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By Jackie Perez
This post originally appeared here, at Ms. In the Biz. It is re-posted with the author’s permission.
Before I moved to Los Angeles two years ago and started working in the entertainment industry, I had a totally different life as a Naval Officer running nuclear reactors on an aircraft carrier. It was a scary leap to leave all that behind and start a new career from scratch, but what I’ve found is that a lot of the skills I learned in my old career carry over to movie-making. Here are three fundamentals of Navy nuclear power that have helped me to find success as a filmmaker:
- Level of Knowledge
Whether you are making a movie or overseeing fission reactions, knowledge is power. That doesn’t mean you have to go spend thousands of dollars on a directing MFA before you can make a movie. I didn’t go to film school. But I study A LOT. I read every screenwriting and filmmaking book that’s recommended to me by someone I trust. When I’m working on a project I watch lots of similar movies for research. Every time I come across a how-to online or Q&A from someone I admire I take the time to read/watch. People share their hard earned lessons and advice and my ears are always open.
This all happens before I get on set. Like a captain needs to understand the full capability of their ship, as a director I need a thorough understanding of my set. I didn’t get that knowledge in film school, and while you can find definitions online, nothing is as good as hands on training. Spend time on sets. You’ll learn things each time and get to see how other people work so you can incorporate good habits and steer clear of bad ones.
Benjamin Franklin said it perfectly, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. Nothing is truer when it comes to making a movie. Aggressive preparation during pre-production will pay off dividends during the shoot. This is a lesson I learned from my previous shoot that I’m taking into my current film. Everything was smooth enough, but if I had spent more time thinking things out beforehand, I know I could have made a better film.
You are never going to have everything perfect, but you should never be kicking yourself about something not turning out the way you want because of lack of preparation. Murphy’s Law is taken to the nth degree when you’re ready to make your movie and if you aren’t prepared for plan A, having to flex to Plan B or C is going to be that much more difficult. Take the time to sit down with your DP and go over the shot list. Have a conversation with your AD before shooting so they know what you expect. Rehearse with your actors to allow them time to incorporate your notes on performance. Taking the time to have those conversations leads to…
- Watch-Team Backup
As a director you take words on a page and create an entire new physical world filled with people, places, and things for the screen. You cannot create this world alone, which is why trust in your team is so important.
You see people working together on projects over and over not because they are best friends (maybe they are), but because they have built trust, which is worth gold on set. As films get bigger, more and more has to be delegated and no one has the time to wonder if a task is getting done or not. You have to trust people to do their job, so choose wisely when hiring. The people you have a rapport with and who are enthusiastic about the project are the ones you want by your side. The backup between the director and their department heads is equally important because I believe a good idea can come from anywhere. That doesn’t mean I have to agree with that idea, but I want people to feel comfortable enough to make suggestions: lines, shots, set design, whatever it might be. I’m not on set to be a dictator; I’m there to lead a team of people who all have the common goal of turning the best version of the script into the best version of the film.
The U.S. Navy is preparing to accept delivery of four more of its shallow-water Littoral Combat Ships between now and February of next year, effectively doubling its current fleet size of the ships and paving the way for more deployments.
“By early next year, the Navy will be operating eight littoral combat ships and we’ll be accepting four more by the end of 2016,” Johnson told Military.com. “The Navy will continue to accept ships at that rate for the next several years making the LCS class the second largest surface combatant class in the fleet and the key to our ability to operate in shallow, coastal waterways around the world.”
That is an even dozen. Let’s pause a bit and chew on that. LCS-1 was commissioned in 2008, ~seven years ago, and little under 1/3 of her expected service life. What have we done with her in that time that shows any utility at war? While it was nice to test the theory of Longbow Hellfire a few weeks ago – it is not even close to being a warfighting option anytime soon in SUW ourside limited line of sight engagements. The MIW module doesn’t work (yet), and we don’t know if the ASW module is operationally usable because it is still overweight. Remember, FY15 is almost over.
