From the most senior officers to the most junior petty officer, the culture reveals itself in personal attitudes ranging from resignation to frustration to toleration. The downward spiral of the culture is seen throughout the ship, in the long standing acceptance of poor housekeeping, preservation, and corrosion control. Over time, the ignored standard becomes the new norm. Sailors watching their Commanding Officer, Department Head, Division Officer, and Chief Petty Officer step over running rust, peeling non-skid or severe structure damage long enough, associate this activity as the standard…While the severity of current culture climate may be debated, its decline cannot. If left unchecked, a declining culture can only generate a worsening level of surface force readiness. That said, it will take a long, hard pull to turn around attitudes that have developed over an extended period of time. It is the considered opinion of this Panel that we must vigorously reinforce recent efforts to clarify and instill standards aboard our ships.

The Balisle Report: Fleet Review Panel of Surface Force Readiness, Section 3.8: Culture

It is very interesting to me that Admiral John Harvey pushed for an independent Fleet Review Panel to evaluate Surface Force Readiness – after all, he must have known there would be harsh criticism in the report, and he also must have known that all of that criticism would be directed squarely in his direction to be fixed – as he is the Commander of Fleet Forces Command. What does it say about the Leadership culture of the Navy when a 4 star Admiral pushes for an independent review in order to insure change within the Navy? What does it tell us about the character of the Admiral himself?

The culture problem of relaxed standards does not appear to be limited to only the surface fleet. Christopher Brownfield has an article up on The Daily Beast that describes a similar culture of accepted lower standards within the submarine community.

During my on-board training, while I studied more than 70 hours per week, my fellow officers regularly warned me, “Don’t let knowledge stand in the way of your qualifications.” They urged me not to, “learn too much… just check the box and get qualified.” But when my exam arrived, it seemed impossibly difficult. I failed miserably, despite having made a very serious five-month long effort to pass.

My fellow officers were surprised by my failure, and wondered aloud why I hadn’t used the “study guide.” When my second exam arrived, so did the so-called study guide, which happened to be the answer key for the nuclear qualification exam I was taking. I was furious. Defiantly, I handed back the answer key to the proctor and proceeded to take the exam on my own. I failed again. My boss, the ship’s engineer officer, started to document my failures with formal counseling so that he could fire me.

The most competent junior officer on our ship ran to my rescue, confiding that none of the other officers had passed the exam legitimately; the exam was just an administrative check-off. “Swallow your pride,” he told me, and just get it done.

The ship’s engineer and executive officer didn’t believe me when I complained of the cheating, and swept my allegations under the rug. It took me five attempts before I finally passed the “basic” qualification exam. Unbeknownst to me, senior members of my crew even went so far as to falsify my exam scores in order to avoid unwanted attention from the headquarters. But strangely, the exam was anything but basic. The expectations on paper were astronomically high compared to the banal reality of how our ship actually worked.

The USS Hartford had many serious problems. Later that year, the ship ran itself aground off the coast of Italy, resulting in the firing of our captain and several senior officers. But sadly, the nuclear cheating scandal was not isolated to the Hartford. Two years later, when I began to teach at the Naval Submarine School in Connecticut, my colleagues whispered of cheating scandals aboard their own boats. Did it happen on the Scranton? What about the Seawolf? The results were not pretty. From our extensive whispered surveys, several other officers and I concluded that the vast majority of the fleet had some odious practice that resembled the cheating scandal I witnessed firsthand aboard the Hartford.

Thus far, the U.S. Navy has maintained a perfect nuclear safety record. But, having attained the senior supervisory certification of a ship’s nuclear engineer officer, I am deeply disturbed by what I consider to be a threat to the nuclear Navy’s integrity.

There will be several reactions to this story, but I want to highlight two. The first reaction will be from someone with a good understanding of naval power who reads the article in full to discover the author is a strategically ignorant fool. The entire world is having an awakening on the value of submarines to national security in the 21st century, and this guy is having trouble understanding the value of submarines to the worlds only superpower in 2010. When someone who wishes to be taken seriously as a national security analyst says “Unless Osama bin Laden commandeered a rubber raft with WMD, there was nothing of unique value that a submarine could provide.” you just ripped up your credibility card.

