“A good Navy is not a provocation of war. It is the surest guarantee of peace.” -Theodore Roosevelt

On 8 June I reported in this media forum on the launch of 49 ships from the port of Gdynia, Poland for the largest BALTOPS exercise ever — BALTOPS 2015.

The reason we are assembled as the maritime arm of the NATO alliance for this exercise is to show unity of effort and purpose, and to strengthen the combined response capabilities of our NATO allies and partners in the Baltic Sea region.

We come with 49 ships of all varieties large and small, over 60 aircraft, 5,600 air, ground and maritime forces from 17 participating nations to include 700 Marines from Finland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.

During the first day of operations, we were over-flown by Russian Air Force and shadowed by three Russian Navy surface ships. This was not unexpected based on recent experience.

The Russian planes made a few passes and then a couple of Russian Corvettes came up on either side of the formation as we were conducting our exercises – nothing untoward, just showing interest and an acknowledgement that they know we are here.

As Navies have done for centuries, we have taken a dual track approach to maritime security. What do I mean by that?

While BALTOPS 2015 is demonstrating a sizeable and highly capable force at sea, we are pursuing other avenues to assure security in this and other maritime regions in Europe. As an example, we invited a Russian Navy delegation for the annual Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA) review, which took place yesterday at the U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet Headquarters in Naples, Italy. The Russian delegation was headed by Vice Adm. Oleg Burtsev and the U.S. delegation by Rear Adm. John Nowell, Chief of Staff, U.S. 6th Fleet.

150610-N-OX801-072 NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY CAPODICHINO NAPLES, Italy (June 10, 2015) Head of the U.S. Delegation, Rear Adm. John Nowell Jr., and Head of the Russian Delegation, Vice Adm. Oleg Burtsev, sign documents at the conclusion of an annual Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA) review at Naval Support Activity Capodichino Naples, Italy, June 10, 2015. These annual reviews are a professional discussion of the agreements in place to prevent incidents or collisions at sea between U.S. and Russian ships and aircraft. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Daniel P. Schumacher/Released)

150610-N-OX801-072 NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY CAPODICHINO NAPLES, Italy (June 10, 2015) Head of the U.S. Delegation, Rear Adm. John Nowell Jr., and Head of the Russian Delegation, Vice Adm. Oleg Burtsev, sign documents at the conclusion of an annual Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA) review at Naval Support Activity Capodichino Naples, Italy, June 10, 2015. These annual reviews are a professional discussion of the agreements in place to prevent incidents or collisions at sea between U.S. and Russian ships and aircraft. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Daniel P. Schumacher/Released)

Discussions between the two delegations were frank and professional with the intent of alleviating any miscues, misunderstandings or miscalculations between our two naval and air forces wherever they might encounter one another.

Established in 1972, the bilateral INCSEA agreement between our two countries codified the mutual interest of both sides in promoting safety of navigation and safety of flight when operating on and over international waters and specified an annual meeting to review compliance with the articles of the agreement.

The last time our two navies met was in November 2013, in St. Petersburg, Russia.

BALTOPS 2015 and the subsequent INCSEA review is a good example of naval forces and naval officers acting as an extension of diplomacy.

For me, as Commander of BALTOPS, I look forward to the positive outcome of the INCSEA discussions filtering down to the deck plate level of the Baltic Fleet. The true measure of success will be when ALL Navies operate ships, submarines and aircraft safely and professionally not just here in the Baltic Sea, but elsewhere around the world. Stay tuned…

 


Three months after the unveiling of “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower,” or CS-21R, America’s sea services are busy as ever. While the document did not change much from its predecessor, it has elicited questions from junior officers and enlisted around the fleet, such as “how does it impact my immediate job?” and “we still get MIDRATS, right?”

CS-21R is a must-read for officers and enlisted of every rank and rate. It paints a compelling picture of naval operations in this century that can help answer some of the “Why are we here and what are we doing?” questions we frequently ponder.

