Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category
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.
As an employee of the Defense Department I am required to complete an (ever-increasing) menu of annual training requirements on subjects ranging from Personally Identifiable Information (PII) to Active Shooter Response. These are usually PowerPoint Presentations I view while sitting at my desk. Occasionally, however, employees are required to attend an All-Hands presentation. Such was the case recently, for training on Preventing Sexual Assault. The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) responsible for oversight of the United States Department of Defense sexual assault policy gave the presentation. SAPRO’S responsibility is to work with the military services and civilian community to develop and implement innovative prevention and response programs.
Requiring employees to attend an in-person presentation designates that leadership considers sexual assault a serious problem needing to be addressed. No one doubts that commitment.
The presenter used a slide that placed ‘sexual assault’ activity on a “Continuum of Harm” ranging from (covert) sexism, to (overt) sexual harassment and sexual assault.
But the word “covert” connotes surreptitious or undercover when often that’s not the case. The sociological literature calls it gender harassment (constant and insidious putting down of people by gender). For consideration here, a better descriptor than “covert” is simply “tacit.”
Sexism or gender discrimination is now known to occur from a form of prejudice based on a person’s sex or gender. While it affects both men and women, it is primarily understood to impact female populations to a higher degree than male populations. Research has shown there is a link between tacit and overt activities on the Spectrum of Harm denoted in the all hands training presentation. Sexism can escalate into the overt arena.
It can start, for example, with a lone female colleague’s comments being regularly ignored at meetings. If ignoring her is acceptable, she inherently becomes a second-class citizen, and someone might then decide to throw a snide comment her way. Getting away with a snide comment or two can encourage that to become a regular, though subtle, practice, which creates the perception that the female is a fair-game, penalty-free target. If an aggressor then runs into her or finds her in the right, or wrong, situation, or circumstances, escalation can occur.
What is completely missing in Sexual Assault Prevention training a discussion of the cause and effect trajectory that exists between the continuums tacit components and its violent component in the form of a physical assault on the overt end.
Admirably, the military has taken a number of measures in recent years to address the overt issues. But tacit issues are far less likely to be addressed, sometimes even recognized, in any non-heterogeneous organizational environment. As long as there is a high degree of homogeneity, sexism will more likely be seen as a penalty free bias and a minority population viewed as second-class citizens. Expending efforts primarily in preventing overt activities is a necessary but not the all-inclusive manner of countering sexual assault. Tacit sexism must be addressed as well.
Few women leave an organization because they have overheard a sexist joke or comment, or even one overt incident unless severe. Far more are more likely to leave due to death-of-a-thousand-cuts sexism experienced over time, consisting of being ignored, subtly denigrated, judged differently than their peers, having to repeatedly prove their competency, and having it repeatedly demonstrated to them that leadership is willing to tolerate those slights.
Few women are willing to go forward to leadership with issues or complaints regarding sexism because they have personally seen those who do become dubbed “a problem” while the individuals complained about thrive – often even promoted to higher positions. These actions on behalf of those in positions of authority signal a high tolerance of acceptance. If tacit sexism is organizationally tolerated, that can also send a signal to men that perhaps it’s okay to go further.
Women are also acutely aware, again often through experience, that sexism-related hostile work environment complaints filed with authorities such as the Inspector General are pursued only if there was repeated, witnessed, excessive verbal abuse or physical touching involved. The assumption seems to be if an overt action occurs, it’s a problem; anything less is just a criticism, or worse, whining.
Death-by-a-thousand-cuts experiences degrade women’s trust in an organization, negatively effecting retention. Consequently as well, women who do not trust their organization to take sexism seriously, at any level, become less likely to report sexual assault if it occurs.
Addressing tacit sexism requires changing organizational culture, admittedly among the hardest changes to make in an organization. It cannot be done through a PowerPoint presentation, even in an All-Hands meeting. It requires leadership to demonstrate it is serious about change, in this case meaning what it will tolerate. It requires a change in organizational culture.
The Naval War College senior leadership course includes a case study on former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner, who changed the organizational culture of IBM and so saved the company. Gerstner says he changed the organizational processes used to achieve the organization goals — including communication, hiring, retention, salary and advancement — and the culture changed accordingly. Perhaps most importantly and relevant, he also tells the story of having to fire his top sales person because the individual was unable to adapt to the culture change. Doing that, he said, signaled to the rest of the thousands of IBM employees that he was serious.
While the military has clearly signaled it is committed to addressing overt sexism, regrettably the same has not been true regarding tacit sexism. And as long as tacit sexism is tolerated, problems will persist across the spectrum on the Continuum of Harm.
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).
- Range, Reach, Risk, Russians, and the Triumph of the Anti-Transformationalists
- Aboard the Charles de Gaulle: Sea Power and la République
- On Midrats 22 November 2015 – Episode 307: Our Own Private Petard – Procurement & Strategy with Robert Farley
- Leveraging our military relationships on the homefront
- Bring your voice once more unto the breach