Hopefully, most readers here have already listened to EagleOne and my one hour interview on Midrats with Vice Admiral Bill Moran, USN, Navy Chief of Naval Personnel, and Commander Guy “Bus” Snodgrass, USN, concerning Bus’s paper, Keep a Weather Eye on the Horizon.
If not, you can listen via the Midrats archive here. If you have yet to read the paper, then click the link in the above paragraph to get that too.
Well, the “quick look” is out and you can get it here. It is an executive summary, in a fashion, that outlines the respondents’ demographics and the above-the-fold responses from an unofficial survey taken between May 1st – May 31st.
A couple of things out of the box; yes, everyone knows this is not a scientific survey and only represents those who decided or were able to respond – but it is still useful. You know the old phrase, “half of life is showing up?” Well, take a large dose of one of my favorite versions, “the future belongs to those who show up,” and a dash of, “you must be present to win” and “it isn’t the people, it is the voters who decide.”
No one was forced to take it, so this is really a snapshot from the, “I’ll at least make the effort to take your survey” brigade. Does that skew the results? Who knows … and really who cares. To be part of a conversation, you have to make the effort to speak. These people decided to join the conversation, so we should listen to them.
For statistics geeks and fanatics for transparency and the messy yet vibrant creative friction found only in the market of ideas, this is the – dare I say – sexiest part;
A full report will be published in early fall which will provide an in-depth look at survey background, methodology, and analysis.
This gives everyone with a good understanding of the art to play around with the results and make their own suppositions and observations. From what we have already, there are a few things the stick out.
First, the a few things about who participated sounds about right:
1. Warrant Officers and those already retirement eligible really are not interested in surveys – their decision has been made.
2. Those who are at the most critical decision point are the most interested in the survey.
The results present what appears to be a slit personality – but one most of us will recognize. All you STEM types can roll around in the numbers and graphs, let me summarize the personality type of the plurality of those who responded.
They feel they are making a difference in their job (60%), but regardless of what they do – they don’t think they will be rewarded in any way by superior performance (64%).
Looking at what they could do if rewarded for performance, luck, or whatever the flavor of the board is – most aren’t really sure they would even want their boss’s job (61%).
Not that any of this matters anyway – they have no confidence that senior leaders will take the time to try to internalize and take action on anything they have to say anyway (62%).
In spite of it all, they want to make a career of the Navy (56%).
One of the more cynical things that is said about this line of work is that lesser men ride to the top on the backs of the well meaning and idealistic. The implication is, of course, that the well meaning and idealistic are too slow witted to know what is happening.
Well, I don’t know. Taken together, the profile we have is of people what are striving to make a difference, and want to dedicate the most productive years of their life pursuing something they find of a value larger than themselves. They know they won’t be rewarded for doing it well – are not sure they want to be – and really don’t feel that those promoted in position of authority above them care what they think anyway.
Yet … they sign up. They deploy. They serve. They leave their families. They die – in spite of it all.
For those reasons along, I do hope that the 38% were right. We have good, smart people in positions to try to address this perception/reality – maybe they can prove the 62% wrong.
Many of these issues and attitudes have always been with us and always will be. They key is the degree, extent, and strength of feeling. No human system is perfect, but you can make them less imperfect.
The people we have are not the problem if we desire to have a meritocracy and the best Navy we can. No, the problem is the structure and senior leadership they find themselves working with.
Our counterparts from the Mother Country yesterday published their National Strategy for Maritime Security (NSMS). The document outlines the United Kingdoms’s plans to provide maritime security at home and internationally.
Just from a structural standpoint, there are a lot of things here that the team working on the American version should take note of.
1. It is a highly digestible 35 pages of substance, with footnotes. It has an additional 13 pages of annexes, including a glossary. At the end, it even has blank pages for notes. Seriously, at the top of the first blank page is it titled “notes,” and that is it. It invites intellectual investigation. The paragraphs are numbered in order to facilitate direct questioning and reference for goodness sake.
