Adam Gopnik was recently on CNN with Fareed Zakaria discussing the place of the humanities in our world. It was a conversation that continues the recent debate aboutr the U.S. education system and the role of STEM. It also is a mirror to the discussion of officer education and training in the U.S. Navy, albeit somewhat inverted. While the discussion of U.S. education at large is one of too few science, technology, engineering, and math students and practitioners, in the Navy we face an officer corps where STEM educated officers are by far the majority, and according to policy will only become more dominant. But Gopnik said something that caught my attention: “We need the humanities … because we are human.”
The statement reminded me of a conversation I recently had with a Captain in the Pentagon. Following the relief of yet another Commanding Officer, for a leadership mistake that seemed obvious to us, the Captain asked how come, after 238 years of naval history, we haven’t figured this out? We all know what good leadership is, we all know not to be a toxic leader, and doesn’t it all seem so simple? It’s reminiscent of a letter Admiral Hyman Rickover wrote to the editor of Proceedings in 1981. For Rickover, the engineer’s mind could not fathom why people didn’t simply follow the procedure, put the inputs into the equation and get the guaranteed result. There was no need, he wrote, for Proceedings to ever publish another article on leadership. Good leadership was a settled matter.
The reason, of course, is that we’re talking about human beings, complete with all of our frailties, failings, and free will. One of the great truisms of military leadership is that our people are our greatest strength, or our most valuable asset. It’s repeated time and time again. Today Chief of Naval Operations Greenert tells us that “Our power comes from our folks, the attributes and their skill which they bring.” A century ago Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote that having a good Navy “consists not so much in the building of ships and guns as it does in the possession of trained men.” Is it true? I certainly think so. But if people matter, we’re not talking simply about end-strength numbers or rack space in berthing. We’re talking about humans. And because we’re talking about leading, working with, partnering with, and eventually even fighting other humans…we need the humanities.
Cultural understanding, emotional intelligence and empathy are fundamental parts of good leadership, and also a part of modern naval concepts like international partnerships. They come from experience. It is my great hope, however, that I will never have to experience all of the trials and challenges my fellow sailors face in life in order to help them. What a tragic life that could be. Instead, I’d rather read my share of Shakespeare, Hemingway, or O’Brian, which might help me learn a thing or two about emotion and about the way people face different challenges in their lives, even at sea. Reading the biographies of great leaders, the histories of battles both large and small, and the classics of strategy, helps me learn from the mistakes and successes of others rather than have to learn only from my own multitude of mistakes.
Many of you right now are thinking, sure but will it give me practical answers? No. Will it help me on my next tactics quiz or NATOPS closed book test? No. And that’s not the point. Empathy is not about perfect answers; it’s about finding a place to begin understanding each other and finding a way to connect. Without that connection, leadership is purely a matter of positional authority. Of course, only barking out orders is one of the worst ways to be a leader. The goal is leadership where, as one of Lord Admiral Nelson’s officers once said, “we all wish to do what he likes, without any kind of orders.” And if you remember that the enemy gets a vote, then the human mind will also play a role in how they formulate that decision.
Admiral Harvey was simply wrong when he told CDR Salamander and Eagle One on Midrats that “this is not a business for poets.” (Actually, his friend ADM James Stavridis, counters the idea directly since he studied English literature instead of engineering as a Midshipman.) It is true that we do need practical answers sometimes though. When running a nuclear plant, the Admiral is of course right that we need technical experts who can give the definite answer. But technical knowledge and execution are only a part of my job as an officer. (And, incidentally, something that Nuclear Power School has taught lots of historians and English majors.) If half of my job is working with other humans, why should I only study science and machines? Shouldn’t we have balanced officers, able to integrate the human and the technical? In order to have that, we must educate in a balanced way as well.
In the critical scene in Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad’s classic novel of the maritime world in the late 19th century, the Second Engineer of the tramp steamer Patna comes up to the bridge from below, long after dark as they head across the Gulf of Aden. The novel’s anti-hero Jim repeatedly checks the clock, as the final minutes of his bridge watch tick down (a moment we all know and identify with). The Engineer and the Captain, who had just come to the bridge in his pajamas, begin to argue about the role that Engineers should play at sea. Without them the ship wouldn’t even move, and they could pretty much take care of all the responsibilities aboard ship, exclaims the engineer. The Captain argues back about the importance of seamanship and command, both men likely having had a nip from the bottle. Jim, paying attention to the amusing give and take, feels the ship give a shudder. Patna struck something in the water. The officers, distracted by their argument and the sudden fear that Patna will sink, abandon ship.
