Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on 30 Aug 2015 for Midrats Episode 295: “NATO Goes Back to Fundamentals” With Jorge Benitez:

From the Balitic to the Black Sea, the last year has seen the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) return to its roots – the defense of Europe from Russian aggression.

The names and players have changes significantly since a quarter century ago – but in many ways things look very familar.

To discuss NATO’s challenge in the East in the second decade of the 21st Century for the full hour will be Dr. Jorge Benitez.

Jorge is the Director of NATOSource and a Senior Fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

He specializes in NATO, European politics, and US national security. and previously served as Assistant for Alliance Issues to the Director of NATO Affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He has also served as a specialist in international security for the Department of State and the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis.

Dr. Benitez received his BA from the University of Florida, his MPP from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and his PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Join us live if you can, or pick the show up later by clicking here. Or you can also find the show later at our iTune page here.


This post originally appeared here, at Ms. In the Biz. It is re-posted with the author’s permission.

Before I moved to Los Angeles two years ago and started working in the entertainment industry, I had a totally different life as a Naval Officer running nuclear reactors on an aircraft carrier. It was a scary leap to leave all that behind and start a new career from scratch, but what I’ve found is that a lot of the skills I learned in my old career carry over to movie-making. Here are three fundamentals of Navy nuclear power that have helped me to find success as a filmmaker:Jackie-photo2

  1. Level of Knowledge

Whether you are making a movie or overseeing fission reactions, knowledge is power. That doesn’t mean you have to go spend thousands of dollars on a directing MFA before you can make a movie. I didn’t go to film school. But I study A LOT. I read every screenwriting and filmmaking book that’s recommended to me by someone I trust. When I’m working on a project I watch lots of similar movies for research. Every time I come across a how-to online or Q&A from someone I admire I take the time to read/watch. People share their hard earned lessons and advice and my ears are always open.

This all happens before I get on set. Like a captain needs to understand the full capability of their ship, as a director I need a thorough understanding of my set. I didn’t get that knowledge in film school, and while you can find definitions online, nothing is as good as hands on training. Spend time on sets. You’ll learn things each time and get to see how other people work so you can incorporate good habits and steer clear of bad ones.

  1. Preparation

Benjamin Franklin said it perfectly, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. Nothing is truer when it comes to making a movie. Aggressive preparation during pre-production will pay off dividends during the shoot. This is a lesson I learned from my previous shoot that I’m taking into my current film. Everything was smooth enough, but if I had spent more time thinking things out beforehand, I know I could have made a better film.

You are never going to have everything perfect, but you should never be kicking yourself about something not turning out the way you want because of lack of preparation. Murphy’s Law is taken to the nth degree when you’re ready to make your movie and if you aren’t prepared for plan A, having to flex to Plan B or C is going to be that much more difficult. Take the time to sit down with your DP and go over the shot list. Have a conversation with your AD before shooting so they know what you expect. Rehearse with your actors to allow them time to incorporate your notes on performance. Taking the time to have those conversations leads to…

  1. Watch-Team Backup

As a director you take words on a page and create an entire new physical world filled with people, places, and things for the screen. You cannot create this world alone, which is why trust in your team is so important.

You see people working together on projects over and over not because they are best friends (maybe they are), but because they have built trust, which is worth gold on set. As films get bigger, more and more has to be delegated and no one has the time to wonder if a task is getting done or not. You have to trust people to do their job, so choose wisely when hiring. The people you have a rapport with and who are enthusiastic about the project are the ones you want by your side. The backup between the director and their department heads is equally important because I believe a good idea can come from anywhere. That doesn’t mean I have to agree with that idea, but I want people to feel comfortable enough to make suggestions: lines, shots, set design, whatever it might be. I’m not on set to be a dictator; I’m there to lead a team of people who all have the common goal of turning the best version of the script into the best version of the film.


This speech was sent to us from Kuwait by Lieutenant Colonel Jess Mullen, USMC. While the video quality may be poor, the message is strong (but you have to turn your volume up!).