2. It has nice, bulleted concepts that lend themselves for further, focused discussion.
3. It clearly defines terms.
4. It has illustrations that are substantive. No rah, rah pictures. No, “run the pictures through the PAO’s metrics counter” selection of photographs fluff.
5. It is signed by their Secretaries of State for Defense, Transport, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and the Home Secretary. That is a unified front, not a maritime self-licking ice cream cone splendid in its own intellectual isolation.
Let me give you just two examples how they have structured the document to provide a framework for planning, discussion, and education.
UK Maritime Security Objectives
1. To promote a secure international maritime domain and uphold international maritime norms;
2. To develop the maritime governance capacity and capabilities of states in areas of strategic maritime importance;
3. To protect the UK and the Overseas Territories, their citizens and economies by supporting the safety and security of ports and offshore installations and Red Ensign Group (REG)-flagged passenger and cargo ships;
4. To assure the security of vital maritime trade and energy transportation routes within the UK Marine Zone, regionally and internationally.
5. To protect the resources and population of the UK and the Overseas Territories from illegal and dangerous activity, including serious organised crime and terrorism.
The Maritime Security Risks for 2014-15
• Terrorism affecting the UK and its maritime interests, including attacks against cargo or passenger ships;
• Disruption to vital maritime trade routes as a result of war, criminality, piracy or changes in international norms;
• Attack on UK maritime infrastructure or shipping, including cyber attack;
• The transportation of illegal items by sea, including weapons of mass destruction, controlled drugs and arms;
• People smuggling and human trafficking.
One of the best parts of the document was how they finished up the Forward. A highly efficient summary of what, in the end, free people need a navy for.
The future will see further expansion in the global requirement for safe and secure seas as the oﬀshore-energy sector continues to expand and maritime trade increases to meet the consumer demands of emerging countries and new consumer classes. We will seek to take advantage of this economic opportunity by continuing to promote London as the global centre for maritime business, promoting a stable maritime domain and the freedom of the seas, and maintaining the UK’s position as a driver of international cooperation and consensus.
This is very much a document of a nation focused on its mercantile interests.
One final point; for these types of documents I use a very rough tool to see what the authors are really focused on – or want the reader to think about. Here we go: “International” is used 158 times; British/Britain=21; United Kingdom=5; America=8 (but not referencing USA, and USA only in footnotes); NATO=15, Russia=4; Germany & France=nil. Wordclouds, as always, help.
Perhaps they have family members who have served, or someone they know. More likely, they have picked up the idea from something around them; movies, books, history, or even advertising from the recruiting side of the house.
That is why we have been very careful on what we put the “Navy” stamp on. Every outreach or project for public consumption does not have to be a cheerleading event smacking of Social Realism – but it should at least reflect a neutral, reality based view of what the Navy is.
We also need to know that when we refer to our Sailors, we need to send a message that will ring true to them, and that they have confidence that their leadership’s view of them reflects what they see every day in the Fleet. That brings us to what is being called, “…the Navy’ first mobile game…”
What story does it tell to the outside audience? What does it tell our Sailors about what the Navy thinks of them?
Who did we give responsibility to bring the Navy in to the mobile gaming market? Naval History & Heritage Command? Navy Recruiting Command? CHINFO? No, of course not. I’ll let you soak in the background here, here, and here.
Does it tell the Navy’s story? No. Does it inspire? Does it help people understand the Navy’s role in the 21st Century? What does it do?
“Pier Pressure” gives sailors fingertip access to alcohol-related resources 24/7 and includes a blood alcohol content calculator and search of local taxi services.
There you go. I don’t know what is worse; the patronizing tone, the assumptions, or the horrible “in the Navy, Sailors drop pallets on ships” actual game part.
Messages, external and internal, matter. I am curious, did they run this by a focus group of Fleet Sailors? At any point, did someone mention this might be a little out of phase?
