Archive for the 'Merchant Marine' Category
Alternative title: The News of the Neo-Isolationist Superpower Has Been Greatly Exaggerated
If as Americans we have trouble figuring out from “Lead-From-Behind” to Stryker road rallies, Aegis Ashore, and Abrams to the Baltics what direction we are going concerning international involvement, imagine the confusion we are creating in the halls of our competitors.
Nice PSYOPS plan – intentional or not.
No one can deny that in many areas we have signaled a withdraw under fire in the last six years or so. From the premature exit from Iraq, to the great decoupling in Afghanistan, that gets the headlines. From the Maghreb to the Levant, we also had experienced the strange experiment of “Lead-From-Behind” a concept as disconnected as its results.
There was also the long goodbye from Europe that began with the end of the Cold War, and until the Russians started playing in their near abroad, was drip-by-remaining-drip continuing apace.
2015 put that in the dustbin of history.
In the last year, we have returned to Iraq and Europe. Indeed, we have expanded in critical areas in some subtle but important ways, especially for the maritime services. These recent moves tie in closely with larger programmatic decisions we need to make now.
I want to pick two specific examples of where we are starting to move back in to the world and how these moves should shape our debate. They are subtle, and in many ways echo some of the broader concepts outlined by Jerry Hendrix’s “Influence Squadrons.” Low footprint, modest cost, high flexibility, high return – scalable impact.
Let’s start with the Pacific Pivot first.
Darwin, Australia; never will be a hard-fill set of orders. Show the flag, build partnerships, and presence in a primary SLOC that, to no surprise, has the most critical choke point in China’s maritime silk road within … err … range;
“My priority right now would be, we’ve got over a thousand Marines in Australia; I would like them to have routine access right now to a platform that they can use to conduct engagement in the area,” he continued. “But it isn’t just about one ship and it’s just not about one location; it’s about dealing with a logistics challenge, a training challenge, a warfighting challenge in the Pacific with a shortfall of platforms.”
Ideally, in the future PACOM would have two ARGs deployed throughout the theater instead of today’s one-ARG presence. But Dunford said the Marines have to handle today’s problems with today’s resources, so the Marines are looking into a variety of non-amphibious platforms that could carry Marines around the Pacific and elsewhere in the world.
OK, there is your Pacific Pivot, but what is going on in Europe?
U.S. and Spanish officials yesterday signed an amendment to the nations’ defense agreement that will change the deployment of the U.S. crisis response force at Moron Air Base from temporary to permanent, defense officials said today.
In the State Department’s Treaty Room, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Spanish Deputy Foreign Minister Ignacio Ybanez signed the Third Protocol of Amendment to the U.S.-Spanish Agreement for Defense and Cooperation.
The amendment, when the Spanish parliament approves it, will make permanent the temporary deployment of the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force for Crisis Response at Moron Air Base.
SPMAGTF-CR-AF is a rotational contingent of approximately 800 Marines, sailors and support elements sourced from a variety of Marine Corps units to include II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C. Its organic assets include 12 MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, four KC-130J Hercules aerial refueling tankers, one UC-35, a logistics and sustainment element, and a reinforced company of infantry Marines.
How do we hedge expanding a footprint while capabilities shrink? Start by thinking.
Our traditional amphibious ship shortfall is well known, but with the budgetary pressures and need to recapitalize our SSBN force through the Terrible 20s, there simply is not enough money to have it all. Knowing that – what can we do?
There are other areas we can look for capability relief, and the last month has seen good ideas addressing both.
First, though few in number, our partner nations have usable ships;
Where some nations are game to contribute at sea, but they may not be game to go ashore (like the Canadians and British at Iwo Jima) – so why not use what they have available?
Among the concepts the Marines are trying out now is putting U.S. Marine Corps units onto NATO allies’ ships. Allies including Spain and Italy already host SPMAGTF units on the ground, and “the Allied Maritime Basing Initiative is designed to cover gaps in available U.S. amphibious ships by leveraging our European allies’ ships, just as we leverage our allies’ land bases,” U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe & Africa spokesman Capt. Richard Ulsh told USNI News.
