When you play chess, you learn that you don’t win because of what you did right. You win because of what your opponent did wrong, that the person who wins made the least amount of mistakes. Many commentators are taking about how the US got Bin Laden. Dr. Barnett over at Time’s Battleland Blog mentions Boyd’s take on Sun Tsu, “Interaction permits vitality and growth, while isolation leads to decay and disintegration”. The credit for this isolation is given to the US by the constant pressure we placed on Bin Laden in our efforts to find him. But, one thing I am stuck by, is the lack of mention of Bin Laden by anyone, on either side, for the majority of any of the wars.
Since the Taliban lost control of Afghanistan and ran South of the Durand line, our strategy in Afghanistan has not focused on Bin Laden. Since that time we’ve focused on rebuilding two countries, and termed our enemies as those who are against stable and viable States. The moves we have decided to make have only been in terms of isolation by proxy. Our ability to articulate our goals and the benefits of a liberal system of governance have not been exceedingly successful. We did not isolate Bin Laden. Bin Laden, his ideals and his own strategy did that.
We originally went after a small group who wished to see grand political change from India to North Africa and used the United States as their narrative’s foil. Before 9/11 the perceived size and ability of Al Qaeda was not considered a threat. From the hysteria of 9/11 our perceptions changed and our enemy seemed much larger and more capable. As we got onto the ground first in Afghanistan, then into Iraq, the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula we found that not everyone who uses violence and quotes the Koran thinks the same way Bin Laden does. Those who we war against today, have much more local aims than Al Aqaeda does and only align themselves with a more popular organization for clout.
We’ve found that “Global Jihad” has an inherently local flavor. The groups and organizations we fight against form strategic partnerships based upon very specific criteria that do not readily lead to a Caliphate, as the notion of a Caliphate is not something many will rally around. The central failing of Bin Laden has been that you can’t talk to people about radical political change across much of the Eurasian and African landmass when they still worry about feeding their families and the security of their neighborhoods, let alone regional security and clear political hegemony. Bin Laden’s dreams fall flat, even with a central enemy to rally around. We didn’t isolate Bin Laden in any meaningful way. The images of Bin Laden looking like Howard Hughes are fitting not in that he was stuck in a building. But, that he was looking back over recordings of when his message was still viable.
How many right moves have we made, and how many wrong moves have our enemies made? But, the question is more than that, isn’t it? We’re playing a game of chess, where we’re also switching opponents. Bin Laden made a lot of wrong moves. But, what of the rest of the players? There’s a lot more isolation to be done. The war isn’t about geopolitics as much as it used to be, we enter the middle game.
You may have seen the following quote making the rounds across Facebook:
”I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
The quote is in response to the popular reactions — euphoria in many circles — across the World to the killing of Bin Laden. As it turns out, this quote is not completely real. This memetic event displays the paradigm through which many people base their understanding of conflict, why it exists and how to prevent it.
Security Analyst Adam Elkus penned a brilliant response to the quote,
But neither love or hate are policies, strategies, or tactics. They’re only emotions and ideal categories. They are not instrumental devices that we use to get what we want. So let’s stop pretending that they are causal forces, that somehow rejoicing in the end of a mass murderer is going to conjure up more hate which in turn leads to more conflict.
Read his post, there is not much I can add to his words. Except for on the fact that emotions are not “policies, strategies, or tactics” is why taking up arms can exist as a profession, and why there is a difference between a mob and professionals-at-arms. As Adam mentions, conflict does not exist out of a primordial hate. Nor does it end because of a sudden emotional realization that there is some ‘better way’. There is a spectrum to conflict, the same hatred that can be felt for a mortal enemy is the same hate felt for the Shipmate who cut you off on 264 going into NOB. Both forms of hatred are dismissed through the same cognitive process as well — though the means through that process differ significantly. At one extreme only the acknowledgment of the emotion is necessary for it to quickly dissipate. On the other, is the application of violence by professionals. This is to say that despite the irrationality of emotion, there is a rational and deliberative process that ends conflict. That objectivity defines modern conflict resolution (note: There was VERY little that I interpreted happening to me objectively while I was downrange. Afterwards, in getting home, my objectivity returned to me).
By looking at conflict objectively we have come to better understand the causes of conflict and have attempted to address our understanding of the causes through organizational constructs (NATO, UN, IMF, WTO — deliberative bodies) as well as methodical approaches (COIN, CT — tactics). But, in assuming the causes of conflict only as a function of emotion we remove any hope of conflict prevention. It is ironic that the sentiment expressed in the fake quote are actually an affirmation that violence and conflict are unavoidable and that humans are incapable of being disciplined enough to rise above their emotions.
I’ve looked online, and I’ve asked both on Twitter and Facebook. No one seems to recall this ever happening before.
Two smaller Libyan crafts were fired upon by the A-10 using its 30mm GAU-8/ Avenger cannon, destroying one and forcing the other to be abandoned.
