Archive for the 'Training & Education' Category
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”) 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.” 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.
 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.
We are part of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, a group of junior personnel charged to bring rapid prototypes and emerging technology to the fleet. Part of the job is acting as agents for innovation, and as a result, we meet with organizations in the civilian world and government who are pushing boundaries, building new tools, and making the tech of tomorrow a reality today. When we visit new companies and organizations, we try to capture the principles and characteristics that make them effective.
On our most recent trip we visited Scaled Composites, a small aerospace engineering company based in Mojave, California that produces custom aircraft from concept to flight. Our key takeaway was that the company’s value proposition is built on a passion for aviation, and using bold materials and groundbreaking design engineering to overcome technical challenges. This has been the company’s passion since the beginning, resulting in a number of innovative projects, including winning the $10 million Ansari X-Prize in 2004 for a suborbital space flight in SpaceShipOne, the first privately built manned spacecraft. We liked that they do not limit themselves to traditional aircraft designs and construction techniques, as shown by one of their ongoing projects, the StratoLauncher. Designed to launch a payload into low earth orbit with more flexibility than traditional launch systems StratoLauncher will be the biggest airplane ever built.
From the beginning, it was clear that we were dealing with something different. We met the President of the company, Kevin Mickey, early on a workday, and most of us didn’t realize who we were talking to, until he passed out his business card and showed us a company overview slideshow with his title on it. The contrast to our own naval culture was readily apparent. There was no entourage, no aide or executive assistant hovering around to serve his every need, and he insisted on talking on a first name basis, making us feel completely at home.
After an hour-long discussion on the company, its mission and culture, and how they are pushing the limits of aircraft material and design, we toured the factory floor and saw their unique corporate culture in action. The company’s corporate values showed through, from Kevin knowing his employees by first name and greeting every one we passed, to the close working relationships and collaboration we saw between the shop workers and engineers. This was clearly a company that places its people first, in pursuit of solving big technical challenges.
Walking the floor and observing the manufacturing process, the group asked whether given the name, the company and its employees had a special passion for building with composites. Surprisingly, the answer was no. The materials used by Scaled Composites are actually conventional in the world of composite engineering. The company uses composites for the simple reason that building with them is the quickest pathway from design to flight, and allows rapid progress in short timelines.
Mojave is a desolate place. The town is dry, windswept, and has a population of fewer than 4,000. Scaled Composites attracts employees by giving them interesting problems to solve, and keeps them by continuing to challenge them with rewarding projects. Of the 550 employees in the company, over 60% are pilots themselves, and work on aircraft as a hobby. After building and fling aircraft all day, it is very common for employees to then go home and continue building and flying their own personal projects. Project teams are purpose-built around customer problems, and deliberately small and collaborative. There is a large amount of latitude for individual employees, based on a trust that they are trying their best to work for the company and to deliver a high quality product for the customer.
The company’s management exists to keep barriers away from the employees on the factory floor doing the actual work of the company, and serving the needs of its people, in order to put out a better product, more quickly. An interesting concept we discussed was the idea of the company being successful because of all the things it is not doing. This includes eliminating unnecessary process and oversight, preventing too much of an employee’s time from being spent in meetings, and undue reporting requirements to the corporate management. They quickly get rid of anything that gets in the way of employees designing and building aircraft.
In discussing oversight, questions of risk tolerance and failure came up. Kevin related that in building inventive aircraft and in providing latitude to engineers and floor workers, failure does occur. But what differentiates them from traditional development processes in, say, the government, is that they focus not on elimination of failure, but rather on ensuring they fail early in a project, and for the right reasons. An honest mistake is not punished, with the idea that an employee who makes a mistake for the right reasons is actually very unlikely to fail that way again. Negligence can’t be tolerated, but whole-scale risk aversion is toxic for a group. A key reminder for us was that if progress is going to be made, a healthy culture of risk tolerance is critical. At Scaled Composites, the atmosphere is anything but “zero defect.”
Overall, what lessons did we learn, and how can we in the Navy and Marine Corps apply them? This is an interesting question, since Scaled Composites is a for-profit company, with a mission of financial gain through deliverance of the best product it can. Meanwhile the military exists to win our nation’s wars, without a commercial profit motive. But there is one overriding commonality we observed: in both of these seemingly disparate missions, the people should come first. If you encourage a culture that questions boundaries, provides an intellectual challenge, is willing to reward boldness and even encourages failure in the pursuit of overcoming challenges, you attract and develop the kinds of people who dare to fail and drive outsized success when they win. This culture develops boldness, creativity and audacity that lead to considering more and bigger ideas, and cultivates people willing to try these ideas. As a result of this focus on people, Scaled Composites has been able to deliver a consistently high level of quality and breadth of products. For a military organization, a focus on people will result in enlisted and officers who aren’t afraid to act boldly and accept risk in accomplishing a mission. This will enable the capability and capacity to ensure we are building combat-ready forces in peacetime in order to win decisively in times of conflict.
In the military, we put our people first. Said another way, our people are the most important tool for winning wars, ideas are next, and the technology we use serves both. This is an oft-repeated paradigm, and while we aren’t perfect in following it, it has been proven true time and time again, throughout history. We must ensure we keep this focus. Wars are won by commanders with the vision and boldness to make hard decisions, and by Sailors, Airmen, Soldiers and Marines with the courage to carry those actions out. This paradigm is hardly unique to the military however, and we can learn much from people and organizations outside the DoD who share this commitment. In Scaled Composites, we saw just that. The company’s bold vision, failure tolerant and risk accepting culture attracts, and more importantly, develops and retains the type of employees who are comfortable with risk. Inculcated in a “dream big” culture, employees are encouraged to think boldly and pursue radical ideas. From this milieu of people and ideas, new technologies and airplanes are born, with many failures, but with enough successes that the company remains on the leading edge of the aeronautical field. The big successes that have put the company on the map, such as introducing manned spaceflight to the private market, are a testament to the philosophy of supporting and challenging their people. Scaled Composites is a model that is hard to ignore, and a valuable example to the Navy.
