It’s always very public

You learn a lot as a Naval Academy parent and sometimes it’s like drinking from a firehose. But when you have a moment to reflect, your reactions can range, in order of likelihood, from perplexed to surprised to “of course, that makes sense.”

One of the things from Plebe Year that at first caused me to tilt my head and say, “really?” but then caused me to nod and say, “but, of course” was the way the Mids are taught that you are always in the public eye.

When they are wearing a uniform, it’s obvious, especially when they are in the summer whites. I mean, whose head doesn’t turn when you see a Naval officer in that uniform? So every action you take (or don’t take) while wearing that uniform will be noticed. And as the Mids are often reminded (as in every brief before every academic break), the whole world has a smartphone, so everything you do can end up going viral.

But even when they aren’t in uniform, they are taught to be vigilant. We were in an airport for some trip during my son’s four years and a political discussion started. He tamped it down immediately. “Not in public,” he said.

The profile is higher, plain and simple. College kids doing the wrong thing may be secondary news on most campuses, but as we found out with the West Point issue this year when it’s an academy, it’s a national headline. And it doesn’t end after they commission because Naval officers, from any source, have a high profile, too.

Take the headline from the Associated Press: US Navy submarine training school commander fired.

Severson enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1999 via the Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidate program 

Fact is, people get fired every day. Managers, directors, and vice presidents of companies all across the country are let go for failure to meet goals or any of a million other reasons but you’re likely to never hear of it. I worked as a senior vice president for a trade association a while back and we’d hear of a VP for a member company being let go. There would be a buzz about how they were an important person at an important company, but you’d be lucky if there were any mention of it at all in the trade press.

But not only did the aforementioned story note that Cmdr. Jared Severson had been relieved of command but that it was the end result of an investigation that found, after less than a year on the job, the Navy had a “loss of trust and confidence in his ability to command.” 

Now that’s gonna sting.

Usually, when an executive is let go from a company, both sides can spin it in such a way as to make both sides look like winners. Maybe it’s a “mutual separation” and the executive is “pursuing a new opportunity” and the organization is “moving in a different direction and thanks [insert exec’s name here] for years of service.”

Cmdr. Severson has no cover here.

The Navy press release is clear and to the point: “The relief is due to a loss of confidence in Severson’s ability to command based on the findings of a command investigation. Severson has been reassigned to Submarine Squadron 11.”

That means Severson walks into his new job, which is in the same base as the one he just lost, with everyone knowing exactly why he is there. He can’t play it off like this is something he wanted or that it’s something of a promotion. Type “Cmdr. Jared Severson” into Google and you’ll find pages and pages of headlines that all make that painfully clear.

And a lesson for the current Brigade – it’s all very public now. Many eyes are upon you and many eyes will be upon you when you walk off The Yard after commissioning. You are held to a higher standard.

_ _ _

On another note, just a reminder that it’s May and that means Commissioning Week is straight ahead. That includes Herndon, which in turn means the annual Herndon Playlist. I hope you’ll give it a listen and let Susan Weisberg’s adorable Chester Midshipmouse take you through this year’s collection.

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