Vietnam said earlier this week that six Buddhist monks will soon take up residence on one of the Spratlys. The monks, who reportedly will stay for the next year, belong to the government-sanctioned wing of the Buddhist church.
In all seriousness though, this has all the ingredients; oil, sea lines of communication – and overlapping claims that adds fuel to it all.
…to re-establish abandoned temples on islands that are the subject of a bitter territorial dispute with China.
The temples were last inhabited in 1975, but were recently renovated as part of efforts to assert Vietnamese sovereignty over the Spratly Islands.
The monks’ delegation is being organised by the local authorities in the southern province of Khanh Hoa, which exercises administrative responsibility for the islands on behalf of Vietnam.
It has also paid for the refurbishment of the island shrines. They include three larger temples and several smaller ones.
The monks have been appointed abbots of the island temples for a six-month period.
Along with China and Vietnam, parts of the islands are claimed by the the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.
To get the Monks there takes just a boat – to keep them there or to kick them off takes the ability to project naval power ashore.
Is this a provocation? Of course. The billion dollar question is; what national security concern is this of ours? If it isn’t, when does it become one, if at all?
Neptunus Lex – as he was known in the Navy milblog community, Captain Carroll LeFon, USN (Ret.) to the rest of the world – is gear-up, flaps-up and well on the way for his final mission. You can hear why by following this link.
Back in the early days of the milblog world, there were very few. Lex was out there early in late ’03, and when I started in mid-’04, I was already familiar with his work as one of the few Navy voices out there. With Sean, Joel, Chap, Will, Skippy, EagleOne – it was a small group in the beginning and we all helped each other out getting started, and Lex was there for all of us.
I hadn’t been blogg’n for long when he first reached out to me – in a good humored way – to let me know that I may want to dial it back a bit. I think our conversation went something like this as an active duty Captain to active duty Commander;
Lex: “Not to tell you how to run your blog, but I think you went to far on that post yesterday.”
Me: “Am I on report?”
Lex: “No, just thought I would give you a little nudge on your last post, as it is a bit too much.”
Me: “I know. You’re right.”
Lex: “It’s OK, its your blog. You just might want to let it sit for awhile before you take it out of draft next time.”
After our initial email conversation, I teased him a bit as the “Navy milblog SOPA.” As at that time we were mostly to fully anon in many ways; we didn’t really know who was the senior active duty blogg’r – but we generally gave Lex the nod.
A gentleman, officer, good stick, good writer, and just plain good man. Over the years, we would comment on each others blog now and then – and exchange emails much more to share ideas, pass off tips …. or return to our original conversation. That was Lex; part blog buddie, part mentor, part philosopher, but a gentle professional always.
There were also a few projects we worked on together over the years in that way you can in the blogosphere. Always a pleasure to coordinate with as he was always focused on the goal of the collaboration – not himself. Thanks to the opportunities provided by USNI, I even had the opportunity to break bread with him a few times. He retired right before I did, and as I made that transition I watched Lex’s path.
The path that took him back to the aircraft. In a fashion, he died serving his nation as he knew best – in the cockpit.
In life, on-line and off, he built a strong network of acquaintances and friends – that too speaks a lot for the man – and most of us are in the same place right now.
On that note, I will leave Lex with a thank you, well done, and farewell for now.
When we meet again.
History shows that the national mood determines spending priorities as much if not more than even economic needs. In a representative republic, our elected officials respond to the mood and desires of their constituents in fits and starts – but usually head in that direction.
If you are making long-range plans, like military budgets and systems development, to avoid spending time and money on systems that Congress or a future Pentagon will never support for production – because they don’t meet the mood and direction the nation is going – you need to make sure you can see the big picture.
To do that, you need to make sure you are not stuck in either group-think in your small circle, or worse than that – have tunnel vision such that you are unaware of what is going on around you.
A nation and a society can often have trouble with self-reflection. In the national security arena, a professional must make the effort to read widely and deeply; seeking out not just like-minded ideas, but even more importantly contrary ideas. Better than that, make an effort to read foreign sources of opinion and analysis.
Where do you look? Well, if you want to get an outsider’s view, the Anglophere-centric The Economist is good. The English version of Der Spiegel works. The major British papers and their English language counterparts from Japan, Singapore, Al-Jazeera works too. Everyone finds their mix.
There is no nation that is more like the United States – and therefor more likely to pick up our nuanced trends – than our friends to the north, Canada. Some don’t really “get” us – but our fellow North Americans usually do.
