McCain Said: Pay Attention When You Are TIRED!

I’m not talking about Senator John McCain; I’m talking about his dad – Admiral John McCain.

Admiral McCain taught me one of the most important lessons that I ever learned – and I suspect that it might even be a “skill.”

Pay Attention When You Are TIRED!

It was a long time ago and I was enduring plebe summer along with about 1300 of my classmates at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. Typically the days were long and filled with all sorts of drills, academics, physical training, and the like. Toward the end of the day, we were all so very tired.

After the evening meal, we generally had to all assemble in a large auditorium and listen to a lecture. Sometimes the lectures were interesting – sometimes they were not.

This particular lecture featured Admiral John McCain as the speaker, and the topic was “Naval Ethics.”

Now you can imagine how “interesting” that topic must have been to 1300 very tired plebes – but you should also appreciate that there is quite a difference between an Admiral in the US Navy and a Midshipman Plebe at the Naval Academy – about as high as you can go – and as low as you can go.

Since it was near the end of plebe summer, we all had acquired a skill of sitting rather attentively through these lectures with our eyes wide open – but our minds somewhere off in dreamland.

The Admiral started his lecture and soon it appeared that “Naval Ethics” was going to be as interesting as we suspected, so most of us settled back in our chairs, opened our eyes, and faded away.

About five minutes into the lecture, the Admiral stopped, and said in a loud voice, “Wake that young man up back there!”

And he pointed his finger in several directions at us.

You can imagine the shock that swept through the room.

All of the plebes immediately woke up and assumed that the Admiral was not only talking to them specifically, but his finger was pointed directly at them.

The Admiral then walked out behind the podium and took the mike on a wire with him – walking up to the edge of the stage.

The auditorium was filled with a deafening silence.

Then the Admiral began to speak softly to us.

For the next five or ten minutes, he told us that during our Naval service, there would be times when we would be exhausted and very tired. During those times, it might happen that we would need to listen to some operational orders for some sort of mission on which we were about to embark.

He told us that it would be very difficult for us at that time – because we were tired and exhausted – to listen carefully what was being said.

He told us that either ours or our shipmates’ lives might depend on how attentive we were.

Then he said,“Thank you, gentlemen. Carry on.”

And he left the stage.

The auditorium was dead silent, but I will wager that every plebe in the room absorbed every word the Admiral spoke about attentiveness.

This is a lesson that I learned a long time ago – I’m not sure if it is a “skill” or not, but rest assured – I will NEVER forget it.

Thank you, Admiral McCain!


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