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Reporting In

Upon checking into the next phase of training, our CO encouraged us to keep a journal, write down our thoughts…and/or blog. So…

I am currently stationed in Ballston Spa, NY where I am continuing my training in the Navy’s nuclear power pipeline at “prototype.” Having completed Nuclear Power School, I am now preparing to operate a reactor. Currently, I am getting qualifications to operate the reactor the Navy has here and will qualify by early September. At that point, I will be qualified to start qualifying as an Engineering Officer of the Watch on a submarine. Then, I will head to Groton where I will attend Submarine Officer Basic Course after which I will report to a submarine. Should everything going smoothly, I would be reporting in late November/December.

That’s where I am in the grand scheme of things.

Right now, I am learning as much as possible about the many, many systems which comprise the nuclear plant up here. I arrive at the “site” (the installation is actually “owned” by the Department of Energy) at about 0700 everyday. My partner and I then come up with a plan for the day (what systems to tackle that day), grab the reference manuals and start studying. After we feel comfortable with the material, we take a quiz on the computer. Passing the quiz allows you to be tested by an instructor on the material, who can sign to the proficiency on the material in our thick qualification binders. Just to give readers an idea, we study 56 hours a week for 6 months. It’s a thick binder.

This past week went by quickly (as did the weekend), but we discovered a place which does $.20 wings on Thursdays, so that practically adds a day to the weekend, right?

Anyway, I’m trying to get back in to the blogging habit. One of my friends at Power School remarked that he wished he had kept a journal while he was at the Academy and I agreed. In the moment, JOs feel so busy; we are busy, but thinking, writing and reflecting are habits. I’ll try to get back into them.



Congressional elections are approaching and according to my Facebook news feed, EVERYBODY has an opinion. Hurray for democracy and free speech, right? My civilian friends are most certainly ethically unencumbered to express their choice for candidates/parties. But what is the best way for members of the military to express themselves in accordance with regulations? When it comes to online “speech,” it is sometimes a little unclear what the ethical choices are.

DOD Directive 1344.10 details the types and extent of political participation of members of the armed forces. For example, we may “Sign a petition for a specific legislative action or a petition to place a candidate’s name on an official election ballot, if the signing does not obligate the member to engage in partisan political activity and is done as a private citizen and not as a representative of the Armed Forces.” Suppose a member joins a group over Facebook supporting a legislative measure, surely he’s acting as a private citizen, right? What if he has set his profile picture to a picture of himself in uniform? Is he still really acting as a private citizen? It doesn’t seem so to me–all the rest of the world sees is a member of the military supporting a political cause.

One thing is clear, we are not permitted to “[publish] partisan political articles, letters, or endorsements signed or written by the member that solicits votes for or against a partisan political party, candidate, or cause.” This should extend to online activity. Think before you update your status!



13th

Quick Update

September 2010

By

While nuclear fission is a “blast,” it’s probably not as exhilarating as hunting pirates or as poignant as some moments overseas (USNI bloggers are all over the globe these days!). Nuclear power school has certainly proven to be the most competitive academic environment in which I have been. We’re learning three technical subjects at once with at least one test per week.

The first test, covering the basics of the reactor, fell on the Wednesday following Labor Day Weekend. Before the schedule had been released I had booked a flight to DC, arriving back in Chucktown (Charleston) on Monday evening. One of my roommates had a similar predicament.

Let me tell you, the basics of a reactor aren’t really that basic.

As I would be gone all that weekend, my roommate and I put in some extreme hours starting a week out from the exam. 0530 wakeup, returning to the house around 2200+ a few times. Upon arriving at the airport, we found our flights were delayed…giving us a perfect opportunity for one more hour of studying.

Gotta head to bed; physics exam on Wednesday. If any NUPOC/ROTC/Academy/prospective nukes stumble upon this and have any questions about power school, feel free to ask in the comment section.



15th

Back to School!

August 2010

By

It’s been awhile since I last checked into USNI blog! Since commissioning on May 28th from the Academy, I visited Italy for leave with my brother and saw my great-uncle’s grave at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial. After leave, I spent a few (great) weeks at a stash/TAD job with the Information Technology and Systems Division at the Institute for Defense Analyses in Alexandria, VA.

