Halsey dining with the crew of USS New JerseyThis post is part of a series titled “Perspectives on Military Leadership” by CAPT David Tyler.

Leaders are people professionals…and must master the subject matter of their vocation.

Military mindsets tend to be overly mechanical and process oriented. While mastering the tools of war and upholding procedures are extremely important, they are not the currency of leadership. Man is more than a rational, solitary being. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of our species is its social nature. Humans have a strong desire to be esteemed within social networks. If leadership is the primary function of officers and non-commissioned officers, then leaders must comprehend the subject matter over which and through which they are to exercise their roles. That is, leaders must understand the psychological forces that cause individuals to act.

Components of effective leadership are two-fold; (1) mastering the position of a leader, and (2) managing the forces that move people. To help leaders exercise influence over a group, the Navy empowers certain positions with authorities. But these vested charges do not make one a leader. Leaders must earn their broader powers from their followers. As stated in the Declaration of Independence (itself a statement of terms between the led and their leaders), “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Before conceding any power “the led” must trust that their prospective leader will act in their best interest.

So back to the proposition that leadership is a contract between socially inclined creatures. The more “the led” trust their leader, the more power they will loan and thus the greater will be their equity and commitment to achieving group goals.

The virtue that exemplifies someone as trustworthy is integrity. Integrity is uprightness of character, the quality of truthfulness and honesty. It is the preeminent character of a leader because it the quality that individuals must believe is present before committing to followership. The relationship between leaders and followers is reflected in the ethos, moral nature, of the group.

Accordingly, leaders should focus a significant portion of their time and efforts toward nurturing trust-based personal relationships at all levels of the group. The goal and byproduct of building such a command relationship is confidence, respect, and loyalty. Leaders that take time to express a genuine interest in the aspirations, ideas, and problems of others reap the golden coin of leadership; trust.


seacontrolemblemProfessor Anthony Clark Arend joins us to discuss International law. We discuss some basic definitions, and their influence on international actors, using the lens of Crimea and the Chinese ADIZ. I also learn later that my mic input has been the crummy laptop mic all month, explaining all my audio quality frustrations. Remember, subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher Stream Radio. Leave a comment and five stars!

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 27- International Law, China, and Crimea


A month or so ago, I put up a post on my home blog about Sea Blindness, by which is meant the seeming inability of Americans to grasp that, while “the U.S. is not quite an island nation, it is a nation deeply dependent on the seas and the free flow of commerce across them.” During Midrats Episode 216 (at about 19:51), I asked our guest, Seth Cropsey, about “sea blindness” and whether the time had come for our senior naval leaders to tell the elected civilian leaders that the Navy has reached the point at which there are missions and areas we cannot perform or cover with the size Navy we currently have and are projected to have in the near term.

A couple of weeks ago, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Greenert went before the House Armed Services Committee and did a little “Counter-Sea Blindness” work, both in his written testimony and in his spoken words.
First, from his prepared written testimony:

Chairman, as I testified before you in September 2013, I am troubled by the prospects of reverting to the BCA revised caps in FY2016. That would lead to a Navy that is just too small and lacking the advanced capabilities needed to execute the missions the nation expects of its Navy. We would be unable to execute at least 4 of the 10 primary missions that are laid out very clearly in the Defense Strategic Guidance and QDR.

Even more, according to Military.com, “CNO Tells Congress the US Needs 450-Ship Navy”

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert told lawmakers Wednesday that the Navy would need a 450-ship fleet in order to meet the global needs of combatant commanders.

“For us to meet what combatant commanders request, we need a Navy of 450 ships,” he told the House Armed Services Committee.

Officially, the Navy’s position is to achieve a 306-ship fleet by the end of the decade, service officials said. At the moment there are 289 ships in the Navy, according to service officials who said the number reflects a new method of counting ships.

As Claude Berube wrote somewhere, when the big headline news was the Army being cut to pre-WWII levels, the Navy had already been cut to pre-WWI levels. See here, where it shows the fleet in April 1917 had 342 ships.

Admiral Greenert and Secretary Mabus deserve praise for standing up on this issue.

However, that message needs to be spread further and faster – that the U.S. Navy – the flexible forward presence that this country depends on for freedom of the seas and protection of both vital sea lines of communication and helping its allies abroad- is becoming too small to carry out 40% of its primary missions. We are, even given the more generous counting system, about 170 ships short of what we need. It does little good to assert that today’s ships are much more capable than the ships of yesteryear – even a more capable ship can only be one place at a time and can only occupy so much sea space.

