There have been some high-profile events going on in the Navy. On social media, the keyboard captains have been burning up data minutes faster than stolen wardroom coffee on midwatch. From the comments, you’d think the Navy is overrun, sinking, on fire, out of money, and losing a war. From the comments, you’d think it’s rudderless, run amok, and gone rogue. If you’re in the Navy, no one understands. If you’re former Navy, it seems that everything has changed. If you’ve got family in the Navy, it probably looks like an unmitigated disaster.
In other news, a plane landed safely at an airport, Jimmy got a B- on his 3rd-grade spelling test, and a couple thousand Sailors passed Messing/Berthing inspections because they made their rack. You know, the boring stuff.
I grew up with print media. Love the smell of a fresh newspaper. I would have been a journalist, except for the whole “show up to class and get passing grades” rule prevented me from a college degree. So, I joined the Navy. Fate, it would seem, handed me a better hand, considering the current financial status of newspapers. But I love the old idea of “A Free Press”. I’m an advocate of it. In fact, I get fist-pounding-on-the-table-excited about media writing what they want. But it doesn’t mean they’re accurate. It doesn’t mean they know everything. In fact, in some cases, they don’t know a damn thing. Really, sometimes I think they try to get it wrong on-effing-purpose.
So, some intelligent, likely well-meaning Petty Officer writes an opinion (OPINION folks) to the Navy Times. And, it goes viral. And, the Navy family (Current, Veteran, Family members) loses its preverbal mind. People are hurling comments, points, counterpoints, insults and old-time stories around like…like a Sailor throwing boxes during a working party. As the comments grow, they get shared and more opinions come out. Soon, it’s the only point of focus. The Petty Officer gave some perspective on current, and age-old problems. Some have existed since the time of sails. Some are new. Some are important. Some are the standard “disgruntled Sailor”. But nothing’s burning down. The Fleet isn’t sinking. The Chief’s Mess isn’t dead. We’re not in a moral sinkhole. We’re not without direction. But, we’ve all forgotten how to navigate. Yes. Let me say it plainly, in Chief-English, we all don’t know where the F things are, and in correlation, don’t know where the F we are too.
Social Media, is a bit like GPS navigation.
GPS does the math for you. GPS requires very little coffee to understand and operate. GPS tells you where to go, and how to get there. With GPS, three taps of the fingers, you get time, distance and a good place for tacos along the way. GPS makes you an expert in front of your friends. In fact, you’ll tell your friends that the tacos are good, even if you’ve never had the tacos before. Social media is the same. It takes little coffee to operate. It gets you up to date what’s going on. It gives you details about things, sizes, color, locations. It’ll also tell you where to get tacos. And you’ll tell your friends those tacos are good, even if you’ve never had them before.
The truth is, both GPS and social media have made us all dumb and vulnerable. They’ve made us lazy, and unaware.
They’ve made us lie about tacos. And lying to everyone about tacos is dangerous territory. We wake up with a stomach sounding like a there are two spoons in a garbage disposal, and there are three friends with similar sounds emitting from their stomachs. You lose credibility.
Take out tacos and put in a Navy Times article. Or most any article about the Navy lately. We read it, we comment on it as if it was the basis of some kind of truth. Then, it comes out badly. People say things back. Instinctively, we defend our position. It’s what we grew up to do in the Navy. Defend our position. But, we don’t know where we are. We’re basing our current status off a story that’s half-cocked at best. We have based our position on one reference point.
Remember basic navigation?
You must have two, if not three reference points to navigate. One point is useless.
Kind of like that time in Hong Kong when we might have been slightly intoxicated and navigated towards that tall building we remembered. An hour of stumbling, nearly getting run over in crosswalks (cars in Hong Kong drive on different sides), we got to the tall building. But shit-howdy, we weren’t any closer to the pier or the ship. And we were getting closer to liberty expiration. Had we used two points to navigate, we’d have been on time, and probably having one last beer near the pier. Having used one point, we got dehydrated and chewed out.
So, when we read these web-postings (I hesitate to call them actual news), perhaps we should be doing a little bit more navigation. Look at a second point, even a third. Take that Navy Times article. There’s a laundry list of issues there. But look in other directions. Mission-related flight deaths, less than 20% were Navy. The obesity point “over 60%” was from a 2015 survey that only reached 16% percent of the active military. At the rate our world is growing, PQS and training changes will be constant. Hell, they have to be constant. What you learned yesterday is barely relevant today.
So, when we read a single posting about “How Poorly the Navy is doing” – look at the source. Then, look at other places. Look to see the positive impact the Navy does every day. How it’s the bulwark of our nation. The Navy sailed between China and Taiwan. The Navy responded to typhoons. Last week, (10/28) a sailor was killed attempting to help what he thought was a stranded motorist. The Navy has a hospital ship off the coast of South America.
Learn to navigate social media for the real story. If you’re active duty, look beyond your own bulkhead. If you’re a veteran, give some love to those still standing the watch. If you’re a family member, be proud.
And damnit, know your tacos!
Retired Chief Petty Officer, USN