Archive for the 'Naval Institute' Category

Yeoman's SchoolMid 20th Century the “Happy Hour” was a common occurrence in the USN. It was an opportunity for sailors to blow off some steam, and maybe even get a little exercise. Also known as a “smoker,” in those days a “Happy Hour” was usually series of boxing or wrestling matches when the ships weren’t busy.

In our post-prohibition world it means something a bit different, but still gives us a chance to blow off some steam. On Thursday, 12 December, The Naval Institute will host a Happy Hour in Newport, Rhode Island for members, prospective members, or anyone who wants to show up to talk about daring “to read, think and write” about sea power and national security.

A member of our Editorial Board will be there to answer questions, and some writers and thinkers who have contributed to the Institute to share some of their experiences. While there will be no punches thrown, sparing over strategy and grappling with the naval issues of the day will be encouraged.

If you are in Newport, please join us to splice the main brace at the USNI Happy Hour/Social:

The Malt
150 Broadway
Newport, RI
12 December 2013, 1700 until the tab runs out or the grog runs dry.


21st Century X

July 2013


“History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
– Mark Twain

In the introduction to his book 21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era, LCDR BJ Armstrong, USN speaks to a problem with a lot of the foundational thinkers on the military art. Referring to modern policymakers, naval leaders, and analysts who do bring up Mahan, Armstrong states,

These writers and thinkers are mistaken. They focus solely on his most famous work and unthinkingly repeat the analysis taught by some academics. Few of these writers appear to have actually read the works of Alfred Thayer Mahan.

Bingo. Many people have a Cliff’s Notes thick understanding of Mahan because they have never been asked to, or made the independent effort to, read the primary source. As a result, many of them are reading modern commentary run through the intellectual grinders of deconstructionism and critical theory to the point that they aren’t even really reading about Mahan any more. They are reading one academic’s commentary on another academic who read a summary of Mahan.

The utility of Armstrong’s work is really rather simple; in each section he tees the ball up for a few pages and then steps away. He lets Mahan speak for himself in long form; not pull quotes or some temporally transposed mash-up of different works stitched together to make a post-modern point.

Some of the worst commentary on Mahan I have read has come from people who really should know better, and a lot of the fault lies in how we teach Mahan.

If you try to take a short cut about learning about a thinker by simply quoting what other people have said about them using a two-line pull quote followed by 55 pages of pontification – then are you really studying the thinker? Are we teaching from primary sources, or are we letting commentary and conjecture of lesser minds come to the fore?

Live by the gouge … be ignorant by the gouge.

Along those lines, there are other naval and military thinkers out there that most of us know about, but do we really know what they said – have we been provided the primary source in an easily digestible format like we see in 21st Century Mahan? As such, have we had a chance to see what can inform our decisions as we prepare for this century’s challenges?

Who would you like to see given a treatment like Mahan was given by Armstrong? Who should be next in line to be introduced anew?

Put your ideas in comments.

Join us for Midrats on 14 July 13 at 5pm Eastern for Episode 184: “The Big Man Theory”

9781612512433_0What is the impact of the right man at the right time with the right ideas? What is the impact of what seems to some as just a man, but to a son is all?

For the first half of the hour we will have LCDR BJ Armstrong to discuss his book, 21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era.

For the second half of the hour our guest will be Stephen Roderick to discuss his book, The Magical Stranger: A Son’s Journey into His Father’s Life.

The Magical StrangerLCDR BJ Armstrong is a Naval Aviator and an occasional naval historian. His articles have appeared in numerous journals including USNI’s Proceedings and Naval History, Naval War College Review, and Infinity Journal to name a few. He is a research student with the Department of War Studies at King’s College, University of London. He was recently named the 2013-14 Morison Scholar by Naval History & Heritage Command and was awarded the 2013 Navy League Alfred Thayer Mahan Award.

Stephen Rodrick is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and a contributing editor for Men’s Journal. He has also written for New York, Rolling Stone, GQ, The New Republic, The New York Times Magazine, Men’s Journal, and others. The Magical Stranger is his first book.

