Archive for May, 2012

The conversation on professional naval issues is alive and well. It happens in many forums and at many levels. From seamen on the mess decks to admirals in the Pentagon, wardrooms to Proceedings, the conversation is happening, but what are we talking about? My feeling is that the conversation is weighted entirely on the strategic level. Heated discussions occur on how many ships should be in the Navy? How many carriers should we have? Is China the next Russia? These are all important conversations that should continue but we are missing something important. Where are the conversations about how best to tactically incorporate new systems like the LCS and the predator drone? Where were the tactical lessons learned from Operation New Dawn? What is the best way to find and approach pirates off Somalia? In the last year there has been a call out to Junior Officers to join the professional discussion. However, the discussion that was happening was at the strategic level. Junior Officers have something to add in that arena as well, but the strategic level issues are not the ones that most JOs handle every day. As a Junior Officer we should be reading, writing, and studying to perfect our knowledge of the tactical employment of whatever platform we are on. That is what the JO discussion should focus on and we as a community are not fostering that discussion.

Naval Officers join the navy to lead sailors and be officers in the profession of maritime war. We did not join Maersk or MSC. Those sailors are excellent at their craft but that is not us. I joined to be a Surface Warfare Officer but I have to seek out the conversation that supports the warfare side of my community. In the CNOs “Sailing Directions” he says that we need “warfighting first, be ready to fight and win today, while building the ability to win tomorrow”. But could we do it if we were called on? We have the platforms but do we know how best to employ them in combat? Instead of talking tactics we have been preparing for the next certification or inspection. While the country has been heavily involved in two land wars, the navy has been largely at peace, and we have gotten complacent in our thoughts.

Twenty-six years ago, Captain Wayne Hughes wrote Fleet Tactics: Theory and Practice, which is still regarded as one of the preeminent works on Naval Tactics. In it he stated “Good tactics in wartime derive from good tactical study in peacetime” and then went on to state:

Articles on tactics should dominate the Naval Institute Proceedings, as they did in the period from 1900 to 1910. The hard core of the Naval War College curriculum should be naval operations, as it was in the 1930s. War games should stress not merely training and experience but the lessons learned from each game’s outcome, as in the 1920s and 1930s.

I don’t know that tactics need to dominate the entire naval discussion, as with most things in the Navy, it is important to have a “hi low mix”. The discussion also no longer has to be limited to Proceedings. USNI would like to have more discussion on tactics there, but so would the USNI blog, Information Dissemination, CIMSEC, Sailorbob, Small Wars Journal, Alidade and a host of other online forums. This is a huge topic and there is enough to go around for all.

In many of these forums innovation has been a buzzword recently. LT Benjamin Kohlman started a wonderful conversation about Disruptive Thinking and innovation on the Small Wars Journal Blog that has gone viral. I have thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. I agree with many of his points and I do believe that innovation at all levels is important; however, as Wayne Hughes would say, technical innovation without tactical innovation that will incorporate new technologies is useless in naval battle.

One thing that is hindering the open discussion of tactics is the concern that it will endanger classified information. Many believe that it is impossible to have a true discussion of tactics in an unclass forum. This is not true. Those that are in the conversation need to be very careful to know what is and what is not classified but there are plenty of important conversations that can be debated and learned from in an open forum. The use of historical examples, hypothetical environments, and general tactical principles all provide ways to have that open discussion without crossing the boundary into the classified realm.

The conversation on tactical innovation is especially important for the Junior Officers but it should not be limited to them. Senior officers and those that have gone before us have a wealth of knowledge on tactics. They have been there and know where the sinkholes are. Only by learning what has been done before can we keep from making the same mistakes over again. We have the forums. Once again it is time for us to read, think, speak and write about tactics.

We all know the phrase that nothing is more dangerous than a terminal-CDR. Ahem. Maybe ….

Well – all 4-stars are terminal, in a fashion – and when a 4-star is about to head out of the service at the pinnacle of their career, a cynic might look askew at last minute conversions – but I don’t think that is always fair. There can be something else going on when a Admiral or General goes off the reservation; “The Craddock Effect.”

In May 2009 as General Craddock was heading out the door at SHAPE, he gave a speech that said what everyone inside the lifelines knew about NATO and AFG and the story of half-truths we all sold. It was nice to hear in the open what was said behind closed doors – but one had to wonder what the impact might have had if he made the speech a year or so earlier in mid-tour – when he wasn’t a lame duck – when the full truth of his opinion could have informed the public debate … but … it was what it was.

