USCG Arctic

The famous polar explorer Richard Byrd once said, “As long as any part of the world remains obscure, the curiosity of man must draw him there, as the lodestone draws the mariner’s needle, until he comprehends its secret.”1

The Coast Guard has a long history of operating in the Arctic spanning from the purchase of Alaska to present day. In 1867 the Revenue Cutter LINCOLN was deployed to Alaskan waters to gain understanding of the newly acquired territory initiating a Coast Guard tradition of Arctic exploration.

Coast Guard icebreakers have supported scientific research in both the Arctic and Antarctic for decades and Coast Guard Cutters HEALY and POLAR STAR proudly continue this legacy. Recently Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, under the 17th Coast Guard District, came into the fold and began providing a platform of opportunity for various members of the scientific community in the form of the HC-130H Hercules. With the increase in focus on the Arctic, the need to understand this foreboding region and to further the efforts to do so have never been greater. It is in the best interest of the country, in line with national, defense and Coast Guard strategic objectives, and necessary to ensure long term success of the Coast Guard, to support scientific research in the Arctic.

The Beginning of Coast Guard Arctic Domain Awareness Flights

Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak began conducting Arctic Domain Awareness (ADA) missions in 2007. The original intent was to increase U.S. and Coast Guard presence in the Arctic via the HC-130H Hercules while simultaneously exposing aircrews to the challenges and intricacies of operating in this high-latitude environment. The earliest missions were relatively simple, if any operation in the Arctic can be labeled as such, flying the Alaska coastline, noting strategic airfields and geographic points along the way. There were, however, missions of higher visibility such as the October 2007 flight to the North Pole and gradually they evolved to encompass numerous objectives including scientific support.

In 2008, University of Washington scientists, many of whom had worked extensively from Coast Guard icebreakers in the past, reached out to the Coast Guard 17th District and Air Station Kodiak to investigate the feasibility of deploying a series of data collecting buoys from the ADA flights for the interagency-sponsored International Arctic Buoy Program (IABBP). With keen foresight the 17th District supported this request and in 2009 the first delivery of an Airborne eXpendable Ice Beacon (AXIB) by a Coast Guard HC-130H was accomplished.

The deployment of this automated floating weather station, which transmits its data through the Iridium satellite communications system for years at a time, initiated a burgeoning partnership and marked the beginning of a new Arctic exploration opportunity for the scientific community.

The Growing Need for Arctic Accessibility for the Scientific Community

The current National Strategy for the Arctic Region states that, “Vast areas of the Arctic Ocean are unexplored, and we lack much of the basic knowledge necessary to understand and address Arctic issues. The changes in the Arctic cannot be understood in isolation and must be viewed in a global context.2

Furthermore the Coast Guard’s Arctic Strategy, released in May of 2013 describes the need to “assist government-sponsored scientific exploration to develop a greater understanding of the changing Arctic environment3

These statements highlight the fact that there is a significant amount about the Arctic that is unknown, and science is working to keep up with this changing environment.

Every year the Arctic sea ice cover expands during the fall, winter and spring to a maximum extent essentially covering the whole Arctic Ocean. Over the summer, it retracts to a minimum in September. The most remarkable aspect of Arctic environmental change is that the minimum (September) extent has declined faster than climate models predict over the last two decades, reaching a new record minimum in 2012,”4 said Dr. James Morison, principal investigator of the Seasonal Ice Zone Reconnaissance Survey (SIZRS) project.

The explanation for this observed extra-rapid decline is a critical scientific question. The absence or presence of ice in any particular place in the Arctic is controlled by two different factors, thermodynamics and the kinetic effects of wind and sea currents. Measuring these two factors has become increasingly essential for answering that question. The balance of these two factors form the base of much of the scientific exploration of the Arctic, but the way in which they do or do not work together has a great effect on ice extent. If a major storm event forces ice out of the Arctic Basin, the greater amount of exposed, open water present allows more solar radiation to be absorbed into the sea rather than being reflected off a frozen surface. This added heat melts more ice from below creating more open water in a vicious cycle termed ice-albedo feedback. Further, the reduction in ice thickness and coverage makes the ice more responsive to the wind and more wind energy that is converted into wave action, which can further break up the ice. It is also theorized that the increase in ocean heat can affect the growth of ice well into the next year.

