Over the past two months, the Naval Institute mission change discussion has brought one thing to the fore very clearly – the Institute has no articulable vision that accompanies its mission. Unchanged for 137 years, the mission – “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 and other issues critical to national defense” no longer seems to be the guiding principle at the Institute – overtaken by both critical and mundane things including profitability, process, and structure. All of which are burdened by the weight and intractability of tradition and then further afflicted with repetitive thinking disorder. Each of those issues, real as they are and they cannot be ignored, have obscured, hidden and submerged any capacity that the current leadership of the Institute had of building, articulating and executing a vision that supports the mission statement. Or frankly, any mission statement. Today’s Annual Meeting further confirmed this complete and total lack of vision.
Since nature abhors a vacuum, and seeking nothing other than discussion, thought, and daring to question the more learned and experienced members of the Board of Directors and leadership of the Institute I offer an alternative vision that I believe supports and expands on the current mission of the Institute – and in doing so will revitalize the community from which membership in the Institute derives and in turn rebuild the model of the Institute away from a business, or non-profit, or think tank. Because USNI must be a hybrid of all of them – but at her core the Institute must remain what she has for over a century – THE professional organization of the Naval services.
1. I believe that USNI should move beyond the AFCEA and Joint Warfighting style conferences and create smaller more focused ones – both by topic and by region. USNI should stop catering to Navy leadership and Industry (neither of which need another platform) and should expend its energy on working with and for junior officers and Sailors. USNI needs to become the place that officers and Sailors go with a problem, concept, idea or question that they would normally self-dismiss as “above my paygrade”.
2. In support of reconnecting with the spirit of the founders, a global Navy needs global outreach. To do that I believe that USNI should sponsor annual seminars where the Fleet is – not just San Diego and Norfolk. Monterey. Newport. Bremerton. Hawaii. Japan. Pensacola. Jacksonville. Bahrain. Groton/New London. Talk about leadership, writing, internal Navy strategies and grand global strategies. If every year is too much for some of those places, then do it every other year. Regardless, USNI needs to become a fixture of the firmament at Monterey and Newport. So much of a fixture, that the Deans of Students at the Naval Postgraduate School and Naval War College should be voting members, or at the very least advisors, to the Board of Directors.
3. Sponsor one or more prizes for Naval Postgraduate School theses that advance the mission of the Institute. Engender interest. And nothing generates interest like prizes. Cash prizes. Swords. Insignia. And recognition. And cash.
4. Sponsor one or more prizes for Naval History classes at the United States Naval Academy. Do the same for Naval ROTC units, or groups of units.
5. Establish an online writing class, webinar, forum. Just for writing. Nothing else – no politics, no sex, no weather. Partner with the Naval War College and USNA.
6. Generate and organize “Ask the Author” style meetings at the concentrations (Annapolis, DC, Newport, Monterey, Pentagon, online) – if an author publishes a book with the Naval Institute Press, then at a minimum they agree to be online at a certain time for a certain length of time to take questions. Either a Midrats Blog Radio model, or a blog model. But the authors need to be in contact with the demographic that makes up the membership of the Institute.
7. Aggressive “marketing” to JOs and First Class POs. And not just mailing flyers. There needs to be a concrete, and selfish, reason to join USNI. USNI needs to be able to explain to the 25 to 30 year old why joining TODAY is important for TOMORROW. Proceedings alone won’t do it. The “why” has to be developed out and then presented, modified, presented, modified and so on. And, it’s not just one easy pat answer – and too much to put forward and try and develop in a blog post or a single article. If the mid-career Sailor message works, then the message for the younger and more junior Sailor can be crafted.
8. Find and hire a dedicated web evangelist who can start building a network of professional writers about seapower online, and more specifically encourage people in the sea services to write. USNI needs “article scouts” who troll (in the fishing analogy, not the Billy Goat Gruff kind) the milblogs and forums looking for good writers and good ideas. Then getting the good idea authors linked up with someone who can mentor that idea into a Proceedings (or other professional journal) piece.
9. Finally. The By-Laws must be changed so that the businessman takeover that has occurred over the last decade can never happen again. The board should always have a majority membership of active duty Sailors, Marines or Coast Guardsmen – ideally at the paygrades of O6 and below. When civilians are members of the board, a history of service to the country, especially within the Naval service, should be considered a prerequisite. And that service should be both recent and relevant. No matter how successful a businessman one is, 2 years onboard a destroyer three decades ago is insufficient to understand the Navy, the sea, or Sailors. The Chief Executive Officer of the Institute has actively discouraged, or even banned, active duty officers of any rank from being on the board – often citing law as the reason that they cannot so serve. Yet he has been unable, or unwilling, to actually provide a reference to that law other than his own statement. And a quick perusal of any number of other military centered organizations show members of the active duty and reserve forces. So, why not USNI?
Over the past three months Chairman of the Board Steve Waters has provided a single letter speaking to making a monumental change in the future of the Naval Institute – and not one of the Board members who supported him in his desires has spoken out publicly in favor of that change. None of them has articulated a vision for the future of the Institute. There are others out there, like me, who are interested in the future of the Institute and willing, nay dare, to read, think, speak, and write about a vision for the Institute and the Navy. For 137 years the Naval Institute has been of and for Naval officers – it is time it returned to its roots and this is one proposed vision to do so.