Although it is a strategic document, CS-21R has implications for warfighters at the tactical level. The actions of individual sailors and aviators on ships, submarines, aircraft, and on the ground can have a marked effect on the efficacy of our naval strategy. While the following list is not all-inclusive, it does serve to highlight how those executing at the tactical level of warfare can help achieve more widespread success and competency across both our service and the joint force.

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1) Know your OPTASKs, OPORDs, PPRs, CCIRs, etc. Don’t rely on the roving Air Wing or Strike Group brief or the cockpit cheat sheet; actually read the documents, comprehend them, and help others do the same.

2) Understand the intelligence and “battlespace awareness” process. Most ships, squadrons, and other units have intelligence officers, but many are not using these individuals to their full potential. Remember that your Information Dominance Corps (IDC) officer hasn’t gone through flight training or your warfare-specific school but they have been trained to help improve your knowledge of the threats you may face or the people you may interact with. Help them understand what you do, and take the time to really understand what they do and need from you. What reports are they making with your information? How can you use your sensor to give them a better product and achieve mission success? They are as much a part of the kill chain or the OODA loop as you.

3) Never rest on your laurels. Constantly strive to consider how each platform and operator influences your sphere of operation. You should work for a symbiotic relationship as much as possible; for example, understanding the operation of radio equipment onboard a destroyer can help an F/A-18 pilot better communicate across the range of operations, throughout the battlespace. This is not an assignment that will be doled out to you by some prescient being; you must actively work to create your own synergy. Pick up the phone, send an E-mail, or walk to a space and take time to do thorough coordination.

4) No platform is an island. Do not do your job alone; you must work to include all other service, joint, and increasingly, multi-national operators in your processes and procedures. The time to “get on the same page” is before bullets and bombs start flying. Each squadron, department, and division should have applicable contacts in other units performing similar missions. For example, E-2C squadrons should proactively establish a dialogue with all elements of theater command and control, including AWACS, JSTARS, CAOC, CDC, and ASOC. This can either be “tasked” by a higher headquarters or voluntarily initiated by the unit itself; either way, make contact early, and keep it often.

5) Figure out how to do a Spartan mission. The Electromagnetic Spectrum is being legitimately contested by near-peer nations and non-state actors; this may have serious consequences as our military relies more and more on complex systems and trends towards technological complacency. Paper charts, communications brevity, and even lights and signals remain important media for mission accomplishment in extremis. Excellence in operating in information- and network-denied environments is crucial. This aptitude is not easily measured, but is essential to real unit readiness.

6) Take time to understand unit, service, theater, and national Command and Control (C2). More than bullets or bombs, information is the most critical commodity in today’s conflicts. How does that information flow? Where does it go? Who communicates? What is the dwell time of each communication? What is each communication supposed to sound like? Why does it behave this way? Taking time to understand “who’s who in the zoo” and establish good relationships can be the difference between success and failure in critical phases of combat.

7) Get innovative with mission planning. It is important to understand and respect the past actions of the threat, but always consider how the threat may evolve to catch you off guard when you least expect it. As General Stanley McChrystal advises in his book Team of Teams, “data-rich records can be wonderful for explaining how complex phenomena happened and how they might happen, but they can’t tell us when and where they will happen.” Be smarter than your enemy, not just more technologically advanced.

8) Leverage unmanned systems to maximize your lethality and effectiveness and to improve your survivability. Surveillance feeds from unmanned air and surface craft can also increase situational awareness, especially as platforms operate across domains (such as when a surface ship fires a Tomahawk missile at a land target, or a manned rotary wing aircraft is executing surface search against maritime targets).

9) The network is a means, not an end. Too many entities act with the belief that “the network will save us.” Use it for leverage, or to quicken your reaction time and increase situational awareness. But remember that you can’t fire a network at a ballistic missile or unidentified surface contact.

10) Ensure a thorough understanding among all theater players of your TTPs. NIFC-CA and other concepts increase the complexity of operations. Leverage capabilities and technology but keep the plan simple. This goes beyond immediate mission planning—ensure a level of understanding throughout all theater players on your TTPs and capabilities. If you are on the ground, and the only asset you can contact for air support does not understand what you are asking or speak your particular “language,” the time for teaching may be extracted at a price.