There is a lot be be said for working within the system. Highly successful men and women get to where they are by having a track record of “making it happen” without burning those they work for and with. They often think that once they reach a certain level – then they can make things work. It usually doesn’t work that way.

When they they are running out of time or after soaking long enough that they reach a moment of clarity – often a refreshing wave of candor can come from a senior leader. It is a wave that isn’t quite at odds with what they have said in the open before – but sounds more like the missing chapters of a book half read.

In that light – over at his CFFC blog, Admiral Harvey has a post out that from my perspective is, in a word; remarkable. It is somewhere between a splash of cold water and sobering slap to the face to the professional drift our Navy has been under for a decade+.

This is Admiral Harvey from his blog;

When I look at some of the big issues we’ve encountered over the past three years with programs such as LPD-17, Aegis 7.1.2, VTUAV (Fire Scout), and the many software programs (e.g. R-Admin) installed on our ships, it is apparent to me that we were not doing our jobs with a focus on the end user, our Sailors. In these instances, the desire/need to deliver the program or system became paramount; we did not adhere to our acquisition standards and failed to deliver whole programs built on foundations of technical excellence. Then we accepted these flawed programs into the Fleet without regard to the impact on our Sailors.

Yes, yes – great Neptune’s trident – YES! Sailors are our greatest asset – not our most costly liability.

I would personally add two things – everyone and Admiral Harvey knows this problem is much older than his three years at CFFC – and to change this will take the right people in the right places in power. How do we get them there? Hard question.

His comments are so spot on. Just to drag out the usual suspect; designing manning plans for LCS that has Sailor burn-out considered a feature as opposed to a bug, and is baked in to the design that we will have to deal with for decades? How do you fix that? … but let’s not get in the Admiral’s way here;

… we have entered a period in which the resources we have now and can expect in the future will no longer support the behaviors of the past. The likelihood of decreasing budgets and increasing demand for Naval forces leave us with no margin for delivering poorly designed, poorly delivered or unnecessarily burdensome programs to the Fleet. We must keep the Fleet and our Sailors at the center of the programs, systems and platforms we deliver and ensure operational effectiveness is the bottom line of our efforts, not simply increased efficiencies.

Though my selfish side wishes he put this out years ago, the professional side of me has to give him a nod to a timing that he felt worked best given his responsibilities. More responsibilities do not always translate in to more freedom to speak.

I’ve been a fan of Admiral Harvey’s curious intellect, open mind, and tolerance of other views for a long time, and this is a very welcome addition to the conversation that must be brought to the front – larger, louder, and to more readers.

To fix these problems, the hour is already late, and more delay just means a more difficult fix later.

There is more at his post to to reflect on what is creating the dysfunction we have watched over the last decade in our Navy. Admiral Harvey states the catalyst for his post was the book by Bob Lutz, the Vice Chairman for Product Development at General Motors; Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business. When you think of GM from the last few decades, one car that should be in anyone’s “GM Bottom 5” would be the Pontiac Fiero. As a smart friend pointed out to me at the linked article;

The Pontiac Fiero an economy commuter car? That’s how GM marketed the sporty coupe, which was Pontiac’s first 2-seater since 1938. GM had originally intended the Fiero to be a sports car (hence, the Ferrari-sounding name), but budget constraints forced them to ditch the original suspension design and steal parts from other GM cars. The result was a sporty coupe that didn’t actually deliver racing performance with a meager 98-hp 2.5-liter I4 engine in a heavy body.

Sure, let’s go there again to what remains the poster child to what Admiral Harvey describes – to the gift that keeps on giving.

Isn’t speed and handling performance are most important for a sports car? Likewise, aren’t offensive and defensive firepower performance the most important for a warship? With the similar failure of basic core competencies – couldn’t one say “GM:Pontiac Fiero” as “USN:LCS?”

Another quote from Admiral Harvey’s post;

… upon his return to GM, Lutz found that the design teams had moved away from an organization focused on product excellence and the end user – the customer – and instead transformed into a company driven by complex business processes, executive boards and working groups focused on eliminating “waste,” “streamlining” operations, and achieving “efficiencies.” As a result, GM produced generations of automobiles that met all the technical and fiscal internal targets yet fell far short of the mark in sales – what really counted.

Does that sound like OPNAV/NAVSEA track record as of late? Designing warships that meet all the technical and fiscal internal targets (except maybe cost, stealth, IOC, etc), but fail to meet the fundamental test of warfighting capability?

