Once upon a time in a land not too far away, reigned the good King Publius. This magnanimous king decreed a vessel to be built by the shipwrights of his kingdom. His decree stipulated that the ship should be built primarily as a training vessel for the young people of the land in preparing to venture forth on the Sea of Life. He further ordered the ship should be so designed that it could serve the recreational needs of his subjects when it was not being used in its primary duties. He sent orders to his Royal Department of the Navy to begin work immediately. The king levied a tax upon his subjects to pay for the design, engineering and construction costs. His subjects, seeing the benefits to be derived from such a ship, raised no objection to the tax put upon them.
The keel was eventually laid, the line and staff officers were selected from the finest throughout the land, and the ship was made ready for sea. The Naval Construction Administration inspection team came and went over the ship from stem to stern and keel to topsail. The ship passed its certification with flying colors. The crew of trainees came aboard with four-year rotational enlistments so that 25% of them would graduate each year. The maiden voyage was conducted under the leadership of one Captain Gold and was deemed a tremendous success by the subjects of the kingdom.
As the years went by, the ship won many awards and honors in various competitions and events with the training ships from surrounding kingdoms. The subjects of King Publius were extremely proud of their ship and felt that their tax monies had been well-spent. The officers and crew felt that their efforts had been rewarded and the ship continued to excel in its training mission and at the same time continued to provide recreation to the subjects.
Then one day, events took a turn that no one ever anticipated. The King decided to transfer the ship from the Royal Navy to the Department of Boats. The Department of Boats was run by an Admiral Allan who believed that there should be a report for every incident and a form for every eventuality. Captain Gold was transferred to the shore offices of the D.O.B. (Department of Boats) and his former executive officer, Lcdr. Walter was appointed as the new captain of the ship.
The ship continued to do well (albeit somewhat impeded by its being surrounded by small boats and small boatmen). The new captain soon became frustrated by having to fill out the DOB forms for everything including the pumping of bilges ! Instead of being allowed to run his ship, Captain Walter found that he had to spend much of his time ashore at the DOB meetings that were held almost every day. He soon discovered the futility of trying to talk "ships" to boatmen. Even Admiral Allan did not understand the difference between ships and boats (nor did he understand the difference between fishing ponds and the open seas). He insisted, however, that he still had expertise in all matters inasmuch as he had been aboard a ship once as a trainee. It wasn’t long before the ship was spending more time in port with the Captain and officers going to meetings and filling in forms than it was in doing its intended job.
The Department of Boats replaced Admiral Allan with a Portuguese boatman by the name of Admiral Dabarro. Everyone knew the reputation of the Portuguese as sailors. Hope for a return to normalcy was everywhere. The officers and crew of the ship made ready for sea at long last ! But alas, Admiral Dabarro was also a boatman like his predecessor. He was even more enamored with reports, forms and meetings than Admiral Allan. He appointed as his aide Rear Admiral Denski. Rear Admiral Denski was to be in charge of everything and responsible for nothing. Very close attention was paid to the written policies of the D.O.B. Those that were troublesome were either torn out of the book or rewritten. New policies were inserted where needed to accommodate the new regime and were approved by the Civilian Board of Rubberstampers. Even after all that work, things were going wrong. When they did, Rear Admiral Denski would form committees, task forces, forms and reports so deep that by the time anyone could do anything to correct a situation, it was either too late or it was forgotten ! If anyone asked about the ship, they were given a boat answer to solve it. If the question-asker were persistent, he would be told to form a committee. If a committee were formed and after months came up with a solution, the Admirals would go to the Rubberstampers and do what they wanted to do in the first place and ignore the committee’s recommendations.
As time went by, the situation for the ship continued to deteriorate. Captain Walter was almost at the end of his rope. Every time he wanted to move the ship or conduct an exercise, the D.O.B. had him fill out forms – green forms, pink forms, yellow forms, goldenrod forms, blue forms with a white original with proper distribution of the copies as indicated. The officers and crew became demoralized when they saw the futility of trying to communicate with the Department of Boats.
