Saturday, October 24, 2009

LEAV in the USMC: My Favorite "Gunny"

In the USMC, I fixed FM radios. I was an intermediate ("I") level avionics technician, meaning I fixed the electronics, after the "O" level techs took it out of the aircraft. I forget whether "O" stood for organizational, or operational level, but hey, it was 25 years ago! I worked in a "shop" from 4:30PM-Midnight, for most of my years there. During this time, I had several supervisors, but one stood head an shoulders above the rest.

"Gunny" (Gunnery Seargent) Keenan, as I'll call him here, was the only boss that motivated me to feel good about an otherwise humdrum job. As a 22 yr. old, recently busted lance corporal, I had little to motivate me, in the last year of my "time," so this was no small feat.

A few things need to be explained: the radios we were working on were Vietnam-era, and this was '84. The warrantees on them expired in '70. We had drawers full of replacement circuit boards, and we did basic troubleshooting. The day-shift had a shop across the hall, that could repair the boards, but no-one was there on the night shift, so we wouldn't bother trying to "troubleshoot" the cicuit card. We'd just chuck 'em

One day Gunny Keenan took me aside, and we had a conversation. He brought out the parts manual, and we looked up the price of the circuit boards. They were over $3,000 each. They were very "old-style," with huge resistors, capacitors, inductors, and transistors, which were easy to remove with a soldering iron. I only had some basic classes in this, and wasn't "certified" to do it. I had cross-trained in the micro-comp shop, so I knew how to do it. I also knew that these circuit cards had about $15 worth of electronics on them, that one could buy at Radio Shack.

He gave me my first lecture on civic responsibility in the bureaucracy, explaining that our tax dollars were paying for every one of these parts, and it would be helpful to everyone, myself included, if I could pitch in to try replacing fewer circuit boards. He said "Leavitt, could I ask you to try fixing some of these circuit boards on the night shift, instead of throwing them at each other?"

I replied "But I'm not certified." He said, "skip the paperwork. I'll give you the keys to the mini-comp shop, if you need to use it." Gunny Keenan had appealed to me in a very personal way. As an established "rule breaker," I loved the idea of doing something good, and still breaking rules and regulations. He "got" me, in a way that was rare in my military experience.

He also used me as a motivational tool for others. When he gave his Friday informal "speech" to the troops one week, he singled me out. He said when he was a young enlisted man, he used to carry a stone around, just to get himself noticed. Some thought he was crazy, but since he was good at his job, it just got him noticed by the senior officers in his command. He then compared himself to me, saying "everyone from the Colonel on down knows when Leavitt takes a piss!"

I lost my Corporal stripes before I got a chance to put them on, because of a positive urinalysis. I had recently returned from the Naval Drug Rehab Center at Miramar Air Base, where "Top Gun" was filmed, and was on six months of weekly urinalysis surveillance when he gave that speech. Everyone laughed at that line, but I appreciated it as a secret acknowledgement of the resposibility he had given me. He gave me good pro-con ratings, as well.

One of the reasons that I would never re-enlist was what the USMC bureaucracy did to Gunny Keenan. The only manager that could get Chris Leavitt, among many others, to be more productive, and save taxpayer dollars, was getting screwed around because of his weight! Gunny Keenan was not very fat, but he was getting "by-the-booked" by the system. His ability to perform his job had no bearing on this. It was strictly because he was literally five pounds over the "guideline" weight.

When I saw a man of his age (he was a little younger then than I am now), and of his position destroyed, by being "forced out" before he wants to leave the USMC, I knew that it was no life for me. If the good guys get screwed with too, what would change for me, after being a "screw-up?" I wasn't exactly ready to be a "good guy," anyway, at that point in my life. However, I can honestly say Gunny Keenan made a lasting impression, 25 years later.

Semper Fidelis