Thee ships coming in to the Fleet in number now are – let’s be blunt and speak to each other as adults – of almost no use to a Maritime Component Commander at war or aggressive peace. This is still an experiment. Pray for peace, because there is no time in the upcoming POM cycle this warship should be put in harms way.
When in history has our Navy intentionally diluted its Fleet with such a large number of sub-optimal platforms whose only FMC PMA are Prayer, Promises, Hope, and Spin (PPHS)?
The littoral combat ship was designed as a multi-mission shallow water platform able reach areas and port inaccessible to larger-draft ships.
The platform has been the focus of some criticism and controversy. Lawmakers, analysts and members of the Navy have said the ships are not survivable enough in a fast-evolving world of surface warfare threats. Proponents have maintained that the LCS class is designed to defeat threats in coastal waters, where increasingly capable submarines, mines, and swarming small craft operate.
The theory is what it always has been, but still in 2015, there is no there, there. Good people with more money and Sailors will make the best of it as can be made – but the half-life of PPHS is passed, and yet has been made flesh anew;
Nevertheless, the concerns have led the Pentagon and the Navy to develop a new LCS variant, now called a Frigate, designed to capitalize upon the benefits of the LCS platform while making it more lethal and survivable. The particular composition of technologies and weapons for these new ships is now in the process of taking shape.
So, what now? Very good question. How much money and time do we invest to get this to even a usable warfighting capable platform?
What is plan B? Sadly, plan B was the new FF – but the way it was set up, the only option was a USN variant of what was the LCS-(I). Compared to the other options out there? Well, we have what we have. There were other plans – but that was not in the cards for those who had their hands on the levers of power.
For now, we will have to just bring the ships on, pat the program on its head, and then when they walk away – talk among ourselves how we can use this without delusion as to its utility and wasting Sailors lives. March in place with that mindset until something better comes along. Same that the US Army did with its Lee and Grant tanks in WWII.
To get something of better use, we will have to wait until the 2030s. It will take new leaders, new vision, and an honest appraisal of the mistakes made in the early 2000s. Good news? Those leaders who in the 2020s will help set up that 2030s solutions are mostly the young men and women in their 30s and 40s today. Those who will sign off on that solution are probably mostly in their 50s today. They know the LCS tale of woe because they watched it the balance of their professional careers. If we are a learning institution, then it will show inside a decade, sometime in the middle of the expected squeeze of the Terrible 20s.
Think. Prepare. Plan younger-cohort Gen-X, and Gen-Y. By example, you have a good idea how not to run a program. When the window opens and you find yourself at the table to replace the LCS/FF class – do it right.
The Exit Interviews series provides an opportunity to capture and share the honest and thoughtful insights of those members of the naval service who have served their country well, and are either moving on to serve it in other ways outside of the service (the “exit interview”) or who have chosen to pursue higher rank and greater responsibility within it. It focuses on individuals who are transitioning out of the service or have recently gotten out, and those who have recently chosen to stay in past their initial commitment.
Much like an exit interview in the corporate world, we ask a series of standardized questions that are intended to be open-ended and solicit honest reflection. If you would like to participate, or you know somebody who would, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org
Kirby Jones graduated from the US Naval Academy in 2009 and served as an intelligence officer, deploying to Korea and Afghanistan. She recently completed her military service and now resides in California with her husband (also a Marine Corps veteran) and their one-year old daughter.
Why did you join the Marine Corps?
I grew up in an atmosphere of patriotism and service to country and felt compelled to follow this legacy in some way. I was by no means a “military brat” as my Dad served as a Police Officer in the same area for over thirty years and my Mother and Step-Father were out of the military long before I was born, but the values and purpose that they instilled in me were well aligned with the military culture and philosophy. I came out of high school hungry for a challenge and something beyond the normal college experience. I wanted to make a difference and to stretch my limits seeking to learn about more about myself than about academics. The Naval Academy fit all of these desires and to the shock of many of my family and friends, I accepted my admittance.
Once at the Academy, I was still pursuing a challenge and the Marine Corps seemed like it would provide me the greatest challenge within my reach. The culture of bottom-up support centered around the rifleman on the ground appealed to me and the physicality of the endeavor intrigued me. It was another case of ‘how far can I push myself’. This branch seemed like the most pure and basic way to fulfill my duty to my country.
