As I had posted previously, I was given the opportunity to interview Vice Admiral John Harvey, Director Navy Staff. I covered his views on social media/Web 2.0 earlier. In the following excerpt of the interview, VADM Harvey discusses service selection choice, his time as company commander under then-Capt. Krulak, and mentorship in the Navy. My questions are italicized, with the admiral’s responses in normal font.
I have four or five months now until I put in my service selection choices and I am still struggling. You went nuclear surface warfare and what led you to choose that? Any favorite memory?
Well, first and this is most important to say you have a wonderful problem and you have a lot of really great choices. People should have such problems.…
I was always predisposed to surface following my 3rd class cruise. I found that I really enjoyed being at sea and being part of a ship. I just responded very viscerally to that and I sort of got on that track and stayed with it. We chose 1st class year, in the late fall/early winter, one of the things which drove me to surface nuke–now remember this is late ‘72 early ’73…a law had been passed under Title VIII saying that all new construction on warships of a certain tonnage, I think it was 8000 tons or greater, had to be nuclear power. So I am just sitting there in my room in Bancroft Hall, just trying to put this all together and I thought “I want to be surface and I want to be part of the future here.” I didn’t know if I was going to be in for five years or fifty at the time, but…if you did stick around and be a part of this is clearly you had to serve in nuclear power warships… I went in, did interviews, and the rest as they say is history.
Then of course they repealed the law [laughter] but I am very glad I made the choice I did.
Did I understand correctly that Capt. Krulak was your company officer?
Yes, then Capt Charles Chandler Krulak, USMC was our company officer for about 2 ½ years at the Naval Academy and later became the 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps. I’m proud to say I stayed in contact with him over the years after he was our CO and it’s been a great personal and professional privilege to have had a relationship with him over these years.
And you were company commander I think sir?
Yeah 2nd set. Back then you had 3 sets (fall, winter, and spring “honor set”)….In the winter set I was 5th company commander, my moment of glory.
Small world! To think that my company officer could go on to become Commandant of the Marines or CNO…
Yeah you never know what can happen with the men and women you spend a lot of time with. He had lots of energy, was charismatic and very engaged. In fact, we graduated 20 out of my company. 10 of them went into the Marine Corps; I think it was driven by [him].
Yeah we had a [Marine] company officer my plebe year and now 32 firsties are graduating and I think 15 are going Marine Corps; it’s an incredible ratio.
Now I note that of the 10 that went Marine Corps none of them stayed in past their service obligation [laughter]. So number of us who went into the Navy stayed in it for awhile. I’ll leave that to the reader [laughter].
Speaking of Company officers and mentor… The Navy places particular emphasis on mentorship; I was just wondering if you had any particular mentor as a midshipmen or junior officer?
I mean, yeah, I was very, very fortunate I think. I graduated in June ’73, I started nuclear power school in June—went right to power school. Got right to prototype in January ’74. I was on my first ship, USS Enterprise, in July 1974. It was just a fabulous tour. Looking back on it, one of the reason that ship–and I was a little hesitant to a carrier first, big ship, big wardroom , little ensign, you’re just going to get lost in the crowd so to speak—but…I didn’t have an appreciation for the fundamentals of leadership on that ship. A number of the officers I worked very closely with in reactor and engineering departments, felt a great responsibility to mentor the junior officers. There were a lot of us, but there was a great number of them and they were really quality individuals who I will remember vividly to the day I die, who invested a lot of their time in our professional development.
To me that really set a pattern that stayed with me as I went through Enterprise, had great associations there with the people I worked with and for, and that has been true on up to today. You don’t think as a 3rd star admiral, “Who’s your mentor,” but I’ve got them at the flag rank. I have retired senior officers who are still in touch, I talk about things we are trying to do with them, and I got advice from them. I have had the benefit of this kind of intense engagement on every ship and ever shore station I have been to. I am not just exaggerating to make you feel good—it’s just a fact of my career…
You come to those decision points, everyone has them: “Do I stay or do I go? What’s the right call for me [and] my family?” One of the things which has weighted me towards making the decision to say is the very, very positive experiences I have had with the people I’ve served with–the people who were interested in getting John Harvey to the next step in the rung. The most powerful mentor I’ve had, in terms of impact on me, was Senior Chief Machinist Mate Robert D. Neil, from Riverton, Wyoming. He was my first chief on board the Enterprise. I think he had more an impact on how I turned out than any individual in my life with the exception of my father. And Senior Chief did it in just two years. He was a very, very remarkable individual. Very wise man, who really knew his business, his profession, his people and was intensely interested in making sure his junior officers had the best chance to succeed as possible.
