Several years ago I decided to renew my membership with the Naval Institute. I had been retired for about ten years and I found I missed things Naval. Low and behold, the very first issue of Proceedings I received had a whole discussion concerning low mix vs. high mix ship designs and the rationale for that mix. My first reaction was “Good Lord, didn’t we solve that problem with the Spruance (DD963) total package procurement and the low mix Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG-7) class ships” (thus showing my age).
The Spruance class, while initially lightly outfitted did prove one aspect of the high mix design, an unusually long lived hull form. Think of the Ticonderoga Cruiser (CG-47) class and the Arleigh Burke Destroyer (DDG-51) class.
The FFG- 7 ship design had as its one of it’s main features, lower manning by decree. It also sported an integrated combined antenna system that included both acquisition and fire control radars in one device. After some challenges this system became quite useful in close in (Littoral) situations.
Fast forward and we see the same professional discussion occurring today. We see the need for a replacement Littoral Combat ship, and indeed two different ship designs are under contract. Obviously The Arleigh Burke class represents today’s high mix ship and if one believes the articles on the Zumwalt Class Destroyer it will probably redefine the term high Mix. There are still a number of Aegis Cruisers in the fleet and they will be there for some time to come.
America’s “longest war”—now in its eleventh year in Afghanistan—has proved a source of frustration to policymakers, military strategists, and academics alike. Hypotheses abound about why American progress appears sluggish. Everything from failed tactical objectives, fractured civil-military relations, and an unbridgeable cultural divide have been scrutinized.
One theory, postulated by Thomas Ricks, an author and senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, suggests that “serially rotat[ing] our top war commanders” on an almost-annual basis has contributed to this stagnation. Writing in a New York Times op-ed article, Ricks notes that there have been 11 officers to lead the war effort in 11 years. “Rotating troops is appropriate,” he observes, “especially when entire units are moved in and out.” However, replacing commanders is inefficient and counterproductive.
Ricks may have it backwards: Perhaps the reason why the U.S. has not fully met its operational goals in Afghanistan is precisely because the military is not rotating its top commanders through the country with sufficient frequency. One need only look at U.S. naval operations during the latter part of WWII to find a useful case study for how pragmatically swapping theater commanders yielded myriad benefits in prosecuting the war.
When I see someone walking around with a poppy on their lapel at this time of year, I always feel very nostalgic and pleased that someone has donned a symbol synonymous with service and sacrifice. It may be worthwhile to remind ourselves of the precise connection between the poppy and the day in which we take time to recognize and thank all of the Veterans who have sacrificed for our freedom.
Growing up the son of a Canadian Armed Forces officer, I was always pleased when my Dad would break out his collection of poppies every year and pin one on the lapel of my blue blazer in the days prior to November 11th. Both his father and my mother’s father fought in the First World War. Both saw horrific combat and both were highly decorated for their service.
My Dad and his brother fought in the Second World War. My Dad arrived in Normandy after the invasion in July 1944 and in his words, crawled across Northern Europe through France, Belgium, the Netherlands and into Germany before the end of the war in 1945. He did not talk much of the war, but when he did, he always told me how violent and horrible an experience it was. Fiercely proud of his unit, The Lord Stratcona’s Horse Regiment, he donned the poppy every year on the anniversary of “Rememberance Day.” He captivated my attention with the story, as told by his father, of the end of World War One on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of November 1918. Both belligerents fired every artillery shell possible across the lines to kill as many men as possible before the clock struck 1100. Many men died in those last minutes of the war. How senseless… how tragic… and how prophetic of a peace that would not last, requiring my dad to don the uniform and go overseas to finish the job that his father could not.
Every year at this time, my dad also loved to recite the poem, “In Flanders Fields” by the Canadian surgeon, LCOL John McRae from Guelph, Ontario. He was very proud of the fact that a Canadian had written this timeless testament to the brave young soldiers who lost their lives in the Second Battle of Ypres, near Flanders, in Belgium. McRae was a Major when he wrote the poem after an unsuccessful attempt to save the life of a young Canadian wounded in battle. He jotted down his emotions while looking across a brilliant field of poppies that peacefully swayed back and forth in the breeze and in stark contrast to the carnage that existed nearby in the trenches. The poem was published in London in 1915 and became world renowned almost overnight.
