Today, the Aviation Major Command Screen Board (AMCSB) convenes in Millington, Tennessee. It is the annual gathering to determine the future of Naval Aviation’s most promising leaders, and plays a large role in setting the strategic direction of our enterprise.
As we alluded to in our August 2015 Proceedings article “On Becoming CAG,” the fates of aspiring leaders were determined years prior to this week. FITREPs, joint jobs, and other career assignments funnel COs into competitive tracks for leadership positions, including Carrier Air Wing Commander, or CAG.
However, as the current AMCSB convenes, one troubling trend remains: Naval Aviation has gone five years since a non-VFA CAG was selected.
After publishing “On Becoming CAG,” the authors received intense positive and negative feedback about our arguments. Notably, at the annual Tailhook Reunion in Reno, Nevada this year, PERS-43 addressed the debate in an open forum (you can watch it here).
He pointed out that CAGs are responsible for the mentorship of squadron COs, with the ultimate goal of cultivating leaders who are able to replace him or her as CAG.
Reflecting on the past five years, it appears as though CAGs have failed their non-VFA Commanding Officers in this essential mentoring. All else being equal, if zero COs from outside the VFA community have been selected, we arrive at one of two conclusions:
1) VAQ, VAW, HSM, and HSC squadron COs have been inadequate leaders compared to their VFA contemporaries. If this is true, it points to a huge, unspoken problem in these communities that Naval Aviation has not addressed.
2) VAQ, VAW, HSM, and HSC squadron COs are not viewed as equally qualified leaders by CAG when FITREP time comes. If this is true, it points to a problematic culture within our ranks that Naval Aviation has not addressed.
As thousands of junior officers and Sailors will attest, we have seen many outstanding leaders from the VAQ, VAW, HSM, and HSC communities over the past five years. Conclusion #1 would seem to offend this reality.
As such, we are left with Conclusion #2, and the problem it exposes in the process of selecting carrier aviation leadership. The culture change needed in our collective Ready Room is the realization that aviation major command is about leadership; not tactical proficiency. We expect this proficiency of our junior officers and our junior officers expect leadership—both within the Air Wing and across the joint force—from their major commanders.
The ability to fly a strike mission from an F/A-18 or execute a flawless fly-by of the carrier are impressive skills, and it is true that only one community can really experience those fully. But CAG is a leader at the operational level of warfare, and the leadership required to execute at that level is not exclusive to the aviators of a single airframe. If our process for selecting CAGs is based on tactical proficiency as a proxy for promoting certain types of officers at the expense of an equally talented pool of others, that system–and the culture that underpins it–must change.
The authors believe that increasing the diversity of perspective at the CAG level will improve combat efficiency, leadership acumen within the air wing, and interoperability with the joint force. We invite you to join in the constructive debate of these issues.
Over the coming weeks, the authors will share some of the most common feedback received from “On Becoming CAG.” The most important takeaway is that people on each side of this issue care about Naval Aviation and seek to make it better.
It is disconcerting to read that the U.S. Navy is making itself into “an unsustainable liability” in the pages of PROCEEDINGS. This is the argument made by Captain R. B. Watts, USCG (Retired) in his essay, “Advocating Naval Heresy” in the June 2015 issue of this magazine. Captain Watts writes that since irregular warfare is the most pervasive form of warfare confronting the United States now and into the future, the U.S. Navy should have a “small combatant that can deal with the complexities of irregular warfare.” However, he continues that because the Navy is a traditionalist organization, unthinkingly wedded to a Mahanian principle that capital ships remain the primary instruments of seapower, this need for a small combatant will go unmet as the Navy continues to focus on the aircraft carrier as its primary capital ship.
The Navy does not define seapower in terms of capital ships such as the aircraft carrier. Seapower is the enduring ability to project influence through the control and exploitation of the maritime domain to include the maritime littorals and the air above it to achieve strategic, operational, or tactical objectives. Seapower gives the United States the ability to convert the world’s oceans—a global commons that covers more than 2/3’s of the planet’s surface into a medium of maneuver and operations for projecting U.S. power ashore and defending U.S. interests around the world. The ability to use the world’s oceans in this manner—and to deny other countries the use of the world’s oceans for taking actions against U.S. interests—constitutes an immense asymmetric advantage for the United States, one so ubiquitous and longstanding that it can be easy to overlook or taken for granted. Projecting seapower is independent of a capital ship, and relies, instead, upon numerous ship types to include, surface combatants, amphibious ships and attack, cruise-missile, ballistic missile submarines, and aircraft carriers—along with underway replenishment ships for logistic support.
