Archive for November, 2010

gobsmacked [ˈgɒbˌsmækt]


Brit slang astounded; astonished
[from gob3 + smack2]

As are most things in the Navy, a plan began to emerge two weeks ago that would transform itself into something not readily recognized from its initial conditions–this plan was my reenlistment. At the outset I filled out the requisite form for NC1. “Reenlisting Officer. Date. Locations. Cookies, Cake or Cupcakes and so on”. My answers: “Admiral Harvey. 30NOV10. USS WISCONSIN. Cookies.”

Understandably, my Command had questions and hesitation with my first answer for my reenlisting officer. “Do you know him from a previous command? Or, how do you know him.” To answer this, you need a little background information. While I was in Afghanistan, I posted as YN2(SW) Battle Yeoman at the Admiral’s blog. I never went beyond saying that I was from an optimally manned ship, that I was in Afghanistan, that I was a YN2 that’s warfare qualified, and most recently that I was back from Afghanistan and no longer considered it proper to call myself ‘Battle Yeoman’. So, to explain to my chain of command why I would like the Admiral to reenlist me, without feeling like I was bragging, I just told them I thought he was a fantastic Admiral. That wasn’t enough for the Command to request the Admiral to do this. I understood that and was alright with it. Discretion was my watch word in ‘talking’ to an Admiral.

As the week wore on, and the demands the ship placed upon the crew, in terms of drills and the like became apparent, it turned out that if I reenlisted aboard the USS WISCONSIN, that my Shipmates would not have been able to attend. So, I was asked if I could do the ceremony aboard SAN ANTONIO. Not having those who I served with there at my reenlistment was not an option. I opted to do the ceremony aboard. At this point, I now had to arrange for civilians to come aboard for the ceremony. I took me having to call Boston Maggie, my Sea-Momma, and directly ask if she was attending my ceremony, and ruining the sorta-surprise of her being there. Whereas to this point, it had been a muted understanding that she would be coming. Also too, I had to get my friends to the ship–not an altogether simple prospect, in describing directions from Ghent to Gate 5 at Naval Station Norfolk, when one has been out of the area for the better part of a year. However, it was all explained (for the most part). I decided that the first officer I ever worked directly for would be the best choice to reenlist me. I asked LCDR Overturf, the old SUPPO from SAN ANTONIO to be my reenlisting officer. The first ‘title’ I had in the Navy, was SUPPY. Or, Supply Yeoman.

Which brings us to around 0930 this morning, the morning of the reenlistment. YN3 found me, and handed me a note with the phone number for a YNC at Fleet Forces Command–Admiral Harvey’s Flag Writer, “Dude, I think Admiral Harvey is going to come to your reenlistment!” I took the note, and went to use the phone. However, the access number was in use. I had to run topside, and use my cellphone. Cell coverage is a touchy thing on the waterfront. Dozens of ships, each possibly radiating, and tons of steel reduce the signal and cause my phone to having an iffy at best chance of finding signal. This is the moment where I began to understand what being ‘gobsmacked’ means.

I spoke with YNC, she verified with me what time the ceremony was, and that it was in fact aboard my ship. She told me that she’d call back in about 10 minutes. Now, is when the challenging nature of cell phone reception decided to present itself. To add to this, my phone also decided to require me to input my voice mail pin number, for the first time since I can remember. I got Chief’s message about 5 minutes after she left it. Those five minutes seemed like an eternity. Thousands of images of an opportunity missed ran through my mind. However, I eventually did remember the pin number. I listened to her message to the point that Chief said “Call me back as soon as you get this”, and then called Chief back. It was during this conversation that Chief confirmed that Admiral Harvey would be attending. “Really? He will be attending” I said to her. She told me that yes, he would be. “Uh, god, really? I uh…”, she interjected, “Are you alright there, Shipmate?” I told Chief that I was. But, that I was just amazed, and asked how I would break this to my chain of command. Chief told me that those phone calls had already been made, and I didn’t need to be worried about it. Though, this changed my plans for how I was to give my friends directions to Pass and ID outside Gate 5, where they’d need to park to get a ride to the ship. Maggie, was already on station, ready to be picked up and come aboard. She is the most Sailor like civilian I’ve ever known.

Ding-ding, ding-ding, ding-ding, ding-ding. “Fleet Forces Command, arriving”. The Admiral was now aboard. I wasn’t down there at the quarterdeck. But, I was told that he didn’t want to bother with sideboys. I felt slightly embarrassed that because of me, the crew had to up their stress level for the Admiral to come aboard. I didn’t (and don’t) feel I was worth it. I was honored, proud and humbled at the same time. It is a curious sensation. I wasn’t sure as to how I was supposed to act in the presence of the Admiral, and my entire chain of command. The Admiral spoke to each member of my Department that was present when he entered the room and to all that was in the space.

He is in every measure, as good in person as he is in his writing.

1051. Maggie, and my friends were not yet aboard. The guidance I gave to the duty driver was not sufficient in helping them connect. I told my Department head and XO that it was not worth waiting beyond 1100 for them to show. I wouldn’t keep the Admiral longer than expected.

1100. It was decided we would wait a few more minutes.

1110. We started the ceremony. LCDR Overturf handed me my discharge papers. For all intents and purposes, I was now a civilian. I got to give a small speech at this time. “I didn’t think I would be saying this in front of such auspicious company”, and continuing with, that they were the ones from who I learned what it means to be a Shipmate. It had been a long, strange trip aboard SAN ANTONIO. But, I’d gladly do it all over again. I mentioned that the most common comment I received from personnel that hadn’t been IA was that they wished they could go IA, in ordered to actually ‘do something’.

My feeling is that what they each do aboard our ships is just as important as anything a Sailor could do IA. We Sailors have no one to augment us. Getting a ship in the condition required for deployment is just as important as what we Sailors do in Afghanistan, Iraq or HOA. I nearly got choked up during this. This space–the Ship’s Office–had been my world for my career thus far. I slept in this space, when the 1MC wouldn’t work in my berthing, so I could make sure I heard the word passed to man SCAT, if necessary. The POTS line (Plain Old Telephone System) was located on my desk. This is the phone that would bring whatever news of home there is, to the Sailor deployed. Because of this, I saw nearly every shade of humanity there is. In this space, that I first walked into a newly minted Sailor, I now stood in reenlisting with Admiral Harvey present, all in four short years. This sentiment was nearly overwhelming for me, tears welled in my eyes, my voice nearly broke.

