June 26th, 2008

Dispatches from the Deep: #5 (June 26, 2008)

I like the current batch of midshipmen much more than any of the previous ones. Why? For the sole reason that it's the last group we're taking on. We've spent the last week and a half doing operations called CORTRAMID and PROTRAMID. At first glance, those probably sound like bad cough medicines. But in actuality, the former stands for "Career Oriented Training for Midshipmen"; I'm not sure as to the latter, but I'd bet on "Professional Training for Midshipmen" or something equally lame. As near as I can tell, the only difference is that the CORTRAMID groups are composed of ROTC folk (spoken: normal college students who play Sailor once a week), and the PROTRAMID is all U. S. Naval Academy students. Hosting all these people aboard has effectively detailed the Submersible Death Trap to Carnival or Royal Caribbean. We have to cater to them in many respects. One is that they get to pick the movie watched on the mess decks every night; this has led to a lot of viewings of 21 and The Bank Job, and produced some frustrated crew members. We do "angles and dangles" every night, which are totally not conducive to sleep (and are, in fact, the main reason why I'm awake enough to type this right now). We have to show the midshipmen our pride and professionalism, and engage them with a "positive attitude." This really means "lie to them about how much most of us hate our jobs and regret the day we signed on."

Perhaps the worst aspect of these midshipman operations is that the schedule is running us absolutely ragged. Every morning, the entire crew is awoken so we can perform the exact same close-quarters maneuver - drive into the Mayport basin, conduct a personnel transfer, turn the boat around, and head back out. There are some rack shifts that accompany each transfer, since we leave some people in port each day to prevent half the crew from having to hot rack. But those can be done without passing over the 1MC "reveille, reveille, up all bunks, now reveille." We also don't need every last man to perform the piloting maneuver - especially now, having done the maneuvers so many times that even someone like myself, with no navigational training, is intimately familiar with the sequence of turns. In fact, we conclusively proved last year that when frequent personnel transfers occur in similar situations, a full maneuvering watch need not be stationed every time. Unfortunately, the command structure is such that when three decide, one hundred forty suffer - and suffering we are, with no end in sight until we steam into the Thames River.

It's funny that I'm talking about the proverbial occupational rape this evening, because it dovetails nicely with something I saw a couple of days ago. As Logroom Yeoman on Memphis, all the message traffic the ship receives is routed to my boat inbox. Most of it is irrelevant to me, but I did see one message that caught my eye. I highlighted one full paragraph, and since the message is labeled unclassified, I can share it with the world:
Special and incentive pays and personnel policies are among the tools available to influence retention. Nuclear special pays combine to make nuclear trained Sailors the highest compensated in the Navy. However, careers are seldom about compensation alone, and are influenced by the same factors we have discussed in division officer retention. In particular, your leadership and mentorship impacts each Sailor's quality of life, quality of work, sense of purpose, and job satisfaction.
It seems that someone at COMSUBFOR might be smelling the coffee. It's a possible sign that they're realizing that many more nukes than I feel as I do - that continued service in the Submarine Force isn't worth any salary upgrade or reenlistment bonus. Some of this can't be controlled at the command level. My "sense of purpose" in what I do is influenced heavily by top-level policy, and that isn't likely to change no matter who wins the Presidential election. But "quality of life" and "job satisfaction" are two things that a command's top shelf have a great deal of control over. From my perch, both have gone down, down, down in the nearly three years I've been assigned here. More duty, more tasking, more headache - without anything close to a "we feel your pain, and we know it sucks, and we're sorry," to say nothing of funneling additional American dollars to me. That's why it's three-two-seven days and counting, with absolutely no chance of derailment.

now, this is deja vu all over again...

Just after my last birthday, I wrote here about having a big decision to make as to what to do after separating from the Seagoing Military Force and completing the Post-Navy Roadtrip. To that Big Question, I now have a Big Answer: I want to go back to college. The pay gap between those with a college degree and those without is significant, and I'd prefer to be on the high side of that gap. Since I don't intend to pursue any degree beyond a bachelor's, the name on the diploma is kind of important. I'd rather it be from a reputable, well-known institution than some trade school (and certainly not the Thomas Edison degree so many Navy nukes settle for). Working toward a degree part-time while employed full-time, particularly in the nuclear field, could prove to be a very long haul, especially if I can't pull down any credit for my Navy experience and training.

Having settled that question, it came time to delve into the details. As much as I don't like the Navy, I do enjoy the actual guts of nuclear power; I've decided that it's something worth pursuing. While we were in Mayport, I began research into schools that offer nuclear engineering as an undergraduate major - and discovered there aren't very many. Fortunately, most of the universities that do offer such a course are just the types of places I'd been thinking of - large state schools with moderate cost. As I looked at the list, I was also influenced by thoughts of the team of Fowler, Corso, and Herbstreit. Why, you may ask, would the hosts of ESPN's College GameDay have any bearing on choosing a school? Well, big-time college football was noticeably absent from my college experience the last go-around. Sure, GameDay was at Penn in 2002, but a I-AA/Championship Subdivision conference that doesn't send its teams to postseason play usually doesn't warrant mention anywhere in SportsCenter. I've heard so much about that Saturday atmosphere; I'd love to experience it first-hand, and the only way one can really do that is as a fully vested supporter.

With these parameters established, and with two weeks of leave coming in a month, I began hatching college visitation plans. I've decided to take three visits over a one-week period - to Florida, Tennessee, and Michigan. That's one more school than I visited when I was doing this ten years ago. Right now, I intend to fly into Jacksonville, rent a car, drive to each school in succession (with a day between each visit), and fly out of Detroit at the end. This should give me two nights on each campus, plenty of time to evaluate not only the academic merits of each institution, but also the other things that make up the total picture. I'm really excited about this. Instead of spending the full two weeks in my ancestral home or at the New Nexus of Hate, I'm actually going to take something that resembles a real vacation. Don't get we wrong, I still intend to go home for a couple of days; Long Island will never get completely stale for me. I'm also looking to add a nice little cherry to the end of the trip. After flying back to Boston on 2 August, I hope to go see Maroon 5, Counting Crows, and SARA BAREILLES at the Tweeter Center in Mansfield. This could be the best two-week stretch of my entire tenure in the Navy. At any rate, it'll sure as hell beat spending that length of time in the pit of misery and despair.