Archive for the 'Training & Education' Category

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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Benjamin “BJ” Armstrong, editor of our just-published 21st Century Mahan, is the 2013 recipient of the Navy League’s Alfred Thayer Mahan Award for Literary Achievement, a highly prestigious award for an officer at the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

The Alfred Thayer Mahan Award is named for the famous naval theorist who, through his writing, provided vital stimulus and guidance to those who share in the defense of the nation. Presented since 1957, this award for literary achievement is awarded to a Navy officer, Marine Corps officer, enlisted service member, or civilian who has made a notable literary contribution that has advanced the knowledge of the importance of sea power in the United States. BJ follows in the footsteps of many notable Naval Institute authors…including ADM James G. Stavridis, USN, CAPT Henry (Jerry) H. Hendrix, USN, CAPT Edward L. Beach Jr., USN, VADM William P. Mack, USN, LtGen Victor Krulak, USMC, Dr. Jack Sweetman, LCDR Thomas J. Cutler, USN, Dr. John T. Mason Jr., Paul Stillwell, Col Joseph H. Alexander, USMC (Ret.), BGen Edwin H. Simmons, USMC (Ret.), Col John G. Miller, USMC (Ret.), and ADM James L. Holloway III, USN to name just a few.

LCDR “BJ” Armstrong is a Mahan enthusiast, for whom the award is named, and has published numerous posts about him in The Proceedings, Naval History Magazine, and on the USNI blog. He is also a recipient of the Naval HIstory and Heritage Command’s Samuel Eliot Morison Supplemental Scholarship, named after Rear Adm. Samuel Eliot Morison, USNR, an eminent naval and maritime historian and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

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The Marine Corps must contend with two issues – to innovate after a decade of war and to operate under the fiscal pressure faced by the entire Defense Department. It will likely have to reduce its endstrength while adapting to a variety of new threats. These challenges should force the Marine Corps to reconsider some fundamental premises today that will help it effectively adapt to the operational environment ten to twenty years from now.

The Marine Corps must intellectually contest some basic organizational issues. The fundamental structure of the Marine Corps is based on a model that was effective during the World War II and Korea, where high casualty rates, limited communications, and massing of firepower were primary concerns. Is the same organizational structure, particularly the use of enlisted Marines, right for the Marine Corps of 2025 and beyond?

While amphibious operations will be the cornerstone of the Marine Corps for the foreseeable future, it could also find itself in a host of other roles and missions: complete integration into the special operations community, fully distributed operations, partnership building, and even supporting federal law enforcement or intelligence units to counter transnational threats. How will the Marine Corps adapt?

Below are a few “what-if” challenges that should stimulate debate among Marines at all levels on the use of the greatest asset in the Marine Corps, the enlisted Marine, over the next several decades.

What if… the US economy remains flat and unemployment rates climb because automation and robotics have replaced humans in labor-intensive fields? A typical rifle squad of the future may consist of all college graduates and the only difference between an E-1 and O-1 is the training path selected by the Marine Corps. How does the Marine Corps maximize personnel and prevent underutilization of the talent entrusted to it by American society? Harvesting civilian education and skills may become as important as making Marines.

What if… the line between Marine officers and enlisted Marines is erased or significantly blurred? Many retired military officers and scholars alike note the problems with the antiquated military personnel system. Changes in the private sector are often compared to changes that should occur in the military, particularly closing the gap between the roles of officers and enlisted. How can the Marine Corps close this gap? Will 25 different ranks still be necessary to distinguish levels of authority or should the rank structure be compressed?

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CAPT Hinkley and LTJG Hipple’s recent posts have served as something as a kick in the pants for me… It’s been a really long time since I wrote anything.

But, yeah, I’ve been busy…

I’m not in Belgium any more. I left at the end of February, at the last date that Millington said was possible without losing my billet and thus being removed from the Navy: 28FEB13.

In the present, I am at Corry Station, in Pensacola. Learning about the stuff that the aforementioned gentlemen wrote about. The thing about it though, I can’t write about what I’ve learned and am learning–its a different world I’ve walked into. From the completely open source world of social media into the Crypto-Tech world. I am at A-school. I am surrounded by boots. Every 45 seconds I am greeted in the P-ways with “good evening Petty Officer.” I am a class leader, I have a number of boots I am charged with keeping on task… And it is fascinating.