With the recent spate of media attention on the firing of LtCol Kate Germano and the separate physical standards that female Marines have been held to for years, I feel the need to clear up some misconceptions, particularly those that hold that female Marines prefer lower standards and that such standards in any way benefit the Marine Corps.
I have been a Marine for over 17 years. Prior to my commissioning, I was a midshipman for four years. During those 21+ years, I have never heard a single female Marine express satisfaction with any physical standard that was less than that required by the men she served with, nor have I heard a female Marine express a desire for separate and different training. On the contrary, the prevailing attitude among women has repeatedly held that lower, easier standards for women were stupid, made women seem weaker and less capable, and were in the end downright dangerous, and that integrated training is the only way to go.
Over the past month, stories about LtCol Kate Germano’s “agenda” have been circulated in the news (her agenda seems to be all about holding women to the same standards as the men, seeking gender-integrated training, and similar supposedly tough demands). While I cannot speak with authority about the specifics of an “abrasive” leadership style, I can certainly talk about her complaints regarding the separate—lower—standards applied to female Marines. In fact, I am beginning to feel like a broken record. And in conversations I have had over the past two weeks, it seems many women, both those currently serving and those who have left the military, feel the same way. See my past posts about the PFT and pullups for some past discussion.
So to make this perfectly clear, women by and large do not appreciate, deserve, or desire different physical standards to be a Marine, nor do they benefit from them. Female Marines do not clamor for lower standards, don’t seek simply to achieve the minimum of said lower standards, and rarely speak approvingly of such standards. Those of us serving today did not create the existing standards, and do not benefit from their existence. On the contrary, we repeatedly and vocally deplore the lower standards applied to women (70-second flexed arm hang? Red boxes on the O-Course?), and have described the implications of lower standards as restrictive, dangerous, and biased.
Lower, different physical standards for women are restrictive, because they teach women and men alike that women simply aren’t capable of tougher physical achievements. Higher standards may be tough to reach at first but they are reachable, and by holding expectations low we are just teaching that that’s all we can expect from women.
Lower, different standards are biased, because they separate Marines into two categories based on nothing but stereotypical beliefs that certainly don’t apply easily to any individual, male or female, who decides they want to become a Marine. Seriously, who wants to become a watered-down version of a Marine? We wanted to become Marines because of what Marines stand for. We didn’t want to become half-Marines, or Marines with an asterisk. We wanted the whole deal.
And above all, such standards are dangerous, because they call into question the abilities of female Marines based on externally-held beliefs about what those Marines are capable of. And really, the danger goes much deeper than that. I co-authored a Proceedings piece about that some time ago.
Why are separate standards for women there? Read First Class, by Sharon Disher, or Breaking Out, by Laura Brodie, to get an idea of how those standards were set and who really was asking for them (hint: it wasn’t the women trying to join the academies or VMI. It was the middle-aged men making the decisions and regulations.).
So to sum up: separate and unequal physical standards help no one and endanger everyone; most of us do not want or need separate standards; and the Marine Corps would be better with one standard for Marines based on the needs of the job. Stop blaming female Marines for being subject to lower physical standards, and start listening to them when they say they don’t want them. For crying out loud, we have been saying it long enough. That is all.
Please join us at 5 pm (EDT) on 9 August 2015 for Midrats Episode 292: The Force of the Future w/Acting Under SECDEF Brad R. Carson:
If people are your most important asset, as the hardware people look to a future of F-35s, SSBN(X), and the FORD Class CVN, what are the steps being taken to set of the personnel structure to address future requirements?
Our guest to discuss this and more for the full hour will be Brad R. Carson, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.
Mr. Carson was appointed by President Obama to serve as the Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness on April 2, 2015. He currently serves as the 31st Under Secretary of the United States Army and Chief Management Officer of the Army.
He has previously served as General Counsel of the Department of the Army Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, member of the U.S. Congress representing the 2nd Congressional District of Oklahoma, academia, and a lawyer in private practice.
His military service includes a deployment in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM December 2008 until December 2009, as a United States Navy intelligence officer.
Mr. Carson holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Baylor University, Phi Beta Kappa. He received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. Mr. Carson also holds a J.D. from the University of Oklahoma.
Please join us at 5pm (EDT), 2 August 2015 for Midrats Episode 291: Nashville, Omar, Nigeria and Kurdistan, Long War Hour w/ Bill Roggio
This summer, the terrain shifted in the long war that we thought we needed to bring back one of our regular guests, Bill Roggio, to discuss in detail for the full hour.
Bill is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Bill is also the President of Public Multimedia Inc, a non-profit news organization; and the founder and Editor of The Long War Journal, a news site devoted to covering the war on terror. He has embedded with the US and the Iraqi military six times from 2005-08, and with the Canadian Army in Afghanistan in 2006. Bill served in the US Army and New Jersey National Guard from 1991-97.
Mabus announced a plan to boost the sea service’s enlisted female recruitment efforts to at least 25 percent of all accessions during a mid-May speech at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. The move, he said, will help attract, recruit and retain women in communities in which they are underrepresented.
“[We] need more women in the Navy and Marine Corps; not simply to have more women, but because a more diverse force is a stronger force,” Mabus told an auditorium of midshipmen.
“I’d like to do better than that,” Mabus told reporters Tuesday following an address at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “I think that one in four is a floor, not a ceiling, and if people keep using one in four, I think it’s going to be.”
“The services have got to be friendlier when you come in, because even if you get enough women, we’re losing too many between eight and 12 years,” he said.
In the last month, our Marine Corps provided those who were watching both an object lesson and a case study on how an organization can tear itself apart when it decides to operate under self-contradicting priorities – priorities that do not share the same understanding of what the goals are.
