Maybe, I don’t want to be an officer. More so, maybe I shouldn’t be one. You guys seem to make it hard on yourselves to ask questions – to read, think and write. Enlisted types, when we do a version of ‘read, think and write’ we either are innocuous or irrelevant because of our rank, or are surprising (and thus welcomed) because of no one expecting us to think ‘big thoughts.’ But, whatever the case, us thinking aloud isn’t something that can cause officers to react. I’d dare say that it is almost safer for us enlisted types to think out loud because of our status in the military hierarchy.

In thinking back across the modicum of experience I have, I can only find one example of where someone (an officer) reacted negatively to me asking questions. It was a CAPT who was riding the SAN ANTONIO for one reason, or another. We were on the smoke deck, and I was attempting to talk to him about my Mobile Sea Base idea I had for the SAN (anyone read the news lately? I totally called this back in 2007). I don’t think the CAPT was as much bothered by my asking questions, as he just wanted from freakin’ peace and quiet while he smoked his cigar on the smoke deck. Whatever his motivations, it’s the only time I can recall ever being concerned about asking questions.

As many of you know, the Naval Institute invited me to the West ’12 Conference this year. One of the panels I attended was titled “Junior Warfighters: What Issues Keep Them Awake at Night?” the panel was comprised of O-3s and an O-4. I asked them questions, and the discussion turned to writing and publishing their thoughts. The answers I received were far outside of my perspective, and did not settle well with me. I couldn’t understand why they were telling me of their concerns for repercussions from their writing. They aren’t the first officers I’ve heard voice such a concern – quite the opposite actually. I have heard others say as such so often, that I’ve started to wonder if it was actually an excuse for not writing.

I watched the video made from the panel this morning, I asked if they had tried to get published, if they thought that publishing under a pen name would improve the discourse or be helpful in any way. But, again, the answers I was given were too far outside my perspective. I was told that it is important for a person to stand behind their words and thus not use a pen name. In addition to their concern for repercussions from publishing, the two perspectives caused a certain dissonance for me, I couldn’t get my mind around it. But, in talking about it on facebook, I think I’ve begun to understand.

No one reads, thinks and writes in a vacuum. I’ve often wondered (as have many others) why it is that the young seem to be the greatest source of innovation in the World. But, in coming to understand the answers I received at West I’ve also come to understand that a significant part of why the young innovate so much is that we do read, think and write in a vacuum in a greater sense than those older than us. We generally have fewer responsibilities – maybe a spouse, possibly no children, limited (if any) command authority. It seems to me to be one of the sublimely ironic absurdities of life that we give authority to those who have the experience to support keen discretion and wise decision making. But that to inherently have such qualities, one must have first lived a life, learned the resulting lessons and there-by limited their ability to fully engage in innovative discourse.

What this realization has lead me to is to wonder what this means for me. I’m a single guy, no kids, and no command authority; yet when I write these blogs, and talk publicly, I have a tacit sense of what I can and cannot say – I have tact. But, should I have less tact, in a sense? I don’t mean that I think that I should be bluntly provocative or that I should be writing the intellectual version of tabloids in my writing. But, that I should be even more bold to say some things, and even say things I know that others wish to say, but can’t due to other responsibilities their life choices have resulted in. Just as it tends to be the most junior personnel who have to scrub down a ship after a CBRN attack, shouldn’t it be the junior person who writes the words that cause senior personnel pause? After all, I am ultimately only responsible to myself. I do not have to worry about my words grossly affecting anyone else I could be responsible for. If the guy with kids to take care of can’t do it; the officer who would be judged more critically than I would can’t do it, or anyone with significant responsibilities can’t do it. But, somebody HAS to do it. Who better than someone like me?

I didn’t invoke John Boyd during the panel, though his ghost was probably cursing up a storm if it were present. But, Boyd’s example is replete with what it takes to fully engage in the discourse. Robert Croam’s biography doesn’t ignore the type of father or husband Boyd was – Boyd sacrificed a lot to be who he was. I cannot expect anyone (not even myself) to make the hard decisions he made.

Which only leaves me with the thought that we need a new dichotomy across the age axis in our Navy. We have the enlisted-officer dichotomy in the Navy that serves us extremely well. We should also formalize the age dichotomy so that our junior personnel can take advantage of their lack of responsibilities and station, so that they can think, read and write the things we need to stay innovative and ahead of any competitor.

Posted by CTR1(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III in Marine Corps, Navy

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  • Lucien,

    This is a brilliant column; a true to be or to do moment. Yes, yes, yes; we need more provocative members of all ages; officer and enlisted. Much of what passes for shipbuilding in our navy won’t pass the smell test, and not enough people are asking questions beyond the slides and advertising-like propaganda/slogans that have come to characterize most of our military branch’s so called leadership. Perhaps if more folks were provocative and asked simple questions about stuff that concerned them—asking until they were answered we wouldn’t be forced to retain a 40 year old ship for a mission promised by more modern platforms.

