How much fun is DRB? It kind of depends…

Ship's Chief Petty Officers of USS Fulton (AS-1) photographed on board the ship at the New London submarine base, New London, Connecticut, in 1919. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ship%27s_Chief_Petty_Officers_of_USS_Fulton_(AS-1).jpg
Chiefs who will sit your DRB. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Hey there loyal readers, fans, and people I am blackmailing to increase my readership.  Welcome back to Sea Stories and Other Lies.  Today I am answering another question from a reader just like yourself… well, hopefully not exactly like yourself.  Today’s question comes from Randall in Norfolk (of course it comes from Norfolk).

He writes:  Dear Rob,  Last night I went out to the bar with some friends.  I won’t go into the details (I don’t really remember them anyway), but suffice it to say, when I woke up I discovered that I was on the wrong ship and it was underway.  After a complicated helicopter flight back to my ship I was informed that I have to go to DRB.  What can I expect at DRB?  How should I prepare?

Thanks for the question.  It’s sailors like you, Randall, who keep me in business.  Before we dive into this question, let’s give some explanation.  A disciplinary review board (DRB) is an investigative part of the Navy’s non-judicial punishment process.  The board consists of a number of chief petty officers who ask questions, gather information, and forward recommendations to the executive officer and commanding officer concerning violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?  Unfortunately, like so many things in the Navy (getting OC sprayed comes to mind) things are not as simple as they sound.  Don’t worry, Randall.  It’s not really a big deal.  Which of us, having spent any time in the Navy, hasn’t found themselves underway on the wrong ship as result of a night of hard drinking?  I’m lying, of course.  This is a really big deal and however much you are worrying about it, it’s probably not enough.

Being late to work (unauthorized absence or UA) is a pretty big deal in the Navy.  If you are an hour late to work, you are going to be in a bit of trouble.  If the ship is gone when you get there then you are going to be in a lot of trouble.  If you are late to work because you are accidentally underway on another ship… well, now you are in unexplored territory.

Falling asleep on the wrong ship is a rarity in the Navy.  A rarity, but not unheard of.  Occasionally nesting ships (ships that are moored side by side) can have a problem.  A friend of mine, let’s call him Roy, once stumbled across the quarterdeck of the inboard (pierside) ship and just went below deck instead of crossing over to his own ship.  The next morning he awoke, in what would have been his own bunk, had he been on his own ship, with the actual owner of the bunk asleep on the deck (floor).  This is because the previous night Roy, who is built like the offspring of an NFL linebacker and a terminator, found “his bunk” occupied.  He then proceeded to throw (literally) the “intruder” to the floor.  This poor guy awoke midair and concluded that the deck he landed on was comfortable enough, as he watched this human gorilla climb into his bunk.  Fortunately, Roy did not find himself underway that morning and ended up becoming good friends with the guy he accosted.  So, in this case, it was a happy ending. 

Whether or not you enjoy DRB depends on what your role is.  There are three possible rolls at a DRB: the accused, the bailiff, or a member of the board.  Since Randall’s likely role will be as the accused, it will not be a whole lot of fun.  In fact it’s going to be a lot worse than that.  It’s going to be stressful, humiliating, and probably one of the worst experiences you will have in the Navy.  The best way to prepare is to ask your mother-in-law to point out all your flaws.

The bailiff is not going to be having a ton of fun either.  This is because the bailiff is going to spend the whole time standing right next to the accused to make sure he doesn’t try to strangle the chiefs (which he will want to do at some point).  On the upside, as the bailiff, you get to hear all the dirt dished out during the DRB.  Unfortunately, because of the sensitive nature of this information, you are not permitted to talk about anything you hear at DRB until you have had at least 4 alcoholic beverages.

The best job to have at DRB is to be one of the chiefs on the board.  Hands down, this is far better than the other options.  For one thing, the chiefs have chairs.  Also they have the solemn responsibility to find out the truth and guide the accused toward good judgment and humility.  This is normally accomplished by a lot of yelling.

I’m not going to lie, DRB can be a lot of fun if you are a chief.  Let’s say you are having a bad day.  You only got 2 ½ hours of sleep last night, your division just screwed up the weekly maintenance, and you just found out all your kids need braces (which is not covered by Tricare).  Just when you think you can’t take anymore now you have to deal with a seaman apprentice who thought it would be funny (which it was) to steal all the penguins from SeaWorld and put them in the XO’s stateroom.  Your mounting stress and  frustration has just found an extraordinary release and all in the service of the U.S. Navy.

There are different ways to approach this.  Some just like to yell at the accused.  Others like to play the nice (ish) guy and ask questions.  My favorite was the passive aggressive route.  I liked to ask a lot of leading questions and see how long it took for contradictions to develop, then let one of the yellers take over.  There is no wrong way to do a DRB, as long as you are pursuing the truth it’s all good.

In your case, Randall, it’s not going to be fun.  There are two possible outcomes.  You can get yelled at for an hour and be sent up to see the XO and CO for captain’s mast, or you can get yelled at for an hour and have the charges dropped and be assigned extra military instruction.  Given all the trouble you have caused, unless you also have recently discovered a cure for cancer, you are probably going to see the captain afterward.  The good news is that after your DRB, captain’s mast will feel like a vacation.

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