What was your favorite part of serving in the Marine Corps?
Without question, my favorite part of serving was the Marines. Some were good, some were bad, and most were a glorious blend of somewhere in between. Marines are a captivating assortment of young men and women with passion for their jobs, an unparalleled work ethic, and endless stories to tell. I am thankful to have encountered so many fascinating Marines and to have watched them and worked with them in all their glory.
The other highlight of my service was deployment. Actually being able perform the job that I was trained for day in and day out with minimal distractions and pure mission focus was extremely fulfilling. Each night I went to bed exhausted mentally and physically, but knowing that we did something that day that helped the guys out there in the line of fire. That feeling is powerful.
What did you find most frustrating?
I was continually frustrated by the prevailing hypocrisy and mixed messages coming from all sides and lower than expected levels of competency and character in leadership. Throughout The Basic School it was preached to me that I would be a leader and need to make quick, decisive, important decisions, but in the fleet it felt as if everything I did had to be run by several levels above me. Even as a Company Commander, I often felt powerless to make simple decisions for my Company knowing that they would just be overruled later. This impression filtered down to subordinates in being constantly told to trust your enlisted Marines, but yet scolded when you let them take charge and ceased to micromanage their efforts. I had exceptionally high expectations of leadership gleaned mainly from the awesome Marines that I encountered very early on in my career and the majority of leaders that I served under did not reach these high standards.
When and why did you decide to get out of the Marine Corps?
I went back and forth throughout my service of whether or not I would stay in, but about a year before I would be getting out is when I put my foot down and committed to the decision fully.
I have lots of answers when people ask me why I chose to leave the military because it is very hard to articulate an exact reason and easier to just throw out stock answers, but I will try to express my true feelings here. I am truly grateful to have served, but in the end it came down to the fact it was just not the place for me. The time away from my family was heart-breaking and not something I felt I could deal with in the long term. I was uncomfortable with the Marine Corps having the ability to make choices that would affect the lives of my husband and daughter. I had a lot of frustration with the leaders I was supposed to be mentored by and with my peers that I worked with, but I think this would probably occur anywhere to be honest. The final factor was that I looked at all the people above me and I realized I didn’t want any of their jobs. The further up I went, the less happy I was. It wasn’t fair to myself or other Marines for me to remain in an institution in which I had no desire to progress.
If you could change one thing about the Marine Corps, what would it be?
I don’t have all the grand answers, but I am going to cheat and list three simple things that came to me immediately.
- Let people fail more often, specifically officers. Give people a chance to try and fail and then be corrected. If they fail again, then take appropriate action. All the time I saw officers not have appropriate negative action taken against them because it may “ruin their career”. Here’s the thing- if they have done something that would warrant action which could ruin their career, then it’s likely that they shouldn’t have a career.
- Officer training/mentorship- TBS is great in theory and I honestly can’t say that I know all that much about how often the curriculum is changed or the process for deciding what gets taught, but I can say that TBS and MOS school taught me painfully little useful, applicable information for day to day life in the fleet. Obviously you are going to have to learn some lessons as you go along, that’s what makes you grow. However, for the extensive amount of time (more than a year) I spent in schooling I could have been given much more useful information and tools with which to go forward. I also firmly believe that as soon as you are promoted once it becomes part of your job description to mentor junior officers. I spent a large part of my service searching for mentors and finding distressingly few. Everyone is busy, but just a few minutes spent on mentorship makes a huge difference.
- Promotion system. The promotion system is flawed. Fitness Reports are in many cases NOT a true representation of a Marine’s actual competency and fortitude as a technician and a leader. I think they are better than they have been in the past from what I know of their history, but there is definite room for improvement in order to ensure the quality of those allowed to progress through the ranks.
What single most important lesson or piece of advice would you leave with Marine Corps leaders?
