Archive for the 'Leadership' Tag
Join us Sunday, 10 June, at 5pm (Eastern U.S.) for Midrats 10 June 12 :Episode 127: “Disruption, Disfunction and Leadership” on Blog Talk Radio, a show that poses some interesting questions:
What is a “crisis in leadership?
In an organization that prizes the Type-A personality that takes risk combined with a strong intellect – yet at the same times asks from it silence and order – what happens when each end loses faith and trust in the other?
Our guest for the full hour will be Peter Munson, Marine officer, KC-130 aircraft commander, Middle East specialist, author, and editor of Small Wars Journal.
As a starting point, we will use his article in SWJ, Disruptive Thinkers: Defining the Problem:
“Today’s military is facing a significant crisis. … The rank and file of the military who have made or witnessed the massive efforts and sacrifices of the past decade, and who have seen so very little in the way of satisfying results in return, … They are disappointed by the failures of leadership and imagination that have yielded toxic commands, a rash of firings in some services, and a breach of trust with our most vulnerable service members. They wonder about the future of the weapons systems that support and defend them as they read tales of acquisition woe. They question the growing focus on bureaucratic minutiae. They question how they can be trusted so completely in a combat environment, but are treated as children in garrison. They wonder how a military system that prides itself on justice will reward the generals that have presided over failure, … while at the same time eroding the autonomy and discretion of junior commanders with a creeping campaign of bureaucratic centralization.
These are symptoms of a malaise facing the military, of an ossified and decadent institutional culture and a bloated bureaucracy that has grown a profusion of power centers that jealously guard their territory and their budget.”
Seen the movie, “Heartbreak Ridge?” – remember the major out to get Gunny Highway? He’s one of “role models” we’ll be talking about.
I suspect that John Boyd’s name will come up.
The following article is cross-posted from an article originally written by Rob Almeida over at gCaptain.
It’s been almost 6.5 years since I resigned my commission in the US Navy where I served 2 tours at sea on board west coast-based warships followed by an instructor tour at the US Naval Academy. Since leaving the service, “civilian-life” has kept me pretty busy. I’ve traveled the world, met thousands of people, and even worked for a year on a drilling rig floor! It’s really been an incredible learning experience and I certainly have a much greater sense of self than I ever did before.
It’s also given me an extraordinary perspective on my time in the US Navy, and how completely backwards and inefficient the US Navy operates at times.
Yesterday over at my homeblog, we went over last week’s issue with the USMC’s problem understanding the proper context of what is clearly Nazi iconography. From flags to tattoos (see the NSFW video linked to in comments at the last link if you really need to see it) – there is an issue there.
Our nation has its own rich martial tradition, so why would warriors feel the need to search outside their own heritage – or for that matter outside an honorable heritage elsewhere – for their unit/personal iconography?
At the reactionary, retail level the answer is leadership – that that is only a symptom of a larger problem. What is wrong with our own heritage?
Is the problem ignorance of our own martial history? Perhaps … but that doesn’t explain why individuals and units have no problem finding “strong martial imagery” in a foreign history. What are we doing wrong inside our own historical lifelines that our own iconography is insufficient – could it be that we don’t give it the support it deserves?
I would offer that part of the problem is that we have allowed others to water down our own “red in tooth and claw” history – purging or softening what is the very real nature of this business – we kill people and break things simply because we are ordered to (insert polite conversation version here). There is little margin for error – and a lack of attention to detail or knowledge will quickly lead to the death of yourself and possibly thousands of your Shipmates – and mission failure. Not a Hollywood ending – but one of charred flesh, scattered chunks, and in some warfare specialties – a grey-pink mist.
Yes, this line of work is at its core a rough business.
The phrase “Initial Success or Total Failure” has long served as the unofficial motto of explosive ordnance disposal technicians in the U.S. military.
Until recently, the slogan hung on a wall at the Naval EOD school at Eglin. It was removed after senior EOD leaders decided the words were insensitive.
“It holds some potential insensitivity and implies that our fallen and wounded EOD warriors have somehow failed,” said Joy Samsel, deputy public affairs officer at Naval Education and Training Command in Pensacola. “We don’t want to do that to families.”
Samsel said the EOD school has never had an official motto and has no plans to adopt one.
Rear Adm. Michael Tillotson, commander of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, took issue with the slogan and said that “to imply that failure is an option is unacceptable.”
“Throughout history, many EOD techs from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, other U.S. government and civilian agencies, as well as foreign partners, have lost their lives or been wounded in the line of duty,” he said. “To imply that they failed is insensitive and disrespectful.”
Let me join the many in saying; RADM Tillotson, you’re wrong; in this business everyone does not get a trophy.
“The motto is not about the individual, it is about the mission, and when you are dealing with an explosive device you generally get one shot to render it safe,” Will Pratt, a former Army EOD technician, wrote in an email to the Daily News.
“When you start making changes to an explosive device, you are either going to shut it off or set it off, hence initial success or total failure. This does not mean that the technician is a failure by any stretch of the imagination. ”
Pratt said the military has lots of unofficial mottos and that “Initial Success or Total Failure” is included on the Navy’s EOD memorial in Washington, D.C.
He added that he hopes the Navy won’t allow Tillotson to “destroy a tradition that was there long before him and will be there long after he is gone.”
First Sgt. Joseph Smith of Fort Hood, Texas, said the removal of the motto “is beyond most EOD technicians’ comprehension.” He said he has never heard any complaints about the motto from EOD techs or their families.
Actually – direct clear communication of the binary nature of the EOD business, as the motto is, is actually a signal of great sensitivity to your Sailors’ families – making sure from the beginning Sailors understand the unforgiving nature of their work and so will have a greater likelihood of coming home. It shows great respect for their maturity and professionalism by speaking to them without guile.
