Archive for the 'History' Category
Following the end of the Second World War, Captain B.B. Wygant felt that the United States Navy needed a reminder of the great men of its past. With so much valor and accomplishment during the war in the Pacific, and on the European front, he appeared to fear that important historical examples of naval professionalism might be lost.
There was one man, above all others, that he felt the next generation of officers needed to be aware of: Admiral William Sims. He wrote an article that was published in Proceedings in 1951 entitled “Admiral Sims As I Knew Him,” where he reminisced of his personal experience serving under Sims and the stories that circulated in the fleet during his years in uniform.
For more than two decades William S. Sims was at the forefront of naval affairs. From the revolution in naval gunnery to his development of torpedo boat and destroyer operations, he was a central figure in preparing the U.S. Navy for World War I. During the war, he served as the senior naval commander in Europe and was instrumental in the establishment of the convoy system. Following the war his leadership as president of the Naval War College established the foundation of the creative and innovative Navy that developed the operating concepts for submarines and aircraft carriers leading up to World War II.
Below are excerpts from Wygant’s article. For USNI members who want to read the original, with a multitude of sea stories and leadership lessons, it can be found in full in the Proceedings Digitization Project.
By 1903 I had been detached from the Kearsarge and was a division officer on board a gunboat with four inch guns. At the time that Sims came on board we were engaged in the process of substituting human hair for the coarse metal wires that had been supplied in the telescopes. He took as much interest in that procedure as if it had concerned the telescopes of a turret in a battleship. In the conferences that were held to discuss gunnery matters he encouraged the younger officers to speak out and not to be tongue tied in the presence of their seniors.
He was liberal minded in other things as well. One day while walking in the countryside near Newport, he told me something of his experiences while serving as Naval Attaché in Paris and St. Petersburg. When asked about life in the Russian capital during the gay season, he remarked that he avoided social activities as much as possible because Russian society was extremely corrupt and the treatment of the lower classes was revolting to him. “Had I been a Russian I might have been a Nihilist,” he added jokingly.
Later he had command of the Atlantic Destroyer Flotilla, and it was in this latter position in particular that his characteristic methods were brought into play. Frequent conferences were held in which all were encouraged to be outspoken and decisions were arrived at after free discussion. Sims was never a great advocate of “spit and polish” but was immensely concerned with getting things done. In May 1917 when the second group of our destroyers arrived in Queenstown for antisubmarine operations the Admiral came on board the destroyer Tucker to ascertain how we had stood the trip. After looking about and asking a vew questions he requested a boat to take him ashore, having dismissed the familiar green barge on his coming aboard. A boat was called away and while I explained that there had not been time to shine the brightwork since our rather rough passage he interrupted, “Will the boat run?” When I replied that it would, he said, “What is it for?” The thing that mattered was not the appearance of the boat but its ability to carry out its mission.
Sims had the ability, essential to a naval officer, of making decisions and making them quickly if necessary. He expected the same of those under him. There are several versions of a story which illustrates this characteristic. The captain of a destroyer on his way from Newport to Charleston sent this dispatch to Sims, whose flagship was anchored in Chesapeake Bay. “My starboard engine is disabled, shall I continue to Charleston under one engine or put in to Lynnhaven Roads and effect repairs?” Promptly came the answer from Sims, “Yes.” The puzzled skipper sent another dispatch saying he did not understand and repeated his original query. This time, equally promptly came the reply, “No.” I once intercepted a message from Sims to one of his destroyer captains tersely instructing the officer, “Don’t ask questions, act.”
Sims’ willingness to permit the exercise of initiative by the man on the spot was noteworthy, as was also the extent to which he decentralized administration at a time when such practice was somewhat new in the service. I have a letter from him in this connection in which he wrote as follows: “Decentralization was of course bound to come with experience. Probably you do not know to what extent. Here is an example from before your time: I was closely associated with a C-in-C … who opened all the flagship mail, wrote all the endorsements … in his own hand, had all signals brought to him, wrote the answers himself, and allowed nothing to be done without reference to him. And he was immensely proud of his achievement!”
