This story was told to me by an engineer who joined the Navy circa 1946. He never was in combat, but he met many who were. In particular he met the electrical engineer who is the main character of this story. Iím not sure if they called themselves electrical engineers back then, but we would call him that now so Iíll just refer to him as an electrical engineer. I don't know his name; I'll call him Lieutenant EE.
Lt. EE was a degreed engineer who received a direct appointment as a Navy officer with the intention that he would report to a training command in Florida and teach RADAR and radio to sailors. But, as is bound to happen occasionally, there was a regular naval officer with exactly the same rank and name. Inevitably, their orders got crossed and Lt. EE was ordered to report to a naval yard and take command of an LST (a type of amphibious landing ship) that was being outfitted. He protested that he wasn't qualified. His superiors were sympathetic, but they said "orders are orders" so you better go report because if you donít you will be AWOL. It will all get straightened out in a week or two at the most. So he reported to the officer in charge of the naval yard where the LST was tied up.
He explained that he wasn't qualified to the OIC (officer in command) of the yard, who was sympathetic but said "orders are orders" and besides, right now that LST isn't going anywhere and its more of an engineer's job anyway. I have to have somebody in charge and at this point, you can probably handle it better than a regular naval officer anyway. It will get straightened out in a week or two. Besides, it will look great on your record. It made sense and so Lt. EE took command.
One thing he discovered was that the Navy has a manual on everything and he was an avid reader, so he started reading and applying his engineer's skills to what was basically a management job and did well. As the crew reported, he found a few sailors that had sea experience with whom he could confer. The outfitting went well and the orders still weren't straight and then it came time to take the LST out for a shakedown cruise. Again he protested that he wasn't qualified and again he was told "orders are orders". The OIC thought it over and told him that he could handle it. There would always be an escort so he would not get lost and the OIC would lend him some experienced seamen and in particular an experienced helmsman. So Lt. EE took the ship out for the shakedown cruise. Things went well.
And the orders still were not straight when he was ordered to take the LST to the Mediterranean. By this time he was feeling pretty good about ship driving and he would be part of a convoy and there would be escorts and so he didn't even protest. He took the ship to Africa, commanded it for about a year, and participated in several combat operations. And then, you guessed it, his orders were uncrossed and he was ordered to Florida to teach RADAR and radio. But, he protested, "I'm pretty good at this now". But he was told "orders are orders" and besides, he wasn't qualified to command a ship. So he went to Florida and spent the rest of the war there.
One thing I learned in my many years in the Navy (never mind which navy) is that young officers are useless without the knowledge and experience of senior NCO's to back them up. Most of them never give credit due to the "subordinates", though. Very often an officer is someone who gives orders that he himself is incapable of carrying out - especially true in the Navy, which relies more on technical than fighting skills.
Seems like Lt. EE finally got assigned to beautiful Boca Raton, FL as this was the only military installation that taught RADAR. Still, he demonstrated the ultimate in engineering thinking during his time aboard the LST. An engineer can command a ship with the help of some salty Chiefs.
Aside from Lt. EE's ability to think like an engineer, he had the soft skills to identify and persuade key people to help him: "As the crew reported, he found a few sailors that had sea experience with whom he could confer." My guess is this had more to do with his success on the seas than his furious reading of manuals.
When my Father-in-law was an EE student, a relative arranged a temporary job for him at a machine shop, where he was supposed to design drill jigs. The relative told the boss that the new employee was a student, but forgot to mention which kind of student. So my father-in-law set about doing the tasks he was assigned as best he could, making mistakes on the way, while his more senior colleagues mentored him. One day one of the electrical machines in the shop stopped working and my father-in-law suggested he try and repair it. "What do you know about electricity"? asked his boss. My father-in-law explained to his suprised employer that he was an ee student, not a mechanical engineering student. Nobody has guessed. It proves that 90% of being an engineer is knowing how to THINK like an engineer.
You're 100% correct Bert. I am ex-Army and I remember being told once (after whining about a particular reassignment) that the Army is not a summer camp, and you go to where you're most needed. It worked out well for me, and I learned things I would otherwise never have tried.
These are inherent characteristics of an engineer. It is life of learning new technology and applying your current knowledge. Lt EE has done wonderful job. I too have worked in so many different fields but I now like to do these thing again.
I can tell you right now. That other LT EE, even if he was not an EE, was sent to the radar school, read the training manual, was given lesson plans, and taught radar.
This is really not an unusual story for the military. I'm also a EE, went through NROTC while in college, probably much like your LT EE, and I put in my preferences that I wanted "engineering" or "communications" assignments.
After graduation and commissioning, I was sent to a 3 month course, then put in charge of steam turbine engines, steam turbine generators, and boilers, on a guided missile destroyer. Not exactly what I thought I signed up for. And all the other generic stuff officer do, like drive the ship, or stand watch in the combat information center, main control, or what have you.
The Navy puts people where they are needed. If you think you know nothing about the new job, rest assured, you'll get trained. And rest assured too, as a junior line officer, you don't get the opportunity to actually design anything. That's not what the Navy put you there to do.