LtCol Mullen graduated from Vanderbilt University and was commissioned in the Marine Corps in 1998. A Logistics Officer, she served in a variety of active duty billets until she transitioned to the reserves in 2008. She is currently deployed as the Sustainment Liaison Officer for MCE-K (MARCENT Coordination Element – Kuwait).

“There is an obstacle placed in my path…I want to jump on it, I want to attack it, I want to make it my own, and I want to pound it into powder.”

“Honestly, as a female Marine, any time I’ve heard the words ‘female’ and ‘Marine’ next to the other, it’s either been a door slamming in my face, or some unwanted attention. It has very rarely been a good thing.”

“‘What is your mission? Why are you here? Where are you going?'”

“This is not cute – this is truth. This is the next generation, who may be sitting in these same seats 20 or 30 years from now.”

“We’re not just women of America; we’re women of the world.”

“Use your vote, and use it wisely. People have worked hard for that stuff – you should exercise it!”

“My husband and I are both United States Marines. When people tell us we can’t do something…we just go ahead and do it anyway!”


The Exit Interviews series provides an opportunity to capture and share the honest and thoughtful insights of those members of the naval service who have served their country well, and are either moving on to serve it in other ways outside of the service (the “exit interview”) or who have chosen to pursue higher rank and greater responsibility within it. It focuses on individuals who are transitioning out of the service or have recently gotten out, and those who have recently chosen to stay in past their initial commitment.

Much like an exit interview in the corporate world, we ask a series of standardized questions that are intended to be open-ended and solicit honest reflection. If you would like to participate, or you know somebody who would, please reach out to blog@usni.org

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LT Ashley O’Keefe is a Surface Warfare Officer, and the Flag Aide to the Superintendent of the US Naval Academy. She is a member of USNI. Her most recent article “Supporting Brothers-and Sisters-in Arms” was published in the April 2015 edition of Proceedings.

Why did you join the Navy?

I joined the Navy for a bunch of different reasons. First, I wanted to be a fighter pilot. I had gotten my private pilot’s license in high school, and thought that it would just be great to fly jets for the Navy. I liked the idea of learning how to lead people. I also thought that it would be challenging, and fun, and a good way to pay for college.

What is your favorite part of serving in the Navy?

My absolute favorite part of serving is that I get the opportunity every day to have a positive impact on the Sailors who work with and for me. I love the team aspect of our Service…that at its core, we are working together towards a common goal of getting out over the horizon to bring US naval presence to every corner of the globe. One of my best days as Weapons Officer was when the whole ordnance division came together to get a gun working again. We had finally been able to get a technical representative out to the ship while on deployment, and down to the youngest seaman, the team pulled together to figure out the problem with the help of that technician. They stayed up all night outside on a pitching deck, they read the manuals cover-to-cover, the electronics technicians from another department pitched in to help solder wires…and honestly, the gun never did get working again. But the ship came together as a team to solve a problem. It was so inspiring and a good example of teamwork at its best.

What do you find most frustrating?

I have been lucky to experience the very best of our personnel system, but I know that others have really grated against the “golden path”. Honestly, if I were to get out after my department head rides, that would be why…because I don’t believe there is enough flexibility for me to have a family and continue to serve. There seems to be little flexibility in how we build up our officers towards command at sea. I know that there have been lots of steps taken recently to attempt to fix this, and I’m really hoping that this will get better over the next few years.

Additionally, in my at-sea billets, I found that the amount of administrative burden placed on the ships in terms of reporting, powerpoints, stop-light charts, surveys, and instantaneous video reporting made officers almost ineffective as leaders because they were so tied to their computers fulfilling administrative requirements.

When and why did you decide to stay in the Navy?

I decided to sign on for my department head tours when I was trying to make sure that I could co-locate with my husband Chris before we were married. I knew that a single long tour would keep me geographically stable so that he could come to Mayport and know that I’d be there…but to get that single-long-tour configuration, I needed to sign up for my department head tours. I also just really loved being a SWO :-)

If you could change one thing about the Navy what would it be?

