Sunday, December 1, 2013

No Job Was Too Insignificant, But They Sure As Hell Could Be Career-Limiting

Back in the immediate post-Vietnam era, the Navy, among other services, had a problem in both attracting and holding onto good people. The "General Hershey Volunteer Incentive" (otherwise known as "get drafted and go to `Nam") was done. Lots of ships were sent to the breakers (including almost all of the WW2 builds), but the Navy still had a problem.

One was with filling slots for department heads. The officers with four to six years in service in the mid-`70s were heavily made up of men who had joined to avoid the tiresome duty of slogging through jungles with a pack and an M-16 while being shot at. A number of them had gone onto shore duty after their sea tours with an eye of taking night classes to get their masters degrees while also pulling down a paycheck. They weren't interested in going back to sea.

But the Navy still had to fill those department head jobs. So what they did was offer them to hard-charging first tour junior officers (like this guy), at least on some ships. Cruisers and destroyers were still staffed by graduates of Department Head School, but the auxiliaries and smaller amphibs were partially filled by those young JGs. On a sea-duty ship such as an LST or a replenishment ship, the Operations and Weapons officers would be JGs. The Chief Engineer and Deck Officer (on an LST) was more likely to be a limited-duty officer (LDO). (On "neutral duty" ships, such as tenders, most were LDOs).

Come the early-80s and things had begun to change. Pay had been increased, helping to make up part of what had been lost to high inflation. Morale was up. The economy was still kind of sucky, which made staying in a bit more desirable, especially to young lieutenants with families. So the Navy began filling those department head billets on amphibs and replenishment ships with department head school graduates.

A lot of the captains of the replenishment ships were ecstatic at the change. For a fair number of them were aviators who had been sent to those ships to get some experience in commanding a ship (and driving one) before they were selected to be the captain of an aircraft carrier. They were happy to get officers who had had more training and experience. (The XOs were even happier.) There was one AO or AE captain who had ordered that the Bridge radar repeater display be changed from a 360-degree sweep to a 90-degree sweep, because that's what he was used to seeing from his days flying a F-4, but I digress.

Most graduates of the Department Head School didn't want those jobs. They all knew that the Department Head School had been first named the Destroyer School and that the career enhancing jobs were on destroyers and frigates. They also suspected that the selection boards would know that someone sent to be a department head on a LST or an A-something was filling a job that had been handled by a `JG in years past; no matter how good a job somebody did on one of those ships, they'd not be viewed as favorably as someone who did even a tolerable job on a DD/FF.

But there were guys who wanted those jobs, nonetheless. The other folks, the ones who wanted jobs on DDs and FFs, thought that the folks who bid on the jobs on LSTs and A-somethings were idiots and that while it was one thing to be ordered to do a shit job, it was quite another to volunteer for one.

How it all shook out, I don't know. But in a few minutes of Googling, I didn't find any senior officer biographies that bragged about being a post-DH school department head on those ships (other than Chief Engineer).

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