Yesterday, Barber shopunder a beautiful sky and with the Navy Memorial in downtown Washington, D.C. as back drop, hundreds of uniformed officers, Navy civilians and members of the retired community gathered to say goodbye to an American icon–Mr. Trip Barber. Mr. Barber bid farewell to the Navy he loved with a simple ceremony–no pomp and circumstance–and one that was commensurate with the manner in which he conducted business in the halls of the Pentagon over the course of his 41 year career. They say that in any organization, no one person is indispensable, but Trip Barber will be hard to replace.

Trip has been the Navy’s shepherd for the last 26 Program Objective Memorandum (POM) cycles. In short, the POM is the final product of the budget process or programming cycle that dictates how we spend the Navy’s money. Executing 26 POMS is an absolutely amazing statistic and Trip Barber has done so with tenacity and steely-eyed determination over the years. As analysts go, he’s the best of the best. In his humble remarks, he thanked some of the great Senior Executive Service (SES) Civilians like Mr. Ken Miller or Mr. Irv Blickstein and one of the finest uniformed officers in the realm of programmatics–the late Admiral Don Pilling–for teaching him his tradecraft. In my opinion, Trip joined the ranks of these giants in the Planning, Programming and Budgeting and Evaluation (PPB&E) world long ago and we learned much from him

Before becoming a Senior Executive himself, Trip enjoyed a highly successful career in the Surface Navy, culminating in his stewardship and command of one of the largest Fleet Concentration areas in the world–Naval Base, Norfolk, Virginia. That is where I first met him, while I was in command of an SSN on the waterfront. Trip’s leadership and management skills were highly effective at sea or ashore, so it is no surprise that he rose to be one of the most respected and revered SES in the Department of the Navy.

In his farewell address, Trip made a statement that was an inspiration to all of us when he said, ” I did not come to N81 to be a faceless bureaucrat, I came to build a team that could analyze with technical rigor and operational skill how to make our Navy better, and I intended to be as relentlessly forceful as that team’s spokesman as it took to use their work to roll over any obstacles to making the Navy the most capable that it could be within the funds it had.” That statement is the very essence of what Trip Barber stands for and he leaves an important legacy in his wake for all of us to follow.

Trip trained and mentored 10 different Admirals in the last 12 years as the Deputy Director of the Assessments Branch, N81. I was one of the fortunate recipients of his training, mentorship, and friendship. There were many “Trip-isms” that will live in infamy after his departure. RADM Herm Shelanski relayed one today that we all subscribe to in the makings of a good briefer and the mark of a good brief. First, the Senior Leader (and recipient of the brief) should remain in the room for the duration of the brief. Second, under NO circumstances should there be any “back-up” slides included in the brief. Third and finally, if the brief is “stand-alone,” then there should be NO follow-on taskers associated with the brief. ‘Nuff said.

We ALL emulated this model, but few of us could ever get there on our own… Trip would often say in our morning meetings, “That’s OK, HARD is authorized!”

Trip didn’t train just the Admirals, he trained scores of the best Operations Analysts and Operations Researchers ever to wear a Navy uniform. He said, ” I see it as my duty as the senior continuity in N81 and as the Navy’s senior analyst to nurture a culture of intellectual excellence and energy in all who work in N81, to focus us on the right issues, and to provide a logical structure to our efforts.” When I served with Trip at N81, I used to joke with the young officers going into their first encounter with Trip to present a briefing that they believed was ready for scrutiny by our venerable Deputy. I would say, you are about to make your first trip to the “Barber” Shop, and you won’t go in just once. This was an iterative process and part of Trip’s training and mentoring of future analysts. Graduate school doesn’t teach you everything and being the best at what you do requires on-the-job training and experience under the watchful eye of a good mentor. If the briefing was really really good, you might just get a “trim.” If it needs rework, you might end up with a “high and tight.” If the brief just doesn’t pass muster, you could get “scalped,” but Trip always did so with a grandfatherly touch. His aim was to make us better. We all learned so much from him.