Just as the ceremony was wrapping up, I looked over and saw that Maggie and my friends had made it. My CO told them to come in, and I introduced them to the Admiral. Though, Maggie required no introduction.

I think it is fair to say that I am somewhat numb to this experience, at this point. It makes me question if that every time a dream comes true, the emotional sentiment is as such. I can’t believe this happened, I just really can’t. Of course, as is always the case, I remembered everything I wish I could have asked the Admiral after he left. The honor bestowed to me by the Admiral being present is something I cannot articulate, I thank him and his staff, and the crew of the SAN ANTONIO for making it happen. This is one more thing for me to remember for the rest of my life. What I am left with is an increased sense of duty–to live up to the honor they have shown me, and do right by it–by every measure, a daunting and demanding task.

Later that day, I went to my CO’s Stateroom to speak with him. I took my cover off and entered, I apologized to him if the crew had been put out in any way. He told me that they hadn’t and not to worry about it. I went to his Stateroom, as I also checked out of SAN ANTONIO today. I told him, that I became so choked up during the ceremony, because I knew I was leaving SAN ANTONIO with a crew aboard that would take good care of her. She was my first ship, and I love her. The sentiment I would hear when I was first aboard, was that they were underway so much, that Sailors would leave the Quarterdeck and not look back as they went on liberty. I never felt that, I would look back and marvel at how that ship and her crew kept me alive while at sea. That sense of wonder never left me, and I do not think it ever will. My shipmates I leave behind will take good care of her, I trust them with her. For this, I am eternally grateful to them.

Man, what a day…

Those are the words of retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant (then-Corporal) Dave Erksen, when speaking of his time in the bitter fighting near the Chosin Reservoir.

Sixty years ago, in the small hours of the bitter cold night of 28 November 1950, Chinese Communist Forces began their attacks on US Marine positions in North Korea’s Taebak Mountains overlooking the Chosin Reservoir.

In today’s Burlington (VT) Free Press, a superb and sad piece from local reporter Candace Page recounting the experiences of two Vermonters, one a Marine survivor, and the other an Army Soldier who died at the hands of his North Korean captives.

The battle remains an epic for the United States Marine Corps, who, in the words of the legendary Colonel Lewis B “Chesty” Puller, CO of 1st Marines during the battle, “came out with our dead, our wounded, our equipment, and our weapons, with our heads high, marching and fighting.”

In the fighting withdrawal from the Reservoir positions through Koto-ri to Hagaru, the Marines displayed a grim determination mixed with a stirring courage that has been the hallmark of Marines in every war. There is the story of Captain Bill Barber’s Fox Company, holding the pass against a regiment of Chinese, and the relief of Fox by LtCol Ray Davis and First Battalion, 7th Marines. Both men were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, as would seven other Marines, in the three weeks of savage fighting and even more savage weather. Those Marines were:

Staff Sergeant Robert S. Kennemore
Private First Class William B. Baugh
Private Hector Cafferata, Jr.
Sergeant James E. Johnson
Major Reginald R. Myers
Captain Carl L. Sitter
Staff Sergeant William G. Windrich

The story of the “Frozen Chosin” is filled with countless tales of individual courage in the face of the enemy and the weather, some known only to the men who participated in them or witnessed them. Such is the way with large, desperate battles against near-suicidal odds.

Gunnery Sergeant Erkson has simple but eloquent words, “We did pretty well. We didn’t come out on our hands and knees. We came out with our heads up. I can’t say as I liked it up there, but I’m proud of what we did.”

God’s mercy on Richard F. Abbott and the others who paid such an enormous cost in this battle. And on their families as well.

But let us remember the heroism of the men who marched and fought their way out of the encirclement, who inflicted such severe punishment on the enemy, and who had the courage to endure. Theirs is an example which inspires all Marines, and in these times may inspire yet again, in places with eerily familiar names.

Semper Fidelis.


Happy Thanksgiving

November 2010


The words today from China regarding North Korea’s act of war should come as a surprise to nobody. Anyone watching with an objective eye could see the direction in which appeals for condemnation from The People’s Republic of China were heading.

Sure, there was some speculation on the “delicate” position China was put in by North Korea’s actions. How North Korea threatened “regional stability” and “economic prosperity”, both of which were China’s REAL interests. How China could not “read the Pyongyang tea leaves”, and was as in the dark as the West regarding Kim Jong-Il’s intentions, or that of his designated successor, Kim Jong -Un. How the threat of “masses of North Korean refugees” streaming across the North Korea-China border would spur China to action.

Believe none of it.

Red China is a master of power politics, a game most of the West, America included, seems not only to have lost any taste for, but of late all but refuses to admit exists in the international realm. President Obama yesterday used strong words to condemn the actions of the North Koreans, and pledged US support for South Korea against any aggression from the North. He also appealed strongly to China to keep their renegade neighbors to the south reigned in. So far, as in each and every other instance of the last decade, including the sinking of a ROK Navy frigate this past Spring (with the loss of 46 sailors), China’s response has not substantively altered. Once again, intransigence regarding their North Korean allies.

This, from Bloomberg:

President Barack Obama’s call for China to put more pressure on North Korea to stop military attacks on South Korea may go unheeded in Beijing, where officials refuse to pin any blame on their ally, analysts say.

Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak called for China to use its influence to control North Korea’s behavior, following yesterday’s deadly artillery salvo. Four people were killed and 20 wounded, mostly soldiers, when Northern forces shelled the island of Yeonpyeong in the first attack of its kind since the 1950-1953 civil war.

“China thinks the most important and urgent goal right now is to make sure there won’t be any escalation of the conflict, rather than finding out who’s responsible,” said Yang Xiyu, a researcher at the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing, a group attached to China’s foreign ministry.

The statement, particularly the insistence on limiting escalation rather than “finding who’s responsible”, is almost verbatim what was said at the time of the North Korean torpedoing of the ROK frigate Cheonan. (This, after our Secretary of State presented indisputable proof to Chinese leadership, a major thumb in the eye of US policy makers.)

