Friday, November 24, 2006

What? Me? Reenlist?

When I first enlisted in the Navy I had no intention of reenlisting. I had a draft notice to report for induction into the U.S. Army when I enlisted in the Navy. Enlisting in anything had not been my idea. But what are you to do when the President calls and says, “Greetings...”

I joined the Navy reluctantly and would have guaranteed on the spot that I would never, ever consider staying in the service. But, as they say, “Never say never.”

As the expiration of my enlistment approached I was making plans to attend the University of Iowa. Then one day...

The Navy waved a reenlistment bonus in front of me. It was a substantial sum and for the time being I had to at least consider reenlisting. I needed the money. My wife had been in the Navy also, but after our daughter was born she was released from active duty. Unfortunately, while she was in the service we had spent money and had incurred debt, based on two salaries. When one of those salaries went away...well, let’s just say the money would come in handy.

I didn’t want to just reenlist for the money so I thought I’d ask for a choice of duty and location. I asked for recruiting duty in Iowa (my home) or Minnesota (my wife’s home). I figured that the Navy wasn’t about to give me money, my choice of type of duty AND location, so if I didn’t reenlist I could use the excuse they Navy hadn’t been fair to me.

But, quite the contrary, the Navy gave me all I asked for, money, and recruiting duty in Minneapolis, MN. I decided college could wait, plus I could always attend college at night. My time in the Navy had been good. I had been stationed at Oceana, Virginia, and served with a Fighter Squadron, met and married a young lady from Minnesota, and even got to act in about eleven community theatre productions at the Little Theatre of Norfolk.

The three years I had spent in Virginia also saw me getting to make two deployments to the Mediterranean. I had met a lot of people, became “worldly” and generally had a good time.

Now the Navy was going to give me a pile of money, send me to a school in San Diego, CA and then send me on to Minneapolis, MN where I would be a classifier (one of the people responsible for putting people into the right job) stationed with the Navy Recruiting District in Minneapolis. So, I reenlisted for four years. I reenlisted at sea, I don’t recall the exact longitude and latitude, but the Commanding Officer of the ship allowed me to “take command” of the USS FORRESTAL (CVA-59) for 30 minutes. His only warning, “Don’t run in to anything.” I didn’t.

I left the ship when it anchored in Naples, Italy. Now, I had already learned my lesson about flying military aircraft when I almost had to jump out of one, so I arranged a commercial flight for myself and my personnel officer who was also being transferred. We traveled by “slow” train to Rome, stayed a couple of days in Rome, and flew on to New York with layovers in Geneva and London.

Up to the point when we arrived in New York we had not been in any big hurry. We had time to sight see and explore some of Europe. But, once we hit New York we were both anxious to get to Norfolk, VA – our home port.

My personnel officer made up a story about how we were “needed” immediately in Norfolk and asked if there was anything the ticket agent could do to get us there quickly. (At this point we had to fly on standby, with no guarantee of how quick we could get a flight). The agent put us the next flight and upgraded us to first class. It was a good end to the journey. I called my wife from the New York airport before I boarded since she had no idea I was coming home and her first response was, “You can’t, the house isn’t clean.” I went home anyway...

Next...the trip to California on our way to Minnesota.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The New Math

My wife and I stopped by an ice cream shop (remaining nameless) for some ice cream this past weekend. I drove up to the window and placed my order, "I would like a 1/2 gallon of vanilla soft serve please."

To which the young lady responded, "I'm sorry sir, we no longer sell 1/2 gallons."

"You mean I can't order a 1/2 gallon?"

"That's right sir."

"There's no way I can get 1/2 gallon of ice cream?"

"That's correct, sir. We no longer sell 1/2 gallons."

"Do you sell quarts?"

"Yes, sir we do."

"May I order 2 quarts?"

"Yes, ...please pull forward."

Must be that new math...

Saturday, November 11, 2006

It Was a Dark and Rainy Night

It was a dark and rainy night when the plane I was on started to fall out of the sky – it really was dark and rainy - I’ll get back to the weather report...but first let me begin my story at an earlier moment in time.

My oldest daughter Jennifer was born on March 9th, 1974. It was a happy and joyous occasion – but there was a cloud hanging over the event. In 2 days I had to deploy with the USS FORESSTAL, the aircraft carrier where I was stationed. The Navy did not (probably still doesn’t) consider normal child birth as a reason to miss a ship’s movement. The ship was scheduled to deploy to the Mediterranean for a 6 month cruise bright and early on Monday, March 11th. As I road the ship down the channel to the Atlantic Ocean, both my wife and daughter were still in the hospital. It was a difficult departure and journey – I had teary eyes all the way to the Azores.