The increasing sea ice retreat in the summer increases the potential for ship transport and offshore resource exploitation off the coast of Alaska, and this increases the need for better predictions of ice conditions in the seasonal ice zone. The quality of these model-based predictions is critically dependent on knowing the initial conditions at the beginning of the melt season. However, the vast bulk of measurements are made in late August and September when conditions allow traditional icebreaker operations. This limit precludes surface-based observations in the critical May-June timeframe. According to Dr. Morison,

Only ocean sections with aircraft expendable probes and buoys beginning in May or June repeated throughout the melt season can give the information we need to understand and ultimately predict the evolution of the seasonal ice zone.”5

Coast Guard Hercs Answer the Call

Building on early successes, ties with the University of Washington and the Coast Guard through Air Station Kodiak have grown increasingly intertwined. The number of missions has expanded dramatically from one or two in the first test years to nine missions in 2013. To date five research sensors are deployed by Kodiak based Hercules crews.

The previously mentioned AXIB and the Upper Temperature of the Ocean (UpTempO) are buoys that are designed to survive for months at a time sending vital data on the atmospheric and ocean via satellite. The Aircraft Expendable Conductivity Temperature Depth (AXCTD) and Aircraft Expendable Current Profiler (AXCP) are probes that are deployed in leads in the ice at strategic stations in the Beaufort Sea and radio back to receivers on the aircraft information on the water’s temperature, salinity and current down to a depth of 1000 meters. The DropSonde measures atmospheric condition as it drops through the air column from an altitude of 10,000 feet.

Concurrently in 2009 Air Station Kodiak began supporting an inter-government partnership with NOAA’s Global Monitoring Division working on their Carbon Cycle Greenhouse Gasses (CCGG) aircraft project. This mission is also supported by the ADA mission flights and consists both real-time measurements of methane, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and ozone as well as flask samples that are sent back to Boulder, CO where the NOAA’s CCGG group is based. The primary goal of these aircraft-based measurements is to understand how the large changes observed in the Arctic climate impact emissions of these gases in the Arctic. In particular the NOAA’s CCGG group is most interested in documenting changes in emissions of methane and carbon. As with the ice-albedo feedback, enhanced methane or carbon dioxide emissions with a warmer climate would result in more warming because both methane and carbon dioxide are strong greenhouse gases. Although some studies have suggested methane emissions are increasing with warmer climates current measurements of methane in the Arctic by NOAA have not confirmed this.

By measuring different trace gasses NOAA hopes to link measured gas concentrations to natural and anthropogenic processes. For example if a high concentration of methane is recorded the scientists can use the presence or absence of other gases such propane or ethane to determine if of the release was due to thawing permafrost or thermogic processes like natural gas leaks that will also have large amounts of ethane and propane. There are a plethora of different processes that affect the gas concentrations in the atmosphere. These need to be studied and understood before trends and baselines can be established and before a declaration of change can be made. Air Station Kodiak’s ADA flights are providing the data needed to model these.

The ADA mission is a great opportunity to monitor what is happening in Alaska. Flights on Coast Guard HC-130H aircraft have given us access to multiple regions of Alaska, all reacting in different ways to the changing climate. Flying from March to November gives us a good snapshot of the entire seasonal cycle for [critical regions that are represented throughout] the Arctic,”6 said Dr. Colm Sweeney, head of the Global Monitoring Division’s CCGG Aircraft Program.

This diversity of measuring equipment provides a large, effectively simultaneous picture of conditions over a desired locale in the Arctic. A typical ADA mission might see the deployment of an ocean going buoy followed by AXCTD, AXCP and DropSonde deliveries along a longitudinal line at up to six different stations along with taking the standard 24 CCGG air samples. Shift this effort 10 degrees of longitude on the following day’s mission and an equivalent amount of data was collected to an entire ship-based expedition requiring weeks. And it can be done months before sea ice conditions allow the first research icebreakers on the scene. Combine this unparalleled collecting ability with the fact that Hercules flights are feasible from early March to November and suddenly the Coast Guard is in a position to facilitate unprecedented understanding of the Arctic environment.

Payoff for the Coast Guard

It is widely accepted that with the retreat of Arctic ice will come increased commercial vessel activity taking opportunity of beneficial sea routes, newly exposed resources and a growing tourism market. September 2012 marked the least extent of sea ice in recorded memory.7 Only four vessels utilized the Northern Sea Route in 2010, but 2012 saw 46 transits.8 Moreover, increased oil exploration drilling is scheduled to begin as early as summer of 2014. The Coast Guard will be required to increase capability and presence in order to respond future operational needs. This need is rapidly approaching and operators are facing unpredictable conditions. As any aviator or mariner knows it will be absolutely vital for crews to have accurate environmental and weather forecasts in order to safely complete a myriad of possible missions.

