Archive for the 'Navy' Category

One of the many great joys of a billet at USNA is the ability to reconnect with former professors and professional mentors. As someone who graduated 5 years ago, I am fortunate enough to see many of them still on the Yard.

I want to share with you a conversation I had with someone whom I really didn’t know during my time here. If you attended USNA anytime from 1991 onwards you may have seen him around. He’s likely barked “Strike!” at you during Plebe Summer’s introduction to martial arts or has evaluated your ability to perform a wrist lock during a PE course. He may have even coached some of you in gymnastics.

If you didn’t go to USNA, you’ll still find his story fascinating and revealing about two nations’ abilities to heal following history’s most destructive, fearsome war.

Sho Fukushima was born in Hiroshima, Japan in September 10, 1946, a little over a year after the bomb was dropped on the city. His family ended up in Hiroshima after the war during which his father was an officer in the Imperial Japanese Army in Pusan, Korea. With the war’s end, the Japanese were expelled from Korea, and his parents hopped on a freighter bound for Japan. Sho’s parents had heard “a new type of bomb had wiped out everything” in Hiroshima and it was rumored that nothing could grow there for the next 70 years.

“I asked them why did they really come back to Hiroshima, where there was nothing. It was because our relatives were there.”

He, his four siblings, mother and father lived in a “wooden structure, with a metal roof.” There were no real buildings yet.

His kindergarten teacher passed away from a bomb-related illness. His 1st grade teacher, who had facial scars from glass shards from the blast, died from leukemia. He lost an aunt, uncle and 5-6 cousins to the bomb. On that day his grandmother was 20-30 miles outside the city and saw a “bright, white flash” followed by the mushroom cloud. A search of the city the next day by the surviving family members revealed those in downtown had simply “evaporated.”

Hunger was a central feature of childhood. “We just didn’t have enough food to eat,” Sho explained, “so all four kids had to learn to share.” The staple dish was rice mixed with wheat or sweet potatoes, and was considered an adulteration–“not white rice.”

Growing up in Hiroshima, he remembers playing with one of his “best friends,” the “shadow man” of the city’s bank. “Mom had a couple of bottles,” artifacts crystallized by the blast. “She told me if I could break that thing she would give me a 100 yen. Even with hammers and throwing it against the rocks, I couldn’t break that thing. It became a family joke.”

During our talk I tried to imagine growing up with such stark, ever-present reminders of war and death. I asked Sho if all of this seemed normal. “It was totally normal. I didn’t know any other life,” he responded. There were parts of Sho’s childhood that seemed normal. “The ocean was my playground. I had a little fishing pole and starting fishing. I loved to fish. Besides that, I remember playing with my brothers and sisters. My older sister was an avid reader so at least once a month we would get a new book.” Yet, Sho was quick to point out that fishing also served to supplement their food.

Meanwhile, his father, despaired with losing the war and escaping death. A graduate of a professional military academy, all of his classmates had died in the South Pacific while he served in the national guard in Korea. “How would you feel about cheating death?” Sho asked me. “He was the strongest military guy before the war, but after he lost the war and he lost his classmates…he lost a kind of spirit,” as he struggled with the thought of suicide.

Sho’s gymnastics talents led the University of Washington to recruit him. Hearing about the promises of America from his grandfather, who had lived in Seattle and San Francisco, Sho jumped at the opportunity.

The son of a IJA officer, Sho found himself staying in the home of a Pearl Harbor survivor, Jack, who offered to sponsor him. “My father asked him to take care of me, and my American father promised he would. He did everything like a father was supposed to. The families stayed in touch, hosting one another in Japan and the US.

I was most struck by Sho telling his father of his job offer at the Naval Academy. Sho had maintained a green card, but with the job offer his father suggested something more. “Such an honor,” his father told him, “that you can get a job like this at the Academy. You have to show them your commitment.” His father meant applying for American citizenship. “That’s him–Japanese military guy,” Sho explained.

In October, Sho will retire after nearly 25 years at the Academy. As a child, his mom would take him once a year to see US Army doctors, who would give him a cookie and check him for radiation related illnesses. He plans to search for his medical records at the University of Maryland, which archived many records of Japanese patients affected by the bombs.

“I always dreamed of being a bridge between the US and Japan,” Sho mused towards the end of our talk. I think he has done just that.

Sho Fukushima

Sho Fukushima

r47ntIn what is clearly one of the more unfortunate moments in leadership we have seen in a while, we have seen in the discussions of women in Marine infantry the triumph of politics and personality over study and science; a raw forcing of a political agenda over mutual respect for the results of an honest study.

Civilian control of our military is one of the crown jewels of our system of government. Hard decisions are made and consensus is rarely there, and that is good. To function best, it relies on mutual respect and a default assumption of the best intentions of all parties.

Well – the last week saw a nasty counter-example pushed out in to the light in an completely unnecessary and unproductive way – and the fault starts at the very top.

It is one thing to argue about the validity of a study – but that is not what is going on. No, what we are seeing is a leader (SECNAV) asking a question and an answer is given based on study and facts. The answer happens not to be in line with the thinking, feeling, emotion, or desired outcome of the leader. The result? Well, let’s look.

From MarineTimes’s Hope Hodge Seck on the 10th;

All-male ground combat teams outperformed their mixed-gender counterparts in nearly every capacity during a recent infantry integration test, Marine Corps officials revealed Thursday.

Data collected during a monthslong experiment showed Marine teams with female members performed at lower overall levels, completed tasks more slowly and fired weapons with less accuracy than their all-male counterparts. In addition, female Marines sustained significantly higher injury rates and demonstrated lower levels of physical performance capacity overall, officials said.

The Marines’ Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force involved about 400 Marine volunteers, roughly 25 percent of whom were women. Over the course of nine months, teams that simulated integrated rifle, weapons, mechanized and artillery units trained to infantry standards and then executed a repetitive series of skills assessments under human testing conditions.

High injury rates among women were also a problem at the Infantry Training Battalion, the Marines’ basic infantry training school for enlisted troops that temporarily opened to women between 2013 and 2015. Researchers found that female ITB participants were injured at more than six times the rate of male participants, and nearly one-third of their injuries occurred during movement-under-load tasks, while just 13 percent of male injuries did.

Read it all to get a full flavor of the study.

After chewing for a day, on the 11th via WaPo’s Dan Lamothe, SECNAV took an angle as unexpected as disturbing;

“Part of the study said that women tend not to be able to carry as heavy of a load for as long,” Mabus told NPR. “But, there are women who went through this study that could. And part of the study said that we’re afraid that because women get injured more frequently, that over time women will break down more. That you will begin to lose your combat effectiveness over time. That was not shown in this study. That was an extrapolation based on injury rates, and I’m not sure that’s right.”

Let’s stop for a minute. Look at that last bit first,

I’m not sure that’s right.

That is a classic sign of someone who is having trouble getting their emotions and feelings in line with reality. This is where Spud Webb comes in.

There is always a Spud Webb. A Spud is someone who breaks well past three standard deviations from the norm that is expected from their biological makeup. In this case, the rare example of a 5’7″ guy who can play well in the NBA where the average height is more that a foot taller than he is. Not only that, in addition to being a great person, Spud can still dunk in his late 40s.

There are also individual women who can do most of the minimum physical requirements in the most demanding positions, but they are, in a fashion, the Spud Webb.

We all love Spud – but we can’t let our excitement about Spud force us to make decisions based on our desire that all 5’7″ men can perform as well as Spud if we just care enough and reserve enough court time. That is just immature, and not all that well grounded.

If the NBA forced all teams to have one non-Spud person 5’7″ or below on every team in one division, but not in the other divisions – would that be a zero-sum impact on one division’s performance relative to the others’? Of course not.

Anyone who denies the biological differences that bone density, muscle mass, and testosterone gives in physical performance of one sex over the other is simply, to use a phrase of the zeitgeist, a science denier.