You could do worse than to take the time to listen to a relatively objective opinion from a friend. The Canadian Conference of Defence Associations Institute (a non-partisan think-tank) has its strategic assessment out. It is well worth your time to read the whole thing, but the opening section on the United States has an interesting hook;
Americans are war-weary, disappointed with what has been achieved at great expense, and feeling exploited by ungrateful allies. Debate is intensifying over how national interests should be defined and the degree to which the security of Americans requires expenditure of lives and treasure in faraway places. There is a rising mood of disengagement which will translate into actual disengagement in selected areas no longer deemed to be in the national interest.
There will be no going back to Iraq whatever happens and 2012 will feature continued drawdown of US forces and involvement in Afghanistan. The Administration will find it very difficult to send forces anywhere in 2012 unless the security interests of the United States or those of its closest friends and allies are openly threatened or humanitarian needs are overwhelming. With the economy improving but remaining fragile, the United States would be hard pressed to finance or gain public support for any new foreign policy or defence initiative not directly in support of the supreme interests of the country.
In the event Washington cannot avoid sending forces into harm’s way in 2012, there is every indication the Pentagon would want any engagement to be short and sharp, with objectives which are as narrow and clearly defined as possible, and with little or no chance of stretching into a lengthy and complex intervention of the type which characterized the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. One should expect the Administration’s posture to prefer persuasion over force and, when diplomacy and sanctions fail, to favour the employment of military force with as much precision as possible.
If they are correct – what are the implications for the defense budget and the Navy-Marine Corps team? Are we training and equipping our forces to be ready for this in a shrinking resource environment? Are we adjusting our manpower allocations to ensure that the “high-demand-low-density” assets will be there in the right amount, or will they be put under the same haircut as everyone else?
If the American public’s mood continues along these lines – are we being realistic on what kind of budget we will have in 10-years? Are we being too optimistic, too pessimistic – or just about right?
Having served with the Canadian forces, have Canadian friends, and heck – even took the family to Canada for our summer vacation last year, I admit to being a Canadaphile – as a result, agree or disagree, I always give them a good listen.
This time, I think they about nailed it.
Hat tip T.E. Ricks.
Yesterday over at my homeblog, we went over last week’s issue with the USMC’s problem understanding the proper context of what is clearly Nazi iconography. From flags to tattoos (see the NSFW video linked to in comments at the last link if you really need to see it) – there is an issue there.
Our nation has its own rich martial tradition, so why would warriors feel the need to search outside their own heritage – or for that matter outside an honorable heritage elsewhere – for their unit/personal iconography?
At the reactionary, retail level the answer is leadership – that that is only a symptom of a larger problem. What is wrong with our own heritage?
Is the problem ignorance of our own martial history? Perhaps … but that doesn’t explain why individuals and units have no problem finding “strong martial imagery” in a foreign history. What are we doing wrong inside our own historical lifelines that our own iconography is insufficient – could it be that we don’t give it the support it deserves?
I would offer that part of the problem is that we have allowed others to water down our own “red in tooth and claw” history – purging or softening what is the very real nature of this business – we kill people and break things simply because we are ordered to (insert polite conversation version here). There is little margin for error – and a lack of attention to detail or knowledge will quickly lead to the death of yourself and possibly thousands of your Shipmates – and mission failure. Not a Hollywood ending – but one of charred flesh, scattered chunks, and in some warfare specialties – a grey-pink mist.
Yes, this line of work is at its core a rough business.
The phrase “Initial Success or Total Failure” has long served as the unofficial motto of explosive ordnance disposal technicians in the U.S. military.
Until recently, the slogan hung on a wall at the Naval EOD school at Eglin. It was removed after senior EOD leaders decided the words were insensitive.
“It holds some potential insensitivity and implies that our fallen and wounded EOD warriors have somehow failed,” said Joy Samsel, deputy public affairs officer at Naval Education and Training Command in Pensacola. “We don’t want to do that to families.”
Samsel said the EOD school has never had an official motto and has no plans to adopt one.
Rear Adm. Michael Tillotson, commander of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, took issue with the slogan and said that “to imply that failure is an option is unacceptable.”
“Throughout history, many EOD techs from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, other U.S. government and civilian agencies, as well as foreign partners, have lost their lives or been wounded in the line of duty,” he said. “To imply that they failed is insensitive and disrespectful.”
Let me join the many in saying; RADM Tillotson, you’re wrong; in this business everyone does not get a trophy.
“The motto is not about the individual, it is about the mission, and when you are dealing with an explosive device you generally get one shot to render it safe,” Will Pratt, a former Army EOD technician, wrote in an email to the Daily News.