Like people, organizations can get by for a length of time in self-contradiction, self-delusion, and ultimately self-destructive behavior; as long as it is small and does not have a major impact on the end result, or can be mitgated with a little slight of hand.
They can live multiple lives and promote nested systems under a polite agreement to keep the contradictions below the surface and both sides agree that that larger of the two will work harder to mitigate the contradiction of the smaller. As we Southerners like to say, a polite pretense.
There comes a point of inevitable friction when one party decides to not live by the agreement, or the smaller party gets unmanageably large – or both. There is a point someone stands athwart the whole arrangement and yells, “Halt.” Then the brewing conflict breaks out in to the open.
The organization makes a decision to pretend that the conflict is not there, or can be managed as before. The comfort of the “now” remains the priority, the unknown discomfort “later” identified by the challenge will be someone else’s problem.
When that person comes forward with grit, passion, and a steadfast belief in their cause, it then becomes a story of the reaction as the entrenched inertial of the status-quo resists the challenge that cannot be pushed to another PCS cycle. Via C.H. Chivers at NYT;
For decades the Marine Corps has tolerated, even encouraged, lower performance from the young women who enlist in its ranks, an insidious gender bias that begins with the way women are treated immediately after they sign up and continues through their training at boot camp. The results are predictable – female Marines risk being less confident and less fully accepted than their male counterparts, because the Corps has failed them from the outset.
We have often discussed at USNIBlog the importance of our leaders to “… dare to read, think, speak, and write …” – what can happen when you do?
That is the position of Lt. Col. Kate Germano, an active-duty Marine officer who commanded both a Marine recruiting station in San Diego and a segregated all-female training battalion at Parris Island, the Corps’ boot camp in South Carolina. Colonel Germano presented this argument in a draft article, “When Did It Become an Insult to Train Like a Girl?” that she wrote early this year and in which she argued for tougher standards and higher expectations, or, in her words, a movement toward “radical change.”
The article, which does not address full integration into combat roles but details institutional patterns that Colonel Germano suggests ensure female Marines will not be fully respected by their male peers, had been slated for publication in September in the monthly Marine Corps Gazette, a private publication that serves as the Corps’ de facto professional journal. Then matters grew complicated.
That is just one part of the story – read C.J.’s article not only for the full detail, but to also read LtCol Germano’s article that was spiked;
Colonel Germano was relieved of command at Parris Island in June under circumstances that remain contentious, setting off a controversy about whether she was being punished for what the Corps calls an abusive leadership style, or for forcefully expressing her views about the how the Corps trains and integrates women into its male-dominated ranks.
Soon after she was relieved, the editor of the Gazette, John Keenan, who is also a former Marine colonel, dropped Colonel Germano’s article from the journal’s publication lineup. Her arguments taking the Corps to task for what she depicted as a record of double standards and complacency stood not to reach Marines’ eyes, including such passages as this: “The performance double standard extends to virtually every aspect of recruit training. Over the past decade, female recruits have consistently scored below their male counterparts in every quantifiable category minus the gender-normed physical fitness test. Yet despite the statistics, historical records do not indicate that anyone has ever seriously considered why females have consistently been outperformed at boot camp. Acceptance of the status quo has simply become the norm. Ironically, notwithstanding the delta in female-male performance, a greater percentage of female recruits are promoted by contract to private first class upon graduation, meaning they are also more swiftly promoted to lance corporal in spite of potentially being less qualified. This is essentially where the Marine Corps meritocracy cart goes off the rails.”
A few more quotes, this time from LtCol Germano’s spiked article that gives some context to the below;
In general, from the instant a female applicant joins the delayed entry program (DEP) she faces lower expectations for accountability and performance than her male peers. Females are often allowed to miss applicant physical fitness training, seldom hold leadership positions within their respective recruiting substations, and are frequently allowed to ship to recruit training in spite of not having made progress with their physical development, all of which is observed firsthand by their male counterparts. As a result of this double standard, many female recruits arrive at boot camp utterly unprepared for the mental and physical rigors of training. Even more significant, their male counterparts arrive at recruit training with well-established preconceptions about the difference in accountability for men and women in the Marine Corps based on their observations in the DEP. The double standard is reinforced by the fact that, despite most females having an average of five months in the DEP, their IST failure rate is historically nine times greater than that of their male counterparts.
For years, the females and males on Parris Island conducted the nine-mile hike back from the Crucible separately, only to link up for a joint Emblem Ceremony at the Iwo Jima statue after the hike. Conspicuously, a line of chairs would be staged behind the female formation for recruits who were too “exhausted” or sore to stand. Conversely, there were no chairs staged behind the male formation. It was simply expected that the females would fall out of the formation, and fall out they did because there was no set expectation that standing through the ceremony was part of earning the title of U.S. Marine.
High standards for performance should never be gender-normed and, barring physiological differences, concrete evidence shows that women can perform to the same standards as their counterparts if it is demanded of them. In Fiscal Year 15, the Fourth Battalion witnessed this phenomena firsthand at the rifle range. For decades, the female initial qualification rate on the rifle range at Parris Island hovered between 67% – 78%, compared to 85% – 93% for the male training battalions. The male battalions also produced significantly greater percentages of rifle experts and sharpshooters. In Fiscal Year 15, however, the Fourth Battalion drill instructors received a defined intent for success on the rifle range, and through a strong partnership with Weapons and Field Training Battalion were able to achieve an unprecedented 91.68% female initial qualification average. The key to success was establishing the firm expectation that change was both possible and necessary to improve the credibility of our female recruits- come-new-Marines. Once the drill instructors, coaches, and primary marksmanship instructors began to see success, the movement became contagious. For the first time in history, female recruits are competitive with their male counterparts on the rifle range, proving it is not an insult to “shoot like a girl”. However, for lasting improvement across all of the testable categories to be realized, the Institution must be willing to critically examine the environment in which Marines are made and implement radical changes.
