Chaos on a ship can end with disastrous results.
That is also true with America’s “ship of state.”
That is the message presented to Cleveland Rotarians in an address to the club by retired Navy Capt. Kim Parker.
Rotarian Cooper Hill did the honors introducing the 25-year veteran who served as a career surface warfare officer.
Parker holds several distinguished awards including the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit and the Navy Commendation Medal with valor.
“His most important command and assignment now is grandfather,” Hill quipped during his introduction.
The Cleveland resident acknowledged he was currently spending much of his time helping with his granddaughter since his wife is taking classes.
He also is working at the Unity Center during the week and helps facilitate in the Financial Peace University program at Broad Street United Methodist Church.
Parker said during his Navy service, it was he and his comrades’ job “to run the ships.”
“We’re the men and women who go out and make those ships operate,” Parker said.
Parker said to be selected for his Navy command, he had to qualify in many facets of shipboard operations and warfare skills.
“All of those things tend to go on at the same time on our vessels and it’s very hard to explain if you haven’t been there to see it,” he said. “It’s intense stuff. It’s 24/7 whenever the lines are taken up.”
He said on a ship like the USS Philippine Sea, which he commanded, there were 380 personnel.
“About one-third of those were on watch, one-third are doing some sort of work about the business of the ship and the other third is either working or resting,” Parker said.
He said it is very stressful, but naval personnel always “keep at it.”
He noted there have been several mishaps at sea over the last few years.
“In every case I’ve ever reviewed, there’s always a loss or lack of situational awareness of the humans involved,” he said. “Even those things blamed on catastrophic equipment failure can almost always be traced back to the humans involved that led up to that equipment failure,” Parker said.
He said lack of situational awareness is usually from failing to effectively manage the resources to maintain a constant and pure form of communication between the parties involved, not having a plan and stress and fatigue of the humans involved.
“I’ve come to term that as chaos on the bridge,” Parker said.
He recalled an episode when the Navy sent a large amphibious vessel to New Orleans to house the numerous service personnel who would be participating in Mardi Gras parades.
“I was standing on the pier as brand new ensign and there were two public affairs officers on the pier as the USS Austin was steadily backing in,” he recalled.
Parker said the officers kept edging forward on the pier, but he kept moving back because he had seen safety films about what can happen when things go wrong with ships.
“I told the lieutenants [the ship] wasn’t going to stop and one of them turned to me and said, ‘She’ll stop.’”
Parker said he then grabbed the officers’ collars pulling them back 10 feet just as the ship hit the pier.
“What had taken place was a miscommunication on the bridge between the captain and the pilot at the last possible moment,” Parker said. “In those last moments when you’re landing the ship, it comes down to the captain and/or the pilot. Things got out of control.”
Nothing was hurt other than the pier and some egos, but the chaos “led to catastrophic results,” he said.
“A chaotic environment left uncorrected for an extended period causes the humans involved to experience increasing stress and fatigue when they are subjected to it over and over again to the point of inaction in the face of danger,” Parker said. “It’s true in warships just like it is in business and government.”
He compared that scenario to what can happen to America as a nation when the same circumstances take over.
“I’ve spoken to many veterans during the last number of years and there’s growing concern over the chaos on the bridge of our nation and the tendency is for people to stare at the latest, greatest shiny object,” Parker said. “There are a lot of other important things whirling around us.”
He said the country is manipulated in such a manner until the sense of what is dangerous or what is right and wrong for the nation is numbed.
“In my professional opinion, and I’ve led a few people in stressful situations, as a people we’ve been stressed so many times by our leaders and by our own expectations to be perfectly fair, we are beginning to exhibit some fatigue,” Parker said.
“It’s time to shake ourselves awake as citizens and really prioritize where we want our nation to go and how we want the good ship United States to run. We are, after all, each a member of the crew.”