I understand the good intentions. I fully understand the huge waste to personal and professional lives due to alcohol use, but really. Besides the ability to feel like someone is trying to do something – is this really the something needed to address the problem? Is it a net gain – is this really what the Navy should put out there as its initial mobile gaming entry?
Maybe, but what message does it send? Sailors are a bunch of drunks who can’t wait until their boring day dropping pallets on ships is over so they can hit the bar, and once they get there, they don’t have the good sense to handle their drink? That isn’t the Navy I know.
It is bad enough that we accepted in whole cloth the unscientific and highly flawed study on sexual assault that painted all Sailors as either sexual predators or helpless victims led by tone-deaf enablers, but now we have to buy in to the old smear of the “drunken Sailor” as well?
Is that really what our Navy thinks our Sailors are like? Is that what we want to tell young men and women who might want to join the Navy to expect? If so, I might offer that on the “problem to solution” spectrum, this is a bit closer to problem than solution.
Enjoy the video.
Block some time out today to watch the speech by Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox that kicked off the AFCEA-USNI West2014 Conference. She was strong, direct, and the substance of her comments should be considered a good source of Indications & Warnings for what our Navy will be faced with going forward.
In some ways, she spoke as a prophet of the Church of the Hard Truth, and that was refreshing. More of that tone from her and others. It is healthy and gets people’s attention.
Some points to ponder from her speech as I heard it – with a little commentary from my part from what I saw, unspoken, between the lines;
Pacific Pivot: She rightfully reminded everyone of the fundamentals. The Pacific is predominately a maritime theater, and that aspect needs to be central to the military side of the refocus. This cannot be just a military effort, it must be a diplomatic, informational, and economic rebalance to the Pacific. Yep, she kicked off with D.I.M.E. It was at that point that I knew I was going to like a lot about what she had to say.
China: In the near term, we should look at the military growth of China in the maritime theater as a drive to thwart the freedom of movement of others in her sphere of influence, as China sees it.
Disengagement: If the influence and presence of the USA decreases, regional rivalries will increase. In the Pacific, American military presence is a stabilizing force, not a provocative force.
Complacency & Assumptions: We cannot assume American dominance going forward or that we can operate in the permissive environment we have enjoyed for the last couple of decades. We need to reassess our ability to bring force from over the horizon and under the surface in order to get around Anti-Access and Area-Denial systems.
LCS: Though she didn’t address LCS directly, it was clearly there in her warnings that we cannot build a Fleet for a specific kind of fight. Our platforms need to be flexible, and more importantly, survivable in combat. “Niche” platforms are not what we need to invest our limited resources in.
Unsexy but Important: She reminded all that in previous drawdowns, enabling forces were ignored in a rush to save “combat” assets. When actual war comes, we are significantly hampered by the lack of those enablers we ignored in the lean years. Sacrificing enablers for combat units in peace is a false economy.
Hollow Force: We know what creates a hollow force, all we have to do is look at the 1970s. We need to make sure we don’t ignore that history. This will be the 5th drawdown in living memory, and when the next conflict comes, forces will be used more than what was sold during the drawdown.
Personnel Compensation: The post-911 benefit plus-ups are not sustainable and the costs are impacting readiness and modernization. That and the fact we need a BRAC are well known, but there is no political will to address it.
Force Levels: The upcoming QDR will show that there will be no “Peace Dividend” from the last decade of conflict. That being said, the military must get smaller in the next 5 years. We just need to ensure a tighter fit between strategy and budget resources in order to get it right. In theory strategy should drive budgets, but the reality is that budgets force one to make strategic decisions and define priorities. Budgets and strategy are hard-linked together.
One final note on style. Yes, style. In both style and substance, Fox was strong. We are lucky to have someone like her at the front of the conversation, and if I may offer – whatever her future holds, the Pentagon needs to make sure a place is found to have her out front of the public and decision makers.
