Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category



January 2016


The most dangerous threat to the safety and welfare of a nation is blind compliance. Nowhere is this more important than in the military where we have seen innumerable historical examples of the pitfalls befalling militaries unable to foster creativity and unwilling to accept change.

In the last fifty years, the American military has so embraced indoctrination, discipline, and obedience that it has strayed from its most important cornerstone principle: the spirit of rebellion. Our heroes have demonstrated those most important components of a successful military: educated dissent and independent action. We are steeped in fear of an environment overtaken by austerity; the mere possibility of consequence has transformed us into the very forces we have defeated in past wars. In our litigious, untrusting, and self-defeating system we have lost ourselves.

To bring back the true power of our military, we must look to the training pipelines that develop our junior officers. These officers must face an outdated system with a willingness to engage in honest evaluation and change as necessary. To reinvigorate the greatness of the American maritime forces, a culture which promotes honest, educated, and respectful dissent is desperately needed.

Creating the Culture

I am marked by even my brief tenure in the military. I have felt pride, shame, determination, and defeat in rapid and unpredictable succession since I first sought a commission. I am certainly not alone in cramming all of this experience into just a few intense years, which is why so many officers are deeply affected by their time in the service. Nowhere else are consequences so dire and immediate. Most of my civilian peers will have to wait a long time to learn lessons I am already tired of repeating. Success and failure in the private marketplace for most of my peers is a small gain here, a disappointment there. The reality of our lives is so exaggerated by the authority we bear in the military that it marks us permanently. The impression left behind brands us for life, no matter where we wander.

Therefore, it is the duty of senior officers to create and foster a service for which we can be proud. Yet, in reality, we are so crippled by many of the long standing bad habits of bureaucracy that this responsibility has faded to an unrecognizable nuisance.

Officers follow a predictable life cycle. We are born of idealism, suffer as those who have gone before us, and are faced with a choice: We can either become part of the system which has robbed us of much of our original intent and in so doing become a party to the suffering of future versions of ourselves, or we can leave. The problem with the off ramp is that it denies us the power to affect change. The system is victimized by officers being crushed under the unnecessary and obsolete practices of the very leaders who once spurned against it. Their strong-willed ideas for improvement are silenced before they are in a position to enact change. The system must reflect the opinions of the best and brightest, and embrace good ideas without regard for rank of the originator. We must build new and better habits to that end.

Encouraging Dissent

There are a handful of moments which have illuminated the problem for me; the common theme among them is dissent.

It took me a long time to realize that was the key, but my commanding officer reflected on it one day. We were trying to make a decision and I was filling in for my department head at a meeting. Two plans were briefed: the first clearly made more sense than the others for many of the departments, but it did not allow my department time to fulfill our requirements; the second meant accepting a slightly less-optimal plan for the other departments, but would allow my department time to succeed.

When we went around the table, only I supported the second plan, and rather than show any sort of creative friction in front of our commanding officer, only the first plan was presented to the CO. When agreement became the goal in order to please our commanding officer, instead of offering him honest information, we lost something crucial. In the end, though we strived valiantly, the plan failed because my department failed.

Similarly, in an ethics class as a midshipman, we were presented with a mission to take a small team out for reconnaissance. During the hypothetical mission, we were notified of a possible chemical attack and donned our protective gear. In the oppressive heat, and with no way to test for the presence of the weapon, we had to decide which member of the team to unmask to test if it was safe to remove the oppressive protective gear. Knowing only their rank and positions on the team, someone had to be put in harm’s way. Many decided to unmask themselves as the officer in charge and the few who protested were quickly silenced. The mission crumbled beneath the weight of their conscience.

Though these examples are not perfect, what we should be learning is how to make hard decisions and why it is worthwhile to endure the consequences. Silence, compliance, and timidity masquerade themselves as loyalty, humility and teamwork. If we are indeed born of idealism, it is no wonder that it perishes so early in our careers. The opportunity to dissent, respectfully and when the situation calls for it, should be something senior leadership desires. It helps keep all of us honest if truth outranks simple agreement.

Strength Through Dissent

The military needs a more comprehensive way of testing not just the intelligence of incoming officers, but their ability to think logically and critically. Many eligible and interested young adults in America are intelligent, but that is only a part of what goes into the potential to be a great leader. To cultivate a culture that supports dissention and allows for an honest exchange of information, what we need is not more intelligent officers, but something more difficult to identify. We must find those willing to disagree and be disagreed with without being unpleasant, and are wary of those who would take advantage of such liberties. By recruiting officers who are passionate about this common expectation and preserving that attitude past their initial commitment, we can build a stronger wardroom rather than simply a more intellectually entrenched one.

