Archive for the 'Training & Education' Category
Every military service has a formal or informal mentoring system. Especially within the officer corps, the right mentor can fast-track a younger officer to a successful career. In the Navy, the unofficial, un-codified, mentorship system is called having a Sea Daddy. The effectiveness and availability of mentorship systems varies considerably among the services, and within them.
The word “mentor” originates in Greek mythology. Mentor was the name of the wise and trusted teacher Odysseus chose for his son, Telemachus. This word has now been adopted into our current English vocabulary.
Mentors can be of great value, not only providing invaluable advice, but also pinpointing professional opportunities. As senior officers rise in rank, for example, they often take their mentees with them, to plum positions. Mentors can be their mentee’s #1 supporter, and at the same time they are not afraid to give them direct, straightforward advice when they are headed in the wrong direction, and assisting in avoiding common pitfalls. The mentor/mentee relationship is a two-way street. For the relationship to be successful, both parties must be equally committed. The performance of the mentee is a direct reflection on the mentor. If a mentee becomes an embarrassment to the mentor through incompetence or malfeasance, the subordinate will undoubtedly be dumped, and neatly tucked away from future opportunities. Consistent quality performance is key to both parties in the mentor/mentee relationship.
Having an influential mentor does not, however, guarantee career success. Each year, officers come into the “zone” of eligibility for promotion. Selection boards look at the documented fitness reports of those eligible for promotion, reports written by their commanding officers. Where an officer is ranked against his peers is most important. The candidate who gets ranked 1 of 3, or 1 of 4, is most likely to be selected for advancement. A candidate can have glowing verbal reports from the “briefer” who speaks on behalf of the candidate, but it is the ranking system that is to be determinative. There is a common expression, “Boards pick records, not people.” There is also an expression though, that “ducks pick ducks” meaning, for example in the Navy, that if the board is largely aviators, they will pick largely aviators, if largely surface warfare officers (SWOs), they will pick similarly. Mentorship, record and community are all factors in the promotion selection process.
In the Navy, the mentor/mentee relationship most often develops organically through a natural connection or bonding of like-minded souls. According to several senior officers interviewed, the promotion process is far less political than it used to be. Robert Timberg’s 1996 book The Nightengale’s Song cites the Navy promotion system through the rank of O-6, Captain, as a strong example of a meritocracy. You must be proven and top-notch to advance. If your record is solid – but so are the records of your competitors — then the mentoring relationship can become determinative.
As one Senior Naval Officer at the Naval War College explained the Sea Daddy system, “Everyone in the Navy knows how it works, but nobody wrote it down. You live it, you watch it, and you see your senior officers do it.” Experienced military leaders are looking for good protégés to bring up through the system. “Careers top out where connections tap out,” remarked one former commanding officer.
There are different approaches to mentorship among the services, each with strengths and weaknesses. The Army, for example, instituted a formal mentoring program in 2005. Although this new approach encourages voluntary relationships outside the chain of command, and these still occur, most junior officers are assigned a mentor. Many individuals characterize this system as dispassionate and at times very sterile. Without a natural bonding that allows for a strong connection to develop, a personal, nurturing environment does not develop and consequently, does not lead to effective career guidance. “At the end of the day, it [the formal system] all became about the assigned mentor ‘checking the boxes’, period,” one soldier said. Although the Army’s structured approach is meant to produce leadership development, clearly mentorship is most effective when one is connected to another in a voluntary relationship.
Journalists David Cloud and Greg Jaffee write about the relationships that developed within the Department of Social Sciences (Sosh) at West Point, where generals such as Peter Chiarelli and David Petraeus served as faculty members, in their 2009 book, The Fourth Star. Though, the authors say, Army personnel officers considered spending time at Sosh as career ending, “in reality, getting promoted depended at least as much on having good connections, which Sosh had.” (59)
The Air Force has a regulation encouraging mentoring, though no official program. The Marines have an official mentoring program called Steel Sharpens Steel. Much like the Army program though, the intent is good, but the effectiveness dubious. Effective mentoring occurs most often when organically driven.
