Archive for March, 2012

Well, we had to deal with Vietnam’s Buddhist monks a few decades ago … I guess now it is China’s turn.

Vietnam said earlier this week that six Buddhist monks will soon take up residence on one of the Spratlys. The monks, who reportedly will stay for the next year, belong to the government-sanctioned wing of the Buddhist church.

In all seriousness though, this has all the ingredients; oil, sea lines of communication – and overlapping claims that adds fuel to it all.

…to re-establish abandoned temples on islands that are the subject of a bitter territorial dispute with China.

The temples were last inhabited in 1975, but were recently renovated as part of efforts to assert Vietnamese sovereignty over the Spratly Islands.

The monks’ delegation is being organised by the local authorities in the southern province of Khanh Hoa, which exercises administrative responsibility for the islands on behalf of Vietnam.

It has also paid for the refurbishment of the island shrines. They include three larger temples and several smaller ones.

The monks have been appointed abbots of the island temples for a six-month period.

Along with China and Vietnam, parts of the islands are claimed by the the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

To get the Monks there takes just a boat – to keep them there or to kick them off takes the ability to project naval power ashore.

Is this a provocation? Of course. The billion dollar question is; what national security concern is this of ours? If it isn’t, when does it become one, if at all?

As a general rule, no matter how bad I, or others around me may feel, I find the use of overly sensitive, politically correct feel-good-isms to band-aid the moment a totally insufferable social exercise. This is an essay about my hatred for those language band-aids and those that use them…it is also an essay that presents a positive leadership solution that, like all leadership solutions I have used or continue to use, I have blatantly stolen from someone much smarter than myself.

A based on real-life example of someone I hate using false-language to assuage a real problem.

Situation: John loses his job. Meets his buddy, “Guy”, at the local Starbucks. “Guy” is a save-the-world from his air conditioned apartment on his MacBook Pro type. John is an urban laborer. Not a lemming. Just a normal guy. John tells Guy that he just lost his job. Guy provides his Oprah Winfrey-widsoms.

(John listens)

“Well, John, man, that’s tough, but, ya know, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”


They both take a pull from their $4 concoctions and stare at the hot barista, thoughtfully. John leaves with a shrug having gained nothing from Guy’s kind words. Guy feels better about himself, opens his MacBook and blogs about places he’s never seen.

The problem with Guy’s feel-goody response (there are many) is not only that it was a corruption of a very important aspect of Nietzsche’s philosophy, but also that it was just plain stupid.

Nietzsche’s point was, ultimately, arguing that suffering is an imperative, not something that could or should be avoided, but rather that it is a natural life’s event that must be endured, embraced and overcome. To the point of being really stupid, Guy’s feel-goody adage-du-jour is so fantastically obtuse that he actually believes that John, who has a wife, two kids, a mortgage, and a mother with cancer that he is supporting, will actually find comfort being reminded that he is not, at this moment, actually dead. Thanks Guy, that helps me out a lot right now. You’re really stupid. I don’t need sympathy. I need a job. Also, your blog sucks.

I don’t say all of this because I’m cynical – I say all this because I’m a believer. I’m a believer in the good fight; I believe that humans can endure, and things can work out, if and only if we admit that it’s not going to be easy. And that’s why I hate Guy…

Such careful idioms and soft expressions are self-serving, indistinct and just plain boring. Feel-good words spoken to instantly connect with another in pain, sadness, or misery do much less to inspire confidence and much more, I think, to highlight a human being’s emotional ineptitude, in general, and our cowardice of character, specifically.

Better I think to shrug when we don’t have the answer and tell that person “I’ll be here for you” than to deliver a professorial speech on why “everything is going to be ok.” I say this because, well, everything is probably not going to be ok. Everything is probably going to be very, very bad. And no, it will not get better soon. Bad things usually get worse (much worse) before they get better. And isn’t it better to hear this from a friend? Or at least NOT hear that things are going to be just fine?

Such undemonstrative word fluff is predicated on the (incorrect) belief that everything in life (literally, every single minute) is supposed to be ‘great!’ (as if being ‘ok’ or, just plain ‘good’ means an unacceptable slip into some state of pre-depression) – this all firmly rooted in the (again, incorrect) belief that the state of nature is, in fact, one of disco, leisure suits, and Picardy breezers (or whatever your particular Utopia might be).

If I tell you that I’m having a bad day, your anemic moralizing does nothing to help me limp into the next minute of my life, collect myself, listen to my heart, gather my strength and continue the attack…that’s what dogs, stiff cocktails and old country music is for. I don’t expect you to have the answer, I just expect you to listen and pay for this round of drinks.