But here is the problem. Just because the author appears to be strategically and tactically challenged on the merits of submarines, that strategic ignorance doesn’t disqualify the seriousness of the claims against the Navy made in the rest of the article – particularly when these claims are very similar to cultural problems that have been identified in other areas of the Navy. This article is written in a way that could easily lead to an Admiral dismissing the claims as ludicrous or impossible, but I would be very wary of any Admiral who did that.

It is a noteworthy and interesting irony that Christopher Brownfield is doing in this article what dmiral Harvey wants sailors doing as per his speech last week – demanding higher standards within their profession, and speaking out when those standards fail to meet the expectations of duty requirements. The submarine community doesn’t want to hear what this guy is saying, but if what he is saying is true – then whether you want to hear it or not is irrelevant.

This is my point. I encourage Secretary Gates, Secretary Mabus, and Undersecretary Work to pay attention to this. The reaction of Naval leadership to a story like this will reveal quite a bit about the character of the leaders in the US Navy today. Who is shooting off emails in anger, and who is rolling up their sleeves to get to the bottom of the claims being made? There is already plenty of evidence that a culture problem exists in the US Navy, and because the culture problems are widespread – the culture problems exists in the flag ranks too.

You don’t have to convince me that Christopher Brownfield is strategically shallow on the merits and value of submarines in the 21st century – but his remarkable ignorance in that regard does not disqualify the seriousness of the claims made in his article.

Posted by galrahn in Navy

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  • RickWilmes

    Attacking his views on nuclear strategy is a different context and thus an ad hominem argument.

    His allegations of cheating should be taken seriously.  I am reminded of the Navigation Exam cheating scandal at Quantico over the summer.

  • This issue is pervasive and real. I also look at the efforts of MCPON West in raising standards in warfare qualifications as testiment to standards not being held by the Fleet.

    Though calling it a cultural problem is rather vague. Read CDR Salamander and you will see that there are a number of demands placed upon the Sailor and their chain of command that allows less and less time for a Sailor to devote to the bread and butter of maintaing a Fleet–Qualifications and maintenance, all else is secondary.

    The Navy has to make a choice, and it has to make the choice now–Are they going to be the World’s Finest Navy. Or, are we not. We have to decide this now. With Admiral Harvey and MCPON West, I have faith in the USN making the correct choice, to be the World’s Finest Navy.

  • Change must begin at the top. Unless it shows there – internally – then all else is vanity.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “The reaction of Naval leadership to a story like this will reveal quite a bit about the character of the leaders in the US Navy today. ”

    I’m not at all optimistic. No reason shown me in the last 3-4 years to be optimistic, quite the contrary.

    Great post, galrahn. Superbly stated. We will see what Admiral Harvey’s moral courage gets him from Big Navy. I am sure it is very small consolation, but he has reinforced my very high opinion of him as a leader and a fighter.

  • As a former EDMC (Engineering Department Master Chief), and former assistant to the Nuclear Enlisted Community Manager in OPNAV/BuPers, I am shocked.

    One thing I can be sure of, is that NR (Naval Reactors) will not stand for this. COs/Engs should gear up for the local NRRO (NR Regional Office) Rep. to visit them…

  • Curt,

    Keep in mind these are allegations. I find it very surprising but I am not sure I should – the check box churn is evident everywhere else in the Navy, it is completely believable that it would be in the sub community too.

    In the post I described ADM Harvey as “Vice Admiral” several times. He is a 4 star now, and I have fixed the post to reflect his correct rank.

  • Fouled Anchor

    Christopher Brownfield has levied a very serious allegation in his detailed description of a nuclear cheating scandal. The issue deserves attention, and fast. Far from the first cheating scandal in the Navy, it is not outside the realm of possibility, especially when one considers the incredible pressure placed on our nukes (officer and enlisted) to qualify and perform. Investigating, and more importantly correcting, this situation, may be troublesome. The officers responsible for fixing it likely allowed it to happen sometime on their watch, and benefited (personally and professionally) from it.