Interesting thing about the Fiero – by 1988 they actually go the design right – but by then it was too late and most of the run was – ahem – sub-optimal. Is that where we are going with LCS? The first 43 sub-optimal …. but the last dozen, success!?

Bravo Zulu to Admiral Harvey for putting this out there. Maybe after a few years with the gold watch and reflection, down the road someone might go with a Shoomaker option – I don’t know. In the word of the American songwriter Kris Kristofferson; freedom’s just another word for nothing else to lose.

Admiral Harvey – enjoy your freedom.

PACIFIC OCEAN (May 8, 2012) The guided-missile frigate USS Nicholas (FFG 47) conducts a passing exercise with USS Underwood (FFG 36) in the Pacific Ocean. Underwood is deployed to Central and South America and the Caribbean in support of Southern Seas 2012. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stuart Phillips/Released)

Mark Faram of the Navy Times has scored an article many reporters have been seeking for years – one of those ‘come out and ride my ghetto ride’ type articles, which in the Navy means a trip on one of the frigates. USS Elrod (FFG 55) is only 27 years young serving on what my be her second to last deployment. Not bad, considering the Oliver Hazard Perry frigates are one of the few surface combatant classes in decades where a large portion of the ships will actually serve their full designed life cycle.

The article has a very detailed section described as Tough Life, and it begins like this:

This is Worcester’s second tour on Elrod and third on a frigate. He made chief onboard Elrod and is proud to be back as the ship’s top enlisted sailor.

“I feel there’s something special about these ships and the type of sailor it produces,” he said. “Grow up in this environment and you’ll be a better sailor for it — our sailors don’t just survive, they thrive.”

That sentiment is echoed up and down the ranks. Life is tough onboard the 453-foot-long, 45-foot-wide ship. The gear is old and has a tendency to break. But still, Worcester said, the mission gets done because of the crew.

“We’ve got old machinery that doesn’t always work. In fact, we still have electronic gear in here that uses vacuum tubes. You know how hard that is to fix?” Richards said.

Even worse, he said, is the lack of spare parts. Many of the companies that provided the gear in the 1970s and 1980s are now out of business, causing Elrod and the other frigates to scrounge for parts and often make their own.

“And that’s where our sailors benefit,” Richards said. “Sailors learn their jobs best by doing them, by tearing down gear and rebuilding it — and this is a real hands-on environment for them to learn.”

The entire article is well written, so credit the journalist, but it still amuses me how the hard work by a sailor on a 27 year old frigate is romanticized on the internet while the hard work by a sailor on the newer Littoral Combat Ships is somehow akin to cleaning the heads with your own toothbrush. I got started in my IT career with old mainframes that used vacuum tubes, and anyone who romanticizes any aspect of working with that technology needs a drug test.

But this isn’t really a story about technology, because the sad truth about the Oliver Hazard Perry class is that the ships have long been obsolete. What this article is really about is how truly fantastic sailors in the US Navy are, and how lucky the nation is that we the nation can put virtually any ship in the hands of our well trained, motivated, professional sailors and the sum of the ship + crew is often greater than the ship itself. The old idiom is correct – necessity is the mother of innovation, and in the case of the frigates the necessity for the hulls has been fostering innovation in sailors towards keeping the ships relevant despite the ships being obsolete years ago when their combat capabilities were sacrificed to the alter of the accountants.

What made this article in Navy Times a great read for me was the candid commentary of Senior Chief Gunner’s Mate (SW/AW) Asa Worcester, the ship’s command senior chief. His words are no different than what one will hear from most senior chief’s on any ship in the fleet, only that it is refreshing to see where ownership of the ship and everything associated with the ship – good and bad – is captured in a public news story. When discussing the reduced size of the crews on frigates today, “That’s not a bitch, that’s a fact that we live with every day ‘cause the mission still has to get done,” Worcester says.

We are three decades into the life of the Oliver Hazard Perry class, almost as long into the Ticonderoga class cruisers, and over 2 decades into the Arleigh Burke class destroyers – and in these three ship classes there are many examples of public demonstrations of pride by sailors who have or are serving on these vessels – and the public perception of those classes today is a reflection of that pride expressed by those sailors. Basically, they sold us long ago on how good the ships are, even though an honest assessment would highlight any number of flaws in the ships. In the real world ships have flaws, big deal – sailors find ways to work around them and in some cases find virtue in the challenges and solutions. Thus is the nature of ships and sailors going back centuries – if not a few millenia if we were to ask the ancient Greeks.