Like I said; read it all. I have not even touched on equally important issues of leadership by investigation or the commissarish use of statistically bad DEOMI surveys.
Back to the big picture.
It is this dynamic we have seen this summer in the story of LtCol Kate Germano, USMC, and her desire to bring the standards of performance and accountability to a higher level in the training of female Marines. For her efforts and passion, she was relieved of her command. The why, how, and the environment it all took place in deserves a screen play – so stick with me as we review it here. Follow every link and read it all where the links take you. There is a lot here. Here is the base conflict as I see it.
There are two pressures in the further integration of female Marines; one is from a socio-political camp of the senior civilian leadership, the other is from the operational side of the Marine Corps. The former has two sides to it as well – a paternalistic passive-aggressive vibe that doesn’t expect as much from women as men and therefor sees no reason to demand it , and another that is driven by the worst of sophomore gender-studies seminar course theory.
The later knows that female Marines will be put in harm’s way as much as the men and if that is the case, then they need to be able to perform, be respected by their male peers, and not be a net drag to their unit. The enemy does not care if you are XX or XY, they just want to kill you. You need to be able to kill them first with equal ability. I’m not going to spend much time on the paternalistic passive-aggressive side of the bureaucracy and some of the uniformed leadership, as the that is not where the central character is coming from. No, let’s stick with the source of the friction – a Marine leader who wants her Marines to be the absolute best to serve her Corps, and the socio-political bureaucracy that wants one thing – numbers to feed the metrics.
As part of the Department of the Navy, the USMC must respond to the demand signal of the Secretary of the Navy. That is how it works. As quoted at the top of this post, he has made his goals quite clear. To make it happen though, there is a pipeline problem with that goal that the real world is putting in their way.
It is a well documented challenge to not just recruit women who have the inclination and desire to be in the service, but also to find enough women who have the physical stamina to meet what should be tough but fair physical requirements to be a Marine. Anyone involved in female athletics knows exactly what that basic challenge is.
If you have an artificial numerical goal of a difficult to gather sub-set, every number counts – especially if achieving that number is your priority. To achieve that goal, you have to look hard at every barrier in your way. What are structural, what are required, what are optional. What is the cost and benefit of the removal of each barrier relative to the value you place on each variable? There is the rub.
What if everyone in your organization does not agree that strict numbers of that sub-set are the priority, but quality is? If each barrier from recruiting interview to graduation has a given attrition rate and can impact that final number, what if instead of removing barriers, another person with a different value system decides that many of these barriers are not barriers at all – but are performance gates. Not only should some of them not be removed or lowered, but a few might need to be added, and others raised.
Additional performance gates – standards if you will – and enhanced standards will have two results; first they will ensure at the end of the process you have a higher quality product of that subset, but it also means that you will have fewer numbers of that sub-set.
A thought exercise; if you have a job to do that requires 10 people, does it matter if six are wearing blue shirts and four are wearing red shirts if all 10 people are equally qualified? No. OK, what if eight wear blue and two red? Again, does not matter.
What if all six in blue are qualified, but of those in red, only two are? What is the sane and right thing to do?
1. Being that you are out of people wearing red shirts, but have a bench full of blue shirts, replace the two unqualified in red with qualified blue?
2. Instead of making the swap out, you insist that you like the 6/4 color ratio because it looks good in pictures, and your team will just have to deal with it?
If a competitor comes out on the field, they are all wearing yellow by the way, with 10 people who are all fully qualified, who wins? Where do you put the smart money?
LtCol Germano has only done what we have always asked our leaders to do; take the job you were detailed to do, and make it better. Take care of your people, enhance the ability of the service, and accomplish the mission.
It appears that LtCol Germano thought her mission was to help produce the best female Marines she could. She tried to do that, and was fired.
I guess she was wrong. It looks like there was another mission, one founded on the soft-bigotry of low expectations, lower standards, a fear of Star Chamber like investigations, and ultimately a fealty to metrics.
You see, the numbers are needed for the right metrics, because, we must feed Vaal.
Of course, this internal conflict has a frag pattern. There are good people up and down the command structure that were put in a difficult position. How do they respond to this internal self-contradiction?
That is where you have a whole series of interesting character stories. From the immediate superior in command, first General Officer in the chain of command, the SNCOs, the Junior Officers – and ultimately the recruits themselves. Are they in the right? The wrong? Both?
What lessons do they take away from it all? What do we?
UPDATE: If you want more detail and a rather sad showing of “feelings vs. facts” and leadership by DEOMI survey and investigations – click here.
The following essay was submitted to the 2015 Capstone Essay Contest by MIDN (now ENS) Steven Hallgren and is published as submitted. This is the first of several essay contest submissions that will be published in the coming weeks.
On September 25th, 2011 in the Northeastern port city of Dalian, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) brought the newly-refurbished aircraft carrier Liaoning into service. The commissioning came as the result of a decades-long endeavor to acquire such a ship, and perhaps more importantly represented China’s ambitions to establish blue-water naval capabilities. Though the Liaoning itself will only serve as a test bed for Chinese carrier aviation and ostensibly will never see operational service, it nevertheless shows progress towards China’s ultimate goal of bolstering its fleet with home-built carriers. A PLAN fleet with power-projecting aircraft carriers would profoundly expand China’s naval capabilities in the hotly-contested waters of Southeast Asia. As the initial sea trials of Liaoning usher in the age of the Chinese carrier fleet, it is worth examining how the PLAN would employ such assets within its greater maritime strategy.