An example of Sims’ tendency to reduce things to their essentials is his definition of a destroyer in an attack against capital ships. “A destroyer is a projectile and the Captain is the fuse.”
His life was largely spent in uncovering deficiencies and smashing idols, but while deprecating his tendency to overstatement and his occasional inability to make clear his point of view, I feel that to him more than to any other single person belongs the credit for the efficiency which the U. S. Navy demonstrated during the Second World War.
Readers interested in the writing, thinking, and professionalism of William Sims can read some of his essays and articles, with introductions, in “21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education, and Leadership for the Modern Era.”
Recent writing by Lieutenants Misso and O’Keefe here at USNI Blog, with their call for JO’s to “stick their neck out,” as well as contributions from Lieutenant Hipple and Major Byerly at FP’s Best Defense Blog, has forwarded a vital challenge. The call for Sailors and Marines, as well as our brothers and sisters from the other services, to become active participants in the debates of the 21st century has come and gone a number of times across our history. Recently Senior Chief Murphy wrote about it from an NCO’s perspective in his Proceedings commentary “A Pseudo-Intellectual Wanna-be” in the March 2013 issue. Two months later former Army officer Jason Fritz wrote about it, also at FP’s Best Defense. Claude Berube has given us the long view of our naval history when it comes to debating new ideas with his writing on the Naval Lyceum of a century and a half ago.
On February 15th the Naval Institute Press will release the new book “21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education, and Leadership for the Modern Era.” The collection includes LCDR William Sims article “The Inherent Tactical Qualities of All-Big-Gun, One Calibre Battleships” which was seen in Proceedings in 1906. I wrote the following for Proceedings’ May 2013 issue, which offers a preview and an example of why our military services need junior officers and upstart thinkers to challenge the status quo and engage in professional writing.
Now Hear This – “If We Are to Remain A World Power…”
When the latest issue of Proceedings arrived in June 1906, Naval Institute members and the American people heard from a renowned global expert, a retired naval officer whose pen had been quiet for some months. His name was Alfred Thayer Mahan. His article, “Reflections, Historic and Other, Suggested by the Battle of the Japan Sea,” derived from the recent Russo-Japanese naval war lessons for U.S. fleet design and battleship construction. Just a few years away from Great Britain’s launch of HMS Dreadnought , which would revolutionize ship design by bringing speed together with an all-big-gun main battery, Mahan advocated for smaller and more numerous ships with mixed batteries of different calibers. As the leading naval expert, Mahan’s articles were voraciously read worldwide, and his analysis matched well with the “Big Navy” party line.
The U.S. Naval Institute, then as today, was a members’ organization. It didn’t exist for the sake of itself, but to share ideas and debate the future of the Sea Services. A naval arms race was developing in Europe; after the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War, the nation stepped onto the global stage as a naval power. A year away from the Great White Fleet sailing around the world, the USNI members understood that their ideas, innovations, and wisdom mattered. Even though many considered Mahan the greatest living navalist and a strategic genius, he was not impervious to challenges from Naval Institute members.
In the December issue of Proceedings, a member responded to Mahan’s assertions. The article didn’t come from a civilian contractor who was building the next set of battleships, or from an academic expert who made his living advising politicians. The response came from an upstart lieutenant commander on staff duty in Washington, D.C. Then-Commander Mahan had once written him up for being disorderly at the Naval Academy as a first-class midshipman. Lieutenant Commander William Sims’ article “The Inherent Tactical Qualities of All-Big-Gun, One Calibre Battleships” dissected and refuted Mahan’s arguments. He argued that “if we are to remain a world power,” the large, fast, heavily gunned battleship was the future of naval warfare.
