Archive for the 'Training & Education' Category

CAPT Cooper’s “Retaining Our Most Talented…To Fight And Win” is both exhilarating and empowering. As a SWO and Officer Recruiter (OR) for all 3 accession sources, provided are actionable recommendations to support PERS-41’s goals in front-end talent management.

For USNA/NROTC, the first sales pitch is at grey hull cruise. Deep engagement is necessary and a responsibility that lies with the COs of ships. The Midshipman Early Ship Selection Initiative is on-target to emphasize this priority.

Within Navy Recruiting Command, there are opportunities. The following are immediate impact changes that parallel the paradigm shift from ‘most willing’ to ‘most talented’ for recruiting:

  1. Allow SWO to be third or below choice on applications. Currently, if an applicant desires SWO behind two other communities, their application is an immediate nonselect, regardless of qualifications or desire to serve as a Naval Officer in any capacity. This creates a barrier to entry for competitive nonselects of Nuclear Power, Civil Engineer Corps and Naval Aviation (all of which are prioritized via incentives for ORs).
  2. If selected SWO before next higher board convenes, work with SWO ORs to push sale for acceptance vice waiting. Once the next community selects an applicant, the offer for SWO is retracted. Alternatively, remove requirement for ranking of programs until after boards convene.
  3. In some cases, the SWO application is more cumbersome than others. Because we are competing so extensively with other communities for talent, our application should be streamlined to the least common denominator. By removing recommendation letters and test requirements, for example, our checklist requirements would match the Nuclear Power and Civil Engineer Corps programs.
  4. Create Board Precept to be disseminated to the field outlining attributes desired by the initial talent pool as well as quantifiers for recruiter identification.
  5. Insert a structured interview with an O-3 or above SWO into the application process.

At the “identify” step, the perception among ORs is that the SWO program is leftovers. This perception is valid in that our ideal applicant is poorly defined compared to other communities. In reality, a SWO prospecting plan is nonexistent because the profile of a SWO top-performer prior to commissioning is unknown.

Beyond the horizon, SWO can differentiate itself by evolving our selection process. Doing so will create a competitive advantage over other communities. While the rest focus on GPA and test scores, the opportunity exists to emulate Fortune 500 companies utilizing job analysis to identify which behavioral competencies are most suitable for their organization and then structuring selection to hire individuals with those attributes.

The OR is our strike capability. If we make SWO distinguishable and recognizable to them, via development and formal communications, the probability of a sale for SWO over another program when better fit exists will increase and reduce the risk that applicants choose another program when SWO may best serve them. This will allow us to attack effectively first in this zero-sum game of talent acquisition.



Please join us at 5pm (EST) on 24 Jan 16 for Midrats Episode 316: “Getting Female Combat Integration Right With LtCol Kate Germano”

How do we get combat integration of women right? The quest has moved well away from “if” and in to “how.”

With an apparent broad disconnect between biological realities, cultural norms, and political desires, what is the right way for military leaders to carry out their orders while ensuring that combat effectiveness is maintained.

Our guest to discuss this and related issues for the full hour will be Lieutenant Colonel Kate Germano, USMC.

Commissioned in August 1996, LtCol Germano has served for over 19 years on active duty in the United States Marine Corps. A combat veteran, she additionally participated in numerous operational and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief deployments. Ashore, her duties including a year as the Marine Aide to the Secretary of the Navy.

She was selected for command twice, most recently as the commanding officer of the Marine Corps’ only all-female unit, the 4th Recruit Training Battalion. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Goucher College, where she majored in History with a pre-law emphasis. In 2011, she graduated with distinction from the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, earning her Masters of Military Science degree. She is actively engaged in the struggle to end gender bias in the military, and is a vocal proponent for equal rights and the elimination of double standards and lowered expectations for female conduct and performance.

Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here. You can also pick up the later from our iTunes page here.



Over the past several months, senior naval leaders have highlighted the importance of organizational learning to accelerate innovation and adapt to future challenges. For instance, the SECNAV noted the confluence of people, ideas and information as the foundation of the DON’s Innovation Vision; Admiral Richardson introduced his concept of “accelerated learning” in A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority; and LtGen Walsh unveiled the Marine’s “campaign of learning” in a speech at CSIS. However, many internal barriers must be addressed to fully implement their vision.