Furthermore the Navy bases its need for the type of ships it operates on enduring geopolitical realities and not Mahanian theory. First the United States exists as an island nation between two great oceans. Second the United States is and will remain a global leader with world-wide interests and responsibilities. Third most of the world’s people, resources, and economic activity are located not in the Western Hemisphere, but in other hemispheres, particularly Eurasia.
In response to these realities the United States has designed its Navy to cross broad expanses of ocean to protect America’s global interests, and if required, conduct sustained, large-scale operations upon arrival. Countries in other hemispheres do not design their navies to do this for the very basic reason that they exist in that hemisphere, where the action is, and consequently do not confront the “tyranny of distance” or the conduct of operations without shore bases. Far from home base and operating in distant waters, the Navy uses the sea itself as its base to conduct the full range of military operations. Although bases on foreign soil can be valuable, they are not a requirement for the Navy, as they are for land-based ground and air forces. The Navy can position its forces near potential trouble spots without the political entanglement associated with the employment of land-based forces. Moreover Navy ships are integral units that carry much of their own support, and mobile logistics support can maintain them on forward stations for long periods of time. The United States needs a Navy with ships that have the range, mobility, endurance, speed, resiliency, multi-mission capability, survivability, and most importantly, lethality for global operations. This is the principal reason why the Navy has large, blue-water, ocean-going ships.
According to Captain Watts, the Navy continues to “assume that a modern Jutland” will be its future and builds capital ships such as the aircraft carrier that are no longer relevant to today’s threat environment—especially against the irregular threat. The aircraft carrier with its embarked air wing executes the full range of military operations—from deterrence, to humanitarian assistance, to large-scale combat operations, and to irregular warfare—to protect our national interests. Indeed history has shown time and time again that when our national interests are at risk, the aircraft carrier will be the first to answer the call.
There is no greater proof of the tangible effects of a carrier on global events than the initial U.S. military response to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in early 2015 during an irregular warfare scenario no less—the very form of warfare that Captain Watts states is irrelevant to the carrier. The USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH with its embarked airwing, provided for 54 days the only armed response option for the Nation to blunt ISIL’s advance with air strikes and numerous related maritime-based effects. During Operation Iraqi Freedom from March to April 2003, because of regional basing restrictions, five carriers provided very different roles. For Northern Iraq two carriers provided eight aircraft “24/7” for on-call, close air support for small, independent ground units, keeping Iraqi Army divisions tied down. For Southern Iraq, three carriers exercised the full range of airpower missions from electronic warfare, reconnaissance, airborne early warning, to strike and interdiction. Again because of basing and overflight restrictions, carriers provided majority of air support to special operations forces in the fall of 2001 for Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) that resulted in toppling the Taliban regime. They were the only viable option.
Without question many recent operations would not have been as effective or even possible absent carriers—they are an indispensable tool for national security. Studies have consistently shown the aircraft carrier provides the best combination of sustained on-station time, sortie-generation capability, sea-keeping, and defensive ability at the most reasonable value for the defense dollar. The aircraft carrier remains relevant despite technological advances among our adversaries that make access to the battlespace more challenging due to their flexibility, adaptability and lethality. While anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) threats are increasing in complexity, the Navy is evolving to address these challenges and outpace the threats through its Air Sea Battle concept. Looking more broadly at how a carrier operates with an integrated network of aircraft, sensors, and weapons, the carrier remains a viable and credible threat to any adversary. The aircraft carrier provides the Nation with an unequaled hard, soft, and smart power advantage in a single, responsive, flexible, and mobile package, unfettered by geopolitical constraints.
Captain Watts asserts in broad-brush statements that, “we need a small combatant that can deal with the complexities of irregular warfare and missions that move beyond our traditional paradigm.” Regrettably he does not describe what these irregular warfare complexities are beyond generalizing about the need for “developing a small, capable combatant to deal with the lower ends of conflict.” Offering no requirements for why the Navy needs a smaller ship, he opines that the Navy simply “hates small” despite the growing numbers of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) in the Navy’s Battle Fleet Inventory and a recently announced program to upgrade their weapons and sensors. Not surprisingly he condemns the Navy over the LCS as ships that were “never wanted” and that will likely be replaced by “new and larger combatants.” Yet on numerous occasions the Chief of Naval Operations has publicly promoted LCS with its associated adaptive force package concept as a prime means for the Navy to respond to the entire spectrum of military operations to include irregular warfare.
