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In 1805, Boston’s Frederic Tudor stumbled upon the most innovative idea of his life. The global economy would actually pay handsomely for ice harvested and shipped from New England. Within fifty years, Tudor grew that idea into a highly profitable industry, shipping this new commodity throughout the U.S. and internationally. He didn’t even flinch with the invention of a new machine that could produce ice anywhere in the world. Large, cumbersome, and expensive, the machine produced ice that came at nearly 21 times the cost of Tudor’s harvested ice. Slowly the industrial ice maker became more efficient and less expensive. Tudor and the entire New England ice-harvesting industry lost much of their market share. Stiffening their resolve in the face of steadily waning profits and a changing technological landscape, they doubled down and invested in more effective ice harvesting techniques that would allow them to harvest more ice than they ever had before. The nail in the coffin for the ice harvesting industry came in the 1940s with the invention of the refrigerator which allowed consumers to make their own ice.
In retrospect, their fate seems painfully obvious. However, their problem is a human problem. We create organizations and services that are sustainable, improving incrementally over time, rather than the drastic transformations necessary to evolve. Known as the innovator’s dilemma, ideas are rejected that do not conform to the pre-existing business models that generated the initial success. This lesson shouldn’t be lost on the United States Marine Corps. Our Commandant has challenged us to “Innovate, Adapt, Win”, based upon a rich history of adapting and innovating. We consider ourselves able to accomplish any mission; to be ready when the national calls. However, the modern age of resource commons, digital technology, and social globalization is transforming the world around us, while we remain unmoved. We must inculcate a culture of innovation throughout the Corps, by rapidly and cheaply testing new ideas, empowering visionary Marines across ranks and communities, embracing learning through failure, and disrupting our own 20th century warfighting models with new tactics and modern, inexpensive, and impactful technologies.
Everything Old Is New Again
The evolution of innovation is no accident, nor is it a passing fad. The past 100 years of glorious success and excruciating industry collapse have borne out the approaches required for systematic innovation. Those approaches can be classified into the following strategies: Acquire, Accelerate, or Incubate. Corporations may choose to either acquire a disruptive new startup, accelerate that startup by funding it and gaining a controlling equity in the process, or they can incubate internally. Incubation empowers their existing entrepreneurially-minded employees to act like startups, but within a relatively protected corporate harbor. All these approaches hold to a consistent set of mantras: “Think Big”, “Start Small”, “Fail Fast”, “Invest Minimally”, “Learn Continually”, and “Validate As You Go”. Somewhat surprisingly, these words should sound very familiar to those versed in Marine Corps history and maneuver warfare doctrine. However, to those recently or currently serving in the Marine Corps, those same words prove discordant with our current Corps culture. Since this discordance is debatable, let’s explore each mantra.
- Think Big. Marines are often challenged to ‘think outside the box’. We also require that same Marine to be realistic in their approaches and to practice strict obedience to organizational and rank-based hierarchies. Although necessary for the instantaneous obedience to orders required for combat, these requirements directly suppress the promotion of unorthodox ideas. Particularly those that challenge core values or practices, and yet those ideas are exactly what is needed in order to identify our vulnerabilities.
- Start Small. We routinely emphasize this mantra at the tactical, deployed, mission planning environment. However, outside of that specific environment, we assemble like-minded Marines into a U-shaped ambush around a projected computer screen and heroically execute the Marine Corps Planning Process (MCPP) as the only trusted methodology to solve problems. We develop plans with the knowledge that the plan won’t ‘survive first contact’. Nonetheless, we still demand fully developed requirements that are meant to mitigate all possible risk.
- Fail Fast. Failure, at nearly all levels, is typically cause for reprimand either socially, verbally, or formally. Even earnestly intended experimentation often results in punishment for ‘good initiative, poor execution.’ This mentality has caused some to argue that our promotion and assignment system encourages status quo behavior that incentivizes Marines to perform minimally so that they may simply survive until retirement.
- Invest Minimally. The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) has crippled our combat development and acquisitions cycles. They have become so obfuscated that it now requires decades of experience, certifications, and graduate degrees to navigate them. These processes are designed to handle high-dollar, high-risk, weapons systems. Those same processes are fundamentally at odds with modern, cheap, and rapidly developed information and communication technologies. Recently published efforts have begun to allow faster, cheaper, and more responsive acquisition models. However, it remains to be seen whether this will result in any near-term change in the subsequent processes and mindsets of the individuals who implement and control these processes.
- Learn Continually. Should our requirements make it through the combat development and acquisitions crucible, they will find a home within a solutions development office from across the range of doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, personnel, and facilities. These offices are designed to execute requirements planning documents and carry a program throughout its lifecycle. Slow or nonexistent warfighter feedback mechanisms do not allow solution developers to pivot on that warfighter’s emerging needs. Similarly, solution developers are challenged to adjust the initial requirement based upon a more clarified understanding. Requirements creep has become a dirty word, rewarding requirements inflexibility.
- Validate As You Go. Our experiments and operational tests are planned and executed in large cycles, usually taking years to develop a wargame or field test. For that reason, there is no option for mid-execution assessment and cancellation of the experiment. Even a basic understanding of the scientific process shows us that experiments are designed to be small and incremental in nature, and be halted at the earliest possible opportunity.
