Friday, October 28, 2016

Operations Within The Boundary Layers Of Stellar Impingment

A Stellar object is more commonly referred to as a "star", but what follows has absolutely nothing to do with celestial mechanics, astronomy or astrology.

Within military culture (not quite the oxymoron it is assumed to be by those who haven't been party to it), Flag Officers is the generic classification for Generals and Admirals, since officers at these levels of command sport their own distinct flag (commonly a small pennant or license plate type badge on a vehicle) which features the number of stars their uniform displays as a mark of their respective rank within their particular branch of military. In the US military, the Army (and by direct extension) the Air Force Flags are ranked one star to four star or more properly, Brigadier General, Major General, Lieutenant General and simply General. While the US Marine Corps Flag Officers use the identical designations, their structure developed uniquely from that of the Army due to their function as part of the US Navy, but for this essay's purposes the surface similarity will suffice. The US Navy only has three ranks of Admiral however, Rear Admiral, Vice Admiral and, Admiral. Much to the dismay of many a Major General, the Navy divides the rank of Rear Admiral into Lower and Upper grades, so it is not uncommon for a Major General to address a Rear Admiral as "Sir" when s/he actually outranks the particular Rear Admiral (Lower grade) being addressed (a minor point of confusion the Navy feels very little sympathy for).

That all having been said, this essay is actually about the general circumstance that might be most easily summed up as, "Notes on the Care and Feeding of Flag Officers".

There are a whole host of individuals and professional occupations designed to achieve this tenuous condition, many of whom can be characterized genericly as "Staff". Beyond these are the minor galaxy of others who work in all the ways major and minor, direct and remote from the Halls Of Power in which Flag Officers spend their work-a-day lives. This essay will over observations on the interface between those two extremes of military service.

Surrounding any Flag Officer is his (classical English usage here) immediate staff of Aide(s) and Orderlies. These are the people who keep their Flag focused on the task at hand, rather than life in general. In Army parlance, a General's Aides are commonly referred to as "dog robbers", in recognition of the dedication to duty they frequently display, to the (metaphor alert) point of robbing an actual dog of its bone, if the General indicates in some fashion he might desire the use of a toothpick. The Orderlies are those who keep the Flag's transportation, quarters, and wardrobe functional and presentable under the Aides' direction. All of which has it's own infrastructure as well.

Working in the Flag Officers Mess, for only one example, is an exercise in professional as well as political organization. The cooks and other kitchen staff have the to-be-expected occupational challenge of creating and serving nutritious meals that seriously over-worked flag Officers will most likely never pay more attention to than making sure they're not trying to fork up a mouthful of soup.
Which is not to say they don't appreciate all the hard work by so many; if the soup doesn't taste good it will be noticed. The simple assumption is that Flag Officers expect a base line of performance from those who support them professionally that is ... well, stellar.

The political organizational skills are called for when interacting with the Aides and Orderlies of a Flag Officer. Not only does the Flag Officer himself need to feel properly cared for, the staff have to feel the same way. This frequently creates opportunity(s) for friction between conflicting priorities.

One obvious conflict is that their particular Flag isn't likely to be the only Flag being served in the Mess. A certain amount of schedule shifting has to be expected ... and required in turn when necessary. This is one reason a Flag Officers Mess is usually so overloaded with senior personnel compared to any other dining facility (another reason being that occupational experience is also commonly expressed in the form of rank attained). This gives the kitchen personnel a bit of an advantage when some Admiral's orderly wanders onto the mess deck with menu advice or the like. The sheer number of Senior and Master Chiefs (and in an Army kitchen Warrant Officers) is sufficient to adequately whelm anyone under the rank of Commander/Lt. Colonel - and I'm pretty sure MacArthur was the last 4-star Flag Officer with a staff officer of that senior a personal rank. Anyone assigned to a Flag Officers Mess who isn't also at least a Chief Petty Officer/Sergeant First Class, would be well advised to very politely point out one of those august individuals to any interloper, then quickly fade into Doing Something somewhere else.

Basically, The Admiral and Mrs. Admiral can absolutely love your culinary skills, but if the staff have a problem with you, you have a problem, and the easiest solution for everyone else involved (who isn't actually Mr. and Mrs. Admiral) is to erase you from the equation. I don't care how great a chef you are, everybody else in the kitchen has their own set of knives too, and they wouldn't be in the room at all if they weren't just as good out on the edge as you are.

A great kitchen is much like a great Rock band or any other pressure-packed creative work environment, the normal work day is spent right on the edge of a major fight between the members. A great Flag Officers staff is usually an active conspiracy tip-toeing right along the edge of outright criminality, if that's what duty requires. Watching how these two organized chaos benders interact with each other must be truly awesome ... from a safe-enough distance.

If you should find yourself assigned to a Flag Officers Mess, or Staff, you need to keep in mind that someone in a position to know thinks you are smart enough to do the basic job, and are smart enough to learn the real job while you're doing it. In other words, you belong there. If you want to stay there however, you have to force yourself to focus only on the task at hand, at refining the skill set that got you there in the first place, to the point of routinely consistent, elite levels of performance.

You'll know you're almost there when no-one tells you what to do, just what is wanted next.

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