Captain Watts considers the rise of the China’s Navy as a non-threat that is “at best, a public-relations event for the United States.” Seen in this light the rise of the China’s Navy must also be of little concern to Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, and Thailand. Many security analysts agree that China is and will remain the most significant competitor to the United States for decades to come. China continues to pursue a long-term, comprehensive military modernization program designed to improve its armed forces’ capacity to fight short-duration, high-intensity regional conflicts. Additionally, its military modernization program has become progressively more focused on investments for a range of missions beyond China’s periphery, including power projection, sea lane security, counter-piracy, peacekeeping, and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief. For these reasons the Navy assesses China to represent both an opportunity and a security challenge.
The premises Captain Watts offers in his argument do not support his conclusion to the needed degree. The Navy does not have an animus to small ships such as the LCS. Additionally the Navy is an innovative, forward thinking organization as witnessed by its numerous efforts: (1) to leverage new technologies such as bio-fuels, directed energy weapons, rail gun, and unmanned vehicles in the air, on the surface and below the surface; (2) to develop new operational concepts such as Sea Basing, Distributed Lethality, and All Domain Access; and (3) to employ its ships such as the Joint High Speed Vessel and Mobile Landing Platform in alternative roles. Moreover the Navy understands seapower and comprehends that seapower’s effort must be directed at an effect ashore. The Navy fully recognizes that the United States must be a seapower nation if the United States is to influence global security conditions. Freedom to use the oceans is absolutely essential for any United States defense policy to insure the security of the United States and our allies and partners. The current fleet of Navy ships—to include the aircraft carrier—with their unique combination of combat power, mobility, sustainment, and multi-mission flexibility are well suited to operations in a global security environment in which threats cannot be anticipated and prepared for long in advance. The Navy’s fleet of ships provides the United States with the ability to use the sea for whatever purposes are necessary to the Nation.
Captain Watts concludes his argument by calling for a “time for heresy.” The Navy welcomes his call to examine contrary opinions but that examination must be based on facts and underwritten by critical thinking that is fair and objective.
Most Americans have little understanding of what our military can do – and not do. And far too many government officials have even less of an appreciation of what it takes – in people, materiel, and funding — to accomplish the missions that are deemed important to the national interest.
So far, in the 2016 campaign, there has been virtually no discussion of how we as a nation should be engaged in the trouble spots around the world. Equally disturbing, there has been even less debate about whether we are adequately funding – and thus equipping and training our soldiers, sailors, and marines — to do the jobs they are (and might be) asked to do.
This needs to change.
The debate – and it is a debate, for people of good will and thoughtful consideration – will have different opinions about how to answer these questions. But a serious conversation needs to take place in universities, civil organizations, and around dinner tables.
Next week, one such discussion is going to take place at Brown University. On the evening of Tuesday, September 29th, there will be a panel discussion entitled: “The American Military in a Dangerous World: How Much is Enough?”
The panelists include Senator Carl Levin, the former Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; former Under Secretary of State and NATO Ambassador Nick Burns; and BGEN Paula Thornhill, former special assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. The moderator is former Ambassador to the UN Commission on Human Rights Jeff Robbins.
You can watch a live feed of the discussion here:
A video of the program will be available later here: http://www.brown.edu/academics/taubman-center/
The next day, Jeff, August Cole, and I will conduct a seminar for interested students from Brown, West Point, and several ROTC units – encouraging them to think and write about the topics discussed by the panel.
“Brown?” you ask. Yes, I chose to organize this event at one of the most liberal campuses in America. Because those are the minds that need to be educated and the opinions that need to be influenced.
The bigger question might be: why am I doing this? I have a citizen’s rudimentary knowledge, but no expertise. (That hasn’t stopped me, or many other journalists from opining on complicated subjects.) In fact, the few times I have been invited to give talks based on Op-Ed articles I have written in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, I have been heartened by how much interest there is this topic. Consequently, my answer is intended to be provocative: because you, more qualified people are not.
So my request is simple: you, the members of the U.S. Naval Institute should be giving these talks: to Rotary Clubs, and Kiwanis, at local colleges; anywhere where thoughtful people are willing to engage. The stakes – for our nation and for the young men and women we send in harm’s way – are too high to allow these questions to go unanswered. Disagreement about the answers is not the problem; silence is.
Over the past nine months, a variety of companies and organizations have republished in book form the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s December 2014 report on the CIA terrorist detention and interrogation program. Most of those publications tried to convey the impression that the SSCI report, produced by Senator Dianne Feinstein and her staff, was the definitive word on a very controversial part of American history. It was not.
These publications often did not even mention that the Feinstein report was produced by only one political party and that there were robust rebuttals to it produced by the then minority Senate staff and by the current CIA leadership.
