Archive for the 'History' Category
Please join us at 5pm Eastern Daylight Time (U.S.) for Midrats Episode 286: A Restless Russia and its Near Abroad with Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg:
It is time to catch up with Putin’s Russia, her domestic developments, involvement in Ukraine, and the changes she is forcing on border nations and the near abroad.
To discuss this and more, for the full hour we will have returning guest Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg, Senior Analyst, CNA Strategic Studies, an Associate at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, an author, and host of the Russian Military Reform blog.
Dr. Gorenburg focuses his research on security issues in the former Soviet Union, Russian military reform, Russian foreign policy, ethnic politics and identity, and Russian regional politics. He is also the editor of the journals Problems of Post-Communism and Russian Politics and Lawand a Fellow of the Truman National Security Project. From 2005 through 2010, he was the Executive Director of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies.
Earlier this month, 36-year old Massachusetts resident Keith Broomfield was killed in Syria while fighting with Kurdish peshmerga forces against ISIS. He is believed to be the first U.S. citizen killed in action against ISIS. He was remembered yesterday in Massachusetts and laid to rest. It is unknown exactly how many U.S. citizens have volunteers to fight ISIS, though a Kurdish source suggested in March about one hundred Americans were serving in Syria alone.
This is in stark contrast to the past decade when the American media has highlighted those citizens who have fought against U.S. interests. The first high-profile citizen was John Walker Lindh who fought with the Taliban and was captured by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in November 2001. Others have worked with Al-Qaeda included Adam Gadahn, a senior advisor to Osama bin Laden, who was killed earlier this year by a drone strike. According to testimony earlier this year before the Senate Special Committee on Intelligence, National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas Rasmussen, stated that “more than 150 U.S. persons from a variety of backgrounds and locations in the United States have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria. A handful of these U.S. persons have died in Syria.”
Private citizens joining foreign conflicts or in the service of other nations has a lengthy history. After the American Revolution, for example, John Paul Jones left the U.S. to serve as an admiral in the Russian Navy in the Russo-Turkish War. War of 1812 naval hero Captain David Porter (the step-father and father of two Civil War admirals, David Farragut and David Dixon Porter respectively,) was court-martialed in 1824 and later commanded the Mexican Navy. U.S. Naval Academy graduate Philo McGiffin, having failed to secure a commission in the Navy, served in the Chinese Navy during the Sino-French War and the First Sino-Japanese War.
In the twentieth century, volunteer citizen-warriors became more organized. Nearly forty Americans served including eleven killed while serving with the Lafayette Escadrille, a fighter squadron, in France during World War I. American pilots served with the Kosciusko Squadron with the Polish in the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-21. Of more than 3,000 Americans fighting against Spanish fascist forces in its civil war (1936-38), nearly 700 died as part of the Lincoln Battalion. Prior to entering the Second World War, American pilots comprised three Royal Air Force Eagle Squadrons. Still others fought the Japanese with Clair Chennault’s Flying Tigers.
Broomfield was the first citizen to die fighting ISIS but, as history shows, it is unlikely he will also be the last.
Please join us on Sunday, 14 June 2015 at 5pm (1700)(EDT) for Midrats Episode 284: 200th Anniversary of Waterloo with John Kuehn:
18 June will be the 200th Anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, fought in present-day Belgium. Just in time, a regular guest to Midrats, John Kuehn, has his latest book out, Napoleonic Warfare: The Operational Art of the Great Campaigns where he covers the operational level analysis of European warfare from 1792 to 1815, including the tactics, operations, and strategy of major conflicts of the time.
More than just a description of set piece battle, there is a discussion of naval warfare, maneuver warfare, compound warfare, and counterinsurgency.
We’ve got him for the full hour … we should be able to get to most of it.
