LT Anna Granville recently wrote what may become the junior officer blog article of the year over at Task and Purpose. Titled, “4 Reasons I Am Resigning My Commission as a Naval Officer,” it is succinct and powerful insight into why some high-performing officers decide to leave after their minimum service commitment. And it took some guts to write.

Her piece resonates with anyone who has ever been frustrated by the large, immovable object that is the Navy. A one-size-fits-all promotion process, long deployments and frustrating dealings with personnel officers, lack of diversity and lack of control are all enough to make even the most active junior officers (JOs) ask, “Why isn’t this changing?” And then, finally, “Why am I still doing this?”

While there is no blanket explanation that can cover every departing, high-performing junior officer, we do have statistics from the 2014 Navy Retention Study and a number of competing anecdotes that suggest the Navy is losing some of its best officers too soon. An improving economy, a perceived erosion of trust, and a bureaucratic bog are tilting the retention seesaw in the wrong direction.

But there is a counter-narrative: junior officers can build the service we want. We can only do this, however, by staying in long enough to see real change pushed through. Every officer who can articulate essential changes that must be made to the service, yet leaves that service in disgust, erodes a vibrant young officer corps whose challenge is to prepare to lead a service with common sense and courage. We must achieve critical mass in order to transplant our grassroots dialogue of today into tomorrow’s occupants of Tingey House.

Why should we do this? Why stay in the service when the pull to leave is so strong? Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Admiral Bill Moran has been leading the way recently in championing a number of personnel issues and fixes. More work needs to be done, but the message is clear: positive, constructive debate can lead to tangible change.

What follows is not a point-for point refutation of LT Granville’s arguments. But for those contemplating life beyond the minimum service requirement, they are four reminders of how to retain your commission without losing your sanity:

1. You can’t look to the system for validation. Should the Navy promote people who are better pilots, better division officers, better platoon leaders, faster? That would be nice. But in as large an institution, would that look more like the Goldwater-Nichols efforts to force attainment of “joint” qualifications? I doubt the service needs more of that.

It’s true that, sometimes, it will seem like there are few rewards for standing the mid-watch for the umpteenth time or pouring your heart and soul into your job as a division officer or tactical operator. There will always be some who feel like they have been left by the wayside. We all have a story about that guy or girl who got some great ranking or billet; have all rolled our eyes after the millionth time someone has told us “timing is everything;” have all looked at our personnel record on NPC and wondered incredulously, “how long until I make O-4?”

Many of the rewards of hard-work are not tangible, such as the safety of a country that continues to enjoy unadulterated freedom. But there are many ways to get rewarded for other efforts complementary to service. Pilots have it a bit easier with scoring and competition for the “Top Hook” award. But everyone has access to forums such as USNI’s Proceedings, which pays authors per publication, and other Naval Institute essay contests which award thousands of dollars for literary achievement. Still others find fulfillment in volunteer work through the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, Semper Fi Fund, or Fisher House.

In the end, Joe Byerly says it best: “[While] I’m extremely passionate about the military profession, it doesn’t define me.” Those who look in the mirror and see only Ensign or Lieutenant or Commander have lost something of themselves. Don’t forget to leave your own mark on the service and live with purpose.

2. You’re pretty damn good at your job, right? Few people join the military to be “just OK” at what they do. At some point, many think, “I’m going to be the best.” Some want to be the best operators, some the best strategists, some the best leaders. If this thought has crossed your mind, and you believe that you are good at what you do, why would you leave the service and allow someone who isn’t the best to take your place? You are part of a profession; you are allowed to take pride in that.

I know a lot of junior officers will roll their eyes here, and that’s fine. A lot of them rolled their eyes before the lead up to moments like Operation Praying Mantis, the terrorist attacks of September 11th, and the recent rapid re-location of the George HW Bush Carrier Strike Group in response to extremists, too. Success in those trying times was due largely to the right people in the right positions. Cynicism may have plenty of reasons to the contrary, but without good people, we are nothing.

Luckily, the Navy is full of incredible officers and operators. Is your departure likely to cause systemic failure? Probably not. But this is the same logic people use when they say, “I won’t vote because I’m just one person, and my vote doesn’t matter.” I’d hate to see what critical mass here looks like.

3. Diversity of perspective matters.* Certainly, there are those who believe that junior officers are best seen, and not heard; but those people are in the minority. And while it may sometimes feel like a tyranny of the minority, there is absolutely a place for constructive, positive, intellectual work in the Navy. Consider the Naval Institute one of the finest examples; then look to CIMSEC and across the military to The Bridge, War on the Rocks, Task and Purpose (where Granville’s piece was published), Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum, and so many other places.

James Fallows recently tried to peg the military as “anti-intellectual.” It was naval junior officers who stood up to him and said, “Not so fast.” The Naval War College and Postgraduate School remain highly sought-after institutions around the world. And the emergence of the Military Writers Guild is an encouraging sign that, as you are writing, thinking, and starting to “do,” other people are going to have your back.