When you are short of ships you resort to other ways to maximize presence – longer deployments, crew-swapping, more rapid turn-arounds between deployments, deferred maintenance. All of which lead to burn outs of personnel and equipment.

This is not something sprung upon us overnight. In 2011, Mackenzie Eaglen and Brian McGrath wrote a excellent paper on Thinking About a Day Without Sea Power: Implications for U.S. Defense Policy and noted the effects of fleet size reduction:

Building the current level of American sea power has taken enormous resources and many decades, and the size of the fleet is not likely to be dramatically reduced in the near term. More likely, incremental cuts based on faulty premises and a lack of strategic direction will, over time, diminish American sea power as the country’s vision of itself becomes more modest and its sense of destiny and centrality is reduced. While ill-considered procurement reductions will slowly reduce the number of ships and aircraft in the Navy, financial decisions could also erode the Navy’s ability to deploy credible and relevant forces persistently, regardless of how many ships the Navy may have.
Today’s Navy is experiencing extreme levels of stress. While the fleet has shrunk by about 15 percent since 1998, the number of ships deployed overseas has remained constant at about 100. Each ship goes to sea longer and more often, resulting in problems such as the well-publicized shortfalls in surface ship condition. With no surge capacity left in the fleet, each new casualty ripples through the schedules of dozens of ships. With the end of supplemental funding, Navy maintenance funding will be cut by almost 20 percent this year. In this context, a relatively small additional reduction in maintenance funding could render a Navy with 250–280 ships capable of keeping only 50 to 60 ships at sea.

You can listen to Mackenzie and Bryan discuss this paper on Midrats Episode 74.

Those “faulty premises and a lack of strategic direction” are exactly the symptoms of “Sea Blindness” that have gotten us this tipping point of fleet size.

As stated above, it is good that the CNO and SecNav are speaking out on this issue- but that is not enough. More voices need to spread the word of the vital importance of sea power to this country and the facts of what the reduction of fleet size on this country.

The cure to “sea blindness” is sunlight – shining light on the situation. Those of us who believe in a strong Navy must spread the word of what the Navy does and why a larger fleet is vital to our national interests and defense.

“Help cure sea blindness” by writing and speaking at every legal opportunity about the danger of the reduced size of our fleet.

SecNav and CNO have made a start.

The follow-on is up to us.


140305-N-LE543-054Judging from the comments on social media and the notes I have received from active and retired shipmates, the buzz surrounding CDR Guy Snodgrass’ “Keep a Weather Eye on the Horizon” is real and I’m encouraged to see it. It’s no surprise why this paper has become a topic of discussion in wardrooms and ready rooms around the fleet, and passed electronically across warfare communities.

Our Navy has a proud tradition of professional discourse, and this excellent paper lies squarely in that mold. Good arguments are typically dual-edged – one side passion, the other logic. Guy’s passion is evident and it appears many of you share it. More than that, he understands complete loyalty means complete honesty, and I know - personally – that he wrote this paper only to help make our institution better. It already has. Top naval leaders are aware of several of the issues he touches on. Many are being studied, budgeted for, or in the early stages of implementation. Others give us pause.

I share many of the concerns and have similar questions to those detailed in Guy’s paper. A quick example – many of you have heard me on the road talk about how BUPERS (being self-critical) historically “swings behind the pitch”, unable to nimbly react to economic and early stage retention issues. It’s not neglect, good people here trying to do the best they can with limited tools, but the fact is it has cost us in both good people and money. We have to do better, and I must say that this discourse helps.

We’ve all been JO’s and yes we can also fall victim to forgetting what it was like, but this is also the power of discourse. The idea that there is a perception that operational command is not valued and there is an erosion of trust in senior leadership bothers me…I want to hear more, learn more from you.

Fostering an environment where folks feel empowered to share their thoughts on important issues is a core responsibility of leadership. Ideas, good and bad, have no rank. Yet the discourse can’t just stop there. We need thoughtful debate on how to solve problems, not just an articulate accounting of what’s wrong and who’s at fault. We need leaders willing to offer new and innovative solutions to problems that at times appear impossible or hopeless. Those kind of leaders inspire all of us to continue serving men and women in our charge.

Guy has set an example for one way to ensure thoughtful debate has a voice. Please push your ideas forward — write about them, talk about them with your Sailors, up and down the chain of command. This is the only way we will overcome the challenges ahead of us – together.


Please join us on 23 March 14 at 5pm (EDT, U.S.) for Midrats Episode 220: CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell

The Chief of Naval Operation’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) was established in 2012 in order to provide junior leaders with venue to identify and rapidly field emerging technologies that they see needed in the Fleet.

Who is in the CRIC, how do they get there, and what are some of the projects they have been working on?

