Authors: Anne A. Wilson
“Hell, yeah,” Stuart says. “That was the most incredible bit of flying I've seen in my life.”
“And they had thirteen passengers onboard that were saved due to her flying,” Ken adds.
“In addition to the aircrew, so that's actually seventeen souls,” Ben says.
“What do you think, Brian?” Eric asks.
“Yeah, I think a COM would go through,” Brian says. “Maybe NAMs for the aircrew?”
A Navy Commendation Medal? It's a higher-ranking award than a Navy Achievement Medal. I can't believe this discussion is happening, and judging by Commander Claggett's expression, neither can he. An award? For me? Initiated by him? It would never happen. No matter the circumstance.
“I would think so,” Brian says. “Captain Plank, sir, is this something we could run up our chain of command, since it happened on our ship?”
“That's fine with me,” Captain Plank says. I guess he's been listening to the discussion. “I watched it all on closed circuit from the bridge, and awards for that would go through.” He turns to Commander Claggett. “Get me those recommendations tomorrow and I'll send it up for approval. Navy COM for Lieutenant Denning and NAMs for the rest.”
“Yes, sir. Okay, sir,” Commander Claggett says.
I watch, incredulous, as Eric sits back with a satisfied smile.
As dinner progresses, I sit next to a hornet's nest, one that's being poked and prodded, swiped and stabbed. Commander Claggett is agitated and angry. His aircraft is down. He's stuck on another ship. The captain wants him off. The weather is lousy, which will cause inevitable delays. He's trapped with the one pilot he likes least, and this same pilot has been recommended for an award that he would never have generated on his own, yet that he now bears the responsibility for writing. I don't see how it could get much worse for him.
But he's not the only one who's bothered. The more I think about what just happened, the more it leaves a sour taste. This isn't how I wanted to get an awardâto have Commander Claggett cornered into giving it to me. I want to earn his respect and have it initiated by him.
“Nick, do you want to come with me?” Brian says. “I can get you set up in the XO's stateroom. And Eric, why don't you show Sara around? Make sure she has everything she needs. My stuff is already out of my room, so she can have it.”
“No problem,” Eric says. He turns to Commander Claggett as the group rises and begins walking to the wardroom door. “Sir, is there anything you'll be needing Sara for tonight? Any messages? Anything? I don't want to inadvertently keep her from something you might need her to do.”
Boy, does Eric pick up fast. He has read this perfectly. Because that's how it usually plays out. I'm blamed for not being available or ready or whatever all of the time.
“As a matter of fact, I do,” Commander Claggett says. He looks at me directly. “I want those award write-ups in my hand tonight by twenty-one hundred!” His order is accompanied by a noticeable glare of disapproval before he snaps his head and storms out the door.
I put my hands on my hips, sucking in my breath and holding it. I simmer here, staring straight ahead, as the group files out.
When it's finally quiet, only Eric remains.
“I don't want this,” I say. “Not like this.”
“Not like what?”
“Commander Claggett was forced into this. I want to earn the award straight up, not have him coerced into giving me something.”
Eric's hands now go to his hips. “For your information, you legitimately deserve an award for what you did today.”
“Regardless, it should have come from him.”
He huffs in exasperation. “Okay, I'm sorry. You're right. I shouldn't have interfered. But since I got you into this, since Captain Plank is expecting those recommendations, the least I can do is write them up for you.”
“No, you don'tâ”
“I do,” he says firmly. “Come on. We'll type it up in our stateroom. I'll just need some input on the specifics.”
As he turns, he mutters under his breath, “And they're gonna be the best damn write-ups Admiral Carlson's ever seen.”
He leads me into the cramped passageway and we hold the rails as we walk. Whoa. Pitch. Roll. Rock.
When we reach his stateroom, he opens the door just a crack and looks in. “Guys, I'm bringing Sara in.” He turns to me. “Okay, we're good.”
He pushes the door open wider so I can step through, and Ben and Stuart look up from their desks. “Hey, Sara.”