How is this being carried out? Well, in an almost Orwellian/Soviet manner. From an email inside the EOD lifelines;
Subject: FW: Visual inspection of all NAVSCOLEOD buildings
Please read the e-mail below. I don’t know the history or driving factors behind this so please don’t ask AND refrain from sending me an e-mail telling me how dumb you think this is. Bottom line is it needs to happen and I need you to make it happen.
DO NOT DELEGATE THIS BELOW THE NCOIC LEVEL.
I need either the Divo or NCOIC to personally inspect all spaces under your cognizance. This includes training areas (e.g. IED huts, BC labs, PT areas, ice house, class plaques, ceiling tiles, etc) and any place that this phrase may possibly reside. If, for example, you find a wall with the phrase, don’t just take a can of spray paint to it. Annotate it and add it to the list of places you found the phrase and we’ll work with facilities to get it painted over to make it look nice.
If/when I find out more about the driving factors I’ll get back to you. If you have legitimate complaints and/or your instructors morale is negatively affected save your concerns until next [redacted] Divo meeting or come and talk with me personally. I need confirmation this has been completed by 1100 Friday 10 Feb.
Of note, this does not apply to personal memorabilia that individuals have on display at their desks or in their PERSONAL work areas.
Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal
So, down the memory hole. Admirals have a lot of power – so it is done.
There are even talking points:
QUOTE: Rear Admiral Michael Tillotson, Commander Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (senior Navy EOD officer)
“As leaders in the EOD community we have a responsibility to support, train and prepare EOD Technicians for an extremely dangerous profession. To imply that failure is an option is unacceptable.”
“Throughout history many EOD techs from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, other U.S. government and civilian agencies, as well as foreign partners have lost their lives or been wounded in the line of duty. To imply that they failed is insensitive and disrespectful. We owe our fallen warriors and their families honor and dignity for their heroic service.”
Initial talking points:
1) “Initial success or total failure” has never been an official motto of Navy EOD.
2) The motto itself holds potential insensitivities and an unintended message insinuating that our fallen and wounded EOD Warriors have somehow failed.
3) It is the Navy EOD’s position to not display this motto within Navy commands.
Give warfighters appropriate and sufficient iconography – or they will find their own.
We’ve seen this movie before; well, some of us have. Those who saw the post-Cold War, post-Desert Storm “peace dividend” era will recognize where we are. Different acronyms and different policies – the but goal is the same. People need to leave. It starts ugly, creates a new normal, then settles out. There are no great ways to reduce manpower in a bad economy – but there are less bad ones.
Are we doing this right – and are we leading from the front to make sure leaders enjoy the same hardships as their Sailors? For those we keep on – are we choosing the right leaders for the right reasons?
I would like to send along a snapshot of what our front-line leaders are having to work with as they tell outstanding Sailors that, even in this economy, soon they will have to make it work without the Navy.
When was the last time you saw a grown man cry in uniform over a non-legal admin issue? It ain’t pretty – but behind the PPT; this is what is happening at one major sea command.
Results from the Enlisted Retention Board (ERB) for E4/5: we had 20 of 50 candidates selected for separation.
ERB for E6/7/8: we had 9 of 48 candidates selected for separation. No E7/E8s were separated; all E6.
One was a 16-year first class who cried like a baby when he was told. Wife, two kids, no NJP, no misconduct, solid good Sailor. This comes on the heels of the 46 E4-E5 folks ship-wide we notified two weeks ago.
Some of these Sailors had PRD extensions to make the homeport change and move or moved their families to the new duty station. Not only have our Sailors stood up to meet absurdly inconvenient USN challenges (when would IBM move you, not help you sell your house (now upside down), and expect your wife to do the move alone while you were gone for 6 months), but they did so with the good faith that they had a reciprocal commitment from USN.
Well, they thought they did. They had faith that because they did all they were asked to do – the Navy would stand up to the promises it made verbally and by culture. They have found instead that truth can and will change.
ERB and her automaton sister Perform to Serve (PTS). How are these impacting the relationship between Sailors and their leadership – and the connection between officers and enlisted?
Remember, with PTS no humans are involved in this decision. A computer looks at certain parts of their personnel record and calculates their value to the Navy with an algorithm. Yep, we are letting the computers do all the leading for us. We detach ourselves from the very personal part of leadership; you have to work both the “good & fun” as well has the “difficult but needed” parts of it.
That can quickly develop in to a habit. It is a short walk from “just let a computer tell others the bad news so I don’t take the hit,” to telling the XO that we shouldn’t let anyone on overnight liberty in our next port because no one wants to have to explain to their Sailors why they denies their chit. It’s too hard; push the bad news decision to someone else so I can hand out NAMs. And no – I didn’t just make that story up. It was sent in an email last week from one of my regulars. Yes; longer deployments with less liberty. That makes a great bumper sticker.
Isn’t leadership at its core a personal relationship? People will follow the orders of a superior – but they are led by individuals they honor and trust. The whole PTS/ERB process puts the concept of leadership on its head by the impersonal nature of it all. These Sailors are being fired, and they are being fired without cause…you can’t tell them why, just “you’re fired.” The people who know them best aren’t making the call – they are just reporting it.
The decisions are made from afar – yet the leadership challenge comes up close. How do you motivate a Sailor, who deployed 4 months early, who is gone from home for 11 months, who thinks that they are about to be fired and then will be expected to remain at sea for the next 3 months until deployment is over? “You’re fired…but you have to stay at sea for the next 3 months and work hard and you can’t do any planning for your career change because your internet doesn’t work and you can’t talk to your wife and kids except on 4 ATT sailorphones. Oh, and we’re dumping you in the worst economy since the 1970s. Carry-on.”
That is what is happening in the Fleet right now. Not all that different than what we saw with the early 90s Involuntary Release from Active Duty (IRAD), but these are enlisted personnel, not officers.