I’ve been very fortunate on both sides. On the senior enlisted side—people who have given a lot of themselves to help me, and on the officer side as well.
John McCain once mentioned he learned everything about leadership from a chief petty officer. It seems about right?
Well, there is a lot to be learned from everyone you serve around. There’s a lot out there, take advantage of all of it and things will be OK.
For further reading on mentorship, check out this article from a recent Proceedings issue. Authors Dr. Johnson and Mr. Andersen confirm much of what VADM Harvey had to say, and further explore how the Navy can foster mentorship more effectively.
Former/current service members: How did YOU decide upon your MOS/service selection/specialty?
Post was edited to correct VADM Harvey’s current rank.
In less than a month we will be firmly in the middle of the 2nd decade of the 21st Century. What path were we put on at the start 21st Century that got us here? How do we evaluate the right decisions, the neutral decisions, and the less than optimal calls of the last decade and a half? What lessons can we take away now in order to make decisions to best position the Navy on the approaches to 2030?
Our guest for the full hour this Sunday to discuss this an much more will be Admiral John C. Harvey, Jr, USN (Ret).
Almost a year since he joined the retired ranks, when in uniform Admiral Harvey was one of the of the more engaged, visible, and accessible Flag Officers of his generation – and in retirement he continues to be an influential voice.
Admiral Harvey was born and raised in Baltimore, MD and is a 1973 graduate of the U S Naval Academy.
In his thirty-nine year Navy career, he specialized in naval nuclear propulsion, surface ship and carrier strike-group operations and Navy-wide manpower management/personnel policy development.
He commanded the USS DAVID R RAY (DD 971), the USS CAPE ST GEORGE (CG 71), the THEODORE ROOSEVELT Strike Group/CCDG-8 and also served as the Navy’s 54th Chief of Naval Personnel and as the Director, Navy Staff.
Prior to his retirement from the Navy in November, 2012, Admiral Harvey served as Commander, US Fleet Forces Command. He now makes his home in Vienna, Virginia where he resides with his wife, Mary Ellen.
Join us live or, if you can’t make it live, pick up the show later by clicking here.
To guarantee joint forces that are globally competent, confident, adaptable and agile in the future, the United States cannot continue on the path it has been while fighting the war against terror in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.
That was the message delivered by Adm. John C. Harvey Jr., head of U.S. Fleet Forces, at the Joint Warfighting Conference 2011 at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. The three-day conference, sponsored by the U. S. Naval Institute (USNI) and the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association International (AFCEA), aims to answer this year’s overarching question: “How Do We Leverage Successes of Joint & Coalition Warfare?”
“We generated that surge capacity” fighting the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and “immediately began to consume it,” Adm. Harvey told a crowd of about 1,100 during a lunchtime address. “Surge capacity has become routine delivery.
“We have to hit the reset button.”
Matt and Grant interview ADM John C. Harvey Jr., USN (ret), former Fleet Forces and Old Salt emeritus. They talk about almost everything, but topics of recent interest: Sequestration, Air-Sea Battle, China, Surface Combatants, Carrier numbers, Fat Leonard, and more! Join us for Episode 10:
ADM Harvey (DOWNLOAD)
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When I graduated from the Naval Academy in 1991 and prepared to embark on my career as a Surface Warfare Officer, I asked my father, a retired SWO, if he had any advice. Drawing from his 30 years of experience, he provided me only these simple words, “Don’t hit the Bird Farm.” It sounded simple enough. In the past 20 years, there have been many occasions in which those words have come to mind.
I have not served aboard an aircraft carrier and there have only been a handful of occasions in which I have been aboard one of these floating cities. Nonetheless, carriers have figured prominently throughout my career. I have served aboard cruisers and destroyers and all have counted as one of their primary missions the protection of these magnificent capital ships. As it turns out, an unavoidable consequence of having to protect aircraft carriers is the need to operate in close proximity to them.
Operating with an aircraft carrier, especially at night, demands some of the most vigilant watchstanding of any operations we do. It requires a full understanding of the maneuvering characteristics of your own ship as well as those of the carrier. One must also quickly come to the realization that the carrier is always right and that what they say they are going to do may not always line up with reality. Some of the most stressful moments in my career have involved staring at the stern of a carrier at close range at night. When not assigned to protect them, almost as much energy has been spent trying to keep them over the horizon. In many aspects, they remain an enigma to non-carrier Sailors.
