“The bravest sight in the world is to see a great man struggling against adversity.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca
The dusty classroom is filled with the Pacific Ocean breeze, fresh, yet slightly humid. We have been going at this for what seems like an absolute eternity, rehearsing and studying. The windows and doors are propped wide open, urging the wind to venture into the miserably hot command post. The air conditioner went down a couple of weeks ago, so we just pray for cloudy skies and a sharp breeze. Unfortunately, we typically receive neither. The unpleasant weather wasn’t exactly the thing that pestered us the most. The ever-present dread that we wouldn’t be able to memorize our assigned knowledge by the end of the day was the thing that motivated us every day. We weren’t allowed to leave the lounge inside of the command post until we regurgitated all of the necessary information verbatim to a senior sailor. Needless to say, we spent many hours staring at each other and the same four walls, for days and weeks on end. Today’s assignments have been quite hefty, with nearly a dozen pages worth of information that needed to be memorized. We were all in a nasty mood due to the assignment and also because it is Friday. We were so close to the freedom and safety of the weekend, but our elders had other plans.
Hours pass slower than the snails crawling outside on the sidewalk as we grow more agitated by the moment. We switch from pacing back and forth, to laying on the ground, or to lounging in one of the incredibly rigid and non-ergonomic office chairs. A loud bang echos through the room as one of our lead supervisors comes stomping into the lounge area. “So, are we making any progress? Or are you all as stupid as I assume you are?” The massive Italian man yelled as he strode past us, looking over our shoulders and inspecting us for any potential flaws that he could write us up for. “Well? Is no one gonna answer me? Ah I see, I guess it’s International Disrespect a Staff Non-Commissioned Officer Day. I wonder how we will celebrate. No suggestions? Sounds like an additional chapter of memorization due today.” He smiles mischievously, thinking that he has indeed taught us quite the lesson. Standing at six feet, five inches, and sitting at around three hundred pounds, the HM1 was a massive force to be reckoned with. The shine off of his bald head could nearly blind a man if the sun reflected just right, and on a few special occasions, you could smell the faintest scent of vodka on his breath.
A hand went up in the corner and all eyes flicked to one of the younger, more junior guys. “Umm, excuse me. I uh, mentioned yesterday that I need to leave early. I have an appointment up at the clinic in about thirty minutes. Can I leave now?” The young man, Hospitalman Horatio, asked timidly, imagining that he would be allowed to go, but maybe get a little push back in the process. He had covered his bases by emailing and texting the SNCO the day before, notifying him of the appointment time and how long he would be seen. “What are you, broken?” The human boulder said rather crassly as he stared down the very junior sailor. “Well… it’s actually with the OSCAR mental health provider at the clinic.” I could tell that he was nervous and a bit embarrassed to admit why he was going to the clinic, but my ponderings were interrupted with a brazen and loud episode of hysterical laughing. The supervisor was bent over, holding his stomach as if to hold himself together, and was letting out a near-hyena level amount of cackling. All twenty of us just looked around at each other very confused, making eye contact with the poor kid. Eventually, he finished chuckling to himself and just stared at HN Horatio… “Boot…what do you have to be sad about? You haven’t done a quarter of the things I’ve done. I’ve killed people and you don’t hear me crying about it. What are you gonna go and cry about? How much you miss your mommy? I’m sure they’ll just give you some sad boy meds and tell you to grow the hell up!” At this point, he’s yelling in the young man’s face, which is pointed down as he just gazes blankly at the ground. He reaches out and pushes the kid away from him, trying to elicit some semblance of a response from the now fully degraded and emotional junior sailor.
I was wishing and praying that this kid wouldn’t start crying. I knew it would only make everything worse. Well, there it is. I can see the shine of a tear streaking down the poor boy’s face. I could also see it reflected in the devilish eye of our bully of a “leader”. And with that, his fate was sealed. “Awwwww is the baby crying now? Did I hurt your fragile feelings? I don’t know why they let weak little boys into the Navy, this place is so soft.” He continues to verbally and physically push this kid, further and further until the sailor’s back is forced against the sweaty off-white walls. Tears fully flowing, and a depressed downcast expression scattered across his face.
“That’s enough!” We all turn and look towards the other side of the humid room, and there stood HM3 Fjordborn. He was one of the more senior guys in this group, typically a strong silent type, however, at this moment his fists were balled up and there was a fire in his eyes. “Get your hands off of him and get the hell out of here. You don’t get to talk to one of my sailors like that. I don’t care who you think you are.” He’s speaking forcefully and with an edge of danger accented in every word. He slowly steps closer to the pair who were standing close to the aforementioned wall.