“Ideally, we would partner with our Navy brethren to provide a year-round, day and night crisis response force. However, with more requirements world-wide than available U.S. Navy amphibious ships, the Marine Corps has had to adopt a land-based deployment model from allied countries such as Spain, Italy, and Romania,” he said. Having these units land-based, however, means they are limited to operating in a hub-and-spoke model and deploying only as far as their MV-22 Osprey and KC-130J tanker combination will take them.
Operating from a ship not only offers a mobile home base, but “basing at sea offers allies and international partners a visible deterrent when a warship – be it American, British, Italian, Spanish, or French – with U.S. Marines embarked aboard is sitting off the coast. In any language, such a sight means it is best to not cause trouble here,” Ulsh added.
Marines will first head to sea on an Italian ship this fall, followed by a British amphib and eventually French, Spanish and Dutch ships, the Marine Corps Times reported.
Also, not just JHSV, but other USNS are there for the pondering. What kind of USNS might be useful?
We can look back;
MSC’s two aviation logistics ships — S.S. Wright and S.S. Curtiss. Six hundred-and-two feet long, displacing 24,000 tons fully loaded, the twin loggies each boasts a large helicopter landing pad, multiple cranes and a full-length cargo hold opening onto ramps on its sides and stern. With a crew of just 41, each of the vessels can accommodate more than 360 passengers.
While less tough than dedicated amphibs and totally lacking defensive weaponry, under the right circumstances the aviation logistics ships could embark potentially hundreds of Marines and their vehicles plus thousands of tons of supplies. Joining other specialized ships, the loggies could help send the Leathernecks ashore to invade an enemy, defend an ally or help out following a natural disaster.
… and now;
The Navy accepted delivery of the first Afloat Forward Staging Base, USNS Lewis B. Puller(MLP-3/AFSB-1), two weeks ago, and though the ship was built to support mine countermeasures efforts, the Marines have been eyeing the new platform for operations in the Gulf of Guinea in Western Africa. Currently, the closest presence the Marines have to the Gulf is a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) operating out of Spain.
“The combatant commander from AFRICOM and the combatant commander from EUCOM have already written a letter to the secretary of defense outlining their requirement for an alternative platform” to support theater security cooperation, embassy evacuations, counter-piracy missions and more, Dunford said. “They recognize that while a Special Purpose MAGTF provides a great capability, and while the V-22 does mitigate” the great distance between Spain and southern parts of Africa, having Marines on American ships allows more freedom to operate as needed and to sustain the force from the sea without becoming dependent on partners.
That is just what the Navy-Marine Corp team is doing. Our sister services are busy too.
So much for our inevitable retreat. What next? Well, step one might be to reactivate Maritime Prepositioning Squadron One we decommissioned in 2012.
World changes; change with it.
Midrats on 31 May 2015 at 5pm EDT U..S. is Episode 282: Summer Kick-off Free For All in which we discuss the sea services and other matters in 2015 so far and do a little prognostication about the future. Listeners who may actually know about such things are invited to call in or join us in the chat room. Come on along, it’s just for fun and to educate the hosts.
“Never let a serious crisis go to waste.
And what I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”
We are living in a time of crisis. From the ongoing conflict in Iraq to the lingering threat of a Greek bond default, the American-led global order is confronted daily with multiple threats to its stability. These threats are occurring at a time when the resources required to manage these challenges are stretched increasingly thin. The US methodology for dealing with geopolitical crises remains largely unchanged since the end of World War II – scramble the diplomats, rally our allies, convene the UN Security Council, and reposition the aircraft carriers. Rarely have policymakers actually resolved the crisis. Rather, they work to restore the status quo ante crisis, or at least avoid the worst possible outcome.
There is, however, an equally valid alternative approach to managing the periodic occurrence of systemically destabilizing events, an approach that has been utilized successfully by other countries, if not by the United States. In the above statement Mr. Emmanuel was, consciously or not, paraphrasing a piece of popular Chinese wisdom; when written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.
The Chinese have had ample opportunities to operationally deploy the “crisis-as-an-opportunity” philosophy since their reintegration into the global system in the early 1980s. Several crises have threatened China’s unique system of one-party rule; notably the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations and the 1997 Asian financial crisis. In both cases, the Chinese Communist Party was able to adjust, if not necessarily reform, the institutional responses of its parent state. In order to ward off the threats to stability, it leveraged the conditions created by the crisis to the advantage of the ruling Communist Party.