Tactical actions have strategic consequences.

Read. Think. Write. Debate. Then, Operate.


001-mineHistory in many ways is a kind companion. In times of relative quiet, she gives you subtle reminders of what is important. She will give you a subtle nudge with the knee with a nodding look with eyes towards something she wants you to pay attention to.

If you are a bit distracted or you find yourself in a noisy time, if that doesn’t work she may lean over and gently whisper in your ear with a poke to the ribs.

Though a gentle companion, she is not a pushover. She has her standards, and on occasion will be needy. She does not like to be ignored, patronized, or worse – left alone in a corner of the party as you drift off to pay attention to someone new and exciting who recently showed up.

No. The gentle companion’s personality starts to change at that point. You don’t want to get to that point and see how she reacts – no one will be happy, and by any measure you come off looking worse to all.

History is not there yet, but she is close. She has not resorted to stomping on toes or speaking loudly to deaf ears … she is still at the nudging and whispering stage.

The nudge:

After nearly 30-years of commissioned service, the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) was decommissioned Friday.

The ship was named after Navy Coxswain Samuel Booker Roberts, who volunteered for a rescue mission to save Marines who had been surrounded by a superior Japanese force during World War II. He was killed during that rescue mission.

The USS Samuel B. Roberts struck an underwater Iranian mine in 1988, which blew a 15-foot hole in it.

The whisper:

One Ukrainian coast guard member was killed, five were injured and their commander remained unaccounted for Sunday after their cutter hit a mine planted in the bay of the strategic eastern port of Mariupol,

We should listen and respect her counsel. As we prepare to wander the party introducing ourselves to all the new and exciting arrivals, we should gather our companion’s hand in ours and invite her along.

She will be appreciative, and there is a good chance that all these new and exciting arrivals are not new to her. If she does not know them personally, she probably knows their family, line of work, and connections to others at the party.

She can save you time, trouble, and if nothing else, having such a steady partner by your side will make the evening a lot more pleasant, whatever may come.

Ignore her? No … don’t be that guy.

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On 7 June 2015 Maritime Forces from 17 nations gather together for BALTOPS 2015. BALTOPS is an annually recurring multinational exercise designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, as well as demonstrate resolve of allied and partner forces to defend the Baltic region.

On 7 June 2015 Maritime Forces from 17 nations gather together for BALTOPS 2015. BALTOPS is an annually recurring multinational exercise designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, as well as demonstrate resolve of allied and partner forces to defend the Baltic region.

Today, June 8, a fleet of Allied and partner ships set sail from Gdynia, Poland, in one of the largest naval exercises the Baltic Sea and greater Atlantic Ocean area has seen in the 21st Century. In its forty-three year history, BALTOPS has been a means by which NATO and its partners have demonstrated an enduring commitment to regional stability and a Europe that is safe, secure, and prosperous.

In 1971, fewer than a dozen ships and only a handful of nations participated in the exercise. BALTOPS 2015 has 49 ships representing seventeen nations participating. I am often asked by European Allies what impact, if any, the rebalance to the Pacific will have on Europe? To put those numbers in perspective, last year, the Pacific Rim of the ocean exercise (RIMPAC), the world’s largest naval exercise, also had 49 participating ships. What is happening right now in the Baltic Sea is NATO’s own version “RIMPAC.”

NATO’s integral role in the exercise is seen in BALTOPS from the top down. For the first time in recent memory, the exercise is led by a NATO headquarters. As Commander of Striking and Support Forces NATO, I am now embarked on USS SAN ANTONIO (LPD 17), which is serving as the command ship for my STRIKFORNATO staff. The STRIKFORNATO staff has been mobilized from Lisbon and is operating from both here onboard SAN ANTONIO and HMS OCEAN, a testament for their expeditionary headquarters staff capabilities.

