Archive for the 'Training & Education' Category
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).
Reviews by Bill Doughty
The United States Navy is making and living history right now in Hawaii in the world’s largest maritime exercise: Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC 2014), fostering collaboration and cooperation and promoting international understanding. Among the participants in this year’s RIMPAC are navies from 22 nations, including UK, Japan, and China.
Two books give perspective on the past two centuries of naval history and provide context for the history being made by the U.S. Navy this summer.
A lot has happened in the two centuries since the Revolutionary War and War of 1812: from wooden ships to littoral combat ships; the birth of naval air forces, airpower and UAV; nuclear-powered fleet ballistic submarines; computers and cyber-security. The world is changing too, as captured in the Maritime Strategy, from world war confrontation to global cooperation. Think about the evolution of the fleet and the world in which it operates today.
Thomas J. Cutler thinks and writes about changes and challenges over the past 200-plus years in “A Sailor’s History of the U.S. Navy.” His Naval Institute Press book is a mainstay and now a top pick on the “Be Ready” list of the CNO’s Professional Reading Program suggested reads.
Cutler writes about the “magic” of the lore, language and legacy of the United States Navy, and invites Sailors to reflect on the “club” to which they belong. His book recounts — and makes relevant — history through the stories of Sailors in the past and present.
“The more you know about the Sailors who served before you, the more prepared you will be to do your job, and do it well. It is your turn to follow in the wakes of those who went before you, to lead the way for others who will follow you, and to make your contributions to the Navy’s ongoing legacy of honor, courage, and commitment.”
In a Chapter 6, “Don’t Give Up the Ship,” Cutler sets the stage with a brief description of Master Commandant (Commander) Oliver Hazard Perry, his famous pennant and the sailors who fought in the face of adversity at the Battle of Lake Erie. Cutler then gives more recent history, including the story of the five Sullivans brothers lost aboard USS Juneau in Guadalcanal Campaign, 70 years ago this year.
Cutler ties in the brothers’ namesake ships, including the current USS Sullivans (DDG 68), showing how the ship was targeted in a failed attack by al Qaeda in Aden, Yemen in January 2000. That same year, on the day before the Navy’s 224th birthday, terrorists launched another attack on an Navy ship, this time against USS Cole (DDG 67).
He recounts the heroism of the Sailors who all focused on three tasks, “caring for the injured, providing security against further attack, and saving the ship.” Don’t give up the ship…
The author packs a lot of history in this easy-to-read overview that contains stories and photos about JFK’s PT-109, Rear Adm. “Amazing” Grace Hopper, 1776‘s gondola Philadelphia, Commodore Matthew C. Perry, battleship USS Maine, Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate Carl Brashear, and naval aviator and astronaut Alan Shepard Jr., among others.
In the appendix he offers synopses of key engagements through battle streamers, showing the operational history of the U.S. Navy.
The streamers demonstrate a commitment to always “Be Ready.”
Speaking of “back to the basics,” also recommended is a new book by Rear Adm. Robert O. Wray Jr., “Saltwater Leadership: A Primer on Leadership for the Junior Sea-Service Officer.”
The book, with a forward by Sen. John McCain, is endorsed by retired Adm. Gary Roughead, former chief of naval operations, and former President George H. W. Bush, who served as a naval aviator and “junior officer at sea.”
Wray offers self-described bite-sized “sea stories” and practical, pragmatic “salty advice” along with plenty of lists, including traits and tributes, rules and advice, and a list of 35 books on leadership!
Interestingly, the book opens with advice from ancient philosopher from China Lao Tzu:
A leader is best
When people barely know that he exists,
Not so good when people obey and acclaim him,
Worst when they despise him.
“Fail to honor people,
They fail to honor you”;
But of a good leader, who talks little,
When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,
They will all say, “We did this ourselves.”
— Lao Tzu’s “Tao Teh Ching,” verse 17, 6th century BC
Wray’s book is published by the Naval Institute Press and is in the same “Blue and Gold Professional Library” series as “The Bluejackets Manual,” “Command at Sea,” and “A Sailor’s History of the U.S. Navy” (above), among others.