Going beyond the people affected – back it out a bit. We’re already “optimally” manned, right? So when these Sailors leave their commands, the command will get a replacement. After all, while we’ve cut 3,000 Sailors, so far we haven’t changed the manning documents. Who do you think is going to show up as the replacement? Do you think that when you lose your 1st Class – who has all the quals, experience, and technical knowledge they’ve gained in 14 years of service – you’re getting the same thing from BUPERS to replace them? No. You’re lucky if you get a 3rd Class with the right NEC’s.
So, ships and squadrons that already don’t have enough people, now have fewer experienced Sailors as well. It’s not a question of how many Airmen or Seamen you push into the command to make the numbers look right. Training and experience matter. The other problem is that you are now cutting back on your mid-grade leadership. You end up with ships and squadrons full of Khaki and 3rd class and below. People who are supposed to be looking at the big picture and worker bees, but nobody in between to connect the two. Is that setting an organization up for success or failure?
A slightly unsettling component of this is that it takes a lot of people out of contention for retirement benefits as they are 4-6 years from retirement, but that isn’t one of the goals … is it?
Does the senior leadership have a full understanding of how their decisions are impacting both leadership and Sailors on the deckplates? Do our actions show any empathy with our Sailors and their families? The talking points that were distributed to front line leadership about how to “fire” a Sailor were ridiculously simplistic and next to useless.
Is this really the best way to do this? From the view of the deckplates – are officer and enlisted reductions being done the same way? Well, again – let’s look at what was done at the officer level. Fair or not – it is what the enlisted see.
As a point of discussion, look at the Selective Early Retirement (SER) board for URL CAPT and CDR. Who did we “fire,” 124 officers? With this economy, even being retirement eligible, people are staying. So, numbers need to go – did they go far enough? Doesn’t look like it.
As a result, many LCDR and below are having their screen groups pushed back by years because there are so many CDRs and CAPTs hanging on. I know of a LCDR who was told his first look at O5 was pushed back 2 years, another pushed a year. Odds are that Shipmate will see another slide. Why aren’t we thinning the herd of 12-16-yr officers as we are 12-16-yr enlisted?
Here is the pernicious difference between what happened to the officers vs. the enlisted – the officers who do get “fired” all have their 20 years in – they get a check. ERB folks are often ¾ of the way to the pension that now they will never see … unless they can work some reserve time and tread water for a couple decades plus.
For now though, the officers will hit the USAJobs website with a nice paycheck coming in while they tread water. ERB and PTS? Just a chunk of money to chew on until it runs out. BTW – your daughter needs braces and your son turns 16 next year and don’t plan on moving to a job with your family in tow – you’re $20,000 underwater in your home.
Have we (Navy leadership via BuPers) through our actions and processes institutionally broken faith with our personnel? Is this how a Top 50 Employer acts?
Yes, reductions need to be made – but are we doing it right? Can we clearly look in the face at our deployable forces and those with the most sea duty and say, “We have cut as much of the supporting infrastructure as possible. We have cleared out all the oxygen thieves and professional shore duty billet sponges; we have to go after you.”
Do we really have a lean shore infrastructure? (staff and shore BA/NMP, call you office). Have we scrubbed our manning documents correctly? Have we, like the Army and USMC, done a thorough review of our personnel to see who has and has not deployed in the last few years and made people offers they can’t refuse? Are we rewarding the right things? Do our actions reflect our words? Does a CDR in DC, or an E4 at Pax River, have the same (or better) chance of promoting over someone on a back-to-back sea tour? Well, let’s take another snapshot.
We have been a Navy at war for over a decade. In that time, one of the greater challenges we have had is the Individual Augmentation (IA/GSA) program (AKA NARMY). What have we told people over and over – well, that it will be both rewarding and rewarded. Has it?
Do we reward the warrior – or are we still stuck in a peace-time/Cold War mentality where we don’t so much reward tactical and operational performance and effort so much as number of hoops and checked boxes? Do we focus a lot on school time – or actually leading Sailors at sea and forward deployed? Are we promoting combat leaders to run an organization that exists to fight its nation’s wars – or are we promoting the fonctionnaire and perpetual student?
Again – let’s look at what we are doing with officers. What happened at the last Aviation Major Command Screen Board? Perhaps we will find our answers there as – coming from SG-90 +/-, these officers have spent more than half their career at war. Right?
What does this data point tell the warfighter about what our Navy values during wartime?
- Overseas duty? A wash.
- IA/GSA? Doesn’t look like a winner.
- Avoid hard duty overseas or a year+ in the dirt with an IA/GSA, or find a way to warm a seat in a classroom or chop PPT slides in a 3-digit J-coded job on a superfluous Staff?
Where do you become a better leader – at sea and deployed – or ashore working on your handicap?
Difficult times require difficult decisions. Are we making those difficult decisions for the right reasons? Do our actions match our words?
As things contract, you have to make sure that your keep the value added, and let the less value added go. That is the only way to, at the end, make sure you have an organization that is in best shape to address the challenges it faces.
What do our actions and manpower shaping tell you about what a smaller Navy will be like? As people have the habit of selecting in their own image – what will we become more and more like as the present conflicts fade? Will this serves us well when, and it is when not if, the next war comes?
UPDATE Zacchaeus over at Small Wars Journal does a very good job contextualizing the tradeoffs embedded in the above post. Read about “The Lance Corporal Equivalents” here.
Another insightful blog on CDR Sean Heritage’s homeblog, Connecting the Dots. He offers great advice on how leaders can (at least try to) influence who will relieve them, and why they should do so.
What CDR Heritage did was take Admiral Harvey’s idea about 360 degree input, especially as it relates to screening officers for command, to heart. Not only that; he took the iniative – in spite of “the potential for ridicule” – to implement it. His justification is helping ensure that the right officer eventually takes the reins of his command.