    In contrast to his cheating scandal allegations, Brownfield levies some other very serious allegations, but this time without evidence or additional information. He makes an accusation in the full article that missions performed by some submarines, and the manner in which they are performed, are somehow illegal (“…irrelevant top secret missions and unwritten modus operandi would be considered illegal”). As one who has performed several and is knowledgeable of many others, I can assure you that no mission I know of was irrelevant, nor illegal. I cannot attest to the missions conducted while Brownfield was onboard, but a junior engineering officer is not likely to be the most well-informed member of the crew. Many mission facts are closely-held secrets, and for good reason. Unless Brownfield is willing to provide evidence of how, by a legal standard, the law was broken, this allegation is nothing more than the ranting of a former officer who obviously grew to despise the submarine community.

    One must always consider the potential biases held by an author. In this case, Christopher Brownfield obviously has an ax to grind with the submarine community. With that bias and his Osama bin Laden rubber raft comment in mind, Brownfield’s attack on submarine community missions is undeserving of serious consideration. And it’s too bad really, because it provides easy justification for leaders to ignore the cheating scandal, an issue for which Brownfield actually provides supporting information.

  • CC

    JMHO – ADM Harvey requested the outside review because he needed an unbiased, fact based review to support what he believed was true and to get to the underlying causes. The review needed to be external becuase it had to be unimpeachable, and it had to have the blinders that come inherent in being part of the system removed. The things that need to be changed are not just within ADM Harvey’s purview, but many directed by CNO and SECNAV policy. He can (and is) changing the things he has control of, but must influence others to change things outside his control. Man power, maintenance budgets, OPTEMPO, those are driven beyond his control – he has to play the hand dealt to him, and he only has control over assets east of the Mississippi. PACFLT is struggling with the same challenges, and is working to fix them as well. That was the other benefit of the Balisle report – it allowed both Fleet Commanders the consolidated view of what is happening. ADM Harvey is far from a shrinking violet, and appears to be a man of great conviction in turns of trying to unfarkle the Navy.

  • RickWilmes

    I am not sure how the desire to speak the truth about cheating in the subcommunity equates to having an axe to grind against the same community.  Speaking out against fraud in fact shows that he cares about the community and wants change.

    It is unfortuneate to than say the submarines no longer have strategic value in the same article.  From my perspective, establish the fact that cheating has become a cultural problem in the submarine community.  Than once that has been confirmed show that the problem contributes to wider issues like obsolete missions, bad intel, etc.

    I would like to point out that if the cheating is as wide spread as claimed than we should be reminded of the cheating scandals in the 90s.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Rick, you are terribly wrong about the author’s lack of tactical or strategic understanding as an “ad hominem” attack. (Which is not even what that phrase means.)

    The author’s credibility is very much affected by his demonstrated lack of understanding of the submarine community or its value. That he might have a particular axe to grind also plays heavily into how his remarks or accusations are interpreted.

    And no, I don’t want to get into a rambling, thread-jacking discussion of Ayn Rand or situational ethics. I merely want to point out that the experience and point of view of the author is important and very germane to the issue.

  • RickWilmes


    there are several meanings that can be associated with ad hominem. Whether or not I used the term correctly is probably off topic.

    I would say let’s focus on whether or not cheating has indeed occurred. Will the Navy handle this charge the same way as the Marine’s handled Quantico.

  • Byron

    Mr. Conner: I don’t give a damn about the US Navy being the “Finest Navy”; What I want is the “Most Feared Navy”. All else is drivel.

