Monday, February 2, 2009

The Flesh-Peddlers

Most civilians seem to think that the military assignment system works this was: One day, you just receive a set of orders to go someplace. And you go.

Not exactly.

The overall principle was "the needs of the Navy." Within that, there is a whole lot of wriggle room.

The assignment process was basically run by two groups of people: Assignment officers and detailers. Assignment officers represented the commands, such as small combatants, cruisers, squadron command staffing, bases, and all that. Detailers represented the people being assigned, by warfare community; there were surface detailers, sub detailers, aviation detailers, and so on. The detailer's job was to get his or her clientele the best possible and most career-enhancing jobs they can. The assignment officers worked to get their clientele, the commands, the best people. So it roughly worked that the best people went to the best jobs. Assignment officers and detailers were collectively referred to as "the flesh-peddlers," which was as good a sumation of what they did as any, I suppose.

This worked out really well for sea assignments, but not so well for shore duty. Line officers who went ashore often were more concerned with geography than what they did, for they know that unless they really screwed the pooch, what they did ashore mattered little.

Every so often, the detailers would travel to the western Pacific and the Mediterranean to meet with the junior officers on the ships. They would meet with all of the officers for individual counseling sessions; they had cards with them which summarized each officer's present assignments, past assignments and the numerical scores from their fitness reports.

So one fine day, a team of two surface detailers was on a ship that was visiting a French port. (It was kind of interesting how the detailers seemed to pick the best ports for their visits.) They had posted a signup sheet with all of the officers' names so they could sign up for appointments. At lunch that day, a lieutenant asked one of the detailers why his name wasn't on the signup ship. The detailers asked his name, which was David Jones. The two detailers were flipping through their cards, first slowly, then frantically, as LT Jones was complaining that he had been on the ship for five years (the normal length of a first sea tour was three years) and that he never got any responses to his letters to BuPers and his calls were never returned.

The two detailers were showing visible signs of panic when the Captain took pity on them and told them that Jones was a LAMPS helo pilot (he had borrowed a SWO pin). The detailers were too relieved to be mad and one of them said: "You know, this has happened before."

The detailers really did try to get the best jobs for their people, as being a flesh-peddler was very good for one's career. Flesh-peddlers pretty much got to write their own next set of orders and the goal was to, on the next shore duty assignment, come back as a more senior flesh-peddler. If your clientele complained a lot, you weren't going to be invited to come back.

The maddest I ever heard of them getting was at one Destroyer School class. Each class had fifty officers in it. When it came time to bid for assignments, the bidding was by ship type, job type and home port; you ranked each in order of priority. And, as it turned out, of the fifty officers in that class, thirty two or so put down that their number one choice was to be the operations officer on a Spruance class destroyer with a home port of Norfolk, VA.

There was one billet open for an operations officer on a Norva Spru-can. Which meant that over 30 officers were not going to get their first choice. And that had a factor in how well the detailers were rated on their jobs. So they were extremely unhappy.

Not that anybody gave a shit.

4 comments:

Jimh. said...

EBM: I loe to learn about your exploits and your view of the navy! Always excellent!

Is that the way new assignments are handed out to crews leaving a decommissioning ship? My wife and I were discussing it...any light you could shed would be appreciated.

We had the honor of being present for the decommissioning of the USS Kitty Hawk. It was a sad but proud affair. I was an outsider granted a unique insight all because I sent an e-mail requesting a chance to learn more. I met a few outstanding sailors, which is to say, the few I met were outstanding. I had a great time and I got a few picturs of our last active fossil fuel carrier. If you're interested, both of my pages have several pics. You can start with http://washingtonwreckchasing.blogspot.com/ and then click on Planetruth.

Hope you had a happy Ground Hog day!

Comrade E.B. Misfit said...

JimH, I would presume that the assignment process has not changed significantly, but I don't know for sure.

Thanks for the link, it's up as a separate post.

chaoticsynapticactivity said...

JimH; If you still care, I had a former shipmate who ended up as decomm-XO on DDG-5 (RICKETTS) and DDG-41 (KING) (As in "Big King"). Yes, three was a process, and he indicated he was very involved in it. It was one of the reasons his CO put him in for an MSM as an end of tour XO (only a LCDR). Long story attached to that, but...another time. Not sure of the details, but I know a lot of XOs got really busy with in in the end of the 90s.

As far as SPRUCAN jobs coming out of DH School: We had a class where we were asked: "How many were engineers?" About 50% hands went up. Response from flesh peddler (Placement guy):"GREAT! That's about how many we need!"

I had just come from training FFG _PreComm Combat Systems for two years. Wanted to be Combat Systems, figured I'd go straihgt to Mayport, not passing Dam Neck (Had taught all the classes). Oders: Eng on DD-979. Me? No background in Eng, besides SWO PQS...Ops and CS only. The Eng guys mostly went to non-Eng jobs, non-Eng to Eng jobs...Ran into placement dude years later when he was XO. Asked "Why?" "Coz your record said you could do it."

LIke anybody cared, huh? :)

Comrade E.B. Misfit said...

CSA, I heard a story of one LCDR who did his XO tour across three ships that were being decommissioned. The story goes that he didn't know about any of them, they just got the "please die now" orders within weeks of his arrival.

He got the nickname of "the Angel of Death."