President Theodore Roosevelt read with great interest the exchange between the renowned, retired officer and the active-duty staff officer. The articles were republished in public-affairs magazines and entered into the record during debate on the floor of the Senate. The names of two great officers and naval thinkers make the story interesting, but it was the mission and membership of the Naval Institute that made it possible. The exchange didn’t happen in the pages of The Atlantic or Harper’s. It happened in Proceedings. Both men were USNI members and understood that ensuring the future of their Navy required discussion, debate, and participation of the membership.
In the case of battleship design, the lieutenant commander won the debate. After studying the response and new information about the Pacific battles, Mahan admitted that his argument didn’t stand up. Nevertheless, his expertise and experience as a retired naval officer-turned-civilian expert was central to the development of the future Fleet, as was his willingness to debate an upstart like Sims. The Royal Navy launched HMS Dreadnought before the United States could put its first large, fast, heavily gunned battleship to sea. But we weren’t far behind, because the ideas had already been debated in Proceedings.
In the first decade of the 1900s, the United States was fighting a counterinsurgency war in the Philippines. An Asian power, the Empire of Japan, was rising to become a major economic and military force, rapidly building up its navy. USNI members faced shifting alliances and adversaries, new technologies, tactical innovation, and globalized economics. These challenges should sound familiar today. We need the expertise and experience of our senior members to keep us from repeating past mistakes. We also require the exciting and innovative ideas of new, younger members, junior officers and enlisted personnel, to propel the discussion and debate forward.
The pages of Proceedings (and USNI Blog!) need your well-developed research, thoughtful articles, and best ideas to ensure that we continue the vital debate in the 21st century. To provide an independent forum to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and national defense, we must first have those who dare to read, think, speak, and write. The U.S. Naval Institute is a members’ organization—help us continue the debate!
In 1916 Europe was engulfed in the beginning of The Great War. The rapid campaign that was expected in the summer of 1914 had degenerated into something unexpected, a long and almost siege like struggle. While the United States proclaimed neutrality, the Navy suspected things would get worse and they would either need to protect the American coastline or lead a mass mobilization to carry an army across the Atlantic. They began to prepare volunteers who expressed interest in joining the naval services with information to jump start their training when the time came. It began with a series of lectures, including subjects like coastal defense tactics and torpedo boats, and a short period aboard a ship a sea.
Captain William Sims was asked to prepare a lecture for the Naval Volunteers on the subject of “military character.” Sims was well known in the service. He had led the gunnery revolution a decade prior, at one point earning him the nickname “The Gun Doctor,” and was a leading voice in the development of modern battleships. He had spent some time at the Naval War College as a student, and was kept on as an instructor before returning to the fleet. During the war he would command all U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, the Navy’s command equivalent to General Pershing’s on land.
The subject of professionalism is central to much of Sims writing, both before the war and after returning home to assume responsibilities as the President of the War College. From the importance of personal professional study, to the tenets of mission command, to the need for constant military innovation, he spent a good deal of time thinking about the subject.
What did Sims believe were the professional and ethical responsibilities of a military leader? In his view a central tenet was the importance of self-awareness. Professionalism requires a constant personal net assessment, or “estimate of the situation.” This is what he told the Naval Volunteers who had gathered with the knowledge that they might soon leave their civilian responsibilities and take on the mantle of military leadership:
It seems almost incredible that there should be men of marked intellectual capacity, extensive professional knowledge and experience, energy and professional enthusiasm, who have been a detriment to the service in every position they have occupied. They are the so-called “impossible” men who have left throughout their careers a trail of discontent and insubordination; all because of their ignorance of, or neglect of, one or many of the essential attributes of military character.
I knew one such officer who was a polished gentleman in all respects, except that he failed to treat his enlisted subordinates with respect. His habitual manner to them was calmly sarcastic and mildly contemptuous, and sometimes quite insulting, and in consequence he failed utterly to inspire their loyalty to the organization.
A very distinguished officer said after reaching the retired list: “The mistake of my career was that I did not treat young officers with respect, and subsequently they were the means of defeating my dearest ambitions.”