Innovation is the backbone of enterprise and resilience. As early as the training pipeline, prospective officers must be taught how and when to present different and ideas. If things do not make sense, officers should be encouraged to ask questions. This is far more difficult to teach and enforce; it opens up the door for perceived recalcitrance and disrespect. Yet instead of being threatened by improvement and boldness, we must seek those out as positive traits and put people willing to speak hard truths in positions of authority. A person who is courageous enough to speak the truth is worthy of our trust, whereas a person who would rather meekly go along does not fully serve our strong, modern military.

We are a country which prides itself on our rebellious spirit; a culture of dissent is only fitting for the military which protects it. We must be strong enough to stand up to poor ideas, to change systems which are not working, and to address those among us who are ill suited to the position. We must develop an unwavering desire to seek the best solutions and not simply the least offensive ones. Founded on the value of the opinion of the unheard, our country blossomed from a culture open to disagreement; its military should as well.

Ultimately, although decision making authority is and should be retained by senior officers, open solicitation of honest input from junior officers should be embraced and encouraged. What we need is not a delegation of authority, but a culture which values varied input and courageous officers.

In the military today, that rebellious spirit is strangled by the conformity required to attain promotion. This has cost us good leaders and good policy. It has kept us stuck in patterns we know are ineffective. It has led my peers to write scathing articles condemning the military’s unyielding ways as a final farewell to a career of which they were once so proud. If we want to keep the officers who see the system clearly, care enough to want reform, and are capable of bringing it about, then it is time to dissent.

Our forefathers were rebels. We are not a country of meek sheep, caring so much for ourselves that we cower before authority. The greatest Americans are those who revolt against the unfair, the outdated, and the unacceptable. Instead of teaching our fledgling officers to fall in line, why not teach them to respectfully disagree? It is time to embrace the foundations upon which our military and country were built. It is time for dissent.

In the news last week was the removal of a submarine CO whose surfaced boat struck a channel buoy and then run aground. While I don’t want to talk about this specific event, I want to ask what many who have served as an officer-of-the-deck wonder: are our ships hitting things (ships, buoys, seafloor, etc.) more or less frequently? What direction are we trending and why? With the wide array of sensors, computers, and operator aids available to OODs these days, are we any better at not hitting things? The answer may surprise you (or may not!).

I have been struggling to answer it, but how would you try to figure this out?

We could go back and search backissues of the NavyTimes for keywords such as “collision” or “grounding” and see how many such events have occurred per year. I don’t find this very satisfying though because it doesn’t account for the size of the Fleet or the robustness of its activities. For instance, maybe there were more collisions during the 80’s, but our Fleet was much larger then. Having more ships probably leads to a greater number of overall collisions. Maybe there were less collisions during the early 90’s, but maybe our ships were out to sea less. Less time at sea gives a ship less opportunity to hit something.

I think the metric I would most want to get my hands on would be “number of collisions per day at sea.” Take a given year, count all the collisions and groundings, and then divided by the sum of the days at sea of all our ships. What do you think we would see over the past 30 years?

Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten my hands on this data, but I have found 3 things which are of interest :

1) Loss rates in the commercial maritime community continue to fallIHS Fairplay’s World Casualty Statistics showed that from 1997-2011 vessel loss rates have gone down. This doesn’t really say they’re hitting things less frequently–it just means they’re being lost at sea less often. I think it’s as good a proxy as we can get to say the world is probably sailing the seas more safely [1].

Yearly Number of Vessel Losses from 1997-2011GrowthinWorldFleet














2) Loss rates have not always been falling. Lloyd’s List and the International Union of Marine Insurers have been tracking an improvement in the rate of accidents and casualties since the 1980s. Before then there was no real movement in these numbers.

3) Technology is probably of limited (or no?) impact. You might think that radar, GPS, and AIS have driven down accident rates. After all, if you know where your ship is and another vessel’s bearing, course, and speed, there’s no way the two of you should hit, right? Researcher Charles Perrow in his book Normal Accidents studied maritime casualties from post-WWII to the 1980s and found that having radar and other collision avoidance tools had no impact on the probability of collisions or groundings. For a time, having radar increased a ship’s likelihood of hitting something. Perrow surmised that crews were overconfident in their radar’s ability and were less likely to take strong risk mitigations during periods of reduced visbilities. He and others documented the birth of “radar-assisted collisions” where two ships, both of which had radar and weren’t on collision courses, made erratic course/speed changes at the last moment and hit each other. [2]

Perrow hypothesized that ship captains had tremendous pressure on them to meet schedules and would take extreme risks to stick to the plan. As a result, they were just using these tools to be more aggressive without changing their margin to hazard. I’m not convinced this is the full story since loss rates have come down; I doubt captains are under significantly less pressures today.

For the larger maritime community, why have loss rates fallen? Is it better use of technology? Better governance structures? Better trained mariners? Do you think the US Navy has followed these trends?

If anyone has any data or thoughts on these questions, I’d love to hear it.