Self-Examination: The State of Marine Corps Innovation
Nearly every facet of our modern lives, from how we communicate, create, lead, entertain, and educate, has seen a drastic transformation outside the gates of our bases. Despite this, the Corps woefully lags behind in creating or even following a similar transformation. Cloud computing has combined with lightweight apps and mobile devices to offer overwhelming potential for military capability, but Marine Corps implementation of any of these technologies remains nascent at best. Nearly a decade has passed since the global revolution of smartphones and tablets, and yet these items haven’t been measurably integrated into our force. It’s been over 12 years since social networking has turned into a trillion-dollar market, but we haven’t managed to find any role for it within our Corps. These examples are representative of a much larger problem, one recognized across the military. On April 8th, 2015, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work stated “Our technological superiority is slipping. We see it every day.” We innovate linearly in a world where Moore’s law dominates with exponential increases in technology. We must then expect a high risk future state where we are unable to incorporate the technology used by outside industry. Or worse still, the military’s inability to innovate restrains the progression of our military-industrial complex. Our current emerging innovation projects are in name only, watered down to suggestion boxes and process improvement training. Augmented reality, robotics, and 3-D printing could fundamentally transform who, what, when, where, how, and even why we deploy our force. New technologies are able to drive disruptive innovations and social change. These shifts have altered how individuals, businesses, and nations function, yet our Corps remains largely unchanged. The Marine Corps must look to new models to innovate, integrate new technologies, anticipate disruption, and rapidly transform itself.
Innovating From The Core, For The Corps
A fundamentally different approach to innovation in the Marine Corps is needed. The program must look, feel, and sound different than anything we have done in the past. However, it will largely be a return to a time when our Corps was permitted to fail, to experiment, to be nimble, and to be genuinely creative. The approach I recommend builds directly upon the incubator innovation engines found within 80% of the S&P 100, such as GE, 3M, and Adobe. In addition to this, incubation has been adopted by forward thinking government organizations, such as the National Security Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Aeronautics and Space Agency. A Marine Corps innovation incubator will foster new ideas, develop those ideas through deliberate and anonymous collaboration, build minimum investment prototypes with specialized teams of experts, and transition those prototypes into formal capabilities. The approach won’t be detailed here, but it can be thought of as a mashed-up process that crowdsources both support and ideas like Kickstarter, builds prototypes like Mythbusters, and invests resources like SharkTank. The program will use a modern, web-based, mobile-friendly, platform that is centered upon transparency, open collaboration, and empowering Marines to behave as entrepreneurs and investors. Participation is incentivized through unique and refreshing methods that are far beyond the simple and relatively ineffective approach of cash pay outs.
Why An Innovation Engine At All?
It’s reasonable to ask why a new approach to innovation is even needed. After all, we already have several activities that serve some type of innovation function and currently produce capabilities. However, we must recognize that there are endemic problems that exist today which aren’t being addressed by current approaches. Although an innovation engine like the one discussed above will never be a silver bullet solution, there are several advantages that have been proven out by the corporations and government agencies which have implemented these engines.
- People. We empower our Marines and civilians to own the future of their Marine Corps, giving them greater value to the Corps and themselves. Our visionaries are recognized and embraced, rather than marginalized. Further, we capitalize on the strengths of the incoming generation’s ability to use technology and social platforms to create change.
- Capability. We can now rapidly and efficiently test a high quantity of ideas in order to fail our way towards success. This strategy is built upon principles found in MCDP-1 Warfighting, and has been shown to develop richer and more beneficial capabilities within industry. Strategic risks are mitigated by exploring both near and future-term disruptive ideas, before an adversary can discover them. We can also directly and transparently identify deficiencies in current capabilities. Conversely, solutions developers and leadership can now engage with a Marine directly to develop creative solutions to those deficiencies.
- Culture. We promote our innovative spirit while demonstrating willingness to adapt to any future condition. This sends a strong message of stepping away from current risk-averse, zero-failure culture. We outwardly display eagerness for innovation, bringing in entrepreneurs and startups to support the innovation program itself. Such a display provides a crucial bridge to the incoming generation of Marine Corps recruits and future business leaders of America.
Our own history, in conjunction with modern corporate innovation approaches, has blazed a trail towards innovation. These modern approaches are even more important in today’s constantly changing digital world. Any modern bureaucracy, to include the Marine Corps, must seriously consider how innovation can be used to evolve the organization. Nowhere does the popular mantra of “Innovate or Die” hold truer. However, success in innovation demands enthusiastic support from every leader, as well as Corps-wide participation. Our Marine esprit has primed us for success, if we may only direct it towards transformative approaches to innovation. This transformation cannot come too soon. Today’s technologies are rapidly driving down the cost to innovate. For the Marine Corps, the cost of failure is simply too high to continue harvesting ice.
Please join us Sunday, 15 March 2015 at 5pm (U.S. EDT) for Midrats Episode 271: “Red Flag and the Development USAF Fighter Pilots”
In parallel efforts that in the Navy which led to Top Gun, the US Air Force looked hard at the lessons of air to air combat in the Vietnam War and brought forward “Red Flag,”
Moving beyond the technical focus, they looked to training and
fundamentals to bring back a primacy of combat skills.
Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and his new book, The Air Force Way of War: U.S. Tactics and Training after Vietnam, will be
Dr. Brian D. Laslie, Deputy Command Historian, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM).