I would give more autonomy to our Commanding Officers. Even as a division officer, I frequently saw that my CO did not have very much decision-making power. Our capacity to connect even a three-star admiral down to the lowest tactical level makes it easy to do so, even when it might be better to…not. This phenomenon of feeling watched permeated down to the lowest levels. Even our junior petty officers knew that our interactions were being scrutinized. The days of going over the horizon and having true autonomy in command seem to be gone.

What single most important lesson or piece of advice would you give to Navy leaders?

To look at fixing the culture of our mid-grade leadership. How can we improve? Our JO’s don’t want to stay in. They are demoralized, and they don’t see their leadership having fun, enjoying their jobs, being fulfilled in their jobs. By a huge margin, JO’s don’t want their boss’s job, and they don’t want to be Commanding Officers. We need to fix this!

What’s next for you?

I’m on my shore tour for another year or so, then will head off to department head school in early 2017. My husband and I haven’t decided yet where we might want to be stationed, but we’re considering Norfolk and Rota.


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OCIMF-Ice-accretion-iiWithout revolution and revolutionaries it is hard to significantly change large, hidebound institutions. It takes crisis, preferably one of the existential variety, to overcome the vested interest, power, influence nodes, and just plain habits that have been in place so long they have become part of the landscape everyone works around. With time, they grow as they collect accretions in a self-justifying cycle of mutual reinforcement.

In Wednesday’s post, RADM Bruner, USN frames his discussion around Col. Boyd’s OODA Loop concept. No reason to dive in there, the Cult of Boyd is well established and I have nothing to add to the canon, but it is what is inside the frame that I find of interest.

Inside that frame, Bruner brought his ship alongside that well established enemy of all that is good and holy, our self-defeating bureaucracy;

Technology, particularly use of information technology systems (including the internet), has moved so quickly the past few decades that our enemies can design, steal or borrow new ideas for weapons or equipment, share information and quickly move out well in advance of our ability to counter those ideas. Yet we remain mired in the same processes used to design, build, budget and produce those items our military needs, more or less unchanged, since the 1960s.

The reason it still exists is that changing it has not been a priority of civilian and uniformed leadership in the Pentagon and leadership of both parties on The Hill.

Why? Well to ask that question is to answer it. There are other priorities. For the last few decades we have rewarded and promoted those who are more interested in flash-in-the-pan concepts such as the Cult of Transformationalism, trying to garner political favors through focusing on socio-political agendas unrelated and antithetical to a well-run military, or giving speeches in support of failed programs that read more like defense industry spokesmen vice customers of the defense industry.

Where has the effort gone to bringing the edifice and infrastructure of our defense establishment in to the 21st Century? We are spending all our capital on paint, wallpaper, WiFi, and scented candles while the heat is supplied by a coal-fired furnace and the “facilities” are chamber pots and outhouses.

… if we decide we need to produce a new, non-complex weapon, it takes a minimum of three or four years to actually deliver that weapon to the field.

We have begun to change – small but necessary steps, are being made. There is an Urgent Operational Needs process that allows the warfighter to quickly request a new capability, if the request meets certain policy criteria. A group of senior decision makers meets every two weeks to ensure urgent warfighter needs are being met as quickly as possible. They work together to push through the bureaucracy, even working outside the Department of Defense – with the Department of State and leadership on Capitol Hill. There have been successes. However, at the same time we make these small but important steps towards flexibility, we continue to struggle with new policy constraints or modifications to current requirements in existing systems.

Each year, those accretions grow. They only grow because they are allowed to. Why are they allowed to? Leadership and priorities.

We must build a process that results in capability fielded quickly … We need the ability to spend money on new efforts today … We need flexibility to change programs …

Those are all great aspirations, and everyone who has to do their best inside the existing systems would love to do that, but they can’t. Why? It is because of the system they are forced to use. Who is forcing them to use it? The leadership of the Executive and Legislative Branches of government.

We have to tighten our own OODA Loop to decide and act far more quickly so that the enemy can’t get inside it, cannot work around it – or use our own process against us. Bottom line – we must change.

We have identified the “what” and outlined the “so what.” That leaves the “what next.”

