Archive for the 'Training & Education' Category
Yes, we are time shifting for this coming episode of Midrats to 6:30pm on Sunday, 26 October for a 90 minute adventure in national security and spin-off topics as we offer up Episode 251: DEF2014 wrapup and the budding question of veteran entitlement:
A special time and format this week with two different topics and guests.
Moving for just this week to a 6:30pm Eastern start time, our guest for the first 30-minutes will be Lieutenant Ben Kohlmann, USN – Founder of Disruptive Thinkers, F/A-18 pilot, member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, and Co-Founder Defense Entrepreneurs Forum. He will be on to give us an overview of DEF2014 that ends this weekend.
For the following hour our, guest will be Major Carl “Skin” Forsling, USMC. He will be on to discuss some of the broader issues he raises in his article earlier this month, Unpacking The Veteran Entitlement Spectrum, and perhaps some more as well.
Skin is a Marine MV-22B pilot and former CH-46E pilot. He has deployed with and been an instructor in both platforms. He has also served as a military advisor to an Afghan Border Police battalion. He is currently Executive Officer at Marine Medium Tiltrotor Training Squadron 204, training Osprey pilots and aircrew for the Marine Corps and Air Force. He earned his batchelor’s degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and his master’s from Boston University. His writing has appeared in the Marine Corps Gazette, USNI Proceedings, Small Wars Journal, and Approach, among others (available at carlforsling.tumblr.com). Follow him on Twitter @carlforsling.
Tiago Alexandre Fernandes Maurício, associate editor for our Forgotten Naval Strategists Week, joins us from Tokyo to discuss Fernando Oliveira and our other Forgotten Naval strategists – as well as how these strategists become “forgotten.” There’s a bit of Peloponnesian War thrown in too… just because.
Note: Thanks to Sam LaGrone for the kickin’ new tunes.
By Jon Paris
In both Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I compared various naval counterparts – laying the groundwork for discussing what the U.S. Navy’s Surface Warfare Officer community is getting right, and what areas could use improvement. It is easy to complain. Surface Warfare Officers are notorious for it. I am infamous for it, as my peers and superiors alike will attest. Combine our penchant for complaining and our ingrained inferiority complex and it is no wonder that so many SWOs think that everyone else is “doing it better.” This time, though, it is not typical-SWO wanking: they aredoing it better, and we must pull our heads out of the sand and catch up. Royal Navy Warfare Officers, U.S. Naval Aviators and nuclear trained officers are specialists and are unmatched masters of their trade. They must train endlessly and they feverishly adhere to standards written in blood to remain at the top of their respective callings. They are role-models and could teach us a thing or two about being the best. As for Surface Warfare Officers – weare good, and that is the problem.
It appears that there is nothing wrong here. As a Surface Warfare Officer myself, I can get onboard with most of the above. There is a seedy underbelly to all of this, though. It thrives on a couple of points: that our greatness has not been tested by an opponent in decades, and that the perspective of greatness is naturally skewed from the top down. If not by desire, doctrine, or intent – then surely through practice – the Surface Warfare Officer community accepts mediocracy.Surface Warfare Officers – and the ships we drive, fight, and lead – guarantee the free flow of commerce across the world. We deliver critical readiness to the Geographic Combatant Commanders and we send a powerful message to both overt and would-be enemies. What we do, works. Our ships deploy and our navy projects unparalleled power around the globe. As an inherently expeditionary force, we ply the world’s oceans, go where we please, and influence international events as a matter of course. We conduct prompt and sustained combat operations like no other nation can. Our ships are leaving port and returning safely, they complete the widest variety of operational tasking of any military community, our personnel are advancing, and finally, as one senior community leader put it to me, “We are pretty damn good… I would take our top 50% Department Heads and put them against the top 10% of PWO (RN, Principle Warfare Officers) or Snipes (engineers) and bet on our people.”
Tom Skerritt’s Viper stood in front of a room filled with the elite – “the best of the best,” and told them deadpan: “we’ll make you better.” In this fictional portrayal, which is representative of the real-life attitudes found in the previously featured communities, good enough, wasn’t. Surface Warfare Officers are undoubtedly the best in our business. Unfortunately, context matters, as the same can be said when a Major League club steps into a Little League park. We need to be better. We have ill-defined core-competencies, which leads us to becoming Jacks-of-all-Trades. Our habit of recoiling in horror at the thought of specialization causes us to become plug-and-play officers; ultimately figure-heads and placeholders with little value added to a respective sub-unit. Finally, we do not deliver professionals to the Fleet. One Surface Warfare Officer with multiple commands under his belt conceded, “We should be more deliberate. Success and mastery occur by happenstance.” Another community leader said, “We have good tacticians, but that is mostly by personal choice, and a little bit about your ship’s schedule and how interested your Commanding Officer was in tactics.” This series is not about career advancement. It is about a profession. It is about war. It is about winning! Our nation does not deserve victory by happenstance. It deserves an ocean-roiling, awe-inspiring, burned-into-the-history-books slam of Thor’s hammer upon our enemies. I do not think we are there yet.
