Archive for the 'Navy' Category

The laws and norms surrounding the movement of economic goods across geopolitical boundaries are well-defined. By contrast, the ability to create and manipulate information has become ubiquitous and robust legal frameworks governing how state actors, individuals, and institutions interact with the information ecosystem do not yet exist. This creates risk and opportunity for state and non-state actors looking to devise new information manipulation tactics and make claims on this evolving space. Information control has always been a key component of strategy; however the current speed of evolution provides an advantage to potential disruptors, who do not have sunk costs in existing expensive processes and techniques. Whereas during the medieval period, a limited number of literate clergy had the ability to control the information space (which was explicitly linked to the capacity to wage war), today both state and non-state actors, no matter how marginal, have the ability to contribute to the information battlespace. Even a single, well-placed YouTube video, such as the beheading videos released by ISIL can influence military response.

Information is a non-rivalrous commodity, which should fundamentally change military investment profiles. In FY10, the United States spent $160B for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, compared to CIA estimates of Al Qaeda’s 2010 operating budget of $30M. Despite 5,000 times more investment by the US, Al Qaeda continued to expand its influence throughout the region with involvement in Yemen, Russia, Syria, and by facilitating the eventual destabilization of Iraq. In the information age, spending and traditional military definitions of success no longer correlate with stable end states. It is more difficult to characterize 21st century conflicts in terms of definitive winners and losers than traditional industrial conflicts. It follows that post-industrial, digital-age conflicts will be characterized by informational pluralism, and that single source-point information control is no longer viable for military organizations.

The Department of the Navy’s (DON’s) information construct is currently divided along two objectives. One objective is to disseminate propaganda about the DON’s agenda and operations to a small circle of military-industrial and congressional elites who can afford 4-digit subscriptions to defense publications. The approach is not only fundamentally undemocratic, but also flawed in its assumption that “authoritative information” flowing out of the Navy information channels actually holds value in the information economy. The Navy information organization relies on humans to do the searching, processing, and dissemination of information, while most private-sector organizations, rely on advanced algorithms to fulfill these functions. Relying on humans results in slower processing speeds, increased error rates, and the bias that occurs from having associative, rather than random access, memory. Humans are subject to confirmation bias and will continually reinforce existing hypotheses with new information, rather than allowing the data itself to guide conclusions. In a world where decisions are made based on multiple sources, curated by digital systems, human-centric, centralized information systems are decreasingly relevant.

The second objective is to manipulate the information space as it is perceived by our adversaries, via network operations and psychological operations, for example. However, the efficacy of this construct is challenged by adversaries, many of whom recognize that they can achieve strategic objectives at minimal cost by creating a multiplicity of equally viable perceptions within the information space. While the US Navy continues to rely on an outdated approach to information, countries such as Russia and China understand how to apply pressure to their adversaries by insidiously manipulating information through a broad range of channels. This is evident in Russia’s substantial investments not only in internal propaganda machines such as RussiaTV, but more disturbingly Washington D.C. think tanks and London banking. Similarly, China’s ability to map connections and place pressure on individuals through data gathered in the OPM breach clearly indicates how information is valued in the Chinese defense paradigm.

The primary goal of the current battlespace information agenda is to have real-time ‘perfect’ information that is consistent from the tactical to the strategic level—the battlefield equivalent of the Waze app for traffic or Uber for transportation services. These capabilities are being developed using today’s information paradigms and technology, although they are unlikely to be operational for several years. However, with minimal investment, unsophisticated actors have the ability to disrupt this approach by making it impossible to distinguish real from fabricated threats. This is comparable to populating the Uber app with fake cars, eliminating users’ ability to distinguish between real and avatar drivers and therefore efficiently travel between points. The Russians demonstrated this approach in 2014 when they flooded social media channels with false reports of a chemical spill in Centerville, Louisiana. Optimizing the battlefield information ecosystem for real-time, perfect information piped through singular channels creates tremendous vulnerabilities when the potential for information oversaturation by an adversary is high.

Often times, DON assessments of novel approaches to the legal uses of information and weaponization (notably the use of disinformation) devolve into rights-based arguments focused narrowly on injunctive norms and “ethical” applications of information within defined legal realms such as intellectual property and privacy. While important, these conversations amongst military and political leadership often contribute little in terms of practical solutions and tend to overlook evolving challenges within the information space. The DON has been efficient in developing sweeping statements about the “importance of information” that never get adopted locally, while our adversaries continue to experiment with novel approaches in the information space. The military is the catastrophic backstop for the United States, and as adversaries invest aggressively and disruptively to control this evolving space, the DON will undoubtedly have a role to play in informing future frameworks and tactics.

In order to influence the information space, the DON must make investments in global cultural understanding. Cultural proficiency within the information space is not only paramount to generating information that produces the desired effects, but also critical to the DON’s ability to effectively mine the data of our adversaries. Effective use of information requires first-hand knowledge and cannot be outsourced to the intelligence community or communicated through powerpoint briefs. It requires understanding consumption habits, means of ingestion, and technical and semantic characteristics of information in a particular context. Close collaboration and immersion is necessary to understand subtle cultural constructs and the DON must grow this expertise or develop partnerships to provide the depth and breadth of cultural understanding across the DON needed to function in the information age.