One of the most vital will be the ability to predict the ice edge. The National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan states:

Sea ice forecasting is one of the most urgent and timely issues in the Arctic region. To ensure the best tactical and long-term ice forecasts are available for safe operations and planning, Federal agencies will work together to better quantify the rates of sea ice melt and regrowth, understand shifting patterns of distribution of ice, develop better maps of the ice edge, expand participation in the sea ice observation program, and coordinate with international partners to enable better model-based forecasting over larger areas. Improved observations will contribute to improved forecasts, which will better inform Arctic maritime safety and security activities.”9

The ability to understand a shifting ice edge will enable planners to adjust the Coast Guard’s Arctic posture for each season accordingly.

Having accurate forecasts of the weather and sea state will be important in responding to incidents such as search and rescue cases and oil spills. The ability to predict conditions in the marine domain is listed as one of the top research priorities for the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology. In its Ocean Research and Implementation Plan this is highlighted: “Enhancing environmental observation, characterization, and forecasting of ocean and waterway conditions (e.g., currents, turbidity, surface waves, sea-ice extent, lake levels, biogeochemical conditions) across the global ocean is necessary for safe and efficient marine operations.”10

With the increase in commercial activity already outpacing the Arctic modelers the Coast Guard is faced with operating in an area without the benefits of these accurate forecasts. Furthermore, increased awareness will not only aid operationally the Coast Guard’s Arctic efforts but will assist in the modernization of Arctic governance, a mainstay of Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp’s Arctic strategy.

By providing stalwart support of this scientific effort the Coast Guard is poised to be amongst the first to benefit from the coming revelations, ultimately increasing the service’s effectiveness at carrying out its 11 statutory missions.

Conclusion

The U.S. is an Arctic nation and this is a role that can neither be shirked nor ignored. It is vital that the nation and its agencies embrace this status and become a leading figure as Arctic development takes a frontal position on the international stage. Supporting scientific research in the Arctic is undoubtedly essential and in line with national priorities. The president has outlined in his National Ocean Policy that greater scientific understanding with respect to Arctic environmental conditions must be obtained.11 The National Security Strategy of May 2010 aligns with this policy by directing U.S. support of scientific research in the Arctic.12 Admiral Papp’s vision has clearly placed the Coast Guard as leader in the advancement of U.S. national interests in Arctic waters. Air Station Kodiak and its intrepid Hercules crews are spearheading this effort with support from the 17th District. The relationships and partnerships within the scientific community that Air Station Kodiak has meticulously cultivated could forever change the understanding of the Arctic. Every piece of new data collected will further the nation’s, and by extension the world’s, ability to see with clarity the Arctic environment and the impact it may have on us all.


  1. “HOOVER PRESENTS SPECIAL MEDAL TO BYRD AS CLIMAX OF THE CAPITAL’S WELCOME; CROWDS CHEER HIM, CONGRESS PAYS HONOR” THE NEW YORK TIMES, New York City, June 21, 1930 

  2. National Strategy for the Arctic Region, The White House, May 10, 2013. Pg 8 

  3. U.S. Coast Guard Arctic Strategy, May 2013, Pg 25 

  4. Interview with Dr. James Morison, University of Washington, 13 September 2013 

  5. Interview with Dr. James Morison, University of Washington, 13 September 2013 

  6. Interview with Dr. Colm Sweeny,National Oceonographic and Atmospheric Association, 2 October 2013 

  7. U.S. Coast Guard Arctic Strategy, May 2013, Pg 9 

  8. U.S. Coast Guard Arctic Strategy May 2013, Pg 20 (“46 Vessels through the Northern Sea Route,” Barents Observer, 23 Nov. 2012. 

  9. National Ocean Council, National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan. Apr. 2013. Pg 12 

  10. Charting the Course for Ocean Science in the United States for the Next Decade, NSCT Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology, January 26, 2007, Pg 26 

  11. National Ocean Council, National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan. Apr. 2013. Pg 27 

  12. “National Security Strategy”, May 2010, The White House, Washington, DC, pg. 50. 


The public opinion pendulum seems to be swinging away from the post-9/11 clamor to enhance our homeland security readiness, even while the threats to the US proliferate and evolve. What does that mean for a service that is both a law enforcement agency and a military service?

The Coast Guard’s dual military/law enforcement status is a rare exception to posse comitatus, which requires the service to balance Title 10 and Title 14 responsibilities. In its law enforcement capacity, the Coast Guard must be judicious in its observance of legal procedures and careful to cultivate the trust of the American public. As a military service that provides critical capabilities to the Joint Force, the Coast Guard must train and equip for defense operations that demand a combat-oriented skillset and ethos. Recent events remind us of why it remains important to keep those roles distinct, even as our enemies make it ever more difficult to distinguish criminals from combatants.

