We weren't even through the first week when our Chief decided to give us the pep talk. He first reminded us that, the same as A School, we could expect 3 in 10 to fail out. Here in Power School though, he'd be doing his part to guarantee a certain few individuals were part of that 30% attrition rate regardless of their academic abilities. Why on Earth he singled me out I've never been able to deduce.
Aside from that one conversation Power School started out as well as could be expected. A month into classes found me living alone, stationed as we were in my roommate's hometown. This, coupled with the 18 hours I averaged in the classroom meant my cleaning schedule was relatively light. With a few extra dollars devoted to inspection quality uniforms I felt I would be okay, despite my Chief's promise that I was third on his list of students to get rid of.
It was near the end of the first month that I slipped the first time. Students falling asleep in class was such a common occurrence that several podiums were provided in the back of every classroom. It was expected that if you felt tired you would stand up in order to keep from falling asleep. I'd availed myself of them plenty of times, I was just too tired this particular day. I rested my head during a break and never un-rested it when break ended.
I don't know why I was surprised, but I honestly was, when my very first infraction was met with Mando Stando indefinitely. As far as I was able to find out, asking students in other classes and so forth, I was the only person put on Mando Stando their first time falling asleep. While it was obvious my Chief had it in for me, he'd said so the first week, I had been far too preoccupied with my studies to pay it much thought up until then.
So, so be it, I was tired most every day anyways. Being forced to stand for a few weeks wouldn't be the end of the world. Only, it wasn't a few weeks, it ended up being months. Here again, I wasn't overly concerned. It wasn't until my roommate was booted, the guy on the list right above me, that I really started to worry.
Three months into the six month program I was a somewhat distracting picture. The guy who stood through Power School, I was struggling with two of my classes, now truly living alone, and the day after I was taken off Mando Stando I got my Letter of Instruction.
The Letter of Instruction was the last stop before Dishonorable Discharge in our little world. It was a short list of orders that the student had to carry with them at all times, and be prepared to present at any time, while demonstrating fulfillment of each order. The orders themselves were fairly simple; be in a presentable uniform, have your room inspection ready at all times, maintain grades, etc. Failure to fulfill an order on the list meant you were going home.
The stage is almost set. Along about the fifth month I am still going at it. I've set a new record for longest lived Letter of Instruction. I was the walking dead for certain, but I just wouldn't stop walking. Now we introduce the co-stars of this drama, the classroom watch list, the Monday holiday and the Friday-Monday rule. This rule said that the last watch on Friday evening was responsible for the first watch on Monday morning. See where we are headed?
I finally did it, I broke an honest to goodness rule. Up to this point my infractions had been of the most minor nature, all punished more than adequately. I was on Mando Stando for all but 18 days of Power School for falling asleep once, on break. I carried a Letter of Instruction for the cumulative crimes of Unsat on one inspection, failing a Chemistry test (which I later passed) and falling asleep in class. And now this, I had last watch on Friday evening and failed to arrive for first watch Tuesday morning. That's right, recall the Monday holiday mentioned earlier?
This was of course a direct violation of the orders in my Letter of Instruction. The train to Captain's Mast is now boarding! First stop, XO's Mast! ALL ABOARD!
XO's Mast is mostly a formality. My Chief presented the case to the XO, whose job it was to assure we weren't wasting the Captain's time, that I was indeed a miscreant. I was asked a short few yes or no questions and if I recall correctly I was given a test to determine how I was doing in school at this point. It was all irrelevant, the XO was obviously on my Chief's side here, everything appeared routine to him. It was agreed by all that I was a miscreant and the date was set for my Captain's Mast.
Scene: A large hall, all available seating given over to three incoming classes. The Captain of the base is seated alone at a table in the front of the room. The Master at Arms stands on the Captain's right, those bringing the charges or responsible for the person standing Mast are seated opposite the Master at Arms, in between the audience and the Captain. The accused are formed up in a line outside the room, they will enter one at a time to stand Mast.
Our hero stands at parade rest outside the hall, he is fourth in line this morning which means he gets to hear the extremely short shrift his fellows in front of him are given. Everyone else this morning is here for charges related to alcohol and it doesn't sound as if the Captain is enjoying his morning at all. To add insult to injury, this is one of those infrequent Mast's where a thousand new students are brought in to have some fear instilled nice and early. We hope they are entertained...
The Master at Arms escorts our hero, Petty Officer J, to front and center. After the formalities are concluded the Captain begins reviewing the file in front of him while the Chief gives a brief account of Petty Officer J's crimes.
"...did miss a watch while carrying a Letter of Instruction. Prior to this event I can assure you, Sir, that we had no end of problems with this particular young man." Here could be seen the XO, the Lieutenant in charge of education and one of Petty Officer J's teachers all nodding along to the Chief's recital. (The Lieutenant's presence was particularly disconcerting as the only conversation Petty Officer J had had with him related to what color highlighters should be used at what point in the notes.)
"If that is so Chief M, then why can I find no indications of this in his file?" queried the Captain. And at this, you can be sure, our hero's ears perked right up. "No, don't bother answering at this time. I'm more curious about the specific charge today. Petty Officer? Would you mind showing me where on the watch list your missed watch is?"
Following a few terrifying moments of confusion for Petty Officer J it was finally made clear to him that he should relax and approach the Captain as close as was necessary to comply with his request. "Well, no Sir, I can't. What I mean Sir, is, it isn't specifically noted on the sheet. You can see here that I had Friday's last watch, so I knew I was supposed to have the next Monday's morning watch also."
"Which was the holiday, yes, I understand that. What I mean is, where is this rule noted? Where on the watch sheet are the morning watches noted? Chief? If I had to stand this watch where would you advise me to find that out?"
To which the Chief was thoroughly flummoxed. He understood the question of course, but he felt I'd already answered it. Everybody just knew that that was the way it worked. It had always been so.
What possessed Petty Officer J at this point can only be speculated at, perhaps the pressure of the moment left no room for equivocation. Regardless, it was here that he chimed in with, "Sir, if I might. We all know that last on Friday is first on Monday. I knew it too Sir. I take full responsibility for missing my watch. I was forgetful because of the weekend, but that is no excuse Sir, and I'm aware of it."
"That's noble enough Petty Officer, now please be quiet. It may not be excuse enough for you but its starting to look like excuse enough for me. Chief? Can you help me understand this better or am I looking at everything there is? Because I have to tell you, if I had had this watch it is almost certain I would have missed it as well." This last delivered in a stern tone just daring the Chief to say anything even remotely amiss. "And you Commander? You reviewed this case?"
"Yes sir I did, though not in enough detail apparently." The XO was plainly uncomfortable with the way this was turning out though it was also apparent that there'd be very little fallout for him.
With that the Captain resumed, "Please return to your place there Petty Officer... thank you. Now then, I've reviewed your file and I see nothing here at all. Nothing." This last was stressed towards those seated on his left. "I'm dismissing all charges and ordering that the procedures for making and posting the watch lists be reviewed and updated as necessary. You are dismissed. Chief? Lieutenant? I'll like to see you two when we are concluded here."
At this last it was as if the room had suddenly shifted two inches to the left or 90 degrees out. The Master at Arms was suddenly paralyzed because this was the first case, ever, to be dismissed by this Captain. He didn't know the protocol! Our hero came to his rescue by executing a smart right face and marching right out the door. The accusers and observers were equally caught off guard, the decision coming so quickly and unexpectedly. The brief look of shock that Petty Officer J was able to surprise on his Chief's face was more than worth the past few weeks indignities. The buzz coming from the gallery was equally lifting. A story had been created here today that would be told by more than one excited new student.