Archive for the 'Training & Education' Category

Cross-posted by permission from CIMSEC’s NextWar Blog

There’s been a big uproar lately about innovation in the Navy throughout message boards and the blogosphere – what is innovation, what it’s not, and what method Big Navy should be taking to jumpstart innovation among the fleet, if any at all. LT Jon Paris and LT Ben Kohlmann, both of whom are very involved in the conversation, had a great discussion about the topic on CIMSEC’s Sea Control Podcast, hosted by LT Matt Hipple. LT Paris followed up with an excellent blog post. While there are some contrasting views, it seems like one thing that’s agreed upon is that the deckplate innovation already occurring in the fleet sometimes doesn’t make it “up and out” or isn’t as publicized as it should be. In that capacity, LT Hipple, and some members from the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, offered a challenge to start publishing examples of innovation in the fleet. I’ve decided to take this up head on in a series of “Innovation Files”.

Nearly every command has a “Plan of the Day” (POD) – a widely distributed one-page agenda with at least the current and following days’ schedule of events. Depending on the command, certain PODs are very long and many regularly contain dozens of events per day, some at overlapping times. Early on, I noticed a couple glaring inefficiencies particular to my command. First was the process – A yeoman would be specifically assigned to “do the POD” for the day, a duty rotated among the junior yeomen that nobody wanted. This task started by opening the previous day’s POD, changing the date, piling through various e-mails and files on the shared drive, and then writing the new daily schedule by hand. After an hour or two, it would get routed up to the ship secretary, personnel officer, admin officer, training officer, operations department, various department heads, command master chief (CMC), and some others before finally getting to the XO. Every position in the chop chain had their own changes and events to add, and it required the yeoman to literally go around the ship looking for each of these people, and then going back and correcting the changes for each correction or addition. It wasn’t uncommon to print in excess of 15 POD drafts before the final revision. As you can imagine, POD duties were an all-day event, and since the POD needed to be finalized and signed by the next day, it kept everybody around well into the evening.

After much thought, the XO, personnel officer, and I agreed on a plan to create a public calendar on Microsoft Outlook to streamline the POD process. However, PODs have a very specific format, and Outlook can print nothing close to the format. For example, asterisks had to be next to times if the event was to be announced on the 1MC, events had to be in bold lettering if the CO was attending, and everything had to fit on the page in two neat columns. It wasn’t as simple as hand-copying every single event into the old POD format though; the daily schedule constantly changed throughout the day, and there was no process in place to ensure if any late additions or modifications in Outlook were included in the POD. This, along with other human errors, severely complicated the process, and made it essentially as inefficient as the old method. If only there was a better way!

autoPOD-1Introduce the automated POD (autoPOD). We decided to devise a macro app on top of Microsoft Publisher, a computer publishing tool, to automatically translate events on Outlook into the same easy POD format everyone was used to seeing. Macros are essentially programs, coded in easy-to-learn VBA (Visual Basic for Applications), that are built on top of application documents (in this case Publisher’s and Outlook’s) meant to automate tasks within these programs. Because of this attribute, it gets around IT policy requirements, which prohibit the introduction of specific executable programs not pre-approved by SPAWAR. Microsoft Publisher was chosen over Word because it’s specifically designed to manipulate documents with multiple dynamic text boxes. Through an appropriate script reference, the app asks the user permission to reach out to any designated public Outlook calendar. Then all the user has to do is click one button, and it automatically inserts the daily schedule into the POD publication – complete with dates, events, headers, etc. The layout is easily manipulated by different codes inputted into the appointment screen on Outlook. For example, for an event to appear “bold”, which indicates the CO is attending, an actual Outlook invitation for that appointment is sent to the CO, which is then designated on the user interface with a specific user name.

autoPOD-2

Along with events, the app supports all sorts of informational headers put in by different users through Outlook tags – for example, the operations officer puts in the appropriate command duty officers and duty sections, and the quartermasters put in sunrise and sunset times into Outlook. The app supports time structures displayed as “All Day” or “TBD”, and all types of recurring events. Different permissions (ie: read only, add, or modify/delete) can be granted to different users to modify the Outlook Calendar, and the program is set up for an administrator to view when and who is putting in the events, so it’s not possible to sneak a last minute evolution for the next day without the XO and CMC knowing.

