Recently, partnering with CSIS and USNI, Naval Aviation leadership hit the streets to talk about the future of manned and unmanned aviation. With Tailhook on the horizon, and fundamental debates happening throughout the Fleet, we need constructive writing on the course of both people and platforms in Naval Aviation.
From 14-18 September (after you’re rested from either participating in or following the Twitter feeds of Tailhook attendees), the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) will be hosting a “Future of Naval Aviation” Week. Below are the particulars, cross-posted from their NextWar blog:
Week Dates: 14-18 Sept 15
Articles Due: 9 Sept 15
Article Length: 500-1500 Words
Submit to: nextwar(at)cimsec(dot)org
Back in January, CAPT Jerry Hendrix (USN, Ret) and CDR Bryan McGrath (USN, Ret) had a stirring debate on the future of Aircraft Carriers. However, the debate quickly shifted from the carrier itself to the nature of the airwing it carried. Indeed, the carrier is nothing more than a host for the platforms provided by naval aviation – and only one of many ships that can carry aviation assets.
That discussion, driving into the world of the carrier air wing, was the inspiration for this week of discussion on naval aviation in general. From the maritime patrol aircraft deployed from the reclaimed Chinese reefs in the South China Sea, to US Army Apaches operating from amphibious assault ships, to 3-D printed drones flown off a Royal Navy offshore patrol vessel, to manned and unmanned ideas for the carrier air wing as carriers proliferate around the Pacific -we want your ideas and observations on where global naval aviation will and can go next.
How will the littoral navies of the world change with new, lower-cost unmanned aviation assets? Are carriers armed with legions of long-range unmanned drones the future for global powers – will these technologies exponentially increase the importance of smaller carriers – or is unmanned technology a limited path that may be resisted (rightfully?) by pilots and their communities? Will surface fleets embrace the potential from easily produced drone swarms deployed from ships of the line… should they? What is the future of land-based naval aviation? What innovations will be ignored, what will be embraced, and what will the air assets of future fleets around the world look like? What will the institutions, the leadership, and C2 structures that support all these assets of their varied nations look like? The topic is purposefully broad to bring forward a myriad of topics and inspire future topic weeks on more specific subjects.
Contributions should be between 500 and 1500 words in length and submitted no later than 9 September 2015. Publication reviews will also be accepted. This project will be co-edited by LT Wick Hobson (USN) and, as always, Sally DeBoer from our editorial pool.
We are part of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, a group of junior personnel charged to bring rapid prototypes and emerging technology to the fleet. Part of the job is acting as agents for innovation, and as a result, we meet with organizations in the civilian world and government who are pushing boundaries, building new tools, and making the tech of tomorrow a reality today. When we visit new companies and organizations, we try to capture the principles and characteristics that make them effective.
On our most recent trip we visited Scaled Composites, a small aerospace engineering company based in Mojave, California that produces custom aircraft from concept to flight. Our key takeaway was that the company’s value proposition is built on a passion for aviation, and using bold materials and groundbreaking design engineering to overcome technical challenges. This has been the company’s passion since the beginning, resulting in a number of innovative projects, including winning the $10 million Ansari X-Prize in 2004 for a suborbital space flight in SpaceShipOne, the first privately built manned spacecraft. We liked that they do not limit themselves to traditional aircraft designs and construction techniques, as shown by one of their ongoing projects, the StratoLauncher. Designed to launch a payload into low earth orbit with more flexibility than traditional launch systems StratoLauncher will be the biggest airplane ever built.
From the beginning, it was clear that we were dealing with something different. We met the President of the company, Kevin Mickey, early on a workday, and most of us didn’t realize who we were talking to, until he passed out his business card and showed us a company overview slideshow with his title on it. The contrast to our own naval culture was readily apparent. There was no entourage, no aide or executive assistant hovering around to serve his every need, and he insisted on talking on a first name basis, making us feel completely at home.
After an hour-long discussion on the company, its mission and culture, and how they are pushing the limits of aircraft material and design, we toured the factory floor and saw their unique corporate culture in action. The company’s corporate values showed through, from Kevin knowing his employees by first name and greeting every one we passed, to the close working relationships and collaboration we saw between the shop workers and engineers. This was clearly a company that places its people first, in pursuit of solving big technical challenges.
Walking the floor and observing the manufacturing process, the group asked whether given the name, the company and its employees had a special passion for building with composites. Surprisingly, the answer was no. The materials used by Scaled Composites are actually conventional in the world of composite engineering. The company uses composites for the simple reason that building with them is the quickest pathway from design to flight, and allows rapid progress in short timelines.