Find the areas where you can make a difference, big or small, and throw yourself into that action. Not the “bloom where you are planted” cliché, but more “find what will actually grow within your area of influence and plant that and nurture it and share it and accomplish as much as you can”. You will get so bogged down with what you can’t do that you cease to try anything creative or different and become a part of the status quo. Instead, look around and notice what you can do and do that. Do a lot of it and throw your passion into it. Even if it is as small as making Marines pass their PFT because you rock at leading PT or rewriting SOPs for your platoon so that at least you can internally function flawlessly. Relish those actions and the resulting successes. Quite often, someone will notice and your little change can spread throughout your unit or even beyond.
What’s next for you?
I am in a unique and fortunate position of not having to make a solid decision quite yet, but I am able to explore some of my other passions. I am currently staying at home with my young daughter and training for several races and triathlons. I may try for another degree in Nutrition and attempt to work somewhere in the field of nutrition in hopes of educating people in all walks of life about how important it is to fuel your body properly. I would love to work with the military again in some manner- I still feel a passionate call to serve those who continue to serve.
OK, great, what does that mean though? What value are we adding to a boat? Well, the North Dakota employed a REMUS 600, which is an autonomous underwater vehicle capable of achieving depths of over 4,900ft, speeds up to 4kts, and a battery life of up to 24 hours. It’s a little over 10ft long with an inertial navigation system and a lithium battery powering it all.
So what could you possibly do with this thing? How about finding the resting place for a WWII TBF Avenger and her crew? Here, a team from the Bent Prop Project and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography used a REMUS with an add-on side-scan sonar to localize a crash site and find the plane and her crew. Around 6:00 you can catch the REMUS in action.
I know we’re still rolling out Virginia class boats, but it’s not hard to envision the future SSNs acting as a mothership for drones.
Naval warfare, at the lowest level, revolves around destroying something before it can destroy you (an observation more akin to an utterance of John Madden than Sun Tzu, I know). So as result, we talk about warfare a lot in terms of ranges. How close can I get before something detects me? How far away can I detect it? At what range can I shoot it? When can it shoot me? The race to shoot the furthest led to the development of weapons systems (Phoenix air-to-air missile and Trident missile) before we built the platform to shoot it.
And while we often describe the range of a nuclear-powered submarine as unlimited, that doesn’t mean we can go just anywhere in the ocean. We’re constrained by water depths, and the minimum operating depth of a small, submarine-launched unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV/drones) would likely be shallower than the launching platform.
We’re expanding the area of where a submarine can make life miserable for the enemy. Check out that video again. Do you think we could put a submarine there to accomplish that task? We’ve now demonstrated that a submarine launched drone might able to access that territory. That’s why we should be excited about “DRONES.”
As an active duty military mother, I jumped for joy when I read the Navy’s new maternity leave policy giving women up to 18 weeks of paid leave after having a baby. I believe that this is a huge step in the right direction for the Navy in its quest for becoming a more competitive employer, and to retain top talent. But I don’t believe it will attract more women to stay because women aren’t leaving the military due to short maternity leave. It’s the pre-ordained military schedule that can make Navy life and motherhood so hard to balance.
My husband and I both graduated from the Naval Academy and both currently serve in the fleet. After several years working alongside many talented and ambitious female sailors who also hope to become mothers, I believe it’s crucial for the military to find new and creative ways to retain the women it has trained and developed.
As it stands today, mixing Navy life with motherhood is daunting. Take for example, the career path of a Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) (read: ship driver).
In Navy life, sailors go through multi-year periods where they deploy frequently and are away for six-month to year-long blocks at a time. Then, there are other periods when you are stationed stateside during a “shore tour.” These schedules are set in stone by the military, and make women and men go through complex calculations to decide if and when the timing will be right to have a baby.
The first shore tour is a really a female sailor’s first opportunity to start a family. This gives her three years to get pregnant, take her maternity leave, and enjoy quality time with her family. As someone currently in this position, I can say it’s pretty great! But, not all couples are ready or able to have a baby early in this window, and as your naval career progresses, it’s harder and harder to decide when to make time for baby.