A historian of air power studies, Dr. Laslie received his Bachelor’s degree in history from The Citadel: The Military College of South Carolina, his Master’s from Auburn University Montgomery in 2006 and his Doctorate from Kansas State University in 2013.
Dr. Laslie was Honorably Discharged from the United States Air Force in 2007 as a Captain after serving as a logistics officer, doctrine instructor, and Action Officer to the Commander of Air University.
On the heels of Misso and O’Keefe’s excellent piece calling for an increase to the already healthy pool of critical-but-constructive JO writing, “Stick Your Neck Out,” James Fallows at the Atlantic has published in an unfortunately different tack, “Two Young Officers on How the Country Let the Military Down, and Vice Versa,” showing the state of the military from a “I’m out” angry mic-drop perspective. Now, he has published a follow-up this morning, “A Reform the Military is Undertaking,” with some Junior Officer (JO) responses, but we all still need to have a chat.
Guys, I feel for the two officers’ sense of frustration – but this growing stream of solutionless exit-route bitterness is becoming too much a staple in corners of dialogue on the military. The vast forest is often missed for the particularly striking burning trees – and attention to the unofficial public debate seems to occur as an responsorial afterthought rather than the main thrust of our discussion. In some cases, you may even do a dis-service to a well-meaning JO whose writing may be shocking and a traffic generator, but fails to follow the advice of Brett Friedman on sound JO approaches to problem solving and writing.
If you find yourself with a fiery tome written by an O-2 or terminal O-3 who has been pounding away at their keyboard in well-meaning isolation – don’t do yourself and them the discredit by using it as a tool for pulling in clicks. Consider doing your and their credibility a favor, as a believer in the civil-military dialogue: put them in touch with someone you know in uniform, who you would trust to help that young JO add the tact and fact-checking necessary to make a truly incisive piece. Force them, before publishing, to grapple with the concrete realities that mold their institution and how they would see these realities shifted through implementable solutions. Remind them about the size of their institution with its indirect paths of change or glacial pace. You might suggest that, perhaps with time, their passion for change and continued service could see those or other changes come to pass. Hey, maybe just send them to one of us for a quick look-over?
Journalists, academics, enthusiasts… let’s have some real talk. If you want to write about the military, its culture, or the technical, tactical, operational, and strategic concerns of its members – you can always listen to the one’s who are still in, trying to understand, pursuing solutions, but are still sometimes frustrated (if that’s what you’re looking for). Some of you do listen, and you have our thanks – perhaps some of us have even bought you a beer as part of that civil-military dialogue. There exists whole constellations of critical-but-constructive JO’s and J(ish)O’s writing, with the occasional peppering of responses or even policy from GO/FO’s – all accessible to you every day:
- USNI Blog
- Center for International Maritime Security’s NEXTWAR Blog and meet-ups
- CIMSEC’s Sea Control Podcast
- War on the Rocks
- War on the Rocks Podcast
- The Bridge
- Small Wars Journal
- CDR Salamander
- John Q Public
- Duffel Blog (no, really – in parody is often truth)
- Athena Project
- The former “Greenie Board” (RIP)
- Defense Entrepreneurs Forum
- Task and Purpose
- BJ Armstrong’s 21st Century Mahan and 21st Century Sims (available on Amazon!)
- Twitter (sad, but true)
- From the Green Notebook
- The Military Leader
- Company Command and Platoon Leader Forum
- Information Dominance Corps Self Synchronization Facebook Page
- and many more
I have said this before, if we want to build a better civil-military understanding, I beg you start paying attention to the debate happening in the public writings of those servicemembers you want to understand. Though there is a place for appreciating the pure critics and exit-route mic-droppers; their views should not be the main drumbeat of our dialogue. To be fair, many of us who write regularly are a self-selected group – there still remains a vast space in which to encourage JOs to write. Those in the public space who avail themselves for those writings are doing a service, but the cherry picking and lack of guidance in the production of shocking JO posts does no service to your legitimacy among those you wish to discuss, and misinforms – or only partially informs – the public you are attempting to explain us to.
You want controversy, you want to see the battle of ideas, you want characters, you want stories… they’re all out there. The shooting stars may grab attention, but the constellations in the night sky are how we should navigate.
Where do senior uniformed leaders draw the line between acknowledging the primacy of civilian leadership to make policy, and maintaining enough distance from the politics to retain their independence of the politics and the politicians?
Is there a point where someone can pass from being a “good soldier” to simply becoming a useful tool of ambitious politicians.
Our guest this Sunday to discuss this and more will be J.D. Gordon, CDR USN (Ret.) We will be using his latest article, “Obama’s top military advisers: ‘Useful idiots’ or good military officers?” as a starting off point before broadening the discussion.
J. D. Gordon was a career Navy public affairs officer with 20 years of active duty service, and is the former Defense Department spokesman for the Western Hemisphere in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, serving under both Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary Robert Gates from 2005 to 2009.
Gordon also served as the Vice President, Communications and Chief Foreign Policy and National Security Adviser to former Republican Presidential Candidate Herman Cain’s 2012 campaign. During the 2010 Congressional campaign cycle, Gordon arranged speaking events for former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Recently, Gordon has also been a Senior Fellow and Communications Adviser to numerous think tanks and foundations, including Atlas Economic Research Foundation, Center for a Secure Free Society, Americas Forum, Atlantic Bridge, Center for Security Policy, Let Freedom Ring and the Liberty and; Freedom Foundation.