But nowhere has this quintessentially Chinese view been on display more than in the reconstitution of the Chinese Coast Guard during the Senkaku Islands dispute. The Chinese were skillfully able to leverage the dispute to improve inter-service coordination, refine their operating doctrines, and energize the bureaucracy of the Chinese maritime services to make critical reforms. This piece will not examine the broader geopolitical context of the current dispute, nor will it attempt to guess when or how the dispute, which began to flare up in September 2012, will end. Rather, the focus will be solely on how China’s maritime services have not only benefited from constant, low-level military operations other than war from a training and funding perspective, but also how the coast guard agencies fundamentally restructured themselves and become a more potent paramilitary force.
Eliminating Duplication of Effort
Prior to July 2013, the Chinese ‘coast guard’ was an amalgamation of six different agencies, subordinate to five different ministries, all ultimately operating under the aegis of the State Council, the all-powerful Chinese Interior Ministry headed by the nation’s Premier. These agencies were guided by notionally separate but often overlapping law enforcement functions. For example, China’s Fisheries Law Enforcement Command (FLEC) was established in May 2000 by the Agricultural Ministry to enforce China’s fishing laws, to coordinate fishery disputes with foreign nations, and to cope with major fishery contingencies both in rivers and lakes inside China as well as in China’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). How did the FLEC’s mission differ from that of the China Maritime Surveillance (CMS) agency? The CMS was responsible for “patrol and surveillance work in sea areas and coastal areas under China’s jurisdiction” as well as preventing illegal acts such as violations of China’s marine rights and the damaging of the sea environment and maritime resources. As the Senkakus crisis (a territorial dispute with a fishing dimension) unfolded in 2012, both the FLEC and CMS deployed their respective flotillas to uphold their missions.
These were not small duplications of effort. Both of these agencies were capable of deploying huge materiel and personnel resources – estimates of the vessels in their inventories range into the several hundreds. Each agency had tens of thousands of personnel. These redundancies were further mirrored in the operation of the four other maritime law enforcement agencies –the Maritime Safety Administration, Rescue and Salvage Bureau, the Chinese Coast Guard (more on this agency later) and the Anti-Smuggling Bureau. Clearly, a lack of resources to manage disputes was not China’s problem.
Even before the acute phase of the Senkakus crisis began in late 2012, Chinese maritime experts noted that mission duplication and bureaucratic infighting were eroding operational effectiveness. In a piece written for the Guangdong Province Party news organ in May 2012, reporters Fang Kecheng, Zeng Huiping and Zhai Man cited the longstanding need for “a leader” among China’s competing coast guard-like agencies. They went on to recommend a “ministry of the ocean” be created to coordinate China’s maritime law enforcement policies and responses to foreign infringement of its sovereignty along its littoral regions. Though the authors acknowledge that the lack of administrative leadership reaches back to at least the 1980s, today “weak maritime law-enforcement is responsible for the current situation: Islands and reefs are encroached upon; resources are ransacked; and national dignity is infringed upon (Kecheng et al).” The article goes on to cite the need for force that can go toe to toe with the “Japan Coast Guard” which is held up repeatedly as a model of superior administrative practices and material superiority.
As the Senkakus crisis dragged on into 2013 it became clear that among all the competing coast guard agencies that China Maritime Surveillance (CMS) was the organization best equipped to assert China’s sovereignty in the region. For starters, the CMS has boundary enforcement as one of its core missions. Given the degree to which all coast guard vessels had been required to coordinate closely with the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) since the start of the crisis, the ascendancy of the CMS is perhaps less than surprising. When formally established in the 1960s, the CMS was headed by the deputy commander of the PLAN South Sea Fleet and continued to be administered by the PLAN until its 1981 transfer to the State Council. This history of operating with traditional naval units likely helped the CMS distinguish itself from the also-rans during the bureaucratic turf battles that have undoubtedly raged quietly since the start of the crisis.
In July 2013, the CMS’s position as China’s premier paramilitary coast guard force became official and the organization was rechristened as the Chinese Coast Guard, superseding the organization which had previously held that name. The new Chinese Coast Guard, under the aegis of the State Oceanographic Administration (SOA), was given the lead role in drafting and upholding the law enforcement regulations and coordinating the efforts of all ‘coast guard’ forces. The Chinese state press began to immediately trumpet the importance of this consolidation and praise the efforts of the new Coast Guard units to “sternly declare the Chinese government’s stance on its sovereignty over the Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands.”