What’s even worse than the language fluff itself is when the person spewing the toxic blather actually believes that what they’re saying makes sense. I’d much rather be lied to for the sake of decorum than preached to for the sake of redemption – but I will listen to both forms of nonsense if you are buying the drinks.

All this leads me to the point of this article: if not PC-sensitivo, then what?

I found the answer to this question in the same place that I found the answer to most of life’s most important questions, in the Marine Corps.

In early 2006 a team of two traveling missionary-visionary-activist-adventurer-patriots came to our combat outpost along the Euphrates. We were all uniquely struck by these two men’s pluck and character. I attended their sermon, despite the fact that I hadn’t been to church since I was a child. They delivered a fantastic talk and what I took from that day I’ll never for the rest of my life forget…

Prior to their arrival that winter, I was a young lieutenant having trouble dealing with the grumblings of the junior Marines. I didn’t like to hear complaining, and it really angered me. Problem was, much of what the grumblings were about were legitimate complaints. I decided I didn’t want to hear it anymore, so I told my squad leaders to make sure no one complained around me. And the Marines, being the disciplined warriors they are stopped complaining within earshot of me. Ah. Much better. No more complaints from the men. (Personal leadership failure #254 that deployment = make decisions that make you “feel better” and leave your men feeling worse.) I’d walk around before a patrol, “hey there, Lance Corporal So-and-so, how are you today?” “Just fine, sir,” he’d reply. “Fantastic. Fantastic.” Then we’d push outside the wire into the strange world we were in, me feeling great about morale, country and Corps and that young Marine feeling terrible and sad because he’d just found out his fiancé was sleeping with the entire starting line up of the AA baseball team in his hometown.

And then I went to that talk by those two traveling missionaries. They told stories about their work in Africa and South America. They regaled us of adventures about some of the most poor and desperate people in the world and how, ultimately, it was a positive attitude and a certain honesty that led them to drive forward. Then they told us one of the most important leadership tools (and life lessons) I have ever heard: “and that’s just the way I like it!”

What does it mean?

Whenever a person has a complaint, they can tell you. Anything. Any complaint under the sun. The only catch is that they have to follow the complaint with the robust and positive affirmation: “and that’s just the way I like it!”

I loved this avowal! It was strong. It was exciting. It was revolutionary.

I rushed to my squad leaders and told them that anyone in the platoon could now say anything about anyone or anything, just so long as they finished it with, “and that’s just the way I like it!”

It changed our attitudes, lifted our spirits, and was, in my mind, a combat multiplier.

“Hey Lance Corporal So-and-So, how’s your day?” “Oh, sir, you know, I haven’t seen my friends or family in 200 days, my old man just lost his job, my boots melted to the asphalt yesterday and I’m about to go on a four hour patrol in 120 degree heat on the most heavily mined city in the world – and that’s just the way I like it!!”

“You don’t say! Well, have a good patrol.”

And then, not being able to do anything about the weather or his father’s job, my platoon sergeant and I could go and put in the paperwork for some new boots.

The Marines now had a vehicle that they could use to voice honest concerns, worries and complaints and get some of that darkness off of their chest, and I not only had the benefit of hearing those complaints as their platoon commander (and thus could be a better steward to them) but also had the advantage of not having to hear their complaints as complaints – they were now, somehow, an aggressively positive affirmation of what Marines believe anyway. That IS just they way we like it.

And so, in a world full of feel-goody false wisdoms and soft band-aid approaches to real problems, I recommend the actual “that’s just the way I like it”-wisdom of two pretty fascinating adventurers. It worked for us in combat. And it works for me today.

And in this way the philosophy of the Marine Corps, the traveling adventurers and Nietzsche are uniquely analogous…they did not promise us a rose a garden. We didn’t get one. And that’s just the way we like it.


On Midrats, Sunday 5pm, Episode 115: “Now Next With LtGen Van Riper”. CDR Salamander writes:

You have heard the phrase, “Well, I’ve seen this movie before.”

After over a decade of disjointed conflict that is still yet to play out, what have we learned, what do we still need to learn, and what do we need to forget?

Has the global threat that brought about the attacks of 11 SEP 01 been reduced, have they grown, or have they morphed in to something different?

To meet the challenge ahead, are we preparing our forces best intellectually, structurally, and materially?

Do we have the command climate and culture to encourage innovative and bright leaders to shape our approach to the unexpected challenges that we will face?

Our guest for the full hour will be Lieutenant General Paul K. Van Riper, USMC (Ret.). He served his nation with over 41 years of commissioned and enlisted service from the Dominican Republic crisis, to Vietnam, to DESERT STORM and more through retirement in 1997.