As Admiral Stavridis and Admiral Harvey convey so well in this blog post, serving aboard a carrier is clearly a unique experience full of valuable leadership and operational lessons. However, it is equally clear that the lessons learned from carriers go far beyond their lifelines and they have affected the professional lives of virtually all sea-going officers in one way or another.
-CDR Robb Chadwick, USN
USS ROOSEVELT (DDG 80)
Lessons Learned from Our Carrier Tours
Admiral Harvey: I was about half-way through my training at the nuclear propulsion prototype in Idaho Falls, Idaho in the spring of 1974 when I received my orders to my first ship . Much to my dismay I saw that I had been assigned to the USS ENTERPRISE (CVN 65), at the time our only operational nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. The Big E had not been my first choice, my second choice or even my third choice on my preference card; in fact, I hadn’t listed the ship at all! I had put down every nuclear-powered cruiser then in commission or under construction at the time and specifically added the comment that I had no desire to be assigned to an aircraft carrier under any conditions. How could my detailer have possibly gotten it so wrong on something that was so important to me?
I graduated from the Naval Academy in 1973, and during my first -class year, there were rumors that Congress was going to pass legislation mandating that all new major surface combatants would be nuclear powered. In fact, Congress did just that, and in 1974, the National Defense Authorization Act for 1975 contained a provision (Title 8 ) which mandated all newly constructed major surface combatants be nuclear powered. Because I was fired up to graduate, go surface line and be eligible to serve in the best ships we had, I applied for the nuclear power program to serve as a SWO(N). Now, as fate would have it, just three years later, Title 8 was rescinded, but by that time, I was on my second division officer tour as a nuclear-trained Surface Warfare Officer and loving life.
The point is I came into the Navy to go to “real” ships and be a ship-driver, a Tin Can Sailor and a Cruiser Sailor. Aircraft carriers weren’t part of my plan at all! I was concerned that being a junior officer aboard an aircraft carrier with a crew of over 5,000 would not offer me any real opportunities to make a significant contribution to the ship. But, as always, the Navy knew best what was good for me and off I went to NAS Alameda, CA to join the crew of the Big E and get ready for her upcoming deployment to the Western Pacific. I was assigned to the Reactor Department and , after I completed my nuclear watch-standing qualifications, became the 4 Plant Station Officer.
Although I certainly didn’t appreciate it at the time, I was extraordinarily fortunate to be assigned to the Big E and, in particular, to 4 Plant. My CO was CAPT C. C. Smith and I could see right away that he was the kind of Captain, the kind of leader, I would want to be. As an ensign from the Naval Academy, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of our Navy, but the Big E under CAPT Smith gave me the deck-plate knowledge of what the Navy was really all about. Along the way, CAPT Smith had that extraordinary impact on me that every JO’s first CO does, and it was an incredibly positive experience. The way he commanded the Big E, the way he got about the ship and communicated with the crew, and the way he demonstrated an in-depth understanding of every department and division (including mine!) solidified in my mind what the Commanding Officer of a ship can (and should) be like. CAPT C. C. Smith was the model for me in my own subsequent command tours – the standard by which I would judge myself.
My LCPO in Plant 4 was Senior Chief Machinist’s Mate Robert D. Neil of Riverton, Wyoming. MMCS Neil only had a high school education, but it sure seemed to me that he had PhDs in nuclear propulsion, naval leadership, and life! MMCS Neil set high professional standards for everyone in 4 Plant – professional standards he himself demonstrated every day – and he took Ensign Harvey and taught him the ropes just as Chiefs have always done in our Navy. It didn’t matter that there were 5,000 other Sailors on the Big E; I had MMCS Neil who gave me his full attention, everyday. The relationship between new division officers and their chiefs is essential to the shaping of our junior officers and the lessons MMCS Neil taught me then have shaped virtually every decision I have made since that tour with him. There is literally not a day that goes by that I don’t use what I learned from Senior Chief Neil. What a privilege to have served with him!
Of the many lessons I learned while serving in Big E, here are three that have stayed with me: First, the essential relationship between the division chief and the new division officer is what makes all the difference for overly enthusiastic, but perhaps dangerously naïve JO’s like myself. Senior Chief Neil taught me what it truly meant to be an officer. Second, the ship, no matter how large, takes on the personality of the Commanding Officer, and a good leader must possess professional competence, intelligent good sense, and respect for those he leads. CAPT C. C. Smith exemplified those essential leadership qualities. Finally, and most importantly, it’s your choices, not your circumstances, that determine your future. You have to play the hand you’re dealt. Some people may be dealt what may appear to be better hands than others, but it is how you play your hand – what you do with what you’ve got – that really determines your future in our Navy.