Every senior CIA officer who was involved in the creation, administration or oversight of the interrogation program, as I was, are convinced that the conclusions of the Feinstein report were terribly flawed. For that reason, a number of us sought to have the historical record balanced – by the publication, in book form, of the SSCI Minority and CIA rebuttals. To provide additional context and illumination, eight of us wrote essays to also be included which give our personal perspective on the program. This personal perspective was important because, incredibly, despite working on their report for five years and spending more than $40 million in the process – the SSCI majority never spoke to a single one of us. Their excuses for failing to do so were laughable. They cited Department of Justice Investigations which ended years before their effort did as a principal reason. They claimed that basing their report entirely on a review of documents was an acceptable alternative to talking to eye witnesses and then they cherry-picked their way to conclusions that their chairwoman held before the investigation even started.
When our response, called Rebuttal, was published about ten days ago, the reaction from Senator Feinstein and her supporters was quick and predictable. They claimed there was nothing new in our publication. But Rebuttal contains the very strong responses from the SSCI Minority and CIA staff which were left out of other publications and which were only infrequently mentioned in press accounts following the initial December release. What will be new to many readers is the firsthand accounts from my seven former colleagues and me – which show the folly of Senator Feinstein’s staff working so hard to make sure our voices were never heard. In a second response published this week in the Huffington Post, Feinstein and her staff were quoted as saying “Only (former CIA Director General Michael) Hayden can say if he intentionally mislead policymakers.” No, anyone who knows Mike Hayden knows he did not – and in any case – if Feinstein had concerns –why didn’t she have the decency to ask him?
The media response to the publication of Rebuttal was similarly predictable. Some complained that in our essays we did not often mention things like waterboarding. True. That is because the issue was dealt with at length in the 300+ pages of the two following reports. Other media accounts repeated some of the canards from the Feinstein report as if they were gospel.
Let me stress that we are in no way saying that the program that we were involved with was perfect. Far from it. But we know for a fact that the enhanced interrogation program was legal, authorized, and accurately briefed to the highest levels of the U.S. government and senior officials on our Congressional oversight committees. We knew at the time the program was being developed and implemented that the details of the program would one day leak and would be controversial. But we never believed for a second that anyone would challenge the effectiveness of the program. Monitoring the intelligence windfall that came from the program day after day in the years immediately after 9/11 as I did – I can say with absolute assurance that the program was effective and saved lives. Those who believe that the absence of a major al Qa’ida inspired attack on our homeland over the past 14 years is just luck are fooling themselves and trying to fool the American public.
We are grateful to the Naval Institute Press who, unlike Senator Feinstein’s SSCI, gave us a forum from which we could tell our experiences and make accessible versions of the two other reports which undermine the credibility of the one that Feinstein’s staffers peddle as “the report.”
We entered into this effort solely to make sure that both sides of the story get told. Any profits produced by the publication of “Rebuttal” are being donated to the CIA Officers Memorial Foundation – which looks after the children and spouses of Agency officers who die in the line of duty.
The Exit Interviews series provides an opportunity to capture and share the honest and thoughtful insights of those members of the naval service who have served their country well, and are either moving on to serve it in other ways outside of the service (the “exit interview”) or who have chosen to pursue higher rank and greater responsibility within it. It focuses on individuals who are transitioning out of the service or have recently gotten out, and those who have recently chosen to stay in past their initial commitment.
Much like an exit interview in the corporate world, we ask a series of standardized questions that are intended to be open-ended and solicit honest reflection. If you would like to participate, or you know somebody who would, please reach out to email@example.com
LT Tony Butcher commissioned through Air Force ROTC in 2005, and received an interservice transfer to the Navy in 2007. While in the Navy, he served as a Supply Officer on a destroyer based out of Norfolk, followed by tours ashore in Diego Garcia and Australia. He transitioned from active duty in 2014, and is in the second year of MBA studies at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management.
Why did you join the Navy?
My grandfather and six of his brothers were World War II veterans, most of who enlisted in the Navy the week following Pearl Harbor. When I was entering high school, my Great Uncle Bill told me his stories on the USS San Diego (CL 53): most notably the ship’s 18 battle stars without losing a Sailor and being the first U.S. ship to sail into Tokyo Bay after the surrender. My high school in Monterey, CA had a Navy JROTC program, and a military community represented from the Naval Postgraduate School and Defense Language Institute. That exposure drove my desire to become an officer in the Navy.
My path to a Navy commission took a circuitous route. I attended a university with an Air Force ROTC detachment and commissioned in the Air Force in 2005. However, I came in during the height of USAF force shaping programs as they ramped up officer numbers anticipating an increased Congressional authorization that never came. I used that as an opportunity to negotiate an interservice transfer to the Navy, which was approved at the end of 2007.