This, however, is not my first time to sail in these waters. As a Lieutenant onboard USS SEA DEVIL (SSN 664), I deployed to the Arctic Ocean in 1985. On our way home, we scheduled a port visit in Kiel, Germany. I was one of the primary OODs on the bridge for the long maneuvering watch through the Straits of Denmark, also known as the Kattegat, Skaggerak and Storr Belts. It was the best surface OOD training a JO could ever have with a completely different kind of traffic separation scheme, two superb chain-smoking Danish pilots, whose mantra was “speed equals safety,” as we maneuvered the boat through a multitude of ferries crisscrossing the channel at right angles to our track.

We made it safely into Kiel, but this was a different era and a different geo-political situation at the time. The Berlin Wall would not come down for four years and Germany was still divided. Many of the NATO Allies and partners participating in BALTOPS 2015 today were reluctant members of the Warsaw Pact in 1985. My how times have changed! Today’s BALTOPS includes 14 NATO Allies and three Partnership for Peace (PfP) nations aligned and unified for a common purpose—peace and security in the Baltic Region. The crowds of people that greeted our BALTOPS Fleet just days ago for the pre-sail in Gdynia, Poland were a clear sign that these relationships are solid and enduring.

On 7 June 2015 Maritime Forces from 17 nations gather together for BALTOPS 2015. BALTOPS is an annually recurring multinational exercise designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, as well as demonstrate resolve of allied and partner forces to defend the Baltic region.

On 7 June 2015 Maritime Forces from 17 nations gather together for BALTOPS 2015. BALTOPS is an annually recurring multinational exercise designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, as well as demonstrate resolve of allied and partner forces to defend the Baltic region.

BALTOPS is just one of the many ways NATO and its partners demonstrate a continued commitment to the foundational principle of mutual defense. While the number and type of ships have changed, it is this consistent message over the last nearly half century that has guided the exercise. When we talk about reassurance we are not just talking about capabilities, but a commitment that has been consistent throughout the years.

BALTOPS represents an excellent example of a global network of navies, a concept based on participation, robust exercises, relationship building, communication, and interoperability. BALTOPS demonstrates how these global priorities are expressed in a regional context, each participant contributing to the success of the whole.

Today’s BALTOPS Photo-Ex captured an image of this unified effort for all to see. A picture is worth a thousand words…


Please join us on 7 June 15 at 5pm (EST) for Episode 283: The Foreign and Defense Policy Terrain :

As the world has set its own course as we have been planning other things, some believe that the 2016 election will be more focused on foreign policy and defense issues that any of the candidates thought would be the case at the end of last year.

What will be the above-the-fold topics? The baseline was set by the ’16 budget battle last year and the winding down and a post-mortem on the sequestration gambit of the last couple of years.

As proxies in the emerging discussion, to join the old bulls on the Hill, are there emerging new leaders on defense issues elected in the ’14 cycle?

Where do declared or expected candidates for President for both parties stand on policy and present operations?

To discuss this and more in the foreign policy and defense arena will be returning guest, Mackenzie Eaglen,

Mackenzie is a resident fellow in the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, where she works on defense strategy, defense budgets, and military readiness.

She has worked on defense issues in the House of Representatives and Senate and at the Pentagon in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and on the Joint Staff. In 2014, Eaglen served as a staff member of the congressionally mandated National Defense Panel, a bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission established to assess US defense interests and strategic objectives. This followed Eaglen’s previous work as a staff member for the 2010 congressionally mandated bipartisan Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel, also established to assess the Pentagon’s major defense strategy. A prolific writer on defense-related issues, she has also testified before Congress.


She has an M.A. from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a B.A. from Mercer University.

Join us live if you can (or pick the show up later) by clicking here. The show will also be available later on our iTunes page here.


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Ghost Fleet. P.W. Singer & August Cole, (2015). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. New York, NY: 416 pp. $28.00.

An editorial in China’s Global Times reportedly said that if the U.S. position is that China must halt its reclamation activities in the South China Sea “then a U.S.-China war is inevitable.” Meanwhile the United States has signaled its willingness to move up the escalation ladder in defense of its position with Freedom of Navigation transits and P-8 flights. Elsewhere, Russia’s rulers seem bent on military adventurism along its borderlands. With such a real-life backdrop readers could be forgiven for fixating on the geopolitical backstory of Ghost Fleet, P.W. Singer and August Cole’s self-described new “novel of the next world war.” After all, the writer/academic/think-tanker/consultant duo chose to portray the three powers* as the plot’s antagonists – opening with a P-8 flight above a Chinese position.