So my first tour in the Navy, my first two years in my first ship, not a sleek destroyer or a powerful cruiser, but an aircraft carrier, far from being the negative experience I feared it would be, was, in fact, one of the great experiences of my life and one of the best tours I’ve ever had in the Navy.
I graduated from Annapolis in 1976 and went to a brand new destroyer. She was USS HEWITT (DD-966), the fourth of the SPRUANCE-class, with a hand-picked commissioning crew. As the Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer, I had a team of about 25 super smart sonar technicians and torpedo men, all of them very squared away. The next three years passed quickly and I decided I loved the Navy.
Then I got a call from my detailer: I’d been selected for something called the Carrier Readiness Improvement Program. This meant that I would leave my beautiful new destroyer and life above decks and become an engineer in an old, conventionally powered aircraft carrier, USS FORRESTAL (CV-59). I couldn’t believe this was happening to me – the “reward” for all my hard work was to go to an old, burned out carrier as the boilers officer with over a hundred hard-cored boiler technicians, many of them with severe drug problems and most with a bad attitude. I fought it hard, but orders are orders.
When I arrived on the FORRESTAL, I learned that many of the men in my division refused to come to quarters, were discipline problems, and simply didn’t want to go to sea. When I told my single Chief Petty Officer (for over 100 men) to throw out an old trash can with what appeared to be rusting parts in it, he looked at me with scorn: “Lieutenant, that’s the number one feed pump.” I had so many discipline problems that I had a standing appointment for two hours each week at Captain’s Mast. It was a nightmare assignment in 1979 at the absolute trough of the Navy’s post-Vietnam collapse.
Luckily for me, I got a new Chief – BTC Clevon Jones was his name, and he was a big, tough, experienced Sailor. The Marine Corps Captain in the ship, John Kelly (now a three star General) helped with discipline. There were good shipmates who had been steam engineers and helped with the technical side of things, including several former enlisted. I was in a different part of the Navy, and I needed all the help I could get.
I learned a thousand things over the next two years in FORRESTAL, from how to light off a boiler to the way a flight deck works. But the most important thing I learned was that no matter how bleak a situation looks, there are three principles that apply:
Ask for help: After my three years on the new destroyer, I thought I knew everything I needed to know. But the carrier was a different universe. I had to swallow my pride and learn to tap into the rich base of experience and knowledge that existed in the ship, from my Chiefs up to the Captain. And above all, I saw that the peer network that sustains us in friendship is also a deep source of technical experience and ideas.
Creativity matters: The things I had learned on the new destroyer just didn’t seem to apply. I was in a new and tougher world on the carrier, and I had to adapt. That means getting rid of old habits, even ones that have worked in the past, and coming up with new approaches. Like in sports, you have to change a tactic or technique that isn’t working and try new approaches.
Keep your sense of humor. Lots of things are going to go wrong. The measure of any officer is not perfection, because we will all fail at times. I certainly have; and for example we flunked the first big engineering inspection badly that I was involved in onboard FORRESTAL. But you keep things in perspective, learn to laugh at yourself, correct your mistakes, and keep coming back.
In the end, while the tour was far from perfect, it was a huge learning experience for me. Countless times in my career, I’ve gone back to the lessons I learned in FORRESTAL to adapt to a new and challenging situation. So I am a proud Surface Warfare Officer – but one who learned some important lessons in a Fleet Carrier many years ago.
Last Monday, I was given the incredible opportunity of visiting the Pentagon and interviewing VADM John Harvey Director, Navy Staff. VADM Harvey was gracious enough to give me 45 minutes of his time to ask about the future of the Navy, advice for junior officers, and his time at the Naval Academy. This posting will be the first in the series.
I understand the MilBlog conference (liveblogged here) occurred this weekend and RUMINT sources tell me that VADM Harvey hosted attendees at the Pentagon to discuss defense blogging. While I was not able to attend the conference, I was able to discuss milblogging and social media (Facebook, MySpace, etc.) with the admiral. My questions/comments are italicized, while the VADM Harvey’s comments are in the regular style:
Sir, you talked about this recently [here]: how have defense blogs, I know you read them, how have they contributed to public discourse or have they not contributed? In what ways can we improve?