Then word came that the Naval Construction Administration (NCA) was due to return for another periodic inspection. It was hoped that the inspection team would notice that the ship had fallen into disrepair, that the training schedule was now not much more that paper, and that the morale had hit new lows. It was the function of the NCA team to report their findings to the King and there was new hope that action would be taken to rectify the situation. When the report showed that a problem existed in communicating ship problems with boatmen, the Admirals were furious and they decided then and there to rid themselves of the problem (as they saw it) – Captain Walter. They knew how he abhorred paperwork and meetings, so they doubled their previous orders, requests, and demands (each with its own report, of course). One of these requests was for the annual evaluation of his executive officer, Lcdr. O’Patrick. He knew he had done the evaluation, but in his now tons of records he could not locate that one particular form. All he could find were his handwritten notes of the evaluation. Knowing the importance of proper forms as far as the DOB was concerned, he decided to type up a new form and date it the day noted on the handwritten notes. He submitted the form to Admiral DaBarro and Rear Admiral Denski. They were dispirited inasmuch as once again he had met their demands…until these expert papershufflers noticed that the form Captain Walter had submitted was dated before this revised set of new forms had been printed. They were ecstatic ! They had the rascal ! The humiliation they had suffered before the King would be revenged. They decided to sit on their findings a bit in the belief that if Captain Walter would do such a thing ( a very serious offense to paper shuffling boatmen), he might err again !If that would happen, they would be able to court martial the villain and be rid of him forever. So, they kept up the pressure and finally one of the boatswain’s mates on the ship had his fill of the paper. He submitted a stack of request forms for turning on the ship’s watering system in an attempt to show the ridiculousness of all the paper. Captain Walter thought it would be funny and also perhaps let the Admirals see the folly of their ways, so he signed the requests.
That was all the Admirals needed – they instituted courts martial proceedings against Captain Walter. The DOB and the Rubberstampers paid for a good lawyer and had the advice of the Royal Barrister. Captain Walter had to try to get legal help from a lawyer using his own meager funds and those donations he received from his own loyal crew. All the while not realizing the genuine hatred the Admirals had for him. He was naďve in that he had always been able to differ with his superior officers in the Royal Navy and his opinions and suggestions were listened to and often followed, inasmuch as he had been running the ship. He had not taken into account the difference in sophistication between shipmen and boatmen.
The Courts Martial was convened. The King and many of his subjects were present. The panel of judges was made up of the Rubberstampers ! Hope for a fair hearing by an impartial panel was dashed ! It came as no surprise that Captain Walter was officially censured, or that Lcdr. O’Patrick and others who testified on behalf of Captain Walter would later rue the day. Had it not been for the outcry from the subjects who had once been so proud of their ship, Captain Walter would have been keel-hauled and then banished from the kingdom forever. The Rubberstampers thought it best just to put the Captain on probation ( with a tacit agreement to knuckle under) for a year and make an official notation in his records ( thus making it almost impossible for him to gain employment as a captain elsewhere). The Admirals had been exonerated and avenged ! The subjects had forgotten all about such a "minor thing" as the Report about "lack of communication" issued by the NCA a year before.
A good leader instinctively knows the rules of working with people – that’s why he is a good leader ! Perhaps it would be best to insert a hiatus in the story to enumerate these rules:
Respect is earned, not demanded or expected !
Reward your people publicly for a job well done !
Criticism should be given rarely, and in private !
Don’t ask anything of a subordinate that you wouldn’t gladly do yourself !
Listen to and consider the suggestions of your people !
Give the consideration to others that you would want for yourself !
Defend those who work for you !
Fight for causes that are worthwhile !
Don’t knuckle under to self-righteous dunderheads !