Law enforcement agencies in the United States recently came under national scrutiny as a result of indications that the public is growing alarmed at the “militarization” of US police forces. The civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri brought the issue to a head when images of local police confronting protestors while outfitted with camouflage uniforms, heavy body armor, and assault rifles streamed across major media outlets with the effect of further escalating the already volatile situation. The controversy over police wielding military-grade equipment elicited a promise for Congressional review by the Senate Armed Services Committee and a personal letter from House Armed Service Committee member Duncan Hunter to Defense Secretary Hagel encouraging a formal review of a federal program that allows DoD to transfer excess military equipment to police forces.

This latest outcry reminds us of an inexorable truth: free societies tend to vacillate about their desire for security. From Athenians condemning Themistocles to exile after the Persian menace waned, to the widespread vilification of the Patriot Act within the US only a few years after its near-unanimous passage, history demonstrates a consistent pattern wherein an existential threat will motivate the populace to demand greater security from their government, only to later denounce those same security measures once the threat appears to dissipate.

For the US Coast Guard, the recent backlash against militarized police is cause for reflection. The Coast Guard relies on a high degree of public confidence to maintain its dual status as both a law enforcement and military organization. Any erosion of that confidence compromises its ability to fulfill its diverse mission set. Yet there can be little doubt that it has adopted a much more overtly military appearance in recent years. The twin catalysts of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina produced major organizational changes in the service’s missions, capabilities, and identity. The most readily-apparent difference is the enhanced security posture the service adopted to mitigate the terrorist threat to the homeland. The Coast Guard added Maritime Safety and Security Teams and a Maritime Security Response Team, and aligned itself closer to the Department of Defense both for Homeland Defense missions and contingency operations abroad. Coast Guard response boats patrol our waterways with crew-served weapons mounted, armed Coast Guard helicopters circle the Capitol daily, and Coast Guardsmen perform a variety of maritime security missions in SWAT-like tactical gear. The result is that the Coast Guard’s public image has evolved from a primarily humanitarian, life-saving and law-enforcement service that performs a combat role in time of war, to one that remains all of those things, but also wields distinctly-military capabilities close to home and in full view of the American public.

Coast Guard MSRTSo far, the Coast Guard has not been subjected to the condemnation currently being heaped upon other domestic law enforcement agencies. However, with public confidence in government nearing an all-time nadir and many Americans weary of war abroad and enhanced security measures at home, the service must consider how it will continue to balance its domestic security responsibilities with its humanitarian and law enforcement missions.

That balance promises to grow ever more difficult in the future. Once-clear lines separating criminals from terrorists and military forces are blurring into amorphous inter-dependent networks labeled simply “irregular threats.” Confronting irregular threats and irregular warfare (CIC/IW) garners a lot of attention within DoD, but its ambiguous nature frustrates attempts to frame a consistent interpretation of where such threats transition from a law enforcement to a military responsibility. The Coast Guard seems ideally suited for taking a lead role in the CIC/IW mission due to its statutory authority and operational capability to act in both capacities, but there is risk to that approach because American principles have historically required maintaining a bright line between the two. The challenge for the Coast Guard will be determining how best to leverage the authorities and capabilities that make it well-adapted for CIC/IW, while remaining within legal boundaries and out of the crosshairs of public condemnation. Equally challenging will be preserving the service’s humanitarian reputation (critical for gaining access to regions wary of US military presence) while some Coast Guard sub-communities evolve to more closely resemble their DoD brethren.

Relaxing the Coast Guard’s domestic security posture is certainly not the right answer. Doing so would be a gross abdication of its homeland security responsibility. Many will recall that the modal conclusion that emerged from numerous post-9/11 “how did this happen?” tribunals was that the clues were there that should have alerted us to improve our security measures, but for a variety of reasons we choose not to. The universal vow that followed was “never again.” Thirteen years hence, we are perhaps reaping the consequences of our own success (at great cost and sacrifice that few fully comprehend) in preventing another major attack on the homeland. To many, the threat is simply not salient enough anymore to justify remaining loaded for bear on the homefront. Yet compared to the current security environment, the decade leading up to 9/11 seems like a halcyon era of relative tranquility. Bin Laden is dead, but that fact is little solace amidst the unraveling of Iraq and Syria, rampant narco-violence throughout the Western hemisphere, sophisticated horizontal weapons proliferation to non-state actors, and technical accelerators that are producing dangerous new capabilities available for commercial consumption. At no time in the nation’s history has “semper paratus” demanded a higher degree of readiness from its Coast Guard.

So how does the Coast Guard maintain necessary readiness without triggering the ire of a war and security-weary public?

Foremost, it must have a convincing strategic narrative that informs the public why an assertively-postured Coast Guard is in their best interest. That narrative needs to clearly detail the nature and magnitude of the threat, what capabilities the Coast Guard needs to confront that threat, and why the Coast Guard’s enhanced domestic readiness does not undermine American civil liberties or detract from its humanitarian missions.