I can’t help feel like the scene tells us something about the debate over officer education. We need both. We need engineers to provide technical expertise and their particular way of approaching problems and we also need a balance of line officers who have studied humans and human interaction, who have studied the humanities. We need diversity. But maybe most importantly, we need both of them to stop arguing with each other and stop maneuvering for position. Stop making official policies that benefit their tribe and take us further out of balance. Stop thinking that only they and their type is what our navy and our nation need.
It’s time to drive the ship. The issue is on the table, but instead of tribal preservation we must figure out how to bring balance back to the Navy, to educate officers and integrate the technical specialist’s skills with the strategic thinking and leadership lessons of the humanities and social sciences. Instead of piecemeal decisions and salami slicing policy, we need a holistic vision. It is time for an official and comprehensive look at the kind of naval officer we need in the 21st century, and how our system develops those officers. If we neglect our professional responsibilities the tragic victims may not be our service, but instead the passengers we abandon: the American people. It’s time to stop arguing at the back of the bridge and start looking outside. It’s time to focus on our profession. We’re headed toward a collision.
Over the coming decade, the US Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ships will be fully operational, and as we examine their designs and technological innovation, today’s episode takes us back in time to visit the newest ships of the 1750s and 1890s, some of them littoral in nature. We also head into the restoration and modeling shop of the Naval Academy museum for an up-close look at the efforts to preserve and expand the Naval Academy’s precious collection of model ships, and thus document our naval heritage.
From the 1890s until World War II, the Navy witnessed tremendous technological development. Wooden ships ceased to exist. The airplane was invented and became mainstream, and submarines entered broad use world-wide. During this same period and with the same rapidity, the Navy (and the rest of the world’s navies like Japan) adopted wireless communication, completely changing the way navies fought battles and coordinated movements. Wireless technology directly impacted the course of all future conflicts, particularly WWII, with interceptions of German and Japanese communications leading to key Allied victories. To this day, wireless communication technology continues to develop and change at incredible speed.
The Marine Corps Times and the Commandant of the Marine Corps have been in the news together recently, and not in a good way. After hearing sketchy details at work about integrity issues, whistleblowers, and biased reporting, and seeing the associated headlines, I finally spent time doing some catch-up reading to figure out what was actually happening. As a result I am now completely confused, and given the questionable coverage, bizarre headlines, and the “he said-she said” nature of it all, I’m probably not alone.
The news cycle started with the reporting surrounding the video that surfaced in 2012 of Marines urinating on Taliban corpses. The incident and subsequent official investigation garnered attention, and the news cycle continued with stories about unlawful command influence and who did or did not make specific statements to others about the investigation. This winter, media coverage veered off into the bizarre with allegations that the removal of the Marine Corps Times from the front shelves of PXs around the world was a purposeful act directed at the paper by a vengeful Commandant’s Office. The reporting of the incidents in question is, of course, mainly performed by the Marine Corps Times and published by the same; as far as professional publications go, Foreign Affairs it isn’t. I don’t know that stating that “the Commandant’s Office punted all questions” is a shining example of unbiased, objective reporting. To be honest, I haven’t heard too much grumbling from fellow Marines over the stories; those I spoke to seemed as unaware as I was about the details of the stories in question. It seemed like the kind of background noise and drama that Marines avoid.
But the articles, however biased they may be, are disturbing for their existence if nothing else. Why are we reading about the diverging statements of top Marine generals? Why does it seem like the Commandant’s office has a message problem? Is the Marine Corps Times stirring the pot in order to report on legitimate problems? Or is the paper, in the words of the Commandant’s office, hoping to undermine good order and discipline by broadcasting stories that question the integrity of a sitting Commandant and cast doubt upon his abilities?
(One article in particular left me thinking that I had forgotten how to read the English language. A Marine Corps Times reporter interviewed four Public Affairs Officers, but I really can’t tell if any of the questions were answered in the process. Give it a try here and let me know what you figure out.)
In wading through the mess, one point jumped out: the Marine Corps is creating an OPT to help decide what should be placed near the front of Marine Corps exchanges. We are going to have “focus groups,” “discussions,” and “an ongoing process” in order to conduct a “holistic,” “comprehensive review.” (All this from the same article).