Dr. John T. Kuehn is the General William Stofft Chair for Historical Research at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He retired from the U.S. Navy 2004 at the rank of commander after 23 years of service as a naval flight officer in EP-3s and ES-3s. He authored Agents of Innovation (2008) and co-authored Eyewitness Pacific Theater (2008) with D.M. Giangreco, as well as numerous articles and editorials and was awarded a Moncado Prize from the Society for Military History in 2011.
His previous book was, A military History of Japan: From the Age of the Samurai to the 21st Century.
Yet, despite a review of Power Transition Theory examining why these states might come to blows, Ghost Fleet’s expedition into the near future primarily focuses on how such a great power conflict might be fought. Singer and Cole are at their best in teasing out the interplay between potential advances in emerging technologies – backed by impressive end-noting – rather than isolating the implications of a single capability. These range from Big Data and unmanned systems to additive manufacturing and augmented reality. The authors’ depictions of cutting-edge Chinese developments picking apart current U.S. weapons systems might make for queasy reading among some in the military. In this way it effectively serves to warn against complacency in presuming American technological superiority in conflict. But it bears remembering that success in employing the new capabilities detailed in Ghost Fleet, as in life, requires a level of creativity available (and not guaranteed) to both sides.
Singer and Cole also explore how the supposed American Way of War of grinding attrition, popularized by the eponymous 1973 Russell Weigley book, might fare in an age of offensive space and cyber weapons. In doing so they create intriguing portraits of empowered individuals (both socio-economically and skills-wise), expats, and a globalized defense industrial base on a war footing. Some of the most memorable scenes come from the juxtaposition of new capabilities with old operational concepts (occasionally set to the strains of Alice Cooper). Singer and Cole also ably confront readers with a reversal in the traditional role of U.S. forces in an insurgency and the ethical decisions it demands of them.
Ghost Fleet may be the authors’ first novel, but it’s not their first foray into helping tell a story. Singer has consulted on such projects as Activision’s “Call of Duty” video game franchise and honed his prose in such works as Wired for War, an earlier book on the future of robotics warfare. Cole meanwhile has been engaged in the development of insights on warfare by facilitating near-future science fiction writing at the Atlantic Council’s “Art of Future Warfare Project” (full disclosure: I had the opportunity to publish a short story of my own there). These experiences have paid off in a very enjoyable page-turner.
This is not to say Ghost Fleet is without flaws. One of the novel’s driving emotional stories, an estranged father-son relationship, never quite rings true. With an expansive and fast-moving narrative, a character here and subplot there trail off without satisfactory conclusion. Lastly, while the authors investigate many impacts of a war’s fallout on the U.S. Navy, including the resurrection of the ships of the book’s title and a call-up of retirees, they missed an opportunity to look at the complications a mobilization of existing Navy Reservists might cause. But such a minor sin of omission doesn’t detract from the overall merits of the work. Whether on a commute to the Pentagon or relaxing on a beach in the Hawaii Special Administrative Zone, readers will find Ghost Fleet a highly enjoyable, at times uncomfortable, and always thought-provoking read.
*It should be noted Singer and Cole don’t tie those nation’s current regimes to their countries’ futures, and in doing so remind readers that what would follow a collapse of the Chinese Communist Party is not necessarily more amenable to U.S. or Western interests.
I encourage you to spend forty-eight minutes of your day listening to author Karl Marlantes talk about war. Many of you are already familiar with his work. For those who are not, here is a short bio: Marlantes is a Yale graduate and Rhodes Scholar. After a year at Oxford, he left, joined the Marines, and was then in some of the worst fighting of the
Vietnam War. He was awarded the Navy Cross for assaulting a hilltop bunker occupied by the NVA. Here is a part of his citation:
“While continuing to function effectively in his primary billet, First Lieutenant Marlantes skillfully combined and reorganized the remaining members of two platoons, and on 6 March initiated an aggressive assault up a hill, the top of which was controlled by a hostile unit occupying well-fortified bunkers. Under First Lieutenant Marlantes’ dynamic leadership, the attack gained momentum which carried it up the slope and through several enemy emplacements before the surprised North Vietnamese force was able to muster determined resistance. Delivering a heavy volume of fire, the enemy temporarily pinned down the friendly unit. First Lieutenant Marlantes, completely disregarding his own safety, charged across the fire-swept terrain to storm four bunkers in succession, completely destroying them. While thus engaged, he was seriously wounded, but steadfastly refusing medical attention, continued to lead his men until the objective was secured, a perimeter defense established, and all other casualties medically evacuated.”