It’s like seeing myself seven years ago when I was new to the Navy. The questions they have differ little from my own back when…. They’re so young though, my god. When you’re a boot, you don’t think you stand out that much. But, you do. The mistakes you’re going to make are predictable and understandable. My experience over the last two weeks of school reminds of a quote from Hobbes,

Prudence is but experience, which equal time, equally bestows on all men, in those things they equally apply themselves unto.

Experience, and in turn prudence, starts with bootcamp. It builds to some expertise in A-school, you reach the Fleet and it is there that you learn to be a Sailor. This fact seems to have been abused back when I came into the Navy. A-schools back then were afflicted with the vogue notion of CBT, or Computer Based Training. Where the Navy assumed boots to be cleaver enough to essentially teach themselves. I’ve been told that even some of the more technical rates were afflicted by this methodology as well. Even more so, instructors favored the term ‘you’ll learn it in the Fleet’ when a somewhat vexing question would be asked of them. Again, all this to me, strikes me as a perversion of how a senior Sailor understands how they became who they are.

A more accurate portrayal of the development of a Sailor (‘Sailor-ization’ is a term that should not be used. One does not simply make a person into a Sailor, a person must grow into being a Sailor–the onus is on the one growing.) is that no amount of schooling nor any quantity of sea stories can completely ready a Sailor for life at sea or in the Fleet. But, that does not mean there is not great efficacy for either. Rather, the senior Sailor needs to fully appreciate what they are able to impart to their junior classmate. Everything they have lived can impart a small measure of prudence into that junior Sailor. Indeed, I consider this a sacred duty for the senior Sailor.

Having that first or second class in the classroom is invaluable. Having a 2nd or 1st that can truly spin a yarn is worth every cent of their pay. A 1st or 2nd that boots are in awe of is your surest bet to creating a Sailor worthy of the Fleet. I sincerely doubt that becoming a Master Training Specialist ensures any of this. In fact, I am nearly certain it doesn’t. But, I am open to being corrected regarding this perception.

A-school is the last great chance for the military to hold onto their boots, and impart in them the words that need to resonate in their heads for the next 20+ years. Once they leave here, for many of them, they start their adult lives and it will be too late. The core of their professional-selves are set.

For the senior Sailor, what is important is that they learn about who they have grown to become in each conversation they have with their juniors. As you explain to them what you experienced in the Fleet you discover aspects of your experience that you possibly had not considered before. From their reactions you are allowed to, in some small part, relive that experience and see from a 3rd person perspective how that experience affected you. In spinning that yarn, you learn just as much as they are. There seems to be much emphasis on the underscoring of technical prowess in being an instructor at A-school, I hope the Navy appreciates this more ephemeral aspect of instruction as well.

You’d probably be floored to know that about 10% of my class has a 4 year degree. There are more than five others in school with me that have their masters. What’s amazing is that it’s fairly evenly split between guys as such either not knowing they could be an officer, and others who do not want to be officers. The lines between what an officer is and an enlisted guy is blurring. In many respects what it is coming down to is how a person was trained and treated. If I were given the power, I’d like to do an experiment and see if someone from high school, and only high school, could become as good of an officer as someone from college.

There are still some months I have left here at Corry Station. I am very eager to get to know more people well established in the community I am entering. But, even more so, I feel incredibly lucky to be able to lead in some small way the boots (to be sure, I use that term in an endearing way) in class with me. They are teaching me more than they realize.



It seems inevitable when the fiscal environment wanes toward austerity that there are calls for reducing forward presence in those regions of the world that concern us most. Some have argued that our forward presence is too expensive in relation to the immediate threat. They would advocate pulling back our deployed maritime forces and allowing our allies to take on a greater share of their own defense. These critics further imply that the Navy is deployed everywhere, all the time, without a clear mission other than simply being out and about.

Does the Navy have a counterargument to this view, and if so how do we characterize it? The U.S. Navy has long maintained that our strategic value to the Nation is predicated on our ability to operate forward. We have long used the phrase forward presence to emphasize this posture and convey both a robust operational tempo and a readiness for any crisis. We characterize it within our Maritime Strategy as a “core capability.”1

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I can hear the backlash from that title from here. However, before you put me in a position to be stoned by the masses I’d like to make my case and open the floor to your thoughts too.