Getting there is not simple. It is not as easy as adopting all of the policies and culture of the Royal Navy or Naval Aviators or nukes. Surface Warfare Officers should be the best because we train to be the best, not because we happen to be a part of the American Navy. We should be the best because we retain the best, not simply because our kit is better than everyone else’s. Under some fantastic leaders, the community is getting the right idea. The introduction of the Basic Division Officer Course, the Advanced Division Officer Course, the Surface Navigator’s Course, the Command Qualification Exam, and rigor added to the Department Head Course are all aimed at developing professionals. Weapons Tactics Instructors – previously a rice-bowl of the aviation community – will invigorate tactical awareness and proficiency throughout the Fleet. The SWO Clock concept – another idea poached from Naval Aviators – which gets “beached SWOs” back to the waterfront, shows a tilt towards valuing production in the upwardly-mobile. We are making good efforts to improve our community in an environment that naturally builds anti-bodies to culture change. That said, we are not doing enough; our profession, our competencies, our reputation, and our retention suffer due to this slow trod down the middle-of-the-channel. As is evidenced by both the Naval Aviation and nuclear communities, it really comes down to what a community accepts in, and for, itself. Do we continue to accept mediocracy, or do we stand up and say that “good enough” is not good enough?
One admiral opined, “I think it is good we SWOs have this institutional ‘inferiority complex,’ as it keeps us from getting complacent…like naval aviation did in Vietnam and later years.” I am not nearly the first to question the level of professionalism in our force. In a 2009 Proceedings article, LT Mitch McGuffie discussed his shock at how much more professional Royal Navy Warfare Officers were than SWOs. This topic and topics like it pop up on Sailor Bob – the definitive forum for SWO discussion – all the time. We do have a questioning attitude and that does make us better. While I readily acknowledge that we are the best Surface Warriors on the block, I am not satisfied with a 10:1 or 50:1 advantage. Like Viper and his pals, and real-life naval professionals who recognize that “there are no points for second place,” I am not satisfied with us being the best – I want us to be the best of the best.
To be the best of the best, we must deliver professionals to the Fleet at all levels. To measure one’s professionalism, we must establish community-recognized core competencies. We must define what it means to be a SWO and prove that our pin is worth more than the money we pay for it. For the sake of brevity, I propose that our core competency be ship-driving. Imagine, if you will, a room full of mid-grade Hornet pilots: 20% of them openly admit to each other that they have no clue how to fly Hornets, and another 30% who are less open about their weakness demonstrate their ineptitude in the simulator. The remaining 50% range from barely capable to superstars. While quality spreads are a reality in any group, this scenario is un-imaginable. Naval Aviators with more than 8 years of service that do not know how to fly? Rubbish! This is a reality for Surface Warfare Officers, though. Lieutenants that do not know how to drive ships are commonplace. They exist because they were never trained, nor tested, much less held to a standard, in the first place. They were never trained, tested, or held to a standard because ship-driving – again, if not due to desire, doctrine, or intent, then through practice – is not recognized as a core-competency of the U.S. Navy’s ship drivers. As is demonstrated in the excellent film, Speed and Angels, Naval Aviators consider carrier operations to be a core-competency – if a student pilot cannot land on the boat, then he will not become a Naval Aviator. Why can’t Surface Warfare Officers take the same approach to our profession?
We need a flight school for Surface Warfare Officers. The name is not important at this point – rather, the purpose ought to be the focus: building ship drivers. We must stop accepting mediocracy in this venue! While the Basic Division Officer course is a fantastic concept meant to bolster our young ensigns, it lacks focus and does not zero in on core-competencies. The lessons taught in the Basic Division Officer course are important – being an effective small-unit leader is vital, and I do not propose that we scrap the current construct. Rather, I propose – nay, I implore – that we first recognize ship-driving as a core-competency, and second, require our officers to be competent ship drivers.
SEALs do not accept sub-par. Neither do Naval Aviators, nor nuclear-trained officers, or Marines. While I applaud our most recent Commander, Naval Surface Forces for his outstanding efforts to instill meaningful training, we are still accepting sub-par, and are using the re-creation of half-way schooling as a security blanket. Under our current system, young SWO candidates are flooded onto ships in an effort to make future retention goals – an indictment of our culture’s impact on retention. They then fiercely compete for time on the bridge to gain experience – and hopefully competency – as ship drivers. On most ships, this is not a recipe for success. The Professional Qualification Standard books, which drive progression, are signed with unpredictable integrity, imparting sometimes-dubious knowledge on young minds. To cap it off, Officer of the Deck and Surface Warfare Officer qualifications, granted by Commanding Officers, are determined using two-hundred some different standards. Some candidates sit for gut-wrenching, rigorous tests of their skills and knowledge, and others chat with their Commanding Officers at local watering holes after a command event. The evidence of the disparity in knowledge is on display in Newport, Rhode Island – home of Surface Warfare Officers School – where junior officers return for the Advanced Division Officer Course, and later, the Department Head Course. Some officers were obviously put to the test during their professional development, and others were obviously not.