Years later, he wrote Matterhorn — a fictional account of his experiences as a platoon leader in Vietnam. I read his second book, What It Is Like to Go To War, while deployed in 2011. After reading it, I handed my copy to our senior chaplain. As a chaplain that spent considerable time with Marines in Iraq, and seeing some of the worst combat of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I thought he would get something out of it. Two days later he came up to me and asked me if he could keep my copy. He ended up buying me a replacement copy when we pulled into Singapore. It not only spoke to the power of his book, but it was a reminder that books can make an incredible gift.
Recently, Marlantes came to the US Naval War College to speak to the students about war, ethics, his work, and many other topics. He was funny, insightful, and refreshingly honest. One of my friends, when leaving the auditorium, said, “That was one of the best Q&A’s I’ve heard this year.” Marlantes touches on some pertinent yet divisive topics that many of us are debating today: Should there be a draft? How do veterans assimilate back into society? Is it too easy for policy makers to use the military? And many others.
Take some time — watch it.
The fifth season of the HBO hit-series Game of Thrones is here! I’m excited, as are millions of die-hard fans across the country. To prepare for the imminent launch, I re-watched all four of the previous seasons, episode by episode. In that first season, an interesting event takes place, where a young man, Jon Snow, is given his duty assignment. He is about to take an oath to serve for life in the Night’s Watch. He has prepared for years to be a Ranger – a fighter and swordsman. Instead he is assigned as a Steward. Jon Snow is crushed. He hasn’t taken the oath of service yet, and he contemplates leaving the Night’s Watch to avoid a life of inglorious servitude as a steward. His friend Sam convinces him to stay, reminding him that service is about more than his own selfish desires. Jon Snow takes the oath later in the episode.
It brought me back to my own service selection. I dreamed for years and years of becoming a Marine Corps Officer. At the Naval Academy that fateful day in November of 2009, I received troubling news – I had been selected to become a Surface Warfare Officer. Over the years since I have often been asked if I wanted to become a SWO. My standard reply is that it was one of my top six choices. The humor gets me through the moment, and the conversation moves on.
I’m working now at the Academy, preparing to take over as a company officer this summer, just in time for the Plebe Class of 2019 to arrive for I-Day. I am a proud Surface Warfare Officer and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I have been to more overseas ports than I can count over two deployments, have navigated tens of thousands of miles at sea, and served with some of the bravest, smartest and most loyal Sailors the world has ever seen.
Much of the conversation within the walls of the Academy frequently turns to an age-old symptom of the institution – cynicism within the Brigade. Midshipmen sometimes complain that they aren’t treated like future naval officers and that they aren’t doing real work to prepare themselves to become the leaders of those fine Sailors and Marines. “I’m going to fly jets, why do I need to learn about buoy systems in the Western Rivers” is just one example. In teaching leadership on the yard, we strive for every class to fight that mentality, to prove to these young Midshipmen that their training is exceptional and that they will be well prepared to lead upon commissioning. Sometimes I fear that we aren’t doing enough, that the Midshipmen are right, and that we are sending our future junior officers to the fleet without the preparation needed to fulfill their duties. For the graduating Midshipmen, winter is coming, and many aren’t ready to handle a sword.