Using a sports analogy, sometimes the best athlete available is not the best fit for the team currently making their draft selection. In our case, sometimes the best person on paper is far from the best person for a given job. I want to help ensure the best Senior Chief and the best Commander for NIOC Pensacola are “drafted” in place of the Senior Chief with the best relationship with the detailer and happens to have the right PRD and the Commander who “looks good on paper”. Our community is far too small for us to ignore the intangibles.
Read CDR Heritage’s entire post here: Succession Planning
The taxpayers have invested millions of dollars, in some cases tens of millions of dollars, to “grow” someone to the position of Commander Command or higher. With every Command Pin, there is an institutional hope that this experience and subsequent superior performance will prepare that leader for the next level of service to their nation. Each additional exposure to Command builds on the already exceptional talent our system invites to lead. We lose all of that for a simple lack of personal judgement and self-control. How do you mitigate this problem?
We don’t have a perfect system – no system devised by humans ever is – but it is a good system. We demand a lot, we expect a lot. In an era of broader cultural shoulder-shrugging and acceptance of sub-par performance, the Navy especially continues to hold its leaders accountable for transgressions away from accepted standards both professional and personal. This is good.
Sub-par professional performance will occur regardless of what cohort you select; internal & external imperfections will always exist. Abusive personalities can advance on occasion, the weak will fall to a criminal inclination, lack of at-sea time or inadequate flight hours by strong players deemed to have “other priorities” for their career path than sea-duty can run aground or off a runway, and yes – bad things happen to good people with horrible luck – but this is as it has always been. That isn’t the issue.
There is one area causing explosive bolts on Command Pins to activate that is beyond the pale, one with no excuse or acceptable explanation. Though it impacts female leaders now and then – let’s be honest and speak as adults with each other; this is almost exclusively a male problem. Yes it takes two to tango – but the person in a position of authority has 100% of the responsibility for an inappropriate relationship. Full stop.
It seems like a simple concept to talk clearly on why and how to keep your base nature under control, but it isn’t for reasons partly social, partly socio-political.
In a perfect world, all that would be required in any Leadership 101 course would be an audio loop of Grandmother Salamander’s admonition, “Don’t sleep with the help!”, but obviously that doesn’t work. It doesn’t seem that what we are doing now is working either. I’m not sure what the answer is, but we need to find a better way to talk about these things. We have accountability right – we are failing on prevention.
Perhaps it is that people are just uncomfortable talking about people doing things they should not with their tender vittles. A silly reason for people who spend decades perfecting the art of breaking things and killing people – but the subject does strange things to people.
On a personal level, somewhere the 15-yr old boy short-circuits the middle-aged higher brain functions preventing self-control and focus; on an institutional level we find it verboten to openly discuss a well known sexual dynamic.
There is the problem – to talk honestly about this you have to talk about uncomfortable realities concerning how people interact on a very personal level – and not in a good way. Facts that are not in alignment with some people’s pet theories. I’ve never had much respect for people with PhDs in Sociology or Psychology, but I do have a tremendous amount of respect for women who have been married for decades, successfully to very powerful men. They understand well what is going on. We should listen to them.
The best of that rare breed can speak with the clarity and directness this problem requires. Here is a shot at boiling it down their advice and applying it to the maritime services.
All you need to do is to look at the coupling habits of the very powerful (see any 3x or more married man in his 60s/70s+ as a reference) to see that one of the greatest aphrodisiacs for women towards men is power. It doesn’t have to be great power – just relative power. The greater the difference in relative power – the greater both sides of the problem; the sexual attractiveness of power and the resulting unrealistic ego-driven sense of entitlement (Charlie Sheen, Schwarzenegger, DSK, WJC, etc)
The sexual attractiveness of power is personified – though not exclusively experienced – by a sub-set of usually younger, insecure women who have a very dangerous combination of personality traits; they are sexually attracted to men with power and they have an innate understanding of a man’s ego and the social weaknesses of insecure men. They know how to use one to get close to the other.
This meets a personality trait that almost all men have – a weakness for the fawning sexually-tinged advances of a younger member of the opposite sex, and an ego that craves to think that even at middle age they are as attractive as they were two or more decades earlier – that yes, they are all that and a box of chocolates.
When one side meets the other, the results are predictable.
We have all seen this and know – some more than others – that when this situation happens and the senior man steps through that open door, it is harder and harder for them to step back out of it the longer it goes on.
Almost all male leaders, it doesn’t take a Commanding Officer, will run in to this. As we are all weak and fallen – the key to avoid falling where countless have fallen before is to make sure that you try to prevent that “heart-beat-thump moment” from ever taking place.
Over at NRO, Kathryn Jean Lopez shared some advice that a longtime congressional spouse offered to new Congressmen. Modified slightly by me to fit our profession – I think it offers a sound roadmap.
Ponder with me:
1. Live in the right place for the right reasons. Be sure the decision on where to live — de-camp the family to the new duty station or to be a geographic-bachelor – is based on what is best for the marriage and family, not on your Navy career. It must be a joint decision. Marriages and families need to be the first priority in all decisions.
2. Keep your spouse close to your side. When at all possible, run your non-daily social events by your spouse and include him or her whenever possible. Ensure that evening and weekend events do not interfere with family schedule except for exceptional mission related events.
3. Social events and liberty are a danger zone. Attending social events is important, but very few require for you to be there after 2300. Avoid alcohol use in public, and private conversations with members of the opposite sex – especially when they are married to someone you own paper on or are your subordinate. Do not give out or request private contact info. You have ombudsmen and the Fleet Family Support Center for a reason. If the person you are talking to is intoxicated, walk away. If you find yourself alone with someone, immediately find a crowd. If on overseas liberty you violate the 2300 rule and have had a few drinks, remember your mother’s rule, “Nothing good every happens after midnight.” Remember, your job isn’t to be popular, fun, part of the crew, or to have a good time – your job is to lead.
