CGC Baranof

The Arabian Gulf (AG) has evolved into a proving ground for expeditionary patrol boat operations. In the future, reduced high-end combatant availability, a truncated LCS fleet, and the growing importance of the kinds of littoral and irregular warfare operations that favor patrol craft capabilities will likely sustain or increase demand for patrol craft in overseas contingency operations. Both the Navy and Coast Guard should pause to reflect on some of the enduring lessons-learned from operating patrol craft in the AG for the last twelve years to ensure that future patrol craft crews are well-prepared for operating in politically-sensitive, high-threat environments.

Background

Patrol craft might seem like unlikely instruments of US seapower in a region where Carrier Strike Groups frequently deploy to quell regional saber rattling, but their versatile capabilities actually make them well-suited for supporting Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) missions in the AG.

Using patrol craft in overseas contingency operations added unique dimension to the maritime campaign of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Prior to OIF, the last time the Coast Guard deployed patrol craft out-of-hemisphere to support combat operations was the Vietnam War, when it sent several 82-foot cutters to disrupt Viet Cong maritime supply lines. The Navy also has limited recent experience with forward-deploying patrol craft. Prior to OIF, the Navy ultimately declined to deploy the Cyclone­-class PCs for their original purpose as a special operations platforms, and the PCs remained stateside spending much of their time supporting Coast Guard law enforcement patrols. Five of the PCs were even crewed and operated as Coast Guard cutters for several years.

For nearly a decade, the primary mission for Coast Guard and Navy patrol craft was securing Iraq’s maritime domain from terrorism, foreign incursion, and smuggling as part of Combined Task Force-Iraqi Maritime (CTF-IM). The destruction of Saddam’s navy at the outset of OIF created a critical maritime security vacuum in an area with hostile neighbors, a high risk of terrorist attack, and two offshore oil terminals that distribute nearly all of Iraq’s oil (more than 80% of Iraq’s GDP) to the global market. Up to six US patrol craft remained constantly on station in Iraqi waters providing perimeter defense for Iraq’s oil terminals, patrolling along the disputed Iraq/Iran maritime boundary, training the new Iraqi Navy, Marines, and Coastal Border Guard, and boarding vessels suspected of smuggling weapons or other contraband into or out of Iraq. As the Iraqi Navy gained more experience and assets, it gradually assumed responsibility for patrolling its waters. The Iraqi Navy formally took over maritime security duties from CTF-IM on December 31st 2011.

ABOT perimeter defense

Demand for patrol boats did not diminish with the handoff of the Iraqi Maritime mission. Instead, their stock actually went up, in part due to shrinking budgets and a westward rebalance that reduced US Navy big deck deployments to the AG region.

The Navy recently deployed four more 179-foot Cyclone-class patrol coastals (PCs) to Bahrain, bringing the PC presence there to ten of the total fleet of 13. The Coast Guard continues to operate six 110-foot Island-class patrol boats (110s) from Bahrain, which work alongside and perform many of the same missions as the Navy PCs. Commenting on the recent shift of more PCs to 5th Fleet, a Navy spokesman stated that the PCs were fulfilling several missions previously assigned to destroyers and other large surface combatants to free up the latter for more pressing tasking elsewhere.

Past as prologue

The handover of the Iraqi Maritime mission was the end of an era for AG patrol craft, and the recent arrival of more PCs to the region heralds the beginning of a new one. The present transition period presents a good inflection point to distill some of the lessons-learned from the Iraqi Maritime mission and other AG patrol craft operations, and apply them to anticipate some of the challenges that patrol craft may encounter in the as they assume a more prominent role in NAVCENT operations.

Following are five lessons that can be gleaned from over a decade of AG patrol craft operations. There are many more worth consideration, and hopefully others will contribute their insights to further the discussion.

Scrutinize everything

One of the many memorable quotes by General Mattis is a phrase that he gave his Marines in Iraq to live by: “be polite, be courteous, but have a plan to kill every man you meet.” Ingraining that kind of mindset might seem extreme, but it is a necessary adaptation to the reality of irregular warfare in which combatants and terrorists disguise themselves amongst the civilian population.

Operating in the AG requires a similar mindset. Commanders must have a plan, not necessarily to kill, but certainly to react decisively to a provocation or attack. Dense maritime traffic, a constant terrorism threat, and frequent harassment by irregular Iranian forces compound to make discerning and responding to potential surprise attacks a vexing challenge.

Distinguishing a possible threat from normal maritime traffic is especially difficult in the AG, where dhows are ubiquitous and used for every purpose conceivable. Getting from one place to another invariably involves threading through constellations of dhows that tend to maneuver erratically, ignore radiotelephone calls, rarely display navigation lights, and bear few identifiable characteristics to distinguish them from thousands of others. Further, patrol craft crews do not have the benefit of a combat information center, organic air reconnaissance (at least not yet), or signals intelligence capability that a large combatant tends to employ to assist with maintaining situational awareness. Knowing what to look for and developing an instinctive coup d’oeil to sense when a dhow might not be “just a dhow” takes training and experience that should begin well before arrival in the AG.

ROE decisions: Anticipate early, practice often.