Secondly, perhaps the greatest threat the DON faces is having its information ecosystem saturated with disinformation, or false positives. This mandates the use of advanced algorithms to parse the information ecosystem efficiently. Complex models and algorithms are often more art than science and heavily influenced by their creators. This capability must be developed organically, allowed to grow, and continually adapted by experts and integrators. This is a way of thinking that has become a core capability in an information world that resides in a small subset of synthesizers. It is non-transferable, cannot be trained, and cannot be outsourced. The DON must invest in finding and cultivating this unique set of talents. The US Navy must acknowledge its role and invest accordingly or it will find itself increasingly unable to compete on the information battlefield.

suni williams USNI blog

NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, Expedition 32 flight engineer, appears to touch the bright sun during the mission’s third session of extravehicular activity (EVA) on Sept. 5, 2012.

During the six-hour, 28-minute spacewalk, Williams and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Aki Hoshide (visible in the reflections of Williams’ helmet visor), flight engineer, completed the installation of a Main Bus Switching Unit (MBSU) that was hampered by a possible misalignment and damaged threads where a bolt must be placed. They also installed a camera on the International Space Station’s robotic arm, Canadarm2.

Image Credit: NASA


Sunita Williams

Williams received her commission as an Ensign in the United States Navy from the United States Naval Academy in May 1987. After a six-month temporary assignment at the Naval Coastal System Command, she received her designation as a Basic Diving Officer and then reported to Naval Aviation Training Command. She was designated a Naval Aviator in July 1989. She then reported to Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 3 for initial H46, Seaknight, training. Upon completion of this training, she was assigned to Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 8 in Norfolk, Virginia, and made overseas deployments to the Mediterranean, Red Sea and the Persian Gulf in support of Desert Shield and Operation Provide Comfort. In September 1992, she was the Officer-in-Charge of an H-46 detachment sent to Miami, Florida for Hurricane Andrew Relief Operations onboard USS Sylvania. Williams was selected for United States Naval Test Pilot School and began the course in January 1993. After graduation in December 1993, she was assigned to the Rotary Wing Aircraft Test Directorate as an H-46 Project Officer, and V-22 Chase Pilot in the T-2. While there, she was also assigned as the squadron Safety Officer and flew test flights in the SH-60B/F, UH-1, AH-1W, SH-2, VH-3, H-46, CH-53 and the H-57. In December 1995, she went back to the Naval Test Pilot School as an Instructor in the Rotary Wing Department and the school’s Safety Officer where she flew the UH-60, OH-6 and the OH-58. From there, she was assigned to the USS Saipan (LHA-2), Norfolk, Virginia, as the Aircraft Handler and the Assistant Air Boss. Williams was deployed onboard USS Saipan when she was selected for the astronaut program.

She has logged more than 3000 flight hours in over 30 different aircraft.

NASA EXPERIENCE: Selected by NASA in June 1998, she reported for training in August 1998. Astronaut Candidate Training included orientation briefings and tours, numerous scientific and technical briefings, intensive instruction in shuttle and International Space Station systems, physiological training and ground school to prepare for T-38 flight training, as well as learning water and wilderness survival techniques. Following a period of training and evaluation, Williams worked in Moscow with the Russian Space Agency on the Russian contribution to the space station and with the first Expedition Crew. Following the return of Expedition 1, Williams worked within the Robotics branch on the station’s Robotic Arm and the follow-on Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator. As a NEEMO2 crewmember, she lived underwater in the Aquarius habitat for 9 days. After her first flight, she served as Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office. She then supported a long duration mission as Flight Engineer for Expedition 32 and International Space Station Commander for Expedition 33. Williams has spent a total of 322 days in space on two missions; she ranks sixth on the all-time U.S. endurance list, and second all-time for a female. With 50 hours 40 minutes, she also holds the record total cumulative spacewalk time by a female astronaut.

Coming from the private sector I was struck by the conspicuous lack of female voices participating in SECNAV’s Taskforce Innovation (TFI). Women currently constitute less than 10% of The Hatch innovation crowdsourcing community and innovation organizations like the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) have been overwhelmingly male. The women involved in TFI have provided a disproportionately large contribution in terms of content, commitment, and ability to catalyze larger networks, highlighting the need to cultivate more women innovators. The value of women innovators has been demonstrated in the private sector, where according to a Kauffman Foundation report women technology entrepreneurs achieve a 35 percent better return on investment than male counterparts.

Both in the private sector and the military women have worked to be recognized for their skillsets alone, often by attempting to remove gender from the equation. The Department of the Navy (DON) diversity agenda has largely focused on eliminating differences in perception and opportunity between the genders, such as opening all operation billets and gender-neutral uniforms. The DON may have moved beyond the active intent to exclude or discriminate, but cultural norms still prevent women from fully contributing to activities that take them off the prescribed path.