I propose that we start a Deck Watch Officer School – our flight school - in Newport, which all ensigns will attend, and must pass, prior to reporting to BDOC and ultimately, the Fleet. As with aviators, this school would not be a second thought or a 60% solution, but rather would be a proving ground for our nation’s future ship drivers. The length of this notional school can be figured out later; what is important is that SWO candidates shall qualify;ashore. We must have one standard, one organization responsible for enforcing that standard, and must require those desiring entrance into our community to meet it – otherwise, seek life elsewhere. We should not be ashamed of upholding a standard and of telling some people that they are not cut out for this business. At this school, candidates would receive in-depth, hands-on instruction in seamanship and navigation, basic-through-advanced ship handling, meteorology, bridge resource management, and a variety of other skills required for the competent mariner.
Integral to this process would be the move of the Yard Patrol Craft fleet – the U.S. Navy’s only training ships – from Annapolis to Newport for the exclusive use of the Surface Warfare Officers School. During the pipeline, ensigns would log hours and prove their skills in simulators and on the water. They would complete classwork, learn from case studies, and would be continually tested, remediated, and attrited, as required. If they successfully made it to the end of this program, they would sit for a SWOS-run and community-sanctioned Officer-of-the-Deck board, ensuring that all ensigns are held to the same standard. Earning one’s OOD letter – like the pilots and their wings – would be a culminating event, and those unable to meet the mark would not be sent to the Basic Division Officer Course or the Fleet. If we could implement this plan, we would then send Captains competent, qualified ship drivers, immediately useful to their commands. Like in the Royal Navy, newly reported officers would then complete their platform endorsement, signifying both their grasp of their new ship and the trust their Commanding Officers have in them.
To be the best of the best, we must be good at our jobs. If Surface Warfare Officers are going to continue to be both professional watch standers, and small unit leaders, we must stop accepting the notion that plug-and-play is an effective way of doing business. Imagine a Naval Aviator spending his junior officer tours flying F/A-18’s, his department head tour in a P-8 squadron, and finally, growing up to command an MH-60 squadron. This progression would never happen in the aviation community because they are not plug-and-play pilots. Yet, a Surface Warfare Officer may indeed spend a tour in Weapons Department, followed by Operations Department, followed by Engineering Department, followed by eventual command. The issue as I see it is that the community views this as a positive – exposing officers to a variety of shipboard functions – but in reality, it ensures that we never become truly good at our jobs. We become personnel and administrative gurus, irrespective of our assigned department, perched to jump into a different role at a moment’s notice.
Instead of our current system, I propose that U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officers matriculate into the community with a billet specialty: engineering, operations, or combat systems. Anathema! Rather than wandering from department to department as figure-heads, I want us to have a vested interest, and subject matter expertise, in the Sailors we lead and the systems we are responsible for. An Infantry Officer leads infantry units. Armor Officers lead armor units. F/A-18 pilots fly Hornets. Today, a Surface Warfare Officer can become a Weapons Officer, and in theory, an Engineer Officer, without prior experience in those respective departments. Imagine, though, the benefits of the following: a new officer enters the community as a Surface Warfare Officer-Engineering, graduates the OOD School and BDOC, completes basic engineer training, serves two division officer tours in Engineering Department, completes shore duty, graduates Department Head School, and returns to the Fleet as an Engineer Officer. This officer has received specialized training along the way and has walked the walk and talked the talk at sea prior to stepping foot into what is acknowledged as the most challenging tour of a SWO’s career. They are no longer a figure-head, but rather: they are an engineer. Or a Combat Systems Officer. Or an Operations Officer. Their title means something. They are good at their job. To ensure preparation for command and to keep some semblance of well-roundedness, Surface Warfare Officers of all flavors would continue to earn the qualifications and stand the watches that the community currently holds dear: on the bridge, in the Combat-Information-Center, and in the engineering plant. Finally, the XO/CO fleet-up model would ensure that specialists are appropriately rounded-out before taking command.
I want Surface Warfare Officers to push ourselves “right to the edge of the envelope.” I want us to be proud of our community. I want our Surface Warfare Officer pin to mean something – to the military, to the service, and most important of all, to us. I want us to be professional watch standers and experts in our respective jobs. The Surface Warfare Officer community is known for being the dumping ground of Unrestricted Line Officers who could not hack it, and this happens because we do not establish, much less uphold, standards. No more! We should honor our heritage, establish a role in our force that is both respected and admired, and strictly and unabashedly police ourselves as consummate professionals who accept nothing less than the best of the best.
On March 7, 2014, a self-directed study was emailed to Vice Admiral Bill Moran, the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Naval Personnel. Titled “Keep a Weather Eye on the Horizon: A Navy Officer Retention Study”, the paper provided Vice Admiral Moran with a canary in the coal mine, describing a looming retention downturn using historical data and, perhaps most importantly, timely and relevant information based on primary source interviews with hundreds of U.S. Navy Sailors.
Within days, the paper leaked from the Navy’s Personnel Command and made its way throughout the Navy. The message resonated with Sailors at the deck plates — officer and enlisted alike — and caught the attention of senior leaders throughout the U.S. Government. To their immense credit, Vice Admiral Moran and other senior Navy leaders have responded to decreasing retention indicators with personnel changes designed to improve morale and a Sailor’s ‘quality of service’. These changes provide commanding officers with greater flexibility to prescribe uniform wear, increase sea pay for Sailors on extended deployments, and reduce general military training requirements on commands, just to name a few.
