Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Leadership Lesson - ENSIGN 101 - OIC's Rules of the Road

Nearly 100 years ago, when I was an Ensign at my first duty assignment, I lost a prisoner. Or maybe it was the Chief that lost the prisoner. In any case, let's say for this argument's sake that "we" lost our prisoner - The Mulch.

In the 1980's, the (illegal for American consumption/purchase) Japanese cough suppressant 'bron' was very popular among young Sailors due to its unrestricted availability, low cost and perceived low rate of detection.  One of our stellar Second Class Petty Officers succumbed to the temptation of a cheap and easy high and was caught in a routine urinalysis sweep of our detachment's Sailors.  Captain's Mast resulted in a reduction from E5 to E3, a fine and 30 days in Correctional Custody. ((NOTE: CC is the most serious deprivation of liberty authorized as punishment under the UCMJ, article 15. UCMJ, article 15 is designed to be a means of disposing of minor infractions of discipline without having to stigmatize service member with court-martial conviction.)) Administratively, he lost his security clearance, flight orders and was detailed to general duty as a Seaman aboard ship.  Funny that as CTs, we thought orders to a ship was punishment for a Sailor.

Our awardee was about to be released from Yokosuka Naval Base's Correctional Custody Unit (CCU) and we (the Chief and I) were being briefed on the 'rules of the road' by our Officer in Charge (OIC).  ((NOTE: CC is the most serious deprivation of liberty authorized as a punishment under the UCMJ, article 15. UCMJ, article 15 is designed to be a means of disposing of minor infractions of discipline without having to stigmatize a service member with a court-martial conviction.))

The OIC's  'rules of the road" were to be:
  • Rule 1. Prisoner will make no phone calls. 
  • Rule 2. Prisoner will eat no meals.
  • Rule 3. Prisoner will not be allowed to shower or shave.
  • Rule 4. Prisoner will not be allowed a change of clothes.
  • Rule 5. Prisoner will never be out of sight (even in the head (toilet).
  • Rule 6. Prisoner will not smoke.
Now, even after 30+ years of analysis, I can't say for certain which violation of these rules led to the prisoner's escape. But, he did escape.

With the 'rules of the road' fully explained and understood, the Chief and I made our way in the command vehicle from Atsugi, Japan down to the Yokosuka Naval Base CCU via Route 16.  Recovering our "awardee" (once a stellar PO2 and now a Seaman) from CCU was quite an experience.  They had broken him down to his least survivable component.  I should say that CCU of 1983 and CCU of today are two VERY DIFFERENT animals. When he went into CCU 30 days prior, he had been stripped of all his clothing and walked around the circular CCU cell area, searched and then placed in a holding cell.  Quite a traumatic experience for our former Sailor of the Quarter and for me, a brand new Ensign. These behaviors are prohibited now but were standard practice then:
  • Requiring awardees to salute enlisted personnel or address them as sir/ma'am.
  • Requiring awardees to face the bulkhead at close range when a staff member passes.
  • Requiring awardees to request permission to speak when there is no valid reason for the requirement.
  • Requiring permission to move normally within spaces when not engaged in formal activities.
  • Requiring silence as a routine condition. 
The Chief and I signed for our awardee and began our trip to Narita International Airport to put our awardee on a commercial flight to the U.S. so he could join his ship in San Diego.  He was a broken young man, in need of a shower, shave, change of clothes and a hot meal - all prohibited by the OIC in his 'rules for the road'.  As we headed for the airport, we made an unexpected (by me) detour back to Atsugi on Route 16.  The Chief said he had forgotten something at home and needed to grab it before heading to Narita.  

Once at the Chief's home in Atsugi, we all went in where we were greeted by the Chief's very gracious wife who invited us into the kitchen for breakfast, which was already well underway - violation of rule #2.  Our awardee had not eaten for more than 15 hours at this point.  After the meal, the Chief sent The Mulch to take a shower and shave in the back bathroom and to put on his dress blues (violation of rules 3, 4 and 5).  We had maintained strict adherence to rules 1 and 6 for more than two hours.  We were strong on 1 and 6.

The Mulch thanked the Chief's wife for breakfast and then we headed out for the airport.  We made it there in about 2 hours and had not broken any more rules.  We checked in at the UNITED counter with The Mulch and check-in counter attendant engaging in a lively conversation in fluent Japanese.  The Mulch had immersed himself in Japanese culture during his tour in Japan and was leaving behind a Japanese fiancé that he had not seen or spoken to in 35 days and who was several months pregnant with their little girl.