Trip opined that when he came to N81 over a decade ago, he found an organization that operated behind closed doors with a very high opinion of itself. He evoked the memory of Admiral Sam Locklear, one of his former bosses, who put N81 on a different path that he called “Excellence without arrogance.” Trip, Admiral Locklear and the N81 team embraced and inculcated this new approach. Trip eradicated the term “honest broker” from N81’s vernacular, because he thought it implied that others on the Navy staff were somehow dishonest or unwilling to face the truth–just simply not the case. Trip preferred the mantra that N81 was “dispassionate” because although N81 does not own programs, it has a duty to analyze programs with all due rigor, so that the Navy gets the best bang for the buck, and dollars are precious nowadays.

By his own choosing, Trip is departing the pattern here on a high note. He could have stayed and continued to be very effective, but he recalled the words of his MIT classmate and NASA astronaut, Jay Apt, who described the standards in his community as follows, “90 percent is just not good enough.”

If you run the risk of running out of new ideas and becoming just another part of the bureaucracy, it’s time to go.

So we say goodbye to a great American and a patriot. Once upon a time, CAPT Trip Barber worked alongside CAPT Jon Greenert in the “Bullpen” of OPNAV N80, and so it was fitting that Admiral Jon Greenert shared the dais with SES Trip Barber at the Navy Memorial today. Admiral Greenert’s remarks were moving and appropriate to honor a man who has given so much to the nation and our Navy.

Fair winds and following seas Trip. Enjoy your well-earned retirement! You’ve earned it!

Ladies and Gentlemen, the “Barber” Shop is now officially closed.


Posted by RADM James Foggo in Navy | 3 Comments

“What is India’s role in the Indo-Pacific?” “Does India have a national interest at stake in the South China Sea?” “How should India shape its maritime relationship with China?”

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to travel to India to take part in an engaging three-day conference on maritime security in the Indo-Pacific, joining two other CIMSEC members in Chennai and Kochi. While the above questions of India’s maritime strategic future were not the theme of the conference (that being Sea Change: Evolving Maritime Geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific Region), they were frequent points of discussion, only natural given the event’s location and the preponderance of preeminent Indian minds. While I’ll focus here on these conversations, the conference’s top-notch organizers from the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and Stimson Center are publishing a collection of the papers presented, on an array of topics, which should make for stimulating reading. I’m grateful to the organizers for inviting me, and the U.S. Consulate Chennai for sponsoring the event.1

I’m also grateful for the effort these organizations made to bring together scholars and practitioners from the United States, China, Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, Indonesia, the Philippines, and India to consider the challenges and opportunities in the Indo-Pacific from a variety of perspectives. These representatives from the fields of maritime shipping, offshore energy, geopolitics, international law, private maritime security, and fisheries and climate sciences had the chance to share and contest ideas in a cross-disciplinary approach. And contest they did. ju

Observers and attendees of similar events will be familiar with the contentious dynamic that can develop between Chinese and Japanese or Chinese and American representatives, as highlighted at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore earlier in the month. In India, Dr. Liu Zongyi of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS) carried China’s banner. Some of the feistiest exchanges involved his assertions that the United States had previously agreed to Chiang Kai-Shek’s claims to the South China Sea and that there were no maritime disputes in the South China Sea prior to U.S. involvement in the region in the 1960s-70s – the former rebuffed by a personal account of the post-War discussions with Chiang relayed by U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Director for Plans and Policy, W.J. Wesley. As for Liu’s latter argument, South China Sea claimants on all sides have produced a multitude of historical documents stretching back centuries, but if he was referring to the start of a more active phase of the disputes he may have the timing more accurate. Yet China’s seizure of the Paracels from South Vietnamese forces in 1974, killing 70, is probably not what he meant as an illustration of U.S. trouble-making.

In spite of these disagreements over China’s positions, the conference to its credit maintained a cordial atmosphere, with several presenters touting the benefits of establishing personal connections and dialogue over beers or cocktails – the benefits to which many CIMSEC chapters can attest. The organizers’ ringing of a concierge bell to mercilessly keep panelists to their allotted time also built a sense of shared sacrifice against a common enemy. Even by continuing to press his country’s positions Liu won some professional empathy for resoluteness in the face of near-universal criticism.

