This html article is produced from an uncorrected text file through optical character recognition. Prior to 1940 articles all text has been corrected, but from 1940 to the present most still remain uncorrected. Artifacts of the scans are misspellings, out-of-context footnotes and sidebars, and other inconsistencies. Adjacent to each text file is a PDF of the article, which accurately and fully conveys the content as it appeared in the issue. The uncorrected text files have been included to enhance the searchability of our content, on our site and in search engines, for our membership, the research community and media organizations. We are working now to provide clean text files for the entire collection.
without further thought, just as the nobks of Louis XVI’s court accepted thdrS
chief petty officer who has sei
years in the service salutes a young
1 have often felt that the best possible preparation for serving in a position of leadership as an officer would be rigorous reading of swashbuckler novels. Although the tactics for battling pirate frigates may be a bit outdated, the morality plays about the concept of “noblesse oblige” are, perhaps, even more important now than ever before. The phrase translates as “obligations of nobility,” and refers to the code of conduct and duties attached to noble birth. Granted, commissions are no longer sold or inherited in this country, and officers come from the same backgrounds as those they lead. Yet all officers enjoy the privileges of a sort of nobility in military service. They are accorded marks of deference and enjoy higher pay, better living conditions afloat or ashore, superior dining facilities, lighter work, more flexibility, and more authority, simply by virtue of their commissions. An officer may not necessarily be better bred, smarter, or even more valuable to the organization than certain enlisted personnel, but he will still be served in the wardroom.
While the status of the commissioned officer corps as a military nobility is fairly well established by tradition and regulation, many fail to realize that the privileges associated with that status are given in anticipation that the officer will meet the obligations of his rank, rather than as a reward for services rendered. The problem is that in most areas of life, benefits are earned. From childhood through the Academy or Officer Candidate School, rewards are given for performance or for enduring hardship. Upon commissioning, almost every officer
This salute is a sign of respect—not for the young officer’s accomplishments but for her future ability to honor the special trust and confidence she carries.
feels, “I earned this.”
In the field, though, that process of effort and reward is turned on its head. A newly reported ensign is accorded the privileges of commissioned rank long before he or she is able to contribute to the command, and is given authority over the petty officers and chief petty officers who must help him get his feet on the ground. However, many junior officers still accept their better
They accept horseplay and pranks in wardroom that they would not tolerate 0 the messdeck. What they fail to realize £ that rank is not a reward; it is a trust
ensign not for what he may have acconf plished in the past, but for what he accomplish with the authority he has bee given. t
Later promotions are given in trU every bit as much as the commissi0"' Unlike an enlisted advancement cert1 an officer’s comrniss1 says nothing ofre ward, but rather ‘ I®[ poses special trt* and confident
in the patriotis1”'
valor, fidelity abilities” of the nj dividual. It then c:l upon the office
Proceedings / September
It*10111 it, an officer is an imposter. flcls important to remember that an of-
er is not contracted by the service; he is aPart0fj -- }
ln return, is expected, without ques-
2atioto be steadfastly loyal to the organi- harrl r't0 ^'s sen'ors> and to his men. The vice *S t*lat wbiie the good of the ser-
carefully and diligently [to] discharge e duties of the office to which ap- ■ lnted. ' While the duties of a given rate ® Can be spelled out and listed, those ued by a commission cannot be so cear|y defined. Yet the privileges ac- 0r ed to all officers, from the most ju- tj °r ensign to the Chief of Naval Opera- fa'tlvF 3re ®'ven 'n anticipation of the ties U' Per^ormance of those vague duly S. ,^r- Samuel Johnson once remarked “an'S k'°§rapher, James Boswell, that an officer is much more respected than Thy otber man who has as little money.” sh 3t resPecfi and the basis of our leader- ob'h' ^.'n^e uPon bow well we meet the Stations 0f commissioned rank. m0 hallmark of a capable officer is ore crucial than the highest sense of sion°na* inte§rity anc* honor. In a profes- He W^ere *'ves are often at stake, and „ re men and women willingly make Po +* 3nc* smaP sacrifices, trust is all-im- can 3nt °fficer s juniors and seniors evaccePt an honest mistake or bad luck, hem1 'f costly. That is a part of life. Yet WlPr- °nce lost, is difficult to restore.
aricj ._ - it- He enjoys the prestige of rank
his seniors, and to his men. The
■ndiv' m an °fficer s best interest, the ily fy dual’s best interest is not necessar- p]e °r good of the service. For exam- a ’ tnany consider a transfer “for the jUstis °f the service” to be personal inti^ Cc rather than an honor. At transfer officers should ask not only “What ‘‘H °e ^est ^or my career?” but also vic°W may f best serve?” While the ser- tluf attemPts to reward crucial billets and ga '.es> ultimately the strength of the or- travZatlon relies upon those willing to tha C more r’s*cy Pat^ duty ratber tllen the safe road of personal advance- aid ^ervice in the field is often more 5trea°US and m°re dangerous, with lesser opportunities for reprimand and tia ,0r recognition than staff duty. Corner ls a double-edged sword, which He b°0St a career to prominence, but res [e. triishap by any crew member can De, .ln court-martial or early retirement. Put ,1! . l^at> our best officers continue to the he'r carecrs on the line in return for lea, challenges and responsibilities of vic6rsa'P- This country’s military ser- cs would collapse if they did not.
