Archive for the 'Leadership' Tag
Today, the Aviation Major Command Screen Board (AMCSB) convenes in Millington, Tennessee. It is the annual gathering to determine the future of Naval Aviation’s most promising leaders, and plays a large role in setting the strategic direction of our enterprise.
As we alluded to in our August 2015 Proceedings article “On Becoming CAG,” the fates of aspiring leaders were determined years prior to this week. FITREPs, joint jobs, and other career assignments funnel COs into competitive tracks for leadership positions, including Carrier Air Wing Commander, or CAG.
However, as the current AMCSB convenes, one troubling trend remains: Naval Aviation has gone five years since a non-VFA CAG was selected.
After publishing “On Becoming CAG,” the authors received intense positive and negative feedback about our arguments. Notably, at the annual Tailhook Reunion in Reno, Nevada this year, PERS-43 addressed the debate in an open forum (you can watch it here).
He pointed out that CAGs are responsible for the mentorship of squadron COs, with the ultimate goal of cultivating leaders who are able to replace him or her as CAG.
Reflecting on the past five years, it appears as though CAGs have failed their non-VFA Commanding Officers in this essential mentoring. All else being equal, if zero COs from outside the VFA community have been selected, we arrive at one of two conclusions:
1) VAQ, VAW, HSM, and HSC squadron COs have been inadequate leaders compared to their VFA contemporaries. If this is true, it points to a huge, unspoken problem in these communities that Naval Aviation has not addressed.
2) VAQ, VAW, HSM, and HSC squadron COs are not viewed as equally qualified leaders by CAG when FITREP time comes. If this is true, it points to a problematic culture within our ranks that Naval Aviation has not addressed.
As thousands of junior officers and Sailors will attest, we have seen many outstanding leaders from the VAQ, VAW, HSM, and HSC communities over the past five years. Conclusion #1 would seem to offend this reality.
As such, we are left with Conclusion #2, and the problem it exposes in the process of selecting carrier aviation leadership. The culture change needed in our collective Ready Room is the realization that aviation major command is about leadership; not tactical proficiency. We expect this proficiency of our junior officers and our junior officers expect leadership—both within the Air Wing and across the joint force—from their major commanders.
The ability to fly a strike mission from an F/A-18 or execute a flawless fly-by of the carrier are impressive skills, and it is true that only one community can really experience those fully. But CAG is a leader at the operational level of warfare, and the leadership required to execute at that level is not exclusive to the aviators of a single airframe. If our process for selecting CAGs is based on tactical proficiency as a proxy for promoting certain types of officers at the expense of an equally talented pool of others, that system–and the culture that underpins it–must change.
The authors believe that increasing the diversity of perspective at the CAG level will improve combat efficiency, leadership acumen within the air wing, and interoperability with the joint force. We invite you to join in the constructive debate of these issues.
Over the coming weeks, the authors will share some of the most common feedback received from “On Becoming CAG.” The most important takeaway is that people on each side of this issue care about Naval Aviation and seek to make it better.
As my father let me know early on in my life, the most important decision a man can make is the woman he marries. It wasn’t until I was much older, and well in to my own marriage, that I realized how true his observation was.
While all relationships have their own dynamic, there are some who are a benchmark – a spouse who match the greatness of the man they helped make. They are the scaffold all else was built around.
If someone is about to join another on a journey with a spouse that is serving, Sybil Stockdale is a good benchmark to use.
She has left us to join her husband after a long time away. Via the DailyMailUK;
Sybil Bailey Stockdale, a Navy wife who fought to end the torture of U.S. prisoners of war in Vietnam, has died.
Stockdale’s son, Sid Stockdale, said Tuesday that his mother died Oct. 10 at a hospital after suffering from Parkinson’s disease. She was 90.
Stockdale is the wife of the late Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale. She found her calling after her husband’s plane was shot down during the Vietnam War in 1965 and he was taken prisoner. The U.S. government at the time discouraged military wives from speaking up about the mistreatment of the prisoners of war, Sid Stockdale said. Nonetheless, Stockdale organized military wives who demanded the U.S. government pressure North Vietnam to abide by the Geneva Convention.
Stockdale helped found the League of American Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia and she served as the organization’s first national coordinator.
She appeared on national television, met regularly with then-President Richard Nixon and confronted a North Vietnamese delegation at the Paris Peace Talks. At the same time, she worked closely with the CIA to be able to write secretly encoded letters to her husband, who was tortured by his captors.
The military credited Stockdale with helping secure the safe return of her husband and other POWs in 1973.
James Stockdale, then a commander, disfigured himself so he could not be used in Vietnamese propaganda films — an action for which he received the Medal of Honor in 1976, according to the Navy Times.
Sen. John McCain, a naval aviator, was a fellow POW in the Hanoi Hilton with Stockdale’s husband.
“Sybil’s selfless service and sacrifice fighting for American prisoners of war, those missing in action, and many who are still unaccounted for has left an indelible mark on this nation that will never be forgotten” McCain said in a statement to the newspaper.
To know the full background on what this incredible woman did in a challenging time, I highly recommend you get a copy of the book, In Love and War: The Story of a Family’s Ordeal and Sacrifice During the Vietnam Years;
“I think the book’s message was to recognize that there’s a place and time and need to be loyal and recognize the military is a unique institution with a big job to do, but then at the end of the day, it’s very important if you feel as though you need to speak up, then you should do so. I think it’s a fantastic message,” he said.
Her papers and memoirs from the Vietnam era, written in long hand on yellow legal pads, today are kept at the Hoover library.
Until the end, she continued to meet at her home monthly in Coronado with the wives of POWs and those missing in action.
A memorial service will be held for Stockdale in Coronado and she will be buried beside her husband on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
We all benefited for her love and passion for her husband, her Navy, and her nation.
Mabus announced a plan to boost the sea service’s enlisted female recruitment efforts to at least 25 percent of all accessions during a mid-May speech at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. The move, he said, will help attract, recruit and retain women in communities in which they are underrepresented.
“[We] need more women in the Navy and Marine Corps; not simply to have more women, but because a more diverse force is a stronger force,” Mabus told an auditorium of midshipmen.
“I’d like to do better than that,” Mabus told reporters Tuesday following an address at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “I think that one in four is a floor, not a ceiling, and if people keep using one in four, I think it’s going to be.”
“The services have got to be friendlier when you come in, because even if you get enough women, we’re losing too many between eight and 12 years,” he said.
In the last month, our Marine Corps provided those who were watching both an object lesson and a case study on how an organization can tear itself apart when it decides to operate under self-contradicting priorities – priorities that do not share the same understanding of what the goals are.
Like people, organizations can get by for a length of time in self-contradiction, self-delusion, and ultimately self-destructive behavior; as long as it is small and does not have a major impact on the end result, or can be mitgated with a little slight of hand.