Hate to say it, but we (those O-9 and below) must stoically wait.

During the English Civil War, in order to win, Parliament had to throw away all the English knew about how to man, train, and equip and army. From equipment to personnel policy, they stripped away everything that was not related to merit and performance on the field – they created the New Model Army.

That New Model Army could not have been created anywhere but during crisis and a break from the ruling establishment’s habits and privileges concerning the military. Sadly, absent some exceptional Executive Branch assignments, radical uniformed promotions from same, and the right leaders in the Legislative Branch of our government, the ossified accretions that are our system will not change.

Maybe we will get lucky and will change while at peace. With luck and the right people, maybe.

Change will have to start at the top. The first block will be something to replace Goldwater-Nichols. When that moves, more can follow – so watch that space. When that moves, the momentum will exist for other large-pixel reforms such as acquisition reform.

With all the vested business and political interest, it will be a rough and bloody battle that will leave in its wake a detritus of expended personnel and political capital, and more than one or two careers on the butcher bill. Worth the price; but the time is not ripe for that battle – there are no leaders, no plan, and as of yet, no massing of force to tilt against the Iron Triangle.

Until then? All we can do is what Bruner recommends, with little hammers tapping away at places we can access to make,

… small and necessary steps …

The big battles must wait.

Think, plan, prepare, ponder; and watch the horizon for sails.


As part of Women in Writing Week, we recognize one of the first female role models in the Navy: Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. Here she is on The David Letterman Show, at age 80:


Diversity has been an increasingly hot topic in the news lately, especially in the military. Because of its often-political undertones, some people cringe when they hear the word. But diversity brings very real benefits to teams that should not be ignored.strobel usni

Diversity at its very core is courage; It is courage to lead when no one looks like you, courage to speak up when people around outrank you, and courage to listen to opinions that may differ from yours. In my experience as a junior officer on a submarine, and as a woman on a submarine, I have seen the positive effects of diversity in its many forms.

To be frank, not everyone was excited about women on submarines. One of the biggest fears people have with diversity is that it will be forced upon a situation where it “does not matter” and will negatively impact performance. What I found was that action and results spoke much louder than the dull murmur of discontent. After just a few months on board the submarine, we had a casualty in the middle of the night. I threw on my uniform and ran to the scene to help. I was amazed and encouraged by how quickly every member of the crew jumped at the call to save the ship; I have observed this to be a crucial tenet of the submarine force.

I call this my “hair story” because once the casualty subsided, everyone jokingly commented on how crazy my hair was. The truth of the matter was that I ran to the scene in the middle of the night; who cares how my hair looks? I can laugh about it now but at the time I felt a dichotomy. When it came to fighting the ship in a casualty, it did not matter if I was an officer or enlisted, male or female. As soon as the smoke cleared, however, it was back to how I looked.

In an environment where you have to rely, sometimes with your life, on the person standing watch next to you, it only makes sense that we should strive to have the best operators. To achieve this goal, we need to include everyone regardless of gender, race, religion, or opinion. Countless times underway, a Fireman has saved the day by speaking up and making sound recommendations without fear of being unheard. This is one of the very positive impacts of diversity: the courage to speak up and the courage to listen to differing opinions. This is what has made our nation great in the past and it will continue to make us elite in the future.


JohnBoyd_PilotColonel John Boyd (USAF) developed a decision cycle concept called the OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act) Loop. He applied the concept at the strategic level in military operations, but it can also be applied to our current and future warfighting efforts, what we design, build, budget for, and use in pursuit of our national objectives – today and in the future. If we consider Col. Boyd’s concept in relation to those warfighting efforts, then today we must begrudgingly admit that our adversary’s decision cycle operates more quickly than our own OODA Loop. Technology, particularly use of information technology systems (including the internet), has moved so quickly the past few decades that our enemies can design, steal or borrow new ideas for weapons or equipment, share information and quickly move out well in advance of our ability to counter those ideas. Yet we remain mired in the same processes used to design, build, budget and produce those items our military needs, more or less unchanged, since the 1960s.