A P-3, USS BARRY and a USAF A-10 were all engaged against Libya Coast Guard craft yesterday. BARRY “provided situational awareness for the aircraft by managing the airspace and maintaining the maritime picture”. Amazing. BZ and well done to all the Sailors and Airmen involved in the fight yesterday.
UPDATE: They’re talking about this over at Galrahn’s place too.
UPDATE II: Everyone is talking about it, see CDR SALAMANDER’s place too
I was so new to the Navy when I first heard the term ’1000 Ship Navy’, that I hardly knew my way from my berthing to my work center aboard SAN. I read all the blog postings about it back in 2007, but didn’t really pay too much attention to it. But, in seeing how my old Ship and others functioned in CTF 151 in 2009, how EUNAVFOR operates in the Indian Ocean, as well as the Indians, Russians, Chinese and others all in an ‘effort’ against piracy, I started to notice a similarity between the words I had read on the 1000 ship navy and what I saw seeing. With the assembled ships and aircraft from many NATO Nations as well as the aircraft from the UAE and Qatar, I am again seeing actions that mirror then CNO Mullen’s words.
Membership in this ‘navy’ is purely voluntary and would have no legal or encumbering ties. It would be a free-form, self-organizing network of maritime partners — good neighbors interested in using the power of the sea to unite, rather than to divide. The barriers for entry are low. Respect for sovereignty is high.
While adding the NATO dimension to operations off Libya, the notion of the fleet being ‘free-form, self-organizing’ is not exactly applicable, the rest of the quote is still rather accurate in terms of how hostilities began off Libya.
To start, I do not think the term 1,000 ship navy is the right term to use. That name itself is antithetical to Admiral Mullen’s words in that he said,”Respect for sovereignty is high.” After all, a Navy is defined as “the whole body of warships and auxiliaries belonging to a country or ruler”. Where as the definition of fleet, “the largest organized unit of naval ships grouped for tactical or other purposes”. What Admiral Mullen was proposing was never a navy, it was a fleet at best.
Alliances of any form, or even just bilateral security agreements between nations are a difficult thing. The ever changing political calculus of each government involved is something that can defy the abilities of even the best statesmen in holding an alliance together. A situation that would warrant the vast array of nations to muster the strength to find enough common ground in bringing their combined maritime forces to constitute a single navy (or fleet) is on par with the World Wars–not a possible reality that is likely enough to warrant such an initiative to become the cornerstone of US Naval Operations.
More well put would be the notion of a Complex Adaptive Fleet (CAF) [note: I called it a Complex Adaptive System Fleet, in the comments. But, The term I use here is less of a mouthful.]. I call it complex, because of the myriad of different Standard Operating Procedures that each ship brings to the fleet. I use the term Adaptive, because the fleet is being joined based on the demands of the specific operation. The number of hulls made available to the fleet, as well as the number of nations contributing to the fleet are not the point, so there is no reason to reference any numbers in the terminology for such a fleet. The marketing, design and grandeur placed on the 1,000 ship navy is what made the initiative a nonstarter.
At the highest levels of World Navies is where this initiative was espoused. But, it is from the highest levels of national power where such an initiative has to be started and implemented, as it has been off the coasts of Libya and Somalia. What the then CNO was looking to do was only a Naval matter in a secondary sense. Primarily, what the initiative looks to do, is increase the amount of cooperation at the highest levels of government, and it is there that the most amount of work is needed to improve our ability to operate in such a manner. We already practice the skills needed to operate in a fleet such as a CAF, we do so by war games with allied and friendly nations and in personnel exchanges. The only place where such an initiative such as a CAF would have a noticeable impact on doctrine is at the level of government where people don’t wear uniforms any more.
At this point I should be clear. For the US Navy today, in terms of power projection or in terms of war at sea a la WWII we do not truly require any allies. However, putting holes in ships and Tomahawks on land isn’t all there is to war fighting. Hell, there isn’t even much fighting to war fighting at sea any more (that is not to say that such a reality can’t change in a heartbeat). The ‘everything else’ in war fighting has to be included. The reality is that for any conflict at sea we are likely to see we will need something like a UN Security Council Resolution. I will also say that the current operations off of Libya set a precedent that Mediterranean operations will demand NATO involvement. The causes of this reality are not so much the waning power of the US, as much as it is stronger regional powers (stronger politically, if not militarily). Isn’t warfare just the continuation of politics? If so, then how we operate in conflict must be in accordance with the political realities of where we are operating — which means allies and partners are required. Which means the banalities of an alliance are as necessary to put up with, work through and make the best of, as the Sun in Kandahar was for me a few months back.