What was your favorite part of serving in the Navy?
The old slogan “Join the Navy: See the World” says it all. Before serving with the Navy, I’d never heard of the Seychelles, wouldn’t have been able to find Santorini, and if I’d been asked where Sydney Australia was I would have pointed at Perth. There were plenty of not so fun places as well, but I wouldn’t have erased those as they contributed just as much to the experience I gained. My exploring different parts of the world ashore and on the high seas gave me an educational experience not available in any classroom.
What did you find most frustrating?
Career management. When I transferred to the Navy it was as a Student Naval Aviator. Unfortunately, I was found to be not physically qualified to continue with aviation and was redesignated to the Supply Corps. This was frustrating because I’d listed the Information Dominance Corps (IDC) communities as my preference. In retrospect, it seemed like my only shot to select for an entire career path and involved more about timing than desire and skill set.
When I got to my ship and earned my surface qualification, I submitted a lateral transfer package. Although the IDC communities had openings for my year group, the Supply Corps community manager refused to release me, citing management of his numbers. Two years later, the next community manager reversed course and my release was granted, just in time for the IDC manager to shut the door to my year group. Further, I’d completed Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) certificate programs in Network Operations, Space Systems, and Cyber Security Fundamentals that the IDC community had recommended, only to find that they seemingly made no difference in my efforts.
With my current MBA internship, the private sector has been happy to utilize the Navy’s investment in my skills obtained at NPS. For its part, the Navy got absolutely no return on that investment. I find it hard to take articles from 10th Fleet stating they want more people with cyber skills very seriously when the current personnel system repels people like me from getting in.
When and why did you decide to get out of the Navy?
Ultimately, I left due to the inability to pursue an IDC designator as discussed in the previous question. I’d been on the fence about staying in for a full career for a while, but I made the decision while participating in exercise RIMPAC 2012. I didn’t find the work on my watch station to be adding value and was never excited about roles in the Supply Corps. My most memorable role was actually on a 5th fleet ship deployment where my C.O. allowed me to qualify and stand watch as Surface Warfare Coordinator. Anyway, I had this moment where I looked around the watch center and realized I didn’t like who I was working with and there was nobody there I wanted to be like when I grew up.
The mentorship that I was after was also lacking. The mentor that my detailer had set me up with was great for providing me with career path specific advice, but I can’t say any took the time to know anything about me personally. That’s the experience I felt with most senior officers I dealt with throughout several afloat and ashore commands. I don’t think they were being cold-hearted, but I was left feeling like we were all just cogs in a machine. Everyone seemed too serially focused on the series of wickets they needed to hit to reach 20 years of service and retirement.
If you could change one thing about the Navy what would it be?
Overhaul the personnel system. Give more flexible career management, and modify the up-or-out promotion system. I worked as a liaison to the Royal Australian Navy, and observed they did not have the up-or-out policy, which didn’t seem to wreck their officer corps. The current officer promotion boards serve as a very narrow high year of tenure checkpoint and punish anyone that deviates from a predefined optimal career path. Finally, if a Sailor leaves active duty, they’re essentially gone forever aside from a contribution in the Reserves. If a Navy veteran acquires significant skills and experience in the private sector, there’s no opportunity for the Navy to make use of that in a full time capacity.
I am encouraged by recent statements by VADM Moran and SECNAV Mabus that change may be on the horizon. They seem keen to make reforms that will modernize the current officer year group system that constrains community numbers. However, many issues are driven by provisions of the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA) and will require action from Congress for change to occur.
What single most important lesson or piece of advice would you leave with naval leaders?
Take care of your people.
I have a statistics professor at my current university that says “show your guts, show your heart, don’t be just talk-talk.” Leaders need to take care of their people through actions, not words. Military justice comes with unique power that no other profession has over its people. With the power comes great responsibility to use it righteously.
In 2012, when several criminal incidents involving Sailors took place in Japan, the 7th Fleet Commander decided the solution was to restrict liberty across the entire PACOM theater. I still have not heard a rational argument that supports why Sailors in Singapore and Australia with no history of bad incidents were denied due process and punished. The Navy needs leaders that use their power wisely, not selfishly to protect their careers at the cost of the masses under their commands. Sailors suffering under such toxic leadership will lose faith in it, in turn weakening the mission, their retention, and ultimately the Navy. CDR Guy Snodgrass’s recent Navy Retention Study seems to back this up.
When I had the opportunity to lead, I used corrective action as a surgical tool and saw mass punishment as effective only in destroying morale. When my Sailors and Marines were getting their job done efficiently, I rewarded them with liberty wherever possible. Ultimately, I saw this improve their quality of life and morale, and created a healthy environment driving successful mission accomplishment.
