Friday, September 12, 2008

Unfaltering Competence - Uncommon Flair

The plaque on his desk in the Pentagon's E-Ring read "FAST CHARGER." This was the radio call of the CNO when he was commander of the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. He was an aggressive blue-water sailor of unfaltering competence and uncommon flair.

He was born for the Navy.

It was long obvious that the big (6 ft. 2 in., 180 lbs.), handsome naval officer was headed for big things. There used to be an old Navy tradition that an admiral's flag was never really earned until it had been flown at sea. This CNO asked to be reduced in rank so he could go to sea and have his flag flown there as a Rear Admiral before getting his third star.

Those who served with him in the Mediterranean—from the swabbies on up—testify to the excellence of his service with the Sixth Fleet. His own men never saw such a stickler for propriety, protocol and taut-ship policy. He praised smart crews generously, but the sloppy ones got caustic criticism. To one skipper who executed an awkward maneuver, he signaled: I AM NOT IMPRESSED.

A devout Roman Catholic, he sermonized his men with endless broadcasts on clean living ("The Sea Scout Hour," one irreverent sailor called them). His most famous bulletin to all hands was titled: #%&?*!¢. "Foul language," it began, "is not the sign of a man!" It went on to spell out "The Code of the Uncouth" under the heading WHY I USE OBSCENE LANGUAGE. Sample sarcasms: "It PLEASES my mother so much. It is a fine mark of MANLINESS."

At the same time, the CNO exhibited a human touch. If he heard that a man's wife was ailing, he sent her flowers. When an officer's wife was sent to the hospital, he temporarily transferred the husband to shore duty near by. One speech showed the breadth of his concern for his men: "A ship deployed for eight months means America's great power is being projected overseas, but it also means loneliness for wives and families, babies born while father is in Antarctica, on Polaris patrol, or steaming in the Formosa Strait; many small things—the uncut lawn—the leaky faucet—the unfixed bike ..."

In his brief time as CNO, he made his philosophy of command a day-to-day reality. As he explains it: "One, get a good chief of staff. Two, keep a firm grasp of fundamentals. Three, leave details to the staff. Four, go for morale, which is of almost transcending importance. And next, don't bellyache and don't worry. Show confidence, because if you don't have confidence, certainly your subordinates won't."

From TIME Magazine some years ago.

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