‘Sir, why do so many SWOs hate their lives and then get out of the Navy?” I was recently asked this question during a trip with the U.S. Naval Academy Investment Club. A midshipman second class who was considering the surface-warfare community worried about what he had heard regarding the Fleet. Then a midshipman first class who was slated for flight school this summer chimed in, “Yeah, and what’s all this talk about the Navy’s personnel system being broken?” In a government van, driving from Annapolis to New York City can take about six hours, but I wasn’t sure I’d have time to cover everything that would be needed to answer their questions adequately.
First I explained the challenges of being a first-tour division officer in a chain of command. Your commanding officer could be bad. Your executive officer could be worse. Your senior watch officer could have a grudge against you, and your department head could be incompetent. You might get stuck as the junior officer requiring guidance, not to even mention the problems of being in the lower half of the chain of command, with its Alice in Wonderland–like world of divisional politics.