autoPOD-3AutoPOD was eventually customized for several other tasks. By request, we built an automated Plan of the Week (POW) 10-day printable outlook on top of Microsoft Excel for the Planning Board for Training (PB4T), which mimics the POD format each day, for planning purposes. Other ships had a weekly or monthly outlook summary with important events listed on the back of their POD, and autoPOD was customized for these commands as well, using the “priority” attribute to determine if the item should be displayed on a weekly summary. We have continuously refined AutoPOD to accommodate every ships’ POD format, meaning there will be little, if any, visible change to the Sailor. For example, there are options to modify the font, size, and width for the time and subject columns. Additionally, it’s designed to be plug-and-play – all contained in one publisher file – so it can be used immediately and without any complicated installation procedures. Detailed documentation is provided on how to install the program and manipulate the schedule via Outlook.

It is worth noting that the initial concept of autoPOD was not received well in its early stages. For example, the yeomen were used to a certain way of doing things, and didn’t want to move over from Word to Publisher. Despite comprehensive training, some department heads and department lead chief petty officers continued to send e-mails to admin with their events, instead of deconflicting and scheduling it themselves in Outlook. However, after much dedication and patience, everyone slowly acclimated. The new system is now second nature, and it’s hard to think of how life even functioned in the past.

To date, autoPOD has been distributed to over a dozen ships, across several waterfronts. It has undoubtedly made the POD process less frustrating, and has saved countless manhours and time, from the junior yeoman who can produce a POD in minutes, to the XO who no longer has to micromanage the process. Unfortunately, we recently hit a bump in the road when asked to set up the app on a ship that finished an extensive shipwide IT refresh known as a Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services (CANES) installation. At the time, CANES strictly restricted ships from creating and using shared calendars, along with other security settings that prevented the app from working properly. A workaround is in progress, but it illustrates a point that has been brought up in the recent discussions – many Navy policies and procedures are around for valid reasons, but often come at the expense of productivity and innovation. It’s essential to collaborate between the fleet and appropriate project managers / designers / policymakers to figure out an optimal mix.



nerds2jpgDon’t be distracted about the Aegis, Russia, or China – the first thing you need to read in this December’s Proceedings is the “Nobody Asked Me, But …” contribution by Lieutenant Alexander P. Smith on page 12.

The most important ingredient to a successful Navy is not its ships, aircraft, submarines or secure budget. No, the most important part of our Navy is its intellectual capital, specifically the education of its officers.

The naval service will face a multitude of challenges that will require a true diversity of experience and education in its leaders in order for the best decisions to be made. If everyone brings the same tool-set to the table, you are in trouble.

There has been a long-dwell discussion in our Navy about what type of education our leaders need. For the last few decades, there has been a heavy bias towards technical education; a bias that is about to get heavier;

The tier system was developed in 2009 as a result of fewer NROTC and U.S. Naval Academy graduates entering the nuclear-reactor community. The Regulations for Officer Development and the Academic-Major Selection Policy direct that a minimum of 65 percent of NROTC Navy-option scholarship midshipmen must complete a technical-degree program before receiving their commissions. A technical degree refers to Tiers 1 and 2, which comprise all STEM majors. Tier 1 includes most engineering majors, and Tier 2 refers to majors in biochemistry, astrophysics, chemistry, computer programming/engineering, civil engineering, physics, and mathematics. All other academic majors are non-technical, or Tier 3.

As a result of the new policy, a high-school senior’s best chance of obtaining a Navy scholarship is to apply for Tiers 1 and 2, since CNO guidance specifies that not less than 85 percent of incoming offers will come from this restricted pool. In fact, an algorithm decides the fate of hopeful midshipmen, balanced in large part with their proposed major selection annotated in their applications.

This is a huge error. 65% one could argue if one wished, but 85% is simply warping to the collective intellectual capital of the Navy.

We don’t even need to review all the English and History majors that do exceptionally well in the nuclear pipeline – but to put such a intellectual straight jacket on the entire Navy over the requirements of one part, that is a sure sign of a loss of perspective.

In last Sunday’s Midrats, Admiral J.C. Harvey, USN (Ret) made an argument for technical education that is fine for the nuclear community, but the Navy is not the nuclear community. If you look at the challenges from Program Management to Joint/Combined Combat Operations; none of those are helped by a technically focused mind. Just the opposite, it begs for officers of influence with a deep understanding of economics, diplomacy, history, philosophy, and yes … even poetry.

