those like me who do not otherwise fit into a protected category by Federal Law and secret tribunals.

If I missed anyone, might I suggest you form a Steering Group to discuss the matter?  

The Royal Order of the Duck 2


I like ducks. Specifically, I like Mallard ducks. I have no particular problem with other types of ducks and have been known to dine on a few domesticated members of the duck family, but Mallards are my favorite because they are wild and live a relatively unstructured life. They have some characteristics that make them easy to like. One of the best characteristics is their ability to seem calm even in the face of all manners of storms.

I think people in business (and in the New Navy) could learn a lot from ducks too. Dr. Deming is famous for his 14 points which was first recorded in his book “Out of the Crisis”. He is widely thought to be the father of TQM (Total Quality Management) and his work is still being studied and used all over the world. He also left a legacy of warning businesses about things that would make them fail or at least not reach their highest level of achievement. Those ideas are known as:

The Seven Deadly Diseases

The “Seven Deadly Diseases” include:

  1. Lack of constancy of purpose
  2. Emphasis on short-term profits
  3. Evaluation by performance, merit rating, or annual review of performance
  4. Mobility of management
  5. Running a company on visible figures alone
  6. Excessive medical costs
  7. Excessive costs of warranty, fueled by lawyers who work for contingency fees

I like to look at the first item on this list from a Duck’s perspective. Humor me, it actually makes sense if you open your mind to it.

Lack of Constancy of Purpose

If you have been around business (or the Navy) for more than a few weeks, you have seen this disease in play. Every other day there are new demands and new objectives being sent through the pipeline. The bigger the organization, the worse it gets. Its almost as if the competing departments are trying their best to drive the ship in their own separate directions in order to justify their existence.

Every time you force people to change their focus on some new program that may or may not be related to the key objectives of your organization, you are diminishing their efficiency. The energy required to gear up for a new initiative actually is compounded by the fact that a certain amount of energy will be needed to slow the emphasis on the last initiative. Plus, depending on the size of the group, you probably lose about half of them each time you pull them away from the previous effort.

The mallard is completely focused on its purposes: survive and multiply. All of the mallards activities are centered around the things which will ensure their own safety and continuation of their species. They don’t really have to think about it and you can be sure they do not have focus groups or planning retreats to understand what the mission is. If they allow themselves to get distracted by non-value added activity, they die. The sad truth is that in this world, we are all part of the food chain. We have evolved quite a bit over the centuries to be more civil and less aggressive, but at the end of the day, my survival depends on my ability to do something better than the next person.

Its not fair, it shouldn’t be that way but in the end, if you want more customers, you may at some point need to take some from your competition. If you are competing against a “duck” you are in trouble if you are not one yourself. You may have heard this quote in the past:

“Always behave like a duck – keep calm and unruffled on the surface but paddle like the devil underneath”

Jacob Braude (American author)

The mallard stays focused in the rain or when the sun is shining. It does not allow itself to lose that focus even when threats are near. Part of its defense is not allowing the circumstances of the moment distract it from the key purposes for which it is designed.

One other very important thing about the mallard is that it has a sort of secret weapon in its struggle to survive. Being able to fly is part of its existence but being able to float is even more critical since the sources of food for mallards are waterborne plants.

The duck may be shaped like a boat because it happens to be a duck… but that doesn’t mean it will be automatically waterproof. Duck feathers are made up of tightly woven strands that link together microscopically. The secret is that they have an oil gland that produces waterproofing material for the feathers. But even with those features, it still wouldn’t be very buoyant without one thing happening:

Hours of focus, day after day, they apply small amounts of oil from a gland near the tail, and carefully apply it to every feather while  smoothing those microscopically fine links together to form a watertight barrier.

Without that daily, hourly, dedicated activity, ducks will and do fail at swimming. Ducklings drown because they haven’t perfected the art (nor do they have the fully mature physical capability) of oiling their feathers. And occasionally, adult ducks get lazy, stop oiling their feathers, and sink.

I most envied the duck for so many years because I liked the way things just seemed to run off their backs. Like stress. In fact, that was the reason I had a mallard on my office desk to remind myself to just let things roll off. I guess I assumed it was automatic. Now I understand that the ability to let things roll off takes a lot of daily work. You need to be constantly working on staying focused and not let the stuff around you make you lose that focus. Eventually, you may get to the point where you can float but its important to remember to be proactive in getting to that point.