Scarce numbers increase visibility and scrutiny, and humans are less likely to try things when there is a potential of being threatened. As Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant pointed out in a Jan 2015 New York Times op-ed, when male executives speak up, they receive 10% higher competence ratings; when female executives do the same, their ratings from their peers are 14% lower. In male dominated fields men and women are held to a different standard when it comes to proving initial competence. Men are assumed competent at the core functions until proven otherwise, whereas women are forced to spend time proving core competence prior to being allowed to push boundaries. One private sector manifestation of this is the fact that women are often excluded from positions on technology boards because they lack STEM backgrounds, however a significant proportion of the male board members of technology companies also lack STEM backgrounds, but are assumed to be competent.

Innovation requires the ability to question norms, synthesize different views, and collaborate to develop unique and powerful solutions. Diversity is the DNA of innovation, but the current DON focus on diversity is simply about bringing women to the table, not providing the environment to ensure they are included in the conversation. Inclusion is about ensuring diverse voices are heard, recognized, and rewarded. Below are three suggestions for more fully incorporating women innovators throughout the DON.

Create space:

An often cited Hewlett-Packard internal report found men apply for jobs when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women will not apply until they meet 100% of them. The fact that women make up less than 1% of writers at the Naval Institute Blog is likely an artifact of this fact. Women are less likely to present ideas in progress in a male dominated environment. Encouraging women to innovate requires creating safe space to develop ideas and experiment. Additionally, creating a sense of community where women can talk openly and take risks without being judged prematurely is critical. Women specific initiatives, such as discussion groups and women in writing week, can create the sense of community and the critical mass necessary to push women innovators into taking risk.

Research also shows that when women come to the table the ideas are more likely to be more developed comprehensive solutions. Innovation programs need to ensure they are not primed to give more consideration to ideas that are brought to the table first.

Support the First Followers:

Derek Shivers gave a TED talk on how the first followers are critical to starting a movement and transforming a lone nut into a leader. In a hierarchical organization followers are generally those that have less authority and influence than their superiors. They may try and get along to preserve career or simply because it is the path of least resistance. Leadership in the innovation space is being the lone nut, a place women are often uncomfortable in that role due to the reasons discussed in this blog post. Good followers are the key to driving innovation. They empower people, remove obstacles, and catalyze implementation. They support good leaders and are willing to actively oppose bad leadership. Valuing, actively encouraging, and rewarding first followers are critical to the success of any innovation agenda and give those outside of the cultural majority a place to engage, refine ideas, and if desired step into leadership positions.

Maximize Strengths:

As an organization the DON spends a significant amount of the manpower effort getting the workforce to a minimum acceptable standard. This was critical in an industrial era military when force structures were optimized for homogeneity and interchangeability. However, research suggests that the most successful individuals capitalize on their innate dominant talents and develop those strengths by adding skills and knowledge. Rethinking who and how people come together to collaborate and solve problems is critical to avoiding group-think, a condition which has created past national security failures. Innovation requires intentionally cultivating views that are outside the cultural norms.

In order to be an innovative organization, the DON needs to embrace the fact that individuals have different strengths and weaknesses and that a model based on interchangeability is not tenable in today’s world. There are biological distinctions between the genders, it is a fact, and not something organizational conversation should shy away from. Scientific breakthroughs occur in teams with more women because of increased creativity and fresh approaches and according to research published in Science increasing the collective social sensitivity by adding women increased the collective intelligence of teams. Creating a culture that values individuals and emphasizes organizational constructs that maximize cognitive diversity will allow the DON to maximize the innovative potential of its workforce irrespective of gender.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Department of the Navy.

Let’s face it – we’ve all had to make hard decisions under the pressures of fatigue and stress. But, is that what Navy sailors do on a daily basis just to survive, even in times of peace? Research has shown time and time again that sleep deprivation can have the effects akin to being intoxicated. While there have been numerous studies that alert naval leaders to the dangers of sleep deprivation, I would be hard pressed to name one sea command that has actually done something to address this issue. Until now.150415-N-UN259-034

Having just completed my department head tours on a Pacific-based destroyer whose Captain took crew sleep seriously, I can say that sufficient sleep is possible – even on deployment – and that the results are astounding! The “sleep initiative” takes on the human factors side of Operational Risk Management (ORM) to create a more holistic approach to minimizing chances of a mishap. While deployed on a seven month journey to the western Pacific, the basic schedule went like this:

0700: Reveille
0700-1900: (12 hour work day)
1900: Quiet Hours (no 1MC usage)

The majority of my crew already enjoyed four section static watches (3 hours on, 9 hours off) to allow for a normal circadian rhythm and predicable watch routine. The work day hours were adjusted accordingly within the 07000-1900 window to afford everyone the opportunity to rest for eight hours. Some of those eight hours might have been spent watching tv, reading a book, or relaxing… but the idea was to give sailors a chance to unwind and take care of their personal needs. The decrease in apparent work hours did not translate to less work being accomplished. In fact, not only did we increase efficiency, but we increased morale and decreased operational risk.