A bit more from the SECNAV;

“It started out with a fairly large component of the men thinking this is not a good idea and women will never able to do this,” Mabus said of the Marine Corps’ research. “When you start out with that mindset, you almost presuppose the outcome.”

Wow. He is assuming that no female Marines were involved in this? Does he assume that if they were they were part of some great misogynistic conspiracy? Does he believe that from the Commandant of the Marine Corps on down they are trying to force an outcome regardless of what the facts of the study are?

When the SECNAV calls in to question the integrity of your entire service, how do you respond? Well, at the initial post-slap shock, this sounds about right;

An official at Marine Corps headquarters said the service isn’t “going to “get into a debate with SECNAV.” The purpose of the service’s research was to “show scientific method and rigor that would help inform our military leaders and others about some of the possible considerations of gender integration into combat arms” jobs,” the official said. He spoke anonymously in order to candidly address Mabus’s remarks.

“It’s for leaders to weigh and consider,” the official said of the research. “The debate will continue in the near term, but in the end, we will effectively implement any policy the department decides.”

Over the weekend, if you were following the story, you knew this was not going to go in a productive direction. What I didn’t expect, was that this would unravel so quickly.

WaPo’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff on the 14th;

Marines involved in a controversial experiment evaluating a gender-integrated infantry unit say they feel betrayed by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus after he criticized the results of a nine-month study that found women are injured more frequently and shoot less accurately in simulated combat conditions.

“Our secretary of the Navy completely rolled the Marine Corps and the entire staff that was involved in putting this [experiment] in place under the bus,” said Sgt. Danielle Beck, a female anti-armor gunner with the task force.

OK SECNAV, what kind of mindset did Sgt. Danielle Beck, USMC bring in to the study?

Sgt. Joe Frommling, one of the Marines who acted as one of Beck’s monitors for the experiment, said he was frustrated with the secretary’s comments.

“What Mabus said went completely against what the command was saying the whole time,” said Frommling. “They said, ‘Hey, no matter what your opinion is, go out there and give it your best and let the chips fall where they may.’”

“All the work that the task force did, the rounds that we shot, didn’t mean anything if he had already made up his mind,” he added.

MabusThe SECNAV’s view of how men and women may be some toxic stew of his experiences in the early 1970s Hairy Navy stirred in the the fetid sauce his gender-studies dept. educated advisers on women’s issues are pouring in to his ears, but it isn’t reflective of what I saw on active duty from the late 1980s to the end of the first decade of the 21st Century – much less 2015.

The honest and direct teamwork of Danielle Beck and Joe Frommling is of this century and this generation – and their integrity and that of their entire uniformed chain of command has been brought in to question by their service’s senior leader – their Secretary of the Navy.

“If you were to look at our training plan and how we progressed from October to February, you’re not going to find any evidence of institutional bias or some way we built this for females to fail,” said one Marine officer who participated in the experiment.

The officer, who asked to remain anonymous because of his active-duty status, explained that for the first five months of the experiment the Marines of the task force trained as a unit in North Carolina to prepare for the testing phase in California. This phase of training is known as “the work-up,” with the second phase in California — where the trials would be held — acting as the deployment.

“We consulted physical trainers from [the school of infantry] to help develop an appropriate hike plan, and we fired roughly a year’s worth of ammo for a regiment in a quarter,” the officer said, referring to the massive amounts of ammunition used to train the relatively small task force at Camp Lejeune. “In the time that we had, there wasn’t a day wasted when it came to training for California . . . From the top down, we were trying to level the playing field.”

Though the entirety of Weapons Company, men and women, trained to the same standard before deploying to California for the evaluation period of the test, another criticism leveled by Mabus was that the women probably should have had a “higher bar to cross” to join the task force.

To Beck, a 30 year-old who was one of the strongest women in the company, Mabus’s remarks were insulting.

“Everyone that was involved did the job and completed the mission to the best of their abilities,” said Beck, adding that Mabus’s remarks about the type of women in the experiment were a “slap in the face.”

“The caliber of the women in Weapons Company are few and far between in the Marine Corps,” she added. “They are probably some of the most professional women that anybody will ever have chance to work with, and the heart and drive and determination that they had is incomparable to most women in the Marine Corps.”

That should, in normal times with normal leaders, cause at least some pause. Well, notsomuch here. On the 15th, as reported by DefenseOne’s Bradley Pensiton;

With more than three months to go before the year-end deadline, the Navy Secretary made it clear on Monday: he will not be requesting any exceptions to the Pentagon edict that all U.S. military jobs be opened to women.

“Nobody’s asking for an exemption in the Navy,” Mabus told an audience at the the City Club of Cleveland. “And I’ve been pretty clear about this for a while – I’m not going to ask for an exemption for the Marines.”

That may have come as a surprise to the Marine Corps Commandant, Gen. Joe Dunford; Marine Corps Times reported Thursday that Dunford had met with the secretary on the issue but had yet to issue his recommendations.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter asked the services to complete their reviews of obstacles to full gender integration and report back by Oct. 1. If no service seeks or is granted an exemption, the military will open to women all 200,000 positions that remain closed to them on or before the first of the year.

There you go. The study and all the work by the Marines was for nothing. If he didn’t get the results he signaled that he wanted, he was going to do what he wanted anyway.

I don’t think we have any fraud here, but waste and a bit of abuse? An argument might be made in those two areas – but it really doesn’t matter.

This is the world view;

In the study, he said, “There were women that met this standard, and a lot of the things there that women fell a little short in can be remedied by two things: training and leadership.”

Opening all Marine jobs to women, he said, is “not going to make them any less fighting effective. In fact I think they will be a stronger force because a more diverse force is a stronger force.”

Back to the sports analogy arena, this time football.If the AFC decides that 20% of its team has to be female, and the NFC does not – where is the smart money going on the Superbowl? Would the AFC be, “A stronger conference because it is a more diverse conference?”

Thinking, feeling and believing is more important than knowing in the armed services now, I guess. That is where we are, and where we should accept that we are. It is how our system works.

No one really should be surprised. This SECNAV’s tenure has been one where the power of the office has been used to ignore unpleasant hard sciences, but the soft sciences as well as seen in the now forgotten anti-economic “Great Green Fleet” industrial planning vanity project.

We have seen the personal desires and political play in naming ships after a former Sailor who hated his time in the Navy, amphibious ships named after people who promoted blood libel against their former Marines, and has even named a warship after the worst Southern wartime Commander in Chief since Jefferson Davis.

Though in an open society of a free republic, we can disagree with decisions appointed leaders make, we also have to accept them.

You can reach a point as well where there is a point of honor.

And I’ve been pretty clear about this for a while – I’m not going to ask for an exemption for the Marines

I guess that puts the ball in the Marine Corps’ court. Not only does he question the integrity of hundreds of Marines from Sgt to Gen., the SECNAV has no intention of accepting your recommendations either – as is his privilege.

What a sad and unnecessary production of friction and distraction inside the lifelines of a nation at war. Women have made great strides in serving their nation. As as one who served in gender integrated units his entire career – it is the normal.

What is being done here is not normal. It is nothing more than the triumph of personality and the political over science and judgement.

That isn’t good for women, the Marines, or the nation they serve.

As Europe closes borders as waves of migrants come crashing against razor wire, islands are being created from ocean bottom in WESTPAC, and Russia is building bases in the Middle East the Soviets never could … our political and personal capital is being expended on this.

UPDATE: Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) has brought this issue a bit more in to focus, sending a letter to SECDEF Carter suggesting he call for SECNAV’s resignation.

CommandDuring the period of August 17-21, a short informal survey querying desire for command was promulgated by junior officer across junior officer forums. When the survey closed on the 21st, we had collected 442 responses, from all of the unrestricted line communities, plus many more. We found that of the survey respondents, 53% did not desire command, 23% did desire command, and another 23% were unsure. These results anecdotally validate our hypothesis that fewer than half of today’s junior officers seek command. In the unrestricted line communities, where we had enough responses to draw some conclusions from our data, we found that while men and women desired command at approximately the same rate, that rate was not uniform across communities. In the Surface Warfare Community, 33% of respondents desired command, while only 13% of Aviators and 14% of Submariners did.


