Just out of Boot Camp and knowing almost nothing about how the Navy worked, I sat by as sailors and petty officers senior to me decided how to explain on a log sheet their idleness. My impression of the workday was that it had been full of BS, coffee, and some very random work. It was my introduction to Gundecking. The first-class petty officer introducing me to the mysteries of fixing logs without getting caught was the erudite bosun’s mate John O’Toole. John deliberately shunned anything that might get him a rocker under his crow and transform him into a chief petty officer.
The current term derives from the Royal Navy: the Midshipmen, officers in training, would take their noon navigational sights of the sun, scurry below to the gun deck, and “fix” the position of the ship in the ocean by cheating. Gundecking became the modern Naval name for this sort of report fixing.
By the time I came along, Gundecking could be an art form in the hands of a master like O’Toole. Most Gundecking is the simple checking off of boxes on reports for maintenance or inspection. More elaborate needs could require Quiji Boards, modified game spinners, and critically the Magic 8 Ball.
Modern Gundecking (pencil whipping in the non-naval services) is complicated and compounded by the sheer bureaucratic nature of life in either the military or civilian life. In the years since I was discharged I can only imagine the absurdities introduced by computers. Everything has a checklist, report, protocol, diagnostic formula, or decision tree. Procedural paperwork can get in the way of effective performance, and you become enmeshed in meaningless BS that builds resentment. Perhaps that’s why the verb “to Gundeck” is offset by the adverb “gundeckable.”
It had to have been an officer or senior Non-commissioned Officer like O’Toole who derived this term because, as we all know – problems always move up the Chain Of Command, and shit drops down. By the time you become a senior in any organization, you should either know all the tricks or have an intuition for them. Remember, that pencils, Magic 8 ball, Quija boards, and game spinners have been around a while. If only to protect yourself (enlightened self-interest), you better figure out how gundeckable the reports and inspections in your organization can be.
Please bear in mind that the general principle dates back to Bronze Age sailors. There are thousands of years of received sophistication going on here.
A few years ago, I looked into the open drawer of my financial advisor’s desk. His Magic 8 Ball was right there. I rapidly confirmed from the Honorable Discharge displayed on the wall that he was a Navy Veteran.
Think about that next time your advisor says: “hold on. Let me check on that answer”., and opens the lower desk drawer. Here are a couple of guidelines: If he or she has any of the following on their wall: Plank Owner Certificates, certificates showing that they are Pollywogs, Shellbacks, etc., or pictures of their last ship, get out fast. Another sure warning is if they start every story with “Now, this is no shit,” – this TINS warning is especially dire, being that it’s the traditional start of any Sea Story. Of course, you should also check the premises for signs of Quija boards, spinners, and the Magic 8 Ball. Full disclosure forces me to admit that one sits on my desk at work.
Is there an actual cure for Gundecking? Probably putting less of an emphasis on forms would help. Putting a greater focus on actual performance, pride in the job, and professionalism would be critical. But, until that happens, remember your best defense is knowing or learning the angles yourself so no one would even consider Gundecking you.
I leave you with these words from the immortal petty officer first class John O’Toole: “luck is what you stumble upon in life. Providence is what God plans for you, and planning is how you thread your way between the two without getting crushed.”