My military service has been good to me. I have fairly good healthcare, I get paid well, I’ve learned a lot of life skills, and my jobs haven’t been all that bad either. I’m sure we can all agree that our education benefits over the last ten years or so have been rather awesome too. As a matter of perspective, if not an admission, I was able to pay for about 90 percent of my bacholor degree by way of tuition assistance (TA) while serving in the Coast Guard.

As a one-time Education Services Officer and full time education evangelist I can say that TA was an awesome tool. Times were great, until March 1st, 2013 came and messed that all up.

The deed known as Sequestration became a reality at the beginng of this month and immediately started changing things. From travel to schools and conferences in between life as I/we knew it had begun to alter.

In the Coast Guard alone our operational budget had to be cut by some 25 percent. As I actually type that out it doesn’t seem too bad. That is, until I remember that the word “operational” means search and rescue, among other things. As a measure to ensure the Coast Guard is able to continue saving lives and protecting the nations shores our leaders had to look around to find ways to fill that 25% gap with “non-operational” funds. It’s no surprise that TA was eliminated. I am surprised, however, it didn’t happen sooner if only as a cost saving measure.

Over the last year, give or take, the question of when/if TA is going to be cut or reduced had been broached by many. Though I had no official word from higher authority my gut told me it was in trouble; with or without sequestration. Nonetheless, in the end four of the five military services, USCG included, killed their TA funding.

As of today only the Navy is holding on to its TA program, at least through the end of the current fiscal year (FY13). Congress saved TA for everyone but the Coast Guard.

Aside from obvious fiscal savings- the act of dropping TA may be a subliminal tactic to keep only the best and the brightest in the ranks of our military. I don’t think you’ll actually hear anyone comment on that nor do I think it was a real reason to drop it. However, one has to remember that TA was not only a awesome deal but a recruiting and retentention tool too. How better to thin the ranks outside of the avenues already being taken?

So this leads me to why this ordeal is good. As mentioned this may be a way for the Coast Guard, and others, to retain only the best of their service, or at least the best educated. From my personal observations, with no real data to back it up, I’ve noticed that most of our senior Enlisted folks, as well as most Officers above O-2, hold some sort of degree or are perusing such. With the TA program currently dismissed, and the next fiscal year expected to bring only a fraction of the funds back for use, only those who are truly dedicated will get their education on their own dime*.

As I understand it NAVADMIN 263/04 (the link is broken to the actual message) from the Navy states, in so many words, that beginning in fiscal year 2011 an associate degree or equivalent that is rating-relevant will be a prerequisite for advancement to senior chief petty officer for active and reserve personnel. If this were true across all services then only the best educated would be the leaders.

It’s true that an education doesn’t mean you’re going to be a great leader but one has to admit that if we were required to get a degree in our specialty our military would be better for. We don’t need a retained workforce, we need an educated workforce to move forward in today’s world.

So the removal, or reduction, of tuition assistance will allow the Coast Guard to keep only the best and brightest in its ranks. If they were to go one step further and require certain degrees for certain jobs or certain ranks then we could truly be one of the best educated fighting nations in the world.

Does removal tuition assistance suck? Yes. But will it help the Coast Guard and other services in the long run? Also yes, if it is leveraged correctly.

Any thoughts on the matter?

Update 22 March 2013: The Coast Guard also reinstated its TA (http://www.uscgnews.com/go/doc/4007/1732873/)

* Rumors are tuition assistance in the Coast Guard is going to be back, but not nearly as robust as it once was.



Join us this Sunday at 5pm (Eastern U.S.) for a different sort of discussion about the process of academic freedom and the intellectual preparation of our officer corps during our

Episode 167: Intellectual Integrity, PME, and NWC

How do we advance the intellectual development of leaders through Professional Military Education, the Naval War College, and else where?

What is the purpose and how are we trying to achieve the goals to best serve our nation? Are we doing it right? What are the trends, and what could we do better?

Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and more will be Dr. Joan Johnson-Freese, Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. Her publications include: Heavenly Ambitions: America’s Quest to Dominate Space; Space As A Strategic Asset, and over 80 journal articles. She is a member of the Space Studies Board of the National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow of the International Academy of Astronautics, and a member of the Editorial Board of China Security. She has testified before Congress on multiple occasions, and is regularly interviewed by the media, including CNN, CBS, ABC, The New York Times, Reuters and the BBC, on space issues. She also teaches courses on Globalization and US National Security, and Space and Security, at Harvard Summer and Extension Schools.

