2006-03-03 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

There has been lots of discussion lately about “leadership,” what with the President’s problems and the lack of “star legislators.”

I have often said in this space that there are two types of leaders: those who lead by experience and example and those who lead by commanding others to do what they do not have the expertise and the skills to do themselves.

The former runs a bottom-up ship, giving those who work for him a task and then allowing them to do what needs to be done unless and until they do something destructive. This leader is generally revered and respected by the workers.

The latter runs a top-down shop, detailing exactly how a job must be done and then “sitting on the workers” to make sure that it is done precisely in that way. This leader’s motto is “my way or the highway,” and he or she is generally derided and ignored by the workers.

Which category do our current leaders, such as the mayor, fall into? I’ll allow you to make your own judgment, but think Department of Education or the new rules for cigarette smoking.

During my 66 years, I have worked at many different tasks and for many, many different (and I mean that literally) managers.

And, at the same time, I have been a manager myself in many arenas as varied as the Legal Office of the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt and The Wave.

When I think of the personification of a leader, I think of only one man – Captain (later, Admiral) Gerald E. Miller, Class of 1942, U.S. Naval Academy and the Commanding Officer of the Roosevelt for one of the years that I was aboard that aircraft carrier.

Miller relieved the former CO of the ship in mid-1963, about six months after I had been detailed to the ship and had completed a course in court reporting at the School of Naval Justice in Newport, Rhode Island.

One of my duties was to give the military justice lecture to sailors new to the ship. I told them about all the trouble they could get into, about the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the three forms of courts-martial they might have to face if they did what I told them not to do.

My presentation was given right after the Captain gave his welcoming speech, traditionally a “win this one for the Gipper” speech to motivate the sailors to give their all for the ship, the Navy and the nation. That speech told about all the wonderful liberty ports we would make after our peacekeeping work was done.

I had heard the former Captain’s speech a dozen times. This was Miller’s first.

I knew that he was different when he got up and said, “This ship has one job and that’s to throw airplanes off the front end and then catch them on the back end. Whether you eat or sleep or get paid or get liberty does not matter. What matters is throwing airplanes off the front end and catching them on the back end.”

We were in the Mediterranean Sea at the time and the USS Enterprise, the nation’s most powerful warship and the first carrier to be powered by nuclear power, came to the Med for a shakedown cruise.

The Roosevelt, a ship built at the end of World War II, and already considered an out-of-date carrier because it could not launch or recover the latest aircraft, was tasked to take on the mighty Enterprise in a war game, something that the crew knew it couldn’t win. There wasn’t much motivation for the game and we were all kind of going through the motions.

Miller came on the 1MC, the intercom system that broadcast messages throughout the ship, just before the war game was to commence.

“When you were kids,” Miller began, “you lived to play cowboys and Indians. That is what we are going to do and we are going to enjoy ourselves doing it. You all know your jobs. I expect you to do them to the utmost of your ability. Let’s do it right, let’s have fun and let’s win.”

Miller conned the 60,000 ton carrier until it was about 5,000 yards from one of the many Greek Islands in the Ionian Sea. He then sent a position report to the fleet command that put him a couple of hundred miles to the east of where we really were.

The planes from the Enterprise overflew us during the night because their radar showed a big blip right where the island was supposed to be. We were so close that they could not separate the ship from the island.

At dawn, our F-8 Crusaders F-4 Scooters (actually called Skyhawks) and F-4 Phantom II’s easily found the Enterprise and “bombed it.” We won the exercise and the crew was ready to follow Miller anywhere he took us.

Miller received a message for the CO of the Enterprise that he shared with us.

“If you’re going to be had, being had by a pro is the only way.”

One last story.

The Roosevelt threw one of its massive propellers later in the 11-month cruise. There was no repair facility big enough to take the ship in Europe and, in any case, we had nuclear weapons aboard and no other nation wanted to chance us in its ports.

We went back to Bayonne, New Jersey, a Naval Supply Station across the bay from Manhattan for emergency repairs.

The rules were that nobody was allowed to walk around the supply station because it was chock full of warehouses with critical supplies.

The crew had been promised lots of liberty time while the ship was undergoing repairs.

Those who came from the Jacksonville (Florida) area, where the ship was homeported, were promised flights from Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn to Cecil Field in Florida for a week’s liberty at home. Those who lived elsewhere, and particularly those who lived in the New York City area and were unexpectedly home (at least in the evenings) for a few weeks were to be transported to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan.

We all got off the ship late in the afternoon, looking to get home for the first time in months. About 1,000 sailors milled around the bus stop nearby where the ship was moored. One bus showed up. The driver said that he would be back as soon as he dropped those sailors in Manhattan, about an hour or so. It did not take much of a skill with math to realize those at the end of the line would probably be there all night.

Then, Miller drove by in this chauffeured car (it had been offloaded from the ship) and stopped to ask what was going on. Most CO’s would have driven right by, but not Miller.

He told the bus driver to get him the base duty officers. When told that the LTJG who had to duty that night was “busy,” Miller pulled rank. Soon, the low-ranking officer came to the scene in a jeep. He told Miller that there were about two dozen buses on the base, but no drivers.

Miller read him the riot act. Within 20 minutes, while Miller waited with us, about 25 buses pulled up, all driven by Ensigns and Lieutenants, as well as a few petty officers. When all of his men were off the pier, Miller went to the city to meet his wife and family, who had flown up to meet him.

That’s a leader. He gave us a job and let us do it. He put the comfort of the men who worked for him above his own. He performed for us and we performed for him.

That’s the way a leader should be. Think about that when you decide on who to vote for in the next election.

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