Rules of engagement (ROE) for AG operations were recently the subject of international media attention after a boat crew from the Coast Guard cutter Monomoy fired a warning shot at an armed Iranian dhow. A crewmember on the dhow reportedly trained and readied a crew-served weapon at the Coast Guard crew as they approached in the cutter’s inflatable boat, and a Coast Guardsman in the boat fired the shot in response. The incident was instantly sensationalized with headlines such as “US Coast Guard Fires on Iranian Sailing Vessel.” A flood of comments on several media sites reacted with sentiments that ranged from indignation that the Coast Guard did not respond with more force, to conspiracy theories that insisted that the incident was an attempt to cause a Gulf of Tonkin-like casus belli to precipitate war with Iran. The Monomoy incident provides an excellent opportunity for discussing the challenge of making judicious ROE decisions in the AG.

AG missions require operating in the difficult grey area between combat and peacetime. Maritime infrastructure protection, boardings, freedom of navigation exercises, etc. require close interaction with other vessels, which means limited time to react if attacked. Well-rehearsed response procedures must complement appropriate ROE and weapons postures to enable a unit to defend itself and others in such an environment. However, operating in a hypersensitive political area like the AG means that any action perceived as unjustified or excessive can undermine fragile partnerships or an existing modus vivendi and ultimately compromise mission success. ROE responses must thus strike the right balance between security and restraint.

Patrol craft in the AG often feel the opposing pressures keenly. Interactions with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (aka IRGCN, the maritime arm of Iran’s irregular military force loyal to the Ayatollah) are a frequent occurrence. IRGCN vessels are notorious for trying to provoke US warships into using force in order to inflame anti-Western sentiment, and run-ins with them require a high degree of restraint. Excessive restraint however, can also prove costly. The consequences of either too much aggression or too much caution in a given situation are illustrated by the following scenarios.

On April 25, 2004, the Navy PC USS Firebolt detected a suspicious cargo dhow approaching the security zone around the Khawr al Amaya oil terminal and sent a joint USN-USCG boarding team to investigate. Before the boarding team had a chance to embark and assess the threat, the explosive-laden dhow detonated. Two US Navy sailors and one Coast Guardsman were killed, with four others wounded. The outcome would have been far worse if the dhow had reached its intended target. Had it not sent the boarding team, USS Firebolt and the point defense on the oil platform would have had only a few minutes to determine whether to use deadly force on a vessel that showed no obvious outward signs of hostility. As it turned out, the consequences of a “false negative” (i.e. assuming the vessel was not actually a threat and deciding not to fire on it) would have been catastrophic.

iranian fishing boat

The alternative possibility (false positive)—can also be tragic and diplomatically disastrous. The most notorious example from the AG is the USS Vincennes mistaking Iran Air flight 655 for a hostile aircraft and shooting it down, killing all 290 passengers. More recently, in 2012, the USNS Rappahannock opened fire on a small vessel that continued approaching the ship at high speed despite warnings to steer clear. The Rappahannock’s.50 caliber gunfire killed one Indian fisherman and wounded three others. Both actions were time-critical decisions made with imperfect information, and both resulted in loss of innocent life.

These and other similar examples weigh heavily on commanding officers, who own responsibility for the outcome of every ROE decision. Placing patrol craft on the front lines of AG operations places a heavy burden on junior Commanding Officers and their crews to make the right call in tense, uncertain situations. Rehearsing ROE scenarios in realistic, scenario-based training should be a core component of the pre-deployment workup cycle, and the training should continue on a frequent basis once in-theater.

Lessons 1 and 2 apply with particular emphasis during small boat operations and boarding evolutions

Boarding vessels is a common evolution for patrol craft in the AG. Boardings serve several purposes, from enforcing UN mandates (searching for weapons or contraband), to simply interacting with mariners to “take the pulse” of an area from the local’s perspective. Referring back to lesson 1, however, no boarding in the AG is ever “routine.”

Whatever the mission, boarding teams and boat crews are vulnerable as soon as they launch. Their communications and defensive capabilities are limited, as are their options for exfiltration once the boarding team is onboard another vessel. Large combatants often have the luxury of launching multiple boarding teams simultaneously, and even an armed helicopter or UAV for additional cover. Patrol craft are limited to one boat crew/boarding team and must provide cover with the ship.

Whenever possible, patrol craft need to keep the boarding team close enough to protect them from a surprise attack. If operational necessity requires sending a boarding team beyond that range, it is imperative that they are properly equipped to defend themselves and cognizant of their surroundings. If there was ever any question as to why, the 2007 HMS Cornwall incident removed any lingering uncertainty.

In March of 2007, IRGCN speedboats ambushed a UK boarding team from the HMS Cornwall operating near the Iran-Iraq maritime boundary and demanded their surrender. The Cornwall was miles away at the time, and the Lynx helicopter that had been providing overwatch for the boarding team had returned to the ship to refuel. In accordance with their “de-escalatory” ROE, the UK on-scene commander ordered the team to give up their weapons and allowed the Iranians to apprehend them. Although all 15 personnel were returned unharmed after two weeks in captivity, the kidnapping created a high profile incident that continues to haunt operational commanders conducting boarding operations in the AG. Following the incident, the British First Sea Lord commented that the boarding team had acted appropriately under the circumstances, a view that excited much debate in naval circles.

The HMS Cornwall case contains important lessons on selecting and validating ROE, decisions regarding outfitting and close support requirements for boarding teams, training for contingencies, communications, and vulnerability assessment calculations. All of the above should shape the policy for training for and conducting small boat and boarding operations in the AG, with additional emphasis placed on mitigating the limitations inherent to patrol craft for protecting boat crews and boarding teams operating beyond the vicinity of the ship.

