Sweepers, Sweepers

  • by Pete O'Brien
  • 01-20-2023
If you’ve ever been on a US Navy ship, several times per day you’ll here a call over the 1MC (1 Main Comm - a “public address” system that goes to every compartment in the ship): “Sweepers, Sweepers, Man your brooms, give the ship a clean sweep down fore and aft. Sweep down all decks, ladders and passageways.” 
While it might seem pro forma, it isn’t. As an ensign I vividly recall my XO - “Bulldog” - pointing out an inadequate job to a young sailor, and then to me, as duty officer, because I should have caught it before he did… 
What has that got to do with Reverend King?
We have all heard Rev. King’s most famous words, recited thousands of times, and they’re more than worth hearing again, particularly in this era of insanity, when we have people who claim to be our leaders actively working in diametric opposition to the words and intent of his words: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Take a minute and think about those words, what they mean, and how the current weird, woke world seeks to deny those words in every sense.
But, having said that, that isn’t my favorite quote of the good Reverend. Rather I favor one that sounds a great deal like words my father used to say to me and my brothers as we were growing up, and leads right back to that lesson taught me by my XO. And those words came back to me this past week as I read the news.
One story was about a Congressman from New York State who appears to have lied about nearly every single thing in his life, all in the effort (successful as it turned out) to get elected. The thought occurred to me that the folks who run the New York State Republican Party must be asleep at the switch. I would suspect that 30 minutes hunting around online when the would-be Congressman floated his name before the state primaries would have been enough to raise eyebrows. 
Another story had to do with the dissonance between what Navy admirals are saying about the Navy’s ability to fight a war at sea, as compared to the maintenance schedules in our shipyards, the building of new ships and the capacity of our shipyards to make ships, and even the readiness of our existing fleet of ships and aircraft. If they were doing their jobs with even a moderate sense of diligence, they would stand up, demand that everything not absolutely vital to maintain a navy be defunded, and pour all their time, money and effort into fixing our fleet. They do not.
A recurring theme in the news has been Elon Musk’s efforts to turn Twitter into a profitable enterprise, and his firing of a large number of folks. Having walked through too many offices - military and corporate - in the last decade where at best one in five was working hard, I can only suspect that he hasn’t fired enough.
The common thread through these stories - and thousands more like them - is that the overwhelming majority of folks who are sitting around - in the GOP state committee in New York, in the OPNAV staff, in corporate headquarters across the country and around the globe - act like they deserve the position they occupy, that they work hard enough, and how dare anyone question them.
Years ago, when I was a frocked lieutenant, and was working at the Ops-Intel center at Pacific Fleet, I asked my immediate boss Joe why no one kept some sort of score on our actual performance in understanding the enemy (the Soviets) or in adjusting US activities to best suit the tasks at hand. He answered me that the last thing that the bureaucracy of Big Navy wanted was for anyone to keep score; keeping score would mean the bureaucracy would have to actually produce results. Not that the Navy, and the other services, didn’t produce results, it did and they did. But those results were despite of, not because of, the performance of the service staffs; the tactical units, the ships at sea, and all the other elements of the services, tried to “keep score,” but Big Navy, Big Army, etc., did not. 
And if anything, it’s worse now.
Consider Congress; the number one task of Congress, year to year, is to pass a budget. The budget for one year is supposed to be passed before the end of the preceding year, after all the various committees have had hearings and gone through all the processes needed to accomplish this. One of the major news services recently commented on the 117th Congress as being very successful. They failed at their primary function yet they were successful? Go online and look up the last time they passed a budget.
There was a great deal of grandstanding. And lots of investments. Lots of folks in Congress made a great deal of money. Even as they passed an omnibus spending bill two months into the year, a bill they all admitted they hadn’t read. 
So, take a moment to reflect on the life of Rev. King, then take a hard look at your own careers, and just resolve to take his words to heart just a bit, try just a little bit to be better at whatever it is that you are doing, no matter what it is.
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”