Mojave is a desolate place. The town is dry, windswept, and has a population of fewer than 4,000. Scaled Composites attracts employees by giving them interesting problems to solve, and keeps them by continuing to challenge them with rewarding projects. Of the 550 employees in the company, over 60% are pilots themselves, and work on aircraft as a hobby. After building and fling aircraft all day, it is very common for employees to then go home and continue building and flying their own personal projects. Project teams are purpose-built around customer problems, and deliberately small and collaborative. There is a large amount of latitude for individual employees, based on a trust that they are trying their best to work for the company and to deliver a high quality product for the customer.
The company’s management exists to keep barriers away from the employees on the factory floor doing the actual work of the company, and serving the needs of its people, in order to put out a better product, more quickly. An interesting concept we discussed was the idea of the company being successful because of all the things it is not doing. This includes eliminating unnecessary process and oversight, preventing too much of an employee’s time from being spent in meetings, and undue reporting requirements to the corporate management. They quickly get rid of anything that gets in the way of employees designing and building aircraft.
In discussing oversight, questions of risk tolerance and failure came up. Kevin related that in building inventive aircraft and in providing latitude to engineers and floor workers, failure does occur. But what differentiates them from traditional development processes in, say, the government, is that they focus not on elimination of failure, but rather on ensuring they fail early in a project, and for the right reasons. An honest mistake is not punished, with the idea that an employee who makes a mistake for the right reasons is actually very unlikely to fail that way again. Negligence can’t be tolerated, but whole-scale risk aversion is toxic for a group. A key reminder for us was that if progress is going to be made, a healthy culture of risk tolerance is critical. At Scaled Composites, the atmosphere is anything but “zero defect.”
Overall, what lessons did we learn, and how can we in the Navy and Marine Corps apply them? This is an interesting question, since Scaled Composites is a for-profit company, with a mission of financial gain through deliverance of the best product it can. Meanwhile the military exists to win our nation’s wars, without a commercial profit motive. But there is one overriding commonality we observed: in both of these seemingly disparate missions, the people should come first. If you encourage a culture that questions boundaries, provides an intellectual challenge, is willing to reward boldness and even encourages failure in the pursuit of overcoming challenges, you attract and develop the kinds of people who dare to fail and drive outsized success when they win. This culture develops boldness, creativity and audacity that lead to considering more and bigger ideas, and cultivates people willing to try these ideas. As a result of this focus on people, Scaled Composites has been able to deliver a consistently high level of quality and breadth of products. For a military organization, a focus on people will result in enlisted and officers who aren’t afraid to act boldly and accept risk in accomplishing a mission. This will enable the capability and capacity to ensure we are building combat-ready forces in peacetime in order to win decisively in times of conflict.
In the military, we put our people first. Said another way, our people are the most important tool for winning wars, ideas are next, and the technology we use serves both. This is an oft-repeated paradigm, and while we aren’t perfect in following it, it has been proven true time and time again, throughout history. We must ensure we keep this focus. Wars are won by commanders with the vision and boldness to make hard decisions, and by Sailors, Airmen, Soldiers and Marines with the courage to carry those actions out. This paradigm is hardly unique to the military however, and we can learn much from people and organizations outside the DoD who share this commitment. In Scaled Composites, we saw just that. The company’s bold vision, failure tolerant and risk accepting culture attracts, and more importantly, develops and retains the type of employees who are comfortable with risk. Inculcated in a “dream big” culture, employees are encouraged to think boldly and pursue radical ideas. From this milieu of people and ideas, new technologies and airplanes are born, with many failures, but with enough successes that the company remains on the leading edge of the aeronautical field. The big successes that have put the company on the map, such as introducing manned spaceflight to the private market, are a testament to the philosophy of supporting and challenging their people. Scaled Composites is a model that is hard to ignore, and a valuable example to the Navy.
We all know the old phrase, “nations don’t have friends or enemies…nations only have interests.” As a rather young and insular nation, we can often forget about the interests and history of other nations, especially ones that don’t show up on a regular basis in the news cycle.
There are some nations who are geographically exceptionally important, but politically stable inside the last couple of decades. Stability, like civilization in general, is never a given and can fall apart in the blink of an eye to either internal or external conflict. What do you do then?
