Eat By the Numbers

A friend of mine went through Naval Officer Candidate School a while back, and I recently stumbled upon an old e-mail he’d sent me that included the following:

It has been eight weeks, and my training class is about to become the “senior class on deck,” which means that we are responsible for running the junior classes. It also means that we’re entitled to certain privileges, like being able to talk while at meals (“chow”).

Previously, we had to do something called “eat by the numbers,” which is the standard method of eating for all junior training classes: a Marine Corps Drill Instructor, Class Chief Petty Officer, or Candidate Officer (a member of the senior class on deck) says “one,” and every student snaps their heads to within 4 inches of the plate of food. At “two” they pick up their “War Spoon” (the official name of an OCS soup spoon); “three” and we scoop up as much food as we can. “Four,” the spoon and food go in our mouths. “Five,” we remove the spoon, replace it on the tray, and check that everything is properly “grounded” (touching): the tray is flush with the edge of the table, and the two glasses are grounded in the upper left hand corner of the tray, touching the edge of the tray; the plate is grounded to the bottom center, with the War Spoon grounded to the bottom edge of the tray and grounded tangent to the plate. On “six,” we snap back up to attention, with our feet at a 45-degree angle, heels touching, feet on the port side of the table support (even if that table support is well to the side — which often leads to significant contortion), and with the “thousand-yard stare.” On “seven,” we are allowed to chew, and on “eight,” we are allowed to swallow. The process then repeats.

Suffice it to say, we’re pretty excited about the prospect of using forks.

I wonder how rituals like this get started? Do they help prepare our officers to better lead troops in combat? Why are these sorts of hazing rituals so common in the military and so rare in businesses? Does that mean that the military should do less of this, or businesses should do more? Maybe our family dinners should look more like this? Our faculty lunches?

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  1. TV says:

    1. I don’t think that this would necessarily be defined as hazing, as it is not harassing anymore than drill practice on a parade square is hazing.

    2. Its not the ability to “eat by numbers” that creates better officers, its the discipline that it develops to create strong followers. Afterall, you can only be a good leader if you can first be a good follower.

    3. The comparison to the business world, or your faculty, only applies if a level of discipline is required such as that in a war environment. Perhaps your classes are rough, but I doubt people die if they don’t listen.

    “There’s a time for questions and there’s a time for orders, but there is never a time for questioning orders. And that is why officers are issued handguns.”

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  2. TV says:

    1. I don’t think that this would necessarily be defined as hazing, as it is not harassing anymore than drill practice on a parade square is hazing.

    2. Its not the ability to “eat by numbers” that creates better officers, its the discipline that it develops to create strong followers. Afterall, you can only be a good leader if you can first be a good follower.

    3. The comparison to the business world, or your faculty, only applies if a level of discipline is required such as that in a war environment. Perhaps your classes are rough, but I doubt people die if they don’t listen.

    “There’s a time for questions and there’s a time for orders, but there is never a time for questioning orders. And that is why officers are issued handguns.”

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  3. JMR says:

    Any one ritual by itself looks silly (okay, even many together look silly), but obviously the point is to break the individual down and replace him with an integrated team member who not only knows how to follow orders (essential in any military command), but also to act in unison with his comrades. It’s amazing how a few months of these exercises can overcome years or decades of civilian living.

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  4. JMR says:

    Any one ritual by itself looks silly (okay, even many together look silly), but obviously the point is to break the individual down and replace him with an integrated team member who not only knows how to follow orders (essential in any military command), but also to act in unison with his comrades. It’s amazing how a few months of these exercises can overcome years or decades of civilian living.

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  5. Candice H says:

    Such practices simplify everything down to a robotic ritual in order to easily indoctrinate you. Its an easy and methodic routine in a series of such approaches that bring the ego and individualistic attitude that everyone brings to the table (so to speak!)down to size, in order to make everyone modest; equal. When everyone is equal it is very easy to build them back up into a specifically trained individual. Such practice is used in the military as a form of training. You are not an individual in the military, you are one piece of a very large and useful puzzle. One piece out of the picture is means for a breakdown of the central core.

    Such practices, as demeaning as they seem (at least to a civilian), is a necessary part of the training process. A military unit relies strongly on the group mentality. It is NOT every man for himself; a successful unit is one that works together and to make that transition from individual civilian to cohesive unit.

    It is not as necessary to use such practices unless you are trying to subvert the individual.

    If the company is falling behind because each individual is not playing its necessary function, perhaps such indoctrination is necessary. Such a routine becomes necessity the lower you are and as you rise above the ranks, you alter slightly to serve a necessary purpose, the same as in the military. When you pick up rank, you continue such practices but then become part of the training process for those below you. And so on and so forth.

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  6. Candice H says:

    Such practices simplify everything down to a robotic ritual in order to easily indoctrinate you. Its an easy and methodic routine in a series of such approaches that bring the ego and individualistic attitude that everyone brings to the table (so to speak!)down to size, in order to make everyone modest; equal. When everyone is equal it is very easy to build them back up into a specifically trained individual. Such practice is used in the military as a form of training. You are not an individual in the military, you are one piece of a very large and useful puzzle. One piece out of the picture is means for a breakdown of the central core.

    Such practices, as demeaning as they seem (at least to a civilian), is a necessary part of the training process. A military unit relies strongly on the group mentality. It is NOT every man for himself; a successful unit is one that works together and to make that transition from individual civilian to cohesive unit.

    It is not as necessary to use such practices unless you are trying to subvert the individual.

    If the company is falling behind because each individual is not playing its necessary function, perhaps such indoctrination is necessary. Such a routine becomes necessity the lower you are and as you rise above the ranks, you alter slightly to serve a necessary purpose, the same as in the military. When you pick up rank, you continue such practices but then become part of the training process for those below you. And so on and so forth.

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  7. dan in michigan says:

    I graduated from Navy Officer Candidate school several years ago. I am not familiar with this particular dining procedure but I have a few thoughts. Almost all Naval Officers are responsible for operating very complex systems whether it be an aircraft, nuclear reactor, gas turbine, gunnery system, etc. These “hazing” rituals emphasize adherence to procedure and attention to detail. The Navy is very effective with this training. The granting of additional privileges as one advances through training is psychological tool. The Navy’s objective is to strip you down and then rebuild you as an Officer. It’s a fascinating thing to see.

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  8. dan in michigan says:

    I graduated from Navy Officer Candidate school several years ago. I am not familiar with this particular dining procedure but I have a few thoughts. Almost all Naval Officers are responsible for operating very complex systems whether it be an aircraft, nuclear reactor, gas turbine, gunnery system, etc. These “hazing” rituals emphasize adherence to procedure and attention to detail. The Navy is very effective with this training. The granting of additional privileges as one advances through training is psychological tool. The Navy’s objective is to strip you down and then rebuild you as an Officer. It’s a fascinating thing to see.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0