For it was near-universal. If anything surprised me at the conference it was that the Indian panelists and presenters also openly disparaged both Chinese claims and their actions in the South China Sea. The 9-dash line came in for particularly sharp treatment, with one analyst noting that by the same basis of drawing lines in the water Spain could claim all lands 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands – with a treaty to back it up. Yet a consensus on the merits of the issues doesn’t mean India will take action. Indian participants led a robust discussion and were of divided opinion as to whether India had a national interest in getting involved in these disputes on the eastern end of the Indo-Pacific.

To be fair, it was not only China that came in for criticism. During Q+A segments Indian audience members asked why the United States is focused on destabilizing China, whether it should be viewing the region through a Cold War lens, and whether the Rebalance to the Pacific is waning. None of these questions reflect the reality or the logic of U.S. goals in the region, but they do highlight some existing perceptions.

Dr. Liu’s view of India’s role was clearer, arguing “a swing state and hedge is the best choice,” and describing newly elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in The Global Times last month as having a chance to become “India’s Nixon,” and bring about closer ties with China. The outreach to India was oddly tinged with scare tactics, however, as Liu claimed “If China was crushed, India will become the target of the U.S.,” based on a remark former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made calling India an “emerging threat.” Even a Pakistani newspaper acknowledged this slip-up as a gaffe.

For their part, many of the Indian representatives saw opportunities to increase already growing maritime cooperation in the region while weighing the risks of increased Chinese activity in the Indo-Pacific. Inspector General Satya Sharma, of the Indian Navy, touted India’s sustained and close cooperation with several counter-piracy efforts from East Africa to Singapore and room for closer Coast Guard collaboration in the near abroad. ORF’s Manoj Joshi and Madras Christian College’s Dr. Lawrence Prabhakar explored ways India could build its own deterrent power in the context of increased risk from increased contact with China at sea. Prabhakar further stated that India would continue to focus primarily on bilateral relationships with regional powers, but noted several instances of developing trilateral engagements, including the upcoming Malabar exercise with the United States and Japan. At the same time, ORF’s Dr. P.K. Ghosh cautioned against expecting India to “play the role of headmaster” in setting the agendas of its neighbors at the west end of the Indo-Pacific.

article-0-1EC45E6C00000578-448_966x490Taken as a whole, the workshop was more productive than most with its focus on presenting not only challenges but also the potential means to mitigate them. By the time I presented my paper on U.S. Maritime Security Relationships and Partnerships in the Indo-Pacific I had coalesced some ideas around a concept raised by retired Vice Admiral Hideaki Kaneda earlier in the day on “webs of maritime collaboration,” specifically creating linkages between such structures as maritime domain awareness and info-sharing agreements for counter-piracy and EEZ enforcement. For despite the focus of this article on some of the more contentious issues in the conference2 there were in fact large areas of agreement and mutual concern – from the need to protect sea lanes to the projected impacts of climate change on coastal regions and ports to the benefits of collaborative humanitarian assistance / disaster response (HA/DR). As noted yesterday at The Diplomat, there’s a real need for workshops such as these, where participants talk with each other and not just at each other, to bring productive dialogue to the region.3

This post appeared in its original form at CIMSEC’s NextWar blog.


  1. Fittingly, it was held as Monsoon rains began to lash southern India during the 5th anniversary of the precursor article to Robert Kaplan’s book of the same name, discussing India’s role in the region. 

  2. In addition to the more academic debates over the scope and history of the term “Indo-Pacific.” 

  3. And well worth cramming one’s 6’3″ frame into 40+ hours of coach flight. 


Please join us at 5pm (U.S. EDT) on Sunday, 29 June 2014 for Midrats Episode 234: “Asking the right questions to build the right leaders”:

Is the profession of arms, as the Navy believes it is, primarily a technical job for officers – or is it something else?

To create the cadre of leaders one needs, do you train them as empty vessels that one only needs to fill up with what you want or an empty checklist to complete – or do you train them by helping them bring out their ability to lead and make decisions through informed critical thinking?

Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and more will be Major Matt Cavanaugh, USA. Matt is currently assigned as an Assistant Professor in military strategy at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Prior to this assignment, Matt was a Strategic Planner at the Pentagon, after service with the with Second Squadron, Third Armored Cavalry Regiment with multiple deployments to Iraq from Fallujah, Ramadi, and Tal’Afar.

Matt earned his Master’s in Strategic Studies at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand and is currently at work on a PhD dissertation on generalship at the University of Reading (UK). He is a Fellow at the Center for the Study of Civil Military Operations, has been published with several peer-reviewed military and academic journals, and is the Editor at WarCouncil.org, a site dedicated to the study of the use of force. Matt has represented the United States in an official capacity in ten countries, including: Iraq, Kuwait, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Latvia, and Great Britain.

Matt is the author of the blog essays Ten Questions West Point Does Not Ask Cadets – But Should, Another Ten Questions West Point Does Not Ask Cadets – But Should, and What Cadets Should Study – and Why Military History is Not Enough.

Join us live at 5pm (U.S. EDT) on Sunday, 29 June 2014 or pick up the show later by clicking here.


seacontrol2

Alex Clarke is joined by the cadre in a third panel discussion for the East Atlantic Series. They discuss multination forces: whether and how nations should combine together to maximize security and minimize cost. The particular focus of this session is feasibility: how nations can go about building cooperative strategies and whether they would want to.

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 40 (East Atlantic) -Defense Cooperation

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On Dec. 18, 2008, Jim Garamone of the American Forces Press Service wrote, “The bombs that severely damaged the Golden Mosque in this city on the Tigris River almost destroyed the foundations of the nation, but the Golden Mosque is rising again, just like Iraq.”

Jim Garamone and I were traveling with ADM Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during one of his battlefield circulation tours, at the time. As the Chairman’s Executive Assistant, I had the distinct privilege of accompanying him all over the world. The places I went and the things I saw left an indelible mark in my memory. This place was no exception.

The Golden Mosque is a Holy Shi’a Shrine in the city of Samarra on the Tigris River in Salahuddin province.

GoldenMosquebeforeIn February 2006, the Golden Dome of the Mosque was destroyed in a bombing perpetrated by the affiliates of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Zarqawi’s brutal tactics were intended to drive a wedge between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims in Iraq and the attack on this holy site precipitated a near civil war leaving scores of dead behind and the city of Samarra in ruins.

General Stan McChrystal, Commander of Joint Special Operations Command, tells the story of the hunt for and eventual killing of Zarqawi in June 2006, by U.S. Special Forces in his book, My Share of the Task. Zarqawi was public enemy number one and for good reason. With his downfall and the simultaneous Sunni Awakening in neighboring Al-Anbar Province, the reconstruction of Samarra and the Golden Mosque was undertaken.

Realizing the importance of this place and the special role that U.S. Forces played in the restoration of the rule of law which enabled reconstruction, ADM Mullen decided to pay a visit to Samarra, this time with 60 Minutes and reporter David Martin and his cameraman in tow.

CaslenWe arrived that morning in a Mine Resistant Ambush Penetrant (MRAP) vehicle on the outskirts of town and were escorted by Major General Bob Caslen, Commander of the 25th Infantry Division charged with the responsibility for security in the region. It was a long walk up a straight road to the Golden Mosque and ADM Mullen relished to opportunity to see the city and speak to some of the Iraqi inhabitants about their lives in this war ravaged region. As we walked up the street in full body armor and Kevlar helmets, ADM Mullen felt a little awkward when compared to the residents of Samarra staring at us from both sides of the street. It was an unfortunate necessity to ensure the safety of the senior U.S. military officer on active duty.

Our plan was to walk through the market in Samarra, in broad daylight, in order to take in the sense of the reconstruction. As I looked down the side streets at several intersections we passed, I could see the fields of fire and incredible damage that the war had inflicted on this little town. That said, the market section was teeming with merchants and locals alike. In a word, it was “vibrant.” Shops were full of merchandise–clothing, kids toys, spices, poultry, meat, eggs–and the smells of street vendors cooking foodstuffs of all variety filled the air. Despite the remnants of war, to me, it seemed that the city was very much alive and well.