Before becoming a journalist, Rodrick worked as a deputy press secretary for United States Senator Alan J. Dixon. He hold a bachelors and masters in political science from Loyola University of Chicago and a masters in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.

Join us live or listen later by clicking here

As this week’s addition to the USNI Blog series in the run up to the release of LCDR BJ Armstrong’s book “21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era” we are republishing his article from the May issue of Proceedings. The call for sailors and Marines to become active participants in the debates of the 21st century has long been a rallying cry here at USNI. From Senior Chief Murphy’s “A Pseudo-Intellectual Wanna-be” in the March issue to the 2008 article “Read, Think, Write, and Publish” by ADM Jim Stavridis. While critical for the future of the Sea Services, it also applies to our brothers and sisters in arms, as illustrated by Jason Fritz at FP’s Best Defense Blog.


… sailors in their bunkroom aboard the U.S.S. Ticonderoga (CV-14) on eve of the Battle of Manila, PI. Thomas L. Crenshaw (STM1/c) looks at a picture of his three children, while a bunkmate writes a letter home.”, 11/04/1944

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!

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the homecoming of our Vietnam POWs, a group of men who still rank as the longest-held group of POWs in our nation’s history. Most of the men are still alive and well, enjoying their second chance at freedom. But their leader, Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale, is not. He died in 2005. On this Memorial Day, it is fitting to remember this man who left a legacy of unparalleled leadership. The key to his success was in his leadership philosophy.

As Stockdale floated slowly down to certain capture and imprisonment by the North Vietnamese enemy after his plane was shot down, he recalled the wisdom of the Greek philosopher Epictetus: “I remembered the basic truth of subjective consciousness as the ability to distinguish what is in my power from that which is not…I knew that self-discipline would provide the balance I would need in the contest of high stakes.”

When he arrived at the Hanoi Hilton, the infamous prison where the majority of the POWs were held, Stockdale entered a world in which many POWs had already shown selflessness and commitment to each other. As the senior ranking officer, Stockdale was anointed their leader, responsible for governing their conduct and keeping the group of men unified in their resistance.

He knew the Code of Conduct, the rules that govern the behavior of American prisoners of war. But, he also knew these guidelines wouldn’t be enough. And so he dug into his bag of memories from his studies of Epictetus and remembered some of the teachings: “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view they take of them”; “Do not be concerned with things which are beyond your power”; and “Demand not that events should happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen and you will go on well.”

In other words, you don’t get to choose your plight. You do get to choose how you react to it.

He and the POWs were faced with a Hobson’s choice. They learned quickly that they would all eventually break under enough torture and thus violate the Code of Conduct and risk military disgrace. If they resisted, they would be tortured until they submitted—for information that had no intelligence value and that was certainly not worth their life or a limb. So, Stockdale made the difficult decision that laid a foundation for a self-sustaining organization. He instructed the POWs to resist their captors to the best of their ability. If they reached their breaking point, they should fall back on deceit and distortion—giving false, misleading or ludicrous information. Finally, Stockdale insisted that the POWs force their captors to start over at each interrogation session. This innovation allowed for failure in the moment without failure in the mission.

These strategies and tactics conformed to the Code of Conduct where they could. When necessary, Stockdale created a new path by giving each POW the responsibility of deciding how to resist. Collectively, under these new guidelines, the POWs set a goal of giving every man a chance to achieve their group mission: Return with Honor.

This act earned the POWs’ respect. Stockdale, after all, shared their pain (literally) and understood the seemingly impossible predicament these men faced. Effective resistance couldn’t be centered on Herculean displays of pain tolerance or arbitrary goal lines. Instead, Stockdale made commitment, persistence, and unity the driving objective. Stockdale was, by virtue of his rank, the man in the corner cell—the boss. But decisions like these made him their leader.


Taylor Baldwin Kiland and Peter Fretwell are the co-authors of the new book, Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton: Six Characteristics of High-Performance Teams.

