Archive for the 'naval academy' Tag
The U.S. Service Academies are national treasures because they exist exclusively to prepare young men and women to lead our country’s heroes. The Naval Academy holds a distinct place in our national character because America is a maritime nation with a sea-going identity that relies on a strong navy to defend her shores, explore the unknown, protect commerce, facilitate diplomacy, and wage war.
U.S. naval officers are genuinely aware of the connection between their place in this tradition and the significance of sea power – past, present and future. The U.S. Naval Academy, then, has a distinct responsibility to champion, promote and celebrate its position as a national fountainhead of U.S. naval history and an obligation to aggressively convey the bearing our naval history has on our nation’s future to tomorrow’s leaders.
From everything I’ve seen and heard, USNA’s new Superintendant, Vice Admiral Michael Miller, supports this point of view. He is a tested combat-leader, a visionary, a thinker, and a true officer and gentlemen. He is also an Annapolis alum who has spoken of his deep interest in history and naval history in particular – which is a bitter irony considering we are about to witness its death.
From their very first day on the Severn, midshipmen have a shared end-state: to receive a commission and lead Sailors and Marines. In this way, they immediately distinguish themselves from their civilian counterparts at universities and colleges across the country. Midshipmen maintain an incredible bond with each other based on an individual commitment to a collective excellence predicated on unselfishness: the understanding that service before self is life’s most honorable calling. That and the reality that you can’t survive a military academy alone.
What follows over the next four years is a moral, mental and physical evolution that is meant to test individual midshipmen’s devotion to service, steer them towards an occupational specialty that complements their personality and talents and best prepares their hearts for what will be the most challenging and rewarding life’s work imaginable … leadership in combat and at sea.
So perhaps it’s best said that the most critical function of our service academies is to imbue in the cadet or midshipman the ultimate humility: that none of their undergraduate experience is about them.
It’s up to the individual midshipman to embrace this – that they aren’t working so hard at the Naval Academy for themselves but rather for the opportunity to one day work so much harder for someone else – and it’s up to the administration to give the mids tools along the way to make their hard work pay-off.
Leadership training is one such tool. Moral and physical development are others. A rigorous curriculum of math, science and engineering are others still. But the tools learned in the study of history, and HH104 in particular – USNA’s required course in American Naval History – are some of the most important of them all.
As a matter of desired devices, history is entirely commensurate with the challenges of leading men and women in combat or at sea. A sound understanding of history provides the officer a lens to more clearly understand the mistakes and successes of the past, a framework to process the problems at hand, and a workable socio-calculus that helps approach an understanding of what tomorrow may hold.
Moreover, the study of history conveys an understanding of the human design, an appreciation for irony, a keen sense of collective memory, and a moral context to explain the reason they are all fighting in the first place. These are among the most valuable tools a decision maker, mentor, and leader can possess because these are the tools our Sailors and Marines need most from their officers.
All of this is invaluable intellectual training and plebes at USNA are immediately exposed to it in HH104. Just as significant is the specific history that HH104 relates: the complex and storied past of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps. In imparting this history, HH104 becomes an essential vehicle of acculturation. It imbues these novice midshipmen with a deeper and clearer comprehension of the experiences and sacrifices of those who have preceded them in America’s Naval Service. The course serves as an essential repository of collective memory and thus an integral means to integrate plebes into the culture of the Academy and the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps. In other words, the course – like other key components of plebe year – helps transform a jumble of motivated yet unformed individuals into an amalgam of inspired and unified officers-to-be.
Which is why it was so troubling to hear that HH104, American Naval History, is being moved from the 4th Class, plebe curriculum to the 1st Class (i.e., senior year) curriculum at USNA.
Here’s what happened…
At some point during last academic year (2009-2010) the Department of the Navy tasked the previous Superintendant, Vice Admiral Fowler, to add a cyber warfare class to the core curriculum. No public announcement was made. Apparently, last spring a small working group, operating in the shadows, was established to come up with a plan to create introductory and upper-level cyber warfare courses. The USNA community knew nothing about the working group’s tasking and work and learned of this development only last fall. The dilemma was how to add these courses without overloading an already full plate.