(An earlier version of this post appeared on Navy Reads — http://navyreads.blogspot.com. Recent posts include reviews of “Cybersecurity and Cyberwar,” “Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations,” and “Zumwalt: The Life and Times of Admiral Elmo Russell ‘Bud’ Zumwalt, Jr.”)
Is the profession of arms, as the Navy believes it is, primarily a technical job for officers – or is it something else?
To create the cadre of leaders one needs, do you train them as empty vessels that one only needs to fill up with what you want or an empty checklist to complete – or do you train them by helping them bring out their ability to lead and make decisions through informed critical thinking?
Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and more will be Major Matt Cavanaugh, USA. Matt is currently assigned as an Assistant Professor in military strategy at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Prior to this assignment, Matt was a Strategic Planner at the Pentagon, after service with the with Second Squadron, Third Armored Cavalry Regiment with multiple deployments to Iraq from Fallujah, Ramadi, and Tal’Afar.
Matt earned his Master’s in Strategic Studies at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand and is currently at work on a PhD dissertation on generalship at the University of Reading (UK). He is a Fellow at the Center for the Study of Civil Military Operations, has been published with several peer-reviewed military and academic journals, and is the Editor at WarCouncil.org, a site dedicated to the study of the use of force. Matt has represented the United States in an official capacity in ten countries, including: Iraq, Kuwait, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Latvia, and Great Britain.
Matt is the author of the blog essays Ten Questions West Point Does Not Ask Cadets – But Should, Another Ten Questions West Point Does Not Ask Cadets – But Should, and What Cadets Should Study – and Why Military History is Not Enough.
Join us live at 5pm (U.S. EDT) on Sunday, 29 June 2014 or pick up the show later by clicking here.
From the entertainment of the risk board to the grand scale of international exercises… war games of varying types and scale inform and misinform us in learning about war and conflict. For the first in a two-part series on wargaming, CIMSEC jumped onboard with Jeff Anderson and the CNO Rapid Innovation Cell Podcast to discuss the CRIC’s Fleet Battle School game as well as a more general group discussion of the benefits, tripfalls, potential and limitations of wargaming. Chris Kona discusses the Fleet Battle School game and some larger wargaming programs. Jeff nerds out on Starcraft, and I talk a bit about the first world war.
Speaking of wargames… remember, CIMSEC is running our “Sacking of Rome” series starting 16 June! Instead of talking about securing the commons, maintaining global security… using historic examples, modern-day developments, or predictions of the future, red-team the global system and develop constructive answers to your campaign. If you were an adversary, how would you seek to subvert or tear down the global system and how could we stop you? Paul Pryce is our editor for the week: (paul.l.pryce -at- gmail.com).
RADM Foggo, Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Operations, Plans and Strategy, joins us to discuss the creation of strategic literacy within the Navy’s officer corps. discusses the Current Strategy Forum, a strategy sub-specialty, education, and the mentors that engaged his interest in strategy.
Since WWII, have we developed an officer corps that has not only developed a record of defeat, but has become comfortable with it?
Is our military leadership structurally unsound?
In his recent article, An Officer Corps That Can’t Score, author William S. Lind makes a scathing indictment of the officer corp of the United States in from the structure is works in, to its cultural and intellectual habits.
We will have the author with us for the full hour to discuss this and more about what problem he sees with our military’s officers, and what recommendations he has to make it better.
Mr Lind is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation, with degrees from Dartmouth College in 1969 and Princeton University.
He worked as a legislative aide for armed services for Senator Robert Taft, Jr. and Senator Gary Hart until joining the Free Congress Foundation in 1987.
Mr. Lind is author of the Maneuver Warfare Handbook (Westview Press, 1985); co-author, with Gary Hart, of America Can Win: The Case for Military Reform (Adler & Adler, 1986); and co-author, with William H. Marshner, of Cultural Conservatism: Toward a New National Agenda (Free Congress Foundation, 1987).