The concept of a learning organization has been discussed in management circles for several decades. Yet there is no consensus on a standard definition nor are the steps to build one clear. A 1993 Harvard Business Review article by Professor David Garvin serves as a useful starting point for the Naval Services to consider.

Garvin defines a learning organization as, “…an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.” Garvin also identifies five building blocks to create such an organization. They are:

Systemic Problem Solving: This first activity rests heavily on the scientific method, wide use of data and statistical tools. Most training programs focus primarily on problem-solving techniques, using exercises and practical examples. Accuracy and precision are essential for learning. Employees must therefore become more disciplined in their thinking and more attentive to details. They must continually ask, “How do we know that’s true?”, recognizing that close enough is not good enough if real learning is to take place. They must push beyond obvious symptoms to assess underlying causes, often collecting evidence when conventional wisdom says it is unnecessary. Otherwise, the organization will remain a prisoner of “gut facts” and sloppy reasoning, and learning will be stifled.

Experimentation: This activity involves the systematic searching for and testing of new knowledge. Experimentation is usually motivated by opportunity and expanding horizons, not by current difficulties. It takes two main forms: ongoing programs and one-of-a-kind demonstration projects. Ongoing programs normally involve a continuing series of small experiments, designed to produce incremental gains in knowledge. Demonstration projects are usually larger and more complex than ongoing experiments. They involve holistic, system-wide changes, introduced at a single site, and are often undertaken with the goal of developing new organizational capabilities. Because these projects represent a sharp break from the past, they are usually designed from scratch, using a “clean slate” approach.

Learning from past Experience: Companies must review their successes and failures, assess them systematically, and record the lessons in a form that employees find open and accessible. Unfortunately, too many managers today are indifferent, even hostile, to the past, and by failing to reflect on it, they let valuable knowledge escape. A study of more than 150 new products concluded that “the knowledge gained from failures [is] often instrumental in achieving subsequent successes… In the simplest terms, failure is the ultimate teacher.”

Learning from Others: Not all learning comes from reflection and self-analysis. Sometimes the most powerful insights come from looking outside one’s immediate environment to gain a new perspective. Enlightened managers know that even companies in completely different businesses can be fertile sources of ideas and catalysts for creative thinking. At these organizations, enthusiastic borrowing is replacing the “not invented here” syndrome.

Transferring Knowledge: For learning to be more than a local affair, knowledge must spread quickly and efficiently throughout the organization. Ideas carry maximum impact when they are shared broadly rather than held in a few hands. A variety of mechanisms spur this process, including written, oral, and visual reports, site visits and tours, personnel rotation programs, education and training programs, and standardization programs.

To some extent the naval services are already engaged in these activities but significant improvement is needed if we are to turn these efforts into a real competitive advantage. Several internal challenges need to be addressed to become the learning organization envisioned by our senior leaders. Here is a short list:

Culture: Dr. Frank Hoffman recently noted that the Navy’s learning culture was essential for overcoming the challenges of countering German U-Boats in WWII. According to Hoffman, “Brutally candid post-exercise critiques occurred in open forums in which junior and senior officers examined moves and countermoves. These reflected the Navy’s culture of tackling operational problems in an intellectual, honest, and transparent manner.” To regain this learning culture, two issues must be addressed: fostering an environment of candor and preventing organizational hubris, often buttressed by questionable models or rhetoric intended to defend programs of record, from lulling leaders into a false sense of security. Learning cannot begin if we cannot have candid conversations about what is working and what needs to be fixed. The best agile organizations today continually use stress-testing of plans and strategies to identify areas for improvement.

Incentives: Many individuals and organizations view knowledge as a source of power. Therefore, the more knowledge one collects and retains, the more one’s standing and influence increases. In Team of Teams, General McChrystal examines this issue through a game-theory lens. In a “knowledge-is-power” environment, those who share knowledge are considered the losers, while those who receive knowledge are winners. We must create the right incentives to change this behavior by rewarding those who put effort in to sharing knowledge and penalize those who hoard knowledge or prevent information from being shared.

Outdated Tools and Policies: Since the advent of the internet, senior leaders have called for shifting from a “need-to-know” approach to a “need-to-share”. Unfortunately, this shift is difficult to achieve because of outdated information-centric policies, exaggerated treats, and risk-averse leaders. The workforce must have the proper tools and effective policies so knowledge transfer can occur easily and risk is realistically considered. Further, we must resolve how to capture the great ideas of our talented workforce and share our problems with public. Our naval culture and our desire to solve problems internally often prevent us from sharing our complex problems with “outsiders”. This practice prevents novel solutions from entering our decision making cycle.