Well, just right off the start I think they have contributed to public discourse…I know from the reports of the people who run these blogs that they get a large number of visitors and are getting into the public.
I don’t know how much we penetrate though…
Beyond the readers–they’re already interested in [defense issues].
Yeah, it’s almost a dialogue between those who already going to be there no matter what…So are we reaching new people on the blogs?…I am interested in expanding the public dialogue…I think that’s really important for the Navy as our role of a department and as our role in the nation. How do you do that?
I think perhaps the way to focus on is to see how we establish a presence on Facebook and MySpace and the other social media that exists. Just an example that woman from Scotland who sang [Susan Boyle]… I think the number of views of that 4-5 minute video is up to a fairly staggering number. Now clearly there is a fairly large human interest piece in that story, but I think of how, if we had on Facebook, the ability to respond rapidly to the events of Easter Sunday went down in terms of getting our hostage Captain Phelps back. I think that would have been seen by lots of people as an opportunity to talk about the Navy and why we have a role to play and what the role is and establish that broad level of awareness that I think is lacking in the nation for a large number of reasons.
Bottom line: I think a public dialogue is important. I think blogs certainly contribute to that public dialogue. I just don’t know what their reach is, if we are just talking to ourselves, people who are already interested… so that leads me to say there are other media we may want to use and find a way to use, because what drags is down are the security requirements…I would hope we could overcome those and really tell the fabulous story the Navy is, it’s really a collection of stories, and put that out there and demonstrate the value of this organization. I think that is really important when you ask them to give you so much money to operate.
It’s funny you should mention that because I friended Pacific Command the other day on Facebook.
There a number of them…One blog which has really impressed me is called “Task Force Mountain.” It’s the command blog of the 10th Mountain Division. I remember seeing someone make a reference to it as a pretty good one so I went and looked at it. I thought it was spectacular for the command, commander, families, and for the public. It really seemed to me to define what a command blog ought to be about. I corresponded with the commanding general of the 10th Mountain Division and asked him a little bit about what he learned and how he went about setting it up. It was very, very fascinating. I think it’s a great example of one that brings real benefit to all the parties involved, whether they are in or they’re out or in the chain-of-command or outside the chain-of-command.
One of those issues, it’s great to have a command blog, but that also requires time from someone whether it’s the CO or…
Well you have to make the decision it’s worth your investment of time and energy. The fact you’re here…I’ve said, “Well, gee it’s worth my investment in time and energy to try and support these efforts” and I think it is important.
With this, VADM Harvey has taken the lead in defining the uses of blogs and social media for the Navy. With all the talk coming from the Air Force about the new forms of media, it’s great to see that the senior leadership in the Navy is thinking about these matters very carefully.
First, VADM Harvey recognizes what was pointed out in the just released paper on social media: “someone–right now–is talking on the Internet about your agency and your mission.” VADM Harvey realizes that the utilization of Web 2.0 resources by the Navy is critical to telling “the fabulous story the Navy is” and “demonstrat[ing] the value of this organization.” Why is this important? As VADM Harvey points out, we, the Navy, ask for money from the public to operate and Web 2.0 can prove invaluable for relaying to the public how we put that money to use.
VADM Harvey recognizes the important role blogs can play within a command. Task Force Mountain’s blog regularly updates friends and families of the work their loved ones are doing in Iraq. Major General Oates, the commanding general, contributes as well. For example, one posting asked for thoughts on how the Army can decrease the amount of sexual assaults. He even video conferenced in from Iraq to speak at the MilBloggers conference (transcript here). As VADM Harvey points out, blogs can be a useful way to solicit input and keep families updated with instantly uploaded text and pictures.
VADM Harvey also points out the limitations of blogs. If the Navy were to rely solely on blogs and web postings to disseminate information over the internet, only readers who were already interested in Navy news would ever receive the information. Why? Because I have to type www.blog.usni.org or www.taskforcemountain.com into my browser. A presence on Facebook, MySpace and similar sites has the possibility of attracting readers who might otherwise not be interested in defense issues. When I friended (now a verb) PACOM on Facebook, a notification was generated that I friended PACOM and my friends were updated with this “news.” This notification was not limited to friends from the Academy; civilian friends were also able to see it. Social media allows for people to stumble upon information instead of consciously seeking it out.
We should take VADM Harvey’s vision of the blogosphere and Web 2.0 very seriously. As I mentioned to him, a blogging CO must dedicate time and energy. Why should this investment be made? As VADM Harvey responded emphatically, “It is important.”