During the acute phase of the Senkakus crisis, new Chinese maritime operating patterns were observed and commented on by Japanese and Chinese press. Though the crisis was largely a duel between coastal patrol forces, the Chinese and Japanese navies also played a critical role. Destroyers and frigates of the PLAN and Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) conducted overwatch of the coast guard skirmishes. Typically, the PLAN and JMSDF operated out of visual range of the Senkakus themselves, at approximately 40-70 nautical miles from the islands, monitoring the tactical situation via long range sensors. Several times a month from 2012-13, Chinese Coast Guard ships entered into the territorial waters of the Japanese-administered islands waters. The Japanese Coast Guard then sortied and attempted to intercept the Chinese vessels.
These incursions occurred at the time and location of China’s choosing, forcing the Japanese to assume a permanently defensive posture. During these incursions, the PLAN and JMSDF ships also drew closer to the Senkakus, ‘backing up’ their smaller compatriots – the nautical equivalent of relying on your bigger cousin to back you up in a bar fight. These tactics required both Coast Guards to coordinate closely with their respective navies. Both nations’ Coast Guard and Navy ships had to share tactical information and intelligence on enemy units and force distribution. This allowed China’s Coast Guard and its Navy to develop and modify joint tactics and doctrine in a simulated combat environment without risking sinking – vital training for a force seeking to increase its professionalism and effectiveness.
China was able to use the Senkakus crisis as an impetus for much needed administrative reforms while simultaneously improving joint operability between its coast guard force and the PLAN. The CMS ultimately overshadowed its competition and assumed the mantle of the Chinese Coast Guard. The leaders of the former CMS certainly have much to celebrate, but in the final analysis, it is the Chinese government that is the real winner. With a consolidated, streamlined and increasingly professional Coast Guard, the Chinese are more easily able to challenge Japanese sovereignty of the Senkakus. China likely transferred these lessons learned to other areas where it feels its maritime sovereignty is being threatened, including the South China Sea.
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.
By Mark Tempest
Believe it or not, this week is our 250th Episode of Midrats.
In celebration, we’re clearing the intellectual table, going to open the mic and see where it takes us.
From Kobane, to Coastal Defense, to Ebola and everything in between and sideways that’s been in the national security news as of late, plus whatever else breaks above the ambient noise – we’ll be covering it.
As with all Midrats Free For Alls, we are also opening the phone lines for our regular listeners who want to throw a topic our way.
Come join us Sunday as we try to figure out how we got to 250.
Power projection, sea control, access, denial, and the ability to impose your will on the enemy from the sea – or depending on your perspective – prevent them.
If the comparative advantage of American military power includes the use of the world’s oceans as a basing area from projecting power and national will, how can other nations design systems and tactics to trump that advantage? What are in place now, and what can we expect to see in the near future?
Our guest for the full hour will be Sam J. Tangredi, a defense strategist whose studies of future warfare prompted Defense Department officials to label him “the Navy’s futurist.” His thirty-year naval career included command at sea, service in key strategic planning positions in the Pentagon and overseas, earning a PhD in international relations, and research fellowships at two think tanks.
His over one hundred publications—which include four books–have won awards, including the U.S. Naval Institute’s Arleigh Burke Prize and the U.S. Navy League’s Alfred Thayer Mahan Award. He is currently the director of San Diego operations for the planning/consulting firm Strategic Insight.
Every 22nd of May, unbeknownst to nearly all Americans, the United States celebrates National Maritime Day. It is a day to celebrate our nation’s rich maritime lineage, cherish our goods delivered by sea-going ships, and remember the importance of our officers and sailors who sail in the far-flung corners of the world. In Washington, D.C., the Department of Transportation held a ceremony at their headquarters. Salutes were smartly rendered and rousing speeches delivered. At the end of the ceremony, eight bells were rung to signify the end of the watch and honor the Merchant Marine.
