April 2011


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.

Posted by M. Ittleschmerz in Cyber, Innovation, Naval Institute

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  • Steeljaw Scribe

    ^this. Here is the departure point for USNI’s leadership and here I lay my marker and offer to help. But it won’t be “business as usual”…
    W/r, SJS

  • Fouled Anchor

    Ittleschmerz, congratulations on a very well-written and thought-provoking post. I agree with many of your points, particularly numbers 2, 3, 5, and 6. And yes, I totally agree with #9 – USNI needs smart active duty professionals leading, not businessmen. (An active duty or retired Chief wouldn’t hurt either.)

    I’m curious as to why, in idea #7, you picked JOs and PO1s. JOs I get, but why PO1s? Why not MCPOs? Or SCPOs? Or CPOs? Just curious really, I don’t necessarily disagree.

    The idea of taking the USNI to the fleet is superb. One of my regrets of not living in the Annapolis/DC area, or San Diego for that matter, is the lack of opportunity to be involved in the USNI in other ways. Even if the annual meeting and one or two conferences went to a different location each year, it would provide members the opportunity to be involved and allow non-members to see what USNI is all about.

    Along with sponsoring thesis awards/prizes at NPS, expanded that to other military/government-run institutions of higher learning. ‘Most Secret and Confidential: Intelligence in the Age of Nelson’ by retired Captain Steve Maffeo began as a Joint Military Intelligence College thesis before being first published by the Naval Institute Press. My point is, there is a lot of good writing done on naval topics at schools other than NPS.

    I think you have to be a bit careful with idea #8. Trolling for “good writers” is one thing; trolling for “good ideas” is subjective. Who gets to decide which ideas are good and which are not. I’m not even sure there is such a need. It would be interesting to know how many good writers (and good ideas) never make it to the pages of Proceedings simply because there isn’t room for all of them. Your idea assumes that there is not already a plethora of good writers submitting good articles.

    Also, in your summary you wrote that the “…Naval Institute has been of and for Naval officers – it is time it returned to its roots.” I agree but I also think this is one of the problems…there is not enough enlisted involvement in USNI and Proceedings. That statement also stands in contrast to your earlier suggestion of appealing to PO1s.

    Again, I agree with much of your post and thank you for putting forth these visionary ideas.

  • Byron

    Outstanding points. Total agreement.

  • M. Ittleschmerz

    Fouled Anchor – “returning to it’s roots” is a beginning, not an end and perhaps I should have more carefully stated a return to active duty participation and governance.

    “I’m curious as to why, in idea #7, you picked JOs and PO1s. JOs I get, but why PO1s? Why not MCPOs? Or SCPOs? Or CPOs? Just curious really, I don’t necessarily disagree.” To be simple and not too glib…JOs become Captains and Flags…and PO1s become CPOs, SCPOs, and MCPOs. That’s why I think our focus should be there.

  • LT K. W. Albaugh, USN

    As a member of the Naval Academy English Department, I really responded to measure #5. I will be taking the directorship of the Academy’s Writing Center this summer and as such, my primary focus will be developing an officer corps with the tightest writing (and thinking) possible. We already conduct distance tutoring in the evenings for midshipmen. I don’t know what is possible in terms of a formal relationship with USNI, but informally, I’m ready to help. If anyone is interested in taking this further, feel free to contact me at [email protected].

    Very respectfully,

    Kurt Albaugh, LT, USN

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Yea, verily.

    “For 137 years the Naval Institute has been of and for Naval officers – it is time it returned to its roots…” is the money quote for me.

  • Byron

    Yes, I think theres a lot more sharp, on the ball Petty Officers like YN2 Gauthier and AT1 Berlemann, both outstanding Navy men in the truest sense of the word.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Eloquently stated and well-thought.

    Point #2 is a superb idea, having USNI integrated with Monterey and NWC. There was much talk of “relevance” of late. One of the best ways to stay relevant is to be a part of the schoolhouse. And have them be a part of you. Perhaps if an annual seminar is too much, have a hot-topic round-table on the off year for a couple of hours followed by a Q&A session?

  • On #7, one additional consideration might be to stop having an older crowd attempt to divine what might make the Institute relevant to Marine CAPTS and SSGTs and USN/USCG LTs and PO1s. The ‘…presented, modified, presented, modified…’ point is right on — it’ll be a work in progress and will necessarily evolve (and it would benefit from a concept that remains agile, adaptive and responsive to emerging needs and shifts in the future). But we might start by approaching the question from the opposite perspective: ask them.

    Ask them what an independent forum for professional dialog and serious debate should look like. What functionality would it provide? How would they prefer to access and interact with that forum? What motivates them to take the time to read, think, speak, and especially write? What hinders them from doing so?

    Surveys are not cheap. Designing them well, getting them filled out and processing and understanding the responses are all challenges well beyond my competence. But if we want this Institute to be, once again, their Institute, then these are questions that deserve serious consideration and we don’t seem to have those answers.

  • Fouled Anchor

    @Ittleschmerz – Roger all sir and I appreciate the explanation. You are certainly right that the JOs become Flags and the PO1s become Chiefs, so they are audiences that we should focus on and get involved.

    Again, your post is an outstanding vision for our USNI and I appreciate you putting it forward.

  • Solon

    Agree completely. As an old, retired guy – but one who cares deeply about the institute – I am 100% in favor of returning USNI to the fleet, to the sailors (passion is the pre-req, not position) as a forum for that vanishing notion of ‘independent thought’. Great post. Well said, and BZ.