Gender is a factor in mentorship as well, in all the services. For a variety of reasons, including cultural bias, fear of reprisals, and intra-gender competition, women in the military are not always afforded the same opportunities for effective mentorship as men, especially at an organic level. Culturally, at least some women officers seem to see the Navy is a patriarchal club where they are not welcome. “Active duty in the Navy–as a woman–is asking to belong to a club where they don’t want you,” remarked one female officer who had served 25 years. No one wants to draw attention to themselves as weak, or a problem. Several women military officers, including those at the O-6 level, declined interviews for this project. In most cases those women who agreed to be interviewed asked to remain anonymous, and to meet somewhere in private for interviews.
Male officers say they are sometimes reluctant to mentor a woman for fear of accusation of sexual harassment. Many said it wasn’t worth the chance that might put a black eye on their career. All men agreed that rape and sexual assault, as well as demeaning a woman verbally, were absolutely wrong. “But sometimes compliments can be taken wrong by an overly sensitive female.”
Women mentoring women is, unfortunately, nowhere near what it is between men. There are so few positions available for women that competition between them can discourage helping each other up the ladder. Further, whereas men helping men is considered mentorship, women helping women is often considered favoritism, favoritism that can get the mentor shunned by male colleagues in the future.
Mentorship in the military is important, but it is just one of several ingredients needed to advance ones military career. Having a Sea Daddy doesn’t guarantee success. But coaching, advising and teaching are at the core of any successful organization, especially one like the military where leadership development is key. One of the most important assignments of the senior officers is to develop the character, knowledge, skills and discipline of their up and coming junior officers. This task is critical, and is inextricably linked to the success of the next generation of military leaders. In the military, the leadership is always on the lookout for the next promising, rising stars that can succeed them—and expertly lead the next generation of warriors.
Though the material in this essay is clearly preliminary and largely anecdotal, mentorship is clearly an important part of leadership development. The topic deserves further, broad-based and fact-based consideration. Leadership development is too important to leave to chance.
Allyson Reneau conducted informal interviews of retired and active duty faculty members at the Naval War College as part of an Internship program between the Naval War College and Harvard Extension School. The views expressed here are the author’s alone and do not represent the views of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.
Sea Control discusses 3D printing this week with James Lambeth from the Navy’s Dam Neck facility and… almost, James Zunino, of Picatinny Arsenal in NJ (if the computer hadn’t eaten the audio). In the latter case, we go over some of the broad-strokes. From simple part adapters for ships to painted-on radios for soldiers to the pains of product certification, we cover what’s going on in two military 3D printing facilities trying to push their new capabilities out to the force.
“Not a military voice is heard calling for thoughtful, substantive change.”
-William S. Lind, “An Officer Corps That Can’t Score”
Will, “hello,” suffice? William S. Lind’s suggestion at The American Conservative Magazine that the Officer Corps is in a blind, intellectual death spiral is weighty indeed, but ignores the vast body of debate going on in the junior and senior ranks of our nation’s military. Rather than our officer corps living in a bubble, perhaps some of those discussing the internal debate of the military writ-large need to reach out of their bubble to see the rich discussion happening -right now-.
“Even junior officers inhabit a world where they hear only endless, hyperbolic praise of “the world’s greatest military ever.” They feed this swill to each other and expect it from everyone else. If they don’t get it, they become angry.”
-William S. Lind, “An Officer Corps That Can’t Score”
Mr. Lind accuses our Officer Corps of a hollow, cavalier attitude that would suggest they neither recognize nor wrestle with the threats of tomorrow or the mistakes of today. Ask any moderately informed officer on their thoughts about cyber-war, the F-35, LCS, insurgency, the utility of carriers, the proliferation of anti-ship cruise-missiles, etc.. and the opinions will be heated and varied. The Center for International Maritime Security has featured an entire week debating the merits of the Navy’s,“Air Sea Battle,” concept. The United States Naval Institute archives decades of articles relating to the debate over carriers. Small Wars Journal is a running testament to the continued debate over insurgency and irregular ground conflicts. There are also sometimes-anonymous outlets, like the Sailor Bob forum, Information Dissemination, or the wild wonderful world of Commander Salamander’s blog; they are quite popular in -light- of the often unique and critical perspective taken by writers.