    When I was on active duty, they used to tell us there were no stupid questions, just stupid people who failed to ask. Big navy is now forced by the budget to think; it is about time—-get and stay provocative, sailors, to do otherwise only assures more of the same “leadership.’ For too many years the wizards of powerpoint have “led,” when what we have always required and always will require are warriors who have skin thick enough to endure questions/inquiry.
    To be or to do, which way will you go?

  • Fouled Anchor

    YN2, what you’ve penned here is very thought-provoking and provides a different and much needed perspective from what others have written on the topic. I think this is your best blog contribution to date, and maybe the most important.

    What you might find upon deeper examination is that differences in the cultures of the officer and enlisted communities – and the pressures placed upon each from their respective communities – leads to the dichotomoy of willingness to publish. I would say it’s much ‘easier’ to publish when the criticism is coming from your Shipmates on the mess decks than from those in the wardroom. I would place the Chiefs’ Mess somewhere in between; more openly supportive of publishing in general like the mess decks but with a greater likelihood of applied, unofficial pressure form the upper chain-of-command.

    Plus is takes some guts to put your thoughts out their for public consumption and criticism…an attribute you obviously have. Just keep writing and maintain awareness of that fine line between saying what needs to be said without being unprofessional or disrespectful. Your contributions serve as an example for other junior Sailors (officer and enlisted) and may (hopefully) instigate others to contribute similarly.

  • … one measure of Boyd’s dedication was that he would do his briefings for just his out-of-pocket expenses.

  • Lucien,

    Before we give JOs too much grief – it is always helpful when discussing Boyd to place his “pot stirring” on a timeline WRT his age and career path.

    He completed his E-M theory, the basis for what followed, when he was 37. In 1972 he was a not-so-crisp 45.

    Give ’em time; they’ll pop to the surface when they are ready.

  • Robert

    Excellent post. After reading it, I went back and watched the video.

    I find it interesting the number of times the broken personnel system came up – at what point will the navy begin to address the problems instead of just accepting the fact that it’s broken? In the current fiscal climate, now would be the time to make big changes if it could save time or money – or help retain the best personnel. Soliciting innovative ideas from junior and mid-level personnel is a great concept but if senior leadership chooses to ignore them, it simply adds to the frustration. Listening is great but acting on the good ideas is even better.

    I’m not sure that publishing at Proceedings is “the” solution. As we are all aware, there is a significant backlog in the editorial process which often prohibits relevant information from being discussed in a timely manner. Also it is clear, that the limited amount of space afforded to “Sailor Joe” is shrinking. Any GO/FO or anyone who has worked at a think-tank appears to have head of the line privileges. Most of these “featured contributors” have other forums for publication at their disposal, yet the editorial board takes away valuable space from the average guy/gal to devote to their rehashing stale ideas.

    When I was part of the IC, we had access to agency wide message boards that facilitated communications both vertically and latterly. Obviously one needed to use creds to log on and it wasn’t available for public consumption. This was a good means for crowd sourcing of ideas and a tool to harness the wisdom of crowds. Not sure if there is a cost effective way to do something similar.

  • Without saying it, Lucien’s post also raises the ongoing question of the relevance of this Institute to JOs. Robert’s point is right on. Relevance entails timeliness and timeliness for a fleet deployed across the world manned by JOs that grew up with email and facebook pages requires us to think beyond our existing means of communications (I do hear tell the Institute has some exciting new things in store).

    As we look at a Navy and MC where JOs aren’t speaking out, we should remember that the founding mission of this Institute has been to provide a forum for this very purpose since 1873. If JOs’ willingness to speak out is still a problem — or, perhaps more concerning, if that willingness was tempered in previous generations and is again returning to the fore (I don’t know which is the case) — then its not just the Navy and MC we need to be looking at. Particularly if the latter is the case, we must also look at the foremost Institution outside the Navy to which they are supposed to turn: ourselves.

  • Hope to hear more from you and other enlisted.

    I’ve observed that many of the most important innovators have little or no formal training. They think outside established patterns and see connections that others miss.

    On the other hand, there are lots of retirees who have nothing to loose, experience, and some understanding of the potential problems as well. Some of them are bloggers.

  • Hi Chuck,

    Some, indeed, are bloggers. Social media and blogs like this will, I predict, level a good portion of the playing field in this arena. It is a good thing to think outside the patterns—particularly when the existing patterns are so obviously flawed.

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    CDR Sal,

    Copy all on giving them too much grief. It was not my intent, though I do fear I came across as such. When I was at the panel I did feel a little exasperated by the fact that they said they wish they had a forum and network to utilize – and I think that sense came through in my words.