Hone diplomatic skills and cultural understanding

Promoting stability in the Arabian Gulf requires a combination of deterrence and diplomatic engagement. The engagement side involves frequent security cooperation and training exercises with other maritime forces in the region. These exercises are an important dimension of CENTCOM’s strategy, but they are easily undermined by a lack of cultural awareness.

Security cooperation is a delicate mission, with success often measured by a partner nation’s willingness to maintain a cooperative relationship. The cultural peculiarities of the AG demand a high degree of understanding to facilitate positive interactions and avoid embarrassing breaches of decorum.

Cultural awareness training must be a high priority for maritime forces deploying to the AG. This is perhaps even more important for patrol craft crews since they tend to work closely alongside partner nations in a peer-to-peer role. The training must go much deeper than a background lecture on the Koran and overview of NAVCENT policies during Ramadan. A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower (CS-21) describes a more comprehensive approach:

“A key to fostering [expanded cooperative] relationships is development of sufficient cultural, historical, and linguistic expertise among our Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsman to nurture effective interaction with diverse international partners.”

The US military learned the value of cultural awareness training in more than decade of COIN-intensive warfare. However, more of that expertise needs to make its way to maritime operations. Some examples of how we could improve in this area include plugging patrol craft crews in with foreign area officers, training with role players in a variety of likely foreign nation engagement situations, and adding a limited language component to pre-deployment training that builds a basic, area-specific maritime lexicon.

Adapt training to cultural realities.

Improving the security capabilities of partner nations is a necessary Phase IV objective in a campaign plan and an important steady-state mission, as recently reinforced by Presidential Policy Directive-23.

In planning maritime security force assistance missions, let no one doubt what a massive undertaking it can be to build a degraded naval force back to functional capability. Rebuilding the Iraqi Navy was a multi-year effort that required tremendous resources, patience and time. One frustration in the process was working around cultural friction points such as Sunni/Shia integration and officer/enlisted relations. Other norms that a western military might take for granted such as preventive maintenance, personal protective equipment standards, motivation, and punctuality, did not translate directly across cultural boundaries.

A popular passage by T. E. Lawrence, aka “Lawrence of Arabia” attempts to place these challenges into context.

“Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them. Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is.”

Prescient insight, perhaps, although one wonders how Lawrence would have assessed the Iraqi military’s recent performance.

Returning focus to the tactical level, the takeaway for crews performing training and advisory roles is to anticipate cultural friction points (consistent with lesson four), set expectations accordingly, and determine ways to mitigate them. Success must focus on whether or not the force, once equipped and trained, can adequately secure its maritime domain. How it does so will vary. Setting expectations that do not align with intractable cultural realities will lead to frustration and undermine success.

Closing Thought – A Way Ahead for Patrol Craft in Contingency Operations

The long-term role for patrol craft in overseas contingency operations appears uncertain. They have proven their value in AG missions, but there seems to be no plan to give them a permanent place in the US forward-deployed seapower arsenal. The Navy’s long-term acquisition plan does not include anything to replace the PCs. (The Navy has added patrol vessels such as the Coastal Command Boat and Mark IV, but those vessels are much smaller and designed for nearshore operations.) Once the PCs reach the end of their service life, the Navy will not have a ship in its inventory between an 85-foot nearshore patrol vessel and a 400-foot LCS.

pc179s

The Coast Guard, meanwhile, recently launched the tenth of its planned fleet of 58 new 154-foot Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters (FRC). FRCs are a major capability upgrade over the legacy Island class, but so far there are no indications that any of them will be dedicated to an expeditionary or out-of-hemisphere role. That FRC’s potential for expeditionary operations should be closely considered, consistent with the following guidance in the 2010 Naval Operating Concept:

“The Coast Guard inventory must maintain sufficient capacity to support geographic combatant commander TSC plans, expeditionary requirements requested through the Global Force Management process; and overseas contingency operations; in addition to its full suite of statutory domestic missions.”

One potential opportunity for sea-service synergy might be for the Navy to acquire some Sentinel-class ships and create an expeditionary patrol craft squadron based in Mayport (along with the remaining three PCs and proposed eight LCS’). Mayport could serve as a USN-USCG expeditionary patrol craft training facility, focused on developing the skillset required to employ the vessels in overseas contingency operations. When not deployed out-of-hemisphere, the expeditionary patrol craft squadron could hone their skills in the SOUTHCOM AOR where additional maritime assets are sorely needed.


Russian-MistralAs 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. ….

Crew

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
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.

SNMG 2
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.


Every community has a canon that best encapsulates the genealogy of personalities, ideas, and events that shape the way the community sees itself and is perceived by others. The naval community is no exception. This article suggests that an important monograph has been overlooked in that canon: Fernando de Oliveira’s “The Art of War at Sea” published in 1555. It is the oldest treatise on maritime strategy.

The naval lore and the mainstream canon

Maritime strategy and war at sea have long occupied the minds of sailors and statesmen. The scholarly study of maritime strategy, however, is a relatively recent endeavour. Its roots in the modern western tradition are found in the United Kingdom during the latter half of the 1800s.

Authors such as the Colomb brothers, Sir John Laughton, and, more famously, Sir Julian Corbett were among the first to muster a robust understanding of strategy in discussions of naval problems. The United States soon followed suit as Alfred Mahan, William Sims, and Willis Abbot, among others, penned numerous other works to an increasingly sophisticated naval lore.