What’s next for you?
My long term career intent is to become a Chief Information Security Officer. I’m halfway through an MBA at UC Davis and wrapping up a summer internship at a Fortune 50 firm. The role has been in a strategic technology management area which I would have liked to have held in the Navy. Once I’m finished with my MBA and re-enter the work force, I plan to start a part time M.S. in Computer Science with emphasis in Computer Security to further build on my NPS coursework and improve my core knowledge.
5 November 1943
When in Rome, speak as the Romans’ – The Indians always have to have some ailment or other – or their friends get suspicions that they’re getting something extra to eat. So I got Malaria. The first couple of days I was hot and cold in relays – since then I’ve felt fine – but a little weak. I don’t think they’ll let me out of the hospital for another week yet.
I haven’t received any of the Air Mail packages you sent – I’ll let you know as soon as I do. Glad to hear Bill likes it and I certainly hope he can get deferred and continue with medicine…
…Well they still won’t let me out of bed. With nothing to do, I’m slowly going nuts. This morning, while counting the cracks in the ceiling plaster, Coresia in the next bed says – look Meehan – and points behind my head, so I roll over and raise my head and ½ inch in front of my nose is a monkey. He scowled and I jumped ten feet – Coersia roared. I’ve been sitting here sharpening my dagger and eying his throat. He’s laughing a bit nervously now. The monkey is a pet of the medics and has been inoculated as much as the G.I.s.
How are you all doing? I haven’t had a letter for several days – Pat, Betsy and Lou should be able to get along now. Dad should try to get some gold in – his only hobby seems to be politics. Interested in hearing how Doc and Lou made out.
I think we should finish Germany next summer and Japan in ’45, which is the earliest I to expect to get home.
27 Mar 2014
Hello dearest family!
Allow me to enlighten you on the last few days. Now, the Navy has inoculated people against smallpox for years, but they stopped doing it a few years back. I thought I got lucky and avoided it but nooooo, they were just building up their vaccine quantity. So this year, when we deployed, the docs informed us all that we were getting Anthrax (most painful shot of all time six times) and oh, btw, you’re getting smallpox post-Turkey. Grand. … I have an entirely new perspective on the Black Death. Officially the most disgusting/worst way to die of all time. Oh, and your body is trying to fight it so your immune system is wrecked and everyone, I mean EVERYONE on the boat is sick. So anyways, that’s the scene. Hopefully it will scab over soon and then please send massive quantities of Mederma. That’s about all on my end! I love you all so much and I hope everything is going well! I’ve LOVED some of the emails I’ve received…Mom, I love the decorating emails and STM updates…Dad, I have more books for you! Read ‘em for me, cause I have zero time right now …Kelse, we LOVE reading your emails…we miss college! And they’re hilarious!…and PAT…WRITE ME AN EMAIL BRO Love, Mere
On Holidays and Missing Good Food:
1 January 1944
A beautiful cool New Year’s afternoon with not much doing – just lying around. Received your package containing soap and shaving supplies, Asprin – I’ve never had a headache since I’ve been in the army – except when I had malaria, and little liver tablets! Now I know I’ve probably bitched and griped about the food, but with all, it’s never been that bad. Never took them in my life and don’t intent to start now. I have never felt better.
Cards from Don Damice’s, Louise and ten-spot from Harry- no good here, but negotiable in China where U.S. money is called “Gold.” News from Germany sounds good with the Russians cutting off the Germans at China. I don’t think they’ll last long and Japan should be out a year after Germany falls.
4 July 2014
Hoping this email finds all of you quite well this 4th of July! Please have some corn-on-the-cob, potato salad and that jello and pretzel dessert stuff (is there actually a name for it? C’mon, you know what I mean!), for me…and a beer! Or two…or five… While life is fairly insane at the moment (no fireworks or celebrations for me this year), I spent the day up in the control tower and then out went out to the LSO platform (Landing Signal Officer), and watched some jets land. Now if that doesn’t scream “‘Merica!” I don’t know what does! On a more serious note, things have been quite interesting around here, which has added to the already complex ops of day-to-day life onboard the boat. We all faced a steep learning curve over the last few weeks as certain international events unfolded, and I have learned vast amounts on a variety of subjects. The current situation means that we have an extremely high op-tempo, and just as our aircrew have been busy flying, our maintainers have been working incredibly hard to keep our airplanes up and functioning. The other day, one of my AEs (I’m the Avionics Division Officer), fell off a ladder while he was fixing an engine component with his arm wedged all the way inside the engine nacelle, and he now his entire arm is mottled purple, red and yellow. Despite this, he was back to work three hours later, with a smile on his face, happy that he got the plane back up and ready to fly! These are the type of awesome guys and gals that make up my squadron, and I couldn’t be more proud of them, especially on a day like today. Happy 4th, everyone!