Gordon, a columnist to Fox News and The Washington Times since 2010, has regularly appeared as a national security and foreign policy commentator in television and radio outlets in English and Spanish languages.
Remember, that’s 5pm Sunday EST, after you’ve adjusted your clocks.
As reported by our friend Sam last week, there is a answer to the quandry about the French sale of the two MISTRAL amphibious assault ships to the Russians. It really is the most logical and face saving option for the French. This time it was brought up by Admiral James G. Stavridis, USN (Ret.),
“France has made a good decision stopping the sale process — it would be absurd for NATO to be providing assistance to Ukraine on the one hand while selling arms to Russia on the other,” said retired James G. Stavridis — U.S. Naval Institute’s Chair of the Board of Directors — said in a statement to USNI News.
“If the [Russian] arms embargo continues, then the idea of NATO purchasing one or even two as part of a rapid reaction force might make sense… “[But] it is too soon to tell, given discussion today about ceasefires and political settlement.”
Let’s work through a few assumptions here:
1. NATO could hobble together the funding and agree to the purchase.
2. The French are willing to handle the blowback from the Russian.
3. We have a spark of imagination.
If 1-3 are taken care of, what would NATO do with them? Stavridis is close … but there is a more perfect answer, and it is closer than you would think.
The intellectual and practical structure is already in place. Let’s look at the closest enabling supports of a successful structure inside NATO that would need to be in place to make this happen. We have two.
First, can NATO run a tactical and operational unit with personnel from multiple nations working together at a practical level? Sure, they already are. Let’s look to the air;
The E-3A Component’s three flying squadrons are structured essentially the same, yet each carries its own traditions and character. The squadrons operate the Component’s 17 E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft.
Military personnel from 16 of the 17 E-3A Component participating countries man the Component’s squadrons. Most of the personnel are aircrew on the E-3A and a few work full time in support. ….
In order to operate the complex equipment on an AWACS, the E-3A has a crew of 16 drawn from a variety of branches, trades and nationalities, all of whom are extensively trained in their respective roles.
NATO has been making it happen in the air for a quarter of a century in the air, why not the sea?
Does that structure exist? Well, in a fashion, yes;
Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 and 2
The Standing NATO Maritime Groups are a multinational, integrated maritime force made up of vessels from various allied countries. These vessels are permanently available to NATO to perform different tasks ranging from participating in exercises to actually intervening in operational missions. These groups provide NATO with a continuous maritime capability for NATO Response Force (NRF) operations, non-NRF operations and other activities in peacetime and in periods of crisis and conflict. They also help to establish Alliance presence, demonstrate solidarity, conduct routine diplomatic visits to different countries, support transformation and provide a variety of maritime military capabilities to ongoing missions.
SNMG1 and SNMG2 alternate according to the operational needs of the Alliance, therefore helping to maintain optimal flexibility.
SNMG1 is usually employed in the Eastern Atlantic area, but it can deploy anywhere NATO requires. It is made up of vessels from different member countries. Those that routinely contribute to SNMG1 are Canada, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and the United States. Other countries have occasionally contributed.
SNMG2 is usually employed in the Mediterranean area, but it can deploy anywhere NATO requires. It is made up of vessels from different member countries. Those that routinely contribute to SNMG2 are Germany, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. Other countries have occasionally contributed.
SNMG1 comes under the command of Allied Maritime Component Command Headquarters Northwood, in the United Kingdom, which is one of the three Component Commands of Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum.
Normally, SNMG2 comes under the command of Allied Maritime Component Command (CC-Mar) Naples, which is one of the three Component Commands of Allied Joint Force Command Naples.
There’s your structure – something that just needs a little modification and updating. You know what SNMG1 and SMNG2 need? That’s right – Flag Ships; standing permanent LCCesque Flag Ships. Two SNMG, two Mistral; a match made if not in heaven, then at least in Brussels.
Think about what the SNMG do, ponder a multi-national crew (even sweeten the deal by promising the French they will always have command of the SNMG2 Flag Ship), and look at what the MISTRAL Class brings to the fight. A bit larger than the old IWO JIMA LPH with a well deck to boot, MISTRAL provides;
The flight deck of each ship is approximately 6,400 square metres (69,000 sq ft). The deck has six helicopter landing spots, one of which is capable of supporting a 33 tonne helicopter. … According to Mistral’s first commanding officer, Capitaine de vaisseau Gilles Humeau, the size of the flight and hangar decks would allow the operation of up to thirty helicopters.
Mistral-class ships can accommodate up to 450 soldiers, … The 2,650-square-metre (28,500 sq ft) vehicle hangar can carry a 40-strong Leclerc tank battalion, or a 13-strong Leclerc tank company and 46 other vehicles.
The 885-square-metre (9,530 sq ft) well deck can accommodate four landing craft. The ships are capable of operating two LCAC hovercraft … a 850-square-metre (9,100 sq ft) command centre which can host up to 150 personnel. … Each ship carries a NATO Role 3 medical facility … The 900 m² hospital provides 20 rooms and 69 hospitalisation beds, of which 7 are fit for intensive care.
A little NATO common funding and we have two NATO LCC and then some. Problem solved. Understanding that it will require a fair bit of turnip squeezing to keep funded at a proper level, but there is a lot of win here – and to be a bit more realpolitic – it may be the only way to peel these away from the Russians.