Not surprisingly, the standard account of the disciplinary evolution of maritime strategy and naval affairs reflects this Anglo-Saxon outlook. This account is taught in naval academies and some civilian universities around the world, further reinforcing the existing canon. Other influences surely contribute to the debate, including Jomini and Beaufre, and even ancient Greeks, such as Thucydides and Themistocles, but by and large the naval lore is founded on works dealing with the British and American experiences at sea.

Fernando de Oliveira’s “The Art of War at Sea” (1555)

In its rise to become the first global maritime empire, Portugal had to develop an understanding of maritime strategy that enabled the achievement of its political aims. Like Britain’s Corbett and America’s Mahan, Portugal’s greatest maritime strategist was Fernando de Oliveira. Writing at the peak of Portuguese power, Oliveira put in writing the foundations of that global empire.

Fernando de Oliveira’s “The Art of War at Sea” (Arte da Guerra do Mar), published in Coimbra in 1555, stands as the oldest treatise on maritime strategy. Oliveira himself acknowledges that very little had been written on the subject; he only refers to Vegetius (4th century AD) for his important but sparse insights into naval warfare. In historical context, Oliveira wrote this treatise three centuries before Corbett, Mahan, and others acquired the habit of thinking strategically about naval warfare. So what can we find in Oliveira’s “The Art of War at Sea”?

Frontispiece of the original “Arte da Guerra do Mar” (1555), by Fernando de Oliveira.

Frontispiece of the original “Arte da Guerra do Mar” (1555), by Fernando de Oliveira.

The book is divided into two parts, the first dealing with the principles of war at sea whereas the second explores its conduct. Each part has fifteen chapters. The genius of Oliveira’s work is found not merely in his (dated) analysis of Portugal’s 16th century navy, but, more importantly, in his comprehensive grasp of the (perennial) foundations of maritime power. The chapters focus on topics such as just war theory, strategic theory, leadership, shipbuilding, logistics, personnel recruitment and retention, and military readiness. And this is just in the first half. The second part goes on to tackle force structure, situational awareness, oceanography, and intelligence, among other topics.

These are obviously modern terms to describe very old phenomena. However, the challenges of 16th century naval power are not dissimilar to those of today’s navies whose countries depend on the sea for wealth and prestige. Oliveira, like Corbett and Mahan, was aware of this and expressed it in the opening pages of the treatise. Discussing naval matters, the author argues, “is a useful and necessary matter, particularly for the people of this land [Portugal] who now fare more at sea than others, whereby they gain many profits and honour, and also run the risk of losing it all, if they do not preserve it […].” This verdict ought to resonate contemporary strategists from nations such as the United States, Britain, and Japan, but also those strategists whose countries have maritime ambitions, such as China and India.

Fernando de Oliveira (or Fernão de Oliveira) was an interesting man living in interesting times. A true polymath educated in a Catholic seminary, it soon became evident that God had other plans for him. Oliveira dwelled in the maritime community of Lisbon, then as now a capital with an umbilical connection to the sea, learning key skills that made him a valuable asset for any navy. These skills included: navigation (he became a pilot aboard a French warship in expeditions against British commerce); shipbuilding (two English kings coveted his counsel whilst a prisoner of war in London); negotiation (he led a prisoner exchange when a Portuguese military expedition to north Africa failed; and possibly espionage (some sources mention his spying for the Portuguese Crown in negotiations with the Vatican).

In between his adventures, Oliveira wrote invaluable works that rival “The Art of War at Sea” in scope and insight. These include the world’s first encyclopaedic treatise on navigation and shipbuilding entitled Ars Nautica (ca. 1570), which he later expanded into the first treatise on naval architecture, Livro da Fabrica das Naos (ca. 1580), the first book on Portuguese grammar, Grammatica da Lingoagem Portuguesa (1536), and one of the first books on Portuguese history, Historea de Portugal (ca. 1581). These works attest to Oliveira’s genius. Unlike Corbett, who entertained a career as a novelist at first, Oliveira made a lasting literary contribution to fields beyond maritime strategy.

Conclusions

There is every reason for Fernando de Oliveira’s “The Art of War at Sea” to become compulsory reading for sailors, mariners, strategists, historians, and laymen with an interest in the complexity of conflict at sea. I will highlight only four of them.

First, the book is a distant yet direct ancestor to the current mainstream canon of maritime strategy. Incorporating this source into the canon and submitting it to academic scrutiny will help illuminate the origins of Western maritime strategic thought.

Second, there is an inherent value in studying Oliveira’s work in the context of naval warfare in the age of sail, particularly Portugal’s path toward a global maritime empire.

Third, the book retains great relevance for current debates on maritime strategy. Oliveira’s thoughts on the building, maintenance, and deployment of navies in the pursuit of policy can inform decision-makers, analysts, and the larger policy community on the often misunderstood nature and character of naval warfare.

Fourth, “The Art of War at Sea” can foster a debate on broader issues of strategy and power in light of existing scholarship on just war theory, military leadership, defence economics, and so forth.

In conclusion, it is high time for the naval community to retrieve Fernando de Oliveira’s “The Art of War at Sea” from the dustbin of history. My current efforts to translate the treatise to English will hopefully set this process in motion.