4. The only way to steer the boat is to keep your hand on the tiller. Ronald Reagan once said, “When you’re up to your neck in alligators, it’s easy to forget you came here to drain the swamp.” Ultimately, unless you are going to get out and pursue a career in elected office or the policy realm, you cannot effect change on tough issues until you are willing to endure the pain of seeing those changes through.

Too many junior officers depart the service in frustration with specific critiques, only to get lost in a new civilian career that is equally challenging and often stultifying. There are a few who lob in mortars from the valley, but the JO(ret) contingent is largely silent here on this blog and around the naval ‘net.

Neale Donald Walsh once wrote, “Whatever you desire for yourself, give to another.” If you love your job—and if you’re good at it—then leaving the service because you’re too frustrated with its policies just means that those policies will likely endure, and the service will suffer. Your departure, while poignant, is not as impactful as your voice and your persistence.

There is no dishonor in changing careers. There is more than one way to serve the nation; we need good people on our warships and airplanes, but also in our hospitals, boardrooms, and classrooms, too. If this is where you find your passion, then that’s where your country needs you.

But the only way for fighting lieutenants to become fighting admirals and generals is to persevere, to recognize the consequences of dissonance, and to continue the fight. You don’t have to fight alone, and the longer we fight together, the better the future will be.

 

 

*Clearly, LT Granville speaks of gender diversity in her article. Statistically, while the Navy does employ fewer women than men, progress is being made that reflects and often exceeds private sector employment. More progress, though, is needed.




Posted by LT Roger Misso in Navy
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  • Richard Pera

    HAND SALUTE….NAVAL OFFICER ONBOARD!!!

  • Tbone

    Bravo Zulu LT Misso!

  • Ray Kempisty

    I read LT Granville’s thoughtful whine, and LT Misso’s attempt to thoughtfully push back. Both made valid points but I have another thought. Life’s tough. I have a shipboard Ensign son and a Civilian Marine (civil service) son so I care deeply about these issues. It must be remembered that it’s a tough world. Inside the military, government, private sector. All have irritations. I’m retired Navy, with private sector experience and now federal government employment. I’m irritated today with a couple of issues I’m working. You have to decide if you can deal with irritations and improve from within, or not. Maybe you can’t or maybe you just don’t want to. There are extra pressures on women. A retired Navy sister of mine never had children. The life is tough. An active duty Army sister of mine left as a Captain and has 7 children. That’s tough too, in a different way. I have two niece active duty Army 1LTs who served recently in Afghanistan. They’ll have to make choices soon on many fronts. LT Granville may have it tough in the Navy, but that green grass is fertilized with brown water. You’ve got to work it out for yourself. Lead or get out of the way.

    • grandpabluewater

      On a brighter note….They can only promote those who will stay. So you might do better than you might think. If you can stand the gaff.

  • Mike M.

    I enjoy the piece and some valid points are made here. I will say as a transitioning officer the view I have is that I can either stay in, risk having bad CO’s who could ruin my life/career, work hard, sacrifice a ton during my DH tour, somehow make it through a system of accountability costing too many CO/XOs their jobs, all with the hope of one day putting on a star so I can enact some broad change to a system. All the while, hoping that my core values themselves will not have changed as a result of 20 years of institutionalization. It may seem a cowards way out by not wanting to go through this process just with the hope of enacting a small amount of change, and while I do not agree with any of LT Granville’s points, I also do not agree that a problem (retention) at the top should be the responsibility of those at the bottom to fix… 20 years from now… If they don’t get fired…

  • http://fareastcynic.com Skippy-san

    You are kind of missing the real point of the letter. The simple truth is the Navy is chewing up good people because of its OPTEMPO. Everything else she writes is window dressing for that one fact. Keeping people on cruise for 8 months and being proud of it-is a sign of a deep sickness in the Navy. Eve in the Cold War we never operated that hard.

    Furthermore, I think you miss the additonal point that money=options. Junior Officers today are smarter about money than we were in the day. Of course they don’t get to have as much fun-which BTW is an additional incentive to leave because no one likes the “nanny state” of curfews and breathalyzers on the quarterdeck.

    There will be a real retention crisis if these trends continue. Especially if the airlines start really hiring again. The Navy has to get a handle on OPTEMPO and get back to 6 months portal to portal.

    • Andy

      Nice to see you back. You’ve been sorely missed. Emotionally, you have my strongest concurrence that OPTEMPO is crushing people,along with the increasingly senseless “nanny state,” a close relative to “zero-defects.” Perhaps I have grown cynical, but I am left with the impression that Beltway Navy feels impervious to the issue you raise other than to say “we feel your pain,” and then move on to issues *they* feel are of greater importance.