The majority of these articles are written by officers, with the approval or non-interference of their leadership. Of course, not all military leadership is necessarily embracing criticism, but that is natural to any top-down organization. We’ve made great strides. The Navy released the Balisle Report on its critical issues with maintenance. CDR Snodgrass’ 24 page study on retention is now a topic of wide debate encouraged by VADM Moran, Chief of Naval Personnel. If, as Mr.Lind describes, our officer corps had a comical “hulk-smash” reaction to suggestions of US Military weaknesses or institutional flaws, we’d have long ago beaten ourselves to rubble in the haze of an insatiable rage.
“What defines a professional—historically there were only three professions, law, medicine, and theology—is that he has read, studied, and knows the literature of his field. The vast majority of our officers read no serious military history or theory.”
-William S. Lind, “An Officer Corps That Can’t Score”
Mr.Lind suggests that our modern-day officers live in a historical desert, in which the lessons of yester-year are lost. I would suggest those doubters of the military’s historical memory look to the USS PONCE and the Navy’s re-embrace of sea-basing. Thomas J Cutler’s “Brown Water, Black Beret” is an excellent primer on the historical lessons the Navy is re-applying. Perhaps we might highlight the Navy and Marine Corps’ dual scholar-heroes of ADM Stavridis (ret) and Gen Mattis (ret): admired for both their acumen in the field and their rarely equaled study of the history of conflict
Perhaps Mr.Lind is disappointed in our lack of engagement with Mahan, in which case I would direct him to LCDR Benjamin Armstrong’s book, “21st Century Mahan.” Perhaps Clauswitz is our flaw? The Army and Air Force officers writing at “The Bridge” would likely demolish THAT center of gravity, if the snarky Doctrine Man doesn’t get there first. Perhaps we have not learned the importance of innovation from history! The military’s 3-D printing labs located around the country would likely raise their eyebrows in bemusement.
A Cleveland native myself, I understand how far Hampton Rhodes is from Mr.Lind’s home on the Northern Shore. However, anyone like Mr.Lind who doubts the military, officer or enlisted, is interested in tackling the issues should make every attempt to visit the June Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEFx) Conference in Norfolk. From flag officers to those who paint the flagstaff, the gamut of our service will be on location, out of uniform, debating our technical and institutional challenges in an unofficial and free forum. He may even meet some members of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC). If Norfolk is a bridge to far, I’d encourage the doubters to sign up for membership at the Center for International Maritime Security. We have weekly meetings in DC where we talk about everything from Professional Military Education to drone operations.
The military is by no means perfect, but such imperfection is what drives the debate that both officers and enlisted are engaging in on a daily basis. Mr.Lind suggests interesting structural reform to better cultivate leadership in our officers. However he cites the need for such reforms based on a decrepit caricature of an officer corps the US Military is not saddled with. If one hasn’t, as a USNI author once told me, “done one’s homework,” ideas fall flat. There IS a debate happening in America’s Officer Corps, an educational and engaging one. We’re not too hard to find if you look.
Women and men of the Class of 2002 may think they are in the shadow of their grandparents — “The Greatest Generation” who beat fascism, crushed nazism and crossed the Pacific to avenge Pearl Harbor and win the war in the Pacific in less than four years.
“In the Shadow of Greatness: Voices of Leadership, Sacrifice, and Service from America’s Longest War” is a compilation by or about members of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2002. (USNI offers comprehensive reviews of the book, published in 2012; this is another look into the shadows.)
Put together with love and appreciation by Joshua Welle, John Ennis, Katherine Kranz and Graham Plaster — and including a foreword by David Gergen — the book is filled with essays and memories by and about members of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2002. The authors set the stage with a look back to the past:
“The magnitude of World War II provided the opportunity and experiences that shaped twentieth-century American leaders. As men served abroad, women provided support at home. All overcame great odds and faced adversity that gave them confidence and shaped their outlook in the decades to come. This ‘greatest generation’ returned from war, took advantage of the educational benefits offered through the GI Bill, and advanced the country’s economy and transformed its society. World War II veterans, while fueling economic advancement, remained resolute in their value system: service, sacrifice, and community.”