They can live multiple lives and promote nested systems under a polite agreement to keep the contradictions below the surface and both sides agree that that larger of the two will work harder to mitigate the contradiction of the smaller. As we Southerners like to say, a polite pretense.
There comes a point of inevitable friction when one party decides to not live by the agreement, or the smaller party gets unmanageably large – or both. There is a point someone stands athwart the whole arrangement and yells, “Halt.” Then the brewing conflict breaks out in to the open.
The organization makes a decision to pretend that the conflict is not there, or can be managed as before. The comfort of the “now” remains the priority, the unknown discomfort “later” identified by the challenge will be someone else’s problem.
When that person comes forward with grit, passion, and a steadfast belief in their cause, it then becomes a story of the reaction as the entrenched inertial of the status-quo resists the challenge that cannot be pushed to another PCS cycle. Via C.H. Chivers at NYT;
For decades the Marine Corps has tolerated, even encouraged, lower performance from the young women who enlist in its ranks, an insidious gender bias that begins with the way women are treated immediately after they sign up and continues through their training at boot camp. The results are predictable – female Marines risk being less confident and less fully accepted than their male counterparts, because the Corps has failed them from the outset.
We have often discussed at USNIBlog the importance of our leaders to “… dare to read, think, speak, and write …” – what can happen when you do?
That is the position of Lt. Col. Kate Germano, an active-duty Marine officer who commanded both a Marine recruiting station in San Diego and a segregated all-female training battalion at Parris Island, the Corps’ boot camp in South Carolina. Colonel Germano presented this argument in a draft article, “When Did It Become an Insult to Train Like a Girl?” that she wrote early this year and in which she argued for tougher standards and higher expectations, or, in her words, a movement toward “radical change.”
The article, which does not address full integration into combat roles but details institutional patterns that Colonel Germano suggests ensure female Marines will not be fully respected by their male peers, had been slated for publication in September in the monthly Marine Corps Gazette, a private publication that serves as the Corps’ de facto professional journal. Then matters grew complicated.
That is just one part of the story – read C.J.’s article not only for the full detail, but to also read LtCol Germano’s article that was spiked;
Colonel Germano was relieved of command at Parris Island in June under circumstances that remain contentious, setting off a controversy about whether she was being punished for what the Corps calls an abusive leadership style, or for forcefully expressing her views about the how the Corps trains and integrates women into its male-dominated ranks.
Soon after she was relieved, the editor of the Gazette, John Keenan, who is also a former Marine colonel, dropped Colonel Germano’s article from the journal’s publication lineup. Her arguments taking the Corps to task for what she depicted as a record of double standards and complacency stood not to reach Marines’ eyes, including such passages as this: “The performance double standard extends to virtually every aspect of recruit training. Over the past decade, female recruits have consistently scored below their male counterparts in every quantifiable category minus the gender-normed physical fitness test. Yet despite the statistics, historical records do not indicate that anyone has ever seriously considered why females have consistently been outperformed at boot camp. Acceptance of the status quo has simply become the norm. Ironically, notwithstanding the delta in female-male performance, a greater percentage of female recruits are promoted by contract to private first class upon graduation, meaning they are also more swiftly promoted to lance corporal in spite of potentially being less qualified. This is essentially where the Marine Corps meritocracy cart goes off the rails.”
A few more quotes, this time from LtCol Germano’s spiked article that gives some context to the below;
In general, from the instant a female applicant joins the delayed entry program (DEP) she faces lower expectations for accountability and performance than her male peers. Females are often allowed to miss applicant physical fitness training, seldom hold leadership positions within their respective recruiting substations, and are frequently allowed to ship to recruit training in spite of not having made progress with their physical development, all of which is observed firsthand by their male counterparts. As a result of this double standard, many female recruits arrive at boot camp utterly unprepared for the mental and physical rigors of training. Even more significant, their male counterparts arrive at recruit training with well-established preconceptions about the difference in accountability for men and women in the Marine Corps based on their observations in the DEP. The double standard is reinforced by the fact that, despite most females having an average of five months in the DEP, their IST failure rate is historically nine times greater than that of their male counterparts.
For years, the females and males on Parris Island conducted the nine-mile hike back from the Crucible separately, only to link up for a joint Emblem Ceremony at the Iwo Jima statue after the hike. Conspicuously, a line of chairs would be staged behind the female formation for recruits who were too “exhausted” or sore to stand. Conversely, there were no chairs staged behind the male formation. It was simply expected that the females would fall out of the formation, and fall out they did because there was no set expectation that standing through the ceremony was part of earning the title of U.S. Marine.
High standards for performance should never be gender-normed and, barring physiological differences, concrete evidence shows that women can perform to the same standards as their counterparts if it is demanded of them. In Fiscal Year 15, the Fourth Battalion witnessed this phenomena firsthand at the rifle range. For decades, the female initial qualification rate on the rifle range at Parris Island hovered between 67% – 78%, compared to 85% – 93% for the male training battalions. The male battalions also produced significantly greater percentages of rifle experts and sharpshooters. In Fiscal Year 15, however, the Fourth Battalion drill instructors received a defined intent for success on the rifle range, and through a strong partnership with Weapons and Field Training Battalion were able to achieve an unprecedented 91.68% female initial qualification average. The key to success was establishing the firm expectation that change was both possible and necessary to improve the credibility of our female recruits- come-new-Marines. Once the drill instructors, coaches, and primary marksmanship instructors began to see success, the movement became contagious. For the first time in history, female recruits are competitive with their male counterparts on the rifle range, proving it is not an insult to “shoot like a girl”. However, for lasting improvement across all of the testable categories to be realized, the Institution must be willing to critically examine the environment in which Marines are made and implement radical changes.
Like I said; read it all. I have not even touched on equally important issues of leadership by investigation or the commissarish use of statistically bad DEOMI surveys.
Back to the big picture.
It is this dynamic we have seen this summer in the story of LtCol Kate Germano, USMC, and her desire to bring the standards of performance and accountability to a higher level in the training of female Marines. For her efforts and passion, she was relieved of her command. The why, how, and the environment it all took place in deserves a screen play – so stick with me as we review it here. Follow every link and read it all where the links take you. There is a lot here. Here is the base conflict as I see it.
There are two pressures in the further integration of female Marines; one is from a socio-political camp of the senior civilian leadership, the other is from the operational side of the Marine Corps. The former has two sides to it as well – a paternalistic passive-aggressive vibe that doesn’t expect as much from women as men and therefor sees no reason to demand it , and another that is driven by the worst of sophomore gender-studies seminar course theory.
The later knows that female Marines will be put in harm’s way as much as the men and if that is the case, then they need to be able to perform, be respected by their male peers, and not be a net drag to their unit. The enemy does not care if you are XX or XY, they just want to kill you. You need to be able to kill them first with equal ability. I’m not going to spend much time on the paternalistic passive-aggressive side of the bureaucracy and some of the uniformed leadership, as the that is not where the central character is coming from. No, let’s stick with the source of the friction – a Marine leader who wants her Marines to be the absolute best to serve her Corps, and the socio-political bureaucracy that wants one thing – numbers to feed the metrics.