“When you start making changes to an explosive device, you are either going to shut it off or set it off, hence initial success or total failure. This does not mean that the technician is a failure by any stretch of the imagination. ”
Pratt said the military has lots of unofficial mottos and that “Initial Success or Total Failure” is included on the Navy’s EOD memorial in Washington, D.C.
He added that he hopes the Navy won’t allow Tillotson to “destroy a tradition that was there long before him and will be there long after he is gone.”
First Sgt. Joseph Smith of Fort Hood, Texas, said the removal of the motto “is beyond most EOD technicians’ comprehension.” He said he has never heard any complaints about the motto from EOD techs or their families.
Actually – direct clear communication of the binary nature of the EOD business, as the motto is, is actually a signal of great sensitivity to your Sailors’ families – making sure from the beginning Sailors understand the unforgiving nature of their work and so will have a greater likelihood of coming home. It shows great respect for their maturity and professionalism by speaking to them without guile.
How is this being carried out? Well, in an almost Orwellian/Soviet manner. From an email inside the EOD lifelines;
Subject: FW: Visual inspection of all NAVSCOLEOD buildings
Please read the e-mail below. I don’t know the history or driving factors behind this so please don’t ask AND refrain from sending me an e-mail telling me how dumb you think this is. Bottom line is it needs to happen and I need you to make it happen.
DO NOT DELEGATE THIS BELOW THE NCOIC LEVEL.
I need either the Divo or NCOIC to personally inspect all spaces under your cognizance. This includes training areas (e.g. IED huts, BC labs, PT areas, ice house, class plaques, ceiling tiles, etc) and any place that this phrase may possibly reside. If, for example, you find a wall with the phrase, don’t just take a can of spray paint to it. Annotate it and add it to the list of places you found the phrase and we’ll work with facilities to get it painted over to make it look nice.
If/when I find out more about the driving factors I’ll get back to you. If you have legitimate complaints and/or your instructors morale is negatively affected save your concerns until next [redacted] Divo meeting or come and talk with me personally. I need confirmation this has been completed by 1100 Friday 10 Feb.
Of note, this does not apply to personal memorabilia that individuals have on display at their desks or in their PERSONAL work areas.
Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal
So, down the memory hole. Admirals have a lot of power – so it is done.
There are even talking points:
QUOTE: Rear Admiral Michael Tillotson, Commander Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (senior Navy EOD officer)
“As leaders in the EOD community we have a responsibility to support, train and prepare EOD Technicians for an extremely dangerous profession. To imply that failure is an option is unacceptable.”
“Throughout history many EOD techs from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, other U.S. government and civilian agencies, as well as foreign partners have lost their lives or been wounded in the line of duty. To imply that they failed is insensitive and disrespectful. We owe our fallen warriors and their families honor and dignity for their heroic service.”
Initial talking points:
1) “Initial success or total failure” has never been an official motto of Navy EOD.
2) The motto itself holds potential insensitivities and an unintended message insinuating that our fallen and wounded EOD Warriors have somehow failed.
3) It is the Navy EOD’s position to not display this motto within Navy commands.
Give warfighters appropriate and sufficient iconography – or they will find their own.
I think the best quote to use as a starting point is here;
The Pentagon’s new budget proposals, unveiled Thursday, included money to turn a freighter hull into a full-time floating base that could be moved around the world for military operations or humanitarian missions.
But the fiscal year does not begin until October and, to meet a standing request from American military commanders in the Middle East, Pentagon and Navy officials decided to convert the Ponce to serve as a floating base in the meantime.
“This is a longstanding request that, with the opportunity now before us, we are fulfilling,” said Capt. John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman.
… Navy officials acknowledged that they were moving with unusual haste to complete the conversion and send the mothership to the region by early summer.
Longstanding. Yes. The request is:
… the staging base would allow commandos, helicopters, speedboats and even aircraft with a short-takeoff capability to operate in regions where the United States does not have access to installations on land.
While its value as a staging base for combat operations would be a priority, it also could be moved near an area suffering from natural disaster, to provide full logistics for the military to carry out relief missions for a region left without power, food or potable water.
Let that soak in. Read it again. Ponder – hasn’t this been a requirement for at least my lifespan? Haven’t we had such things before? Yes. Don’t we have a lot of platforms easily converted to do such things? Yes. Does it require a big deck to do it? No. Do we have ships already configured as such – yes. Why has it taken so long ……
To simplify things – let’s not even look at piracy for now and what the PONCE could bring to that game. In the broader sense, we have been at war with a non-state terrorist group, its affiliates and supporters for over a decade. This is a war that relies to an exceptional extent on Special Operations Forces. This we know.
