Please join us live at 5pm EDT U.S. on 17 August 2014 for Midrats Episode 241: Personnel Policy and Leadership, with VADM Bill Moran

How does policy shape, limit, or empower the effectiveness of command at the unit level? Which policies are a net positive, and which ones are counter productive? Are there things we can do to better balance larger Navy goals with the requirement to give leaders the room they need to be effective leaders?

In times of austere budgets, can you both reduce end-strength while at the same time retain your best personnel? Are we a learning institution that can adjust policy that answers the bell from DC in shaping tomorrow’s Fleet, yet does not break trust with Shipmates?

To discuss this and more we will have as our returning guest, Vice Admiral Bill Moran, USN. Chief of Naval Personnel. A P-3 pilot by trade, he held commanded at the squadron, wing and group levels. As Chief of Naval Personnel, he oversees the recruiting, personnel management, training, and development of Navy personnel. Since taking over a year ago he has focused on improving communication between Navy leadership and Sailors in the Fleet.

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

U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Margaret Keith

This post is the first in a series being cross-posted from CIMSEC.

swoThe United States Navy’s surface fleet finds itself in dynamic times. The standard length for deployments continues to rise, numerous hulls are on the chopping block, maintenance is battling to keep up with a harried operational tempo, and as ever, its leaders – Surface Warfare Officers, or SWO’s – are struggling to both improve, and in fact define, the community’s identity. Whether it is the uniforms we wear, our training pipelines, or our often-mocked culture, the community seems to lack a firm grasp on who we are, what we stand for, and how we do business. Over a series of three articles, I intend to first analyze a few counterparts – the Royal Navy, U.S. Naval Aviation, and U.S. Navy surface nuclear officers – and then explore some proposals meant to solidify the officers who take the world’s most powerful ships to sea.

Just Another Day at the Office

Just Another Day at the Office

After working alongside the Royal Navy, most American surface warriors walk away immensely impressed by the impeccable professionalism of their British counterparts. When SWO’s talk about improving their community, the Royal Navy’s practices inevitably come up. “We should do it like the Brits,” is a common theme. Few truly appreciate what that statement means, though. The Surface Warriors of the U.S. and Royal Navies are different: in size, mission sets, tempos, training, and priorities. There is not always a one-for-one correlation between the two. Before analyzing proposals or judging the merits of each side, let us simply gather some information by comparing the lifestyles of Sub Lieutenant Snodgrass, RN, and Ensign Timmy, USN.

The first area of comparison is training and path to qualification. All Royal Navy officer cadets spend between six and eleven months at Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC), where students receive military indoctrination and learn the ins and outs of the naval profession through a standardized curriculum. Upon graduation from BRNC, the young surface officer proceeds on to a training track for Warfare Officers or Engineers. The prospective engineers endure a rigorous 20-month pipeline of practical and theoretical training.

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Our Sub Lieutenant Snodgrass is a Warfare Officer, which is the career track most comparable to an American SWO’s. He and his comrades train for an additional 18-months. First, they attend three months of advanced seamanship theory training, followed by an intense year of practical bridge watch standing under instruction. If they are successful to this point, they stand for a week of individual bridge simulator assessments. Students must achieve passing marks on these assessments to proceed on to a final three months of advanced seamanship and navigation training. Upon graduation, they report aboard their first ship as an Officer-of-the-Watch (OOW) with a well-earned Navigational Watch Certificate. Within a month or so, SLt Snodgrass has earned his Commanding Officer’s Platform Endorsement – akin to a SWO’s Officer-of-the-Deck Underway Letter – and is entrusted with operating the ship unsupervised. While some Warfare Officers attend a 4-month long course and become navigators after gaining at least 4 years experience as an OOW, the next major pipeline for now-LT Snodgrass is the Principal Warfare Officer (PWO) Course and occurs at the nine-year point. Thirteen months long, the PWO Course trains Royal Navy surface officers to be the Commanding Officer’s advisor on either “Above Water” or “Under Water” Warfare, and can see up to 40 percent attrition.

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The U.S. Navy SWO training pipeline has seen several iterations over the past 12 years. Before 2003, newly commissioned Surface Warfare Officer Trainees attended the six month-long Division Officer’s Course. SWOSDOC, as the course was called, taught the basics of ship handling, navigation, shipboard maintenance, damage control, leadership, and divisional administration. The objective of the course was to give all ensigns the tools necessary to immediately contribute to their wardrooms and a foundation from which to qualify aboard their ship. This course was disbanded in 2003 and for approximately nine years, new officers reported directly to their ships, took over their divisions, completed computer-based modules, and received on-the-job training as they progressed through their qualifications. The current training model sees new officers attending an 8-week Basic Division Officer Course (BDOC) in their Fleet Concentration Area, where they delve into many of the topics found in the old SWOSDOC program.

Upon completion of BDOC, ensigns report to their ships and are assigned a division of anywhere between 10 and 30 Sailors to lead and the associated responsibility of the maintenance of their division’s systems. Concurrent with their division officer duties, they embark on a journey to earn their Surface Warfare Officer designation and pin. This journey, nominally 18-months long, entails qualifying in a series of watch stations – namely, Officer-of-the-Deck In-Port, Small Boat Officer, Combat Information Center Watch Officer, Helm and Aft-Steering Safety Officer, and ultimately, Officer-of-the-Deck Underway – through the completion of Professional Qualification Standards (PQS) books and various oral boards. The milestone pre-requisite to the SWO Pin is the Officer-of-the-Deck Underway letter – similar to the Royal Navy’s Platform Endorsement – and usually comes after about a year aboard the ship and ultimately represents the Captain’s trust in the officer to safely and professionally operate the ship in their stead.

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Typically, our Ensign Timmy will accumulate another six months of experience leading his bridge watch team, his division, and learning the catch-all nature of his chosen trade before sitting for his “SWO Board.” The SWO Board is a memorable event and involves the candidate sitting across from what, at the time, seems like a firing squad made up all of the department heads, the executive officer, and the Captain. While there is no formal, written or otherwise, fleet standard (outside of the pre-requisite watch stations) and no tangible result (aside from the pin), the SWO qualification represents a junior officer’s journeyman-level grasp of the surface, naval, and joint profession. Topics covered range far-and-wide: from logistics matters to amphibious landings and missile engagements, to personnel records, geography, ship and aircraft capabilities, emergency procedures, and naval justice fundamentals to meteorology. Now, with a pin and new officer designator, Lieutenant Junior Grade Timmy completes his first tour and attends approximately 1-2 months of job specific training before reporting to his next ship for a two year tour as Navigator, Auxiliaries officer, Main Propulsion Assistant, Fire Control Officer, Training Officer, Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer, or Force Protection Officer.