My dad had it memorized and I always listened intently when he repeated it to me.
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break fait
h with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields
Sadly, McRae never made it back home as he died in the field of pneumonia and other complications while taking care of the troops.
Almost one hundred years have passed since Major McRae wrote the poem. He is but one of millions of selfless men and women under arms who have served and sacrificed for their country.
As we spend time with family and loved ones on 11 November, we remember the sacrifice of the countless young men and women who have served or are now standing the watch. Many have paid dearly for their service in Iraq and Afghanistan with life altering injuries. Others, sadly, have paid the ultimate sacrifice. It is essential that we take time out to remember them and thank them.
If you are so inclined, don a poppy… I will.
We often hear how the younger generation doesn’t appreciate many of the things that make this country great, the people responsible for our enduring freedom, and the sacrifices required to keep it that way. This essay should assuage some of those concerns.
Veterans Day is an important day, but few recognize what it really means. To some, it is just an ordinary day. To others, it is just a day off work, a day to sleep in and relax. But to others there is a much deeper meaning behind this holiday. To those people, it is a day about remembering, commemorating, and praising those who have served this country as military professionals.
My mom, my dad, my stepdad, my stepmom, my uncle, my grandfather, and my great-grandfather all served in the military, and I grew up as a Navy Brat. At the time, I did not know what that meant. All I knew was that I was sick of leaving my friends and starting over every few years. All I knew was that I was sick of temporary houses; I just wanted a home. All I knew was that I was jealous of anyone who had the same friends from Kindergarten. I am not going to sugarcoat it, sometimes things were rough. And that is how it is for every military family.
The demands of the warfighter are like cheese processed through the lactose intolerant digestive tract that is military supply; though digestion is a vital process, it can be unspeakably painful and smell of rotten eggs. End-users already plagued by rapidly decreasing manning and time are now interrupted by long backorder lead times, artificial constraints on off-the-shelf solutions, and funding. Personnel are known to skip the supply system altogether, purchasing parts or equipment out of pocket when an inspection is on the line. This both hides the problem and takes from the pockets our sailors. The military has forgotten that supply exists for the utility the operator, not the ease of the audited. For the military supply system to regain the trust and capabilities necessary to serve the end-user, reforms to the way supplies are selected, commercial purchases are managed, and funding requested are necessary.
The first major problem is the Coordinated Shipboard Allowance List (COSAL). COSAL is a process by which the navy’s supply system determines what supplies it should stock on the shelves; items are ordered through the in-house supply system and the hits in the system raise the priority to stock. Unfortunately, COSAL is reactive rather than predictive and cannot meet the needs of either the new aches of an aging fleet or the growing pains of new ships. As ships grow long-in-the-tooth, parts and equipment once reliable require replacement or repair. New ships find casualties in systems meant to last several years. Equipment lists also change, leading to fleet-wide demands for devices only in limited, if any, supply. The non-COSAL items are suddenly in great demand but nowhere to be found. Critical casualties have month+ long wait-times for repairs as parts are back-ordered from little COSAL support. Commands attempt to fill their time-sensitive need by open purchasing these items from the external market, which are not COSAL tracked. This leads to either supply forcing the workcenter to order through supply and end-users waiting potentially months for critical backordered items, or the open purchase being accomplished and COSAL staying unchanged. Although difficult, the supply system should be more flexible to open-purchasing stock item equivalents due to time constraints while integrating open purchase equivalence tracking into the COSAL process. This bypasses the faults of COSAL’s reactionary nature while still updating the supply system with the changing demands.