Larger initiatives are in the works although they have not been publicly announced. Some initiatives, like expansion of the Career Intermission Pilot Program, require Congressional approval. There is also a desire to better understand the current retention downturn before acting. This is understandable. The Navy is a large, diverse, and dispersed organization and more information is required to ensure the next round of changes provide the greatest return on investment. However, the time to act is now.
So, how do you determine the right course of action to provide the greatest return on investment?
Senior decision makers are asking important questions. First, is there really a retention problem? Is it possible we are retaining the right quality of Sailor, just in fewer numbers? Are previously cited retention factors — an improving economy, significant operational tempo, perceived reductions in quality of life, among others — truly impacting our Sailor’s “stay/go” decisions? If so, in what ways?
The desire to further expound on the tenets of the paper — in a thoughtful and deliberate way intended to benefit senior leaders — led to the creation of an independent 2014 Navy Retention Study Team in March 2014. The team is comprised of a volunteer group of high-performing active duty Sailors and select civilians who have dedicated their off-duty time to create a first of its kind retention survey — created by Sailors for Sailors. All of our members are upwardly mobile, highly-placed individuals who want to measurably contribute to the continued success of the U.S. Navy. The success of this initiative is due largely to their sense of ownership for the Navy and their correspondingly impressive efforts.
This report details the results of this year’s survey, including a broad analysis of factors which are assessed to affect retention and additional recommendations to avoid the shoal waters of a multi-year retention shortfall for several communities. Further, it is important to provide relatively unfettered access to the survey data (as appendices in this report) with more raw data to be made available throughout Fall 2014.
While our analysis of the data is presented for your use, I suggest you don’t take our word for it — read and assess the data for yourself. Then read widely, think deeply, write passionately, and act decisively to help retain our most talented Sailors in uniform.
We must continue to cultivate a strong sense of ownership within the U.S. Navy. Reassuringly, many Sailors have stepped forward with innovative ideas to improve processes and policies, whether as a Yeoman, a Lieutenant in the F/A-18 community, or as a pre-major command surface warfare officer. In the end, no matter your rank or position, it’s about asking ourselves what type of Navy we want to dedicate some portion of our lives to … and what type of Navy we want to leave for those that join 5, 10, 15 years into the future and beyond. It’s easy to lay problems at the feet of our senior leaders, however it’s incumbent upon all of us to take part in solving this issue.
At the end of the day, the Navy cannot directly hire uniformed personnel into positions of responsibility, nor can it surge leadership, trust, and confidence. Instead, we must explore changes to legal statutes and internal policies in order to retain our very best, brightest, and most talented — the continued success of the U.S. Navy depends on nothing less.
The 2014 Navy Retention Study report may be downloaded at: www.dodretention.org/results beginning Sept 1, 2014.
How does policy shape, limit, or empower the effectiveness of command at the unit level? Which policies are a net positive, and which ones are counter productive? Are there things we can do to better balance larger Navy goals with the requirement to give leaders the room they need to be effective leaders?
In times of austere budgets, can you both reduce end-strength while at the same time retain your best personnel? Are we a learning institution that can adjust policy that answers the bell from DC in shaping tomorrow’s Fleet, yet does not break trust with Shipmates?
To discuss this and more we will have as our returning guest, Vice Admiral Bill Moran, USN. Chief of Naval Personnel. A P-3 pilot by trade, he held commanded at the squadron, wing and group levels. As Chief of Naval Personnel, he oversees the recruiting, personnel management, training, and development of Navy personnel. Since taking over a year ago he has focused on improving communication between Navy leadership and Sailors in the Fleet.
Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here.
U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Margaret Keith
Jon Paris joins us to discuss his article, The Virtue of Being a Generalist, Part 1: A Day in the Life of Sub Lieutenant Snodgrass. We compare the Royal Navy and US Navy processes of creating officers for their surface fleet, the nature of being a maritime “professional,” improvements for the American model, and generally gab on for about 36 minutes.
Leadership is hard. This pretty much sums up the screed by Commander Darcie Cunningham, USCG, entitled “Now Hear This – Millennials Bring a New Mentality: Does It Fit?” in the August issue of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings Magazine. In her 700 words, Commander Cunningham finds fault with her subordinates’ work ethic and aspirations, deems them selfish and finally questions the ability of an entire generation. She advocates the time-honored virtues of patience, maturity, and experience, “course-correct[ion]”, and “accolades” to feed these Millienials “encouraging reinforcement and the feedback for which they hunger.” Her solution is to defeat lack of military discipline with more military discipline. This course of action is so obvious and unremarkable, even the freshest of lieutenants in the Marine Corps manages to grasp and implement it. Finally, she asks the right question, but fails to answer it: “So how does our structured military culture adapt to this new generation?”