As has been said often before, North Korea is as China allows and encourages North Korea to be. Rationalization otherwise is foolish, and reflects a dangerously naive optimism that The People’s Republic of China feels compelled to follow the same rules as does the United States and her allies when executing her diplomacy. It is worth stating again:

Under China’s benevolent protection, Kim Jong Il and his father before him, have done the following:

  • Developed a nuclear capability
  • Tested several weapons in 2006 and 2009
  • Advanced ICBM ranges and capabilities
  • Defied international pressure to desist in those nuclear programs
  • Executed several SOF border incursions into South Korea
  • Supplied arms to Hezbollah and Hamas through their Iranian proxy
  • Shipped (and attempted to ship) likely nuclear and other WMD components to the Middle East
  • Engaged, almost certainly with China’s technical assistance, in a cyber attack against the United States and South Korea
  • Is likely involved heavily in counterfeit and narcotics trades
  • Torpedoed and sank a ROK warship in international waters, killing 46 ROK sailors
  • Fired artillery into South Korean territory without provocation, killing four ROK service members and wounding two dozen civilians

China deliberately thwarted the enforcement of UNSC 1718 and 1874, effectively removing any meaningful teeth from what might have been significant international action. Elsewhere, China has become increasingly bellicose, leveraging herself into advantage across the spectrum of diplomatic actions. China’s aggressive stance on the Spratley Islands dispute has alarmed her neighbors and Western leaders. The PLA Navy is expanding, with shipbuilding capability expanding even faster. China has posited, and then begun perfecting, cyber disruption of US economic, military, and critical infrastructure networks. China continues to leverage US debt to economic advantage. China is securing world energy sources in Iran, Africa, Indonesia, and elsewhere for her consumption alone, to the exclusion of other nations.

The time has long since come to recognize at the highest military and civilian levels of leadership in the United States that China is very far from being a benevolent ally, and even farther from sharing any kind of common interests or vision of either Asia and the Pacific Rim, or any other geographic region where they perceive their interests to lie.

Statements from the Pentagon over the recent exchange of artillery fire are that “nobody wants a war”, or words expressing similar sentiment. But someone certainly seems to desire war. The firing of aimed artillery for more than an hour at military and civilian targets inside another country is not an accident. Whether China is directly involved or is a highly interested benefactor of a proxy North Korea is immaterial. Be he agent, or be he principle, Ahab tells us. If we recall what Clausewitz stated two centuries ago, that war is a continuation of politics, with an admixture of other means, then perhaps we may well perceive China’s actions and inaction vis a vis North Korea as some of those other means. China could resolve the situation with North Korea very quickly. They choose not to. They understand that a North Korea as a thorn in the side of the US is in their interest. Whether we quite understand that or not.

As the Western Allies must have realized to their horror and shame in the Summer of 1939, when Hitler’s words toward Poland turned ever more harsh and confrontational, war comes whether you want it or not, and whether you are ready for it or not.

We had better be ready.

(H/T to Lex for the Cheonan damage link.)

Name the number of ground breaking, original developments in the information world in the last 40 years that came from the mind of someone over the age of 30.

Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, and the entire horde of unbathed be-speckled hackers – all sprang from the minds of the young. Sure, they were enabled by a cadre of experienced support staff who knew how to make capital markets, logistics, and marketing work — but the creative spark came from the under-30 and more often than not, under-25.

As we have watched the moves to stake out the yet to be fully defined high-ground in Information Warfare – from the serious major commands to the silly EveryoneGetsATrophy “warfare” pins – perhaps it would be helpful to take a step back and ponder.

Where do we find the right combination of intellectual capital, infrastructure, and financial support to make the recipe work?

Do we get it by hiring a bunch of 40-50 something retired military GS and CTR types within a easy commute of Chrystal City? Does that fit the template of success? Errrr ….

Do we outsource to a Silicon Valley firm slathered with Chinese, Indian, and other nationalities? Ummm ….

Hmmm. Where in the Navy can we find a cohort of dedicated, intelligent, young, and exceptionally intelligent young men and women to put their minds to work on problem? Someone who you might get institutional access to for a few decades or so as their knowledge base grows?

Looks like smarter people than your humble blogg’r are already on the hunt.

The U.S. Naval Academy’s new superintendent wants his campus to become a center for cybersecurity education, with a $100 million building and a slate of new classes devoted to the emerging discipline, he said Friday in his first interview since taking the job in August.

Just let it be a bit gonzo and not so stultifying — include summer internships with civilian cyber security firms if possible, and you just may have something here.

I think you can argue the price tag, scope, and direction you take the program – but the concept? The investment payout?


BZ VADM Miller. BZ.

In late October and early November, Thailand’s southern provinces were hit by major flooding. The flooding, triggered by a tropical depression, affected around 100,000 people by one account, with waters up to three meter high.

In response, the Thai government sent the Royal Thai Navy vessel that is an oddball of world navies. While most coastal nations maintain naval forces, only handful operate aircraft carriers (Brazil, France, India, Italy, Russia, Spain, Thailand, UK, US). The vessel, HTMS Chakri Naruebet, is the flagship of the Royal Thai Navy and is the smallest aircraft carrier in operation. Since being built by Spain in the mid-90s, the carrier has been most famous for rarely leaving port (one source claims the ship only has funding to lease port one day a month). However, it does deploy sometimes. Since coming into service the ship has taken part in four disaster relief missions. This makes disaster relief a (if not the most) common mission for the ship.

However, you’d be wrong to compare the HTMS Chakri Naruebet’s disaster relief mission with those of the United States Navy. Based on an article in the Pattaya Daily News, the aircraft carrier contribution to the relief effort was limited to single truck load of supplies (mostly bottled water, according to the photos in the article) and a few helicopter flights over the disaster area. Far from being the nations knight in grey armor, the carrier’s mission seems to be mostly disaster relief theater on the part of the Thai leadership. This is not the first time Thai military has been used to provide token disaster relief, in mid-october Thai Royal Highness Princess Soamsavali ordered two Amphibious Assault Vehicles to assist flood victims in Thai’s northeast region. Two! You’d probably be better off hiring some local fishing boats.

This from RTE this morning:

North Korea has fired dozens of shells at a South Korean border island, killing two soldiers and injuring several more.

