Toto, I Don't Think We're in the Alpha Quadrant Anymore:
Nine Reasons Why a Starfleet Education Won't Prepare You for the Real Navy
By CDR Lesa McComas
Unlike Starfleet, where the ratio of officers to enlisted personnel is roughly 100:1, and where the only apparent purpose of enlisted personnel is to provide anonymous crew members to be killed by alien life forms, the Navy is highly dependent on the expertise, skills and efforts of its enlisted members. (Just remember this the next time you are putting together your away team.)
- Just like in heaven there is no beer, in space there is no dirt. Judging from the fact that we never witness Starfleet personnel engaged in activities such as cleaning heads, sweeping passageways, or inspecting berthing compartments for old Doritos wrappers and empty soda cans, one can only conclude that dirt and trash are a fairly rare commodity in the rest of the galaxy. Based on this apparent shortage, a terrestrial-style landfill could have good long-term investment potential.
- Starfleet captains seem to really like surprises. Whenever the OOD on Voyager has something to tell Captain Janeway, he will call her on her communicator badge and say something like, "Captain, you need to get up to the bridge right away. There's something I think you should see." Without being told in advance whether she is coming up to see a Borg ship powering up its weapons array or a selection of fabrics to reupholster her command chair, the captain invariably freezes her holodeck gothic romance and heads to the bridge with the self-same degree of hair-on-fire urgency. It's hard to picture the Navy skipper who wouldn't rip the OOD's head off for initiating this kind of uninformative summons.
- Navy officers are a lot brighter than Starfleet officers (although not, as a group, as photogenic). The sole exception to this rule is our captains, who are not quite up to Starfleet standards. As evidence of this phenomenon, note that whenever they hold wardroom meetings on Deep Space Nine, the officers just sit there with that deer-in-the-headlights look, waiting for Captain Sisko to tell them they need to realign the interstellar diffuser coagulator to prevent the worm-hole from collapsing, do a level four analysis on the data resolution imager to thwart the sneak attack from Dominion hijackers, or reverse the polarity on the integrator field to synthesize replacement DNA to kill the alien virus that is taking over Major Kira's body. The wardroom is incredibly lucky that the captain always knows all this stuff, because it's pretty clear that nobody else on board has a clue what they are supposed to be doing. Unfortunately in the Navy, although most COs are pretty smart people, they aren't anywhere near as smart as Captain Sisko. One consequence of this is that Navy captains don't have the luxury of populating their wardrooms with the merely photogenic, they have to keep a lot of ordinary looking subject-matter experts around to help them analyze the situation, weigh the alternatives, and develop thoughtful plans of action.
- With the exception of those whose bodies have been taken over by evil alien life forms (fortunately, an always temporary and completely reversible condition), all Starfleet personnel are sober, reverent, respectful, clean, brave, virtuous and completely deficient as management challenges. The only Starfleet court martial on record turned out to be a terrible misunderstanding. Nobody in Starfleet has ever missed a ship's movement, called their superior officer a "sniveling weenie," taken a kick-back from Quark's bar, brought discredit on the service while having too much fun on liberty, or overindulged in synth-ale and tossed their cookies in the captain's ready room. In addition, Starfleet officers don't have to put up with commuting on 880, the IRS (since they don't seem to get paid), telemarketing calls from rival phone companies, incontinent pets, their neighbors' late-night parties or, (since so few of them ever get married) their in-laws. Because Starfleet leaders have so little experience dealing with adversity on a day to day basis, it's a good thing the Federation isn't currently facing any serious threats in this sector of the galaxy.
- In Starfleet, the XO gets first dibs on dating all the ensigns of the opposite gender. In the Navy, for reasons you will no doubt recall from my GMT lecture, we have not found this to be a particularly great idea.
- Starfleet doesn't seem to have any clear mission. Sure, there's that explore the galaxy stuff, but as orders go that's pretty darned vague. What are their measures of effectiveness? The fact that they don't seem to have any has all sorts of repercussions on the way they do business. When Captain Picard has orders to take the Enterprise to the Cardassian system to mediate a diplomatic crisis, he still seems to have plenty of leeway, if he wants, to go a few thousand light years out of the way to observe a collapsing neutrino blue dwarf star he's just heard about.