The limitations on open purchasing (buying commercial off-the-shelf) create artificial shortages of material easily available on the street. Namely, when items are not under General Services Administration (GSA) contract, single vendor purchases or purchases for a single purpose cannot exceed $3,000, no matter how the critical need or short the deadline. This further exacerbates the problems from an unsupportive COSAL; if requirements exceed purchase limitations, requests are sent through a lengthy contracting process which wastes more time than money saved. The contracting requirement ignores the fact that from the work-center supervisor to the supply officer, everyone now has the ability to search the internet for companies and can compare quotes. Purchasers need not be encouraged to spend less money, since they have the natural deisre to stretch their budget as far as possible. Contracting opportunities also become more scarce as the end of the fiscal year approaches, since money “dedicated” to a contracting purchase is lost if the clock turns over and no resolution is found. This means money lost to the command and vital equipment left unpurchased. For deployed/deployable units, this can be unacceptable. The supply system exists to fulfill the operational needs of the training/deployed demand-side, not to streamline the risk-averse audit demands of the supply side. If not raising the price-ceilings of non-GSA purchases for operational commands, the rule against split purchasing by spreading single-type purchases across multiple vendors should be removed. Breaking out a single purchase amongst several vendors alleviates the risk that large purchases are being made to single vendors due to kick-backs. This would call for more diligence on the part of Supply Officers, but that is why they exist.
Finally, the recent Presidential Debates have shown the military’s poor ability to communicate the message that funding is becoming an increasingly critical issue force-wide. To many, the defense budget is so large that cuts are academic, savings no doubt hiding throughout the labyrinthine bureaucracy. However, for those of us who had no money to buy everything from tools to toilet paper for a month, it’s a more practical problem. Long before sequestration, Secretary Gates started the DoD on the path of making pre-emptive cuts before outside entities made those choices for the DoD. However, the military has made a poor show of communicating that these cuts have become excessive and are now cutting into the muscle of the force. Obeying the directive to cut funding does not require quietly accepting these cuts; now the Commander and Chief believes the military not even in need of a cut freeze, let alone a funding increase. With Hydra of manning, material, and training issues constantly growing new heads, the strategic communicators must come out in force to correct this misconception. While administrative savings can be found, our capabilities are paying the price for the budgetary experiment. Military leadership should, in part, involve advocacy; obedience requires the resources to execute the mission.
The supply system is a painful process, but with rather humble reforms, that pain can be both lessened and taken off the shoulders of whom the system exists to serve. With a reformed COSAL tracking open purchases, a loosened open-purchase limit that puts the stress on the supplier rather than operator, and better strategic communications about funding, we can apply a bit of lactaid to an otherwise painful process.
LTJG Matthew Hipple serves as the weapons officer for PC Crew India. He graduated from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and is the Director of the NEXTWAR blog at the Center for International Maritime Security (WWW.cimsec.org).
Cold steel isn’t worth a damn unless you have men to command it.
– Representative Fred Britten, House Naval Affairs Committee, 1928
The warrior spirit of its members constitutes the most important characteristic of any fighting force. Superior equipment is wasted unless manned by individuals that are properly trained to use the tools of their trade and are enlivened by a warfighting spirit. An effective force requires resources, yet millennia of human conflict teach us that platforms and weapons are no more than enablers through which warriors exercise their expertise and exert their resolve. Hence any changes in the warrior spirit will have a magnified impact on the force’s overall effectiveness.
Napoleon emphasizes the importance of a warrior spirit in one of his maxims: “The moral is to the physical as three to one.” A fighting spirit exists beyond the realm of warfare as a science. It resides in the realm of warfare as art; where intangible human passions affect outcomes. As CAPT (Ret) Wayne Hughes brings to our attention in a section called “Men Matter Most” of his book Fleet Tactics,our profession of arms must possess a warrior mentality, because “beneath the veneer of reason lie passion and mortal danger.”
In 1944 Fleet Admiral King issued an Instruction that underscored the importance of the human dimension in warfighting:
“As wars are fought by men the human element is a basic factor in naval warfare… It is the human element in warfare which may, if understood by the commander, prove to be the only way of converting an impossibility into a successful reality… A force of inferior material potency may, due to the moral resources of its men, prove superior in naval strength.”
The unforgiving conditions of maritime combat require a unique breed of warrior. This is due to the fact that at sea once a platform is detected there are few places to hide; and because, as opposed to land operations, members of platforms at sea are physically bound together. An important benefit of a common warfighting spirit is that it forges inseparable bonds and unifies members into “Band of Brothers.”
