Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ranks and rates - or, how to compare yourself with your friends

If you don't keep score, how do you compare yourself with other golfers?

By height.

Oh come on - like I'm the only person who's seen that movie!

A few weeks ago, I was at the reenactment of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in Greensboro NC when one of the NHS marines asked me a very poignant question - "How do you become an officer in reenacting." I proceeded to explain that there are a million and one answers to that. Most, if not all, are elected in some way or another. Some are because they have been since time immemorial. But I think the question had to do with the fact that there were so many of them floating around, apparently without any responsibilities whatever. It was a valid question, and I think I should take some time to elaborate on the thought process of where NHS commissioned and non-commissioned officers come from.

Before that - if you want to debate the issue on the grand scale get on a message board somewhere. The last thing I am going to discuss here is what is appropriate for non-NHS types. To each their own - however you arrange your people, I am glad to see you out there. Whatever you're doing, keep on truckin!

NHS commissioned officers are appointed by the Board of Directors to be their direct executives in the field (where Board authority to correct emergent issues ceases), and are appointed in numbers directly proportional to the number of enlisted men under them (right now the maximum ratio is 1 to 8). Their chief responsibility as I have observed it is to mingle with the officers of other units to the end of figuring out how NHS personnel fit into existing plans. They also make command decisions, dictate how things are carried out that aren't otherwise specified in regulations, and otherwise make sure the goals of the event - given in the event orders (from the Board) - are met within the parameters of the regulations.

NHS non-commissioned officers go through a rigorous qualification process that can take years. A good example are the qualification standards for marine sergeant. NCOs exist to ensure the regular operation runs smoothly, and according to regs. They also provide routine training, and act as the interface between the "enlisted" participants and the commissioned officer.


So, where do sailors fit in? There are a lot of considerations when assigning sailors ranks. First, what is appropriate to our context? We are a small organization, and even if we were to fill two large boats with sailors and marines we'd fall pitifully short of a ship's compliment - of almost any era. So we're then relegated to deciding who would be present in a group of boats. Who is present in a group of boats from a ship today? Probably some junior sailors to man and operate them, a petty officer, maybe two, of some importance in charge, forming some sort of chain of command, and maybe a junior officer leading the whole. Sounds about reasonable for historical contexts too. Of course that's dependent on individual historical events, but I'm speaking in general everyday terms.

Right now, everyone is kind of a loose gaggle, a few impromptu leaders here and there. There aren't any official ranks as of yet - or at least nobody has been awarded/assigned them yet. But the overarching idea is to organize along those lines- ranks would have no insignia to distinguish them and exist to clarify assignments and organizing work, rather than "I command you" direct chain of command sort of authority. To that end, sailors will eventually be organized as follows (from a proposal submitted last week, currently being discussed):

Unrated Seamen:

Able Seaman
A sailor who can handle lines, reef, steer and cast a lead, also recognize signal flags 1 through 6, all safety related signals, as well as a working knowledge of semaphore and flashing light techniques. The most reliable sailors.

Ordinary Seaman
Can understand and execute oar commands and simple line handling. Rudimentary understanding of signaling. Reliable to execute simple commands without supervision.

Any person not advanced to Ordinary Seaman or Able Seaman. Generally speaking, inexperienced recruits.

Classification of Landsman who by virtue of junior age is exempted from strenuous physical labors including line and sail handling.

These are fairly self explanatory. None of these classify as non-commissioned officers, equivalent to a marine sergeant. Right now, I believe the plan is that the Commanding Officer (ooh do we get one for the navy?!) will advance sailors in rank based on the merits and abilities of each. The NCO element comes in when Able Seamen, those "most reliable sailors" become experts in various disciplines. They can then be rated Petty Officers - something I think of as akin to a marine sergeant - your "get 'er done" guys (from the same proposition):

Petty Officers

Expert in sailing and steerage of vessels. Responsible for stowage to balance the craft. Also experts in the theory of sails and rigging. Leading signalman.

Boatswain’s Mate
Senior management level NCO. Organizes all unrated seamen and coordinates work about the vessel. Expert in line handling, ground tackle, setting up and repair of rigging, repair of sails, painting, varnishing and cleaning.

Of course there are specialized positions for Landsmen and Ordinary Seamen, which don't require the same level of general overall proficiency as the above ratings. There were in fact full Petty Officers related to these disciplines, but the question came up: do they belong in groups where our numbers are so small? I don't really think so. Junior Petty Officers (from the same proposition):

Quarter Gunner
Responsible for guns, their implements, accessories and ammunition. Usually serves to lead gun crews and supervise operation.

Carpenter’s Crew
Responsible for repair of vessels as well as damage control in combat. Repairs and modifies all wooden appliances and fittings.

Responsible for repair of all metal parts – more of a blacksmith than a weapons guru. Manages maintenance of all small arms including cutlasses, boarding pikes, pistols and muskets.

Purser’s Assistant (‘Jack of the Dust’)
Equivalent to the Marine Quartermaster. Responsible to inventory, issue, track and collect all organizational property in use by the sailors. Also responsible for the stowage of provisions and potable water.

Assistant Cook
Receives provisions from the Jack in the Dust and supervises the preparation of meals, also the immediate cleanup.

Altogether I think this covers the spectrum of divisions to accomplish what we need to. There have been other propositions, but as I said, considering they aren't being executed, the decision is yet to come. What I like best is that it permits a clear chain of command and division of work, while to some extent retaining the "gaggle" appearance status quo. In summary:

COXSWAIN (responsible for safe and efficient navigation)

Boatswain's Mate

Able Seamen
Ordinary Seamen

Supply - Jack of the Dust
Food Service - Assistant Cook
Ordnance - Quarter Gunner
Repair - Carpenter's Crew
Small Arms - Armorer


As for officers - let's get a kid, maybe 10 or 12 years old, to command as a Midshipman, just so he can yell in a squeaky little voice "come lads, we must board her!" Hahahahahaha. Love that movie, too!

Oh come on!



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