At the 8-year point, prospective SWO Department Heads attend up to nine weeks of intensive training in combat systems fundamentals, followed by 6-months in the Department Head Course, which includes three months dedicated to maritime warfare, and three months dedicated to administration, maintenance, damage control, and topics unique to the officer’s future billet.

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The next point of comparison is more overt and was touched on briefly above. In the Royal Navy, recruits select and compete for a specialization before attending the Royal Navy College. They attend training either for Warfare Officers, Marine Engineers, Weapon Engineers, or Air Engineers. Warfare Officers are first responsible for bridge watch standing and safe navigation, and later in their careers for the tactical employment of the ship’s combat systems. Their engineers are responsible for leading the ship’s technicians and the upkeep of their respective kit – or in U.S. Navy terms, the preventative and corrective maintenance of their assigned shipboard systems. SLt Snodgrass, our Royal Navy Warfare Officer, will start his career with three tours as a bridge watch keeper. Later on, he serves two tours as a Principal Warfare Officer. His engineer counterparts – either marine or weapon – leave their training and serve a tour as a shipboard Deputy Head of Department, where they ultimately sit a professional board qualifying them as capable of leading a department. After engineering focused “shore drafts,” those who qualify return to sea as Heads of Department.

In the U.S. Navy, Surface Warfare Officers do not formally specialize in their billets. The community prides itself in producing Jacks-of-all-Trades. Ensign Timmy starts his career as a SWO by serving two division officer tours. He has little to no say in what his first billet will be – he could just as easily serve as the Electrical Officer as he could the Gunnery or Communications Officer. When proceeding to his next tour, his desires and performance are taken into account along with the ever-present needs of the Navy. En route to his second ship, LTJG Timmy receives his first formalized billet training. His second division officer tour may or may not fall under the same department as his first. After four years ashore, now-LT Timmy serves two 18-month Department Head tours. While his desires are given heavy weight, his assignment will not necessarily be to a department in which he previously served. The career experiences, training, and development of SWO’s is designed to ensure that they are notionally plug-and-play – able to serve in any capacity at a moment’s notice. The U.S. Navy does not have a direct comparison to the Royal Navy’s Marine and Weapons Engineers, though in our system, they would most closely be seen as a mix of our Limited Duty Officers and Department Heads.

A final point of comparison is the Royal Navy’s focus on watch-standing over billets in their Warfare Officer community. On a typical Type-23 Frigate, their Warfare Officers will fill the roles of the four Officers-of-the-Watch, Navigator, PWO Underwater, PWO Abovewater, Operations Officer, Executive Officer, and Captain. Other billets, including Weapon Engineer Officer, Marine Engineer Officer, and their deputies, are filled by specialized engineering officers.

The primary duty of SLt Snodgrass, as an assigned Officer-of-the-Watch and later a Principal Warfare Officer, is watch keeping. Officers-of-the-Watch are also assigned secondary duties like Classified Books Officer, Intelligence Officer, and XO’s Assistant. They are also responsible for the pastoral care of a group of Sailors. While leadership and special duties are a reality for the Warfare Officer, it is a fact of life that they come second to their job as professional watch standers. This fact was driven home to me by one Royal Naval Officer who said, “an OOW is a prime target for secondary duties… then we encounter an incident, and a casual factor is found to be that the OOW was distracted from their core task of watch-keeping, and an admiral directs a high-pressure blast getting rid of many of them (secondary duties).” Junior PWO serve as their Captain’s advisors on warfare and as the lead watch-stander in their Operations Room. When not standing watch and serving as a warfare advisor, they serve as shipboard staff, execute event planning, and serve in what the U.S. Navy might consider a special projects officer capacity, in addition to the pastoral care of the junior officers in their wardroom.

Surface Warfare Officers are detailed, or assigned, to a specific shipboard billet. This billet is not only on their orders, but also serves as their very identity aboard the ship. They are the Gunnery Officer – GUNNO – or the Chief Engineer – CHENG. As a division officer, Ensign Timmy spends his day seeing to his division’s Sailors, equipment, and operations, while also standing roughly ten hours of watch per day, whether that be on the bridge, in Combat, or in the engineering plant. Later on, Lieutenant Timmy leads a department of approximately three divisions. While serving as a Department Head, he qualifies and stands watch as Tactical Action Officer, leading the watch team tasked with employing the ship’s sensors and weapons and serving as the senior watch stander aboard the ship. Watches are not collateral for SWO’s, yet their professional bias is most certainly towards their billet and their people.

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One key difference between the two navies that creates this disparity in bias is their respective approaches to duties covered by officers – specialists or not – vice enlisted Sailors. In the Royal Navy, most of the day-to-day upkeep of a division’s personnel and spaces is delegated to a senior petty officer. The Royal Navy also uses officers in many watch stations, like Quartermaster-of-the-Watch (duties considered a core competency of an RN OOW), Air Intercept Controller (Fighter Director in the RN), and Anti-Air Warfare Coordinator, that the U.S. Navy either mans with senior petty officers and chiefs, or splits between enlisted and commissioned watch standers. As a Royal Navy PWO broke it down for me, “tactical advice on Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) is my job as PWO(U), planning ASW matters is my chief’s job, looking after the ASW ratings is my petty officer’s job with direction from the two levels above, and maintenance of the ASW kit is the Deputy Weapon Engineering Officer’s job.” In the U.S. Navy, while surface Sailors are certainly empowered through delegation, a division officer or department head would have their hands in all of those levels in the execution of their assigned billet, while also concurrently standing watch throughout a given day.

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Undoubtedly, each country could take something positive away from the other for their own betterment. Our unique cultures and operational commitments, as well as our relative sizes, certainly drive our respective methods. Now that we have a better understanding of how the Royal Navy does business, we can draw rough comparisons to the American Surface Warfare Officer community and start to imagine elements we might adopt as we endeavor for self-improvement. Before exploring specific proposals, though, my next piece in this series will again seek to inform by comparing the professional standards, training mindset and approach to attrition of the SWO community with that of both Naval Aviation and nuclear trained officers.


seacontrol2Jon Paris joins us to discuss his article, The Virtue of Being a Generalist, Part 1: A Day in the Life of Sub Lieutenant Snodgrass. We compare the Royal Navy and US Navy processes of creating officers for their surface fleet, the nature of being a maritime “professional,” improvements for the American model, and generally gab on for about 36 minutes.