Yet even as arms and tactics change fundamental warrior characteristics are timeless. The collective spirit of Sailors and Marines give us a tremendous advantage over adversaries. The tenets that enable an effective fighting spirit in the Navy are summarized in the core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment. These values are more than lofty ideas, designed to guide Sailors and Fleets to persevere in tough and confusing times. As our nation strives to organize, man, train and equip a superior naval force to meet the challenges of enhanced threats in a globally connected era, let us not underestimate or neglect the most important ingredient of the capability equation. To project seapower we must cultivate and extol the virtues of a warfighting spirit. History indicates effective sea warriors consistently exhibit the following traits: leadership, discipline, technical competence, creativity, and initiative.
- Leadership. Effective leadership is an essential ingredient of warfighting. Leadership is earned not bestowed. Leaders foster cohesion to achieve a common objective. Leaders provide clear direction and ensure subordinates understand the mission. They mentor juniors and uphold standards. With leadership comes authority, responsibility, and accountability. Authority refers to who is in charge of a task; responsibility refers to the fulfillment of a task; and accountability refers to who bears the burden for the conduct and results of a task.
- Discipline. To thrive in a melee at sea requires stouthearted individuals. The best warfighters possess tenacity and a stubborn determination to persevere against hardships and long odds to achieve objectives. This requires mental toughness and physical strength. Discipline enables the unification of individuals to achieve a common goal. Environs of the sea compel warriors to work together to survive and win.
- Technical Competence. Complex equipment and systems must be safely operated and well maintained. The maritime environment is hostile. Machines are constantly battered with salts, pollution, marine life, pounding waves and winds. Preventive maintenance extends the life of equipment and prevents failures. Every position in the Navy has basic skills and tasks that must be mastered to be effective in combat.
- Creativity. The American spirit of ingenuity is a significant advantage our Navy has over other navies. Tactical creativity does not emerge in combat unless it is nurtured and rewarded in peacetime. Pragmatic innovation from the deckplates has been and must remain a trademark. Viewed as a formidable weapon, the enterprising nature of American Sailors must be exploited to the fullest extent possible.
- Initiative. In war leaders are charged with exploiting initiative to advance the plan. This could be as complex as recognizing that a potential adversary’s actions indicate an attack or it could be as simple as a deck officer notifying his captain that he maneuvered to avoid a collision. Victory at sea depends on initiative, tempered by calculated risks and sound judgment. In the fog of war decisions must be made quickly with incomplete information. With lives at risk this requires a clear understanding of commander’s intent and tremendous self-confidence.
Despite the fact that the Navy Special Warfare community is very different from other maritime forces, the SEAL ethos statement does a superb job of describing at an individual level, the warrior spirit.
“In times of war or uncertainty there is a special breed of warrior ready to answer our Nation’s call. A common man with an uncommon desire to succeed. Forged by adversity, he stands alongside America’s finest special operations forces to serve his country, the American people, and protect their way of life. I am that man… We train for war and fight to win… I will not fail.”
Armed with formidable weapon systems, competent combat forces of the Navy and Marine Corps are the nucleus of American seapower. As our maritime forces prepare for a future shaped by dramatically smaller budgets, we must reinvigorate a warfighting spirit into the professional development of our men and women. Again from Fleet Admiral King’s instruction, “By training, discipline and consideration of the men’s welfare, the commander obtains fighting strength – a strength so great that it will take its toll against an opposing force superior in numbers or equipment.” The Sailors and Marines we entrust to operate today’s Fleet are highly knowledgeable and motivated. To maximize the warfighting effectiveness of our forces into the future we must cultivate within each individual a warrior spirit.
CAPT David Tyler, Navy Warfare Development Command, Assistant Chief of Staff, Concepts and Innovation
We hear a lot about the Battle Force when talking about US Navy force structure and the documents that guide how we deploy and employ our Fleets. As a reader of Mahan, the language brings me back to a phrase he repeatedly uses in his writing, “The Battle-fleet.” See, in Mahan’s day the U.S. Navy started out as a 5th rate power (or worse) and didn’t even have a single fleet that could stand up to a foreign navy when massed together. Over the years he wrote, culminating about the time he passed away in the prelude to World War I, the USN slowly built its battle-fleet to be a peer of almost any navy on the seven seas. Over the next century the USN continued to build and develop itself into the superpower it is today, with several fleets positioned globally.