The next day, Maritime Administration (MARAD) officials went back to regulating one of the most poorly funded (under $500 million annually) and misguided (only one top official is a past merchant mariner) administrations in our nation’s capitol. Since the founding days of our nation to the recent conflicts in the Middle East, the need for a strong militarily-useful and privately-owned U.S. flag merchant marine to protect, strengthen, and enhance our nation’s economic and military security has been clear. In times of peace and war, our U.S. flagged vessels effectively answered our nation’s call and provided unprecedented sealift capability to support our economy.
According to Rose George in Ninety-Nine Percent of Everything, trade carried by sea has grown fourfold since 1970 and is still growing. Three years ago, 360 commercial ports of the United States received in international goods worth $1.73 trillion. There are more than one hundred thousand ships at sea carrying all of the material we need to live.
Despite the amount of wealth reaching our shores, there are fewer than one hundred oceangoing U.S. flagged ships. Only 1 percent of trade at U.S. ports travels on an American-flagged vessels, and our fleet has declined by 80% since 1951. Less than 2% of all seagoing mariners are women. In a world of progressive ideology, it would seem that the other world – on the sea – is adrift and heading in the wrong direction.
It is seemingly unimaginable that most Americans are ignorant to the world of shipping. Play a game the next time you go out to a restaurant or visit your local coffee shop and see how many items you can count that came from a sea-going vessel.
- Plates: Made in China, containership
- T-Shirt on young child: Made in India, containership
- Chair and table set: Looks expensive, but likely IKEA: containership
- Gap Jeans: Made in Bangladesh, containership
- Cell Phone: Made in China, containership
- Coffee: Beans from Latin America, containership
- European car parked outside window: German, roll-on roll-off ship
- Fuel presumed in said European car: Crude from Middle East, tanker
The list is extensive. Better game: what was not brought over by maritime shipping?
Proceedings focuses mostly on developments in the maritime security domain, but a deeper conversation should revolve around the status of our civilian mariners. After all, one of our primary missions as sailors of the U.S. Navy or U.S. Coast Guard is to uphold the umbrella convention as mandated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Even though the United States has not ratified the convention (we do not like its deep-sea mining stipulations), we uphold its core meaning. Over 300 articles aim to create “a legal order for the seas and oceans which will facilitate international communication, and will promote the peaceful uses of the seas and oceans, the equitable and efficient utilization of their resources, the conservation of their living resources, and the study, protection and preservation of the marine environment.”
Simply put, our maritime security organizations exist to support the global merchant marine and to promote free trade domestically and abroad. But when we lose American flagged vessels and shipyard workers lose their contracts, their income and their wealth of knowledge is lost. For our government – and in particular the Department of Transportation and Department of Defense – this means that an insufficient number of American mariners will no longer be there to support the industry. The next time we need to support a global war, we will have to rely on foreign shipping companies to move U.S. war material abroad.
- Outside thinking. Fund and stand up an independent, outside think tank that can meet the maritime challenges of the 21st If we do not try and sort out the maritime industry, the stability necessary for U.S. flag companies to attract the investments they need and for maritime labor to recruit and retain the mariner our country needs will simply not be there. Create a long term
- Bi-Partisan Support. MARAD should continue to lobby and build coalitions to ensure proper funding efforts to build a robust, seagoing merchant marine. If the United States is serious about the declining state of our maritime industry, we must modify existing programs and create new ones that would increase the number of vessels operating under the U.S. flag, the amount of cargo carried by U.S. flag vessels, and the shipboard employment opportunities for licensed and unlicensed merchant mariners.
- Reward companies that flag their vessels under the United States. Under the auspices of the intricately elusive tool of “flag of convenience,” where ships can fly the flag of a state that has nothing to do with its owner, cargo, crew or route, many shipping companies have chose to dodge taxes and pay mariners less. Consequently, many civilian mariners can’t find work. We should create tax incentives for companies that fly under the American flag and hire more mariners, rather than allow ships that maintain a crew of twenty to reap in the benefits of maritime trade.
- Subsidize shipbuilding in the United States. In order to compete with South Korea and other major shipbuilding nations that construct vessels on the cheap, we need to craft private-public contracts to allow our shipbuilding to flourish. Explore new ways to meet the capability and capacity to meet the most demanding wartime scenarios that might lie on the horizon.