DOWNLOAD: British and American Surface Warfare Officers

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Leadership is hard. This pretty much sums up the screed by Commander Darcie Cunningham, USCG, entitled “Now Hear This – Millennials Bring a New Mentality: Does It Fit?” in the August issue of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings Magazine. In her 700 words, Commander Cunningham finds fault with her subordinates’ work ethic and aspirations, deems them selfish and finally questions the ability of an entire generation. She advocates the time-honored virtues of patience, maturity, and experience, “course-correct[ion]”, and “accolades” to feed these Millienials “encouraging reinforcement and the feedback for which they hunger.” Her solution is to defeat lack of military discipline with more military discipline. This course of action is so obvious and unremarkable, even the freshest of lieutenants in the Marine Corps manages to grasp and implement it. Finally, she asks the right question, but fails to answer it: “So how does our structured military culture adapt to this new generation?”

Commander Cunningham has been taken to task by plenty of others in the blogosphere, including two notable rejoinders. Commander Salamander’s snarky response points out Cunningham is simply recycling the same “Old Breed” garbage that every generation trots out when faced with younger charges who think differently and have dissimilar, diverse experiences. Salamander kills with a tried and true quote from Napoleon himself – “There are no bad regiments; there are only bad colonels” – which boils a unit’s failure down to the essence of its leadership. LT Scott Cheney-Peters, a fellow Truman National Security Project Defence Council Member to the authors of this piece, is less derisive than Salamander in his response on the USNI Blog, but effectively dismantles her grievances point by point. Cheney-Peters, however, is also a Millennial, so anything he says, is likely to be self-aggrandizing and untrustworthy, under Commander Cunningham’s criteria. Finally, Matt Hipple deconstructs her argument point by point in a compelling rejoinder on the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) site.

Rather than point-counterpoint Commander Cunningham’s piece to death (and because Hipple has beaten us to the punch), we have elected a different tack. We plan to ignore it wholesale because the premise of her article is so ridiculous. By writing this article, she casts more light on the shortcomings of her leaders and herself than the men and women she has been selected to lead. To complain about the nature of those being led will inevitably end in failure. The leader is not entitled to lead only those individuals with the set of characteristics (s)he is most comfortable with. In truth, it would be incredibly easy and convenient to lead a group stolen from the pages of Miller and Varley’s 300. Who doesn’t want a company of chiselled killers who are adaptive, obedient, tough, respectful, hardened, smart, competent, fit and posses the ideal mix of martial characteristics that define success on the battlefields of yore? However, we do not live in a graphic novel. Our citizens and those hoping to become citizens send us their sons and daughters, with whatever skills, talents, abilities, and shortcomings they possess- warts and all. It is up to us as leaders to shape them, to mold their character and help them better themselves, to hold them accountable for their execution and conduct when they fall short. To do this, a leader must inspire, a leader must be tough, and most importantly a leader must have the agility to adapt to new subordinates in order to capitalize on the talents they bring to the fight. The task of the leader is to lead, not to bemoan the alleged shortcomings of the led. When we incessantly complain about our subordinates, we break down trust, we break down harmony, and we fail not only ourselves, but also those we are charged to lead.

In short, we hope Commander Cunnigham’s essay dies a quick death on the internet and does not make it to websites where Millennials might read it. To be questioned as a generation who has fought on many battlefields- be they on land or sea- might be construed a tad insulting to the critical thinking Millenial. Fortunately, most military leaders these authors know are sanguine and adaptable to the challenge of leading a generation different from their own.


UDT-SEAL TrainingBack in 2009, in his Proceedings article The Navy Can Handle the Truth: Creative Friction Without Conflict, regular USNI contributor Claude Berube provided a great observation about how important the give and take of debate is in addressing the challenges we face, and the great opportunity we have with the internet to broaden the reach and scope of those involved.

In the current environment, due to largely to changing missions, budgetary constraints, and varying priorities, the Navy continues to shrink in terms of both ships and personnel, decreasing the already minimal familiarity of the general American public with its Sea Services. Bullets and shells may win the battles, but words and ideas define the war and mobilize or sway the requisite public opinion to win it. Therefore, it is important for the Navy to recognize that one of America’s greatest strengths—its freedom of speech—can be its own force multiplier. This freedom allows for creativity, the engine of culture, the economy, and the military; dictatorial powers largely experience the relative creative stagnation regnant in a closed society.

Earlier this week over at my homeblog, in a discussion about another Proceedings article by CDR Darcie Cunningham, USCG; Millenials Bring a New Mentality: Does it Fit?, I brought in a White Paper that found its way to me, Training Millennials: Improving Quality in an Environment of Austerity, by LCDR Gordon “Judy” Faulkner, USN, at that time the VFA-106 Training Officer. Yesterday Judy sent me an updated version of the White Paper which I’ve embedded below.

Not taken aback by the boisterous romper-room that exists over at my homeblog, as I asked, Judy reached out to me – and the results are exactly what Claude was outlining.

I liked his email so much, with only minor changes, I asked his permission to publish it as a guest post. I originally was going to post his response over at CDRSalamander, but I wanted instead to bring it over here, as Judy brings up exceptionally important challenges that need to get a broader exposure.

Though I remain in disagreement with some of his observations about Millenials and think that discussion is a distraction, the other part – and I would argue the most important part of the White Paper – is what I would recommend the greatest focus by the reader.

Read the updated paper at the link above and draw your own conclusions, but the rest of the post I would like to turn over to Judy. The quotes are from my commentary on his White Paper, but otherwise the rest is his response. Over to you Judy.


Perhaps this piece would have been better as two separate articles, each addressing what I perceive as two very different topics. 1) Chronic under-resourcing coupled with mission creep, resulting in an inadequate training pipeline. 2) How to recognize, address and lead in light of generational friction, which you seem to agree is real and exists between most generations. Alas, the version you posted is the one that most people have read.

My use of the term “Millenials” in the title belied the real point of the paper. Alternatively I could have called it “How under-resourcing is threatening to destroy the Navy by forcing us to push through sub-par officers in an effort to meet requirements.” Even my long-winded literary namesake would assault this as verbose.

“He is not happy with the condition of the swimming hole he is playing in and has a rough idea that the issues are upstream … but besides a sniff and a passing glance, he has not started asking – or at least feels he has the top-cover to even bring up – the harder questions of “why” these personality types are floating down to his part of the river.”

