A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... wait, wrong franchise. Of course, now JJ Abrams is directing both, so... Anyway...
I used to be active in the International Star Trek Fan Association, also known as STARFLEET. I joined for the first time in 1993, and after a period of lapsed membership rejoined for good in 1999 and participated in the founding of what I truly believe is one of the most unique chapters in that organization's history. USS Ark Angel was something to see in action. For those of you who are uninitiated in such things, a quick trip to www.sfi.org can give some insight, but the organization has chapters that are named for fictional starships or space stations, and the members carry organizational rank within the chapters in recognition of their service to said chapter. The president and vice president of each chapter carry the title "Commanding Officer" and "Executive Officer" and are free to create titles for their members to hold as part of the chapter staff.
The freedom of each chapter to operate as it sees fit can be said to be the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of STARFLEET at the same time. On one hand, it embraces the philosophy of IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) so often touted by Trek fans of the older school. It allows each chapter to be whatever it wants to be as long as it turns in reports on time and has ten dues-paid members. On the other hand, it means that aside from these two requirements, no chapter has anything else asked of it. This allows for chapters with individually tailored tastes and focus, but it also allows for chapters with a distinct lack of focus - and as I will discuss in this article or series thereof, lack of focus is a dangerous precedent if one wishes to have a successful organization.
Long story short, from 1999-2008 I was active. VERY active. To the point my wife considered herself a STARFLEET widow. During that time I served as a CO, an XO, a Marine unit commander and Marine unit Sergeant Major. I went beyond chapter duties and served as Brigade Commander over the states of Texas and Louisiana, as a Branch Director for the STARFLEET Marine Corps Academy creating courses and exams and grading them, as a Deputy Chief of Staff to Region Three (again, Texas and Louisiana) and later Vice Regional Coordinator South. During this time I was recognized with every service award Region Three had to offer all the way up to the now deprecated Polaris Award 2nd Order, of which I only know of about five recipients over the course of the decade. I was promoted into the flag grades, rising to Fleet Captain, then Commodore, and finally to Rear Admiral before my semi-retirement in 2008.
Why do I bring all this up? Well, it's not to dazzle you with my STARFLEET club rank or awards. I bring it up to establish a baseline for future discussion. You see, I was at the time and until quite recently absolutely baffled as to why I kept getting promoted, and issued these service awards. In my head, I was just doing the jobs I was elected or appointed to do. In that paradigm, I don't see the point of showering someone with accolades for doing a competent job. An exemplary job, sure. An amazing job - absolutely. But as far as I was concerned, all I was doing was the common-sense requirements of the posts to which I was assigned.
Only in the last six months have I begun to believe that I was terribly mistaken in this belief, and that I was selling myself short. You see, it's all my mother's fault. I say that in jest, and with no ill will toward my Mom, but it was recently pointed out to me by Dr. Lisa that all my life I have been surrounded by people who are above the curve. Mom can paint, draw, sew, decorate cakes and arrange flowers and do all of these things at a professional proficiency. She tends to go into a job, organize the hell out of everything, and square things away. I've seen her do it at several of her jobs. She basically runs Catoosa County, GA after a few years working in the clerical staff. From glorified secretary to being allowed to trigger the explosives for the highway construction project she's now in charge of, Mom was an overachiever and a perfectionist at everything when I was growing up. I learned that good enough was never good enough, and that above and beyond was adequate. Couple this with being blessed with an above-average imagination and IQ. I was placed in gifted classes in the first grade, and stayed there until graduating High School. I gravitated toward others like me, or in many cases they gravitated to me. I never really gave it much thought before, but I've been something of a leader figure in almost all aspects of my life for as long as I can remember. On Facebook this week, one of my old elementary school friends, Richard, made the comment that I was "COMMANDER of the playground" in third and fourth grade at Robertson Elementary. Looking back, what I did on that playground is not so different from game mastering or running a LARP. I organized my fellow kiddos into scenarios based on the television series "V" and we played out the conflicts between the Visitors and the Resistance, complete with lizard makeup consisting of green marker and masking tape as tearaway skin. None of that seemed out of the ordinary to me, but Dr. Lisa starting putting my recollections together and noticed a pattern. In Middle School I founded my first Star Trek fan club along with some other uber-geeks. We came up with ship manuals, regulations, and even scratch uniforms. We discoverd Dungeons and Dragons, Battletech, and the Star Trek Roleplaying Game, among others. I joined the Boy Scouts and was a patrol leader before I could make it past 2nd Class. I was an SPL for a while as well. All without really looking for the job.
In High School I excelled in Marine Corps JROTC. I was Battalion XO my senior year, despite having started the first day of school as a Cadet Staff Sergeant due to being on the wrong side of one of our instructor's bad days and getting busted out of my lieutenancy late in my junior year. The high school incarnation of our Star Trek club did some amazing things, including marching in a parade in Georgetown in our Trek uniforms. Oh, I miss those Monster Maroons.
After graduation, I went to college and joined the Army ROTC at University of Texas and worked toward my commission as an honest-to-God officer. It was here that I hit my first brick wall - sleep apnea. I was medically disqualified from picking up the ROTC scholarship that should have finished my degree and started my career. I was crushed. I got lazy, and put on weight... and before the ink had dried on my medical disqualification I was starting a Battletech-based club called the Caladan Highland Dragoons. We were the largest Battletech club I'd ever heard of, with over thirty members at our peak, and were organized into a short battalion of two companies with a GM staff. The stories were EPIC, folks. It was good times, and I made friends that I still talk to and roll dice with to this day. I was married in my CHD dress uniform. My best men were my XO and our Sergeant Major.