Today to provide the warfighter a new weapon, ship, or airplane, we begin inside a bureaucratic process that requires an analysis of the gaps, alternatives, various capability documents, review upon review by a number of well-meaning organizations, etc… That is just to come to an agreement on what must go out to industry for their ideas, proposals and estimates. Items must be competed – sometimes even when it is already known what company can build to the need quickest and at the best price. And then there’s the funding question.

Creating a finished budget literally takes two years or more. Once the decision is made that we need to buy item X at price Y, it has to be put into the Department’s Budget. It takes almost a year for a service to build a budget, allow senior leaders the opportunity to review, debate and determine priority, and ultimately, decide if an item should be funded or not. Then begins the process of defending the service’s priorities starting inside the Pentagon and ending on Capitol Hill a year (or so) later. If approved inside the National Defense Authorization, and Defense Appropriation Acts (it is worth noting that today, a non-decisional Continuing Resolution is the norm), then we can finally spend money on a contract for a new warfighting capability. In summary, if we decide we need to produce a new, non-complex weapon, it takes a minimum of three or four years to actually deliver that weapon to the field.

We have begun to change – small but necessary steps, are being made. There is an Urgent Operational Needs process that allows the warfighter to quickly request a new capability, if the request meets certain policy criteria. A group of senior decision makers meets every two weeks to ensure urgent warfighter needs are being met as quickly as possible. They work together to push through the bureaucracy, even working outside the Department of Defense – with the Department of State and leadership on Capitol Hill. There have been successes. However, at the same time we make these small but important steps towards flexibility, we continue to struggle with new policy constraints or modifications to current requirements in existing systems.

If we are to remain the preeminent military force in the world we must continue to change. We must build a process that results in capability fielded quickly, vice capability fielded much slower – with minimal risk. Rather than have a series of consecutive leadership reviews on proposals (and the capability and/or funding required), each of which takes many months and can only move forward to the next step sequentially after each leader approves, we need to have single meetings of the right leaders to take in information, ask questions and make decisions – in a timely manner. We need the ability to spend money on new efforts today – not two years from now after we’ve built a budget, reviewed and defended it against any one of hundreds of reviewers who might disagree. We need flexibility to change programs as they move forward – when they hit a snag we must be able to quickly modify our plans, or if required – terminate our efforts and re-allocate the monies towards other needs. Naysayers will say a new process with speed in mind will lead to waste. The reality is that without a new process with speed in mind, we will fall further behind our growing number of challengers.

Do not misunderstand this to be a criticism of those that run or are involved in these current processes. Everyday there are tens of thousands of great Americans that work towards building the best and most capable Navy of the future. They toil under policies and laws currently in place and they do outstanding work. But we have to change the way we are doing the Navy’s business if we hope to continue to be the best. We have to tighten our own OODA Loop to decide and act far more quickly so that the enemy can’t get inside it, cannot work around it – or use our own process against us. Bottom line – we must change.


Letters transcend generations. Some of my family’s most sentimental possessions are my grandfather’s letters home during World War II while he was stationed in India. Growing up, I’d often heard the story of how he began writing to a woman his Aunt worked with, and after years of exchanging letters, he proposed to her the first time he met her as she picked him up from the airport upon his arrival in the States (that woman later became my grandmother).

But despite the fact that one of my cousins transcribed Grandpa’s letters to his own mother a few years back, I never got the chance to read them before I left on my own deployment. It wasn’t until I returned home that I read through them in their entirety, and was struck by the similarity between the multitude he had penned home, and my own numerous emails home to friends and family. His letters contain sections that have been cut out, and apparently his mother once received a scrawled note, “Ma’am, your son is fine…he just talks too much!” Clearly, he didn’t have a mandatory NKO OPSEC course…

Of course, Grandpa didn’t write using “hashtags” or about “missing WiFi” or even of women in the service. But he wrote of flying, the heat, his concern regarding things at home, silly things he and his friends did to pass the often boring times that happen on deployment and how much he missed his family. And so did I. What follows is a short compilation of letters written by my Grandfather, along with a few emails I sent to families and friends along similar topic lines.

meehan postBeginning Deployment

17 July 1943

Dear Mom,

I hope, by this time, you will have my first letter. I am finally at what appears to be my base – doing what I expected and trained for, although the camp isn’t exactly as I had hoped it would be.