When reading up on some of the possible second and third order effects of Iran’s recent diplomatic victory over the West, I came across a great article from Amir Taheri on Oman. Anyone involved in maritime or national security over the last two decades do not need a refresher on how important that nation has been to us.
Taheri’s article brings to light some important points to consider because, if a stable Oman and reliable access to her facilities are one of your Planning Assumptions, then I sure hope you have a Branch Plan.
Let’s set the stage.
Determined to press its claim as “the regional superpower”, the Islamic Republic has decided to develop its maritime units into a full-fledged blue-water navy.
Three events have spurred the Iranian program for projection of power. The first is US President Barack Obama’s declared intention to drawdown and eventually conclude American military presence in the Middle East. If Obama’s policies are continued by his successor, the US would leave a huge gap to be filled in the region. The Islamic Republic hopes to fill it.
The second event was the “deal” made with the so-called P5+1 group over Iran’s nuclear project. If implemented, the deal would unfreeze Iranian financial assets estimated at between 120 billion US dollars and 150 billion US dollars, providing enough resources for a massive upgrading of the navy. The new Iranian budget has, in fact, raised defense expenditure by almost 23 percent, part of it devoted to the projection of naval power.
Another foreign power signals withdraw, so what are the small nations left behind to do as their foreign friends leave? They need to come to terms with their powerful neighbors. It is only natural that they go back to habits of the past and historical connections. Regression to the mean, if you will.
The third event was the speedy signing by Oman, with which Iran had its longest maritime border, over 248 miles (400 kilometers), of a treaty demarcating the limits of the two neighbors’ territorial waters. Prepared by the Iranian Defense Ministry, the treaty was sent to the foreign ministry in Tehran last spring with a demand that it be negotiated and finalized with Oman over a three-year period. As it turned out, however, the Omanis did not need such lengthy negotiations and quickly ratified the treaty which was signed by Sultan Qaboos Bin Sa’id Al Sa’id in July.
How does this change things from a maritime security point of view?
… Iranian media have reported that the new treaty would systematize a series of arrangements that Iran had made with Oman in the early 1970s. At that time the Shah had sent an expeditionary force to crush a Communist rebellion backed by South Yemen in the Omani province of Dhofar.
For years, Iran has used the threat of closing the Strait of Hormuz in its game of chicken with adversaries. The strait is 54-kilomtere long body of water that connects the Arabian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman and thus the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Hormuz is, in fact, cut into two channels by the 110-kilometre long Iranian island of Qeshm.
… the part to the south of Qeshm, touching on the Omani enclave of Ras Mussandam that is of strategic importance because of massive international traffic including the passage of tankers carrying more than 30 percent of global oil trade.
Two islands are of strategic importance as far as commanding the southern part of the strait is concerned. To the north of the waterway is the Iranian island of Hangam, a satellite of Qeshm, which is already highly militarized. To the south is the Omani island of Beit Al-Ghanam.
“By having a presence in both islands, Iran would control the two halves of the gate,” says Hamid Zomorrodi, a former captain of the Iranian navy. “That island and the neighboring Ras Mussandam have been important in Iranian naval planning since the time of Nader Shah in the 18th century when Iran decided, for the first time, to build a navy in its southern waters.”
There you go. Is that connection made by Zomorrodi a stretch?
In the early 18th century, Iran returned to the region in a big way. Nader Shah bought four warships from the European powers and hired the British seafarer Captain Cook as naval adviser. His admiral, Latif Khan, launched a series of naval raids that ended with the capture of Bahrain, the crushing of pirate tribes, and a brief conquest of Muscat. However Nader Shah’s naval adventure didn’t last long. His assassination replunged Iran into civil war and chaos, deviating attention from tis southern waters. It took almost two centuries for Iran to return to its southern waters under Reza Shah who built a navy with help from Germany and Italy in the 1930s. In 1941, the British sunk the Shah’s navy when they, together with the Russians, invaded and occupied Iran in the name of the Allies fighting the German-led Axis.
In a sense, Oman is like an island because, with the exception of a link to a thinly inhabited fringe of southern Yemen, it is sealed off from the interior of the Arabian Peninsula by the uplands of the Batinah and the Rub Al-Khali, and surrounded by water on the remaining three sides. In geopolitical terms, Oman is a top prize for anyone who wishes to project naval power in the Indian Ocean.
It is not surprising that Oman features prominently in Iran’s long-term planning for naval projection of power. Omanis think they owe Iran a debt of gratitude for having helped them crush the Communist challenge launched from South Yemen in the 1970s.