Undefined Learning Ecosystem: Pockets on knowledge and learning exist across the DON but sharing is often stove-piped by organizational boundaries. Many organizations created the position of Knowledge Managers but their effectiveness is inconsistent and there is no strategy to create a “knowledge CO-OP” across the organization. Having an enterprise-wide strategy would prevent duplication of effort in knowledge generation and permit learning from other’s experience. The DON must create a learning ecosystem, with the appropriate infrastructure, tools, and practices that enables us to become an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.

Having senior leaders champion these issues today is an important first step to develop this important capability. However, the organization needs to move with a sense of urgency and not treat learning as another passing fad or simply leave organizational learning to happenstance. The digital natives entering the workforce today are knowledge sharers by nature. If no improvements are made to the issues discussed above, they will go “outside the wire” to collaborate on work related issues. This will increase risk and detract from organizational learning.

The Department of Navy possesses an incomprehensible amount of data, information, knowledge and practical experience; all are underpinned by a wealth of naval history from which to learn. We must place a priority on creating a learning organization and turn this concept into a true competitive advantage for the future.



DSC00384 copyJanuary 5th marked Commodore Stephen Decatur’s 237th birthday. Decatur was the most celebrated American naval hero of the post-Revolutionary War era. If not for his untimely death at the age of 41, many believe he would have been elected President of the United States.

In honor of his recent birthday, I think it appropriate to take a moment to remember some of Decatur’s career, reflect on his legacy, and consider how we might go about producing more leaders like him.

First let’s talk about Stephen Decatur’s naval education and the early wartime exploits which made him a household name. The son of a merchant captain, Decatur obtained an appointment as midshipman in 1798. He served aboard USS United States, captained by his good friend and mentor John Barry. Barry was a hero of the Revolutionary War, and is recognized as the American Navy’s first flag officer. Decatur was also tutored by Talbot Hamilton, a former officer of the Royal Navy who instructed him in navigational and nautical sciences. While serving aboard United States, Decatur received formal naval training not only from Hamilton, but through active service aboard a commissioned ship. This experience, as well as his continuing education aboard other ships, would serve him well when it came time for him to lead in combat.

Before I recount Decatur’s heroism in battle, let’s briefly set the stage. In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson sent our nation’s tiny naval force to the Mediterranean to protect our expanding trade against the Barbary pirates, who had long demanded ransom for the safe passage of our merchant ships. President Jefferson’s refusal to pay for safe passage led Tripoli to declare war against the United States. “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute” became our rallying cry for the ensuing conflict – the First Barbary War.

On 23 December 1803, only a month into his command of the schooner Enterprise, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur and his crew captured the Tripolitan ketch Mastico as she sailed from Tripoli to Constantinople under Turkish colors. Mastico had taken part in the capture of the frigate USS Philadelphia earlier that year, and was thus deemed a legitimate prize. Refitted and renamed USS Intrepid, she was taken into service under Lieutenant Decatur’s command.

Because of her appearance, the Intrepid was well-suited to enter Tripoli’s harbor, where Philadelphia remained, without raising suspicion. In February 1804, Decatur sailed the Intrepid close enough to the captured Philadelphia for his crew, a detachment of U.S. Marines, to board, capture, and burn the frigate, which was not seaworthy. The mission was executed flawlessly, and subsequently deprived Tripoli of a powerful warship. Lord Horatio Nelson, then a Vice Admiral in the British Royal Navy, called Decatur’s mission “the most bold and daring act of the age.”

DSC00373 copyLater in 1804, during a month of sustained attacks on Tripoli, Decatur’s younger brother, James Decatur, was mortally wounded by a Tripolitan captain while boarding a corsair feigning surrender. Stephen Decatur received word quickly, and diverted his own vessel to the corsair to exact revenge. He was the first to board the Tripolitan ship, outnumbered five-to-one, but ready for a fight. Decatur immediately found the man who had wounded his brother. The Tripolitan captain outweighed him by 40 pounds, but Decatur ferociously thwarted the captain with his cutlass and after a direct hand-to-hand fight, killed him with his pistol. The story of this fight made Decatur a household name, shaping the image of our still developing U.S. Navy.