South Korean troops based on Yeonpyeong island fired back and the military was put on top alert, the defence ministry said.

YTN television said the South has scrambled air force jets, after what appeared to be one of the most serious border incidents since the 1950-53 war.

The ministry also said 15 marines on the island have been injured, five of them seriously. Three civilians were also hurt.

A resident of the island near the tense Yellow Sea border told YTN that some 50 shells landed and dozens of houses were damaged.

South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak has held an emergency security meeting, a presidential spokesman said.

‘He is now in an underground war room to discuss possible responses with ministers of related agencies and national security advisers … we are closely watching the situation,’ the spokesman said.

President Lee urged the officials to ‘handle it (the situation) well to prevent further escalation,’ the spokesman said.

South Korea has warned the North that it would ‘sternly retaliate’ to any further provocations and said the attack was a clear violation of an armistice between the two countries.

Read the rest here.

Very interesting was the comments from China on Reuters’ coverage of the story.

China, the impoverished North’s only powerful ally, was careful to avoid taking sides, calling on both Koreas to “do more to contribute to peace.”

“China hopes that the relevant parties will do more to contribute to peace and stability in the region … it is imperative now to resume the six-party talks,” a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Hong Lei, told reporters.

The point has been made previously that North Korea is what it is because its neighbor to the north sees value in a hostile, anti-American North Korea.

If the peninsula explodes into war, and the United States is going to aid its ally, we are going to have to project power into the very den of the Dragon. For that you need a Navy. A Navy willing to fight, and willing to bleed, and willing to stay. And the ability to transfer significant combat power ashore quickly. Because it ain’t happenin’ by air.

Stay tuned.


A most provocative question from STRATFOR:

What is it that South Korea is afraid of in the North? North Korea gives an American a guided tour of a uranium enrichment facility, then fires across the NLL a couple of days after the news breaks. The South does not respond. It seems that South Korea is afraid of either real power or real weakness in the North, but we do not know which.

Read more: Is North Korea Moving Another ‘Red Line’? | STRATFOR


Two updates:

A statement from President Obama that we would defend South Korea, though he declined to discuss military options.

And acknowledgment by the Republic of Korea that their artillery fire did indeed impact North Korean positions.

“Seoul responded by unleashing its own barrage from K-9 155mm self-propelled howitzers* and scrambling fighter jets. Two South Korean marines were killed in the shelling that also injured 15 troops and three civilians. Officials in Seoul said there could be considerable North Korean casualties.”

*The K-9 Thunder is a self-propelled 155mm howitzer based extensively on the venerable M109 family of US SP howitzers. The K-9 has a 52-caliber tube and can fire 6 rpm of the 155mm HE/BB K307 projectiles out to 40.6km.


USS George Washington (CVN-73) has put to sea en route to the West Sea from Japan. Her CVBG will conduct “joint exercises” with the ROK Navy, according to reports.

Our year one personal project was the reshaping and the alignment of the United States Navy. And we saw a need to recreate the community leadership that in our view we had lost. The heart of that effort was the type commander merger. To create one Navy, it was our view that these two organizations and these two fleets the Atlantic and the Pacific could not function as two but had to function as one. And the term Super- TYCOM was born as we established these individuals to lead our major communities.

Tim I thought was the perfect officer to rise to leadership and replace Ed Moore as the surface Navy’s Super TYCOM. I wanted Tim because as I said he was an innovator, but he was also a person who had the courage to challenge the status quo. And it wasn’t something that came to him late in life; it was a characteristic that he had been demonstrating all of his life.

And it was time to do that, in my view, at the most senior levels of the United States Navy. Many of us for years study, do studies, and do studies, and do studies. And then we think about maybe we should do something and maybe then we study and we study. Well I don’t like that approach very well. Tim LaFleur had a different mindset too. He didn’t wait and he put the rudder over hard and I’ll tell you honestly at the time none of us were completely certain of the outcome. Who could predict the future? And yet, collectively we were very confident that there was incredible value in this journey and ladies and gentlemen, Tim LaFleur had the courage to lead us on this new journey. He got to the heart of why we did things. Challenged decades old assumptions. Helped give our institution a corporate perspective, applying business principles to logistics and training and manning. He taught us the potential of fleet alignment.

He rewrote our Navy’s flag officer assessments. He drafted the fleet requirements for the Littoral Combatant Ship. He engineered the concepts behind Sea Swap. He orchestrated our Optimal Manning concepts. He agreed that it was time to capture the full potential of our senior enlisted force and is now putting chief petty officers into division officer billets on the United States Ship Decatur. And along with Phil Balisle he has led a revolution in the maintenance game, something that we call SHIPMAIN, completely restructuring the way that we maintain our ships.

Admiral Vern Clark Edited Remarks
Retirement of Vice Admiral Tim LaFleur,
Commander, Naval Surface Forces and
Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet
San Diego, Calif.
March 4, 2005

The Navy has been looking into the history of a lot of problems lately. This effort is actually being led by Admiral Harvey, Commander, Fleet Forces Command. I wish I could give you names for others who are leading this effort, but those names aren’t available in public yet. At Fleet Forces Command Admiral Harvey has become the canary in the coal mine. The Fleet Review Panel led by retired VADM Phil Balisle and the SAN ANTONIO JAGMAN are results of one Navy leader demonstrating leadership by taking responsibility, then following up by going up to Congress to hold himself accountable for his obligations as a leader in the US Navy. An outline of what is being done now to correct a decade of problems can be found in the statement to the House Armed Services Committee from July 2010 (PDF)

After a decade of red flags in shipbuilding, maintenance, training, and infrastructure why did it take until 2009 for a US Navy leader ashore to stand up and claim to be accountable both in the fleet and on Capitol Hill? More importantly, how many Navy leaders passed up the responsibility to deal with serious problems when it was their turn? The Fleet Review Panel and the SAN ANTONIO JAGMAN are but a few of the major studies conducted. There are others, some as big and many just as detailed.

When I read the Balisle Report, the history outlined in the report suggests the problem started many years ago when Vern Clark was CNO, and two names in particular keep popping up – Tim LaFleur and Terry Etnyre. It is hard to draw conclusions from a single speech, but the remarks by Admiral Clark at Tim LaFleur’s retirement ceremony strike me as a summary that explains the changes that were taking place, and it is quite ironic the speech includes a warning regarding the outcome. In hindsight it is very easy to look back and examine the unintended consequences. In hindsight we can also look back and see if all of the unintended consequences have been exposed.