We promulgated our five survey questions via the US Naval Institute Blog, the JOPA Facebook page, the Female Navy Officers’ Facebook page, and our own personal accounts. The survey was available online for four business days.


This survey serves as a baseline, and is not sufficient to analyze trends. Additionally, the survey methodology does not guarantee an unbiased respondent population; it is likely that we are seeing a response bias in favor of those with strong opinions about the likelihood of their continued service. We do hope that these results will serve to help gauge the current climate amongst the JO corps.

A few questions for discussion:

  • Are these numbers actually a problem?
  • Junior officers tend to be instructed that they should aspire to command. Do these numbers indicate a disconnect between the institutional expectation of command aspiration and the reality?
  • Should we “do something” about the aviation community’s apparent lack of desire for command? If so, what?
  • What other questions should we ask in future surveys?
  • Is there a place in the Navy for those who desire continued service, but don’t aspire to command?


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Representative Responses

We found that the responses we received from our 442 survey-takers were extremely thoughtful. Most respondents wrote us at least a paragraph; some wrote several. We have curated a representative sample below:


Any other reason to stay in is wasting my time. If I stay in, then I stay in for the whole deal. Too much time away from my family to just sluff off and not add value to my community, get an opportunity to lead a squadron into combat, set my expectations for leadership and mentorship within the squadron. I like that it is very hard to get to be a skipper, it makes me want to be the best and eventually (if the almighty timing is right) get selected for command.

In my limited 6 years of submarine service, I have had both good and bad leaders (Dept Head and above). When I was leaving my last submarine, I had a check out interview with my CO. I asked one final question before shaking his hand and walking off the ship: “Sir, has your command tour been worth it?” He responded, “I always thought that being a CO would be very tactical, but I am often surprised that tactics in today’s navy make up a smaller percentage of the job. I often have to take a moment to look past the fact that I am mostly getting the ship ready for inspections and evaluations to I realize that I am afforded the opportunity to go on deployment and do what we constantly train to do. In those moments, I feel very satisfied. I was somewhat shocked to find out that my CO (a great CO by the way) had the same perspective as that of a Junior Officer. It was at this moment that I aspired to be a CO and could possibly do his job someday.

It’s an exciting time for the SWO community – where we’re placing an emphasis on talent, tactics, innovation, options, work-life balance, and FUN! I want to mentor JOs and help change SWO culture for the better.

You don’t spend a career as a SWO to execute someone else’s command philosophy.

I love working with Sailors. I’ve served under two amazing Captains and an amazing Executive Officer now moving on to CDR command of his own. Their mentorship, guidance, and leadership have been inspiring and refreshing in a sometimes negative climate/community.

All the pain and suffering up until command is the investment that pays off when you’re sitting on the bridge wing of your own ship watching the sunset. Not striving for command wastes all of the effort that comes before. I’m in it to win it! — NOTE: No interest in Flag.

I can think of no better test of my personal will, creativity, character, and moral courage than to command an operational squadron. The number of people and value of the mission make it a task that seems immensely daunting but equally rewarding.

Command at sea is the pinnacle of the leadership challenges that the Navy offers to me as a Surface Warfare Officer. At no other point in my career do I have the enormous responsibility that command at sea requires. I am responsible for the ship and its most important asset, the Sailors and Marines that serve aboard the ship. I chose to continue serving in the Navy because of the incredible leadership opportunities that this job presents to those lucky enough to have the honor of command.

My happiest moments in the Navy are building successful teams. No better way to do that then be a CO. Because I’d like to change and be a positive leader. Especially for so many enlisted females that we have, I’ve never had a female DH, much less female CO and I think it is important for our sailors to see both

I desire the opportunity to test my leadership and decision making capability in a harsh, remote environment. I believe in our mission and am committed to leading our country’s brightest men and women to achieve victory in battle.

I aspire to only early command, and want no part of CDR command or major command. Command is not what it used to be, and I do not want to be second guessed on every single decision I would make as CO. As with many things in the SWO community, I believe a mentality shift would be required away from our zero-defect and administrative warfare obsessions before I would put any serious thought into CDR command or higher.

I desire to have the ultimate responsibility for a ship, her crew, to craft her into state of readiness that reflects my standards, and to slip the lines, sail over the horizon to do our job. I love Sailors, I love the pressure, I’ve thrived on the competitiveness required in getting to the precipice of command, and I think there’s something supremely traditional about command at sea; I think across all warfare areas, commanding a ship at sea reflects the core warrior ethos of the American Navy.Did I always want command? No, I didn’t as a division officer. Not at all. However, once I made a decision to be a department head and really began to thrive professionally, my heart changed. I think if you’re committed to your profession, and for me, I’m a professional mariner-Surface Warfare Officer, then why wouldn’t you aspire to have the opportunity to do things your way, change it up, apply your standard, train a ship how you see fit, sail a ship down range under your guidance to fight and win? If you haven’t committed to a career, then I get it—I didn’t aspire to command at that point. But if you’re in for the long haul, why wouldn’t you? I speak strictly as a straight-stick SWO; I acknowledge there are alternative career paths.


It seems every O-4 and O-5 I’ve worked for is chained to a desk and email. I have yet to talk to LCDR that said they actually enjoyed their job.

Politicization of the officer corps and the loss of reality that comes with it.

Our department heads are miserable and we are taught that the only way to make CO is to follow the Golden Path, a path that no one actually wants to take. The amount of time we waste at work to “show face” is absurd. Most of our “work” on days when we are not event planning or flying could be accomplished in two hours, but we stay at work all day so that we can be “seen” because in the long run this is what influences your fitrep. I just feel that so much time and talent is being wasted at the JO level and that the job is not what we all thought it would be.

The challenging nature of the job has been lost; furthermore, I have spent enough time away from family. I performed the last 6 months of my DIVO tour essentially performing a DH job. I lost the enjoyment in the job and I do not want to spend 2 years performing that job. I explored other communities, but the ones of interest won’t allow me to lateral transfer into them, even though I am in most cases qualified if not overqualified with schooling.

Because it seems the number one goal of COs these days is to NOT get fired. Everywhere you look there is some ridiculous reason why a CO is getting fired. Publicly elected officials and political appointees are held less accountable for their actions. I joined the military to join the military, not to work on the Hill or in politics. Command should not be viewed or held equal as to someone in politics. We don’t “elect” our COs. Firing COs don’t solve the problems for certain issues. Their job is to make sure the job gets done. If the Commodore or Admiral didn’t personally select them for command of a ship or boat in their squadron, then they should fire themselves. There is WAY too much overhead in the Navy and an organizational structure that is in place right now within the Navy would never last or even be put into place within a corporate environment. It also seems that the overhead takes the wind out of sails of CO to actually take command and run the ship how they want to run it. Within the first 6 months as an Ensign onboard a DDG, I knew that I had zero aspirations to shoot for Command at Sea. The COs I’ve had just seemed like puppets vice leaders.

There was a time when I would have served the Navy for no compensation at all and now seeing the models that I have to follow of “look better than the next guy” and DH’s who use you and your work as a stepping stone whilst slandering your name for not being as good as they are, I have little interest in playing a game to stay on a golden path instead of doing something I love. Think I’m being melodramatic? Observe, if you will, your DH’s when FITREPs are rounding the corner and also then note the number of JO’s that don’t have a DH living inside their behinds. How could command ever seem appealing when I would apparently have to make up things to do to appear busier than the next guy as a stepping stone to the next job and where I’ve got to monkey around instead of focusing on how to actually be good at something useful, meaningful, and important for my growth as a naval officer? Admittedly, many JO’S of my generation tend to expect success to fall into their laps but I believe it’s because we don’t have the right kind of mentorship, someone to clone good habits into us. What we do have are entitled and jaded O-4’s and O-5’s that just want you to know they’ve been there/done that already without considering that young JO’s will emulate that same attitude which in turn only inspires the people who want to step on the next stone to command without considering the magnitude of the responsibility to people other than yourself and your career. This path is just extremely unappealing and just sucks the enjoyment out of what I once thought would be a really satisfying job.

