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"Desk mapping"-- military rite of passage or urban legend?
Old 12-06-2010, 09:56 AM   #1
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"Desk mapping"-- military rite of passage or urban legend?

I just finished reading "Official Privilege" by P.T. Deutermann. It's a creative murder novel about a coverup of a philandering admiral's peccadilloes leading to the deaths of two junior officers. Not bad-- I'll probably track down the rest of his books and read them someday.

In this story his hero is on Pentagon duty, where the dramatic tension comes from dealing with various admiral's staffs. Deutermann has characterized flag officer's executive aides, even the human ones, as a pack of vicious little Machiavellis. They're all senior O-6s bucking for their own stars while they're expected to go to great lengths (perhaps short of murder or conspiracy) to keep their own flags looking good. Sometimes the flag officers put their EAs through little plebe tortures to see if they're worthy of joining the club. These unflattering portraits might come from the author's personal experience-- Deutermann's a retired 26-year Navy O-6 with several 1970s/80s Pentagon tours, including his own EA billet. Many of his family have been Navy too, so I'm sure he's heard a lot of sea stories.

I saw some pretty silly things while I was on a flag staff, but I've never heard of Deutermann's practice of "desk mapping":
Dan had been astonished one duty night when he had observed the EA performing his final chore for the evening, known as "desk mapping". When the admiral was through for the day he would simply get up and walk out of the office to his official car. The EA was then expected to go into the admiral's office, draw a quick map of where every folder, letter, or staff paper physically lay on the large desk, stack everything away in a safe for the night, and then reconstitute the desk the next morning, using the map, putting every paper right back where the great man had left it the night before.
"Being an EA is a rite of passage", Dan's co-worker observed, "and the admirals are pretty ruthless about it. You want to be an admiral like me, see if you can cut it as my EA. And you better be very damn good at it. If you are then we'll think about making you one of us."
The author's description could just be a plot device to make the EAs look like a bunch of martinets, not that they needed much help to achieve that distinction. Or this urban legend could have a basis in reality. I'd hate to think that a Pentagon flag read Deutermann's book and thought "Hey, what a great idea..."

We probably don't have many former EAs on this board... but have any of you veterans ever actually seen or even had to do something like this?


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Old 12-06-2010, 01:12 PM   #2
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Not an EA, but I worked for a 2-star during my Pentagon tour (late 80s) and I sure never saw or heard about anything that chicken$#!t.

Of course, that was the Air Force. Navy may have been different.
Come to think of it, the Navy is different, isn't it?

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Old 12-06-2010, 03:01 PM   #3
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Never heard of desk mapping - but worked a lot with XO's etc for 4-stars, 3-stars, etc. They have a thankless job - keeping up with the politics of their boss and dealing with toadies trying to see their boss and suck up - and with the less-than-smart. They all develop the blank face (no emotion), tense approach, cut short the conversation, keep an eye on the email before it overflows, listen for what the boss wants, don't sleep much, have no weekends, try not to burn out after a year and hope that their boss gives them that #1 promotion rating......

And at that four star level, it's all about delivering and competing in a collegial way - and consequently driving your staff to those ends....although in between, there are those who have their own agendas......

Best line I heard - right after OEF/OIF started, a two star at a MAJCOM had been assigned to the Pentagon, he drawled to his colleague he'd rather be going to AFPAK/Iraq than the Pentagon - too many stars at the Pentagon and no real action......
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