Please join us live on Sunday, 7 September 2014 at 5pm EDT US, for another discussion on the fight against terrorism, especially the terrorism and action of radical jihadist groups, as we host Episode 244: Long War update with Bill Roggio

If you fell asleep on Memorial Day and woke up on Labor Day, your head is probably swimming. The situation in the Muslim world from Libya to the Iranian border has turned in to some strange chaos if you have not been paying attention – but when you look at the details and trendlines, the logic is a lot clearer.

The long war has not gone anywhere, like a field untended, the weeds have returned and are prospering.

To help us understand developments over the summer, coming back to Midrats for the full hour to discuss this and more will be Bill Roggio, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Bill is also the President of Public Multimedia Inc, a non-profit news organization; and the founder and Editor of The Long War Journal, a news site devoted to covering the war on terror. He has embedded with the US and the Iraqi military six times from 2005-08, and with the Canadian Army in Afghanistan in 2006. Bill served in the US Army and New Jersey National Guard from 1991-97.

As noted, Bill was with us recently (Episode 225: The Long War Becomes a Teenager), but recent events suggested that it would be good to have him back sooner rather than later.

Join us live if you can or pic the show up later by clicking here.


Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 8.33.32 PMOn March 7, 2014, a self-directed study was emailed to Vice Admiral Bill Moran, the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Naval Personnel. Titled “Keep a Weather Eye on the Horizon: A Navy Officer Retention Study”, the paper provided Vice Admiral Moran with a canary in the coal mine, describing a looming retention downturn using historical data and, perhaps most importantly, timely and relevant information based on primary source interviews with hundreds of U.S. Navy Sailors.

Within days, the paper leaked from the Navy’s Personnel Command and made its way throughout the Navy. The message resonated with Sailors at the deck plates — officer and enlisted alike — and caught the attention of senior leaders throughout the U.S. Government. To their immense credit, Vice Admiral Moran and other senior Navy leaders have responded to decreasing retention indicators with personnel changes designed to improve morale and a Sailor’s ‘quality of service’. These changes provide commanding officers with greater flexibility to prescribe uniform wear, increase sea pay for Sailors on extended deployments, and reduce general military training requirements on commands, just to name a few.

Larger initiatives are in the works although they have not been publicly announced. Some initiatives, like expansion of the Career Intermission Pilot Program, require Congressional approval. There is also a desire to better understand the current retention downturn before acting. This is understandable. The Navy is a large, diverse, and dispersed organization and more information is required to ensure the next round of changes provide the greatest return on investment. However, the time to act is now.

So, how do you determine the right course of action to provide the greatest return on investment?

Senior decision makers are asking important questions. First, is there really a retention problem? Is it possible we are retaining the right quality of Sailor, just in fewer numbers? Are previously cited retention factors — an improving economy, significant operational tempo, perceived reductions in quality of life, among others — truly impacting our Sailor’s “stay/go” decisions? If so, in what ways?

The desire to further expound on the tenets of the paper — in a thoughtful and deliberate way intended to benefit senior leaders — led to the creation of an independent 2014 Navy Retention Study Team in March 2014. The team is comprised of a volunteer group of high-performing active duty Sailors and select civilians who have dedicated their off-duty time to create a first of its kind retention survey — created by Sailors for Sailors. All of our members are upwardly mobile, highly-placed individuals who want to measurably contribute to the continued success of the U.S. Navy. The success of this initiative is due largely to their sense of ownership for the Navy and their correspondingly impressive efforts.

This report details the results of this year’s survey, including a broad analysis of factors which are assessed to affect retention and additional recommendations to avoid the shoal waters of a multi-year retention shortfall for several communities. Further, it is important to provide relatively unfettered access to the survey data (as appendices in this report) with more raw data to be made available throughout Fall 2014.

While our analysis of the data is presented for your use, I suggest you don’t take our word for it — read and assess the data for yourself.  Then read widely, think deeply, write passionately, and act decisively to help retain our most talented Sailors in uniform.

We must continue to cultivate a strong sense of ownership within the U.S. Navy. Reassuringly, many Sailors have stepped forward with innovative ideas to improve processes and policies, whether as a Yeoman, a Lieutenant in the F/A-18 community, or as a pre-major command surface warfare officer. In the end, no matter your rank or position, it’s about asking ourselves what type of Navy we want to dedicate some portion of our lives to … and what type of Navy we want to leave for those that join 5, 10, 15 years into the future and beyond. It’s easy to lay problems at the feet of our senior leaders, however it’s incumbent upon all of us to take part in solving this issue.

At the end of the day, the Navy cannot directly hire uniformed personnel into positions of responsibility, nor can it surge leadership, trust, and confidence.  Instead, we must explore changes to legal statutes and internal policies in order to retain our very best, brightest, and most talented — the continued success of the U.S. Navy depends on nothing less.

The 2014 Navy Retention Study report may be downloaded at: www.dodretention.org/results  beginning Sept 1, 2014.


On Sept. 11, 2001 Michael P. Murphy was an ensign in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training.

Michael Murphy, a graduate of Penn State University, who grew up in Patchogue, Long Island, New York, internalized and personalized what happened on 9/11, according to colleagues, mentors and writer Gary Williams, author of “SEAL of Honor: Operation Red Wings and the Life of Michael P. Murphy, USN.”MMbookCover

The book is on Adm. Greenert’s bookshelf as an essential Warfighting First selection of the CNO Professional Reading Program.