I feel as though CO’s are always needing to “look over their shoulder.” CO’s fear getting fired for “poor command climate” or worse, collision at sea. I feel like if I were to take Command at Sea, I would need to literally live on the bridge to ensure that if anything happened, I felt I did everything possible to not get fired. I do however, feel like I would love to take command of a Small Boat Unit, ACU or something “non-due-course.” This is not what the Navy wants from its SWO’s though. And I think that is a real issue with the SWO community. There needs to be other options for SWO’s that don’t necessarily want to take command of a warship, but still want to continue their career in the Navy.

Transitioning to civilian work force and spending time with family. Tired of moving every 2 to 3 years; Doing more with less; Inability to tell Chain of Command that we can not accomplish a mission or project without the fear of getting fired; Big Navy saying “Taking Care of Sailors”, when it is all lip service; Right sizing or down sizing, or what every catchy phrase they dream up that utilizes the slash and burn technique vice targeting the Sailors who really are not doing anything for the Navy vice your star performers; Navy not getting ride of more E7-E9 personnel that are underperforming; Get ride of CMDC rating, they have become bureaucrats and have lost touch with deck plate issues; The ugly and uncomfortable NWU’s that make us the circus clowns of the DOD; The crappy PT uniform; Intrusive leadership, I really don’t want to know or care if a 21 year old Sailor is out drinking at 2 AM, they are adults and such be treated like it. Sorry for rattling on. Some of these items are trivial, but I was on a roll.

Someone in the comments said a piece of it best… It’s not (necessarily) that I don’t aspire to be a CO, it’s that I don’t want to grind in the bureaucracy to get there.

1- we are required to change duty stations and jobs almost every 2 years

2- we package crap jobs with the best (IA/GSA to Bahrain, get xxxxx job) so performance doesn’t help me get the best job, no one wants does.

3- we’ve become a “GS” mentality Navy. Instead of working to get a job done, the vast majority of commands require their personnel to be present during certain hours, regardless of op-tempo, duty, deployment schedule, etc. As a Suppo, I’m busier at the end of the month, so I stay late then- why must I keep my folks until 1600 at the beginning regardless of workload, etc.

4- training – NKOs and training have literally wasted HUNDREDS of hours of my life. They do NOTHING to stop criminals, rapists, sexual assault, computer hacks, etc.

5- stop being zero fault… Everyone screws things up. Not everything has to go into the system, or people’s personal records. You can teach and most great sailors by mentorship and LEADERSHIP, vs using njp, drb, xoi, etc.

6- Evals/fitrep system is COMPLETELY broken. EACH CYCLE is and should be independent of the previous one, and have nothing to do with it. “Progressing” and “improved superior performance” is crap. If I’m the best, and I leave one command and go to another- odds are, I’m the best there. Why do I have to come in as an MP so I can progress to an EP?! And if someone who’s been at the command longer than me was “pretty good” before I got to the command and was the EP, why is his career crushed, if I get an EP he moves down to an MP? EVERY CYCLE IS SEPARATE from the one before.

7- stop being risk averse. Let people make decisions and mess things up. Let JOs speak out at meetings, and question decisions… In the end, the CO is going to make the decision, but we have become a navy of “yes men,” and if I speak up, KNOWING I’m right, it doesn’t matter. “HEAD DOWN, MOUTH SHUT-PROMOTE”.

Complete a technical PhD outside the Navy, on my own terms, own time, and take control of my career.

Why leave? We are less about warfighting and more about the sanctification of the bureaucracy, careerism and political manipulation at the highest levels of government, and increasingly delusional about the reality and nature of today’s threats. Commanders do not command anymore – they are simply cogs in a greater machine, and when they get squeaky or deviant, are either smashed back into place or replaced altogether. Perhaps when we lose a few ships and subs in some yet unforeseen calamitous conflict, the Navy will rediscover it’s gritty purpose. Until then, not interested in playing full time! Two days per month will do it for me.

Does not look like any of my three COs were having any fun. Angry, plagued by so many regulations and directives that their hands are tied when it comes to being able to make decisions that actually affect people in any positive way. Submarine COs are no longer, and have not been for some time, the maverick independent actors given wide latitude in judgement – they feel the heavy hand of a cautious, risk-averse bureaucracy every day and night.

The Navy has a system set up for officers that essentially forces everyone who stays in long enough to lead more and more people and eventually lead an entire command. “Force” isn’t really the right word since if you do not show forward progression by leading more and more people as you progress through to the O-3 ranks, then you will not get promoted to O-4 and get booted out of the Navy. The Navy has to realize that not everyone who join the officer corps are meant to be leaders. Some can lead small teams but will fail when they are in charge of a larger group. Some have no desire to lead but instead want to spend their time as operators. The Navy has to be willing to accommodate different people’s character traits. If someone starts off their Naval career as an extraordinary operator, whether it’d be operating keyboards for a computer network operation, or standing engineering officer of the watch on a nuclear submarine, they should be allowed to remain at that level. Imagine how good they would be if that’s all they ever did and that’s all they ever wanted to do? Leadership and command isn’t for everyone and the career pipeline shouldn’t be catered specifically towards that. They should be given the option to stall at a certain level and have a successful and fulfilling 20 year career doing what they love. It’s unfortunate, the Navy will lose a lot of good talent to private industry due to the way the current system is set up.

I’m not sure

I started my career as a submarine officer and command was clearly not my goal because I was fortunate enough to transition into a career in medicine. I stayed in the Navy to pay for school and I enjoy the sailors in the Navy and would like to serve them. Aspiring to be the skipper of my own submarine didn’t interest me because it’s an extreme sacrifice of your time and life for a mission that wasn’t particularly rewarding. Driving boats and going on deployment for me didn’t justify the strain it puts on a family. It’s difficult to not sound bitchy talking about this because the overwhelming sentiment during my time on a fast attack was negativity. Alcoholism was a major problem for officers and enlisted alike, it was a toxic environment to be in. Some guys really liked being on a submarine, it’s certainly unique and the enlisted sailors on subs are generally great people who for one reason or another ended up enlisting instead of finishing college. For me I realized that the submarine force is just a job, and it’s a ****ty one. When you deploy you can’t communicate at all with home for months at a time, the work you are doing is usually tedious and is dictated to the letter by rules and regulations, and it’s thankless. Outperforming your peers meant you got more responsibility while the ****bags got less, and that doesn’t translate into better pay or faster promotions or a bigger bonus, just better fitters, maybe a medal, and eventually screen for rank and put it on a little faster. If you’re competent and work hard you can be infinitely more successful elsewhere, have a better family life, make more money, do work that is rewarding and maybe even helps others. That’s obviously specific to my own aspirations but I know a lot of guys who share that sentiment. The Navy is good at dangling a carrot for people and convincing them they have it good.