The breaking point for me was when I began to realize what lies ahead for our family if things don’t change. The Navy requires you to fill out a Family Care Plan upon having a child, which assigns someone to look after your child when you and your spouse both have to go out to sea at the same time. It’s this factor, not the Navy’s maternity leave policy that forced the question “is my desire to serve the country worth spending these large chunks of time away from my daughter?”
For me, the cost outweighed the benefit. I still plan to work full time when I leave the military, but while my Mom may help out with my daughter on some work trips, she won’t be raising my child for six months while my husband and I are at sea. And, as I shop for a job in the public sector, it isn’t the maternity policy at Google that’s attracting me, or the free lunches, but instead, the feasibility of raising a family throughout a career. I’m looking for a future employer that can accommodate the reality that women have children, and that Millennials, in our increasingly digital age, want greater flexibility over where and when they do their jobs.
It’s a hard problem that the Navy faces, because the mission always has to come first, and sea and shore time should be equally shared across the force. I still think there are significant ways that the Navy can improve female retention:
1. Create a More Balanced Deployment Cycle. The submarine force has been able to maintain a six-month deployment timeline, whereas ships such as Aircraft Carriers and Ballistic Missile Defense Ships have lengthened their average time at sea to over nine months. This problem has reverberated deeper than female retention and is a major fleet problem. Reducing the amount of sea time will allow Navy families to increase their resilience.
2. Make the Career Path Tailorable. The way the Surface Warfare career path is right now, sea and shore time is grouped into three-four year blocks. Allowing more flexibility within this construct would allow individuals to create a career that works for them.
3. Expand the Navy’s Career Intermission Pilot Program (CIPP). Naval personnel can currently apply to take up to three years off in order to pursue civilian opportunities or start a family. Through this program you retain full health benefits as well as a monthly stipend and in return owe the Navy two months for every one month you take off. This program fits some situations and I believe it’s a step in the right direction, but the Navy should explore other options as well, such as the ability to transfer in and out of the reserves (maybe allowing personnel to take a longer hiatus), or the option to leave without pay and return without an added obligation.
4. Continue to Improve as a Family-Friendly Culture. Increased maternity leave and TRICARE adding coverage of breast pumps are positive steps in creating a more family-friendly culture within the Navy, but there’s more to be done. Personally, I had to voice my right to have a pumping space multiple times before I was finally presented the solution of an equipment storage closet; which I gladly accepted over the women’s restroom. In healthcare, many fertility treatment programs are only available to TRICARE beneficiaries and not the sponsor, which can be a problem if women wait until completing their sea time before starting a family.
5. Explore More Flexible Work Options. While stationed on a ship or submarine or dealing with classified material, sailors clearly need to be on a military installation, but there are many positions where a physical presence isn’t required. Increased opportunities for telework and flexible scheduling would allow families to create a routine that allows them to be successful in both their work and personal lives.
To stop the flow of talented women out of the Navy, we must stay focused on why these women are leaving. Only then will the military be able to retain the intelligent, motivated, and experienced women that are helping it to thrive.
Please join us on 7 June 15 at 5pm (EST) for Episode 283: The Foreign and Defense Policy Terrain :
As the world has set its own course as we have been planning other things, some believe that the 2016 election will be more focused on foreign policy and defense issues that any of the candidates thought would be the case at the end of last year.
What will be the above-the-fold topics? The baseline was set by the ’16 budget battle last year and the winding down and a post-mortem on the sequestration gambit of the last couple of years.
As proxies in the emerging discussion, to join the old bulls on the Hill, are there emerging new leaders on defense issues elected in the ’14 cycle?
Where do declared or expected candidates for President for both parties stand on policy and present operations?
To discuss this and more in the foreign policy and defense arena will be returning guest, Mackenzie Eaglen,
Mackenzie is a resident fellow in the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, where she works on defense strategy, defense budgets, and military readiness.
She has worked on defense issues in the House of Representatives and Senate and at the Pentagon in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and on the Joint Staff. In 2014, Eaglen served as a staff member of the congressionally mandated National Defense Panel, a bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission established to assess US defense interests and strategic objectives. This followed Eaglen’s previous work as a staff member for the 2010 congressionally mandated bipartisan Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel, also established to assess the Pentagon’s major defense strategy. A prolific writer on defense-related issues, she has also testified before Congress.