The services of this officer, in spite of this defect, and by reason of his great ability, energy, and professional attainment, and devotion to the service, were nevertheless of great value.
Both qualities and defects of course exist in varying degrees. These sometimes counterbalance each other, and sometimes the value of certain qualities makes up for the absence of others.
Some officers of ordinary capacity and attainments have always been successful because of their ability to inspire the complete and enthusiastic loyalty of all serving with them, and thus command their best endeavors; but no matter what other qualities an officer may possess, such success can never be achieved if he fails in justice, consideration, sympathy, and tact in his relations with his subordinates.
Such men are invaluable in the training of the personnel of a military organization in cheerful obedience, loyalty and initiative; and when these qualities are combined in a man of naturally strong character and intellectual capacity he has the very foundation stones upon which to build the military character.
The pity of it is that so many men of great potential power should not only have ruined their own careers, but have actually inflicted continuous injury upon the service, through neglecting to make an estimate of the situation as regards their characters and through neglecting to use their brains to determine the qualities and line of conduct essential to success in handling their men, and thus failing to reach a decision which their force of character would have enabled them to adhere to.
Such a reasoned process applied to the most important attribute of an officer, namely, his military character, would have saved many from partial or complete failure through the unreasoned, though conscientious, conviction that it was actually their duty to maintain an inflexible rigidity of manner toward their subordinates, to avoid any display of personal sympathy, to rule them exclusively by the fear of undiscriminating severity in the application of maximum punishments, and such like obsessions.
It would appear that such officers go through their whole career actually guided by a snap judgment, or a phrase, borrowed from some older officer, such as the precepts quoted above. Though they have plenty of brains and mean well, their mistake is that they never have subjected themselves and their official conduct to any logical analysis. Moreover, they are usually entirely self-satisfied, and frequently boastful of their unreasoned methods of discipline; and they usually explain their lack of success by inveighing against the quality of the personnel committed to their charge.
All this to accentuate the conclusion of the war college conference that: “We believe it is the duty of every officer to study his own character that he may improve it, and to study the characters of his associates that he may act more efficiently in his relation with them.”
This, then, is the lesson for all members of our military services. Let us consider seriously this matter of military character, especially our own. Let us not allow anybody to persuade us that it is a “high brow” subject, for though military writers confine their analysis almost exclusively to the question of the “great leaders,” the principles apply equally to all individuals of an organization from the newest recruit up.
This is excerpt from chapter two of “21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education, and Leadership for the Modern Era.” It is cross-posted from The Strategy Bridge’s series on the military #profession. The book is available for pre-order and will be available 15 February in paperback and e-book.
By Mark Tempest
Well inside an officer’s career arch, we saw the American Navy move from the Great White Fleet, The Spanish American War to the age of the Dreadnought. Our Army, from ad-hoc volunteer units to a professional army going head-to-head with the finest professional army on the planet.
How did our military and our Navy build up to WWI, and how did that experience inform the evolution of our national defense infrastructure?
Our guest for the full hour will be Dr. John T. Kuehn , the General William Stofft Chair for Historical Research at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College CGSC). He retired from the U.S. Navy 2004 at the rank of commander after 23 years of service as a naval flight officer flying both land-based and carrier-based aircraft. He has taught a variety of subjects, including military history, at CGSC since 2000. He authored Agents of Innovation (2008), A Military History of Japan: From the Age of the Samurai to the 21st Century (2014), 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 latest book, due out from Praeger just in time for the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo is Napoleonic Warfare: The Operational Art of the Great Campaigns.
This Sunday join us for our 5th Anniversary Show. No guests, no agendas – just us talking about what 2014 had to teach us, and looking towards what 2015 may have in store for everyone in the national security arena. This is a great time if you ever wanted to call in to ask either one of us a question on a topic you wish we would address … or just to say “hi.” Just be warned, we might ask you a question back. It’s what we do.
5pm EST. 4 Jan 14.
Okay, kids, here’s America’s newest fun game: “Name that 2015 Hotspot!”