As part of the Department of the Navy, the USMC must respond to the demand signal of the Secretary of the Navy. That is how it works. As quoted at the top of this post, he has made his goals quite clear. To make it happen though, there is a pipeline problem with that goal that the real world is putting in their way.
It is a well documented challenge to not just recruit women who have the inclination and desire to be in the service, but also to find enough women who have the physical stamina to meet what should be tough but fair physical requirements to be a Marine. Anyone involved in female athletics knows exactly what that basic challenge is.
If you have an artificial numerical goal of a difficult to gather sub-set, every number counts – especially if achieving that number is your priority. To achieve that goal, you have to look hard at every barrier in your way. What are structural, what are required, what are optional. What is the cost and benefit of the removal of each barrier relative to the value you place on each variable? There is the rub.
What if everyone in your organization does not agree that strict numbers of that sub-set are the priority, but quality is? If each barrier from recruiting interview to graduation has a given attrition rate and can impact that final number, what if instead of removing barriers, another person with a different value system decides that many of these barriers are not barriers at all – but are performance gates. Not only should some of them not be removed or lowered, but a few might need to be added, and others raised.
Additional performance gates – standards if you will – and enhanced standards will have two results; first they will ensure at the end of the process you have a higher quality product of that subset, but it also means that you will have fewer numbers of that sub-set.
A thought exercise; if you have a job to do that requires 10 people, does it matter if six are wearing blue shirts and four are wearing red shirts if all 10 people are equally qualified? No. OK, what if eight wear blue and two red? Again, does not matter.
What if all six in blue are qualified, but of those in red, only two are? What is the sane and right thing to do?
1. Being that you are out of people wearing red shirts, but have a bench full of blue shirts, replace the two unqualified in red with qualified blue?
2. Instead of making the swap out, you insist that you like the 6/4 color ratio because it looks good in pictures, and your team will just have to deal with it?
If a competitor comes out on the field, they are all wearing yellow by the way, with 10 people who are all fully qualified, who wins? Where do you put the smart money?
LtCol Germano has only done what we have always asked our leaders to do; take the job you were detailed to do, and make it better. Take care of your people, enhance the ability of the service, and accomplish the mission.
It appears that LtCol Germano thought her mission was to help produce the best female Marines she could. She tried to do that, and was fired.
I guess she was wrong. It looks like there was another mission, one founded on the soft-bigotry of low expectations, lower standards, a fear of Star Chamber like investigations, and ultimately a fealty to metrics.
You see, the numbers are needed for the right metrics, because, we must feed Vaal.
Of course, this internal conflict has a frag pattern. There are good people up and down the command structure that were put in a difficult position. How do they respond to this internal self-contradiction?
That is where you have a whole series of interesting character stories. From the immediate superior in command, first General Officer in the chain of command, the SNCOs, the Junior Officers – and ultimately the recruits themselves. Are they in the right? The wrong? Both?
What lessons do they take away from it all? What do we?
UPDATE: If you want more detail and a rather sad showing of “feelings vs. facts” and leadership by DEOMI survey and investigations – click here.
People and money.
One follows the other, and the later always defines the magnitude of the former.
BA, NMP, BSC; the whole alphabet soup emanating out of Millington is fed by one thing more than any other; money. Money is your primary indicator of priorities, main effort, and commander’s intent in manpower.
Manpower is a complicated mix of habit, tradition, agenda, bureaucratic inertia, wants, needs, and wishes. When not controlled with a disciplined hand, bureaucratic organizations can accumulate billets like a spaniel in a field of beggar weeds; with or without audits or manpower efficiency reviews.
Stress is always a good way to squeeze efficiency our of an organization and to force it to tell you what are its priorities – what it really values.
In an email Tuesday, COMNAVAIR, VADM Dunaway, USN, put our his D&G on the latest stress coming their way in the manpower arena – yep, the mother’s milk; money.
Looking ahead, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) budget reductions and the shift to modernization and sustainment will require us to smartly manage our workforce levels and skills mix.
Ahhh, that is the key; define “smartly.”
As new and critical tasking emerges, we must be prepared to move our workforce toward these efforts without adding additional people. In addition to agile staffing, we must be vigilant about eliminating outdated, unnecessary and burdensome work that does not directly contribute to mission outcomes.
Start of the core compentancy – the mission of our organization. That is where you start your prioritization. At almost the halfway point of his email, Dunaway points to one,
In the beginning of FY15, we assigned hiring goals to the competencies and commands. We have exceeded our targets due in part to aggressive hiring early in the year. Our Fleet Readiness Centers ramped up hiring to help reduce the F/A-18 maintenance backlog and will return to normal staffing levels within the next 2 years.
From there, rack and stack – and lead. If you really want your organization to,
… we must be vigilant about eliminating outdated, unnecessary and burdensome work that does not directly contribute to mission outcomes.
… start with you personal staff, your N1, and the first gaggle of SES and GS-15+ you can get your hands around. Take those BA/NMP and Full Time Equivalents and do your own personal baseline review. Get those billets recoded towards your core competency – I am sure VADM Moran will help from his end. If you don’t make someone in the nomenklatura squeal, then you didn’t do it right. Once that is done, work through your other N-Codes.
At the same time, don’t make those shops do more with less. Cut back on the background noise and the self-licking ice cream cones.
The easiest thing you can control are the manhours invested in non-core related competency conference attendence, awards processing, collateral duties, ad-hoc committees (I get those emails too from NAVAIR, but I’ll be nice and not quote them here), Political Kowtow of the Month observances – all those things that take untold hours of your employees’ time but do nothing even close to helping,
… reduce … maintenance backlog …
Most of these activities are just bureaucratic habits or the bad aftertaste from one of your predessor’s pet projects or sacrifices to Vaal.
If you want bold action by those in your organization, you don’t tell them to do it – you do it yourself first. By your example, they will lead. Give them benchmarks, hold them accountable.
The only way to secure our future is to improve our capacity to adapt, collaborate and focus on the most important work.
If you have questions or ideas, I encourage you to talk with your leadership.
You are the leader. You have outlined a problem, demand solutions. As such, there is no “If.” If this is serious, then, “If you have questions or ideas, I encourage you to talk with your leadership.”, is not – I may offer – a serious call to action. It is passive and without heft, depth, or meaning.
“Bring me your questions or ideas, as we are making significant changes to our manpower document to optimize our workforce levels and skills mix.”
That might give you what you need.
Now, what will be interesting is in JUN16, what changes or draft changes will there be to NAVAIR’s manpower document?
Good stuff; good start. Good luck.