Our underway schedule didn’t always afford sailors the perfect eight hours, but it was the best attempt I’ve seen to date. Our sailors LOVED the later reveille time and a full 12 hours of no 1MC announcements. Sailors were happier, more resilient, alert, and well-balanced. Ultimately, the ship was safer and more combat ready being led by sailors whose minds were sharp.

No one would give their car keys to a friend who wasn’t sober. So why is it acceptable practice to routinely allow our shipmates the license to operate a billion-plus dollar warship while fatigued? I make the following recommendations to all at-sea commanders:

  • Implement a ship-specific human factors initiative to address the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of your sailors as it relates to ORM.
  • Limit meetings, evolutions, and 1MC announcements to fit within a 12 hour work day.
  • Change the cultural mindset that sleep deprivation is a “SWO reality.” It’s simply not true.

Stay awake at the helm – our survival as a surface community depends on it.

Good Sunday morning of Women in Writing Week! This article originally appeared at CIMSEC. It is cross-posted here with the author’s permission.

On August 4th, the Russian Federation’s Foreign Ministry reported that it had resubmitted its claim to a vast swath (more than 1.2 million square kilometers, including the North Pole) of the rapidly changing and potentially lucrative Arctic to the United Nations. In 2002, Russia put forth a similar claim, but it was rejected based on lack of sufficient support. This latest petition, however, is supported by “ample scientific data collected in years of arctic research,” according to Moscow. Russia’s latest submission for the United Nation’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf’s (CLCS) consideration coincides with increased Russian activity in the High North, both of a military and economic nature. Recent years have seen Russia re-open a Soviet-era military base in the remote Novosibirsk Islands (2013), with intentions to restore a collocated airfield as well as emergency services and scientific facilities. According to a 2015 statement by Russian Deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin, the curiously named Academic Lomonsov, a floating nuclear power plant built to provide sustained operating power to Arctic drilling platforms and refineries, will be operational by 2016. Though surely the most prolific in terms of drilling and military activity, Russia is far from the only Arctic actor staking their claim beyond traditional EEZs in the High North. Given the increased activity, overlapping claims, and dynamic nature of Arctic environment as a whole, Russia’s latest claim has tremendous implications, whether or not the United Nations CLCS provides a recommendation in favor of Moscow’s assertions.

Academic Lomonsov under construction. Please click on the image for its source.






The Claim:

Russia’s August 2015 claim encompasses an area of more than 463,000 square miles of Arctic sea shelf extending more than 350 nautical miles from the shore. If recognized, the claim would afford Russia control over and exclusive rights to the economic resources of part of the Arctic Ocean’s so-called “Donut Hole.” As the New

A depiction of the "Donut Hole."
A depiction of the “Donut Hole.”

York Times’ Andrew Kramer explains, “the Donut Hole is a Texas sized area of international waters encircled by the existing economic-zone boundaries of shoreline countries.” As such, the donut hole is presently considered part of the global commons. Moscow’s claim is also inclusive of the North Pole and the potentially lucrative Northern Sea Route (or Northeast Passage), which provides an increasingly viable shipping artery between Europe and East Asia. With an estimated thirteen percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and thirty percent of its undiscovered natural gas, the Arctic’s value to Russia goes well beyond strategic advantage and shipping lanes. Recognition by the CLCS of Russia’s claim (or any claim, for that matter) would shift the tone of activity in the Arctic from generally cooperative to increasingly competitive, as well as impinge on the larger idea of a free and indisputable global common.

The Law:

As most readers likely already know, the United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) allows claimants 12nm of territorial seas measured from baselines that normally coincide with low-water coastlines and an exclusive economic zone (EEZ)

A depiction of universal claims afforded by UNCLOS
A depiction of universal claims afforded by UNCLOS

extending to 200 nautical miles (inclusive of the territorial sea). Exploitation of the seabed and resources beyond 200nm requires the party to appeal to the International Seabed Authority unless that state can prove that such resources lie within its continental shelf. Marc Sontag and Felix Luth of The Global Journal explain that “under the law, the continental shelf is a maritime area consisting of the seabed and its subsoil attributable to an individual coastal state as a natural prolongation of its land and territory which can, exceptionally, extend a states right to exploitation beyond the 200 nautical miles of its EEZ.” Such exception requires an appeal to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), a panel of experts and scientists that consider claims and supporting data. Essentially, the burden is on Russia to provide sufficient scientific evidence that its continental shelf (and thus its EEZ) extends underneath the Arctic. In any case, as per UNCLOS Article 76(5), such a continental shelf cannot exceed 350 nm from the established baseline. Russia’s latest claim is well beyond this limit; the Federation has stated that the 350 nm limit does not apply to this case because the seabed and its resources are a “natural components of the continent,” no matter their distance from the shore.

The CLCS will present its findings in the form of recommendations, which are not legally binding to the country seeking the appeal. Though Russia has stated it expects a result by the fall, the commission is not scheduled to convene until Feburary or March of 2016 and, as such, there will be a significant waiting period before any recommendation will be made.