MerchantWith my friend John Tigmo, NCIS agent and senior member of ADM Mullen’s security detail at his side, the Chairman felt unconstrained and undeterred when he stopped to talk with normal Iraqis in the street. Surrounded by soldiers, he ordered them to stand aside as he went over to talk with some Iraqi children. A father with his son came over to thank Admiral Mullen. I don’t think he had any idea who the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was, but it was clear he was someone important and ultimately a party to the restoration of order in this city. I remember one man, wearing a long black dishdasha who worked his way in to talk to AMD Mullen through his interpreter. This man was a merchant and he was not shy. He unloaded on the Chairman about the lack of reliable electricity, poor city services and unhealthy water and sewage systems near his shop. The Chairman listened carefully to the complaints and said, “Do you know this man? He is Major General Bob Caslen and he is in charge of this region.” He then asked MG Caslen to give the merchant his contact information. Then he asked the merchant for his name. The man wrote it down on a piece of paper and handed it to the Chairman. ADM Mullen said, “I will see Prime Minister Maliki tonight in Bagdad and I will tell him of our conversation and give him your name.” As always, the Chairman was true to his word.

SamarraMayorAs we continued our walk up the street, someone said, “The Mayor may come out to receive you as we get closer to the Golden Mosque.” We were told that the Mayor was a former Iraqi Air Force pilot, in the Sadaam Hussein-era, who left the service to run for mayor. He was forced to evacuate after the bombing and the ensuing civil unrest, but returned to regain the confidence of the people and be reelected as Mayor of Samarra. Sure enough, after a few more paces up the street, Mayor Mahmood Khalef Ahmed appeared, looking very dapper in a fitted blue suit, blue tie and characteristic aviator sun glasses. It had to be over a hundred degrees outside and we were drenched but the mayor wasn’t even breaking a sweat. He accompanied the Chairman the rest of the way up the street to the Mosque and regaled him with stories of the war and the reconstruction of Samarra. The mayor had high hopes for his city and it showed in his enthusiasm. He looked forward to the day when thousands of pilgrims would return to Samarra to appreciate the Golden Mosque as we had.

As we approached the Golden Mosque, I was stunned by its beauty. As non-Muslims, we were not allowed inside and instead, viewed the reconstruction from the roof of an abandoned apartment building next door. While on the roof, we heard the story of the Twelfth or “hidden” Imam. It was in this place where Imam al-Mahdi went into concealment, known as the Minor Occultation in Islam. Twelver Shi’a Muslims believe that one day, the Mahdi will re-emerge with Isa or Jesus Christ to complete their mission of bringing peace to the world. Wow, that was a powerful story… so powerful that while listening, the 60 Minutes cameraman focused only on Admiral Mullen, MG Caslen and David Martin and forgot to pan around to get the Golden Dome in the background. This created a little consternation with the producer reviewing the raw footage on the way home, but somehow 60 Minutes recovered the image as the camera’s digital field of view was much wider than that seen through the lens of the videographer.

That was six years ago and fortunately, the images in my mind and those that you see in this Blog were preserved by the venerable Combat Cameraman, Petty Officer First Class Chad McNeely, always with and out front of Chairman Mullen on his many trips overseas.

GoldenMosqueafterNow fast forward to the present day. As I watch the events unfold on the ground in Iraq I harken back to the many visits I made to this country and Jim Garamone’s opening sentence of his byline on 18 December 2006: “…the Golden Mosque is rising again, just like Iraq.”

The USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH Strike Group was positioned forward and ready at the time that this crisis unfolded. Her presence gives the President and our national leaders options, but as we have heard recounted time and again on the news, the best option is for a political solution by Shi’a, Sunni and Kurdish leaders on the ground in Iraq.


Please join us today on Midrats at 5pm Eastern (U.S. EDT) for Episode 233: Global Combat Fleet Development With Eric Wertheim:

From the USA, Europe, Russia, to the South China Sea, nations continue to signal where their priories are by what type of fleet they are building.

What capabilities are they expanding, and what capabilities are they letting drift away?

To discuss this and more for the full hour will be returning guest Eric Wertheim.

Eric is a defense consultant, columnist and author specializing in naval and maritime issues. He was named to the helm of the internationally acknowledged, one volume Naval Institute reference Combat Fleets of the World in 2002.