Yet, despite a review of Power Transition Theory examining why these states might come to blows, Ghost Fleet’s expedition into the near future primarily focuses on how such a great power conflict might be fought. Singer and Cole are at their best in teasing out the interplay between potential advances in emerging technologies – backed by impressive end-noting – rather than isolating the implications of a single capability. These range from Big Data and unmanned systems to additive manufacturing and augmented reality. The authors’ depictions of cutting-edge Chinese developments picking apart current U.S. weapons systems might make for queasy reading among some in the military. In this way it effectively serves to warn against complacency in presuming American technological superiority in conflict. But it bears remembering that success in employing the new capabilities detailed in Ghost Fleet, as in life, requires a level of creativity available (and not guaranteed) to both sides.

Singer and Cole also explore how the supposed American Way of War of grinding attrition, popularized by the eponymous 1973 Russell Weigley book, might fare in an age of offensive space and cyber weapons. In doing so they create intriguing portraits of empowered individuals (both socio-economically and skills-wise), expats, and a globalized defense industrial base on a war footing. Some of the most memorable scenes come from the juxtaposition of new capabilities with old operational concepts (occasionally set to the strains of Alice Cooper). Singer and Cole also ably confront readers with a reversal in the traditional role of U.S. forces in an insurgency and the ethical decisions it demands of them.

Ghost Fleet may be the authors’ first novel, but it’s not their first foray into helping tell a story. Singer has consulted on such projects as Activision’s “Call of Duty” video game franchise and honed his prose in such works as Wired for War, an earlier book on the future of robotics warfare. Cole meanwhile has been engaged in the development of insights on warfare by facilitating near-future science fiction writing at the Atlantic Council’s “Art of Future Warfare Project” (full disclosure: I had the opportunity to publish a short story of my own there). These experiences have paid off in a very enjoyable page-turner.

This is not to say Ghost Fleet is without flaws. One of the novel’s driving emotional stories, an estranged father-son relationship, never quite rings true. With an expansive and fast-moving narrative, a character here and subplot there trail off without satisfactory conclusion. Lastly, while the authors investigate many impacts of a war’s fallout on the U.S. Navy, including the resurrection of the ships of the book’s title and a call-up of retirees, they missed an opportunity to look at the complications a mobilization of existing Navy Reservists might cause. But such a minor sin of omission doesn’t detract from the overall merits of the work. Whether on a commute to the Pentagon or relaxing on a beach in the Hawaii Special Administrative Zone, readers will find Ghost Fleet a highly enjoyable, at times uncomfortable, and always thought-provoking read.

 

 

*It should be noted Singer and Cole don’t tie those nation’s current regimes to their countries’ futures, and in doing so remind readers that what would follow a collapse of the Chinese Communist Party is not necessarily more amenable to U.S. or Western interests.

 

 


3rd

Our Three COAs

June 2015

By

three-choices-blogIn his latest book, Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World, policy Übermensch Ian Bremmer outlines three future courses of action for our nation through the middle of this century.

As outlined in TheTelegraphUK, and discussed on last Sunday’s Midrats, these COA should sound somewhat familiar to you;

1) keeping faith with the old “Indispensable” America that underwrites global stability 2) adopting a “moneyball” approach where the US pursues its narrow economic and security interests, or 3) an “Independent” America where the US gives up trying to solve the world’s problems, but seeks instead to lead by example by investing in America’s security and prosperity at home.

Let’s look at these for a bit.

COA-1 represents what we think now was the post-WWII norm. In a fashion it was – and in many ways still “is” – but not in the global police context of the last 20 years. People forget that for most of the WWII era, we were in a global struggle against an expanding Communist empire – one whose high water mark was only 35 years ago. We could barely control our own frontier, much less ensure stability around the globe. From Africa to SE Asia to S. America – stability was not our FITREP bullet. “Indispensable” was the ideal – but in practice, not as clean and powerful as it sounds. America was never all that comfortable in its global policeman uniform others tried to put on her at the best of times. In the second decade of the 21st Century – there simply is no political will nor popular desire for such a role.