The challenge is to pick 15 places which have the potential to become hell holes for their residents and which will involve the presence of U.S. military forces before the dust clears. Name a place and give a quick reason. The fact that a place is already a disaster does not exclude putting it on this list, but you do have to state why you think it will continue to be a troubled area. You can add places in the comments or send me an email and I’ll tack them on the list. It is perfectly okay to challenge things on the list. In fact, it is encouraged. Got more than 15? That’s okay, I had to use 15 to make it work with the year.
Contest ends whenever I say it does but no later than 6 January 2015. No prizes are to be awarded. Credit will be given to the most brilliant suggestions unless I steal them.
Here are 5 I came up with to get you started:
1) Nigeria: Potentially one of the richer countries in the world due to its mineral wealth, it suffers from incredible corruption and a nearly complete inability to get its house in order. Criminal gangs, tribal rifts, Boko Haram, pollution, grinding poverty, kidnap for ransom schemes are some of the issues. Just might turn into an even more failed state if it can’t get its eastern area under control.
2) Cuba: As the former Soviet empire proved, there ain’t no such thing as a “little freedom” for the oppressed masses. The Castro brothers have to die sometime, why not in 2015? With the right support from expatriate Cubans the place appears ready to – um- explode? Cuba seems to have lost all its old Commie sponsors. What will the U.S. do if China decides to help out 90 miles off the Florida coast?
3) Venezuela: Can you say failing state? A dysfunctional economy and an oppressive regime riddled with factionalism even in the army. There are opposition groups. Could get really messy, especially if oil prices stay down.
4) Russia: Putin needs a war to keep his power. Oil prices and the embargo (weak as it is) are killing the Russian economy. Somewhere in the Rodina there must be a crowd of reformers who really want to toss off the corrupt oligarchs and their man in Moscow. I guess the questions are whether Putin’s internal police are good enough to stifle freedom and whether the Russians who want to fix things can get any support among Russia’s youth.
5) South China Sea: The nasty Dragon covets all that water and the power it would bring. Bullying, lawfare and playing good China/Bad China games are in the Dragon’s bag of tools. The little Hobbit lands surrounding the South China Sea look to their east for support. Will/Can the U.S. and its allies help the Hobbits or do more dancing to push this problem off on the administration elected in 2016?
I am also going to put this up at my home blog EagleSpeak
He is quoted often, correctly and incorrectly, but few have actually read his works in full – and even fewer know much about the man himself, Major General Carl von Clausewitz, Kingdom of Prussia.
Out guest for the full hour will be Donald Stoker, author of the new book, Clausewitz: His Life and Work. Stoker is a Professor of Strategy and Policy for the U.S. Naval War College’s program at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.
His previous book, The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War, won the distinguished Fletcher Pratt award for the best non-fiction Civil War book of 2010. Past winners include Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote.
First, let’s set the stage. Most of you have already read this;
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Michael Stevens today said the Navy is revoking Bill Cosby’s title of honorary Chief Petty Officer, originally presented in 2011. The Navy is taking this action because allegations against Mr. Cosby are very serious and are in conflict with the Navy’s core values of honor, courage and commitment.
Cosby enlisted in the Navy in 1956 and served for four years as a hospital corpsman before being honorably discharged in 1960 as a 3rd Class Petty Officer.
Let us put aside the sordid stories and unpack this a bit.
The Navy is taking this action because allegations against Mr. Cosby …
As far as we know, these are simply allegations, yes? So, we do not wait for justice, we do not wait for much of anything. The accusation is enough, I presume.
In isolation of the case at hand, I hold no brief for Bill Cosby, fully hoist onboard the reasoning and precedence we are accepting, and over the last few decades have accepted with a numbingly regularity – there are larger issues at work.
Where else does this habit manifest itself? We all know about the abuse of the IG system and the habit of firing senior leaders simply on the basis of an accusation. When we do that, we destroy careers decades in the making and even worse, besmirch the name of good people who, once found innocent, cannot reclaim their good name.