Let’s put one thing to bed – during my time at VFA-106, AIRLANT fully supported every Field Naval Aviator Evaluation Board (FNAEB) that VFA-106 submitted; there were several. I was VERY happy with the swimming hole I was playing in (VFA-106) and those Commanding Officers who went to the mat to support me. In fact, it was my most rewarding tour thus far. Top cover existed in spades – to the point where VFA-106 failed to meet production metrics in part due to historically high attrition.

I have thought extensively about, ” “why” these personality types are floating down to his part of the river.”

It has a lot to do with the “fiscal austerity” in my title (sorry again for the drudgery there). Chronic under-resourcing creates a training dilemma.

How do we access, indoctrinate, train, and retain the best officers while culling those not suited to military service? Even more importantly, how do we do that in an environment where the best are leaving (or are not signing up in the first place), and we are forced in some cases to retain the worst to meet requirements? You point that out yourself here:

The problem is not with the Millenials – it is with senior leadership’s inability to select, cull, and lead junior personnel. Do that, and any “problem” people simply won’t show up.

That is the rub. Setting standards from officer accession, entry in to aviation pipeline, and then each milestone along the way.

Agreed. In fact, that is why six of seven proposed solutions have nothing to do with changing Millenials. Leadership is the solution, and as I state in my paper we need to tailor leadership to those we lead while enforcing or improving upon existing standards. That begins with understanding those we lead.

If I sound a bit like a curmudgeon, perhaps it is because 23 pages seemed long enough. Another paper written today might be about all of the positive aspects of Millenials that we should be tapping into and harnessing as leaders.

That being said, as you point out in your conclusion, generational friction is real. Understanding that friction and your audience are critical to effective communication, which is fundamental to sound leadership. Dr. Jean Twenge is doing a sound and scientifically based job of explaining current generational friction. In my opinion, she offers excellent insight for officers attempting to improve their communication skills. She is not selling snake oil out of the back of a wagon. She is attempting to quantify and explain generational friction in an effort to foster understanding. This is not at all about blaming Millenials; it is about understanding them. To quote my paper: “Developing Millennial officers requires a concerted leadership approach. Officers cannot lead in the ways that they believed worked for their generation. They must study, adapt and lead in the way that their Sailors require them to. Leaders must adjust their approach to their Sailors, not the other way around.”

There is also the problem of second guessing of who can or cannot meet standards. The multiple chances and training jackets measured in inches of thickness and pounds of weight … the pushing to the right and the next command people who should be invited to find another way to serve their country earlier on – wasting their time and the Navy’s money. That story is not new. May be worse – but not new.

Bingo. I could not agree with you more. Here’s the three million-dollar question – when we have fewer candidates who meet the standard than we have required billets, what gives, the requirement or the standard? This is where the rubber meets the road in today’s Navy. The most recent Aviation Department Head Screen Board is yet another example of this dilemma, albeit rooted in some different issues.

The Sailors of VFA-106 expend tremendous energy to train every officer who arrives at our door. In some cases, those officers should not have arrived in the first place. That does not mean they do not deserve our full effort. Some of the best leadership I have ever seen came from the Lieutenants whom VFA-106 assigned as mentors to our most difficult officers. We did not attrite those problem children them without first trying to lead and develop them.

There is a balance between healthy attrition and production. The former fosters competition and appreciation for the privilege of serving in the Navy. The latter ensures that we meet requirements in a way that is fiscally responsible to the US taxpayer. One of the most difficult decisions as a Training Officer or Commanding Officer is when to remove a student from training. In some cases it is easy; in most cases it is a gut wrenching progression of doing everything possible to train and lead (we all want to believe that we can get through to anyone) and finally admitting that some people are not suited for Aviation or for the Navy. The point where that decision occurs will vary based on leadership style and experience. In all cases, it is critically important that the Fleet provides unfiltered feedback on their nuggets and that the Fleet Replacement Squadrons provide the same to the Training Command. That flow of information should continue all the way to assessment. The bottom line is that ownership at every level ultimately ensures that we do not matriculate sub-standard officers to the fleet. Each command should see itself as a brand and every officer that passes their doors as a ambassador of that brand. Ultimately, a certain amount of undermanning is preferable to having sub-standard officer, aviator, SWO or Submariner in a Wardroom.

If you are not given the tools to force shape those that float down stream to you, then your bosses are the problem.

Boom goes the dynamite. In this case, the tools you speak of are resources matched to requirements. And in my opinion, the bosses are the elected ones, not the ones in uniform; however, it is our responsibility as officers to dutifully advise our elected officials when we can no longer meet stated goals given current fiscal constraints; however, as an O-4 at the Fleet Replacement Squadron those conversations are “a little out of my element.”

In summary, the entire cadre of junior officer instructors at VFA-106 is comprised of Millenials. They are some of the best officers with whom I have had the opportunity to serve. They are harder working, smarter and in many cases more dedicated then my contemporaries. Given adequate resourcing those same instructors of VFA-106 will set to meeting fleet requirements, providing the Navy with high quality Officers and aviators. And given adequate resourcing, we might just improve their morale and retention at the same time.


That, my friends, is how it is done.

As a final note – if you wonder if Aristotle, Chesterton, Socrates or other of history’s great thinkers ever yelled at the kids to get off their lawn, I recommend

this quick read.


This post is a response to an article in the August issue of USNI’s Proceedings by Commander Darcie Cunningham, U.S. Coast Guard, titled “Millennials Bring a New Mentality: Does it Fit?” So if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you start there. This post appeared in its original form at CIMSEC.

Where to begin? To her credit, Commander Cunningham asks an important question: “how does our structured military culture adapt to this new generation?” It’s also clear her frustrations are borne of personal experiences in command. Unfortunately it’s a question she fails to answer (more on that later) and in doing so perpetuates myths and patronizing generalizations. [Full disclosure: I’m in the millennial generation, on the older end of the spectrum, and like all such groupings the term “millennial” is a debatable construct but I’ll accept her definition (those born in the 80s and 90s) for argument’s sake.] “Kids These Days!” Commander Cunningham begins by noting several behaviors that are supposedly unique to millennials: that they “posture to work only the bare minimum number of hours required,” that their “customs and courtesies are eroding,” and that “there are an increased number of negative confrontations.” It is entirely possible that this is what is happening at Coast Guard Base Los Angeles, it is certainly her perception. But more likely it is just that: perception. Such perceptions have existed about pretty much every generation when they were in their youth. That doesn’t make them accurate.

From a more disciplined era of service.

From a more disciplined era of service.