He continues to serve his nation in both the government and private sector with a depth of experience that yes, he’s “seen a lot of movies before.”

You may remember him as the leader of the war game OPFOR that used “swarm tactics” to get the games of to a “bad start” for the Blue Team. That’s part of a much bigger story. Tune in live by clicking here.

Or, you can’t make the live show, go that site or iTunes and download the show for later listening.

Posted by Mark Tempest in Podcasts | 1 Comment

Secretary Mabus, CNO Admiral Greenert, and Marine Commandant General Amos,

Suggest you read an effective, efficient explanation of the ramifications of a really bad idea over at Tom Ricks’ Foreign Policy blog.

Some highlights:

I wonder if the enhancement in personal readiness occasioned by breathalyzers will be worth the trade-off in flagging morale, professional insult, and perceptions of detached, out of touch senior leadership…

This is among the most paternalistic, professionally insulting concepts I’ve seen in all my years of service, and I’m not sure I will submit. Yes, I know my options, and I just may exercise them and go right over the side the first time the duty blowmeister shoves a plastic tube in my face and treats me like a drunk driver for daring to report for duty. To the CNO, CMC, CMC of the Navy, and SgtMaj of the Marine Corps, here’s my question: At what point will one of you four exercise your duty to tell the Secretary of the Navy, “Hey, Boss, WTF, over?” and that he really ought to fire whichever clown came up with this idea (?)

And, an additional observation:

Leaders exercising their solemn duty to junior sailors and Marines, who have even a modicum of intuition about their charges, can figure out who is sucking the worm out of the bottle every night without resorting to the extraordinary insulting and distrustful measure of breathalyzing every shipmate who steps across the brow and every Marine who marches into a gun park.

Please read the rest. There are some additional and very cogent points about the damage this exceedingly unwise little contrivance will cause.

Trust, like loyalty, is very much a two-way street. Trust is also a funny thing. Like an ornate hand-painted vase, it takes great dedication and hard work, and not a little inspiration, to create; yet just one instance of careless handling can shatter it into a thousand pieces. Even if one was so inclined to spend the time required to glue all of those pieces back together, the result is never quite nearly the same.

These Sailors and Marines have stood watch and fought two wars in the last decade. They have sacrificed, fought, bled, and died doing their duty. They are magnificent. They have given you, all of you, far more reasons for you to trust them than you have for them to trust you. The stars on the collar, the wide stripes on the sleeve, the nameplate on the big desk, those things are purely ornamental if you don’t earn the trust and respect of those you lead each day anew. Just as every Second Lieutenant and Ensign, every Chief Petty Officer and Gunnery Sergeant must do. Every day.

You are marching quick-time toward shattering that trust and breaching the loyalty of those you lead. The reasons that make this entire course of action seem like a good idea are inconsequential compared to the negative consequences of implementing this professionally insulting and terribly misguided policy. Your junior leaders, commissioned and non-commissioned, are telling you so, and loudly, even if the Generals and Admirals haven’t the courage to do so.

Good leaders listen, instead of ignoring sage advice. Now is just such a time.


h/t to LtCol P and to “John Paul Lejeune”


Recently a string of new policies and programs have washed over the decks of our Navy. We’re told they are designed to address everything from the surge in CO firings, to alcohol abuse, to the identified need to increase “diversity.” Training, trackers, new layers of bureaucratic offices, and new ways of testing/identifying the “bad apples” are all in the works. Some of the initiatives appear more connected to reality than others. The issues, like sexual assault and substance abuse, are serious and are challenges that our Navy should be addressing. In many cases, however, we are attempting to install programmatic and bureaucratic solutions to what are essentially humanistic problems. These are problems of leadership, character, and integrity and must be addressed with wisdom as much as programs and bureaucracy.

In 2009, at the annual TED conference Professor Barry Schwartz gave a talk entitled “Our Loss of Wisdom.” In it he discussed the risks involved with programmatic responses to human problems and warned about the dangers of bureaucratic solutions. He pointed out that most bureaucracies immediately knee jerk to two possible solutions: more rules and “smarter” incentives. But many times these regulations cause people to think about doing things they wouldn’t have considered before, and incentives cause people to ask themselves “what can I get for it” rather than “what is right.” In thinking about many of our new policies, I couldn’t help but make connections between our challenges, our Navy’s responses to those challenges, and the points Dr. Schwartz makes in the following video of the presentation. Read the rest of this entry »