COA-2 has a very realist-retro vibe to it – almost a Steam Punk foreign policy. Mercantilist and a bit cold of heart, it also echoes of a policy not foreign in our nation’s history – and one that the Chinese are looking to benchmark as they rebuild their global trade routes and stretch their influence limbs. In some ways, it is the slightly more narcissistic version of the final COA.

COA-3. Let’s look at this again,

an “Independent” America where the US gives up trying to solve the world’s problems, but seeks instead to lead by example by investing in America’s security and prosperity at home.

Could there be a more natural American policy?

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all.

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; …

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; …

—- George Washington, American Daily Advertiser September 19, 1796

If that works for George Washington, who wrong could it be?

Though he leaves it up to the reader to decide, Ian Bremmer also goes with COA-3.

If that is the path we go – either led by a politician or by the drift towards the center mass of the electorate – where I think it is – how does that effect the national security structures of our nation? If we become interested in security at home and the economic prosperity of the citizenry – how do you hedge against the chaos of a violent world? How much can you disconnect? What is our minimum level of national defense spending? Where is it best utilized?

Of the three COA – which ones have our allies chosen? Which have our potential challengers chosen?

Are those we consider allies really allies – or just those who are content to prosper in their home under a shield we built and paid for? Are those we consider challengers really our challengers in that they present a real and present threat to national survival?

Is COA-3 really something new, or just a regression to the mean?


Midshipmen have a hunger to learn and to exert ourselves intellectually. We want our lectures to simulate the level of in-depth analysis that will be expected of us in the Fleet.

We are second-class midshipmen at the US Naval Academy who, after eight combined semesters of 20-credit course loads, want more out of the Academy’s academic mission. We believe that the academic curriculum should remain challenging, but that it can be tailored with an emphasis on developing midshipmen into problem solvers. We understand there is currently a conversation in the upper echelons of Navy leadership about reenergizing the Naval Academy curriculum. We offer our opinions to provide experience-based input into these discussions.

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The Naval Academy’s “Tecumseh Court”

Consider what many midshipmen perceive as one of the most mundane courses at the Naval Academy: navigation. Imagine if instead of passively listening to the lecture, our weekly assignment includes perusing the New York Times, selecting hotspots around the world that will likely elicit a US Navy presence. What Numbered Fleet claims responsibility for this area?
What capabilities do we have to respond? Logistically, how is the response executed? What grand strategy is associated with this response? What are the responsibilities on a junior officer level? Lessons are most engaging when the instructors are able to incorporate their own Fleet experiences to illustrate the relevance of the course material. The navigation instructors have the experience to take our thinking to the next level.

Integration of practical skills, professional knowledge, and complex international relations is key to engaging midshipmen in a productive manner. The majority of students sulk through the seamanship and navigation program uninspired and apathetic. Let’s revitalize these core classes to provoke thought and excitement about their future responsibilities as Navy and Marine Corps officers.

This renaissance can extend to the entire core curriculum, to include not only social sciences but also courses in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). The academic culture of the Academy is currently no different than any other civilian college or university, where the core knowledge is learned in order to pass the class and to graduate. As future officers, these courses have the potential to not only give us baseline proficiency in the sciences, but to develop us into better problem solvers. Our objective is not to simply learn the material, but to practice a way of thinking representative of Navy and Marine Corps officers. Our core classes ought to have deeper value: developing an analytical thought pattern that will be applied to our future careers. The core does not need to be dry; it should be there to encourage critical thinking in all realms. Both the strategic implications of a surface warfare mission, as in navigation class, and the way we solve our physics problems are related in how we approach a situation.