    However, in my discussion with you and others on facebook, I came to understand the concerns they voiced better. Where once I was thinking how we needed to change the mindset of JOs, I now think that it’s a better course of action to change the paradigm which we train JOs and enlisted to have – we need to remove what makes them afraid to discuss such matters.

    To do this, we need to train them, and make explicit what is and is not ok to say in regards to what they view as their challenges and the problems/solutions for the Navy. As it stands right now, it’s only a tacit understanding we have – mostly based upon personality of your boss – of what we can and cannot do in terms of professional discourse. So, the conversations happen at a whisper while on watch, the smoke and mess decks, and the wardroom. Let’s spell out for leaders and ship’s company what is and is not an appropriate way to read, think and write.

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    One other thing I think is important to note, is that in a best case scenario we’re still not going to have the majority of Sailors – enlisted and otherwise – actively engaging in the discourse. Last night in class my professor asked me if I could “simply define Twitter” and what it was. This lead to him asking who uses twitter in the class. I was the only person who has a twitter account.

    Most people just don’t care to carry such conversations, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with this or them. More so, we need to be able to find the people that are interested in such conversations and maximize the potential there. Step one of this is to make sure they are comfortable with the boundaries of what they can/cannot say, and how they can say it. The next step is to make sure they understand where they can have these conversations, and the final step is to support them in their intellectual growth.

  • I think writing is a professional responsibility. Naturally, it should come in a civil tone, remain within the broad context of sensible policy, and not violate classification. But sharing ideas from every level in the chain of command is what keeps us ready and capable in this turbulent 21st Century. President John Adams said, “Read, Think, Write”… I’d add, “and Publish — whatever your military rank.”

  • Robert

    Its great to beat the drum about read, think, and write but if writing is our professional responsibility, who has the responsibility to publish the output? Both sides of this equation must be improved. Currently for the non-GO/FO’s it takes a minimum of 10-12 weeks to have an article reviewed at Proceedings. If accepted as-is, it sits in the queue for months. This is no way to promote meaningful discourse.

    To some extent, Proceedings has become a public affairs tool for senior leadership. This promotes status quo thinking. How often do you see an active GO/FO write on a topic that is contrary to a current SECNAV, CNO or CMC policy or decision?

  • LCDR BJ Armstrong

    As for career risk, we need officers willing to take risks in their lives and careers:

    “Failure to dare is often to run the greatest of risks.” – Alfred Thayer Mahan (Naval Master, and the author of books we should all be reading).

    ADM Stavridis is right, it’s a professional responsibility as a Sailor and a warrior.

  • LCDR BJ Armstrong

    As for the “I can’t write”:

    “It is said the warrior’s is the twofold Way of pen and sword, and he should have a taste for both Ways. Even if a man has no natural ability he can be a warrior by sticking assiduously to both divisions of the Way.” – Miyamoto Musashi (Samurai Master and author the Japanese military classic The Book of Five Rings).

  • Butch Bracknell

    I was contacted by USNI yesterday accepting a piece I wrote and submitted for review in June 11 and which was actually published by in Sept ( ). I went to SWJ as an outlet because frankly I had assumed Proceedings wasn’t interested. The lag time is a disincentive to writers penning pieces on timely events. Syria, for example, is happening right now. In four months, it will have gone one way or the other…

  • Robert

    Did your article include passages such as:

    “It is the beginning of a weekend somewhere, but not for us. We waved goodbye to weekends and a myriad of never-before-appreciated freedoms when we raised our hands and swore to defend the Constitution. The obligation was taken freely, but a commission from the U.S. Air Force Academy is anything but a free ride. The commitment comes at a price paid out over four tumultuous years, followed by serving in far-flung assignments that often put lives on the line.

    Our angst was palpable, mixed with the muggy congestion of sweaty bodies and frustrated souls filling the corridor.”

    No, this is not from a romance novel, it actually appears in the current issue…

  • This is an excellent post and has hit on an important issue, which is the inability of our society anymore to understand the issue of boundaries. People have become less accepting of the premise that because someone has a different point of view-does not mean that they cannot act or obey the current orders in a professional manner. Professional and personal lives can be seperate, but fewer and fewer people are willing to judge by prfessional competence alone.

    The fear of retribution is real-and the interconnection caused by Google, Facebook and the rest allows even people who decide to write under a pen name to be visciously attacked.

    When people are afraid to speak their minds-or to even have a little fun with their writing-it speaks volumes about what is wrong with our society today.

    Orwell may have been right after all, just 35 years too early.

  • I was one of the panelists who took part on this forum. I think you raised a very good point, but you also missed the theme behind our answers. I can’t tell you how many people within industry and the military found us afterward and thanked us for saying what we did, because no one else had the guts to do it.