When truth, justice, and fairness are replaced by emotion, spin, and narcissistically therapeutic emoting in synch with the political mob’s Zeitgeist of the news cycle – what message are we sending to the Fleet, to our Sailors?
If thinking, feeling, and believing are now trumping what we know – then exactly what kind of organization are we? What are our Core Values again?
What are we honoring by presuming guilt, executing punishment, and then using that presumption to preach to the adoring public about our “honor.”
What courage is it to immediately throw someone under the bus before they have had a chance to address the charges against them? Why the hurry? Are we serving justice, or are we only out to protect ourselves, truth – unknown – be damned.
What are we showing a commitment to? Not to a Petty Officer Cosby who served our Navy at not the easiest time for a man of his background to serve. I’m not sure we are showing commitment to the values of justice as outlined in the Constitution we are sworn to uphold. I’m not sure we are even showing a commitment to the UCMJ. It seems that we are mostly concerned with a commitment to damage control against the Zeitgeist.
These public sacrifices to Vaal serve nothing and no one but the person who does the firing, to remove a irritation, to remove a distraction – not for any other higher purpose. That is a clear message; a message that is received.
What is our official Ethos? Let’s pull from the juicy center;
Integrity is the foundation of our conduct; respect for others is fundamental to our character; decisive leadership is crucial to our success.
We are a team, disciplined and well-prepared, committed to mission accomplishment. We do not waver in our dedication and accountability to our shipmates and families.
We are patriots, forged by the Navy’s core values of Honor, Courage and Commitment. In times of war and peace, our actions reflect our proud heritage and tradition.
Are we showing respect for the assumption of innocence of Cosby? Are we being dedicated to our Shipmates? Is punishing people by removing honors based simply by accusation part of our proud heritage and tradition? Really?
Is that the standard we are going to set? Is that the message we want to send to our people? You will be punished without evidence, simply because of accusation? We will crush you, and if innocent or the accusations are unproven – then that is your problem, as long as we are protected?
We are looking for reasons why our most experienced leaders are leaving after Command. We are wondering why we have so many refusing command that is offered to them.
Want to know why there is such an erosion in trust in senior leadership? Wonder why there is so little confidence? Want to know why a growing number of mid-grade officers don’t want that job?
Look at messages. Look at actions – not words – actions. Is truth a habit, a feature, or an inconvenience. Is not all honor we have set on a foundation of truth?
If we undermine that value of truth, does not the entire structure above it fall in to danger?
Here is a data-point to consider – an example where the actual ethos set on high drifts down to every layer of our organization. Even down to the keepers of our official memory. The chronicle keepers. Those keeping the bridge log.
They feel that there is nothing wrong with deleting history; ripping pages out of the chronicles; changing the bridge log.
Here is a screen shot from Thursday night of the URL: “http://www.navalhistory.org/2011/03/03/chief-cosby-front-and-center” read the address. Here is what you see.
What is missing? Well, with the Internet – nothing is deleted. Here is the cache:
Was this done by bad people? No. This was done by good people taking action based on the signals they are getting from higher up. That is where my bet is.
In the opening, I stated this problem started decades ago, for clarity sake, let’s draw a sharp mark on the calendar – one that is in living memory for anyone Year-Group ’91 or older, and legend to younger. We can draw that line 23 years and three months ago to the second week in September 1991; Tailhook.
That is where we saw senior civilian and uniformed leadership – who were there and active participants – shrink and cower while pulling the uninjured bodies of the innocent over them to protect them from the political frag pattern. Countless good junior officers’ careers were strangled in the cradle to protect those already past their prime.
For those who lived through it – that was the first break in the trust in leadership and our system many of us experienced. Following events have just emphasized that break in a bond that should be there, but isn’t – a break we see, talk about, and even do surveys trying to figure out.
