Many people will get the reference. Suffice it to say another title could have easily been, “Carpe Diem”. That story by Saul Bellow was definitely as much an accusation as it was an illustration. Anyone who felt as though they identified with the central character should realize they too might be big oafish losers. I know I recognized a little of myself in that story. And in similar ways Holden Caulfield in “The Catcher in the Rye” has similar tendencies to lay blame on his environment. He tries occasionally to break free of his boring life. But he’s unmotivated. What really motivated me to write on this topic was a big long series on PBS called “Carrier”. Some years back in the early 1990’s PBS’s NOVA did a one special on an Aircraft Carrier called ‘Super Carrier’. The term itself is a term the Navy applies to a Carrier with a certain displacement or ‘mass’. Originally the increase occurred around the time of the first Nuclear powered carriers whose displacement reach 65,000 tons. That’s a total of 130million pounds of metal. Wow. To move that much mass requires steam generated by 2 Nuclear reactors, running night and day. But more interesting is the large crew required to make this thing work as designed. The nuclear reactor helps considerably in make space for armaments and fuel for the jet aircraft on board. So you can show up on someone’s doorstep with 60 aircraft and enough bombs to get someone’s attention. But the crew that it takes to make that happen is absolutely stunning. 5,200 people on board to make our national threats real. But I digress.
The whole point of the PBS NOVA special was to show how complicated the whole system was. And what impressed me the most was the absolutely grueling schedule of cyclic flight operations. Launch, Recover, Launch, Recover. You have day shifts and night shifts always tending to the planes keeping them maintained, moving them, arming them. And in all of that you might have gotten a vague sense of the Individual. In the NOVA Super Carriers program you began to recognize individuals and learned their titles and jobs responsibilities. You learned a little about the shirt colors on the flight deck. They even interviewed a guy whose sole responsibility was cleaning bathrooms. He was the most bitter of anyone they interviewed as he wanted to be doing something else. In his own words he didn’t know he was going to be cleaning bathrooms when he joined the Navy. But every job is important on the Aircraft Carrier. But what’s more important are the individuals behind those jobs. Which brings us up to the present.
Reality TV shows have become very fashionable, inexpensive entertainment. But what’s more real? Is it the ‘staged’ reality of putting dissimilar people in a confined environement? Or more likely is it more real to follow people whose job it is to work in a confined environment for months on end? It’s obvious that the Carrier series on PBS decides the latter is more real than Reality TV shows. There’s even a reference to CBS’s ‘Survivor’ and how contestants in that show are so sad about being away from their families for 39 days. The fellow that was speaking pointed out Navy crew spend 6 months on the ship and in one extreme example he pointed out the Abraham Lincoln had been on tour for 305 days (essentially a 10 month deployment). And in all of this the commitment stays strong to do a good job. But not just that for some it is an opportunity to raise one’s state in life which brings me to the actual point of this whole posting.
Imagine you had the worst childhood, you had so many strikes against you that the world has given up on you. And out of some sense of self actualization or curiosity you say, “Hey maybe the military is the way to go.” But not just any branch, but one with a reputation of traveling. The one branch whose old advertising slogan was, “See the World”. That attractive message still lingers to this day as a siren song to the lost souls here in the U.S. And I’m not just talking minorities but poor white folks as well, meaning there’s no discrimination when it comes to REAL (and not imagined) hard luck stories. I sat in wonder for 5 nights straight watching what these people do on the U.S.S. Nimitz. Every night we got to hear the stories of a wide range of folks all serving on the same tour. And what caught my attention more than anything were the folks who had the saddest stories of growing up in bad family situations escaped into the Navy. And rather than just sit and bide their time and get their pay, they wanted to better themselves. They sought promotions, more responsibility, more pay, the whole American Dream. And it appeared for all intents that it as actually HAPPENING.
Which leads me to take a long hard look at myself, the way Saul Bellow made me look at myself. I looked back over all the years between May 13, 1996 and today. I had untold advantages compared to people whose stories I watched on the show ‘Carrier’. And what did I do? In the time of those people being deployed back in 2005 to when they returned, some got promoted. I got promoted once in the Fall of 1996 and plateaued ever since. I worked on projects. I worked on training events. I moved offices. I put services into production. But here I sit behaving myself like Baseball Pitcher in a Bull Pen, waiting. So I’m doing something, albeit in a more benign, passive way. But I am trying to effect a change. I have untold reserves of time, and energy. It’s time now to raise the threshold to comfort level and upset the equilibrium I once enjoyed. Here we go. Check the track. Track Clear? Launch Aircraft.