4. Get over yourself! Give your designated parking space to the Navy Relief auction or other such event on a regular basis. Keep any use of “I” or “me” in public speeches to a minimum. Don’t have subordinate’s spouses address you like their service-member husbands/wives. Invite them to call you by your first name if they do otherwise. Be humble. If you don’t have an XO or CMDCM who walks in and speaks frankly with you – then you may have a problem. If your Dept Heads never challenge you and win – then you may have a problem.
5. Remember, you are there to serve the nation; not to be served. Keep focused on your Sailors and your mission. If your head is nice and spotless but you have no idea what condition the other heads are in, you may have a problem. While deployed, if your uniform is complete and in good condition while those you are speaking with look worn out and are as a whole a mix-matched mess, then you may have a problem.
6. Keep in touch with your spouse and family every day at home and deployed C4I/operations permitting. When on liberty stay away from places junior personnel frequent. If it is 2330 and you are at a mixed table of junior officers, all of a sudden you realize that 4-years-older-than-your-daughter LTJG YogaInstructor is sitting hip-to-hip next to you with your legs in contact down to the toe, and everyone has a beer in front of them with more on the way – then you may have a problem.
7. Treat all people with respect and dignity. Junior enlisted, junior officers, Chiefs, CMDCM, XO, the civilian guard at the front gate, the Commissary bagger, the person you just sent to CCU, the JO who just downed his board – you are known by the words said behind your back.
8. In the end – you are just a government employee. Irreplaceable until you leave – then forgotten. Once you hang up your uniform – 99.8% of the people you meet won’t know or care. Remember that the final vote tally takes place far from your Administrative and Operational Chain of Command – all that matters is the record presented to God. If you don’t believe in God then at least know that every AM you will have to look at that person in the mirror.
9. Heed Micah 6:8 — “What then does God require of you? Seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.”
10. Remember the angels … “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.” G. K. Chesterton.
11. If religion isn’t your thing – then remember Ben Franklin; “To be humble to superiors is duty, to equals courtesy, to inferiors nobleness.“
Sebastian Abbott from the AP had a nice article from AFG last week that got me pondering again on what the Navy is missing that the Marines and Army are receiving by the metric ton; combat experience. Outside SEALS, SEABEEs, and a few other specialized units – for all intents and purposes our Navy has not been stressed by prolonged, direct combat with the enemy during this conflict. FRP and presence ops are not combat.
This is what got my attention – after nine years of continual combat, even a learning institution such as the US Marines are still relearning fundamentals;
The Marines patrolling through the green fields and tall mud compounds of Helmand province’s Sangin district say they are literally in a race for their lives. They are trying to adjust their tactics to outwit Taliban fighters, who have killed more coalition troops here than in any other Afghan district this year.
“As a new unit coming in, you are at a distinct disadvantage because the Taliban have been fighting here for years, have established fighting positions and have laid the ground with a ton of IEDs,” said Lt. Col. Jason Morris, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. “You have to evolve quickly because you have no other choice.”
Despite the previous occupants, the Marines who pushed out with Ceniceros that fateful afternoon said they didn’t realize how dangerous the mud compounds to the south of the base were until the Taliban unleashed a stream of machine-gun fire, pinning down two Marines.
“We kind of snuck our nose in the south to see what the south was about and we found out real quick that you don’t go south unless you have a lot of dudes,” said Sgt. Adam Keliipaakaua, who was leading the patrol.
All the services have history departments, they have recommended reading lists, they teach military history at the Service Academies and War Colleges – but does it sink in where it need to sink in the most, in the places where decisions are made on how to train, equip, and otherwise prepare this nation for war?
There are few things in this line of work that can bring clarity to the mind more than actual combat. It has always been true that at the end of a conflict a military has a fairly good handle on what works and what does not. True in 1945 in Europe and the Pacific, 1972 in Vietnam, and 2008 in Iraq.
After a war winds down though, the rough concensus starts to break down as the second guessing takes place, the think tanks start overthinking, and some advocates do a better job than others in selling their version of victory. That starts the process of separation of what is needed, and what is wanted.
The unsexy and difficult tend to be starved or forgotten in time. New and upproven theories come to the front in a time of peace with the promise to go around the unsexy and difficult to make war all shiny and new – or better yet, distract from the requirements of the unsexy and difficult, as only in peace can you get away with ignoring the sexy and difficult things such as logistics, damage control, and young men holding ground with a rifle.
The problem is less the cliche of “Fighting the last war” as much as forgetting what happened during the last war. Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl’s central theme of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam is in a large part the question of the degree our military is a learning institution. Unlike peacetime where a PPT or White Paper can avoid the hard truth of reality if sponsored well – in combat, the truth comes out through blood and treasure.
The wars of the last decade have been land wars and the ground services, Army and Marines, have had to learn more than the air and sea services. Just the nature of the war. Though there are many – some of the Lessons Learned/Identified are not new at all. No, they are things that were learned and written in blood decades earlier- but forgotten in the ease of peace. Just a few examples from the ground side of the house.
- RPG cages/Slat armor: Plenty of pictures of them on Strykers and other armored vehicles now, but not so starting early on in this war. The RPG dates back to WWII, so you can’t say their impact on light armor is a new issue. When RPGs became common in Vietnam, we put our 113’s in cages of one type or another. Very effective – and very forgotten. Like the next example, lives were lost, memories came for the fore, redneck engineering held the line until official production – and now we have them again. No excuse.
- Unarmored HUMVEEs/MRAP: All you needed to know about their need was learned and forgotten in Somalia. Israel and Apartheid South African experiences spanning decades also gave clues. The story by now is well known – as it was on 10 SEP 01. No excuse.