Mr. Lind co-authored the prescient article, “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation,” which was published in The Marine Corps Gazette in October, 1989 and which first propounded the concept of “Fourth Generation War.”
Join us live at 5 pm EDT if you can or pick the show up for later listening by clicking here .
The illustrious Charles Berlemann and LT Hipple (pictured on left, in a way) started up a conversation on facebook earlier based on Dr. Holmes’ latest at The Diplomat, How Not to Prepare for War.
Our conversation centered around whether or not Dr. Holmes is correct in asserting that that peace time militaries shy away from making scenario’s too difficult, and whether or not our Navy should “make the simulation harder than real life.”
My reply to the good LT was that I agree with Dr. Holmes, we should be making our training harder than real life. But, I also want to know what the logical limit to such a line of thinking is–that we need to falsify ‘harder than life’ before we can say what our training should really be.
The Kobayashi Maru is a striking example from science fiction of a no-win scenario used to train a ship’s crew. But, such training immediately runs into the limits of human endurance already strained by the daily routine of shipboard life.
Many moons ago, aboard the SAN ANTONIO, I placed my first suggestion in the CO’s box. I suggested that we run DC drills that ran about a day or more. The COLE, SAMUEL B. ROBERTS, and STARK all had GQ set for longer than any DC drill I had ever ran.
The thing about it though, all those ships are afloat today, or made it to their ‘naturally decided’ DECOM date. So, while I point to those examples of why we should train harder, the examples already show training programs that were (at least back then) able to train their crew well enough so that the ship didn’t have to be given up.
So, what is it?.. Is our DC training a mere shadow of what it once was? It is only half what it should be? Or, does the fact that the US hasn’t lost a ship in decades mean that we don’t need to radically alter our training paradigm today?
A heartfelt thanks to all of you who’ve followed the journey of the “Keep a Weather Eye on the Horizon” paper and for the thoughtful conversations that have followed in its wake. The upcoming survey and study on retention presents an opportunity to get at the heart of what YOU think, and help provide that relevant information to senior decision makers, our Navy family, and the American public.
I’ve been humbled to have had many positive interactions with our Navy’s leaders over the past few weeks — officer and enlisted alike, and from all communities. Please know that this effort is being watched by many, and the outcome — and your support — has the potential to foster a climate where our best, brightest, and most talented men and women choose to remain in uniform.
In many ways the continuing conversation is about two things: What it means to serve, and the importance of nurturing a sense of ownership throughout the fleet. “Service” isn’t just wearing the cloth of our nation or collecting a paycheck from the government … it’s about putting the good of the Navy before yourself. The paper has also helped reveal that many throughout the Navy, and at all levels, share a strong sense of ownership. Many have stepped forward with innovative ideas to improve processes and policies at their level of the organization, whether as a Yeoman, a Lieutenant in the F/A-18 community, or as a pre-major command surface warfare officer.
Luckily, there are many in senior leadership who openly support the potential for positive change, including Vice Admiral Bill Moran, the Chief of Naval Personnel. He has made the time for several “all hands calls” with the fleet since the release of the paper, and is truly interested in hearing from those of us at the deckplate — what inspires sailors to remain in uniform and, just as importantly, what is pushing sailors away. We’re incredibly lucky to be having this conversation with a Chief of Naval Personnel, among other senior leaders, who are willing to listen intently, think deeply, and act boldly in support of our Navy.
In the end, no matter your rank or position, it’s about asking ourselves what type of Navy do we want to dedicate some portion of our lives to … and what type of Navy do we want to leave for those that join 5, 10, 15 years into the future and beyond?
Again, my most humble and sincere thanks. The support for the paper and for the 2014 Navy Retention Study has been tremendous. If you haven’t visited the website, please consider following our progress at http://navy.dodretention.org. Keep the constructive feedback and ideas coming!
All my best,
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.
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