She has an M.A. from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a B.A. from Mercer University.
Yet, despite a review of Power Transition Theory examining why these states might come to blows, Ghost Fleet’s expedition into the near future primarily focuses on how such a great power conflict might be fought. Singer and Cole are at their best in teasing out the interplay between potential advances in emerging technologies – backed by impressive end-noting – rather than isolating the implications of a single capability. These range from Big Data and unmanned systems to additive manufacturing and augmented reality. The authors’ depictions of cutting-edge Chinese developments picking apart current U.S. weapons systems might make for queasy reading among some in the military. In this way it effectively serves to warn against complacency in presuming American technological superiority in conflict. But it bears remembering that success in employing the new capabilities detailed in Ghost Fleet, as in life, requires a level of creativity available (and not guaranteed) to both sides.
Singer and Cole also explore how the supposed American Way of War of grinding attrition, popularized by the eponymous 1973 Russell Weigley book, might fare in an age of offensive space and cyber weapons. In doing so they create intriguing portraits of empowered individuals (both socio-economically and skills-wise), expats, and a globalized defense industrial base on a war footing. Some of the most memorable scenes come from the juxtaposition of new capabilities with old operational concepts (occasionally set to the strains of Alice Cooper). Singer and Cole also ably confront readers with a reversal in the traditional role of U.S. forces in an insurgency and the ethical decisions it demands of them.
Ghost Fleet may be the authors’ first novel, but it’s not their first foray into helping tell a story. Singer has consulted on such projects as Activision’s “Call of Duty” video game franchise and honed his prose in such works as Wired for War, an earlier book on the future of robotics warfare. Cole meanwhile has been engaged in the development of insights on warfare by facilitating near-future science fiction writing at the Atlantic Council’s “Art of Future Warfare Project” (full disclosure: I had the opportunity to publish a short story of my own there). These experiences have paid off in a very enjoyable page-turner.
This is not to say Ghost Fleet is without flaws. One of the novel’s driving emotional stories, an estranged father-son relationship, never quite rings true. With an expansive and fast-moving narrative, a character here and subplot there trail off without satisfactory conclusion. Lastly, while the authors investigate many impacts of a war’s fallout on the U.S. Navy, including the resurrection of the ships of the book’s title and a call-up of retirees, they missed an opportunity to look at the complications a mobilization of existing Navy Reservists might cause. But such a minor sin of omission doesn’t detract from the overall merits of the work. Whether on a commute to the Pentagon or relaxing on a beach in the Hawaii Special Administrative Zone, readers will find Ghost Fleet a highly enjoyable, at times uncomfortable, and always thought-provoking read.
*It should be noted Singer and Cole don’t tie those nation’s current regimes to their countries’ futures, and in doing so remind readers that what would follow a collapse of the Chinese Communist Party is not necessarily more amenable to U.S. or Western interests.
The fifth season of the HBO hit-series Game of Thrones is here! I’m excited, as are millions of die-hard fans across the country. To prepare for the imminent launch, I re-watched all four of the previous seasons, episode by episode. In that first season, an interesting event takes place, where a young man, Jon Snow, is given his duty assignment. He is about to take an oath to serve for life in the Night’s Watch. He has prepared for years to be a Ranger – a fighter and swordsman. Instead he is assigned as a Steward. Jon Snow is crushed. He hasn’t taken the oath of service yet, and he contemplates leaving the Night’s Watch to avoid a life of inglorious servitude as a steward. His friend Sam convinces him to stay, reminding him that service is about more than his own selfish desires. Jon Snow takes the oath later in the episode.
It brought me back to my own service selection. I dreamed for years and years of becoming a Marine Corps Officer. At the Naval Academy that fateful day in November of 2009, I received troubling news – I had been selected to become a Surface Warfare Officer. Over the years since I have often been asked if I wanted to become a SWO. My standard reply is that it was one of my top six choices. The humor gets me through the moment, and the conversation moves on.