USCG AUFThe Coast Guard has done pretty well in this respect so far. The avuncular “Smokies of the Sea” image from the 80s and 90s evolved into “America’s Maritime Guardian” and the “Shield of Freedom” images after 9/11. Media coverage of the service during the Hurricane Katrina response and on popular television shows such as Coast Guard Alaska and Miami help to educate the public on the breadth of the missions that the Coast Guard performs. But more work remains. Evolving attitudes toward issues that the Coast Guard is directly involved with promise to invite more scrutiny into how and why the Coast Guard performs some missions. For example, how does growing support for legalization of certain drugs affect the cost/benefit calculation of further prosecuting the drug war and the related threats posed by narco-terrorism? Does it continue to justify, for example, employing airborne use of force against non-compliant drug smugglers? What about illegal immigration? Those and other missions will certainly come under scrutiny in the future and the Coast Guard must be ready to justify its policies. The best way to maintain support for robust interdiction capabilities is to reinforce their importance to maritime security and conduct them with irreproachable skill and professionalism.

Communicating a clear strategic narrative is not just for public consumption. The Coast Guard needs to internalize it as well. Coast Guardsmen need to understand the precarious balance that their unique status demands and why that requires going out of their way to avoid any instance of excessive force or unwarranted intimidation. That obligation is nothing new. The same guidance traces back to a passage from a letter written in 1791 by Alexander Hamilton to commanding officers of the Revenue Cutter Service (predecessor to the Coast Guard) that remains required reading for all Coast Guard law enforcement personnel:

“They will always keep in mind that their countrymen are freemen, and, as such, are impatient of everything that bears the least mark of a domineering spirit. They will, therefore, refrain, with the most guarded circumspection, from whatever has the semblance of haughtiness, rudeness, or insult. If obstacles occur, they will remember that they are under the particular protection of the laws and that they can meet with nothing disagreeable in the execution of their duty which these will not severely reprehend. This reflection, and a regard to the good of the service, will prevent, at all times a spirit of irritation or resentment. They will endeavor to overcome difficulties, if any are experienced, by a cool and temperate perseverance in their duty–by address and moderation, rather than by vehemence or violence.”

However simple that passage might appear, it may at times prove difficult in practice. Law enforcement and combat require very different mindsets and training approaches, even if some of the missions and capabilities overlap. The potential conflict between developing a resilient “combat ready” mentality that facilitates effective action under fire and ingraining restraint and humanitarian sensitivity was highlighted in the “Kill Company” case study, and explored in Lt. Col David Grossman’s book On Combat. “Cool and temperate perseverance” is appropriate in the course of normal operations, but reacting to a situation that suddenly changes from law enforcement use of force to rules of engagement (such as happened here and here), or homeland defense such as interdicting an inbound terrorist attack, requires the ability to instantly shift mental gears. Because of the diversity of Coast Guard missions and unpredictability of the threat environment, Coast Guardsmen must be ready to instantly transition from one extreme to the other.

The challenge remains to further refine the Coast Guard’s strategic narrative in what promises to be a tumultuous future. The Coast Guard must remain an outstretched hand that saves and a clenched fist that defends; a conscientious maritime constable and a combat-ready naval force. In looking for an effective narrative to emulate, it would be difficult to find one better than the 2003 “All Hands” that General Mattis sent his Marines on the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom. His succinct, three-paragraph message concluded with “Demonstrate to the world there is ‘no better friend, no worse enemy’ than a U.S. Marine.” Guided by a similar maxim, the Coast Guard will ensure that the public it protects continues to feel reassured, not threatened by its presence, while those who seek to perpetrate violence or criminality at sea can count on a formidable and ready “maritime guardian” standing by to oppose them.


“You never know till you try to reach them how accessible men are; but you must approach each man by the right door.”
– Henry Ward Beecher

I’m writing this in response (to the responses, I suppose) of a Proceedings article on Millennials written by CDR Darcie Cunningham, USCG, which lays out the ways in which Millennials are inherently unsuited for military service. The points she raised are echoed in the comments and responses to her article and frankly to the opinions of many of the senior leaders whom I’ve heard discuss the topic. The counter arguments, often penned by Millennial Officers, focus on discounting the arguments without actually looking at the problem from a positive aspect; addressing what the writer gets wrong rather than what the Millennials do right.