As you watch the video, remember that though superficial, it is true that regardless of how good or important the information you want to present, you have to deliver it in a manner that gets and keeps people’s attention. You have to make sure your style matches your substance, or the substance is lost.
Fox was not dry, stilted, nervous, or excessively wonky. She was humble without being cheesy, but most important – the hard truths she delivered were presented with an upbeat but serious tone. Even a few smiles thrown in. The happy warrior style.
That is how you do it. Again, the national security community needs to encourage and create opportunities for Fox to come more from out of the background. This drawdown will be done right or wrong based on a the results of intellectual battles in the marketplace of ideas. In this conversation, I think we have identified a High Value Unit.
Don’t be distracted about the Aegis, Russia, or China – the first thing you need to read in this December’s Proceedings is the “Nobody Asked Me, But …” contribution by Lieutenant Alexander P. Smith on page 12.
The most important ingredient to a successful Navy is not its ships, aircraft, submarines or secure budget. No, the most important part of our Navy is its intellectual capital, specifically the education of its officers.
The naval service will face a multitude of challenges that will require a true diversity of experience and education in its leaders in order for the best decisions to be made. If everyone brings the same tool-set to the table, you are in trouble.
There has been a long-dwell discussion in our Navy about what type of education our leaders need. For the last few decades, there has been a heavy bias towards technical education; a bias that is about to get heavier;
The tier system was developed in 2009 as a result of fewer NROTC and U.S. Naval Academy graduates entering the nuclear-reactor community. The Regulations for Officer Development and the Academic-Major Selection Policy direct that a minimum of 65 percent of NROTC Navy-option scholarship midshipmen must complete a technical-degree program before receiving their commissions. A technical degree refers to Tiers 1 and 2, which comprise all STEM majors. Tier 1 includes most engineering majors, and Tier 2 refers to majors in biochemistry, astrophysics, chemistry, computer programming/engineering, civil engineering, physics, and mathematics. All other academic majors are non-technical, or Tier 3.
As a result of the new policy, a high-school senior’s best chance of obtaining a Navy scholarship is to apply for Tiers 1 and 2, since CNO guidance specifies that not less than 85 percent of incoming offers will come from this restricted pool. In fact, an algorithm decides the fate of hopeful midshipmen, balanced in large part with their proposed major selection annotated in their applications.
This is a huge error. 65% one could argue if one wished, but 85% is simply warping to the collective intellectual capital of the Navy.
We don’t even need to review all the English and History majors that do exceptionally well in the nuclear pipeline – but to put such a intellectual straight jacket on the entire Navy over the requirements of one part, that is a sure sign of a loss of perspective.
In last Sunday’s Midrats, Admiral J.C. Harvey, USN (Ret) made an argument for technical education that is fine for the nuclear community, but the Navy is not the nuclear community. If you look at the challenges from Program Management to Joint/Combined Combat Operations; none of those are helped by a technically focused mind. Just the opposite, it begs for officers of influence with a deep understanding of economics, diplomacy, history, philosophy, and yes … even poetry.
One could argue that the problems we have had in the last few decades derive from a lack of nuance and perspective by officers who fell in love with theory and the promise of technology, who had no view to history, civilian political concerns, or even human nature. As a result we got burned out “optimally manned” crews, corrosion laden “business best practices” ships, and an exquisitely engineered if unaffordable delicate Tiffany Fleet – not to mention entire wardrooms in 2001 who couldn’t place Afghanistan or Ethiopia on a map, much less even had a brief understanding of the background of Central Asia or the Horn of Africa. Back to LT Smith;
Does the tier system produce better submariners or more proficient naval officers? If less than 35 percent of our unrestricted line officers have developed the ability to think comprehensively through critical reading and reflection, what will the force look like in 20 years? These are questions to ponder regarding the benefits and disadvantages of STEM graduates. We ought not to forget the value of future officers developing a keen interest in foreign affairs, history, and languages.