- Unlike the Navy, where a new team of briefcase-laden experts can be expected onboard every week a ship is in port, Starfleet ships are never inspected by anybody. With a few rare exceptions they never participate in fleet exercises, and their admirals don't breathe down their captains' necks to get regular updates on their level of training and material readiness. This laissez-faire management style is probably related to the lack of a mission discussed above, and is not likely to be replicated in any segment of the naval service any time soon.
- None of the officers in Starfleet went to Berkeley, Stanford, Davis or CMA, or for that matter, to Lake Wobegone State and OCS; they all went to Starfleet Academy. This seems like a bad plan for a variety of reasons:
- One good cheating scandal, car theft ring conviction or medium sized non- nuclear blast could wipe out the better part of an entire year's commissioning class.
- Everyone in Starfleet is surrounded by people they knew, and didn't like, when they were 18.
- SFA doesn't offer a broadly based liberal arts education, have fraternities and sororities, play football (or if it does, the team must not be very good because you never hear Starfleet officers talking about it), have a graduate school, or offer its students a semester abroad or majors like "Product Design" and "Science, Technology & Society."
My Brief Career as a Mutineer and What I Learned From It
By CDR Lesa McComas
Part 1: The Sea Story
As most of you probably know, I received my commission through Officer Candidate School when it was in Newport RI. OCS was a lot like ROTC, except that when we got there we were already in debt up to our eyeballs from paying our own college tuition, we were there 24 hours a day, 6 days a week and stood watches every three nights (which frequently seemed to involve the use of snow shovels), we got yelled at daily for the whole sixteen weeks rather than just the first five days, and few of the staff members bothered learn anyone's name during that period unless we made a spectacular impression on them, either good or bad. In other words, it wasn't much like ROTC at all, but use your imagination.
For most of my tenure in Newport I was neither a spectacularly good nor spectacularly bad OC, and as a result my name was virtually unknown to everyone on the staff save my Company Officer (and only then when I was wearing my name tag). I didn't take this personally, since my aspirations at OCS consisted primarily of keeping my nose clean and doing my time, and then pinning on those gold bars and putting as much distance between myself and Newport RI as possible.
After three months of this carefully orchestrated strategy I rose to the position of First Platoon Commander, Papa Company, which I thought was a greatest assignment in the regiment. First Platoon was responsible for cleaning the library, an effort that involved a little light dusting and window cleaning, generally done to the accompaniment of a boom box. On the other hand, Second Platoon was responsible for cleaning the heads -- a thankless task which took about three times as long and involved the use of rubber gloves and industrial strength janitorial supplies. I didn't know exactly what they did in other companies but some of it seemed even more distasteful, and I didn't even like to think about how the poor saps who were Company Commanders or members of the regimental staff had to spend their time.
One of my shipmates in Papa Company was a NUPOC, or Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidate. As a former enlisted person he was older than most of the rest of us recent college graduates, and tended to keep to himself. (OK, maybe he was a little weird, but that isn't necessarily relevant to the story. At that point in my naval career, I pretty much assumed that anyone with an interest in nuclear propulsion was going to be a little weird.) One day, this NUPOC was unceremoniously called out of morning formation and hauled off to the Commanding Officer's office, an event so extraordinary that it had never happened in the admittedly short corporate memory of the regiment. Although we didn't really know what the CO did all day, we knew it didn't ordinarily involve any actual contact with Officer Candidates.
As it turned out, several weeks earlier this NUPOC had put down some less than complimentary (but allegedly fairly amusing) descriptions of various instructors on a confidential student feedback sheet. After what we imagined were exhaustive comparisons of handwriting samples, he was eventually identified as the culprit and called on the carpet in front of the CO. Rumors abounded. He was going to be de-nuked. He was going to be court-martialled, or at the very least disenrolled in disgrace and sent back to the fleet as an enlisted man. In the end, he was allowed to continue in the program, although he spent the majority of his off-duty time over the remaining month marching around on the grinder, a grim but determined look on his face.