Murphy led a SEAL team into Afghanistan in 2005 where he faced a profound ethical dilemma after capturing some civilian non-combatants. (His dilemma and moral decision is examined in detail in another book about Operation Red Wings, “Lone Survivor” by Marcus Luttrell.)

The team then endured a prolonged firefight against a larger Taliban force. At the end of the terrifying and deadly fight, Murphy faced a second, more personal moral choice. At great personal risk, he put himself directly in the path of enemy fire in order to call in help for his team.

In “SEAL of Honor” Williams introduces us to Murphy’s family, shows in detail his training regimen as a Navy SEAL, describes the mission Murphy led in Afghanistan during Operation Red Wings, and shows the honors paid to Murphy and his family after he was killed. “SEAL of Honor” preserves history and offers a well-documented biography of an American hero.

MM_FDNYPATCH2Murphy’s bond with first responders from his home state is legendary. He had his unit wear the bright orange patch of FDNY Engine Co. 54, Ladder Co. 43 — “El Barrio’s Bravest” — on their uniforms as a team symbol and constant reminder of 9/11 and why the SEALs were in Afghanistan, according to Williams.

Marcus Luttrell also refers to the patch several times in “Lone Survivor.”

Like Williams’s “SEAL of Honor,” Luttrell’s book is understandably an autobiographical account. Before describing Operation Red Wings, “Lone Survivor” explores Luttrell’s upbringing in Texas, his SEAL training in San Diego and a mission in Iraq desperately searching in vain for weapons of mass destruction: “chasing shadows out there in that burning hot, sandy wilderness.”

Luttrell’s telling of the firefight with the Taliban in Operation Red Wings is gripping and graphic, but at the end of Luttrell’s book the reader is left with a hunger to know more about the hero, leading protagonist Michael P. Murphy.

“Seal of Honor” shows us how Murphy’s qualifications as a leader developed starting in early childhood. As a toddler, Michael’s favorite book was Wally Piper’s “The Little Engine that Could.” He was a voracious reader at Canaan Elementary School.

MM-MurphyReadsRight

Lt. Michael Murphy

According to Williams, Murphy’s favorite book as an adult was “Gates of Fire” by Steven Pressfield, a historical fiction novel about the 480 B.C. Battle of Thermopylae, in which 300 brave Spartans protected their homeland and democracy from an invading Persian Army. Greek warrior culture is part of the SEAL tradition.

The never-give-up attitude, willingness to sacrifice for a cause and strong personal ethos all contribute to what makes a Navy SEAL, provided the individual can tough it through BUD/S training, described in detail by Williams.

“Despite the brutal training, Michael soon realized that almost anyone could meet the physical requirements of the SEALs, but the unending challenge from day-one would be the mental toughness, that never-ending inner drive that pushes you forward when every nerve and muscle fiber in your body tells you to stop — to quit. That warrior mind-set — the mental toughness — is what separates a Navy SEAL…”

“SEAL of Honor” includes inspiring SEAL Creed excerpts or, in some cases, complete remarks from SEAL leaders like Adm. Eric T. Olson, Chief Warrant Officer Mike Loo and Commodore Pete Van Hooser. All focus on leadership expectations and maintaining high standards.

Williams describes the tragic rescue attempt in which Lt. Cmdr. Erik S. Kristensen and 15 other would-be rescuers were killed when their MH-47E Chinook helo, call sign Turbine 33, was shot down by the Taliban.

Both “Lone Survivor” and “SEAL of Honor” showcase the importance of the concept: “no one left behind.”

Near the end of “SEAL of Honor,” Williams lists each of the warriors who died trying to rescue Murphy and his team.

He describes the many tributes to Lt. Michael P. Murphy, including the awarding of the Medal of Honor by then President George W. Bush. One of the most significant tributes, especially as far as Sailors are concerned, is the naming of an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer for him, dedicated May 7, 2008.

During his remarks, then Secretary Donald C. Winter predicted, “Every Sailor who crosses the bow, every Sailor who hears the officer of the deck announce the arrival of the commanding officer, and every Sailor who enters a foreign land representing our great nation will do so as an honored member of the USS Michael Murphy,” writes Williams.

Osama bin Laden haunts both books, written prior to President Barack Obama’s authorization to kill or capture the terrorist leader of al-Qaeda, the group responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. After a Muslim ceremony, bin Laden was buried at sea from USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) just days before the USS Michael Murphy christening.

MM_DDG112USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112) was christened at Bath Iron Works, Maine on May 7, 2011 (after publication of Williams’s book), on what would have been Murphy’s 35th birthday.

“It is my sincere belief that this ship will build on the momentum gained by our special operations forces in the fight against extremism and sail the seas in a world made more peaceful by sustained American vigilance, power and dignity,” said then Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead. “This ship will carry Michael’s legacy and values to Sailors several decades from now and to a new generation of Americans…”

USS Michael Murphy’s homeport is Pearl Harbor.

(A version of this review was originally published Sept. 10, 2011 on Navy Reads.)


seacontrol2General Robert H Scales (USA Ret.) discusses firepower and the American way of war, specifically: firepower’s use, effectiveness, and place as a cultural phenomenon in American military thinking.

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 49: General Robert Scales on Firepower

We are available on Itunes, Stitcher Stream Radio, etc… Remeber to subscribe, leave a comment and a 5-star rating.


The public opinion pendulum seems to be swinging away from the post-9/11 clamor to enhance our homeland security readiness, even while the threats to the US proliferate and evolve. What does that mean for a service that is both a law enforcement agency and a military service?

