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In Honor of E-4s

December 20, 2014

I am an insatiable reader of LawDog’s blog. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Recently, he wrote a post that referred to “miscreant” E-4s and the things they can do. It brought back a lot of memories, including this one.

Good E-4s do not steal. They “make things happen.” Good E-4s understand the difference between written and unwritten policy and procedure and when to follow each. This is why they are able to do some amazing, and interesting, things.  Although I retired from the Navy as an LT, that was after heeding Darth Vader’s call to “give yourself to the Dark Side.” I actually began my career as a recruit and remember well, from both sides, how and what E4s can do. Because of my enlisted time, I understood there are some things those further up the food chain simply do not need to know.

When I was a LT (jg), having maintained respirations long enough to move beyond the most pitiable of Navy ranks (Ensign), an ensign (Ensign Schmuckatelli), with no prior service, instructed an E-4 (Petty Officer A.J. Squared Away) to make some excess gear “go away.” It seems the excess gear was both outdated, and very much in the way. The next day, it was gone. It’s at this point that a perceptive young officer would consider the matter closed. Sadly, most O-1s are not as politically aware as many E-4s. The ensuing conversation went something like this:

Ensign Schmuckatelli: Where did it go?

Petty Officer Squared Away: I made it go away, Sir, as you instructed.

Ensign Schmuckatelli: Yes, but where did it go?

Petty Officer Squared Away: (Speaking with great deliberation) I…made…it…go…away, Sir.

Ensign Schmuckatelli: Petty Officer, I really need to know what you did, specifically.

At this point I felt obligated to intervene. Clearly, the E4 had utilized a secret, known-only-to-E4-and-above-enlisted-personnel ninja skill. A skill, I might add, that all such people are instructed to never share outside the enlisted community out of fear that it will bring about a Universe ending time paradox.

Moi: Ensign, has someone in the chain of command asked what happened to the gear?

Ensign Schmuckatelli: No, I just need to know. I gave the order and I want to know how it was carried out.*

Moi: No, you don’t. You neither need nor want to know. The Petty Officer did what you instructed him to do. Be happy. Go polish your butter bar.

Ensign Schmuckatelli: Why on earth wouldn’t I want or need to know? I don’t understand (perhaps the greatest of understatements).

Moi: Because if you know, you may have to address it…and then explain it to the food chain…and explain why you let it happen. There are times “need to know” goes up and down the food chain. To Petty Officer Squared Away: Thank you, Petty Officer, that will be all.

Petty Officer Squared Away. Aye, Sir. Have a good day. Nodding: Ensign

~Thanks for reading. If you haven’t done so already, head on over to the LawDog Files. They’re pretty special~

P.S. There’s an old Navy joke asked of virtually every newly minted officer: What’s the difference between an Ensign and an E-2? Answer: The E-2 has been promoted once and given more responsibility.

*There may be no creature on earth more destructive of military good order and discipline than an enthusiastic yet politically ignorant O-1.

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  1. What a great read. I started out as a private in 1972 and got out in 1975 but returned to duty in 1982 where I stayed until 2004. For a brief moment I debated the dark side but opted to stay in the rank structure I had grown to love (and sometimes hate) and was glad I did so. Each enlisted rank has its little secrets, secrets you do not learn until it’s the proper time. This short narrative definitely brought back memories. I was privileged enough to learn the secrets of the 1SG and relied heavily on the newly acquired secrets of the squared away E4. They were a joy to watch… Most of the time. Of course from time to time it was necessary to dig into one and allow them the opportunity to “enhance” their skills.

    • Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Military service is an interesting thing. Each rank structure has its own secret handshake and a view of things that can be hard to explain to those in the other rank structure. I was privileged to be part of both and while I would still take a commission if I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t trade my enlisted time for more time among the “zeros.”

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