I’m working now at the Academy, preparing to take over as a company officer this summer, just in time for the Plebe Class of 2019 to arrive for I-Day. I am a proud Surface Warfare Officer and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I have been to more overseas ports than I can count over two deployments, have navigated tens of thousands of miles at sea, and served with some of the bravest, smartest and most loyal Sailors the world has ever seen.
Much of the conversation within the walls of the Academy frequently turns to an age-old symptom of the institution – cynicism within the Brigade. Midshipmen sometimes complain that they aren’t treated like future naval officers and that they aren’t doing real work to prepare themselves to become the leaders of those fine Sailors and Marines. “I’m going to fly jets, why do I need to learn about buoy systems in the Western Rivers” is just one example. In teaching leadership on the yard, we strive for every class to fight that mentality, to prove to these young Midshipmen that their training is exceptional and that they will be well prepared to lead upon commissioning. Sometimes I fear that we aren’t doing enough, that the Midshipmen are right, and that we are sending our future junior officers to the fleet without the preparation needed to fulfill their duties. For the graduating Midshipmen, winter is coming, and many aren’t ready to handle a sword.
I don’t know entirely where the cynicism comes from, but I have a theory. Everything for these Midshipmen centers around one key event – service selection. Competition is fierce within the Brigade. Classmates vie for position and jossle for rank as if they were in Westeros, the fictional land of Game of Thrones. There are only so many slots for SEALs, Marines, Submariners, Aviators, and today even SWOs. Midshipmen study diligently to get good grades, so that their order of merit is high enough to get the service selection they want. Many spend more effort on good grades to earn that service selection, but in doing so disregard the very skill sets required to be successful naval officers – pro-knowledge is an afterthought and weighted minimally when compared to calculus and chemistry. The drive for service assignment goes beyond academics, of course. They perform with vigor on the PT fields to notch themselves up for the same purpose. Those wanting Marines join the Semper Fi Society, those seeking to become SEALs test themselves and compete against their classmates in arduous screeners.
That day in November, the Firsties learn their fates. Most are overjoyed – a good thing, no doubt. A few feel despair. These are the ones we should worry about. These are the examples that feed the cynicism – working hard may not be enough. These are the few who enter the fleet sullen, downcast and doubtful. These are the ones most unprepared for their future roles, having spent all of their efforts learning about fire team movements and squad assaults instead of honing their shiphandling skills on the YPs. These are the few who, in my opinion, are the least likely to commit themselves to a full career of service and will leave at the earliest opportunity.
Even those who earn their top choice are too hastily prepared for the training to be effective, meaning that the Chief’s Mess, Department Heads, and Commanding Officers are burdened with teaching junior officers skillsets and professional knowledge they should have mastered at the Naval Academy. The unit leadership should be focused on advanced training – on defeating multiple threats simultaneously, mastering complex engineering systems and conditioning our new Ensigns and Second Lieutenants to become outstanding naval leaders. Instead, they are too busy teaching standard commands, basic maintenance protocols and general military socialization.
What if we changed something? What if we moved service selection to the end of Youngster (sophomore) year? By that time, Midshipmen will have been able to establish their grades, competed in screeners, etc., at least enough for the Academy to choose wisely between them. We could move PROTRAMID, a fleet-wide round-robin experience to expose the Midshipmen to the various communities to the end of Plebe year, just like the NROTC currently does, to allow our new Youngsters the opportunity to see what fits them best. Most Plebes know what they want to service select before they climb Herndon, while the rest of the class would have another year to weigh the decision.