[1] Charts from “15 Years of Shipping Accidents: A Review for the WWF,” Nickie Butt, David Johnson, Katie Pike, Nicola Pryce-Roberts, Natalie Vigar, Southampton Solent University

[2] Perrow, Charles. 1999. Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies (updated). Princeton University Press.


The ATHENA Far East inaugural event is Friday, January 15th in the Commodore Matthew Perry General Mess “Tatami Room”, from 1245-1430.

The ATHENAproject was created onboard USS BENFOLD in 2012 – Led by Dave Nobles and a group of sailors who wanted to make BENFOLD and the Navy better by developing solutions to problems that Sailors see in the Navy – anything from developing new systems or retooling old systems, to new training plans, to fixing “broken” programs. By harnessing deckplate innovations and creating a cadre of forward-thinking, creatively confident Sailors, we are paving the way for the Fleet of tomorrow.

Presenters have five minutes to pitch their idea, then the crowd votes on the ideas based on idea quality, actionability, and presentation. The winner receives the Admiral Sims Award for intellectual courage, as well as command backing, leverage of the ATHENA Network, and a small functional team to make the idea become reality.

Growth and transformation within ATHENA is accelerating and we are breaking new ground in the amount of support and interest received from our surrounding military and civilian communities. The ATHENAproject has spread from the San Diego Waterfront to Norfolk, Mayport, the Pacific Northwest and now Japan. At previous events we’ve had scientists, engineers, folks from the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell and Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, professors from local universities, and local entrepreneurs coming to ATHENA to check out the amazing ideas Sailors are coming up with!

We WANT YOU TO PRESENT AN IDEA! You can present as a team or by yourself. The presentation materials and aids are also yours to decide – the only rule is NO PowerPoint.

Your idea doesn’t have to be perfect, ATHENA is all about a group of people helping each other with ideas to make our Navy better. Even Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is talking about ATHENA:

If you have an idea you want to present at ATHENA Far East, shoot us an e-mail – or

We hope to see you at the Commodore Matthew Perry General Mess on January 15th at 1245!

To learn more about ATHENA, check out our blog:, connect with our FaceBook page:, and follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy.








CIMSEC Topic Weeks have always been an excellent way to engage our community of defense and foreign policy professionals and academics to highlight issues that deserve greater attention. CIMSEC’s upcoming topic weeks will be listed well in advance in this post to give our prospective authors more lead time to develop their ideas and contribute superb publications. Expect subsequent announcements at the beginning of each month listing specific dates and deadlines for individual topic weeks.

January: The Littoral Arena

The littorals only constitute around 15 percent of the world’s oceanic expanse, yet 60 percent of the world’s urbanized populations are located within sixty miles of the coast, including 80 percent of the world’s capitals. The U.S. Navy has only recently drawn attention to the littoral domain after decades of emphasizing blue water sea control. What are the unique warfighting challenges posed by the littorals? What capabilities and operating concepts best enable power projection in this complex environment? Can navies optimized for blue water operations effectively translate their experience into the littorals?








February: Naval Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief (HA/DR)

Time and time again, naval forces have performed admirably as first responders to devastating natural disasters. Naval forces can rapidly maneuver to disaster struck areas and facilitate the transfer of millions of pounds of critical supplies in a matter of weeks. The Asia-Pacific is especially prone, with over half a million lives lost and $500 billion in damages incurred within the last decade due to natural disasters. Can HA/DR operations refine warfighting skills? What are the political challenges and benefits of deploying naval forces in support of humanitarian operations? Could demand for naval aid increase as sea levels risen and climate change progresses?








March: Sino-Indo Strategic Rivalry

Much has been made of great power competition in the Asia-Pacific, with the U.S. and China considered the main actors, but India is a powerhouse in the making. India’s rapidly growing economy and modernizing armed forces ensures its relevance in the Asia-Pacific. Prime Minister Modi aligned India with U.S. policy towards South China Sea maritime disputes with a joint statement stating “We affirm the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region…” Additionally, the Indian peninsula juts 1000 km into the Indian Ocean, providing India’s carrier equipped navy superb positioning to affect sea lines of communication flowing towards the straits of Malacca. How might this strategic rivalry evolve, and is there precedent and potential for conflict?









Authors can send get in touch with the editorial team and send their submissions to Topic weeks are competitive and not all submissions may be accepted, so we encourage thoroughly researched contributions. CIMSEC topic weeks are our opportunity to make our mark as a community on the big discussions, and we look forward to promoting your insights.

Yoda_SWSBIt might be chic to paraphrase Yoda during the week of the Star Wars premiere, but perhaps it is time for our Navy to channel his teachings.

Admiral Hyman Rickover is famous for being the father of our Nuclear Navy. His antics are legend today. The force of both his personality and his intellect cemented the Navy’s contribution to our nation’s strategic nuclear deterrent in a way that perhaps no other individual will ever match.