From a broad perspective, China’s quest for a carrier fleet is a manifestation of its need to defend its territorial claims from foreign threats in much the same way that it had to defend its tremendous landmass from continental threats throughout history. More concrete ideology launched a fervent pursuit of an aircraft carrier dating back to the 1980’s when Soviet-trained Admiral Liu Huaqing began shaping China’s maritime direction. Increasing strain across the Taiwan Strait primarily fueled what he described as the “extremely necessary” urge to manifest China’s maritime—and, ergo, national—power in the form of a carrier. Since the 2000s, waning tensions with Taiwan have shifted China’s maritime focus towards new areas—though the pursuit of a carrier has remained constant.
Liaoning began her peculiar life as Varyag, intended to be an aircraft carrier of the Soviet Navy. Her construction halted with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, and Varyag was left incomplete to rust in a Ukrainian shipyard until the Chinese purchased the empty hull in 2000. After an elaborate trek out of the Mediterranean and around the world to Dalian, Varyag entered a decade-long refit period, culminating in her renaming and commissioning as Liaoning.
As with many aspects of its military, the PLAN is far from forthcoming with the features and capabilities of its infant carrier. However, its expected specifications can be approximated based on the small amount of information China has released and the Soviet Admiral Kuznetzov class to which Varyag belonged. The carrier will host a modestly-sized air wing totaling around 50 aircraft, divided between J-10 and J-15 fighters and an assortment of helicopters used for anti-electronic warfare (AEW) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW). Additionally, Liaoning’s ship-board weapons include a CIWS defense system, air-defense missiles, and ASW offensive missiles.
In analyzing the impact of carrier developments on the PLAN fleet, care must be taken to avoid falling into the trap of directly comparing Chinese capabilities to those of the American Navy. As a result of this practice, many analysts tend to be overly dismissive of the carrier.  While by any measure the Nimitz class aircraft carriers objectively outperform Liaoning, such comparisons are only illuminating insofar as the two ships would be expected to meet each other in combat. Direct naval combat with the American Navy is not only substantially unlikely, but also entirely beyond the strategic maritime scope of the PLAN.
Further, even assuming the current state of Liaoning to be the effective extent of the Chinese carrier program is rather short-sighted. As mentioned previously, the PLAN does not even intend for Liaoning to become an operational ship. That being said, it serves as a useful proxy for future carrier development as it not only will become a “modestly capable” ship in its own right, but will also serve to train the PLAN in the tactics and employment of such an asset. As such, although direct contrast with the more familiar and transparent capabilities of Western navies is simple, a more useful analysis is achieved through a localized assessment of the impact of a PLAN-operated carrier strike group in the Western Pacific. After all, Asian waters currently host a power vacuum waiting to be filled by the first Asian nation with a fully-operational carrier.
Having broadly established the current state of China’s carrier program, the question then becomes how a fleet with operational aircraft carriers would change China’s ability to achieve its strategic maritime objectives. Naturally, the strategy of the Chinese military is every bit as wide-sweeping and nuanced as that of any other major power. Even still, it is possible to observe recurring themes within those plans, isolate the capabilities needed to achieve them, and analyze the extent to which a carrier navy would bolster those capabilities. From a regional security perspective, perhaps two of the most important strategic objectives are China’s desires to establish a broad territorial claim over the South China Sea and to define itself as a major power of the Western Pacific.
China continues to assert ambiguous and expansive territorial authority over the islands and waters of the South China Sea. Its claims have engendered considerable regional maritime disputes over the status of small islands, reefs, and even rocks that now define foreign relations in the Western Pacific. China’s maritime neighbors and several members of the international community continually contest China’s state position to prevent it from becoming legitimized. One of the primary means by which China strengthens its position in such disputes is through its own maritime patrols conducted by the PLAN. Such patrols aim to simultaneously use military force to assert control over the region while also effectively deterring its Pacific neighbors from doing the same. Analysts typically categorize such operations as anti-access/area denial (A2/AD), which describes the general maritime strategy of restricting competitive access to a region.
Ultimately, A2AD campaigns and the defense of territorial claims fundamentally cannot be supported entirely from shore. As a case study, consider the Johnson South Reef Skirmish fought between China and Vietnam in 1988. The Spratly Islands are just one of the numerous contested territories that China lays claim to. These islands, located over 1,000 nautical miles from the Chinese mainland, are also claimed by Vietnam, among other parties in the region. When a skirmish broke out between the two nations, the Chinese faced unexpected difficulties countering attacks on their fleet by Vietnamese aircraft.
During the conflict, Chinese aircraft had to operate from a distant Chinese-controlled airfield. The transit time from the base to the area of operation was so long that the aircraft were left with only four to five minutes of time on station, dramatically limiting their effectiveness against their Vietnamese adversaries. Admiral Chen Weiwen, a commander during the battle, noted later that “if…we had our own [air] cover from a nearby aircraft carrier, we would simply not have had to fear Vietnam’s air force.” Land-based assets play a critical role in their own time and place, but that place is frankly not in rapidly changing, forward operating areas.
Aircraft carriers are occasionally caricatured as being “several thousand tons of diplomacy,” but the aphorism does hold weight. In the Spratly scenario as with the rest of China’s maritime claims, no act of diplomacy or demonstration of force can compare to moving an aircraft carrier on station. For one, even the mere presence of a carrier would be a deterrent against further escalation, as the resource allocation would demonstrate China’s commitment to the claim. Moreover, the capabilities the carrier brings would be better able to respond to emergent threats than perhaps any other tool in the Chinese arsenal. This combination makes the aircraft carrier virtually indispensable for the preservation of maritime claims. In fact, the United States routinely employs its carriers for this exact purpose, as demonstrated by the stationing of the USS Nimitz and USS Independence off the coast of Taiwan during the height of cross-strait tensions in the mid-90s.
Simultaneously, China has shown interest in becoming the leading nation in the region beyond merely maintaining territorial control. The PLAN has noticeably shifted its development efforts towards acquiring naval capabilities beyond mere defense and offense, to include the mission sets of counterpiracy and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HADR). Such military operations other than war (MOOTW) on behalf of the international community require the foundational capabilities of forward presence and power projection coupled with the platforms and equipment necessary to carry out such tasking.
