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#1
Old 09-11-2014, 07:56 AM
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Asking permission to speak freely - really a thing in current military practice?

It's a recurring scene in Starfleet in the various incarnations of Star Trek. You've probably seen it: a subordinate thinks the commanding officer is being an idiot, wants to say what's really on his mind, and asks, "Permission to speak freely, sir?" Permission is invariably granted, and then the subordinate is able to talk to the C.O. much more bluntly than he would otherwise.

Is that a question that would be asked in the contemporary U.S. military, or any others you know of? If not, is there some equivalent phrase?
#2
Old 09-11-2014, 09:27 AM
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When I was in the Navy, I never said it, nor did I ever hear of anyone saying it, or anything like it. We just spoke freely (and tactfully, usually). If our superior didn't want to hear it, he would say "enough!", or something to indicate we should shut up. And we would shut up.

I do recall one incident in particular -- we (the crew of the submarine) were getting ready for some sort of inspection by some fleet people. It was a periodic evaluation for tacitical readiness (or something like that). Going down some list of what we were supposed to be ready for, the XO (Executive officer) assigned each of us JOs (Junior officers) with a specific tactical subject area to prepare a presentation for. None of these presentations were likely to be used -- the XO just wanted us to be ready. We had about a day or two to do it, in addition to all the other stuff we would be preparing for the evaluation.

So we were assigned these various topics, started to do some research, and quickly realized that these were way, way beyond what someone could hope to become proficient in in just a day. We asked to meet with the XO, and all the other JOs were sort of beating around the bush about what was wrong, so I just spoke up -- I said "XO, right now the best I'm hoping for -- the best possible outcome -- is that I put together a shitty presentation that you will yell at me for." And all the other JOs chimed in agreement, after a moment of surprise. And the XO yielded, and decided that this probably was not the best use of our time.

But there were senior officers who would have immediately shut us up if we complained about something. So it all depended on the officer.
#3
Old 09-11-2014, 09:54 AM
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I don't know about real life but Tom Clancy used this device a couple of times in his novels. So it seems the idea may have origins in a grain of truth.
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#4
Old 09-11-2014, 10:04 AM
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Former Naval Officer. I dont recall ever seeing anybody written up/at Captains Mast for wanting to speak freely, which wouldnt include cursing and insubordination.
I never felt the need to address a superior in a manner that I couldnt speak and need to take it to a speak freely way. My immediate superiors were Department Heads and the conversations were generally casual anyway; my limited interactions with the XO and CO were more formal.
I was never in a situation with a subordinate where they asked to speak freely to me. I attempted to have an open door policy and be approachable but did use the chain of command: for informal matters (general duties, Watch Bill assignments) talk to their supervisor-Leading Petty Officer-Chief; for formal matters like transferring to another Department theyd fill out a request chit that Id see anyway after it worked its way up.
I did do a bit of creative writing speak freely once. One of my stellar petty officers was written up for something silly. I did my investigation and recommended it be dismissed, then passed it on to my Department Head who concurred, from there it went to the XO. (For those unfamiliar with the process, the CO sees all report chits, he is the only one who can dismiss it.) I waited for it to go to Captains Mast, it seemed to be taking a while. Then one day in the passageway I ran into the XO who told me the charge had been dismissed by the Captain but to never again refer to a write-up as a Mickey Mouse charge. So my superiors had agreed with me but not the language I used
#5
Old 09-11-2014, 10:07 AM
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In Master and Commander, Jack Aubrey's First Lieutenant asks, "May I make an observation, Sir?" before an attack. Jack replies, "As long as it isn't a council of war. This is not a G-d damned debating society."
#6
Old 09-11-2014, 10:12 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CookingWithGas View Post
I don't know about real life but Tom Clancy used this device a couple of times in his novels. So it seems the idea may have origins in a grain of truth.
Clancy's observations of the military were nearly all second hand (though his books are mostly meticulously researched.) The closest he got to military service was college ROTC.
#7
Old 09-11-2014, 10:17 AM
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I place it at about the same level of realism as saying "With all due respect" immediately before saying something disrespectful, and not getting slammed for the lack of respect.
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Old 09-11-2014, 10:19 AM
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Thanks for the answers so far.
#9
Old 09-11-2014, 10:48 AM
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I was never in the military, but have worked with civilian military employees for years. Once, I was a junior engineer at a consulting company, working on a project for the Army. Our VP, who was handling the client, called me in to explain a technical detail to the big-wig from the Army. Halfway through my explanation, the Army guy held up his hand and said, "Wait. Can I ask a stupid question?"