Too much guide by wire from upper echelons. Command by negation is nearly extinct in the surface fleet. Rather than reading the DIMs and executing smartly, we have Chat terminals and Voice over IP phones at every command and control station- including next to the CO’s chair on the Bridge – so his boss can take him in close control and essentially assume command authority instead of relying on him to execute IAW the “special trust and confidence” commensurate with his position of authority. I may stay for Command, but it would take a drastic change in culture to move back to trusting your subordinates… In our increasingly connected world and reliance on technology to execute C2 and avoid risk at any cost, I don’t think we’ll get there before I’m in the right-hand seat.

scs_mapThe scale and pace of China’s construction of and on artificial islands in the South China Sea over the past year has been remarkable. In the Paracel Islands, the work of Chinese dredgers has doubled the area of land on Duncan Island, and China has completely rebuilt and extended the runway on Woody Island. In the Spratly Islands, China has built up nearly 3,000 acres of land on seven reefs and has constructed a new 3,300m runway, multi-storey buildings, ship docks, radar towers, and a harbor that can accommodate the Chinese Navy’s largest combat ships. Other claimants to the Spratlys have built on their respective occupied features before, but as a new Department of Defense report indicates, China has created 17 times more land in the past 20 months than that of all the other claimants combined over the past 40 years. Why is China so eager to develop these maritime features now, when the disputes around them have existed for decades? And why is it so deeply concerning to the United States?

I suggest that the construction of and on artificial islands in the South China Sea is one way China is challenging the existing U.S.-led regional order and attempting to shape the rules and norms in its favor. As it is, China’s claims are not recognized by international law, and the legal freedom of the U.S. military to operate in what China considers to be its backyard is constraining China’s power ambitions in the region. With the growing power of the People’s Liberation Army and the maritime law enforcement agencies, China finally feels confident enough to challenge these circumstances. China’s artificial island-building campaign is intended to force acceptance of its territorial claims in the South China Sea and provide logistical support for its increasing maritime operations in the region. These efforts safeguard what China calls its maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea and are critical to the continued domestic legitimacy of the Communist Party, so they cannot and will not be easily abandoned.

China’s Alternative Vision for the Region

This tension can be seen within the broader context of a conflict of interests between a rising power and the dominant power. Indeed, China has a vision for the region to look differently from the current order the U.S. has been upholding since the end of the Second World War. And as China’s capabilities improve, so do its ambitions to shape that order to its liking. The U.S.-led maritime order is based on ensuring both commercial and military freedom of navigation, freedom on which U.S. interests depend. Freedom of navigation is codified in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which the U.S. has acceded to but has not ratified, due in part to concerns over the seabed mining regulations.

China has ratified the convention but is unhappy with several aspects of UNCLOS, like its denial of maritime claims based on historic rights without a formal historic title by Treaty or Act. China is also unhappy that UNCLOS allows any country to carry out military activities within the 200 nm exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of another country. China ‘interprets’ UNCLOS to apply only to commercial activity, so it attempts to inhibit foreign military activity within its EEZ, activity that may be irritating and even threatening, but is legal by current international law. The regional order China seeks to shape instead would restore China to its former position of regional primacy, whereby its relative size and power allow it to dictate the rules of the region without restrictions on or interference with its ambitions. Getting the other regional actors to accept China’s claims, whether by legal or coercive means, is part of China’s attempt to impose this alternative order.

Seeing the Vision Through

The legitimacy of the Communist Party depends in part on its ability to ensure the territorial integrity of what China believes to be its sovereign land and waters, including its claims in the South China Sea. Sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity of the nation are part of China’s stated “core interests”, matters of the absolute utmost importance to the Chinese leadership. Failing to secure China’s core interests would be political suicide for the Party, as the Party has linked its right to rule with its ability to protect for the people these interests. Furthermore, the nationalism created by the Chinese leadership’s emphasis of national rejuvenation and the so-called China Dream fuels an expectation that the Party will be a strong representative of a China on the rise and not compromise China’s core interests.

Demonstrating Administrative Control

China is rapidly enhancing features (not technically performing land reclamation, as China claims and the media parrots) because it bolsters the claims to sovereignty over the Spratly Islands that China is trying to get others to accept. China does not officially acknowledge that its claims need supporting evidence to back them up; it declares that the entirety of the Spratlys is its own sovereign territory. However, Chinese actions suggest that the leadership recognizes, at least privately, that a more substantial presence on the reefs could help it secure recognition of the legitimacy of its claims by other parties. The Permanent Court of International Justice ruled in the Eastern Greenland case in 1933 that a claim to sovereignty based on continued display of authority rather than by Treaty or Act requires “the intention and will to act as sovereign and some actual exercise or display of such authority”. Demonstrating administrative control in 2015 will not provide evidence of the same during the Xia Dynasty, by which China makes its historic claims in the Spratlys. However, it can strengthen China’s position in a political resolution of the disputes, which may be the only option because historic claims are rendered illegitimate by UNCLOS and international law can only resolve competing claims based on the law.

Hopes for Territorial Sea and EEZ Claims

China also hopes its enhancement of the features will improve its case in claiming the corresponding maritime zones – territorial sea, contiguous zone, and even exclusive economic zone. These zones would allow China to enhance its sea control and access to resources in the South China Sea. Unfortunately for China, this could only happen extra-legally because UNCLOS considers eligibility for maritime zones based on the naturally-formed state of the features. By these classifications, most of the features are ineligible for any maritime zones at all, much less a full 200nm EEZ. And turning them into artificial islands does not grant them further maritime entitlements.

Most Chinese-occupied features are considered “low-tide elevations” by UNCLOS because, before they were artificially enhanced, they were submerged at high tide. “Low-tide elevations” are not entitled to any maritime zones when they are outside an existing territorial sea (especially not when they are nearly 600 miles from China’s territorial seas, as the Spratly features are).

Three of the Chinese-occupied Spratly features are considered “rocks” because they are permanently above water but unable to sustain human or economic life on their own. “Rocks” are entitled to a 12nm territorial sea and contiguous zone, but not an exclusive economic zone. China’s construction on these features to allow them to accommodate inhabitants does not change the rocks’ inability to sustain life naturally.

China feels deeply constrained by UNCLOS, in part because UNCLOS cannot be interpreted to entitle China to the maritime zones it desires. Its assertiveness in the South China can be seen as the use of power politics to achieve its goals where international law is unfavorable to China’s vision for its future.

Support for Increased Civilian and Paramilitary Operations

China needs logistical support for its fishing fleets, oil and gas exploration vessels, and maritime law enforcement vessels in the South China Sea. The increasing scope and frequency of maritime law enforcement patrols in disputed waters requires refueling stations and safe harbors farther south than the naval base on Hainan Island can provide. Not only do these patrols assert China’s rights over its claimed territory, but they are also part of a broader initiative to expand the scope of China’s maritime operations to increase China’s sea power. The 2015 Defense White Paper on Military Strategy, the first of its kind, directs the People’s Liberation Army to safeguard China’s expanding overseas interests and to defend its maritime territorial claims. China’s military and paramilitary forces are being used as an effective tool in coercing China’s neighbors to acquiesce to its ambitions for greater sea control.

China’s Challenge to the Existing Order

There is a struggle for power and influence playing out in the South China Sea. The United States continues to enforce the freedom of navigation guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and seeks to maintain the regional maritime order on which its interests rely. China is working to reshape that regional order by consolidating its territorial interests and expanding its power projection capabilities. China’s construction of artificial islands is an attempt to consolidate its claims to the Paracel and the Spratly Islands, as well as an indication of its intention to use the reefs to support future military and paramilitary activity in the South China Sea. The sheer pace of the efforts and the increasing power projection capabilities to defend such efforts makes this past year’s events of particular concern for the United States. China is challenging the prevailing regional order whereby the equality of international law trumps exploitation of relative power, and the result is acute tensions between the rising and the existing regional power.

 Please join us on Sunday, 13 September 2015 at 5pm (EDT) for Midrats Episode 297: The Outlaw Ocean with Ian Urbina

Stowaways, poaching, piracy, smuggling, and murder – the global commons of the open ocean is as wild of a place as it is vast.

Using as a baseline his series on lawlessness on the high seas in the New York Times, The Outlaw Ocean, our guest for the full hour to discuss the anarchy of crime and violence on the high seas in the 21st Century will be Ian Ubina.

