In his recent editorial in the Washington Post, Naval Academy professor Dr. Bruce Fleming asserts that leadership is the “snake oil” for today’s military and that organizations — civilian and military alike — are infatuated with it as the antidote to all organizations’ problems. He has a point. Leadership training as the single answer rings hollow. As he also suggests, teaching leadership may be a futile exercise. But he is wrong to say that “there’s no proof [leadership] has any benefit at all — or for that matter, even exists.”
On the contrary, good leadership and the powerful culture that it engenders can make the difference between a solvent company and a profitable one. Jim Collins’ Good to Great book research found virtually all the companies that outperformed their industry peers in the marketplace for sustained periods of time had what Collins called “Level Five” leaders, executives who exhibit a rare combination of deep personal humility and intense resolve.
In a military organization, leadership can make the difference between life and death. Forty years ago, 591 prisoners of war returned home alive from North Vietnam after the longest period of wartime incarceration in our nation’s history. They remained unified in their resistance to their captors and unified in their adherence to a mission: Return with Honor. To this day, they have one of the lowest rates of PTSD of any group of combat veterans: a lifetime average of 4%. And their leaders, especially Vice Adm. James Stockdale, made the unquestionable difference.
Texas Rep. Sam Johnson, a former POW, recalls one hot summer night in 1967 when he shared a cell with Stockdale, the senior ranking officer of the group. They were trying to communicate with recent “shoot-downs,” other aviators whose planes had been recently shot down. As Mr. Johnson describes it, “They were scared, for good reason. We wanted to talk to them and make them know that there were other Americans around.” The communications system was the POWs’ lifeblood, but the risks for using it were high. When possible, the POWs assigned at least one man the task of “clearing,” or alerting other POWs of a guard’s impending approach.
“Jim would get on the floor and ‘clear’ and I’d get up on the concrete bunk and talk to [a new guy] down the back side out of the window. We happened to be on the back of the jail. We would tell him essentially how the cow eats the cabbage [how the things worked in the prison system] and, that ‘you’re going to be all right.’”
On this particular night, they were finally caught. “The guard and an officer came charging down the hall. Jim barely got up before the door opened. I’m standing there and the door pops open and here’s this little North Vietnamese guy wearing Air Force 2nd Lieutenant bars. Turns out he was a camp commander. He wasn’t a lieutenant – he was masquerading as one. Jim hauled off and decked him right there. Just knocked him down. And, I thought, ‘…We’re in deep serious now.’ And we were.”
Punishment was immediate and harsh. Mr. Johnson spent 72 days in leg stocks in a small cell with the windows boarded up. He quietly notes, “Jim got the worst punishment.”
Why did Stockdale intentionally assault the camp commander by punching him in the face? An irrational outburst of anger or violence was completely out of character for this Stanford-educated philosopher. He was noted around the camp for his towering intellect, not his emotional volatility.
Mr. Johnson pauses for a long moment before answering that question, choosing his words deliberately. “Frankly, I think he was protecting me. You know, that’s a characteristic of leadership.”
Stockdale exhibited several noteworthy characteristics of a great leader that day. He stayed focused on the POWs’ agreed-upon mission, he chose his battle carefully and — without fear of personal consequences — he sacrificed himself to protect those under him. He asked nothing of his followers that he would not first deliver himself. When pain was on the agenda, Stockdale didn’t delegate. He led.
Peter Fretwell and Taylor Baldwin Kiland are the co-authors of the new book, Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton: Six Characteristics of High-Performance Teams.
As we are about to harvest another crop of Junior Officers for the Navy and Marine Corps from the United States Naval Academy – over at Midrats my fellow USNI Blogger and co-host EagelOne an I are dedicating two shows to that essential institution.
For Part I last week in Episode 20: Growing the Seed Corn, we focused on those who help educate out Midshipmen with three Naval Academy Professors: Associate Professor Virginia Lunsford, History Department; Professor Steve Frantzich, Political Science Department; and Professor Bruce Fleming, English Department.
This week in Part II, Episode 21: Naval Academy Special, we are going to give voice to the end product. If you wonder why I don’t worry about the future of the Navy, then listen in and find out why.
We will have one recent and two soon to be graduates from USNA on as guests to discuss what bought them to Annapolis, what they took away from Annapolis, and what they see as young leaders going forward.
Our first guest will be Midshipman Jeff Withington, USN (Class of ’10) A future submariner from West Chester, PA, Jeff will be reporting in August to Nuclear Power School in Charleston, SC. At the Academy, he was an honors history major, with a focus on the ancient world and participated in activities from the philosophy club to intramural handball.