In a gesture of friendship to the Sultan of Oman, in 1970s Iran rejected a demand by the sheikhs of Khassab and Diba, in the Mussandam Peninsula where the Shihuh and Kamzari tribes, speaking an Iranian language, once ruled, to secede from Oman and set up independent mini-states.
Oman has always tried to project a distinct political profile. In the 1971 celebration of the foundation of the Persian Empire, Sultan Qaboos was the only Arab head of state present.
There is more than just Oman in play if you run this scenario out.
Courting Oman is part of a broader policy of the Islamic Republic to Finlandize the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, by persuading and/or threatening them not to take sides in any conflict between Iran and tis regional or extra-regional rivals.
So far, Oman has managed to pursue a “zero problems” foreign policy. But how long that could last depends on how far Tehran wishes to push its regional ambitions.
A friendly Oman is a big asset for Iran’s national security let alone its regional ambitions. A hostile Oman could force Tehran strategists to think twice before they bite more than they can chew.
Wargame that. Throw in a successful Shia uprising in Bahrain and an ongoing one in eastern Saudi Arabia. Well. Interesting times.
At lunch yesterday, I had the pleasure of being involved in a scintillating conversation among “millennial” peers. Shockingly, we didn’t spend the better part of two hours adhering to our generational stereotype and discussing important issues like how to work “only the bare minimum number of hours required,” (apologies, but CDR Cunningham’s article is the gift that keeps on giving).
In 2014, the DoD Retention Survey gave us a valuable look at junior officer viewpoints, so I dusted off the data set. The following statistics jumped out:
“One of the most pointed and straightforward questions in the survey was whether or not Sailors aspire to have their boss’s job. 49.4% of Sailors overall report they do not want their bosses job, a significantly negative response when compared to the 38.8% who say they do. A plurality of enlisted Sailors (46.5%) desire their boss’s job, while a majority of officers indicate they do not want their boss’s job (52.6%).”
While having your boss’s job doesn’t necessarily equate with aspiring to command, when not even 50% of junior officers seek said job, it’s probably time to have a discussion on what that means.
But what the JOs in our lunchtime discourse yesterday really wanted to know is, does our generation aspire to command, because as CAPT Sean Heritage points out, we are told that we ought to; but the DoD retention survey indicated otherwise. This engendered a broader discussion about aspiration to command versus a desire to lead.
And as discussion of this important distinction and resulting question progressed, we enjoyed and were informed by it so much that we wished that we could put a broader group of our peers in a room in order to have this same conversation with viewpoints from across the fleet. So we put our millennial, tech-savvy heads together and figured out how we could do so.
The result was the following brief survey that we are circulating (unofficially and informally) to our peers regarding junior officer command aspirations (and yes we understand that the chosen survey domain name is ironically synonymous with a specific archetype of naval service.)
If you are an actively-serving junior officer, to take the survey, click here:
We will leave the survey available through Thursday and publish the results whether we have two entries or two thousand. It will be interesting to see what we find out.
Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on 16 August 2015 for Midrats Episode 293: Russia and the Nuclear Shadow: 2015’s Revivals with Tom Nichols:
They never really went away, but for almost 20 years the world had a holiday from an old challenge and a new one; Russia and the prospect of nuclear war.
Some thought, and more hoped that with the end of the Cold War, a newer world order would emerge that would enable an era of stability and peace. In a way, it did – but only in spots and for short periods of time.
While for the last 15 years most of the attention was focused on the expansion of radical Islam, two not unrelated events began to wax. From the ashes of the Soviet Union, fed by a charismatic leader and a resource extraction economy, Russian began to reassert itself in a manner consistent with the last 500 years of its history, and in parallel – the boogyman of the second half of the 20th Century began to grow as well; the proliferation and possible use nuclear weapons.
To discuss this and more for the full hour will be Dr. Tom Nichols,
Tom is a professor at the Naval War College and at the Harvard Extension School, as well as a Senior Associate of the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs in New York City and a Fellow of the International History Institute at Boston University. Previously he was a Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. Before coming to the War College, he taught international relations and Russian affairs for many years at Dartmouth College and Georgetown University. In Washington, he was personal staff for defense and security affairs in the United States Senate to the late Senator John Heinz of Pennsylvania.
He received his PhD from Georgetown, an MA from Columbia University, and the Certificate of the Harriman Institute at Columbia.