I had never liked this dude. I looked him in the eye and said, "Like nobody I know, Jim."

The VP just about swallowed his face trying to walk back my smart-ass comment. Needless to say, I wasn't called in to deliver any more technical explanations.
#10
Old 09-11-2014, 10:49 AM
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I have never heard it said in 26 years of full and part time military service. There were times when discussion was expected and times when it wasn't. Usually time and mission dependent. There were no magic words. No words that can allow you to be a dick about something to your superior officer. There are unwritten protocols for handling disagreement.
#11
Old 09-11-2014, 11:25 AM
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My father once said of this trope that if people are not speaking freely anyway (respectfully) then its a failure of leadership.
#12
Old 09-11-2014, 12:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Really Not All That Bright View Post
Clancy's observations of the military were nearly all second hand (though his books are mostly meticulously researched.) The closest he got to military service was college ROTC.
The Good Soldier Svejk was and remains a better depiction of military culture than anything Tom Clancy wrote.
#13
Old 09-11-2014, 12:45 PM
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Short: The trope is a pure Hollywood invention in my experience.
Longer: What dba Fred & Loach said.
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Old 09-11-2014, 12:53 PM
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Have never asked it, and have never heard it asked, and as an advisor, sometimes my job is actually to point out the flaws in something (worked with both Army and Air Force, various countries, up to the rank of General).

I have, however, given subordinates a "go ahead and say what's on your mind" at times...I find sometimes the non-commissioned ranks get a little antsy (and rightly so) about debating with an officer.

Last edited by Poysyn; 09-11-2014 at 12:54 PM.
#15
Old 09-11-2014, 01:11 PM
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All good to know - thanks.

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Originally Posted by Ethilrist View Post
I place it at about the same level of realism as saying "With all due respect" immediately before saying something disrespectful, and not getting slammed for the lack of respect.
I know a judge who is absolutely convinced that "With all due respect...." is synonymous with "Fuck you!"
#16
Old 09-11-2014, 01:17 PM
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slight tangent: Are the statements that usually follow "... speak freely?" in movies the type of thing be unacceptable in a public setting, but tolerable in a private (i.e. not in front of subordinates, ) but official conversation (e.g. in somebody's office)? The sort of thing you wouldn't say at an official hearing, but don't need to go "off the record" for (or whatever the mil-speak version of "this conversation never happened" is), either.

Or is it never acceptable to be brutally honest and blunt with a superior officer, if that were necessary to make them understand/consider something?
#17
Old 09-11-2014, 01:36 PM
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Originally Posted by dstarfire View Post
slight tangent: Are the statements that usually follow "... speak freely?" in movies the type of thing be unacceptable in a public setting, but tolerable in a private (i.e. not in front of subordinates, ) but official conversation (e.g. in somebody's office)? The sort of thing you wouldn't say at an official hearing, but don't need to go "off the record" for (or whatever the mil-speak version of "this conversation never happened" is), either.

Or is it never acceptable to be brutally honest and blunt with a superior officer, if that were necessary to make them understand/consider something?
If something comes up during a briefing that is either not appropriate to discuss in a group setting (due to privacy, or something else) we will often say "Let's continue this offline..."

I have often been blunt and honest to make sure there is clear understanding of the impact - but not usually disrepectful. There is a huge difference. You can call an idea/plan/course of action misguided and idiotic, but you shouldn't call the planner idiotic.
#18
Old 09-11-2014, 01:46 PM
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Originally Posted by Elendil's Heir View Post
All good to know - thanks.


I know a judge who is absolutely convinced that "With all due respect...." is synonymous with "Fuck you!"
It very much can be. I've heard people use it like that more often than not.

You know how "I'm not racist but..." often precedes a racist utterance? How some people think that preceding their utterance with that hedging makes it less likely to be perceived as racist when in fact it makes it more likely? The hedging "with all due respect" is like that.