This episode of memory hole utilization is just another data-point of an entire organization that has allowed this malignancy to take hold from bottom to top. Though modest, it cannot be discounted. It is the shaking rear-view mirror that is the result of the engine mount that is slowly giving away. You can ignore the shake and dismiss it as minor – which it is – but, you are also ignoring the cause of it; a growing problem that will eventually lead to catastrophic failure.
I have had a few people mention to me that this action is a response to an organizational circuit breaker popping in DC over a Petty Officer’s horrific Peeping Tom activity towards his ship’s female officers. If true, then we are letting the criminal actions of a 2nd Class Petty Officer indict the entire Navy as an organization tries so hard to be seen doing something, anything – and Bill Cosby, already abandoned my most, is an easy, defenseless, target of opportunity.
Again, is this in line with the truth, justice, or fairness? No. It is the reactionary result of thoughts driven by feelings of fear, believing that in some way, the organization you lead is as bad as its critics say it is.
Not the finest example of the human condition is our actions towards Petty Officer Cosby. One thing this episode has made clear; we have yet to recover from the leadership failures we saw in spades after Tailhook.
UPDATE: A point of clarification was brought up in comments. That website is not hosted by the U.S. Navy. It’s hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute. NHHC was invited to be equal partner on our site, and others as guest bloggers, among them Navy TV. It is at their discretion to delete/make private the posts.
By Mark Tempest
13 years into the long war, what have we learned, relearned, mastered, forgotten, and retained for future use? What have we learned about ourselves, the nature of our latest enemy, and the role of our nation? What have those who have served learned about their nation, their world, and themselves?
Iraq, Afghanistan, the Islamic State, and the ever changing global national security ecosystem, where are we now, and where are we going?
Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and more will be returning guest John Nagl, LTC US Army (Ret.) D.Phl, using his most recent book Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War in Theory and Practice as the starting point for our discussion.
Dr. Nagl is the Ninth Headmaster of The Haverford School. Prior to assuming responsibility for the School in July 2013, he was the inaugural Minerva Research Professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. He was previously the President of the Center for a New American Security. He graduated from the United States Military Academy Class in 1988 and served as an armor officer for 20 years. Dr. Nagl taught at West Point and Georgetown University, and served as a Military Assistant to two Deputy Secretaries of Defense. He earned his Master of the Military Arts and Sciences Degree from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and his doctorate from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.
Dr. Nagl is the author of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam and was on the team that produced the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual.
Today marks the 239th Birthday of the United States Marine Corps. In remembering the day when Captain Samuel Nicholas walked into a Philadelphia bar, looking for the “bravest men” of that city, Marines all over the world will hear the Birthday Message first circulated by Major General John Lejeune in 1921. Lejeune’s name is far more than just the name of another military base; he and his career are legend in the Marine Corps. He rose through the ranks, serving all over the world. When he reached Europe at the United States entry into The Great War, Black Jack Pershing recognized his leadership and gave the “Marines’ Marine” command of the whole of the 2nd Army Division. He became the 13th Commandant of the Corps after the war and to this day is known as the “the greatest of all Leathernecks.”
Yet it almost never happened. Today a discussion of military talent management has come to life, something that happens on a fairly regular cycle in American military history. Almost 125 years ago, the future of a young Midshipman Lejeune was at the whim of a bureaucracy that cared very little for his personal interests or where he and his peers thought his talents might lay.
In 1890 Midshipman John Lejeune, known among his friends by his nickname “Gabe,” and his Naval Academy roommate Ed Beach returned to Annapolis after spending two years at sea. In those days Midshipmen completed the course of instruction at the Academy but then had to serve in the Fleet for two years before they were commissioned. At sea they learned the basics of life and leadership aboard ship and began earning their qualifications and standing the bridge watches that would serve as the foundations of their careers.
The two young men also returned to the banks of the Severn River unsure that they would even receive a commission. There were a finite number of officer billets in the Navy and Marine Corps. Because promotion was seniority based, not every Midshipman could receive a commission unless there were enough officers who retired. If enough officers left the service everyone would move up the seniority lists and spots would open up at the bottom for the new Ensigns and Second Lieutenants.