Commander Cunningham has been taken to task by plenty of others in the blogosphere, including two notable rejoinders. Commander Salamander’s snarky response points out Cunningham is simply recycling the same “Old Breed” garbage that every generation trots out when faced with younger charges who think differently and have dissimilar, diverse experiences. Salamander kills with a tried and true quote from Napoleon himself – “There are no bad regiments; there are only bad colonels” – which boils a unit’s failure down to the essence of its leadership. LT Scott Cheney-Peters, a fellow Truman National Security Project Defence Council Member to the authors of this piece, is less derisive than Salamander in his response on the USNI Blog, but effectively dismantles her grievances point by point. Cheney-Peters, however, is also a Millennial, so anything he says, is likely to be self-aggrandizing and untrustworthy, under Commander Cunningham’s criteria. Finally, Matt Hipple deconstructs her argument point by point in a compelling rejoinder on the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) site.
Rather than point-counterpoint Commander Cunningham’s piece to death (and because Hipple has beaten us to the punch), we have elected a different tack. We plan to ignore it wholesale because the premise of her article is so ridiculous. By writing this article, she casts more light on the shortcomings of her leaders and herself than the men and women she has been selected to lead. To complain about the nature of those being led will inevitably end in failure. The leader is not entitled to lead only those individuals with the set of characteristics (s)he is most comfortable with. In truth, it would be incredibly easy and convenient to lead a group stolen from the pages of Miller and Varley’s 300. Who doesn’t want a company of chiselled killers who are adaptive, obedient, tough, respectful, hardened, smart, competent, fit and posses the ideal mix of martial characteristics that define success on the battlefields of yore? However, we do not live in a graphic novel. Our citizens and those hoping to become citizens send us their sons and daughters, with whatever skills, talents, abilities, and shortcomings they possess- warts and all. It is up to us as leaders to shape them, to mold their character and help them better themselves, to hold them accountable for their execution and conduct when they fall short. To do this, a leader must inspire, a leader must be tough, and most importantly a leader must have the agility to adapt to new subordinates in order to capitalize on the talents they bring to the fight. The task of the leader is to lead, not to bemoan the alleged shortcomings of the led. When we incessantly complain about our subordinates, we break down trust, we break down harmony, and we fail not only ourselves, but also those we are charged to lead.
In short, we hope Commander Cunnigham’s essay dies a quick death on the internet and does not make it to websites where Millennials might read it. To be questioned as a generation who has fought on many battlefields- be they on land or sea- might be construed a tad insulting to the critical thinking Millenial. Fortunately, most military leaders these authors know are sanguine and adaptable to the challenge of leading a generation different from their own.
Back in 2009, in his Proceedings article The Navy Can Handle the Truth: Creative Friction Without Conflict, regular USNI contributor Claude Berube provided a great observation about how important the give and take of debate is in addressing the challenges we face, and the great opportunity we have with the internet to broaden the reach and scope of those involved.
In the current environment, due to largely to changing missions, budgetary constraints, and varying priorities, the Navy continues to shrink in terms of both ships and personnel, decreasing the already minimal familiarity of the general American public with its Sea Services. Bullets and shells may win the battles, but words and ideas define the war and mobilize or sway the requisite public opinion to win it. Therefore, it is important for the Navy to recognize that one of America’s greatest strengths—its freedom of speech—can be its own force multiplier. This freedom allows for creativity, the engine of culture, the economy, and the military; dictatorial powers largely experience the relative creative stagnation regnant in a closed society.
Earlier this week over at my homeblog, in a discussion about another Proceedings article by CDR Darcie Cunningham, USCG; Millenials Bring a New Mentality: Does it Fit?, I brought in a White Paper that found its way to me, Training Millennials: Improving Quality in an Environment of Austerity, by LCDR Gordon “Judy” Faulkner, USN, at that time the VFA-106 Training Officer. Yesterday Judy sent me an updated version of the White Paper which I’ve embedded below.
Not taken aback by the boisterous romper-room that exists over at my homeblog, as I asked, Judy reached out to me – and the results are exactly what Claude was outlining.
I liked his email so much, with only minor changes, I asked his permission to publish it as a guest post. I originally was going to post his response over at CDRSalamander, but I wanted instead to bring it over here, as Judy brings up exceptionally important challenges that need to get a broader exposure.
Though I remain in disagreement with some of his observations about Millenials and think that discussion is a distraction, the other part – and I would argue the most important part of the White Paper – is what I would recommend the greatest focus by the reader.
Read the updated paper at the link above and draw your own conclusions, but the rest of the post I would like to turn over to Judy. The quotes are from my commentary on his White Paper, but otherwise the rest is his response. Over to you Judy.
Perhaps this piece would have been better as two separate articles, each addressing what I perceive as two very different topics. 1) Chronic under-resourcing coupled with mission creep, resulting in an inadequate training pipeline. 2) How to recognize, address and lead in light of generational friction, which you seem to agree is real and exists between most generations. Alas, the version you posted is the one that most people have read.
My use of the term “Millenials” in the title belied the real point of the paper. Alternatively I could have called it “How under-resourcing is threatening to destroy the Navy by forcing us to push through sub-par officers in an effort to meet requirements.” Even my long-winded literary namesake would assault this as verbose.
“He is not happy with the condition of the swimming hole he is playing in and has a rough idea that the issues are upstream … but besides a sniff and a passing glance, he has not started asking – or at least feels he has the top-cover to even bring up – the harder questions of “why” these personality types are floating down to his part of the river.”