It may be hard to see the similarities in experiences that are separated by so many years, policy changes and shifts in generational mindsets. But they are there. And they remind us that despite the differences, we share (at least) one fundamental commonality: we all wear/wore the uniform of a United States Armed Forces service member.
Having just finished two glorious weeks in Coronado at Helicopter Control Officer school in March 1999, my first time in San Diego, I hadn’t had the time nor the mental capacity to fully prepare to embark on what was about to become the two most difficult years of my life. Ever. In retrospect, I really had no way of knowing it at the time.
I joined the Navy to see the world. Early on during service selection night, the second of only two female billets available on board USS La Salle, the then-U.S. 6th Fleet flag ship homeported out of Gaeta, was taken by a fellow woman SWOrrior candidate from the top third of our class.
I was in the bottom third.
I quickly reviewed my hand scripted cheat sheet to discover the only other overseas homeport option with billets available for women was Japan, Yokosuka or Sasebo. Since Yokosuka was closest to Tokyo, Yokosuka it was.
Out of sheer naiveté I had chosen the Aegis cruiser option because I thought if I was going to be a SWO – my second choice, the default career option – I was going ALL-in. CRUDES was the way to go. Cream of the crop. Best of the best.
Sidebar: Because what I really wanted to be was a public affairs officer, not an option straight out of the Academy, Marine Corps was my first choice since it was the quickest path to becoming a PAO. This is now utterly laughable. Thank God the Jarheads told me, “Thanks, but no thanks, Suzanna. And don’t let the door kick you in the ass on the way out.” Best rejection I ever received.
From SAN to HNL and then on to GUM, I reported for the billet I chose that fateful night in Annapolis eighteen months earlier, an FDNF (forward deployed Naval forces) CG serving at the “tip of the spear” in the U.S. 7th Fleet.
Since stepping off that plane, everything was a blur. Jetlagged and on a quasi-foreign island, I was rudely awakened to the fact I was no longer on my San Diego training boondoggle. I would later learn that Guam is actually a little slice of America in the vast Western Pacific, and I would look forward to return port visits there to ail my homesickness with some semblance of Western culture.
Before I arrived I had known for some time that I would be part of the Navy’s effort to properly integrate surface combatant crews. As part of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 1994, Congress repealed the prohibition on women serving on combatant vessels and aircraft.
I remember vividly as a youngster when the brigade received word that beginning with the class of ’96, women were not only able to serve on board combatants, but indeed would serve on board combatants. There was no choice in the matter. At the same time, women could no longer choose among a handful of restricted line or staff corps career options such as cryptology or supply corps that were generally reserved for NPQs (not physically qualified).
Unbeknownst to me, this seemingly small change in military policy would provide the seedlings of a seismic shift in the misogynistic subculture at USNA. A subculture with origins that could be traced back to when women were first admitted into the Service Academies twenty years earlier. This momentous cultural change was for the betterment of every possible outcome for our nation and our national defense. Furthermore, I have to believe that any remaining misogyny at the Academies has seriously diminished today. Culture is hard to change, but right is right and actions feed perceptions, which ultimately underpin cultural change.
Back on board my cruiser, I quickly learned that I was one of only four women comprising the entire crew of 350. With an air wing embarked, that number grew to about 375 (and no, the air wing from Atsugi did not bring any women aboard with it). The Navy’s strategy was to first integrate the combatant wardrooms, and then later bring aboard enlisted women. I served a whole year as one of four women officers on board ship before we welcomed aboard thirty women enlisted crew. When we did, I noticed my quality of life increased significantly.
To be perfectly blunt, I was not at all prepared to be “living in a fishbowl” environment, or “under a microscope” was more like it, as part of the 1% minority within the microcosm of ship life. (While I was at the Naval Academy, women comprised nearly 14% of the brigade of midshipmen.) And to make matters worse, I was equally unprepared to endure the loneliness from isolation of living as an American woman in Japanese society and within the broader context of Eastern culture. These were distinct choices that I had made on my own as a young adult, and when they came to fruition the end result was almost all that I could bear.
Learning to be an FDNF surface warfare officer in the late ‘90s was not for the faint of heart. It gave new meaning to the old adages that “SWOs eat their young” and “back-stabbing SWO.” Because we were forward deployed, we were underway A LOT. The one saving grace was that this was before 9/11, and we had visited nearly every single port imaginable in the Western Pacific, save for the Philippines. Twice, at least. We even hit Australia, though our port visits there were curtailed due to genocide that erupted in East Timor. Serving as part of the INTERFET forces was a noble and valiant mission, of which I am proudest.