Even while stepping gingerly past the usual swamps of interservice rivalry, for most of those who have had to work with “them,” it is very clear that there is a large difference in culture between the US Air Force and the Navy-Marine Corps team.
Very different – and in important ways not good.
One of the areas of difference is in their culture’s tolerance of dissent.
While not as open as a spoken-word poetry slam, when compared to the other services, the maritime services are rather open minded and resilient to off-message discussion.
Perhaps we can trace it back to the traditions Admirals Mahan and Sims built on, improved – and eloquently brought to the front from the Revolt of the Admirals to VADM Tom Connolly. It is hard to say, but any time spent in the joint environment you can see the difference.
The events in the last few months have brought out two great examples that would be difficult to see happening in such an open way in the maritime services.
Maj. Gen. James Post, vice commander of Air Combat Command, is accused of telling officers that they are prohibited from discussing with Congress efforts to retire the A-10 attack jet, which many lawmakers would like to keep in service.
“Anyone who is passing information to Congress about A-10 capabilities is committing treason,” Post reportedly said, according to a post by blogger Tony Carr on his John Q. Public website. “If anyone accuses me of saying this, I will deny it.”
Well, Post got fired for his efforts.
More recently, we had this from retired USAF General Roger Brady;
But this is not about free speech. It is about good order and discipline. The Air Force secretary and chief of Staff, in consultation with senior commanders, determine what force structure priorities should be. After considerable discussion, with strong, sometimes opposing opinions being expressed, the secretary and chief forward a recommendation through the Defense Department to the president and ultimately to Congress. Among these senior leaders are combat veterans with close air support expertise, some with considerable A-10 experience. The decisions they make are based on their mission experience and an awareness of the many other mission obligations the service has.
The views of airmen in the field are neither unknown to nor taken lightly by senior leaders. But, these airmen have neither the responsibility nor the perspective required to determine how best to meet the Air Force’s myriad global missions within the resources available. The ethos of military professionals requires that senior leaders make decisions and give direction that is legal, moral and ethical. Individuals of lesser rank and responsibility are obliged to support those decisions, or depart service.
Those who decide to take their opposing views directly to Congress are not whistle-blowers — priorities are matters of judgment and there is no scandal here. Nor are they traitors — they are within their legal rights. They are simply insubordinate — they have denied the authority of their senior leadership.
A valid perspective, perhaps for a retired Soviet Air Force General – but perhaps a little off for one from a representative republic of a free people.
Though that attitude does exist in many places in our Navy towards any off-talking points discussion – it is usually done in quiet way among safe ears. Not in our Air Force though, no. It seems to be comfortable to come out in clear view of all.
That difference in culture can be found in glaring relief in the broader marketplace of ideas. It has long been a staple from the beginnings of new media over a decade ago that the USAF seemed to have a light footprint and not too full of boat rockers. That is getting better.
It is no mistake that Tony Carr’s blog “John Q. Public” has been at the front of both of these events and others on the USAF side of the house – he is one of the few contrary voices out there from that side of the Pentagon – and he is getting good traction as result. He is serving a very underserved market … and the quality of his goods is feeding the demand even more.
As I have seen in comments as of late – I wish this insight was originally mine – there may be something to consider about one potential source of the USAF vs. USN/USMC culture difference. The USAF does not have its version of the US Naval Institute and Proceedings.
Let’s look at the mission of USNI again;
To provide an independent forum for those who dare to read, think, speak, and write in order to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and other issues critical to national defense.
I think that is something the USAF could dearly use.
As imperfect as it is in execution and perhaps even support – this is something we should all step back now and then and ponder the 2nd and 3rd order effects that the Institute has on our larger culture, and the health of its collective professional intellect.
Do we have our Posts and Bradys? Sure … but they don’t feel supported by a general culture or empowered by their sense of intellectual entitlement to come out in the open and say it.
Looking at the pushback this year – maybe the USAF is headed our way in this respect. Good.
It isn’t just good – the USAF deserves better than this “shut up and color” type of leadership. Those leading the USAF at the highest levels were mid-grade officers in DESERT STORM. In that conflict, one of their leaders was General Charles Horner, USAF (Ret.).
Like many of his generation of military officers, his views were formed by what he saw in the Vietnam War. He and his peers knew what they didn’t want to be when it was their turn.
In Eric Schlosser book, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, the author gives a snapshot of where the USAF leadership was in 1991 from Horner’s view, looking back to the General Officers leading the USAF in Vietnam;
I didn’t hate them because they were dumb, I didn’t hate them because they had spilled our blood for nothing, I hated them because of their arrogance… because they had convinced themselves that they actually knew what they were doing and that we were too minor to understand the “Big Picture.” I hated my own generals, because they covered up their own gutless inability to stand up to the political masters in Washington … (I would) never again be a part of something so insane and foolish.
Has the center mass of USAF drifted this far away again? Again in an arrogance not willing to consider the views of their company and field grade officers?
Culture is never a fixed thing, but there can be parts of a culture that can be a damping rod to provide constancy through change. Thinking about our sister service’s battle with the free exchange of ideas and open discourse, at least for me, gives me a greater appreciation of our Institute and its mission.
Along those lines … take a break from reading and hit the keyboard. Someone’s tree needs shaking, and USNI is always looking for writers.
Following the end of the Second World War, Captain B.B. Wygant felt that the United States Navy needed a reminder of the great men of its past. With so much valor and accomplishment during the war in the Pacific, and on the European front, he appeared to fear that important historical examples of naval professionalism might be lost.
There was one man, above all others, that he felt the next generation of officers needed to be aware of: Admiral William Sims. He wrote an article that was published in Proceedings in 1951 entitled “Admiral Sims As I Knew Him,” where he reminisced of his personal experience serving under Sims and the stories that circulated in the fleet during his years in uniform.
For more than two decades William S. Sims was at the forefront of naval affairs. From the revolution in naval gunnery to his development of torpedo boat and destroyer operations, he was a central figure in preparing the U.S. Navy for World War I. During the war, he served as the senior naval commander in Europe and was instrumental in the establishment of the convoy system. Following the war his leadership as president of the Naval War College established the foundation of the creative and innovative Navy that developed the operating concepts for submarines and aircraft carriers leading up to World War II.
Below are excerpts from Wygant’s article. For USNI members who want to read the original, with a multitude of sea stories and leadership lessons, it can be found in full in the Proceedings Digitization Project.
By 1903 I had been detached from the Kearsarge and was a division officer on board a gunboat with four inch guns. At the time that Sims came on board we were engaged in the process of substituting human hair for the coarse metal wires that had been supplied in the telescopes. He took as much interest in that procedure as if it had concerned the telescopes of a turret in a battleship. In the conferences that were held to discuss gunnery matters he encouraged the younger officers to speak out and not to be tongue tied in the presence of their seniors.
