Monday, July 4, 2016

Le roi est mort, vive le roi!

Richard Hansen, the Commander of New Orleans District, is headed to his next deployment in Afghanistan for his next assignment.  I wish him good luck and godspeed in his work. And I pray for his safe return. 

A few years ago, I watched a fascinating bit of pageantry within the Corps of Engineers, as the Hurricane Protection Office - who oversaw the building of the levees following Katrina - changed their leadership in a Change of Command Ceremony.  I wrote up a quick overview, and laughed about it with some friends.

I saw another CoCC this past week, as the New Orleans commander was replaced with a new Colonel.   It was different.  But some of the elements remained the same.

From the original:
It was a lovely service, with a retired Lieutenant Colonel singing the national anthem (beautiful voice), a good, stirring speech from the Brigadier General, and brief remarks by the outgoing Colonel (he is going to lead the Corps effort in Afghanistan) and the incoming Colonel.

But I found the actual ritual of change of command fascinating as an anthropological insight into Corps mentality.

As a narrator (a captain whose public reading skills had definitely not figured into his promotions) described the scene from the podium, the highest ranking Noncom in the Hurricane Protection Office approaches the flags on the right of the stage, removes the corps colors from the stand, and performs a smart about face.  He then marches to a spot in front of the assembled crowd, and turns to face the small group at the front of the room.  With his arms extended holding the colors, he makes his presentation to the civilian in the middle of the huddle.  The civilian turns to his left and hands the flag to the outgoing Colonel, who turns and presents it to the Brigadier General, who turns and presents it to the incoming Colonel, who extends his arms to give it back to the Noncom.  The Noncom marches back over to the stand, forcefully places the flag into the stand with a "HOOOAH!", and everyone goes back to where they were before the ceremony.

OK, let me see if I have this right.  The guy reading from the script gets lost, repeatedly, on the page.  The General flies into New Orleans on the government jet (the one I made turn around because I stole the pilot's computer) to pass a flag from one officer to another.  A civilian, looking uncomfortable in the whole mix, acts as an intermediary between the Noncom and the outgoing Colonel, but is not involved from that point forward and never interacts with the General.  The Colonels do not actually interact with one another.  And the end result involves the Noncom enthusiastically putting things back the way they were before any of this happened, and shouting out that the task is complete.

Synopsis of the synopsis: we got fired up to do something nobody wanted done, involved a bunch of brass with pomp and circumstance, shouted that we did it, and when we were done, everything was exactly the way it was beforehand.

Some days it seems like that ceremony is a perfect metaphor for what we are doing.

2016 New Orleans Change of Command Ceremony. 
Because outdoors in June in New Orleans is the best.

 The ceremony this time around was a little more tame, and a little less a metaphor for the work we do.  But I am keenly aware of how much the change of command disrupts the way we do business.

Two months ago, I was deployed to help the communities in Louisiana recover after flooding took out much of the states (this time, not from hurricanes; YAY!), and was gone for a month. It was a critical time that I was gone; we bought a house and moved, the job got very intense, and the class I was taking reached a fever pitch.

The initial agreement was that I was to get a replacement that would go down at the same time as I was there, we would talk about how we had done the work last time, and then I would leave.  And from home, I would provide remote support for the replacement, coming down to help when we have public meetings, writing, reading, and researching.  But I would not have to be there for the day-to-day.

Two weeks after I arrived, there was no sign that anyone was going to back me up.  My boss was a little nervous, and I was under some pressure to get home. 

Finally, Jeff joins me.  He is brilliant, hard working, and has a great attitude.  That is, his attitude is much like mine - a little snarky, a little funny, and hiding a thoughtful demeanor behind a happy-go-lucky outlook.

He also makes a mean sazerac...

Anyway, we worked together in Baton Rouge for a couple weeks more, and I handed the reins over to him, with a promise to help him any way I could.

Slam that flag down into the stand and shout "HOOOAH!"

While I was deployed, I had several projects that had been nearing the hot seat.  They got there while I was gone. 

Two of my teammates, Mincer and Sarah, picked up the baton and kept running, even while other stuff was piling on their plates.  But they saw the need to get stuff done, and without ceremony (see what I did there?) they took on the tasks and got them done.  Even when the burrocratic Vogons were standing in the way ("You need two spaces after the header, not one.  Print it out and bring it to me") they got the job done.

Hoooah.  (Less enthusiasm, perhaps?)

After I returned, the heat kicked up on a number of my projects, many of which were getting started before I came on board.  One particular project requires me to identify participants across the Division, and ask them to make time for the work I have for them to do.  With no compensation.  And no reward for doing the job.  No incentive at all.  My predecessor had managed, but all of the people on his list have taken jobs elsewhere - some elsewhere in the Corps, and some outside of government service.  So my job now is to convince some bosses that the work is important enough to dedicate someone to do it, who will do a good job and do it gladly for nothing but an attaboy. 

Never mind.  Just hand me the flag.  hooah

Best of luck to Colonel Clancy.  Looking forward to working with you, sir.

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