It isn’t bad though and the stories are as interesting as amazing to the gullible – pythons, cobras and stampeding elephants. I haven’t seen any in the raw yet, except, on the way thru, in a city street, when a native lad would run up to us and throw a bag down at our feet whereupon an indifferent and defanged cobra would coil up and stare at us icily- the boy would want 4 annos (8c)…

…At [section cut from page] the streets were narrow, dusty and dirty, but the surrounding parks and residential districts were nice. The Taj Mahal was beautiful at night and looked just like it does in pictures. Send all your mail – air mail – as it will probably take from 15 days to a month anyway – you might get some of this stationary – air mail. I want to know about everybody and hope you have written – My regard to anybody you feel like giving them to – hope you are all well.

Love, Jimmie

16 April 2014

Important people of my life,

Hello to all of you! I am currently deployed and we are 2 months into what is sure to be an awesome nine-month deployment…yes, I’m saying that without a hint of sarcasm…none whatsoever. While I may not quite be bursting with enthusiasm for the coming months, I will say that so far, it has certainly been an adventure! After crossing the Atlantic, we ended up having a bit of an extended stay in the Med due to the current events in Ukraine. While our port visits to Athens, Greece and Antalya, Turkey were unaffected (you could probably hear the sigh of relief from all 5,000 people on the ship from across the Atlantic), the flight operations in the area were decidedly more interesting. Despite being on high alert for a few tense days, we managed to find some humor in the situation, as sailors (and especially aviators!), are wont to do. Chat rooms became the basis of many a laugh, as evidenced by the “Is love a Crimea? No, but you shouldn’t Russian to it” – subject line of one such room.

Dork humor aside, there is plenty of room for laughs on the boat. Sidenote: it’s “the boat” for aviators, and SWO’s (surface warfare officers) refer to the carrier and all naval vessels as “ships.” Aviators have a long history of being impertinent towards SWOs…and we take gleeful pride in maintaining this relationship. A recent email was forwarded to the entire airwing with the choice sentence “Reaction Officer complained that the airwing LT was not contrite when confronted. It strikes me that Naval Aviation’s characteristic irreverence and slight rebellious streak still generates surprised consternation and SWO-ish indignation.”…

…Well, this email has been in the works for about 5 weeks…hopefully the next one won’t be so delayed! I would love to tell you all more about the boat, the groups of people, flying, cat shots, call-signs and the awesome group of people I work with every day! I hope you all are doing well-Happy Easter to you and your families!

HUGS, Mere

27 October 1943

I was glad to get your letter and snapshots – they’re great. To answer some of your questions the 301st has just moved into its own area – which means that we now have our own mess hall – good food, comfortable bunkers – they are sprayed daily and of course we have our own mosquito net – shower rooms and day room.

I’m still flying a lot, but am now in charge of special services in the squadron – which means that on days off I’m in the library, day room, or working on the volleyball court etc. We are laying out a baseball field, football field and horseshoe pits and planning on a boxing ring. The red-cross has donated full equipment for all this – even checkers, chess, and playing cards for the day room. Now if we could get some blondes!

I’ll write tomorrow

Love, Jimmie


Women in Writing Week: From 18 October 2013, part of the stellar series “A History of the Navy in 100 Objects” by LTJG Chris O’Keefe.

Women in the military today is the norm, but this was not always the case. Today’s object, a non-descript woman’s naval officer uniform, helps tell the story of the thousands of women who blazed the trail for the women serving today. This podcast is the first of several episodes that will address the broader narrative of women in the Navy. And since these objects all are located at the Academy, today’s episode focuses on the first women to enter the Academy in 1976. This is the first of a two part episode. The second half is an interview with Sharon Disher, member of the first class of women at the Academy and author of the book First Class.


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