March 15, 2010

Dear Members and Friends of the United States Naval Institute:

We the undersigned Directors of the Naval Institute write to ask that you vote against the revised Mission Statement for the Institute cited below:

“The U.S. Naval Institute is an independent forum advocating the necessity of global seapower for national security and economic prosperity.”

We emphatically disagree with their imperfectly crafted solution. The reasons are quite simple. The majority has not made the case that changing the mission statement and including the word “advocating” will somehow magically increase our relevance, grow our membership, and make us more economically viable.

In fact, we gain absolutely nothing from a word change to “Advocacy,” that justifies diminishing our image and heritage as the “independent forum” of America’s sea services. This is USNI’s brand. It is USNI’s uniqueness. This is USNI’s “DNA.”

Further, with this proposed change the Board has created its own version of the “perfect storm.” USNI members are expressing outrage not only at the proposed mission, but also at the Board’s cavalier approach to engaging the membership on the change.

In an effort to gather more information on the impact of the proposed change, Director Dr. J.P. London conducted an extensive survey, contacting former CNO’s, former SECNAV’s, 16 retired four star naval officers and other distinguished naval officers seeking their views. NONE supported the explicit “Advocacy” role for USNI, saying “lobby-look-alike” was not needed. All, however, strongly supported USNI taking on a more assertive “LEADERSHIP” role in framing the coming policy and budgetary debates – post Iraq/Afghanistan—about American seapower, maritime policy and sea service matters.

We do agree with the majority that the Institute faces two large challenges in this first decade of the 21st century – how to increase the relevance and the financial stability of the Institute. Again, unlike the majority, we believe the Institute is answering these challenges. In both 2009 and 2010 USNI delivered impressive financial and operational performances (see the 2010 Annual State of the Institute Letter to Members).

We see unmistakable signs of vigorous, exciting opportunities on the horizon. Strong, relevant and timely content in our conferences is delivering growth from exhibit sales and attendance; a fully developed eBook program is adding sales to readers using Kindle, iPads and every other conceivable electronic reader. The USNI Blog, launched less than two years ago is the world’s leading forum of its kind in the naval blogosphere. The prospects for continued growth in the midyears is very strong.

We believe continuing on course with exceptional leadership both in the USNI staff and on the Board itself is the right near term strategy to increase relevance, grow the membership, and gain a stronger financial position.

We also believe it is high time to conduct a major strategic review process to determine where we want to be in 5 and 10 years and then developing well defined strategy for how to get there, not by just changing the wording to the mission statement. We will answer the questions, “where do we put our focus and investment in new growth initiatives – in other words figuring out “where do we play” and “how do we win.” That only comes through a cogent strategy and focused execution – and, by keeping the membership engaged in the process.

Finally, while the Chairman suggests the USNI will still remain an independent forum, perception is reality and branding matters. Adding the word “Advocacy” will clearly have an adverse effect on the USNI’s brand and reputation as an independent forum. In too many ways, they are polar opposite terms.

How can USNI be an “Advocate,” yet concurrently promote an “Independent/Intellectual Forum?” It can’t. An “Independent Forum” is where differing views that challenge the conventional wisdom are shared and debated. It’s where dialogue brings new ideas and adds value. Advocacy, by definition, is the need to suppress or ignore dissenting views. The “Independent Forum” lives to seek these competing views.

The Majority’s revised Mission Statement is ill-conceived, will not fix either the relevance nor the finance issue and places the entire 137 years effort by generations of members of this unique professional association at risk, for no perceived gain.

The Board is on the cusp of making an irretrievable error and we respectfully ask that you join us and vote DISAPPROVING the new Mission Statement.


Dr. J. P. London

Mark W. Johnson

B.J. Penn

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  • RickWilmes

    Will someone on the BoD, explain why the proposed mission change is already on our 2011 membership cards?

  • Jerry Hendrix

    I applaud you for stepping up and putting this public statement before the Naval Institute’s membership. Your minority dissent, however, now does open the question regarding the Chairman’s statement yesterday in which he stated that the mission statement change was approved by the board first unanimously and later with only one dissenting vote. Was his understanding incorrect, or simply misstated?
    Very Respectfully
    Henry Hendrix
    Captain, USN (PhD)

  • I’m with Captain Hendrix. If the Chairman dissembles on something as simple and unambiguous as the word “unanimous”, how can we take at face value anything he has said or written so far?

  • KhakiPants

    BZ, Minority Directors.

  • Fullpower

    The questions above are good ones. Let us not assume that this is a “done deal.” The issue is too important. Instead, register your negative vote NOW and, further, let the Board know, via e-mail, blog, or personal letter, that you have done so. As JPJ said,
    “I have not yet begun to fight!”

  • RickWilmes

    Another question I would like the BoD to answer is “What is the status of CEO MGen Willerson?”

    Was he fired because of this SNAFU?

  • @RickWilmes:
    One of the answers to your question is here. It’s all about “messaging” you know…
    w/r, SJS

  • M. Ittleschmerz

    If the other members of the board were so interested in increasing membership, why are none of the board members nominated on the ballot current, active or reserve, officers or Sailors?

    The board once had active duty membership. Why did that change?