The Coast Guard’s dual military/law enforcement status is a rare exception to posse comitatus, which requires the service to balance Title 10 and Title 14 responsibilities. In its law enforcement capacity, the Coast Guard must be judicious in its observance of legal procedures and careful to cultivate the trust of the American public. As a military service that provides critical capabilities to the Joint Force, the Coast Guard must train and equip for defense operations that demand a combat-oriented skillset and ethos. Recent events remind us of why it remains important to keep those roles distinct, even as our enemies make it ever more difficult to distinguish criminals from combatants.

Law enforcement agencies in the United States recently came under national scrutiny as a result of indications that the public is growing alarmed at the “militarization” of US police forces. The civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri brought the issue to a head when images of local police confronting protestors while outfitted with camouflage uniforms, heavy body armor, and assault rifles streamed across major media outlets with the effect of further escalating the already volatile situation. The controversy over police wielding military-grade equipment elicited a promise for Congressional review by the Senate Armed Services Committee and a personal letter from House Armed Service Committee member Duncan Hunter to Defense Secretary Hagel encouraging a formal review of a federal program that allows DoD to transfer excess military equipment to police forces.

This latest outcry reminds us of an inexorable truth: free societies tend to vacillate about their desire for security. From Athenians condemning Themistocles to exile after the Persian menace waned, to the widespread vilification of the Patriot Act within the US only a few years after its near-unanimous passage, history demonstrates a consistent pattern wherein an existential threat will motivate the populace to demand greater security from their government, only to later denounce those same security measures once the threat appears to dissipate.

For the US Coast Guard, the recent backlash against militarized police is cause for reflection. The Coast Guard relies on a high degree of public confidence to maintain its dual status as both a law enforcement and military organization. Any erosion of that confidence compromises its ability to fulfill its diverse mission set. Yet there can be little doubt that it has adopted a much more overtly military appearance in recent years. The twin catalysts of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina produced major organizational changes in the service’s missions, capabilities, and identity. The most readily-apparent difference is the enhanced security posture the service adopted to mitigate the terrorist threat to the homeland. The Coast Guard added Maritime Safety and Security Teams and a Maritime Security Response Team, and aligned itself closer to the Department of Defense both for Homeland Defense missions and contingency operations abroad. Coast Guard response boats patrol our waterways with crew-served weapons mounted, armed Coast Guard helicopters circle the Capitol daily, and Coast Guardsmen perform a variety of maritime security missions in SWAT-like tactical gear. The result is that the Coast Guard’s public image has evolved from a primarily humanitarian, life-saving and law-enforcement service that performs a combat role in time of war, to one that remains all of those things, but also wields distinctly-military capabilities close to home and in full view of the American public.

Coast Guard MSRTSo far, the Coast Guard has not been subjected to the condemnation currently being heaped upon other domestic law enforcement agencies. However, with public confidence in government nearing an all-time nadir and many Americans weary of war abroad and enhanced security measures at home, the service must consider how it will continue to balance its domestic security responsibilities with its humanitarian and law enforcement missions.

That balance promises to grow ever more difficult in the future. Once-clear lines separating criminals from terrorists and military forces are blurring into amorphous inter-dependent networks labeled simply “irregular threats.” Confronting irregular threats and irregular warfare (CIC/IW) garners a lot of attention within DoD, but its ambiguous nature frustrates attempts to frame a consistent interpretation of where such threats transition from a law enforcement to a military responsibility. The Coast Guard seems ideally suited for taking a lead role in the CIC/IW mission due to its statutory authority and operational capability to act in both capacities, but there is risk to that approach because American principles have historically required maintaining a bright line between the two. The challenge for the Coast Guard will be determining how best to leverage the authorities and capabilities that make it well-adapted for CIC/IW, while remaining within legal boundaries and out of the crosshairs of public condemnation. Equally challenging will be preserving the service’s humanitarian reputation (critical for gaining access to regions wary of US military presence) while some Coast Guard sub-communities evolve to more closely resemble their DoD brethren.

Relaxing the Coast Guard’s domestic security posture is certainly not the right answer. Doing so would be a gross abdication of its homeland security responsibility. Many will recall that the modal conclusion that emerged from numerous post-9/11 “how did this happen?” tribunals was that the clues were there that should have alerted us to improve our security measures, but for a variety of reasons we choose not to. The universal vow that followed was “never again.” Thirteen years hence, we are perhaps reaping the consequences of our own success (at great cost and sacrifice that few fully comprehend) in preventing another major attack on the homeland. To many, the threat is simply not salient enough anymore to justify remaining loaded for bear on the homefront. Yet compared to the current security environment, the decade leading up to 9/11 seems like a halcyon era of relative tranquility. Bin Laden is dead, but that fact is little solace amidst the unraveling of Iraq and Syria, rampant narco-violence throughout the Western hemisphere, sophisticated horizontal weapons proliferation to non-state actors, and technical accelerators that are producing dangerous new capabilities available for commercial consumption. At no time in the nation’s history has “semper paratus” demanded a higher degree of readiness from its Coast Guard.

So how does the Coast Guard maintain necessary readiness without triggering the ire of a war and security-weary public?

Foremost, it must have a convincing strategic narrative that informs the public why an assertively-postured Coast Guard is in their best interest. That narrative needs to clearly detail the nature and magnitude of the threat, what capabilities the Coast Guard needs to confront that threat, and why the Coast Guard’s enhanced domestic readiness does not undermine American civil liberties or detract from its humanitarian missions.