Surprisingly, the working group recommended moving American Naval History to 1st Class year. Apparently, they didn’t care that this decision will leave new midshipmen adrift and ignorant of the history of their profession, and their nation, for three years. Again, no official announcement was made.
The fact that HH104 was dead only came to light by happenstance. In October, the History Department underwent a routine, external review. The review report was distributed to the Department faculty in late October and HH104’s removal from 4th Class year, buried in the report, was presented as a certainty.
As word trickled out, upset ensued. First, the military and civilian faculty who teach HH104 expressed their unanimous opposition to moving HH104. Then, a number of History faculty who do not teach HH104 registered their dismay that such a major curriculum change would occur without any serious consideration and vote by the Faculty. The general reaction of midshipmen who have heard of the HH104 shift is consternation. Most recently, the shift of HH104 has prompted vigorous and agitated discussion within the Faculty Senate.
What upsets everyone as much as moving HH104 is the way in which it was done. The military and civilian faculty members who teach American Naval History were never consulted as to the effect this shift would have on the professional and academic education of midshipmen, nor was the larger History faculty consulted as a group. This change occurred in the shadows, violated the established policies regarding curricular review, and appeared as a fait accompli.
More troubling than the manner in which the decision to erase HH104 from the plebe curriculum was reached are the future, harmful effects this will have on the Naval Academy and on the Naval Service:
1.) Academic harm. Moving HH104 denies midshipmen an early exposure to the analytical tools History provides which would help them through the rest of their time at the Naval Academy. In HH104 midshipmen not only learn names and dates (which is important), they learn how to conduct research, write a research paper, think analytically, learn historical causation and the ultimate and proximate reasons why things happened the way they did, construct and carry an argument, and approach complex problems with the necessary perspective. And, perhaps most significantly, they learn about the relationship between the birth and evolution of the navy they have just joined and the nation they have just promised to support and defend.
2.) Educational harm. History is the foundation for an understanding of every social science. Teaching the required class in American Government (FP130), currently a plebe-year course, before teaching the context in which America became a government is, at best, sloppy and at worst negligent. Mids take Calc-I, Calc-II, Calc-III and differential equations before they go on to use those methods in tackling a complex electrical engineering problem. How can they possibly be asked to write about Federalism in FP130 without understanding the historical context in which Federalism occurred? From an educational angle, the course that should be taught later in the USNA curriculum is FP130.
3.) Professional harm. Who will give them – early – the basis of historical and cultural thinking called for by the CNO and Commandant of the Marine Corps in A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Power? This is where West Point gets it right. The U.S Military Academy places an institutional importance on the study of history and its relevance to a successful, professional military officer and the success of its future operations in defense of this Nation.
4.) Moral harm. The aggregate effect of the shift of HH104 affects the Sailors and Marines the midshipmen will one day lead. The Fleet is weaker with a junior officer (of any major) who hasn’t been applying the analytical tools learned in HH104 over the course of four years of study. Our Sailors and Marines will have less effective leaders.
This all concerns me deeply.
Cyber warfare is important and in addressing it in its curriculum, the Naval Academy is being flexible and realistic in preparing midshipmen for the multi-faceted nature of 21st-century conflict. But of the two plebe-year courses that could move, why wasn’t FP130 chosen? It makes good pedagogical sense to have midshipmen learn about American government after taking their three core history courses which give them a sense of American and world history and the historical context in which the U.S. Constitution was framed.
One of the institutional strengths of the U.S. Naval Academy is its ability to adapt and prepare officers of the Naval Service for the next fight. But steeped in this tradition has always been a reliance on history. HH104, as the introductory course in historical thinking and the most effective vehicle to convey the collective memory of the U.S. Naval Service, is the bedrock of professional development at the Naval Academy.
Consider this sobering image: the Brigade of Midshipmen in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in which about 3,000 of the 4,000 midshipmen have no knowledge of, or appreciation for, the names of battles enshrined on the walls there, nor any sense of the sacrifice those letters represent. Because 3,000 of these midshipmen never had HH104 as plebes, they will be tragically unaware of the significance of places such as Tarawa, Okinawa, Khe Sanh, and even Midway. We will now have a 75 per cent “ignorant” Brigade at every football game.
HH104 must continue to be offered to 4th Class midshipmen for one reason alone: none of this is about them. It is about preparing them to be the best officers for their Sailors and Marines – officers who are analytical, creative, and flexible and also soundly grounded in the heritage and history of the Naval Service.
For those who are not fully updated or familiar with the latest case of racial discrimination at the USNA, this time involving the Color Guard, please click here to get up to speed, and then come back.
As former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum stated this morning in the Philidelpha Inquirer,
‘It’s not a critical national-security matter when a few white male midshipmen almost get bounced from a color guard. After the Fort Hood killings, however, we should look at the military’s blind commitment to “diversity” and see if it’s blinding us to the obvious – and the dangerous.’
I encourage everyone to read the full article – but the danger he refers to is not the direct danger of an officer with a gun killing his fellow servicemembers wholesale – but is the broader danger an aggressive, exclusionary, close-minded, and corrosive philosophy can have on an institution’s culture – a culture that requires a meritocracy infused with candor to excel in peace and war.
First of all – at the core – what core competency of the Navy is a diverse Navy supposed to represent? One would hope that an organization that serves a nation would reflect its peoples diverse background as a natural by-product of the removal of all barriers to entry based on race, creed, color, or national origin.
The problem is – life is not that simple, clean, or easy. A percentage-to-percentage reflection of a nation’s diversity rarely occurs naturally, even if it is free of institutional discrimination. For reasons that fill up entire library shelves; socio-economic, cultural, family habits and traditions towards education, careers goals, and family structures vary wildly in such a diverse nation as ours.
Especially in high skilled areas of our economy that require a meritocracy due to the financial, life-and-death, or innate performance requirements of the profession; pure balanced diversity is the exception – not the norm. A simple walk through the Doctor’s lounge at your local hospital, a Silicon Valley research facility, a bio-medical lab in the Research Triangle Park, a Los Alamos laboratory, a nuclear power plant, a NFL locker room, or a hedge fund golf outing will show you that even in an open and fair society – perfect diversity is the exception not the rule – and perfect diversity does not equate with mission success.
Where we run into problems is when we refuse to accept reality – when we game the system – when we sell little bits of our soul in order to buy something that cannot be honestly purchased or to curry favor with important people. In a zero-sum game based on objective criteria used to achieve the best possible outcome, when an external factor – in this case race, creed, color, or national origin - is brought in that has nothing to do with the objective criteria, and is used to select a set-group of personnel defined by the external factors, what must be sacrificed to achieve that external factor’s percentage goals are those objective criteria. You intentionally sub-optimize your organization by dilution – replacing high objective criteria scores with low objective criteria scores.
In the case of Midshipmen – when you take out any pure athletic criteria used to bring in some MIDN – the objective criteria can very broadly be broken down to two areas; academic potential and leadership potential. To expand the number of the external factor driven aspects, you have to decrease the acceptance threshold of your objective criteria for those specific external factor sub-groups. As shown by the USNA’s own data – those tradeoffs have been made and continue to be made – specifically to increase self-identified minority MIDN numbers (in addition to the number of those minority candidates who made it using the objective criteria alone). To meet that external factor requirement – a #1 priority as we have been told – lower academic and leadership potential is accepted on the front end (and can be advertised high and low, far and wide) with the hope that enough of the sub-optimal group can maintain minimum standards and make it out the back end.
Of course, that means that some applicants that met the objective criteria of academic and leadership potential will not be accepted – but we have made the decision that higher percentages of minority MIDN are more important than academic and leadership potential. In the zero-sum game that is admissions – that is the first decision we made to discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, or national origin.
As our MIDN have learned in their first few years exposed to the Navy – that is not the only time racial discrimination takes place.
There are organizations at Annapolis that are voluntary and represent USNA and the Navy. They get their picture taken; this has become a problem.
For instance, the “face of the Navy” that the USNA Gospel Choir and the USNA Crew team show are very different. Is that a problem? No, not really. It is only a problem if, at your core, you see race and racial politics in everything you do – regardless of the reality you live in. The MIDN and their generation don’t care – but they soon learn that those above them do. They care a lot.
This is where we reach another decision point; and we decide to discriminate – selectively. Where Gospel and Crew get a pass – lower profile perhaps – others do not.
You have in the USNA Color Guard a high profile voluntary organization that individual MIDN have spent years building seniority and experience to provide the most professional military bearing to represent the Navy to the nation. Groups such as the Color Guard pride themselves in being a meritocracy of shared discipline, shared values, and shared rewards. They are good because they are fair. They excel because they function on objective criteria – sustained superior performance. At least – that is what they thought.
In late OCT, we had the uniformed leadership at USNA decide that in order to artificially create something they desired to be true, that they would actively intervene and discriminate against two Midshipmen based on their race and gender.
This is fact. This cannot be defended. USNA has tried to spin it. Sandbag it. Confuse the issue with the now infamous “8v6″ saga. What it has not tried to do is explain its actions in any logical and consistent way.
I think it says a lot about the Navy’s Diversity initiatives when we have to hide them, spin them, sandbag them – and when we get caught out in the open – we do something quite Soviet; we issue a gag-order to those discriminated against and their peers after the story breaks. That should cause a moment of self-reflection.
For three weeks on, this story continues to boil. The fact that the USNA discriminated on the basis of race has not been disproved, and the official denials are self-conflicting and debunked. The MIDN involved are not permitted to speak. The relationship between the Commandant of Midshipmen and his Midshipmen has been drastically changed from one of mutual admiration to mutual distrust.
In a larger sense, why has such a small example of what we have seen so often had so much traction? Well, primarily it is because we can identify a name and a face to the innocent party. As opposed to “X number in the reject pile,” we have two MIDN who are soon to be commissioned and in our Fleet. Two MIDN who know personally that they can be discriminated against on the basis of their race and wonder, “When will I be discriminated against again?” Argue that point if you wish, but put yourselves in their shoes; it happened to them once, why won’t it happen again?
Is this really where we want to be as an institution? Does this bring great credit upon the Naval Service? Is there another way?
What is the solution? As with most hard and complicated problems, the answer is simple. Live up to our standards. Demonstrate the innate integrity and fairness of our Navy. Implement a policy that is simple for the PAO, Commandant, and the Midshipmen to understand – and then carry it on to the Fleet. Have a policy that is easy to defend. One you are proud to defend and don’t have to hide from. One you can defend directly with simple, basic words.
Have a policy that we do not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, or national origin. We do not make selections, limit, expand, or track the professional progress of our Sailors based on their race or ethnicity. Simple. Done. Move forward. Prove it by removing all reference to a Sailor’s racial or ethnic background. Remove all pictures from the all boards. Remove all doubt. They are of limited utility anyway, as we know – names, pictures, and faces are a poor way to understand self-identified race and ethnicity anyway.
Excise and redistribute the BA/NMP for almost all of our branch of the divisive Diversity Industry to other UICs related to supporting Sailors at sea and Marines ashore. The UCMJ has all we need to deal with bigots.
Will there be pressure from the larger Diversity Industry and their backers in Congress? Absolutely – they have jobs to keep and grievances to feed. Will there be a change in the ethnic makeup of those selected for officer programs? Probably. Some racial and ethnic groups will go up – some will go down – some may stay the same. If you have objective criteria – then you shouldn’t care. The Sailors don’t care. They just want someone to treat them fairly, do their job, execute the mission, be a leader, and bring them home from combat intact.
In any event, with more and more mixed-race citizens and minority percentages as a result of immigration patterns in the last 50 years – it will mean less and less with each passing year. That is a good thing. Like we did in the Truman Administration – why don’t we get ahead of the curve on this issue. This is not a time to be stuck in 1971 – we need to get ready for the second decade of the 21st Century.
For those who will object to the change, again – look for the reasons brought up at the beginning of the post; socio-economic, cultural, and family habits and traditions towards education, careers, and family structures. None of these are within the control of the US Navy – nor should they. What can we do? We can ensure that we reach out to all communities in the US – something the Recruiting Districts should already be good at. We could expand JNROTC, as is being done – to help local educators build the academic and leadership potential that is in every community.
Most of all – we should have faith in our people and our institution. Create a fair, just, and admirable institution – and the best will come to you. What would their ethnicity and race be? Who cares – they’re the best. The best attract the best of all colors.
If you value performance, potential, and excellence – that is what you will put your efforts towards – and is what you will get.
If you value race and ethnicity and make your decisions based on that – then you will get what all cultures that emphasize race and ethnicity get; strife, conflict, division, and unending episodes of racial and ethnic discrimination.
As a last note, we all know that these little – and large – “Diversity decision” issues are nothing new in the Navy. We have all, myself included, been party to them. With a wink, a nod, and perhaps a taunt-jawed acceptance – we have all gone along with it. With time and progress however, don’t all archaic theories and methods reach the point that they are no longer valid and usefull?
As with segregation in the past, don’t we have to eventually reach a point were we stop and conduct a little self-reflection? When do we reach the point where we say, “No. This must stop. This has gone on long enough. We are a good, honest, fair, and open institution. Discrimination in any form is beneath the honor and dignity of our Service. This will go on no longer.”
Good people with the best intentions made some hard decisions trying to fix a problem they were sold as a requirement. So hard, it seems, that decisions were made to “bend the curve” and take short cuts using methods that, in the end, they cannot defend and cannot survive the light of day.
As we look towards the second decade of the 21st Century, where next year’s class of Midshipmen were born as Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush challenged each other in the 1992 election – can we say, “Enough,” or will we have to wait for the next episode where we hide, mumble, spin, and blanch at what we have become?
As part of summer training, midshipmen spend time out in the Fleet, my past two summers were spent in Pearl Harbor on a submarine and a destroyer; however, this summer I was assigned to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina attached to the II Marine Expeditionary Force Public Communication Team (II MEF PCT).
Marine Corps Public Affairs, the community’s guiding publication, opens with the following quotation from Major General Lejeune, 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps:
“The future success of the Marine Corps depends on two factors: first, an efficient performance of all duties to which its officers and men may be assigned; second, promptly bringing the efficiency to the attention of the proper officials of the Government, and the American people.”
On our first day with the team, MAJ Gilmore, the team’s director, gave us more than an hour and a half of his time to talk about Marine Corps public communication, emphasizing the importance of training Marines to think of communication as a two-way process of information sharing. As no public affairs team can (or wants to) completely control who says what to whom, proper training allows Marines to express themselves more effectively to friends, families, or anyone with whom they communicate.
While public affairs offices are generally perceived as providing information and assistance to the media, the II MEF PCT prefers a different approach. Understanding that the media is another party in the public domain, the II MEF PCT focuses its attention on getting its message to its “key publics,” members of the community who share an interest in II MEF-related issues. For the II MEF PCT, this means Marines, their families, and the surrounding community. Thus, the main focus of the team is not trying to target or “handle” the media, but establishing dialogue with the key publics.
This dialogue with key publics is central to II MEF PCT. For instance, the PCT responds the same way to questions from MEF family members and friends as it does with civilian media representatives. Furthermore, by calling and informing the interested parties of the press releases, the team builds connections with the community.
Blogging is a trend with some units, such as the 10th Mountain Division. Due to limitations of current policy as well the time and manpower requirements, the II MEF PCT does not operate one. However, the team does engage readers in the discussion section of blogs belonging to other groups including civilian media organizations.
The Marine Corps public affairs community only includes around 150 officers. Capt. Patrick, the team’s deputy director, served as an enlisted infantryman before accepting a commission. Coming out of The Basic School with any MOS open to him, he chose public affairs much to his peers’ surprise. “I had been reading and studying about fourth-generation warfare,” he explained, “and it was apparent that communicating information was incredibly important…Besides just basic leading Marines, I’ve never had such a broad impact.”
The Internet and “new media,” such as blogs, enable readers to draw information from sources outside the traditional media filter. How can the military and public affairs teams better adapt to these developments?
“Liberty is a device for relaxation and decompression, used only when necessary.”- Plebe Summer 2009 Standing Operating Procedure, p. 26.
- Midrats Episode 168: “USCG and the Arctic” – Sunday 24 Mar 13 5pm
- Sequestration killed Tuition Assistance… Perhaps it’s a good thing (Update)
- Midrats this Sunday, May 17 2013 – Episode 167: Intellectual Integrity, PME, and NWC
- Remembering our Fallen Coast Guard Shipmates and their Families
- On Midrats 10 Mar 13, Episode 166: “Expeditionary Fleet Balance”