One could argue that the problems we have had in the last few decades derive from a lack of nuance and perspective by officers who fell in love with theory and the promise of technology, who had no view to history, civilian political concerns, or even human nature. As a result we got burned out “optimally manned” crews, corrosion laden “business best practices” ships, and an exquisitely engineered if unaffordable delicate Tiffany Fleet – not to mention entire wardrooms in 2001 who couldn’t place Afghanistan or Ethiopia on a map, much less even had a brief understanding of the background of Central Asia or the Horn of Africa. Back to LT Smith;

Does the tier system produce better submariners or more proficient naval officers? If less than 35 percent of our unrestricted line officers have developed the ability to think comprehensively through critical reading and reflection, what will the force look like in 20 years? These are questions to ponder regarding the benefits and disadvantages of STEM graduates. We ought not to forget the value of future officers developing a keen interest in foreign affairs, history, and languages.

We actually know the answers to that. To this day, once you leave the CONUS shores, we lack wardrooms and Staffs with sufficient knowledge of any of those areas.

It is about to get worse.

If we really have a problem getting well qualified nuclear engineering officers on our submarines and carriers – then instead of having negative 2nd and 3rd order effects throughout the Fleet – then let’s focus on how we keep and manage the careers of our nuclear engineers. Do we need to look at the Commonwealth model? Do we need to look at compensation and non-Command career paths that can still get someone to CAPT at 30-yrs? Is the Navy having to serve the Millington Diktat as opposed to Millington serving the Navy?

Whatever the problem is – forcing a 85% STEM officer corps is not that answer.

What do we need our officers to be able to do? Be outstanding engineers? Well, as our friend LCDR BJ Armstrong, USN might ask, “What would Admiral Mahan say?”

Wouldn’t you know – we know the answer;

The organizing and disciplining of the crew, the management under all circumstances of the great machine which a ship is, call for a very high order of character, whether natural or acquired; capacity for governing men, for dealing with conflicting tempers and interests jarring in a most artificial mode of life; self possession and habit of command in danger, in sudden emergencies, in the tumult and probable horrors of a modern naval action; sound judgment which can take risks calmly, yet risk no more than is absolutely necessary; sagacity to divine the probable movements of an enemy, to provide against future wants, to avoid or compel action as may be wished; moral courage, to be shown in fearlessness of responsibility, in readiness to either act or not act, regardless of censure whether from above or below; quickness of eye and mind, the intuitive perception of danger or advantage, the ready instinct which seizes the proper means in either case: all these are faculties not born in every man, not perfected in any man save by the long training of habit—a fact to which the early history of all naval wars bears witness.

Doesn’t sound like an STEM heavy requirement to me.



Matt and CIMSEC-LogoGrant interview ADM John C. Harvey Jr., USN (ret), former Fleet Forces and Old Salt emeritus. They talk about almost everything, but topics of recent interest: Sequestration, Air-Sea Battle, China, Surface Combatants, Carrier numbers, Fat Leonard, and more! Join us for Episode 10:
ADM Harvey (DOWNLOAD)

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CDR Salamander joins Matt and Grant for a podcast on writing as a member of the military, anonymity, and some sacred cows military planners hold dear: benefits, high-end systems, equal budgeting, etc… Join us for Episode 8, Sacred Cows and Amphibians (Download).

Articles from Sacred Cows Week:
Quantity over Quality (Michael Madrid)
Holy Bovine, Batman! Sacred Sailors! (Matt McLaughlin)
American Defense Policy: 8 Reality Checks (Martin Skold)
Ain’t Ready for Marines Yet? The Sacred Cow of British Army Organization (Alex Blackford)
SSBN(X): Sacred Cow for a Reason (Grant Greenwell)
Why the United States Should Merge Its Ground Forces (Jeong Lee)
Sacred Cow: Military Pay and Benefits By the Numbers (Richard Mosier)

Sea Control comes out every Monday. Don’t forget to subscribe on Itunes and Xbox Music!



Maunsell_Army_FortIt is not unusual when things are rough and appear to be of poor going in the military, to look at the top of the chain of command for the problems. That is smart, because that is usually where the problems are.

Over the years I have called for the “Burke Option” to deep select a vibrant, young CNO to break the adhesions of the lost decade that started this century. Others have called for it too as another way to break up the intellectual logjam up top. Would it help? It did last time it was tried … but then again they had Arleigh Burke.

Is this general malaise towards the performance of our uniformed senior leadership fair? Is it just a Navy problem?