Most recently, I’ve been becoming familiar with Rickover Center, Charleston, SC, and the view from my 6 ensign house (power in numbers). But really, lots of Rickover Center. As part of the submarine training pipeline, I am attending Nuclear Power School, a 6 month crash course giving us an academic background in the hot rock that makes the boat go. Right now, I’m in what is fondly referred to as “pre-school,” a 3-week course designed to acclimate students who graduated with a non-technical major to the rigors of nuclear engineering.

It’s been a lot of work. Our class periods start at 0700 (muster at 0645) and can run until 1615. They crammed the ~3 semesters of calculus I’ve had into about 2 class sessions. We have a 3 hour preschool “final” on Thursday. Of course, this will be followed by a class outing that evening to the Class-A Minor League Charleston Riverdogs where hotdogs topped with bacon can be found.

While pre-school has kept us busy, it’s also been a great opportunity to meet fellow students. My pre-school class of ~50 includes LTjgs who are coming from a SWO (surface ship) tour and are in training to operate the plants onboard our nuclear-powered carriers and ensigns from OCS, ROTC, and the Academy. One of the classes before us have PXOs, the prospective executive officers of carriers, who also have to attend nuclear power school before assuming their duties. While they get their own study room (with a “NUCLEAR AVIATION” sign over the door) and their own pre-filled sets of notes, the instructors tell us they tend to be the hardest working students in the class. After all, they have gotten to be PXOs for a reason. The entire Class of 1006 will comprise of ~100 students to include the majority of the Navy’s first female submariners.

I will update you MUCH more regularly now that I am here. Let me know if you are curious about anything in particular!



I’m afraid I’m no longer a midshipman blogger. On Friday, May 28, I was commissioned as an ensign along with ~755 of my closest friends and classmates (255 more became 2LTs in the Marines). My brother, USMA Class of 2012 (West Point), gave me my first salute.

I started blogging for the Naval Institute during the second semester of junior year and I’ve had the pleasure of conducting several interviews (including with (then) VADM Harvey) and writing about topics from pirates to sleep deprivation to interviewing for nuclear power.

It’s been lots of fun and I plan on sticking around–just not as the resident midshipman blogger! A replacement is in the works, but nothing official yet. In late July, I’ll head down to Charleston, SC to report for nuclear power school and start the next part of my journey!



27th

T-31

April 2010

By

A plebe just informed me that I have 31 days until graduation…not that I haven’t been counting on my own.

It’s amazing how fast time flies. A 2008 graduate who selected SEALs and who was most responsible for my plebe training and indoctrination is coming back in this weekend to have lunch with all the plebes (now firsties [seniors]) who used to be under his charge. Another 2008 graduate from my company just returned from Afghanistan. I know plenty of recent graduates who went SWO who have done deployments. Soon the Class of 2010 and I will be joining them.

I’ll be graduating May 28 and will be reporting to Nuclear Power School in late July, but it’ll be awhile until I’ll get to a boat (tentatively late 2011). Feel free to share good ensign (or O-1 forthe other services) “moments” in the comments…standing by for anchors away, here!



The role diversity ought to play in the Navy’s personnel policies has been the subject of much attention in the blogosphere (CDR Salamander’s Diversity Thursdays) and traditional media. I hope to examine the potential effects of diversity in the military and offer a new way forward in the public debate regarding diversity in the military.

First, let’s establish that the Navy’s policies should propel the service in the direction of effectiveness. Furthermore, diversity is a means to an end and advocates of diversity should realize its hard to sell the circular logic that “efforts to diversify personnel are good because diversity is good.” Using this language, diversity is both the means and the end! However, can a connection be made between diversity and effectiveness, which should be the ultimate goal of every policy? I think so.