  • Matt Yankee

    The Navy should be considered the final straw for cheating. The Navy should also have a role in shaping up the nation’s culture as well. How about the Navy lobbying for one year of NROTC in the freshman yr. of highschool to help with the bigger problem. Cameras should be in all high-shools, colleges, and all military testing areas. Cheating should equal immediate failure. Leaders must stand up now. Promote the honest and get rid of the chronic laziness. Also technology has had a role with the ability to use it for cheating. Graphing calculators and the new phones can be manipulated for this function and should be banned from all testing areas. This is a national problem which the Navy should lead on for the country’s benefit. Secretary Gates being an Aggie President should be the right man to turn this problem around, he should be as loud as possible on this. Mandatory surprise drug testing (including steroids) for all students nation wide starting in high-school would be a game changer for many associated problems internally and have a swift impact on current crisis in Mexico and beyond. Big Brother issues need to be set aside on this. Lean on our technology to verify honesty. Trust but verify applies the same here as it does with foreign concerns.

  • Anathema

    Folks can call him a whiner, douche (as he is being called at The Stupid Shall Be Punished) or make allegations that he is gay based on nothing more than his picture…but the three links above are more than just a single data point. Hartford would make 4…as supported by this command invetigation:

  • RickWilmes

    Here is the NYTimes book review.

    I wonder how he would react if he knew that the John Paul Jones quote he refers to is a fabrication.

  • I cannot speak to Mr. Brownfield’s particular experiences, but I would like to discuss timelines.

    Mr. Brownfield was on the HARTFORD when she grounded in 2003. This could presumably mean that he was working on his nuclear qualifications in 2002-2003.

    I would argue that the problems aboard HAMPTON (as linked above) brought the issues of standards and integrity into sharp, unwavering view.

    The submarine force and Naval Reactors have a taken a hard look into the examination processes used on boats and I would argue that they system, and the culture, are a far cry from what Mr. Brownfield experienced almost a decade ago.

    I agree with some of the other posters here. I believe there is an underlying issue here. To raise a public stink about an issue 8 years old serves little purpose (IMO, in light of HAMPTON), so does he have an axe to grind (as some have said) or is his purpose more self serving. Say, a book to sell perhaps?

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Mr Brownfield may have a point. The Navy has had tests, and the tests have had gouge available for a century at least. What is unclear to me is the maturity of his judgement and understanding; i.e., what did he think he was supposed to be doing by wandering around the boat with a qual card and a notebook?

    If he was furnished a list of learning objectives, those objectives should have taken priority above trying to memorize the SIB and the RPM. Mastery of the minutia in bulk is of little consequence, niether is memorization of procedures whose nature allows (or requires)in process reference to publications readily available to a watchstander. Immediate actions, common and repetitive hazards and both systems level functioning and “knobology” for equipment whose operation he is expected to directly supervise must be both memorized and understood. Sufficient higher level understanding of what he is doing to prioritize his learning is aquired in process. Mostly, from shipmates.

    Nor is it improper to write a test to plumb the test takers’ knowledge of the applicable learning objectives. The point of testing is to do just that. That said, handing a week sister the answer key is beyond the pale. If that was what happened, rather than extracting from working references material expected to be checked in determining how to proceed for a particular scenario, so the test taker could demonstrate the ability to deal with a critical scenario, applying his knowlege and what he should look up, is not uncommon for a high level question checking application ability, not just knowlege and comprehension.

    Department Heads document counseling as a matter of course, not exclusively as a first step to cashiering someone. Someone saw potential or he wouldn’t have gotten five (FIVE?) bites at the first apple out of the box.

    It is clear that his pride was not something he could swallow. A measure of humility is required, the world does not work the way an Ensign might think. He arrived at the boat with a high grade academic education and over a year of intensive training in theory and practical application. The academic world was behind him. On the job training had begun. Adaptation to the real world had begun. Bullheaded pride and a lack of personal humility are not hallmarks of success. If the whole wardroom and most of the PO’s thought he was spinning his wheels, chances are, he was.

    This is not to say that Wardrooms cannot wander away from the (very) well lit path of appropriate standards of officer training.
    It happens. Just like Wardrooms can be consistently superb at training their JO’s and accomplishing the mission. Indeed, those who do the first are generally setting themselves up for success in the second.

