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RULERS AND LEADERS

7/2/21 3:35 PM

RULERS AND LEADERS

A huge difference between the two.

There are many ways to rule, whether by Law, by Writ or by Force and Hard Nosed retaliatory resolutions in order to intimidate,harass,and fine  members into compliance, as we are seeing here today.

Then there is actual Leadership, something that has been lacking here at CRR for way too many years!

No matter how big or small an organization is, there is always one person on top, running the show. How this person conducts the business of the organization with RESPECT, TRANSPARENCY & HONESTY will determine how members react,respect and support the organization’s mission goals & projects in the future.

The following attached story was written in 2010 by Douglas K. Menikheim Capt.USN Ret. It’s  rather long, describing an incident that occurred Sept 1979 on the USS John Young DD973, a New San Diego Based Destroyer. RM’s Dave Stangland, a Crew member, was on the Ships Fantail at the time of this incident.

 

Speedy Destroyer Rapped…..As I Remember It

by Douglas K. Menikheim

To the best of my recollection, this is what happened. I am not recalling this from a long ago memory, but from the tens (maybe hundreds of times) I’ve told this story. I use it as an example in my leadership workshops and classes when discussing: How to Deal with Mistakes.

“It was a Monday morning and we were in the final days of REFTRA. There were a few more exercises to complete and to this point, we had done well. Maybe 2-3 days at sea, but then some time to let people kick back, take deep breaths and relax. All in all, a typical Big John effort. Up until then…..

Underway time was 0800 and I was a stickler for doing things right. 0800 meant 0800 and no excuses! However, CHENG (Larry Stoddard) and I had an agreement that when things went wrong down below, I would not impose myself on him while he and the engineers were to make a thorough investigation and come up with the proper solution. Our job, after all, was to shake the ship down to get it prepared for its operational life. So when the call came just before 0800 from CCS on the 2MC, “No pitch on the port shaft,” I took a deep breath and asked what the problem was? The response was, “Don’t know; ETR unknown; stand by.” We notified the world of our problem and began “standing by.”

By September, 1979 I had developed full confidence and trust in our engineers (no “snipes, remember?), so this was just a hiccup to be dealt with. My role was to remain calm, not get in anyone’s way and remain positive. Inside, I was not happy because DD-973 always got underway on time, but there was a bigger picture and I needed to remember that. So, I began pacing from one flag bag, through the pilot house to the other and back. Along the way, I’d visit, make small talk with the troops, all the while trying to appear calm. Truth be told, I was antsy as could be, but had to be aware that the crew took their cues from me. If I was antsy, that’s how they would be, too.

Finally, about 30 minutes later the awaited call came from CCS; “Pitch control available on the port shaft!” I was elated!! We could get underway, but I was curious. “What was the problem, Larry?” There was a noticeable delay at the other end, then CHENG’s strained reply, “We don’t know, Captain.” There followed a lively discussion about what “We don’t know” meant while I tried to wrap my head around we didn’t have Pitch Control at 0800 and now we did and no one knew why. We had not discussed this at Prospective Commanding Officers School.

After a few minutes of trying to digest this…..and not speaking with anyone about my thought process………I had it all figured out. Since I wasn’t sure the Pitch Control problem was actually resolved, it seemed most wise that I get the ship underway in case there were lingering problems. My usual practice was to have others drive the ship as much as possible because I knew how to do it and my job was to teach them. But this was different and I felt it was best if I had the conn. So I announced to the bridge I was getting the ship underway and why. No one disagreed.

We were port side to at the head of one of the piers on the south end of the Naval Station. I believe there was one ship directly astern of us, but none on the opposite side so our way to the channel was clear, once we were away from the dock where we were tied up. The ubiquitous tug was strapped on our starboard bow and with a slight pull from him (to get the dome away from the pier) and a twist (starboard ahead 1/3, port back 1/3, left standard rudder), we were headed fair toward the channel. My eyes were glued on the Pitch Control Indicator on the bridge and it said the port shaft was doing what I had told it to do. So far, so good!