By stating all of this, I do not mean to say that clear objectives are not required for operations. Or that a logical unified command structure is no longer a necessity. What I am stating here is nothing more than the political realities I’ve found in nearly every operation the United States has been engaged in since… Well, most of my life. Again, I do not feel that the US Navy or most other navies have much they need to change in terms of doctrine, not yet at least. On the part of the Navy, I view this as a continuation of the resistance to joint operations a few decades back. But, at the higher civilian levels, I do think there is much work to be done. Where as we have certain tripwires that trigger different responses aboard ships, we also need well defined tripwires geo-politically which trigger certain steps in any escalation of force against a common threat that nations face. As we in the military have preplanned courses of action against potential enemies, we need more planning at the political level between sovereign governments, so that operational caveats are not done in such an ad hoc and clumsy manor when operations should have started days/weeks ago. A notion such as the CAF does not lend itself well to anything beyond what we are seeing today in Libya or Somalia. It is a methodology best suited for sudden turns of events that demand quick action by nations and, as such shouldn’t be considered for anything outside of low intensity conflicts.
None of it would be easy to work out, nor do I have complete faith that such arrangements can be pulled off politically. But, as I said, the only think I think I am doing here is pointing out what I’ve seen as a reality, and offering how to do what we’ve already been doing, better.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what Wikileaks, Anonymous, Tunisia, and Egypt mean for force structure of the military. Increasingly, I see conventional forces as modern day fusiliers, used to pin down an enemy while other types of forces maneuver around. Where as back in the Napoleonic era the maneuver forces were cavalry or lighter troops, today I view ‘other forces’ to be forces that do not even participate in actual combat. Where I see the most maneuver occurring is in the battlefield of ideas. After all, isn’t that the whole premise behind winning hearts and minds? I see this becoming difficult for leaders in that communication has to occur on two fronts at once – domestic and international. A lot was made over the claims that the Commander of NTM-A in Afghanistan was conducting psyops against Senators. This episode is evidence of this emergent nature of conflict – not because of what may, or may not have actually occurred. But, because that this event was even plausible to have occurred. When I was in Afghanistan, I had as much contact with my family as I did in the States (I know, I’m not a very good son, I don’t call home often enough). Being deployed isn’t being all that far away from home any more, maybe not in a literal sense, but in a cognitive and communicative sense it isn’t that far at all. How is a commander supposed to handle that connectivity?
Mao said that ‘political power comes from the barrel of a gun’, or something to that effect. While I don’t refute this fact completely, I will submit that the barrel of a gun no longer holds a monopoly on generating political power. Organizations are no longer required to organize people. It can be done nearly ‘automatically’, as evidenced by Tunisia, Egypt et al. political power now emanates as much from the tip of the Ethernet cable as it does from the gun. Woe unto the government which uses guns against those who wage a campaign with information, as well (e.g., using the internet to generate force does not warrant kinetic force in return). I’m sure that a lot of you are thinking that what I am saying here is all just apart of 4th generation warfare. But, I think this is beyond 4th generation. This is the 5th generation.
Sun Tsu talked about formlessness – how a general must keep his true disposition of forces concealed from his enemies. Anonymous is the epitome of such an axiom. Thousands of individuals motivated by all kinds of different things: For the lulz, political persuasion, a sense of belonging, to be cool, or even viewing organizations as their enemy. You can’t pin down a single cause, nor can you remove a single person and the organization collapses, you can’t point to a single type of person, you can’t name them all, they don’t even have a single raison d’être or cause célèbre. However, they do have a center of gravity, which is the ambiguous nature of ethics today. Any threat that emerged over the last year has done so in the moral and ethical gray areas created by the information age. The notion that information is now free is at the heart of the entire information revolution, the most extreme example of this being Wikileaks.
As a society, we are so far behind the curve in deciding and setting precedent for what ethics are now that information and communication are so ubiquitous that we are hurting ourselves. This too is a larger problem than what the military can fix, which is why we are left to hold the line while other more nimble forces must maneuver around to decide the outcome. Amazingly enough, I think these forces will culminate in the average citizen. It will be their interaction with others online that decide the outcome of this. However, I do not think it will be a simple affair, more formalized organizations will resist change and the debate will create more events like Egypt, in extreme cases. More common will be organizations like anonymous, not all of them will be hackers. But, will organize similarly and possibly cause much more difficulties for whomever they organize against.
