You have heard (and will hear) much of the so-called “detailing triad,” a metaphoric triangle with equal sides consisting of the needs of the Navy, your professional needs (which must be satisfied in order for you to remain professionally viable), and your personal desires.
First, this triangle is at least an isosceles and typically a scalene. But here is the main thing you need to understand: Your desires are inevitably the shortest leg of any potential triangle. So please stop imagining an equilateral shape.
It is comfortable to think that the detailer—your chief geometer—is your vested and jealous advocate. We would all like that to be true, and maybe sometimes it even is. More commonly, your detailer is a busy person with significant professional aspirations, doing a difficult job for many clients.
You should realize that what mainly drives the detailer is his or her boss’s priorities, not yours, and “constituent satisfaction” is not a detailing metric. Consequently, the sides of the triangle that are most interesting to your detailer are those other than your desires.
This is not to say that your detailing wishes won’t be granted. If going to a ship in Japan is your dream, you are willing to sacrifice other considerations, and billets are available—voila! If, however, your requests conflict with the other two “legs,” expect that your dream will be dashed posthaste—nothing personal.
You should also know that when it comes to the needs of the Navy, not all of them press equally on your detailer. Every detailer has a “hard-fill list” that keeps him or her up at night. The jobs on this list (posted above the detailer’s desk like some Damoclean Sword) are so obviously dreadful that even the greenest persons recognize them as such. Officer in Charge of Piers and Warehouses, Toulebonne? That’s a hard-fill job.
If your detailer can get you to take a hard-fill job, she will have made her seniors happy. Your detailer has a job to do; some officers must be assigned to these hard-fill jobs. If a few villagers have to be killed to serve the “needs of the Navy,” well, no sleep should be lost.
So, how can you avoid being one of these pitiful villagers?
First, while you may not want to hear it, in many ways the die is cast based on the record you have already built. Detailing shops rack and stack the talent, and the top players have more choices. People with the best records have leverage.
Having said that, when you talk to your detailer, you must know—with some clear specificity—what you want to do. If you arrive as a blank slate, your detailer will certainly be happy to write orders on you.
To be suitably informed in advance, you will need to reach out to your seniors, at multiple levels, for advice. Seniors, not peers. Your peers are enthusiastic, but inexperienced. Only when you are soberly armed with options and reasonable back-up options should you speak to your detailer.
And if your detailer is determined to push you in another direction that absolutely does not fit your plan? When this happens, the first and best strategy is to declare a time-out of sorts. Politely say that you’d like to think about it, and you need to talk to your family and mentors; you will get back to him or her in a few days.
Then, blame your mentor for talking you out of accepting this job. Though the detailer can convince you that he knows better than you, it is unlikely that he will denounce your captain or some other senior person as not knowing what ground-truth is. Also, things move fast and hopefully some other villager has been selected for sacrifice in the interim.
You can also simply and firmly decline a set of orders. This may lead to attempted bullying, but your detailer takes a real risk in issuing orders that you explicitly declined. Under those circumstances the detailer can issue the orders, but probably not without the expressed permission of his seniors. You may rest assured that your detailer does not want to cross this bridge, because it makes him look like he cannot handle his job.
But pick your battles. It is worth understanding that no matter how mishandled you may feel, it is technically possible for worse to be done to you. Your detailer has a lot of power and authority over your assignment. You don’t like Toulebonne? No worries, there is a wonderful billet, for which you are ideally suited: Officer in Charge of Laundry and Morale, USS Reluctant.
Captain Eyer served in seven cruisers, commanding three of them: the USS Thomas S. Gates (CG-51), Shiloh (CG-67), and Chancellorsville (CG-62). He is a frequent contributor to Proceedings.