In the Navy I learned the importance of orders. It started in boot camp. The first lesson was, obey them or else. The second lesson was, or else means some pretty terrible things. Like doing fifty pushups in the snow, or getting busted to a lower rate. After having thousands of orders jammed into your head, you eventually learn how they work. But you also learn how to work them.
Some orders are routine. After boot I’d repeatedly get orders with my pay stub telling me to show up somewhere for a vaccine. I’m surprised I don’t have three heads. Every morning they’d also post something called the ‘Plan of the Day.’ This list of orders had things like what uniform to wear: everyone must look the same. It also included the watch list, and it told you who was in charge of what that day. Miss this piece of paper and trouble happens fast. And keep up with your hair. If you get shaggy, you’re ordered to get it cut, and this can carry a hefty fine.
Orders can also travel at any given speed. One type is called transfer orders. You can wait weeks for them to arrive. Who the hell knows where you’re going. Then there’s immediate orders. Once I was shoved out of my rack in the middle of the night by an MP because a sailor in another command got hurt and couldn’t stand their watch. Someone checked a list, discovered I was the nearest warm body with the same security clearance, and signed an order for me to fill the gap. I spent the next four hours standing outside a locked hanger during a sleet storm. This was also only the second time in my Navy experience when I was ordered to holster a loaded weapon. Too bad it couldn’t keep me warm.
Eventually you reach a level where you start to give, and not just receive, orders; even though they’re still handed down by higher-ups. This is called the chain of command. But you do think more about them, because now they involve a subordinate. For example being ordered to direct others to do the crummy jobs you just spent months slogging through. Like ordering the sailor who failed a promotion exam, the same one you just passed, to go clean toilets. Maybe they’ll study harder next time.
There are also orders based on tradition. The Friday after I was promoted high enough to imbibe at the acey-deucey bar, a haven reserved for first and second class Petty Officers, I strolled on over to that establishment. It had to be better than duking it out every weekend at the inebriated zoo of the enlisted club. After I walked in, I hesitated in doffing my hat, so orders came flying at me to buy the whole place a round of drinks. I found out this happens to everyone who enters that place for the first time. I can still taste all those free beers, courtesy of the next poor chumps who sauntered into that sanctuary with fresh stripes on their arm.
Orders can also involve corroboration. I was a month short of discharge, and one fine day I left the mess hall and saluted a young Marine Corps Lieutenant (junior grade) walking towards me. He stopped me in my tracks, read my rank, and ordered me to chase down a fresh-out-of-boot sailor. Poor kid hadn’t learned that officer’s bars on a Marine Corps uniform are harder to notice than on a Navy one, and he didn’t salute. The Lieutenant ordered me to take the kid back to his ship for a reprimand. He even made me write my contact info on a piece of paper before ordering me to explain everything that occurred to my superior. Then he gave me his number. He insisted on a call back confirming I followed his orders to the letter. So I did. When I got back to work, I requested to see my Commander, a battle hardened aviator, to report what happened. He called the Lieutenant while I stood at his desk. He chewed his ass out for ten minutes for wasting my time. But orders is orders. Or another way to put it, shit always rolls downhill.
Robert D. Gosselin. November, 2024.