The good Captain Walter felt that his years of efforts to make the ship one of the most outstanding in the country had gone for naught. He had been widely recognized and his advice had been sought by other ship captains around the entire country. Now he had been shamed. He could go nowhere without the subject of his degradation being brought up. Feeling that if he continued to run the ship under the cloud of suspicion he would bring disgrace to the officers and trainees, he resigned and left the kingdom. The torment of all this took its toll on Captain Walter’s personal and professional life. He gave his all and received grief for his trouble.
The admirals back at the DOB now had a clear track. They would most certainly not make the mistake of hiring anyone with the qualities of Captain Walter (listed previously). This would be in complete opposition to their way of running the Department. They certainly would not hire anyone who would argue with their imperious decisions. They decided they needed someone with a more facile mind. The search was on !
The admirals accepted applications for the vacant captaincy position of the ship. As was the custom, Lcdr. O’Patrick was one of the applicants. He and the others were carefully scrutinized and interviewed. To make it appear that he had a chance ( you remember he had made the mistake of being loyal to Captain Walter during the Court Martial), he was told that he came in a close second behind a Commodore Sycophant. The Commodore had already passed his Admiral’s correspondence course. Lcdr. O’Patrick was also informed that his pay raise for the coming year would not be as great as those who were loyal to the DOB.
The new commodore was instructed to bring the renegades on the ship into line (they are perceived as such to this day). The prize-winning crew was now reduced to a mutinous rabble in the eyes of the Admirals and the Rubberstampers. In his efforts to straighten out this bunch, the commodore’s attention was distracted from the ship operation, and it ran aground ! Knowing this would look bad to the king, he declared the ship "not aground" ! The Admirals could not see how a boat could be aground in three feet of water (once again they were thinking "boats" when they should have thought "ship"). Therefore, they too declared that there was no problem. The officers and crew began muttering about being aground. However, since they were just mutinous dogs that were always being "negative" and forever complaining – they were not listened to. The Admirals’ feeling that a possibility existed that some one of the subjects might notice, decided to form a committee to air the complaints. The committee had 20 boatmen and only 3 crewmembers from the ship. Needless to say the ship people were outvoted about being aground. Now the Admirals had overall consensus about being afloat.
The flags flew from the masthead on the ship, the reports were duly written and submitted, the crews of trainees came and went. The subjects of the Kingdom were satisfied that the ship still served its intended purpose inasmuch as most of the trainees were given Seaman’s papers upon graduation. The distinction between boats and ships became unimportant because they were still aground. The officers gave up any hope of ever setting out to sea again.
And this is how the proud ship became another little boat !
I wrote the above story many, many years ago…not much has changed over time. Many of my colleagues at the time were not in agreement with my characterization of the principals involved (pun intended), nor are they to this day. This piece then, is simply my take on the events. The character’s names were changed to protect my meager bank account. If you are curious, here is what happened to some of the characters:
Captain Walter: Could no longer find administrative position anywhere. The last I heard, he had been working as a dealer in a casino in Florida and had suffered a massive heart attack.
Admiral DaBarro:
Left at the end of his tenure with his married ( to someone else) secretary. He found much higher paying employment as Admiral in another kingdom and the last I heard enjoying the many benefits of his newfound income.
Commodore Sycophant:
Served with flair as captain. Was observed regularly at public meetings and in the newspaper with public pronouncements that the ship was not only afloat, but one of grace, beauty, and high speed. He was promoted to Admiral and served "admirably" until his retirement.
Lcdr. O’Patrick:
The only character in this story who was given his due. After many years serving as second fiddle, he finally was advanced to the captaincy of the ship. Perhaps he came to understand the ship was afloat.
: Original group is long gone. Several intervening boards have been elected. One can hope they are no longer under the thumb of the admirals who cite real or imagined law and mandates to keep them in line.
The Ship: Doomed to remain aground under the definition of "afloat" as put forth by the Department of Boats
©1989 Dean Rowe