I don’t know entirely where the cynicism comes from, but I have a theory. Everything for these Midshipmen centers around one key event – service selection. Competition is fierce within the Brigade. Classmates vie for position and jossle for rank as if they were in Westeros, the fictional land of Game of Thrones. There are only so many slots for SEALs, Marines, Submariners, Aviators, and today even SWOs. Midshipmen study diligently to get good grades, so that their order of merit is high enough to get the service selection they want. Many spend more effort on good grades to earn that service selection, but in doing so disregard the very skill sets required to be successful naval officers – pro-knowledge is an afterthought and weighted minimally when compared to calculus and chemistry. The drive for service assignment goes beyond academics, of course. They perform with vigor on the PT fields to notch themselves up for the same purpose. Those wanting Marines join the Semper Fi Society, those seeking to become SEALs test themselves and compete against their classmates in arduous screeners.
That day in November, the Firsties learn their fates. Most are overjoyed – a good thing, no doubt. A few feel despair. These are the ones we should worry about. These are the examples that feed the cynicism – working hard may not be enough. These are the few who enter the fleet sullen, downcast and doubtful. These are the ones most unprepared for their future roles, having spent all of their efforts learning about fire team movements and squad assaults instead of honing their shiphandling skills on the YPs. These are the few who, in my opinion, are the least likely to commit themselves to a full career of service and will leave at the earliest opportunity.
Even those who earn their top choice are too hastily prepared for the training to be effective, meaning that the Chief’s Mess, Department Heads, and Commanding Officers are burdened with teaching junior officers skillsets and professional knowledge they should have mastered at the Naval Academy. The unit leadership should be focused on advanced training – on defeating multiple threats simultaneously, mastering complex engineering systems and conditioning our new Ensigns and Second Lieutenants to become outstanding naval leaders. Instead, they are too busy teaching standard commands, basic maintenance protocols and general military socialization.
What if we changed something? What if we moved service selection to the end of Youngster (sophomore) year? By that time, Midshipmen will have been able to establish their grades, competed in screeners, etc., at least enough for the Academy to choose wisely between them. We could move PROTRAMID, a fleet-wide round-robin experience to expose the Midshipmen to the various communities to the end of Plebe year, just like the NROTC currently does, to allow our new Youngsters the opportunity to see what fits them best. Most Plebes know what they want to service select before they climb Herndon, while the rest of the class would have another year to weigh the decision.
This change has several notable benefits. First, it eliminates competition amongst classmates during their junior and senior years, allowing for greater opportunity to hone leadership and professional skills in Bancroft. Second, it provides two full years, instead of a meager four months, for Midshipmen to hone their practical skills, affording them the chance to excel in tactical and technical competence from day one in the fleet. Marine selectees will have two years to practice ground tactics. Aviators have two years to pass IFS, easing the burden on Pensacola and the subsequent stashing of officers on the Yard until flight school begins. SWOs can master navigation and shiphandling before setting foot on the bridge of a destroyer. Third, if we rearrange the course loads, we can eliminate the cynicism that arises from taking courses that Midshipmen see as irrelevant, such as Marine wannabes having to struggle through seamanship and navigation courses. Fourth, and possibly most importantly, it allows Midshipmen a choice. They now know what they will be doing for their careers and if those few who don’t earn what they want choose to leave before signing their commitment papers the next Fall, the fleet will benefit from a drop in uncommitted and unenthusiastic naval officers. If a Midshipman is so disappointed in his or her service assignment, he or she doesn’t have to come back to poison the well back in Bancroft, or worse yet, carry that attitude into the fleet. Furthermore, by encouraging choice, we disrupt cynicism about being treated like children – a Midshipmen knows full-well what he or she is getting into when they sign on the line which is dotted.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus recently spoke to the brigade about a number of institutional changes aimed at improving talent management and retention. He mentioned that the Academy is already moving towards a system that seeks to match talent to title and is less dependent on class rank. He and his staff clearly understand that change is needed, not only for its effect on the yard but also downrange in the fleet. This proposal provides an avenue for that change, even if it is one of many. In combat, a coordinated simultaneous time-on-top attack is always preferred to a slew of single efforts and I believe that changing the timeframe for service selection is a key weapon in the fight against complacency and cynicism to ensure we maintain the highest level of combat readiness throughout the fleet. Even if our ships rust and our airframes crack, our people must remain sharp and steadfast.