    Believing that the whole force is AFU, based on the testimony of one malcontent former JO, a decade after the fact, mmmm, well, ISIC’s might pull the string with their Squadron to satisfy themselves nothing is festering below the surface on one or two of their ships, that’s just basic professionalism. There are few new ways to screw it up in the Navy.

    My take is his first (and last) boat might well have had problems. Which, as the wheel of life spun, probably got fixed in the intervening decade. He seems to have had problems as well. I’m not so confident he got squared away, but I am confident there isn’t enough here for me to judge.

    But to say over a hundred years gain is down the drain on his say so, that would be a NO.

  • Byron

    Granpa, you said as well as any man living could. I think any other discussion on this is moot.

  • RickWilmes

    The point of this thread is that the drains of our ships are clogged with rust and a check the box mentality, when it comes to qualifications, has permeated the Fleet.

    That is the reason an independent reveiw has been done to investigate the problems.

    Brownfield was on the Hartford.  Maybe a reveiw of last years collision is in order.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Thanks for the nice compliment, although I noticed there’s “weak” that turned a “week”, and a “which” that got lost going down the brain to fingers neurons. Hope I didn’t get in too much dutch with a certain straight talking, staight shooting english prof (red face).

  • Byron

    Just the truth, Grandpa, just the truth 😉 One day, we’ll have to sit down with a few beers and a pot of boiled shrimp and tell lies about the good old days.

  • RickWilmes

    I would like the thread to get back on topic, please.

  • RickWilmes

    I wonder if Brownfield had spoken out sooner could last years collision of the Hartford been prevented?

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    First post: “Mmmm, It’s a possibilty, Doc.”
    Second post: No. One was Navigation, the other contact management and tactical skills.


    I went to Engineer’s School with Chris Brownfield, and my only memory is wishing he would stop running his mouth so much so that the rest of us could study. Maybe if he’d spent more time with his books, he’d be less convinced that the impossibly hard exams weren’t so impossible. I seriously doubt the cheating is as pervasive as he alleges, but as many of you have said, certainly worth investigation.


    I think a significant portion of the problems, at least in the area of material readiness, is the conflict between a business culture and a military culture. While `qza`a little running rust is not a bad business


    I ask everyones forgiveness, my new puppy decided the previous post was done and sent it for me.
    I think a significant portion of the problems, at least in the area of material readiness, is the conflict between a business culture and a military culture. While tolerating a little running rust, training people to only fix certain problems and relying on tech reps, or reducing manning with the expectation there will be greater but still tolerable casualties is perfectly good business sense, it is against the military culture and is corrosive for morale as well as standards. Lets face it, very few people understand or care why the non-skid didn’t get picked up for the avail, they just know that the deck is rusting and no one is doing anything about it. Be it the cancellation of SWOSDOC, the “Revolution in Training”, or other equally bad decisions made because they made good “business” sense, the second order effect is often the clear signal that standards just are not that important. Throw in minimum manning levels which are never met and you have a recipe for disaster. I lost the bet with one of my officer as I had predicted it would take at least two more years before the wheels fell off.

  • Jay

    Good comments on the Stupid Shall Be Punished blog re: same (& Tom Ricks’s Foreign Policy blog).

  • RickWilmes

    If businesses don’t maintain certain levels of maintenance standards than two things can happen

    1. Reduced quality in the product.
    2. Downtime that causes production delays.

    So this is not a business vs. military issue. Lowered standards in business means the company will eventually go out of business.


    Sorry Rick, but I would tend to disagree. First, there are a few other things that can happen if you reduce maintenance.
    3. Nothing, the origional standards are way conservative, like say the 3000 mile oil change or the monthly check on CO2 fire extinguishers.
    4. Life of the equipment is reduced but still longer than the replacement cycle.
    But then again, take a look at your two answers, do they sound familiar. I am not sure if you ever had the joy of taking the Fleet Business Course, but what does it say? Beyond the six sigma and TQM mumbo jumbo, it basically postulates that we need to learn to accept a different normal. To embrace the idea that sometimes it is OK for things to be broken and not fixed. To be more business like. What is not addressed in any meaninful manner is how to mitigate the corrosive nature that has on the culture and morale of the ship.