Rival Claimants:

Russia is far from the only Arctic actor making claims beyond the 200 nautical mile EEZ. Denmark, for instance, jointly submitted a claim with the government of Greenland expressing ownership over nearly 900,000 square kilometers of the Arctic (including the North Pole) based on the connection between Greenland’s continental shelf and the Lomonosov Ridge, which spans kontinsokkel_uknearly the entire diameter of the donut hole. This claim clearly overlaps Russia’s latest submission, which is also based on the claim that the ridge represents an extension of Russia’s continental shelf. Though there is no dispute on the ownership of the ridge, both Russia and Denmark claim the North Pole. Both nations have recently expressed a desire to work cooperatively on a resolution, though a Russian Foreign ministry statement did estimate a solution could take up to 10-15 years. Also of note: this has note always been Russia’s tune on the matter (See here and here).

Similarly, Canada is expected to make a bid to extend its Arctic territory. Notably, Canada claims sovereignty over the Northwest Passage, a shipping route connecting the Davis Strait and Baffin Bay based on historical precedent and its orientation to baselines drawn around the Arctic Archipelago. The U.S. maintains that the Northwest Passage should be an international strait. Though they have yet to submit a formal claim to the UN’s CLCS, one has reportedly been in preparation since 2013. According to reports, Canada delayed a last-minute claim at the behest of PM Stephen Harper, who insisted the claim include the North Pole. If this holds true, Canada’s claim will likely overlap both Russia and Denmark’s submissions to the CLCS. If the CLCS were to recognize the legitimacy of two or more states’ overlapping claims, the actors have the option to bilaterally or multilaterally resolve the issue to their satisfaction; developing such a resolution is beyond the scope of the commission.


Likely, Russia’s submission to the United Nations is part of a larger campaign by Moscow to reassert and re-establish its influence in the international order by virtue of its status Arctic influence. Regardless of approval or rejection by the UN, Russia’s expansive claim highlights Moscow’s very serious intention to control and exploit the Arctic. As the Christian Science Monitor’s Denise Ajiri explains, “a win would mean access to sought after resources, but the petition itself underscores Russia’s broader interest in solidifying its footing on the world stage.” With much of Western Europe reliant on Russian oil and natural gas, the Arctic and its resources represent an opportunity for the Kremlin to boost their position in the international order and develop a source of sustained and significant income. Russia may be acting within the letter of the law on the issue of their claim at this time, but it’s hard to separate that compliance from the Federation’s significant investment in the militarization of the Arctic, frequent patrols along the coastline of Arctic neighbors, and expenditure on the economic exploitation of the High North. For now, the donut hole remains part of the global commons and therefore free from direct exploitation or claim of sovereignty. The burden of proof on any one state to claim an extension of their continental shelf is truly enormous, but as experts and lawyers at the CLCS pore over these claims, receding Arctic ice combined with economic and strategic interests of the claimants will likely increase the claimants’ sense of urgency.

In the interest of full disclosure, I, too, have missed a few elections. I was more interested in buying lottery tickets at eighteen than casting a ballot, and I have come up with more than a few ways to justify why I skipped out on my constitutional right to democratic participation. But after less than a year in a job at the intersection of the military and our system of government, I am convinced that missing even a single election is one too many. There are far too many prevailing myths that might explain why service members choose not to vote – and it is a choice. Here are just some of those that I have heard over the past five years – all paraphrased, and some heavily exaggerated to try and draw out the true reasoning (also interpreted by me.) But if you don’t feel like reading the whole list, I can summarize it for you. They predominantly fall into three camps: “it’s too hard,” “all of my options are terrible” and “I’m lazy/I don’t care.”

For your enjoyment (or horror…):

1) I haven’t been keeping up with current events; I would be an uninformed voter. I’m really busy.

2) I don’t even live in the state where I am registered to vote. Haven’t for a decade. Probably won’t even go back either (don’t tell Mom.)

3) I used to vote by absentee ballot, but I stopped dealing with that hassle when I found out my vote wouldn’t count unless there was a less than 1% winning margin. I still tell people I vote though.

4) I don’t want to register to vote in the state where I am stationed, because I will lose XYZ benefits of keeping my home of record. (Usually some form of tax exemption.)

5) I have to work on voting day – I’ll be in the office before the voting stations open and until well after they are closed. It’s just not convenient. I mean maybe if there was a polling station on base? I actually have no idea where the polling station is though. Or –

6) I’ll be in the field/on the ship/on a det(achment) on voting day. Or –

7) Deployed on voting day, and the one after that, and the one after that. I’m really busy.

8) No, but seriously, I don’t even know where my voting station is. I moved here last week. And I’m moving again before the next election, so… I’m really busy.

9) School Board Election? You’re assuming I have kids, or will have the opportunity to have kids one day. I’m not even married, slow your roll.

10) As a member of the Armed Services, I serve at the pleasure of the Commander-in-Chief, the President of the United States, and to cast a vote for his or her opponent, then see my chosen candidate lose, would inspire me with a profound resentment towards the individual who will ultimately (or continue to) lead me. I wouldn’t be able to follow any orders from any authority after that; I couldn’t deem them lawful – I mean, I would have voted for someone else. #notMYpresident

11) General election? Midterm elections? What are those? Oh local stuff – not interested. See 1, 2, and 3.