- Inadequacy of the M-16/M-4 and its varmint round, the .223/5.56mm: Tired but true argument. All discussion should have ended when the M-14 was brought out of storage wholesale mid-decade and serious talk came up towards a 6.5/6.8mm round – but the G4 guys seem to have beat the G3 guys, again, on this with a classic bureaucratic holding actin – sadly. Same institutional concept that ignored Gen. Mattis when he was MARCENT and wanted MRAPs for his Marines. The amount of our own countrymen’s blood on the hands of our accountants and non-warfighting Staff Weenies is enough to leave anyone gobsmacked. Back to the subject at hand, I recommend anyone who wants to defend M-16 series talk to MG Robert H. Scales, USA (Ret.). No excuse.
- The joy of armor. I love the Canadian example from AFG on armor, a lot. It isn’t that they didn’t learn the lessons – it is just they learned the wrong lessons. Too much peacekeeping since the end of the Korean War and the lost perspective from the end of garrison duty in Germany after the Cold War had left the Canadians within a year of getting rid of all their tracked armor. They also let the wrong people run their internal national messaging – tanks are symbols of masculine militarism, etc. When reality squatted on their national bellybutton picking, they just had a few Leopard 1s left. It didn’t’ take long for the Canadian dead from AFG to scream for tanks, as the reality of combat brought the unique skill-set of the tank to the front. Where do we find our Canadian brothers now? With a nice gaggle of Leopard A2s. They also are bringing back the CH-47. No excuse.
- Irreplaceable tracked vehicle: In the same line as the Canadian idea – we too had fallen in love with the wheeled vehicle. They have their place – but are not all things for all places. Strykers are great as long as you don’t, ahem, have to worry about IED – but if you can’t leave the road to engage the enemy or get away from a kill zone – then all you are is a death trap. We mostly knew that —- but this still makes the cut because there was a growing school that wanted to get rid of all tracks – they are still around – experience in the field says you can’t …. again.
- The gun on aircraft (USAF): Everyone knows the story from Vietnam, but as we can see with the USMC & Navy’s version of the F-35, we have not learned the importance of the gun as well as the USAF (gunpods don’t count). Infantry always enjoys a good strafing run – but recently it has also come to the attention of the COIN crowd that the aircraft cannon is a very precise and discriminating weapon. No GPS coord problems or laser designation challenges. No excessive explosions. Man in the loop accountability.
- Infantry: You never have enough infantry: Enough said. What is less sexy to a peace time green eyeshade number cruncher than a guy with a rifle in his hand? They are a pain until you have to go to war – then all of a sudden you remember that the Marines may have something there; everyone a rifleman. Talk to the Army non-infantry types who have done nothing but infantry work.
To forget and to wish away; this is human nature – and it is unavoidable. Things are forgotten either by neglect or intention – and when conflict comes, people are killed, battles are lost, and if you forget something bad enough – your nation is put at Strategic Risk because in the comfort of peace things were forgotten for the wrong reasons.
The longer you go between conflicts, the wider the gulf seems to be between what is needed and what is actually there when you show up. As it has been a very long time since the US Navy has been challenged at sea, the experience of the Army and Marines had me thinking, “What are the half-dozen problems waiting for us when war at sea comes?”
Oh, it will come – I don’t know when, and I don’t know with whom – but it will come. There are some things out there that we don’t know that will work well and others won’t. That is why you can’t put all your hopes in one system – you might have picked the lemon. There are, however, somethings that we will have no excuse for forgetting. History is too clear – the gaps too obvious to ignore. These are some of the known knowns.
- Damage Control: COLE, PRINCETON, TRIPOLI, STARK, FORRESTAL, ENTERPRISE and the whole British experience in The Falklands War demonstrate that automated DC is a myth and pipe dream. Destruction has its own plan. There is one critical thing you need to save a damaged ship and fight hurt; manpower. Multiple DC teams. Optimal manning is only good in a permissive peace time environment when you don’t have to deploy for more than a few weeks. Manning for ships such as LCS will make them a one hit wonder. They take one hit, and you’ll wonder what happened to them. Taking away DDG manning to such obsurd levels – including the DDG-1000 manning concept – and you will simply wonder, “There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today.” When we worry a lot about at-sea manning while our shore staffs bloat – you need to wonder if we are a serious, warfighting institution.
- Underway replenishment. Is there anything less sexy than an oiler? Follow the link and look at Hooper’s article here. Worth a deeper ponder.
- Organic refueling. So, does buddy tanking from one light strike fighter to another light strike fighter make you feel comfortable about our ability to project significant power ashore while keeping the CVN a healthy distance away? Do you really think we will always have USAF tankers based close to where we need to be to support us? Really? Fewer shorter range light strike fighters with their CVN closer to shore. Really? Speaking of unsexy, think the C-2 will last forever? Really? Who is doing your ASW again?
- Numbers in the game of ASW: You always … always … run short of platforms and weapons. Once the shooting starts and people start seeing submarines under every herring pod – check your Light Weight Torpedo inventory. If for some, ahem, reason your peace time LWT training and testing wasn’t what it should have been for the expected targets and environment, and they don’t work – what is your back-up weapon? How many SSN do you have, and they are doing what where? No excuse here at all. From WWII to the Falklands history is screaming at us, again – no excuse.
- NSFS: Anything less than 5″ is an insult and an embarrassment. Not archaic – ask anyone from the Falklands to Five-Inch Friday about it – again. Talk to the Marines what they think about a single mount 57mm gun with a non-functioning NLOS onboard as their NSFS.
