Archive for March, 2011


Paint it WHITE!

March 2011


A week ago I was sitting in a meeting where the name of one of the leading contenders to be CJCS came up. Tied to that name was the idea that the “military would get out of HA/DR”.

That night the earthquake struck Japan and we now have over 13 ships (including two aircraft carriers) and thousands of Marines and Sailors – some stationed in Japan and others redirected from their deployment – on station and assisting. The idea that we as a government and a military would ever “get out of the HA/DR business” is patently ludicrous…and our response to the earthquake is just one more data point proving so.

As if we somehow needed one. CNA did a study in 1990 of Navy humanitarian operations. Even a quick, non-statistical, review shows that at least once every year since the mid-1950s the Navy has been to one degree or another been involved in a humanitarian operation. Following the Navy response to the 2004 tsunami, USNS Mercy inaugurated a series of “Pacific Partnership” deployments that continue this year with USS Cleveland deploying to Tonga, Vanuatu, Timor-Leste, the Federated States of Micronesia and Papua-New Guinea. On the other side of the world ships have been involved in Southern Partnership Station and African Partnership Station, modeled after the Pacific Partnership missions. And, in every case the ship involved either had to take a military asset off station or out of rotation, or active duty and reserve personnel were called up to man Military Sealift Command ships.

But, last year the House Armed Services, combined with Navy obstinancy, gave me another idea.

The HASC FY2011 Defense Authorization Report (which may never again see the light of day) Section 1024 states that the Secretary of the Navy shall retain the amphibious assault ships that the Navy shall keep Nassau (LHA-4) and Peleliu (LHA-5) in a commissioned and operational status until the delivery to the Navy of the new amphibious assault ships America (LHA-6) and LHA-7, respectively. Which idea, of course, the Navy wasn’t too fond of.

At the same time, Navy officials are pressing forward with a proof of concept study to man amphibious ships with merchant marine seamen and officers. Touted as readiness initiative for troubled classes of ships, critics look at the program as another misguided attempt to maintain ship numbers while cutting cost.

But, if Navy is willing to place volunteer civilians on combat ships…then why not reimagine the combat ship AND meet the HASC language AND provide ships that can meet the various partnership missions without impacting the rest of the fleet’s obligations?

Over the next six years Navy will retire two amphibious assault ships (LHA) and four amphibious transport docks (LPD). While not economical to refit or fully retain these ships, there is life left in them and with some alterations, they could remain in use – both as commissioned vessels (which add to the overall fleet number) and conduct critical missions over the next decade.

By retaining a Navy crew, completely removing the weapons systems, installing commercial satellite internet access, modifying the Marine berthing compartments and reconfiguring the well deck (or leaving it as is) – oh, and with a LOT of white paint – the Navy would have a platform capable of embarking 1,000 aid workers, teachers, policemen, medical personnel, and so on to move from country to country and teach, train, and help. Think of these ships as the ultimate in Joint – InterAgency – NGO power projection platform.

By having ships like this capable of rapidly embarking DHS and FEMA personnel to serve as a mobile command post after a hurricane, or to mirror the role of USNS Mercy after the tsunami or any of the other iconic relief actions, to include the one going on today in Japan, the Navy would have a tool – that is not armed with anything other than self defense weapons and frees up a front line combat capable unit – and, as trite as it sounds, be part of the “Global Force for Good”. It’s tough to look at something we do all the time, and think of it as a “lesser included mission”…maybe it’s time to put some dedicated resources behind the ever-present reality.

Proceedings, May 1923, Volume 49, Number 5, Whole Number 243

When I was informed by Colonel Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, that I was to be invited to go to Boston and speak to this distinguished audience I must confess to experiencing a feeling of dismay such as I have rarely felt in the presence of much graver danger. This feeling was prompted not so much by my sense of inexperience in public speaking, or doubt of your kindly forbearance, as by the thought that while this would be a wonderful opportunity to present the case for the Navy to an audience whose influence might in the future prove a factor in determining the course of our naval policy, my failure to enlist your interest in the problems of the Navy would be a matter of abiding regret.