For his leadership and bravery in the First Barbary War, Stephen Decatur became the youngest naval officer in history to be promoted to captain at the age of 25. His naval career continued far beyond this initial success. Decatur would further distinguish himself while fighting in the War of 1812 and the Second Barbary War. He would achieve the rank of commodore and serve on the Board of Navy Commissioners until his death in 1820 following a duel with another naval officer.

The story of Decatur’s life and career is a rich one – I’ve only scratched the surface here. Now let’s explore how and where he is remembered. Beyond the 48 cities and seven counties named for Decatur, the longest road on the Naval Academy’s 338-acre campus is named Decatur Road. The road ends next to Preble Hall, the Naval Academy’s Museum, which is named for Commodore Edward Preble, under whose command Decatur fought in the First Barbary War. Adjacent to both Decatur Road and Preble Hall sits the Tripoli Monument, the oldest military monument in the United States. It was carved in Italy in 1806, and moved to the Naval Academy in 1860. The Tripoli Monument honors six heroes of the First Barbary War, including James Decatur, Stephen’s brother.

Another name on the monument is Richard Somers, who died aboard the same USS Intrepid that Decatur captured and used to sneak into Tripoli’s harbor. Somers was a close friend and midshipman with Decatur aboard United States, and assumed command of Intrepid one month after James Decatur was killed. Intrepid had been fitted as a “floating volcano,” loaded down with 100 barrels of powder and 150 shells. The plan was to sail her into Tripoli’s corsair fleet, light a 15-minute fuse, and abandon ship before she exploded. Unfortunately, the Intrepid exploded prematurely, killing her entire crew of volunteers.

I mention Richard Somers because six U.S. Navy ships have been named the USS Somers in his honor, the second of which has a crucial connection to the Naval Academy. In December 1842, Midshipman Philip Spencer, son of Secretary of War John C. Spencer, was hanged for intention to commit a mutiny aboard USS Somers. This high profile hanging became known as the Somers Affair, and contributed to the decision to create a land-based academy where midshipmen could learn their craft instead of doing so only at sea.

The same midshipman experience which greatly benefitted Stephen Decatur was not always as successful. The United States Naval Academy, established in 1845 by Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft, would seek to formalize a curriculum for aspiring naval officers, producing a fresh crop of talented leaders each year. 170 years later, the scope of our operation has changed, but our goal hasn’t. I mentioned earlier that Decatur had his own tutor aboard the United States to teach him the technical skills and naval science he would need to succeed as a naval officer, and eventually as a naval commander. He also had on-the-job training aboard a real ship, filled with opportunities to practice and hone his craft. That’s exactly what we endeavor to provide today’s Naval Academy midshipmen, and how we go about developing leaders has been my number one priority since taking over as Superintendent.

My major focus is experiential leadership. Leadership cannot be taught exclusively in the classroom. The technical skills required of a competent leader can be learned at a desk in many cases, but that’s not enough. Leader development must be immersive. It takes repetition, with allowance for failure and success. It’s also all about being given the opportunity to try, fail, try again, and eventually succeed when the stakes are manageable. Today’s midshipmen get a world-class education from our outstanding faculty, just as Decatur had Talbot Hamilton – a seasoned officer of the Royal Navy – to keep him on track. But they also get chances to lead, be it aboard smaller ships during summer training or amongst their peers in the Brigade leadership structure.

DSC00390 copyI don’t know exactly how many modern day Decaturs I have in the Brigade, but I am confident that we provide the conditions and the opportunities for our future Navy and Marine Corps heroes to thrive and grow. Time and again, Stephen Decatur found himself where the action was. Time and again, he proved himself with his leadership and bravery. I am confident that our next generation of leaders will be up to the task as well.

I’d like to end with a brief mention of my own distant connection to Decatur. His first full command was the USS Enterprise, fighting piracy to protect American trade. The Enterprise he commanded was the third U.S. Navy ship of its name. My most recent fleet command was the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group (CSG-12), whose centerpiece was the eighth USS Enterprise. In 2012, I took the Enterprise on her 21st and final deployment in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and – yes – multiple anti-piracy missions. Soon, the keel for CVN-80, the ninth USS Enterprise, will be laid, extending the connection to Decatur for thousands of future Sailors who will follow his legacy.

Times have changed since Decatur proved himself a naval hero, but the principles for which we fight have remained constant. I’ll leave you with the oft-misquoted and misapplied words of Decatur himself, a post-dinner toast at a social gathering in April 1816. “Our country – In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; and always successful, right or wrong.”