What is going on here? Have we completely lost our way? We are at war and the Marine Corps is in a spitting contest with a JV paper over where that paper is placed in the PX? We’re cutting funding by the pantload, trying to refocus a force after over a decade of conflict, and are spending money and energy creating an OPT to figure out what should go near the front of the PX? This entire exercise seems way beneath the dignity of the Commandant’s office. Figuring out the PX layout and products should be number 800 on his priority list. What am I missing?
The message we are sending to our Marines with this mess is not pretty. It resembles the ugliness and distractions of politics. It reminds me of what my kids do when they are trying to keep me from discovering the indelible marker drawings on the wall or the candy they hid under their pillows. I am honestly not sure where the blame lies for this situation, but I hope for our own sake we recover quickly and move on to the 799 items that are more worthy of our attention as a service.
CAPT Rodgers, former CO of the USS PONCE Afloat Forward Staging Base, discusses how his ad-hoc crew of Sailors and civilian mariners plucked a 40 year old ship from decommissioning’s doorstep and turned it into the most in-demand platform in the Arabian Gulf.
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All images from CAPT Rodgers’ unclassified post-deployment presentation on USS PONCE.
Commander Robert Peary made eight polar excursions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. On each one of these, he was accompanied by Matthew Henson. However, whereas Perry received wide-spread acclaim, Henson spent most of his life in relative anonymity because he was African-American. Nevertheless, Henson’s contributions to polar exploration were tremendous, and he is now remembered as one of the great American polar explorers.
In 1927, young Army Air Corps reservist Charles Lindbergh was catapulted to international fame when he won the $25,000 Orteig prize for the first solo New York to Paris flight. Months later, he published a book on his life, exploits, and his views on aviation. Today we feature one of two authors copies that were signed by Lindbergh himself, one which was presented to his friend and benefactor, Harry Guggenheim. Although not a Navy pilot, Lindbergh nevertheless had a tremendous impact on both naval aviation and the U.S. space program.
What direction do we need to go for our next maritime strategy? Using the recent article, Control of the Seas, as our starting point, our guest for the full hour will be Seth Cropsey, Senior Fellow and director of Hudson Institute’s Center for American Seapower.
He served in government at the Defense Department as Assistant to the SECDEF Caspar Weinberger and then as Deputy Undersecretary of the Navy in the Reagan and Bush administrations, where he was responsible for the Navy’s position on efforts to reorganize DoD, development of the maritime strategy, the Navy’s academic institutions, naval special operations, and burden-sharing with NATO allies. In the Bush administration, Cropsey moved to OSD to become acting assistant secretary, and then principal deputy assistant SECDEF for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict.
U.S. Navy photo by OSSN Andrew L. Clark
During the period that preceded the collapse of the USSR—from 1982 to 1984—Cropsey directed the editorial policy of the Voice of America on the Solidarity movement in Poland, Soviet treatment of dissidents, and other issues. Returning to public diplomacy in 2002 as director of the US government’s International Broadcasting Bureau, Cropsey supervised the agency as successful efforts were undertaken to increase radio and television broadcasting to the Muslim world.
Cropsey’s work in the private sector includes reporting for Fortune magazine and as a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and as director of the Heritage Foundation’s Asia Studies Center from 1991-94.
His articles have been published in the Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, Foreign Affairs, Commentary magazine, RealClear World, and others.
Join us live or pick up the show later by clicking here.
Innovation is about more than just coming up with new ideas. It is about personal interactions and developing relationships between people and organizations who have a desire to improve warfighter capabilities. Forward thinking organizations cannot exist in a vacuum but must learn from each other in both substance and style.
Last week, the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) traveled to San Diego, and met various some groups of disruptive thinkers and doers in the area. They visited a number of different innovative organizations and met men and women who had the courage to think and act differently from the status quo. These included a Grassroots science and technology (S&T) organization of young scientists and engineers at SPAWAR Systems Center, Pacific (SSC PAC) and an innovation forum organized by the sailors of the USS BENFOLD known as the Athena Project. In each of these organizations the CRIC saw individuals who had a vision and the courage to act on it, able to effect a positive and beneficial change to whatever field they were working in.
SSC PAC is the premier organization for developing naval command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) technologies. They have some of the best minds in the country advancing this field, but they are often not directly aware of warfighter needs. Along the same lines, warfighters are not technologists. They do not necessarily know what is within the realm of the possible from a scientific standpoint, and so might not fully understand what they can ask for. Under the leadership of Dr. Josh Kvavle, SSC PAC’s recently created Grassroots S&T group is working to bridge this technologist-to-warfighter gap and bring solutions to the Fleet faster.