Accordingly, the utility of aircraft carriers extends far beyond strictly military endeavors. For the same reasons that they are vital to power projecting operations, carriers can also play an instrumental role in virtually any military staging operation far from home. China will almost certainly employ carriers to expand its gradually growing peacekeeping and HADR mission set. Recently, the PLAN has only just begun to dip its toes into these waters. Since 2008, the PLAN has continuously participated in counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, marking its first foray into conducting open-water MOOTWs.
Such operations ultimately are diplomatic tools used to not only strengthen China’s reputation in the international community, but also to establish China as a major regional power. While counter-piracy operations can be effectively conducted with a frigate- and destroyer-based fleet such as China currently has, the addition of aircraft carriers into its arsenal opens up substantially more potential MOOTWs.
Consider again an example from the United States. In 2011 after Japan was rocked by an earthquake and tsunami, the United States started Operation Tomodachi to provide HADR support to the region. USS Ronald Reagan served as the centerpiece of naval resources and manpower during this operation and coordinated rescue efforts for nearly one month off the coast of Japan. Arguably only an aircraft carrier could offer the combination of endurance, flexibility, and capability required for such a long-term coordinated effort. A PLAN equipped with an aircraft carrier and a healthy complement of rotary wing assets would be capable of conducting similar HADR operations in the South China Sea. The regular completion of such operations would indisputably mark China as a dominant power in the region, and may even fundamentally alter the perceptions Southeast Asian nations have towards China.
Possessing an aircraft carrier is a tremendously potent tool of diplomacy in a way comparable perhaps only to developing nuclear weapons. Though the PLAN’s carrier program is by all accounts still in its infancy, it is maturing rapidly. As initial carrier training is conducted on board Liaoning, reports indicate that work has already begun on China’s first home-built carrier. The reality of a Chinese carrier fleet is no longer a question of “if” so much as “when.” Whether that fleet would pose a legitimate threat to a US carrier strike group is immaterial. A PLAN with carriers will irreparably alter the nature of Southeast Asian relations and indeed the face that China presents to the world.
. Ananth Krishnan, “China Commissions First Aircraft Carrier Liaoning,” The Hindu, 26 September 2012, http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/
. Stew Magnuson, “China’s Navy Takes Great Leap Forward,” National Defense Industrial Association, April 2014, http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/2014/
. Captain Bernard D. Cole, USN, “Drawing Lines at Sea,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, vol. 137, no. 11 (November 2011), 48-51
. Ian Storey and You Ji, “China’s Aircraft Carrier Ambitions,” Naval War College Review, Vol. 57, no. 1 (Winter 2004), 76-93.
. Captain Bernard D. Cole, USN, “China’s Carrier: The Basics,” U.S. Naval Institute News, 27 November 2012, http://news.usni.org/2012/11/27/chinas-carrier-basics.
. “Liaoning (Varyag) Aircraft Carrier, China,” Naval Technology, http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/varyag-aircraft-carrier-china/
 See, for instance, James R. Holmes, “Top 5 Reasons Not to Ballyhoo China’s Carrier,” The Diplomat, 2 October 2012, http://thediplomat.com/2012/10/top-5-reasons-not-to-ballyhoo-chinas-carrier/.
. Bryan McGrath and Seth Cropsey, “The Real Reason China Wants Aircraft Carriers,” Real Clear Defense, 16 April 2014, http://www.realcleardefense.com/articles/2014/04/16/
. Andrew S. Erickson et al., “Beijing’s ‘Starter Carrier’ and Future Steps,” Naval War College Review, vol. 65, no. 1 (Winter 2012), 15-54.
. Donald Kirk, “Asian Aircraft Carrier Race—China Vs. India Vs. Japan,” Forbes Magazine, 13 August 2013, http://www.forbes.com/sites/donaldkirk/2013/08/13/aircraft-carriers-first-chinathen-india-and-japan-all-want-one/
. Vice Admiral R.N. Ganesh, Indian Navy, “Maritime Ambitions of China”, Indian Defense Review, 19 February 2013, http://www.indiandefencereview.com/news/
. Kevin Baumert and Brian Melchior, “Maritime Claims in the South China Sea,” Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs, U.S. Department of State, 5 December 2014, http://www.state.gov/
. Peter Dutton, “Three Disputes and Three Objectives: China and the South China Sea,” Naval War College Review, vol. 64, no. 4 (Autumn 2011), 42-67.
. “China’s Activities in Southeast Asia and the Implications for U.S. Interests,” United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 4 February 2010, http://origin.www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/transcripts/2.4.10HearingTranscript.pdf.
. Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins, “Introducing the Liaoning: China’s New Aircraft Carrier and What it Means,” The Wall Street Journal, 25 September 2012, http://blogs.wsj.com/
. Chun W. Chiang, “Crisis Management in the Taiwan Strait,” U.S. Army War College, 7 April 2003, handle.dtic.mil/100.2/ADA415086
. Ronald O’Rourke, “China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Naval Capabilities – Background and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, 23 December 2014, http://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL33153.pdf.
. Zhou Bo, “Counter-piracy in the Gulf of Aden: Implications for PLA Navy,” China-United States Exchange Foundation, 30 December 2013, http://www.chinausfocus.com/
. Ryan Zielonka et al., “Chronology of Operation Tomodachi,” The National Bureau of Asian Research, http://www.nbr.org/research/activity.aspx?id=121
. Charles Clover, “China Media Confirm Second Aircraft Carrier,” Financial Times, 10 March 2015, http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/0339399a-c6f7-11e4-9e34-00144feab7de.html
Please join us on 12 July 2015 at 5pm (EDT, U.S.) for Midrats Episode 288: “The Between the Ears Challenge”:
Are the growing feelings of crisis, confusion and strategic drift in the national security arena not so much the result of external challenges, but the result of poor thinking and intellectual habits on our part?