I’m not completely sure what this is going to mean for force structure, but I know we can’t buy our way out of it. Nothing that any contractor can, or could, sell us will adapt the military to these challenges. What the Army has done to change from Division based deployments to Regiment based didn’t impress me much when I was in Afghanistan. My view of it was that it just caused a lot more confusion between the units (It was amazing to me to see such cultural differences between the different patches worn out there). The jury is still out (and will be for some time) on whether or not the modular concept for ships will work (I believe it will, but we’re learning it the most painful way possible). However, these initiatives are in the right spirit. It is that they just don’t strike at the heart of what we need to change. In reality, for us to adapt to the nature of modern conflict we’re going to have to change our culture. Medals, ribbons, uniforms and our organizational methods are all centuries old concepts. It was from the Prussians that we got our concept of the Flag Staff. It’s been nearly 100 years since Prussia ceased to exist (for all intents and purposes). Nothing I am proposing, or have said is ‘new’ is a revolution in any sense. All change that has occurred has been evolutionary in nature, and all change that must occur in the military must too be evolutionary. Directly working towards creating a Revolution in Military Affairs is like trying to grab a cloud. The whole of the military doesn’t need to evolve into some Wikileaks-Anonymous hybrid. But, their effectiveness needs to be noted and emulated. Bullets can’t kill ideas, only debate and dialog can.
I really like being an Enlisted blogger. The reason why is best summed up by a conversation I had a few weeks back with a Colonel with whom I work. To set the stage a little, you need to know that he was in a suit and tie at the time of the meeting, as he just back from a function that required such attire. Just the same, this Col. also has a doctorate.
Col: Those were some good points you made in the meeting.
Me: Thanks Sir.
Col: Have you ever considered becoming an Officer?
Me: Well, the thing about being Enlisted, is that when I make a half way decent point, it sounds twice as good; no one expects it.
Col: Heh, yeah.
But, just the same there is another side to being an Enlisted blogger. I can’t really be an advocate for much. The number of toes I can end up stepping on if I say too much, or if I am assumed to be speaking in an official capacity when I’m not. Or, even if anyone starts to think that I am speaking way too far out of my league is a rather easy thing to do, at least I assume it to be. I hope to never truly test that assumption out (without very good reason).
In this forum, I am more free to maneuver than anywhere else. Granted, I speak incessantly on Facebook on all kinds of matters. But, that is entertainment to me, my real intent there is not to ensure the best case for my Navy. But, here at this blog – in this forum – it is. I need that freedom of navigation because only I know the waters in which I sail. In this, I mean that I am incredibly discreet regarding the job I do today. I don’t do a secret squirrel job, nor do I even have a Classified computer on my desk. I just like keeping my duties here (and I do consider it a duty to post here) and at SHAPE separate.
A Man’s judgement is best when he can forget himself and any reputation he may have acquired and can concentrate wholly on making the right decision.
Admiral Raymond Spruance
Having just finished the biography of Admiral Spruance, I thought it fitting to include that here – note that I hold an organization in the same sentiment as given by the Admiral.
A forum (system) should always be transparent. In a properly constructed system, the agents of that system exert an influence that makes the system greater than the sum of its parts. It should seem that the agents (individuals) who make up the system is all that exists. In the case of this forum and every forum of USNI, all that should seem to exist are the words and the discourse of the individual agents. Which is why I am troubled by the following:
An independent forum advocating…
The forum should advocate nothing, rather it must be the individual agents of that forum that advocate anything on their own volition – the system inherits its independence from the agents, it doesn’t imbue its agents with that independence.
Now, if the forum is, in fact, advocating anything, how does that then reflect on the individual agents? How could that then reflect on the duty station of the agent? Must I assume an agenda in posting here, in being a member (not a life member yet, but I’ve always renewed since 2008…)?
Keep me and all future Enlisted writers independent and free to maneuver. Be an advocate for us in as much as you will lend us your ear and then help us learn the art of writing and discourse. You need not advocate any more than that to help ensure the future of my Navy and our Nation.
I know, I’ve not posted anything in far too long. I’ve done a lot of things since I last talked to you all. I’m nearly into my new apartment in Mons–I signed the lease Thursday and move in before the close of next week, and I should have my new car (2011 VW GTI Mk V, 200HP of awesome) soon.
I’ve not lived in the US for some time now–my time in Afghanistan and my time deployed with SAN–essentially since late 2008 I’ve not lived in the US. Granted, living in a FOB in Afghanistan is not exactly cultural immersion, even in Kandahar a–NATO base–English was the dominant language, with native toungs only using their language between themselves. That said, having come more-or-less strait from Kandahar to Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), is not as radical a step as I expected…
True, that in the most important sense Casteau, Belgium is radically different from Kandahar. As I am not having to hit the deck from indirect fire and 107mm rockets multiple times a day, nor have a M16 slung over my shoulder. Though (and this is different from the two months I was just back in the States) being out here, when I hear a sound similar in timbre, even in the slightest sense, to the rocket alarm in KAF, I tense up and nearly do hit the deck. I attribute this to me again being in a new environment. Where the rest of my senses are still getting their bearings, my instincts are dominant over reason.
However, in KAF I was exposed to many of the Nations who’s flags fly outside of the building I work in today. I am used to seeing French, Belgian, Dutch, Canadian (their desert uniform, at least), and British uniforms. I know Army and Air Force ranks and rank structure, I know to call an Air Force E-8 Senior, just the same as the Navy, an Army E-8 a Master Sergeant, that Air Force junior personnel call their senior enlisted Sir or Ma’am (in many cases). I also got used to the notion that one has to travel all over a base, rather than different decks and frames on a ship, to accomplish a check in process…. Though, in one sense the inverse is true of Casteau in comparison to KAF: RAIN.