12) The Presidential race? Now that’s something I can get interested it – I love those debate drinking games! Oh, but I really can’t stand watching the news, I don’t like any of the candidates, all politicians are awful, who’s running this country anyway? I’m really more of an Independent, so I’m just going to abstain, in protest of our dysfunctional political system.

I want to break down a few of these; we’ll call them “justifications.” Because I’ll assume that you might, too, feel guilty after complaining about your local, state, or federal representation, when you realize that you have no idea who they are, nor did you have any say in that – by choice.

Starting on the issue of accessibility – and admittedly at the risk of going down a rabbit hole of absentee balloting issues and assuming you want to play a role in your local or state level government – I’m going to briefly highlight a few things going on in the ever-changing field of voting rights, then we’ll move onto heavier topics.

First off, this is a one-stop shop for the “long distance voter” and (spoiler alert) military members and their spouses meet this criterion (by law) for federal elections, no matter which state you click. Also, you may be registered in Washington, Colorado, or Oregon – which would make you the lucky resident of an “Mail Voting” State, wherein, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “a ballot is automatically mailed to every eligible voter (no request or application is necessary), and the state does not use traditional precinct poll sites that offer in-person voting on Election Day.” And these states have instituted vote-by-mail procedures for specific types of elections, but even more tremendously, these states (and DC) have “No-Excuse Absentee Voting” which means, you don’t need to have an excuse, but now (I think) you have #noexcuse. Finally, like subscriptions for GNC products, some states have made it possible to opt into a “permanent absentee voter” pool, wherein your ballot will be automatically mailed to you before all elections. Because who has time to order more protein – I mean, another ballot – from the field?

Using the Long Distance Voter tool (thank you, Internet), you won’t be surprised to find that there are specific steps (sometimes several) required to get to the point where you can drop your ballot, and many times, there is an in-advance-of-elections deadline for registration. But these states (and DC!) have online voter registration, and the Federal Voting Assistance Program specifically exists to help you – a member of the Armed Services – with the other 38.

Now, to the “All my options are terrible” camp. I’ve convinced you that it’s possible to participate in the democratic process, but you still don’t want to? You are not alone, but then again, you are EXACTLY who SHOULD be participating at – not avoiding – the polls.

On the issue of a conflict of interest, whoever is elected will be your President and Commander-in-Chief, whether you voted for him or her or not. As a civil servant, you have two responsibilities – albeit sometimes seemingly in contradiction – both in service to national security and as a citizen in your community. Insisting that the elected official in the highest office in the country is #NotMYPresident is inaccurate, and disrespectful to the entire executive administration. And in your case, probably insubordinate. Stop.

On the issue of representative choice and being an “Independent” – great! So you:

  • … have concerns about your options, and you want to influence the process to have better ones – vote! Oh you can’t, because there aren’t any “I’s” running? How about a moderate during the primary season who could potentially unseat someone who could otherwise pull your would-be party (doesn’t matter which one) to an extreme you dislike. Because unless you are registered in a state where you can vote in either party’s federal primary regardless of your party affiliation (known as “open primaries”)[1] registering as an Independent may shut you out of the primary process altogether.
  • … came to the conclusion that you are an Independent because you are legitimately so moderate that you can’t pick a camp – but you swear you’re not just confusing “Independent” with “apathy” – vote anyway! See above. Don’t worry, you can still tell everyone you “identify as politically independent” and join 43% of the United States population who feels the same way.
  • … still hold to “my vote never gets counted anyway” either because it’s an absentee ballot, or I’m a registered X in a predominantly, non-competitively Y state? All I can say is that things change, and while there may be an anticipated election outcome, the unexpected could happen instead. Because demographics change, and redistricting occurs, and most of all, people show up to vote. Even if they think it won’t matter, because that’s what the polls had been saying. But if not to actually have your ballot counted, there’s one more reason to vote…

Credibility. If you are in the “I’m lazy/I don’t care” camp, then you are really saying, I don’t have any opinions about anything except reality television. But as someone who chose to serve, I highly doubt it; in fact, I would bet that you have very strong opinions. And you have opinions about things on which are rarely legislated, and/or that affect you personally, and/or your family, and/or the country at large – you do care! You probably have a thought or two about the way that the military is resourced, or how we take care of veterans – young and old – and which bases are built up and which ones are torn down. Only you will know if you voice those opinions – out loud or on social media – without ever having taken the time to cast a ballot for anyone, anywhere, but you will know. And you will be, literally, incredible.

So, for the first time I will use the word “easy,” to say that I know there is nothing easy about the process, particularly as a member of the military – because you really are busy. It will take time, energy, and thoughtful consideration. You will have episodes of frustration, and you may feel like giving up, (repeatedly, there are many elections) but to do so is only to alienate yourself from the result, and deny yourself the credibility in trying. And there’s no excuse for that.