Academics represent something more than just a grade; they are a critical proving ground for developing the way future officers solve problems and communicate ideas. Instruction at the Naval Academy must challenge midshipmen to think, to ask us the unanswerable questions and require us to defend our conclusion. There is a symbiotic triad between students, faculty and the institution that needs to exist for this atmosphere to be achieved. It is just as much the midshipman’s job to become individually invested in the material as it is for the faculty to stimulate productive discussion and the institution to revamp the curriculum to match the intellectual expectations of the Fleet.

We understand that there is a balance between time demands, quotas from the Fleet, logistical considerations of the curriculum and the egalitarian nature of the Naval Academy. We are not suggesting a heavier academic workload, or that the solution rests with a single group. Our goal is to spark a discussion on how to better foster a culture that produces critical thinkers which is collaborative between midshipmen, faculty, and the institution. By offering an opinion from a midshipman’s perspective, we hope to draw others into the conversation. The first step towards an environment conducive to this culture shift is a dialogue about how to maximize our four years in Annapolis.

Junior officers are expected to be professional problem solvers. The mission of the Naval Academy is to produce the most competent officers. Allow us to better uphold the mission by integrating this mentality into the classroom. To be proficient in this skill set, we need to practice now. Challenge us to think, to learn, and to take a vested interest in our futures as Navy and Marine Corps officers. We will match your level of intellectual intensity.


I encourage you to spend forty-eight minutes of your day listening to author Karl Marlantes talk about war. Many of you are already familiar with his work. For those who are not, here is a short bio: Marlantes is a Yale graduate and Rhodes Scholar. After a year at Oxford, he left, joined the Marines, and was then in some of the worst fighting of the

US Marines fighting in Hue, 1968.

US Marines fighting in Hue, 1968.

Vietnam War. He was awarded the Navy Cross for assaulting a hilltop bunker occupied by the NVA. Here is a part of his citation:

“While continuing to function effectively in his primary billet, First Lieutenant Marlantes skillfully combined and reorganized the remaining members of two platoons, and on 6 March initiated an aggressive assault up a hill, the top of which was controlled by a hostile unit occupying well-fortified bunkers. Under First Lieutenant Marlantes’ dynamic leadership, the attack gained momentum which carried it up the slope and through several enemy emplacements before the surprised North Vietnamese force was able to muster determined resistance. Delivering a heavy volume of fire, the enemy temporarily pinned down the friendly unit. First Lieutenant Marlantes, completely disregarding his own safety, charged across the fire-swept terrain to storm four bunkers in succession, completely destroying them. While thus engaged, he was seriously wounded, but steadfastly refusing medical attention, continued to lead his men until the objective was secured, a perimeter defense established, and all other casualties medically evacuated.”

Years later, he wrote Matterhorn — a fictional account of his experiences as a platoon leader in Vietnam. I read his second book, What It Is Like to Go To War, while deployed in 2011. After reading it, I handed my copy to our senior chaplain. As a chaplain that spent considerable time with Marines in Iraq, and seeing some of the worst combat of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I thought he would get something out of it. Two days later he came up to me and asked me if he could keep my copy. He ended up buying me a replacement copy when we pulled into Singapore. It not only spoke to the power of his book, but it was a reminder that books can make an incredible gift.

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Recently, Marlantes came to the US Naval War College to speak to the students about war, ethics, his work, and many other topics. He was funny, insightful, and refreshingly honest. One of my friends, when leaving the auditorium, said, “That was one of the best Q&A’s I’ve heard this year.” Marlantes touches on some pertinent yet divisive topics that many of us are debating today: Should there be a draft? How do veterans assimilate back into society? Is it too easy for policy makers to use the military? And many others.

Take some time — watch it.

 

 

 


Midrats on 31 May 2015 at 5pm EDT U..S. is Episode 282: Summer Kick-off Free For All in which we discuss the sea services and other matters in 2015 so far and do a little prognostication about the future. Listeners who may actually know about such things are invited to call in or join us in the chat room. Come on along, it’s just for fun and to educate the hosts.

At the time of this post, the actual show page was not up, but if you click on the link here before show time, it should be there. UPDATE: Link to actual show page is here.

As always, if you can’t listen live, all our shows are available in the Midrats archives here or on iTunes here.


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