Our second guest will be Midshipman Justin North (Class ’10), USN. Born in Los Angeles California in 1984, graduated Arcadia High in 2003. Enlisted in the Marines and entered bootcamp in October 2003 earned rank of CPL in 2006 as an Aviation Ordnanceman. NAPS class 06. Majored in Political Science. Heading to Quantico after a TAD assignment at NAPS. Hopes to be an Infantry Officer.
Our third guest will be Donnie Horner, ENS USN (Ret.) (Class of ’08). Donnie was an Army brat of a career Army officer and West Point graduate, but decided to better his bloodline and head to the Navy. While at the Academy, he was a company commander, played four years of hockey, and one year of baseball. Graduating with a degree in Political Science, he service selected SWO, was the deck department’s 2nd DIVO on the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) before he was diagnosed with MS on Sept 11, 2009. He was medically retired from the Navy on April 30th of this year.
Presently, he is the executive aide, personal assistant to Mr. Alvin Brown, who is running for mayor of Jacksonville, FL. Donnie is looking to attend law school and run for office in the future.
The show will air live today, Sunday, 16 MAY at 5pm EST. Catch it live if you can and join the usual suspects in the chat room during the show where you can offer your own questions and observations to our guests. If you miss the show or want to catch up on the shows you missed – you can always reach the archives at blogtalkradio – or set yourself to get the podcast on iTunes.
The below comes from the DEC09 Proceedings by Senior Chief Jim Murphy, U.S. Navy (Retired).
With permission, copied in full.
Recent decisions by the U.S. Naval Academy have shown that we are off course when it comes to diversity.
In June 2009, Professor Bruce Fleming shed light on the Academy’s diversity application process. Fleming is (or at least was) a longtime member of the Academy’s admissions board. His description of a “two-track” admissions system-one for whites and one for non-whites-is now well documented and closely followed. Two posts on the Naval Institute blog garnered a combined 201 reader comments, far higher than most topics.
Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead and Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Admiral Jeffrey Fowler were quoted as saying “diversity is [the] number one priority” at the Academy. The number one priority should be nothing short of academic excellence and focused leadership to prepare young Americans to lead Sailors in combat. Considering the (unwritten) two-track admissions policy and the attention paid to recent diversity statistics, it appears the Navy has lost sight of the Academy’s purpose and the true role of diversity.
The Naval Academy made news again recently for replacing two white members of the Color Guard at game two of the World Series with minority midshipmen. That evolution didn’t turn out quite like expected, as one of the minority students-who had not initially earned a spot on the detail-was unable to participate because of a forgotten uniform item. Apparently Academy leadership wanted the honor guard to represent the diversity of the institution. What really took place was discrimination against the non-minority members who had previously earned the right to participate.
Military leaders are keen to state that diversity is good, but they seem averse to explaining why. Take for instance the Chief of Naval Operations Diversity Policy. The first sentence states “[d]iversity has made our Nation and Navy stronger.” Sounds great, right? And who would dare say the contrary? But such a strong statement deserves explanation. The Diversity Policy goes on to discuss a lot about how the Navy shall treat people, but these are statements about equal opportunity, not diversity. The two subjects are closely related, but they’re not quite the same.
The opening paragraph of the Department of the Navy Diversity Policy Statement is much better, but the second paragraph includes a similarly grand statement without explanation: “. . . understanding the impact of a diverse workforce on the Department’s readiness is vital to accomplishing the mission in the 21st Century.” Combat effectiveness, courageous leadership, state-of-the-art weapons, and many other attributes are vital to accomplishing the mission, but without explanation, diversity doesn’t make the grade. Speaking of grades, is diversity really so vital that it overrides academic excellence as a prerequisite to enter the Naval Academy?
Neither of these policy documents attempts to explain the benefits of diversity. If service leadership truly wants the force to understand and appreciate the benefits of a diverse workforce, they should provide details. It appears we are all left to figure it out for ourselves or accept it in blind faith. Most of us recognize some of the benefits, but only from our personal perspective, a perspective generally far short of a service-wide understanding.
To be certain, there are advantages to having a diverse military in a country as diverse as ours. There is also a place for diversity in admissions decisions at the Naval Academy, but only when it does not come at the expense of more qualified applicants. Diversity as a tiebreaker between two fully and equally qualified applicants might be justifiable if the minority applicant also happens to have unique cultural knowledge and language skills that provide a measurable benefit to our globally engaged force. As described by Professor Fleming, the current process provides no such measurable benefit.