*Disclaimer: I am not encouraging any activity that would “use official authority or influence to interfere with an election, affect the course or outcome of an election, solicit votes for a particular candidate or issue, or require or solicit political contributions from others.”[2] There is a distinct difference between participation and exhibition. This is a pitch for quiet, thankless civic participation, even when nobody is watching, or even because nobody is watching.


[1] Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii (Open primary for state, local, and congressional races; caucus system for presidential races), Massachusetts (All races’ primaries open for “unenrolled”/unaffiliated voters only), Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.


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 Ashley O’Keefe is a Surface Warfare Officer, and the Flag Aide to the Superintendent of the US Naval Academy. She is a member of USNI. Her most recent article “Supporting Brothers-and Sisters-in Arms” was published in the April 2015 edition of Proceedings.

Why did you join the Navy?

I joined the Navy for a bunch of different reasons. First, I wanted to be a fighter pilot. I had gotten my private pilot’s license in high school, and thought that it would just be great to fly jets for the Navy. I liked the idea of learning how to lead people. I also thought that it would be challenging, and fun, and a good way to pay for college.

What is your favorite part of serving in the Navy?

My absolute favorite part of serving is that I get the opportunity every day to have a positive impact on the Sailors who work with and for me. I love the team aspect of our Service…that at its core, we are working together towards a common goal of getting out over the horizon to bring US naval presence to every corner of the globe. One of my best days as Weapons Officer was when the whole ordnance division came together to get a gun working again. We had finally been able to get a technical representative out to the ship while on deployment, and down to the youngest seaman, the team pulled together to figure out the problem with the help of that technician. They stayed up all night outside on a pitching deck, they read the manuals cover-to-cover, the electronics technicians from another department pitched in to help solder wires…and honestly, the gun never did get working again. But the ship came together as a team to solve a problem. It was so inspiring and a good example of teamwork at its best.

What do you find most frustrating?

I have been lucky to experience the very best of our personnel system, but I know that others have really grated against the “golden path”. Honestly, if I were to get out after my department head rides, that would be why…because I don’t believe there is enough flexibility for me to have a family and continue to serve. There seems to be little flexibility in how we build up our officers towards command at sea. I know that there have been lots of steps taken recently to attempt to fix this, and I’m really hoping that this will get better over the next few years.

Additionally, in my at-sea billets, I found that the amount of administrative burden placed on the ships in terms of reporting, powerpoints, stop-light charts, surveys, and instantaneous video reporting made officers almost ineffective as leaders because they were so tied to their computers fulfilling administrative requirements.

When and why did you decide to stay in the Navy?

I decided to sign on for my department head tours when I was trying to make sure that I could co-locate with my husband Chris before we were married. I knew that a single long tour would keep me geographically stable so that he could come to Mayport and know that I’d be there…but to get that single-long-tour configuration, I needed to sign up for my department head tours. I also just really loved being a SWO :-)

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

I would give more autonomy to our Commanding Officers. Even as a division officer, I frequently saw that my CO did not have very much decision-making power. Our capacity to connect even a three-star admiral down to the lowest tactical level makes it easy to do so, even when it might be better to…not. This phenomenon of feeling watched permeated down to the lowest levels. Even our junior petty officers knew that our interactions were being scrutinized. The days of going over the horizon and having true autonomy in command seem to be gone.

What single most important lesson or piece of advice would you give to Navy leaders?

To look at fixing the culture of our mid-grade leadership. How can we improve? Our JO’s don’t want to stay in. They are demoralized, and they don’t see their leadership having fun, enjoying their jobs, being fulfilled in their jobs. By a huge margin, JO’s don’t want their boss’s job, and they don’t want to be Commanding Officers. We need to fix this!

What’s next for you?

I’m on my shore tour for another year or so, then will head off to department head school in early 2017. My husband and I haven’t decided yet where we might want to be stationed, but we’re considering Norfolk and Rota.

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OCIMF-Ice-accretion-iiWithout revolution and revolutionaries it is hard to significantly change large, hidebound institutions. It takes crisis, preferably one of the existential variety, to overcome the vested interest, power, influence nodes, and just plain habits that have been in place so long they have become part of the landscape everyone works around. With time, they grow as they collect accretions in a self-justifying cycle of mutual reinforcement.

In Wednesday’s post, RADM Bruner, USN frames his discussion around Col. Boyd’s OODA Loop concept. No reason to dive in there, the Cult of Boyd is well established and I have nothing to add to the canon, but it is what is inside the frame that I find of interest.

Inside that frame, Bruner brought his ship alongside that well established enemy of all that is good and holy, our self-defeating bureaucracy;

Technology, particularly use of information technology systems (including the internet), has moved so quickly the past few decades that our enemies can design, steal or borrow new ideas for weapons or equipment, share information and quickly move out well in advance of our ability to counter those ideas. Yet we remain mired in the same processes used to design, build, budget and produce those items our military needs, more or less unchanged, since the 1960s.

The reason it still exists is that changing it has not been a priority of civilian and uniformed leadership in the Pentagon and leadership of both parties on The Hill.