The Navy has been my life and home for over 23 years. As a proud Generation Xer, I too watched with dismay as the new generation of Millennials entered the service. Like many Gen X types, I more than once found myself fuming, and saying things along the lines of “Just do your job, what do you want a medal?” or something similar in the snarky language that defines our generation. Over the years, and in particular over the course of my command tour, I have come to realize that this new group of young men and women not only are worthy of respect, but in many ways offer the Navy an opportunity for improvement, provided we commit to both understanding this group, and adjusting our leadership styles to match their desires. First, we old folks need to get over ourselves and chuck the rose colored glasses when looking back at our junior officer days. Second, we need to look at the Millennial Officers for what unique qualities they bring to our organization. Finally, we must understand their equities so we can adjust how we deal with them in order to maximize their potential.

Now, for the purposes of this article and ease of language I will refer strictly to officers in the naval service, but these experiences also hold true for the Sailors with whom I’ve served, and I imagine are applicable across any military service.

The problems described in CDR Cunningham’s article will hardly seem generationally unique if we are honest with ourselves. Seeking to scam off the ship early is a time-honored and expected junior officer behavior. I’m sure I am not the only person to remember the concept of “liberty for the brave.” More fundamentally, given our increasing operational tempo, what value is there to keeping people at work once the work is done? Similarly, informality among first tour officers and a desire by these officers to receive positive feedback is hardly new. On the other hand, the sort of hard partying and behaviors preferred by previous generations are not found in today’s junior officers, through a combination of generational conservatism and increasingly harsh penalties for transgressions. How many of today’s commanders and captains could achieve their positions had camera phones existed in the 1980s and early 1990s in liberty ports around the globe? As for the comments about being delayed in promotion, there are many in my generation whose promotions were delayed due to the Tailhook scandal, including branches of the Navy who couldn’t have attended anyhow! The fact is that junior officers are, and always have been, works in progress. It is our job as leaders not to stifle them, but to learn what drives them, and what they need from us as leaders to develop to their full potential.

Fundamentally, the Millennial Officer offers significant opportunities that are not found in the current crop of generations in our maritime workplace, whether the Baby Boomers with their combination of workaholic tendencies and a firm belief that nobody works as hard as them, to my generation of cynics who feel like they are picking up the mess left behind from the Boomers. This new cohort has a combination of positivity, openness, and general fairness that make them very suited to leadership in a military environment. The average Millennial:

  • Possesses a true belief in the greatness and opportunity offered by America and the future.
  • Desires to be part of something meaningful, and greater than themselves and to work for a cause in the name of a greater good.
  • Feels deeply committed to family and community.
  • Believes themselves to be truly multicultural, able to work with people of any background, whether social, economic, or cultural. They accept and value the differences found in groups.
  • Values working with a team more so than working alone.
  • Is unafraid of technology or of change.
  • Values results over effort

All of these identifiers of this generation are seemingly custom fit for working and eventually leading within an organization such as the Navy, which values commitment, teamwork, and diversity, and which embraces modern technology. So why wouldn’t we want them as our future leaders?

All existing generations believe that the follow on generations aren’t as good as them, and expect them to conform to the old way of doing business. As military leaders, however, we must hold ourselves to the concept of servant leadership; namely that the leader exists to serve the people under their command. In particular with the Naval Services, ensuring your people are properly trained, equipped, and motivated will ensure mission success. Doing this, however, requires today’s leaders to change our methods, since the levers that motivated our generation do not work on the current one. Failure to adjust means that we will be stuck looking to only locate people who fit into our narrow mold, vice becoming an organization that draws in the Millennial. So how do we accomplish this?

  1. Make a compelling case for why their service to the country matters. The Navy appears to understand this concept broadly given the recruiting campaign to be a “Global Force for Good,” but in practice this becomes harder to define. In an ideal world our leadership would only ask for deployments and sacrifice on items truly in the obvious national interest, however as long as there has been a Navy ships have been globally deployed to exert national influence and to provide our government with military options around the globe. Leaders have to find a way to adequately articulate why this matters. For instance, prior to my deployment in command to the 5th Fleet area of responsibility, I used the pre-deployment family training session to not talk solely about support services for the families while we were away, but also spent a good chunk of time describing the recent history and geography of the area, and did my best to explain the value of our continued presence in the area, and talked to them about how to read the news while we were gone. The response from this brief from the mothers, wives, and children of my Sailors was overwhelmingly positive, many remarking that they never understood why their men had to go away before that night. Linking their sacrifice to value is critical for motivating and retaining the Millennial Officer.
  2. Since families matter, the command must make a concerted effort to not merely pay lip service to caring for families, but actually expend reasonable command effort to live up to these expectations. This means doing everything possible to ensure parents are together for births, giving the crew time off from work to complete deployment preps months – not days – in advance, or frequently hosting family friendly events where the command team is present and engaged, to name a few examples. In particular in this era of cutbacks of services traditionally supported on base, a command team must commit to caring for families. Note that in today’s world this means engaging the parents as well, who remain an integral part of many young adult Millennials’ lives.
  3. A leader must be personable, and actually care for their people. Remember that this generation has been raised with their parents as their friends. Authority figures may not have been a part of their lives to this point. This means that as a leader you will need to balance being firm and setting expectations with being approachable. If you don’t show sincere concern for their personal lives and development, and make a connection with your people, the Millennial will not want to work for you. This means allowing more informality into the relationship than may have been expected 20 years ago when we were junior officers; as long as there are clear and defined standards being greeted below decks with “Hi Captain” vice “Good morning, sir/ma’am” will not jeopardize good order and discipline.
  4. Senior leadership should be ready for unrealistic expectations, and work with their people to turn these into a realistic plan. One of the defining traits of this generation is huge aspirations with little idea of how to get there. If dismissed and left unchecked this will drive down retention since our brightest and most ambitious officers will depart the service in pursuit of their grand goal. Frequent counseling and career reviews are critical to understanding where your people see themselves in five or ten years. Knowing their goals and understanding their personal lives as described earlier will allow leaders the opportunity to steer the individuals into a path to success. In my experience, this needs to be done whether the officer decides to stay in or leave the Navy. Full support of a departing officer’s goals will help convince the others that you truly have their best interests at heart.