Among “Shadow’s” contributors are aviators, surface warfare officers, submariners, U.S. Marines and mothers of junior officers killed during training or in action.
The book is filled with first-person, heartfelt accounts of triumph and hardships: what it’s like in humanitarian assistance missions, duty at sea, Search and Rescue operations, and combat; what it means to face family separation, “setting aside the comforts a normal life in service to our country and the Constitution. The dark sides of these sacrifices are broken marriages, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and estrangement.”
But there is plenty of triumph here, too, focusing on why and how Navy and Marine Corps leaders choose to serve — “not for self, but for country.”
A highlight is the account by Meghan Elger Courtney, who served aboard USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) of her commitment to promote warfighting readiness for Sailors aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer. Courtney recognized a need to improve shipboard physical fitness opportunities to help Sailors who would deploy forward — either aboard ship or as individual augmentees in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With the blessing of her commanding officer and strong support from the command master chief and Chief’s Mess, j.o. Courtney planned for, procured and arranged for installation of a new fitness center that replaced outdated insufficient gear and space. Courtney writes, “Almost immediately, I saw a positive renewal in people’s attitude toward fitness, healthy eating, and incorporating workouts into their daily routine as a way to relieve stress and stay in shape.”
“What some may have viewed as my silly pet project, the command master chief took seriously, and he became my closest ally in seeing it through. I never really knew how much the experience had impacted him until I saw him become visibly choked up recollecting it during his closing remarks when he transferred off the ship. I don’t think he thought that a young officer like me could have cared about his crew so much, but I did, and I still do…”
Courtney’s story is just one of many inspiring reflections. She said she was inspired by a quote by explorer Robert E. Peary on a motivational placard in Halsey Field House at the academy: “I will find a way, or make one.”
Other essayists share their sources of inspiration as President Teddy Roosevelt, President Dwight Eisenhower, President John F. Kennedy, Senator Daniel Inouye and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, among others.
One essayist quotes the last two lines of a poem by Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day” in pursuing a life of purpose, wanting to make a difference:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
The authors and essayists show how core values of honor, courage and commitment make up an ethos that “forms the fabric of people’s personality and drives them to a life of service, in and out of uniform.”
“‘In the Shadow of Greatness’ was envisioned to recognize and chronicle the service of brave men and women and through their stories establish connections with the broader, nonmilitary community. These first graduates of the Naval Academy after 9/11 entered a global war at sea, in the air, and on land. This war would last more than a decade and define the United States in the early part of the millennium. The actions of the select few profiled here represent those of a much broader spectrum of patriots.”
Attacks on 9/11/2001 changed the lives of the Class of 2002.
In a short introductory piece, “Inside the Gates of Annapolis,” Adm. Sam Locklear (now Commander, U.S. Pacific Command) writes about the investment the country makes in the women and men who attend service academies, including the Naval Academy, reflecting on the morning of September 11, 2001 when he sat at his desk as commandant of midshipmen.
“I recall vividly watching the al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the plane crash in Pennsylvania. When the images reached the Brigade, and the uncertainty of the events rapidly became reality, I asked myself, Are these men and women, these young patriots, ready for the challenges that most certainly lay ahead. A decade of war has proven that they were more than ready. Fortunately for us all, they remain ready today. We are extremely proud of all they have accomplished and thankful that we chose the right men and women to lead the next great generation.”
The book, published by the Naval Institute Press, is a key title on the CNO’s Professional Reading Program essential list under “Be Ready.”
A version of this post appeared on Bill Doughty’s Navy Reads blog.
In trying to come to a better understanding of what the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell should be, I came across at old (from 1988! ) essay written by Stephen Rosen titled New Ways of War: Understanding Military Innovation (h/t Adam Elkus for the lead on it). Rosen’s essay details the full evolution of innovation, what innovation is as a process, and how ‘disruptive thinking’ is only the first step and is not innovation in and of itself. Innovation doesn’t truly take hold until the intellectual, technical, and political aspects of the new idea has matured. While the tempo of technological change can be breathtaking, institutional changes in the service still have a tempo that iterates at a generational pace. For Rosen, innovation is not complete until an innovation has been fully developed into doctrine and operational paradigm. In other words, only once the disruption from new ways of thinking has dissipated can the innovation process be considered complete.