I think it is DOD wide. Back in 2007, LTC Paul Yinling penned what started a serious challenge to the performance record of our General Officers and Flag Officers (GOFO) in his zero-elevation broadside, A Failure in Generalship;

America’s generals have failed to prepare our armed forces for war and advise civilian authorities on the application of force to achieve the aims of policy. The argument that follows consists of three elements. First, generals have a responsibility to society to provide policymakers with a correct estimate of strategic probabilities. Second, America’s generals in Vietnam and Iraq failed to perform this responsibility. Third, remedying the crisis in American generalship requires the intervention of Congress.

An entire book was written by Thomas E. Ricks covering the shortcoming of today’s – and past – GOFO in The Generals.

Another Army Lieutenant Colonel, Daniel L. Davis, this August went to the well again in the Armed Forces Journal (subscription required) ;

The U.S. Army’s generals, as a group, have lost the ability to effectively function at the high level required of those upon whom we place the responsibility for safeguarding our nation,…

In August on this blog, I hit the topic too. I think this tilting against the GOFO windmill is pointless.

For such action to take place such as clearing the deck would take the right civilian leadership in the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch – and I see neither the appetite nor huevos to do such a thing.

DFCSo, we will continue course and speed unless otherwise directed … and in a fashion, that is fine – until it isn’t. If you judge what some see in the mid-grade leadership … the next few decades may be interesting on the way to “isn’t.”

If we are looking for leadership problems to address, is that the right part to look at? Some don’t think so, and instead point a worried finger to the incoming, not the soon to be outgoing. I don’t agree, and here is where I have a disconnect with what I have been reading not about the top of the chain of command, but at the generation coming in the entry level.

I have a lot of faith in this generation of junior officers – but I am starting to read a lot on the civilian side that makes me pause; am I missing something?

Is a civilian-military divide a bad thing? Maybe not if this is what is going on in the civilian side with recent graduates. Via Martha White in Time;

… the problem with the unemployability of these young adults goes way beyond a lack of STEM skills. As it turns out, they can’t even show up on time in a button-down shirt and organize a team project.

The technical term for navigating a workplace effectively might be soft skills, but employers are facing some hard facts: the entry-level candidates who are on tap to join the ranks of full-time work are clueless about the fundamentals of office life.

A survey by the Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College finds that more than 60% of employers say applicants lack “communication and interpersonal skills” — a jump of about 10 percentage points in just two years. A wide margin of managers also say today’s applicants can’t think critically and creatively, solve problems or write well.

Another employer survey, this one by staffing company Adecco, turns up similar results. The company says in a statement, “44% of respondents cited soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration, as the area with the biggest gap.” Only half as many say a lack of technical skills is the pain point.

The argument, at least inside the Navy, about the lack of critical thinking and creativity, predates the present generation. At least for my generation, we have pushed back against it from day one as a byproduct of too much emphasis on technical training and too little on thinking.

White’s comments, and of those she interviews on the civilian side, do not – at least from this seat – ring true. I don’t see a problem with our junior officers’ performance, attitude or critical thinking – if anything we are repressing all three. Are we getting the pick of the litter?

I just left active duty four years ago – but even that is getting stale, so let me roll this back to our readers: where does our stable of officers need the most attention? The war horses long in tooth, grumpy, set in their ways, and graying about the muzzle – or the rambunctious colts and fillies snatching reins when you’re not looking? Maybe we’re getting the pick of the litter – but I don’t see the problem in leadership with the twenty-somethings.

Or, if you look at the pic above and follow the link next to it – are the challenges we are having separate from the civilian world and totally of our making – and we’re a few decades in to making it?



CIMSEC-LogoUSCG Mobile Training Branch member, James Daffer, has traveled the world. We talk with him about what he’s seen in the world of capacity building for maritime security abroad, soft power and relationship building, cultural challenges when working amongst different peoples, and stories about his travels. SC Episode 6 – USCG Adventures (Download)

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Our previous episodes:
SC Episode 5: Africa
SC Episode 4: DEF Jam Midrats Tour
SC Episode 3: RealClear Podcast
SC Episode 2: Strategy
Sea Control: First Podcast



hipstermahanThe incredible power of innovation and entrepreneurship often produces an unfortunate exhaust of innovocabulations. Ideate is one of those words, and made quite a show of force at DEF 2013, hosted graciously at the Chicago Booth School of Business. However, as irritating as a not-words may be, ideate serves DEF2013 core spirit as a fitting metaphor. Ideate is merely the word “idea” verbed. Rather than concentrating as many do on creativity and the idea-creation process, DEF2013′s central thrust was the array of actions necessary to turn ideas into realities.

