Admiral of the Narrow Seas

By | September 9, 2019

[September 9, 2019]  We were in the back of a U.S. Air Force C-130 transport plane, flying between Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait and Baghdad International Airport, Iraq.  Passengers were a mix of civilians and various branches of the U.S. military.  It was the first time I ever heard the phrase, Admiral of the Narrow Seas.

In the old days of wooden ships, pirates, and England dominating the seas, an Admiral of the Narrow Seas was chiefly responsible for the command of the English Navy’s narrow seas squadron.  Operating between England and the Kingdom of France, it was their job to protect the waters for fishing and trade.  The title signified great honor and prestige.  Originally held by Vice-Admiral Sir John Pendagrast1 in 1412, it was an important naval posting from this time to about 1688.

I was traveling with two U.S. Navy Captains and they were very much informed about the traditions of most Western navies; the customs, mores, and way of life in the navy.  One was going to oversea the port operations in southern Iraq and the other to assist in our wartime strategic logistics operation.  Both were highly thought of throughout the navy and their new jobs were designed to test their fortitude, intelligence, and flexibility.  They were also both jokers.

During takeoff, a civilian beside me got sick and was about to throw up.  This had happened near me on several occasions and my immediate thought was that I didn’t want any on me.  Flying into a combat zone was bad enough but smelling of vomit would not make a great impression on my commander.  In my sternest voice, I told the young man that if he threw up on me that I would throw him out of the plane.  I would not (I was joking, of course) but the man threw up in the lap of the gentleman next to him.

One of the navy Captains sprang to life and shouted we have “an Admiral of the Narrow Seas.”  Thinking this was an odd comment; I asked for and got an explanation.  We all had a big laugh about it and prepared ourselves for landing in an active combat zone.  After disembarking from the C-130, we were picked up by a burly U.S. Marine Gunny Sergeant who took one of the naval Captains, me, and the sick civilian to our headquarters.  Jokingly, I noted that we had found an Admiral of the Narrow Seas on our inbound aircraft.  The sick young man didn’t find it funny at all and surprisingly he was to work with me for the next year as our Army Corps of Engineer field expert.

I learned several things from the experience.  Despite my knowledge about the U.S. Army, to my personal detriment, I was significantly deficient in naval customs and knowledge.  Also, never joke around in areas which are not your expertise.  A joke can be at someone’s expense that you may have to work with later.  And, never ever tell a navy joke around an Admiral.


Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

22 thoughts on “Admiral of the Narrow Seas

    1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

      Same here. But by reading these articles I’m learning a lot.

  1. Dennis Mathes

    Excellent article. We should be sensitive to the issues of others. But that does not mean we must modify our behavior to the point that we lose our way.

  2. Lady Hawk

    I would suggest, please, that Gen. Satterfield devote an article on the US Marines. In the past, his focus has been on the US Army (yes, I know he was in the army). He wrote about Chester Puller, Gen of USMC and I really liked it. I know that Gen. Satterfield is a fan of Gen/Secdef Jim Mattis so something on him perhaps. Thanks. Just a suggestion.

    1. Andrew Dooley

      I’m just now reading Mattis’ new book “Call Sign Chaos.” Perhaps a book review.

  3. Janna Faulkner

    Another good article by Gen. Satterfield, thanks. I give it 4 smiley faces.

  4. Wilson Cox

    I had a friend who died of cancer just the other day. I’d never met his family but I did at the funeral. I was given a brief education in the traditions of the US Navy. Traditions are valuable and are, of course, part of our culture.

    1. ZB22

      Sorry to hear of the loss. Subcultures are adaptive but the leaders in those communities ultimately influence the direction to success or ultimately of failure.

  5. JT Patterson

    “Admiral of the Narrow Seas.” How very interesting of a twist on the idea. I had no knowledge of this either. Note that no one in my family ever was in the Navy. Excellent article.

  6. Ronny Fisher

    In an article some time ago, Gen Satterfield wrote about those qualities he saw as making for a better soldier. One of them was that those from inner cities did less well than those from rural areas. This is an example of differences in culture. The comparison should be obvious to any casual observer. Inner cities are less family oriented, more tolerate of minor crime, and less community focused. That has an impact on people that is reflected in their ability to ‘fit in.’

    1. Eric Coda

      Ronny, you were one step ahead of me on this issue. I too see a huge cultural (sub-cultural?) difference between those raised in a city vs countryside.

  7. Harry Donner

    One of the areas that I don’t have much experience in is the Boy Scouts. Yes, I know about them but my understanding is limited. To support Gen. Satterfield’s point, I read recently about girls which are allowed into the Boy Scouts. Even the VFW has sponsored a troop of girls. I think this is a bad idea but not knowing the culture of BSA, I’m hesitant to go further. Thanks for hearing me out on this.

    1. Lynn Pitts

      A culture issue, yes! Across the US and other Western nations we are seeing an attempt to degrade boys and men; manhood now being seen as toxic, etc. Letting girls into boy scouts is an interesting twist on that theme. We will se more of this later.

      1. Gil Johnson

        Will this change in culture benefit girls and women? That is what we do not know yet. Will it benefit boys and men? Probably not.

    2. Yusaf from Texas

      How very interesting. I’m not so sure how this will work out. One thing for sure, the decision to go with girls in the boy scouts will not be reversed for many decades regardless of the impact. Too much PC leadership at that level.

  8. Army Captain

    This shows that despite our expertise in a particular area, we are likely to be totally deficient in other areas in terms of specifics and culture.

    1. Bryan Lee

      Current, there are always other cultures (sometimes referred to more accurately as subcultures) that exist without our knowledge or understanding. Be careful not to blunder into their minefields.

  9. Greg Heyman

    Interesting take on a very old idea. A bit of humor too. Thank you, Gen. Satterfield.

    1. Crazy Dude

      Yeah! I was thinking the same thing, Greg. I always enjoy these articles, even the ones from the guest bloggers. I am one of the early birds who reads this first thing before heading out to work. I like to occasionally share the ideas with my coworkers too.

      1. Nick Lighthouse

        The guest bloggers are clearly new and just getting started. As long as their article is about leadership, I will read it.

    2. Willie Shrumburger

      I was thinking the same thing. Of course, I have never been too much into military history but there is always a lesson or two that can be learned.

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