Let’s put one thing to bed – during my time at VFA-106, AIRLANT fully supported every Field Naval Aviator Evaluation Board (FNAEB) that VFA-106 submitted; there were several. I was VERY happy with the swimming hole I was playing in (VFA-106) and those Commanding Officers who went to the mat to support me. In fact, it was my most rewarding tour thus far. Top cover existed in spades – to the point where VFA-106 failed to meet production metrics in part due to historically high attrition.
I have thought extensively about, ” “why” these personality types are floating down to his part of the river.”
It has a lot to do with the “fiscal austerity” in my title (sorry again for the drudgery there). Chronic under-resourcing creates a training dilemma.
How do we access, indoctrinate, train, and retain the best officers while culling those not suited to military service? Even more importantly, how do we do that in an environment where the best are leaving (or are not signing up in the first place), and we are forced in some cases to retain the worst to meet requirements? You point that out yourself here:
The problem is not with the Millenials – it is with senior leadership’s inability to select, cull, and lead junior personnel. Do that, and any “problem” people simply won’t show up.
That is the rub. Setting standards from officer accession, entry in to aviation pipeline, and then each milestone along the way.
Agreed. In fact, that is why six of seven proposed solutions have nothing to do with changing Millenials. Leadership is the solution, and as I state in my paper we need to tailor leadership to those we lead while enforcing or improving upon existing standards. That begins with understanding those we lead.
If I sound a bit like a curmudgeon, perhaps it is because 23 pages seemed long enough. Another paper written today might be about all of the positive aspects of Millenials that we should be tapping into and harnessing as leaders.
That being said, as you point out in your conclusion, generational friction is real. Understanding that friction and your audience are critical to effective communication, which is fundamental to sound leadership. Dr. Jean Twenge is doing a sound and scientifically based job of explaining current generational friction. In my opinion, she offers excellent insight for officers attempting to improve their communication skills. She is not selling snake oil out of the back of a wagon. She is attempting to quantify and explain generational friction in an effort to foster understanding. This is not at all about blaming Millenials; it is about understanding them. To quote my paper: “Developing Millennial officers requires a concerted leadership approach. Officers cannot lead in the ways that they believed worked for their generation. They must study, adapt and lead in the way that their Sailors require them to. Leaders must adjust their approach to their Sailors, not the other way around.”
There is also the problem of second guessing of who can or cannot meet standards. The multiple chances and training jackets measured in inches of thickness and pounds of weight … the pushing to the right and the next command people who should be invited to find another way to serve their country earlier on – wasting their time and the Navy’s money. That story is not new. May be worse – but not new.
Bingo. I could not agree with you more. Here’s the three million-dollar question – when we have fewer candidates who meet the standard than we have required billets, what gives, the requirement or the standard? This is where the rubber meets the road in today’s Navy. The most recent Aviation Department Head Screen Board is yet another example of this dilemma, albeit rooted in some different issues.
The Sailors of VFA-106 expend tremendous energy to train every officer who arrives at our door. In some cases, those officers should not have arrived in the first place. That does not mean they do not deserve our full effort. Some of the best leadership I have ever seen came from the Lieutenants whom VFA-106 assigned as mentors to our most difficult officers. We did not attrite those problem children them without first trying to lead and develop them.
There is a balance between healthy attrition and production. The former fosters competition and appreciation for the privilege of serving in the Navy. The latter ensures that we meet requirements in a way that is fiscally responsible to the US taxpayer. One of the most difficult decisions as a Training Officer or Commanding Officer is when to remove a student from training. In some cases it is easy; in most cases it is a gut wrenching progression of doing everything possible to train and lead (we all want to believe that we can get through to anyone) and finally admitting that some people are not suited for Aviation or for the Navy. The point where that decision occurs will vary based on leadership style and experience. In all cases, it is critically important that the Fleet provides unfiltered feedback on their nuggets and that the Fleet Replacement Squadrons provide the same to the Training Command. That flow of information should continue all the way to assessment. The bottom line is that ownership at every level ultimately ensures that we do not matriculate sub-standard officers to the fleet. Each command should see itself as a brand and every officer that passes their doors as a ambassador of that brand. Ultimately, a certain amount of undermanning is preferable to having sub-standard officer, aviator, SWO or Submariner in a Wardroom.
If you are not given the tools to force shape those that float down stream to you, then your bosses are the problem.
Boom goes the dynamite. In this case, the tools you speak of are resources matched to requirements. And in my opinion, the bosses are the elected ones, not the ones in uniform; however, it is our responsibility as officers to dutifully advise our elected officials when we can no longer meet stated goals given current fiscal constraints; however, as an O-4 at the Fleet Replacement Squadron those conversations are “a little out of my element.”
In summary, the entire cadre of junior officer instructors at VFA-106 is comprised of Millenials. They are some of the best officers with whom I have had the opportunity to serve. They are harder working, smarter and in many cases more dedicated then my contemporaries. Given adequate resourcing those same instructors of VFA-106 will set to meeting fleet requirements, providing the Navy with high quality Officers and aviators. And given adequate resourcing, we might just improve their morale and retention at the same time.