  • RickWilmes


    Thank you,

    My hope is that the individuals speaking out against this are representative of the majority of members and not a vocal minority.  If that is the case the BoD will have been given a lesson about “messaging.”

    What amazes me about this entire issue is that the bloggers at USNI, their readers and commenters are very attention to detail oriented people. Someone will notice the subtle changes and draw attention to those facts.  Than it is only a matter of time before the curtain on the Wizard of Oz is raised.

    Speaking of attention to detail, misspelled MGen. Wilkerson above, damn automatic iPhone spell check 🙁

  • Fouled Anchor

    @M. Ittleschmerz, I would imagine because active duty Sailors, and Marines and Coastguardmen, don’t have the resources to make large donations which might lead to such placement in the organization.

  • Rich B.

    As a retired officer saving for lifetime membership I have a concern with the change in mission statement.

    There is a subtle shift (perhaps not so subtle) in adopting “advocacy” as the mission.

    To me, it speaks of a desire for political power or influence.

    Advocacy (to quote it’s very definition) normally aims to influence public-policy and resource allocation decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions.

    It may be motivated from moral, ethical or faith principles or simply to protect an asset of interest. Advocacy can include many activities that a person or organization undertakes including media campaigns, public speaking, commissioning and publishing research or poll in the end however advocacy plays a significant role in modern politics.

    The new statement “advocates a need.” While the old statement ADVANCES professional, literary, and scientific understanding.

    While you may tell a man he needs a fishing pole. I prefer to teach him to fish. To “advance” seems prefereable than espousing to “need.”

    I am of the vane that we should not simply tell people we need a strong Navy. We need to educate them. Having “influence” over a political figure is not nearly as successful as raising his level of knowledge.

    Let the convert be our advocate through his actions. I would prefer to be the honest voice within his ear sharing my experiences, my knowledge, my scientific and professional understanding of the sea than arguing my political point.

    I do not hold institutions perceived as advocates… lobbyists for a cause, in the same esteem as more objective institutions.

    The change and future direction instills within me a concern.

  • Stallion

    The USNI BoD’s logic revolves around the thought that the Institute’s financial survival directly correlates to the sea services’ ability to retain, at a minimum, its share of an ever decreasing defense budget. With smaller sea services come fewer potential members, fewer defense industry donors, advertisers and sponsors. If the Institute is forced to downsize parts of its operations due to continued cost cutting measures, its ability to advance, understand, advocate or influence (you insert the term) in the name of seapower will be damaged and reduced with the potential for the organization to enter a death spiral. The question then is, can that organization then continue to stay relevant to its members and the sea services it exists to serve?

    In my mind this is a re-branding. A re-branding not in the name of shifting the principles of operation, but a re-branding based on what the BoDs see as a direct threat to the survival of the organization. Without advocacy will there be an organization to serve the needs of the sea services? Will the principles upon which the organization is built define its own downfall?

    Personally, I like like the wording of the current mission statement, but I must concede the points made by the chairman in his 10 March response on the USNI website regarding the unchanged preamble and article XV of the Institute’s constitution continues to capture the enduring concept behind the USNI. The problem there lies in not directly addressing the self-contradicting phrase containing “… an independent forum advocating…”, as noted by noted author Norman Polmar.

    I would offer a simple solution. First, vote no on the current proposed mission statement change. Second, in accordance with any applicable bylaws, offer membership the ability to vote on an acceptable compromise to an updated mission statement, which captures the enduring concepts of the Institute and its own abilities to survive the economic threat that exists. This may require just a simple change, no change to the current mission statement and/or changes to existing bylaws to be effective.

    In my mind this comprise can be achieved with a simple change to the current mission statement. My proposed mission statement would read like this:

    “The Mission of the Institute is to provide an independent forum for those who dare to read, think, speak, and write in order to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power, its value and those other issues critical to national defense.”

    A subtle change in the current mission statement, but enough to capture the essence of the board’s logic behind the proposal currently on the table. One could argue leaving the phrase “other issues critical to national defense” puts the Institute’s goal of “advocacy” in competition with itself, but I would argue it maintains the ability of the institute to market itself to a more diverse sponsor and membership group.

    Just my two cents…

    CAPT Mario Mifsud, USN
    Former editorial board member

  • JohnByron

    Were it just words there would be no problem. But this is a surreptitious pursuit of the wholesale capture of the entire Naval Institute by a small band of Directors for their own purposes and desires.

    At risk is the independent forum and a history of balanced debate in an atmosphere of objective tolerance of worthy ideas advanced in a responsible way by sea-service professionals.

    Advocacy as a mission implies judgment made of the degree and quality of that advocacy, the rejection of thought deemed unworthy, and the general and purposeful stifling of debate and contrary ideas viewed to counter to the thing being advocated.

    So two possibilities, that the proposal to change the mission statement is trivial (for which why even think about it) or that it is profound. Assuming the latter does not comfortably allow the benign interpretation of Captain Mifsud above. This captain, long an active voice in the forum, sees resignations by life members, sharp membership decline, and the death of Proceedings as an independent voice if the mission is changed.

    If advocacy of the sea services is what you want (beyond that always implied and always present in Proceedings throughout its history), join the Navy League.

    But you’ll have to wait until you retire.

    Because it does not take active-duty members.

    Because it’s an advocacy organization.

    Nuff said.