Please join us at 5pm (EST) on 17 Jan 2016 for Midrats Episode 315: “Where Next for our Ground Forces?” with Paul Scharre:

With a decade and a half of ongoing ground combat under our belt, what are the hard-won lessons we need to keep, and what should be left behind? Looking forward, what are the challenges our ground forces need to make sure they are prepared to meet?

From growing conventional strength from nations who desire to challenge our nation’s global position, to the unending requirements for Counter Insurgency excellence, what is the balance?

Our guest to discuss this and more will be Paul Scharre, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a former Army Ranger with service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

You can download a copy of his CNAS report, “Uncertain Ground: Emerging Challenges in Land Warfare,” from the CNAS site here.

Join us live if you can, or pick the show up later, by clicking here. Or you will find the show later at our iTunes pages here



Please join us on 10 Jan 2015 at 5pm (U.S. EST) for Midrats Episode 314: 6th Anniversary Expanded Panel on One Question:

Yes Shipmates … we are now in our 6th year of Midrats!

To mark the day, we are going to have a radically different format as a thank you gift to our listeners.

The focus of the show today is one question; “Where do you see as the most critical thing to watch for Navy and Marine Corp issues in 2016.”

To get the answer, we are bringing on a series of prior guests one at a time in their own segment. To kick off we bring back our fellow Midrats plankowner co-host Raymond Pritchett, founder of Information Dissemination. Following Raymond will be James R. Holmes, Professor of strategy and policy at the Naval War College; The Original Chapomatic CDR Chap Godbey, USN (terminal leave); author and former National Defense University Professor James S. Robbins; CTR1(IDW/SW) Lucien Gauthier, USN; CAPT Herb Carmen, USN (Ret), and Lieutenant Matthew Hipple, USN.

Live radio. One question. Seven men.

Two drink minimum.

Please join us live if you can (or pick the show up later) by clicking here or pick the show up later by visiting our iTunes page here.

It might prove to be an interesting adventure in live radio. Or something.



ANNAPOLIS, MD --6/30/11-Today is Induction Day at the United States Naval Academy for the Class of 2015. Plebes read the Reef Points booklet- things they need to learn this summer like ranks and the mission of the USNA- as they wait in line before going through the "courtesies and customs" training. That training includes standing at attention, saluting, and wearing the "dixie cup" head cover. {Photos by Sun Photographer, Algerina Perna} md-usna-induction-p1-perna

One of the United States Naval Academy’s primary objectives is to develop not just leaders, but leaders of character. The honor program seeks to inculcate ethical behavior by immersing Midshipmen in an environment where lying, cheating, and stealing are not tolerated, in hopes that this culture will follow graduates into the fleet.

But does the Naval Academy’s ethical development curriculum work? Right now, the Naval Academy has only one metric to help answer that question: honor offenses (lying, cheating, or stealing). If honor offenses go down, it is assumed that the current policies are working. And if honor offenses go up, a course correction is made. To honestly use honor offenses to make decisions, though, we must more deeply dissect the metric into all its parts and see what it is really telling us.

The total number of honor offenses is a product of three figures: 1) The number of honor offenses that are committed, 2) times the percentage of committed honor offenses that are witnessed, 3) times the percentage of witnessed honor offenses that are reported. Lowering any one of those three numbers will generate results that suggest mission accomplishment.

In recent history, there was a sharp decline in the number of honor offenses that coincided with a strengthening of the deterrent against committing an offense. While it was not official policy, nobody was being retained after their second offense. And many were been separated after their first.

Putting the observed decline aside for a moment, how would we expect harsher punishments to affect the three component numbers? I think it’s safe to assume that the number of honor offenses committed would decline. The harsh consequences would deter potential honor offenders who are on the fence between lying or not. But there is certainly a question as to whether the deterred Midshipmen would be ethical officers or whether they would just resort to their natural behavior once the Honor Concept is no longer binding for them.

The second number would also probably decline. Those Midshipmen who do decide to lie or cheat will go to extra lengths to conceal their actions, knowing that they will be separated if they are caught. This is certainly not a desired outcome of the harsher policy, since it is plausible that their successful skirting of authorities will reinforce dishonorable character traits.