We backed into the channel on a typically beautiful fall day in San Diego. It was mostly clear as all the other ships had gotten underway earlier and we had a straight shot to the 90 degree turn that would take us toward Point Loma and the REFRTA docks where we were going to pick up Observers. As we reached the channel, I repeated the port twist while shifting the rudder (it had been at right full to negotiate the turn into the channel). As the bow began swinging left, I ordered “All ahead 2/3, turns for 12 knots” and gave the course to steady on. With my eyes glued to the Pitch Control Indicator located above the bridge windows, I was very pleased to see the port shaft responding as it should. Because the port shaft had been on a continual 1/3 backing bell before I gave the “Ahead 2/3’s” order, I still had my doubts the problem was completely solved. In the meantime, we were serenely standing out of port at the prescribed harbor speed and the Coronado Bridge was approaching, dead ahead. It was then I decided I’d goose it ahead, just a bit, to see if the Pitch Control indicator followed and if it did, I’d turn it back to the underway bridge team and resume my usual perch in the chair on the starboard side.

“All ahead, flank one, turns for 25!” I ordered. I can still remember the lee helmsman’s eyes got big and he correctly questioned, “Say again, Captain?” So I said it again; “All ahead, flank one, turns for 25 knots.” He did as he was ordered and I heard the bells on the lee helm ring followed shortly by the distinctive whine of the turbines as they began to wind up. Happy Days! The Pitch Control indicator began to wind up, too, and I was finally convinced the port shaft problems had been solved. Immediately (I doubt more than 60 seconds had elapsed), I gave the order, “All ahead 2/3’s, turns for 12 knots,” and I began heading for my chair to turn the conn back over to the underway OOD. That was Jerry Grause who was standing on the starboard peloris, binoculars to his eyes looking shoreward when I heard him loudly say, “Holy Shit!”

You all know or have heard of the havoc caused by my actions so I won’t go into that here. Suffice it say, Harbor Control was on the air immediately demanding to know what we were doing! That was followed by message and radio traffic from places I had no idea had the slightest interest in what was going on in San Diego Harbor. The long and short of it was: ‘REFTRA is cancelled. Drop anchor off their landing and await the arrival of an investigating officer and his team. When they are done, put to sea; further orders to follow.’ I cannot describe the depths of my despair.

Probably before noon, the investigating officer and his team came aboard by boat. Cdr. Joe Andretti was another skipper in our squadron with whom I had worked back in BuPers. He greeted me with, “I wish I wasn’t here, but…….” He began by telling me of the damage reports which had come in and said more were expected. He and his team then set about talking to everyone who had been in the loop, eventually leaving sometime later that afternoon. After he had taken my statement, I was left to deal with my mistake. I had never felt more alone at any time in my life.

Eventually, we got underway and headed out to sea. Joe told me we were going out to get away from the TV and newspapers and could expect to be returning Friday evening after 1800. He said this was a big deal, fur was flying all around and wished me luck. To be honest, I can say I remember little of that week, except how bad I felt for the grief I had caused the ship and crew. I knew from what he had told me, this was a very serious.

Once we were underway and a measure of calm had returned, I started digging around to see if there was any way to wiggle out of this. My only excuse now is that I’m human, but I’m still embarrassed to say those were my intentions. It didn’t take long to determine there were no excuses and I was left to ponder on that. I went to bed in the sea cabin, but couldn’t sleep. I was distraught because I didn’t know what to do and there was no way to take it all back. Somewhere in the middle of night, I finally realized only I was to blame and I needed to stand up and take whatever might come my way. I got up and started writing a message to God and the world in which I tried to get that point across. Much of what I’ve said here was included and I ended with saying no one but me was to blame for the incident. I said how badly I felt for having let the crew down and that you deserved better. I apologized for my actions, hoped no one would lose faith in the tremendous ship we were and that I stood ready to accept whatever punishment would come my way. Once that message was off, I slept like a baby.

When I got to the bridge next morning, something had happened. The tones of the messages we were receiving had changed noticeably. The nasty edge they had contained were different in the sense that it was now a problem the Navy had to deal with and we were all going to get through this. The Commodore chewed on me, he said he expected more from me and was disappointed. We arranged a time the following Monday when we would meet (and he took more chunks out of my behind). But the overall sense I picked up was that this was a problem, but not the end of the world. Nevertheless, I felt like crap, but got through the week.