Judging people by the color of their skin instead of the content of their character is wrong, whether it is used to their disadvantage or benefit. Our diversity policy should be to attract the best, whomever and wherever they may be, and to guarantee fair treatment for all, and preferential treatment for none. Until our policies reflect a commitment to treat everyone fairly, the goal envisioned by Martin Luther King Jr. will go unfulfilled. Our leaders hold the key to setting the proper course.
Senior Chief Murphy transferred to the Fleet reserve on 31 December 2008 after 21 years of active service. He served his entire career in the cryptologic community and was a qualified submariner.
Bruce Fleming has been an English professor at the United States Naval Academy for twenty-two years and has served as a member of USNA’s Admissions Board. He has expressed concerns over the Academy’s admissions process which he strongly believes places too much emphasis on racial diversity at the cost of quality students. He explains these concerns as follows:
Here’s a question: would you rather be defended by the officer with high all-around predictors (including leadership and athletics in addition to grades and test scores), or low ones? I bet you think I’m joking when I say that at the Unites States Naval Academy, we let in the ones with the low scores and reject the ones with the high. As a taxpayer, I object to that.
We do this to ensure that we get students who self-identify as racial minorities. “Diversity is our number one priority” at the Naval Academy, as the Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead and the superintendent of the Naval Academy Vice Admiral Jeffrey Fowler have both said. Of course, this is a technical use of “diversity,” having nothing to do with age, with skills, with temperaments, with gender or sexual orientation, but only with skin color. In June of 2009 came the stunning boast that the class of 2013 is the “most diverse ever” at 35% minority. At the same time I’m getting e-mails from the parents of stellar white students who have been rejected to make this possible. We tend to forget the ones who aren’t there: I don’t.
It’s a two-track system: whites have to excel to get in, non-whites don’t have to. They just have to be non-white. And their seat, once taken, is thus denied the stellar one. In the long run this has to dilute the quality of the Navy. That’s scary. It’s also immoral. At the Naval Academy in Annapolis and arguably in the military, we’re back to the childhood I remember on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, with separate water fountains for the “colored people.” Only the water fountains for non-whites now are much better than those for the whites. Is this the way our “post-racial” Obama society was meant to play out?
We let in students by two tracks: one is based on a basket of skills and is intended to get the strongest all-around candidates. Because this system would pull in very few minorities, we’ve instituted a second track whose intention is specifically to ensure the presence of minority midshipmen. Minority applications are briefed separately to the Admissions Board, let in “direct” to USNA over a lowered bar or sent to our hand-holding revolving door remedial school if really weak. We send them for tutoring, let them take courses over, and assign them to majors we think they can pass. Many graduate, though at about a 10% lower rate than the Brigade as a whole (which includes them, so the real split is greater). We’re in an “anything it takes” mode to get them, and in an “anything it takes” mode to keep them: success is defined as getting them and keeping them, at any price.
This elimination of the necessity to achieve high predictors echoes the case with the New Haven firefighters on which Judge Sonia Sotomayor issued her now-famous ruling that was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this week. If not enough minority applicants get over the bar, you lower it—or eliminate it altogether. That’s what we’ve done. USNA administration officials have said in public that “SAT scores are not good predictors for minority students.” But we do use low SAT scores (below 600) as a way to eliminate white candidates. Not the minority ones.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is your military. In the wake of the AIG meltdown it seemed that American taxpayers suddenly became aware that what was okay on private money wasn’t okay on the taxpayer dime. Many people felt that the ones paying for it should get a say in how it was run. The military has always been run, 100%, on the taxpayer dime (or rather, the taxpayer’s hundreds of millions of dollars). In addition, unlike AIG, it exists for the sole purpose of defending those taxpayers. Yet all too often the military acts as if it thinks it’s working on its own money, and exists for itself. This business of affirmative action at the Naval Academy and in the fleet is such an issue.
Perhaps the worst aspect of the whole deal is that the military is lying to the taxpayers about what it’s doing—misdirecting by throwing up a dust screen of irrelevancies designed to get people off their track or out and out misstating facts.
The USNA Dean of Admissions was quoted in the Baltimore Sun last year as saying “we don’t lower standards for minorities.” I suppose if you twist that enough it’s just misleading, rather than a lie: we don’t “lower” (as a verb) because the standards for minorities are already “lower” (adjective). We’ll guarantee admission to a black candidate with B and C grades, no particular leadership or academics, and SAT scores of 540 on each part. A white candidate like that is voted “not qualified.” The black one is voted “qualified”. A “qualified” (to a lower standard) minority candidate has a seat reserved; a “qualified” white candidate competes with other “qualified” ones for the remaining seats. If they’re not even this qualified, we send them to Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS), which is overwhelmingly minority. Here they are ‘remediated’ for a year, and the system rigged to ensure they come to Annapolis, taking a seat the next year. There is almost no bottom to what we’ll take for minority applicants through NAPS.