- Rethink maritime officer and crew placement. Even though ships are getting considerably larger, crew sizes are getting smaller. Nearly a thousand professional mariners graduate from the US Merchant Marine Academy and state maritime academies each year with no prospective deep-sea job opportunities. Most sea-going accidents occur due to fatigue and most mariners have reported working over 80 hours in a given week. We should expand Military Sealift Command employment so U.S. Naval Reserve / Merchant Marine Reserve can serve on ‘active duty’ in the merchant marine. If this model works, we can incentivize a program in the private sector where larger crews are rewarded with tax breaks for operating safely.
Trade has always traveled and the world will continue to trade in our globalized society. The United States relies on a few VLCCs (Very Large Crude Carriers) to bring in two-thirds of our oil supply every day. Without the assured commercial sea power capability provided by the U.S. flag merchant marine and civilian manpower, we will find ourselves at the mercy of foreign vessels that are owned and operated by foreign interests.
The symbolic ringing of eight bells was superfluous this past National Maritime Day. Through bad policies over the last several decades, we have left the U.S. maritime industry at the whim of Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand,’ then wondered, what happened to the Merchant Marine? Answer: it was turned over decades ago to the rest of the world.
You have been properly relieved America. Maersk has the watch.
Since coming ashore as an NROTC Assistant Professor, I have come to wonder why poems and literature at sea are losing popularity amongst our ranks. Perhaps the mystery and feel of navy life has been diminished – Electronic Chart Data Information System (ECDIS-N) does not have the feel of a sextant and receiving storm data vis-à-vis Meteorological Officers in Hawaii isn’t the same as predicting gales using weather gauges.
Many officers and sailors have talked to me about “how interesting navy life used to be,” or have confessed, “it isn’t the same anymore.” These are accurate observations and I think that an organization with a rich history such as ours deserves admiration. Nevertheless, this is the best time to be in the Navy. Women and minorities serve at equal status with their white male counterparts; sailors have more support networks then ever before; and social media allows many of us to communicate with our families in nearly real time. Our sensory connections with the duties we perform at sea are indeed not what they once were, but does this necessarily mean we are less inclined to write about the encompassing power of our planet’s restless and mysterious waters?
Despite the interest our careers inspire amongst men and women of all ages, there has been a considerable decline in literary reminiscences over the last few years. Instead of using turning to pen and paper to share and confess our thoughts, we merely use hash tags and click ‘share.’
The nineteenth century gave us Walt Whitman, Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad; the early twentieth century produced Jack London and Patrick O’Brien. They were sailors with the ability to portray sea life from a variety of perspectives that engaged readers at their core. Although their work was primarily fiction, I’d offer that the difference between fiction and reality is razor thin. The stories poignantly reveal human nature at sea and provide meaning that all of us can relate to. Like these famed authors, we too must strive to make meaning in what we do and then portray this cogently to the public domain and each other.
Popular writers have weighed in, but their contributions are not necessarily accurate. The April 19 New Yorker article “Shipmates: Life on an Aircraft Carrier” by Geoff Dyer, ended with the same dubious colloquialism every landlubber surmises. “When, at last, I was back on the very dry land of Bahrain, I checked in at a hotel, went up to my room, and showered for a long time. The water felt cleaner, more sparkling [. . .] I looked out the window at the empty cityscape and experienced another revelation: I could go for a walk!” Similarly, the only question Thomas Friedman asks a young junior officer when he rode the USS New Mexico for one night was “how do all of you stand being away from your families for so long underwater, receiving only a two-sentence ‘family-gram’ once a week?”
I would contest we are not simply motivated by the same social connotations that our civilian counterparts enjoy. We are sailors. We come from a different breed and our lives by nature do not possess the homogeneous social norms of our civilian counterparts. Although we may have put to sea for a variety of reasons – service to our nation, learn new skills, earn the GI Bill – all of us have been affected by the wonders of navy life; our lives sharpened by the life on the seas. Some of the mystery is gone, but the beauty still remains.
Proceedings and other naval publications primarily exist to discuss and debate naval doctrine, but it should also reflect on our social experiences in a meaningful way. To be honest, I have never mused about the powers of Aegis beneath the vast night sky, with the dust of the Milky Way scattered as far as the eye can see. Even though the Main Propulsion Assistant and the senior gas turbine technician could recite each valve within the main drainage system by memory, we never argued too much about engineering improvements that our senior leaders should be pursuing. We told sea stories, discussed books and history, laughed as we reenacted scenes in our favorite movies, and then went about our duties.
