October 2, 2007, 6:39 pm Missing You
By Jeffrey D. Barnett Not surprisingly, there are many distinct differences between civilian life and the Marine Corps. Some have been welcome, but others bittersweet. Let’s jump right into what I miss about being an active duty marine.
Clearly defined job responsibilities. As a Marine officer I knew exactly what I was responsible for on a daily basis and the scope of each responsibility. I also knew that certain billets (jobs) in my unit were responsible for certain functions. If I needed to make a logistics request I would submit it through the company gunnery sergeant who would then submit it to the battalion’s logistics chief. The company gunny and the log chief were also the same rank, making this an example of “lateral coordination,” a prime concept of Marine Corps administration. Working laterally ensures that both parties get the best result for the group, as a more senior marine might bulldog a junior marine if any compromises were involved in the request. Furthermore, it ensures that the marine only receives direct orders from his chain of command, not from outsiders who may not see the bigger picture.
The process of lateral coordination starkly contrasts the bizarre scheme of vertical, cross-, and double-helix coordination I’ve witnessed working as a defense contractor. Adding the government into the mix understandably creates friction, because while I work for my company, I have been tasked by my company to perform work for the government, so I really have more than one boss. Furthermore, responsibilities for each person in this web are fluid, changing for each task, seemingly at the whim of Odin and his Valkyries. If you’re doing X then Bob likes for you to keep Bill on the cc: line, and Bill’s feelings may be hurt if you don’t ask him about Y, and you don’t want to emotionally disturb Bill because his wife Blair works in Z department and she controls Q which is important to you. It can be nightmarish.
People who tell you directly what they need from you and when they need it done. In a previous entry I discussed how civilians often use the term “we” ambiguously to refer to “you.” I experienced another example recently that taught me a clever nuance of this tactic. Someone sent me an e-mail referencing a document that the collective “we” had to write. Unsure if “we” was really “we” or just hippie-feel-good speak for “you,” I continued to discuss the item in terms of “we.” Later, in an actual verbal conversation about the document the other side of “we” quickly uttered the line, “So all you’ll have to do is ______.” Ah ha!
It was so much easier when I’d get an e-mail that said, “I need ____ NLT COB Friday.” (NLT = no later than, COB = close of business). Even more interesting, the senior officer would sometimes add “…with COB being defined by ‘when it’s done.’ ” The person asking me to do my job wasn’t being a jerk; it was expected.
Impromptu grappling matches at work. It used to be a great break in an otherwise mundane day to hear the thud of bodies falling to the floor and then run into the next room to find that Corporal Lawrence had challenged Master Sergeant Daley to a bout of grappling. These usually proceeded until one party tapped out, or something valuable was damaged, and most often occurred between two marines very experienced in either the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) or a civilian martial arts discipline. Everyone in a particular workplace quickly finds out who has advanced training, and friendly rivalries usually build between those marines with the most.
Perhaps it’s a little more danger than civilian employers are willing to accept, but it would be a great source of stress relief, which could conceivably impact the bottom line in a positive way. Is Steve in accounting driving you nuts? Sneak up behind him and try to choke him out. You may be successful, or he may properly “suck and tuck” his chin and roll you over his shoulder onto a copier. The possibilities are endless.
A never-ending supply of helicopters flying on the horizon. It became downright ordinary while I lived on Camp Pendleton, but now residing in suburban Alabama I miss AH-1 Cobras and CH-46s crossing over my neighborhood in between the airfield and training areas. Sometimes I see Army aircraft around here, but it’s not the same. I suppose it’s just the scenery of the helos on the horizon in front of the southern California mountains that I miss.
The culture of fitness. As a marine if you’re out of the office for two hours during lunch because you’re exercising, you’re considered dedicated. A civilian employee that does this is often considered a slacker. Having to move my exercise schedule to off-duty hours isn’t a large inconvenience, but I have realized that it makes quite a difference when everyone around you exercises regularly. Swapping tips for lifts and running routines used to be a staple of the workplace. Now there are few people with whom I can have those conversations.
I hope that doesn’t seem arrogant, because I honestly don’t care how fit everyone else is, but being around others who are interested in fitness to the degree I am made me better. It pushed me to excel even further, and now I have to provide more of that motivation from within. I also have to pay for gym membership, which is a shocker after almost four years of coming and going as I pleased in any gym on any base. Thankfully, a group of my co-workers recently started running regularly and invited me to join them.
Time off. If the battalion has worked hard during a given week, the C.O. may cut everyone loose early on Friday around 1200 or 1300. That’s not really an option for a customer-based civilian business. The number of three- and four-day weekends we enjoy as civilians are also much fewer than in the military. Finally, I always took for granted how much leave I accrued in the military (2.5 days per month). Now my leave is measured in hours, and I have to be much more stingy with it.
Instructors who keep their political opinions to themselves. One thing I never had to deal with in the Marine Corps was attending a training class and having the instructor consume my time with his or her political opinions. Unfortunately, that appears to be the norm as a civilian defense contractor. This is probably because I deal with weapon systems regularly, and discussions on the use of the weapon in the Iraqi theater, which are valuable and relevant, usually turn into political soliloquies by the instructor, which are neither. So far I’ve been to three training courses, and three times I’ve been given golden nuggets of opinion on the war in Iraq. Many I have agreed with, some I haven’t, but all were unprofessional given the context.
An instructor paid to teach a course should keep opinion out of his curriculum, unless it is directly relevant to the subject at hand. To use one’s position as a teacher to promote a political objective squanders the time of the students, and frankly, I think it implies that the instructor feels nobody listens to him and he must hold people captive in order to be heard.
Of course, there are many things I prefer about the civilian world, and I intend to go through those in a future installment. As for right now I have to finish plotting how to get my cubicle neighbor into an arm-bar takedown. He was in the Army, so I’m not expecting much resistance… I kid, I kid.