We actually know the answers to that. To this day, once you leave the CONUS shores, we lack wardrooms and Staffs with sufficient knowledge of any of those areas.
It is about to get worse.
If we really have a problem getting well qualified nuclear engineering officers on our submarines and carriers – then instead of having negative 2nd and 3rd order effects throughout the Fleet – then let’s focus on how we keep and manage the careers of our nuclear engineers. Do we need to look at the Commonwealth model? Do we need to look at compensation and non-Command career paths that can still get someone to CAPT at 30-yrs? Is the Navy having to serve the Millington Diktat as opposed to Millington serving the Navy?
Whatever the problem is – forcing a 85% STEM officer corps is not that answer.
What do we need our officers to be able to do? Be outstanding engineers? Well, as our friend LCDR BJ Armstrong, USN might ask, “What would Admiral Mahan say?”
Wouldn’t you know – we know the answer;
The organizing and disciplining of the crew, the management under all circumstances of the great machine which a ship is, call for a very high order of character, whether natural or acquired; capacity for governing men, for dealing with conflicting tempers and interests jarring in a most artificial mode of life; self possession and habit of command in danger, in sudden emergencies, in the tumult and probable horrors of a modern naval action; sound judgment which can take risks calmly, yet risk no more than is absolutely necessary; sagacity to divine the probable movements of an enemy, to provide against future wants, to avoid or compel action as may be wished; moral courage, to be shown in fearlessness of responsibility, in readiness to either act or not act, regardless of censure whether from above or below; quickness of eye and mind, the intuitive perception of danger or advantage, the ready instinct which seizes the proper means in either case: all these are faculties not born in every man, not perfected in any man save by the long training of habit—a fact to which the early history of all naval wars bears witness.
Doesn’t sound like an STEM heavy requirement to me.
It is not unusual when things are rough and appear to be of poor going in the military, to look at the top of the chain of command for the problems. That is smart, because that is usually where the problems are.
Over the years I have called for the “Burke Option” to deep select a vibrant, young CNO to break the adhesions of the lost decade that started this century. Others have called for it too as another way to break up the intellectual logjam up top. Would it help? It did last time it was tried … but then again they had Arleigh Burke.
Is this general malaise towards the performance of our uniformed senior leadership fair? Is it just a Navy problem?
I think it is DOD wide. Back in 2007, LTC Paul Yinling penned what started a serious challenge to the performance record of our General Officers and Flag Officers (GOFO) in his zero-elevation broadside, A Failure in Generalship;
America’s generals have failed to prepare our armed forces for war and advise civilian authorities on the application of force to achieve the aims of policy. The argument that follows consists of three elements. First, generals have a responsibility to society to provide policymakers with a correct estimate of strategic probabilities. Second, America’s generals in Vietnam and Iraq failed to perform this responsibility. Third, remedying the crisis in American generalship requires the intervention of Congress.
An entire book was written by Thomas E. Ricks covering the shortcoming of today’s – and past – GOFO in The Generals.
Another Army Lieutenant Colonel, Daniel L. Davis, this August went to the well again in the Armed Forces Journal (subscription required) ;
The U.S. Army’s generals, as a group, have lost the ability to effectively function at the high level required of those upon whom we place the responsibility for safeguarding our nation,…
In August on this blog, I hit the topic too. I think this tilting against the GOFO windmill is pointless.
For such action to take place such as clearing the deck would take the right civilian leadership in the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch – and I see neither the appetite nor huevos to do such a thing.
So, we will continue course and speed unless otherwise directed … and in a fashion, that is fine – until it isn’t. If you judge what some see in the mid-grade leadership … the next few decades may be interesting on the way to “isn’t.”
If we are looking for leadership problems to address, is that the right part to look at? Some don’t think so, and instead point a worried finger to the incoming, not the soon to be outgoing. I don’t agree, and here is where I have a disconnect with what I have been reading not about the top of the chain of command, but at the generation coming in the entry level.