As a navy at war, what have we “restructured” to support this outside deployment schedules, itty-bits in NECC, NSW, and certain “special” programs? Look back at the infrastructure that supported special operations in Vietnam and the very short turn around time they had from requirement to shadows pierside. This is not new. This is not radical. This does not require a technological breakthrough. Hey – maybe, ahem, that is/was the problem.
An “Afloat Forward Staging Base” or “mothership” is not a new concept. It is not sexy (to the non-professional), it doesn’t go real fast, but it does do something – it supports the warfighter and his ability to project power ashore and at sea. It multiplies the effect of smaller, more nimble forces to do their job with endurance and a greater sense of autonomy. MIW – sure. NSW – no problem … etc … but why PONCE now – why late – and why USS now?
Ships matter – ships that have enough “white space” to put in to them what you need, take them where they need to go, and have the endurance to stay long enough to make a difference. Not the too-clever-by-half mission module concept – but the inherent utility of “being there” with room to enable others – and to do so with nuance. The multi-purpose amphib, which the PONCE is – is more than simply an amphib – it has always been so – and will be again.
All the above leads to a simple question: through all the “fat” years in a decade of war with plenty of discussions of the need and utility of a “mothership” to meet the needs of this type of war, we did little. Now that we find ourselves in a shrinking budget, why do we panic like, grab the duct tape, bailing wire, and vice grips and rush out to the pier to coax the old girl to give just some more?
Are we that broken that with all our technology, communications, and armadas of Admirals – we find ourselves with this decision point? Are our priorities so out of whack – our processes so blinkered – our leadership so hidebound – that we find ourselves with this lash-up?
Don’t get me wrong – I fully support, encourage, and praise the modification and deployment of PONCE and present/planned follow on AFSB. Many happy returns – but really. This is how we do it?
“This is a longstanding request that, with the opportunity now before us, we are fulfilling … Navy officials acknowledged that they were moving with unusual haste to complete the conversion and send the mothership to the region by early summer.
It’s not like there weren’t other opportunities to do this to other ships over the last decade.
The interesting story would be – inside the “longstanding” timeline – who held back this decision, why, and what are they doing now? What was holding it back – and what finally broke the seal to let it go forward?
I know, call it an accountability review.
Once we do that – then we can have fun discussion about long range plans for the concept WRT active duty/reserve/CIVMAR/USS/USNS etc. There will be a long range plan right? We wouldn’t want to have someone else re-invent this later on will we? We do understand that this is a capability that will be needed for a long time – right? We are planning for the ability to have this “effect” in place longer than one ship’s deployment … right?
Since the President’s Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense came out last week, a lot has been written, pontificated, pondered, positioned, and puffed about it. A little bit of light, but a lot of heat too. Some don’t like it at all – some like me are, well, shrugable about it. This is in many ways a call to action for DoN. Let me explain.
This isn’t doctrinally perfect – but it is workable. Like all broad documents, it is the actions that follow that are important – and what money Congress decides to allocate in defense bills that follow. I go in to a little more detail over at my home blog, but let’s take some pull quotes that seem to nod toward the Sea Services the most and ponder them here.
There is nothing shocking in the document, but there is plenty “see Ref. A” quotes for people to use. For instance:
For the foreseeable future, the United States will continue to take an active approach to countering these threats by monitoring the activities of non-state threats worldwide, working with allies and partners to establish control over ungoverned territories, and directly striking the most dangerous groups and individuals when necessary.
“… monitoring … activities … worldwide;” “ungoverned territories;” “striking the most dangerous groups;” – what is the best tool the National Command Authority can use to do this? A little USAF – but that is a Navy and Marine Corps core competency. We can sell that soap.
There are echos of what regular readers of USNI’s Proceedings have already read and internalized….
Across the globe we will seek to be the security partner of choice, pursuing new partnerships with a growing number of nations .– including those in Africa and Latin America .– whose interests and viewpoints are merging into a common vision of freedom, stability, and prosperity. Whenever possible, we will develop innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our security objectives, relying on exercises, rotational presence, and advisory capabilities. The United States will continue to lead global efforts with capable allies and partners to assure access to and use of the global commons, both by strengthening international norms of responsible behavior and by maintaining relevant and interoperable military capabilities.
Buy Fords not Ferraris sound familiar to anyone? CAPT Hendrix; call your office.
What about the Primary Mission Areas outlined in the document? Can you argue with these?
