Bill Buckner, Admiral Nimitz and Mistakes

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Bill Buckner, Admiral Nimitz and Mistakes

Postby Mjölnir » Sat May 16, 2015 1:38 am

Bill Buckner accumulated over 2,700 hits in his twenty-year career, won a batting title in 1980, and represented the Cubs at the All-Star Game the following season. His career batting average was .289, got 2,715 hits – 174 were home runs and had 1,208 RBI’s one hell of a career. However, fans will always remember the error Bill Buckner of the Boston Red Sox made in the sixth game of the 1986 World Series against New York Mets. In the military I have often heard this summed up as ‘one thousand atta-boys don’t make up for one “oh shit” moment.’ Sad but true in so many ways.

Who out there has never made a mistake? While not burdened with historical research, I am going to go out on a limb and say NO ONE. Militarily let’s take a quick look:

--Chester Nimitz ran the USS Decatur aground in 1907 and was convicted at court-martial of hazarding his vessel. He was later promoted to LT, and eventually to Fleet Admiral. Incidentally, the fitrep from that period hangs outside the CNO's office ...

--John LeJeune was disciplined while at the Naval Academy for throwing dice (gambling.) He graduated, commissioned as a Marine Officer and eventually was the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

--Mike Mullen didn’t do too well at the Naval Academy, became a Surface Warfare Officer and as the Officer of the Deck he struck a buoy. He went on to be an Admiral, the Chief of Naval Operations and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

I was the recipient of Non-Judicial Punishment not once but twice. Reduced in rank each time. Both times I completely deserved it; no arguments against it. I was and continue to be lucky that the leaders I had after that third brush with the 'Fraternal Order of the Lance Corporal' did not give up on me especially when, for a short period I gave up on myself. I moped around for a few weeks knowing that at the end of my current enlistment there was no way the Marine Corps would let me stay. My First Sergeant pulled me into his office and told me basically to “suck it up.” The Marine Corps may not let me stay, but there was no way they would if I just coasted through the next couple of years. I remember him saying “if you want to stay, stop licking your wounds and show someone WHY you should stay. Now get out of here.” It wasn’t easy actually, at first my reenlistment request was denied; my platoon sergeant and OIC made many phone calls and I was allowed to reenlist “For Further Observation” for 24 months – any disciplinary problems in that time and I would be shown the door. I meritoriously promoted back to Cpl, and Sgt, SSgt then GySgt. I was accepted for a commission in the Navy and while my promotion to LTjg and LT were pretty much automatic, I was promoted to LCDR. So things have kind of worked out.

I tell people that story a lot, repeatedly … A LOT. I tell junior people so they see that the system is not blindly going to force people out who have erred. I tell senior people to try to reinforce that no one is perfect; many are surprised to hear I was commissioned at all. Why? Should our system have a zero-defect mentality? I am no Nimitz or LeJeune but how would our history be different if Admiral Nimitz was drummed out as a LTjg, or if General LeJeune not allowed to graduate from the Naval Academy?

The news today, social media and internet forums are full of ‘mistakes.’ We focus on the negative and not the whole person. We focus on loosely identifying and griping about the problem but offer little in the way of solutions. Yes, shortcomings need to be addressed and get the majority of our effort after all, that is where our processes or procedures are broken. Do those who have nothing but bad to say truly have nothing else or do they just not want to? If you met Bill Buckner in a bar, would you ask him about the end of the ’86 Series or something else; where is your focus? It may be cliché … but if you aren’t part of the solution you are part of the problem.
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Re: Bill Buckner, Admiral Nimitz and Mistakes

Postby rturcic72 » Wed May 20, 2015 3:28 pm

This is an interesting topic since quite a few of us have been around to see what you were able to get away with 20+ years ago and what you cannot today. My brother joined in 1980, got busted down twice from E-5 to E-4, once for popping on a urinalysis, and another for a "racially" motivated fight. He made Chief and retired at his 24 year mark. Both of these incidents would never have been brushed under the rug by today's standards.

I do not believe in the "zero defect" mentality because we make mistakes and not a true indicator of what the person truly brings to the table. Also, if we are to judge using a "zero defect" mentality, then those parameters would essentially need to be socialized with the group. If an Enlisted Sailor or Officer, both expected to practice high standards, then there is no place for SARP, EEO, FAP, drugs, etc. the big no, no's. In this case, hopefully common sense will dictate that these are unacceptable defects.

Accidentally striking a buoy, running aground although updated charts state otherwise, etc. are mistakes that even experienced folks can make. There is a fine line between negligence and an operational mishap that are not apparent or beyond control of the crew. When a major event happens, ORM and the chain of events leading up to the actual event may not be clear enough because there is a level of subjectiveness and interpretation that can clearly influence the outcome.

We understand Senior Leadership is accountable for the actions of their subordinates regardless of who is at fault. Is it really the CO's fault if a trainee on the bridge makes a mistake. After all, how can he keep an eye on all of his bridge teams.

Last year, there was a fire onboard Hue City when a bail of rags caught fire. They were stuffed near GEN 2 several weeks prior during a supply on-load because of the lack of space. The crew forgot about it. The CO had been on board for a couple months and had no knowledge of the event prior to the fire. I knew the CO, a new CAPT, prior OSC with 30+ years, probably the best CO I've ever worked when I was PCS Afloat as a SIGWO on a DDG.

We already lost several Surface COs and I was very anxious to find out what his fate was because I would have felt bad if he was fired. After a very long investigation, it was determined that he was not at fault and a handful of Engineering folks that had forgotten about the bail of rags were at fault. Most Cruiser folks will tell you that GEN 2 is a common spot for overheating because the insulation breaks down quickly in this area onboard this platform. If many knew folks knew this, then where did the breakdown in the process occur? The line between negligence and forgetting becomes blurry because a crew turnover around the same time could have potentially changed the outcome...

I believe mistakes need to be weighed by severity by the board against performance. We know what truly is bad in our line of work. Past Enlisted Sailors could press forward and make up for their losses, but it's gotten harder and as Officers, once your record is marked, I do not think, or at least I have not seen anyone recovery but pretty much leave. But I do agree, a mistake should not stop professional Sailors from moving forward and overcoming whatever the loss may have been and prove they are capable...as you stated "stop licking your wounds and show WHY you should stay."
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