With so few women on board and all four of us having very distinct personalities, pooling our forces to band together seemed futile. In the end, we really just tried to survive. Ours is not a story of girl-power or a “band of sisters” conquering all, but rather a story of individual perseverance for all four of us. Eventually, we did all earn our SWO qualifications and individually moved on with our Navy careers. I later became a public affairs officer, and still am one today.
I realize, back then, not all women called to integrate crews suffered the same fate that the four of us did my first year on board. I know this because when my ship performed a hull-swap/crew-swap mid-way through my tour, and I alone stayed aboard our original hull, the three new roommates I gained in the women’s JO jungle were more like sisters to me. We were from the same tribe.
Navigating the SWO qualification process and life aboard ship was still just as challenging as it had been before, but it was a lot more fun after I had found my sea sisters. Their friendship, laughter and all-out feminism radiated through me for the rest of my time on board. Just being present during the second-half of my one and only SWO tour, I am forever grateful for them.
And that’s the way it was. For me, anyway.
When you look in the mirror, are you satisfied with who you see? Are you one of those military officers who won’t speak out when you know something isn’t quite right because you don’t want to make waves? While these may seem like philosophical questions, no matter how junior you are or how long you have been in the military, if you don’t question your values and consider what you would be willing to sacrifice to take a stand, chances are you are going to miss the boat. The ultimate choice you will have to make in your tenure as a military officer is which fork of the road you will take- the road to rank and popularity or the road to the moral high ground.
By the time I was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, I had been taught by my parents to stand up for what I believed in no matter what the cost. At that time, it would never have occurred to me that I would be relieved from command after 19 years of service for holding my Marines accountable and pointing out the existence of lowered expectations for females and gender bias on the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. However, I quickly learned that for all of our talk of core values and ethics in the Marine Corps, many individuals I served with were more concerned with being liked than making difficult but necessary decisions. Some careerist commanders demonstrated that when assessing leadership, the words “negative command climate” carried far more weight than an officer’s actual ability to hold subordinates accountable for conduct and performance.
To that end, the greatest danger facing the military is not ISIS, but the failure of leaders to do the right thing even if it means being viewed as a problem by their superiors. As military officers, we must be willing to make difficult decisions, even when they are not popular. We must be able to look in the mirror and be satisfied with the person we see. We must also be willing to accept the consequences of decisions made on principle.
This does not mean these decisions will be easy to make. We talk a good game in the military about taking risks and living dangerously but the sad truth is that all too often we do nothing to fight bureaucracy and red tape even if we know that doing so would be in the best interests of our subordinates, our service, and the nation. History has shown time and again that when organizations stop evolving, they stagnate and go the way of the dodo bird. It takes individuals questioning the status quo to speak truth to power. Speaking up when something isn’t right can be uncomfortable and may cause others to view you as a problem. But it will allow you to know that you stood for something and that you set the example for your subordinates.
While there is a fine line between stating an opinion and disobeying an order, as military professionals, each of us owes it to our subordinates and the nation to question authority when we know what we are being told or what we see directly conflicts with our moral principles. We must consider whether we want to be likened to Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Ollie North or Air Force Colonel John Boyd. Lieutenant Colonel North is known for being a patsy who illegally sold weapons to the Contras, shredded classified documents to hide the paper trail, and lied to Congress during his testimony about the Iran-Contra Affair. Surely he knew each of these actions was morally and ethically wrong, yet he never spoke out or refused his orders.
Colonel Boyd, on the other hand, was known for being a candid strategic thinker and change agent who was willing to upset the apple cart if it meant saving lives and winning battles. In talking to his subordinates about the career fork in the road each of them would face, Boyd stated that they had two choices. “You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and get good assignments. Or you can go [the other] way and you can do something – something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself … If you decide to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself …”[i]
As military leaders, we must have the moral courage to make difficult decisions in the interest of our subordinates, our service, and our nation, no matter what the consequence. We must recognize that service is not about being popular and liked, but is about getting results. As Colonel Boyd said, “To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you have to make a decision. To be or to do?”[ii] Which road will you take?
[i] Brett and Kay McKay, “John Boyd’s Roll Call: Do You Want to Be Someone or Do Something?”, http://www.artofmanliness.com/2014/01/22/john-boyds-roll-call-do-you-want-to-be-someone-or-do-something/, (22 January 2014).
[ii] McKay. “John Boyd’s Roll Call”.
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