To foster that concentration on acting on ideas, the conference content was split between presentations and break-out problem-solving sessions.

Pleasant Surprise- Presentation Twitter-Wall:

Although the break-out sessions would be the conventional show-case of attendee collaboration, the integration of the twitter-wall to the presentations was a great way to get the audience engaged. While following the flow of “#DEF2013″ commentary on the boards, members of DEF could note particular phrases or points of the speaker, argue amongst themselves, or perhaps just be snarky cough #hipstermahan /cough.

The twitter conversation during presentations was also great track-two way of “meeting” forum attendees as you retweeted poignant observations on presentations, debated points of contention, or collaborated in solutions to problems brought up by speakers and form members alike. In the break sessions, I “met” forum members, though often much of the ice was already broken by conversations we’d already had I’ve long incredibly skeptical of twitter, but I found its use in this context a rather redeeming and collaborative experience!

Oh… and it was nice to get a tweet from Harris Teeter about the Oxford Comma too. As you can tell, some of us may have gotten off topic occasionally. But hey, why buy pizza not worth defending? #pizzafort

Presentations- A Mile Wide and a Mile Deep:

Part of me will never graduate college and will always enjoy a rich lecture. While the twitter was fun, it’s foundation was the excellent presentations being given by our guest speakers. You can find those on YouTube if you missed the live feed. Some of the video is uncut and you have to jump around to find the speeches, but many are well worth it.

Rather than turn this into a book report, I’ll delve into a by-no-means-comprehensive collection of points I thought were worth taking away.

You Don’t Have To Be The Innovator/Doing Your Homework: BJ Armstrong’s The “Gun Doctor” presentation is an instant classic, and has appeared in various forms at several venues. It only gets better with time. That said, a key piece of information from that presentation is that ADM Sims started with an innovation from someone else that he considered worth his effort and attention. The conference closed with a presentation by Phil Nevil of Power2Switch taking a similar angle, how his own ideas failed but he succeeded when he championed the cause of another. In both cases, an important part of championing an idea was doing the research: becoming familiar with both your market and your product. If ADM Sims hadn’t done his research and tests on Percy Scott’s continuous-aim firing, no one would have taken him seriously. Likewise, if people in private industry just “ideate” without doing tests, research, prototyping, and probing their market, they’re not “innovating”, you’re just talking.

Fighting a Loyal Insurgency Inside the System: Stealth, focus, and aggression are not always necessary when innovating, but can be good tools when combatting entrenched interests. Peter Munson’s speech was about how leaf-eaters learn to defend the system for at the detriment of adaption and effectiveness and meat-eaters charge forward at opportunity. In an organization like the DoD, there is a reality to the necessity and purpose for the system and its leaf-eater accolytes. Innovators must carefully pick and choose their battles. This idea was summed up by the delightful peregrine falcon, Dora. Play in the system (like dora moves stealthily through the clouds) and aggressively attack when opportunity arises (poor, stupid duck). If Dora flew around squawking all day and making a mess without that focused action, too many leaf-eaters would be alerted and defend their steaming piles of process.

Building an Army: Human capital is a critical part of innovation, if not the tipping-factor in-and-of itself. Howard R. Lieberman’s presentation hit the hammer hard on the point of building a body of stakeholders and champions to help push your ideas. Don’t start with the question of what the value of your product is, but rather push what value it brings to people. Finding the meaning of your idea for other people is what builds stakeholders, who may be champions for your ideas or loyal foot-soldiers doing the testing and development who will sacrifice their time and resources to see your idea through to the end. Some of those stakeholders may provide top-cover. Many of his stories involved his company president giving him cover for his “special projects” that the board didn’t always agree with. The ground-forces are great for “taking the hill” of an idea, but close-air-support flying high in the chain of command can really change the equation. No man is an island, and no innovation is a one-man mission.

Execution, Execution, Execution: Every presentation was about how action, not creativity, is the germ of real innovation. That said, the second day of private-sector entrepreneur presentations was a wall-to-wall show of how the ability to find market-demand while developing the necessary supply is the center of the innovation universe. The difference between a real-life innovator and the chatting classes is action.