There was evidence of smoke in the Navy by the time Terry Etnyre replaced Tim LaFleur in 2005, but outside of LPD-17 it was difficult to identify where the fire was. Under the leadership of both ADM Mike Mullen and ADM Gary Roughead, the smoke has been repeatedly dismissed as the fog of change. Only as things got worse across the shoreline, and perhaps only in hindsight, do the trend lines reveal the problems.

The first serious fire was found in shipbuilding and the problems with the Littoral Combat Ship program on the heels of the San Antonio class shipbuilding problems. Specifically for the LCS, the inability to build ships due to poor management and constantly making changes after construction began were compounded by terrible designing and budgeting metrics up front. This combustible combination has led to the two most expensive Navy vessels built per ton for at least 3 decades for any ship over 2000 tons, at least that is what my calculations suggest using the historical CBO data available for shipbuilding large surface ships over the last 30 years.

Once construction already began, the number of changes requested by the Navy for the LCS program was out of control, and what has followed has been an indictment of shipbuilding for US Navy ships ever since with a number of hull cancellations to prove it. What hasn’t been seen in shipbuilding is any accountability regarding NAVSEA’s role in the Littoral Combat Ship program, including all three mythical modules of which a baseline still doesn’t exist for any type (MIW, ASW, ASuW). Multiple groups, most of which are under the NAVSEA leadership umbrella, have repeatedly failed in the development of the Littoral Combat Ship. On the heels of the failures with the San Antonio class, this should be unacceptable – to someone. No one in Navy leadership ashore has officially been held publicly accountable.

The second serious fire can be identified as the deployment of USS San Antonio (LPD 17). The oil lube problem in November 2008 during the deployment of LPD-17 raised many questions about material quality, but it should have also raised questions why the ship was deployed in the first place with so many training, maintenance, and readiness issues surrounding the ship. In February 2009, Petty Officer 1st Class Theophilus Ansong was lost to the sea during a small-boat operation, and with the subsequent court martial of Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kearns (where he was acquitted), the SAN ANTONIO JAGMAN, and the class wide stand down earlier this year observers are left with serious questions of Admirals regarding LPD-17 that have gone unanswered. We seem to have a lot of public information that indicts the ships officers and crew while pointing fingers at the shipyard, but that is because the shipyard and the ship are the only folks who have been the focus of all public scrutiny to date. No one in Navy leadership ashore has officially been held publicly accountable.

The third serious fire seems to point to the information brought public by Navy Times and their parent company Defense News who reported on the USS CHOSIN and USS STOUT INSURVs in 2008. The maintenance issues represented in those two INSURV reports raised quite a few eyebrows – but at the time no one was able to point to a systematic problem. I think the INSURV issue is most instructive, because it exposes where the eye doesn’t see.

These reports were classified by ADM Greenert, despite never being classified during the cold war when the Navy faced much more serious threats than they do today. As a classified document, the classified INSURV prevents the taxpayer from independently examining the readiness and condition of the fleet.

On March 25, 2009 the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing related to the INSURV reports following the decision INSURVs should be classified. The panel was Rear Admiral Philip H. Cullom, Rear Admiral Joseph F. Campbell, Rear Admiral James P. McManamon, and Rear Admiral Thomas J. Eccles. They cited statistics that suggest everything is fine, the failure percentage is small, and they outlined responsibilities, or blame, depending upon how you read it (PDF).

During the past six years, the Board of Inspection and Survey has completed 191 inspections, an average of about 32 per year… The root causes of failures are ship leadership teams not following procedures and policies, and not practicing the basics of equipment maintenance and operation.

The report goes on to say “Of the 191 INSURV inspections during the 2003-2008 period, there were 18 surface ships found to be unfit or seriously degraded; approximately 10%. The results for the ships with numerous issues are indicative of the ship’s leadership team not following procedures and policies and not practicing the basics of equipment maintenance and operation.”

It is important to note that neither a definition of what constitutes a pass or fail on an INSURV was given nor a discussion of accountability was discussed at the hearing. Were you aware that the COs of both CHOSIN and STOUT fully disclosed the problems that were found by the Board of Inspection and Survey? That full disclosure probably saved the careers of both COs. In some cases when a ship is about to be visited by the Board of Inspection and Survey, SURFLANT or SURFPAC will be sent a list of problems from the CO, and the response will often be for the CO to condense the problems listed into a shorter priority list due to lack of funding. Maybe someone should ask Vice Admiral D. C. Curtis and Rear Admiral Kevin M. Quinn why there isn’t enough money in the maintenance budgets to address all the problems reported by a CO preparing for an INSURV?

At the hearing we also learned something new at the time, an admission there was a serious problem with the maintenance requirement of surface ships.

Additionally, surface ship class maintenance plans have not been as detailed, nor have they been maintained with the same technical rigor, as those for aircraft carriers and submarines. As a result, this weakness has become one of the greatest obstacles to the surface fleet’s ability to articulate the 100% maintenance requirement necessary to reach expected service life for these platforms. It is also an impediment to our resource planning, given that this requirement serves as the entering argument to our maintenance costing model. Until recently, surface ships have also not had a dedicated life cycle organization responsible for maintaining the ICMPs, building availability work packages, or providing technical oversight/approval for Fleet work deferral requests. Together, lack of detailed class maintenance plans and a dedicated life cycle organizations make surface ship material condition susceptible to changes in optempo which is why the Surface Warfare Enterprise is devoting significant effort to both of these areas.

Differences in maintenance philosophies between ships, submarines, and carriers have also had an impact upon the resources allocated to these platforms. Fleet priorities, the unambiguous maintenance requirements of aircraft carriers and submarines, and the lack of an updated/technically validated surface ship ICMP has historically resulted in surface ship maintenance being the area where we take funding risk in a resource constrained environment.

In other words, NAVSEA states as fact to Congress that the fault for surface force INSURV failures is always with the ships leadership while at the same time casting serious doubt on the maintenance requirement itself. This could be read as stating that it is the responsibility of the ship to find and identify problems for the Board of Inspection and Survey. Agreed, but it can also be said that NAVSEA is saying all problems are the fault of officers and crew when it comes to maintenance while NAVSEA can’t define the requirements for maintenance, which disrupts the budget and shorts requests made to SURFLANT and SURFPAC. Is that what has been happening?