The organizational struggle that leads to innovation often involves the creation of a new path to senior ranks so that a new officer learning and practicing the new way of war will not be hunted aside into a dead-end speciality that does not qualify him for flag rank.
Rosen frames military innovation in terms of there actually being three struggles: intellectual, political, and technological. He observes this in three case studies. However, in my remarks here, I shall only stick with one of the examples: development of carrier warfare by the USN.
Rosen pays special attention to how Rear Admiral Moffett performed his duties as the first Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics. Rosen accounts how at first, aviators objected to the notion of a battleship sailor being chosen to lead the newly minted BuAer. However, they would come to find that it was Moffett’s ability to wage the political struggle, and his ability to articulate the role of the carrier in warfare – in a manner that met the evolving nature of the intellectual struggle – that warranted his selection. As Rosen states
The intellectual redefinition of naval warfare from combat among battleships to the development of mobile air bases at sea would have been futile if the political struggle for power within the officer corps in the Navy had not been fought and won by Moffett and his allies.
Technology alone doesn’t cause innovation, nor does it usher in a new way of war, neither does a good idea make it very far if the champion of that idea can’t help foster institutional change. Rosen cites the efforts of Moffet and so many others as having taken 24 years from the general board first considering naval aviation in 1919 to fruition with the publication of PAC-10 in 1943. A truly generational effort, that saw not just the technology of naval aviation develop, but the aviation career field take its initial shape, and the political structure of the officer corps evolve and the wider community adjust accordingly.
Rosen had to chose for his case studies large and significant shifts that do not often occur in militaries. Where the Navy finds itself today doesn’t nearly parallel the example of the development of naval aviation. However, this is not to say that there are no lessons to be gleaned from it, especially in regards to the intellectual and political struggles within the Navy.
People, ideas, hardware… In that order! — Col. John Boyd, USAF (ret)
Boyd was more right than he realized. Not only is that the order of importance for military leaders, it’s also the order what is the hardest to improve, and once improved that is the order which has the greatest impact. As well, it is the evolution of all three aspects that are required for innovation in the military.
Judging from the comments on social media and the notes I have received from active and retired shipmates, the buzz surrounding CDR Guy Snodgrass’ “Keep a Weather Eye on the Horizon” is real and I’m encouraged to see it. It’s no surprise why this paper has become a topic of discussion in wardrooms and ready rooms around the fleet, and passed electronically across warfare communities.
Our Navy has a proud tradition of professional discourse, and this excellent paper lies squarely in that mold. Good arguments are typically dual-edged – one side passion, the other logic. Guy’s passion is evident and it appears many of you share it. More than that, he understands complete loyalty means complete honesty, and I know - personally – that he wrote this paper only to help make our institution better. It already has. Top naval leaders are aware of several of the issues he touches on. Many are being studied, budgeted for, or in the early stages of implementation. Others give us pause.
I share many of the concerns and have similar questions to those detailed in Guy’s paper. A quick example – many of you have heard me on the road talk about how BUPERS (being self-critical) historically “swings behind the pitch”, unable to nimbly react to economic and early stage retention issues. It’s not neglect, good people here trying to do the best they can with limited tools, but the fact is it has cost us in both good people and money. We have to do better, and I must say that this discourse helps.
We’ve all been JO’s and yes we can also fall victim to forgetting what it was like, but this is also the power of discourse. The idea that there is a perception that operational command is not valued and there is an erosion of trust in senior leadership bothers me…I want to hear more, learn more from you.
Fostering an environment where folks feel empowered to share their thoughts on important issues is a core responsibility of leadership. Ideas, good and bad, have no rank. Yet the discourse can’t just stop there. We need thoughtful debate on how to solve problems, not just an articulate accounting of what’s wrong and who’s at fault. We need leaders willing to offer new and innovative solutions to problems that at times appear impossible or hopeless. Those kind of leaders inspire all of us to continue serving men and women in our charge.
Guy has set an example for one way to ensure thoughtful debate has a voice. Please push your ideas forward — write about them, talk about them with your Sailors, up and down the chain of command. This is the only way we will overcome the challenges ahead of us – together.