Let’s return to the important question: “how does our structured military culture adapt to this new generation?” Beyond the advice to use positive feedback to keep the crew motivated, the Commander Cunningham offers nothing. Instead she says they must be “educated,” “course-corrected,” and evaluated for whether they will “truly be able to adapt to the service.” And that’s the thing – this isn’t really an article about adapting the military to millennials, it’s about adapting millennials to the military, as reflected in the title. Which is not all bad. To be sure respect for rank and proper military etiquette are just good manners, and appreciation for a service’s traditions, structure, customs, and courtesies are the marks of a professional. Yet here is where it gets downright galling. The commander moves to close by questioning whether millennials are just “focused on what’s in it for them.” This is flat-out wrong. As the Washington Post reports, millennials “want jobs that affect social change, and they give what they can. A 2012 study found that three-quarters of young people surveyed gave to a charity in 2011, and 63 percent volunteered for a cause.” It bears remembering that this is an all-volunteer force. While many undoubtedly join the military in part for other reasons – heck I joined partly to pay for college and to travel abroad – I would submit a vast majority, such as myself, also joined in part for the ideals that military service embodies and a belief that such work is work towards a better world. Instead of playing to these motivations, however, Commander Cunningham advises reminding these servicemembers that there are “long lines” waiting to get into the coast guard and that the economy is not the best. There’s so much wrong in this. First, it’s unclear if the commander thinks that since “millennials…may not be the right fit,” they can be replaced by one of the other five generations she says she oversees, or if she’s referring to individual millennial members. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt she means the latter and that she’s not saying that taking on the challenge of motivating millennials may just be too hard and that they should be written-off en masse. Second, there’s a reason these individuals are the ones in service and not in the supposed long lines. It’s because these they were the top qualified candidates. Even those who aren’t top performers in service are not likely to have too much trouble finding work outside the military, or using their benefits for further education, so this threat rings hollow except for those really troubled individuals threatened with a non-honorable discharge. And that’s to say nothing of how trying to scare one’s employees isn’t typically the best management or leadership strategy. 091013-N-9132C-008Third, because these were the top qualified candidates this also means that any millennial you give up on is going to be replaced by…another millennial…who by and large won’t be as qualified. Sure you can keep up the numbers, but again, what does this say of the quality of your talent pool? One complaint the commander makes that does ring true is that “younger members…have an expectation of accelerated advancement through the organization.” In Commander Snodgrass’ 2014 Retention Survey he notes that 60% of respondents “feel they are making a difference in their job, but regardless of what they do – 64% don’t think they will be rewarded in any way by superior performance.” This should not be an indictment of millennials but a recognition of a drawback of military service in comparison with civilian organizations, as well as an opportunity to prove one’s leadership bona fides. Yes, we millennials want positive feedback and to know whether we’re doing a good job, and yes we wish we could rise through the ranks commensurate with our talents rather than in accordance with organizational and statutory limitations. Leaders would be well served to look for alternatives such as creating opportunities for crewmembers to prove themselves through increased responsibility or challenges. If the military can’t keep up with the rest of the world in reasonably advancing its people, Commander Cunningham should at least be able to explain what is or isn’t in her control and that she will do what she can to position her people for success. There are going to be bad apples among us, as there are in any generation. But tarring an entire generation with questionable generalizations is counter-productive. While this article may ask the right question, it doesn’t really attempt to answer it. What most millennials want is appreciation, when earned, an opportunity to make a difference, and a voice that is heard if not always heeded. The military, the top employer of millennials, still needs to make a serious attempt at understanding how to best take advantage of what this generation has to offer. A good place to start exploring the issue is Air Force vet Tim Kane’s Bleeding Talent, NYT review here. Another response to this article can be found at CIMSEC by LT Matt Hipple.

millennials


8th

The Call of the Deep

August 2014

By

LT Alex Smith and LT Rob Kelly aboard USS Milius in 2010.

LT Alex Smith and LT Rob Kelly aboard USS Milius in 2010

Since coming ashore as an NROTC Assistant Professor, I have come to wonder why poems and literature at sea are losing popularity amongst our ranks. Perhaps the mystery and feel of navy life has been diminished – Electronic Chart Data Information System (ECDIS-N) does not have the feel of a sextant and receiving storm data vis-à-vis Meteorological Officers in Hawaii isn’t the same as predicting gales using weather gauges.

Many officers and sailors have talked to me about “how interesting navy life used to be,” or have confessed, “it isn’t the same anymore.” These are accurate observations and I think that an organization with a rich history such as ours deserves admiration. Nevertheless, this is the best time to be in the Navy. Women and minorities serve at equal status with their white male counterparts; sailors have more support networks then ever before; and social media allows many of us to communicate with our families in nearly real time. Our sensory connections with the duties we perform at sea are indeed not what they once were, but does this necessarily mean we are less inclined to write about the encompassing power of our planet’s restless and mysterious waters?

A personnel transfer at sea in 1951 (lst1126.com)

A personnel transfer at sea in 1951 (lst1126.com)

Despite the interest our careers inspire amongst men and women of all ages, there has been a considerable decline in literary reminiscences over the last few years. Instead of using turning to pen and paper to share and confess our thoughts, we merely use hash tags and click ‘share.’

The nineteenth century gave us Walt Whitman, Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad; the early twentieth century produced Jack London and Patrick O’Brien. They were sailors with the ability to portray sea life from a variety of perspectives that engaged readers at their core. Although their work was primarily fiction, I’d offer that the difference between fiction and reality is razor thin. The stories poignantly reveal human nature at sea and provide meaning that all of us can relate to. Like these famed authors, we too must strive to make meaning in what we do and then portray this cogently to the public domain and each other.

Popular writers have weighed in, but their contributions are not necessarily accurate. The April 19 New Yorker article “Shipmates: Life on an Aircraft Carrier” by Geoff Dyer, ended with the same dubious colloquialism every landlubber surmises. “When, at last, I was back on the very dry land of Bahrain, I checked in at a hotel, went up to my room, and showered for a long time. The water felt cleaner, more sparkling [. . .] I looked out the window at the empty cityscape and experienced another revelation: I could go for a walk!” Similarly, the only question Thomas Friedman asks a young junior officer when he rode the USS New Mexico for one night was “how do all of you stand being away from your families for so long underwater, receiving only a two-sentence ‘family-gram’ once a week?”

I would contest we are not simply motivated by the same social connotations that our civilian counterparts enjoy. We are sailors. We come from a different breed and our lives by nature do not possess the homogeneous social norms of our civilian counterparts. Although we may have put to sea for a variety of reasons – service to our nation, learn new skills, earn the GI Bill – all of us have been affected by the wonders of navy life; our lives sharpened by the life on the seas. Some of the mystery is gone, but the beauty still remains.