When one does not see it rain for a good length of time it becomes noticeable, and for me, kinda depressing. I am sure to some extent, 120 degree weather and dust finer than talcum powder contributed to the environmental realities being depressing. But, I can clearly remember longing to see rain. Where as the days absent of any rain in Belgium are the exception. Standing outside in it, it occurred to me that getting rained on constantly did not have the same psychological effect as did perpetual heat and dryness. But, ask me again in another three or so months of this, if I still feel the same…
It is a fairly common thing in the States, at least the parts I’m from, to hear someone voice the opinion that if you’re not going to speak English, that you shouldn’t live in the US. While I am not looking to make a comment towards that one way, or the other; it is still interesting to note how that sentiment has affected me out here. In talking to the locals, I am ashamed that I do not speak their language (French in the part I live in, Dutch in the Northern part around Brussels) beyond basic greetings and niceties. Even when I speak the few words I do know, I then become overly aware of my less-than-good accent. In other words, I am now that guy that does not speak the native language, and with all geo-political realities aside, I shouldn’t live here unless I learn their language. It’s silly, but this sentiment stresses me out a little in social situations. Though, there is a funnier anecdote to this…
My name is French, very, very French… This fact is not lost on anyone who speaks French. In fact, the Realtor through whom I got my apartment, her maiden name is Gauthier. So, in breaking the ice with any local I meet, I now tell them, that I’ve been nothing but a disappointment since I got here. Eyes light up when they think that maybe this stupid American might know the language of his heritage, but then they learn that well, no.. He is, after all, an American… That ice breaker works, in person… Trust me.
My beer tally is at 8. By no means impressive at this point; but it is a work in progress. For my birthday two new Shipmates took me up to Brussels to a bar named Delirium. The EU in some sense banned smoking in restaurants and bars. However, many of the places ignore that law it seems, and you can smoke in bars, no one stops you or the other 100-ish others. This bar’s beer list is a tome the thickness of the Bible. It’s said that nearly every beer in Belgium, save the super-rare Trappist varieties, are available here. I however, only got four beers in (Delirum Nocturnum, La Guillotine, Keizer Karel (Charles Quint), and Charles Quint Blond) before the curfew the train schedule imposed on us meant we had to leave. At the train station, they were giving out samples of what looked like to be an energy drink from a distance, though once we got closer it was actually premixed wiskey and coke in a can. No one was getting carded, and they would give you two cans, if you asked nicely. +1 Europe.
I am sure you’re all now wondering if I really do any work, and the answer is yes. I’m just not fully spun up, yet. While my duties and responsibilities are still being hashed out to a degree, what I hoped for has already been exceeded. I’m not sure yet how much leg I can show, so I will hold off on the full brief until I have a better understanding. Though walking the P-ways and meeting my new shipmates, I get a lot of ‘Oh, you’re the guy who emailed the Admiral, to get the job? That was ballsy.’. So, in the interest of full disclosure I’ll run through exactly how I ‘emailed the Admiral’ to get the job, here.
It was just over a year ago, maybe by a week or so, that he put out his ‘Top 10 list’ of accomplishments for 2010 on facebook. I was in Afghanistan and got back from work that day, and saw it once I logged in. So, I decided to comment on the posting with the following, “4,632,982 on the list – make sure YN2 Gauthier gets to come work for me, because he is awesome and has read everything I’ve ever written.” I thought it just to be a funny thing to say, with no one ever going to take any real notice. However, someone did… That someone became my current boss, too. I was messaged on facebook and asked if I really wanted to work for the Admiral. Then over the course of the rest of my tour in Afghanistan it all got worked out, and here I sit now, in Belgium working at SHAPE. Unreal, right?
I’ve been looking through the couple of EVALs I’ve had. As most of you know, it’s one EVAL for every year of service, with the possibility of a special EVAL due to exceptional circumstances. Going IA and transferring in the same year has given me three EVALs this last year… I’m pretty sure that PERS 32 is getting sick of seeing EVALs with my name on it.