My one real criticism of the conference does lie in this category. I felt like the innovations we discussed were mostly historical or from private industry. We didn’t have a body of speakers who, as members of the military, wrestled with and executed significant innovations. That may be an indictment of our system and whether those people have been able to be truly successful or just that it is easier to success in the business world. Whatever the case may be, there will be plenty of years of DEF to find more live-streaming innovation successes within the life-lines. And yes, before you say it, I know DEF itself is a successful inside-the-lifelines success… but you know what I mean!

Don’t Get Killed in a Good Battle: Dan Moore’s presentation on breakthrough leadership through the lense of Boyd was particularly great because I found myself in a room full of Boydians debating the legacy of Boyd, army tactics, thrust lines, decision-analysis, etc… but while all of this was fascinating, the newest detail to a complete Boyd amateur like me was the disaster of his personal life. “To be or to do,” shouldn’t happen to the detriment of “being” things like a good father, husband, or just healthy individual. If you’re a hard charger and an innovator, the military needs you healthy, not burnt out fighting every battle to the hilt. You’re needed in far more than the one fight you might be in now. Dan Moore’s final point, and one to always keep close is, “don’t get killed in a good battle.”

USNI Is Awesome: Sam LaGrone’s presentation was about some self-evident truths.

There is far more material, and none of the descriptions are by any means comprehensive. While these are good takeaways, the speeches are definitely worth watching on the YouTube channel.

Breakout Groups- Thoughtifying:

What would an Entrepreneurs conference be without some actual innovating? It certainly wouldn’t be as fun. The afternoons at DEF were dedicated to breakout sessions intended to building actionable solutions to real-world problems.

I found my time in the PME “ideation” group to be an education in many already-existing processes of other branches that I wished the navy had, from selection-means-attendance to the USCG’s libertine “selection-ignores-rank”. I hadn’t realized how different the different services PME systems were, and I found it a bit depressing how some may put PME in the side-car when others described the rigor and seriousness of their selection processes.

Nathan Finney led our group, and the vast array of “free the beast” ideas to put education in the driving seat were, very pragmatically, whittled down to a single free and actionable item: use of twitter for class comprehension analysis by teachers. A great example of how the system would work was Michael-Bob Starr’s discovery that the reason he had an odd feeling he’d lost his audience for about 5 seconds was that I had tweeted “never trust a man with two first names,” during his speech. Of course, in the PME version, it wouldn’t be on all the screens and would be more a way for teachers to get input on comprehension, class observations, and the like.

Other great innovations were produced, from the Emotional Vitality Assitant (EVA) to create a hand-held link directly to mental health professionals to the DEF X-prize, rewarding military members for great ideas or great execution of ideas (we hadn’t decided yet). The dream of pushing half the acquisition system into the sea and replacing it with a 100 page paper was quite the utopian ideal, but no knives yet exist that are long enough to penetrate to the heart of the procurement beast.

The People are the Product

The lectures and break-out sessions were great, but the real reward of DEF2013 was meeting the people I’d only known through writing and reputation (or the ones I didn’t know, for that matter). In his closing words for the conference, a closing speaker said it best, “people don’t buy what you do, but why you do it.” No one came to DEF2013 to see a particular innovation or idea, but to spend a weekend chatting about their passions with people of the same level of intensity. Every branch was represented with civilians and veterans alike, but we were all there for the same “why.” They came because they believed in that process of critical thinking and seeking the greater good. We didn’t seek innovation for innovation sake, but we sought mission victories, safety and effectiveness for our fellow warfighters, good stewardship of the resources in which we were entrusted, and the importance of good ideas having their day in the arena. DEF2013 didn’t create an innovation, it bolstered the community that is going to build them together.



writing struggleAs a liberal arts guy with issues stitching decent prose together himself, who spent a career surrounded by a bunch of technical school types – I’ve always thought that each seabag should include Strunk and White’s, The Elements of Style, along with Lynne Truss’s, Eats, Shoots & Leaves – but perhaps we need to add two more items.

My pet theory was that our own rather particular Navy writing style came about as a byproduct of a strange mix of the old requirements of HF TTY record message traffic from the warfighter, an other-worldly and opaque self-affirmation cant that we use to write FITREPS and awards from the terminal-N1 – sprinkled with a healthy dose of passive voice CYA concerns from the suffering fonctionnaire with one two many tours with the Potomac Flotilla.