The reasons why you should stand firmly in support of the Navy are to me so obvious that I hope no eloquence of mine will be necessary to convince you, once you are in possession of the facts.

What I have to say to you is wholly from the national standpoint. That is the standpoint of the Navy. The Navy is not concerned with party politics. It exists only as an arm of the executive authority whether that authority be Democratic or Republican. We are not interested in the political rivalries of states, or districts, or counties, or municipalities. Of all those things the average voter knows a great deal more than I do. But when our average voter speaks of America as a nation and considers the rights, duties and interests of America as one of a family of nations, a family with many conflicting and discordant interests, his ignorance is apt to be alarming. I think you will agree with me when I say that but a small fraction of our citizens are qualified to cast an intelligent vote, on any international question, with any clear understanding of the issues involved. I fear that only a few hundred thousand out of our twenty odd million of voters are sufficiently informed to cast a vote that would conserve our national interests and yet the safety of our country must necessarily rest on the knowledge and intelligence of our electorate.

If popular government is not to fail, our voters cannot take up too soon the earnest study of their duties and responsibilities as citizens of America. Our country has become so vast and so diversified in its interests that those voters capable of taking a broad national view of our necessities are in danger of sharing the fate of the dodo. Yet statesmen can accomplish little without your support.

John J. Ingalls once defined a statesman as a successful politician who is dead. We need support for those good men in office who are earnestly striving to be statesmen while yet alive.

I know of no nobler mission for our newly enfranchised women than to start a crusade for better national citizenship, and I know of no better center for such a crusade than this splendid old city of Boston that has cradled so many of our national ideals.

But I am to speak to you of the Navy and surely the Navy’s interests are the country’s interests.

One of the principal reasons for the adoption of our Constitution was to provide for the common defense. Our fathers decided in their wisdom to provide one Army and one Navy to defend all the people in common, so the Navy belongs to the people as a whole. Each of you is a stockholder in this great organization. Its property is valued at over three billions of dollars. It is not only your right but your duty to share in its management.

Now why should a Navy exist at all? If we go back to first principles, in order to live and prosper we must have law and order. To have law and order, society must be organized and live under some system. As the world is still inhabited by all kinds of people, good, bad, and indifferent, and not as yet by God’s white angels, it is necessary that certain physical sanctions be provided to insure obedience to the law. Even the most primitive rural community has in addition to its law book and its justice of the peace, a constable. Now just as in our domestic relations we must have our federal, state, and municipal police, so in our international relations there must be provided an Army and Navy as a physical sanction of our international laws, conventions, treaties, and policies. Any other conclusion would involve an absurdity. For if, in dealing with each other in our most highly civilized communities we must still rely upon force to guarantee us our just rights, how can we expect to do without force and yet obtain justice from strangers whose interests are not our interests, and who quite naturally are seeking their own advantage? More than one statesman has said “our foreign policy is as strong as the Navy and no stronger.”

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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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Not since 1820 has a US jury carried a piracy conviction. That changed yesterday when five Somali men found guilty of attacking the USS Nicholas were sentenced to life in prison in a Norfolk Federal Court. The sentencing might be a drop in the bucket given the current piracy endemic, but was nonetheless a significant step forward – symbolically and legally – in the fight that wages daily off the Horn off Africa.

The pirates’ defense centered on the claim that they had been abducted and forced to fire their weapons on the Nicholas. Judge Mark Davis ruled in favor of the government and sentenced the men to life in prison plus an additional 80 years for the use of illegal firearms. Life in prison is a tough but reasonable (and in fact, mandatory) sentence considering piracy is a universal crime (the legal cousin of slavery and genocide), and that the last convicted pirate that stood before a US court for sentencing was put to death.