Yikes, this room is small. Two sets of bunks, stacked three high, fill this micro space. At the far wall, a cot stands on end, crammed between a bunk and a giant metal closet. There's zero room in here already and now they're adding a cot to boot. I feel so bad about this. Maybe I could sleep in the wardroom or something.
“What do you think?” Eric says.
“Are there really six of you in here?”
“Yep. All of the pilots except Brian, and the ship's navigator.”
Ben and Stuart are sitting at desks half the size of the one I use in my stateroom.
“There are only two desks,” I say.
“Yeah, we have to share,” Eric says.
I'm getting embarrassed now. If they could see where I live, well, it's the Taj Mahal compared to this.
“Ben, can we use your desk?” Eric asks. “I told Sara I'd help her with the award nominations.”
“Oh, about that,” Stuart says. “We didn't write up any witness statements. What were you talking about?”
“Yeah, I just made that up,” Eric says casually.
“You what!” I say.
“Lieutenant MarxenÂ â¦ showcasing his quick-thinking oratorical prowess once again,” Stuart says.
My hands are back on my hips, my mouth open. “Youâ¦”
Eric smiles conspiratorially.
“So is this a normal thing for him?” I say, turning to Ben and Stuart.
“Yeah,” Ben says. “We don't know how he does it, but he can sort of bend anyone to his will.”
“It's a bit scary, really,” Stuart says. “Must be some special training you ring knockers get at the Academy.”
Even though Stuart has said this in good humor, he's referring to one of the nicknames for a Naval Academy graduate, born from the oversized class rings worn by many upon graduation. A small minority of those wearers tend to go a bit overboard, flaunting it as a symbol of their perceived superiority over officers who attended colleges elsewhere. And in some cases, it boils down to an authority thing. You will do this becauseâ
of the ring on the tableâI'm an Academy grad and I say so.
Eric doesn't wear a ring and I didn't know he was an Academy grad. But now that I do, I couldn't imagine him wearing one. In just the little interaction I've had with him, he would never have to
anyone of his authority, and he certainly doesn't carry any airs about him.
I don't wear mine either, but not for any stated reason. I think it's just that I have my mom's DNA. Down-to-earth Barbara Denning was never one for wearing jewelry.
“All right, enough,” Eric says good-naturedly. “Can we just get this done?”
Ben passes his seat to Eric, who pulls his laptop from the recesses of the desk, opens it, and pulls up the template.
“Okay, we'll do yours first,” Eric says. “So, tell me what happened.”
“Actually, it was pretty straightforward. We had a chip light with a secondary indication of smoke and we landed.”
He gives me a you've-got-to-be-kidding-me look.
“What?” I say. “You asked what happened.”
“So I see I'm going to have to write this myself,” he says with an exaggerated exhale. “But let's check a few things for clarity and truth of fact, shall we? How many pax were you carrying?”
“Thirteen. Good. So you were the pilot at the controls responsible for saving the lives of seventeen souls total. Good.”
“Next question. Did you or did you not have a cockpit filled with smoke?”
“Did you or did you not have a visible horizon?”
“I did not.”
“So you flew an instrument approach with a zero-foot ceiling and zero feet of visibility. Good.”
“Next question. You flew a zero/zero instrument approach to the back of a pitching and rolling ship. Guys?” He turns to Ben and Stuart. “Do you remember the pitch and roll we were sustaining during flight quarters?”
“I think it was pitch four, roll five,” Stuart says. “Hold on a sec. I'll call and verify.”
“And how about sea state?” Eric says.
“I'll get that here in just a second,” Stuart replies.
Eric gives me a look that says he's going to write this whether I help him or not.
“Okay, yeah,” Stuart says, hanging up. “Pitch four, roll five, sea state seven.”
“Got it,” Eric says, typing. “By the way, and this is just out of curiosity, is there any reason Commander Claggett didn't take the controls for that approach?”