And the third number would decline as well, since it would be harder for close friends to turn each other in to the honor system when separation is so certain. They would likely choose to just remediate each other in person, at the lowest level possible. And fewer honor offenders would get the senior officer remediation that they need.

So, with harsher punishments we’d expect all three numbers to decrease and the overall metric to indicate success. But movement in the latter two component numbers is undesirable and the movement in the first is of questionable significance.

We can’t assume that a downward trend in honor offenses is a good thing, then. It could really be indicating a lot of unhealthy developments. There’s no way to know.

The Naval Academy needs a different way to measure success. Creating a Brigade of Midshipmen that doesn’t cheat on tests, or doesn’t get reported for cheating on tests, isn’t the big picture goal. Graduating a body of officers who won’t lie in the fleet is. An ideal metric would be able to track the long term impact of the Academy’s program.

Since the Naval Academy knows where its graduates are going to be for their first five years after graduation, it has the ability to gather data from its alumni for at least that long. The Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership (the research arm of the Naval Academy’s Honor Program) could annually distribute anonymous questionnaires to all Midshipmen and initial commitment graduates to gather information about the state of honor development at Annapolis.

Questions could ask about beliefs held before coming to the Academy, behaviors and beliefs held while at Annapolis, and behaviors exhibited in the fleet. Stockdale Center personnel could analyze the data to identify whether the Academy is changing attitudes and habits, or if it is just wasting its time. And anonymous reports from Midshipmen would give a more accurate count of committed honor offenses than does the current system.

Not too long ago, I took the first steps toward creating such a questionnaire and found out quite a few interesting things. With the help of Shipmate Magazine (a Naval Academy oriented periodical), I got around 700 alumni to answer questions about their attitudes before they came to the academy, what kinds of behaviors and attitudes they exhibited at the academy, and what kinds of behaviors they demonstrated in the fleet.

The results were insightful, but limited by the one-time nature of the study. The data showed that it doesn’t matter what kind of foundation in ethics you have coming in, the Academy can give it to you. In fact, those who have no ethical foundation, but fully buy into the system, show the lowest rates of lying in the fleet.

I found that cheating and lying were correlated to being 2 and 3 times more likely to lie in the fleet, respectively. The large difference in these two offenses is surprising and needs further study to be sure that they are enduring. With the knowledge of which offenses are worse than others, we can tailor punishments and remediation programs more precisely.

The most interesting result, in my opinion, is that of the relationship between habits, beliefs, and future behavior. A lot of the Naval Academy’s honor philosophy seems to be based on the idea that if for four years Midshipmen are forced to be honorable, that habit will continue into the fleet. That might be somewhat true, but the study showed that getting a change in beliefs along with habits was twice as effective as just habits.

Optimizing our honor program should be less about the beliefs of whoever is currently in charge and more about empirically backed approaches. There is no other institution in the world that is as well placed to develop these approaches as the United States Naval Academy. By building the tools to collect data about our student body’s interaction with the honor program, we can enable current and future generations to build techniques and strategies that can be applied not only at our institution, but around the world.



The January 2016 issue of Proceedings is out, and it contains a well-intentioned essay from Captain Kevin Eyer, USN (ret) on “How to Make Flag.” It is an honest reflection of what many see as the way to achieve the storied rank of Admiral.

There are certainly no shortages of literature out there about how to rise to the top in your profession, from do-it-yourself guides to self-reflection pieces by leaders. In the Navy, we are often told about the sanctity of the Golden Path and the sacred nature of the MILPERSMAN. These are our “how-to” guides to get that mythical “EP” or “100” or “knowing wink of approval” when a career hinge-point appears.

Many folks want to make the Navy a career, and I can’t imagine a nobler pursuit. Some rely on the Navy for a paycheck and a decent standard of living. But let us never forget that a Navy career is not about oneself; it is about something greater.

What is needed in our Navy today are not officers committed to flag, but officers committed to purpose. We need men and women who are willing to make a difference for the service, for their Sailors, and for each other without regard to self-acclaim or the credit.

Cynicism and the Company

Captain Eyer remarks that, to make flag, “cynicism of any sort is unwelcome. You do not want to be identified as one of those poor souls who simply doesn’t ‘get it’.” Cynicism, though, is often in the eye of the beholder; at times it is feedback or legitimate grievance, while at others it is useless complaining. And the root of much of the background cynicism in our service is that “the system is rigged;” that “the status quo culture” reigns; and that it is more about “career building than professional development.”