I have a lot of faith in this generation of junior officers – but I am starting to read a lot on the civilian side that makes me pause; am I missing something?
… the problem with the unemployability of these young adults goes way beyond a lack of STEM skills. As it turns out, they can’t even show up on time in a button-down shirt and organize a team project.
The technical term for navigating a workplace effectively might be soft skills, but employers are facing some hard facts: the entry-level candidates who are on tap to join the ranks of full-time work are clueless about the fundamentals of office life.
A survey by the Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College finds that more than 60% of employers say applicants lack “communication and interpersonal skills” — a jump of about 10 percentage points in just two years. A wide margin of managers also say today’s applicants can’t think critically and creatively, solve problems or write well.
Another employer survey, this one by staffing company Adecco, turns up similar results. The company says in a statement, “44% of respondents cited soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration, as the area with the biggest gap.” Only half as many say a lack of technical skills is the pain point.
The argument, at least inside the Navy, about the lack of critical thinking and creativity, predates the present generation. At least for my generation, we have pushed back against it from day one as a byproduct of too much emphasis on technical training and too little on thinking.
White’s comments, and of those she interviews on the civilian side, do not – at least from this seat – ring true. I don’t see a problem with our junior officers’ performance, attitude or critical thinking – if anything we are repressing all three. Are we getting the pick of the litter?
I just left active duty four years ago – but even that is getting stale, so let me roll this back to our readers: where does our stable of officers need the most attention? The war horses long in tooth, grumpy, set in their ways, and graying about the muzzle – or the rambunctious colts and fillies snatching reins when you’re not looking? Maybe we’re getting the pick of the litter – but I don’t see the problem in leadership with the twenty-somethings.
Or, if you look at the pic above and follow the link next to it – are the challenges we are having separate from the civilian world and totally of our making – and we’re a few decades in to making it?
Even before 9/11, there was a lot of discussion how as the WWII generation passed on and retired, that fewer and fewer members of Congress had military experience. With each generation, fewer and fewer people served in the military as a percentage of the general population, and you saw a similar drop in those in political power who had even a few years of seeing the world through that lens. When it came to making decisions about war and peace, that lack of experience at the national leadership and policy making levels was not seen as a net good.
While superior ideas, leadership, and vision can come from those who never served one day in uniform – it is always helpful to have a cadre of those who know the practical vice the theoretical working of the military. If they can do both, then even better.
As the build-up and discussions on if we should lead an invasion of Iraq gained steam, when you looked around the Hill, there were a scattering of WWII, Korean War Veterans, as well as a Cold War skirmisher here and there, and even closer in time – a core of Senators, Congressmen and members of the Executive Branch who served in Vietnam.
Experience with actual combat covered the spectrum. Some with quite substantial exposure to combat and sacrifice you could find humble in word, and often in the background providing counsel. On the other end, there were some with limited service who seemed to crow and remind everyone at every chance about their “special” perspective – and would take a peer out in the rush for a camera.
As their experience was varied, so was their advice in quality and quantity. What was generally appreciated, from exceptionally honorable service on left and right such as Senators Inouye (D-HI) and McCain (R-AZ) on down, was that in the Hearing Room and briefing table, there was someone who at least had an understanding of the “So What” and “What Next” when someone gave them the “What.”
Some memories fade with time, and the experience in one conflict may not translate well from then to now – but for those being asked to go unto the breach once more – it was reassuring to know that someone knew what they were asking other to do.
So, here we find ourselves a dozen years in to war – and of this cohort of veterans quite a few have made it in to Congress. Not just the professional politicians who are also Reservists JAGs and Intel Officers (not that there is anything wrong with that); but combat arms personnel who, after their service, decided to serve in another way.
As we look to opening a door to a dark room again, before we step in, to answer the question, “Where do these veterans in Congress stand?”, I think we have our answer.
The majority of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans serving in Congress are lining up against President Obama’s plan for military action in Syria.