Much of what we hear about the Battle Force today harkens back to Mahan’s writing on how to use the battle-fleet. The focus is decisive combat against the enemy’s naval forces followed by or concurrent with the projection of power ashore. The focus is on the high-end and kinetic operations which should be the focus of the battle-fleet and, by analogy in today’s language, the modern Battle Force.
But the comparison to today’s Navy starts to come apart as you read about the types of ship’s Mahan thought were appropriate for a navy. While most of us are taught about his belief in the battle-fleet, and its role in pursuing and winning decisive battles that would establish American command of the sea, we’re rarely reminded that in his view a Navy didn’t stop there. Yes, he believed the battle-fleet had to win the decisive battle but there are many other tasks of naval forces. In his essay “Considerations Governing the Disposition of Navies” he wrote that a properly constructed navy needed to be balanced and have three main parts. First was, yes, the battle-fleet. Second was independent cruisers. Third was small combatants and craft to operate in close to an enemy’s shoreline. It wasn’t all one battle-fleet, but a balanced naval force designed for more than just blue water battle.
Each of these different groups of naval vessels had a role to play in major combat operations, but also a matching role to play in peacetime operations. In war the battle-fleet remained offshore, far enough away from the enemy’s coastline that it wouldn’t fall victim to costal defenses (what today we call A2AD threats). There the battle-fleet awaited the enemy’s fleet, maneuvering for positions of advantage for the coming decisive battle. The independent cruisers would range between the battle-fleet and the enemy’s coast, looking to pick off scouts and small squadrons or ranging further afield to strike at the enemy’s merchant shipping and impose an economic cost. Finally, the smaller littoral ships ranged in close, tested and engaged the enemy’s coastal defenses, and scouted for the enemy’s fleet to determine when or where it would sortie to engage in the decisive battle.
Today’s Battle Force has platforms which fill all of those rolls in the vision of the 21st century naval conflict. In Mahan’s day it was an all surface affair, with ships of varying sizes and armaments filling the roles. (He wrote that submarines and torpedo craft, which were experimental platforms for turn of the century navies, were likely to gain success and capability and become part of the mix, but it hadn’t happened before his death). Today, many of the roles are still filled by surface combatants, but submarines and aircraft have taken over significant parts of the equation. They have assumed many, if not all, of the roles and missions traditionally taken by the independent cruisers and the small combatants in the littorals, and with much success in kinetic operations. The name Battle Force, rather than battle-fleet, is certainly accurate.
The problem with today’s Battle Force is that by replacing the cruisers, scouts, and small combatants with submarines and aircraft it loses the capabilities those vessels brought to the peacetime missions. For centuries navies, unlike armies and more recently unlike air forces, have had dual responsibilities not just to fight and win the nation’s wars at sea but to serve in peacetime to protect the nation’s interests, deter challengers, and serve as a diplomatic arm of the military in building partnerships and friendships across the globe. From our nation’s earliest days the dual uses of naval forces were on our leaders minds. Former Naval Academy and Naval War College professor Dr. Craig Symonds wrote in his book Navalists and Antinavalists:
All of President James Monroe’s surviving papers on the navy or on naval policy reflect a concern that it efficiently perform two distinct services: first, that it be adequate to cope with the daily problems of a maritime nation – smuggling, piracy, and combating the slave trade; and, second, that it provide the United States with a comfortable degree of readiness in case war should be forced upon the nation.
What today we refer to as maritime security operations and partnership building isn’t a new-fangled 21st century idea. In fact, it’s a mission which goes back to the very founding of our service, shared with navies throughout history.
Today’s Battle Force is a battle-fleet on steroids, one that has absorbed the rest of the naval force. It is surely powerful and brings us more than “a comfortable degree of readiness in case war should be forced upon the nation.” For fighting and winning a major war it has no equal on the seven seas. However, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because major war may become more likely if there are no ships to conduct the first distinct service President Monroe enumerated.