All minorities are let in over a lower bar, and most would never be admitted competitively; some are far lower than the bar for white candidates. However this doesn’t mean that all minority midshipmen are weak; I’ve had some stellar ones in my career. However they all got in ‘direct’ (which white applicants don’t): lowering the bar doesn’t mean all needed it that low.
None of this is written down, it’s just the game rules I learned on the Admissions Board. We were told not to write anything down because “everything is “FOI”able”— it can be demanded under the Freedom of Information Act.
After being on the Admissions Board, I understood a lot of what I’d seen in the classroom. I realized that there was a close to 100% correlation between the students who just couldn’t get basic concepts and couldn’t express themselves and those who either had been recruited to play sports like football and basketball, or who had checked a box saying they were Hispanic or African-American.
The Naval Academy has engaged in blatant race-tracking for years, but never with any justification. Then in March of 2008 the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) issued a “diversity policy” that has been cited repeatedly when “affirmative action” is questioned. The document signed by the CNO is unexceptionable, and raises no eyebrows. Of course not. This is the written form of the intent, which here is being kept purposely bland: this could be easily challenged in court. The question then becomes, how is it understood and put into practice? Similarly, The CNO’s “diversity policy” begins as follows: “Diversity has made our Nation and Navy stronger. To derive the most from that diversity, every individual, military or civilian, must be encouraged and enabled to reach his or her full potential.” Who can disagree with that? But isn’t that just the opposite of race-tracking and separate water fountains?
Even if it’s illegal, it might be we could understand why it’s a good idea, somehow, in some form. Only the military isn’t good at providing justification. We’re told the navy has to “look like” the general population (i.e. non-white). But actually the enlisted corps already does. What they mean is, the officer corps has to be just as non-white as the enlisted corps. Why is that? Who says a black male soldier relates better to a black or Hispanic female officer than to a white male one? Does this mean that white soldiers need white officers? None of this is explained or justified, and the taxpayers are paying the military’s salaries to defend them.
This is the demand for justification that I’m issuing here. In the military, none of it happens. We decide what we’re going to do, keep it secret if possible and in any case “inside the walls,” as the military says. We assert loudly that what we do is serving the policy, and that’s the end of the story. Only it isn’t. The military is here to protect the Constitution. They need to be reminded that they can’t violate it.
For more about Bruce Fleming, his book about the Naval Academy “Annapolis Autumn” and the forthcoming “Bridging the Military-Civilian Divide: What Each Side Needs to Know About the Other, and About Itself,” visit his web site at www.brucefleming.net. A longer consideration of the Naval Academy experience from the perspective of students is currently on www.sftt.org.
First in a series about the most recent iteration of Operation Southern Partner (OSP).
OSP is a Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern)-led event that was aimed at providing intensive, periodic subject matter exchanges with partner nation Air Forces in the US Southern Command area of focus. It was held earlier this month with 7 nations.
In a USNI Blog exclusive, I recently had the opportunity to discuss OSP with LT. Col. Al Struthers, 12th AF Theater Security Cooperation Division Chief, Maj. Kenny Sierra, OSP Caribbean deputy mission commander, and Capt. Nathan Broshear, Twelfth Air Force Public Affairs.
According to LTC. Struthers, one of the lessons learned was the type of training the host nation’s forces received during this cooperative exchange mission. AFSOUTH asked the host nations for their training requirements and upon receiving their responses, OSP “gave them the training they wanted.”
The calendar was another lesson learned according to Major Sierra who commented, “We wished we had more time to do more exchanges.” Major Sierra’s comments were echoed by Captain Broshear, the Grenada team leader, who noted that there is “a big appetite for this type of exchanges.”
I can see why there is an appetite for these type of cooperative exchanges. Over 8500 personnel from the 7-host nations benefitted from the exchange program. Some the exchange missions performed during OSP included:
Urban tactics, small team movements in built-up areas, building entry and clearing and dynamic target acquisition with the Jamaican Defence Force;
fire protection, maintenance, electrical, safety, security forces and para-rescue exchanges with the Belize Defence Force;
search and rescue efforts with the Royal St. Lucia police force’s special service unit; island nation;
international medical education and training with the Guyana Defence Force;
35 community relations projects to include performances by the Air Force Academy Band “Blue Steel” at venues such as the Father Mallaghan’s Home for Boys in the town of Victoria, Grenada.