Using his article in The National Interest, “The Real Problem with the American Military” as a starting point, our guest for the full hour will be Dakota Wood, Senior Research Fellow on Defense Programs at The Heritage Foundation.
Dakota L. Wood, LtCol USMC (Ret.), Senior Research Fellow for Defense Programs at The Heritage Foundation.
Dakota served two decades in the U.S. Marine Corps. Following retirement, Mr. Wood served as a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
Most recently, Mr. Wood served as the Strategist for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Special Operations Command.
Mr. Wood holds a Bachelor of Science in Oceanography from the U.S. Naval Academy; a Master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the College of Naval Command and Staff, U.S. Naval War College.
As a Junior Officer, it was very enjoyable to drive for an Underway Replenishment (UNREP) – with the sole exception, that is, of trying to make sense of the Radian Rule. I have strong memories of my attempts to internalize the relationship between the bearings and ranges. There always seemed to be one, but I never quite made it to a coherent understanding until much later in sea duty years. As an XO and CO recently, I finally had a more mature understanding of this important ship driving principle as well as numerous opportunities to train and coach Midshipmen and Junior Officers during UNREP events. In this article, I’d like to share a few approaches that take advantage of a more nuanced understanding of this well-known guidance.
The Radian Rule Equation and Its Uses
The rule of thumb that’s encoded in every table of Radian Rule values is laid out below. There are several ways to capitalize on this understanding as the team is either preparing for or executing an UNREP approach. I’ll start with a couple of the more common ones and then introduce three favored approaches to the problem. As a baseline assumption, the goal distance I’ll use for alongside separation is 180 ft. I think you’ll see soon, however, that they work equally well for any alongside separation distance.
Technique #1: Make a List
From a new Conning Officer’s point of view, this was a fairly common approach to the problem of understanding and using the Radian Rule. Many Junior Officers arrived for both the brief and the evolution with a list of bearings and ranges that would indicate the ship was on track for the desired separation. Such a list might look like this:
This technique works well if the team is able to verify bearing to the oiler at each of the yardage milestones on the list, since a single data point is seldom as valuable as a series of consecutive observations. This method is less useful if the range for a given observation isn’t one of the milestones, or if the team misses a milestone.
Technique #2: Use a Radian Rule Table to Determine Separation Distance
This technique is by far the most common, and involves a third party (typically a Quartermaster) looking up each bearing and range combination in a table similar to the excerpt shown below. While it ensures that each data point is useful in determining the overall trend of the ship’s relative motion with respect to the oiler, this method – in my opinion – doesn’t help substantially to develop the Conning Officer’s understanding of that motion. Stated differently, the difference between a good and a great Conning Officer is the ability to add his/her own evaluation of a situation to the input they get from the rest of the bridge team. I believe there are more effective ways (discussed further below) to build this capability in our Junior Officers.
A Note on Advanced Techniques
Techniques #3 – #5 have one prominent feature in common – they all depend on mental math. While this may present a challenge, there are several advantages to these methods. First, mental math promotes independent judgment by the Conning Officer and/or coach for each observation throughout the approach evolution. Second, the mental math in these methods requires that the Conning Officer and/or coach build a mental model of the relative motion and internalize the relationships among bearing, range, and lateral separation. Third, from the Conning Officer’s point of view, these techniques offer a different way to learn the evolution and may appeal more intuitively to certain Officers. Finally, from the coach’s point of view, these techniques offer yet another mental tool for dispassionately evaluating the sight picture and ensuring the bridge team is appropriately focused on providing good inputs to the Conning Officer.
With these points in mind, I’ll introduce three non-traditional techniques. Each of these relies on the Conning Officer’s and coach’s ability to mentally exploit various forms of the baseline Radian Rule equation.
Technique #3: “The Rule of 3600”
This technique works well in concert with either Approach #1 or #2 above. Since the separation distance for which we’re aiming is a constant (180 ft in this case), the right side of the equation becomes a constant:
Simplifying the Radian Rule equation, then, we get the following:
For any combination of bearing and range, we can multiply them and compare them to 3600. If the product is less than 3600, the ship is approaching the oiler at something less than 180 ft of separation. If the product is greater than 3600, the ship will approach the oiler wide of 180 ft separation. A few examples below illustrate this principle.
While it’s an imperfect measure, this technique allows the Conning Officer to corroborate his or her visual judgment with a quick check of the math, and then to combine those judgments with either of the first two approaches to refine the solution. This technique is very flexible with respect to desired separation distance, as well. If the goal is 200 ft, for instance, then the constant becomes 4000. Finally, this technique provides a good gateway to the next two approaches.
Technique #4: “Where Should You Be Right Now”
With range as an input, the Conning Officer works out the bearing he or she expects to see and then compares that prediction to reality (measured bearing separation). Direction and magnitude of any required course corrections follow relatively easily. The baseline equation, solved for bearing, follows.
This technique is a modification of technique #1, and it has two principal benefits. First, it helps the Conning Officer avoid the persistent need to divert attention from the approach to consult a list of bearings and ranges. Second, it helps to build the Conning Officer’s and/or coach’s comfort with mental math.
Technique #5: “Predict the Separation”
This technique is a modification of technique #3 and an extension of technique #4, using a different arrangement of the equation to anticipate the estimated separation for each bearing and range combination. Solving the Radian Rule equation for separation, the expression becomes:
Once the Conning Officer is adept at the mental math of multiplying the bearing and range, the only remaining step is to divide by 20. The simplest way to do this is to remove a zero and divide by two. A sample is shown below.