Proceedings and other naval publications primarily exist to discuss and debate naval doctrine, but it should also reflect on our social experiences in a meaningful way. To be honest, I have never mused about the powers of Aegis beneath the vast night sky, with the dust of the Milky Way scattered as far as the eye can see. Even though the Main Propulsion Assistant and the senior gas turbine technician could recite each valve within the main drainage system by memory, we never argued too much about engineering improvements that our senior leaders should be pursuing. We told sea stories, discussed books and history, laughed as we reenacted scenes in our favorite movies, and then went about our duties.

Mahan’s diary as a junior officer is a fascinating read. Many of his entries lament about his fear of drinking too much and his abhorrence of superior officers. “The Captain has annoyed me, and I have felt and spoken angrily and sullenly.” And, like so many of us, he does not always complete tasks on time. “Have failed in my duty concerning the reading of the Articles of War.” Yet, within his complaints and small victories, a portrait of life at sea emerges. His ability to reflect on sea life, both positive and negative, ultimately led to him thinking more critically about naval tactics and the naval profession as a whole. Simply put, it gave him meaning and persuaded him to remain at sea.

Over the years, I have found that life itself is like the sea. Our lives ebb and flow like a foaming tide. We attempt to seize each moment, try to live one day at a time, hang on tightly to lifelines and trust that our faith in each other will get us there. So much we do in our lives as sailors is wandering and I do profess that wandering the ocean is the most exciting profession in the world.

Perhaps John Masefield says it best in Sea Fever.

Oh I must go down to the seas again,

To the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship

And a star to steer her by

And the heel’s kick and the wind’s song,

And the white sail’s shaking

And a grey mist on the sea’s face

And a grey dawn breaking

Before my final deployment aboard USS Milius, my wife gave me the finest gift anyone could: a journal. It was an impeccable idea. After all, there’s nothing like a day at sea, to meditate about this earth and to think of all the challenges that await us afloat and ashore. So, as naval officers who experience the daily grind, let us tell the evolving story of our Navy. One hundred years from now these entries will capture us for who we were and where we were going.

 

Geoff Dyer, “Shipmates: Life on an Aircraft Carrier,” The New Yorker, April 2014, 6; Thomas Friedman, “Parallel Parking in the Arctic Circle,” The New York Times Sunday Review, March 29, 2014.

Diary entry on August 6, 1868 and May 11, 1869 in Letters and Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan, vol. I (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1975), 201; 301.

John Masefield, “Sea Fever” in Salt Water Ballads (1902).


kimb300

Photo of William Kimball found online at Submarine Pioneers

A few weeks ago, my friend and Proceedings colleague LCDR Benjamin “BJ” Armstrong posted an important thread on the USNI Blog revealing the challenges that the 2014 Current Strategy Forum. In predictable fashion, many participants at the Forum asked the age-old, paradoxical question, what would Mahan do? It would seem Mahanian legend is firmly embedded within our policy planners’ imagination. When faced with the revision of the Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower (CS21), instead of asking how Mahan would handle the next century of naval warfare, the War College should be asking “what should our junior officers do?”

I assert that our strategy in naval warfare still permeates from the Zeitgeist of Mahan, when it should be more focused on the explosive energy that many of our junior officers possess. Rather than look to an individual who merely conveyed the ideas of others, continue to foster outlets – like the Naval War College – that allow our junior officers to create, build, test, and revise their ideas.

How did Mahan gain so much notoriety?

As he matured his theories of sea power, drawing from the selective histories he provided the world, Mahan became more and more interested in the actual application and implementation of policy. In “Preparedness for Naval War,” an article published in Harper’s in 1897, he argued that America was “to all intents an insular power, like Great Britain.” As a result, every “danger of a military character to which the United States is exposed can be met best outsider her own territory at sea.” Offensive capabilities would be in the function of a sea-going Navy – battleships, cruisers, and torpedo boats, capable of accompanying a fleet, but not impending its movements – which could uphold an adaptive Monroe Doctrine.1

Mahan was delighted when his friend Theodore Roosevelt was appointed Secretary of the Navy, for he knew the effects this could have on the financially-strapped Navy. He immediately wrote Roosevelt and called attention to Japan’s naval program and urged annexation of the Hawaiian Islands. “Do nothing unrighteous,” he told Roosevelt, but “as regards the problem, take the islands first and solve the problems afterwards.” In response to the danger from Japan, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy replied that no strong nation “should be allowed to gain a foothold in the Western Hemisphere.” As the year continued, Mahan’s imperialist visions grew deeper. He had become the definitive voice in the political-navy arena with the support of sympathetic spirits like John Hay, Theodore Roosevelt, and Henry Cabot Lodge, but also with a gradually convinced public opinion.2

Technological improvements, especially in regard to photoengraving and printing, enabled Mahan to reach phenomenal popularity. The introduction of the Merganthaler Linotype machine changed the face of publishing and the character of periodicals. Allowing users to print quickly and cheaply and to use real pictures, publishers attracted a mass market, especially by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. Magazines at every level began competing for the American literary market. Captain Mahan had a wide audience both among the intellectuals and in popular magazines and newspapers. In November 1897, Little, Brown, and Company published a small volume entitled, The Interest of America in Sea Power: Present and Future, which included nine of Mahan’s most important articles. The articles provided an easily understood, broad perspective in understanding the problems facing America’s organic fleet. These immediately enlarged Mahan’s following and at the same time provided his influential supporters with verses to convert the non-believers.3

The Importance of the Naval War College

Established in 1884 and only a decade in existence, the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, was already preparing unrestricted line officers intellectually and strategically. As former Secretary of the Navy William Chandler put it, “the constant changes in the methods of conducting naval warfare imposed by the introduction of armored ships, swift cruisers, rams, sea-going torpedo boats, and high-power guns. . . render imperative the establishment of a school where our officers may be enable to keep abreast of the improvements going on in every navy in the world.” When the Cuban insurrection broke out in 1895, the officers in charge at the Naval War College thought it necessary to undertake a study of a possible Spanish-American conflict. They gave the class of 1895 a “special problem” concerning a war with Spain where the objective was to secure independence for Cuba and called for an early joint operations again Havana. The U.S. fleet, based out of Key West, would intercept any Spanish expedition attempting to reinforce the defenders in Cuba. In 1896, the Office of Naval Intelligence submitted Lieutenant William Kimball’s plan, which would later win an audience in Newport, Rhode Island.4

