Government: No!

I was in the U.S. Navy for 4 years (1966-1970). I enjoyed most every minute of it—and I remain a hopelessly loyal Navy “alum.” Nonetheless, I was outraged by a story I read in the New York Times yesterday. Two Navy helicopters were delivering supplies to New Orleans. On the way back to Pensacola they received a human distress call. They were out of radio contact with their base, and proceeded to the trouble spot—no other choppers were at hand. Their subsequent acts were heroic and Herculean to an extreme. They made difficult landings, went through collapsing buildings to extract two trapped blind people (a/k/a U.S. citizens!); all in all they rescued 110 stranded folks. Expecting, if not a hero’s welcome, at least an attaboy upon returning home—they were excoriated instead. Commander Michael Holdner, the base air ops chief, chewed them out for not promptly returning to get more supplies. As to their inexcusable rescue of humans, Holdner said, “We all want to be the guys who rescue people.” Huh? Or: Duh! Or: What the %#&*? For his trouble, one of the pilots, Lieutenant Matt Udkow, was relieved of flying duty and assigned to oversee a temporary kennel (you read it right … KENNEL … Bow-wow, etc.) in Pensacola.

My urgent recommendation to the Chief of Naval Operations: Immediately remove Commander Holdner from the command of human beings and re-assign him to LT Udkow’s kennel—as an inmate.

(NB: Of course I understand that the pilots possibly violated standard procedure—and used, Oh My God, “initiative.” My take, tested in Vietnam oh so many years ago, is that innovative marginal disobedience in service to the cause is to be welcomed in 9.9 cases out of 10; okay, I’ll even countenance Holdner chewing out the pilots privately—but a kennel re-assignment? What was the idiot—stronger words come to mind—thinking? I’m delighted to see that he has caused a mini-firestorm, and pray it will effectively end his career. Maybe he can start a second career in an animal shelter. Nah, forget it; I’m too fond of animals.)

Tom Peters posted this on September 8, 2005, in Talent.
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