He was liberal minded in other things as well. One day while walking in the countryside near Newport, he told me something of his experiences while serving as Naval Attaché in Paris and St. Petersburg. When asked about life in the Russian capital during the gay season, he remarked that he avoided social activities as much as possible because Russian society was extremely corrupt and the treatment of the lower classes was revolting to him. “Had I been a Russian I might have been a Nihilist,” he added jokingly.
Later he had command of the Atlantic Destroyer Flotilla, and it was in this latter position in particular that his characteristic methods were brought into play. Frequent conferences were held in which all were encouraged to be outspoken and decisions were arrived at after free discussion. Sims was never a great advocate of “spit and polish” but was immensely concerned with getting things done. In May 1917 when the second group of our destroyers arrived in Queenstown for antisubmarine operations the Admiral came on board the destroyer Tucker to ascertain how we had stood the trip. After looking about and asking a vew questions he requested a boat to take him ashore, having dismissed the familiar green barge on his coming aboard. A boat was called away and while I explained that there had not been time to shine the brightwork since our rather rough passage he interrupted, “Will the boat run?” When I replied that it would, he said, “What is it for?” The thing that mattered was not the appearance of the boat but its ability to carry out its mission.
Sims had the ability, essential to a naval officer, of making decisions and making them quickly if necessary. He expected the same of those under him. There are several versions of a story which illustrates this characteristic. The captain of a destroyer on his way from Newport to Charleston sent this dispatch to Sims, whose flagship was anchored in Chesapeake Bay. “My starboard engine is disabled, shall I continue to Charleston under one engine or put in to Lynnhaven Roads and effect repairs?” Promptly came the answer from Sims, “Yes.” The puzzled skipper sent another dispatch saying he did not understand and repeated his original query. This time, equally promptly came the reply, “No.” I once intercepted a message from Sims to one of his destroyer captains tersely instructing the officer, “Don’t ask questions, act.”
Sims’ willingness to permit the exercise of initiative by the man on the spot was noteworthy, as was also the extent to which he decentralized administration at a time when such practice was somewhat new in the service. I have a letter from him in this connection in which he wrote as follows: “Decentralization was of course bound to come with experience. Probably you do not know to what extent. Here is an example from before your time: I was closely associated with a C-in-C … who opened all the flagship mail, wrote all the endorsements … in his own hand, had all signals brought to him, wrote the answers himself, and allowed nothing to be done without reference to him. And he was immensely proud of his achievement!”
An example of Sims’ tendency to reduce things to their essentials is his definition of a destroyer in an attack against capital ships. “A destroyer is a projectile and the Captain is the fuse.”
His life was largely spent in uncovering deficiencies and smashing idols, but while deprecating his tendency to overstatement and his occasional inability to make clear his point of view, I feel that to him more than to any other single person belongs the credit for the efficiency which the U. S. Navy demonstrated during the Second World War.
Readers interested in the writing, thinking, and professionalism of William Sims can read some of his essays and articles, with introductions, in “21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education, and Leadership for the Modern Era.”
In 1916 Europe was engulfed in the beginning of The Great War. The rapid campaign that was expected in the summer of 1914 had degenerated into something unexpected, a long and almost siege like struggle. While the United States proclaimed neutrality, the Navy suspected things would get worse and they would either need to protect the American coastline or lead a mass mobilization to carry an army across the Atlantic. They began to prepare volunteers who expressed interest in joining the naval services with information to jump start their training when the time came. It began with a series of lectures, including subjects like coastal defense tactics and torpedo boats, and a short period aboard a ship a sea.
Captain William Sims was asked to prepare a lecture for the Naval Volunteers on the subject of “military character.” Sims was well known in the service. He had led the gunnery revolution a decade prior, at one point earning him the nickname “The Gun Doctor,” and was a leading voice in the development of modern battleships. He had spent some time at the Naval War College as a student, and was kept on as an instructor before returning to the fleet. During the war he would command all U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, the Navy’s command equivalent to General Pershing’s on land.
The subject of professionalism is central to much of Sims writing, both before the war and after returning home to assume responsibilities as the President of the War College. From the importance of personal professional study, to the tenets of mission command, to the need for constant military innovation, he spent a good deal of time thinking about the subject.
What did Sims believe were the professional and ethical responsibilities of a military leader? In his view a central tenet was the importance of self-awareness. Professionalism requires a constant personal net assessment, or “estimate of the situation.” This is what he told the Naval Volunteers who had gathered with the knowledge that they might soon leave their civilian responsibilities and take on the mantle of military leadership:
It seems almost incredible that there should be men of marked intellectual capacity, extensive professional knowledge and experience, energy and professional enthusiasm, who have been a detriment to the service in every position they have occupied. They are the so-called “impossible” men who have left throughout their careers a trail of discontent and insubordination; all because of their ignorance of, or neglect of, one or many of the essential attributes of military character.
I knew one such officer who was a polished gentleman in all respects, except that he failed to treat his enlisted subordinates with respect. His habitual manner to them was calmly sarcastic and mildly contemptuous, and sometimes quite insulting, and in consequence he failed utterly to inspire their loyalty to the organization.
A very distinguished officer said after reaching the retired list: “The mistake of my career was that I did not treat young officers with respect, and subsequently they were the means of defeating my dearest ambitions.”
The services of this officer, in spite of this defect, and by reason of his great ability, energy, and professional attainment, and devotion to the service, were nevertheless of great value.
Both qualities and defects of course exist in varying degrees. These sometimes counterbalance each other, and sometimes the value of certain qualities makes up for the absence of others.
Some officers of ordinary capacity and attainments have always been successful because of their ability to inspire the complete and enthusiastic loyalty of all serving with them, and thus command their best endeavors; but no matter what other qualities an officer may possess, such success can never be achieved if he fails in justice, consideration, sympathy, and tact in his relations with his subordinates.
Such men are invaluable in the training of the personnel of a military organization in cheerful obedience, loyalty and initiative; and when these qualities are combined in a man of naturally strong character and intellectual capacity he has the very foundation stones upon which to build the military character.
The pity of it is that so many men of great potential power should not only have ruined their own careers, but have actually inflicted continuous injury upon the service, through neglecting to make an estimate of the situation as regards their characters and through neglecting to use their brains to determine the qualities and line of conduct essential to success in handling their men, and thus failing to reach a decision which their force of character would have enabled them to adhere to.
Such a reasoned process applied to the most important attribute of an officer, namely, his military character, would have saved many from partial or complete failure through the unreasoned, though conscientious, conviction that it was actually their duty to maintain an inflexible rigidity of manner toward their subordinates, to avoid any display of personal sympathy, to rule them exclusively by the fear of undiscriminating severity in the application of maximum punishments, and such like obsessions.