After graduating the Naval Academy in 1869, William Kimball entered a post-Civil War navy of obsoleted warships, outdated organizational structures, and few opportunities for promotion. Kimball looked the part of a quintessential officer; he was well groomed, he kept his mustache pointed on both sides, and he parted his brown hair down the center. While at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1885, he met John P. Holland – the inventor of the new submarine boat – and formed an immediate friendship. Kimball helped Holland secure navy contracts for the submarine and contributed in the later development of the torpedo boat, then went on an extended intelligence-gathering trip through the Isthmus of Panama in 1885. His experiences in the Central Americas would eventually result in a special intelligence report on a possible canal route.5

Between 1894 and 1897, Kimball served in the Office of Naval Intelligence and developed an inner circle around the assistant secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt. During that time, he assembled information for his plan “War with Spain, 1896,” which would later serve as the blueprint in case of war and offered ‘Mahanian’ objectives. Supporting attacks against Manila and the Spanish coast would, as he believed, further induce Spain to negotiate an end to the conflict. After an attack on the Philippines, Kimball proposed a war plan that depended on a stringent naval blockade of Cuba as the primary means of persuading Spain to release control of her colony. Although this plan was heavily scrutinized, both at the War College and the Bureau of Navigation, it would later become the outline for future naval operations.6

Rear Admiral Francis Ramsay, chief of the influential Bureau of Navigation –and Mahan’s nemesis from the Naval Academy – had long been an opponent of the War College, and it is likely he was the one who persuaded Secretary of the Navy Hilary Herbert to convene a board in the summer of 1896 to draw up a separate plan for war with Spain. Like the Kimball plan, the Ramsay Board focused on the naval blockade, but added the deep-water ports of Puerto Rick and those of Cuba. Although the strength of the Navy in 1896 was sufficient to meet and defat a fleet arriving from Spain, the board called for the purchase of a number of small, fast steamers to enforce the blockade. The destruction of crops in Cuba led the Board to believe the Spanish garrison needed to import food to survive, hence the reasoning behind acquiring more ports. Some members of the board dissented, stating that large operation in Spanish waters were “too dangerous,” and a naval blockade would not be sufficient to subdue the Spanish forces in Cuba. A later board, called together by Rear Admiral Montgomery Sicard, in June 1897, accepted the Kimball Plan as the primary means of fighting Spanish forces. The plan called for the reduction and garrisoning of principal ports and recommended the idea of using the Asiatic Squadron against the Spaniards.7

President McKinley regarded Teddy Roosevelt’s views as effective and used Roosevelt as an expert adviser on naval strategy and America’s preparations for defense. But they weren’t actually Roosevelt’s ideas – they were Kimball’s. On September 21, 1897, Roosevelt conferred with the President over dinner and the two men continued their conservations the next while horseback riding. During their meetings, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy gave McKinley a thorough summary of the war plan, which constituted official Navy Department policy at the time. Additionally, he discussed with the president the location of every US warship, the availability of other ships for purchase, and gave an endorsement of the major assumptions of attack made by Kimball. If the president still did not know the location of the Philippines, as he claimed in early comments once war broke out, he certainly knew that the Philippines was one of the Navy’s first targets commanded by his appointee, Commodore George Dewey.8

Although the correspondence between Roosevelt and key policy planners have historically been used to justify Roosevelt’s impulsive and imperialist philosophies, they should actually be viewed as a lens in understanding his political strength. Kimball’s plan – not Roosevelt’s rhetoric or penmanship – was the decisive catalyst and elusive first cause of the American victory in the Spanish-American War.9

One Final Thought

Americans, particularly seagoing junior naval officers, who by 1900 were one of the most educated singular bodies in the world, were more active and were ready to move from the shadows of geographical isolationism into a world that would eventually have to accept America as a global power. In that regard, perhaps there is no finer example of blossoming, contemporary Americanism, then within our junior officer ranks.10


  1. Allen Westcott, Ed., Mahan on Naval Warfare: Selections from the Writings of Rear Admiral Alfred T. Mahan (Boston, 1918), 130-131. 

  2. Elting E. Morison, The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt (Cambridge, 1951), 718-719; The Letters and Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan, 1890-1901 (Annapolis, 1975), 592. 

  3. John W. Oliver, History of American Technology (New York, 1956), 442-448; Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines (5 vols.; Cambridge, 1968), IV, 153-54. 

  4. John Davis Long, The New American Navy (New York, 1904), 75-76; Ronald Spector, Professors of War: The Naval War College and the Development of the Naval Professionalism (Newport, 1977), 89-90; David Trask, The War with Spain in 1898 (New York, 1981), 73-74. 

  5. Jeffrey M. Dorwart, “Kimball, William Wirt”: http://www.anb.org.proxygw.wrlc.org /06/06-00340.html; American National Biography Online (Feb. 2000); On Kimball, see Peter Karsten, The Naval Aristocracy: The Golden Age of Annapolis and the Emergence of Modern American Navalism (1972); Richard D. Challener, Admirals, Generals, and American Foreign Policy, 1898-1914 (1973). 

  6. Jeffrey M. Dorwart, “Kimball, William Wirt”: http://www.anb.org.proxygw.wrlc.org /06/06-00340.html; American National Biography Online (Feb. 2000); On Kimball, see Peter Karsten, The Naval Aristocracy: The Golden Age of Annapolis and the Emergence of Modern American Navalism (1972); Richard D. Challener, Admirals, Generals, and American Foreign Policy, 1898-1914 (1973). 

  7. Report of the Ramsay Board, contained in Grenville, American Naval Preparations, 38-41. 

  8. Theodore Roosevelt to Henry Cabot Lodge, September 21, 1897, in Elting E. Morison, Ed, The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt (Cambridge, 1951), 685-686. 

  9. Elting E. Morison, Ed, The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1951), 716-717 

  10. Photoengraving and lithography helped disseminate a preponderance of academic theories. Most people would know about Mahan’s battleships and Roosevelt’s colorful exploits, especially with Andrew Carnegie’s gift of public libraries throughout the country; James A. Field, “American Imperialism: The Worst Chapter in Any Book,” American Historical Review, no. 83 (1978), 644-683. 


Posted by LT Alex Smith in Navy | No Comments
Please join us at – 2pm (1400) EDT on 27 July as we time shift Midrats for Episode 238: “The Horn of Africa – still the front lines, with RDML Krongard, USN”:

A special time this week, 2pm Eastern, in order to have a reasonable time for our guest on the other side of the world.

This week we are going to visit an AOR that may have dropped of a lot of people’s scan, but in the Long War – it is still the front lines; the Horn of Africa.


Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, and the waters around the Arabian Peninsular – from terrorism to piracy – America and her allies and partners are at work every day to keep the beast over there, and not here.


Our guest for the full hour will be Rear Adm. Alexander L. Krongard, USN, Deputy Commander, Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Africa. In this position, he supports the CJTF-HOA Commander to counter violent extremism in East Africa, foster regional security cooperation, strengthen partner nation security capability, and build and maintain U.S. strategic access in the region. Krongard is also responsible for developing relations with senior military leaders in African partner nations and directing CJTF staff and subordinate commanders’ support to deployed personnel and units of all Services across the Horn of Africa. DCJTF-HOA.


A Navy SEAL by training, RDML Krongard is a graduate of Princeton University and the National War College.

Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here.


MexicoThe United States is currently undergoing a massive influx of Central American immigrants along the Southwest border. Due to gridlock and political interest in courting the Latino vote, federal policies have been ineffective in resolving this looming national crisis. The consequent bureaucratic quagmire, in turn, prevents states from protecting the interests of their citizens. A dangerous situation looms, where local communities and citizen groups feel compelled to take action to preserve property and maintain their way of life.

Resolving this immediate crisis is important but the nation’s political leaders must also examine the migration and demographic trends which threaten the geographic cohesiveness and prosperity of the United States. This existential threat could be turned into a strategic opportunity if viewed through a different, long-term lens.

In his final book Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity, Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington addressed what he viewed as an impending crisis posed by Hispanic immigration. He argued that Anglo-Protestant culture, the fundamental reason the United States has prospered as a nation, was eroding because of this northward population shift. He also noted that Hispanic immigration differed from past such movements for six reasons: contiguity, scale, illegality, regional concentration, persistence, and historical presence. It is this last factor that requires further examination.

People from no other immigrant group in America’s history can make a claim of ownership of U.S. territory. Most of the Southwest region from Texas, to California, to Utah was incorporated into the United States after wars with Mexico in the mid-19th century. Peter Skerry of Boston College notes:

Unlike other immigrants, Mexicans arrive here from a neighboring nation that has suffered a military defeat at the hands of the United States; and they settle predominantly in a region that was once part of their homeland…. Mexican Americans enjoy a sense of being on their own turf that is not shared by other immigrants.

This history certainly challenges assimilation of the migrants, potentially leading to the bifurcation of a national culture.

Huntington further posits that blood relationships are thicker than national borders. The concentration of Hispanic immigrants along the Southwest border, with relatives nearby but outside the US, poses a true stressor on the political line drawn between the two states. Despite long- established borders, cross-border networks, often based on family connections, have the potential to spawn a unification movement. Historically, such culturally divisive borders have been a source of bloodshed, with Rwanda, Korea and Vietnam as recent examples.

Huntington was not alone in this school of thought. Another academic, Charles Truxillo of the University of New Mexico, predicts the Southwestern American states and the northern states of Mexico will form a new republic by 2080. “Southwest Chicanos and Norteño Mexicanos are becoming one people again,” he said and it should happen “by any means necessary.” What this new political entity would look like – a semi-autonomous region or an independent state – no one knows.

While this notion may seem absurd, recent polls indicate measures of trust and confidence in the US federal government are at an all-time low and nascent movements are underway in several states (Maryland, Colorado, and California) to change existing borders to create more representative political entities. In democratic republics, can this type of secession occur without bloodshed if demanded by its citizens? Recent events in Crimea may portend the future of state borders not supported by the populace. So something should be done.

In the thought-proving book The Revenge of Geography, Robert Kaplan compares the current crisis along America’s Southwest border with the decline of the Roman Empire. Political overreach elsewhere while ignoring problems close to home contributed to the demise of Rome. Kaplan argues that the influx of immigrants along the Southwest Border poses a similar strategic security concern for America. Like Huntington and others, he highlights the dangers of ignoring the long term effects of unbridled illegal immigration and concludes some form of conjoining Mexico and the United States may be inevitable. Conversely, Kaplan also identifies opportunities from such a situation.

Obviously, a more vibrant Mexican economy would lower the push of migrants seeking work in the United States. If Mexico were to achieve first-world economic status, Kaplan asserts, a stable and prosperous republic south of the Rio Grande, working in concert with United States, would be an unbeatable combination in geopolitics. Considering the much younger population of Central America, the natural resource abundance, particularly energy, of Canada, and economic infrastructure in the US, a tri-lingual “supra-state” of the three North America countries would serve as an effective global balancing force.

Elevating Mexico to this status is a daunting challenge needing the same level of American commitment that it has demonstrated with distant nations around the globe. While economic development and reducing the income disparity across the border are critical components to stabilizing the region, economic efforts alone will fail unless security problems are resolved, too. Unlike other security alliances where the sale of expensive weapon systems serves as the foundation, Mexico needs a different form of security assistance.

Mexico needs a capability to disrupt sophisticated transnational criminal organizations. US military, intelligence, and federal law enforcement agencies must expand their support to Mexican law enforcement and military forces. After a decade of honing irregular warfare skills in Iraq and Afghanistan, US Special Forces and US Marines are ideally prepared and suited for this mission.

The mountainous terrain and sparse population of northern Mexico makes it difficult to eradicate the para-military transnational criminal organizations that occupy the region. And UN peace keeping forces have deployed to places less dangerous than some northern Mexican cities, such as Ciudad Juarez. In contrast, US Marines have a long history of operating in the region, dating back to the Mexican wars of the 1800s, the Banana Wars of the early 1900s, Veracruz in 1914 and operating as part of a Joint counter-drug task force in the 1990s. Further, the Marines have the ability to partner with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to create a capable hybrid law enforcement-military team, similar to the Delta Force – FBI unit that reportedly captured terrorist Ahmed Abu Khattala.

This role may seem inappropriate for the US military. But while nearly three thousand people tragically died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, this number is dwarfed by the number of deaths along both sides of the Southwest border since that fateful day in 2001. Since then, America’s national security enterprise has been distracted by fighting the global war on terrorism; vast intellectual capital was expended and national debt accumulated to rebuild nations of little strategic interest to the United States, all the while allowing security conditions to deteriorate much closer to home. This is a national security issue, pure and simple.

The Pentagon is transitioning from fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to contending with the rise of China as a regional power. Making this shift will be an impossible task unless America’s domestic problems are resolved, however. Chief among those problems is developing a long-term solution to the immigration problem and forming strategic partnerships with Mexico, Canada, and other Latin American States. An effective partnership with a stable Mexico not only contributes to American prosperity but will create a powerful geopolitical balancer in the future.


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