While the Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower says all the right things, the Battle Force isn’t built for that strategy. It is only built for one half of our navy’s job. It has mobility and the flexibility to engage multiple targets, but more and more often it lacks true adaptability to do more than just put warheads on foreheads, or threaten it. As the Battle Force shores up its control of the Navy the ability to adapt to smaller contingencies, work in contested waters that are not yet in kinetic conflict, or engage non-state actors and build partnerships becomes harder and harder. Yet these are all the things needed to help avert war, and so actual war at sea becomes more likely, and the Battle Force continues to become stronger.
Naval thinkers from Mahan to Corbett to Zumwalt to Hughes have discussed the importance of having a balanced fleet. High/low mix, Streetfighter, or Influence Squadrons are just other ways to talk about a balanced fleet which is capable of the “regular” major combat operations and fleet engagements as well as the “irregular” maritime security operations and partnership/diplomatic development. Mahan wrote that his own thinking and writing provided a solid foundation to move on to the writing of Sir Julian Corbett, the British navalist who told us that “in no case can we exercise control by battleships alone.” Today’s networked Battle Force is impressive and powerful. As Mahan wrote, it is the starting point for a properly constructed naval force. But the question is…does a powerful battle-fleet alone provide the Navy we need to face the turbulent seas of the 21st century?
LCDR Armstrong is a contributor to Proceedings, Naval History, and USNI Blog. His book 21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era is forthcoming from NIP. The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the US Navy, or any other agency.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
TR. h/t SteeljawScribe
Last Friday night I was walking down the 4th corridor to my office in N81. It had been a long week. I was a little tired and looking forward to a cold beer when I got home… Then I heard a booming voice call out: “SHIPMATE… ARE YOU COMING TO MY CEREMONY NEXT FRIDAY???”
I turned around to see who it was and recognized a very familiar figure. I immediately regained the spring in my step as I returned to the end of the passageway to greet him. Kind of reminded me of a scene right out of Cold Case as LT j.g. Foggo pumped the hand of Quartermaster Second Class Ricky West and responded: “YOU BET I AM SHIPMATE!”
For a moment, I was back onboard my first boat, USS SEA DEVIL (SSN-664), standing watch as Officer of the Deck with my favorite Quartermaster, Rick West. We sailed that boat all over the Mediterranean and under the Polar Ice Cap on her subsequent Northern Run, climaxing in a dramatic surfacing evolution at the geographic North Pole! Now how cool is that? QM2 Rick West lived on the Conn of that ship. He was the best forceful backup in the Fleet to young LT j.g.s like me. West and the Navigator, LCDR John M. Bird were a great team and there was no obstacle they couldn’t overcome!
Our Commanding Officer, CDR Rich Mies, liked to go fast… after all, we used to call them “fast” attacks for a reason. He constantly challenged the Navigation Team on the Maneuvering Watch to keep them on their toes. Driving in and out of the Cooper River in Charleston, South Carolina, was a challenging Maneuvering Watch with a series of unforgiving hairpin turns—right full rudder… left full rudder—but the saving grace was lots of visual ranges ahead or astern. CDR Mies taught his Junior Officers to Conn the ship independently from the bridge. He wanted us to be more capable mariners so oftentimes, in good weather (no fog or reduced visibility) he would lower both periscopes and we would drive by the range. Just another exciting day on the Captain’s Bridge and my favorite place to be as Surfaced OOD.
Below decks, it was a different story for the Navigation Team. Without visual bearings, the team had to rely on dead reckoning off of the Ships Inertial Navigation System and electronic fixes from Omega and Loran-Charlie (neither very accurate in restricted waters). We had no Global Positioning System, electronic charts or non-penetrating periscopes (cameras) to assist the Navigation Party. This put considerable stress on the Navigator and his team. LCDR John Bird and QM2 Rick West were unflappable. On the bridge, we knew they had to be pulling their hair out in the control room but you would never know it from their voices. West on the 27MC: “Bridge, Quartermaster of the Watch, I have a good electronic fix, hold you on track, 200 yards to the turn, recommend SLOWING to all ahead two-thirds.”