After a decade dominated by ground wars against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, the drill dubbed Bold Alligator is “the largest amphibious exercise conducted by the fleet in the last 10 years,” said Admiral John Harvey, head of US Fleet Forces Command.
The American military, mindful that Marines have spent most of their time in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan since 2001, said the goal was “to revitalize, refine, and strengthen fundamental amphibious capabilities and reinforce the Navy and Marine Corps role as ‘fighters from the sea.'”
The lack of practice at a craft that is immensely complex (amphibious assault) and requires extensive planning and rehearsal has been a concern of the Marine Corps for most of the past decade. Many junior Officers and SNCOs have never been afloat, let alone had anything to do with amphibious operations. Landing plans, serial assignment tables, scheduled, on-call, and unscheduled waves are terms unfamiliar to most. Fire support planning in amphibious operations, challenging in the best of circumstances, must now be done in an environment of austere Naval surface fires.
The BOLD ALLIGATOR exercises, and the war games that reinforce them (EXPEDITIONARY WARRIOR, etc.) will introduce those younger Marines to the art of projecting power ashore from the sea. Shortfalls in capabilities and capacity will be identified, new methods developed to leverage modern platforms, and assumptions either validated or proven incorrect. The bugaboo of every amphibious operation, the command relationship between CATF/CLF, will be examined anew.
The addition of our French allies in this exercise is crucial, as the interoperability of international forces in a coalition operation is always a challenge. Lessons on doctrine, equipment requirements and capabilities, as well as the personal command relationships between seniors, make for more lethal and efficient combat forces.
The landings in North Carolina and Virginia are not being conducted in a vacuum, either:
The threat of mines, anti-ship missiles and small boats in coastal waters conjure up Iran’s naval forces, but the commanders overseeing the drill, Admiral Harvey and Marine Lieutenant General Dennis Hejlik, say the scenario is not based on any particular country.
When asked by reporters last week, Harvey acknowledged that the exercise scenario was “certainly informed by recent history” and that it was “applicable” to the Strait of Hormuz, as well as other areas.
Harvey also said the exercise incorporated lessons from the 2006 Lebanon conflict, when Iran-backed Hezbollah forces hit an Israeli navy corvette with an anti-ship missile.
This event was important enough to have CNO Admiral Greenert in attendance, and highlights a significant shift in the Navy’s views regarding its role in the amphibious power projection mission. While always publicly supporting the Navy-Marine Corps team, the unofficial position of the Navy toward this mission seemed decidedly luke-warm and was at odds with the Marine Corps over requirements and resources. This is good news for Naval forces whose focus will be the western Pacific. One can bet a paycheck that the USN and USMC will be scribbling furiously, taking copious notes. Lessons will be learned, training will be invaluable.
And best of all, an entirely new generation of Marines will be introduced to the smell of paint, exhaust fumes, crude oil, salt water spray, and vomit that are indelibly etched on every Marine who has climbed down the cargo net, ridden the tuna boats off the well deck through the surf, or splashed ashore from the LCUs. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Last night the U.S. Naval Academy’s ship selection night was held in Mahan Auditorium where the future surface warfare officers from the Class of 2012 picked the ship for their first tour as commissioned officers. Setting the stage were Admiral John Harvey’s inspirational words about leadership and service in the Navy in every part of the world where “there is no place you will go that is quiet.”
Admiral Harvey also commented on the history at the Naval Academy, a place where all midshipmen, wrapped up in getting to the next class or event, will simply walk past some of the most remarkable items in our naval history – the cannons and monuments, the flags taken in battle, the portraits in Memorial Hall and elsewhere. In the course of everyday activities, “we lose the meaning of those faces in paintings, those names on a plaque.”
ADM James Stavridis has blogged most of the contents of the speech he gave at the US Naval Institute awards ceremony last Wednesday night. As I mentioned last week, I was in attendance of this event sitting right in the middle of the room with one of the very few Navy Junior officers in attendance. Read the Admiral’s blog post in full, then come back.
I am only 34 years old, and I was easily one of the youngest people in the room. I note this because I also noted there were only a handful of other younger folks in attendance for honors night. There were exactly two naval officers under the rank of Captain in the room who didn’t have “aide de camp” identification on their uniform (LCDR BJ Armstrong and LCDR Claude Berube – both of whom were part of the USNI History Conference earlier that day). The other younger people in the room consisted of one Marine Corporal who was attending out of uniform, my fellow USNI blogger midshipmen John (Jack) James, CDR Salamander, and the Admirals daughter.