Shortly prior to commissioning, we were once again left alone in a room and told to fill out confidential student feedback sheets. I looked around at my fellow Officer Candidates, and was suddenly struck by the absurdity of it. Who was going to write anything even remotely negative, given the wretched fate of our classmate? If everyone was afraid to be critical, what was the point? My heart pounding, I stood up and said "I don't know about the rest of you, but I think what they did to (whatever his name was) was a disgrace. I'm going to leave my feedback sheet blank in protest, and I'd like you all to consider doing the same." Heartened by a murmur of assent, I sat down and carefully wrote my name on the top of the sheet, leaving the rest of it blank.
Unfortunately for me the most exalted of our fellow OCs, the Regimental Commander, was present in the classroom with us. He turned out to be less than impressed by my speech, and called me down to his office that evening to tell me so in no uncertain terms. A copy of the UCMJ in front of him, he accused me of inciting to mutiny and threatened to have me disenrolled, or maybe even court-martialled, practically on the very eve of graduation. In retrospect, I don't think he intended to do any such thing, but he did succeed in scaring the bejeepers out of me. I recall that I did a lot of "voluntary" marching on the grinder in the week prior to graduation, but otherwise kept such a low profile that I was practically indistinguishable from the deck tiles. It wasn't until I marched into the gym with my classmates on the morning of commissioning that I was finally sure he wasn't going to file formal charges against me.
Part 2: Pop Quiz
What can we learn from this particular sea story (check all that apply)?
- The actions of the OCS staff were wrong, wrong, wrong.
- The NUPOC was clueless and deserved what he got.
- The XO, in her previous incarnation as an OC, was a blithering idiot.
- The Regimental Commander was a jerk.
Part 3: Quiz answers
My vote is for 1, 2 and 3, but not 4, and I'll tell you why.
The actions of the OCS staff were wrong, wrong, wrong. If they told us our feedback would be kept in confidence, regardless of how unhappy they were with what they read, failing some evidence of a felony which might warrant such a breach of confidence they should have kept their word. Their failure to do so gave a pretty sorry introduction to those of us unsure how the Navy was supposed to operate.The NUPOC was definitely clueless. I suspect in order to achieve the kind of notoriety that his questionnaire achieved, it had to exceed the bounds of "constructive criticism" by a fairly wide margin. Thoughtful feedback and brainless hostile venting (regardless of how good it makes you feel) are two distinctly different things.
I was a blithering idiot. No question about this one. Although accusing me of inciting to mutiny might have been overstating the case a bit, what I did was clearly subversive and inappropriate. The right thing to do, and what none of my classmates or I had the guts to do, would have been to discuss the matter with our Company Officer, and follow it up with a chit for request mast to tell the CO what I had to say face to face. The fact that I didn't believe this course of action would get me anywhere but into deep doo-doo didn't excuse my lack of courage or initiative.
Contrary to what I thought at the time, The Regimental Commander was too easy on me. Arguably, he exceeded the bounds of his authority by not reporting my breach of discipline to the Company Officer and letting him sort it out. Many years later I realized that he probably went out on a limb for me, but it was for the best of reasons--he wanted to punish me just enough that I'd learn from the experience, and I think that I did.
Part 4: Lessons Learned from the Whole Sorry Affair
- Don't ever write anything you would be ashamed to sign. I learned this lesson before I left the hallowed halls of OCS, and have followed it religiously ever since.
- Keep your word. 'Nuff said there.
- Don't be content with the path of least resistance -- have the courage to stand up for your convictions. I'd like to say I mastered this particular concept early on, but I can't. It is a lesson you have to keep teaching yourself over and over for your entire life.
- If the system's broke, the way to get somebody to fix it is not to find the easiest work-around, but to insist on using the system the way it was intended to be used and letting the results speak for themselves.
- Work through the chain of command. If you don't, your voice will never have credibility with those who can make changes, and your point, however well- taken, will be justifiably ignored.