Choice is nobody’s enemy. While I don’t have the same flowing locks and sword skills as Jon Snow, I empathize with his decision. I didn’t want to be a SWO, at least not initially, but my call to service outweighed my selfishness. I figured that if I was going to be a SWO, I would try my damndest to excel at it. Under this proposed change, there will still be plenty of disappointed Midshipmen who put their country before themselves and will accept what they earned with grace and humility. They will remember that service and leadership are what count, not the uniform they wear or the devices on their chest.
The American flags whip in the wind as the sun creeps over the grassy horizon. The charcoal sits in reused plastic grocery bags at the end of the driveway. The grass beneath them is soft with early-morning dew.
In parallel, across the country this morning, American flags fly, too. Flowers placed on hallowed graves flutter slightly in the breeze. Mementos of the lives of brave American servicemen and women who paid the ultimate price are still in place on headstones, surrounding the heroes, keeping them company.
Yesterday, as it does by law every year, enacted in the last century, on the last Monday in May, America celebrated Memorial Day. This recognition stems from the Civil War, when compassionate groups of citizens would decorate the graves of soldiers who had died fighting for their cause. It has grown into an annual recognition of all our honored war dead, and a federal holiday that gives many a reprieve from the workweek.
Many use the day for celebration of the freedoms we enjoy, especially as the holiday coincides with long-awaited warm weather in much of America’s broad latitude. They use it as a day to reflect on family and friends, to fill their lives with familiarity and warmth.
Few of us can comprehend, though, the silent heartbreak of those whose loved ones have felt the pain of ultimate sacrifice. Their experience on Memorial Day is markedly different, but it is right and genuine and pure. To love a warrior is the sweetest tragedy; to live their memory the highest privilege.
Yet the great, silent measure of a nation is its remembrance of its heroes on all the other days of the year; not as a boastful measure of bellicose pride, but as an eternal example of highest achievement. Selfless service has long been idealized in words and opinion polls, now manifest in Facebook posts and Instagram memes, but we must do the hard work of living that notion and encouraging our children to live it through our own actions.
To honor and to serve; both are active verbs.
At first glance, what you see is an invasion. That is exactly what it is.
Throughout human history, masses of people have been pushed out of one area, or attracted in to another. Trying to escape a more determined foe, a homeland that can no longer support its population, or simply attracted by a weaker neighbor that inhabits more desirable territory – people move.
Small scale migrations are always happening – what moves history are large scale migrations.
There are three things that need to exist in order to trigger large scale migrations; (a) a drive to leave a present home; (b) a more attractive location to move to; (c) a manageable barrier of entry that is less of a concern than the forces producing the drive in (a).
If (a+b)>c, then you have then entering arguments set to trigger a migration. The greater the magnitude of a & b, the stronger flux of the migration.
That is the reason that North-Central Asian Finns, Estonians, and Hungarians now reside in Central Europe. Why the Goths from Southern Scandinavia wound up taking a long route to North Africa. Why the people of Madagascar are ethnically closer to the people of Indonesia than right across the channel to mainland Africa. That is why you have Englishmen in the North Pacific, Germans in the South Atlantic, and every soccer team in Asia has someone related to Genghis Khan.
With the exception of the Goths, the Mongols, and the more recent events in the Western Hemisphere, all the major migrations through we know of occurred in pre-history. We can guess how these went, but let’s stick to those we know.
There are three different migration themes on how migrations start.
On two extremes are:
-The Dove: the peaceful migration of the initial waves of the Polynesian through Pacific – peaceful because in their islands from New Zealand to Easter Hawaii, there were no other humans (though the second wave to Hawaii by Polynesians was far from peaceful). This is the most rare.