He’s also a five-time undefeated Jeopardy! champion. He played in the 1994 Tournament of Champions, is listed in the Jeopardy! Hall of Fame. He played his final match in the 2005 Ultimate Tournament of Champions.
The U.S. Navy is preparing to accept delivery of four more of its shallow-water Littoral Combat Ships between now and February of next year, effectively doubling its current fleet size of the ships and paving the way for more deployments.
“By early next year, the Navy will be operating eight littoral combat ships and we’ll be accepting four more by the end of 2016,” Johnson told Military.com. “The Navy will continue to accept ships at that rate for the next several years making the LCS class the second largest surface combatant class in the fleet and the key to our ability to operate in shallow, coastal waterways around the world.”
That is an even dozen. Let’s pause a bit and chew on that. LCS-1 was commissioned in 2008, ~seven years ago, and little under 1/3 of her expected service life. What have we done with her in that time that shows any utility at war? While it was nice to test the theory of Longbow Hellfire a few weeks ago – it is not even close to being a warfighting option anytime soon in SUW ourside limited line of sight engagements. The MIW module doesn’t work (yet), and we don’t know if the ASW module is operationally usable because it is still overweight. Remember, FY15 is almost over.
Thee ships coming in to the Fleet in number now are – let’s be blunt and speak to each other as adults – of almost no use to a Maritime Component Commander at war or aggressive peace. This is still an experiment. Pray for peace, because there is no time in the upcoming POM cycle this warship should be put in harms way.
When in history has our Navy intentionally diluted its Fleet with such a large number of sub-optimal platforms whose only FMC PMA are Prayer, Promises, Hope, and Spin (PPHS)?
The littoral combat ship was designed as a multi-mission shallow water platform able reach areas and port inaccessible to larger-draft ships.
The platform has been the focus of some criticism and controversy. Lawmakers, analysts and members of the Navy have said the ships are not survivable enough in a fast-evolving world of surface warfare threats. Proponents have maintained that the LCS class is designed to defeat threats in coastal waters, where increasingly capable submarines, mines, and swarming small craft operate.
The theory is what it always has been, but still in 2015, there is no there, there. Good people with more money and Sailors will make the best of it as can be made – but the half-life of PPHS is passed, and yet has been made flesh anew;
Nevertheless, the concerns have led the Pentagon and the Navy to develop a new LCS variant, now called a Frigate, designed to capitalize upon the benefits of the LCS platform while making it more lethal and survivable. The particular composition of technologies and weapons for these new ships is now in the process of taking shape.
So, what now? Very good question. How much money and time do we invest to get this to even a usable warfighting capable platform?
What is plan B? Sadly, plan B was the new FF – but the way it was set up, the only option was a USN variant of what was the LCS-(I). Compared to the other options out there? Well, we have what we have. There were other plans – but that was not in the cards for those who had their hands on the levers of power.
For now, we will have to just bring the ships on, pat the program on its head, and then when they walk away – talk among ourselves how we can use this without delusion as to its utility and wasting Sailors lives. March in place with that mindset until something better comes along. Same that the US Army did with its Lee and Grant tanks in WWII.
To get something of better use, we will have to wait until the 2030s. It will take new leaders, new vision, and an honest appraisal of the mistakes made in the early 2000s. Good news? Those leaders who in the 2020s will help set up that 2030s solutions are mostly the young men and women in their 30s and 40s today. Those who will sign off on that solution are probably mostly in their 50s today. They know the LCS tale of woe because they watched it the balance of their professional careers. If we are a learning institution, then it will show inside a decade, sometime in the middle of the expected squeeze of the Terrible 20s.
Think. Prepare. Plan younger-cohort Gen-X, and Gen-Y. By example, you have a good idea how not to run a program. When the window opens and you find yourself at the table to replace the LCS/FF class – do it right.
The millennial generation follows in the footsteps of some awesome predecessors, learning from the example—and the mistakes—of the “Greatest Generation,” Baby Boomers, Generation X, and others. As we set our sails for the horizon, millennials often wonder: what will our legacy be?
At a recent meeting of junior and senior officers on innovation, a discussion arose about funding innovative projects. All involved recognized the elephant in the room as one senior leader said, “Clearly, we can’t solve the acquisition problem.”
Being a big fan of marginalia, I wrote that quote down on the side of my pre-brief material. Underneath it, I hurriedly scribbled, “We all want reform. Show me the person who doesn’t? Do the work! Steel the wool!”