Homelessness is a difficult social issue that faces Americans head-on on a daily basis. Though it can be a complex issue made up of a myriad of different personal stories and unimaginable circumstances, a subset of those affected – homeless veterans – is a particularly painful reality – a reality that must change.
Homelessness is defined in Title 42 of U.S. Code as,
an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence and an individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is a supervised…shelter, an institution that provides temporary residence for individuals meant to be institutionalized, or a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping place for human beings.
Government estimates put the number of homeless Americans as up to 3 million a year, yet many in our society continue to walk with their eyes averted. Members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee attempted to provide amplifying sentiment when they stated, “People don’t want to look at the homeless. But they will look at, or think about, or maybe support, dealing with homeless veterans.” Was their statement accurate, though? Do people pay more attention to homeless veterans, or was that merely wishful thinking or political side-stepping? Due to the inherently transient nature of those on the streets, not to mention the unwillingness of many to speak about their undesirable lot in life, it is incredibly difficult to take an accurate census of the homeless population. Informed estimates by government and non-profit organizations, though, put the total at nearly 300,000 homeless veterans in our country in a given year. In the 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, the Department of Housing and Urban Development stated that no less than 60,000 veterans sleep without a roof over their heads on any given night.
Fifty percent of homeless veterans are younger than 50 years old – nearly double the percentage of total veterans between the ages of 18 and 50. A small number of veterans from World War Two and Korea remain on the streets, and the balance span our nation’s modern history of uniformed service: from the under-appreciated veterans of Vietnam to the continuously lauded veterans of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. Young and old, our nation’s most noble citizens – those who volunteered to serve their country – are stricken with hardships, hopelessness, and illnesses and live without even the most basic dignities that so many of us take for granted.
In 2009, President Barack Obama made a much-publicized announcement that kicked off the Department of Veterans Affairs’ initiative to end Veteran Homelessness by 2015: “Until we reach a day when not a single veteran sleeps on our nation’s streets, our work remains unfinished.” According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, he was the first American President to demand an end to this critical, but often overlooked, social problem. Though many saw his pledge as overly ambitious, the VA’s initiative has received Congressional support and is progressing smartly. Whether the goal will be met remains to be seen.
Though we as citizens should work towards eradicating homelessness in our country, we as service members, veterans, and part of the extended military family must not tolerate our society’s continued habit of looking the other way and ignoring those who served it so honorably. Men and women who served our country – many of them putting their lives on the line – should not be without a roof, and a safe place to lay their heads.
There are a number of ways to get involved and to help our brothers and sisters in arms who are down on their luck. Community-based volunteer organizations and networks provide valuable services ranging from medical care to food and shelter. Donating money, food, clothing, and other life items to shelters is always appreciated, as is dedicating time to serve as a mentor, counselor, or friend to those in need. Organizations like The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and Veterans Village of San Diego, as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs itself, all pose great opportunities to help make a difference in this fight to leave no man behind. Another important step is raising awareness.
Lieutenant Jackie Perez is a graduate of MIT and a Surface Warfare Officer (Nuclear), having served around the world and in combat operations in the Middle East. She recently transitioned to the Naval Reserve so that she could pursue her dreams of becoming a filmmaker. She now lives in California where she continues her service to our country and works as a civilian in Hollywood. She is socially conscious, volunteers at local organizations, and cares deeply about this issue. In her capacity as a young filmmaker, she is looking to highlight this issue in a short film and link the roles of our veterans to the greater society that we all enjoy.
The Music Bed is now running a contest called #projectfilmsupply, which will award generous film-industry support to three aspiring directors in order to bring their inspirational abstracts to life. LT Perez’ short-film project, My Fellow American, focuses on the issue of Veteran Homelessness and how it is approached by a society that often chooses to keep its head down instead of engaging our nation’s former warriors. The contest, which requires abstracts to be inspirational in nature, will be decided by the Public’s online votes (confirmed via email to ensure contest integrity). While we all might say that we want to get involved, LT Perez is doing it. This is an important project that should come to life and if it wins, the director, cast and crew will all be veterans, ensuring this story is told by those who share in the brotherhood of those they seek to support.
It is easy to avert your gaze or to come up with judgements as to why a person may be homeless, but it is much more difficult to recognize the scope of the problem and to take that first step towards making a difference. Please consider getting involved in your local community. Support the work of people like LT Perez with your vote, and remember that it is not in our code to leave our comrades in the field, cold, scared, and wondering if anyone will ever come to their aid.
Since coming ashore as an NROTC Assistant Professor, I have come to wonder why poems and literature at sea are losing popularity amongst our ranks. Perhaps the mystery and feel of navy life has been diminished – Electronic Chart Data Information System (ECDIS-N) does not have the feel of a sextant and receiving storm data vis-à-vis Meteorological Officers in Hawaii isn’t the same as predicting gales using weather gauges.
Many officers and sailors have talked to me about “how interesting navy life used to be,” or have confessed, “it isn’t the same anymore.” These are accurate observations and I think that an organization with a rich history such as ours deserves admiration. Nevertheless, this is the best time to be in the Navy. Women and minorities serve at equal status with their white male counterparts; sailors have more support networks then ever before; and social media allows many of us to communicate with our families in nearly real time. Our sensory connections with the duties we perform at sea are indeed not what they once were, but does this necessarily mean we are less inclined to write about the encompassing power of our planet’s restless and mysterious waters?