Ian is a reporter for The New York Times, based in the paper’s Washington bureau. He has degrees in history from Georgetown University and the University of Chicago, and his writings, which range from domestic and foreign policy to commentary on everyday life, have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Harper’s, and elsewhere.

Join us live if you can or pick the show up for later listening by clicking here or (also for later listening) by visiting our iTunes page

The Exit Interviews series provides an opportunity to capture and share the honest and thoughtful insights of those members of the naval service who have served their country well, and are either moving on to serve it in other ways outside of the service (the “exit interview”) or who have chosen to pursue higher rank and greater responsibility within it. It focuses on individuals who are transitioning out of the service or have recently gotten out, and those who have recently chosen to stay in past their initial commitment.

Much like an exit interview in the corporate world, we ask a series of standardized questions that are intended to be open-ended and solicit honest reflection. If you would like to participate, or you know somebody who would, please reach out to


LT Tony Butcher commissioned through Air Force ROTC in 2005, and received an interservice transfer to the Navy in 2007. While in the Navy, he served as a Supply Officer on a destroyer based out of Norfolk, followed by tours ashore in Diego Garcia and Australia. He transitioned from active duty in 2014, and is in the second year of MBA studies at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management.

Why did you join the Navy?

My grandfather and six of his brothers were World War II veterans, most of who enlisted in the Navy the week following Pearl Harbor. When I was entering high school, my Great Uncle Bill told me his stories on the USS San Diego (CL 53): most notably the ship’s 18 battle stars without losing a Sailor and being the first U.S. ship to sail into Tokyo Bay after the surrender. My high school in Monterey, CA had a Navy JROTC program, and a military community represented from the Naval Postgraduate School and Defense Language Institute. That exposure drove my desire to become an officer in the Navy.

My path to a Navy commission took a circuitous route. I attended a university with an Air Force ROTC detachment and commissioned in the Air Force in 2005. However, I came in during the height of USAF force shaping programs as they ramped up officer numbers anticipating an increased Congressional authorization that never came. I used that as an opportunity to negotiate an interservice transfer to the Navy, which was approved at the end of 2007.

What was your favorite part of serving in the Navy?

The old slogan “Join the Navy: See the World” says it all. Before serving with the Navy, I’d never heard of the Seychelles, wouldn’t have been able to find Santorini, and if I’d been asked where Sydney Australia was I would have pointed at Perth. There were plenty of not so fun places as well, but I wouldn’t have erased those as they contributed just as much to the experience I gained. My exploring different parts of the world ashore and on the high seas gave me an educational experience not available in any classroom.

What did you find most frustrating?

Career management. When I transferred to the Navy it was as a Student Naval Aviator. Unfortunately, I was found to be not physically qualified to continue with aviation and was redesignated to the Supply Corps. This was frustrating because I’d listed the Information Dominance Corps (IDC) communities as my preference. In retrospect, it seemed like my only shot to select for an entire career path and involved more about timing than desire and skill set.

When I got to my ship and earned my surface qualification, I submitted a lateral transfer package. Although the IDC communities had openings for my year group, the Supply Corps community manager refused to release me, citing management of his numbers. Two years later, the next community manager reversed course and my release was granted, just in time for the IDC manager to shut the door to my year group. Further, I’d completed Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) certificate programs in Network Operations, Space Systems, and Cyber Security Fundamentals that the IDC community had recommended, only to find that they seemingly made no difference in my efforts.

With my current MBA internship, the private sector has been happy to utilize the Navy’s investment in my skills obtained at NPS. For its part, the Navy got absolutely no return on that investment. I find it hard to take articles from 10th Fleet stating they want more people with cyber skills very seriously when the current personnel system repels people like me from getting in.

When and why did you decide to get out of the Navy?

Ultimately, I left due to the inability to pursue an IDC designator as discussed in the previous question. I’d been on the fence about staying in for a full career for a while, but I made the decision while participating in exercise RIMPAC 2012. I didn’t find the work on my watch station to be adding value and was never excited about roles in the Supply Corps. My most memorable role was actually on a 5th fleet ship deployment where my C.O. allowed me to qualify and stand watch as Surface Warfare Coordinator. Anyway, I had this moment where I looked around the watch center and realized I didn’t like who I was working with and there was nobody there I wanted to be like when I grew up.

The mentorship that I was after was also lacking. The mentor that my detailer had set me up with was great for providing me with career path specific advice, but I can’t say any took the time to know anything about me personally. That’s the experience I felt with most senior officers I dealt with throughout several afloat and ashore commands. I don’t think they were being cold-hearted, but I was left feeling like we were all just cogs in a machine. Everyone seemed too serially focused on the series of wickets they needed to hit to reach 20 years of service and retirement.

If you could change one thing about the Navy what would it be?

Overhaul the personnel system. Give more flexible career management, and modify the up-or-out promotion system. I worked as a liaison to the Royal Australian Navy, and observed they did not have the up-or-out policy, which didn’t seem to wreck their officer corps. The current officer promotion boards serve as a very narrow high year of tenure checkpoint and punish anyone that deviates from a predefined optimal career path. Finally, if a Sailor leaves active duty, they’re essentially gone forever aside from a contribution in the Reserves. If a Navy veteran acquires significant skills and experience in the private sector, there’s no opportunity for the Navy to make use of that in a full time capacity.

I am encouraged by recent statements by VADM Moran and SECNAV Mabus that change may be on the horizon. They seem keen to make reforms that will modernize the current officer year group system that constrains community numbers. However, many issues are driven by provisions of the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA) and will require action from Congress for change to occur.

What single most important lesson or piece of advice would you leave with naval leaders?

Take care of your people.

I have a statistics professor at my current university that says “show your guts, show your heart, don’t be just talk-talk.” Leaders need to take care of their people through actions, not words. Military justice comes with unique power that no other profession has over its people. With the power comes great responsibility to use it righteously.

In 2012, when several criminal incidents involving Sailors took place in Japan, the 7th Fleet Commander decided the solution was to restrict liberty across the entire PACOM theater. I still have not heard a rational argument that supports why Sailors in Singapore and Australia with no history of bad incidents were denied due process and punished. The Navy needs leaders that use their power wisely, not selfishly to protect their careers at the cost of the masses under their commands. Sailors suffering under such toxic leadership will lose faith in it, in turn weakening the mission, their retention, and ultimately the Navy. CDR Guy Snodgrass’s recent Navy Retention Study seems to back this up.

When I had the opportunity to lead, I used corrective action as a surgical tool and saw mass punishment as effective only in destroying morale. When my Sailors and Marines were getting their job done efficiently, I rewarded them with liberty wherever possible. Ultimately, I saw this improve their quality of life and morale, and created a healthy environment driving successful mission accomplishment.

What’s next for you?

My long term career intent is to become a Chief Information Security Officer. I’m halfway through an MBA at UC Davis and wrapping up a summer internship at a Fortune 50 firm. The role has been in a strategic technology management area which I would have liked to have held in the Navy. Once I’m finished with my MBA and re-enter the work force, I plan to start a part time M.S. in Computer Science with emphasis in Computer Security to further build on my NPS coursework and improve my core knowledge.

naval baseThere are very few readers of USNIBlog who believe that we have an adequately sized fleet – especially those readers coming back from an 8, 9, or 11-month deployment. Sure, we may debate what types of ships should count towards or make up that fleet, but the bottom line number? No, few think we are where we need to be, much less that we should have a smaller one.

That does not mean that in the general conversation about the right size and composition of the USA’s national security apparatus, there isn’t a body of thought that not only is our fleet size fine, it may even be too large.

Via CNN, here is how the conversation usually starts;

While many analysts think the Navy needs to grow, others think it’s large enough — given its global dominance — and that funding realities mean there’s a limit to how much it could expand in any case.

The U.S. naval force is currently made up of 273 ships, which is the smallest number since the fleet stood at 245 ships in 1916. While fleet size has fluctuated significantly throughout history, topping out at 6,768 during World War II, today’s Navy is only slightly smaller than it was in 2006 under President George W. Bush, when it employed 281 active ships.