- Redundancy in offensive and defensive weaponry: Back to the ASW example in part and a review of your standard issue WWII DD or DE. Ever wonder why they had so many different types of weapons – and so many? Well – in combat, things break or get broken – different types of targets are better addressed by different weapons. There are no training time outs in combat. A little close to the modern timelines … there was a reason certain warships were on the gun line off Vietnam and others weren’t. Numbers are hard from a PMS and manning perspective – but no one wants to be an O-ring or golden BB away from being Not-Mission-Capable when people are trying to kill you and a few hundred of your shipmates.
There, that is my dirty half-dozen of things that can/will be a problem due to neglect and complacency in peace. Your list may be different.
We should know the lessons of history, but are we applying them? I firmly believe that the Transformationalists are good people who are trying to find a better way – but they are putting too much on hope and not enough on critical thinking about practical matters. When you tell people your Amphibious Ships are too valuable to get close enough to shore to put Marines ashore – your idea of NSFS is a single 57mm gun and a few dozen missiles so bad the Army doesn’t want them – your open ocean ASW plans involve remotely piloted center consol fishing boats – and you tell people with a straight face that a Graf Spee sized warship with a huge superstructure radiating like there is no tomorrow within visual range of shore is “Stealthy” – then we should stop, pause, and reflect.
When our Fleet is challenged at sea again, will a modern day nautically-minded Tallyrand say of those who designed the Navy, “They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.“?
It didn’t matter if I were doing them or someone else was. There is something about a man or woman leaning into the calling and committing themselves to further service to their nation, and all that goes along with it.
I don’t think I ever went to a “bad” one, but some were more memorable than others – ones with wives, husbands, and children were always good. Sometimes – the preliminary comments went one a bit too much perhaps – I always thought pithy was always best.
Pithy is not my strong suit, so when I see it done right – it sticks out. I wanted to share with you one of the better Reenlistment statements I have seen; providing the right perspective for those signing up for more service.
Congratulations on your Reenlistment!
By taking this oath in the presence of your shipmates, you have made a promise for continued dedication and fidelity to the service of your country. President John F. Kennedy would agree, as he said in 1963, “.any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: ‘I served in the United States Navy.'”
Your decision to continue to serve this great Nation requires a rare courage displayed by very few. As you sign your name today, you join those hallowed ranks of heroes who voluntarily chose to do something for someone besides themselves – to defend our Constitution, to keep our families safe, and to protect those people across the globe not strong enough to protect themselves.
I am humbled to be in your presence, and I am awed by your willingness to serve in such a noble and brave cause. No enemy can stand for long against the fearless dedication of the men and women of the Black Raven team. From this day forward, you can forever hold your head high with pride, and tell your family that you served in the greatest Navy that the world has ever seen. Your Brothers- and Sisters-in-Arms salute you, congratulate you, and welcome you back into this elite band of warriors committed to freedom. In the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, “Life has a flavor that those who do not fight to protect it will never know.”
J. H. WARE III
If you like what you read – the name might sound familiar. CDR Ware was guest on the 17JUN10 Episode of Midrats as we discussed the subject of Command at Sea. You can hear more from him here.
CDR Salamander over at his place wrote about the Coalition of Sailors Against Destructive Decisions (CSADD) program, even posting the NAVADMIN regarding it. This caught me off guard, in that while I have known about the program since shortly after its inception late last year; I had no idea that it was garnishing enough attention to warrant official sanction from OPNAV. Though from the outset, and despite being loath to add any more programs onto the pile, I thought this was and is a good idea, for the most part.
Being a PO2 on an optimally manned ship is not an easy thing. I made PO2 at a breakneck pace: 25 months from swearing in. Once I put on PO2, I knew–and was told–that there were no more excuses, I had to perform. But, to this point (and to this day) I’ve had no one to lead in learning how to lead (not just telling someone what to do while on watch, but to truly be a deckplate leader). Yes, of course there were instances where leadership was demanded and I had to lead and perform my duties as the senior person present, but those times were the exception. Day-to-day leadership I know very little about. Why? Because just about everyone is a Petty Officer in the Navy. On optimally manned platforms the pool of personnel junior to me is minute, and the window in which they are junior to me is measured in months, typically. Some Rates usually show up to the boat as E-4s, or make E-4 the next cycle after they report, and it’s around 75% advancement to E-5 for a few Rates as well. PO2 doesn’t mean much because of this; but, CSADD can change that. Some Petty Officers today seem to be cutting their teeth in regards to leadership once they get to the PO1 level because of how we promote and how man our platforms, let CSADD start to change this as well. It can put us in a position to both be a mentor and learn what it is to lead.
My first thought on discovering CSADD was that it was a program for the junior personnel to own. I also thought the CSADD program was going to stay a grassroots initiative (if it was ever was one). I know we’ve got our talking points from OPNAV, and I am sure we’re going to print them out and have them available. But, talking points from on high probably won’t resonate with the deckplates or many of the situations leading to destructive decisions. The two E-4s are going to talk about the party they all know is going to happen next Friday, and about staying away from that new female E-2 that just checked aboard, at the party. The E-5 will be talking to his fellow E-5, telling him not to blow his reenlistment bonus at the next liberty port (thought it would probably be a hell’uva lot of fun). Those are blanket examples sure, but getting through to a person in preventing a destructive decision, you need to be specific to them, you need to know them and the circumstance. Talking points don’t do that, the shipmate does. I think that is the spirit of this initiative.
The Navy for all of its talk of wanting to engage the World using web 2.0 applications is totally missing the point in how CSADD spread on facebook, through one of the central tenants of web 2.0: Viral marketing. CSADD spread virally across facebook, I was made aware of it when a fellow PO2 posted it on their page. When I found it, I thought it was mine by finding it, I thought it was great because of its seemingly informal nature which in turn gave it an altruistic quality that anything official automatically lacks. Why did the parents big Navy have to get involved and make it ‘uncool’?