Mahan’s diary as a junior officer is a fascinating read. Many of his entries lament about his fear of drinking too much and his abhorrence of superior officers. “The Captain has annoyed me, and I have felt and spoken angrily and sullenly.” And, like so many of us, he does not always complete tasks on time. “Have failed in my duty concerning the reading of the Articles of War.” Yet, within his complaints and small victories, a portrait of life at sea emerges. His ability to reflect on sea life, both positive and negative, ultimately led to him thinking more critically about naval tactics and the naval profession as a whole. Simply put, it gave him meaning and persuaded him to remain at sea.
Over the years, I have found that life itself is like the sea. Our lives ebb and flow like a foaming tide. We attempt to seize each moment, try to live one day at a time, hang on tightly to lifelines and trust that our faith in each other will get us there. So much we do in our lives as sailors is wandering and I do profess that wandering the ocean is the most exciting profession in the world.
Perhaps John Masefield says it best in Sea Fever.
Oh I must go down to the seas again,
To the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship
And a star to steer her by
And the heel’s kick and the wind’s song,
And the white sail’s shaking
And a grey mist on the sea’s face
And a grey dawn breaking
Before my final deployment aboard USS Milius, my wife gave me the finest gift anyone could: a journal. It was an impeccable idea. After all, there’s nothing like a day at sea, to meditate about this earth and to think of all the challenges that await us afloat and ashore. So, as naval officers who experience the daily grind, let us tell the evolving story of our Navy. One hundred years from now these entries will capture us for who we were and where we were going.
Geoff Dyer, “Shipmates: Life on an Aircraft Carrier,” The New Yorker, April 2014, 6; Thomas Friedman, “Parallel Parking in the Arctic Circle,” The New York Times Sunday Review, March 29, 2014.
Diary entry on August 6, 1868 and May 11, 1869 in Letters and Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan, vol. I (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1975), 201; 301.
John Masefield, “Sea Fever” in Salt Water Ballads (1902).
Please join us (live!) on Sunday 20 July 14 at 5pm (DST) Eastern U.S. for Episode 237: Military Sealift Command – Past, Present and Future :
Whatever confession of maritime strategy you adhere to, there is one linchpin that all will survive or fail on – the Military Sealift Command. Our guest for the full hour to discuss the entire spectrum of issues with the MSC will be Salvatore R. Mercogliano, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of History at Campbell University.
Sal is a 1989 graduate of SUNY Maritime College, with a BS in Marine Transportation. He sailed on the USNS Neosho (T-AO 143), Mohawk (T-ATF 170), Glover (T-AGFF 1), Comfort (T-AH 20) during the Persian Gulf War, and John Lenthall (T-AO 189). Ashore, he was assigned to the N3 shop for the Afloat Prepositioning Force and focused initially on Marine Corps MPF vessels, but later working on the new Army program, including the construction and conversion of the LMSRs.
In 1996, he transitioned to his academic career. Receiving a MA in Maritime
History and Nautical Archeology from East Carolina University, focused on the merchant marine in the Vietnam War. He later then went to the University of Alabama and graduated with a Ph.D. in Military and Naval History with his dissertation on entitled Sealift.
He has taught at Methodist University, East Carolina, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and the U.S. Military Academy, prior to being an Assistant Professor of History with Campbell University since 2010, In addition, since 2008, he has been an Adjunct Professor at the US Merchant Marine Academy teaching a graduate level on-line course on Maritime Industry Policy.
He has been published in the Northern Mariner, Sea History, Naval History, and Proceedings.
As always, join us live if you can or pick up the show for later listening by clicking here.
Some references for our conversation:
Stars and Stripes – With Navy strained, Sealift Command crews eye greater military role
Military Sealift Command: MSC: 60 years strong (2009)
USN/MSC Photos Upper MC3 Erik Foster; Lower MC3 Dustin Knight
- Capstone Essay: Distributed Lethality Requires Distributed Capability Across the Surface Fleet
- On Midrats 2 Aug 15 – Episode 291: Nashville, Omar, Nigeria and Kurdistan, Long War Hour w/ Bill Roggio
- Historical Leadership Dynamics for US China Relations
- VLS At-sea Reloading
- Self-Contradiction, Priorities, Conflict, and Women in the USMC