For his Nuclear Navy, Rickover was fond of saying, “Trust…but verify.” While that phrase may have achieved some success in the nuclear community, its misuse in other naval communities has done more harm than good.

Let us not be fooled by syntax. “Trust…but verify” is an oxymoron. When it is misused elsewhere in the Navy, it can have a deleterious effect.

To Risk, or Not to Risk?

In his seminal book “The Black Swan,” Nassim Taleb argues that people tend to underestimate seemingly infrequent, yet cataclysmic, events, and therefore make dangerous risk decisions. The phrases “once in a blue moon” or “almost zero” lull us into a false sense of security. We mistake “absence of evidence” for “evidence of absence.”

One of the few communities in the world where this is not a problem–a community where, arguably, risk is put in a chokehold by SOPs, checklists, and the like–is Rickover’s Nuclear Navy. This is appropriate and good – even one small accident on a nuclear-powered ship is one accident too many. Not only are our nuclear ships expensive, but the psychological investment our service and the American people have placed in their safe operation is profound.

But Rickover’s “trust…but verify” for his nuclear force has spread to nearly every corner of our Navy. It is on conventionally-powered ships, squadrons, staffs, and small units around the Fleet. Whether this translates to unnecessary administrative paperwork, voice reports, or simply standing around and waiting depends on your experience. It reflects a misapplication of Rickover’s phrase.

Trust vs Question

Webster defines “trust” as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.” Trust carries a very positive connotation; it implies knowledge and autonomy. Sailors work hard to gain trust and display these sacred character traits.

Webster defines “verify” as “to prove, show, find out, or state that (something) is true or correct.”

As leaders, by definition, one cannot “trust” a person yet continually feel the need to “verify” what they do. It is either redundant or self-contradictory; in either event, it can lead to waste or, paradoxically, feelings of mistrust.

We should make an exception here, however: there is a difference between questioning and trust. Rickover intended his phrase to develop a corps of operators that would dig deep into their systems and know them down to each individual electron. This type of tactical expertise is what we seek and exercise daily in our Navy.

Questioning can be good; for instance, when junior sailors question in order to seek a full understanding of tactics, processes, procedures, and strategy. Questioning can also be positive for senior sailors, to gain situational awareness or correct inaccuracies.

But when we allow “trust…but verify” to be applied to individuals and organizations, and not specific systems, something insidious happens in our service.

Over Your Shoulder

Too often today, “trust…but verify” is used to micromanage fleets, squadrons, and individuals. Instead of trust and leadership, we perpetuate a system of management and leadership-by-checklist. We do not “question-up,” in order for juniors to gain knowledge and understanding; we “question-down,” in order to show off our specialized knowledge or cover our administrative requirements. “Trust…but verify” is not the appropriate response to a draft PowerPoint presentation, nor should it be the checklist-mandated response to a time-sensitive target request.

As the results of the most recent JO Command Survey show, there is at least the perception that even commanders of ships and squadrons–historically coveted positions–enjoy very limited, narrow trust. Many junior officers and enlisted, when considering the “stay/go” decision, question whether they want to continue such a tenuous trust proposition.

If we are to counter this trend, and better foster trust both up and down the chain of command, we should do a few things:

-Encourage ingenuity and proactivity. These should be core tenets for prospective Sailors at each of our accession sources, but they should be more than simple words–we should show them what we mean. What does a proactive, trusting ship or squadron look like?

-Talk about risk and personnel. If our hesitancy to fully trust people is because we think they will fail, we have an unfortunately low opinion of our Sailors. Are we bringing in the right folks? Giving them the best possible training to be proactive, learning professionals? Some ships and squadrons encourage questions and collaborative learning, but these units are the exception–not the rule.

-Be open about trust. Either you have it, or you don’t. The middle road, where we promote people on paper but not in truth, slows down the already-sluggish bureaucracy and fosters a trust environment counter to the ideal.

Trust is hard–but so is leadership. To paraphrase an overused cliché: “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.”

“Trust…but verify” has worked for the Nuclear Navy at the systems level; we must confine it to those parameters. In leadership, tactics, operations, and strategy, what we need is, “Trust. Period.”

Or, begging Admiral Rickover’s pardon, perhaps we make room on our mantle for Yoda: “Trust, or Trust Not. There is no ‘Verify.'”