It would appear that such officers go through their whole career actually guided by a snap judgment, or a phrase, borrowed from some older officer, such as the precepts quoted above. Though they have plenty of brains and mean well, their mistake is that they never have subjected themselves and their official conduct to any logical analysis. Moreover, they are usually entirely self-satisfied, and frequently boastful of their unreasoned methods of discipline; and they usually explain their lack of success by inveighing against the quality of the personnel committed to their charge.
All this to accentuate the conclusion of the war college conference that: “We believe it is the duty of every officer to study his own character that he may improve it, and to study the characters of his associates that he may act more efficiently in his relation with them.”
This, then, is the lesson for all members of our military services. Let us consider seriously this matter of military character, especially our own. Let us not allow anybody to persuade us that it is a “high brow” subject, for though military writers confine their analysis almost exclusively to the question of the “great leaders,” the principles apply equally to all individuals of an organization from the newest recruit up.
This is excerpt from chapter two of “21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education, and Leadership for the Modern Era.” It is cross-posted from The Strategy Bridge’s series on the military #profession. The book is available for pre-order and will be available 15 February in paperback and e-book.
First, let’s set the stage. Most of you have already read this;
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Michael Stevens today said the Navy is revoking Bill Cosby’s title of honorary Chief Petty Officer, originally presented in 2011. The Navy is taking this action because allegations against Mr. Cosby are very serious and are in conflict with the Navy’s core values of honor, courage and commitment.
Cosby enlisted in the Navy in 1956 and served for four years as a hospital corpsman before being honorably discharged in 1960 as a 3rd Class Petty Officer.
Let us put aside the sordid stories and unpack this a bit.
The Navy is taking this action because allegations against Mr. Cosby …
As far as we know, these are simply allegations, yes? So, we do not wait for justice, we do not wait for much of anything. The accusation is enough, I presume.
In isolation of the case at hand, I hold no brief for Bill Cosby, fully hoist onboard the reasoning and precedence we are accepting, and over the last few decades have accepted with a numbingly regularity – there are larger issues at work.
Where else does this habit manifest itself? We all know about the abuse of the IG system and the habit of firing senior leaders simply on the basis of an accusation. When we do that, we destroy careers decades in the making and even worse, besmirch the name of good people who, once found innocent, cannot reclaim their good name.
When truth, justice, and fairness are replaced by emotion, spin, and narcissistically therapeutic emoting in synch with the political mob’s Zeitgeist of the news cycle – what message are we sending to the Fleet, to our Sailors?
If thinking, feeling, and believing are now trumping what we know – then exactly what kind of organization are we? What are our Core Values again?
What are we honoring by presuming guilt, executing punishment, and then using that presumption to preach to the adoring public about our “honor.”
What courage is it to immediately throw someone under the bus before they have had a chance to address the charges against them? Why the hurry? Are we serving justice, or are we only out to protect ourselves, truth – unknown – be damned.
What are we showing a commitment to? Not to a Petty Officer Cosby who served our Navy at not the easiest time for a man of his background to serve. I’m not sure we are showing commitment to the values of justice as outlined in the Constitution we are sworn to uphold. I’m not sure we are even showing a commitment to the UCMJ. It seems that we are mostly concerned with a commitment to damage control against the Zeitgeist.
These public sacrifices to Vaal serve nothing and no one but the person who does the firing, to remove a irritation, to remove a distraction – not for any other higher purpose. That is a clear message; a message that is received.
What is our official Ethos? Let’s pull from the juicy center;
Integrity is the foundation of our conduct; respect for others is fundamental to our character; decisive leadership is crucial to our success.
We are a team, disciplined and well-prepared, committed to mission accomplishment. We do not waver in our dedication and accountability to our shipmates and families.
We are patriots, forged by the Navy’s core values of Honor, Courage and Commitment. In times of war and peace, our actions reflect our proud heritage and tradition.
Are we showing respect for the assumption of innocence of Cosby? Are we being dedicated to our Shipmates? Is punishing people by removing honors based simply by accusation part of our proud heritage and tradition? Really?
Is that the standard we are going to set? Is that the message we want to send to our people? You will be punished without evidence, simply because of accusation? We will crush you, and if innocent or the accusations are unproven – then that is your problem, as long as we are protected?
We are looking for reasons why our most experienced leaders are leaving after Command. We are wondering why we have so many refusing command that is offered to them.
Want to know why there is such an erosion in trust in senior leadership? Wonder why there is so little confidence? Want to know why a growing number of mid-grade officers don’t want that job?
Look at messages. Look at actions – not words – actions. Is truth a habit, a feature, or an inconvenience. Is not all honor we have set on a foundation of truth?
If we undermine that value of truth, does not the entire structure above it fall in to danger?
Here is a data-point to consider – an example where the actual ethos set on high drifts down to every layer of our organization. Even down to the keepers of our official memory. The chronicle keepers. Those keeping the bridge log.
They feel that there is nothing wrong with deleting history; ripping pages out of the chronicles; changing the bridge log.
Here is a screen shot from Thursday night of the URL: “http://www.navalhistory.org/2011/03/03/chief-cosby-front-and-center” read the address. Here is what you see.
What is missing? Well, with the Internet – nothing is deleted. Here is the cache:
Was this done by bad people? No. This was done by good people taking action based on the signals they are getting from higher up. That is where my bet is.
In the opening, I stated this problem started decades ago, for clarity sake, let’s draw a sharp mark on the calendar – one that is in living memory for anyone Year-Group ’91 or older, and legend to younger. We can draw that line 23 years and three months ago to the second week in September 1991; Tailhook.
That is where we saw senior civilian and uniformed leadership – who were there and active participants – shrink and cower while pulling the uninjured bodies of the innocent over them to protect them from the political frag pattern. Countless good junior officers’ careers were strangled in the cradle to protect those already past their prime.
For those who lived through it – that was the first break in the trust in leadership and our system many of us experienced. Following events have just emphasized that break in a bond that should be there, but isn’t – a break we see, talk about, and even do surveys trying to figure out.
This episode of memory hole utilization is just another data-point of an entire organization that has allowed this malignancy to take hold from bottom to top. Though modest, it cannot be discounted. It is the shaking rear-view mirror that is the result of the engine mount that is slowly giving away. You can ignore the shake and dismiss it as minor – which it is – but, you are also ignoring the cause of it; a growing problem that will eventually lead to catastrophic failure.
I have had a few people mention to me that this action is a response to an organizational circuit breaker popping in DC over a Petty Officer’s horrific Peeping Tom activity towards his ship’s female officers. If true, then we are letting the criminal actions of a 2nd Class Petty Officer indict the entire Navy as an organization tries so hard to be seen doing something, anything – and Bill Cosby, already abandoned my most, is an easy, defenseless, target of opportunity.
Again, is this in line with the truth, justice, or fairness? No. It is the reactionary result of thoughts driven by feelings of fear, believing that in some way, the organization you lead is as bad as its critics say it is.
Not the finest example of the human condition is our actions towards Petty Officer Cosby. One thing this episode has made clear; we have yet to recover from the leadership failures we saw in spades after Tailhook.