    Take a look at any Merchant ship, or even a MSC ship for that matter. See all the running rust? The dirt or salt build-up? Why, because it really doesn’t effect the effectiveness or life of the ship and to most of the crew, the ships are just big rental cars. Living with casualties that would not be tolerated in Warships are common place on these ships because it doesn’t make sense to send more people to fix it right away, just wait to the next port or maintenance period. Additionally, in business I can, with minimal risk, extend replacement/maintenance cycles to conserve capital. It happens all the time. But to a business, there is a bottom line. I get near instant feedback on my decisions. If there are not enough people, the workers leave. More importantly I can immediately hire more if I missed my target.

    The navy, to a large extent, doesn’t have any of these feedback mechanisms and has vastly less flexibility to fix them. So for the decision maker, who wants to save money for, say new equipment, deciding to cut manpower is easy. After all, you won’t really see the effect for 3-5 years because that is how long it takes to fully implement any decision. Want to reduce training tracks (which ultimately saves people), push the training to the fleet. If quality goes down, you won’t see the effect for years since the current people have the training and it takes awhile to coast down to the new normal. Reduce manning, what is the immediate effect? Zip, it takes years for the system to respond. Change a FCC to a FC1 and replace a FC2 with an FC3. Net effect, nothing today but I may see an effect over the long haul.

    The military culture largely places a premium on redundancy. I want as much redundancy as I can, it is good for mission effectiveness. And since I don’t sell my services, I have no real measure on how much is enough. Is 95% good enough or is 100% the only standard. If I have 7 fire pumps and 2 are down, is that a problem? Miltary culture says I need all seven to work, I may need them. Business culture says I still have one more than I will normally need and I can accept the risk. If a truck can’t make a commitment, I delay a shipment. If a BMD ship can’t make a commitment, results could be a lot worse. Which culture do I want my Sailors to have?

  • RickWilmes

    “Sorry Rick, but I would tend to disagree. First, there are a few other things that can happen if you reduce maintenance.”

    Didn’t say “reduce maintenance” this is what I said,

    “If businesses don’t maintain certain levels of maintenance standards than two things can happen”

    Depending on the context “reducing maintenance” might make sense.  As long as the standard within that context is not sacrified than “reducing maintenance” might be the best cost cutting measure or it might not be.  TQM and Six Sigma are tools when properly understood and applied keep businesses running smoothly.

    TQM, I beleive originally started at Toyota.  Now compare Toyotas with GM.  Who is still in business and who needed a bailout?

    Six Sigma is used extensively in the computer chip wafer industry.  Intel and Infineon are ruthless when it comes to their Six Sigma standards.  Margins for error when you are dealing with microns and nanometers are close to zero.

    The point is that this is not a business culture vs. miltary culture thing.  If it was than we would be seeing more officers and COs being fired than we do.

  • RickWilmes

    Here is a link on TQM.  This is revealing

    “Many companies have difficulties in implementing TQM. Surveys by consulting firms have found that only 20-36% of companies that have undertaken TQM have achieved either significant or even tangible improvements in quality, productivity, competitiveness or financial return. As a result many people are sceptical about TQM. However, when you look at successful companies you find a much higher percentage of successful TQM implementation.”

  • RickWilmes

    Here is an article about TQM and FedEx.

    “Federal Express–The president of Federal Express was on his way to success when he devised a plan for the organization’s culture. It centered on three key elements which laid the foundation for the organization’s culture. The key elements were:
    One hundred percent, twice…The dual goals of 100 percent customer satisfaction and 1OO percent service level were established to essentially drive the organization. To support these goals, a sophisticated, proactive service measurement system was designed and implemented. In addition, top management devoted a significant amount of time and attention to corporate quality issues (for example, project reviews) and training was made available to all employees.”

    This Proceedings article should also be of interest.