Top brass takes questions from sailors in Norfolk
One shot to grill the highest-ranking admiral in the Navy - a man responsible for a fleet of warships, hundreds of fighter jets and more than 350,000 service members.
For some of those sailors, Wednesday offered a rare chance to question the four-star chief of naval operations - their boss's boss's boss's boss.
"I want to hear from you," Adm. Jon Greenert told hundreds of sailors inside the hangar bay of the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush. He was joined onstage by Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens, the service's top enlisted sailor, for what's known in Navy parlance as an "All Hands Call."
"Ask us anything," Greenert said.
An aviation mechanic wanted to know whether she could change jobs and become a dental hygienist.
Greenert deferred to Stevens, who suggested she speak with her department's career counselor.
A nuclear-trained engineer said she hoped to become an officer and wanted to know how she could speed along the application process.
Again, Stevens suggested she speak with her unit's career counselor.
A seaman apprentice had one that Greenert could answer: "Sir, what is one piece of advice you would give to an E-2 like me who would like to be in your shoes someday?"
Greenert smirked: "Are you married?"
"Then get married - and listen to your wife more."
With the Bush preparing for a deployment of at least nine months, a young officer asked for advice on how to stay in touch with family members better while at sea.
"Let me tell you, kiddo," Greenert said. "When it comes to today's social media interaction, you know a hell of a lot more about it than I do."
Others came forward with bigger concerns.
Sailor: How does Obamacare affect service members and retirees?
Greenert: It doesn't.
Sailor: Will Obama hold to his word on Syria?
Greenert: The Navy is providing the credible threat needed to force action on chemical weapons.
Sailor: Will sailors be allowed to opt out of mandatory alcohol screenings?
Greenert (appearing perplexed): I'll have to get back to you.
The admiral dedicated his opening remarks to the two big current issues: budget cuts and the Pentagon's efforts to crack down on sexual assault.
On the first, Greenert promised to do everything in his power to protect service members' pay and benefits. On the second, one sailor stepped forward seeking clarity.
"You mentioned earlier about sexual assault, and I heard in the news that Congress is trying to get service members to serve jail time if they are convicted. Do you know if that is still an ongoing debate?"
Greenert responded with grace.
"Right now, service members can get jail time, and many do, for sexual assault. That concept is not new."
After a few more queries - there was time for about 15 in all - Greenert was on to his next appointment: a news conference with a gaggle of reporters.
A much different set of questions awaited.
Mike Hixenbaugh, 757-446-2949, firstname.lastname@example.org