I will always be thankful for the Navy wives who stepped up and watched after my wife and daughter as I left on deployment. They came together and fetched and carried, shopped, and cleaned. They ran the household. They even picked my mother-in-law up at the airport when she came to visit. My mother-in-law took over taking care of everyone, but the Navy wives were at the ready. Everything was going well until my wife came down with phlebitis (blood clots in her legs). The doctors at the hospital thought it was serious enough to send a message to the ship. My Commanding Officer gave me 30 days emergency leave and I came back to Virginia. (Now, there’s another story to be told about how I got back. Remember, I was on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Mediterranean and it was not all that easy to get home.)

It took me over 48 hours of traveling to get home, and I arrived safely. The first thing I did was sleep after I found out everyone was ok. My wife was released from the hospital not too long after I arrived and we had 30 days to bond with the baby. My mother also visited, but her visit was cut short when my grandfather passed away.

Since I couldn’t stay on leave forever, I had to return to the ship. I didn’t want to, but the Navy has this thing called Unauthorized Absence where they put you in jail. Since jail didn’t appeal to me – off I went. I started my journey on a Sunday afternoon. The return trip was not going to be an easy task. I had to use a mix of civilian and government transportation and the two, at times, don’t mix well.

I flew from Norfolk, Virginia to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where I was told it would take 2-3 weeks to get processed and on an airplane to Europe. I certainly didn’t want to sit for 3 weeks. The Navy has a “way” of keeping you busy, and typically they keep you busy with unpleasant tasks. Since I was a Personnelman (a guy who works in the personnel office) I volunteered to do 14 of the processing centers transfers if they’d let me be number 15. The Chief in charge thought that was a great idea and a deal was struck. I managed to leave for Europe after only 3 days in Philadelphia.

My first flight left from Trenton, New Jersey and took me to Rota, Spain, where I caught another flight to Germany, where I caught another flight to Naples, where I caught another flight to Palma Majorca. It was on the next leg of the journey where it was a dark and rainy night...

The last part of the trip back to the ship was on a plane which was going to land on the carrier. I was excited about the prospect. We had been in the air about ½ hour when smoke started filling the plane. At first it was a slight smell of something burning, and then smoke - a lot of smoke. The flight crew started yelling orders and frantically searching for the source of the smoke. In the process I was handed a parachute and was assigned to a ditching station. I was only a Seaman and did not possess a lot of knowledge about the Navy, ships or airplanes, but I knew enough to know that ditching in an ocean at night, was not good – even with a parachute. I figured this was it – gravity was finally going to get me. The plane started losing altitude – and then I heard shouts of, “’s’s ok. It’s a seabag”

It seems a seabag had been placed on a set of wires which caused a short, which caused a fire, which caused – havoc!!

The pilot turned the plane around and landed in Palma. I had to stay over night and I was told to catch another plane to the ship the next day. However, when the next day arrived, the ship had now moved into another area of operations, so I could no longer fly out to land on the carrier. I had to meet the ship at its next port, so I took a flight to Naples.

The flight to Naples arrived about an hour after the ship had dropped anchor in the harbor. At this point I was finished with planes. I took a small boat out to the ship. It had been a long journey – over 7 days to get back to the ship. I was glad to be back to the ship– something I was surprised at feeling, but the ship was familiar territory. I may have been glad to be back, but my heart was still in Norfolk with the little girl I had just briefly met.

© 2006 Robert Allen Hill

Friday, November 10, 2006

History Lesson

A friend of mine sent me this - I have no idea of the truth of the matter - it does make some sense, at any rate it's a good story.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, everything had to be transported by ship and it was also before commercial fertilizer's invention, so large shipments of manure were common. It was shipped dry, because in dry form it weighed a lot less than when wet, but once water (at sea) hit it, it not only became heavier, but the process of fermentation began again, of which a byproduct is methane gas.

As the stuff was stored below decks in bundles you can see what could (and did) happen. Methane began to build up below decks and the first time someone came below at night with a lantern, BOOOOM! Several ships were destroyed in this manner before it was determined just what was happening.

After that, the bundles of manure were always stamped with the term "Ship High In Transit" on them, which meant for the sailors to stow it high enough off the lower decks so that any water that came into the hold would not touch this volatile cargo and start the production of methane. Thus evolved the term "S.H.I.T " , (Ship High In Transport) which has come down through the centuries and is in use to this very day.

You probably did not know the true history of this word. Neither did I.
I had always thought it was a golf term.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Rainbow

My wife and I had just finished eating at a local restaurant. We had one of those meals that come with a small desert. The waitress asked me what I wanted and I said, “Orange sherbet.”

She asked, “How about some rainbow sherbet?.”

“Ok…” I said thinking that a taste of lemon and lime would be nice.

When she brought our deserts she put a dish of orange sherbet in front of me.

“I thought you were going to bring rainbow sherbet?” I asked.

“I did” she said, “I just took it out of the orange part of the rainbow.”

