Things My Yeoman Taught Me
Petty Officer First Class Pam Mitchell Guy was my yeoman when I was Director, Information Resources Division (Code 73) for Commander, Navy Recruiting Command (CNRC) in the mid-80s. Her purpose in life was to keep me in line, although I initially had this strange idea she was supposed to handle the multitude of administrative tasks in my division. Pam got assigned to us shortly after I accidentally staged a coup and got my former boss fired.
In the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard, the enlisted rating of yeoman describes an enlisted service member who performs administrative and clerical work ashore and embarked aboard vessels at sea. They deal with protocol, naval instructions, enlisted evaluations, commissioned officer fitness reports, naval messages, visitors, telephone calls and mail (both conventional and electronic). They organize files and operate office equipment and order and distribute office supplies. They write and type business and social letters, notices, directives, forms and reports. -Wikipedia
“Ah like officers, Lieutenant,” she once told me in her western Maryland mountain twang. “If this Navy didn’t have officers, Ah wouldn’t have a job. And sometimes, Ah get to make their life a livin’ hell, and it’s all part of mah job description.” She grinned. “Ah love mah job.”
Before Pam showed up, I had done my own correspondence, because: Computers! Laser printers! How hard could a memo be?
So I was confused when I got back to the office, soon after she started, to find myself getting the evil eye from someone who supposedly worked for me. “Lieutenant! Did you write this memo?”
I glanced at the paper in her hand. To: Commander, Navy Recruiting Command, From: me, et cetera. “Yes.”
“Do you know who I just got off the phone with? The admiral’s secretary. Do you know why I was on the phone with the admiral’s secretary? Who is normally a very nice lady? Because she could not believe that this office had sent this piece of shit memo to the admiral! And by ‘this office’ I mean me, because any time you send anything out of this office it reflects on me as the department yeoman. Have you never sent memos before?”
This time there was a pause. So this one was not a rhetorical question, and I was supposed to answer. “Um, yes. All the time. On the sub I was on.”
“Are we on a submarine now? Did you send memos to admirals while you were on your submarine? Or did you just scribble notes to each other on preprinted paper?”
No, no, and actually yes, the Navy had these nice boilerplate memo sheets that had the “To:” and “From:” and “Subj:” already printed. I couldn’t find any of those at CNRC so I just did something from memory in WordPerfect. I tried playing up the positive side: “I used the laser printer.”
“Well HALLELUJAH, we used a laser printer! Still a piece of shit memo! And it went to the admiral’s office! You know what they do not like to see at the admiral’s office? Piece of shit memos! So from now on I would greatly appreciate it if you would have me do all the correspondence coming out of this office, seeing as how the Navy has decided that that is my job.”
She paused. “Sir.”
I was still allowed to do phone messages, because they were internal and Pam probably thought I couldn’t screw up filling out a small piece of paper with all the fields already labeled.
She erred in this assessment.
“LIEU-tenant Herlocker! Did you leave this phone message for me?”
I looked at the slip in her hand. Those were my poorly-assembled letters, with Pam’s name at the top, and my chicken-scratch initials at the bottom. It was a phone call from Jackie, our boss’s civilian secretary, saying she needed to see Pam. It seemed fine to me. I was safe on this one. “Yes.”
“When did this call come in?”
“Ummm… this morning?”
“How would I know that, lieutenant?”
Oh. I hadn’t filled in the date and time. “Um…”
“So! I get back to my desk after lunch, and I find this phone note under some other papers. Jackie wants to see me. Which is odd, since I saw her just this morning when I was over at the commander’s office, so I just know it must be something important. So I immediately go down to the ground floor of this building, march over to Building 3, and head up to the seventh floor, where Jackie, oddly enough, is surprised to see me, since she had just seen me this morning, at which time she had then concluded the business she needed me for, and for which she had previously left a message with you, my boss and superior, who proceeded to leave me a note with no clue whatsoever as to when it was written.” She paused, although she didn’t seem to be at all out of breath. “So do you see my problem, here, Mr. H.?”
You have no idea where to hide my cold, lifeless corpse? “I should always date my phone messages?”
She stared at me intently, considering options, finally deciding on, “Yes, lieutenant, let’s start with that.”
Petty Officer Guy didn’t care much for PCs (microcomputers, as they were known then). She had one on her desk, because she needed it to use the laser printer, but for almost any task she preferred her Selectric typewriter. To be fair, this was in the days of DOS and green screens (some programs supported some color, somewhat) and command lines and WordPerfect 4.0, and the learning curve was steep.
Pam’s attitude started to turn when I found a small program that would let her reset the colors on her screen to whatever she wanted (well, whatever sixteen colors she wanted). I would find myself going by her desk and seeing a mass of pastels, looking like some kid had eaten his box of sidewalk chalk and gotten violently ill. But it gave Pam control over her computer. She named it “Greta.”
Code 73 didn’t have much of a budget, so when one of our monthly microcomputer classes was over-booked I had to scrounge PCs from my crew. One time one of the borrowed machines was Pam’s.
After the usual ice breaker opening phase of the class, I told my students to insert their floppy disks and type in a command. Everyone did as instructed, but one student paused, raised his hand, and announced, “Greta didn’t like that!”
Say what? I walked over to his station, and there, on the front of the PC, in a bright yellow sticky note, was the message: “Hi! My name is Greta. I belong to YN1 Guy. Please be nice to me.”
I got back to the office one time, passing by Pam’s desk on the way to mine. “Hi, Mr. H! Lieutenant Donner [fellow Naval officer I was dating and would later marry] stopped by.”
“Thanks, Pam!” I sat down at my desk, and there, taped smack-dab in the middle of the computer monitor, was a note (properly dated and signed, by the way). It read:
“Hi, Jacky-poo! I stopped by while you were out. Sorry I missed you because I was feeling really horny! XOXO, Lindy-poo”
“I think she left a note,” called Pam.
“Thanks, Pam.” It’s okay, nothing says she saw it—
“It’s on the monitor!”
“Got it, Petty Officer Guy! Thank you!”
As fate would have it, I taught proper correspondence techniques and other mind-numbingly boring topics at Officer Candidates School a few years later. Relating my own experience with badly-done memos helped give me real examples of why the subjects were important.
And to this day, 26 years a civilian, I never leave a note or phone message without putting a date and time on it. Even our 20-something programmer in the office has the religion after I told him the story.
Some people feel controlled by computers. Giving them some measure of control over those machines—even if the person has no sense of color style whatsoever—makes them more comfortable.
I have no particular life lesson from the note from my girlfriend, other than dating is not for the thin-skinned.
Thank you, Pam, wherever you are!