USCG AUFThe Coast Guard has done pretty well in this respect so far. The avuncular “Smokies of the Sea” image from the 80s and 90s evolved into “America’s Maritime Guardian” and the “Shield of Freedom” images after 9/11. Media coverage of the service during the Hurricane Katrina response and on popular television shows such as Coast Guard Alaska and Miami help to educate the public on the breadth of the missions that the Coast Guard performs. But more work remains. Evolving attitudes toward issues that the Coast Guard is directly involved with promise to invite more scrutiny into how and why the Coast Guard performs some missions. For example, how does growing support for legalization of certain drugs affect the cost/benefit calculation of further prosecuting the drug war and the related threats posed by narco-terrorism? Does it continue to justify, for example, employing airborne use of force against non-compliant drug smugglers? What about illegal immigration? Those and other missions will certainly come under scrutiny in the future and the Coast Guard must be ready to justify its policies. The best way to maintain support for robust interdiction capabilities is to reinforce their importance to maritime security and conduct them with irreproachable skill and professionalism.

Communicating a clear strategic narrative is not just for public consumption. The Coast Guard needs to internalize it as well. Coast Guardsmen need to understand the precarious balance that their unique status demands and why that requires going out of their way to avoid any instance of excessive force or unwarranted intimidation. That obligation is nothing new. The same guidance traces back to a passage from a letter written in 1791 by Alexander Hamilton to commanding officers of the Revenue Cutter Service (predecessor to the Coast Guard) that remains required reading for all Coast Guard law enforcement personnel:

“They will always keep in mind that their countrymen are freemen, and, as such, are impatient of everything that bears the least mark of a domineering spirit. They will, therefore, refrain, with the most guarded circumspection, from whatever has the semblance of haughtiness, rudeness, or insult. If obstacles occur, they will remember that they are under the particular protection of the laws and that they can meet with nothing disagreeable in the execution of their duty which these will not severely reprehend. This reflection, and a regard to the good of the service, will prevent, at all times a spirit of irritation or resentment. They will endeavor to overcome difficulties, if any are experienced, by a cool and temperate perseverance in their duty–by address and moderation, rather than by vehemence or violence.”

However simple that passage might appear, it may at times prove difficult in practice. Law enforcement and combat require very different mindsets and training approaches, even if some of the missions and capabilities overlap. The potential conflict between developing a resilient “combat ready” mentality that facilitates effective action under fire and ingraining restraint and humanitarian sensitivity was highlighted in the “Kill Company” case study, and explored in Lt. Col David Grossman’s book On Combat. “Cool and temperate perseverance” is appropriate in the course of normal operations, but reacting to a situation that suddenly changes from law enforcement use of force to rules of engagement (such as happened here and here), or homeland defense such as interdicting an inbound terrorist attack, requires the ability to instantly shift mental gears. Because of the diversity of Coast Guard missions and unpredictability of the threat environment, Coast Guardsmen must be ready to instantly transition from one extreme to the other.

The challenge remains to further refine the Coast Guard’s strategic narrative in what promises to be a tumultuous future. The Coast Guard must remain an outstretched hand that saves and a clenched fist that defends; a conscientious maritime constable and a combat-ready naval force. In looking for an effective narrative to emulate, it would be difficult to find one better than the 2003 “All Hands” that General Mattis sent his Marines on the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom. His succinct, three-paragraph message concluded with “Demonstrate to the world there is ‘no better friend, no worse enemy’ than a U.S. Marine.” Guided by a similar maxim, the Coast Guard will ensure that the public it protects continues to feel reassured, not threatened by its presence, while those who seek to perpetrate violence or criminality at sea can count on a formidable and ready “maritime guardian” standing by to oppose them.


Please join us at 5pm (EDT) for Episode 242: “Lost Opportunities: WWI and the Birth of the Modern World”:

A hundred years on, in 2014 what insights can we gain from the war that started 100 years ago in August of 2014? What are some of the lessons we need to remember in all four levers of national power; diplomatic, informational, military, and economic – in order to help steer our future course as a nation, and to better understand developing events?

Using his article in The National Interest, World War I: Five Ways Germany Could Have Won the First Battle of the Atlantic as a starting point for an hour long discussion, our guest will be James Holmes, PhD, professor of strategy at the Naval War College and senior fellow at the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs.

Jim is former U.S. Navy surface warfare officer, graduating from Vanderbilt University (B.A., mathematics and German) and completed graduate work at Salve Regina University (M.A., international relations), Providence College (M.A., mathematics), and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University (M.A.L.D. and Ph.D., international affairs).

His most recent books (with long-time coauthor Toshi Yoshihara) are Strategy in the Second Nuclear Age and Red Star over the Pacific.

Jim has published over 25 book chapters and 150 scholarly essays, along with hundreds of opinion columns, think-tank analyses, and other works. He blogs as the Naval Diplomat and is an occasional contributor to Foreign Policy, The National Interest, War on the Rocks, CNN, and the Naval Institute Proceedings.

Join us live at 5pm (EDT) if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here.


Homeless Veteran

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.

Homeless Veteran

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.

Homeless Veterans

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.

Sources:
Veterans Village of San Diego
National Coalition for Homeless Veterans
The Invisible Ones
Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress
Department of Veterans Affairs


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