When I went through my Basic Course, one of the prior enlisted guys was a former submariner named Aaron, who had spent just over a decade serving in the fast-attack "boat" community in Norfolk, Groton, and at the schoolhouse in Saratoga Springs.
Whenever he heard members of our class moaning and groaning about anything, he took it in stride. "A bitching sailor is a happy sailor," he would always say.
"Huh?" Because it sounded so counterintuitive, I had to dig for some clarification on what he meant.
"I've spent years in the submarine community, where there's always a concern about sailors' mental health and a high suicide rate." He went on, "As an enlisted leader there, one thing you have to learn to discern is good old-fashioned grousing from something more serious. Bitching about work is just part of being a sailor...it's when things get quiet that you have to start worrying."
I always remembered Aaron's point, and of course it's stayed with me during the transition over from the active Navy to the Army National Guard.
As you might imagine, during the RISING WATER call-up, I got to hear plenty of bitching -- coldness, wetness, lack of adequate latrine facilities, mission creep, endless tasking, etc. Pretty much across the board, there was a lot of "out loud" complaining to be heard. But it came from a good-natured place, and there was nothing about it that ever worried me. People did it with hardly-concealed smiles on faces -- as I wrote a couple weeks ago, those are the missions that Guardsmen always say they want, and they mean it when they say it.
The same thing happens to no end during drill weekends. When things are too harried, there's griping about it. And when there are the inevitable periods of downtime (when you have to get, say, 45 people through a training evolution but can only take 8 at a time, it can't be helped), in roll the complaints about "why we're just standing around doing nothing."
I never worry when I hear that stuff -- just looking around, it's easy for me to see the people saying that don't really hate it. In fact, they love it -- they're catching each other up about their hometowns, their families, and they're doing what soldiers do best: they're telling stories.
I've been meaning to write this entry for a while (at least since the flood mobilization) but I want to emphasize that I think it has applications that go far beyond the military.
No matter whether it's your organization, your workplace, your family, or your drinking buddies that you're trying to take the pulse of, half the battle is the art of discerning what people are saying because they're really concerned about something versus what people are saying just because, well, they think they're supposed to.