Of the 16 veterans of those two conflicts serving in Congress, only GOP Reps. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) have publicly supported the White House’s plan.
Three other members — Iraq War veterans and Reps. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio, Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) and Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) — are undecided.
A fourth, Scott Perry (R-Pa.), said he hasn’t made up his mind either, though he told a town hall this week he wasn’t inclined to support a resolution authorizing force.
Ten of the remaining members have announced their opposition to a military strike.
As of Saturday when that article came out, that is 2/10/4, for/against/undecided.
Two of the more vocal opponents are of the President’s own party – one from his own state and the other from his adopted state; both Army;
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii bemoaned the carnage in Syria after a chemical weapons attack, which the U.S. says killed hundreds of civilians, including children, last month. However, after participating in public and private sessions on Capitol Hill, she said a U.S. military strike would be a serious mistake.
“As a soldier, I understand that before taking any military action, our nation must have a clear tactical objective, a realistic strategy, the necessary resources to execute that strategy, including the support of the American people, and an exit plan,” Gabbard said in a statement. “The proposed military action against Syria fails to meet any of these criteria.”
Gabbard, who served near Baghdad for a year and was a medical operations specialist, is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Gabbard joins other Democrats from Obama’s native state, including Sen. Brian Schatz and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, in opposing aggressive U.S. military intervention in the Syrian civil war.
Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., lost both legs and partial use of an arm in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Iraq. She has not made a final decision on whether she would vote for a resolution authorizing force, but the freshman lawmaker from Obama’s adopted state has serious reservations about any strike.
“It’s military families like mine that are the first to bleed when our nation makes this kind of commitment,” Duckworth has said.
Seniority means a lot in DC – but so should personal authority, one would hope. Many in DC asked for more military experience in Congress, well they have it in both parties. The Long War Caucus seems to have reached a bi-partisan consensus.
Does it matter?
There is something very wrong going on at the very highest levels of our uniformed leadership, they are not standing up for the honor and reputation of their Sailors, Marines, and our other brothers and sisters in the profession of arms.
This failure goes beyond individual failure; it is a systemic failure negatively impacting everyone from the deckplates, to the Beltway, to the post-active duty unemployment line.
I remain perplexed by the supine masochism displayed over and over in the face of weak-at-best accusations made against the culture, morals, and character of our military in the last year. Though even a cursory examination easily shows either the inaccurate, skewed, or downright malicious warping of data concerning sexual assault, suicide, and PTSD in the military – our leaders have surrendered the field without returning a single shot; accepting the agenda and smears of those who are focused on one thing; bringing down the level of esteem our nation holds the military and veterans in.
This should not be a shock to anyone, we have seen this movie before – and people inside and outside the military have been warning this would happen – again.
We saw it after the Vietnam War like in no other period, and again in a very political form following the glow after DESERT STORM. With the counter-culture reeling from the shock of the military being held once again in high regard, it was no shock that the usual suspects made the most out of the bludgeon we gave them at Tailhook to go after the military culture root and branch.
As a liberal arts guy with issues stitching decent prose together himself, who spent a career surrounded by a bunch of technical school types – I’ve always thought that each seabag should include Strunk and White’s, The Elements of Style, along with Lynne Truss’s, Eats, Shoots & Leaves – but perhaps we need to add two more items.
My pet theory was that our own rather particular Navy writing style came about as a byproduct of a strange mix of the old requirements of HF TTY record message traffic from the warfighter, an other-worldly and opaque self-affirmation cant that we use to write FITREPS and awards from the terminal-N1 – sprinkled with a healthy dose of passive voice CYA concerns from the suffering fonctionnaire with one two many tours with the Potomac Flotilla.
To help get around that habit, a few more should be added in the seabag to join the previously mentioned two. The third on the list should be an email you can find in full here, one that CHINFO, RDML Kirby, recently put out to the PAO Knitting Club titled, “Killing English.” Here are a few of the pull quotes that hopefully will lead you to read the whole thing;
Here’s an… example … about the Zumwalt-class destroyer:
“This advanced warship will provide offensive, distributed, and precision fires in support of forces ashore and will provide a credible forward naval presence while operating independently or as an integral part of naval, joint or combined expeditionary strike forces.”