Uiai ^a*ty t0 t*1e serv'ce also means awning steadfast loyalty to superiors gar J ul|y supporting the command, re- ess of personal feelings or opinions.
Admiral John Jervis, Earl of St. Vincent, once remarked that “discipline begins in the wardroom. I dread not the seamen. It is the indiscreet conversations of the officers and their presumptuous discussions of the orders they receive that produce all our ills.” There are many ways to accomplish single objectives, and second- guessing, whether due to differing opinion, personal dislike, or ego, is ultimately self-serving at the expense of the organization. True loyalty, though, is not blind obedience or obsequious agreement. If, on moral grounds, an officer cannot fully support his superior, a sense of honor requires that he resign his position.
Whatever an officer’s feelings, however, he must have the courage to be honest, ensuring that the commander has accurate information on which to base decisions, regardless of personal consequences. Unfortunately, aspiration for higher rank often creates too strong a temptation to avoid the hazards of rocking the boat. Since the mythical days when beheading was the fate of bearers of bad news, military systems have had a difficult time dealing with bad news or criticism, no matter how valid. General Billy Mitchell tried desperately to awake an unreceptive country to the dawn of air power and, long before World War II vindicated his predictions, was court- martialed for his insubordination. It can take great personal courage to speak unpleasant truths, to acknowledge weaknesses, or to suggest a better way. Yet the fleet commander cannot make wise decisions or fulfill his duties without accurate information, no matter how uncomfortable that information may make him. Certainly no enemy will be sensitive to this sort of embarrassment. The enemy will not rock the boat, he will sink it. An officer at any level who, under the guise of being a “loyal soldier,” tells his commander what he wants to hear rather than what he needs to know, is being decidedly disloyal. By putting career ambitions ahead of the commander’s need for truth, he betrays his commission. The commander who discourages his messengers, though, will ultimately suffer the fate he deserves.
The officer, too, who ignores the needs of his troops, will earn his just rewards. Xenophon, addressing the officers of the Greek army during the Peloponnesian war, instructed that "no one can be a good officer who does not undergo more than those he commands.” A crew can be made to work for anyone, but they cannot be made to serve and follow an officer faithfully whom they do not trust; and they will not trust an officer who does not stand by them when bullets fly.
Xenophon further declared that “you are generals, you are officers and captains. In peace time you got more pay and more respect than they did. Now, in war time, you ought to hold yourselves to be braver than the general mass of men.”
Courage is crucial in battle; without it, no officer will be respected or followed. Yet in those moments of extreme physical danger, courage, or the lack of it, is more a reaction than a decision. It is the conscious, day-in and day-out courage that is often far more difficult and, over the span of a career, more significant. A young ensign is likely to be respected for steadfastness and integrity in the daily leadership of his division long before he is respected for professional expertise. And the strength of habits and bonds of responsibility built through daily courage can carry an officer through his trial by fire. It can take great courage to stand up and speak unpleasant truth to an admiral, or to accept responsibility for problems not your own fault. Strength of character is a deeper and more essential facet of an officer than is fearlessness.
No one can lead professionals without being one himself. The understanding and respect that accrue from professional expertise carry over, even into unrelated areas. Professionalism enables an officer to understand the commitment and pride of skilled petty officers, and to manage them effectively. More importantly, it gives an officer credibility. Every officer reporting on board, whether a boot ensign or newly assigned chief of staff, is given an initial grace period, in which he is expected to demonstrate quickly the discipline, commitment, and study necessary to master the job.
Being an officer can mean a great deal. The money is good, the work often interesting and prestigious. People do what you tell them to, and you get better parking spots. In short, an officer is granted at commissioning the same perks and privileges most who enlist must work years to attain. Yet if much is given, much is also expected. The great honor of a commission is matched only by the great obligations that accompany it. Rank is a noble calling, with noble obligations. The integrity of the Scarlet Pimpernel and the courage of Horatio Hornblower do not belong in yellowing pages of a musty book; they belong in the heart of every officer who would be worthy of the gold on his sleeves, imbedded along with the fighting traditions of John Paul Jones.
Lieutenant Black, currently assigned to law school at the College of William and Mary, has had two command tours: the USCGC Cape Starr (WPB-95320) and the USCGC Aquidneck (WPB-1309).
,ngs / September 1988