Apparently not, because the comments following the press reporting of CHOSIN and STOUT are revealing in hindsight. Capt. David Lewis told the press “We are 100 percent funded to our requirement for maintenance.” What does that actually mean though if the requirement may not be stated well? For the record, Capt. David Lewis in 2008 is now Rear Admiral David H. Lewis, who happens to be PEO Ships today. The same statement was made in Adm. Jonathan Greenert’s Podcast from May 20 later that year.

“If there is a problem they [the media] report it, then it is our job as senior leadership to find out what is the truth when dealing with that report,” he said. “I don’t characterize reports as positive or negative, I look for what are they saying, what are they telling me? Is it balanced and is it accurate? In the case of these recent two ships they were accurate.”

“The root cause could be maintenance support, it could be training support, could be the ship may or may not have had its priorities right when they looked toward their readiness,” Greenert added. “In talking to staffs, Sailors and leaders, I don’t think that money is the issue. It’s a rumor that there is not adequate funding. Congress is providing us with everything we ask for readiness. Every place I look, we have plenty of money. We fund 100 percent of what we know that our ships, squadrons and submarines need. The key is communication.”

“I think that our surface fleet overall is just fine in readiness. Our INSURV reports convey that message as well. The vast majority of our ships do fine on their INSURV. But we continue to look into these matters and we’ll continue to look into this to see what those root causes are, so that doesn’t proliferate across the fleet.

NAVSEA testified in the House just 2 months earlier saying this was an operator problem and was casting doubt on the maintenance requirement as a whole, and funding of the surface force as a whole. If “the key is communication” then where was the communication between NAVSEA’s March Congressional testimony and Commander Fleet Forces Command podcast in May? According to Greenert, everything was just “fine” in 2008, but according to the Balisle Report, surface force maintenance was a mess. The Balisle Report states there was both a requirement and money problem.

Observations/Findings. Surface ship maintenance has been significantly underfunded for over ten years. This is manifesting itself in the degraded material condition of the ships as reflected in recent INSURV reports, corrosion audits, and CASREP data. The decision to transition to condition based maintenance from an engineered operating cycle maintenance resulted in the reduction of over 500 man days per month of depot level maintenance from DDG 51 class ships alone and a corresponding reduction in programmed operations and maintenance dollars for ship depot level maintenance.

While the difference was intended to be compensated by an increase in funding and opportunities for continuous maintenance availabilities throughout the year, that never translated into reality. A clear indicator of the fallout of the lack of funding is the steady increase in TA-4 (ship force capable) level work.

It may legitimately be said that insufficient funding applied over recent years has not been the result of an unwillingness to fund to the requirement as much as the result of not having a properly identified requirement.

For example, as programmed, it may appear that overall ship maintenance is funded at 95-99%. In reality, since we don’t know the true maintenance requirement for conventional surface ships (the “denominator”), it is reasonable to assume that our surface ships receive a lower percentage for maintenance funding when compared to a true requirement. Currently as maintenance dollars are allocated by the Fleets, public shipyards (where the majority of CVN and submarine work is performed) are funded at levels between 97-100%. That leaves the balance of the maintenance funding left to be allocated to conventional surface ship maintenance. Currently one of only two items in the CNO’s Unfunded Requirement list to Congress is $200M for ship maintenance.

The end result is the surface navy is funded below their identified requirement at the start of the year with the goal of making up the balance as money becomes available during the execution year. This unstable funding environment almost exclusively impacts the private shipyards, where most of the non-nuclear ship maintenance is performed, and results in higher work rates aas jobs get screened into the availability package laer due to uncertainty of funding commitments. The end result is an understanding requirement that has been underfunded in the budgeting process that is frequently going to cost more in actual execution because of an unpredictable funding stream, in other words, a low return for maintenance dollar invested. To further impact material readiness, the surface Type Commander frequently has to make irrevocable mitigation decisions earlier in the fiscal year due to projected uncertain (or unfavorable) levels of funding. If a CNO availability is subsequently canceled, or de-scoped prior to a midyear money bring available, that maintenance most likely will not be made up later in the year. Alternatively, cash flowing throughout the year on the hope that more money will be available later is a tenuous business plan that can leave availabilities scheduled for the end of the fiscal year exposed and unfunded.

Should not ADM Greenert, or anyone else, have realized there was a serious funding problem in 2008 when you had problems with funding maintenance in cases like the USS Gunstan Hall (LSD 44)? Apparently, the USS Gunstan Hall (LSD 44) had to wait for war related supplemental funding to finish the ships mid-life modernization, which began in July 2008. The Navy’s first modernization of an Whidbey Island LSD was dependent upon and ultimately delayed waiting for war supplemental funding, and yet ADM Greenert said “Every place I look, we have plenty of money” for surface ship maintenance? Was ADM Greenert looking at different budgets? Was this what his staff was telling him? In hindsight all the budgets were short on money because the requirement was wrong, but it does raise the question for POM 12 if the Navy will still be paying for surface ship maintenance from war supplementals?

What does it mean when leadership knows there might be serious problems with surface force maintenance requirements but is saying things like the requirement is fully funded? It means they are talking about efficiency instead of effectiveness. The Balisle Report is a list of choices begun under ADM Vern Clark, implemented by Tim LaFleur and Terry Etnyre, whereby over a decade Navy leaders emphasized the business end of efficiency over effectiveness. I believe the record of accountability ashore over the same decade reflects that emphasis of efficiency over effectiveness, and explains why the US Navy has officially held zero flag officers ashore accountable for being effective, which is how I believe the Navy should measure job performance, in an atmosphere ashore where the record suggests poor performance in shipbuilding, maintenance, and budgeting related to the surface force.

I believe there is a serious problem in Leadership and Accountability in the US Navy today, and I believe a generation of leadership has relaxed standards of accountability for themselves. I believe accountability for leaders ashore is the blind spot where those leaders aren’t looking for accountability, and civilian leaders to date have not taken any notable action that holds Navy leaders accountable either.