That statement—“We Can’t”—underscores the shared intra-generational frustration over our military’s “wicked problems.” The defense-industrial-congressional complex looms large as the source of these problems. This is widely recognized, and while a few brave souls have tried to slay the beast, the masses have been content to live within its shadow according to its rules.
But it does not have to be this way, and the millennial generation is already actively involved in tackling these seemingly insurmountable problems. Under Secretary of Defense Brad Carson’s “Force of the Future” initiative and Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Admiral Bill Moran’s efforts aim to overhaul the antiquated, inefficient personnel systems throughout the DoD. Providing some revolutionary solutions—and volunteering to implement them—are members of the Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum (DEF) and similar JO-heavy organizations. These are millennials not willing to take “we can’t” as the final answer.
Paraphrasing a line from the founding text of our nation, though, “prudence, indeed, will dictate,” that disruptive servicemembers must not break apart the seams of the sea services “for light and transient causes.” As CDR Harrison Schramm recently wrote in the August 2015 issue of Proceedings, this generation must “do [our] homework and understand why we are where we are, and how to move forward.”
If we are to have any sort of enduring legacy, the millennial generation must eliminate the “Can’t” from responses to those who ask “How?” or “Why?” This will require millennial leaders to find their way into every corner of the defense-industrial-congressional complex, and be willing to translate reforms into lasting institutional overhaul.
We must also consider that retention in the active duty Navy may not be the end-all-be-all. Our service requires committed individuals capable of critical thinking not just in uniform, but also in elected office (particularly the “Big 4” committees in Congress: The House and Senate Armed Services Committees and the House and Senate Appropriations Committees) and in defense industry. When jobs for congressional districts, profit margins for defense industry, and programmatic victories for OPNAV N-codes trump naval strategy, agility, and innovation, we are on a perilous path. It is increasingly becoming unsustainable.
Our “Can-Do” generation will lead the way. By remaining actively connected through organizations such as the Naval Institute, DEF, CIMSEC, and others, we will ensure that the capricious winds of personnel placement do not silence the ideas and spirit of our generation’s thinkers, writers, and doers. We will not allow cynicism and disillusionment to erode our fighting spirit. We will tackle all problems—no matter how large or protracted—and we will solve them.
The Naval Institute will continue to be the forum where we bring these discussions—in real time—for perspective, refinement, and support. Now more than ever, we require a strong Institute with a robust online presence and a chorus of writers to diversify the debate.
As Winston Churchill once said, “The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”
We are now entering that period of consequences. Our sea services must either move forward or, as Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote so many years ago, fall “into insane contempt.” The legacy of the Can-Do Generation will be the difference.
With the recent spate of media attention on the firing of LtCol Kate Germano and the separate physical standards that female Marines have been held to for years, I feel the need to clear up some misconceptions, particularly those that hold that female Marines prefer lower standards and that such standards in any way benefit the Marine Corps.
I have been a Marine for over 17 years. Prior to my commissioning, I was a midshipman for four years. During those 21+ years, I have never heard a single female Marine express satisfaction with any physical standard that was less than that required by the men she served with, nor have I heard a female Marine express a desire for separate and different training. On the contrary, the prevailing attitude among women has repeatedly held that lower, easier standards for women were stupid, made women seem weaker and less capable, and were in the end downright dangerous, and that integrated training is the only way to go.
Over the past month, stories about LtCol Kate Germano’s “agenda” have been circulated in the news (her agenda seems to be all about holding women to the same standards as the men, seeking gender-integrated training, and similar supposedly tough demands). While I cannot speak with authority about the specifics of an “abrasive” leadership style, I can certainly talk about her complaints regarding the separate—lower—standards applied to female Marines. In fact, I am beginning to feel like a broken record. And in conversations I have had over the past two weeks, it seems many women, both those currently serving and those who have left the military, feel the same way. See my past posts about the PFT and pullups for some past discussion.
So to make this perfectly clear, women by and large do not appreciate, deserve, or desire different physical standards to be a Marine, nor do they benefit from them. Female Marines do not clamor for lower standards, don’t seek simply to achieve the minimum of said lower standards, and rarely speak approvingly of such standards. Those of us serving today did not create the existing standards, and do not benefit from their existence. On the contrary, we repeatedly and vocally deplore the lower standards applied to women (70-second flexed arm hang? Red boxes on the O-Course?), and have described the implications of lower standards as restrictive, dangerous, and biased.