I've also heard that if a Southern/old woman tells you "bless your heart", she's pretty much told you to go fuck yourself.


So, next time someone tells you: "With all due respect, bless your heart.", you'll know it wasn't a compliment.
#19
Old 09-11-2014, 02:12 PM
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Originally Posted by MichaelEmouse View Post

I've also heard that if a Southern/old woman tells you "bless your heart", she's pretty much told you to go fuck yourself.

It is sometimes used sarcastically, but a Mother will tell her ill child, "Bless your little heart."
#20
Old 09-11-2014, 02:23 PM
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The translation of some of these Southern things is not universal so if you will ever have skin the game with that person, you better learn them because 'always' means you are very wrong very often.

Just as a heads up for you, you know...............
#21
Old 09-11-2014, 02:52 PM
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One of my military acquaintances said much the same thing many other people are reporting here. In his experience, the phrase "permission to speak freely" was never once uttered literally. However, people had a variety of contextual, subtle ways to indicate "This is a time to follow orders and just get it done now" vs "Feel free to share your input so that we can benefit from everyone's ideas." They didn't have to say it because expressions and tone of voice were sufficient. Subtle doesn't always translate well in Hollywood, though.

My friend did add, though, that he felt like the trope stemmed from a general Hollywood/liberal anti-authority bias. That is, the idea that the government/military is some sort of unreasonable authoritarian entity determined to turn people into automatons who only follow orders. Thus, a liberal screenwriter with no military experience might assume that teamwork and brainstorming are foreign ideas to military personnel and that you'd somehow have to get permission to be honest.
#22
Old 09-11-2014, 02:59 PM
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I can see R. Lee Ermey explaining in a colorful manner that the military is not a debating society.
#23
Old 09-11-2014, 03:54 PM
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Just FYI, this is how I begin my message when I have to PM a moderator.
#24
Old 09-11-2014, 04:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Poysyn View Post
If something comes up during a briefing that is either not appropriate to discuss in a group setting (due to privacy, or something else) we will often say "Let's continue this offline..."

I have often been blunt and honest to make sure there is clear understanding of the impact - but not usually disrepectful. There is a huge difference. You can call an idea/plan/course of action misguided and idiotic, but you shouldn't call the planner idiotic.
Exactly. I have been both on the officer side as a company XO and on the enlisted side as a !st Sergeant (don't ask, it's not as interesting as you might think). It is the job of the XO or the 1SG to help the commander reach the correct decision. As you get further up the command structure commanders have staff that they expect to speak freely and give their opinions. Someone who is completely autocratic will rarely have a long career.

But as you say it is understood that it must all be done with respect and with the proper military bearing. Not to say that tempers may flair but that should be taken care of behind closed doors.
#25
Old 09-11-2014, 04:16 PM
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Never have heard it in 28 years in the Navy (14 of which were in the Pentagon).

Nor have I ever heard "with all due respect."

Last edited by spifflog; 09-11-2014 at 04:18 PM.
#26
Old 09-11-2014, 04:45 PM
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Originally Posted by spifflog View Post
Never have heard it in 28 years in the Navy (14 of which were in the Pentagon).

Nor have I ever heard "with all due respect."
With all due respect always makes me think of Dom Irrera.
#27
Old 09-11-2014, 09:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AK84 View Post
My father once said of this trope that if people are not speaking freely anyway (respectfully) then its a failure of leadership.
Sort of like the (also often seen in fiction media regarding the military) frequent reiteration of "THAT was an order!"

If you're offering input to your superiors you had better know what you're talking about, be sure about it, and give them your best, most complete and truthful assesment of the situation. None of which needs to be said in a manner disrespectful, offensive or insubordinate, or that questions their authority.


Quote:
Originally Posted by dracoi View Post
My friend did add, though, that he felt like the trope stemmed from a general Hollywood/liberal anti-authority bias.[...] Thus, a liberal screenwriter with no military experience might assume that teamwork and brainstorming are foreign ideas to military personnel and that you'd somehow have to get permission to be honest.
Or they are more familiar with the workplace environment at the studios or agencies, where you can imagine asshat executives and primadonna directors not wanting to hear anything contrary to their made mind from those lower in the credits.