- Counter Terrorism and Irregular Warfare
- Deter and Defeat Aggression
- Project Power Despite Anti-Access/Area Denial Challenges
- Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction
- Operate Effectively in Cyberspace and Space
- Maintain a Safe, Secure, and Effective Nuclear Deterrent
- Defend the Homeland and Provide Support to Civil Authorities
- Provide a Stabilizing Presence
- Conduct Stability and Counterinsurgency Operations
- Conduct Humanitarian, Disaster Relief, and Other Operations
Well, of course you can; the order and emphasis may be different, but Rummy or Dick Cheney could have put that list out.
If you want to be parochial about it – out of the 10, at least half are over 51% DoN, and none less than 30% DoN. Time to get you’re A-game running Navy.
… We will resist the temptation to sacrifice readiness in order to retain force structure, and will in fact rebuild readiness in areas that, by necessity, were deemphasized over the past decade.
That has Navy written all over it – especially our amphibious capabilities. It nods as well to ASW, AAW, and ASUW, as those are the core of what was deemphasized over the last decade. If you don’t agree – look at the #3 PMA.
There is more in the document. If you have not yet, get a cup of coffee, send the phone to voice mail and give it a read. It is less than 20 pages with big fonts and plenty of white space.
Going forward, if we are willing to engage with the challenge, this sets the foundation for a lot of positive creative friction. This is a great opportunity for us to make hard choices, get lean, and set proper priorities – things we didn’t do well in the fat years. It is of little use to cry and scream at the darkness that is our budgetary and political environment; light a candle. If you think more money is coming; you are intellectually lost.
To get this right in the reality we have, we need an open, loud, sharp-elbows, and thick skin discussion of the pros and cons of different courses of action, policies, systems, platforms, and accepted norms.
A2/AD, “Influence Squadrons,” Asian focus, rebuilding neglected readiness areas – these are all Navy areas. We need to embrace them and lean in to the President’s challenge. Less money is always less fun – but it can also bring rewards if you take advantage of the opportunities it can present.
There is work to be done.
In a great example of “creative friction” at its highest level of practice, we find ourselves with the authors of Red Star Over the Pacific on one end – and a great naval mind, Dr. Norman Friedman, on the other.
I think good people can fall on either side of the arguments presented – and I encourage you to read both articles to decide for yourself even if you have not read the book in question. That isn’t what this post is about though.
In their response to Dr. Friedman, the authors brought up a topic that will have everyone with an Operational Planning background nodding their heads. Especially those who have taught Operational Planning or better yet have had to lead an Operational Planning team – their words will ring true, and might even open up a scar or two – or even trigger a migraine.
Friedman’s worst sin, though, is to succumb to (if not revel in) what the late Michael Handel termed the “tacticization of strategy.” Battlefield commanders and many civilians are prone to become spellbound by technological and tactical wizardry. In so doing, they lose sight of the higher – and ultimately decisive – levels of competition and warfare. Since World War II, observes Handel, “technological means have started to wag the strategic dog.” Andrew Krepinevich strikes a similar note in The Army and Vietnam, faulting the U.S. Army for prosecuting a “strategy of tactics.” U.S. forces seldom lost a tactical engagement with Vietnamese regular or irregular forces, yet they were unable to derive strategic or political gains from these engagements. Conflating equipment and tactics with strategy rendered an unbroken string of battlefield triumphs largely moot.
Knowing your place; a concept even more difficult to accept in the era of the “Strategic Corporal” and all the implications of it. To keep your place takes discipline, knowledge, and better yet a command climate that allows someone to pull you back when you drift away from your proper place.
Strategic planning does not need to concern itself with tactical details (AKA 3,000 nm screwdriver) if all three levels function properly. Not just a Strategic level problem, the temptation is even greater at the Operational level where the tendency to drift down to the Tactical is greatest. People plan where they are the most comfortable, and if you just came back from the Tactical level and haven’t mentally adjusted to the fact you now have to think and plan at the Operational or Strategic – you are setting yourself up for disruptive planning, intrusive direction & guidance, and eventually Tactical level paralyses.
Worse that that – if you are in a decision making position at the Strategic or Operational level – and you are not doing that job from that perspective – who is? The answer is, no one. That is where historians have their fun.
Adding to that problem is the amplifying effect. A poorly constructed or ill-disciplined Strategic guidance results in disjointed and inefficient Operational level direction & guidance. That in turn leads to Tactical anarchy. Where does that lead? Well, not to the “W” column.
Fun stuff … fun stuff. As a side note, if you are interested in hearing the authors discuss their book and China in general, EagleOne and I interviewed them back in Jan; you can hear the archived show here. We’ve also interviewed Dr. Friedman twice, once in 2010, and again earlier this year.