Lower, different physical standards for women are restrictive, because they teach women and men alike that women simply aren’t capable of tougher physical achievements. Higher standards may be tough to reach at first but they are reachable, and by holding expectations low we are just teaching that that’s all we can expect from women.
Lower, different standards are biased, because they separate Marines into two categories based on nothing but stereotypical beliefs that certainly don’t apply easily to any individual, male or female, who decides they want to become a Marine. Seriously, who wants to become a watered-down version of a Marine? We wanted to become Marines because of what Marines stand for. We didn’t want to become half-Marines, or Marines with an asterisk. We wanted the whole deal.
And above all, such standards are dangerous, because they call into question the abilities of female Marines based on externally-held beliefs about what those Marines are capable of. And really, the danger goes much deeper than that. I co-authored a Proceedings piece about that some time ago.
Why are separate standards for women there? Read First Class, by Sharon Disher, or Breaking Out, by Laura Brodie, to get an idea of how those standards were set and who really was asking for them (hint: it wasn’t the women trying to join the academies or VMI. It was the middle-aged men making the decisions and regulations.).
So to sum up: separate and unequal physical standards help no one and endanger everyone; most of us do not want or need separate standards; and the Marine Corps would be better with one standard for Marines based on the needs of the job. Stop blaming female Marines for being subject to lower physical standards, and start listening to them when they say they don’t want them. For crying out loud, we have been saying it long enough. That is all.
Please join us at 5 pm (EDT) on 9 August 2015 for Midrats Episode 292: The Force of the Future w/Acting Under SECDEF Brad R. Carson:
If people are your most important asset, as the hardware people look to a future of F-35s, SSBN(X), and the FORD Class CVN, what are the steps being taken to set of the personnel structure to address future requirements?
Our guest to discuss this and more for the full hour will be Brad R. Carson, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.
Mr. Carson was appointed by President Obama to serve as the Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness on April 2, 2015. He currently serves as the 31st Under Secretary of the United States Army and Chief Management Officer of the Army.
He has previously served as General Counsel of the Department of the Army Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, member of the U.S. Congress representing the 2nd Congressional District of Oklahoma, academia, and a lawyer in private practice.
His military service includes a deployment in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM December 2008 until December 2009, as a United States Navy intelligence officer.
Mr. Carson holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Baylor University, Phi Beta Kappa. He received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. Mr. Carson also holds a J.D. from the University of Oklahoma.
The Exit Interviews series provides an opportunity to capture and share the honest and thoughtful insights of those members of the naval service who have served their country well, and are either moving on to serve it in other ways outside of the service (the “exit interview”) or who have chosen to pursue higher rank and greater responsibility within it. It focuses on individuals who are transitioning out of the service or have recently gotten out, and those who have recently chosen to stay in past their initial commitment.
Much like an exit interview in the corporate world, we ask a series of standardized questions that are intended to be open-ended and solicit honest reflection. If you would like to participate, or you know somebody who would, please reach out to email@example.com
Kirby Jones graduated from the US Naval Academy in 2009 and served as an intelligence officer, deploying to Korea and Afghanistan. She recently completed her military service and now resides in California with her husband (also a Marine Corps veteran) and their one-year old daughter.
Why did you join the Marine Corps?
I grew up in an atmosphere of patriotism and service to country and felt compelled to follow this legacy in some way. I was by no means a “military brat” as my Dad served as a Police Officer in the same area for over thirty years and my Mother and Step-Father were out of the military long before I was born, but the values and purpose that they instilled in me were well aligned with the military culture and philosophy. I came out of high school hungry for a challenge and something beyond the normal college experience. I wanted to make a difference and to stretch my limits seeking to learn about more about myself than about academics. The Naval Academy fit all of these desires and to the shock of many of my family and friends, I accepted my admittance.
Once at the Academy, I was still pursuing a challenge and the Marine Corps seemed like it would provide me the greatest challenge within my reach. The culture of bottom-up support centered around the rifleman on the ground appealed to me and the physicality of the endeavor intrigued me. It was another case of ‘how far can I push myself’. This branch seemed like the most pure and basic way to fulfill my duty to my country.
What was your favorite part of serving in the Marine Corps?
Without question, my favorite part of serving was the Marines. Some were good, some were bad, and most were a glorious blend of somewhere in between. Marines are a captivating assortment of young men and women with passion for their jobs, an unparalleled work ethic, and endless stories to tell. I am thankful to have encountered so many fascinating Marines and to have watched them and worked with them in all their glory.