As you know, I survived this act of stupidity and managed to complete the tour without any more indiscretions. As so often happens from bad times, good things do arise and that is what I try to pass on to those who are interested in learning about leadership. In this instance the message is clear: when you make a mistake, the quickest way to make it go away is to ‘fess’ up, say you are sorry and tell what you have learned. It is amazing how quickly things go from anger and threats to acceptance and resolution and that is what I leave with you.

Finally, it was an honor to have served with you and even today, 33 years later, I am embarrassed for making John Young look bad. But, it was a hoot, as someone has already said.

COROLLARIES:

Weeks, months and years after the fact, things happened that you might be interested in knowing:

About two weeks after the speed run, I was at one of the regional airports seeing someone off on a trip. Things had almost returned to normal and the investigation was still in process. The Commodore had done his number on me, my fellow skippers told me what a “dumb shit” I was and friends almost fell off their chairs laughing while telling me what the papers had said (I really believe that lady who reported getting blown off the john was stretching it a bit). I was in my whites and suddenly became aware of this guy eyeing me up and down looking for a way to engage me in conversation. He finally got up his nerve and we made small talk for a moment before he got to what he wanted to ask. He blurted out, “What do you think the Navy’s going to do with that crazy skipper who drove his destroyer through the harbor at 25 knots?” Somewhat taken aback, I contemplated telling him I was that crazy guy, but decided to go in another direction. I told him the investigation was still underway and since no one was killed, he’s probably going to get a slap on the wrist (I was projecting). He got a big smile on his face and said, “Geez, I sure hope so. That guy may not be the smartest but he sure has big balls!” I had been in the process of healing and this sure was ointment on my wounds.

About a month after the event, I got the word the investigation had been completed and I was to report to ComCruDesGru to receive my punishment. The 2-star Admiral (his name escapes me) flew his flag on one of the tenders. I buffed up my shoes, shined my belt buckle and arrived 15 minutes early ready to get ripped. As I was ushered into his office, he was getting out of his chair and coming around his desk toward me, his hand extended. He invited me to sit down, went back to his desk, got this big smile on his face and said, “Tell me about that wonderful ship of yours!” So I did; for the next 55 minutes or so. It was one of the most pleasant conversations I ever had because I was able to boast about all the wonderful stuff you guys did. He had that big smile on his face the whole time, asking question after question. Finally, he looked at his watch and said, “I’ve got something I have to give to you.” He reached down into one of the drawers in his desk, pulled out a letter and handed it to me. He asked, “What are you going to do with this?” I said I was going to read it, learn from it and put it in my desk to never look at again. He got another big smile on his face, nodded his head and wished me good luck. Inside that envelope was a Letter of Caution, the lowest form of corrective action which could be taken against an officer and did not appear in my Fitness Report. Truly a slap on the wrist. I never did look at it again and threw it away as I was cleaning out things to be relieved in May, 1980.

Some 2 or 3 years after that momentous September, I was sitting in my office at the University of Minnesota NTOTC Unit where I was the Professor of Naval Science. A very official looking letter, addressed to me from an International Maritime Legal Agency, was dropped on my desk. In it was a report outlining how the U.S. Navy had retained this firm to collect compensation from Sweet Mama’s owners for the rescue we had performed in May, 1978. The total they had been charged was $50,000 which was the approximate amount I had been told the Navy paid out for all the claims made against the ship in 1979. So it all balanced out and my healing was complete.

Finally, in the mid-90’s, I was in the process of telling this story during one of my MBA classes I taught over the years here in Minnesota. The students were adult learners and usually were quite attentive when I launched into one of my past experiences. This time was different because one of the women in the back of the room was gasping, smiling and trying to get herself under control. I asked if she had a problem and she laughed and said no, but that she had been a senior in high school when this happened and she went off on all the things she’s read and seen on TV. The class went crazy and they never let me forget about it, yanking my chain in subtle, but unmistakable ways the rest of the semester. How small the world really is!

Thirty-three years later, I’m writing an essay about the Speedy Destroyer,

Will it never end?

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Ranch Matters Staff