Part of me thinks we are not making a strong enough argument, or that we are not making our argument in a way that can penetrate the general population in a way that makes sense.

We can have significant defense policy thinkers put forth the following;

Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain and senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, agreed with the Republican view that the Navy needs to have closer to 355 ships to maintain current deployment patterns and to carry out missions ranging from disaster relief to military deterrence.

He said that adding more ships to the fleet’s rotation would allow the Navy to shorten deployments, which would help personnel retention and avoid carrier gaps in the future.

(Peter) Singer said better questions about the future of the Navy would be, “What types of ships are they going to be and how are you going to pay for them?”

At the same time, mainstream organizations are still tapping in to those with a shallow understanding of maritime issues, such as Gregg Easterbrook, to be their “defense expert” in order to make their point. I’ll let you research his background and writing for yourself – but he is listened to and on the national stage and if calls-for-comment are a measure, is making an argument as well as Hendrix and Singer to the general public.

This discussion goes back to March from Easterbrook, and addressed by Hendrix on this blog shortly afterwards. In spite of the additional thrashing of Easterbrooks’ article by Bryan McGrath, James Holmes, and even little ‘ole me at my homeblog, Easterbrook and the do-less-with-less caucus still gets traction.


Gregg Easterbrook, a journalist who has tracked fiscal policy and military strategy for Reuters and The Atlantic, argued that the U.S. Navy’s technological superiority makes it plenty big enough to maintain the dominance it has enjoyed for the last half-century

“The U.S. Navy is 10 times stronger than all of the other world’s navies combined,” Easterbrook said. “To say that the Navy is weak because the numbers are going down is classic political nonsense.”

“No other country is even contemplating building something like the Ford-class carrier,” Easterbrook said. “We could cut the Navy in half in terms of ship numbers and still be far stronger than the rest of the world combined.”

Regardless of the reason, we need to rethink how we are telling our story. The fight for every fleet unit will get harder and harder as we work through the 2020s. As ISIS rages ashore, the problem of sea blindness will not get any better. As Dakota Woods stated in the CNN article, we need more depth to the discussion once we get people’s attention;

… today’s Navy is only slightly smaller than it was in 2006 under President George W. Bush, when it employed 281 active ships.

But former military officials say comparisons between the Navy of 1917 and today’s are an apples-to-oranges contrast. The modern Navy includes 10 aircraft carriers — more than the rest of the world combined — 90 surface warfare vessels and 72 submarines.

“It is a useful bumper sticker,” said Dakota Wood, a former U.S. Marine and senior research fellow for defense programs at the Heritage Foundation. “It resonates with people but doesn’t go into the details.”

Do we need the accountant’s details … or the story teller’s narrative?

This week, the Wall Street Journal and several other news outlets reported that a small Chinese naval flotilla was operating off the Alaskan coast in the Bering Sea. Some reports have indicated that the flotilla includes three frigate/destroyer platforms, an oiler and an amphib. Although their impromptu visit coincides with President Obama’s trip to Alaska, the timing and presence of the Chinese navy in the Bering has raised a lot of questions.

Xue LongFor one thing, China and Alaska are not very close to each other. Dutch Harbor, in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, is approximately 3,800 miles northeast of Shanghai, in another hemisphere, and across the international dateline. Additionally, China has no historic claim or significant cultural interest in Alaska. Unlike Russia, which once colonized Alaska, or Japan, which is in close proximity to Alaska and fought over parts of it with the United States during the Second World War, China has had no significant history or interest in America’s 49th state. Thus, one must ask why China has sent warships to a distant land it has no ties or apparent interest in.

For the last few decades, and since the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait crisis in particular, China has embarked on an ambitious program of modernization and growth for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). This has included the development and implementation of the PLAN’s first aircraft carrier battle group to support an eventual natively designed/home-grown carrier program, investment in new anti-ship cruise and ballistic missile technology, construction of new naval bases, and a ramp-up of domestic warship construction.

For most of the history of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), their surface fleet has primarily served a local, littoral role. Over the last decade, the PLAN has become increasingly involved in overseas exercises and efforts, and this confidence building has made it more comfortable with flexing its muscle and increasing its visibility abroad. In 2009 the PLAN began a more proactive role in patrolling the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden for Somali pirates, and has successfully intercepted multiple pirate vessels since then. In 2011 a Chinese guided missile frigate sailed into the Mediterranean and evacuated Chinese citizens from Libya. This past April, the PLAN sailed into Aden and evacuated Chinese and foreign citizens during the ongoing conflict in Yemen.

China’s recent chain of successful humanitarian and maritime security deployments has occurred simultaneously with several aggressive and unprovoked actions as well. In 2014, the PLAN was invited to participate in RIMPAC for the first time; it sent its newest and most advanced guided missile destroyer to participate, but it also sent a Dongdiao-class intel ship to spy on the exercise participants. For the last few years, China’s military has built artificial islands in the South China Sea to assert a claim to the area. During this time, the navy has significantly increased its presence in this region and has been in an increasingly aggressive series of standoffs with other regional navies over disputed territory, such as Scarborough Shoal, which both China and the Philippines claim.

According to the Office of Naval Intelligence, China currently has the largest and most ambitious naval warship construction program in the world. With yearly increases in defense spending, the PLAN is on track to become the strongest naval power in Asia and one of the most powerful in the world. China’s military, and the PLAN in particular, is growing exponentially. It is not surprising, then, that the PLAN is continuously endeavoring to increase their visibility and presence in naval deployments all over the world as they transition from a regional to a global navy. More than this, however, is China’s need to project power and portray itself as unhindered by the United states Navy’s global reach

The PLAN’s presence off Alaska’s coast during President Obama’s visit is meant to be a clear message to the world that China’s navy can sail off the coast of America’s largest state during a presidential visit in the very same way that the U.S. Navy sailed off China’s coast in 1996 during the last Taiwan Strait crisis. As China’s military continues to grow and increase in confidence and ability, expect these types of activities to continue.


Aviation Week. “Why Did China Participate in RIMPAC With One Ship And Spy On It With Another?” Accessed on September 2, 2015.

BBC. “Yemen crisis: China evacuates citizens and foreigners from Aden.” Accessed on September 2, 2015.

CNN.”China, Philippines locked in naval standoff.” Accessed on September 2, 2015.

Time.”How China Is Battling Its Pirate Problem.” Accessed on September 2, 2015.,8599,1932402,00.html

The Washington Post. “China sends navy ship to protect Libya evacuees.” Accessed on September 2, 2015.

The Washington Post. “See China’s rapid island-building strategy in action.” Accessed on September 2, 2015.



September 2015



Odessa, Ukraine, is known as the “Pearl of the Black Sea.” As the Commander of the US Sixth Fleet, I was in this beautiful city for the opening ceremony of Sea Breeze 2015, a two week, multi-national maritime exercise co-hosted by the US and Ukraine. The choice of locations reiterated the purpose of the exercise, to promote security and stability within a region where these goals are under threat. The commitment of likeminded nations to these common goals becomes increasingly important in time of crisis.

The size of the exercise speaks for itself: eleven nations (Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Italy, Moldova, Romania, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States), 1300 personnel, and 18 ships. The Sixth Fleet contribution includes divers, Marines, staff support, a P-3 Orion aircraft, and the USS DONALD COOK (DDG 75), one of our Forward Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF) based in Rota, Spain. Equally important to the size is the complexity of the events. Participants will undertake rigorous training both ashore and at sea.

The at-sea phase focuses on maritime interdiction operations as a primary means to enhance maritime security. Other warfare areas to be tested include air defense, damage control, search and rescue, anti-submarine warfare and tactical maneuvers to enhance interoperability. The increased complexity of Sea Breeze 2015 is another indicator of how important maritime security is to the Black Sea region.