Perhaps they have family members who have served, or someone they know. More likely, they have picked up the idea from something around them; movies, books, history, or even advertising from the recruiting side of the house.
That is why we have been very careful on what we put the “Navy” stamp on. Every outreach or project for public consumption does not have to be a cheerleading event smacking of Social Realism – but it should at least reflect a neutral, reality based view of what the Navy is.
We also need to know that when we refer to our Sailors, we need to send a message that will ring true to them, and that they have confidence that their leadership’s view of them reflects what they see every day in the Fleet. That brings us to what is being called, “…the Navy’ first mobile game…”
What story does it tell to the outside audience? What does it tell our Sailors about what the Navy thinks of them?
Who did we give responsibility to bring the Navy in to the mobile gaming market? Naval History & Heritage Command? Navy Recruiting Command? CHINFO? No, of course not. I’ll let you soak in the background here, here, and here.
Does it tell the Navy’s story? No. Does it inspire? Does it help people understand the Navy’s role in the 21st Century? What does it do?
“Pier Pressure” gives sailors fingertip access to alcohol-related resources 24/7 and includes a blood alcohol content calculator and search of local taxi services.
There you go. I don’t know what is worse; the patronizing tone, the assumptions, or the horrible “in the Navy, Sailors drop pallets on ships” actual game part.
Messages, external and internal, matter. I am curious, did they run this by a focus group of Fleet Sailors? At any point, did someone mention this might be a little out of phase?
I understand the good intentions. I fully understand the huge waste to personal and professional lives due to alcohol use, but really. Besides the ability to feel like someone is trying to do something – is this really the something needed to address the problem? Is it a net gain – is this really what the Navy should put out there as its initial mobile gaming entry?
Maybe, but what message does it send? Sailors are a bunch of drunks who can’t wait until their boring day dropping pallets on ships is over so they can hit the bar, and once they get there, they don’t have the good sense to handle their drink? That isn’t the Navy I know.
It is bad enough that we accepted in whole cloth the unscientific and highly flawed study on sexual assault that painted all Sailors as either sexual predators or helpless victims led by tone-deaf enablers, but now we have to buy in to the old smear of the “drunken Sailor” as well?
Is that really what our Navy thinks our Sailors are like? Is that what we want to tell young men and women who might want to join the Navy to expect? If so, I might offer that on the “problem to solution” spectrum, this is a bit closer to problem than solution.
Enjoy the video.
CAPT Rodgers, former CO of the USS PONCE Afloat Forward Staging Base, discusses how his ad-hoc crew of Sailors and civilian mariners plucked a 40 year old ship from decommissioning’s doorstep and turned it into the most in-demand platform in the Arabian Gulf.
Sea Control is available on Itunes and Stitcher Stream Radio. Remember to tell your friends! We think Sea Control is a fine product. Anyone who says otherwise is going to steal all your banking information and email passwords because information
All images from CAPT Rodgers’ unclassified post-deployment presentation on USS PONCE.
I made my way to the USNI/AFCEA West 2014 Conference because the theme is an important one. Shaping the Maritime Strategy. And because I was fairly certain it wouldn’t be snowing in San Diego. Sure enough, the speakers and panel sessions have not disappointed. And, there is not a snowbank in sight.
This morning’s keynote event was a roundtable on Information Dominance. Moderated by Mr. David Wennergren, VP for Enterprise Technologies and Services at CACI, the panel consisted of RADM Paul Becker USN, Director of Intelligence J2 from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, RADM Robert Day USCG, Assistant Commandant for C4I for Coast Guard Cyber Command, Mr. Terry Halvorsen, DoN CIO, and BGen Kevin Nally USMC, Marine Corps CIO.
Each spoke eloquently of the need for protecting trusted information networks in an increasingly interconnected military, as well as the complexities of the dependence on trusted networks for myriad systems, capabilities, and decision support of command and control functions. Not surprisingly, the emphasis of most of the discussion was on countering the threats to our use of the electronic spectrum, which is to say “cyber” security. Each of the roundtable speakers were insightful in describing the problem of data overload, and how that overload actually stymied efforts to retrieve information. And each commented in turn that “information dominance” was not synonymous with “cyber”, which merely represented one aspect of the concept.
