The greater navy community is trying to figure out how to “get through” to a new generation of Naval Officers. Senior Naval Officers have misinterpreted a lack of new membership at USNI as a lack of desire by young officers to be a part of the conversation when the opposite is true. The rise in sites such as “Sailorbob” is evidence of this. We want to have an impact in the conversation. Senior and retired officers that I have talked to also want us to be involved. Now both sides need to find a middle ground where both sides can communicate.
There are a few myths that I would like to first dispel. We, the millennial naval officers, are in fact proud members of the community. We have many similar stories and experiences. We have deployed to the same places and have enjoyed leading sailors. We still like having a cigar on the bridge wing at sunset, we still enjoy watching a rooster tail shoot up from the back of a Destroyer and we still drink coffee to get through a long watches in CIC. However, there is one large difference. We communicate differently. The Naval Institute is asking the hard questions of why their membership is aging and the younger officers are not joining in droves as they have in the past. The answer is that there is a communication divide which has to be actively addressed. Social media and blogging sites are how our generation communicates. We are less likely to develop our ideas for a magazine where it will take two or three months to see print when we can blog it and see feedback within hours, if not minutes. The Naval Institute Blog is a great step but it needs to go further. I see two avenues that can be addressed: Wardroom Discussion pieces, and Junior Officer advancement.
First of all, direct communication with ships in the fleet about what issues and concerns are facing them in real time is how you become relevant again. The Institute should be trying to drive the Wardroom conversations like they once did. Technological advances in communication should be seen as a step up instead of a step back. Ships can now have two-way communication, while at sea, with USNI. If a controversial issue is in Proceedings, there should be a call out to ships to have wardroom conversations on the piece and provide feedback on the website. A CO should drive this wardroom conversation and be proud to have the points that were raised posted under the ship’s name on the USNI website. I think that senior officers might be surprised at the results that they get back. Who knows, they might hear something new.
Secondly, while JO’s are trying to get qualified they are constantly in need of professional information. “Message to Garcia” tasking comes to mind. The Institute needs to ensure that the USNI website is the place that JO’s turn to for this information. Once JO’s see the Naval Institute as a resource that they can use, they will also see it as something that they want to contribute to. This will drive participation in the Blog as well as the magazines.
The Naval Institute is vital to the future of the professional dialog within the navy. The millennial generation of Naval Officers wants to be a part of this dialog, and already is in its own way. The goal of the Naval Institute should be to ensure that the dialog is happening in their forums.
LT Rob McFall is a Surface Warfare Officer that spent four years on USS WINSTON S. CHURCHILL out of Norfolk, VA. He is currently stationed in Washington D.C. and is a member of the U.S. Naval Institute and the Next Generation of National Security Leaders at the Center for a New American Security.
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