I, too, was skeptical of this claim regarding the benefits of diversity, but the core arguments in favor of meaningful diversity are rather simple. Dr. Scott Page, a researcher in modeling complex systems, explains: “Diverse groups of people bring to organizations more and different ways of seeing a problem and, thus, faster/better ways of solving it. People from different backgrounds have varying ways of looking at problems, what I call “tools.” The sum of these tools is far more powerful in organizations with diversity than in ones where everyone has gone to the same schools, been trained in the same mold and thinks in almost identical ways.”

It’s important to note that Dr. Page is commenting on cognitive diversity, not identity diversity (although is a connection between the two). His book, The Difference, opens with a discussion of how diversity advanced the ends of the military during WWII. The success of Bletchley Park in breaking the German Enigma code owe in large part to the diverse nature of the team of mathematicians, philosophers, chess champions, and crossword puzzle whizzes! When you have a team composed of individuals who each approach a complex problem in a unique manner, you can find the most effective solution. As the CNO’s Diversity Policy explains, “Diversity of thoughts, ideas, and competencies of our people, keeps our Navy strong, and empowers the protection of the very freedoms and opportunities we enjoy each and every day.”

 The Marine Corps’ Lioness Program is a modern example of how diversity in the military is used towards effective ends. ““I don’t think there was a Marine out there who didn’t understand the importance of having females there,…We didn’t look at them as females serving at a checkpoint, we just saw another Marine,” said one Marine. Would the US military of 50-60 years ago think to engage a foreign population of women? Would it have done so effectively?

When advocates of diversity wander from the task of strengthening the Navy/Marine Corps team and merely understand diversity as a means to itself, then diversity policies are rightfully criticized. However, diversity is clearly a tool we can use to strengthen the Navy and Marine Corps when we understand its power and effects.



Private security contractors killed a Somali pirate Wednesday–and no one seems to know how to react.

Roger Middleton from the British think tank Chatham House commented that there’s currently no regulation of private security on board ships, no guidelines about who is responsible in case of an attack, and no industrywide standards. So what’s next?

“This will be scrutinized very closely…The bottom line is somebody has been killed and someone has to give an accounting of that,” said Arvinder Sambei, a legal consultant for the U.N. In other words, security contractors should standby to be investigated for their actions. It’s just not clear who will be doing the investigation–the ship’s flagged nation (Panama), the owners’ home nation (UAE) or the nation from which the contractors have citizenship (unknown).

All of this is making me wish I attended an open lectureheld here at the Academy by LCDR Berube on private security contractors as a possible solution to the piracy question held here at the Academy a few weeks ago. (LCDR Berube was recently spotted on Midrats talking about DADT.)

Do we want private security contractors helping secure ships from piracy? Sure, ships have the right to defend themselves. The follow-up questions of how closely their actions are monitored (a huge investigation every time there’s an incident could prove unwieldy) and who holds them accountable have yet to be answered. Any thoughts?



While we usually don’t cover the Army on this blog, this piece by Elizabeth Samet, a West Point professor, reflecting on the death of one of her students in Afghanistan, touches on some themes not partisan to any one service.

In the years since his graduation, Dan had become a correspondent–someone whose messages I welcomed, whose insights I valued. When I asked what he needed, he would say he needed nothing: “No specific needs or desires right now, but I’ll let you know if I lose/break anything.” When I asked him how he was, he would say, “[L]ife is good. Except the whole Afghanistan thing.”



On Thursday The Department of Defense issued a memorandum setting the ground rules for accessing social media sites. All components of the DoD “shall be configured to provide access to Internet-based capabilities” which include “collaborative tools such as SNS [social networking services], social media, user-generated content, social software, e-mail, instant messaging, and discussion forums (e.g., YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Google Apps).”

In short, social media sites shall remain unblocked. The most interesting part of the policy concerns the maintenance of “personal, corporate or subject-specific” blogs, to which the DoD now grants access service-wide. As long as servicemembers pay due respect to operational security, the policy formally allows them to update and run a blog. However, commanders are allowed to temporarily restrict activity to “address bandwidth constraints,” a clause which might prove vague enough to allow arbitrary blocking of sites.

I’m excited that the DoD is defaulting to “yes” when it comes to social media; however, we’ll see how the policy becomes enforced.



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