Despite the interest our careers inspire amongst men and women of all ages, there has been a considerable decline in literary reminiscences over the last few years. Instead of using turning to pen and paper to share and confess our thoughts, we merely use hash tags and click ‘share.’
The nineteenth century gave us Walt Whitman, Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad; the early twentieth century produced Jack London and Patrick O’Brien. They were sailors with the ability to portray sea life from a variety of perspectives that engaged readers at their core. Although their work was primarily fiction, I’d offer that the difference between fiction and reality is razor thin. The stories poignantly reveal human nature at sea and provide meaning that all of us can relate to. Like these famed authors, we too must strive to make meaning in what we do and then portray this cogently to the public domain and each other.
Popular writers have weighed in, but their contributions are not necessarily accurate. The April 19 New Yorker article “Shipmates: Life on an Aircraft Carrier” by Geoff Dyer, ended with the same dubious colloquialism every landlubber surmises. “When, at last, I was back on the very dry land of Bahrain, I checked in at a hotel, went up to my room, and showered for a long time. The water felt cleaner, more sparkling [. . .] I looked out the window at the empty cityscape and experienced another revelation: I could go for a walk!” Similarly, the only question Thomas Friedman asks a young junior officer when he rode the USS New Mexico for one night was “how do all of you stand being away from your families for so long underwater, receiving only a two-sentence ‘family-gram’ once a week?”
I would contest we are not simply motivated by the same social connotations that our civilian counterparts enjoy. We are sailors. We come from a different breed and our lives by nature do not possess the homogeneous social norms of our civilian counterparts. Although we may have put to sea for a variety of reasons – service to our nation, learn new skills, earn the GI Bill – all of us have been affected by the wonders of navy life; our lives sharpened by the life on the seas. Some of the mystery is gone, but the beauty still remains.
Proceedings and other naval publications primarily exist to discuss and debate naval doctrine, but it should also reflect on our social experiences in a meaningful way. To be honest, I have never mused about the powers of Aegis beneath the vast night sky, with the dust of the Milky Way scattered as far as the eye can see. Even though the Main Propulsion Assistant and the senior gas turbine technician could recite each valve within the main drainage system by memory, we never argued too much about engineering improvements that our senior leaders should be pursuing. We told sea stories, discussed books and history, laughed as we reenacted scenes in our favorite movies, and then went about our duties.
Mahan’s diary as a junior officer is a fascinating read. Many of his entries lament about his fear of drinking too much and his abhorrence of superior officers. “The Captain has annoyed me, and I have felt and spoken angrily and sullenly.” And, like so many of us, he does not always complete tasks on time. “Have failed in my duty concerning the reading of the Articles of War.” Yet, within his complaints and small victories, a portrait of life at sea emerges. His ability to reflect on sea life, both positive and negative, ultimately led to him thinking more critically about naval tactics and the naval profession as a whole. Simply put, it gave him meaning and persuaded him to remain at sea.
Over the years, I have found that life itself is like the sea. Our lives ebb and flow like a foaming tide. We attempt to seize each moment, try to live one day at a time, hang on tightly to lifelines and trust that our faith in each other will get us there. So much we do in our lives as sailors is wandering and I do profess that wandering the ocean is the most exciting profession in the world.
Perhaps John Masefield says it best in Sea Fever.
Oh I must go down to the seas again,
To the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship
And a star to steer her by
And the heel’s kick and the wind’s song,
And the white sail’s shaking
And a grey mist on the sea’s face
And a grey dawn breaking
Before my final deployment aboard USS Milius, my wife gave me the finest gift anyone could: a journal. It was an impeccable idea. After all, there’s nothing like a day at sea, to meditate about this earth and to think of all the challenges that await us afloat and ashore. So, as naval officers who experience the daily grind, let us tell the evolving story of our Navy. One hundred years from now these entries will capture us for who we were and where we were going.
Geoff Dyer, “Shipmates: Life on an Aircraft Carrier,” The New Yorker, April 2014, 6; Thomas Friedman, “Parallel Parking in the Arctic Circle,” The New York Times Sunday Review, March 29, 2014.
Diary entry on August 6, 1868 and May 11, 1869 in Letters and Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan, vol. I (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1975), 201; 301.
John Masefield, “Sea Fever” in Salt Water Ballads (1902).
Reviews by Bill Doughty
The United States Navy is making and living history right now in Hawaii in the world’s largest maritime exercise: Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC 2014), fostering collaboration and cooperation and promoting international understanding. Among the participants in this year’s RIMPAC are navies from 22 nations, including UK, Japan, and China.
Two books give perspective on the past two centuries of naval history and provide context for the history being made by the U.S. Navy this summer.
A lot has happened in the two centuries since the Revolutionary War and War of 1812: from wooden ships to littoral combat ships; the birth of naval air forces, airpower and UAV; nuclear-powered fleet ballistic submarines; computers and cyber-security. The world is changing too, as captured in the Maritime Strategy, from world war confrontation to global cooperation. Think about the evolution of the fleet and the world in which it operates today.
Thomas J. Cutler thinks and writes about changes and challenges over the past 200-plus years in “A Sailor’s History of the U.S. Navy.” His Naval Institute Press book is a mainstay and now a top pick on the “Be Ready” list of the CNO’s Professional Reading Program suggested reads.