Editor’s Note: This semester the Naval Academy plebes in my naval history class were asked to write their ten page research paper on one of the former Commandants. 4/C Andrew Obst wrote his on Rear Admiral James Winnefeld, Sr. (USNA 1951), who served as Commandant from 1976 to 1978. Because of his contributions to Naval Institute Proceedings, Admiral Winnefeld is one of the featured authors in the Warrior Writers exhibit, on display at the Naval Academy Museum through 31 January 2016. Rear Admiral Winnefeld passed away a few weeks after meeting with 4/C Obst. What follows is what 4/C Obst took away from their meeting. – Claude Berube

Growing up, I always saw admirals in movies as being bigger than life, and untouchable. So as a plebe earlier this year, I was a calm and collected nervous wreak walking up the stairs to Memorial Hall from Bancroft for my interview with Rear Admiral Winnefeld. Pacing up and down the hallway for almost 30 minutes, checking my watch every minute then rechecking my planner four times to make sure the interview was in fact today. Precisely, at 1400hrs a sharply dressed older gentleman began walking up the stairs. Though he had been retired for many years, I immediately knew this gentleman was Admiral Winnefeld. As I approached him, he greeted me by my name with a pleasant smile accompanied by firm handshake. Once we reached the top of the staircase, we then walked to the exact spot where he took his oath of office, as a plebe in the class of 1947. He stood at that spot in silence for a moment. Upon taking our seats overlooking the ground, Admiral Winnefeld briefly glanced outside at the restriction muster, mumbling to himself something along the line of “some things never change,” complemented by a light chuckle. Seeing this I politely asked if anything really ever changes. His reply: “only to those on the outside”.

Winnefeld0001From this point on the interview started. Rather than just answering my question directly, Admiral Winnefeld would turn almost every question into a leadership lesson, by explaining his view on the question or subject then asking me what I would have done different. Prior to the interview, I expected our discussions to be full of official tone accompanied by generic responses. Admiral Winnefeld conversely, came across as a teacher. He wasn’t there to answer my questions for a paper. He was there to pass down his experiences as a leader. One response in particular that continues to stand out in my mind was if an officer serves his country, or his hometown. Rather than Admiral Winnefeld answering the question directly, he told to me that the best officers he has ever been privileged to work with care about their men, leading them on the ethos they were raised by. Admiral Winnefeld followed this with the question “which service better fit his description and why”.

It came time for the final portion of the interview, though I still had plenty of questions to ask about his wealth of knowledge. Admiral Winnefeld asked for questions to be stopped in order to ask questions about me. He wanted to know why I came to the academy, as well as what kind of officer I see myself as being in the future. Upon my responding, Admiral Winnefeld encouraged me to follow my goals as a leader not as an officer, explaining to me how I was going to be a great officer if I do this.

Walking out of Memorial Hall that afternoon I had empty notes for my essay, yet a full tank of lasting confidence accompanied by a wealth of knowledge on what it means to be both an officer, and an admiral.

Obst: What do you see as the role of a 21st century officer?

Winnefeld: A junior officer’s role is to lead through your men and in order to both be successful as well as make your men successful you must have your men be successful. Take care of your men they are the sole duty of an officer Your men’s success is proportional to your own success. Learn who your men are outside of the military. You are the source their source of information, as well as, trust.

Obst: What did you for in particular look in a junior officer when you were a senior officer?

Winnefeld: Ownership in what he does no matter what job it is he will take it over and is proud of his work. He must consider his own work important. He gets his work done and looks for more work to accomplish. An Officer who needs “fire control” – they are the ones who go places later in their career.

Obst:  You’ve been characterized as a “mild-mannered disciplinarian” [when you were Commandant.] Do you see this as accurate?

Winnefeld: I was never a screamer I never found that as an effective way to lead. As a leader always have a commanding voice, yet you give commands in a well composed manner. I learned my basic leadership as a Company Commander of the Color Company. I considered this the most important job in brigade and also most developmental as a leader. It showed how to work within and with the chain of command as well as how to effectively communicate.

Obst: As a young officer how did you take the role of having superior authority, yet inferior knowledge?

Winnefeld: Use your men not drive them. Do not narrow your field of learning. Your job is to lead men not equipment. All of your men are experts in their own job and piece of equipment, “you are to be the expert on your men. Work with and listen to them about their individual skill allow them to teach you in there area of expertise. Use what they know and trust them and their skillset. They will in turn trust you and your orders. Push your limits, learn as much as you can about the skills of your men.

Obst: As commandant what was your plan of attack regarding the integration of women into the Naval Academy?

Winnefeld: It was mostly all planned out. Shoes and equipment were the largest concern as most did not accommodate for woman’s body types. Lower leg issues were a large medical concern; this was fixed with tennis shoes the following year.

Obst: Did you feel pressure from Washington due to importance of this integration in regards to the woman’s rights movement?

Winnefeld: The senior officer’s job is to take care of the upper chain of command. It was my job to deal with the brigade not Washington. The Superintendent and I had a great working relationship; he had trust in me allowing me to run this process without anyone looking over my shoulder. Due to this, the process was much smoother and more effective. As an officer you must understand politics yet it is our job to lead people safely.

Obst: Do you like the idea of having a set standard across the military rather than various standards for men and women?

Winnefeld: The majority of billets require a much larger mental than physical need. It depends on the person more than it depends on their gender.