– The Wolf: Red in tooth and claw Mongol invasions of, well everyone. The Iberian colonization of South America. Australian colonization. Magyar invasions of Europe. This is more common, but not the majority.
In the middle, and the one that is the most common in the way it starts, is;
-The Other: economic, ecological, or political migrants; North American colonization from Europe. New Zealand colonization from Britain. Gothic/Germanic population of the Western Roman Empire.
Those are the major examples of the most disruptive of The Other. There is a subset of The Other that is minor, bur as a result are not very disruptive and mostly positive and integrative to the host nation; the Jewish diaspera; French Protestant migrations following their expulsion from France; 19th & 20th Century Italian immigration to the USA.
The Other is the most common and the most successful. It usually starts with small populations of migrants who get a foothold and then grow as the host population, for a variety of demographic, economic, cultural, or political reasons, grows weaker. More migrants come attracted to the land, or given more reason to escape from their homeland – or more often a combination of the two.
In time, one of two things happen, once a critical mass is reached, either the host and migrant cultures blend together and almost without notice become one. The previously mentioned Italian, French and Jewish examples are like this. You could also add in the 19th Century German migrations to the USA – one of the more under told stories locally.
If the two cultures for religious, cultural, or more often political reasons cannot become one – then there is conflict, usurpation, and a new host culture take control. The Germanic populations in the Western Roman Empire, the Reconquista of the Iberian peninsula, and parts of the former Yugoslavia are variations of this.
That is also why Spanish was and now English is the language of Comancheria.
There is your broad, sliding scale; from Dove, to The Other, to Wolf. Just because something starts as one, does not mean it stays there.
The N. American pattern went from Other to Wolf inside a generation. New Zealand at one point or another saw all three. The normal result of mass migration is conflict – the exception is peaceful integration.
One would think that the historical example would lead to host nations to promote integration-centric policies. Sadly, that is largely not the case.
The largest barrier to this era’s migration success is a cultural malfunction where assimilation – a process that blends people together – is not the predominate mindset in the host nation, and as a result, encourages the sectarian tendencies of large groups of The Other. It is apartness, multiculturalism, and the – to use a very accurate description of the problem – Balkanization of land and people that will warp the trends toward conflict.
This is why nations are, in different ways, pushing back against this rising tide of migration. They know where this ends. The era of plenty of open land and expanding economic resources is long gone. More people after finite resources; this social science historical dynamic is well known.
The push back is relatively weak but growing stronger in Europe – but strong and getting stronger in Asia and other parts of the world.
Now that the table is set – look again at the map at the opening of this post. As most of the news reports reflect – there is a maritime crisis in the Mediterranean. This is only going to grow, and not just in the Mediterranean.
Australia has known for a long time and now the rest of Southeast Asia are seeing the problem in Asia is also largely a maritime one.
Clashes in 2012 between the state’s Buddhist community and Rohingya Muslims, a long-oppressed linguistic and ethnic minority in this majority Buddhist country, left hundreds dead and more than 140,000 people homeless.
The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar by sea since ethnic and sectarian violence erupted.
“I feel so sorry for them,” Kraiwut said. “It’s so different to when you see these refugees on land, and the conditions are so terrible.”
Late last week, residents on Koh Lipe Island in southern Thailand could be seen collecting food, water and clothes to take to the migrants on board the boats, but since then the military has told them not to take supplies out to the boats, or to talk to journalists about the situation.
A top Malaysian official has said the surge of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh seeking asylum in his country and neighboring Indonesia in recent days is unwelcome — and despite a U.N. appeal, his government will turn back any illegal arrivals.
“We cannot welcome them here,” Malaysian Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Jaafar told CNN by phone last week.
“If we continue to welcome them, then hundreds of thousands will come from Myanmar and Bangladesh.”