The discussion amongst the roundtable members did fall disappointingly short in two critical areas. The first was the focus on technical solutions for managing data and information. Connectivity and data transfer capability dominated what should have been a cultural discussion about information management. It is not the lack of sensors, or data feeds, nor connectivity shortfalls which have hampered our attempts to wring the maximum value from our information systems. We have become so enamored of the colossal capability to access raw data that we have become less than disciplined about what we NEED to know, when we need to know it, from whom we should expect it, what form that data needs to be in, and how it is to be analyzed into information useful for decision support for C2. Little of that was directly addressed, which was unfortunate, as such lack of acumen about our information and intelligence requirements will render any system to deliver those products far less effective than they should be.
By far, however, the biggest shortcoming of the roundtable discussion was the inability of any of the panel members to actually define the term “Information Dominance” in any meaningful way. I had submitted precisely that question for the roundtable via the electronic submission system in use at West this year, but someone asked it ahead of me. The attempts to define “Information Dominance” would have made a junior high English teacher cringe. We heard what information dominance is similar to, and what the supposed goals of information dominance were, but neither was in any way a real definition. (This is not a surprise. Two years ago, the Navy had an “Information Dominance” booth on the “gizmo floor”, staffed alternately by a Captain and two Commanders. I asked each, separately, over a couple days, to give me their definition of “information dominance”. None of theirs were remotely similar, nor any more adequate than what we heard today.)
The problem, of course, is the term itself. Information cannot be “dominated”, despite assertions to the contrary. An enemy with a very specific information requirement that he can fulfill reliably and in a timely manner can be said to have information “dominance” over our massive sensor and communications networks that commanders and staffs pore over in attempts to see through the fog of war. The dust cloud from the dirt bike as the teenager rides from Baghdadi to Hit to tell the insurgents of the Coalition convoy headed their way trumps our networked, data-driven ISR platform links that cannot help prevent the ambush that awaits us.
We have much work ahead of us to make most effective use of our incredibly robust data collection systems and information networks. The solution to the problems of analytical capacity resident in C2 nodes with which to turn raw data into useful information and intelligence will be far more human than digital. Commanders have to insist on a philosophy of “Don’t tell me everything, tell me what I need to know”. And then go about ensuring that those who collect, compile, and analyze data have a very good idea of what they need to know.
And we can start by retiring the troublesome and ill-suited term “Information Dominance”. As General van Riper is fond of saying, “Words MEAN things!”. They’re supposed to, anyway.
Cross-posted at Bring the Heat, Bring the Stupid.
In our first post Scott and I wrote about education opportunities available for those supporting the U.S. Navy, from reserve Marine Corps to active Navy to civil servants. We’ve updated that post with additional options thanks to RADM James Foggo, CDR Steve Melvin, Chrissy Juergens, LT Vic Allen, and Tetyana Muirhead. In that article we focused on free courses that can be used towards degrees or certificate programs. But that’s not the only type of free training available.
Alternatively, you might find yourself in the situation “Degreed Out” (BSEE, MBA, CDFM, CISSP, OA Cert from NPS…), in which getting another master’s degree or certification may start merely seeming like alphabet soup. Also, if you’re like me and you find yourself on shore duty, it should be a time for professional and personal development, right? I tried something different and took a few classes through Coursera. Six classes actually, and I’m happy to say this was a very positive and rewarding experience. Coursera offers what are known as massive open online courses (MOOCs). In contrast with the courses in our first post, these typically have no limit on the number of seats in the class and some can be started at any time, although there are many variations on the set-up. While they too don’t charge for enrollment, a few have a small fee to test or “certify” you upon the course’s completion if that is something you’d like to pursue.
With Coursera each class ranged from 6-12 weeks in length and all required a different but not insignificant amount of work. What did I get for my efforts you ask? All but one of the courses offered me PDF certificates of completion that don’t mean much to anyone but me. More importantly, I learned more than I thought possible in subject matters I chose (Cryptography, Reverse Engineering of Malware, Financial Engineering, Computational Finance, High Performance Computing and Guitar) by the experts in the field (Stanford, University of London International Programmes, University of Washington, Columbia University, Georgia Tech, and Berklee School of Music).