As I looked up from my perch in the cockpit of the bridge for any direction, the typical response from the Captain was, “Steady as she goes Officer of the Deck!” As a young JO, I wondered why he made life so difficult for the Navigation Team but as I matured into the job and my role in the wardroom, I came to realize that the Captain was training all of us for that unexpected eventuality when Murphy’s Law overtakes even the best of ships and bad things happen. USS SEA DEVIL was no different than any other boat—Murphy appeared often—it was a dangerous business, but we were well trained and the Navigation Team overcame adversity with relative ease.
When we transitioned to our Northern Deployment, QM2 Rick West was a key member of the team. Operating USS SEA DEVIL under ice with her state of the art navigation system, i.e. SINS, Loran, Omega, Mk19 and Mk27 gyros was challenging to say the least. We were at least two generations ahead of USS NAUTILUS in our navigation suite, but let’s face it, the Mk27 gyro was originally used on Army battle tanks and had a tendency to tumble as did the Mk19. Loran and Omega were useless north of 66 degrees of latitude which put SINS in the forefront of our way to and from the North Pole. When we transitioned from the Marginal Ice Zone to solid Pack Ice overhead, the Quartermaster of the Watch was even more critical to safety of ship. During this time period, Rick West was almost always “on watch” even when he wasn’t—if you know what I mean—because he cared so much about the ship and the welfare of the crew. Forceful backup was critical and you wanted Rick West on the Navigation Plot. With the aid of our onboard Electronics Techs, West monitored and nursed the navigation suite through the entire deployment. Driving SEA DEVIL around ice keels and finding polynyas (open areas in the ice) to come up for air and a periodic fix was an incredible proving ground for the submerged OOD. Frankly, I loved it. Finding and surfacing the boat at the geographic North Pole for a day of “Polar Liberty” was something that the crew will never forget. West helped get us there… and back.
I could write many more paragraphs about sea stories from the mighty SEA DEVIL, but suffice it to say that it was a great boat and made even better with Sailors like Rick West. An exceptional watchstander, it was not sufficient for him to sit back and just be the QMOW. He sought out additional collateral duties and qualified in more senior watchstations. Proud of his uniform and his appearance, he set the example for other sailors in the crew’s mess. He was a man of principle then, as he is as MCPON now. He was the epitome of the mantra: Ship, Shipmate, Self… and in that order! Always the gentleman, his conduct at work or on the beach was beyond reproach. His word was his bond and his work was precise. When Rick West made a report, you didn’t have to worry about its authenticity or accuracy. During times of high stress, even with no sleep and no endpoint in sight, his positive attitude never wavered. I was therefore not at all surprised when he was selected to be the 12th Master Chief Petty Officer of the United States Navy.
Master Chief West schooled many more officers than me in the art of navigation and the role of the United States Navy Sailor. On USS SEA DEVIL alone this list included Admiral Rich Mies, USN (ret), Royal Navy Exchange Officer Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope (current First Sea Lord of the United Kingdom), VADM John M. Bird, USN (ret), VADM Bill French, USN as well as countless others who rose to leadership positions Master Chief Petty Officers or Chiefs of the Boat. The mark that he left on us and our boat was indelible.
Today, MCPON Rick West will retire and shift the mantle of enlisted leadership to Master Chief Petty Officer (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens. To the MCPON, I say simply thank you for your service and the sacrifice of your family. It is now time to take that last fix, lay down a DR and set a course for new horizons. No matter where the prevailing winds take you, we know you will find success and that you can take great pride in the impact you have made upon generations of Sailors in the United States Navy. So one more time for MCPON West… HOOYAH Navy!
RDML Foggo is the Director, OPNAV N81 (Assessments)
“…We will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region.”-
Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense
The strategic guidance for the Department of Defense released in January 2012 clearly emphasizes pivoting to focus on the Asia-Pacific realm. While it notes that the Middle East is still an area of concern, the guidance largely adheres to the Obama administration efforts to shift diplomatic, economic and military strategic focus to the Far East, ending a decade of predominant focus on the Middle East.
But can the United States truly afford to refocus to the Asia-Pacific realm amidst the chaos of the Middle East? Recent events highlight a deeply unsettling trend. Iran is adamant that it will pursue nuclear technology; Israel is just as adamant that it will not permit this to happen. Gulf States are warily following the Iranian progress and ramping up their own weapons acquisitions in the event that Iran acquires nuclear weapons technology.
