Monday, February 1, 2016

Captains and Commanders

My new job at the Citadel has me in a world I know nothing about - that of the military. And to make it more fun, unlike West Point, where everyone is Army or Annapolis, where everyone is in the Navy, or even the Air Force Academy, the Citadel is not wedded to any one branch of the military. I work for a retired Lieutenant General in the Air Force. So I was given a sheet that showed the seniority and ranks of US Air Force  officers as well as how to interpret the insignias on their uniforms. It was daunting but, unlike the Periodic Table (that I avoided in high school like the plague), it has some rhyme and reason to it. I would study it and learn my officers.

However, I am teamed with a retired Naval Commander, who just replaced a retired Naval Captain. Other key people I work with are a retired Marine Colonel and the Provost who is a Brigadier General. So I was also given two more charts to explain the intricacies of those the ranks in those branches of the armed forces.

A Captain is higher that a Commander which is higher than a Lieutenant in the Navy. And in the Air Force, a Lieutenant General is more senior to a Brigadier General which is senior to a Major then a Captain. So does a Major in the Air Force trump a Commander in the Navy? This is where charts and graphs come in.

It has always taken me a while to learn names when I am in a new situation. So now they throw ranks in there - for kicks and giggles. So along with keeping the names straight, I need to remember the Captains, Colonels, and Commanders. I do remember a comment a lady made during one of my interviews when she learned I had no exposure with the military - "Don't worry, we all go through this. When I started, I couldn't keep them straight, so I called all of them 'General' assuming, worse case scenario,  I had most likely elevated them."

So Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker, Captain, Colonel, Commander, whatever, I would master this. Every time they introduced themselves, I would make a mental note and the rank would just become the person's first name. For example Brigadier General Connie Book, would be General Book. And Colonel Hawk Moore would become Colonel Moore. I had a plan.

One of the first phone calls I took for the General was from a nice gentleman "Tom Clark". I took a message and thanked him. My admin assistant saw the note and laughed, "What did Col Clark want?" 

I gave her a blank look.

She showed me the note, "I see he called."

"He didn't say 'Col' Clark"?

"Usually they don't. They just assume you know their rank. But don't worry when they come in you can always tell their rank by their uniform." 

I think for a while they will all be sir. Certainly there a grace period for civilians.

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