Join us this Sunday for the full hour with Commander Ben Salazar, USN, Director of Innovation (N93) with CRIC, along with other members of his team.

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


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The following is gaining high interest in the Fleet and is being shared widely. Posted here for comment.

“The Admirals back in Washington had so many pressures on them, so many diversions, they forgot their primary job is to make sure that the Fleet is ready to go with highly trained and motivated Sailors. The problem particularly manifests itself when the budget is way down.”
ADM THOMAS B. HAYWARD, 21st Chief of Naval Operations, recalling the post-Vietnam War drawdown1

Situation in Brief

The U.S. Navy has a looming officer retention problem. More than a decade of prolonged, high operational tempo and ever-increasing deployment lengths have fostered a sustained weariness at the deckplate. A rapidly improving economy and erosion of trust in senior leadership, coupled with continued uncertainty about the future, mean the U.S. Navy could be facing its most significant retention crisis since the end of the Vietnam War.

Unlike previous cycles of low retention, the one looming before us appears poised to challenge retention at all levels. Junior officer retention in 2013 was tough and is forecast to become tougher. It marked the worst year in history for the special warfare community, with record numbers of lieutenant’s declining to stay for the next pay grade. The aviation community had a department head bonus “take rate” of 36% – well below the 45% target needed to ensure community health – most recently manifesting itself by a shortfall in the number of strike-fighter and electronic warfare aviators required for the department head screen board. The surface warfare community is also seeing an uptick in lieutenants leaving at their first opportunity, driving a historically low retention rate of around 35% even lower, indicating that a significant amount of talent in the surface warfare community walks out the door immediately following their first shore tour. This trend in the junior officer ranks is particularly troubling. While officers at, or beyond, the 20-year mark have a retirement option, junior officers do not. In many cases they’ve invested six to 10 years of their life to a career field they’re now willing to leave, determined that the pastures are greener outside of naval service.

Our retention of post-command commanders is also falling. A developing trend in naval aviation is representative of a larger problem facing most communities. In fiscal year 2010, seven naval aviation commanders retired immediately following completion of their command tours, a number that nearly doubled to 13 in 2011, before jumping to 20 in 2012. Additionally, a survey of 25 prospective executive officers revealed that no fewer than 70 percent were already preparing for their next career, in the process of earning their transport pilot licenses, preparing their resumes for the civilian workforce, or shopping for graduate schools. Worse, this trend is not limited to naval aviation. Checks with other community managers show a similar disturbing trend, with increasing numbers of promising surface warfare and special warfare officers leaving at the 20-year mark. These officers are tired of the time away from home, the high operational tempo, and the perceived erosion of autonomy in commander command.

Unfortunately, the fact that a growing number of quality officers have already left the service or are planning to head for the doors seems to be going undetected by senior leadership. The Budget Control Act and subsequent sequestration, Strategic Choices and Management Review, rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, battles over the Littoral Combat Ship and Joint Strike Fighter, rise of Air-Sea Battle, civilian furloughs, and the increasing number of commanding officer firings are just a few of the significant issues (and distractors) that senior leadership has had to contend with since 2011. Despite all these, retention is poised to once again develop into the significant issue that it has historically become during past military drawdowns.

My premise is that retention problems tend to be cyclical in nature and, therefore, largely predictable based on knowable factors. Unfortunately, the ability of senior leadership to proactively address the looming exodus is made more difficult because of Congressional pressure to control spending and because of an overreliance on “post facto” metrics that, by their very nature, are only useful after several years of falling retention rates. Senior leaders within the U.S. Navy, with the cooperation of the Department of Defense and Congress, should take swift action through the use of targeted incentives and policy changes to help ensure the best, brightest, and most talented Naval Officers are retained for continued naval service and to ensure the “wholeness” of Navy Manpower.
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  1. Admiral Thomas Hayward Oral History, Interview #7, 6/7/02, p329. 


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CDR Eugene Fluckey MOH Ceremony

This post is part of a series titled “Perspectives on Military Leadership” by CAPT David Tyler.

Last month we examined the characteristics of leadership and found that as an organizing principle its unique strength was derived from convincing others to willingly act in a desired way to achieve larger objectives. With this in mind, what then is the best way to implement and harness the benefits of sound leadership within a complex organization? Said differently, what operating methodology is commensurate with leveraging the free will of individuals?

One approach gaining renewed interest is known as mission command. Mission command is a command and control philosophy based on “command by influence”, a phrase that reflects the essence of leadership. Mission command is a leadership-based governance concept built on trust and mutual understanding. Mission command depends on an organizational hierarchy that is comfortable delegating tasks and decision making.