UPDATE: A point of clarification was brought up in comments. That website is not hosted by the U.S. Navy. It’s hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute. NHHC was invited to be equal partner on our site, and others as guest bloggers, among them Navy TV. It is at their discretion to delete/make private the posts.
Back in 2009, in his Proceedings article The Navy Can Handle the Truth: Creative Friction Without Conflict, regular USNI contributor Claude Berube provided a great observation about how important the give and take of debate is in addressing the challenges we face, and the great opportunity we have with the internet to broaden the reach and scope of those involved.
In the current environment, due to largely to changing missions, budgetary constraints, and varying priorities, the Navy continues to shrink in terms of both ships and personnel, decreasing the already minimal familiarity of the general American public with its Sea Services. Bullets and shells may win the battles, but words and ideas define the war and mobilize or sway the requisite public opinion to win it. Therefore, it is important for the Navy to recognize that one of America’s greatest strengths—its freedom of speech—can be its own force multiplier. This freedom allows for creativity, the engine of culture, the economy, and the military; dictatorial powers largely experience the relative creative stagnation regnant in a closed society.
Earlier this week over at my homeblog, in a discussion about another Proceedings article by CDR Darcie Cunningham, USCG; Millenials Bring a New Mentality: Does it Fit?, I brought in a White Paper that found its way to me, Training Millennials: Improving Quality in an Environment of Austerity, by LCDR Gordon “Judy” Faulkner, USN, at that time the VFA-106 Training Officer. Yesterday Judy sent me an updated version of the White Paper which I’ve embedded below.
Not taken aback by the boisterous romper-room that exists over at my homeblog, as I asked, Judy reached out to me – and the results are exactly what Claude was outlining.
I liked his email so much, with only minor changes, I asked his permission to publish it as a guest post. I originally was going to post his response over at CDRSalamander, but I wanted instead to bring it over here, as Judy brings up exceptionally important challenges that need to get a broader exposure.
Though I remain in disagreement with some of his observations about Millenials and think that discussion is a distraction, the other part – and I would argue the most important part of the White Paper – is what I would recommend the greatest focus by the reader.
Read the updated paper at the link above and draw your own conclusions, but the rest of the post I would like to turn over to Judy. The quotes are from my commentary on his White Paper, but otherwise the rest is his response. Over to you Judy.
Perhaps this piece would have been better as two separate articles, each addressing what I perceive as two very different topics. 1) Chronic under-resourcing coupled with mission creep, resulting in an inadequate training pipeline. 2) How to recognize, address and lead in light of generational friction, which you seem to agree is real and exists between most generations. Alas, the version you posted is the one that most people have read.
My use of the term “Millenials” in the title belied the real point of the paper. Alternatively I could have called it “How under-resourcing is threatening to destroy the Navy by forcing us to push through sub-par officers in an effort to meet requirements.” Even my long-winded literary namesake would assault this as verbose.
“He is not happy with the condition of the swimming hole he is playing in and has a rough idea that the issues are upstream … but besides a sniff and a passing glance, he has not started asking – or at least feels he has the top-cover to even bring up – the harder questions of “why” these personality types are floating down to his part of the river.”
Let’s put one thing to bed – during my time at VFA-106, AIRLANT fully supported every Field Naval Aviator Evaluation Board (FNAEB) that VFA-106 submitted; there were several. I was VERY happy with the swimming hole I was playing in (VFA-106) and those Commanding Officers who went to the mat to support me. In fact, it was my most rewarding tour thus far. Top cover existed in spades – to the point where VFA-106 failed to meet production metrics in part due to historically high attrition.
I have thought extensively about, ” “why” these personality types are floating down to his part of the river.”
It has a lot to do with the “fiscal austerity” in my title (sorry again for the drudgery there). Chronic under-resourcing creates a training dilemma.
How do we access, indoctrinate, train, and retain the best officers while culling those not suited to military service? Even more importantly, how do we do that in an environment where the best are leaving (or are not signing up in the first place), and we are forced in some cases to retain the worst to meet requirements? You point that out yourself here:
The problem is not with the Millenials – it is with senior leadership’s inability to select, cull, and lead junior personnel. Do that, and any “problem” people simply won’t show up.
That is the rub. Setting standards from officer accession, entry in to aviation pipeline, and then each milestone along the way.
Agreed. In fact, that is why six of seven proposed solutions have nothing to do with changing Millenials. Leadership is the solution, and as I state in my paper we need to tailor leadership to those we lead while enforcing or improving upon existing standards. That begins with understanding those we lead.
If I sound a bit like a curmudgeon, perhaps it is because 23 pages seemed long enough. Another paper written today might be about all of the positive aspects of Millenials that we should be tapping into and harnessing as leaders.
That being said, as you point out in your conclusion, generational friction is real. Understanding that friction and your audience are critical to effective communication, which is fundamental to sound leadership. Dr. Jean Twenge is doing a sound and scientifically based job of explaining current generational friction. In my opinion, she offers excellent insight for officers attempting to improve their communication skills. She is not selling snake oil out of the back of a wagon. She is attempting to quantify and explain generational friction in an effort to foster understanding. This is not at all about blaming Millenials; it is about understanding them. To quote my paper: “Developing Millennial officers requires a concerted leadership approach. Officers cannot lead in the ways that they believed worked for their generation. They must study, adapt and lead in the way that their Sailors require them to. Leaders must adjust their approach to their Sailors, not the other way around.”
There is also the problem of second guessing of who can or cannot meet standards. The multiple chances and training jackets measured in inches of thickness and pounds of weight … the pushing to the right and the next command people who should be invited to find another way to serve their country earlier on – wasting their time and the Navy’s money. That story is not new. May be worse – but not new.
Bingo. I could not agree with you more. Here’s the three million-dollar question – when we have fewer candidates who meet the standard than we have required billets, what gives, the requirement or the standard? This is where the rubber meets the road in today’s Navy. The most recent Aviation Department Head Screen Board is yet another example of this dilemma, albeit rooted in some different issues.
The Sailors of VFA-106 expend tremendous energy to train every officer who arrives at our door. In some cases, those officers should not have arrived in the first place. That does not mean they do not deserve our full effort. Some of the best leadership I have ever seen came from the Lieutenants whom VFA-106 assigned as mentors to our most difficult officers. We did not attrite those problem children them without first trying to lead and develop them.