This change has several notable benefits. First, it eliminates competition amongst classmates during their junior and senior years, allowing for greater opportunity to hone leadership and professional skills in Bancroft. Second, it provides two full years, instead of a meager four months, for Midshipmen to hone their practical skills, affording them the chance to excel in tactical and technical competence from day one in the fleet. Marine selectees will have two years to practice ground tactics. Aviators have two years to pass IFS, easing the burden on Pensacola and the subsequent stashing of officers on the Yard until flight school begins. SWOs can master navigation and shiphandling before setting foot on the bridge of a destroyer. Third, if we rearrange the course loads, we can eliminate the cynicism that arises from taking courses that Midshipmen see as irrelevant, such as Marine wannabes having to struggle through seamanship and navigation courses. Fourth, and possibly most importantly, it allows Midshipmen a choice. They now know what they will be doing for their careers and if those few who don’t earn what they want choose to leave before signing their commitment papers the next Fall, the fleet will benefit from a drop in uncommitted and unenthusiastic naval officers. If a Midshipman is so disappointed in his or her service assignment, he or she doesn’t have to come back to poison the well back in Bancroft, or worse yet, carry that attitude into the fleet. Furthermore, by encouraging choice, we disrupt cynicism about being treated like children – a Midshipmen knows full-well what he or she is getting into when they sign on the line which is dotted.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus recently spoke to the brigade about a number of institutional changes aimed at improving talent management and retention. He mentioned that the Academy is already moving towards a system that seeks to match talent to title and is less dependent on class rank. He and his staff clearly understand that change is needed, not only for its effect on the yard but also downrange in the fleet. This proposal provides an avenue for that change, even if it is one of many. In combat, a coordinated simultaneous time-on-top attack is always preferred to a slew of single efforts and I believe that changing the timeframe for service selection is a key weapon in the fight against complacency and cynicism to ensure we maintain the highest level of combat readiness throughout the fleet. Even if our ships rust and our airframes crack, our people must remain sharp and steadfast.
Choice is nobody’s enemy. While I don’t have the same flowing locks and sword skills as Jon Snow, I empathize with his decision. I didn’t want to be a SWO, at least not initially, but my call to service outweighed my selfishness. I figured that if I was going to be a SWO, I would try my damndest to excel at it. Under this proposed change, there will still be plenty of disappointed Midshipmen who put their country before themselves and will accept what they earned with grace and humility. They will remember that service and leadership are what count, not the uniform they wear or the devices on their chest.
We are often quick to judge, in forums such as this. When one makes a mistake, exhibits an error in judgment, or nonsensically hews to an outdated tradition, we tend to skewer that person and then enunciate all of the ways it should have been done. We are amateur critics in a profession of arms.
But these forums can also be places where we give thanks. And today, we give hearty thanks to the many hundreds of officers and enlisted whose efforts resulted in Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’s speech at the United States Naval Academy on Wednesday. For the first time in years, the US Navy is instituting sweeping changes to reform the way we manage talent and retain our people.
For those unfamiliar, some of these policy shifts include:
-A market-based system for service selection and billets
-Expand the Command Advancement Program by replacing it with the Meritorious Advancement Program
-End GMT requirements via NKO; leave training to CO discretion
-Increase civilian graduate school and industry opportunities
-Replace promotion zones with weighted milestone achievements
-Eliminate year groups for officer management and promotion
-Changes to the PFA, including how we determine acceptable body composition
-FITREP changes for performance
-24-hour access to fitness facilities
-Increase hours at child care facilities
-Improve the co-location policy
To be sure, these efforts will not be without critics; some of them require the acquiescence of Congress. These efforts will not be without some confusion, as sailors attempt to get used to a new way of advancing or running the PRT. And these efforts will not be without calamity, as a few bad apples often find the way to take advantage of new benefits they haven’t earned.
But the actions of Secretary Mabus are a clear signal to the ranks: when he says “we’re listening,” it is not simple lip service. And that is refreshing.
So, thank you, Secretary Mabus, and all the countless individuals who have written about, debated, briefed, and taken action on the issues of talent management. While there is still much more work to do and a long way to go, this leadership has proven that, of all the services, the Navy is the best place to work and to serve.
Continue to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more.
- Rebuttal To “Advocating Naval Heresy” by Captain R. B. Watts, USCG (Retired) USNI PROCEEDINGS, June 2015
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- On Midrats 4 Oct 2015 – Episode 300: USS Neosho (AO-23),USS Sims (DD-409) and the Battle of the Coral Sea
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