The operative function within this decentralized administrative process is leadership. In this organizing mode the commander gives subordinates broad, clear goals, but grants them wide latitude of how to accomplish those goals. In return for accepting the risk of subordinate actions, the commander is rewarded with superior results. The empowerment of subordinate leaders exercising initiative in accord with the commander’s intent has a compounding rate of return in that it enables faster proactive and reactive action; which in turn expands new opportunities for the group and forecloses opportunities for opponents. In short, mission command surpasses other organizing principles because it exploits the power of “leadership-gone-viral.”


seacontrolemblemSea Control will be adding two monthly segments to its lineup: Sea Control Europe/Britain and Sea Control Asia-Pacific. We are joined by Natalie Sambhi of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and Alexander Clarke of the Phoenix Think Tank. Today’s episode is a conversation with Nat and Alex about their backgrounds, their organizations, and their plans for their monthly series.

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 26 New Podcast Series Party

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


12936914675_575b0901d5_mJust think about it for a moment – we have to find a way to reach young men and women who are looking to serve their nation, preferably those who wish to do so by going to sea.

Perhaps they have family members who have served, or someone they know. More likely, they have picked up the idea from something around them; movies, books, history, or even advertising from the recruiting side of the house.

That is why we have been very careful on what we put the “Navy” stamp on. Every outreach or project for public consumption does not have to be a cheerleading event smacking of Social Realism – but it should at least reflect a neutral, reality based view of what the Navy is.

We also need to know that when we refer to our Sailors, we need to send a message that will ring true to them, and that they have confidence that their leadership’s view of them reflects what they see every day in the Fleet. That brings us to what is being called, “…the Navy’ first mobile game…”

What story does it tell to the outside audience? What does it tell our Sailors about what the Navy thinks of them?

Who did we give responsibility to bring the Navy in to the mobile gaming market? Naval History & Heritage Command? Navy Recruiting Command? CHINFO? No, of course not. I’ll let you soak in the background here, here, and here.

Does it tell the Navy’s story? No. Does it inspire? Does it help people understand the Navy’s role in the 21st Century? What does it do?

“Pier Pressure” gives sailors fingertip access to alcohol-related resources 24/7 and includes a blood alcohol content calculator and search of local taxi services.

There you go. I don’t know what is worse; the patronizing tone, the assumptions, or the horrible “in the Navy, Sailors drop pallets on ships” actual game part.

Messages, external and internal, matter. I am curious, did they run this by a focus group of Fleet Sailors? At any point, did someone mention this might be a little out of phase?

I understand the good intentions. I fully understand the huge waste to personal and professional lives due to alcohol use, but really. Besides the ability to feel like someone is trying to do something – is this really the something needed to address the problem? Is it a net gain – is this really what the Navy should put out there as its initial mobile gaming entry?

Maybe, but what message does it send? Sailors are a bunch of drunks who can’t wait until their boring day dropping pallets on ships is over so they can hit the bar, and once they get there, they don’t have the good sense to handle their drink? That isn’t the Navy I know.

It is bad enough that we accepted in whole cloth the unscientific and highly flawed study on sexual assault that painted all Sailors as either sexual predators or helpless victims led by tone-deaf enablers, but now we have to buy in to the old smear of the “drunken Sailor” as well?

Is that really what our Navy thinks our Sailors are like? Is that what we want to tell young men and women who might want to join the Navy to expect? If so, I might offer that on the “problem to solution” spectrum, this is a bit closer to problem than solution.

Enjoy the video.

Keep What You’ve Earned: Pier Pressure Mobile App Tools Trailer from US Navy NADAP on Vimeo.


Please join us on Sunday 16 March 14 at 5pm EDT for Episode 219: The USMC Post-QDR with Dakota Wood

With the new defense budget out, new QDR out, the withdraw of maneuver forces from Afghanistan, rising interest in INDO-PAC operations, and a resurgent Russia: after over a decade of COIN and land wars in Southwest and Central Asia – what is the status of the United States Marine Corps?

Materially, intellectually, and culturally – is the USMC set up to move best towards the expected challenges and missions?

Our guest for the full hour will be Dakota L. Wood, Lt Col, USMC (Ret.), Senior Research Fellow, Defense Programs at the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy at The Heritage Foundation.

Following retirement, Mr. Wood served as a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Most recently, Mr. Wood served as the Strategist for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Special Operations Command.

Mr. Wood holds a Bachelor of Science in Oceanography from the U.S. Naval Academy; a Master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the College of Naval Command and Staff, U.S. Naval War College.

Join us live at 5 or pick the show up for later listening by clicking here.


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