Tuesday, 18 March 2014

2014 - Retired at the Navy´s Request

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Janis Jorgensen
Manager, Heritage Collection


     Lieutenant Commander Daniel B. Sheehan, U.S. Navy (Retired)
( Proceedings, Febr  1994, p 57 )

Dear Al,

You recently wrote that you would soon reach 20 years of service and be retired from the Navy. Of course, few people with teenage children can ever retire, so I know you have been looking for a second career, or at least a second job. Having been through the process myself, I have some observations that might be helpful. I write not only out of friendship but also to soothe my own bruised egoand sensibilities.

Feeling upset, apprehensive, concerned, and even scared about the future is common during major changes in people's lives; it is adirect result of our own carefully cultivated, well-ingrained self image. As naval officers, we saw ourselves as confident, capable, loyal, calm, and courageous-completely in control. We were always icy calm in crisis situations, conditioned by our self-image and by the Navy's expectations to suppress or repress emotional involvement in what we did and how we did it. This was understandable-necessary,in fact-considering the naval profession. Crises and combat situations were best handled by calm, rational individuals-whether applying checklists, using standard operating procedural guidelines and pre-developed operations plans, or improvising to cope with totally unexpected and unplanned situations. And, when our decisions involved our own life or death, during combat or emergencies, we often assumed a glacial calm and an apparent icy indifference to our own stake in the outcome. We were fatalists in our professional approach.

It made sense that the attitudes and expectations of our profession would find their way into other aspects of our lives. We were conditioned to suppress our emotions both at work and at home, and we expected to be dominant and in control at all times. This self-image, this myth of always being in control, is severely threatened by the prospect of leaving the Navy.

For 20 years, the Navy was a home, a stable reference point through changing jobs, ranks, duty stations, professional responsibilities, and personal obligations. The Navy-the primary agency of change in my life-became the stable reference point. The unvarying ritual of the change process provided stability and security.
I faithfully submitted preference cards, and that act of faith seemed to make the resultant Permanent-Change-of-Station orders, whether to chosen locations or not, expected and part of the routine of Navy life. Preferencecards and detailer telephone calls added to the spurious feeling that I controlled my fate within the Navy.

Besides the myth of steely-eyed self control, naval officers embrace the notion that they are extraordinary people doing extraordinary things. Getting shot at over Vietnam, accepting a night catapult shot into a Stygian void, and intervening to keep a flight student fromkilling you become accepted challenges of the job. Often forgotten in today's post-Cold War environment is that our primary role was to "stem the red tide of communist aggression wherever it may encroach upon freedom's frontiers." Despite the cynicism in that phrase, I believe that what I did as a naval officer had a positive and lasting impact upon the fortunes of the United States. I -and others like me-made a difference in this world. We had fun; we worked and played hard; and we mattered in a real world. If this shows overwhelming ego and a sense of self importance, it's because that's how I was.

The first crack in my ego came when I failed to select for commander. How could someone so much in control and so important to the future of the Free World, and the Navy, be passed over for commander and relegated to forced retirement at 20 years? My rational mind told me that the first pass over was final and that all subsequent promotion boards were irrelevant. But my subconscious mind wasconvinced each year that the past injustices would be rectified. Each succeeding pass over became an unacknowledged ordeal, an affirmationof the Navy's first rejection-"We didn't want you then, and we don't want you now." In self defense, I celebrated each passover- not for commander. I celebrated not being promoted to captain or rear admiral, because these were deep pass overs, and I could laugh at them. The commander list, however, was just too close to home.

The attitudes, habits, and feelings of 20 years died hard, and although I felt rejected, I still did not want to leave the Navy. Having long defined myself as a Navy pilot and a naval officer, who was I without that identity?

I did anything I thought would help my transition to the civilian world. Facing all the jokes about "the real world" and "growing upand going to work for a living," I took a course called "The Strategy of Career Transition," given by Stanley Hyman.

It was an intense,practical, and strangely disturbing experience. I learned not to wear a big watch at interviews, how to say "three o'clock" instead of"fifteen hundred," and how to cram 20 years of Navy experience into a one-page resume-without using a single acronym or Navy word. My first resume was four pages long, listing every job title I ever had and requiring an interpreter for anyone other than a detailer.

I also learned about civilian uniforms. Military uniform requirements are published for all to see. Civilian uniform guidelines, however, are not. For Service Dress Blue, Tropical White Long, or Tropical Khaki, I had to substitute blue, grey, or pinstripe suit; crispwhite shirt; burgundy background necktie; and London Fog overcoat. And don't make the mistake of wearing your spit-shined uniform shoes with your suit-no matter how good you think they look. If you do, you will stand out, and that can only hurt you.