The most interesting thing I noticed in my EVALs comes from my first EVAL as a YN2. The reporting period is from 08MAY23 – 09MAR15 (first two digits are the year). This covered all but a few weeks of SAN ANTONIO’s maiden deployment. Block 29 is where a Sailor’s “Primary/Collateral/Watchstanding duties” are listed. Here is how mine reads:
Primary Duty: TADTAR MANAGER [Official travel funds manager]. Departmental YN-5 [I was responsible for Combat Systems and Health Services departments]. Coll: Legal YN-4, Official Mail Funds Manager-8, Registered Mail Courier-10, Assistant Dept PFA Coordinator-6, Dept RPPO-4, Dept Training PO-10, Asst Dept ESWS Coordinator. Watch: SCAT-10, POOW-10, SRF Team Leader-10, Navigation Detail-10, Repair 5S Investigator-10
I’ve had to reformat from how it looks on an actual EVAL so that it can be more readily understood. The numbers after the tac mark are the number of months I performed that duty during the evaluation period. You’ll notice a lot of ’4s’ up there, this was due to a fellow Yeoman having to go cranking. While he was gone, I was the best one to take up the duties he could no longer perform. The ’8′ next to Official Mail Funds Manager is due to SAN not requiring this program prior to deployment. “SCAT” stands for “Small Caliber Action Team”, we manned the 50cals when required. “PFA” is the Physical Fitness Assessment, as a coordinator I had to assist in making sure everyone did the ‘paperwork’ prior to the PFA. “SRF” is the Security Reaction Force, basically the ship’s SWAT team. “Repair 5s Investigator” was my General Quarters station and Condition II Damage Control station, I would have to go out and investigate for damage after a casualty and report what I saw to the repair locker officer, basically.
There were other duties I had as well, though due to the space limitations of an EVAL I couldn’t list every duty I had. There were others; not many, but a few more. I can’t remember exactly what they were, so I will omit them here. Additionally, this EVAL doesn’t mention the things you ‘just have to do’: Equal Opportunity training, in-Rate training, Information Assurance training, ‘don’t get drunk and do dumb things’ training, ‘don’t sleep with your shipmates’ training, medical training, ‘Don’t drive while tired’ training, and of course all the training and qualifications one has to get to earn their Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist pin. To give context and underscore how typical my duties were, my trait average for this EVAL was 4.0. The Summary Group Average for this reporting period (The trait average of all evaluations during this period–all E-5s aboard) was 4.01. In other words, I was completely average.
So, why am I posting this. Because I believe it gives a good snapshot of what it is like for a midgrade Petty Officer aboard an Optimally Manned platform. If we’re expected to be hybrid Sailors, then we are living up to expectations. Often enough, I’d have to be two places at once. QMC (Chief Quartermaster) would be giving bearing taker training up on the bridge wing at the same time that FCC (Chief Fire Controlman) would be giving SRF training in the starboard P-way. I’d have to submit my financial report for travel funds at the same time I would be off ship for SRF-Advanced training. I’d have to submit the monthly training report to my Dept. Head at the same time I was trying to go see EN1 (Engineman First Class) to get my Ballast PQS signed off on for my ESWS pin. It would be up to me–with the blessing of my Chief–to decide what I wouldn’t do, or what I’d do later. “doing things later” sounds rather benign. But, what it amounts to, is having to do something quicker, with less time to QA, and with probably some ‘nasty-grams’ sent to the XO by SURFLANT, or something. Given a long enough time line like this, it becomes just how you operate–’I will only do this when forced to’. Because, when being forced to do something is when it becomes important enough to be at the top of the pile. A Chief once told me “When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority”. I will never accept that the Navy charged me with a range of duties I just was not able to accomplish. I ‘won’t give up the Ship’ in a sense. But, I will accept the fact that a lower standard of accomplishment was expected of me.
On MIDRATS I said that one has to quickly internalize the training they were given. Because, sooner rather than later, you would be the one giving training and signing off on their qualifications, let alone being the person who is solely responsible for performing that duty. By that, I meant that a Sailor has to take tacit knowledge and make it explicit knowledge. Hybrid Sailors are demanded to understand the whole system as well as the niche that their Rate fills.
Complexity is a funny thing. Like an Escher drawing, it all depends on how an observer is able to look at it. There are ways to conceptualize it, to where it does not seem complex any more and the salient details become apparent. But, operating in a complex environment demands an amount of tacit knowledge that when tied into the amount of training given in ‘A’ school, the ability of a Sailor to properly perform their duties is far below what is needed. The argument is made over and over again, that tacit knowledge is best given in the environment it is from. You might have heard this argument phrased differently, ‘You’ll learn that best in the Fleet’. But, I believe that many metrics are indicating that more of a baseline and abstract understanding of the tacit aspects of shipboard operations are needed by the Sailor before reporting aboard, or being responsible for that duty/knowledge. I learned to be TADTAR manager by doing, and by doing my old XO used to get quite a few nasty grams from SURFLANT. I learned how to be a Legal YN by screwing up mast packages. I learned how to be RPPO by spending copious amounts of time down in S-1 and redoing orders multiple times, and by ending up not getting what the office desperately needed. I won’t tell you how I got qualified as Petty Officer of the Watch (POOW); it’s a funny story best told in person.