Jane Taylor at the U.S. Naval Academy

“The world is a vampire.” So begins every episode of Animal Planet’s top-rated program “Whale Wars,” about the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s efforts to stop Japanese whaling in southern waters. One of the crew members featured on Season Two was Jane Taylor, a 2002 Naval Academy graduate and former Surface Warfare Officer. During a recent visit to Annapolis, Taylor also took the time to answer some questions for the U.S. Naval Institute Blog. She spoke to a broader audience at USNA sponsored by the Forum for Emerging and Irregular Warfare Studies – that talk was taped by the U.S. Naval Institute and can be found at the end of this post. For additional perspectives on Sea Shepherd, readers are welcomed to read Chris Rawley’s posts at

USNI: The missions of the Navy and animal rights activists are different. Why did you apply to the Naval Academy?
Jane Taylor: In high school I participated in the Junior ROTC program; it was the Army side and I knew that I wanted to pay my own way through college so I applied for ROTC and the Service academies. I did know it was going to be Navy because I’m a water person and so when I got my appointment I accepted the Naval Academy based on the beautiful catalogue and my father urging me to go there as opposed to a civilian school with ROTC.

Read the rest of this entry »


More information here

The Navy announced on Feb. 14 that the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) will shift its layberth from Baltimore, Md., to Naval Station (NS) Norfolk to save $1.7 million in the initial year and $2.1 million for following years. Although this is significant savings to help reduce our defense budget, a larger question is, “is keeping hospital ships still worth it?” Eventually the Navy will decide this question but here are a few issues for the Navy to consider:

Does medical diplomacy work? One can argue medical diplomacy improves strategic relations with foreign countries by providing free medical care “to win hearts and minds.” The most visible medical diplomacy is using hospital ships such as the USNS MERCY and the USNS COMFORT. In response to the 2004 Tsunami, USNS MERCY deployed and provided medical care to tsunami victims inIndonesia and other affected areas. A more recent example is the USNS COMFORT deploying toHaiti to help earthquake victims.

In “Let’s have a Fleet of 15 Hospital Ships” LT Jim Dolbow argues the U.S. enjoyed a huge favorable swing in public opinion after MERCY’s 2005 humanitarian mission. According to Terror Free Tomorrow  following MERCY’s visit, a remarkable 85 percent of Indonesians and 95 percent of the people of Bangladesh were favorable to MERCY’s mission. Because of such positive response, the United States conducts biannual deployments with its hospital ships for theatre security cooperation missions. Hospital ships support a larger maritime strategy by enabling the Navy’s expanded core competency of “humanitarian assistance and disaster response.”

On the other hand, in “The Decline of America’s Reputation: Why?” it states following the 2004 tsunami, ratings only increased from 15 to 38 percent. There was not a similar rise in Pakistan after U.S. earthquake relief in 2005. This is quite a contrast compared to the Terror Free Tomorrow poll. In 2007, the Pew Research Center wrote “the impact of this humanitarian assistance should not be overstated – most of the same misgivings aboutAmerica seen throughout the Muslim world can be found inIndonesia andPakistan, and solid majorities in both countries continue to have a negative impression of the U.S.”

What are some costs of hospital ship medical care? In “Advancing Humanitarian Aid: Infusing the era of hope with a dash of accountability”, Professor Leslie F. Roberts argues much of the aid has little influence. Roberts notes “between 21 January and 11 March, the [COMFORT] with its 10 surgical theatres served 871 patients. Data presented by a senior USAID official suggested, excluding medical personnel costs, this highly visible relief effort cost >US$30,000 per patient. While this may be typical of the costs for similar surgeries in Western Europe or North America, it is orders of magnitude over expected surgical costs in humanitarian settings, or hospitals in Port-au-Prince.” Per the Daily Caller, “The Navy spent 2 million gallons of fuel treating fewer than 1,000 people – if it’s using marine fuel which is roughly $4 a gallon, that’s $8 million in fuel. That’s roughly $9,184 per patient, just to keep fuel in the tanks.” This seems like a lot of money to spend when theUnited States citizens have difficulty paying their own medical bills.

What if the United States Government got rid of hospital ships? If there were no hospital ships, other countries would not expect theU.S. to deploy one to give out free medical care. Warships can conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Amphibious ships such as the USS BOXER and aircraft carriers such as the USS NIMITZ have robust medical facilities and have superior boat and helicopter transport. Money saved by getting rid of hospital ships can be diverted to improving medical facilities on regular warships already forward deployed around the globe.