With Trek in particular it would be interesting to see how often the tropes were used in, say, 1960s TOS Trek (which ended just as the nation was souring on Vietnam) vs. 1980s-90s TNG/DS9 Trek. Some of the 1966-69 writers may have been veterans, like bomber pilot Roddenberry, but the fraction probably gets far smaller by the late 80s.

Last edited by JRDelirious; 09-11-2014 at 09:13 PM.
#28
Old 09-11-2014, 09:26 PM
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Originally Posted by Really Not All That Bright View Post
Clancy's observations of the military were nearly all second hand (though his books are mostly meticulously researched.)
I always hear that about his research, yet every time he mentions something I actually happen to know about he screws up. Seems to be a pretty lousy researcher.
#29
Old 09-11-2014, 09:37 PM
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I said it once in 24 years in the military. I, an E-6 at the time, was being chewed out by a Colonel and tried to defend myself. He told me to shut the hell up and listen. After about 5 minutes of ripping me a new one, he ran out of steam. That's when I said 'it'. He said "yes" so I let him have it. Both barrels. He tried to defend himself and I said "Oh no Colonel - my turn now!"

Boy that was fun!

1. The Colonel had been seriously misinformed about what had happened in the incident that caused the 'conversation'. He apologized once he heard my side of the story.

2. I was not in his chain of command. Sure he could have called my boss to cause me some grief, but I think my boss would have backed me up. Actually the Colonel SHOULD have called my boss first instead of chewing my ass.

The Colonel and I got along really well after that. I might have won a little respect from him even.
#30
Old 09-11-2014, 09:50 PM
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My superiors in the AF expected that I would give them my opinion if it lay within my area of expertise, and they listened carefully. I expected my subordinates to give me the truth (albeit tactfully) if they disagreed or had knowledge that I lacked.

Of course items of discussion were almost always factual; however, on a couple of occasions personal matters or style were brought up. In that case I generally closed the door and discussed frankly my subordinate's "shortcomings" I would expect that my superiors would have done the same thing if needed.

Never encountered "permission to speak freely" except in books and films.
#31
Old 09-11-2014, 10:11 PM
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There are some "code phrases" in the different branches of the Armed Forces that can be used in certain situations. For example, the phrase "We'd really rather not do that, Sir." said by a member of the Army Corps of Engineers to a non-CoA planner type, is accepted as a polite way of saying "Are you out of your fucking mind, General?" And enlisted instructors at the parachute school are known to use the phrase "Captain, I'd appreciate it if you'd do 25 pushups now, Sir!"

I did use "with all due respect" once. On a break during a mission nature hike, I told my platoon sergeant that he was a REMF. As his face changed from white to red, before the explosion, I added "Sergeant, I've been on point for the last 2 hours, and with all due respect, to the man on point, everyone else on the patrol nature hike is a rear echelon mother fucker."

One he started breathing again, he nodded, briefly smiled, and transferred me to the rear.
#32
Old 09-11-2014, 11:36 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Poysyn View Post
I have often been blunt and honest to make sure there is clear understanding of the impact - but not usually disrepectful. There is a huge difference. You can call an idea/plan/course of action misguided and idiotic, but you shouldn't call the planner idiotic.
In other words, SDMB rules apply!
#33
Old 09-12-2014, 12:02 AM
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Originally Posted by Nava View Post
I always hear that about his research, yet every time he mentions something I actually happen to know about he screws up. Seems to be a pretty lousy researcher.
Depends on Clancy's area of interest. If it's something he is interested in (like descriptions of weapon systems) he does well. Otherwise, it's hit and miss, mostly miss.
#34
Old 09-12-2014, 10:40 AM
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I ran this by my CO (Dad): in 28.5 years as a Marine, he never heard either phrase used (he didnt do 30 years as he didnt want to make it a career).