F/A-18 Nose
“I won’t be offended if you turn away to watch the planes flying. I do it myself all the time,” NAS Oceana commanding officer CAPT Bob “Goose” Geis tells our group as he starts his brief on the facility’s history and operations. It’s an appropriate introduction to a meeting being held in the control tower conference room, a space seven stories above the tarmac with floor-to-ceiling glass on three sides, giving a 270 degree view of everything happening on the airfield. It’s an impressive sight, and you can’t fully appreciate the scale of NAS Oceana’s aircraft operations until you see it from above.

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Meetup at EAST 2013

May 2013


The U.S. Naval Institute is having a meetup in Virginia Beach during EAST 2013!

Come talk with members and non-members alike about issues for the sea services. Special guests include Eric Wertheim, VADM William Crowder, USN (Ret.), VADM Thomas Kilcline, USN (Ret.), and VADM Peter H. Daly, USN (Ret.) the CEO of the U.S. Naval Institute.

Event Details
Tuesday, May 14 2013 6:00pm – 7:30pm
Keagan’s Bar
Virginia Beach Town Center
244 Market Street
Virginia Beach, VA 23462

Use the hashtag #usnimeetup for this event.

Stavridis Proceedings CoverANNAPOLIS, MD – The U.S. Naval Institute announces with distinct pleasure that Admiral James G. Stavridis, U.S. Navy, accepted the appointment as the U.S. Naval Institute’s Chair of the Board of Directors. Admiral Stavridis’ appointment will take effect following his anticipated retirement from active duty in mid- summer 2013.

Admiral Stavridis anticipates departing his current duties this summer as combatant commander for all U.S. forces in Europe; as Commander, European Command; and as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, posts he has held since early summer 2009. In his role as Supreme Allied Commander, he has directed the NATO efforts in Afghanistan, commanded the NATO operations in Libya in 2011, led security in the Balkans, developed a successful counter- piracy campaign off the coast of East Africa, implemented an improved missile-defense posture for Europe and successfully expanded alliance partnerships throughout the world.

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Interesting opinion piece from Professor Jim Homes of the Naval War College at USNI News, Opinion: History’s Costliest Fleet Auxiliary:

Carriers started off as fleet auxiliaries a century ago, scouting and screening for the battle line, before taking their place as the chief repository of U.S. Navy striking power during World War II. The CVN could trace the same trajectory followed by the battleships—from capital ship, to expensive fleet auxiliary, and into eventual obsolescence and retirement.

Why is he thinking this way?

This is a milieu populated not just by adversary cruisers and destroyers, but

Old “Silkworm” Anti-Ship Missiles

by missile-toting subs and fast patrol craft. This is also an age of land-based sea power. Extended-range fire support has come a long way since the days of Corbett and Mahan, when a fort’s guns could clear enemy vessels out of a few miles of offshore waters, and that was it. Tactical aircraft flying from airfields ashore, batteries of antiship cruise missiles, and even an exotic antiship ballistic missile are among the weaponry with which U.S. Navy defenders must now contend. This latter-day, hybrid land/sea flotilla menaces not just CVNs but all surface forces that venture within its range.

Modern Iranian Chinese C-801/2 Dispenser

Actually, it is a return to the old days, when Lord Nelson’s adage “A ship’s a fool to fight a fort” was the wisdom of the day.

Anti-access weapons and capability have just added to their range, as land-based powers seek to convert their “near seas” into safe, controlled space.

What does it mean if Professor Holmes is right?

I would suggest starting with building up the submarine fleet. A slew of diesel/AIP boats would be good (in theory, cheaper than nukes). Or something different – submersible missile hydrofoil ships? Break out the old Tom Swift books and see if anything makes sense.

I should also note that one of the original arguments for something like the Littoral Combat Ship was that it was an inexpensive asset that could be put in harm’s way . . . to keep the sea lanes open among other things.

The U.S. Navy needs to be very careful to the avoid the hammer/nail approach to problem solving.


To the scribes, to the thinkers, to the families, to those in the arena…in honor of one who served our Navy well in each of these roles.


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