You're in the Navy Now; Jimmy Gawne and ODS.
Imagine with me, for just a moment if you will, being thrown into a dormitory-like passageway with 43 other people who you don’t know at all and told that you will be working together as Hotel Company for the next five weeks. Then, add to that being dragged out of bed at 4:30 every morning by the gravelly voice of a US Navy chief petty officer yelling at you to, and I quote, “GET UP AND GET ON THE LINE RIGHT NOW!” Throw into the mix daily physical training – alternating between runs, and strength and conditioning exercises – along with never-ending classroom sessions and some of the worst food you’ve ever been subjected to, and you begin to have an idea of what US Navy Officer Development School (ODS) is like.
Now take ALL of that and imagine being told, on the second morning of training, that you’re in command of Hotel Company for the duration of ODS, and you get my own personal experience for the last five weeks.
Jeremy Carlton (MDiv ’12) and Rodney Pilson (MDiv ’12) both did their best to prepare me for the five weeks I just spent in Newport, Rhode Island, but even that didn’t prevent a real shock to body, mind, and spirit upon arriving. And there was absolutely nothing that could have prepared me for being the Division Officer of Hotel Company. If you ask Caitie Smith (MDiv ’14), she can tell you that more than one of my nightly phone calls went something along the lines of, “Hey, I’m sorry this is going to be short, but I’ve been dealing with crazy stuff all day, I’m exhausted, and I have to get up in five hours.” It was a simple reality of training and of being the division officer.
But everything I’ve said so far makes it seem like Officer Development School was an absolutely wretched experience, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, I dare say it was one of the best experiences of my entire life. I learned more than I could have ever possibly imagined about the history and traditions of the US Navy. I learned how to keep a ship from sinking, how to conduct damage control, how to put out a fire. I learned how to counsel sailors, how to be in charge of a division, how to create and enact plans of action for events in the US Navy. And perhaps most importantly of all, I really and truly learned how to lead.
My first few days as the Division Officer of Hotel Company were not good. I didn’t really know what I was doing, I had little guidance from my superior officers, and I grew far too easily frustrated with Hotel Company. My voice paid the price for my frustration, as by the time church rolled around the following Sunday, I could barely sing through the first verse of “Here I Am to Worship” without my voice cracking like that of a 13 year old boy.
And it was that morning during church that I realized I needed to do two things: 1) calm down, breathe, and try to be a little more pastoral in my leadership, and 2) lean on the men and women in Hotel Company who had previously served in the military for guidance and advice. Once I started doing those things, I found myself under a lot less stress, and I found that Hotel Company was far more willing to be led. Like I said earlier, there were still stressful days and sleepless nights, but they came with a company of officers who were willing to do everything they could to alleviate the stress.
At the end of Officer Development School, Hotel Company was the only company out of three in the course that still had its original Division Officer. Both the company chief petty officer and the class lieutenant made a point of telling me that I had done an excellent job. But truthfully, for me to take credit for it would be to sell short my company. The officers in Hotel Company did a phenomenal job, and it was an honor and a privilege for me to be their Division Officer. And whether or not they realized it, they were, to my mind, sort of my first congregation. Yes, it was only for a brief period of time, and yes, I had to treat them as a military organization and not as a church. But never before have I had the opportunity to be a leader like I did with Hotel Company, and I really feel like that experience will be invaluable when it comes to leading a congregation.
It has been interesting the last couple of days transitioning back to being in Winston-Salem. The differences between the military world and the civilian world are far more evident to me now than they were before. I’m far more aware of my personal appearance and bearing now than I was before I went to Rhode Island. Heck, I spent all last night dreaming about being back at ODS (not nightmares, mind you, just weird dreams about marching in platoon formation and getting Hotel Company through the uniform shop). I know that my perception of reality has been permanently changed. However, I think that it’s a change that will make me a better, more mature leader in the church. And I have the mighty mighty blue and gold, the finest force for good in the world, the United States Navy, to thank for it.