When deploying with the Navy back in the day, just weeks before heading home there were command-wide discussions about how to reenter life. Although I didn’t have a spouse to return to yet, I very specifically remember the advice given by the chaplain briefing us: Don’t go back into your household and assume your old role in your family. Just as you have been changed by your deployment, so have your loved ones. Your family has been managing just fine without you and you will need to work together to reestablish your family dynamics.
Although we are on a deployment of a very different sort and we’re just at the start, Flight’s days away from us number 9 of our first 15 underway, and the initial few we were all together were thick with the haze of our departure. Having just shown that I can handle this deployment thing all by myself (even repositioning this massive land craft) has placed us both in a changed mindset in a very short amount of time, and we have had an unusually tricky time trying to catch up with the change. I use “unusually tricky” because Flight and I have both become fairly adept at recognizing any uneasy space between us and pointing out to the other, “Hey, I feel like we’re not on the same page here. Can we talk about _____________?” In the wake of our six-day separation and Davista’s successful relocation, we might as well have still been in different time zones and neither of us said a word.
Compounding that lack of communication was a touch of senior officeritis. Maybe? I’m not sure just what that means, but it seems like a good description. Let me back up a little bit…
Entering into marriage a little later in life, Flight and I had each developed our own (mostly) competent way of doing things. Both of our “ways” to tackle most things will usually work well enough, but we each have technique items we prefer. In Naval Aviation, there are checklist items that are mandatory to accomplish according to standard operating procedures (SOP), yet “technique items” are just that, preferences on how to best accomplish non-mandatory tasks. To cut down on confusion when training junior aviators there is always a distinction made between the two. Some senior aviators forget the distinction and technique items are adopted as SOP (I actually blame my genetic stock for such an inclination and not my aviation roots). Regardless of the task at hand, Flight is usually gracious enough to remind me when I confuse the two by simply asking “Is that a technique item?”
Only one more aviation reference in this post, I promise, as it is entirely germane to the current communication soup sandwich Flight and I have been savoring. In multi-piloted aircraft, whenever control of the aircraft shifts from one pilot to the other, there is a three-way change of control. The pilot assuming control of the aircraft says, “I have the controls.” The pilot relinquishing control says, “You have the controls.” And the pilot who now has the controls says again, “I have the controls.” Although it may sound as though we’re part of the Department of Redundancy Department, clarifying who’s flying the plane at such changeovers removes any ambiguity of piloting responsibility and has saved many lives. As I observed when we departed Brimley SP, establishing and following checklists (so as to not drive away from a campsite still plugged in) is critical. At least as important is revisiting who’s in charge of what prior to executing said checklist to keep us running smartly on the road (so neither of us assumes the other completed a checklist item like disconnecting us from the campsite’s electrical supply without actually having done so).
You might think that with all this common sense training during our collective time in aviation and 15+ years of marriage, we’d have this working-together-as-a-crew thing wired by now. For the most part, yes, but, apparently, not always so. Instead of discussing this new development, namely that I was also a newly minted Davista Mission Commander and we were each wrestling with what that meant, we oddly defaulted to the responsibilities we held prior to Flight’s six-day absence and both resented the implications. In fact, we never even discussed any alternatives to this established (?) SOP. Shame on us, we absolutely should know better.
So, as gracious as Flight’s post is about our trek across the Dakotas, he neglected to mention his frustration with doing the whole drive himself. Our lack of communication came to a head after this brutally long day of driving. Flight had offered another dawn patrol departure to book through Minnesota and South Dakota to get us to Spearfish, SD, where I have a friend from recruiting days. Operating under the assumption (Navy life lesson #2: Never Assume) that Flight has always preferred to drive whatever vehicle we’ve been in regardless of the distance (he is a pilot, one who has often touted, “what do I do for a living?” when previously questioned on planning such long (car only) drives), I figured he was happy to assume the controls out of Minneapolis and I gladly took up the right seat thinking, “Great – I can get some writing done.”
As the miles ticked by, Flight was getting more and more frustrated. Because I had already proven I was adept at driving Davista (had I?), he was waiting for me to offer to spell him for a period. Which I didn’t. In the 20+ years I have known Flight, if he has needed help with driving, he has always asked. He hadn’t, so I was happy to keep writing, trying to capture what we’d been up to in his absence, yet his growing resentment was compounding my own. For six days, he was off having grown up alone time and had ample time to write post after post, while I was pioneering this deployment thing in the wilds of the UP. So, on the one hand, I felt as though I earned some quiet time to write. On the other, I did manage a homeport change without him, how come he hasn’t asked me to drive? Does he not trust me (I, ahem, haven’t always been the best at driving top heavy vehicles…)?
Not a word exchanged.
Adding to the frustration was our individual understanding of the plan of the day (POD). To break up the day, we had planned a couple of educational stops. The first was in DeSmet, SD, at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead. The girls practiced doing laundry the pioneer way (maybe they’ll assist with ours now?) and decided they would prefer a cabin to a sod house (and not just because that’s where the kittens were sleeping). Keeper enjoyed the riding adventure as much as the girls did and we all marveled at the pioneer “Packing List” (200 pounds of bacon?!). They also had a medicinal garden I coveted. I could have spent the rest of the day there. And Flight was itching to get back on the road.
Our next stop we missed by 15 minutes (maybe because I was stuck in the Ingalls Homestead gardens?). We hoped to see the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, but arrived just after they closed. Probably just as well. Although we didn’t get to see the Delta 1 Launch Control Center, just driving to the site spurred a “Deterrence vs. Disarmament” discussion with Keeper, which led to listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History Podcast, “Destroyer of Worlds.” Highly recommended, if you have 6 hours of activity to accompany a podcast.
It was not until after we got to Spearfish, dined and visited with my dear friend before saying farewell, and then put the monkeys to bed, that we were able to discuss the day’s unfolding. Both then and in writing this post, I have come up with the following lessons learned (I’m sure Flight will add his own): 1) come up with and discuss a POD to appropriately manage expectations for everybody involved, including the kids; 2) clearly delineate who’s in charge of what for said POD and revisit turnover procedures, if necessary; 3) communicate often while executing POD to smooth the way forward; and 4) pop a bottle of wine and debrief regularly. Shouldn’t be too tricky, right?
While teaching at the Naval Academy, I really enjoyed discussing peer leadership with midshipmen, as that’s perhaps the most challenging aspect of being a junior officer. As easy as it might be to just avoid doing so while at USNA, I would recommend that they dig in and do the hard work to develop that skill set now as it will serve them well for the rest of their lives. I would always cite being married to another Commander as a great example of using peer leadership in every day life. Flight and I have each become pretty decent at recognizing situations where the other’s expertise exceeds our own and we (mostly sometimes) defer to the other’s savvy. We are still figuring out this Davista deployment thing and, while some of our respective “ways” are seamless transitions from non-mobile living, much of it is well outside our individual and collective bailiwicks. As you may imagine, it can occasionally be tricky having two senior officers in a marriage and this deployment is helping us to refine our operations – I look forward to seeing where it takes us.