We’ve seen this movie before; well, some of us have. Those who saw the post-Cold War, post-Desert Storm “peace dividend” era will recognize where we are. Different acronyms and different policies – the but goal is the same. People need to leave. It starts ugly, creates a new normal, then settles out. There are no great ways to reduce manpower in a bad economy – but there are less bad ones.
Are we doing this right – and are we leading from the front to make sure leaders enjoy the same hardships as their Sailors? For those we keep on – are we choosing the right leaders for the right reasons?
I would like to send along a snapshot of what our front-line leaders are having to work with as they tell outstanding Sailors that, even in this economy, soon they will have to make it work without the Navy.
When was the last time you saw a grown man cry in uniform over a non-legal admin issue? It ain’t pretty – but behind the PPT; this is what is happening at one major sea command.
Results from the Enlisted Retention Board (ERB) for E4/5: we had 20 of 50 candidates selected for separation.
ERB for E6/7/8: we had 9 of 48 candidates selected for separation. No E7/E8s were separated; all E6.
One was a 16-year first class who cried like a baby when he was told. Wife, two kids, no NJP, no misconduct, solid good Sailor. This comes on the heels of the 46 E4-E5 folks ship-wide we notified two weeks ago.
Some of these Sailors had PRD extensions to make the homeport change and move or moved their families to the new duty station. Not only have our Sailors stood up to meet absurdly inconvenient USN challenges (when would IBM move you, not help you sell your house (now upside down), and expect your wife to do the move alone while you were gone for 6 months), but they did so with the good faith that they had a reciprocal commitment from USN.
Well, they thought they did. They had faith that because they did all they were asked to do – the Navy would stand up to the promises it made verbally and by culture. They have found instead that truth can and will change.
ERB and her automaton sister Perform to Serve (PTS). How are these impacting the relationship between Sailors and their leadership – and the connection between officers and enlisted?
Remember, with PTS no humans are involved in this decision. A computer looks at certain parts of their personnel record and calculates their value to the Navy with an algorithm. Yep, we are letting the computers do all the leading for us. We detach ourselves from the very personal part of leadership; you have to work both the “good & fun” as well has the “difficult but needed” parts of it.
That can quickly develop in to a habit. It is a short walk from “just let a computer tell others the bad news so I don’t take the hit,” to telling the XO that we shouldn’t let anyone on overnight liberty in our next port because no one wants to have to explain to their Sailors why they denies their chit. It’s too hard; push the bad news decision to someone else so I can hand out NAMs. And no – I didn’t just make that story up. It was sent in an email last week from one of my regulars. Yes; longer deployments with less liberty. That makes a great bumper sticker.
Isn’t leadership at its core a personal relationship? People will follow the orders of a superior – but they are led by individuals they honor and trust. The whole PTS/ERB process puts the concept of leadership on its head by the impersonal nature of it all. These Sailors are being fired, and they are being fired without cause…you can’t tell them why, just “you’re fired.” The people who know them best aren’t making the call – they are just reporting it.
The decisions are made from afar – yet the leadership challenge comes up close. How do you motivate a Sailor, who deployed 4 months early, who is gone from home for 11 months, who thinks that they are about to be fired and then will be expected to remain at sea for the next 3 months until deployment is over? “You’re fired…but you have to stay at sea for the next 3 months and work hard and you can’t do any planning for your career change because your internet doesn’t work and you can’t talk to your wife and kids except on 4 ATT sailorphones. Oh, and we’re dumping you in the worst economy since the 1970s. Carry-on.”
That is what is happening in the Fleet right now. Not all that different than what we saw with the early 90s Involuntary Release from Active Duty (IRAD), but these are enlisted personnel, not officers.
Going beyond the people affected – back it out a bit. We’re already “optimally” manned, right? So when these Sailors leave their commands, the command will get a replacement. After all, while we’ve cut 3,000 Sailors, so far we haven’t changed the manning documents. Who do you think is going to show up as the replacement? Do you think that when you lose your 1st Class – who has all the quals, experience, and technical knowledge they’ve gained in 14 years of service – you’re getting the same thing from BUPERS to replace them? No. You’re lucky if you get a 3rd Class with the right NEC’s.
So, ships and squadrons that already don’t have enough people, now have fewer experienced Sailors as well. It’s not a question of how many Airmen or Seamen you push into the command to make the numbers look right. Training and experience matter. The other problem is that you are now cutting back on your mid-grade leadership. You end up with ships and squadrons full of Khaki and 3rd class and below. People who are supposed to be looking at the big picture and worker bees, but nobody in between to connect the two. Is that setting an organization up for success or failure?