In my humble opinion, this is the future of education. I think this is the greatest invention since the public library system. It is the public library system and the internet combined, with guided direction of the world’s greatest instructors thrown into the mix. I am convinced that this is how the world will judge future academic institutions and decide where they will send their children to study full-time. It is also quite possibly, how future college students will prepare and choose their degree paths. I expect great things for the future due largely to efforts such as these. For Scott’s part, he believes the business model will allow MOOCs to count towards degree and certificate programs at “brick-and-mortar” institutions if they are individually partnered with that institution and upon the successful completion of testing on a fee basis (The Economist has covered the possible future of MOOCs in more depth, as well as even shorter, less-formal learning tools).
Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)
For an aggregation of MOOC courses across these and other sites check out MOOC-List.
Coursera has 554 institutions offering course-work in various subject areas. Take the world’s best courses for free and earn a certificate of completion. Alternatively, pay a few dollars extra and earn a verified certificate. This certificate verifies your identity by using methods such as your typing patterns and using an online camera to verify your picture. One of the downsides for military members attempting to take Coursera classes related to your job is that the site is not compatible with NMCI’s old browsers.
iTunesU has a large collection of free podcasts in several knowledge areas. Not surprisingly, if you want to learn how to write an iTunes App this is the place to go. It seems that may universities have their own portal on the iTunesU website. In my opinion, Apple’s decision to host individual portals has left this site a bit of a mess and course material is slightly unorganized. However, once you find the content you are looking for, it could make your commute to work much more productive.
While I have yet to try this one, Udacity is the same basic concept as Coursera but with a twist. You can take the classes completely on your schedule. Although limited in number by comparison, the course offerings looked fairly attractive. I think I may just try the “Intro to Hadoop and Map-reduce” course if I can squeeze it in. With no deadlines it is much more likely that I will sign up, poke around at the most interesting content, and if I am not completely enamored put it off until another day.
edX is another top-tier MOOC which at the time of this writing has 38 courses to choose from, provided in partnership with such institutions as Harvard, MIT, and Georgetown, spanning many subject areas. Most edX course videos are provided by means of YouTube and do their best to incorporate students into discussion groups on online forums. edX also offers certificates of completion, some requiring a fee for identify verification.
Navy Knowledge Online, MarineNet, and Joint Knowledge Online
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention these three sites, which are in fact long-running DoD-restricted versions of MOOCs. While they may not have the best reputation and are saddled with clunky, non-mobile interfaces, they do offer training on topics directly related to professional duties. Additionally, for those seeking to expand their knowledge beyond their designator or rate, there’s a range of interesting coursework available – from drone operations to intel “A” school to short cultural backgrounds on dozens of countries.
Defense Acquisition University (DAU), FEMA, DHS, Defense Security Service
Back in our first post we talked about (at least in the updated version) accredited courses and certificate options available through DAU, FEMA, DHS at NPS, DHS at Texas A&M, and the Defense Security Service’s Center for Development of Security Excellence. As a reminder, they have many online training options there for self-edification as well. Offerings typically focus on subject such as incident response management, cyber security, and counter-terrorism.
While Rosetta Stone used to be available free to servicemembers, that contract has since expired. However, there are still several options for beginning or furthering a language for free. Both NKO and JKO have several languages available, but they’re not the most interactive, and focus primarily on a few of the high-demand target languages and militarily useful skills. That said, if you’re already an intermediate speaker or going on a specific assignment and want to brush up on your ability to talk to your uniformed counterparts, these could be quite useful. iTunesU has a plethora of options, running from minute-long immersion to more structured serial listening podcasts. For those with smartphones there are a variety of free language apps that I have yet to try, but the Duolingo app comes highly recommended and takes an immersion and gamification approach to try and cram learning for fun into the nooks and crannies of your free time. Scott may have to put away The Simpsons Tapped Out and finally get back to his Spanish studies.
If you have any additional recommendations on language learning options, please let us know and we’ll perhaps come up with a part 3. In the meantime let us know what else we missed, and keep on learnin’.
This article was cross-posted by permission from JO Rules. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.