US Attorney Neil MacBride led a landmark case not only because his conviction demonstrates to the American people that the US Navy is determined to interdict and arrest pirates at sea, but also to the world that the US Justice Department is willing and able to prosecute and convict pirates at home.

This sentence also sends a message back to the pirate camps that litter the Somalian coast: if you attack a US ship, you will be captured and jailed for life. Or, as has been the fate of at least two pirates on the Quest and Maersk Alabama in the past two years, worse.

And the Justice Department isn’t done with pirates yet.

Fourteen suspected pirates have recently been indicted by a federal grand jury for their involvement in the attack on the yacht Quest which resulted in the murder of Jean and Scott Adam, Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle. They will face piracy, kidnapping and firearms charges. Currently there are no murder charges as the investigation is on-going.

While the legal impact of this case is indeed in the landmark realm, it’s true the immediate impact of the Nicholas convictions will be nominal with respect to the number of attacks in the short term. It does, however, send an important political message to other nations with a stake in security in the region in the mid to long term. With nearly 800 Somali pirates in prisons in 14 different countries awaiting trial (and hundreds more simply released due to the legal complexity of such cases) the message from the US is this: piracy is an intolerable crime whose thugs will be prosecuted vigilantly and convicted to full extent of the law.

Will other nations that patrol these troubled waters with us follow course?

March 10, 2011

Dear Members and Friends of the United States Naval Institute:

We are delighted by the current dialogue regarding the 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.”

The Board’s work regarding this Statement began in late 2009 and culminated in unanimous Board approvals at our meetings in July and October 2010 and again, with one dissent, in February 2011. The Board voted so because it believes that the Institute needs to gain financial stability and to be as relevant as possible to the Sea Services, to our members, to our donors, to our employees, and to the Nation itself, especially in these difficult times. We think it is possible both to be an independent forum which speaks “truth to power” and to advocate the importance of seapower.

You will recall that economic events of 2008-2009 were difficult for the Institute. Advertising revenues declined, donations shrank, and our endowment lost almost a third of its value. The Institute, led by our senior management team, became cash break-even in 2009 due to dramatic cost controls that remain in effect today. However, the reality is that print media business lines are not growing. The Naval Institute Foundation has enjoyed increases in major donor support and both corporate and foundation sponsorships in the last two years. But, there is no guarantee that these increases will continue, nor that past operational deficits will not reappear.

Of equal (if not greater) concern is that our membership, like many other nonprofit military associations, has declined significantly in the last two decades. These demographics speak directly to the relevance challenge that the Institute is facing and must be reversed if we are to survive. Our membership decline has provided another imperative for the Board to revitalize our mission statement. We must be relevant both to our traditional supporters and to prospective new ones.

The Board’s Mission Committee, led by VADM John Morgan, and including VADM Nancy Brown, VADM Norman Ray, and Mr. Donald Brennan, undertook to ask how the Institute can be most effective at a time when our military budgets will decline due to the United States’ federal deficits, just as external threats are increasing around the world. The Board agreed with the Mission Committee that the Sea Services are critical to our national defense, to American foreign policy and to protect maritime commerce and hence our economy.

We also believe that by proactively addressing the new national security environment, we will enhance our capability to attract members, donors and supporters and, specifically, increase our relevance to Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen. Finally, and most importantly, we found we could accomplish these changes without threatening the defining concept of the Institute, our independent forum, where our members can voice their views.

Under our revised mission statement, you will see an independent forum where we seek differing views and encourage tough examination of the issues, with both sides advocated. You will continue to see articles, books, conferences and an online experience that not only meet the traditionally high standards of USNI content, but which also will bring increased relevance to the world we confront now and the one we will confront tomorrow. In short, you will continue to see the Naval Institute as a thought leader in the national security arena.

The Preamble in the Constitution remains unchanged:

“The United States Naval Institute is a voluntary, private, nonprofit association formed in 1873 for the advancement of professional, literary, and scientific knowledge in the naval and maritime services, and the advancement of the knowledge of sea power.”