Cutler writes about the “magic” of the lore, language and legacy of the United States Navy, and invites Sailors to reflect on the “club” to which they belong. His book recounts — and makes relevant — history through the stories of Sailors in the past and present.
“The more you know about the Sailors who served before you, the more prepared you will be to do your job, and do it well. It is your turn to follow in the wakes of those who went before you, to lead the way for others who will follow you, and to make your contributions to the Navy’s ongoing legacy of honor, courage, and commitment.”
In a Chapter 6, “Don’t Give Up the Ship,” Cutler sets the stage with a brief description of Master Commandant (Commander) Oliver Hazard Perry, his famous pennant and the sailors who fought in the face of adversity at the Battle of Lake Erie. Cutler then gives more recent history, including the story of the five Sullivans brothers lost aboard USS Juneau in Guadalcanal Campaign, 70 years ago this year.
Cutler ties in the brothers’ namesake ships, including the current USS Sullivans (DDG 68), showing how the ship was targeted in a failed attack by al Qaeda in Aden, Yemen in January 2000. That same year, on the day before the Navy’s 224th birthday, terrorists launched another attack on an Navy ship, this time against USS Cole (DDG 67).
He recounts the heroism of the Sailors who all focused on three tasks, “caring for the injured, providing security against further attack, and saving the ship.” Don’t give up the ship…
The author packs a lot of history in this easy-to-read overview that contains stories and photos about JFK’s PT-109, Rear Adm. “Amazing” Grace Hopper, 1776‘s gondola Philadelphia, Commodore Matthew C. Perry, battleship USS Maine, Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate Carl Brashear, and naval aviator and astronaut Alan Shepard Jr., among others.
In the appendix he offers synopses of key engagements through battle streamers, showing the operational history of the U.S. Navy.
The streamers demonstrate a commitment to always “Be Ready.”
Speaking of “back to the basics,” also recommended is a new book by Rear Adm. Robert O. Wray Jr., “Saltwater Leadership: A Primer on Leadership for the Junior Sea-Service Officer.”
The book, with a forward by Sen. John McCain, is endorsed by retired Adm. Gary Roughead, former chief of naval operations, and former President George H. W. Bush, who served as a naval aviator and “junior officer at sea.”
Wray offers self-described bite-sized “sea stories” and practical, pragmatic “salty advice” along with plenty of lists, including traits and tributes, rules and advice, and a list of 35 books on leadership!
Interestingly, the book opens with advice from ancient philosopher from China Lao Tzu:
A leader is best
When people barely know that he exists,
Not so good when people obey and acclaim him,
Worst when they despise him.
“Fail to honor people,
They fail to honor you”;
But of a good leader, who talks little,
When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,
They will all say, “We did this ourselves.”
— Lao Tzu’s “Tao Teh Ching,” verse 17, 6th century BC
Wray’s book is published by the Naval Institute Press and is in the same “Blue and Gold Professional Library” series as “The Bluejackets Manual,” “Command at Sea,” and “A Sailor’s History of the U.S. Navy” (above), among others.
(An earlier version of this post appeared on Navy Reads — http://navyreads.blogspot.com. Recent posts include reviews of “Cybersecurity and Cyberwar,” “Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations,” and “Zumwalt: The Life and Times of Admiral Elmo Russell ‘Bud’ Zumwalt, Jr.”)
On Dec. 18, 2008, Jim Garamone of the American Forces Press Service wrote, “The bombs that severely damaged the Golden Mosque in this city on the Tigris River almost destroyed the foundations of the nation, but the Golden Mosque is rising again, just like Iraq.”
Jim Garamone and I were traveling with ADM Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during one of his battlefield circulation tours, at the time. As the Chairman’s Executive Assistant, I had the distinct privilege of accompanying him all over the world. The places I went and the things I saw left an indelible mark in my memory. This place was no exception.
The Golden Mosque is a Holy Shi’a Shrine in the city of Samarra on the Tigris River in Salahuddin province.
In February 2006, the Golden Dome of the Mosque was destroyed in a bombing perpetrated by the affiliates of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Zarqawi’s brutal tactics were intended to drive a wedge between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims in Iraq and the attack on this holy site precipitated a near civil war leaving scores of dead behind and the city of Samarra in ruins.
General Stan McChrystal, Commander of Joint Special Operations Command, tells the story of the hunt for and eventual killing of Zarqawi in June 2006, by U.S. Special Forces in his book, My Share of the Task. Zarqawi was public enemy number one and for good reason. With his downfall and the simultaneous Sunni Awakening in neighboring Al-Anbar Province, the reconstruction of Samarra and the Golden Mosque was undertaken.
Realizing the importance of this place and the special role that U.S. Forces played in the restoration of the rule of law which enabled reconstruction, ADM Mullen decided to pay a visit to Samarra, this time with 60 Minutes and reporter David Martin and his cameraman in tow.
We arrived that morning in a Mine Resistant Ambush Penetrant (MRAP) vehicle on the outskirts of town and were escorted by Major General Bob Caslen, Commander of the 25th Infantry Division charged with the responsibility for security in the region. It was a long walk up a straight road to the Golden Mosque and ADM Mullen relished to opportunity to see the city and speak to some of the Iraqi inhabitants about their lives in this war ravaged region. As we walked up the street in full body armor and Kevlar helmets, ADM Mullen felt a little awkward when compared to the residents of Samarra staring at us from both sides of the street. It was an unfortunate necessity to ensure the safety of the senior U.S. military officer on active duty.