Heres a situation where I can see a With all due respect being used:
Captain, it is I, Ensign Pulver, and I just threw your stinkin' palm tree overboard! Now what's all this crud about no movie tonight?
#35
Old 09-12-2014, 10:48 AM
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Originally Posted by Ranger Jeff View Post
There are some "code phrases" in the different branches of the Armed Forces that can be used in certain situations. For example, the phrase "We'd really rather not do that, Sir." said by a member of the Army Corps of Engineers to a non-CoA planner type, is accepted as a polite way of saying "Are you out of your fucking mind, General?" And enlisted instructors at the parachute school are known to use the phrase "Captain, I'd appreciate it if you'd do 25 pushups now, Sir!"

I did use "with all due respect" once. On a break during a mission nature hike, I told my platoon sergeant that he was a REMF. As his face changed from white to red, before the explosion, I added "Sergeant, I've been on point for the last 2 hours, and with all due respect, to the man on point, everyone else on the patrol nature hike is a rear echelon mother fucker."

One he started breathing again, he nodded, briefly smiled, and transferred me to the rear.
That made my morning, once I cleaned the coffee up.

Capt
#36
Old 09-12-2014, 11:34 AM
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I have never said this nor heard it said. At the same time, I have had a conversation with a senior NCO regarding placement of a particular piece of equipment, but I took the tone of Gee whiz, Mr Superior, but I just back from school about this and they said...

The senior NCO dismissed my opinion and that was that. I had spoken as freely as I was willing to in the midst of a fairly hairy situation. Any idea of a debate is utterly stupid and doesn't happen if the superior is any kind of military leader.
#37
Old 09-12-2014, 06:09 PM
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Twenty three years in the Navy, and like most everybody else, never heard the phrases. A good officer/NCO will allow you to present your side of an issue. The ones that just started yelling never had anyone's respect in the first place, and everyone knew that they would not be treated fairly.
#38
Old 09-12-2014, 06:36 PM
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In my USCG career, I heard "with all due respect". The one that sticks in my mind is a number of people were having problems with the Deputy Group Commander, a O-3. At a meeting a Master Chief voiced these problems. The Group Commander, an O-5, said it was not his place to say this. The MC, a tough old salt, fired back "With all due respect, Sir, not only is it my place but as Command Enlisted Advisor, it is my duty to report that a lot of people are having problems with this man". At least this is what the Master Chief's wife, an E-6, told me. And the O-3 did improve quite a bit after that.
#39
Old 09-12-2014, 06:57 PM
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I seem to remember the phrase being used in A Few Good Men by Cuba Gooding Jr.'s character, a Marine Corporal accused of murder when conversing with his JAG lawyer, a Lieutenant played by Tom Cruise. Fiction, obviously, but I could see why a conversation between a lawyer and his client could necessitate a special disregard for the rules that normally set the tone for officer/enlisted interactions.
#40
Old 09-13-2014, 10:29 AM
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I seem to recall some Robert Heinlein novel--I don't remember the title--in which an XO asks that question and gets slammed by his captain, who says it's the XO's damn job to speak freely.

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Originally Posted by skdo23 View Post
I seem to remember the phrase being used in A Few Good Men by Cuba Gooding Jr.'s character, a Marine Corporal accused of murder when conversing with his JAG lawyer, a Lieutenant played by Tom Cruise. Fiction, obviously, but I could see why a conversation between a lawyer and his client could necessitate a special disregard for the rules that normally set the tone for officer/enlisted interactions.
Cuba Gooding Jr. was not in A Few Good Men, as might be inferred from the fact that the movie does not suck. You're thinking of Wolfgang Bodison.

Last edited by Skald the Rhymer; 09-13-2014 at 10:30 AM.
#41
Old 09-13-2014, 11:01 AM
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I've been in both the military and middle management. You never preface a remark to a superior with "permission to speak freely."

You preface that remark with "of course, as you know..."
#42
Old 09-13-2014, 04:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Slithy Tove View Post
You preface that remark with "of course, as you know..."
#43
Old 09-13-2014, 06:06 PM
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Originally Posted by Skald the Rhymer View Post
I seem to recall some Robert Heinlein novel--I don't remember the title--in which an XO asks that question and gets slammed by his captain, who says it's the XO's damn job to speak freely.



Cuba Gooding Jr. was not in A Few Good Men, as might be inferred from the fact that the movie does not suck. You're thinking of Wolfgang Bodison.

Doh!!!!!!!!!!