According to photographer Sagar Pathak of Horizontal Rain “the Airman had a chance to bond with the boys over the international language of music.” Music diplomacy at its best in my view.
When asked what what theywould remember most about OSP, Major Sierra said, “I can tell you how much I enjoyed this tdy. I was able to see the difference. The gratitude on their faces.”
“That’s tough. 20 different things I’ll remember,” was the initial reaction from LTC Struthers when I asked him the same question. Moreover, according to Struthers, the host nations were “excited about us being down there. They loved to have us down there longer. They want us back. The hardwork paid off.”
For Captain Broshear, the exchange of the first sargeants on Grenada was a memorable moment. According to Broshear, it was “the first time we did it.” Moreover, it gave the USAF an opportunity to demonstrate the professionalism of their
NCOs and according to Broshear such exchanges “can help these nations lay out institutionalized training programs.”
To be continued…
Professor Bruce E. Fleming is an English Professor from Annapolis. He has an absolutely powerhouse OP-ED in Sunday’s The Capital.
We have all heard over the last month or so the chorus over how diverse the incoming class at Annapolis is. Well, the devil is in the details – and Professor Fleming lays the whole thing out there to see, smell, and feel.
A “diverse” class does not mean the Naval Academy recruits violinists, or older students (they can’t be 23 on Induction Day), or gay people (who are thrown out) or foreign students (other than the dozen or so sent by client governments).
It means applicants checked a box on their application that says they are Hispanic, African American, Native American, and now, since my time on the Admissions Board of the Academy, where I’ve taught for 22 years, Asians.
Midshipmen are admitted by two tracks. White applicants out of high school who are not also athletic recruits typically need grades of A and B and minimum SAT scores of 600 on each part for the Board to vote them “qualified.” Athletics and leadership also count.
A vote of “qualified” for a white applicant doesn’t mean s/he’s coming, only that he or she can compete to win the “slate” of up to 10 nominations that (most typically) a Congress(wo)man draws up. That means that nine “qualified” white applicants are rejected. SAT scores below 600 or C grades almost always produce a vote of “not qualified” for white applicants.
Not so for an applicant who self-identifies as one of the minorities who are our “number one priority.” For them, another set of rules apply. Their cases are briefed separately to the board, and SAT scores to the mid-500s with quite a few Cs in classes (and no visible athletics or leadership) typically produce a vote of “qualified” for them, with direct admission to Annapolis. They’re in, and are given a pro forma nomination to make it legit.
Minority applicants with scores and grades down to the 300s with Cs and Ds (and no particular leadership or athletics) also come, though after a remedial year at our taxpayer-supported remedial school, the Naval Academy Preparatory School.
By using NAPS as a feeder, we’ve virtually eliminated all competition for “diverse” candidates: in theory they have to get a C average at NAPS to come to USNA, but this is regularly re-negotiated.
There you go. Create a new sub-category (for the USNA) of minority, and have a two-track, separate and unequal selections process. You just increased your diversity. Quod erat demonstrandum.
I highly recommend that you read the whole thing and soak it in. When it comes to getting a handle on how such paternalistic racist policies impact our dialog on race, read some of the comments there as well.
How anyone can defend or be proud of such a blatantly discriminatory policy is beyond me. It sets up young men and women for failure, unfairly stigmatizes minority MIDN and officers who would qualify in a race-neutral environment, it pushes quality cuts to the fleet where lives are on the line (hulls of ships and skin of aircraft don’t care what your DNA is), and on a whole it tarnishes our entire culture of fairness.
In the zero-sum game that is admissions, you can no longer say that we don’t discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, or national origin. As outlined in Professor Fleming’s OP-ED, we do. It also plants the seed of doubt that if we discriminate at the beginning; do we also continue to discriminate throughout the career path?
- On Midrats 23 November 14: “Episode 255: Commanding the Seas -the Surface Force with Bryan Clark from CSBA”
- A Magical Metrical Mystery Tour of Ineffective U.S. Drug Policy
- On Midrats 16 November 14, “Episode 254: John A. Nagl: 13 Years into the War”
- Gabe’s Gambit: Celebrating the Marine Corps Birthday and Reflecting on Talent Management
- On Midrats 9 November 14 Episode 253: “The Fleet we Have, Want, and Need” – with Jerry Hendrix