That, my friends, is how it is done.
As a final note – if you wonder if Aristotle, Chesterton, Socrates or other of history’s great thinkers ever yelled at the kids to get off their lawn, I recommend
This post is a response to an article in the August issue of USNI’s Proceedings by Commander Darcie Cunningham, U.S. Coast Guard, titled “Millennials Bring a New Mentality: Does it Fit?” So if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you start there. This post appeared in its original form at CIMSEC.
Where to begin? To her credit, Commander Cunningham asks an important question: “how does our structured military culture adapt to this new generation?” It’s also clear her frustrations are borne of personal experiences in command. Unfortunately it’s a question she fails to answer (more on that later) and in doing so perpetuates myths and patronizing generalizations. [Full disclosure: I’m in the millennial generation, on the older end of the spectrum, and like all such groupings the term “millennial” is a debatable construct but I’ll accept her definition (those born in the 80s and 90s) for argument’s sake.] “Kids These Days!” Commander Cunningham begins by noting several behaviors that are supposedly unique to millennials: that they “posture to work only the bare minimum number of hours required,” that their “customs and courtesies are eroding,” and that “there are an increased number of negative confrontations.” It is entirely possible that this is what is happening at Coast Guard Base Los Angeles, it is certainly her perception. But more likely it is just that: perception. Such perceptions have existed about pretty much every generation when they were in their youth. That doesn’t make them accurate.
Let’s return to the important question: “how does our structured military culture adapt to this new generation?” Beyond the advice to use positive feedback to keep the crew motivated, the Commander Cunningham offers nothing. Instead she says they must be “educated,” “course-corrected,” and evaluated for whether they will “truly be able to adapt to the service.” And that’s the thing – this isn’t really an article about adapting the military to millennials, it’s about adapting millennials to the military, as reflected in the title. Which is not all bad. To be sure respect for rank and proper military etiquette are just good manners, and appreciation for a service’s traditions, structure, customs, and courtesies are the marks of a professional. Yet here is where it gets downright galling. The commander moves to close by questioning whether millennials are just “focused on what’s in it for them.” This is flat-out wrong. As the Washington Post reports, millennials “want jobs that affect social change, and they give what they can. A 2012 study found that three-quarters of young people surveyed gave to a charity in 2011, and 63 percent volunteered for a cause.” It bears remembering that this is an all-volunteer force. While many undoubtedly join the military in part for other reasons – heck I joined partly to pay for college and to travel abroad – I would submit a vast majority, such as myself, also joined in part for the ideals that military service embodies and a belief that such work is work towards a better world. Instead of playing to these motivations, however, Commander Cunningham advises reminding these servicemembers that there are “long lines” waiting to get into the coast guard and that the economy is not the best. There’s so much wrong in this. First, it’s unclear if the commander thinks that since “millennials…may not be the right fit,” they can be replaced by one of the other five generations she says she oversees, or if she’s referring to individual millennial members. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt she means the latter and that she’s not saying that taking on the challenge of motivating millennials may just be too hard and that they should be written-off en masse. Second, there’s a reason these individuals are the ones in service and not in the supposed long lines. It’s because these they were the top qualified candidates. Even those who aren’t top performers in service are not likely to have too much trouble finding work outside the military, or using their benefits for further education, so this threat rings hollow except for those really troubled individuals threatened with a non-honorable discharge. And that’s to say nothing of how trying to scare one’s employees isn’t typically the best management or leadership strategy. Third, because these were the top qualified candidates this also means that any millennial you give up on is going to be replaced by…another millennial…who by and large won’t be as qualified. Sure you can keep up the numbers, but again, what does this say of the quality of your talent pool? One complaint the commander makes that does ring true is that “younger members…have an expectation of accelerated advancement through the organization.” In Commander Snodgrass’ 2014 Retention Survey he notes that 60% of respondents “feel they are making a difference in their job, but regardless of what they do – 64% don’t think they will be rewarded in any way by superior performance.” This should not be an indictment of millennials but a recognition of a drawback of military service in comparison with civilian organizations, as well as an opportunity to prove one’s leadership bona fides. Yes, we millennials want positive feedback and to know whether we’re doing a good job, and yes we wish we could rise through the ranks commensurate with our talents rather than in accordance with organizational and statutory limitations. Leaders would be well served to look for alternatives such as creating opportunities for crewmembers to prove themselves through increased responsibility or challenges. If the military can’t keep up with the rest of the world in reasonably advancing its people, Commander Cunningham should at least be able to explain what is or isn’t in her control and that she will do what she can to position her people for success. There are going to be bad apples among us, as there are in any generation. But tarring an entire generation with questionable generalizations is counter-productive. While this article may ask the right question, it doesn’t really attempt to answer it. What most millennials want is appreciation, when earned, an opportunity to make a difference, and a voice that is heard if not always heeded. The military, the top employer of millennials, still needs to make a serious attempt at understanding how to best take advantage of what this generation has to offer. A good place to start exploring the issue is Air Force vet Tim Kane’s Bleeding Talent, NYT review here. Another response to this article can be found at CIMSEC by LT Matt Hipple.