Our plan was to walk through the market in Samarra, in broad daylight, in order to take in the sense of the reconstruction. As I looked down the side streets at several intersections we passed, I could see the fields of fire and incredible damage that the war had inflicted on this little town. That said, the market section was teeming with merchants and locals alike. In a word, it was “vibrant.” Shops were full of merchandise–clothing, kids toys, spices, poultry, meat, eggs–and the smells of street vendors cooking foodstuffs of all variety filled the air. Despite the remnants of war, to me, it seemed that the city was very much alive and well.
With my friend John Tigmo, NCIS agent and senior member of ADM Mullen’s security detail at his side, the Chairman felt unconstrained and undeterred when he stopped to talk with normal Iraqis in the street. Surrounded by soldiers, he ordered them to stand aside as he went over to talk with some Iraqi children. A father with his son came over to thank Admiral Mullen. I don’t think he had any idea who the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was, but it was clear he was someone important and ultimately a party to the restoration of order in this city. I remember one man, wearing a long black dishdasha who worked his way in to talk to AMD Mullen through his interpreter. This man was a merchant and he was not shy. He unloaded on the Chairman about the lack of reliable electricity, poor city services and unhealthy water and sewage systems near his shop. The Chairman listened carefully to the complaints and said, “Do you know this man? He is Major General Bob Caslen and he is in charge of this region.” He then asked MG Caslen to give the merchant his contact information. Then he asked the merchant for his name. The man wrote it down on a piece of paper and handed it to the Chairman. ADM Mullen said, “I will see Prime Minister Maliki tonight in Bagdad and I will tell him of our conversation and give him your name.” As always, the Chairman was true to his word.
As we continued our walk up the street, someone said, “The Mayor may come out to receive you as we get closer to the Golden Mosque.” We were told that the Mayor was a former Iraqi Air Force pilot, in the Sadaam Hussein-era, who left the service to run for mayor. He was forced to evacuate after the bombing and the ensuing civil unrest, but returned to regain the confidence of the people and be reelected as Mayor of Samarra. Sure enough, after a few more paces up the street, Mayor Mahmood Khalef Ahmed appeared, looking very dapper in a fitted blue suit, blue tie and characteristic aviator sun glasses. It had to be over a hundred degrees outside and we were drenched but the mayor wasn’t even breaking a sweat. He accompanied the Chairman the rest of the way up the street to the Mosque and regaled him with stories of the war and the reconstruction of Samarra. The mayor had high hopes for his city and it showed in his enthusiasm. He looked forward to the day when thousands of pilgrims would return to Samarra to appreciate the Golden Mosque as we had.
As we approached the Golden Mosque, I was stunned by its beauty. As non-Muslims, we were not allowed inside and instead, viewed the reconstruction from the roof of an abandoned apartment building next door. While on the roof, we heard the story of the Twelfth or “hidden” Imam. It was in this place where Imam al-Mahdi went into concealment, known as the Minor Occultation in Islam. Twelver Shi’a Muslims believe that one day, the Mahdi will re-emerge with Isa or Jesus Christ to complete their mission of bringing peace to the world. Wow, that was a powerful story… so powerful that while listening, the 60 Minutes cameraman focused only on Admiral Mullen, MG Caslen and David Martin and forgot to pan around to get the Golden Dome in the background. This created a little consternation with the producer reviewing the raw footage on the way home, but somehow 60 Minutes recovered the image as the camera’s digital field of view was much wider than that seen through the lens of the videographer.
That was six years ago and fortunately, the images in my mind and those that you see in this Blog were preserved by the venerable Combat Cameraman, Petty Officer First Class Chad McNeely, always with and out front of Chairman Mullen on his many trips overseas.
Now fast forward to the present day. As I watch the events unfold on the ground in Iraq I harken back to the many visits I made to this country and Jim Garamone’s opening sentence of his byline on 18 December 2006: “…the Golden Mosque is rising again, just like Iraq.”
The USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH Strike Group was positioned forward and ready at the time that this crisis unfolded. Her presence gives the President and our national leaders options, but as we have heard recounted time and again on the news, the best option is for a political solution by Shi’a, Sunni and Kurdish leaders on the ground in Iraq.
Now that Summer is on the way and that there are more national security issues being produced from the South China Sea to the Dardanelles than can be consumed locally – that sounds like the perfect time for Sal from CDR Salamander and Eagle1 from EagleSpeak to hold a Midrats’ “open house.”
A little bit of a potpourri of what we find of interest from the latest news,to a chance for you to call in or ask via the live chat room the questions and issues you’d like to to discuss.
Yep, it’s a good old fashioned “bull session” – join in live if you can at 5pm (EDT) on 1 June or pick it up later by clicking here.
Call in if you’ve a mind to -um- further our discussion.
- On Midrats 19 April 2015 – Episode 276: “21st Century Ellis”
- John Quincy Adams — The Grand Strategist: An Interview With Historian Charles N. Edel
- 4 Reasons Not to Resign Your Commission as a Naval Officer
- About Face: A Return to Marine Corps Innovation
- On Midrats 29 March 15 – Episode 273: Partnership, Influence, Presence and the role of the MSC