Join us live here (or listen later or download it later from that same location) or from our iTunes page (perhaps, someday iTunes will catch up with our episodes).



From the U.S. Naval Academy:

“It’s our privilege to announce a very special project designed and created at the Naval Academy that should be of great interest to fans around the world. Led by Midshipman Chris O’Keefe (now an Ensign), “A History of the Navy in 100 Objects” premieres today on the Naval Academy website at www.usna.edu/100Objects. O’Keefe modeled his “100 Objects” after the BBC’s “A History of the World in 100 Objects.” It was while listening to the BBC podcasts that he realized that the Navy didn’t have a similar series about its history and heritage and decided to produce his own. In his spare time, O’Keefe set about identifying objects in the Naval Academy collections to develop the series, and interviewed experts from the Naval Academy, the Naval Institute and elsewhere about the objects. Navy leaders such as Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Commandant of the Marine Corps James Amos, and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz provided commentary for the series. Twice a week, for the next 50 weeks, a new object will be released. The first is about the crypt of John Paul Jones. Jones is considered by many to be the founder of the American Navy, and this podcast discusses his contributions to history. Future object podcasts will include the Momsen Lung, deck and hull plates from USS Monitor and CSS Virginia, and a Pearl Harbor bomb arming vane. All of the objects used in the project are located at the Naval Academy, either in the museum, the Archives and Special Collections of Nimitz Library or, like Jones’ crypt, on the grounds of the academy.”

An ambitious project! BZ Ensign O’Keefe and everyone involved!



With sequestration hovering like a black cloud, PME like everything in the Defense Department is under the hammer and in flux regarding present operations and future planning. Nobody knows quite what to expect and many decisions are beyond internal control. Nevertheless, there are decisions being made or apparently being considered that are within Navy control that have PME faculty in a tailspin. In a time of high faculty anxiety already, this is just one more stone. We don’t need to do this and there are even costs and morale savings to be gained in taking a different approach.

Communication in the PME community too often seems to utilize a very Asian “information is power” model. Official notices or all-hands meetings where messages of “all is well” or “all isn’t well but we don’t know anything” are common. Even in “normal” times, that allows the rumor mill to function on overdrive. In times of extreme fiscal constraint such as currently being experienced, when clearly all isn’t well, speculation and rumor naturally runs especially rampant. Will faculty be furloughed? How would a furlough be instituted? Will civilians be treated differently from military faculty and support staff? Are faculty basically facing a 20% pay cut? On these questions we will all have to wait and see. Other questions, however, are not dependent on the actions of others and could be addressed if those in charge chose to do so.

For example, faculty travel has been dramatically curtailed as a result of the financial crisis. Again, that is understandable. A choice between funding a faculty member to attend the International Studies Conference (ISA) and buying fuel to keep ships running seems pretty obvious, even to the person whose trip to ISA has been canceled. But travel and association with peers is part of academic life. The best teachers are also active researchers who must interact with peers. Therefore, if the Navy intends to maintain the kind of “world class faculties” it often purports to want, and to have, other avenues of funding ought to be sought, and made user friendly, which they are not.

Consequent to an investigation that found expenses related to some conferences being funded by the Navy were extravagant – a finding confined to a remarkably small number of groups – a new battery of forms, procedures and requirements have been generated within the Navy that make is difficult if not sometimes impossible for faculty to travel and attend conferences, even if not funded by the Navy. The required hoop jumping is difficult and ambiguous.

To cite a personal example: I had a trip turned down in November, fully funded by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to the annual meeting of the prestigious NAS Space Studies Board, on which I serve with permission. The reason given was that approval for faculty to attend conferences now apparently includes a DC component, and whoever does that in DC simply never got around to it.

Seeking to attend a conference is another tripwire working against faculty seeking to remain professionally active. If a faculty member is requesting to attend a conference using Navy money, the conference must be deemed “mission essential” to the Department of the Navy. That rationale, while regrettable, is understandable. But whether that qualification applies to trips fully funded externally is unclear. If a request to travel is fully-funded by the inviting group, but is deemed to be a conference, it apparently still can be turned down – thereby requiring faculty to take annual leave if they want to attend. If travel is partially funded externally and the faculty member volunteers to personally pay for the rest they still have to take annual leave to attend – apparently even if the event has not been designated a conference.