And, equally importantly, that Section 1 of Article XV of our Constitution (Limitations), continues verbatim:

“Notwithstanding any other provision in the Constitution and By-Laws, the Institute’s objectives are limited to and shall include only charitable, scientific, literary and educational purposes within the meaning of those terms as used in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code or the corresponding section of any future federal tax code, and all references to the objectives of the Institute shall be construed to include such limitation. The Institute shall not, except to an insubstantial degree, engage in any activities or exercise any powers that are not in furtherance of the objectives of the Institute as so limited.”

The Institute must still operate within these proven constraints. You will not see our Naval Institute as a “shill” for any service or program, a lobby to the Congress, or a house for one-track thinking, as some might worry. We know you would not wish or allow us to do so.

The Board’s intent in proposing that we revise the Mission Statement is to take the first important step in a strategic plan that will move the Institute to a stronger, more relevant future with increased financial stability. The Nation and the Sea Services need a vibrant, relevant Naval Institute to confront 21st century challenges – we must not go quietly into the night. The Board will work to keep us relevant, and we hope you will as well. We respectfully ask for your support and we look forward to continuing these efforts with you.

Stephen M. Waters
Chairman of the Board

Thomas L. Wilkerson
Major General, USMC (Ret)
Chief Executive Officer

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The name has been changed, but the story is true. Care to guess what the Navy is doing for Joe?

“We were called on a mission under circumstances that we normally don’t like to go. We generally work at night and we generally work when there’s not a full moon and we generally get to choose the circumstances a little better, but this time we did not, and I can’t discuss the nature of the mission, but there was a reason that we had to go. And we somehow ended up landing next to a compound full of people.

We pushed through south, kind of moving to the north in the helicopters and when you land near structures, it’s extra terrifying because, like what happened on this one, you don’t know who’s there, and if they’re bad guys, those helicopters look like school buses and they feel like bullet magnets. So, the helicopters landed and I could hear over the rotors the guns–there was a mean gunfight going on. I was in Chop 1, Chop 2 landed a little bit farther to the east, probably 100 meters, that was the helicopter that was being engaged, and the men coming off that helicopter were immediately in a–in a serious gunfight. We maneuvered–I was a Team Leader and we maneuvered to get on line, to try to stay out of the beating zone where the bullets were going on, and while we were doing this, there were–as is common, there were people running, and it was very difficult to ascertain who was who, so you can’t just start shooting people, you have to close in on them.

As the team from Chop 2, the other helicopter suppressed the fire, there were some grenades, rockets, it was a heavy-duty engagement. I could see that there were multiple what we call ‘squirters” that were moving and–and running from structure to structure and hiding in fields, and we had to cover some ground. And it was important that we–the nature of the mission called for us to find people, specifically to find people. Because of the significance of the firefight at our insert, I was very concerned that we were messing with people that weren’t your average dirt farmer Taliban, that the level of fire, the volume and the amount and the types of fire we had received, belt-fed machine guns, heavy duty stuff, not just some farmer with an AK47, it was heavy duty, I was really concerned, and when I saw there were people running just crazy, the people in this little village were frightened, I knew we had to get close and identify people and the best way to do that was to divide up my team, there were three shooters, myself, another shooter, “Joe” and his dog , and I sent a team farther to the east as we moved southward in the initial contact.

Other teams were maneuvering and there were other gunfights going on at this time. It was very confusing and very dynamic. As we moved south, we crossed through some structures which we had to clear quickly because we’d seen people run from them, but we needed to make sure that they were secured because you can’t move past something and then hope that those people are going to come back around on you, you need to worry about what’s in front of you. So, I could see the other half of my team maneuvering, and I had picked “Joe” specifically, I wanted to go with him because I knew this was his fifth or sixth mission. This was the first time he’d been in a really heavy-duty gunfight, and I wanted to make sure that I had eyes on him with the dog because I had experience with that as well.