Obst: How about combat roles?

Winnefeld: These should be open for all members of armed forces yet the standard should be the same for everything due to having a need for the physical aspect. If a person can do it then let them have it. Ninety percent of our job is skillset.

Obst: Do you believe in a requirement for a person to be enlisted before being appointed to an Academy?

Winnefeld: When I was Commandant there was a high percentage of prior enlisted. Also previous college experience helps. By having all different sources of appointments as well as a multitude of commissioning sources the armed forces itself acts as a melting pot. Diversity allows our force to be stronger. A more dynamic wardroom is a more dynamic ship which is allows it to be both more versatile, as well as, effective

Obst: Is it better to serve for your country or your hometown?

Winnefeld: The best leaders have a solid moral foundation. They use this to make their decisions. Family is a way to both relate and stay grounded. It was most effective during Cold War. It allowed a leader to understand what he has back home and the value of not going to war. It teaches you how to be tactful as a person. Family is a backbone.

Obst: What differences do you see as a major difference between the Navy and Marine Corps?

Winnefeld: Marines are all about small unit leadership. Navy is more “force leadership.” Naval personal are typically more inquiring making them harder to lead. Marines will do anything for their country and have immense devotion. We need both elements in order to be an effective force.

Please join us for a special 2PM (EST) early edition of Midrats for Episode 310: Fleet Battle School

How do you design a game that has practical tactical application to the naval tactician? Even more ambitious, how do you make one accessible and understandable with the goal of making it a mobile wargame for eventual use by sailors and warfare commands.

For today’s show we will discuss one of the projects of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC), the game “Fleet Battle School.”

Our guests to discuss this game, gaming in general, and its practical application will be three individuals involved in the project; LT Matthew Hipple, Paul Vebber and Chris Kona. Chris Kona is a warfare analyst at Naval Undersea Warfare Center. A former submarine officer in the U.S. Navy, he was project lead for the CRIC’s Fleet Battle School wargame project. Paul Vebber is a retired SWO CDR who is a life-long hobby wargamer. He was one of founders of Matrix Games, the premiere publisher of computer wargames, working with them until their merger with Slitherine games. He currently works for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Mission Area Director for Undersea Warfare as Asst. Director for Concept Development, Wargaming, and Experimentation.

Join us live if you can (or pick the show up later by clicking here). Or pick the show up later on our iTunes page here.

Honor training has become a pillar of officer education with all commissioning sources incorporating honor lessons into their curricula. While the Navy focuses its efforts to discourage dishonesty at the individual level, it largely neglects addressing organizational incentives which promote such behaviors. Recent incidents in the Navy show further honor and character education will have limited returns unless leaders fix the structures, promoted by a growth in requirements, which promote dishonesty.

CMC Kingsbury’s candid discussion of the Nuclear Power Prototype Training Command (NNPTC) cheating scandal illuminates the tension between honesty and demands from superiors.[i] He attributes “normalized deviance” as the process by which “lapses” in honesty occur as Sailors cheat in order to overcome “excessive competing events, perceived pressure, and fear of punishment” for failure.[ii] As requirements became detached from purpose in the Charleston command, Sailors were willing to behave dishonestly. They knew what they were doing was cheating and wrong, but still engaged in the behavior. Character education would not have prevented such a choice.

In a recent article, ADM Greenert implores naval officers to develop a moral compass, “It means listening to the small voice in your head, your intuition…It means focusing on our duty…It means being a good team player…It means being truthful about what is going on.”[iii] Yet, from the NNPTC example it becomes apparent that this is inadequate to prevent against dishonesty in an organization. Sailors may weigh the pressures of intuition, duty, the team, and truthfulness and not side with truthfulness. In the “Independent Review of the Nuclear Enterprise,” ADM Harvey validates this finding as the “troops’ resolute determination to get the job done” prevented senior leaders of our nuclear forces from knowing the “true cost of mission accomplishment.”[iv] Naval leaders need to get serious about excising unnecessary requirements whose deleterious effects were illustrated by a study of the US Army.

The Navy is not the only service grappling with dishonesty. A recent study by the Strategic Studies Institute at the Army War College details its pervasiveness in the Army. Overwhelmed by the deluge of requirements, many Army officers have become “ethically numb” as their “signature and word have become tools to maneuver through the Army bureaucracy rather than being symbols of integrity and honesty.”[v] In one instance an officer justifies his actions explaining, “If I’m 70% accurate—that’s good enough to 1) keep my guys out of trouble and 2) keep my boss out of trouble so we can keep doing good things for the country.”[vi] The authors conclude the military sanctions such behavior “as subordinates are forced to prioritize which requirements will actually be done to standard and which will only be reported as done to standard.”[vii] Efforts by the Navy to identify and eliminate unnecessary requirements which can encourage such behavior have not been aggressive enough.