How can the US Navy be operationally brilliant and suffer from widespread and systematic problems across the shoreline? Whether the topic is shipbuilding, maintenance, training, or infrastructure the land side of the Navy is failing while the operational side of the Navy has succeeded in meeting every challenge. The Navy doesn’t shoot down derelict satellites with spectacular results in a limited time frame for action without a serious commitment to excellence. The Navy doesn’t solve a hostage crisis resulting from the MAERSK ALABAMA hijacking in a single second with 3 shots on a rolling ship without a serious commitment to excellence. Disaster response across the globe, whether in Southeast Asia or Haiti, doesn’t happen consistently without a serious commitment to excellence. That serious commitment to excellence seen on the operational side of the US Navy comes with a full commitment to responsibility, and a full understanding of the commitment towards accountability. You do not make it past Ensign in the US Navy until an officer has a complete understanding of leadership and accountability – and it is demonstrated on the operational side of the fleet every day.

But is the same approach to responsibilities demonstrated on shore? The Balisle Report makes clear – problems with maintenance started during Admiral Clark’s tenure. I believe that along with his ideas for the Navy to operate more akin to a business culture was an emphasis on efficiency over effectiveness that took hold in the leadership culture ashore. This in turn allowed the Navy to claim they were a results oriented organization by showing the results of efficiency rather than the results of job performance. When someone claims 100% funding to maintenance requirement, for example, that is a demonstration of results in the context of efficiency, not in the context of effectiveness.

As opportunities came up for leaders in the Navy to sound the alarm on the decline of effectiveness as it gave way to the efficiency focus, no one acted until late 2009 despite several opportunities and warnings.

The first fire was inside the Navy and not discussed widely outside the US Navy. When the USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) ran aground in May 2007 Commodore Destroyer Squadron 2, Capt. Larry Tindal was on the ship. In the end he was only given a soft reprimand for the ship running aground. Why? Every Ensign in the Navy knows the senior officer on a ship is accountable for the ship, and Capt. Larry Tindal was on the bridge when the ship ran ashore. The Navy correctly dealt with the ships officers in that case, but let the Commodore slide. Everyone noticed – it was a big deal at the time. That should have been a red flag to Navy leadership regarding standards of accountability, but the CNO down did not see the problem, or did not want to. Today, Capt. Larry Tindal is Deputy N86 for Surface Ships at OPNAV N86E, which if you ask me is a department right in the middle of that leadership culture at OPNAV where accountability ashore is measured in efficiency instead of job performance.

There were two other fires that were more obvious outside the Navy – the cost problems for building the first Littoral Combat Ships, and the first deployment of USS San Antonio (LPD 17).

When it came time to deploy USS San Antonio (LPD-17), there were a lot of problems that had not been addressed on that ship, and based on factual findings during the recent court martial everyone apparently knew it. The question was, would the problems be addressed or was the Navy in a hurry to put the ship to sea? In my opinion the senior leader in the Navy that should have been the canary in the coal mine in 2008 was ADM Jonathan Greenert at Fleet Forces Command, but as the senior leader involved in the decision to deploy the ship, he sent the ship to sea despite red flags the SAN ANTONIO was clearly not ready, and a sailor died. ADM Patrick Walsh was the Vice Chairman of Navy Operations at the time. Was he unaware of the serious problems surrounding USS San Antonio (LPD-17) or was he one of those Navy leaders pushing to deploy the ship. These leaders had reasons for their choices, and they might be good reasons, but when a leader in this generation of Navy leaders pushes ahead with action when there are already public problems and criticism, something tells me ship combat effectiveness wasn’t the motivation. Navy leadership really doesn’t see the problem, or you could say no one is learning because no one will admit deploying USS San Antonio (LPD-17) before she was ready was a mistake. The same leaders did the same thing when USS Freedom (LCS 1) was deployed well before she should have earlier this year, and hardly surprising, FREEDOM ended up limping back to dry dock for repairs. Thankfully, no one died this time.

I strongly believe deploying the ship wasn’t about the effectiveness of USS San Antonio (LPD-17), it was about running an efficient command ashore and meeting deadlines. If something went wrong, they would do what they always did with LPD-17; blame the officers and crew, and of course the shipyard. What was the “communication” at the time from SUPSHIPS, PEO Ships, PMS 317, and a host of others at NAVSEA? Good question, no one knows.

Perhaps we should ask someone? PEO Ships in August 2008 when LPD-17 was deployed was Rear Admiral Charles H. Goddard, who was actually the only leader fired at NAVSEA during this time period. It is absolutely vital to understand – Rear Admiral Goddard was officially fired for personal conduct, not job performance. Program Manager at PMS 317 was Captain Bill Galinis, who is now Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Gulf Coast. SUPSHIPS Gulf Coast at the time was Captain Beth Dexter (PDF), who is now Commander at EDO School.

NAVSEA has reach into every over budgeted and poorly executed problem ashore related to shipbuilding and maintenance, and yet there is no evidence of accountability for these problems inside NAVSEA. Admiral Kevin McCoy has been in upper leadership of NAVSEA in some capacity over the last six years, over half the period discussed in the Balisle Report, so perhaps he should be asked why NAVSEA has had so much trouble simply staying on budget. While Vice Admiral Bill Landay was PEO-Ships, every surface ship program was over budget and had additional cost increases, surface ship maintenance was underfunded, and there was a poorly defined requirement tied to the absence of TOC data for surface ships. Is VADM Landay the one who deserves credit for identifying and addressing these problems? He was given his third star, but seriously, what does a promotion for someone working in NAVSEA mean anymore? The absence of accountability in NAVSEA makes it difficult to identify the folks doing a good job, because it makes them equal with those who haven’t been doing a good job.

A casual look at the command rotations this summer might, to some, raise questions regarding the application of accountability to leadership for job performance, or some may question whether these moves reflect efficiency over effectiveness.