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


seacontrol2This week, Sea Control Asia Pacific looks at cyber security in the region. Natalie Sambhi, of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), interviews her colleague Klée Aiken from ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre about the major cyber issues facing Australia, ICPC’s new report on cyber maturity in the Asia Pacific, what cyber maturity means and how it’s measured, China’s and India’s respective cyber capacities, and what this all means for the individual internet user.

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 39 (Asia-Pacific)- Pacific Cyber Security

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U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Geoff Shepelew's ReenlistmentHopefully, most readers here have already listened to EagleOne and my one hour interview on Midrats with Vice Admiral Bill Moran, USN, Navy Chief of Naval Personnel, and Commander Guy “Bus” Snodgrass, USN, concerning Bus’s paper, Keep a Weather Eye on the Horizon.

If not, you can listen via the Midrats archive here. If you have yet to read the paper, then click the link in the above paragraph to get that too.

Well, the “quick look” is out and you can get it here. It is an executive summary, in a fashion, that outlines the respondents’ demographics and the above-the-fold responses from an unofficial survey taken between May 1st – May 31st.

A couple of things out of the box; yes, everyone knows this is not a scientific survey and only represents those who decided or were able to respond – but it is still useful. You know the old phrase, “half of life is showing up?” Well, take a large dose of one of my favorite versions, “the future belongs to those who show up,” and a dash of, “you must be present to win” and “it isn’t the people, it is the voters who decide.”

No one was forced to take it, so this is really a snapshot from the, “I’ll at least make the effort to take your survey” brigade. Does that skew the results? Who knows … and really who cares. To be part of a conversation, you have to make the effort to speak. These people decided to join the conversation, so we should listen to them.

For statistics geeks and fanatics for transparency and the messy yet vibrant creative friction found only in the market of ideas, this is the – dare I say – sexiest part;

A full report will be published in early fall which will provide an in-depth look at survey background, methodology, and analysis.

This gives everyone with a good understanding of the art to play around with the results and make their own suppositions and observations. From what we have already, there are a few things the stick out.

First, the a few things about who participated sounds about right:
1. Warrant Officers and those already retirement eligible really are not interested in surveys – their decision has been made.
2. Those who are at the most critical decision point are the most interested in the survey.

The results present what appears to be a slit personality – but one most of us will recognize. All you STEM types can roll around in the numbers and graphs, let me summarize the personality type of the plurality of those who responded.

They feel they are making a difference in their job (60%), but regardless of what they do – they don’t think they will be rewarded in any way by superior performance (64%).

Looking at what they could do if rewarded for performance, luck, or whatever the flavor of the board is – most aren’t really sure they would even want their boss’s job (61%).

Not that any of this matters anyway – they have no confidence that senior leaders will take the time to try to internalize and take action on anything they have to say anyway (62%).

In spite of it all, they want to make a career of the Navy (56%).

One of the more cynical things that is said about this line of work is that lesser men ride to the top on the backs of the well meaning and idealistic. The implication is, of course, that the well meaning and idealistic are too slow witted to know what is happening.

Well, I don’t know. Taken together, the profile we have is of people what are striving to make a difference, and want to dedicate the most productive years of their life pursuing something they find of a value larger than themselves. They know they won’t be rewarded for doing it well – are not sure they want to be – and really don’t feel that those promoted in position of authority above them care what they think anyway.

Yet … they sign up. They deploy. They serve. They leave their families. They die – in spite of it all.

For those reasons along, I do hope that the 38% were right. We have good, smart people in positions to try to address this perception/reality – maybe they can prove the 62% wrong.

Many of these issues and attitudes have always been with us and always will be. They key is the degree, extent, and strength of feeling. No human system is perfect, but you can make them less imperfect.

The people we have are not the problem if we desire to have a meritocracy and the best Navy we can. No, the problem is the structure and senior leadership they find themselves working with.