Lejeune had wanted to be a United States Marine since he entered prep school at LSU. He finished at Annapolis in the top of his class and assumed that his standing would give him the ability to select the service of his choice. Returning to Annapolis Lejeune discovered that he had made the cut to receive a commission. But he also learned that the Academic Board, which was responsible for making service assignment recommendations, had assigned him to become an engineer in the Navy. His grades in the engineering courses were the best in his class.
Begging the Bureau
Lejeune decided to go to Washington to make his case to the Bureau of Navigation. His roommate Ed Beach agreed to go along with him to provide moral support and later related the story in his memoir. They were able to get a meeting scheduled with Commodore F.M. Ramsey, who led the Bureau and knew of the two young men because his previous position was Superintendent at the Academy.
The two Midshipmen arrived in Washington and Lejeune overcame an attack of nerves and went to the meeting with Beach at his side. He explained to the head of the Bureau that he had always wanted to be a Marine, and that because of how hard he worked and his class standing his preferences should count for something. Ramsey was the final decision maker and would approve the recommendations of the Academic Board. He was the only man who could change Lejeune’s fate. He refused. The Navy needed good engineers and he agreed with the Academy’s recommendation. The only way he would even consider changing his mind was if the Commandant of the Marine Corps requested Lejeune by name.
There was a glimmer of hope, but Lejeune didn’t put much stock in it. He led Beach toward the Commandant’s office in order to try to see him. They actually found Commandant McCawley (improperly called Remy by Beach in his recounting of the story) at a quiet moment in the office and were able to see him. However, he refused Lejeune’s entreaty to make a “by name request” for him to commission as a Second Lieutenant. The Commandant told him that the Corps would take whomever they were assigned and make no special deals.
A Desperate Ploy
Gabe had one last idea. He dragged Beach back toward Ramsey’s office at the Bureau. They were able to maneuver themselves into another audience, but Ramsey again refused to change his mind. Likely frustrated, he repeated that if the Commandant personally asked for Lejeune, then he could become a Marine. In the last moment of the brief meeting Lejeune asked his former Superintendent why? Why wouldn’t he allow him to become a Marine?
“Because, Mr. Lejeune, I am well aware of your splendid and promising mentality. Frankly, you have altogether too much brains to be lost in the Marine Corps!”
With that, Lejeune rushed out the office and headed back for the Commandant’s spaces at a run. Beach struggled to keep up, wondering what the hell was going on. But Lejeune had a new confidence about him. The two Midshipmen burst back into the Commandant’s office and interrupted a meeting with a group of officers on the headquarters staff. Before they could be reprimanded and removed from the room Lejeune shouted out:
“Commodore Ramsey says that the reason he will not recommend me to be a second lieutenant is that I have altogether too much brains for the Marine Corps!”
Ed Beach wrote “Lejeune won, then and there. The Marine Corps went into action,” and the request for Gabe to become a Marine was cut and sent to the Bureau of Navigation. The history books show there was still more maneuvering to be done, including meetings with Senator Russell Gibson and the intervention of the Secretary of the Navy. John Lejeune was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant instead of an Ensign. The rest, as they say, is history.
Another Year, Facing the Future
For more than two centuries the Marine Corps, and the rest of our armed forces, have been facing the challenges of talent management and administrative efficiency right alongside the combat stories that we read about in most of our history books. The so-called “needs of the service,” bureaucratic infighting, and service rivalry have a long tradition in how our military service members are selected, promoted, and mentored. But the story of Gabe Lejeune’s quest to become a United States Marine reminds us that sometimes the service is wrong, and sometimes we have to figure out our own “innovative” ways to work the system.
So Happy Birthday Marines. And to all the men and women in uniform who want to follow in Gabe Lejeune’s footsteps, by working both inside and outside the lifelines, to take their career into their own hands: Hoorah. Keep up the good fight.