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Learning Moments with VanAlstine

Every now and then, especially when I've had a couple of VOs) I get a bit nostalgic. Now, don't ask me why my nostalgia turned to MCPO R. E (Van) VanAlstine tonight but for some reason, he was on my mind. Most of us have events or moments that stand out in our careers and mine has to do with Van.

On this particular night in the mid 60s, I was the Section 4 (boot camp) plotter at Argentia and Van was the Watch Officer. Things progressed rather smoothly until a rainform Purple came down the chute and I had no idea what to do with it. I read it over a few times and determined that it had to do with A/Cs and thus was of no interest to me!!!!!!!!!!!. I filed it. Bad mistake. About 20 minutes went by (long enough for me to think I had gotten away with it) and Van came over and said "Little Man, Did you receive a RainForm Purple recently" to which I replied "Yes Van, I took care of it". (Second bad mistake). Van said, "show me what you did with it". I could see my "career of 18 months" going up in smoke. After I meekly admitted that I simply filed it, Van recovered it and proceeded to show me what I should have done with it. I was home free, or so I thought.

About 15 minutes later, Van came to me and said, "Little man, I want you to prepare a brief for me on the rainform message system and give it to me before the end of the watch. I did that and if you don't believe me, ask me a question concerning the rainform messages, I dare you.

My point here is that Van had a number of options on how to react to my carelessness and he chose to make it a learning moment. That was early in my career and I never forgot it. It was more important to Van to help me get it right, an attribute I hope I can say I remembered the remainder of my career.

Now, I followed Van's 30 year career very closely and I'm aware of many occasions when he turned potential disasters into learning moments.

I shared mine. Now you share yours.

Re: Learning Moments with VanAlstine

I was the Training PO at Argentia (1967 I think), and one of the first things I did in the morning was gather up the "OJT Training Reports" from my "IN" basket, and record them in the individual training records. I still recall one (50 years ago). The report was unusual. The person trained - STG2 VanAlstine. The person doing the training - STG2 VanAlstine. Training conducted - phase drill, station Nan. Time of training - 6.2 minutes. Comments - "Just to prove fu#*ing point!

As it turned out, Van was having difficulty with his section's performance on phase drills. Due to it's uniqueness, station Nan's "passing score" was 7.5 minutes or under (normal 40 beamers were 5 minutes). After several unsuccessful drills, Van mustered his entire section at the end of Nan's consoles. He walked calmly back to the equipment room, and threw Nan out of phase. He then walked back to station Nan, and single-handedly phased the entire station by himself, one console at a time, in a total of 6.2 minutes. He then stepped back, and looked at his watch section, proving his point that it really COULD be done in the 7.5 minutes required.

Then he filled out an OJT sheet (on himself), and shot it into my in basket. Gotta love that "Big Man".

Re: Learning Moments with VanAlstine

I was a 3rd class in Arg and running my first Type 6 mission alone. The Argus involved showed my positioning was off and Van had to get involved to fix it. He told me I got off on a "false track" and implied I was stupid but didn't yell or get too stern...thought I had dodged a bullet!
The next watch string I was caught up with my work and asked Van if I could go back to maintenance to get some prac-facs signed off for E5. He looked up and said "you need to learn how to run a flight before you worry about making second class!" No prac-facs that night...
Van was the only person I knew who could run a smooth watch simply by sitting on a stool and looking around at everybody. I would feel deprived if I hadn't had time with Van during my career.

Re: Learning Moments with VanAlstine

And so it was ... in an old, converted theater building (RTF office cubicles) on base at NAVFAC Centerville Beach in July, 1981. As an OT1 I had taken the CPO exam the previous February under a provision that an E-6 had to "Pass the Chief's exam" in order to apply for Limited Duty Officer. I looked at it as a sneak peek for the exam a year before I was in zone to take it.

When low and behold, I was on the selection list that came out in July! Admittedly I was dead last - #28 after Rick Hoffman #27. Apparently they had opened the window to fill additional vacancies. My immediate thought was to forget about being and officer and become a Chief Petty Officer instead. In my shared cubicle with a couple of Chiefs and an LDO Lieutenant I pulled out my application and tore it to pieces to much laughter and patting on the back.

All of a sudden we heard the unmistakable grunting and growling of the Command Master Chief, OTCM "Van" VanAlstine from his cubicle at the far end of the building. "DONOVAN ... GET YOUR ASS OVER HERE, ... NOW!" The entire building went silent!

Van met me in the passageway, took me by the collar into his cubicle and read me the riot act - at least that's how I remember it. I recall he asked me if I was "stupid" as he proceeded to pull out the Navy Pay Chart for 1981. Van then used a yellow highlighter to instruct me on how far I might go as a Chief and as an officer in 20 years highlighting the E-9 and 0-4 pay rates. I then received a lesson on how retirement pay works. "At the end of the day Jim, it won't matter so much what you were in the Navy; what will matter is your final retirement compensation".