“I don't know. I asked him right after we got the caution light if he wanted to fly, and he said no.”
Eric shares a puzzled look with the other pilots.
“And besides, he was coughing so badly, he couldn't have taken them if he wanted to.”
“Strange,” he mutters. “Okay, back to the award. How long would you say you sustained a no-reference hover over a flight deck at pitch four, roll five?”
“I don't know. It seemed like forever.”
“She had to have been there close to a minute waiting for the right moment,” Stuart says.
“Actually, that was Lego waiting for the right moment,” I say. “He's the one who called me in on the approach, kept me steady in the hover, and called me down to land. In fact, Eric, if we have to do these awards, can we put Lego in for the same one I'm getting? Really, he was my eyes. I couldn't have done it without him.”
“I totally agree,” Eric says. “We'll do his after yours.”
By the time Eric completes my citation, it reads more like God was flying the aircraft than Lieutenant Sara Denning, but he's not budging on the edits. I'm pleased most of all with the write-up he creates for Lego. He deserves every word of it. I also think it's great that Lego will be put in for an award higher than Commander Claggett's.
And I have this sneaking suspicion that if Commander Claggett changes the award recommendation for Lego, or any of Eric's wording on any submission, somehow Eric's originals are going to find their way to Captain Plank.
“There,” Eric says, handing me the printouts. “And with an hour to spare.”
“ThanksÂ â¦ sort of.”
He rolls his eyes. “So, do you need anything? Do you want to grab a shower?”
A shower would be nice. But then I think it through. I'd be putting on the same stinky T-shirt, shorts, and flight suit that I have on now once I got out of the shower. Yuck. Oh, man. I'm going to be here for two days with no change of clothes, no toiletries, nothing.
“Eric, this is so awkward, but I don't have anything with me. No clean clothes, not a towel, not even a toothbrush.”
“Don't worry about anything, Sara,” Ben says. “Just sic Eric on it and he'll get you what you need.”
“I've got it covered,” Eric says. “How about this? Let's go turn in the write-ups to Commander Claggett first to get that over with. That way, you won't have to see him anymore tonight. Then I can get you some overnight stuff.”
“Okay,” I say. “Ben, thanks for letting us use your desk. I know I've infringed on your time.”
“Oh, please,” Ben says.
As we leave his stateroom, Eric turns and motions for me to give him the award recommendations. I do, wondering what he's up to, and follow him to the executive officer's stateroom. The nameplate on the door reads
“Sir, it's Lieutenant Marxen,” he says after knocking.
“Come on in, Eric.”
Eric opens the door and looks in. “Sirs, Sara is here with me. May we come in?”
He said “sirs” plural, so I guess Commander Claggett is here, too. I so don't want to see him.
Eric holds the door open wider to let me walk through and actually
I do want Commander Claggett to see.
“Sir,” Eric says, addressing Commander Hicks. “I helped Sara with these award write-ups. She's a little too modest for her own good.” He turns and gives me a look. “Anyhow, I thought you could read them first before I give them to Commander Claggett. I want to be sure that the
thinks they're up to snuff before handing them over.”
Commander Claggett fumes as Commander Hicks takes the write-ups from Eric and looks them over. He does a thorough job, reading each one carefully.
“Well, you've outdone yourself once again, Eric. This is outstanding work.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Nick, you're not going to need long with these,” Commander Hicks says, handing the award recommendations to Commander Claggett. “Eric's work is always first-rate. And you know, we could sign these right now and pass them up to Captain Plank. He'd be quite impressed if you had these to him only two hours after his request.”
“Sir, I could wait here while you both give your signatures and then hand-deliver them to Captain Plank just to make sure it gets done in a timely way as you suggest,” Eric says.
“Great idea,” Commander Hicks says. “This shouldn't take but a minute.” Commander Hicks looks at Commander Claggett with an expression that says,
Just sign the paperwork
. He can, because he outranks him. Commander Claggett's rank when written out fully is actually
commander, one step below commanderâthe XO's rank.