    I think if you rewatch it, the overarching theme is the need to allow for innovation in the military, and to recognize its value. This means letting junior officers and enlisted experiment with new ideas. I even mentioned Adm Stavridis’ innovation cells as a model to emulate.

    Tony (another of the panelists) has proposed multiple innovative, money saving solutions that he pushed to higher headquarters, only to hear loud silence (he talked about this too). In his spare time, Tony is a mobile app developer. This lack of understanding of the things shaping the modern world is what were fighting against.

    CAPT Moore, the moderator, was an acolyte of John Boyd back in the 1980s, and even referenced him in his initial statements as someone he wanted on his all-star panel. My criticisms of the bloated defense-industrial complex in fighter aviation were inspired by Boyd’s own fight against established Pentagon interests in the 1980s. I’d say Boyd’s spirit was in the room. Would he have been critical? Sure — he always was. That’s what keeps the dialogue going, as your post has helped do.

    The fact of the matter is we do read, think and write — its what takes up most of my free time. The panel (and Brian, one of the guys who asked a question) are some of the most well read people I’ve ever met. Autumn and I both blog at our own personal sites extensively. Just not in the forums you mentioned — check out Disruptive Thinkers to get a taste for what I’m writing about. This was part of my answer to you.

    As one of the other commentators mentioned, Proceedings is increasingly irrelevant because it takes months to publish (if it is accepted at all). I had a post on innovation in the SEALs yesterday that went viral on Hacker News within 30 minutes of putting it up. Which am I more likely to continue to contribute to? And based on the overwhelming number of hits it got, it seems that route holds more influence.

    We’ve done more than just talk and write about this stuff though. Disruptive Thinkers is more than my blog — its an organization my friends and I created to facilitate networking and solutions between young military innovators and successful civilian entrepreneurs. It’s growing like wildfire here in San Diego and we’ve already seen business ventures grow from our ideas. We hold monthly seminars to talk about the big issues, and come up with outside-the-box solutions. You should check us out. Writing is important, but so too is taking direct action on your ideas.

    Keep asking questions and looking for solutions. You’re absolutely right about young people being the drivers of innovation — again, it was the main focus of my initial speech and answers.

    I appreciate your post, even if I disagree with your take on the panel. Hopefully we’ll run across each other soon.

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III


    My intent in this post wasn’t to critique the pannel itself, and I apologize if it came across as such.

    As I say in the blog, I couldn’t understand why I was being told that there was concern about upsetting the chain of command by publishing – I have not experienced such fear. In the blog I am attempting to show how I have come to understanding such a point of view. In coming to this understanding, I have identified that none of the panelists – or anyone – are wrong for thinking as such. But, rather the system is wrong for imparting such a sentiment in the first place.

    Additionally, it was not my intention to give a summary of the Panel. This is why I ensured that the video was placed first, before I editorialized. What brought me to writing this blog was a comment I made on facebook and the ensuing discourse that resulted.

    Just today I caught a story from COMSUBFOR about the exact kinds of seminars you mention. I wrote about it here.

    I agree with you, Sir. Talking is easy, and it’s the doing that’s hard. I really hope to see more of what you guys are doing on the West Coast.

  • Something I think is relevant:

    ‘From Solitude and Leadership: If you want others to follow, learn to be alone with your thoughts,’ a lecture delivered to the plebe class at the United States Military Academy at West Point in October 2009 by William Deresiewicz:

    “…To quote Colonel Scott Krawczyk, your course director, in a lecture he gave last year to English 102: ‘From the very earliest days of this country, the model for our officers, which was built on the model of the citizenry and reflective of democratic ideals, was to be different. They were to be possessed of a democratic spirit marked by independent judgment, the freedom to measure action and to express disagreement, and the crucial responsibility never to tolerate tyranny.’ All the more so now. Anyone who’s been paying attention for the last few years understands that the changing nature of warfare means that officers, including junior officers, are required more than ever to be able to think independently, creatively, flexibly. To deploy a whole range of skills in a fluid and complex situation….”

  • To nhughes:

    You are right; those words are relevant. Many thanks for sharing!

    Yes, yes, yes: “Anyone who’s been paying attention for the last few years understands that the changing nature of warfare means that officers, including junior officers, are required more than ever to be able to think independently, creatively, flexibly. To deploy a whole range of skills in a fluid and complex situation….”

  • E Green

    As an enlisted lifetime member for over 20 years, I applaud you.

    There as been more and more coming from the deckplates over the last few years. Perhaps as the amount of intellectual capital decreases our commissioned leaders will utilize the talent available outside the wardroom.
    And remember, it’s not what you know that’s important, as much as the ability to ask the right questions and make the right decision. That skill does not always come with a degree.
    Keep asking the questions! And don’t worry about any issues arising from getting published!