Why? Well to ask that question is to answer it. There are other priorities. For the last few decades we have rewarded and promoted those who are more interested in flash-in-the-pan concepts such as the Cult of Transformationalism, trying to garner political favors through focusing on socio-political agendas unrelated and antithetical to a well-run military, or giving speeches in support of failed programs that read more like defense industry spokesmen vice customers of the defense industry.

Where has the effort gone to bringing the edifice and infrastructure of our defense establishment in to the 21st Century? We are spending all our capital on paint, wallpaper, WiFi, and scented candles while the heat is supplied by a coal-fired furnace and the “facilities” are chamber pots and outhouses.

… if we decide we need to produce a new, non-complex weapon, it takes a minimum of three or four years to actually deliver that weapon to the field.

We have begun to change – small but necessary steps, are being made. There is an Urgent Operational Needs process that allows the warfighter to quickly request a new capability, if the request meets certain policy criteria. A group of senior decision makers meets every two weeks to ensure urgent warfighter needs are being met as quickly as possible. They work together to push through the bureaucracy, even working outside the Department of Defense – with the Department of State and leadership on Capitol Hill. There have been successes. However, at the same time we make these small but important steps towards flexibility, we continue to struggle with new policy constraints or modifications to current requirements in existing systems.

Each year, those accretions grow. They only grow because they are allowed to. Why are they allowed to? Leadership and priorities.

We must build a process that results in capability fielded quickly … We need the ability to spend money on new efforts today … We need flexibility to change programs …

Those are all great aspirations, and everyone who has to do their best inside the existing systems would love to do that, but they can’t. Why? It is because of the system they are forced to use. Who is forcing them to use it? The leadership of the Executive and Legislative Branches of government.

We have to tighten our own OODA Loop to decide and act far more quickly so that the enemy can’t get inside it, cannot work around it – or use our own process against us. Bottom line – we must change.

We have identified the “what” and outlined the “so what.” That leaves the “what next.”

Hate to say it, but we (those O-9 and below) must stoically wait.

During the English Civil War, in order to win, Parliament had to throw away all the English knew about how to man, train, and equip and army. From equipment to personnel policy, they stripped away everything that was not related to merit and performance on the field – they created the New Model Army.

That New Model Army could not have been created anywhere but during crisis and a break from the ruling establishment’s habits and privileges concerning the military. Sadly, absent some exceptional Executive Branch assignments, radical uniformed promotions from same, and the right leaders in the Legislative Branch of our government, the ossified accretions that are our system will not change.

Maybe we will get lucky and will change while at peace. With luck and the right people, maybe.

Change will have to start at the top. The first block will be something to replace Goldwater-Nichols. When that moves, more can follow – so watch that space. When that moves, the momentum will exist for other large-pixel reforms such as acquisition reform.

With all the vested business and political interest, it will be a rough and bloody battle that will leave in its wake a detritus of expended personnel and political capital, and more than one or two careers on the butcher bill. Worth the price; but the time is not ripe for that battle – there are no leaders, no plan, and as of yet, no massing of force to tilt against the Iron Triangle.

Until then? All we can do is what Bruner recommends, with little hammers tapping away at places we can access to make,

… small and necessary steps …

The big battles must wait.

Think, plan, prepare, ponder; and watch the horizon for sails.

As part of Women in Writing Week, we recognize one of the first female role models in the Navy: Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. Here she is on The David Letterman Show, at age 80:

Diversity has been an increasingly hot topic in the news lately, especially in the military. Because of its often-political undertones, some people cringe when they hear the word. But diversity brings very real benefits to teams that should not be ignored.strobel usni

Diversity at its very core is courage; It is courage to lead when no one looks like you, courage to speak up when people around outrank you, and courage to listen to opinions that may differ from yours. In my experience as a junior officer on a submarine, and as a woman on a submarine, I have seen the positive effects of diversity in its many forms.

To be frank, not everyone was excited about women on submarines. One of the biggest fears people have with diversity is that it will be forced upon a situation where it “does not matter” and will negatively impact performance. What I found was that action and results spoke much louder than the dull murmur of discontent. After just a few months on board the submarine, we had a casualty in the middle of the night. I threw on my uniform and ran to the scene to help. I was amazed and encouraged by how quickly every member of the crew jumped at the call to save the ship; I have observed this to be a crucial tenet of the submarine force.

I call this my “hair story” because once the casualty subsided, everyone jokingly commented on how crazy my hair was. The truth of the matter was that I ran to the scene in the middle of the night; who cares how my hair looks? I can laugh about it now but at the time I felt a dichotomy. When it came to fighting the ship in a casualty, it did not matter if I was an officer or enlisted, male or female. As soon as the smoke cleared, however, it was back to how I looked.

In an environment where you have to rely, sometimes with your life, on the person standing watch next to you, it only makes sense that we should strive to have the best operators. To achieve this goal, we need to include everyone regardless of gender, race, religion, or opinion. Countless times underway, a Fireman has saved the day by speaking up and making sound recommendations without fear of being unheard. This is one of the very positive impacts of diversity: the courage to speak up and the courage to listen to differing opinions. This is what has made our nation great in the past and it will continue to make us elite in the future.

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