It is telling that small talk in our service, especially when one meets someone new, goes something like this:

“So, are you staying in?” (meaning: The Navy)

If you answer “No” or “I’m not sure,” commence some tangent conversation. But if you say, “Yes:”

“Oh, so you’re a lifer?” they sneer.

And that, right there, is the crux of the issue. There is a perception that commitment to the Navy as a career means you must become a “company man;” that you will swallow the “company line.”

Maybe that was how things were in a different time. But there is a generation working hard, quietly, coming up through the ranks. We are committed to making a difference instead of making rank. We are committed to doing this even if it makes us look personally bad, or if it means some new “requirement” or the elimination of some cherished pot of money, or a request for assets that can help us fight better.

A Different Discussion

According to Captain Eyer, “following these rules should get you into the discussion, which cannot be said of that other superb performer who chose either to labor in obscure fields or was freer in the expression of his or her views.”

We should never fear the thoughtful, positive, constructive exchange of ideas or opinions. We must be confident in ourselves as a service–and individually as leaders–that debate makes us stronger and inspires greater understanding, better operations.

If we are going to break the stereotype of “company men” or “company women” in positions of authority, we are going to have to break down some barriers. We are going to have to value intra-service communication and discussion. We are going to have to break through the paradigm of the NAVADMIN and the Page 13 and talk about why we do things. And we are going to have to help change the often counter-productive cultures in our service, from de-facto personnel policy to innovation to leadership and command.

New Year, New Navy

Captain Eyer’s piece accurately reflects the current perception of how some of our leaders are chosen. But it does not have to be this way. We can be a generation who chooses purpose over promotion.

We choose to gain perspective now. We choose to build coalitions now. We choose to attempt to solve the problems that vex us today so that we can be the generation that stops kicking the can down the road. We choose to take charge of our Navy now–if not in rank or billet, then in ideas and purpose.

We have history on our side. Our Navy is at its best when it uses all of its brain; not just the well-billeted, high-ranked parts.

Thankfully, there are more than a few flag officers who have made a difference throughout their careers. They inspire us, give us hope, and challenge us to achieve greater things.

As we close out 2015, let us look to a New Year where we care less about the ink on our FITREP, and more about the sweat and daily strain required to make our service better, every day. How do we do this? Write. Get together over coffee, beer, water, or PT. Ask Questions! Talk about our history and lessons learned. Ask “What if?” Prototype. Practice. Fail. Never Stop Moving Forward.

We do not need permission to make our Navy better. We do not need to wait for flag. We need simply to make a difference.



Yoda_SWSBIt might be chic to paraphrase Yoda during the week of the Star Wars premiere, but perhaps it is time for our Navy to channel his teachings.

Admiral Hyman Rickover is famous for being the father of our Nuclear Navy. His antics are legend today. The force of both his personality and his intellect cemented the Navy’s contribution to our nation’s strategic nuclear deterrent in a way that perhaps no other individual will ever match.

For his Nuclear Navy, Rickover was fond of saying, “Trust…but verify.” While that phrase may have achieved some success in the nuclear community, its misuse in other naval communities has done more harm than good.

Let us not be fooled by syntax. “Trust…but verify” is an oxymoron. When it is misused elsewhere in the Navy, it can have a deleterious effect.

To Risk, or Not to Risk?

In his seminal book “The Black Swan,” Nassim Taleb argues that people tend to underestimate seemingly infrequent, yet cataclysmic, events, and therefore make dangerous risk decisions. The phrases “once in a blue moon” or “almost zero” lull us into a false sense of security. We mistake “absence of evidence” for “evidence of absence.”

One of the few communities in the world where this is not a problem–a community where, arguably, risk is put in a chokehold by SOPs, checklists, and the like–is Rickover’s Nuclear Navy. This is appropriate and good – even one small accident on a nuclear-powered ship is one accident too many. Not only are our nuclear ships expensive, but the psychological investment our service and the American people have placed in their safe operation is profound.

But Rickover’s “trust…but verify” for his nuclear force has spread to nearly every corner of our Navy. It is on conventionally-powered ships, squadrons, staffs, and small units around the Fleet. Whether this translates to unnecessary administrative paperwork, voice reports, or simply standing around and waiting depends on your experience. It reflects a misapplication of Rickover’s phrase.