Every generational shift is accompanied by the same resistance to change from older generations. Establishing a dialog that accentuates the positive aspects of generational divides vice using positional authority to reject these same issues is critical to the long term health of any organization, even one as traditionally resistant to change as the Navy. The Millennial generation represents the future of this nation, and brings dramatically different values to any organization. Embracing these values, and working with vice against this generation, will improve our readiness for the coming, challenging years.


The inevitable fiscal crunch that is starting our Military down has the Pharisees of the defense industry, think tanks, and senior military leaders all rabble-rabbling about the need for change. Some of that change is strategic- Asia Pacific pivot anyone? Other bits of it reside in the acquisitions department, as we see with the pros and cons of developing “revolutionary” weapons systems to confront “new” threats. The most harrowing changes for military leaders are the all too well known cuts to manpower that will come in some fashion, no matter the logic, or lack thereof, which delineates how those cuts will happen. There is more change in the air than cordite after an end of fiscal year shooting range, but it is important to reflect on some history in order to avoid stepping on the same proverbial rakes that have smacked our national security establishment in the face during previous drawdowns.

Ideas like this one are an especially pervasive form of bad, and seem unable to die even when history proves them inadvisable. We saw the call for unification in President Eisenhower’s attempts to reevaluate our national security establishment in light of the massive technological, strategic, and social changes that occurred after World War Two. It was vital to acknowledge the necessity of change in that period, because much like Eisenhower’s dictum on planning, self-examination is vital even if most of the individual recommendations may turn out to be worthless. Reconsidering defense in light of nuclear weapons, ICBMS, and the bi-polar nature of security dilemmas when facing the Soviet Union was important. Trusting academic tea-leaf readers in their assessments and then proclaiming there would “never be another amphibious landing”, that ground forces would not be used in limited wars, and that tactical airpower was only needed to defend or shoot down strategic airpower looks downright foolhardy when viewed as historical record. What saved us from the march to a monolithic Star Fleet force that all wore the small uniforms and all died like red shirts landing on Klingon? The pluralistic competition of our service structure, which was inefficient and far from perfect, but possessed a flexibility that made it anti-fragile.

Separate services, even separate services that possess redundant capabilities, are a vital part of American national defense. The Army needs the Marine Corps to soak up public attention as a motivation for better performance as badly as the Marine Corps need the Army to keep its constant self worry about irrelevance and drive its performance. Those intangible reasons can be criticized as they are not measurable, but of direct consequence are the different service outlooks which spurn actual innovation.

The Marine Corps decided it would gladly incorporate vulnerable and unwieldy rotary aircraft that Army and Air Force leaders largely ignored during Korea, and in doing so enabled the much better resourced Army to perfect the techniques of vertical envelopment to a higher degree than it ever could in Vietnam. The Navy had to have an Air Force that threatened its budget in order to develop SSBNs, and not pursue the much less effective option of carrier borne strategic bombers. Our most recent wars have shown the truth that a market place of defense ideas is better than a command economy for strategy. While the Marine Corps stubbornly resisted SOCOM membership, the other services gladly perfected the techniques needed to combat global terrorism in the learning laboratories of Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Those were bloody lessons, but proved that some enemies cannot be defeated by large MEUs waiting off shores, although the synergy created between such a force and SOCOM has proven to be vital, and continues to pay national security dividends. Service diversity even ensures we do not forget lessons learned in blood that may seem inefficient during peacetime arguments on Capitol Hill. Even the best planners can shortchange things that are easily forgotten as peace breaks out. Something as boring as oil platform protection is a skill the world’s preeminent Navy forgot, and had to relearn from the worlds 12th largest navy (the U.S. Coast Guard). There is known historical value and definite future value in keeping a diverse and flexible force, but to do so one must resist the urge to unify in the name of declining dollars. Cost savings are easy to evaluate in peacetime dollars, but take on a morbid tone when seen in defeat and death at the opening stages of a conflict.