The United States is leading a coalition of more than thirty nations in an International Mine Countermeasures exercise in the Persian Gulf right now, seeking to sharpen skills as fears of Iranian attempts to mine the Strait of Hormuz reach new highs. Two carriers have been sent to the region to provide “95,000 tons of diplomacy” and act as a reminder of the potent strike potential the US can bring to bear.
Following the riots that led to the recent death of the US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, the Commander in Chief sent Marine anti-terrorist units and two Arleigh Burke class destroyers to patrol off the coast of Libya. Rioting spread like wildfire throughout North Africa and the Middle East- stretching to countries as widespread as Tunisia, Sudan and even staunch ally Saudi Arabia. Intense diplomatic and military efforts took place to quell violence and halt further action against America.
Ironically, the most violent riots were in countries that received the strongest US support during the last year’s Arab Spring revolts. Countries that were lifted from the yoke of dictatorship- under brutal regimes such as that of Muammar Qaddafi- and given billions of dollars in economic, military and diplomatic assistance have now violently turned on the US. Far from the peaceful, democratic nations we had hoped would emerge, the region is at the brink of turmoil and chaos. US interests may be in a worse state now than under the authoritarian regimes we helped to overthrow.
Even Afghanistan is posing serious challenges just as the ISAF prepares to draw down forces. Taliban focus on disrupting the handover process has been all too successful, generating mistrust as infiltrated Afghan national forces are accused of killing dozens of their international trainers. It remains questionable whether or not the Afghans will be able to emerge with a stable government or slip into chaos following America’s withdrawal.
Regardless of how one views democracy building, we must accept the governments that have formed in the region. We must further understand what this means for US interests aboard- and how it changes our strategic outlook. One of the most basic questions to ask when determining a national security strategy is whether or not the resources exist- or will exist- to enact such a plan. This poses a challenge to a military facing an era of fiscal austerity, stretched by multiple demands on limited resources.
While the Obama administration announced that US strategy would entail a rebalance to Asia, the reality is far more complicated. Though the Asia pivot has garnered immense attention, it is not an entirely new strategy. America never left Asia. Yet it serves to realign focus and resources towards the region on a broad front- economically, diplomatically and militarily. Antiquated focus on the Middle East- including unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would be shifted to a more modern outlook.
This pivot reflects the belief that Asia is the future- and rightly so. Asia is home to five of our treaty allies and six of the ten most powerful economies in the world. As globalization dominates international trends, our economic success is tied inexorably to that of our Asian trading partners. Asia has emerged as the top economic region in the world, with increasing trade and global impact. The future is in Asia and our national strategy must reflect that.
Yet we may not be able to rebalance just yet. While Asia is clearly the region of the future, recent events have demonstrated that the US cannot leave the Middle East in its current state of turmoil without serious implications for national security. America is quietly amassing naval forces in the 5th Fleet Area of Responsibility (AOR). The Pentagon announced the rapid redeployment this fall of the John C. Stennis Strike Group after it returned in March from a Middle East deployment. Instead of the planned Western Pacific deployment, the ship will proceed four months early to Central Command.
Despite strategic focus on Asia, the Middle East is simply too tumultuous to leave. With our current fiscal constraints and limited resources, this means that forces heading to Asia will potentially keep on transiting west to arrive on station in the Middle East.
Despite our best efforts to aid democratic movements and stabilize the region, the Middle East is rapidly approaching a crisis point. With the Department of Defense facing tremendous budget cuts, the amount of resources available are limited. American forces simply are not resourced to handle multiple significant crises simultaneously. Assets from Asia must be pulled to help stabilize the Middle East in the short term. This should serve as a poignant reminder that even though the Asia pivot is clearly in our best long term interest, ultimately fiscal limitations and rising regional tensions may prevent truly rebalancing until the Middle East has stabilized.
LCDR Rachael Gosnell is an active duty surface warfare officer. She recently completed a Masters of Arts degree in international security studies from Georgetown University as part of the Navy’s Political-Military Masters Program.