I am not saying that there shouldn’t, or can’t be things that one has to learn aboard ship. But, I do believe that there are far too many things I had to learn by doing wrong. I am saying that I really wish I had more training for duties of mine before I was wholly responsible for them. I am saying that when you add a system (even if automated) to another system, you inherently increase the complexity of that system and there by reduce explicit (opposite of tacit) knowledge of that system. Systems require additional training, additional maintenance. To cover these increased needs for training and additional maintenance, it seems that we’ve outsourced to civilians to accomplish these tasks–giving the impression that workload and training demands have been reduced for Sailors.
adjBrit slang astounded; astonished
[from gob3 + smack2]
As are most things in the Navy, a plan began to emerge two weeks ago that would transform itself into something not readily recognized from its initial conditions–this plan was my reenlistment. At the outset I filled out the requisite form for NC1. “Reenlisting Officer. Date. Locations. Cookies, Cake or Cupcakes and so on”. My answers: “Admiral Harvey. 30NOV10. USS WISCONSIN. Cookies.”
Understandably, my Command had questions and hesitation with my first answer for my reenlisting officer. “Do you know him from a previous command? Or, how do you know him.” To answer this, you need a little background information. While I was in Afghanistan, I posted as YN2(SW) Battle Yeoman at the Admiral’s blog. I never went beyond saying that I was from an optimally manned ship, that I was in Afghanistan, that I was a YN2 that’s warfare qualified, and most recently that I was back from Afghanistan and no longer considered it proper to call myself ‘Battle Yeoman’. So, to explain to my chain of command why I would like the Admiral to reenlist me, without feeling like I was bragging, I just told them I thought he was a fantastic Admiral. That wasn’t enough for the Command to request the Admiral to do this. I understood that and was alright with it. Discretion was my watch word in ‘talking’ to an Admiral.
As the week wore on, and the demands the ship placed upon the crew, in terms of drills and the like became apparent, it turned out that if I reenlisted aboard the USS WISCONSIN, that my Shipmates would not have been able to attend. So, I was asked if I could do the ceremony aboard SAN ANTONIO. Not having those who I served with there at my reenlistment was not an option. I opted to do the ceremony aboard. At this point, I now had to arrange for civilians to come aboard for the ceremony. I took me having to call Boston Maggie, my Sea-Momma, and directly ask if she was attending my ceremony, and ruining the sorta-surprise of her being there. Whereas to this point, it had been a muted understanding that she would be coming. Also too, I had to get my friends to the ship–not an altogether simple prospect, in describing directions from Ghent to Gate 5 at Naval Station Norfolk, when one has been out of the area for the better part of a year. However, it was all explained (for the most part). I decided that the first officer I ever worked directly for would be the best choice to reenlist me. I asked LCDR Overturf, the old SUPPO from SAN ANTONIO to be my reenlisting officer. The first ‘title’ I had in the Navy, was SUPPY. Or, Supply Yeoman.
Which brings us to around 0930 this morning, the morning of the reenlistment. YN3 found me, and handed me a note with the phone number for a YNC at Fleet Forces Command–Admiral Harvey’s Flag Writer, “Dude, I think Admiral Harvey is going to come to your reenlistment!” I took the note, and went to use the phone. However, the access number was in use. I had to run topside, and use my cellphone. Cell coverage is a touchy thing on the waterfront. Dozens of ships, each possibly radiating, and tons of steel reduce the signal and cause my phone to having an iffy at best chance of finding signal. This is the moment where I began to understand what being ‘gobsmacked’ means.
I spoke with YNC, she verified with me what time the ceremony was, and that it was in fact aboard my ship. She told me that she’d call back in about 10 minutes. Now, is when the challenging nature of cell phone reception decided to present itself. To add to this, my phone also decided to require me to input my voice mail pin number, for the first time since I can remember. I got Chief’s message about 5 minutes after she left it. Those five minutes seemed like an eternity. Thousands of images of an opportunity missed ran through my mind. However, I eventually did remember the pin number. I listened to her message to the point that Chief said “Call me back as soon as you get this”, and then called Chief back. It was during this conversation that Chief confirmed that Admiral Harvey would be attending. “Really? He will be attending” I said to her. She told me that yes, he would be. “Uh, god, really? I uh…”, she interjected, “Are you alright there, Shipmate?” I told Chief that I was. But, that I was just amazed, and asked how I would break this to my chain of command. Chief told me that those phone calls had already been made, and I didn’t need to be worried about it. Though, this changed my plans for how I was to give my friends directions to Pass and ID outside Gate 5, where they’d need to park to get a ride to the ship. Maggie, was already on station, ready to be picked up and come aboard. She is the most Sailor like civilian I’ve ever known.