There is a balance between healthy attrition and production. The former fosters competition and appreciation for the privilege of serving in the Navy. The latter ensures that we meet requirements in a way that is fiscally responsible to the US taxpayer. One of the most difficult decisions as a Training Officer or Commanding Officer is when to remove a student from training. In some cases it is easy; in most cases it is a gut wrenching progression of doing everything possible to train and lead (we all want to believe that we can get through to anyone) and finally admitting that some people are not suited for Aviation or for the Navy. The point where that decision occurs will vary based on leadership style and experience. In all cases, it is critically important that the Fleet provides unfiltered feedback on their nuggets and that the Fleet Replacement Squadrons provide the same to the Training Command. That flow of information should continue all the way to assessment. The bottom line is that ownership at every level ultimately ensures that we do not matriculate sub-standard officers to the fleet. Each command should see itself as a brand and every officer that passes their doors as a ambassador of that brand. Ultimately, a certain amount of undermanning is preferable to having sub-standard officer, aviator, SWO or Submariner in a Wardroom.
If you are not given the tools to force shape those that float down stream to you, then your bosses are the problem.
Boom goes the dynamite. In this case, the tools you speak of are resources matched to requirements. And in my opinion, the bosses are the elected ones, not the ones in uniform; however, it is our responsibility as officers to dutifully advise our elected officials when we can no longer meet stated goals given current fiscal constraints; however, as an O-4 at the Fleet Replacement Squadron those conversations are “a little out of my element.”
In summary, the entire cadre of junior officer instructors at VFA-106 is comprised of Millenials. They are some of the best officers with whom I have had the opportunity to serve. They are harder working, smarter and in many cases more dedicated then my contemporaries. Given adequate resourcing those same instructors of VFA-106 will set to meeting fleet requirements, providing the Navy with high quality Officers and aviators. And given adequate resourcing, we might just improve their morale and retention at the same time.
That, my friends, is how it is done.
As a final note – if you wonder if Aristotle, Chesterton, Socrates or other of history’s great thinkers ever yelled at the kids to get off their lawn, I recommend
This post is a response to an article in the August issue of USNI’s Proceedings by Commander Darcie Cunningham, U.S. Coast Guard, titled “Millennials Bring a New Mentality: Does it Fit?” So if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you start there. This post appeared in its original form at CIMSEC.
Where to begin? To her credit, Commander Cunningham asks an important question: “how does our structured military culture adapt to this new generation?” It’s also clear her frustrations are borne of personal experiences in command. Unfortunately it’s a question she fails to answer (more on that later) and in doing so perpetuates myths and patronizing generalizations. [Full disclosure: I’m in the millennial generation, on the older end of the spectrum, and like all such groupings the term “millennial” is a debatable construct but I’ll accept her definition (those born in the 80s and 90s) for argument’s sake.] “Kids These Days!” Commander Cunningham begins by noting several behaviors that are supposedly unique to millennials: that they “posture to work only the bare minimum number of hours required,” that their “customs and courtesies are eroding,” and that “there are an increased number of negative confrontations.” It is entirely possible that this is what is happening at Coast Guard Base Los Angeles, it is certainly her perception. But more likely it is just that: perception. Such perceptions have existed about pretty much every generation when they were in their youth. That doesn’t make them accurate.
Let’s return to the important question: “how does our structured military culture adapt to this new generation?” Beyond the advice to use positive feedback to keep the crew motivated, the Commander Cunningham offers nothing. Instead she says they must be “educated,” “course-corrected,” and evaluated for whether they will “truly be able to adapt to the service.” And that’s the thing – this isn’t really an article about adapting the military to millennials, it’s about adapting millennials to the military, as reflected in the title. Which is not all bad. To be sure respect for rank and proper military etiquette are just good manners, and appreciation for a service’s traditions, structure, customs, and courtesies are the marks of a professional. Yet here is where it gets downright galling. The commander moves to close by questioning whether millennials are just “focused on what’s in it for them.” This is flat-out wrong. As the Washington Post reports, millennials “want jobs that affect social change, and they give what they can. A 2012 study found that three-quarters of young people surveyed gave to a charity in 2011, and 63 percent volunteered for a cause.” It bears remembering that this is an all-volunteer force. While many undoubtedly join the military in part for other reasons – heck I joined partly to pay for college and to travel abroad – I would submit a vast majority, such as myself, also joined in part for the ideals that military service embodies and a belief that such work is work towards a better world. Instead of playing to these motivations, however, Commander Cunningham advises reminding these servicemembers that there are “long lines” waiting to get into the coast guard and that the economy is not the best. There’s so much wrong in this. First, it’s unclear if the commander thinks that since “millennials…may not be the right fit,” they can be replaced by one of the other five generations she says she oversees, or if she’s referring to individual millennial members. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt she means the latter and that she’s not saying that taking on the challenge of motivating millennials may just be too hard and that they should be written-off en masse. Second, there’s a reason these individuals are the ones in service and not in the supposed long lines. It’s because these they were the top qualified candidates. Even those who aren’t top performers in service are not likely to have too much trouble finding work outside the military, or using their benefits for further education, so this threat rings hollow except for those really troubled individuals threatened with a non-honorable discharge. And that’s to say nothing of how trying to scare one’s employees isn’t typically the best management or leadership strategy. Third, because these were the top qualified candidates this also means that any millennial you give up on is going to be replaced by…another millennial…who by and large won’t be as qualified. Sure you can keep up the numbers, but again, what does this say of the quality of your talent pool? One complaint the commander makes that does ring true is that “younger members…have an expectation of accelerated advancement through the organization.” In Commander Snodgrass’ 2014 Retention Survey he notes that 60% of respondents “feel they are making a difference in their job, but regardless of what they do – 64% don’t think they will be rewarded in any way by superior performance.” This should not be an indictment of millennials but a recognition of a drawback of military service in comparison with civilian organizations, as well as an opportunity to prove one’s leadership bona fides. Yes, we millennials want positive feedback and to know whether we’re doing a good job, and yes we wish we could rise through the ranks commensurate with our talents rather than in accordance with organizational and statutory limitations. Leaders would be well served to look for alternatives such as creating opportunities for crewmembers to prove themselves through increased responsibility or challenges. If the military can’t keep up with the rest of the world in reasonably advancing its people, Commander Cunningham should at least be able to explain what is or isn’t in her control and that she will do what she can to position her people for success. There are going to be bad apples among us, as there are in any generation. But tarring an entire generation with questionable generalizations is counter-productive. While this article may ask the right question, it doesn’t really attempt to answer it. What most millennials want is appreciation, when earned, an opportunity to make a difference, and a voice that is heard if not always heeded. The military, the top employer of millennials, still needs to make a serious attempt at understanding how to best take advantage of what this generation has to offer. A good place to start exploring the issue is Air Force vet Tim Kane’s Bleeding Talent, NYT review here. Another response to this article can be found at CIMSEC by LT Matt Hipple.
- Aboard the Charles de Gaulle: Sea Power and la République
- On Midrats 22 November 2015 – Episode 307: Our Own Private Petard – Procurement & Strategy with Robert Farley
- Leveraging our military relationships on the homefront
- Bring your voice once more unto the breach
- On Midrats 15 Nov 2015 – Episode 306: Author Claude Berube on his next book: Syren’s Song