As we moved through the fields, we engaged people who were hiding with the women and children, which is common with the Taliban, and just about any other terrorist like that, they hide. When you get the drop on them, they hide with the women and they hide behind them and the children, so we had to engage on a couple of occasions during our movement to the south, we had to engage people, and then at one point we saw some people in the ditch and I said to “Joe”, “Send him, man, send the dog,” so he sent the dog and the dog kind of–he ran in the direction and he kind of stopped for a second, he paused, and then “Joe” gave him the command again, and I’ve only seen one other dog really do that, and I figured the reason why he did it, and we knew later, it was because there were children in the ditch. 

So, once that happened, we moved in, we could see with the equipment we were using, we were using lasers and the night vision, we could see they were children, “Joe” took the dog off, held security, I grabbed the children out of the ditch, I talked to them, I put them in the center of the field, I threw chem lights around them and then, as I turned from that, “Joe” and the other shooter that was with me, I looked at them and they were looking–there was an aircraft overhead that was burning, some more individuals moving, and there were a group of them and they split up, and some of them moved to the east, I’m facing south now, some of them were moving to the west. So, I–being a dog guy, and “Joe” helped me, we wanted to set up where the wind was, there–we were in a field that was about as flat as this, with ditches occasionally where the kids were hiding, and there were weeds maybe knee high and it was very flat. They moved a little bit to the west, and we maneuvered to the south and farther west to open up the distance with them and get downwind so that the dog could smell them, and because of–to this point we had–we had run across several groups of children or women or combinations of children, women and terrorists, I wanted to try and take it as slow as possible, but I knew that we were going to have to get close, unless we could get them to maneuver to us.

So, we sat down or we knelt down quietly in the field, they moved, and they moved around for a little bit and then they stopped, and when they stopped they just–they got very low and still, and I–I’m guessing at distances, but probably we were 150 meters roughly from them and perfectly lined up with them. So, we sat and I said, ‘Okay, we have to go get them. Are you guys ready?” and they said, “Yes.” So, we moved out, “Joe” and I moved together, lined the dog up and we started moving towards them. And, you know, again we’re going to have to line up to send the dog, and he was going to buy us a little time, so a full moon, fields like this, and weeds about knee high, and I knew when we sent him that we only had a few seconds. So, we started walking, kind of crouched, walking towards them, walking towards them, walking towards them, close to about maybe 30 meters or roughly that, and I said, ‘Okay, “Joe”, send him quietly,” and he sent him, and he gave him the command and he went out. And you could see him, you’ve heard talk of the way dogs indicate on things, he could smell men, he was–he was on them, and when they smell the fear of those–’cause they’re scared, they know, man, and it makes them hungry and ready to fight, and you could see him just bob his ears and his tail, and he started hauling ass, and so we–we have to stay with him, man, we’re right on top of him, he’s only going to buy you a second. 

So, I remember running, I was watching him, he was about from me to you, sir, and when he looked at me as though he got to one of the black shapes, they were hiding behind the small berm ditch, and I heard boom, boom, two quick shots, and I knew they were loaded. I couldn’t tell if they hit him or not, and there wasn’t really time to worry about it, I had to start filling them in, and then they say you never hear the bullet that gets you, and you don’t. I fell forward and rolled towards them, it hit me and I flipped forward, my back was to them, and my first thought was, “I’m a dead man,” I’m right–I mean I’m this far away, I’m dead. l–l really thought I was done, man, ’cause we were that close to them, and I didn’t know what was going on with the dog. And at first when you’re shot, it doesn’t–you–l just felt my leg give way.

Then I thought I was going to die because I was so close, I was waiting for the next shot and didn’t come, and it didn’t come ’cause that dude went to work, that dude being “Joe”. I heard–we had suppressed weapons, silencers, I could hear pops, gunshots from guns that didn’t have suppressors, spraying automatic, which I knew wasn’t him. I could hear the two suppressors, his and the other shooter who had come around to make the I could hear thumps and then something else, and they ended up being grenades being thrown at us. I heard silence for a minute, and then I screamed, I was in such pain, I wasn’t nearly as tough as I thought I would be, I was screaming, it hurt bad, and then I heard more shooting, and the most distinct sound of all was I could hear him walking, whoosh, whoosh, and crunching the weeds, and he was walking at them, and this is something that–you can’t train somebody to do that.