Do hospital ships provide benefits that a warship cannot? When the tsunami hit Indonesia in 2004, it took approximately a month for MERCY to arrive in Indonesia. The arrival was too late to treat initial wounds. U.S. Navy ships such as the Abraham Lincoln were already on station within days. In “Developing Soft Power Using Afloat Medical Capability”, CDR Salamander pointed out, “a study conducted by Center for Naval Analyses on host nation impact based on the recent T-AH and LHA/LHD 21 humanitarian assistance deployments reveals that ‘it does not matter whether it was a hospital ship or an amphibious ship as both ships functioned equally well in terms of positive impact to the host nations.’ . . . Speed of response is the most critical element of a successful humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operation. The ability to move people, equipment, and supplies throughout the operational area determines whether the operation is a success. Both hospital ship and amphibious ship are the right platforms for humanitarian missions, with the latter having an advantage on disaster response due to speed and global forward presence.”

No matter the results of this decision, the Navy will continue its expanded core competency to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief close to our shores and abroad.

The last decade has brought two aspects of the law and its interaction with the U.S. military in to sharp focus: first “Lawfare” in the application of force overseas, and second the proper constitutional role of the U.S. military internal to the United States and towards its civilian population.

What has changed, where do we stand today, and where are are we headed?

Our guest will be Charles J. Dunlap, Jr., Major General, USAF (Ret.), the Executive Director, Center on Law, Ethics and National Security and a Visiting Professor of the Practice at Duke University School of Law.

Join us live if you can (click here), but if you miss the show you can always listen to the archive at blogtalkradio – or, in the alternative, get the show (and download the archive to your audio player) is to get a free account and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

Posted by Mark Tempest in Podcasts | No Comments

Tomorrow, 11 March 2012, the storied USS Enterprise (CVN-65) will leave home port to ply the world’s oceans for the 22nd, and last time. As she is about to head toward Middle Eastern waters, the Associated Press published a nice piece about her, and the challenges that her crew of 4,000 face in keeping a ship that is older than most of their parents operating and ready.

Since SWMBO reminded me how expensive picture books were to print, I figured I would take advantage of this newfangled internet thing to post some pictures of the Big E, and relate some things about her 52 years in service. A good deal of these pictures will come from familiar places, such as, and DANFS, as well as some others included from various spots.

Enterprise under construction in Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, 1960

Christening, September 24th, 1960

Enterprise in original configuration, perhaps on sea trials, with no embarked air wing. She reportedly exceeded 40 knots.

It is staggering to think of a ship 52 years in commission. How long is that? Here are some facts about Enterprise and her history:

The sitting Secretary of the Navy, William B. Franke, whose wife christened CVAN-65, had been born in 1894. He lived to be 85, and still died 33 years ago.

Enterprise’s first CO, Captain Vincent P. de Poix, Annapolis ’39, had been a World War II aviator, and is still with us at 95!

In February of 1962, Enterprise stood by to assist with the recovery of the first American to orbit the Earth, LtCol John Glenn, USMC, in Mercury 6.

Enterprise was a part of the Second Fleet force that established the “Naval quarantine” of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, October, 1962.

Iconic photo of Enterprise (CVAN-65), Long Beach (CGN-9 next to starboard), and Bainbridge (DLGN-25) during 30,000 mile unrefueled global circumnavigation, June, 1964 (Operation SEA ORBIT)

Enterprise was the first nuclear powered warship ever to operate in a combat zone, off Vietnam, December, 1965.

Enterprise remains the longest warship ever to put to sea at 1,102 feet, 2 inches.

On May 24th, 2011, a Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet of VFA-11 made arrested landing number 400,000 on Enterprise.

When Enterprise joined the fleet in October of 1961, she was one of 24 carriers, and the only nuclear-powered carrier, in a Navy of 870 ships. Today she is one of 11 nuclear-powered carriers in a Navy of 285 ships.

Flames on aft flight deck from fire that killed 28 Sailors and destroyed fifteen aircraft, 14 January 1969

Enterprise after 1979-82 modernization at Puget Sound

Enterprise deployed to Vietnam six times, Operation SOUTHERN WATCH three times, Operation ENDURING FREEDOM four times (about to be five), and Operation IRAQI FREEDOM three times. Her CO, Captain William Hamilton, was not yet three years old when Enterprise was commissioned, her XO would not be born for another five years.

Enterprise celebrates her 50th, November 2011

Best of luck to all the Officers and Sailors who crew this venerable old warship. She carries a glorious name proudly. One day you can tell your grandchildren you sailed on her. When you return, she will pass from the Navy list and into history.

But perhaps her name can live on with CVN-80. There always should be an Enterprise in the US Navy.

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