To help get around that habit, a few more should be added in the seabag to join the previously mentioned two. The third on the list should be an email you can find in full here, one that CHINFO, RDML Kirby, recently put out to the PAO Knitting Club titled, “Killing English.” Here are a few of the pull quotes that hopefully will lead you to read the whole thing;

Here’s an… example … about the Zumwalt-class destroyer:
“This advanced warship will provide offensive, distributed, and precision fires in support of forces ashore and will provide a credible forward naval presence while operating independently or as an integral part of naval, joint or combined expeditionary strike forces.”

I count 14 adjectives in that sentence, maybe three of which are necessary. If you remove the 11 others, you come up with this:
“This warship will provide fires in support of forces ashore and will provide a naval presence while operating independently or as a part of expeditionary forces.”

That’s still a bit stodgy, but it’s a whole lot easier to understand. And it gives the reader a better sense of what the ship can actually do, which is what I think we were trying to accomplish in the first place.

Somehow, somewhere along the way, we grew scared of verbs. That’s a shame, because the English language boasts plenty of verbs that convey action and purpose. And the American military, perhaps above all professions, has reason to use them. Action and purpose is what we’re all about.

We can no longer afford to say nothing. Each word must count. Each word must work as hard as we do. With resources declining and the gap growing between the military and the American people, we must at least try to communicate better and more clearly.

… it’s not merely what we say that matters. It’s how we say it. It’s about the words we choose … or don’t choose. It’s about the sentences we build, the stories we tell. Frankly, it’s about how we practice — yes, practice — our own language.

That doesn’t just apply to the people who write the program guide or other policy wonks. It applies to PA professionals and the bosses we advise, too.

Mary Walsh had it right. When it comes to English, we have met the enemy. And they are us.

It’s time to put down the adjectives and back away.

Yes, great Neptune’s trident – YES.

First step is to speak clearly. Then we can lead to speaking directly. Then we can get to a place where in open we can speak as adults about adult problems in a way that can stand up to the follow-on question.

Ah, ha! There we go. A good PAO stays long enough for the follow-on question. I can see why this conversation is starting here.

Well done CHINFO … now let’s see if we can get it to grow roots.

Oh, I promised the reader a 4th bit for the intellectual seabag, didn’t I? You’ll need to read his email in full to see how he applies it, but RDML Kirby mentions On Writing Well.

I might have to give that a spin.



USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60) returns to Pearl Harbor from a BMD deployment that lasted over 9 months

USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60) returns to Pearl Harbor from a BMD deployment that lasted over 9 months

Of all the missions the Surface Navy does, Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) might be the least sexy. It involves sitting in a small box in the middle of the ocean for weeks, usually far away from land or even any commercial shipping traffic. Ships on station need to be in a specific engineering and combat systems configuration at all times so they can track or engage a target at a moments notice. This means there aren’t many opportunities for training, ship handling, gun shoots, swim calls, and other evolutions. Sometimes, a poor middle-of-the-ocean satellite uplink makes the internet unusable, and “River City” could be set (meaning the internet is turned off completely) for bandwidth constraints or upholding Operational Security (OPSEC) due to mission sensitivities. Depending on the ship’s heading and location, TV-DTS (the Navy’s satellite TV connection) could go down as well. Hopefully the seas aren’t rough, because there’s little chance to get a modified location (MODLOC) to divert for better weather. If it’s a nice day, fishing from the fantail seems to be the most exciting thing to do; although there never seems to be much luck in getting a catch (it seems most fish know how to avoid the BMD box at all costs). Forget port calls, but even when ships aren’t on station, they could still be on a formal or informal “tether” which prevents them from going anywhere too far away from the BMD Theater (yes that means no Australia!).

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Rifle Training

If we want to get serious about putting Warfighting First and Reducing Administrative Distractions, we can start with how we assess training on ships. Our current system is process-based: superior commands issue detailed instructions for the administration of shipboard training and qualification, and then assess compliance by auditing the ships’ records. There is usually a results-based component (observed drills) of assessment which is combined with the audits to produce an overall score—commands with weak performance in drills might be saved if they exhibit fantastic recordkeeping practices.

The process-based approach suffers from two flawed assumptions:

Assumption #1: Performance is the result of directed training processes. I’ll illustrate this assumption with an anecdote from my previous command, when I had just become responsible for the Torpedo Division. I observed divisional training conducted by the Leading First, complete with a PowerPoint presentation and testable objectives in compliance with the Continuing Training and Qualification Manual. The topic, also in compliance with said manual, was the characteristics of various weapon classes, many of which were not employed by our ship.

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