The CHD fell apart when we discovered LARPing. Instead of one big team of 30 MechWarriors, Amtgard gave everyone the opportunity to become a boffer-wielding hero in their own right. The group fractured, but we all played Amtgard for several years. Once again, I ended up becoming a leader. I had a park of my own to be Baron of, a noble household and became squired to the king. I founded the Army of the Celestial Kingdom and we had a successful engagement or two. I hear the ACK is still going in Amtgard. My wife hated the Amtgard culture around here - too much drinking and drugs mixed in with the contact sport. It didn't help that the first overnight event I took her to involved a knifing and someone staggering in front of a car and getting hit. Ugh. So it was out of Amtgard for me... and on to STARFLEET.
When we formed the USS Ark Angel, I constructed the chapter the only way I knew how. I drew on my experiences of what the "proper" way to run a chapter should be. We had a fairly rigid organizational structure, a promotion system that made advancement tough, and consequently more valued when it did occur. We stressed military bearing and snap when in persona and in uniform. We went on to win chapter of the year every second year more or less for six to eight years. Our Marine unit got organizational (international) unit of the year twice in a row, a feat not done before or since by any other single unit. We had officers of the year, volunteers of the year, newsletters of the year, etc. We raised almost two thousand dollars (actually, $1889, our NCC number) for the Battleship Texas foundation. We became the defacto color guard for Region Three. In short, we rocked.
Then it all came apart. The death of my grandfather in 2006 started my mental slide away from being as hard core as I had been from '99 up until that point. I spent two years lame ducking it even as I ascended to Regional leadership positions. The political jockying that screwed me over later just cemented my decision to go into a sort of retirement, and sadly the politics and bullshit broke the back of the most impressive organization I have the honor of having lead. There are members who will never again look at STARFLEET as something fun or desirable to be a part of. A few monumentally bad leaders destroyed what could have been the sharpest command team in the history of Region Three...
But none of that was to be. And to be honest, it all turned out for the best. I'm a dad now, and a college graduate. Would I have been able to complete those goals if I was working overtime on STARFLEET regional organizational stuff? I've also got to admit that the current RC is precisely what Region Three needed to clean up the mess left by the last two RCs. One was a micromanager, the other was... You know, it's been five years and I still don't know how to describe precisely how unsuited to leadership this person was. It was impressive. And now that I've begun... the story is bound to come out. In any case, the current Regional Coordinator of Region Three at the time of this writing is Commodore Reed Bates. She was just what R3 needed. Reed has a keen eye for rules and organization, and considering the mess that was the Regional records, finances and staff what was needed was a crack organizer who wasn't afraid to dismiss people who weren't pulling their weight. That's what she did - cleaned up the town. Now there's a bunch of new faces on the Regional staff, and that's partially what lured me back.
Oh, there I go. The point of this whole damn post. Bobby Dean, currently the head of the Battletech club that's been active since 2008 - The Royal Dragoon Guards - has not only decided to become a member of STARFLEET, but to initiate the creation of a new chapter of STARFLEET consisting for the moment of members of the RDG who wish to be affiliated with the Fleet. We're calling the chapter USS Texas, and she'll be a battleship vessel built in the time of Captain Archer and NX-01 as a response to the Xindi threat, and that of the Klingons and Romulans. I thought I had put leadership in the Fleet behind me, and moved on to other things, but damnit, Star Trek runs in my blood. I've been a Trekker as long as I can remember, and the thought of Trek-flavored roleplaying has me unshelving many old FASA books and writing all kinds of plot in my head. I'm looking at garb, I'm only 30lbs from my TXSG goal weight, and soon I could be wearing a STARFLEET uniform alongside my ACUs. In short... I'm jazzed. Excited. Elated.
There are risks, though. Amtgard destroyed the original Highland Dragoons. STARFLEET came when I stopped playing Amtgard. The Royal Dragoons replaced the 342nd Marine Strike Group (part of the Ark Angel) when I retired from Fleet in 2008. I do not wish to see the RDG go away. If it becomes an aspect of the USS Texas, or vice versa, that would be awesome. I never intended the RDG to be a completely separate entity to begin with - but circumstances warranted that at the time. I suppose we'll tell that story, too, as all of this develops.
In short, Bobby Dean will soon be commissioned Commander Bobby Dean of the USS Texas. He'll need an XO, and I've agreed to serve. Although STARFLEET will no doubt continue to send me emails and address me by the two star rank they gave me back in the day, I am absolutely content to be Lieutenant Commander Webb as befits the XO of a chapter in shakedown (the first nine months of a chapter's formation) along with Master Chief Baum as part of the tripartite command team. You'll notice we're the same team that leads the RDG as Battalion Commander, XO and Sergeant Major. This is intentional, as we want the Fleet and Battletech aspects of the club to be two different skins or feels to the same group of people. In effect, we'll each have a persona for each side of the house, except for the folks who are absolutely against having anything to do with STARFLEET. At present, there are two of them out of 14 or so. I honestly hope we can show them that Fleet does have a point, and that it will be a hell of a good time.
I'm off now to read up on Trek gaming, and get some much-needed sleep. I think in addition to my normal musings about parenthood, gaming and the like I'll add a goal to tell the story of the rise and fall of my Fleet experience, and chronicle the launch and subsequent commissioning of the battleship USS Texas as a STARFLEET chapter.
Live Long, and Prosper my friends.