Shipmates -- A Dying Breed
My Father was a sailor and my earliest memories are of the Navy, being on bases, seeing sailors in uniform, standing formation, marching in straight lines, counting cadence., doing the manual at arms as one, functioning like a huge living organism with one purpose. As recruit commander, Dad’s job was to take raw recruits from all over and to break them down from their undisciplined personal habits, and then build them back up into a cohesive unit of sailors functioning as one. The Navy of the 1950s knew it was necessary to take a bunch of civilians with diverse backgrounds and from all over the nation, with different accents, religious beliefs, educational backgrounds, skin colors, religions and mores, ethnicities and mold them into one, into sailors, into shipmates. Navy leadership grasped deeply that they needed to create shipmates, a unified building block of patriotic Americans to carry out defending the nation against our enemies.
What is a shipmate? It is not some random term. It is a term that has a very special meaning. It derives from the immutable truths of the Navy and those “who go down to sea in ships.” Ships and the sea are inherently dangerous things. Those are timeless truths even before you add the extreme dangers created by having enemies. When you go to sea on a ship, you and all the others literally are all in the same boat. What happens to one, happens to all. At sea, everyone is aware of the sea state. No one has to tell you what it is. The ship is a living, breathing organism and you feel the ship under you and you know what it is doing. When at sea you have to fight the ship for stability at virtually every moment. It is always dangerous… unseen hazards, converging ships, adverse weather, navigation challenges, mechanical breakdowns, fleet operations. Every minute, every day, something could happen that will challenge the ship and the crews’ safety and even life. To safely and effectively operate a ship takes a unified crew of shipmates, shipmates whose focus is on the ship and what we are doing to carry out our mission.
When you say, “right full rudder,” the rudder better come right full or lives could be lost. You think I exaggerate? Constant bearing and decreasing range…what to do? Seconds to decide and lives are at risk. Ask the crews of the USS McCain or USS Fitzgerald, the ones who are still with us, sailors who will never forget the horror of a collision at sea. And, untold thousands who have gone before. The sea is unforgiving and history echoes with its millions lost there. Add the element of combat or even just rivalry and the danger rises. This is not the place for social experiment. This is not the place for debate on what should happen next. This is not the place for watching out for hurting someone’s feelings or wondering what pronoun to use. I speak from experience as one with thousands of hours at sea on the bridge. I speak from the experience of a dangerous and once highly classified tracking of a Soviet Yankee-class submarine for five days nonstop during the Cold War. I speak from the experience of conning a damaged ship for five days up the East Coast being chased by a hurricane…. you know, that fun following seas action. It takes shipmates, competent shipmates with unquestioning obedience and quick action to survive those waters. It takes a crew that literally and figuratively are pulling on the same end of the rope.
The social experimentation and woke politics of today’s America has no place in the Navy or the other services. It will just get people killed. In the past, when we trained young people who joined, the entire methodology was to forge unity, cohesion, camaraderie, morale, teamwork… a group of people who would act with one purpose. Now, we seem intent to categorize and accentuate by race, sex, and other characteristics and that creates division. At the Academies, where the purpose was to turn out exemplars of professionalism, unity, persistence, toughness, and skill, we now promote affinity groups to divide the whole into competing parts. At Annapolis, 13 separate affinity groups are listed including Black Studies, Chinese culture, and Native American cultures. A whole month is devoted to “pride” of those attracted to the same sex while ignoring the 70% of the straight, Christian members who abhor what their faith teaches is wrong. That is not how you promote unity. Demeaning the faith of a majority of the military is both wrong and stupid.
The military is governed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The operative word is “Uniform.” All must be treated the same in matters of merit, behavior, and justice. But that standard is passe. Now, if your skin is the right color, you are glorified. If your sexual preference is right, you are celebrated. The promotion of what is different about our sailors does not create shipmates. It is wrong thinking and devastatingly damaging to readiness, morale, and retention. The service chiefs have all publicly admitted that recruiting is in crisis. And, it will only get worse as normal yearly attrition creates a huge demand each year for new recruits. If you fail to recruit in one year, the problem is twice as big in the next. Now, the services have compounded the problem by separating thousands with religious or other objections to the COVID vax mandate effectively shooting themselves in the foot for political reasons and ignoring readiness.
To Navy leaders, it’s time to create shipmates again…. before it’s too late.
Captain Brent Ramsey’s career in the Navy spanned almost 40 years. He is currently Executive Vice President for Operations and Public Affairs Officer for STARRS.us, a non-profit that promotes unity in the services.
Image: National Archives