Prime Minister Yatsenuik meets Ensign Audrey Petro, Communicator, onboard USS Donald CookJoining the opening ceremony were the Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenuik, who still made the time to travel to Odessa despite the tragic events in Kyiv the night before; U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt; Ukrainian Minister of Defense General-Colonel Stepan Poltorak; and Commander of the Ukrainian Naval Forces Vice Admiral Serhiy Haiduk.


Together we toured the Ukrainian flag ship, HETMAN SAHAYDACHNIY (U130) and the guided missile destroyer USS DONALD COOK (DDG 75). Throughout my career, every ship I have embarked has its own personality shaped by its history and its crew. These two ships were no different. Each embodied the strong characters of their respective namesakes and of the sailors aboard.

DONALD COOK was named after a Marine Captain who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his unwavering resolve to protect his fellow prisoners of war in Vietnam. Throughout his time as a POW, Cook’s motto, “FAITH WITHOUT FEAR,” helped him maintain his personal integrity in the most difficult of conditions.

DCK Motto Faith Without Fear...The ship’s motto, “FAITH WITHOUT FEAR,” came to mind frequently during my visit to Ukraine as I thought about the challenges confronting the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian armed forces. Ukraine’s Minster of Defense General-Colonel Poltorak said it best when he summarized what Ukrainian armed forces face today, “protecting Ukrainian boarders, fighting in the East, reforming, and training… all at the same time.”

The Ukrainian flagship’s namesake was a military leader of the 1600s who united Ukraine’s Cossacks into a regular army. Hetman Sahaydachniy’s vision is alive today as his nation hosts the participants of Sea Breeze 2015 as they work to ensure security and stability in the Black Sea.

Ukraine is a maritime nation with agricultural roots. Looking out the aircraft on the way in, the patchwork quilt of green, amber, and tan farmland reminded me of the U.S. Midwest. The yellow and blue colors of the Ukrainian flag symbolize wheat fields waving under clear blue skies and a potential that is just as expansive. With 40% of the country’s exports flowing through the port of Odessa, the importance of Ukraine’s Navy to the nation is clear.

Regional security and stability provides the environment necessary for economic prosperity. When there are common goals it makes sense for nations to work together to achieve them. Routine exercises like Sea Breeze are valuable for this very reason. The experience of operating together as one team enables us to be more interoperable with allies and partners in peace and times of crisis.

The Sea Breeze opening ceremony coincided with the first day of school in Ukraine for all schools including the Ukrainian military academy. Of the 404 cadets who walked thought the academy’s portals on 1 September, over 25% arrived with frontline, combat experience. This bodes well for the enhancement of a professional officer corps. Like the men and women of USS DONALD COOK, these cadets embark the honorable profession of arms with faith, but not fear in the defense of their homeland.

Prime Minsiter Yatsenuik and VADM Jamie Foggo discussing SEA BREEZE 2015Ukrainian people have endured much hardship throughout the events of the last year. There is a lesson in the determination of the sailors whom I met and in the story of cadets returning from the front lines to study, go back, and lead others. “FAITH WITHOUT FEAR” is a mantra that is not only appropriate for USS DONALD COOK and our partners in Ukraine, but also for all members of the global network of navies as we work together to maintain peace and stability with people who share the same values, the same visions, and the same goals.

On Inevitable Sickness:meehan post

5 November 1943

Dear Mom,

When in Rome, speak as the Romans’ – The Indians always have to have some ailment or other – or their friends get suspicions that they’re getting something extra to eat. So I got Malaria. The first couple of days I was hot and cold in relays – since then I’ve felt fine – but a little weak. I don’t think they’ll let me out of the hospital for another week yet.

I haven’t received any of the Air Mail packages you sent – I’ll let you know as soon as I do. Glad to hear Bill likes it and I certainly hope he can get deferred and continue with medicine…

…Well they still won’t let me out of bed. With nothing to do, I’m slowly going nuts. This morning, while counting the cracks in the ceiling plaster, Coresia in the next bed says – look Meehan – and points behind my head, so I roll over and raise my head and ½ inch in front of my nose is a monkey. He scowled and I jumped ten feet – Coersia roared. I’ve been sitting here sharpening my dagger and eying his throat. He’s laughing a bit nervously now. The monkey is a pet of the medics and has been inoculated as much as the G.I.s.

How are you all doing? I haven’t had a letter for several days – Pat, Betsy and Lou should be able to get along now. Dad should try to get some gold in – his only hobby seems to be politics. Interested in hearing how Doc and Lou made out.

I think we should finish Germany next summer and Japan in ’45, which is the earliest I to expect to get home.




27 Mar 2014

Hello dearest family!

Allow me to enlighten you on the last few days. Now, the Navy has inoculated people against smallpox for years, but they stopped doing it a few years back. I thought I got lucky and avoided it but nooooo, they were just building up their vaccine quantity. So this year, when we deployed, the docs informed us all that we were getting Anthrax (most painful shot of all time six times) and oh, btw, you’re getting smallpox post-Turkey. Grand. … I have an entirely new perspective on the Black Death. Officially the most disgusting/worst way to die of all time. Oh, and your body is trying to fight it so your immune system is wrecked and everyone, I mean EVERYONE on the boat is sick. So anyways, that’s the scene. Hopefully it will scab over soon and then please send massive quantities of Mederma. That’s about all on my end! I love you all so much and I hope everything is going well! I’ve LOVED some of the emails I’ve received…Mom, I love the decorating emails and STM updates…Dad, I have more books for you! Read ‘em for me, cause I have zero time right now …Kelse, we LOVE reading your emails…we miss college! And they’re hilarious!…and PAT…WRITE ME AN EMAIL BRO :-) Love, Mere


On Holidays and Missing Good Food:


1 January 1944

Dear Mom,

A beautiful cool New Year’s afternoon with not much doing – just lying around. Received your package containing soap and shaving supplies, Asprin – I’ve never had a headache since I’ve been in the army – except when I had malaria, and little liver tablets! Now I know I’ve probably bitched and griped about the food, but with all, it’s never been that bad. Never took them in my life and don’t intent to start now. I have never felt better.

Cards from Don Damice’s, Louise and ten-spot from Harry- no good here, but negotiable in China where U.S. money is called “Gold.” News from Germany sounds good with the Russians cutting off the Germans at China. I don’t think they’ll last long and Japan should be out a year after Germany falls.

Love Jimmie


4 July 2014

Great Americans,

Hoping this email finds all of you quite well this 4th of July! Please have some corn-on-the-cob, potato salad and that jello and pretzel dessert stuff (is there actually a name for it? C’mon, you know what I mean!), for me…and a beer! Or two…or five… While life is fairly insane at the moment (no fireworks or celebrations for me this year), I spent the day up in the control tower and then out went out to the LSO platform (Landing Signal Officer), and watched some jets land. Now if that doesn’t scream “‘Merica!” I don’t know what does! On a more serious note, things have been quite interesting around here, which has added to the already complex ops of day-to-day life onboard the boat. We all faced a steep learning curve over the last few weeks as certain international events unfolded, and I have learned vast amounts on a variety of subjects. The current situation means that we have an extremely high op-tempo, and just as our aircrew have been busy flying, our maintainers have been working incredibly hard to keep our airplanes up and functioning. The other day, one of my AEs (I’m the Avionics Division Officer), fell off a ladder while he was fixing an engine component with his arm wedged all the way inside the engine nacelle, and he now his entire arm is mottled purple, red and yellow. Despite this, he was back to work three hours later, with a smile on his face, happy that he got the plane back up and ready to fly! These are the type of awesome guys and gals that make up my squadron, and I couldn’t be more proud of them, especially on a day like today. Happy 4th, everyone!



It may be hard to see the similarities in experiences that are separated by so many years, policy changes and shifts in generational mindsets. But they are there. And they remind us that despite the differences, we share (at least) one fundamental commonality: we all wear/wore the uniform of a United States Armed Forces service member.

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