Beginning in 2013, senior naval leaders began soliciting feedback from Sailors and Navy civilians on where to cut administrative requirements. The Reducing Administrative Distractions campaign launched a website for participants to create, discuss, and evaluate ideas to cut requirements. From these proposals, senior leaders would then implement those which passed the muster or return with an update for why the idea was not feasible. However, a review of these ideas show that the three most popular proposals, centralize Navy instructions, merge training documentation in a single database, and create one, all-encompassing personnel website, have stagnated on the site for the past two years. Moreover, it’s failing to reach the group it set out to target: the warfighters. New warfare community-specific ideas have not been posted for five months in most communities. To their credit, the organizers of the site seem to recognize this problem as their most recent solicitation for ideas focuses on growing and improving engagement.[viii]

Senior leaders ought to take a more proactive approach to solving the problem of growth in requirements, rather than waiting on feedback from their subordinates. First, leaders should quantify their expectations for how many man-hours a given requirement should take to accomplish. For instance, the N4 for Surface Fleet, Atlantic would assign man-hours to reviewing a 13-Week PMS report. Then, leaders would provide their subordinates with a list of tasks and ask them, “How long do you plan for each task to take?” Meanwhile, ask a separate group, “How long do you plan for each task to take assuming you will meet every requirement?”

These three sets of data represent very important pieces of information to solving the dishonesty problem. The first set of data taken from parent commands represents what leaders think they are tasking their warfighters with. The second set of data, how long these are taking to accomplish, represent the real world execution of requirements. Finally, the third set of data, where subordinates estimate how long a task takes to accomplish to 100% compliance, represents the ideal world. Differences in these data would be very revealing, with gaps between a task’s current time to accomplishment and its estimated 100% compliance time to accomplishment representing areas of potential concern.

While such an undertaking may seem onerous, it is the most effective way to capture and combat the growth in requirements which is hampering our Navy. A recent survey on retention found that 52.6% of officers do not want their bosses’ jobs and 75% strongly agree or agree that “the Navy has a zero-defect mentality.”[ix] In another recent survey one officer explained why he did not want command writing, “[It did] not look like any of my three COs were having any fun. Angry, plagued by so many regulations and directives… [They felt] the heavy hand of a cautious, risk-averse bureaucracy every day and night.”[x] All of these data express frustrations with the growth in requirements. As a result, cheating and other acts of dishonest are apt to continue as demonstrated by the study of the Army.

Following the 2011 cheating scandal on the USS Memphis, where 10% of her crew cheated on nuclear training exams, Commander, Submarine Force Atlantic dismissed claims of widespread cheating on exams as “unsubstantiated.”[xi] Yet, just less than three years later, 78 senior enlisted staff instructors were found to have cheated on nuclear exams at a Charleston training facility.[xii] The Navy must address the growth in requirements to best prevent future occurrences. While a full audit of its manual and regulations may seem like a tremendous undertaking, such a review is the most effective method to maintain a lean and honest organization. In a service charged with maintaining freedom of the seas, the cost of burdensome requirements, and the dishonesty they beget, is too high to accept.




[i] Paul Kingsbury. “When Cheating Becomes Normal.” Proceedings, September 2015: 58-62.

[ii] Ibid., 58-59.

[iii] Jonathan Greenert. “The Moral Component of Leadership.” Proceedings, September 2015: 19.

[iv] John Harvey, “The Independent Review of the Nuclear Enterprise,” USNI Blog, November 11, 2014,

[v] Leonard Wong and Stephen Gerras, Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Military Profession. (Carlisle Barracks, PA: United States Army War College Press, 2015): ix.

[vi] Ibid., 22.

[vii] Ibid., ix.


[ix] Guy Snodgrass and Ben Kohlmann, 2014 Navy Retention Study, p.18, 22


[xi] Michael Melia, “Navy exam-cheating may fall into ‘grey area,'” The Christian Science Monitor, July 5, 2012,

[xii] Sam LaGrone, “Navy expels 34 Sailors in Nuclear Cheating Scandal,” USNI News, August 20, 2014,

Just a week after the horrific attack on ordinary citizens in Paris, the United States has been unequivocal in its support of our French allies. The motto of Paris is Fluctuat nec mergitur, which translates as “tossed but not sunk.” The crest of the city shows a ship in stormy waters. What an appropriate reflection of the strength and optimism that defines the spirit of a city that has endured so much in the last week. The tenacity of Parisians reminds me of that of New Yorkers after 9/11.

228px-Grandes_Armes_de_Paris svgBefore this incident, I would have told you that the bonds of friendship and partnership between the United States Navy and the French Navy have never been stronger. In fact, just a few days before the attack in Paris, I was in Toulon, France on a counterpart visit with VADM Yves Joly, French Commander of the Mediterranean Maritime Defence Region (CECMED). We discussed plans for exercises between our two Fleets in 2016 and the highlight of my visit included a trip to the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, operating in the Mediterranean not far from Toulon. During my visit on 10 November, the seas were still calm… This would all change in a couple of days.