A slightly unsettling component of this is that it takes a lot of people out of contention for retirement benefits as they are 4-6 years from retirement, but that isn’t one of the goals … is it?
Does the senior leadership have a full understanding of how their decisions are impacting both leadership and Sailors on the deckplates? Do our actions show any empathy with our Sailors and their families? The talking points that were distributed to front line leadership about how to “fire” a Sailor were ridiculously simplistic and next to useless.
Is this really the best way to do this? From the view of the deckplates – are officer and enlisted reductions being done the same way? Well, again – let’s look at what was done at the officer level. Fair or not – it is what the enlisted see.
As a point of discussion, look at the Selective Early Retirement (SER) board for URL CAPT and CDR. Who did we “fire,” 124 officers? With this economy, even being retirement eligible, people are staying. So, numbers need to go – did they go far enough? Doesn’t look like it.
As a result, many LCDR and below are having their screen groups pushed back by years because there are so many CDRs and CAPTs hanging on. I know of a LCDR who was told his first look at O5 was pushed back 2 years, another pushed a year. Odds are that Shipmate will see another slide. Why aren’t we thinning the herd of 12-16-yr officers as we are 12-16-yr enlisted?
Here is the pernicious difference between what happened to the officers vs. the enlisted – the officers who do get “fired” all have their 20 years in – they get a check. ERB folks are often ¾ of the way to the pension that now they will never see … unless they can work some reserve time and tread water for a couple decades plus.
For now though, the officers will hit the USAJobs website with a nice paycheck coming in while they tread water. ERB and PTS? Just a chunk of money to chew on until it runs out. BTW – your daughter needs braces and your son turns 16 next year and don’t plan on moving to a job with your family in tow – you’re $20,000 underwater in your home.
Have we (Navy leadership via BuPers) through our actions and processes institutionally broken faith with our personnel? Is this how a Top 50 Employer acts?
Yes, reductions need to be made – but are we doing it right? Can we clearly look in the face at our deployable forces and those with the most sea duty and say, “We have cut as much of the supporting infrastructure as possible. We have cleared out all the oxygen thieves and professional shore duty billet sponges; we have to go after you.”
Do we really have a lean shore infrastructure? (staff and shore BA/NMP, call you office). Have we scrubbed our manning documents correctly? Have we, like the Army and USMC, done a thorough review of our personnel to see who has and has not deployed in the last few years and made people offers they can’t refuse? Are we rewarding the right things? Do our actions reflect our words? Does a CDR in DC, or an E4 at Pax River, have the same (or better) chance of promoting over someone on a back-to-back sea tour? Well, let’s take another snapshot.
We have been a Navy at war for over a decade. In that time, one of the greater challenges we have had is the Individual Augmentation (IA/GSA) program (AKA NARMY). What have we told people over and over – well, that it will be both rewarding and rewarded. Has it?
Do we reward the warrior – or are we still stuck in a peace-time/Cold War mentality where we don’t so much reward tactical and operational performance and effort so much as number of hoops and checked boxes? Do we focus a lot on school time – or actually leading Sailors at sea and forward deployed? Are we promoting combat leaders to run an organization that exists to fight its nation’s wars – or are we promoting the fonctionnaire and perpetual student?
Again – let’s look at what we are doing with officers. What happened at the last Aviation Major Command Screen Board? Perhaps we will find our answers there as – coming from SG-90 +/-, these officers have spent more than half their career at war. Right?
What does this data point tell the warfighter about what our Navy values during wartime?
- Overseas duty? A wash.
- IA/GSA? Doesn’t look like a winner.
- Avoid hard duty overseas or a year+ in the dirt with an IA/GSA, or find a way to warm a seat in a classroom or chop PPT slides in a 3-digit J-coded job on a superfluous Staff?
Where do you become a better leader – at sea and deployed – or ashore working on your handicap?
Difficult times require difficult decisions. Are we making those difficult decisions for the right reasons? Do our actions match our words?
As things contract, you have to make sure that your keep the value added, and let the less value added go. That is the only way to, at the end, make sure you have an organization that is in best shape to address the challenges it faces.
What do our actions and manpower shaping tell you about what a smaller Navy will be like? As people have the habit of selecting in their own image – what will we become more and more like as the present conflicts fade? Will this serves us well when, and it is when not if, the next war comes?
UPDATE Zacchaeus over at Small Wars Journal does a very good job contextualizing the tradeoffs embedded in the above post. Read about “The Lance Corporal Equivalents” here.
Dots, dots, dots. Everyone likes to play connect the dots, especially after the fact when it is nice and safe. What is thought clear in hindsight is often not hidden at the present – it is there. Not as clear as the monday morning GOFO would have you believe – but it is there.