Last night, Malaysia and Indonesia, predominately Muslim nations, have agreed to temporarily take in these desperate people, but for nations already struggling with their own ethnic conflict, and knowing the dangers of opening the door, it is unlikely to be a permanent solution.
When you look at the dual force of demographics and poor economics in the nations the migrants are coming from – and combine that with a growing “no thanks, we’re full” mindset in already overcrowded developed and developing nations – are the world’s maritime powers ready to respond to the masses at sea?
When pulses of desperate migrants surge forth as conflict occurs in these tottering and dusty edges of modernity – what will be the response as the walls grow and thicken while the oceanic commons fill with the boats and bodies of migrants?
The politicians will eventually decide on a path. Any path will require the tools of national will – military, paramilitary, legal, and police power – to respond and act. That requires training, equipment, and procedures – all done in a multinational environment.
We might as well start increasing this part of our toolbox; the requirement is only going to grow. The mission you may not want, but may get anyway.
– Will we just block, send back and watch as more ships founder and drift?
– Will we intercept, tow, and divert?
– If the pressure-valve of migration is stopped, then the stress for resources and justice in the source nations can only lead in one direction – conflict. Will we be in the consequence management business even more – or like the international fleet off Smyrna (now Izmir), just hang out and watch the bloodbath?
A final note: why not mention the issue of immigration to the USA? Different problem in both geography, culture and scale. Much easier for a diluted majority Anglo-Saxon-Germanic culture to absorb migrants from mostly Catholic Iberianesque cultures than what the rest of the world if facing. As I grew up in just that environment – I don’t see the issue. We’re fine. Also, more of a land and as a result police issue. I’ll let the Army and law enforcement side of the house address that if they wish.
I have also lived at the edges of the unassimilated masses of N. Africans, Turks, and S. Asians that are swelling in Europe – I see the huge challenge those nations will have to learn to deal with one way or the other. The trend lines speak for themselves.
Last year on National Public Radio’s “Marketplace,” host Kai Ryssdal closed many of his interviews in the Corner Office segment by asking those captains of industry to describe what their firms do in 5 words or fewer. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich came close: “We make everything connected and smart.” Most didn’t come that close.
A couple of months ago, DoD and DHS teamed up to unveil “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.” Admiral Greenert, General Dunford, and Admiral Zukunft got together at the Center for Strategic and International Studies with Admiral (ret) Stavridis to discuss the new strategy, and give those in attendance a chance to ask a few questions. They didn’t make it in 5 words.
The challenge for the Chief of Naval Operations: In 5 or fewer words, what does the Navy do?
To be fair, bedrock guidance for the at-sea service of a global power will probably have to flesh things out a bit, and the Cooperative Strategy certainly does: What does the Navy do? How do we aim to do it? How do we sustain those efforts into the future? Check, check and check, but at 48 pages it isn’t exactly accessible. To those of us who live, eat, and breathe Navy, it is clear and understandable. How does it resonate with the millions of Americans who do not spend their days poring over budget exhibits and JCIDS documents, but still pay taxes, vote and watch CNN?
The 5 word definition by itself is not important. The conversation is. The Navy doesn’t need this description to replace the “global force for good,” and 5 words is probably impossible. To paraphrase Ike: plans are worthless; planning is everything. It is important to our young talent pool who may choose to honor us with their service. Junior officers and NCOs will want to know why to stay. Taxpayers will want to know what they’re buying. So why 5 words? The Navy needs to hone its messages, and needs a barrier to drive creativity. Set the bar high, and force discussion, argument and compromise. In 5 words, no one will get everything they want, but everyone will have to make a strong case for it. So where does this exercise drive us?
