Thursday, November 10, 2011

Chamber Pots and the Space Age

When the United States Navy was first formed, hundreds of years ago, sailors did not have space-age, vacuum toilets on their ships, but this is not then.  Our nation boasts of  the most modern military power on the planet. There are literally no countries that can rival our military might on the ground, in the air or on the seas. We have an elite, all-volunteer force of power that not only ensures our safety, but that of many weaker countries throughout the world. We ARE the United States of America and we stand united against our foes.

I stand united with my son, a career sailor currently deployed on the USS George H.W. Bush. His concerns are my concerns. His deployment is my deployment and it has been that way from the moment he left my home to become a sailor. His job for the Navy is that of an aviation mechanic. I can't name all the aircraft he has been involved in keeping in the air or all the pilots who became angry with him when they wanted to fly a bird that he knew was unsafe - even at the last minute, during the pre-flight walk-through. He knows his prop jobs, his helicopters and his jets. He knows how to keep them flying, how to keep the pilots safe and how to ensure the Navy does not lose any at sea.

So, when, after more than five months at sea, during a casual email exchange with him, I discover that the toilet-failure problem on board the ship has not yet been resolved, I reacted just like a mother bear whose cub is being poked with a stick.  Some mornings are good for meditation  - this was such a morning and then it occurred to me that I can still voice my opinion, even if my opinion may smell as bad as the clogged toilets on the USS George H.W. Bush.

On 13 October 1775, first ship of the United States Navy, then the Continental Navy, was named Alfred in honor of Alfred the Great. The sailors on board the Alfred likely had chamber pots that were probably simply dumped over the edge of the ship. I was not there, so I don't know. Email was not even a concept at that point. People wrote letters by hand, using feathers (quills) dipped in inkwells. Chances are the conscripted sailors on board the Alfred could not read or write. Whatever happened on board the Alfred most likely stayed right there if it wasn't written in the Captain's Log. That was 236 years ago.

Once we become accustomed to a modern convenience, we consider it a necessity. Many who grew up in large families with only one bathroom know how hard it can be to stand in the hall, shouting "Mom, she's hogging the bathroom and I gotta go!" I grew up in such a family and we scheduled our alarms to allow for adequate bathroom time before going to school each morning. When more than 5,000 sailors are on board one aircraft carrier, they also have to share the toilets - when 10% or more of those toilets are out of order, the integrity of this sharing is jeopardized. Even more so when locks are placed on some of the doors to the toilets that do work.

As children, we all learn to follow a chain of command and for years, that chain brings about the results we expect. As employees, we still follow chains of command in in the military, that chain is paramount. Enlisted personnel learn in boot camp that to try to circumvent that chain is not a good thing.

But when that chain no longer functions, we either call for help or find the crazy glue.  Some people have called ME the crazy glue that holds my office together.