Before 2 years ago, sailors didn’t publicly say much of anything nice about LPD-17, but over the last two years, story after story (outside the Navy’s own information machine) has changed the perception of that ship class – indeed one might suggest Lucien has done that to some degree discussing his old ship USS San Antonio (LPD 17) on these blog pages.

I just thought it was worth observing that as sailors take ownership of their ships (including the unique challenges that come with all new ships), the perception of a ship can change fairly quickly right before our eyes, often leaving critics to shout in a vacuum of mirrors. Once upon a time the Oliver Hazard Perry class was a highly criticized program, indeed the first Oliver Hazard Perry class ship to field the three major capabilities touted for the FFG-7 class: RAST + Link 11 + LAMPS III – was USS Underwood (FFG 36), or said another way the Navy commissioned 35 OHP frigates without the 3 big promised capability upgrades, and the Navy was heavily criticized at the time for doing so. Few remember those kind of details these days, because history is written at the end of a story, not in the middle of the beginning which is where we find the LCS story today.

It is going to be fascinating to observe the Littoral Combat Ship classes as they head from their initial phases of operations and early deployments towards a true networked battle force contributor, because as ships get fielded and more sailors get engaged with the new ships – and most importantly innovate capabilities by taking ownership of the LCS and the associated unique challenges of the LCS program (to include the modules – not just the first three either), it is a virtual certainty the perception of LCS will change over time, just as it always been with every other new class of ship over the last century.

What makes it different with LCS? I am not sure it really is different, although an argument can be made that the information age has impacted the public perception of the LCS. Mass information on any subject in the information age gives the effect of amplifying problems, but as we have seen with LPD-17 recently, it also amplifies opportunities as they emerge over time, which means we can expect it will also amplify the perspective of the LCS sailors who for the most part, haven’t even begun to tell their stories yet.

Posted by galrahn in Navy | 4 Comments

You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children’s children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done – Ronald Reagan
Through the years we’ve observed Memorial Day on these pages in a variety of ways. Through it all, we’ve sought to instill a sense of perspective and context to an occasion that, unfortunately, most have come to recognize as a mere green light for the frivolous pursuits of the summer season.
We’ve offered a first person perspective:

Some number of years later the memory came flooding back as we learned of the terrible news. It had been while flying a low-level anti-ship cruise missile supersonic profile for a destroyer. Just a training hop. He’d taken time off from his post-command staff job to climb back in the cockpit he so dearly loved. The big Tomcat was there one minute – and gone in a cloud of flame, smoke and vapor. Little was found – and a good friend, a husband, father, and fighter NFO beyond compare was gone. CAPT Scott “Scooter” Lamoreaux, USN. Bounty Hunter One. Rest easy Scooter and know that while we all miss you, we each have our memories. Mine forever of an orange and white jet with the countenance not unlike a guppy, suspended against the Florida sky and two young buck aviators, intense on the task at hand and loving every second of it with grins a mile-wide, yet hidden behind an O2 mask, having the time of their life… Flightdeck Friday: T-2C Edition


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Posted by SteelJaw in History | 3 Comments

USCG photo by Seaman Ivan J. Barnes


I honestly try not to dwell on the casualties of war. Not that I don’t have a heart; in fact, the exact opposite is true… I probably care too much. Nor have I given any serious thought to the wars beyond the current conflicts we’ve all watched unfold on the television since 2001.

However, this changed as of yesterday morning while I was listening to my wife try to explain to my daughters what a door gunner does; the job my father-in-law had as a helicopter mechanic in Vietnam. This came about when a vet walked past our van, which has a Virginia Coast Guard license plate, saying thank you for my service to which my wife and swiftly returned the thank you.

As we continued our day I continued thinking about what Memorial Day really was? Sure we know it’s the day we take pause and thank those who’ve given their lives for their country. Or perhaps it’s simply a three-day weekend for others. I’m guessing most outside of the military centric world of which I reside don’t give much thought as to why they are getting a three-day weekend. I don’t fault them though. The U.S. has fallen short on remembering our fallen. That, of course, is my own opinion.

I didn’t have to think too long though in terms of its meaning to Ryan. I didn’t lose any family members to the wars of past. I know of three family members who’ve fought in wars since World War II/Vietnam and they retuned. The combined U.S. deaths of these two wars alone was: 463,608. That equates to 463,608 people, and their families, I should be thanking for the safe return of two Grandfathers and a father-in-law. More so that is 463,608 people I should be thanking for the freedoms afforded to the people of the United States and other free nations of the era.