Since coming ashore as an NROTC Assistant Professor, I have come to wonder why poems and literature at sea are losing popularity amongst our ranks. Perhaps the mystery and feel of navy life has been diminished – Electronic Chart Data Information System (ECDIS-N) does not have the feel of a sextant and receiving storm data vis-à-vis Meteorological Officers in Hawaii isn’t the same as predicting gales using weather gauges.
Many officers and sailors have talked to me about “how interesting navy life used to be,” or have confessed, “it isn’t the same anymore.” These are accurate observations and I think that an organization with a rich history such as ours deserves admiration. Nevertheless, this is the best time to be in the Navy. Women and minorities serve at equal status with their white male counterparts; sailors have more support networks then ever before; and social media allows many of us to communicate with our families in nearly real time. Our sensory connections with the duties we perform at sea are indeed not what they once were, but does this necessarily mean we are less inclined to write about the encompassing power of our planet’s restless and mysterious waters?
Despite the interest our careers inspire amongst men and women of all ages, there has been a considerable decline in literary reminiscences over the last few years. Instead of using turning to pen and paper to share and confess our thoughts, we merely use hash tags and click ‘share.’
The nineteenth century gave us Walt Whitman, Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad; the early twentieth century produced Jack London and Patrick O’Brien. They were sailors with the ability to portray sea life from a variety of perspectives that engaged readers at their core. Although their work was primarily fiction, I’d offer that the difference between fiction and reality is razor thin. The stories poignantly reveal human nature at sea and provide meaning that all of us can relate to. Like these famed authors, we too must strive to make meaning in what we do and then portray this cogently to the public domain and each other.
Popular writers have weighed in, but their contributions are not necessarily accurate. The April 19 New Yorker article “Shipmates: Life on an Aircraft Carrier” by Geoff Dyer, ended with the same dubious colloquialism every landlubber surmises. “When, at last, I was back on the very dry land of Bahrain, I checked in at a hotel, went up to my room, and showered for a long time. The water felt cleaner, more sparkling [. . .] I looked out the window at the empty cityscape and experienced another revelation: I could go for a walk!” Similarly, the only question Thomas Friedman asks a young junior officer when he rode the USS New Mexico for one night was “how do all of you stand being away from your families for so long underwater, receiving only a two-sentence ‘family-gram’ once a week?”
I would contest we are not simply motivated by the same social connotations that our civilian counterparts enjoy. We are sailors. We come from a different breed and our lives by nature do not possess the homogeneous social norms of our civilian counterparts. Although we may have put to sea for a variety of reasons – service to our nation, learn new skills, earn the GI Bill – all of us have been affected by the wonders of navy life; our lives sharpened by the life on the seas. Some of the mystery is gone, but the beauty still remains.
Proceedings and other naval publications primarily exist to discuss and debate naval doctrine, but it should also reflect on our social experiences in a meaningful way. To be honest, I have never mused about the powers of Aegis beneath the vast night sky, with the dust of the Milky Way scattered as far as the eye can see. Even though the Main Propulsion Assistant and the senior gas turbine technician could recite each valve within the main drainage system by memory, we never argued too much about engineering improvements that our senior leaders should be pursuing. We told sea stories, discussed books and history, laughed as we reenacted scenes in our favorite movies, and then went about our duties.
Mahan’s diary as a junior officer is a fascinating read. Many of his entries lament about his fear of drinking too much and his abhorrence of superior officers. “The Captain has annoyed me, and I have felt and spoken angrily and sullenly.” And, like so many of us, he does not always complete tasks on time. “Have failed in my duty concerning the reading of the Articles of War.” Yet, within his complaints and small victories, a portrait of life at sea emerges. His ability to reflect on sea life, both positive and negative, ultimately led to him thinking more critically about naval tactics and the naval profession as a whole. Simply put, it gave him meaning and persuaded him to remain at sea.
Over the years, I have found that life itself is like the sea. Our lives ebb and flow like a foaming tide. We attempt to seize each moment, try to live one day at a time, hang on tightly to lifelines and trust that our faith in each other will get us there. So much we do in our lives as sailors is wandering and I do profess that wandering the ocean is the most exciting profession in the world.
Perhaps John Masefield says it best in Sea Fever.
Oh I must go down to the seas again,
To the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship
And a star to steer her by
And the heel’s kick and the wind’s song,
And the white sail’s shaking
And a grey mist on the sea’s face
And a grey dawn breaking
Before my final deployment aboard USS Milius, my wife gave me the finest gift anyone could: a journal. It was an impeccable idea. After all, there’s nothing like a day at sea, to meditate about this earth and to think of all the challenges that await us afloat and ashore. So, as naval officers who experience the daily grind, let us tell the evolving story of our Navy. One hundred years from now these entries will capture us for who we were and where we were going.
Geoff Dyer, “Shipmates: Life on an Aircraft Carrier,” The New Yorker, April 2014, 6; Thomas Friedman, “Parallel Parking in the Arctic Circle,” The New York Times Sunday Review, March 29, 2014.
Diary entry on August 6, 1868 and May 11, 1869 in Letters and Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan, vol. I (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1975), 201; 301.
John Masefield, “Sea Fever” in Salt Water Ballads (1902).
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