The Navy needs champions, vocal leaders in the service, in Congress, and elsewhere to communicate a compelling vision of the value the United States Navy provides for the country and the world. Alfred Thayer Mahan’s compelling argument of the importance of Seapower left a lasting imprint on U.S. policy. He didn’t see the future in terms of hardware and tactics, but he didn’t have to. Presidents, Congressmen, and the people took note, and the United States funded and built a Navy capable of playing in a balance-of-power world. Champions of the Navy must articulate clear objectives and cogent arguments. While the QDR and 21st Century Strategy provide top-level guidance, they seem to indicate that we should be doing everything. If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority, and we’re left with POM competition to determine our path. “Five words” discussions will force us to be brutally honest about what we want to achieve, what we can afford, and what the limits of American Seapower may be.
Another important group the Navy needs to inspire is young people, the workforce of the future. While pop-cultural generalization indicates Millennials seek out inspiration in their careers, the truth is everyone, of all generations, wants to be inspired. Everyone wants to believe that their contributions are meaningful. Access and aptitude for using technology and navigating the ever-growing web of information apparently makes Millennials more difficult to lead than the coffee house slackers and the “Me Generation” that came before them. This changes neither the Navy’s requirement to recruit and train a fighting force, nor the fierce competition with other services for talent. As economic recovery continues, recruiting and retention challenges will only continue to mount. Focus counts to anyone who considers joining the Navy.
While the economy may have taken a step forward from 2009, pressure on the national budget remains. Even though years have passed since 9/11, virtually no one will say that defense spending is not important, but increased funding for defense spending is not in the offing. Many tax payers will wonder if it is as important as it once was, and as critical as other agencies’ concerns today. The focus and debate stimulated by the 5-word question will help hammer out how best to spend limited resources. How do we put a price on readiness? How can we calculate the cost of a sufficient deterrent? We must prove to the country that we are making the most of our resources.
How would the CNO respond, in 5 words or fewer: What does the Navy do? (At best, they need to do it in 140 or fewer characters.) The answers may determine how the Navy is viewed, funded and used as a component of U.S. foreign policy, and the U.S. role in global affairs. Let’s start with the corner office challenge. How about “Deterrent and coercive force of American Foreign Policy in the Global Commons?” Twelve words. Missed out on humanitarian operations, and “coercive” seems a bit impolite. “Sea control in maritime domains?” Five words, but should the United States aspire to truly control the seas? Credit Mr. Ryssdal (a former naval aviator himself), this is a tough question.
We are often quick to judge, in forums such as this. When one makes a mistake, exhibits an error in judgment, or nonsensically hews to an outdated tradition, we tend to skewer that person and then enunciate all of the ways it should have been done. We are amateur critics in a profession of arms.
But these forums can also be places where we give thanks. And today, we give hearty thanks to the many hundreds of officers and enlisted whose efforts resulted in Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’s speech at the United States Naval Academy on Wednesday. For the first time in years, the US Navy is instituting sweeping changes to reform the way we manage talent and retain our people.
For those unfamiliar, some of these policy shifts include:
-A market-based system for service selection and billets
-Expand the Command Advancement Program by replacing it with the Meritorious Advancement Program
-End GMT requirements via NKO; leave training to CO discretion
-Increase civilian graduate school and industry opportunities
-Replace promotion zones with weighted milestone achievements
-Eliminate year groups for officer management and promotion
-Changes to the PFA, including how we determine acceptable body composition
-FITREP changes for performance
-24-hour access to fitness facilities
-Increase hours at child care facilities
-Improve the co-location policy
To be sure, these efforts will not be without critics; some of them require the acquiescence of Congress. These efforts will not be without some confusion, as sailors attempt to get used to a new way of advancing or running the PRT. And these efforts will not be without calamity, as a few bad apples often find the way to take advantage of new benefits they haven’t earned.
But the actions of Secretary Mabus are a clear signal to the ranks: when he says “we’re listening,” it is not simple lip service. And that is refreshing.
So, thank you, Secretary Mabus, and all the countless individuals who have written about, debated, briefed, and taken action on the issues of talent management. While there is still much more work to do and a long way to go, this leadership has proven that, of all the services, the Navy is the best place to work and to serve.
Continue to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more.