The purpose of the uniform is to make you blend in, not to separate you. In this world of image, your appearance is more important than ever before.

Most civilian companies view military members either as incompetents in the real world of profit-and-loss or as assets because oftheir personal contracts with those who let contracts and buy expensive things. Companies that value the experience, presence, decision-making abilities, and integrity of the military officer are rare. It is up to you to find out what your prospective company thinks of your military background and to tailor yourself, your resume, and your interview accordingly. Even the well-intentioned interviewer with no military experience will resent the implicit assumption that, having been a naval officer, you can do anything that this company, or thisjob, requires. I strongly believe that this is true, but you can't let anyone in the hiring loop know you think that. It is usually best to acknowledgeyour leadership skills and to admit humbly that although the Navy didn't expose you to good business practices (profit, profit, and more profit), you certainly have the ability to learn and the desire to work.

It took me six months after retiring to find full-time work. I had started searching before I got out, but since I had been overseas I didn't have much of a head start. It seemed to take forever to get a decent resume together, and ultimately I wrote four different versions,each depending upon the target job. Then came the weeks of answering advertisements, sending broadcast letters, and just plain waiting-with a complete lack of response common and discouraging.

To hold me over while I looked for steady work, I did some substitute teaching in high school and junior high school English, socialstudies, Spanish, French, math, and special education-despite an absence of foundation or knowledge in many of the subjects. I also appliedfor NJROTC teaching but did not get the one job in my area which came open; a retired chief warrant officer was picked. In military-savvy areas, retired lieutenant commanders are viewed with suspicion- "What's wrong with you? Why couldn't you hack it?"

I interviewed for several jobs. I lostan offer from Marriott after three interviews, because I didn't know what the hotel industry'smajor personnel problem was. I went to a major North Carolina university where they said they wanted a safety manager but reallywanted a security person. And I interviewed for and got a job as handyman at a local plant nursery.

When I went to Washington D. C., to interview with Marriott, I got there a day early, and I went to see a former commanding officer. He introduced me to a personnel representative, and she and I reviewed current openings. She thought someone was looking for a safety training manager, and in a three-minute exposure to a very gruff man who was (I later found out) a senior director, Igot the interview that started me out with the company. During the third interview, the panel, which included a retired Army officer, tried to ask me why Ihad never held command and did not make commander. They couldn't quite spit those questions out, and I was reluctant to answer them unless they were asked. Fortunately, I was able to steer them to my former commanding officer who satisfied the panel. Coming from him, the answers probably had more credibility than my own. Personal contacts and luck got me a shot at a job.

The changes in my life were not over with job acquisition. As a manager, I was a very junior member of an organization which, at times, made the Navy look like a smoothly running machine. In the Navy, I knew how to get things done-who to call and what buttons to push- but it was not so with this company. To get something done required knowing who got it done the last time. Position titles meant little, and memoranda floated around with people's names but without position titles. There was no way of knowing whether any party to the memo actually had any authority over or cognizance of the subject in question. Coming from an organization accustomed to documenting things and assuring follow-up, I found my new company relatively unconcerned with either. "Cover your ass" and "Don'task questions you don't want the answers to" seemed to be the watchwords. The qualities I valued in the Navy were not in demand in the business world; integrity and honor were not marketable commodities.

At the beginning of this letter, I wrote of the naval officer's sense of self-importance, uniqueness, and specialness. The process of obtaining, and the actual work produced by, my civilian job did great violence to those concepts. I ride to work on commuter trains andsubways for the first time, and I walk to and from stations among the masses of similarly clad office workers-once a leader in the Free World struggle to deter repression, now an urban lemming, flowing with the tide of humanity over curbs, through puddles, and around street people arrayed over steam grates. I do not like the transformation.

I think I had an unrealistic view of myself and my worth as a human being while I was in the Navy. I saw myself as being what I did, not as a human being who happened to do those things. I struggle against the concept that because I was required to retire, my Navy career was a failure. I encourage the attitude, however, that if there was failure in that scenario, the failure was the Navy's - and the losses theirs, too.

I hope my thoughts help you. I know you didn't ask for any advice-and I really don't have any concrete advice to offer- but as muchas anything else, this letter has been a catharsis for me. Good luck with your job hunting efforts.

Your friend,