With the check-in complete, we were about 90 minutes from seeing our awardee get on a plane and head to his new assignment as a deck Seaman aboard USS MONTICELLO (LSD-35).  We stored his seabag in a locker, stopped at a phone bank so he could let his fiancé  know that he was departing the country and would not see her for some time.  Again, he spoke fluent Japanese and we didn't have a clue how his conversation went.  We could only assume there was plenty of crying on the other end. 

Then we began the wait for departure at Bob's Big Boy restaurant on the second level of the terminal area.  The Chief, The Mulch and I had lunch (Why not, we had already violated rule #2; once broken there was no fixing it.)  The Mulch toyed with his lighter and cigarettes but the Japanese were enforcing rule #6 and this is the one rule which would remain intact for the entirety of this story. As one would expect over a 6 hour period, The Mulch needed to go to the head.  Rule #5 reared its ugly head.  The Mulch was not to be left alone, not even to go to the head.  I suggested the Chief go with him.  The Chief suggested that we could both see the door to the head and could keep an eye on it from the table.  After all, where was The Mulch going to go?  He had already checked in and confirmed for the flight to Los Angeles For Further Travel (FFT) to San Diego.

After a lengthy period, I became nervous that The Mulch had not returned from the head (though his VALUABLES - $4 pack of cigarettes,  $2 lighter and $8 Casio watch were still at the table).  I'd had enough of the rule breaking, I was going in to the head and lay down 'the rules of the road'.  I didn't see The Mulch at any of the urinals and all the stalls were empty except one.  Thank goodness, there was still a chance he was in that stall.  I called out his name.  No answer.  I called it out again.  No answer.  I banged on the stall door.  No answer.  I climbed on the toilet in the adjoining stall to look over into the last stall.  A poor Japanese gentleman was cowering on the toilet looking up at the LUNATIC Ensign.  Our prisoner had escaped !!

I went back out to the table to let the Chief know, we had lost our prisoner.  He said, "You know sir, the OIC put you in charge of this detail."  Inside the Chief was laughing the laugh that only a Chief can laugh.  "Well sir, you'd better call the OIC and let him know The Mulch is gone."

I made the call to the OIC.  
- Me - "Sir, The Mulch is gone"
- OIC - "Glad I could send you and the Chief and get the job done.  Good job."
- Me - "No, sir, I mean he took off.  He's gone."
- OIC - "You're calling because he assaulted you and the Chief, and then took off?"
- Me - "No, sir, I'm calling because he went to the head and went out the back door."
- OIC - "Mad Dog Murphy, the XO is not going to be happy to hear about this from you tomorrow when you get back.  Grab the Chief and come back to Atsugi."

That was a long drive back to Atsugi.  There were about two dozen leadership lessons in there and the story has been told many times over.

The Mulch made it to his ship on time.  We had no authority over him after he did his time in CCU. There were no 'rules of the road'.  The Chief did everything right that day for the Sailor and the Navy.  The OIC had no bad words for us upon our return.  The XO feigned outrage over our loss of the prisoner.  The Chief knew better.  He restored that young man's dignity from the first moment of contact with him and he taught me lessons all day long and for many months to come at that little detachment in Atsugi, Japan. I was the butt of many a JO joke and paid many tabs at the O Club where my shipmates left their $4 cigarettes and $2 lighters as 'collateral' when they left $40 checks at the table.

The Mulch told his girlfriend on the phone that he was at Narita but would be "home" soon for a few days before he'd have to fly to San Diego to join his ship.  He told the ticket counter attendant not to check him in that day and that he'd be back for a later flight.  All of this was unknown to us because we hadn't immersed ourselves in the culture as he had.  True to his word, he made the later flight and made it to his ship on time.  He served out the rest of his time in the Navy honorably and married his fiancé.  I only hope that they lived 'happily ever after.' 


Dean said...


Mulch was my DLI shipmate and occasional running mate there. The Bron story is one that we also saw play out farther south in Okinawa many times.

And as many times as I've heard (and repeated) the story of his escape from your custody...for some reason the end state (making it to the ship on time) has never settled into the lore.

Thanks for a an awesome revisit!


Gary Olivi said...

This was hilarious and just what I needed to read this morning. Thank you for sharing.