That’s it. Everyone else in attendance was older and in some way had almost certainly been part of the Naval Institute family for years, if not decades.
Read the speech by Admiral Stavridis again and ask why in that room of dignitaries that included some of the most accomplished Navy writers over the last few decades; a 4-star Admiral gives a speech that in my mind specifically targets the smallest audience in the room – younger folks – and encourages them to write.
Only the Admiral knows why he chose to make that speech in that room, but I believe observers can safely draw two conclusions. First, Admiral Stavridis has a deep, personal passion for writing, and second – I believe the audience was bigger than that room.
As I encounter junior officers in the maritime services who want to write, but haven’t quite figured out how to start, I’d point out something ADM Stavridis mentioned in his blog post a great starting place.
Write about what you actually know something about.
That may sound like simple advice, but it is important. When I run into junior officers who express the desire to write, but haven’t quite figured out how to get started – I usually probe the officer with a few questions on the subject they want to write about. One thing I typically find among young Navy officers who want to write about their profession is that they have a really solid historical background on their profession. In my opinion as a reader, history is always a great place to start with writing.
Just ask ADM John Harvey Jr., who on Monday posted about the Battle of Leyte Gulf on the 60th anniversary of the largest naval battle in history. I have read both Last Stand of The Tin Can Sailors and Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945, but that didn’t make ADM Harvey’s version any less interesting – indeed the way he personalized the historical event into the context of today is precisely what made his comments interesting.
As I noted the other day on my blog, the winner of the Proceedings writer this year who was honored last Wednesday night was Captain Vic Addison, who in addition to his 4 Proceedings articles this year also wrote two articles on my blog over the last year.
If you consider publishing in a magazine a step too far for a first shot at writing and would like an opportunity to publish on a blog – even if it is just for practice – let me know and I will help facilitate your effort as best I can. I do understand there are conditions younger officers encounter where your chain of command only prefers you to publish to certain accredited organizations – and in that case I already have permission to publish articles here on the USNI blog if Information Dissemination isn’t suitable to your requirements.
The messages both direct and by example that both ADM Stavridis and ADM Harvey are sending is critical. We are in the early stages of a global, social information sharing age where power exists in ideas, and the benefits of shared ideas can and often do extend beyond the periphery of our intended audiences. The message of the maritime services is ideally advocated and evangelized by those inside the bubble who put pen to paper, and at no time in history has their been a better opportunity to join the conversation than right now with the emerging social mediums.
At a time when we are seeing generational turnover within the officer ranks of the maritime services, there is also no better time to evangelize the ideas of the maritime services in the pages of Proceedings and Naval History magazine. As Admiral Stavridis points out, “if you write a page or a paragraph here and there—while on an airplane or in a car ride—eventually you’ll have a good piece. Do that in an organized way over a year, and you’ll have a book. What seems like a big commitment in time is so often just a series of small steps.”
From the most senior officers to the most junior petty officer, the culture reveals itself in personal attitudes ranging from resignation to frustration to toleration. The downward spiral of the culture is seen throughout the ship, in the long standing acceptance of poor housekeeping, preservation, and corrosion control. Over time, the ignored standard becomes the new norm. Sailors watching their Commanding Officer, Department Head, Division Officer, and Chief Petty Officer step over running rust, peeling non-skid or severe structure damage long enough, associate this activity as the standard…While the severity of current culture climate may be debated, its decline cannot. If left unchecked, a declining culture can only generate a worsening level of surface force readiness. That said, it will take a long, hard pull to turn around attitudes that have developed over an extended period of time. It is the considered opinion of this Panel that we must vigorously reinforce recent efforts to clarify and instill standards aboard our ships.
The Balisle Report: Fleet Review Panel of Surface Force Readiness, Section 3.8: Culture
It is very interesting to me that Admiral John Harvey pushed for an independent Fleet Review Panel to evaluate Surface Force Readiness – after all, he must have known there would be harsh criticism in the report, and he also must have known that all of that criticism would be directed squarely in his direction to be fixed – as he is the Commander of Fleet Forces Command. What does it say about the Leadership culture of the Navy when a 4 star Admiral pushes for an independent review in order to insure change within the Navy? What does it tell us about the character of the Admiral himself?
The culture problem of relaxed standards does not appear to be limited to only the surface fleet. Christopher Brownfield has an article up on The Daily Beast that describes a similar culture of accepted lower standards within the submarine community.