This is a mental math version of Approach #2. While this is more difficult than any of the four previous techniques, the principal benefit to this approach is that it gives the Conning Officer and/or coach convenient tools to mentally evaluate the geometry they are seeing on the bow. For the Conning Officer, the nuanced context available from each observation constructively builds the spatial judgment and physical intuition we call Seaman’s Eye. This technique allows the Conning Officer to take maximum advantage of sometimes-scarce evolutions and reinforces a more subtle understanding of the relative motion between ships that sometimes eludes the most seasoned veterans. I found it to be tougher than the other techniques to teach and use, at least at first, but it was infinitely more rewarding when the Conning Officer understood it and was able to use it.
It takes time and effort to learn how to safely conn the ship alongside. Proven techniques that have propelled ships alongside safely for decades are available to those who will take the time to learn and use them, and they can be improved with a small investment in systematic thinking about the geometry built into the evolution. Techniques #3 – #5 suggest ways to exploit the mathematical relationships inherent to the Radian Rule that offer two significant benefits. First, they build confidence in coaches by encouraging a more intuitive understanding of the relative motion throughout the UNREP approach. Second, they help build Seaman’s Eye in our Junior Officers by sharing those insights with the fertile minds of the Officers who drive the ship most frequently, and who are most apt to exploit them effectively.
Innovation is the buzzword of the day in naval circles. On the heels of Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’ “Task Force Innovation,” even Senator John McCain is calling out for innovation in the armed forces. The latter recently signaled the alarm bell in Wired magazine, paraphrasing a famous campaign line by stating, “the Pentagon confronts an emerging innovation gap.”
These leaders often cite the example of Silicon Valley, the mecca of small start-up companies and modern American entrepreneurism. The thinking goes that, if only our services could exude more “disruptive thinking,” or acquire systems faster, or flatten organizational structures—then we will achieve success.
Yet the US Navy is not a small start-up. And while many of our Sailors and Marines have great ideas that will impact technology and Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP) across the range of military operations, there is an insidious creep arising amid the growing “innovation gap:” central planning.
Successful innovation in the Navy has no program office, no resource sponsor. Yet as Congress and leaders begin to demand or expect it, we are in danger of morphing the ingenuity of individuals into “capital-I Innovation.” One can imagine a fate not too dissimilar to that of acquisition versus Acquisition.
Since his speech at the Sea Air Space conference in April, SECNAV has been regularly posting memoranda on his Navy.mil website. Each document contains background information on a particular area—robotics, for example—and then a list of “shall” accomplish requirements for the Chief of Naval Operations and Commandant of the Marine Corps, all to be completed by a specified date.
Make no mistake: this is an important advancement for our Navy. Introducing an element of outside-the-box thinking from on high is part of what our service needs.
But “shall” actions with a defined deadline miss the point of innovation. In fact, the concept of innovation itself stands at odds with the increasingly managerial, assembly-line service we live in. True innovation has no timeline; good ideas and products are tied to neither the Fleet Readiness Training Plan (FRTP) nor the Joint Capabilities Integration Development System (JCIDS). Few people, if any, whether they were in Silicon Valley or their parents’ garage, ever woke up and said, “By tomorrow, I am going to come up with a revolutionary idea.”
Instead of attempting to mandate innovation with deadlines and taskers, Senator McCain and Secretary Mabus should be leading discussions in three important areas:
First, how does the Navy deal with questions? SECNAV is already talking about this, but it is important to have a larger discussion on the topic. Failure to attain qualifications and expertise in rate or platform can still be unacceptable, but what about the few who show up to quarters with ideas on how to make their small corner of the Navy better, more efficient? What about the folks who constructively ask, “Why are we doing it this way?” We should expect excellence in systems and tactics, while also having the capacity to challenge our people to suggest and implement improvements in those systems and tactics. Connecting like-minded service members and making more centers for experimentation available are part of the solution, but so is leadership—from the LPO and Department Head level and beyond— that looks at its “quirky” sailors less as nuisances and more as potential assets.
Second, how does the Navy deal with failure? Operational Risk Management, or ORM, is championed around the Fleet and seems to be a mainstay in everything from work center training to holiday safety briefs. But what do we do with officers or enlisted sailors who have the right intentions and either attempt to push their platforms too far or have a momentary lapse in judgment? Our current zero-defect mentality belies our naval history: Admiral Nimitz, one of our most storied heroes of WWII, ran his first ship aground as a young lieutenant. He was allowed to continue his service, and a court-martial declared that “he is a good officer and will probably take more care in the future.” Have our platforms become so expensive, and has our fear of public relations become so pervasive, that we would fire today’s sailors in a similar predicament? What does that say about the leadership we are actually cultivating? Not all failure is catastrophic or should be treated as such.
Third, what do we do with innovative service members? Can a tinker-sailor-leader-innovator become a commanding officer of a ship, submarine, or aviation squadron if she accepts shore tour orders to a billet in ONR or the Pentagon? What if she delivers benefits to Navy platforms or TTPs while she is in this “non-production billet?” This will speak more to interested sailors—and to coaxing a groundswell of innovation—than dictates from above.
Senator McCain is right in his op-ed: our services need acquisition reform. This is a large part of the solution towards adapting to the pace of technological change.
But the greatest advancement that the Senator or Secretary Mabus could make is to view the current innovation movement not as a program of record or urgent operational need (UON), but rather as a core operating concept. We want a service that is more lethal, agile, and responsive without shelling over outrageous sums to defense contractors. Sailors and civilians, whether they are in the Fleet or in the Pentagon, are capable of outstanding innovation to that end. They need the inspiration to try, make mistakes, and carry on without fear for their jobs or their fitness reports.
This requires no act of Congress and should not be passed down through memoranda. Rather, it is a discussion to have and a change in thinking required both in the halls of the Capitol Building and throughout the Fleet. We must move from a service dictated by metrics and managers to a team inspired by leaders. This is the paradigm shift required for our Navy to move forward in this century.