And nobody seems able to declare definitively what constitutes a conference. Personally, for example, me speaking as part of a panel to several hundred people was not considered a conference, me speaking to a group of 40 students was considered a conference, and acting as a moot court judge in China was considered a conference as well. What are the guidelines? The legal officers within PME, at least at the Naval War College, are struggling mightily to make determinations on a case-by-case basis – and their efforts are greatly appreciated by faculty members. But would it be so difficult for those setting these requirements to provide clear guidelines that could be known and understood by all? The lead-time for making these decisions is currently 30 days, though rumor has it that will soon be changed to 60 days. These constantly changing, ambiguous rules will soon have a chilling effect on faculty performance, if they aren’t already.

Perhaps most insidious and potentially chilling is the rumor that consequent to a Navy Investigator General (IG) finding of wrongdoings at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) originating from a complaint about a university publication about the university, the Navy is considering instituting a policy of pre-publication review of faculty publications. While the Navy, like any government agency, clearly has the right to review employee publications for security purposes, the processes, parameters, and unintended consequences for such a review process within an educational framework should be clearly considered before instituting such a system. I strongly suspect that has not yet happened.

Who would conduct these reviews? The Public Affairs Office at the respective commands? I suspect they have neither the time nor the substantive expertise. The Security Office? The Legal Officer? How would they be done in a timely manner? When there is talk of furloughing faculty, would new staff be hired to screen publications? What would be their qualifications? What would be included: books, article, OpEds, media interview material, public presentations…personal blogs?

I attended a space conference this month in Washington, DC. A very high-ranking government official enthusiastically recommended James Clay Moltz’s book on space to the audience. Dr. Moltz is a faculty member at NPS. I’ve been told my Orbis will now be part of a required reading package for new faculty at a senior PME institution. NWC faculty member Milan Vego’s book on operational art is a standard within PME. Also from the Naval War College, faculty member Nick Gvosdev writes a weekly online column, “The Realist Prism,” and Thomas Mahnken has his online blog “Shadow Government.” Will similar publications be supported in the future? Will ongoing, online publications be subject to review?

What would the censors be looking for, security violations…or something broader, perhaps sensitive topics? Who will determine what is sensitive? Might this article be considered sensitive? And perhaps political correctness would be considered? That could all but negate the Academic Freedom required to make any great educational institution, or a great educator great.

The rumor mill is already in high gear. I have written about this potential pre-publication review process once already, based on communications from NPS faculty who had been present when it was raised in a meeting. I then received mail from another NPS faculty chastising me for raising such a rumor, saying unequivocally it had never happened. I have now heard a similar rumor about publication reviews at the Naval War College. OPNAV clarification would go a long way toward calming waters on this very sensitive issue in a very turbulent time.

Finally, I must also ask a question that I have asked repeatedly before. Are there designated individuals in OPNAV involved in discussion of these issues who actually have experience in what is required to be a professionally active academic? To prepare materials for a 21st century professional education? Or, are bureaucrats or consultants who have no idea of either requirements or consequences making these seemingly arbitrary decisions? Would a similar approach be taken if creating procedures that would affect the running of a ship?

Critics have sometimes characterized PME faculty (especially civilian academic faculty) as lazy and unproductive. There is unquestionably deadwood at all academic institutions – civilian or PME. Being deadwood, however, has nothing to do with their pedigree, but with what are they doing currently. Are they professionally active in their fields, and consequently, are they teachers who can challenge theirs students with current ideas and depth? Or are they simply bureaucrats with academic titles, phoning-in teaching and collecting paychecks? Politicos hiding out until the next change of administration in DC? Ambiguous and arbitrary rules with a chilling effect on professionalism will actually encourage deadwood, serve no purpose and quickly damage the already questioned credibility of PME.

Sometimes, those who consider or issue new policies and procedures are unaware of the tumultuous unintended consequences that result, because the individuals charged with executing the new policies and procedures are reluctant to point out problems. If those in charge realized what was going on though, they might be very anxious to fix things. Perhaps that is what is happening now, and so raise these issues for awareness, hopeful that those in charge will want to address them.



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