Cleary such an arrangement has inefficiencies, and wasting taxpayer dollars in the worst economy in years should be viewed as criminal no matter if the DOD is committing the waste or not. Grenada, Desert One, and Vietnam all demonstrated the tragic human cost of pursuing service parochialism over higher interests. Such costs have been mitigated in part by the Goldwater-Nichols act of 1986. Goldwater-Nichols is far from perfect and could use an upgrade to incorporate recent lessons from the Long War. Jointness in our operations, communications, and interoperability is a good thing. Understanding perspective, knowing how the whole of the military functions instead of just one’s own slice, and talk the language of service peers are also good things. Making claims that bureaucratic restructuring to “align” and “combine” are fools errands, they repeat the mistakes that we almost made in trying to tear down an organic system. Our current force has grown through invaluable combat experience, to replace it with a theoretical framework that has never worked is a bad idea of immense magnitude.

There have been examples of “unified” militaries, look at Saddam’s Republican Guard, it clearly combined the best equipment, personnel, and training available to fulfill “civilian” leadership’s strategic wishes. Such a system is horribly fragile, and succumbs to the groupthink that all bureaucracies do. In this age of belt tightening, we should correctly become more efficient, but there are better ways than throwing out everything and starting from scratch. Reexamining our bloated personnel policies, taking a hard look at our compensation and retirement systems that resemble ticking fiscal bombs, and revamping our professional military education are all better places to start than tired and historically bankrupt calls for the “merger of …[U.S.]…ground forces”. The diversity of thought which comes from each service is one of the strongest weapons our joint force possesses, it would wise to avoid dulling such fine tool so we can save dollars only to spend lives unnecessarily in a future conflict.


The last couple of years have been an exceptionally difficult one for the U.S. Naval Academy. For the MIDN, Alumni, and the larger Navy family. USNA had to deal with serious issues of honor, a race-focused admissions policy, misguided priorities – to the more curious tactical details of the Potempkin Color Guard, odd traditions warped, a strange good-bye for the previous Superintendent, a penultimate act – the IG Report, and finally a sad, lonely changing of the watch. No, not a very good run for a critically important part of our Navy.

With a change in leadership there is always hope – and I think the new Supe, VADM Michael Miller, is off to a very good start. A few promising nuggets on background have come my way from the Severn Underground, and we recently saw some more in open source.

If you didn’t get it from Facebook – VADM Miller gave a speech recently to USNA alumni. It was a very good talk – and that is what it was; a talk. Not a lecture, not really a speech – but a talk among friends. Watch the whole thing at the Facebook link and then come back..

There is one point that I wanted you to think about. Think about all the times you have spoken to a group of people. Now segment them into those where you never expected an applause line. If you have ever had that happen – you know the impact that can have on a speaker. It breaks your stride and makes you ponder – it emphasizes to you that something you said hit a nerve – it is important. Think back to some of the more negative things that came out of Annapolis up to and including the IG Report. In many, what was a common thread? Now, watch this shorter cut of the larger speech and come back again.

VADM Miller’s initial response was right on. In the X-ring. That is the right answer – that is the right idea – that is in the finest traditions of our Representative Republic and the ideals that will help keep it together. Yes, I know he refined his comments a bit to broaden his running room – but I trust his initial comments and instincts and will grant him his hedge. VADM need running room.

I wish him the best of luck, support, and the will to see it through. He has quite the headwind if he wants to do this. Institutional inertia and those whose paycheck relies of sectarianism will oppose him. Congressional pressure will be huge – heck, they just removed language from the USCG funding bill – dangerous language it seems,

Buried in the annual Coast Guard authorization act passed this week by Congress is wording that would strike from the U.S. Code the statement that all appointments to the Coast Guard Academy “shall be made without regard to the sex, race, color or religious beliefs of an applicant.”

No, a correct policy of judging people by the content of their character is unquestionably out – an unjust policy of judging by the color of their skin is the in thing from the CNO on down.

With the drive to reinforce active discrimination from DC – VADM Miller’s “radical” support for a just system will run into opposition, but that’s OK. Compared to the challenges he has faced in his career, this should be easy.

We have the right words, we should look forward to the right actions – and look forward to a great year for the Naval Academy. Our Midshipmen and our Navy deserve it, not to mention the taxpayer.


2014 Information Domination Essay Contest