Still, this is OK. This program can still work. Just prevent any administrative requirements which tie into Division In The Spotlight inspections. Let the Chief’s Mess supervise the junior Sailor’s work in CSADD while still letting the junior Sailors lead. As the good CDR already pointed out, we’ve got a safety net eight layers deep behind the junior Petty Officer and Bluejacket looking out for their Shipmate, in case they err while learning to lead and mentor. We have limited leadership opportunities for junior personnel in reduced manning and quick advancement. Please, allow this initiative to be one of the few opportunities where we can lead.
There are a few things that I hold as self-evident. This simple progression, is one of them;
– The most effective things and the most important things are simple to describe and protect.
– When effective and important things are inconvenient to some, barriers to their needs – they complicate the effective and important.
– When effective and important things are made more complicated, they become flaccid and ill-defined.
– Flaccid and ill-defined things can be easily shaped and avoided.
– Things easily shaped and avoided are useful for everything and nothing.
– Things that can be used for everything and nothing are ineffective and unimportant.
This weekend at The Captial, Ensign Stephen E. Shaw has an important article that requires your attention titled, Naval Academy Honor Concept strays from roots.
You don’t have to be a Annapolis Alumni to be concerned with Annapolis – I’m not. The fact remains that this is the critical core of our future leadership – its seed corn. What is learned there is brought to the Fleet. What is damaged there has to be repaired in the Fleet. Honor – or one’s respect of it – is the wellspring from which all else flows. If you don’t get that right, it is hard to make the rest work from being a DivO to running a Program Office.
You have to read it all – seriously – because the strength of the article is how ENS Shaw describes how a simple system has been perverted in such a way that it is almost impossible to talk about it. So complicated, that good people can’t even argue about it because no one really understands it. You cannot enforce something you can’t explain, understand, or follow.
The French have a great word for someone who works in and is stuck in a bureaucratic mindset – fonctionnaire – that about describes the only personality type that could support the system at Annapolis as it exists today.
Here is the pull-quote,
The current widespread problem of cynicism at the Academy is an indication of a failure to do this. I often wondered, What legitimate reason does the Naval Academy midshipman have to be cynical? The quality of education is high and is provided at no cost to the midshipman. The opportunities available to each member of the Brigade far surpass those available to any comparable undergraduate student in the country, including cadets at West Point and the Air Force Academy who have fewer options for service assignments.
It is difficult to believe, as it is oftentimes claimed, that trivialities such as limited weekend liberty or regulated exercise uniforms are the main causes of cynicism. The average midshipman is not, and has never been, adverse to hard or challenging work. In fact, this is what typically attracts him or her to the Academy in the first place. Something is driving midshipmen to acquire cynical attitudes towards the Naval Academy.
In 2005, the committee structure was completely abandoned. The current “honor staff” is a subcomponent of the regular Brigade organization, and honor staff members are selected by a panel of senior officers at the Naval Academy. 27 It must be noted that few, if any, midshipmen have had a “say” in the changes that have been made to the system over the years— a system which was originally created by midshipmen and enacted by a nearly unanimous Brigade-wide vote.
Nonetheless, since the system was established in 1951, each new class of midshipmen has been taught that the Naval Academy has a non-codified, or concept-based, standard of honor despite the system’s actual structure. There is still regular discussion and proclamation that the Brigade “owns” the Honor Concept (sometimes meaning both the statement and the system, depending on whom you talk to), despite the fact that: 1) the Brigade plays no role whatsoever in the selection of honor staff members, and 2) the selected staff members report directly to the Honor Officer, who is a member of the Department of Character Development and Training Division under the Commandant. This is a far cry indeed from the original structure, which on occasion saw the First Class Committee Chairman, who was the midshipman responsible for overseeing the system, report directly to the Superintendent. 28
While the system has undergone drastic changes throughout the past 60 years, the description and discussion of it have remained basically unchanged. Due to the inconsistency between how the system was understood and how it actually operated, midshipmen, alumni, faculty members, and staff officers have little confidence in the effectiveness of the current program.
The system is claimed to be non-codified, yet definitions remain; it is claimed to not be based on fear, yet its only function is to punish (although I am unaware of any midshipmen who were separated solely due to an honor offense in the last four years); it is claimed to be owned and operated by the Brigade, yet the Brigade has no “say” in the selection of staff members, nor do those staff members have any real authority over the system, other than the execution of documented procedures and orders from the staff officers assigned over them.
As long as the inconsistencies described above are allowed to exist, it remains practically impossible to address any issues afflicting the honor system. Since the same terminology (concept, ownership, etc.) has been used for the past six decades, officers, midshipmen, and alumni who attempt to discuss these issues are not aware that they very well may be talking about different things. For example, it took me nearly four years to completely piece together the evolution of the honor system from its creation in 1951 to what exists today. The confusing language and recycled terminology has made work on this program convoluted and tedious at best. The current honor system at the Naval Academy is inconsistent, ineffective, contradictory, misunderstood, and confusing, and has little support from the Naval Academy community as a whole.
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. There is nothing wrong with the MIDN at Annapolis. This generation of men and women are just fine, thank you very much. The problem is with the older generations above them.
These MIDN – the ones you want – will have no problems meeting a superior standard, all you have to do is ask. All leadership has to do is to have the courage to meet the standard in action that they describe in words.
Remember, what is learned at the Academy is brought to the Fleet – the good and the bad. Even we knuckle-dragg’n NROTC types know that……
- Capstone Essay: Distributed Lethality Requires Distributed Capability Across the Surface Fleet
- On Midrats 2 Aug 15 – Episode 291: Nashville, Omar, Nigeria and Kurdistan, Long War Hour w/ Bill Roggio
- Historical Leadership Dynamics for US China Relations
- VLS At-sea Reloading
- Self-Contradiction, Priorities, Conflict, and Women in the USMC