The other highlight of my service was deployment. Actually being able perform the job that I was trained for day in and day out with minimal distractions and pure mission focus was extremely fulfilling. Each night I went to bed exhausted mentally and physically, but knowing that we did something that day that helped the guys out there in the line of fire. That feeling is powerful.
What did you find most frustrating?
I was continually frustrated by the prevailing hypocrisy and mixed messages coming from all sides and lower than expected levels of competency and character in leadership. Throughout The Basic School it was preached to me that I would be a leader and need to make quick, decisive, important decisions, but in the fleet it felt as if everything I did had to be run by several levels above me. Even as a Company Commander, I often felt powerless to make simple decisions for my Company knowing that they would just be overruled later. This impression filtered down to subordinates in being constantly told to trust your enlisted Marines, but yet scolded when you let them take charge and ceased to micromanage their efforts. I had exceptionally high expectations of leadership gleaned mainly from the awesome Marines that I encountered very early on in my career and the majority of leaders that I served under did not reach these high standards.
When and why did you decide to get out of the Marine Corps?
I went back and forth throughout my service of whether or not I would stay in, but about a year before I would be getting out is when I put my foot down and committed to the decision fully.
I have lots of answers when people ask me why I chose to leave the military because it is very hard to articulate an exact reason and easier to just throw out stock answers, but I will try to express my true feelings here. I am truly grateful to have served, but in the end it came down to the fact it was just not the place for me. The time away from my family was heart-breaking and not something I felt I could deal with in the long term. I was uncomfortable with the Marine Corps having the ability to make choices that would affect the lives of my husband and daughter. I had a lot of frustration with the leaders I was supposed to be mentored by and with my peers that I worked with, but I think this would probably occur anywhere to be honest. The final factor was that I looked at all the people above me and I realized I didn’t want any of their jobs. The further up I went, the less happy I was. It wasn’t fair to myself or other Marines for me to remain in an institution in which I had no desire to progress.
If you could change one thing about the Marine Corps, what would it be?
I don’t have all the grand answers, but I am going to cheat and list three simple things that came to me immediately.
- Let people fail more often, specifically officers. Give people a chance to try and fail and then be corrected. If they fail again, then take appropriate action. All the time I saw officers not have appropriate negative action taken against them because it may “ruin their career”. Here’s the thing- if they have done something that would warrant action which could ruin their career, then it’s likely that they shouldn’t have a career.
- Officer training/mentorship- TBS is great in theory and I honestly can’t say that I know all that much about how often the curriculum is changed or the process for deciding what gets taught, but I can say that TBS and MOS school taught me painfully little useful, applicable information for day to day life in the fleet. Obviously you are going to have to learn some lessons as you go along, that’s what makes you grow. However, for the extensive amount of time (more than a year) I spent in schooling I could have been given much more useful information and tools with which to go forward. I also firmly believe that as soon as you are promoted once it becomes part of your job description to mentor junior officers. I spent a large part of my service searching for mentors and finding distressingly few. Everyone is busy, but just a few minutes spent on mentorship makes a huge difference.
- Promotion system. The promotion system is flawed. Fitness Reports are in many cases NOT a true representation of a Marine’s actual competency and fortitude as a technician and a leader. I think they are better than they have been in the past from what I know of their history, but there is definite room for improvement in order to ensure the quality of those allowed to progress through the ranks.
What single most important lesson or piece of advice would you leave with Marine Corps leaders?
Find the areas where you can make a difference, big or small, and throw yourself into that action. Not the “bloom where you are planted” cliché, but more “find what will actually grow within your area of influence and plant that and nurture it and share it and accomplish as much as you can”. You will get so bogged down with what you can’t do that you cease to try anything creative or different and become a part of the status quo. Instead, look around and notice what you can do and do that. Do a lot of it and throw your passion into it. Even if it is as small as making Marines pass their PFT because you rock at leading PT or rewriting SOPs for your platoon so that at least you can internally function flawlessly. Relish those actions and the resulting successes. Quite often, someone will notice and your little change can spread throughout your unit or even beyond.
What’s next for you?
I am in a unique and fortunate position of not having to make a solid decision quite yet, but I am able to explore some of my other passions. I am currently staying at home with my young daughter and training for several races and triathlons. I may try for another degree in Nutrition and attempt to work somewhere in the field of nutrition in hopes of educating people in all walks of life about how important it is to fuel your body properly. I would love to work with the military again in some manner- I still feel a passionate call to serve those who continue to serve.