  • CAPT Chris Mercer has relieved CAPT Jeff Reidel as PMS(377) the amphibious ships program manager
  • CAPT Jeff Reidel has relieved RDML Jim Murdoch as PMS(501) the LCS program manager
  • RDML Jim Murdoch is relieving RADM Orzalli as the N43 Fleet Forces Command
  • RADM Clark Orzalli is relieving RDML Dave Lewis as Deputy Commander of the Naval Sea Systems Command
    RDML Lewis is relieving RADM Bill Landay as PEO(SHIPS)
  • RADM Landay is getting a third star and relieving VADM Jeff Wieringa as Director Defense Security Cooperation Agency
  • CAPT Jim Downey has relived RDML(sel) Jim Syring as PMS(500) the DDG1000 program manager
  • RDML(sel) Jim Syring is relieving RADM Terry Benedict as PEO(IWS)
  • RADM Terry Benedict is relieving RADM Steve Johnson as Director Strategic Program Office
  • RDML Dave Gale has been appointed Commander Navy Regional Maintenance Centers relieving Ms Peggy Harrell, SES, and moving that organization from SEA04 and reporting directly to COMNAVSEA.

My point is, just as I believe the Balisle Report states in great detail, the Navy leadership culture ashore measures job performance by efficiency, not by job effectiveness. My point is not to say some specific person needs to be fired for job performance. My point is to say no one has been fired for job performance under this new standard of accountability. My point is the Navy can address specific problems or processes, but my point is also to highlight that without accountability in the process the Navy is not addressing the culture problem in leadership ashore. I believe the trends of effectiveness ashore are going in the wrong direction in multiple categories as outlined in this post, and I believe further evidence of sloppy budget management by leadership in shipbuilding is coming in the very near future as it relates to large surface combatants.

I believe it is fair and important to question the absence of public accountability of leadership ashore at a time when the strict standards of accountability for job performance at sea happens to coincide with brilliance in execution and effectiveness in operations at sea. At sea efficiency is often discarded in the name of effectiveness. Ashore, too often the drive towards efficiency as a goal line has been the reason effectiveness has been elusive, and the short cuts taken in the name of efficiency over effectiveness is ultimately why efficiency is never achieved over the long run anyway. If you believe that poor budgeting and poor execution of shipbuilding and maintenance does not reflect on job performance, then by what standards should leaders ashore be measured?

I am not trying to say that some of these people are responsible for the problems in shore based support, rather I believe that if leadership and accountability on the shore in the US Navy means the same thing that it does on the operational side of the US Navy, then every single leader named in this blog post and many more not listed is responsible, and is part of a generation of leaders in a leadership culture that focuses on efficiency of a department over the job performance of fielding an effective Navy. When you are the senior Commander on a ship, and the ship runs aground, it used to mean that senior leader is accountable. In today’s peacetime home front Navy leadership culture, as the case of Capt. Larry Tindal suggests, everyone above the CO of a ship gets a pass.

Posted by galrahn in Navy | 18 Comments

The first post I ever wrote here was horribly written. I admit this.

The point I attempted to make was this: if you continue to pay Sailors at the current rate, you will not be able to afford us.

Now, this thought seems to be coming to life.

The Navy’s top officer has announced that the service, after some study, will embark a detachment of civil-service mariners on a yet-to-be named amphibious ship during the next year.

Head over to the good Commander’s place and see what he had to say about this. For additional background here is another post of mine, when I first caught wind of this possibility.

I’m not going to launch into another diatribe concerning how I feel about this. But, I am going to ask some questions. To qualify my questions, I am going to say that I spend a good deal of my free time reading about everything I can concerning the Navy. These are the questions I am left with… Imagine what the average deckplate Sailor will question.

Why should I sacrifice just because I wear a uniform?

Is our ability to train Sailors so broken that we have to do this? I would only assume this would be considered as a last resort, with all other options not viable.

Is the Chiefs mess not able to hold the deckplates to standards? If it was, would we need to be doing this?

What does service to one’s Nation mean? Standing side-by-side in harms way–a civilian just as much a warfighter as myself.

Alright, so I am going to give a small diatribe, as I feel I must further qualify my questions. I don’t believe there is any problem with the Chief’s Mess. I don’t believe there is anything irrevocably wrong with the Navy’s training system. But, I do believe that this initiative belittles any sense of honor I can have as a service member, let alone a Sailor. Warships are MY ships–Sailor’s ships–not a Mariners. I understand this the way I do, after reading every biography of every great Admiral I can get my hands on (currently reading: Bruell’s biography of ADM Spruance), as well as every account of every great deed our Navy has ever committed–every great deed done by Sailors. I predicated my own self worth in being a Sailor from their deeds and me carrying that legacy. I can’t reconcile what I’ve read and come to understand with what the Navy is doing here. I just can’t. I’m not sure my Navy will be able to reconcile this for me, either. I go through all the lousy stuff I have had to go through, not because of the pay check. But, because of the sense of honor I gain.

The last time I talked about this, I said I wish I could make myself a drink. This time, I have beer. I really cannot overstate how much this bothers me. But, the meat of how I feel, is not for public consumption. Please Navy, please do not just start doing this. Talk to your Sailors. See what they have to say.

“You always have the choice to be more than who you are. In doing so, you will inspire someone.” Lt. John Pucillo, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) officer in the U.S. Navy, emphasized this theme of personal choice in his speech to a packed theater at the Navy Memorial  last Friday. Lieutenant Pucillo, who lost a leg in an IED explosion in Baghdad in 2006, was one of nine speakers selected to perform at the November 19 “Tedx Pentagon: The Human Stories” conference, which was hosted by the Department of Defense and webcast live. The short and succinct speeches, with their talent silouetted in the dark theater, were essentially one-act, one-man plays — much more compelling than a traditional Power Point-dominated lecture.

The day Lieutenant Pucillo was injured was the day he made the conscious decision to embark on a long journey to take back his life. As he describes it, there are things in life we can control and things we cannot control. Separating out those two and focusing on the controllable is a personal choice, albeit a hard one.

After intense rehabilitation at Walter Reed, Lieutenant Pucillo managed to return to active duty as an EOD officer 15 months later and he continues to serve today. Given the fact that many in his position would have left the military, he says he is often asked why he chose to return to service. He admits that he doesn’t have a very satisfactory answer, except that “my love for EOD is very focused and I’m sure it’s rare.” As he reiterates, he continues to struggle daily with his determination not to let his injury define him. But, the chance to inspire others motivates him. Listen to him tell the story of one young girl he unintentionally influenced.

The Navy Memorial is hosting an exhibit highlighting the Navy’s EOD community. It will be on display through 2011.

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