You can try as hard to replicate what it’s like to get shot at, to have your dog get shot and killed, to have your buddy next to you go–go down, you don’t know if he’s dead. And most people’s natural instinct is to run. He didn’t do that; he kept walking, whoosh, whoosh, I could hear his suppressor, whoop, whoop, whoop, and I heard hissing because the Taliban he was shooting had RPG rockets on their backs, and the propellant for the rockets, when the bullet would go through it, it would shhhhh, it would make a hissing sound, it would ignite that booster, and he kept walking, and he kept walking. And then I heard some rapid shots from him, I presume it was him or the other shooter, and then he came over and he knelt next to me… , and then the other shooter came over while he held security. And then I faded in and out a little bit, I lost a lot of blood. Some other folks came over to help with tourniquets and bandages, and he went to work on the dog after he was certain that I was being taken care of and it was secured. I don’t know exactly what he did with the dog. He could have done a trach, ’cause most of his mouth was blown up, he could have put a trach in his throat to get air to him, he could have given him mouth-to-mouth or mouth-to-nose in this occasion, stop the bleeding. While, I was carried over to the helicopter, I was hopping on my left leg and screaming and being carried by a bunch of teammates and when I turned around and sat down, I was really concerned about the dog as well, and “Joe” was carrying him, and he- -he had to have help carrying him, and his gear.

When we got back to the MEDEVAC place, I remember asking about the dog, I remember seeing him there, and I don’t remember much after that. I’d lost, I think, units of blood, something like that, and I went under and, when I woke up, I was in–somewhere else, but the guy who helped me get on the helicopter went out, after they pronounced the dog dead, they went back to the fight.”

Join us this afternoon (5pm at the new 5pm) for Midrats on BlogTalkRadio:

The military’s response to the Japanese earthquake, turmoil in the Arab world, gas prices spiking, China’s military coming out of the shadows, and START treaties are bouncing around. Could there be a better time for a full hour with one of our regular guest, Mackenzie Eaglen., Research Fellow for National Security Studies, Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation? I don’t think so.

Listen to internet radio with Midrats on Blog Talk Radio

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On Monday on I argued that the United States should assist rebel groups in Libya by sending food aid. This option would allow the U.S. to provide much needed supplies to the rebels while avoiding direct military involvement in the conflict. Interestingly, yesterday The Washington Post reported that Europe and the United Sates were considering some very similar to my proposal. Now my ego would like to believe I played some role that (rumored) plan, but we all know governments do not move that fast.

If true — and at this point that is a big if — the next question is how can the US and other states deliver the aid. Luckily, the provisional capitol of the rebels, Benghazi, has decent port facilities. Last week HMS Cumberland and a World Food Program ship both used the port, although the latter aborted a previous attempt due to reports of air strikes in the area.

The question I pose to USNI readers is this: If the US Navy was called upon to delivery food and other aid to rebel controlled areas in Libya, what would be the best way to go about it?

As we midshipmen at the Naval Academy prepare to go on spring break, I wonder how much rest and relaxation improves performance.

I know that when we come back from a break, both moral and focus improve throughout the Brigade of Midshipmen. But no operational unit can afford a spring break. Unlike cadets and midshipmen, the sailor or marine who enlisted right out of high school doesn’t have the luxury of knowing they will get a week off every spring. I would imagine that having time to reset after a deployment would improve performance and keep more sailors in the service. But with the Navy constantly trying to do more with less, how do we balance work with rest?