Last edited by skdo23; 09-13-2014 at 06:10 PM. Reason: Did not smack myself enough the first time.
#44
Old 09-13-2014, 07:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Skald the Rhymer View Post
I seem to recall some Robert Heinlein novel--I don't remember the title--in which an XO asks that question and gets slammed by his captain, who says it's the XO's damn job to speak freely.



Cuba Gooding Jr. was not in A Few Good Men, as might be inferred from the fact that the movie does not suck. You're thinking of Wolfgang Bodison.
Cuba Gooding Jr was in A Few Good Men- but you are correct that wasn't his line.

He had a wee little part - Cpl Carl Hammaker (according to IMDB). Movie still doesn't suck. One of my favorites.

Last edited by Poysyn; 09-13-2014 at 07:02 PM.
#45
Old 09-13-2014, 09:39 PM
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Originally Posted by dba Fred View Post
I ran this by my CO (Dad): in 28.5 years as a Marine, he never heard either phrase used (he didnt do 30 years as he didnt want to make it a career).....

I might be being whooshed here...
Am I?
Otherwise....
#46
Old 09-13-2014, 09:47 PM
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With all due respect, I've always thought "with all due respect" was a fairly common figure of speech when you were in a position where you needed to correct your boss.
#47
Old 09-13-2014, 10:19 PM
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Originally Posted by Senegoid View Post
In other words, SDMB rules apply!
I dunno, wasn't something as anodyne as the referenced-as-good thing, above, called a personal insult by one of the mods, or something, just recently?

Last edited by handsomeharry; 09-13-2014 at 10:19 PM.
#48
Old 09-13-2014, 11:24 PM
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I never asked for permission to speak freely, but I was given permission once by my CO to do so. Shortly afterwards I was transferred out of the unit. Given that was the intention it worked out.
#49
Old 09-14-2014, 05:18 AM
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Originally Posted by Leo Bloom View Post

I might be being whooshed here...
Am I?
Otherwise....
Whooshed by which part?

Because Id mentioned I was Navy and Dad was a Marine, so how could he be my CO? In the colloquialism of military-brat speak, in the Table of Organization of the Family, Dad is the CO (while Mom outranks Dad and is the Commanding General).
(I remember the day Dad put me on his knee and said dba Fred, son, you can do whatever you want to when you grow up. But dont go into the Marine Corps, and the Army isnt any better. Now get the hell off my knee, youre 22 years old!)

Or whooshed by his not doing 30 years as he didnt want to make it a career.
Why? Short answer: He said it wasnt fun anymore.
Long answer (and bragging on Dad): Hed gone from a private (E-1) to full Colonel (O-6), infantry to aviator. He landed at Inchon as a motor transport officer and bummed a pinch of pipe tobacco from Chesty Puller at the Chosin Reservoir. Then he was selected for flight school, earned his wings and went back to Korea flying fighters (F9Fs with VMA-311, just after Ted Williams left). He transitioned to helicopters (which he states is the real flying) but with seniority came less flight time (a few helo missions in Vietnam) (but did rack up the hours on the station R4-D/C-117D [50833] while CO of MCAS Iwakuni). He knew his next set of orders would be to the Pentagon (which hed managed to avoid) and he knew he wouldnt pick up General. So it wasnt fun anymore.

For fun, after he retired, he flew a Cenessa for the owner of a cattle feedlot (and went on a roundup). Later he became the airport manager at Yuma International Airport, a joint-use facility with MCAS Yuma (where hed been stationed), then the airport manager at the Columbia MO airport (where the ground crew let him driver the snow plow & assorted yellow gear).

He got a kick out of it when I did the calculation and said hed been retired from the Corps longer than hed been in. When people thank him for his service, he thanks them for letting him fly and the monthly check

Last edited by dba Fred; 09-14-2014 at 05:19 AM.
#50
Old 09-14-2014, 09:43 AM
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Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: England, Britain, UK
Posts: 18,480
Quote:
Originally Posted by Slithy Tove View Post
I've been in both the military and middle management. You never preface a remark to a superior with "permission to speak freely."

You preface that remark with "of course, as you know..."
Or "As I'm sure you remember..." which is code for "As I expect you've forgotten...".
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