He told me to rewrite my application that day, not to leave until it was done and to let him know if I had any questions You have to remember there were no word processors back then. I had to type it up completely from scratch and had no copy of my original. Fortunately I was able to enlist the help of a staff Yeoman. But the thing that struck me most was that when I left for home that night, well after the staff had secured, Master Chief VanAlstine was still at his desk; no one else in the building, just the CMC and I. I'm not sure why, but to this day I like to think he was there just in case I needed any help in getting that application done.

The rest is history. Of course he was right.

That small act by a real Chief was arguably the most influential thing to happen to me in my entire career.

Thanks, Van.

Re: Learning Moments with VanAlstine

I'm gonna take a chance here and bet the Faith family won't object to me telling this story.

R. J. (Ron) Faith was a good friend of mine, a very likable guy who, in my opinion, did not achieve all that he could have in his Naval career. He would get it going and then he would "slip up".
On one of his milestone days in his career, he told me this story and it fits this thread.

Back in the early/Mid 60s, then STGSN Faith and STG2 VanAlstine were stationed at one of the CONUS west coast facilities. I think it was Pt Sur but not sure. Anyway, Ron was in Van's section and Ron was convinced that Van was "out to get him. According to Ron, he couldn't do anything to Van's satisfaction.

On his eighty, Ron decided to go bar hopping and as the night progressed, Ron got to the point that he shouldn't have been driving. Sure enough, he got pulled over and charged with a DUI. Back in those days, they evidently moved fast because Ron said his choices were a $250 fine or 30 days in jail. Not having the money or the leave to cover the jail time, he used his phone call to call Van. Can't really remember Ron's description of the phone conversation but I do recall it had a lot of colorful language and ended with "rot in jail.

Released for 24 hours to get things in order for a 30 day jail sentence (basically UA), Ron said it was about 2 AM, about 4 hr before he was to report to the police. He was lying in bed wondering what he was gonna do after the Navy kicked him out when the door to his room opened and a grumbling VanAlstine came over to his bed, grabbed a fist full of Ron's T shirt (and quite a few chest hairs as Ron recalls) and almost crammed $250 into Ron's mouth with his favorite line.
Little man, get out of that bed and go pay your fine and then report immediately back to me. Your eighties belong to me until this loan is paid off"

On this particular day, when Ron was advanced to CPO, he told me this story and credited Van's teachings during his "eighties in captivity" as one of the more , meaningful events leading to a successful career in the Navy.


Re: Learning Moments with VanAlstine

I have so many examples of lessons VAN taught me. If my 23 year naval career was a leadership success Bob VanAlstine is the reason. He taught me more about REAL leadership and work ethic than any training session, correspondence course, exam or film. When and if I grow up I want to be Bob VanAlstine. I only served with him once and I was a lowly duty airdale but he made one hell of an impression. Unfortunately the best stories of the lessons he taught on the spot require a TS clearance. I still to this day use the lesson learned from him in how I live my life and conduct myself. Bob will always have my respect, loyalty, and friendship because he earned it. BZ AWC sends.

Re: Learning Moments with VanAlstine

I never got to serve with Master Chief Van...but I was fortunate enough to have worked with all of the distinguished testifiers....(with the exception of the F'in AW...no offense Chief...OT/AW thing)...and I learned a ton from each of them.

Randy Scott was the first class I wanted to be. 'nuff said.

John Ellis taught me the art of diplomacy. Slow down, son. Let's walk down the hill and....

Jim Donovan owes all of his success to me...his first LPO.

In 1972, Cal Prescott enrolled me in a basic accountability acceptance training program.

In 1977, Master Chief Widenor emphatically encouraged me to expand my horizons and I found myself in a PHd program....that I was not prepared for. My first section completely carried me...and I was a load.

Strange thing this system they created....put a LT in charge of a system... man it with some fleet guys....teach them nothing because you know nothing...win the lotto and Ed enlists...with some other good guys....and voila.

Quite a cast of characters we've all learned from...and what a journey. I would never say this in open forum but the regular Navy seems a tad boring compared to what we've been lucky enough to do.


Re: Learning Moments with VanAlstine

No offence taken. Every tour of duty was an adventure and with most the lessons learned only manifested long after the event. Brawdy was a unique tour and my time in the system was very rewarding. To put it in a thumbnail sketch when all assembled to get hammered at the "FRIARS" I was the only male NOT wearing GLASSES.

Re: Learning Moments with VanAlstine

Many of us had the pleasure of working with or for Bob VanAlstine. Back when he was an STG1 he was my LPO at Arg. I was a recent arrival from COSP and was affectionately termed a West Coast puke by Tex Moran, the section TPO. Van had assigned me to learn the array peculiarities and become familiar with some of the local frequently held look-a-likes that had been reported before. Tex had a sly grin on his face when he handed me a stack of gram cuts and told me to put the reportables in one pile and the non-reps in a second stack. After about a half an hour I gave Tex the two stacks and awaited his review. Van came over and asked Tex how I did. Tex rather sheepishly said not bad for a West Coast puke. I will never forget Van tearing into Tex for the slur. He won my loyalty and respect forever on that eve watch. Tex and I became good friends afterward and that was one of the best sections I ever worked in.

Talked with Van's son James yesterday. Van is doing well health wise. He said "Getting old sucks!" Also spoke with Gary Hart from those 1970-71 days at Arg. He said Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.