Striking a proper balance keeps people motivated and focused on their jobs- especially important qualities for all military personnel. Time-off gives the sailor time to manage his or her personal life and increases the chance that he or she will re-enlist. However, due to multiple combat deployments, the military divorce rate has steadily increased every year since 2001 and is now above the national divorce rate, according to a Pentagon study. Considering the U.S. military budget is not going to increase 13% like China’s budget did last year, all military branches will have to increase efficiency and put sailors where they are most needed. Yes, military life is inherently tough, but increasing off-time increases the likelihood that good sailors will stay in the service. With more sailors, the burden on each “link in the chain” will decrease.

Increasing efficiency is the goal of every military, political, and business leader. Every unit wants to win the Battle E- note the E for Efficiency. While becoming more efficient sounds good on paper, in reality it’s difficult because it requires changing the “way it’s always been done.” We midshipmen should enjoy spring break, but realize what a sea-change in leave time awaits us in the fleet.

The United States Naval Institute rarely has contentious ballots.

We, the USNI Editorial Board, the USNI membership, and others, have now experienced one of those rare instances.

It is rare, because of the uncharacteristic lack of open debate concerning the historic motion to propose a change in the USNI mission statement. This motion has the potential to change the character of the institution: its exceptional standing among naval strategists throughout the world, its financial future, and the inevitable second and third order consequences unforeseen at the beginning of such a strategic change in direction. Freedom of thought and expression has been a central tenet of the Naval Institute itself and why, in part, we are witnessing the current passionate and vocal opposition to changing USNI’s mission statement. We welcome this discussion.

As the Editorial Board of the U.S. Naval Institute, we have a responsibility in as objective a manner as possible to review submissions for articles and provide advice to the Institute editors. We recognize that every submission is important and try to provide guidance on those articles that meet the standards of Proceedings, regardless of how controversial they may be, since it is that quality that most often stirs debate, gives pause to readers to think and, we hope, to respond in future issues. We also strive to promote the Institute’s role to provide an independent defense forum with articles representing all sides of the issues. Proceedings provides a vital and, we believe, a unique opportunity for well-articulated dialogue and encourage experienced writers to share their knowledge and newer writers to enter the arena of debate and share their own unique vision for the future of our sea services and, more broadly, our national security.

Therefore, we, the USNI Editorial Board, are submitting this letter to express our desire that the United States Naval Institute remain an independent forum – as it has since 1873. We strongly recommend that the reasons behind the mission statement change be provided to the membership through any USNI forum whether that is through Proceedings, the USNI blog, the USNI website and/or directly to the members via an email. As important as topic this is, an open, respectful debate regarding the benefits and challenges of such a change would help all members make an informed decision whether they vote “yea” or “nay.”

We understand that there are compelling reasons both for and against changing the mission statement.

What we do not understand is why the membership has not been able to hear, debate, and decide collectively what the outcome should be for such a historic determination.

As the noted author Norman Polmar wrote in a recent letter, one of his objections to the change was that the phrase “an independent forum advocating” is self-contradictory. We agree. Individuals may advocate certain points in their articles, but the independence of the Naval Institute allows for those views to be heard.

The opposition to the mission statement change has been argued by such noted individuals as former U.S. Naval Institute Chief Executive Officer Rear Admiral Tom Marfiak, USN (Ret), USNI award-winning author CAPT Victor Addison USN (Ret), Member of the U.S. Naval Institute Board of Directors Dr. Jack London, and Vice Admiral Bob Dunn, USN (Ret).

The independence of the Institute is paramount; without that openness, the Institute risks simply becoming an organ of whatever entity, whatever program, is deemed permissible by only a few, whomever those may be. It would be difficult to find a member or an author who is not a proponent of U.S. sea power, but we must remain open to those who define it differently or who might disagree with it. If we do not, then we remain stagnant in our thoughts, and in the 21st century with all its traditional, non-traditional and unforeseen challenges, that is a concept we can ill afford.

We wish to state for the record that we, the Editorial Board, vote “no” to the proposed mission statement change.

Editorial Board Members

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