    • James Bowen

      The OPTEMPO, frankly, is ultimately the result of an unrealistic and unsustainable foreign policy. Perhaps the Navy’s brass could do a better job advising our civilian leaders, I don’t know. However, outside of that we are simply doing our best to carry out lawful orders, hence there is not much the Navy can do directly about the OPTEMPO.

      • grandpabluewater

        Re OPTEMPO: 1) Drastic reduction of overseas commitments – the enemy gets a vote. There’s a war on…remember? The political masters will try, but…the enemy gets a vote.
        2) Bigger fleet – the right answer but not soon. Elections have consequences. So does self delusion by the body politic, which REALLY wants to disarm. They will try, but… The enemy gets a vote. There’s a war on…Remember?
        3)Not going to happen. If it does happen, so much the worse for you….later.

      • James Bowen

        What enemy? In none of the wars we have fought since 1945, and certainly since 2003, has our survival and continued existence been in question. If you are referring to terrorism, using conventional military formations to go after terrorists is like using a bullet to go after a virus. We are not going to stop terrorism by sending armies overseas. What is required to defend against terrorism is extreme vigilance at home combined with robust intelligence operations both at home and abroad. Military special forces or operatives can then be used for offensive operations against terrorists when we have an known target.

        We simply cannot afford to support so many overseas operations anymore. We have 5% of the world’s population and are industrial base is not the colossus it was 50 years ago. What happens in the Middle East or Africa has almost no consequence for us whatsoever. Rather than fighting everyone else’s wars, it is long past time we refocus on defending ourselves and only maintaining alliances where there is benefit for us.

      • grandpabluewater

        I’m willing to wait. The price in blood and treasure from self disarmament will be huge, but if you can’t handle reality, bye and bye it will handle you…roughly.

      • James Bowen

        When did I ever say anything about disarmament? Quite the opposite–I said the Navy is too small and needs to get larger.

      • grandpabluewater

        Then think of my comment as being in support. I used “you” in the general sense, not in the “you” with one finger pointing while the other hand pounds the table sense.

    • Roger Misso

      Skippy, sorry for my delayed reply but thanks for the comment. Valid point on OPTEMPO and administrative burdens; of course we all feel those. I tried to write more of a counter-narrative than a counter-argument, so I didn’t touch on those specifics.

      But if I were to do so, I don’t think that’s my perspective. I just finished a 9-monther. It pretty much was what I expected when I signed up for service since I knew that meant sacrifice, and I place a very high value on service. I’ll refer you to point #4 above while agreeing that we should, of course, make deployments shorter. It will be hard for folks to do that if those who feel strongest about it leave the service, however.

      And I suppose there is a sum of money that could attract some people towards flying an A380 along a predictable route instead of providing CAS in their F/A-18, but again, that’s not my jam, and what were the odds we were going to keep all of those people, anyway?

  • CAPT Mongo

    “Clearly, LT Granville speaks of gender diversity in her article.
    Statistically, while the Navy does employ fewer women than men, progress
    is being made that reflects and often exceeds private sector
    employment. More progress, though, is needed.”

    Please explain why that is true. I understand that it is official policy, and mandated from above, and that as a junior officer you have had it drummed into you from day one–that does not, however make it ipso facto true.

    The Navy exists to fight and win wars. If “gender diversity” for its own sake truly helps the Navy to do that better, I have yet to see a creditable demonstration of that–in fact all the actual facts I have seen tend the other way.

    It would be my contention that the Navy should “employ” (and using that term for naval service makes my skin crawl) those people–both male and female–who are best suited to fulfill its mission, and in the proportions thereof and in the occupations which best enable the Navy to make the fullest and most efficient use of those people.

    Certainly gender (or race, or ethnicity, or sexual preference) quotas should never apply to that process.

    If you contend otherwise, I would be very interested in your rationale for such contention.

    I thought the rest of your article excellent, BTW.

    • Roger Misso

      CAPT, I think diversity of perspective is important, and I know it is hard to achieve–I’m an E-2 guy living in the current CWC construct. I would like to see more qualified women in the service because the Navy seems to be reasonably reflective of our larger, successful American demography except in the area of gender. I suspect we miss some important perspective and war fighting edge because of that gap…but that’s not scientific and I can’t prove it. Can’t get there through quotas though….gotta go old school and convince people that the Navy is good for them at an early age so they can work to achieve the standard.

      That was too long, apologies.

      • CAPT Mongo

        Roger:
        Thank you for the come back. My point is that the Navy needs to have those people that make it most battle effective. That might mean more women–it might not. Relationship to the American demographic is a non sequitur– to attempt that makes as much sense as trying for proportional representation of redheads, of left handed people, or midgets or–well, you get the idea.

        Full disclosure: I am married to a retired CDR, and we were married while both were on active duty.

        Concur old school (hey, sometimes old is good ;-))

        Fair winds.

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