Posted by CDRSalamander in Navy | 14 Comments
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050125-N-8668H-021Earlier this spring, the former commanding officer of the Blue Angels was relieved of his duties as Executive Officer of Naval Base Coronado, CA, after he was found guilty at mast of “condoning crude practices on the F/A-18 flight team that led to a sexually hostile command climate.” I don’t know exactly what happened during CAPT McWherter’s second (or first, for that matter) tour as the commanding officer of the Blue Angels. Having read the Command Investigation from start to finish (available on multiple sources, but CDR Salamander has it posted on his site and it’s also available here), I am still unsure of the sequence of events and whether or not this is cause for alarm or celebration. I tried to read between the lines of the Command Investigation and failed at that too. Much of what is described sounds distinctly like regular squadron life, albeit on a more high-profile scale due to the nature of the Blue Angels.

Media reports and discussions focus on the pornography (or porn-lite as it may be), whether or not what happened was offensive, and the actions of the female members of the Blue Angels relative to the rest of the team. But those discussions miss the point, as does most of the ongoing commentary.

Having spent the majority of my Marine Corps time in a skid squadron, I think I have an idea for what gets said and done in such an environment. Skid pilots are not Blue Angels, but they are no shrinking violets either. Let’s just say my learning curve on such matters was steep. I was not offended by porn, nor was I bothered by dirty jokes, and there were plenty of both to go around. Luckily, however, I had a strong and close peer group with several amazing commanding officers. If something had felt wrong, I think that I could have spoken up with few repercussions. There were guys who were bothered by pornographic material, off-color humor, and similar things; out of respect for them others toned it down. That wasn’t the important part of squadron life, anyway, nor did it take up much of our time. What was important was whether or not you knew your job.

Pornography, sexual innuendo, et cetera, while raucously funny to some and at the right time, do not bring about unit cohesion. People don’t need porn to bond, or dirty jokes to trust each other. Humor is needed; smut, not really. Common interests and shared goals and standards, yes. Strong leaders to offer guidance versus camaraderie, yes. Giant phallic symbols on the roof? Not required. Those things are just not that important, but trust, mutual respect, and the understanding that we all have a job to do are. Creating and encouraging that kind of environment among a bunch of type-A, strong-willed pilots—or anyone, for that matter—does not require heavy doses of testosterone, porn, or raunchy humor. I belonged to some great squadrons, led by great COs, who led by example and were strong enough to stand up and do the right thing at tough times. That makes a cohesive Ready Room.

The point—regardless of the outcome of the investigation or the actual events in questions—is not that pornography, dirty jokes, and painted phalluses run rampant throughout naval aviation. It is that when a member of a unit asks others for some respect, a CO needs to take charge of the situation and lead. According to the investigation, CAPT McWherter inherited a broken, “fractured” Ready Room, and to fix it he allowed the pilots to follow the “will of the majority,” “failed to set limits,” and “returned the Ready Room to a more democratic style of leadership.” That sounds like putting the cart before the horse, and the ensuing mess suggests that it was. If people don’t trust each other, don’t respect each other, and cohesion is low, relaxing the rules and fostering overly familial relationships seems like a misstep, not leadership. Maybe that’s not really what happened, but the fact that none of the postmortem discussions note this bothers me.


seacontrol2From the entertainment of the risk board to the grand scale of international exercises… war games of varying types and scale inform and misinform us in learning about war and conflict. For the first in a two-part series on wargaming, CIMSEC jumped onboard with Jeff Anderson and the CNO Rapid Innovation Cell Podcast to discuss the CRIC’s Fleet Battle School game as well as a more general group discussion of the benefits, tripfalls, potential and limitations of wargaming. Chris Kona discusses the Fleet Battle School game and some larger wargaming programs. Jeff nerds out on Starcraft, and I talk a bit about the first world war.

Download: Sea Control 38: War Games (1 of 2)

Speaking of wargames… remember, CIMSEC is running our “Sacking of Rome” series starting 16 June! Instead of talking about securing the commons, maintaining global security… using historic examples, modern-day developments, or predictions of the future, red-team the global system and develop constructive answers to your campaign. If you were an adversary, how would you seek to subvert or tear down the global system and how could we stop you? Paul Pryce is our editor for the week: (paul.l.pryce -at- gmail.com).

Remember, subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher Stream Radio. Leave a comment and rate five stars!


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