Charles de Gualle - VADm FoggoThose familiar with the Nimitz class might be surprised how at home they would feel aboard the French carrier. Although somewhat smaller than USS Harry S. Truman, also currently in route to the Mediterranean, the bones of the French carrier show a common pedigree: the way the flight deck control is arranged, the quality of the maintenance, the arresting gear and catapults which are fully compatible with US aircraft and even the jersey colors on the flight deck. I saw the French E2C Hawkeyes, Super Etendards and Rafale jet aircraft launch and recover onboard. As I stood next to the Air Boss during flight deck operations, I felt like I was on an American carrier. Likewise, I met with American pilots on exchange tours—two of whom were airborne that day—fully integrated into the air wing. I also met French pilots who had passed through Pensacola, the cradle of Naval Aviation, proud to be Top Guns in their own air wing. Just days before the attacks in Paris, the entire crew impressed me with their professionalism and unity of purpose, as they prepared for their third Arabian Gulf deployment in as many years. The French Sailors and Airmen had the same unwavering determination that characterizes the best of our breed regardless of which flag is stitched on their flight suits.

Charles de Gaulle Flight OPSBeyond flight ops, I observed an impressive display of interoperability with the United States and allies at a time when the Global Network of Navies is needed now more than ever. The US Navy does not have a monopoly on power projection; it is heartening to know that the French Navy is also willing and able to set sail at a moment’s notice in defense of common interests and values.

The day after my visit to the Charles de Gaulle, I attended a solemn ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris that underscored the esprit de corps that was so evident aboard the carrier. On 11 November 2015 the Champs de Elysee was closed to traffic, an act akin to shutting down Broadway in New York City. The Arc which is usually an island in a turbulent sea of cars and honking horns stood eerily quiet, the giant Tricolour hung from the middle of the Arc and ranks of veterans stood as solemn guards around the eternal flame. Circling the monument, representatives from around the world stood out of respect in front of rows of unused seats. A video flashed images of French soldiers who had recently given their lives in the war on terror, followed by four solemn words: mort pour la France. President Francois Hollande arrived, but he offered no speeches, simply himself as a representative of the Republic and a witness to the human sacrifice that her citizens have made through the years. He laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and shook hands, pausing to speak with friends and family members of those who had fallen. In the United States, we call this day Veterans Day; in Europe it is called Armistice Day or Remembrance Day. Je me souviens…

West Point Cadets Arc de TriompheFollowing the national ceremony, our delegation laid a wreath in a private event at the Suresnes American Cemetery overlooking the skyline of the city of Paris. Above the white crosses and stars of David the words are etched, “This memorial has been erected by the United States of America as a sacred rendezvous of a grateful people with its immortal dead.” Our rendezvous was one of generations. We were met by members of the VFW and boys and girls from the local scout troops. The veterans were Americans who had settled in France. One landed on D-Day plus three (D + 3) and stayed in France ever since. Many of the scouts had dual French and American citizenship. The skies were cloudy and a storm was coming, but as I looked over these young faces in the foreground and the crosses in the background, it was obvious that the future of the friendship that has bound our two countries together is bright. It is a friendship based on common ideals. It is a friendship that has been tested many times and will be tested again.

USS CARNEY's YardarmWhen America was attacked in 2001, France came to our aid. At the Arc, many of the images of the departed soldiers listed “Afghanistan” as the place of death. The Charles de Gaulle will soon sail in harm’s way, filling a gap in carrier presence. Frenchmen and Americans have fought side by side ever since our Revolution. Like the United States, France defines itself by ideals. Ours are summed up in the Declaration of Independence. The French identity is crystalized in the Declaration des Droits de l’Hommes with the simple words liberté, égalité, and fraternité. These values, values which we as Americans share, are what were brazenly attacked last week. The flags in American outposts and ships at sea (see the yardarm of USS Carney below) have stood at half-mast in solidarity with our close ally. We mourn with our friends. We stand with our friends. And we in Sixth Fleet set sail with our friends in defense of what we hold dear.

Please join us on Sunday, 8 Nov 2015 at 5pm EST (U.S.) for Midrats
Episode 305: Fall Free For All

It is that time of the year … time for a Fall Free For All on Midrats.

No guests, no agenda, open phones, open topics, open mic.

Join Sal from “CDR Salamander” and EagleOne from “Eaglespeak” for a full hour as we dive in to the national security topics of the day with a maritime bent – or whatever topics break above the background noise.

This is your chance by calling in or by throwing it out in the live chat room, to bring up the topic you wish we would cover, or to just play stump the chump.

Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here. Or, if you prefer, you also can find the show later at our iTunes page here.

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