The supervisor spins around in disbelief and is in a state of stunned silence. Fjordborn continues to close the gap between them until he is nearly nose to nose with the kid’s tormenter. “I know for a fact that you aren’t talking to me Fjordborn… You know that I’m two ranks higher than you and your immediate leader.” A sly smirk flashes across the young petty officer’s face, “oh I know what I said and you are the farthest thing from a leader, so might as well stop calling yourself that.” That prompted an immediate scowl from the intimidating giant, “You better get out of my face and know your place, boot.” The hazardous smile on Fjordborn’s face just continues to smile, “Oh don’t get me started. You bully, manipulate, intimidate, and harass your sailors every single damn day…but now you stoop to antagonize one of your sailors for seeking mental health treatment? I will see that you get reported to every single authority on this base for harassment and conduct unbecoming of an SNCO. I will destroy your career.”
He looks over to the shaken HN, “Horatio, go on to your appointment right now. Make sure to mention that your chain of command attempted to block you from seeking care and tried to threaten and belittle you.” The young sailor didn’t waste a second and slipped around the two and very nearly ran out of the building. “How dare you give orders around here! I’m the superior here, you do what I say! I am…” Fjordborn rolls his eyes and breaks his attempted monologue, “Oh will you stop. I couldn’t care less what you say. Hey! Everyone in this room, get up, grab your stuff, and go to the barracks, I’ll be there momentarily.” He didn’t have to say that twice, everyone sprung up and began to clear up their messes, all except myself and one of the other senior guys. We figured that Fjordborn would need some backup or at least a witness.
It took less than three minutes for the room to clear and now the only ones left were the boulder of a human, HM3 Fjordborn, HM3 Hinkle, and myself. I could see the steam billowing out of the HM1’s ears as he realized how quickly he lost control of his juniors. “How…Dare…You…I am the ranking person here. I will write you up and send you up for an NJP, disobeying direct orders and overall being insubordinate.” The flames burning in his eyes rivaled the fire that burned in the fearless HM3. “Here’s the thing, I will stand up for what is right and defend my sailors from evil, nasty people like you. I can do this all day. Try me.” Fjordborn turns to us with a massive smirk plastered on his face, “Come on boys, we’re done here.” With that, we all gather up our bags and stride quickly out of that pesteringly hot room, leaving our infuriated “leader” to marinate in his defeat.
A few days later…
“HM3 Fjordborn, today we completed ranking boards for your rank group. Due to your lackluster performance in Headquarters and Service Company over the past six months, along with a few apparent disciplinary issues that were brought up, you have been given a 3.0 Promotable Evaluation. We just haven’t seen any real leadership qualities or excellence from you. Just show us a little more discipline and initiative.” The Chief spoke matter-of-factly, going line by line, and finally asked if I would like to make a statement.
“Chief, I have typed up my statement already and I request that the Battalion Surgeon be informed that I refuse to sign this eval as I believe it is inaccurate and being used as a way to punish me.” Fjordborn was sitting at the end of the long meeting table, which was flanked by the Chief, the HM1 who he stood up to, and an HM2. What ensued afterward was a cacophony of yelling and screaming, all intended to make the young HM3 retract his statement and just sign the evaluation. Fjordborn’s mind was spinning and he felt like he was standing on a precipice, and the next move may determine his future in the Navy. Silence eventually finds its place at the table and the three “leaders” just stare at the HM3, waiting for him to submit to their orders and sign the paper.
Suddenly, Fjordborn pushes away from the table, stands up, and turns toward the door of the conference room. With a hand on the handle of the door, he turns his head and makes eye contact with the stunned three senior sailors. “I expected more from the Navy and its leaders…I care more for my sailors and their physical and mental welfare than you ever could. I hope you three leave the service, so you can stop poisoning it with your toxic mentality. Why am I the only one to stand up for what is right?” With that, he turned the handle, stepped out into the hallway, and headed back to the barracks and his boys.
Final Thoughts: Adversity comes in all shapes and sizes, we encounter varying levels throughout every single moment of our existence. It is necessary to find and fine-tune our decision-making skills, and coping mechanisms, and establish the limits of our resistance to this adversity. We must determine at what point we will make a stand for what is right, even in the face of great challenges and sacrifices. -JR
Jacob Rego is a DODReads Fellow, specializing in fictional writing and leadership interviews. He is also an Active Duty Navy Corpsman, currently attached to an Infantry Regiment in Camp Lejeune, NC. He has been in the military for approximately five years, serving previously at Naval Branch Health Clinic Bangor, WA. His goal after separating from the Navy is to finish his education, focusing on Emergency Management and Disaster Relief.