What You See

One of the forms of torture the US Navy inflicted on recruits was a series of swimming tests. So, of course, you’d expect the Navy to want minimum floatation abilities, right? The final test, you could not graduate from Basic Training without passing it, was a challenging one for me.

 Fully dressed, you climbed to the top of a tall diving platform and jumped ( no diving allowed) into the large pool. Once in the swimming pool, you stripped off your work dungarees and, in a practiced move, swung the sopping wet clothing over your head to make an improvised flotation device. Next, you used your gob hat ( the white sailors’ hat) to improvise flotation. After this, you had to tread water for several minutes until told your time was up, and you could swim to the edge of the pool and get out of the water.

I had to take the test three times. I was a floatation-making champ, unafraid of the leap by attempt number three. My problem was 130 lean pounds; I lacked the fat my body needed to tread water without sinking like a stone. This did not matter to the people giving the test in a typical Navy manner. Regs stated that I must tread water for the regulation time, and that was it. Unwritten regs also ensured that if there were too many failures in a recruit company, someone would suffer the consequences. So during my final test, an examiner made gestures suggesting that I tread, float on my back, tread, do a dead man’s float, and then tread again. All the while not looking directly at me. If asked, he could look the lieutenant straight in the eye and say, ” I didn’t see that, sir!”

So I wasn’t out of Boot Camp yet but had learned the important lesson that most junior officers couldn’t distinguish between what you didn’t see and what you should have been aware of. Over time I realized that many continued up the chain of command without gaining this critical skill.

If I ever expected this to be different in civilian life, I found to my sorrow, that it was the same all over. Many people do not seem capable of noting the distinction, even when the nature of their jobs obliges them.

I think it’s why we need so many caution signs, three-ring binders with procedures, and flashing warning alerts asking, ” do you really want to do this?.”

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