Welcome to the Fleet Shipmate! Graduation was a few short days ago and before you know it you will be well on your way to your first command. This first job will be quite an experience and I’d like to do everything I can to make it as miserable as possible.
With COVID-19 you are already off to a great start on your journey to misery! I recommend you spend as much time as possible focused on the parties you missed out on, lost opportunities to say goodbye, and the uncertainty this will add to your future. Staying focused on the negative is a sure way to misery.
The below recommendations are from my personal experience and 20 years in the fleet watching other Ensigns come to their first command full of energy, passion, and excitement and leaving deflated, angry, burnt out and miserable. It is a tried and true formula. If you follow this advice you are all but guaranteed to be absolutely miserable within your first few months at your first command.
Take as much slack as you can: There is an assumed level of trust which is automatically given to any new officer that checks in. This means that no one will check how long you take for lunch, how much you work out, or what time you leave for the day. Take maximum advantage of this trust the first month. With any luck, you’ll get a good month or two of freedom before the command cracks down on you.
Spend everything you make: Ensign pay is great, but it gets even better. After two years you’ll get a pay raise, two more years after that you’ll be promoted to LTJG and then a few years later you’ll be looking at LT. If you factor in sea pay and any specialty pays you’ll be doing great. There is really no need to plan for the future, put money away in your TSP or watch those credit card bills. Don’t even worry if you accidentally blow your budget, with a good-paying job and automatic cost of living increases any bank in the world would be happy to loan you money.
If you are not passionate about your job, change: Remember that feeling, when you watched Top Gun, Hunt for Red October, saw the glossy Navy brochure of sailors doing amazing work, or commissioning day? That feeling of passion needs to stay; if the passion is gone you probably are in the wrong job or wrong command. If that passion is gone more than a week or so let you CO know that you have lost your passion and you want to transfer to a new command. If he laughs at you, send him a video of a college commencement speaker telling the graduates to ALWAYS follow their passion.
Putting in a lateral transfer packet to EOD or NSW would also work to get you off the ship; be sure to state that you “lost your passion” in the transfer packet.
This goes for much more than your job. If you are not passionate about your wife you probably made a mistake somewhere down the line, if you are not passionate about your food throw it out and go eat ice cream, and if you are not enjoying your gym workout go sit in the sauna. Always, always, always follow your passions. I never do anything unless I feel passionate about it.
Orders should be short, direct, and one way: You are the boss and you are the one that holds a commission from the President of the United States. Don’t waste time explaining orders or giving the intent behind your orders. Simply tell your people what needs to be done and move on. A crew that does not know the intent behind your orders will just guess and probably guess wrong.
Terms like “just get it done”, “I don’t care how good it looks”, and “I know this is a two-day job, but it needs to be done this afternoon” are all good short-and-direct terms.
Recognize that you probably know more than the “Old Man”: Sure, your Commanding Officer may have been in the Navy 20+ years, but does he really know how to run your division? Does he know what your team is going through or how pointless the latest ship tasking really is? If his orders don’t make sense it is probably because he is confused or maybe just senile.
The more you focus on his job and less on your job the better off you will be. I recommend frequent use of the CO suggestion box, command climate survey, and conversations in the wardroom that start with “If the old man just did ______ everything would be fine”. If you are not getting any traction with the indirect route one or two well-articulated e-mails to your CO when it is clear he needs some help from the “deck plates” should get you noticed.
While you are at it a good idea is to make a list of all the other incompetent leaders at your command. You may realize it is only the Ensigns and LTJGs that know anything.
Focus on the things you have no control over: With all the chaos with COVID-19, delays in the schedule, lost paperwork, the Fleet’s liberty policy, equipment casualties, your CO’s priorities, and your XO’s temper are all good things to focus on. This works well when you also blame the individuals responsible; the higher the better.
If you spend more time focusing on other people you’ll have less time to worry about the things you do have control over such as your quality of work, your character, your fitness, and the sailors working under you.
Never give an order without telling who it is from: I recommend you always let your troops know exactly where their orders are coming from. Orders such as “The CO wants this clean”, “The XO wants you to get a haircut”, or “The OPSO needs you to complete this maintenance check” work well. If sailors only do what they are told, and no more, nearly all initiatives can be easily squashed at your level.
Likewise, if you know something needs to be done but have not been tasked yet, just wait until your boss notices it and you can easily parrot it down.
Focus on the nearest Fires: At your first command, there will be short term tasks that need to be accomplished today, and long term tasks that will take weeks to accomplish. Unless a task is an absolute emergency and due that day push it off to the back burner. This also keeps you from wasting time prioritizing your workload. Likewise don’t worry about your qualifications until you are at around the 6th month point and your boss has threatened twice to secure your liberty until you get qualified.
The mantra of “if you wait until the last minute it will only take a minute” works well here.