Some see it – or at least bits of it. The final form is rarely known by many – and even up to the time of unveiling; except for those who execute it, doubt remains for most.
Examples abound. Big issues and small. Little things like RPG cages forgotten at the end of the Vietnam War until the Iraqi occupation. The South African Army vets from the Apartheid Era would tell all you needed to know about IED if you asked. We knew the vulnerability of the Humvee after Somalia in the 1990s – no excuse really for hillbilly armor over a decade later.
The World Trade Center was attacked once before 11 SEP 01. New methods from the Tactical, Operational, to the Strategic rarely appear as a bolt out of the blue. They are tried out. They are exercised – heck they are even written about and mentioned in conferences sometimes for decades prior to their explosion on stage.
All you have to do is listen. It’s there.
What are we moving forward on – what are our “long poles.” Networks, navigation, communication. Drones, UAS, off-site analysis. Reach-back.
NIPR, SIPR, VTC, broadband, UHF, EHF, downlink. Take you pick. What is your offline backup? How long will you be down? C4ISR – really? Complacent? Content? Assumptions? Branch Plan?
What worries? What warnings whisper at us?
Chinese hackers are suspected of grabbing the reins of four US government satellites in 2008 potentially crashing them to Earth or stealing valuable information, more than once.
NASA admits one of the two satellites was temporarily accessed twice in the summer and fall that year, though would not comment on the other.
‘While we cannot discuss additional details regarding the attempted interference, our satellite operations and associated systems and information are safe and secure’ NASA Public Affairs Officer Trent J. Perrotto said in a statement sent to Talking Points Memo.
According to the draft report, however, two satellites were infiltrated four times in 2007 and 2008 for 12 or more minutes.
Of course – what would divisions of battleships ever have to worry about a few canvas string bags with small little bombs? Don’t be silly. We have the war winning technology, don’t ‘cha know.
The socially awkward and their fetish-toys are not where serious career minded professionals invest their time. Leave those playthings for others; maybe those university libraries full of Chinese students is a place to put those silly ideas. We own the electronic spectrum and space anyway, right? What danger is there to all our transformational, network centric concepts.
With some of the budget reduction POM options coming to the front over the last couple of weeks, everyone’s Fleet-number waterfall graph just shifted to the left a few years. A quick note to those blandly blinking at the PPT; this is not a drill.
It is time to leave behind the sway-back, hidebound arguments and talking points of the Lost Decade; FRP, Optimal Manning, Transformation, exquisite systems, Network-Centric Unicorn Theory – that is in the past. The future, if you will, that never was.
They have either been measured and found wanting, abandoned, unaffordable, or perpetually shifted to the right waiting for quantum theory and pixie dust to make them operational. It is time to move forward.
One underlying fact that has finally reached the 51% tipping point in the minds of most decision makers in the last 18-months is this; in time of financial crisis the military budget will be hit harder than other parts of the budget if for no other reason than it is structurally easier for politicians to do so. With our new “Super Committee” process – even more so.
Relax; there is no need to panic. No need to wear sack cloth and ashes, bound with your full-leg metal cilices as you walk off the Blue Line, through Pentagon Station to your desk. No; it is time to straighten your gig-line, lean forward, walk with purpose to get your next cup of coffee, put a smile on your face, and get to work.
Look at what has been done by our predecessors in a time of stress; naval developments in the 1920s and 1930s in carrier and cruisers; even the 1970s, more or less, brought us the F-16, TLAM, Aegis and others.
This is a time to focus. We can come out of this period – be it 10 years or 20, in a good position if we start now to look; look not just at platforms, but what those platforms carry. Sensors, weapons, leaders, Sailors, and ideas. That is what is critical. Don’t get me wrong – numbers matter for a dual-ocean, maritime, mercantile republic with global responsibilities – but what is on those platforms is more important than just numbers.
To do this right though, we need vision and leadership grounded in fact, modesty, honesty, and respect for risk. Not just that, but in our age it needs to be public vision and public leadership. The time is now to look back for a firm grip on something firm, solid, and reliable – and then reach forward.
A great worry however, is that we won’t benchmark the successful responses to stress in the past clearly founded on solid programs and viable short-cycle evolutionary progresses, but instead will follow the intellectually moribund and disgraced habits of the other past as defined by a future-imperfect PPT deep and an efficiency plan as thoughtful as, “Everyone grab your spoon and take two scoops our of your rice bowl.”
Simple reductions of what we have without vision and an understanding of a strategy to support it is not a plan, it is a reaction. It is drift; drift in rapidly shoaling water.