Editor’s note: Navy Times is introducing a periodic humor column by one of your active-duty shipmates. The writer is an active-duty sailor who writes under the pseudonym Jack Quarterman and also writes a Navy humor blog at Sea Stories and Other Lies. He is not employed by Navy Times and the views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Military Times or its editorial staff.
It’s that time of year again. The days are getting longer and the weather has started getting warmer. It’s time for barbeques, bathing suits, and boating. Maybe take some leave and visit some of the exotic places the Navy promised to send you, before they sent you to the Persian Gulf repeatedly. But most importantly, it’s time for the command safety stand-down.
The command safety stand-down is a Naval tradition dating back to the founding of the nation when John Paul Jones ordered the first-ever command safety brief to the crew of the USS Serapis on their port visit to the Netherlands in 1779. It was rudimentary at best (the Power Point presentation had only one slide) and it pretty much just gave directions back to the ship from the nearest bar (which was at the end of the pier, so it hardly seemed worth it). While it wasn’t quite as robust a brief as we have today, it was a start.
To this day the safety stand-down is an important part of Navy life. It serves the purpose of identifying various hazards and providing helpful safety tips. At the same time it achieves the more important function of ensuring the captain is safeguarded when someone ignores these tips and burns down their neighborhood while making flaming Dr. Peppers.
This is necessary because in the modern Navy the captain of the ship is 100% responsible for everything. If something goes wrong during his command tour, the captain will be blamed and, if there is even a shred of evidence that it could be prevented, fired. The stress can be overwhelming. If you watch closely during a deployment you can actually see the captain aging.
Current regulations requires all commands to conduct at least one safety stand-down annually, but most units conduct more. The start of the summer season and prior to the Christmas holidays are the norm, but anytime there is a long weekend you will probably attend one as well.
If you are assigned the task of coordinating a safety stand-down follow these tips. First thing to do is to figure out who is going to be speaking (it will be you). Next you should reach out to the command safety officer, DAPA, motorcycle/traffic safety coordinator, training officer, and medical officer who will all be happy to volunteer to assist you. This will be the last time you ever see them, some actually vanishing in front of you like the Avengers in Infinity War (the movie’s been out for over a month, if you cared about spoilers you’d have seen it already).
Choosing the venue for the presentation is extremely important. Ideally you want a location that can comfortably fit less than 1/3 of the command. Make sure it is well ventilated too. An air conditioner (don’t worry if it’s loud; it just adds to the ambiance) capable of keeping the room at a comfortable 85 degrees is ideal.
The presentation should begin with a short introduction, lasting no longer than 15 minutes, describing everything that has happened to you since birth. This lets everyone know where you are coming from. Next start reading your power point brief. You want to have approximately 437 slides describing every adverse event that could possibly be encountered. Face the screen and read each slide verbatim in the same tone as Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Every two minutes, at a minimum, remind everyone not to drink and drive.
At the end ask if there are any questions. This should be stated in a slightly accusatory tone to give the impression that if you need to ask a question then you obviously haven’t been paying attention. If someone does ask a question, it is your responsibility to ensure that the answer (no matter how simple the question is) drags on for at least 10 minutes. If anyone tries to ask a follow-up question they will be beaten to death by their shipmates.
That’s all there is to it. With a little hard work the whole command will have spent only 2 hours bettering themselves. Don’t worry if some of your shipmates glare at you through perspiration as they leave; the realization that they are not indestructible can be distressing. You will done your part to make the Navy more safety conscious and earned yourself a nice bullet to add come eval time. I hope you enjoy this opportunity because you will probably get to do this again (once you have a collateral duty, you will have it for life).
Now get out there and have a fun and safe summer while you still can. Chances are, you will be deploying early.
Jack Quarterman is an active-duty sailor who writes a humor blog at SeaStoriesandOtherLies.org.