The CRIC was also able to showcase a project led by LT Josh Steinman at the AFCEA West Conference. LT Steinman is working with Google to develop shipboard applications for Google Glass, and leverage its ease and portability to allow sailors easy access to information while performing tasks onboard ship. ADM Harris, Commander Pacific Fleet, utilized the Google Glass owned by the CRIC and SSCPAC as a prompter during his keynote address at AFCEA West. He demonstrated the ease of use and its wide range of applicability, and addressed the need for the Navy to develop and incorporate new technologies and ideas.
Another event the CRIC attended was the Athena Project. The Athena Project is an ongoing innovation forum started by the officers and sailors of the USS BENFOLD aimed at providing junior leaders on the ship the opportunity to present ideas and solutions to problems they are passionate about. The goal is to provide a venue where anyone, regardless of rank or position, can present their idea and be given serious consideration by an engaged audience. A set number of presenters are each given five minutes to present their idea to the audience, followed by a five minute question and answer period. At the end of each presentation, the audience votes on the idea, judging its quality, actionability, and presentation.
After presentations are finished, the votes are tallied, and the winner is awarded the Admiral Sim’s Award for Intellectual Courage. Recognition alone is not the reason behind the Athena Project. The real reward is the winner being given full permission and command backing to form a small functional team to put the idea into action during the following quarter. Since the Athena Project has started hosting innovation forums, they have grown from a mere 20 participants from a single ship’s company to an event with over 100 participants from multiple commands with onlookers from industry and academia.
The level of initiative and professionalism shown by the presenters was inspiring. Each one had taken time to research an idea they were passionate about and present it, understanding the possibility of failure., the winner of the Admiral Sim’s award at this event was an idea presented by LT Nobles and LTJG O’Donnell to pair sailors and scientists in order to foster direct communication between warfighters and the developers of their equipment. This was perfectly aligned with the goals of SSC PAC’s Grassroots S&T group. LT Nobles and LTJG O’Donnell will be developing their idea over the next quarter.
The Athena Project and other initiatives such as SPAWAR’s Grassroots S&T Group constitute the some of the best junior leaders currently in the Navy. These Sailors and civilians are forming themselves and making connections together now that will serve them as they become the future senior leadership in the Navy. These initiatives are not only important now, but are a key to ensuring the future of the Navy as an adaptable, mobile fighting force.
In the midst of political battles in Washington, D.C., dramatic cuts to military spending from the sequester and continuing resolutions, and the now infamous government shutdown of 2013, a group of military officers, enlisted, government civilians and men and women from industry gathered in Chicago last fall. The Defense Entrepreneurs Forum was held at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business to bring together innovators from the junior ranks of the military, senior officers with experience and advice, and experienced entrepreneurs who had come from the ranks to make a difference. Speakers ranged from Silicon Valley gurus, to military officers, and even one history geek. It was an inspiring event, and helped to stoke the embers of innovation that have been a central part of American military success time and again, through the ages.
This spring the opportunity is presenting itself again. This time, it’s closer to home for the decision makers in D.C. and the think tank crowd, as well as the U.S. Naval Institute. Not far from where the last Liberty Tree once stood, the gathering place for a previous generation of upstarts and thinkers, DEF[x] Annapolis will be held on 1 March, 2014 on the campus of St. John’s College. Bringing together the ideals of intellectual inquiry represented by St. John’s unique curriculum, the promise of military service from the U.S. Naval Academy, and a proximity to the movers and shakers in Washington, D.C., the speakers, breakouts, and social events show a lot of promise. Some of the events will be sponsored by organizations like Unleashed Technologies and USNI. The list of TED-style talks slated for this one day event are likely to be just as inspiring and informative as Chicago, including successful military innovators, operators, and again, at least one history geek.
If you’re looking to learn a little bit more about innovation in the U.S. military, about successful entrepreneurs, or about operators who have tried something new in the field, this will be the place to be on Saturday, 1 March. Even if you’re just looking for an excuse to escape the beltway and see historic Annapolis, it’s worth the short drive. Registration is limited and the seats are filling up quickly, so click through to sign up.
“Our objective must not be “safety first” in the sense of adherence to already tested practices and implements, but safety first in being the first to recognize, the first to experiment with, and the first to adopt improvements of distinct military value.” – Admiral William S. Sims, 1921.
In an era of defense draw down, technological acceleration, and globalized connections, doing the “same old, same old” is not an acceptable answer. Come join some folks who are interested in trying new things, and looking for creative solutions.