Ding-ding, ding-ding, ding-ding, ding-ding. “Fleet Forces Command, arriving”. The Admiral was now aboard. I wasn’t down there at the quarterdeck. But, I was told that he didn’t want to bother with sideboys. I felt slightly embarrassed that because of me, the crew had to up their stress level for the Admiral to come aboard. I didn’t (and don’t) feel I was worth it. I was honored, proud and humbled at the same time. It is a curious sensation. I wasn’t sure as to how I was supposed to act in the presence of the Admiral, and my entire chain of command. The Admiral spoke to each member of my Department that was present when he entered the room and to all that was in the space.
He is in every measure, as good in person as he is in his writing.
1051. Maggie, and my friends were not yet aboard. The guidance I gave to the duty driver was not sufficient in helping them connect. I told my Department head and XO that it was not worth waiting beyond 1100 for them to show. I wouldn’t keep the Admiral longer than expected.
1100. It was decided we would wait a few more minutes.
1110. We started the ceremony. LCDR Overturf handed me my discharge papers. For all intents and purposes, I was now a civilian. I got to give a small speech at this time. “I didn’t think I would be saying this in front of such auspicious company”, and continuing with, that they were the ones from who I learned what it means to be a Shipmate. It had been a long, strange trip aboard SAN ANTONIO. But, I’d gladly do it all over again. I mentioned that the most common comment I received from personnel that hadn’t been IA was that they wished they could go IA, in ordered to actually ‘do something’.
Just as the ceremony was wrapping up, I looked over and saw that Maggie and my friends had made it. My CO told them to come in, and I introduced them to the Admiral. Though, Maggie required no introduction.
I think it is fair to say that I am somewhat numb to this experience, at this point. It makes me question if that every time a dream comes true, the emotional sentiment is as such. I can’t believe this happened, I just really can’t. Of course, as is always the case, I remembered everything I wish I could have asked the Admiral after he left. The honor bestowed to me by the Admiral being present is something I cannot articulate, I thank him and his staff, and the crew of the SAN ANTONIO for making it happen. This is one more thing for me to remember for the rest of my life. What I am left with is an increased sense of duty–to live up to the honor they have shown me, and do right by it–by every measure, a daunting and demanding task.
Later that day, I went to my CO’s Stateroom to speak with him. I took my cover off and entered, I apologized to him if the crew had been put out in any way. He told me that they hadn’t and not to worry about it. I went to his Stateroom, as I also checked out of SAN ANTONIO today. I told him, that I became so choked up during the ceremony, because I knew I was leaving SAN ANTONIO with a crew aboard that would take good care of her. She was my first ship, and I love her. The sentiment I would hear when I was first aboard, was that they were underway so much, that Sailors would leave the Quarterdeck and not look back as they went on liberty. I never felt that, I would look back and marvel at how that ship and her crew kept me alive while at sea. That sense of wonder never left me, and I do not think it ever will. My shipmates I leave behind will take good care of her, I trust them with her. For this, I am eternally grateful to them.
Man, what a day…
The first post I ever wrote here was horribly written. I admit this.
The point I attempted to make was this: if you continue to pay Sailors at the current rate, you will not be able to afford us.
Now, this thought seems to be coming to life.
The Navy’s top officer has announced that the service, after some study, will embark a detachment of civil-service mariners on a yet-to-be named amphibious ship during the next year.
I’m not going to launch into another diatribe concerning how I feel about this. But, I am going to ask some questions. To qualify my questions, I am going to say that I spend a good deal of my free time reading about everything I can concerning the Navy. These are the questions I am left with… Imagine what the average deckplate Sailor will question.
Why should I sacrifice just because I wear a uniform?
Is our ability to train Sailors so broken that we have to do this? I would only assume this would be considered as a last resort, with all other options not viable.
Is the Chiefs mess not able to hold the deckplates to standards? If it was, would we need to be doing this?
What does service to one’s Nation mean? Standing side-by-side in harms way–a civilian just as much a warfighter as myself.
Alright, so I am going to give a small diatribe, as I feel I must further qualify my questions. I don’t believe there is any problem with the Chief’s Mess. I don’t believe there is anything irrevocably wrong with the Navy’s training system. But, I do believe that this initiative belittles any sense of honor I can have as a service member, let alone a Sailor. Warships are MY ships–Sailor’s ships–not a Mariners. I understand this the way I do, after reading every biography of every great Admiral I can get my hands on (currently reading: Bruell’s biography of ADM Spruance), as well as every account of every great deed our Navy has ever committed–every great deed done by Sailors. I predicated my own self worth in being a Sailor from their deeds and me carrying that legacy. I can’t reconcile what I’ve read and come to understand with what the Navy is doing here. I just can’t. I’m not sure my Navy will be able to reconcile this for me, either. I go through all the lousy stuff I have had to go through, not because of the pay check. But, because of the sense of honor I gain.
The last time I talked about this, I said I wish I could make myself a drink. This time, I have beer. I really cannot overstate how much this bothers me. But, the meat of how I feel, is not for public consumption. Please Navy, please do not just start doing this. Talk to your Sailors. See what they have to say.