I count 14 adjectives in that sentence, maybe three of which are necessary. If you remove the 11 others, you come up with this:
“This warship will provide fires in support of forces ashore and will provide a naval presence while operating independently or as a part of expeditionary forces.”
That’s still a bit stodgy, but it’s a whole lot easier to understand. And it gives the reader a better sense of what the ship can actually do, which is what I think we were trying to accomplish in the first place.
Somehow, somewhere along the way, we grew scared of verbs. That’s a shame, because the English language boasts plenty of verbs that convey action and purpose. And the American military, perhaps above all professions, has reason to use them. Action and purpose is what we’re all about.
We can no longer afford to say nothing. Each word must count. Each word must work as hard as we do. With resources declining and the gap growing between the military and the American people, we must at least try to communicate better and more clearly.
… it’s not merely what we say that matters. It’s how we say it. It’s about the words we choose … or don’t choose. It’s about the sentences we build, the stories we tell. Frankly, it’s about how we practice — yes, practice — our own language.
That doesn’t just apply to the people who write the program guide or other policy wonks. It applies to PA professionals and the bosses we advise, too.
Mary Walsh had it right. When it comes to English, we have met the enemy. And they are us.
It’s time to put down the adjectives and back away.
Yes, great Neptune’s trident – YES.
First step is to speak clearly. Then we can lead to speaking directly. Then we can get to a place where in open we can speak as adults about adult problems in a way that can stand up to the follow-on question.
Ah, ha! There we go. A good PAO stays long enough for the follow-on question. I can see why this conversation is starting here.
Well done CHINFO … now let’s see if we can get it to grow roots.
Oh, I promised the reader a 4th bit for the intellectual seabag, didn’t I? You’ll need to read his email in full to see how he applies it, but RDML Kirby mentions On Writing Well.
I might have to give that a spin.
“History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
– Mark Twain
In the introduction to his book 21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era, LCDR BJ Armstrong, USN speaks to a problem with a lot of the foundational thinkers on the military art. Referring to modern policymakers, naval leaders, and analysts who do bring up Mahan, Armstrong states,
These writers and thinkers are mistaken. They focus solely on his most famous work and unthinkingly repeat the analysis taught by some academics. Few of these writers appear to have actually read the works of Alfred Thayer Mahan.
Bingo. Many people have a Cliff’s Notes thick understanding of Mahan because they have never been asked to, or made the independent effort to, read the primary source. As a result, many of them are reading modern commentary run through the intellectual grinders of deconstructionism and critical theory to the point that they aren’t even really reading about Mahan any more. They are reading one academic’s commentary on another academic who read a summary of Mahan.
The utility of Armstrong’s work is really rather simple; in each section he tees the ball up for a few pages and then steps away. He lets Mahan speak for himself in long form; not pull quotes or some temporally transposed mash-up of different works stitched together to make a post-modern point.
Some of the worst commentary on Mahan I have read has come from people who really should know better, and a lot of the fault lies in how we teach Mahan.
If you try to take a short cut about learning about a thinker by simply quoting what other people have said about them using a two-line pull quote followed by 55 pages of pontification – then are you really studying the thinker? Are we teaching from primary sources, or are we letting commentary and conjecture of lesser minds come to the fore?
Live by the gouge … be ignorant by the gouge.
Along those lines, there are other naval and military thinkers out there that most of us know about, but do we really know what they said – have we been provided the primary source in an easily digestible format like we see in 21st Century Mahan? As such, have we had a chance to see what can inform our decisions as we prepare for this century’s challenges?
Who would you like to see given a treatment like Mahan was given by Armstrong? Who should be next in line to be introduced anew?
Put your ideas in comments.
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