Duck 007

I recently passed the duck along to a colleague as the newest member of The Royal Order of the Duck. I hope he continues to serve as a visual reminder that being waterproof in life’s storms is important and it takes work to maintain. But at the end of the day, floating is better than sinking.

Mister Mac


November 10th, Update on the Royal Order:

I found this on someone else’s Facebook page today and thought it was a worthy addition

Take a deep breath Reply


I don’t think about Oxygen much anymore. When I get up in the morning I think about what I am going to eat, what I am going to wear, what I have to do today and where do I need to go. These are all conscious choices and decisions that have to be made each day. Food sustains us (or in the case of the ribs out on the grill right now) can also destroy us. Making sure I have the right balance is an almost never ending struggle since most of the foods that are good for you are often ugly and funny tasting. Even the ones that are somewhat cute (like Brussels sprouts) come back up my throat at the least opportune time.

I know my Mother loved me and I am sure the strain of raising five kids on a tight budget was often a challenge. But every once in a while I suspected that she had evil intentions with her cooking. Seriously, who serves liver and onions with canned spinach? My older brother Chuck taught all of us how to gag when we were still very young and we still thought he was “the” role model to follow. I can see the contorted features of his face as the first piece of meat reached his lips. This was followed by dramatic surges of his stomach timed impeccably with the breath-catching gagging sound. The hunched in shoulders and gurgling sounds completed the perfect start to a cavalcade of coughing among all of the boys.

Why can’t all food taste like cheeseburgers right off the grill. You know the kind, the ones with the upgraded meat and the searing effect of the grill. Just the right amount of seasonings and the cheese melted evenly over the craterlike surface of the burger. A fresh slice of tomato, crisp lettuce, and real mayonnaise on a bun fresh from the bakery. Follow that up with a rich desert of any kind and life is exceedingly good.


The little fellow in the picture is Shing…
he travels with me all over the globe


I don’t think about carbon dioxide much anymore either. I do consider the weather report before I pull out the clothes for the day. Being in a semi-retired state right now, I don’t think much about what the business community might think about my attire, I just want to be comfortable and ready for whatever chores are on my list today. I don’t remember my Dad ever having a list when I was growing up. But based on a lot of conversation and reading other people’s blogs I would suspect that my generation has become the most list oriented group of men in all of history.

Sometimes the list is typed. Those are the most impressive since you know much thought has gone into their creation. Our computers are in the same room and sometimes I hear my wife madly typing away on hers. She was an administrative person before she retired and her typing skills are still epic compared to mine. I no longer need to ask what she is typing. Once I was actually told it wasn’t my list, it was just her way of keeping track of things for herself. When I looked over and saw “Paint the deck” I realized that “her” list was just another way of showing “My” chores.


When is the last time you wondered how much carbon monoxide was in the air? After dressing myself and having the coffee that will kick me into a higher gear, making the choices about where to go first and what the purpose for the journey are become the real drivers for the day. Is there enough gas in the car, what’s the weather like, what time of day is it and which route will I take. But again all of those are choices in one way or another and the sum total of the choices I make will occupy my day.

Funny that I wouldn’t think about oxygen anymore. It takes about 21% of it to make your life comfortable. More if you are exerting and a wee bit less if you are resting. Carbon Dioxide is actually a rather cooperative gas since it is both a waste and a source of energy. We make it and the plants use it. Pretty good circle if you ask me. Even carbon monoxide has its uses although as a submariner, I have always viewed it as a colorless – odorless – tasteless killer of men in their sleep. Keeping those elements in balance is the only way a submarine can operate under the water for months at a time.

Just because I don’t think about them anymore doesn’t make them any less important to my life. Without them being in the right balance, I would surely not survive. It just makes me think about all the other important things in life that need to be in balance that I don’t think about. During the past few months I discovered that faith, family and focus were not balanced properly. If anything can cause a top to spin out of control, it’s the imperfections that are built into the design of the top’s balance. Sooner or later if it spins too long, it falls out of its sustaining pattern and drops on its side.

Just like submariners need to be proactive about balancing those life giving elements of O2 – CO2 and CO, I need to be more proactive about balancing work, life and faith. I am glad I still get another chance to try and find the right balance.

Time to go finish the ribs.

Mister Mac