Memorial Day is not about the long weekend, nor the day itself. It’s about those who’ve died in battle to ensure you can live the way you do; to vote the way you do; to wake up knowing that you are in a free county- the way you do. I’m tempted to go on a rant as to how this county has seemingly given up on caring about those who’ve perished… but I won’t. Not today.

Monday, 28 May 2012 is Memorial Day. I’m not asking you to visit military grave sites to see the numbers yourself, nor am I asking you to go out and find a veteran who may have lost their best friend in battle. What I am asking, however, is that you and your family reflect for only a moment- whether in silence or discussion- as to what Memorial Day is and means. It doesn’t matter if you know someone who died or not… don’t let the reason for the day be lost on that fact that you don’t think it directly affects you today. Though you know it or not- it has.

To lean more about Memorial Day check out these links:

I’ve got another post rattling around my brain for Memorial Day. But, I don’t want to clutter that post with some other sentiments I also wish to share over this Memorial Day weekend.

We honor the fallen over Memorial Day. The evocative photos that are typically shown are those of Arlington, or the Cemeteries here in Belgium. My Shipmates and I are spending the weekend doing what should be done to honor those who have gone before us and given that last full measure of devotion to their Nation. But, all too often, and far too easily, the next to last measure of devotion isn’t given the proper amount of remembrance–integrity.

My good friend Scott Shipman, shared a recording on facebook from C-SPAN of Col. John Boyd speaking before the House Armed Services Committee in 1991 on the effectiveness of our Armed Forces in that war. His timing is particularly poignant, as it made my sentiments here come to the forefront of my thinking on this Memorial Day Weekend.

You meet them often; those among us who are scrupulous in their integrity. They generally go about their duties without much fanfare; they do not necessarily draw attention to themselves and just accomplish the tasks their Nation has laid out before them. Many of them do not have awards for Valor, they do not have stories from our recent wars in which they accomplished something great. They are our unsung heros who do their duty and hold to a higher degree of integrity that most are capable of.

I’ve known a few such women and men in my career, both officer and enlisted. When I’ve seen them do something that was emblematic of having integrity, I’ve not pointed out to them what they’ve done–there’s no point in that, as they do comport themselves as such for recognition. But, I would watch it all unfold, and smile to myself, and feel proud to wear the cloth of the Nation as they do.

On this memorial day, think of them as well. They may not have given that last full measure, but they do their duty in a way that is just as important and worth honoring.

A week after Galrahn — mostly in passing — raised the question of whether there would someday be a replacement program for the Cyclone-class coastal patrol boats, the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command announced the award of a $30 million contract for the first of as many as 48 85-foot Mark VI-class patrol boats, slated for delivery in 2014. Less than half the length of the Cyclones, the Mark VIs are slated to replace even smaller craft with the Maritime Expeditionary Security Force (MESF), not the Cyclone PCs (five of which are forward deployed in Bahrain).

But as the MESF scales up, how does that change the middle, in-between space that exists between the forthcoming Mk VI boats and the two Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) configurations? The LCS program is well chronicled here, and that is not the question I hope to raise. The reality is that the Navy has 20 LCS hulls in the works, which will slowly overtake the remaining Oliver Hazard Perry frigates outfitted with the same 25mm Mk38 Mod 2s as the new Mk VIs. And as Galrahn points out, the remaining Cyclones — even with upgrades — are inching inexorably towards the end of their service lives without any programmed replacement.

Whatever the changes to the space between the Mk VIs and the LCS, the space in-between still seems pretty enormous. And it is a critical space, however the Department of the Navy decides to count it in terms of battle force ships. Global maritime traffic and the sea lanes the U.S. Navy is charged with guaranteeing continue to become more crowded and congested. Many of these essential waterways — the Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca — are neither appropriately nor efficiently covered by large, high-end surface combatants.

How much, on the one end of the spectrum, can the LCS cover — as it exists today, not as it was envisioned? And has doctrine and force structure planning caught up to this new reality? What additional capability does the Mk VI promise at the opposite end of the spectrum? As the U.S. Coast Guard once rode several of the Cyclone-class PCs hard to help manage gaps in coverage, should the Navy now be looking closely at the USCG’s new Sentinel class Fast Response Cutters? And as an institution, how does the Navy view this space? