Last week while we were discussing at my home blog the career development of the Navy’s newest Life/Work Balance/Integration SME (160+ comments there natch – update on the story here), regular reader LBG added this link to the discussion; a speech by former GE CEO Jack Welch at the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference on June 28.

Jack Welch’s opinions and observations are, especially if you pay his speaking fee, worth a teleprompter’s weight in gold.

When it comes to Life/Work balance/integration, he has a nice bucket of cold water to counter much of the fluffy happy-talk we seem to exchange with each other on the subject.

“There’s no such thing as work-life balance,” Mr. Welch [said]. “There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.”

Mr. Welch said those who take time off for family could be passed over for promotions if “you’re not there in the clutch.”

“The women who have reached the top of Archer Daniels, of DuPont, I know these women. They’ve had pretty straight careers,” he said in an interview with journalist Claire Shipman, before thousands of HR specialists.

“We’d love to have more women moving up faster,” Mr. Welch said. “But they’ve got to make the tough choices and know the consequences of each one.”

Outside the Navy, there is a vigorous debate, but inside the Navy, notsomuch. We identify the problem well and did a lot of work on it, but don’t seem to follow through with the conclusion we all know – an answer we don’t seem to want to hear. Understandable, as an incorrect opinion spoken too loudly in the ear of the person that owns paper on you is career poison.

We should be a bit more direct with each other though. The Navy isn’t GE, isn’t Princeton, and isn’t even Lockheed Martin. We are an armed service that should have as its first priority to prepare for victory in any global contingency the CINC points us towards.

There is a hard truth about career and family that we all know. Especially in the combat arms (as our Army brethren like to call warfare community professionals), you cannot have it all except in the most exceptionally unique circumstances, such as a stay-at-home dad (we have quite a few of those in the Navy, and they work).

As the latch-key son of an entrepreneurial mother – I know what the demanding schedule of a working mother can be and how it impacts the family for better and worse. However, Mom did come home every day except for rare trips out of town, and was always there on the weekends … well …. Sunday.

She also did not deploy for 6-months to a year. Neither did Dad.

I agree largely with Jack; there is no Life/Work balance/integration — there are only only Life/Work trade-offs. That is having an honest, direct, clearheaded mentoring conversation with your Sailors. Selling them a concept of having it all, when 95% can’t, isn’t fair to them, isn’t fair to their children, isn’t fair to their spouse/baby-daddy, isn’t fair to their Shipmates, isn’t fair to the Navy, and isn’t fair to the taxpayers.

What I don’t think we need to sell to the Navy that it has to adjust its mission to meet a socio-political agenda of questionable theory and unrealistic executability. I do not agree with ADM Harvey that in order to meet the challenges of motherhood in the Navy, we have to “Burn the Boats.”

The Navy is an armed service, it is not Campbell Soup. My $.02.

UPDATE: Just a friendly suggestion, astroturfing is not a good PR move into new media. It is much better to be open about what is or is not a Navy site.

Posted by CDRSalamander in Navy

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  • UltimaRatioReg


    Great post. Particularly good comments regarding selling of the “have it all” message when fighting and winning our nation’s wars (and training for same) almost always precludes that.

    Funny about that “astroturfing” link ( $800 million for that crap? Yet, we haven’t the money to SLEP the FFG-7s, or keep valuable ships in commission due to “operating costs”? My eye.

    Brought to you by the same people who look at our Armed Forces as a Fortune 500 employer, social experimentation petri dish, and full-time distributor of humanitarian goodwill, rather than as a force for war.

  • Try telling a dual service couple that they will have to make choices about whose career will come first though. You’ll get it from both sides, the persons being counseled and the chain of command for airing a dirty truth. Its still a fact though-in a dual service marriage,at some point one person will have stunt their career for the benefit of the other.

    I strongly believe the Navy would be better off by stopping making allowances for dual service couples in detailing etc-and simply treat them as they would a single service couple. It would be fairer in the long run and it would force the couples to make the hard choices earlier on. The system as it currently exists encourages a problem maker-marriage between service members. Want to marry another service member-fine, but understand what you are giving up to do it.

    Best qualified regardless of race or gender-or marital status. That’s what provides real “diversity”.

  • Speaking of stupid initiatives-this one from Sen Boxer is simply amazing to me:

    Give families with two parents on active duty the option to stagger their overseas combat deployments — so one parent can stay home as the primary caregiver for their children. In addition, after one parent returns, provide a 90-day re-integration period before the other parent is deployed. This amendment is supported by the National Military Family Association.

    The detailing of individuals and the Global Force Provider role of the Navy is tough enough without adding this kind of stupidity to the mix. Its completely back-a$$wards from what is needed. People should understand what they signed up for and deal with it themselves.

  • Cap;n Bill

    This all goes to prove that the Navy has not fought a war in too long a time. This family nonsense and momisn should have been sent packin’ many yearsa ago. What a waste of time and money.

  • Sam Kotlin

    Why can’t these women just leave us alone? After all, it’s our navy…

  • Byron

    Sam, somehow, I got a feeling you might want to eat those words…

  • Sam Kotlin

    Byron: no. Otherwise all this whiny crap about the evils of diversity (old Sal’s favorite lament), astroturfing, and the general decline of white male dominance would be just so much blather.

    Clearly we white males have done a superior job of steering the Navy and national defense. Look at our stunning victories in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Why change now? Why let the girls in? They can’t even write their namers in the snow!

  • Sam Kotlin

    …names… (Geez, you wish someone would invent an edit function for a blog. Oh wait…)

  • Speaking of astro turfing………

  • Sam Kotlin

    “Astroturf refers to apparently grassroots-based citizen groups or coalitions that are primarily conceived, created and/or funded by corporations, industry trade associations, political interests or public relations firms.

    Not hardly the situation … disdain for racists and misogynists does not require an organization, just a love of Navy and distaste for the self-important white males who would hurt it to forward their small, discredited agenda.

  • RickWilmes


    Heaven forbid a woman can come along and do something better than a man.

    I wonder if that is the root cause of the disdain being expressed here. It is probably the same reason why this crowd won’t consider the valuable lessons Ayn Rand and her philosophy, Objectivism can teach us. Instead it is just as easily dismissed on this blog as well the valuable contributions woman make to the Navy.

  • Sam, is that you RD?

    Oh, and Sam; when did you stop beating your wife?

  • Sam Kotlin or Rubber Ducky, your previous alias here and current one on other blogs, we appreciate that you have a disagreement with Sal on his point of view.

    The discussion is the life/work balance, not white males, not misogyny. Though the traditional makeup of the Navy may have predominately white and predominately male, this is not a post about Diversity nor diversity. And to insult any one minority, or in this case, as you see it, majority (white males) violates our rules of engagement.

  • Rick, sigh, this isn’t a post about objectivism, nor the dismissal of women’s roles in the Navy.

  • Admin, thank you. I don’t know what post they are reading, but it isn’t this one.

  • RickWilmes


    actually it is. Life/work choices center around what Ayn Rand calls hierarchy of values. Each one of us has choices to make when it comes to time.

    Only when an individual determines what his most important values are and in what order can that individual decide to make rational decisions concerning life/work choices.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Thanks for clearing that up, I kept paging up to see where I had missed the racist comments and the Ayn Rand objectivism parts of your blog.

    To your larger point, it is spot-on. That the USN is a warfighting organization not suitable for modification of its mission to accommodate family time as a civilian business can, and we ought not to sell the Navy to the young men and women as if it were.

  • RickWilmes


    hopefully I will be able to express my views on this issue.

    A couple of things, as a military brat, who keeps in contact with quite a few other military brats, I know what allowances are made for military members and there families. If I am allowed I will show the USNI blog that the exam of the pregnant Mid and her waiver is no different than Marine Corps families deciding to take their families on unaccommpanied tours to Okinawa, Japan.

    In fact, my family went from doing one unaccompanied tour to doing two. We were not alone.

    I can also show that the life/choice decisions center around what Ayn Rand calls a hierarchy of values.

    So if I am allowed to speak on this issue than I think I have some valuable things to say on this complex issue.

  • Byron

    >keeps head down<….

  • UltimaRatioReg


    It isn’t that you might not have some interesting observations at times, or that some of your assertions are not likely correct. But setting of policy, and the practical aspects of making that policy work are a little more granular than the espousing of a personal philosophy. Following that line of reasoning, the logical extension could be argued that the very existence of the Navy and other warfighting entities is due to Man’s Original Sin. Which, plausible as that may be to many, offers little in the way of practical discussion and/or solutions in light of the imperfect nature of the species.

    That said, solve away.

    And Byron! Don’t look at me in that tone of voice!

  • Byron

    >pulls head back into shell<

  • >Sighs. Harumphs. Stands up. Pays his tab. Gets a cab. Goes back to have a beer on his front porch.<

  • Byron

    I’ll grab a six pack and meet ya there, CDR!

  • RickWilmes

    The first point I want to make is that it is not just women in the military who want to be with their families and are willing to challenge the status quo. finnd the following example interesting. 
    Okinawa is a post to which Marines are discouraged from bringing their families.  This was not a hard-and-fast rule, but disregarding it was decidedly frowned upon, and the Marine who ignored it could expect to pay a price.  But I felt I had already been away from my family enough during my five years at the White House and determined to have them with me in Japan.  It meant we had to find our own lodgings and life would be lived on a shoestring, but Jonny and I were prepared to put up with that hardship in order to be together.

    Matters quickly got off to an unsatisfactory start with the commanding general.  Soon after arrival, I reported in to Lieutenant General Dolf Schwenk.  It was a Saturday. He was in his office, dressed in golf shorts, practicing his putting on the rug.  He barely looked up when I came in.

    “You’re McFarlane,” he said.
    “yes, sir,” I said.
    “You brought your family,” he said.
    “Yes, sir,” I said.
    “Well,” he said, and swung the putter, “no battalion for you.”

    That was all. It struck me as an exceedingly mean-spirited, stupid way to lead, and was the first event that began to persuade me that with this turn of mind, this capacity for professional mismanagement, this Marine Corps was not where I could best serve the country. (Special Trust by Robert C. McFarlane and Zofia Smardz, p. 166)
    The lesson learned here is that a Naval Academy graduate, male or female, will pursue two things at once. Raising a family and finding the best way to serve(I prefer defend) our country. Now it the Navy or Marine Corps has leadership that does not recognize this fact than the dedicated career minded individual is going to look for better options.

  • Phil

    I agree that work/life is B.S. to a point. I appreciate all of the comments about how the Navy exists to win wars, but the retention of the best sailors feeds into the equation too. I do not think that the best sailors are exclusively the ones that are willing to sacrifice their personal lives. Should single officers be given extra consideration at selection boards?

    Has anyone here been away from their loved ones for a 12-15 month IA after trasferring to shore duty from a ship that just completed an 8 month deployment? When I think work/life balance in a military context I think of business rules that prevent that from occurring. It doesn’t take a bleeding heart to want to limit that from happening.

    Why shouldn’t the Navy seek the provide support to family members? If you think Navy for Moms has any impact on funding for maintenance for ships, you are out of your mind. Maybe we should forgo our raise in January to pay for the SLEP. Maybe we can take money out of MWR, MILCON, RDT&E, etc right? Wrong, our budget is largely controlled by Congress and the anti deficiency act, etc. is very real. Some of the salty commenters here think that a servicemember should be focusing on winning wars and not their families. That same logic could also support the Navy taking proactive interest in their families while they are away.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    I think the point went sailing by you. The fact is, the Navy (and Marine Corps) exists to fight and win wars. The same people who passed the string of budgets and RIFs in DoD are the same ones who are complaining now about the military being “broken”. Had we even 400 ships capable of filling deployment requirements, and manpower to prevent the 12-month IA after the 8 month pump, such would not be an issue. But we don’t. Because we have been consistently told we didn’t “need” those extra ships, and those extra Sailors (or Soldiers, or Marines).

    Truth is, we do. If we are going to make service at all palatable to families we need some of the very “excess” that has been eliminated in the Peace Dividends of years past, and in the “transformation” mania of late.

    What Sal states in his blog is indeed true. Nobody is saying not to try and make the best of the situation for the service families, but the line is being drawn at eroding effectiveness and readiness in order to do so. And that includes $800 million for an advert agency to host a blog site. Don’t tell me we don’t have money to pay for the SLEP when they have money for that. The “different pot” argument is so much baloney. Whether it is congress or senior officers spouting it. It is tax dollars, and comes from the same pot on the giving end, our wallets.

  • RickWilmes

    Here is another interesting point that needs to be considered. The military IS a family business and family considerations need to be considered. The following excerpts are taken from James Webb’s, ‘A Time to Fight.’


    As The first-ever Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, my principal responsibilities were the oversight of all National Guard and reserve programs.  By default, our office soon took over as the principal evaluator of the military’s readiness to carry out its assigned battle plans.  Military operations were the province of the uniformed commanders and the Secretary of Defense.  Our office undertook the responsibility of examining whether the plans were realistic, not in terms of questioning the combat plans but by analyzing the actual resources that were being made available to the plans.

    Since I was a member of the Defense Resources Board, it fell to me and my staff to examine all of the nontactical aspects of going to war.  Were the casualty estimates that the military used realistic in terms of the combat scenarios that were being assumed?  If not, the surge of combat medical facilities and personnel being planned to take care of casualties would be deficient, soldiers would die for lack of medical care, and the flow of fresh replacement troops from the training base would be too small.  Was there enough strategic airlift to bring troops and equipment into the battle zone, and casualties and family members out? (p. 128)


    Webb continues later with

    In late 1984, I became the first high-level government official to propose, on strategic grounds, that the United States reduce the size of its military commitment to NATO Europe.  By the mid-1980s, the United States Army still kept 206,000 soldiers permanently stationed in Germany alone, at a time when the entire British army worldwide consisted of only 145,000 soldiers.  Another 88,000 Air Force personnel were in Europe, stationed principally in Germany and the United Kingdom.  MOST OF THESE SOLDIERS AND AIRMEN HAD BROUGHT THEIR FAMILIES WITH THEM, CREATING A HUGE AND EXPENSIVE AMERICAN INFRASTRUCTURE IN THOSE COUNTRIES.

    Our military presence in NATO Europe had begun in 1949 as a temporary “surge” in response to an expanded and dangerous Soviet threat.  It was supposed to be reduced once Western Europe again found its feet economically.  Instead, as with so many American military incursions since World War II, it had grown ever larger.  By 1984, there were 55,000 more American troops in NATO Europe than there had been at the end of the Vietnam War, some ten years earlier. Given the economic resurgence of Western Europe, the size of this military presence had also grown less logical.  And in terms of true military strategy, it had become even less justifiable.  AMERICAN BASES IN EUROPE HAD BECOME FULL-BLOWN, INDEPENDENT COMMUNITIES, SPORTING A HUGE INFRASTRUCTURE OF SCHOOLS, HOUSING, AND RECREATIONAL AND MEDICAL FACILITIES. IF AN INVASION WERE INDEED TO COME, THE BATTLEFIELD PLANS OF OUR MILITARY WOULD BECOME COMPLICATED BY THE LOGISTICAL AND MORALE PROBLEMS OF HAVING SO MANY AMERICAN FAMILY MEMBERS IN THE “AREA OF OPERATIONS.” (p. 129 -130)


    So the point is, that military members who have families, is and always will be a problem for our military leaders. It is not just associated with the female members. I would also like to point out that Webb was originally against having women at the Naval Academy.  His views have changed and he has become one of the more vocal supporters of having women serve in the armed forces.

    Now if you hold the view that military members wanting to defend this country and have a family is unrealistic than I ask the following question.

    Who are you going to get to serve? Ascetic monks.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “Now if you hold the view that military members wanting to defend this country and have a family is unrealistic…”

    Not sure that is Sal’s point, though he can weigh in. The point is that having a family is going to require a great deal of sacrifice on the parts of the service member and his/her family. Much more than some of these tantalizing initiatives will lead them to believe.

    Just how much can and should be done in this direction? As much as possible, without eroding combat effectiveness or destroying unit cohesion. Which may be significantly less than advertised.

  • Grandpa Bluewater


    Based on the Yangze Patrol and the latter days of USS Archerfish (aka “Bachelorfish”) I do not predict ascetic behavior among sailors absent family ties or obligations.

    But you raise a valid point.

    It is axiomatic that you enlist sailors and ship over families. In an all professional force, family security is essential.

    For a single parent, this is a daunting prospect, even before the issue of readiness for getting under weigh is addressed. Add the reality of 6 months deployment out of any given 18 months (frequently more) and you have a “situation”.

    Hence the predeployment shuffle of single parent and soon to be single parent personnel all XO’s know and loath.

    When there are two parents, one becomes a single parent when the other deploys, for the most part. Don’t take my word for it, ask any 10 year Navy wife/husband. Civilian employers are often notoriously unsympathetic to the “special request” – “My spouse is deployed and I need time to take my child to the….”

    From whence cometh the “It’s me and the kids, sweetie, or the damn Navy. Take your pick.” spousal ultimatim.

    Two sailor couples don’t fare much better, often worse. A whole lot of juggling is required. One or both careers, or the kid(s) get the short end of the stick. Usually all three. And the ship, and their shipmates, in terms of additional watches and work.

    Never the less, the Navy is not a charitable trust for improved marriage and child rearing. Ships belong at sea. Defending the Republic.

    Consequently sailors are not ideal spouses (low income, family separation, missing and reappearing spouse parent adjustments,,, most of us know, because we have lived it). Success is, as Bette sang: “for the lucky and the strong”.

    Officers…well, “to those whom much is given, much is required”.
    Every choice has its consequences, every fork in the road leaves a road not taken behind. “When you chose your rate, you chose your fate.” Take your Theological Services card to the Chaplain and get it punched, in the box marked “TS”. If you and the spouse are officer level quality, you cope. Can’t cope, not good enough – QED.

    Pretending otherwise is, well, just pretending. As in picnicing on a railroad track. “Train? What train?”.

    Advising the young otherwise is just cruel. IMHO.

    Yes, it’s a cold cruel world. The necessity of a Navy proves that.

    Rigged for primal scream, over to you.

  • URR,
    “The point is that having a family is going to require a great deal of sacrifice on the parts of the service member and his/her family. Much more than some of these tantalizing initiatives will lead them to believe.” — you capture very well part of my point.

    Life/Work tradeoffs impact both males and females. The “stay at home dad” couples have worked very well for those female officers I have see able to utilize that. It has enabled them to have multiple kids and still compete professionally with the males who have stay at home mothers.

    Jack Welch is stating what we all know is true. There is nothing standing in the way of women reaching the same levels as men, or likewise — you just need to have a clear eyed view of what the personal trade-offs are and what sacrifices need to be made. You cannot have it all, especially if you are a single parent, unless you have an exceptional situation. Just a fact.

    We should deal with facts, not fantasies, when we counsel and mentor our junior personnel.

  • RickWilmes

    OK, based on the last three comments I can see that there is not much of a disagreement on the fundamental issue here.  There is some confusion or disagreements over what it means to “sacrifice” or “make choices” or “make trade offs.”  So lets focus on the facts and the cold truth about Life/work, balance/integration.
    It is a fact that a man’s life must center around his career/work. A man could not independently survive.  If a man/woman does not work they become dependent on others for their survival. So an individual’s career/work, from the facts of reality, becomes his highest value.  However, because a career/work is one’s highest value does not mean that his other values are not important. For the vast majority of individuals a career/work is also a means to support his/her family.  Yes, there are choices and there are trade offs, and serving in the military, makes those choices/tradeoffs that more complex and difficult.
    It is also a fact that the majority of those individuals who decide to make the military a career also decide to have and raise families. I have lived on and visited enough bases to know that the vast majority of senior officers and enlisted live on Officer Row and base housing and not the BOQ/BEQ.  Now the examples that have been used, single Mom’s, two Naval Academy grad’s who are married and have a baby on the way, Jack Welch’s women CEO’s, are extreme examples and do not represent the majority of indivduals and their situations.  So, at least for me, when I see those types of examples used as a justification or a reason why individuals can not have a career and a family or do both, the argument falls flat.  In my forty years of life, I know otherwise.  Now that does not mean that everybody has the chance or opportunity to become a CEO or the CNO of the Navy.  Most people do not aspire to be either one.
    The fact of the matter is that life requires a career/work and most individuals also have families.  This requires a complex set of choices and decisions to INTEGRATE two competing interests. In other words, BALANCE is required.  Not everybody is capable or willing to do this.  When a lesser value is chosen over a higher value a SACRIFICE is made. Example, buying a new TV when the old one will do as opposed to putting money away for your child’s college education.  The hard choice is made when you recognize that you can’t do both. The TV is put on hold knowing that your child’s education can’t be put on hold.
    Another fact, is that the Navy is competing for individuals to fulfill its mission. Fact is most individuals do not want to go to sea for long periods of time. Fact is most individuals do not want to engage in a never ending war. Fact is this dwindles the amount of people even interested in or wanting to make the Navy a career choice. So if you want to attract the best and the brightest to serve in the Navy or the Marine Corps long term, you have to offer them opportunities that are attractive and will also support their families when they are deployed.  Yes, having women serve in that role complicates things.  Paraphrasing Grandpa, TS deal with it.  Another FACT by its very nature, the Navy and Marine Corps will always be under resourced and under manned. Again paraphrasing Grandpa, TS deal with. The fact of the matter is that the fast majority of  companies trying to survive the current economic conditions are also undermanned and don’t have the capital to keep running.  Their future is to figure it out or go bankrupt.  The Navy’s future is to deal with the fact that a portion of its members are female and all the problems that come with that fact.
    My .02, deal with it and solve the problems associated with that fact.  Looking for extreme examples and using those examples as a justification for not having women in the military rings hollow on my ears.