© 2006 Robert Allen Hill

Friday, November 03, 2006


I had to introduce a Word of the Day at a Toastmasters Meeting I attended. The idea was to come up with a new word that people can use. I found the word, “neologisms”, which basically means a new word or expression. We’ve all heard them:

ginormous (adj): bigger than gigantic and bigger than enormous

confuzzled (adj): confused and puzzled at the same time
woot (interj): an exclamation of joy or excitement

chillax (v): chill out/relax, hang out with friends

cognitive displaysia (n): the feeling you have before you even leave the house that you are going to forget something and not remember it until you're on the highway

gription (n): the purchase gained by friction: "My car needs new tires because the old ones have lost their gription."

phonecrastinate (v): to put off answering the phone until caller ID displays the incoming name and number

slickery (adj): having a surface that is wet and icy

I thought that once the meeting was over, that would be it, the word neologism wouldn’t cross my path again. Well, it did...yesterday. My daughter-in-law sent me to a new web site: It is filled with neologisms and words used in a different content.

Take for example the word, “bandwidth” which when used in talking about technology refers to the measure of the capacity of a communications channel. The higher a channel's bandwidth, the more information it can carry.

Now there is a new meaning: ability (or lack of ability) to complete work given the available resources (people, time, money, etc.).

Examples: Since we can't afford to replace the guy who just quit, our department doesn't have enough bandwidth to take on new projects right now.

Joe's so overworked; he doesn't even have the bandwidth to train his new assistant.
Keep an eye out for those Neologisms and if you find any send them to me...
© 2006 Robert Allen Hill

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Every Profession Has Obstacles

Every Profession Has Challenges and Obstacles

Our youngest son’s birthday is on the 4th of July and this year we celebrated by going to my older son’s country club. They have day long activities, swimming, eating, golfing, eating, sitting by the pool, eating, tennis, eating...(I see a trend there) any rate, they also have lots of activities for the kids. One of the activities just happens to be “balloon art” done by a couple of clowns. You could tell they were clowns because they were dressed as clowns, including the big, oversize floppy feet. There was a girl clown and a guy clown (equal opportunity and all).

At any rate, during one of my frequent trips to recycle some of the liquid I had been consuming, I came into the restroom and discovered an un-happy clown. The “guy clown” was standing in front of the urinal. I can only imagine what the difficulty was, but I did over hear him curse under his breath - something about these damn big feet. It seems he couldn’t get close enough to the urinal because the big feet were hitting the wall. He had to re-group (so to speak) and use a stall. The turmoil’s of being a clown...I wonder if they teach bathroom tips in clown school?

I still chuckle at the sight of that clown standing 2 “feet” away from where he needed to be!!
© 2006 Robert Allen Hill

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way

I heard a discussion yesterday about leadership and what traits a good leader should possess. I never seem to hear any discussions about “followership” – what does it take to be a good follower.

I recall the first lesson I received in following. It was shortly after I had reported to the USS FORESTALL (CVA-59) for my first tour with a Fighter Squadron. I was a Seaman Apprentice and I was walking around in awe of the size of the ship. I had a small understanding of physics and why steel floats, but the fact that this ship could float was still totally amazing. I was a country boy from Iowa and I had never imagined something as big as an aircraft carrier – it was bigger than my home town (with a much larger airport).

My supervisor, a crusty First Class Petty Officer, took me on a tour of the ship. As we climbed up and down ladders he shared his expectations and the rules he wanted everyone in the office to follow. We ended up on the flight deck and as we walked to the edge of the ship he yelled...J UM P!!! He jumped into the catwalk (an area around the flight deck where you can walk).

I didn’t jump – gave him a silly look and said, “Why?”

He let me know, “How do you know that I didn’t just see a cable snap and in the 5 seconds it took you to ask ‘why’ you’d could have been cut in two and each half of what used to be you could be flopping around on the deck bleeding all over the place? Who’d clean that up?”

Now there’s an image that’ll get your attention. He went on to explain, “If I tell you to do something, I expect you to do it. If I have time to explain, I will, but, if I don’t, just do it and we’ll talk later.”

Since that day in 1971 I’ve studied a lot about leadership, and as a consequence, followership. People follow for 5 basic reasons:

Fear of retribution - “If I don't I may get fired!"
Blind hope - “Somethings gotta be done. I hope this works!"
Faith in leader - “He's a great person. If anyone knows the answer, he does!"
Intellectual agreement - “What a great idea. That makes sense."
Buying the vision - “What a brilliant idea. I don't care who thought of it."

Environment can also play an important role in the interaction between leaders and followers. The blind faith response works when you’re in an environment where your life is literally on the line, where if you’re told to jump you jump, but may not work well in a corporate setting.

Volumes have been written on leadership, by people with a lot more experience than I have. I will end this thought with this, “Lead, follow or get out of the way.”
© 2006 Robert Allen Hill