During my on-board training, while I studied more than 70 hours per week, my fellow officers regularly warned me, “Don’t let knowledge stand in the way of your qualifications.” They urged me not to, “learn too much… just check the box and get qualified.” But when my exam arrived, it seemed impossibly difficult. I failed miserably, despite having made a very serious five-month long effort to pass.
My fellow officers were surprised by my failure, and wondered aloud why I hadn’t used the “study guide.” When my second exam arrived, so did the so-called study guide, which happened to be the answer key for the nuclear qualification exam I was taking. I was furious. Defiantly, I handed back the answer key to the proctor and proceeded to take the exam on my own. I failed again. My boss, the ship’s engineer officer, started to document my failures with formal counseling so that he could fire me.
The most competent junior officer on our ship ran to my rescue, confiding that none of the other officers had passed the exam legitimately; the exam was just an administrative check-off. “Swallow your pride,” he told me, and just get it done.
The ship’s engineer and executive officer didn’t believe me when I complained of the cheating, and swept my allegations under the rug. It took me five attempts before I finally passed the “basic” qualification exam. Unbeknownst to me, senior members of my crew even went so far as to falsify my exam scores in order to avoid unwanted attention from the headquarters. But strangely, the exam was anything but basic. The expectations on paper were astronomically high compared to the banal reality of how our ship actually worked.
The USS Hartford had many serious problems. Later that year, the ship ran itself aground off the coast of Italy, resulting in the firing of our captain and several senior officers. But sadly, the nuclear cheating scandal was not isolated to the Hartford. Two years later, when I began to teach at the Naval Submarine School in Connecticut, my colleagues whispered of cheating scandals aboard their own boats. Did it happen on the Scranton? What about the Seawolf? The results were not pretty. From our extensive whispered surveys, several other officers and I concluded that the vast majority of the fleet had some odious practice that resembled the cheating scandal I witnessed firsthand aboard the Hartford.
Thus far, the U.S. Navy has maintained a perfect nuclear safety record. But, having attained the senior supervisory certification of a ship’s nuclear engineer officer, I am deeply disturbed by what I consider to be a threat to the nuclear Navy’s integrity.
There will be several reactions to this story, but I want to highlight two. The first reaction will be from someone with a good understanding of naval power who reads the article in full to discover the author is a strategically ignorant fool. The entire world is having an awakening on the value of submarines to national security in the 21st century, and this guy is having trouble understanding the value of submarines to the worlds only superpower in 2010. When someone who wishes to be taken seriously as a national security analyst says “Unless Osama bin Laden commandeered a rubber raft with WMD, there was nothing of unique value that a submarine could provide.” you just ripped up your credibility card.
But here is the problem. Just because the author appears to be strategically and tactically challenged on the merits of submarines, that strategic ignorance doesn’t disqualify the seriousness of the claims against the Navy made in the rest of the article – particularly when these claims are very similar to cultural problems that have been identified in other areas of the Navy. This article is written in a way that could easily lead to an Admiral dismissing the claims as ludicrous or impossible, but I would be very wary of any Admiral who did that.
It is a noteworthy and interesting irony that Christopher Brownfield is doing in this article what dmiral Harvey wants sailors doing as per his speech last week – demanding higher standards within their profession, and speaking out when those standards fail to meet the expectations of duty requirements. The submarine community doesn’t want to hear what this guy is saying, but if what he is saying is true – then whether you want to hear it or not is irrelevant.
This is my point. I encourage Secretary Gates, Secretary Mabus, and Undersecretary Work to pay attention to this. The reaction of Naval leadership to a story like this will reveal quite a bit about the character of the leaders in the US Navy today. Who is shooting off emails in anger, and who is rolling up their sleeves to get to the bottom of the claims being made? There is already plenty of evidence that a culture problem exists in the US Navy, and because the culture problems are widespread – the culture problems exists in the flag ranks too.
You don’t have to convince me that Christopher Brownfield is strategically shallow on the merits and value of submarines in the 21st century – but his remarkable ignorance in that regard does not disqualify the seriousness of the claims made in his article.
- On Midrats 29 March 15 – Episode 273: Partnership, Influence, Presence and the role of the MSC
- The Pen and the Sword: An Interview with Professor Timothy Demy on Reading Fiction and Studying War
- On Midrats 22 March 2015 – Episode 272: Naval Professionalism; up, down, and back again – with Will Beasley
- Missile Defense and Budget Issues
- On Midrats 3/15/15 – Episode 271: “Red Flag and the Development USAF Fighter “