- Don't whine about the budget. Yeah, your budget's dropping—what else is new? That's no excuse for not providing the fleet with the engineering, spare parts, and training it needs. Also—complaining about tight money looks pretty lame when you've brought three high-priced support contractors to carry your color viewgraphs.
- Be ready to talk specifics. Vaguely saying that "the revised drawings should be here in a few months" tells everyone you don't really know (or care). Do your homework and come with a list—each part, each casualty report, each deficiency—showing real, no-kidding status. Redesigns and fixes are useless until they are in the hands of the skilled tradespeople who install them, and the Sailors who use them. Keep tracking the job all the way to the waterfront.
- Don't talk correspondence. Mechanics don't care about the OpNav letter of 13 April or your response of 18 June. Talk hardware deliveries, software builds, spare parts, and training—the language your audience speaks. The "adminology" is only a way to get things done—don't worship it as an end in itself.
- You don't work hard. No, you don't—not compared to flight deck crews in a round-the-clock ops, or shipyard welders working upside down in somebody else's bilge. So don't brag about how your latest policy paper was "the result of a lot of hard work." To a Sailor in port-and-starboard engineroom watches, a D.C. job would be a vacation. Yeah, that includes my job, too.
- Don't walk into an ambush. After you show up is no time to discover that the fleet is hopping mad at you. Call your fleet representatives regularly and get their top ten gripes. Then work their list back at the office and solve as many as you can—before your meeting. For those you can't solve, provide real status to the originators. This way, when somebody asks you about the tooling to support the new antenna, you can sagely report that it will be there in three weeks and that the antenna shop foreman (whom you then point to and call by name) says that date will support the overhaul schedule. You're a hero! (Better than saying, "What new antenna?")
- Remember your campaign promises. If you said you would do something at the last conference, consider what a chump you will look like at the next meeting when people ask you where it is. Your credibility is on the line—and you had better deliver. If you enjoy looking foolish, ignore the action item list until just before the next meeting—then scramble for fresh excuses. (Don't ask me how I know.)
- This ain't Congress. So forget impressing people with your insider knowledge of who's on what committee and where draft legislation or budgets are in the labyrinth. Ship crews don't care about how the reclama will survive the mark-up by the appropriation committee. Nor are welders impressed by your dropping the names of senior military or political appointees. That is strictly inside the Beltway stuff—so leave it there. Real people just don't care.
- Listen! The people holding wrenches (or multimeters) know what's wrong. Ask them and listen to them. Don't come from Mt. Olympus to "educate" the fleet. Find out their problems and then tell them what you're doing about them. I never will forget the headquarters guy who came to visit us at the shipyard to announce a new ship-construction technology he had written into the next contract. The room exploded with suggestions, comments, and concerns—and he beat them back by saying, "I'm not here to take your comments. This is a done deal and I'm here to tell you how it's gonna be!" But when it came time to make it happen at 0300 in a snowy drydock, he wasn't going to be there—we were.
Brief Points: An Almanac for Parents and Friends of U.S. Naval Academy Midshipmen
Bottom line: You can do a lot of good in D.C., but it's all a means to an end. Keep the customer's needs in mind and "don't wear that D.C. jacket!"
Commander Delaney is an engineering duty officer. He served as a fleet liaison officer for Naval Sea Systems Command, and is a deputy program manager at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in San Diego, California.