Trust vs Question

Webster defines “trust” as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.” Trust carries a very positive connotation; it implies knowledge and autonomy. Sailors work hard to gain trust and display these sacred character traits.

Webster defines “verify” as “to prove, show, find out, or state that (something) is true or correct.”

As leaders, by definition, one cannot “trust” a person yet continually feel the need to “verify” what they do. It is either redundant or self-contradictory; in either event, it can lead to waste or, paradoxically, feelings of mistrust.

We should make an exception here, however: there is a difference between questioning and trust. Rickover intended his phrase to develop a corps of operators that would dig deep into their systems and know them down to each individual electron. This type of tactical expertise is what we seek and exercise daily in our Navy.

Questioning can be good; for instance, when junior sailors question in order to seek a full understanding of tactics, processes, procedures, and strategy. Questioning can also be positive for senior sailors, to gain situational awareness or correct inaccuracies.

But when we allow “trust…but verify” to be applied to individuals and organizations, and not specific systems, something insidious happens in our service.

Over Your Shoulder

Too often today, “trust…but verify” is used to micromanage fleets, squadrons, and individuals. Instead of trust and leadership, we perpetuate a system of management and leadership-by-checklist. We do not “question-up,” in order for juniors to gain knowledge and understanding; we “question-down,” in order to show off our specialized knowledge or cover our administrative requirements. “Trust…but verify” is not the appropriate response to a draft PowerPoint presentation, nor should it be the checklist-mandated response to a time-sensitive target request.

As the results of the most recent JO Command Survey show, there is at least the perception that even commanders of ships and squadrons–historically coveted positions–enjoy very limited, narrow trust. Many junior officers and enlisted, when considering the “stay/go” decision, question whether they want to continue such a tenuous trust proposition.

If we are to counter this trend, and better foster trust both up and down the chain of command, we should do a few things:

-Encourage ingenuity and proactivity. These should be core tenets for prospective Sailors at each of our accession sources, but they should be more than simple words–we should show them what we mean. What does a proactive, trusting ship or squadron look like?

-Talk about risk and personnel. If our hesitancy to fully trust people is because we think they will fail, we have an unfortunately low opinion of our Sailors. Are we bringing in the right folks? Giving them the best possible training to be proactive, learning professionals? Some ships and squadrons encourage questions and collaborative learning, but these units are the exception–not the rule.

-Be open about trust. Either you have it, or you don’t. The middle road, where we promote people on paper but not in truth, slows down the already-sluggish bureaucracy and fosters a trust environment counter to the ideal.

Trust is hard–but so is leadership. To paraphrase an overused cliché: “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.”

“Trust…but verify” has worked for the Nuclear Navy at the systems level; we must confine it to those parameters. In leadership, tactics, operations, and strategy, what we need is, “Trust. Period.”

Or, begging Admiral Rickover’s pardon, perhaps we make room on our mantle for Yoda: “Trust, or Trust Not. There is no ‘Verify.'”



December 20th marked our first month as Naval Innovation Advisory Council fellows, stationed in Silicon Valley. Imagine an aviator and a SWO standing at the doorstep of Silicon Valley; it has been an experience akin to Alice’s entry into wonderland. As we’ve been exposed to several corporate cultures centered on innovation, one theme continues to prevail: TRUST.

Trust requires vulnerability and leads to profound mutual respect. With trust comes openness, and with openness comes true innovation. Without trust, the best ideas remain close to people’s chests. With openness, people are more apt to engage in difficult conversations, an essential component of great collaboration. If you’ve ever experienced great collaboration you will know that it becomes much easier to frame problems and in turn, find solutions. It all starts with a solid foundation of trust among all of the organization’s members.

We are intrigued by the way top executives frequently hold open dialogue with all members of their company even (especially) about sensitive matters effecting company strategy. They trust their employees to keep the sensitive information close and the employees trust their executives to take their feedback seriously.

The Department of the Navy will only achieve organizational honesty and institutional integrity if we trust each other… And this is difficult.

How do we overcome our negative reactions to internal threat, embarrassment, perceived loss of power, and new perspectives from E-1 to O-10?

Are my Navy teammates comfortable showing me their vulnerabilities? If not, why?

How can trust be restored?

There is hope to answer these questions and enhance the level of trust in our organization. Building and restoring trust becomes easier when we focus on mutual purpose and respect. Destructive disagreement can be overcome by respect built on our common pledge to support and defended The Constitution of the United States of America.



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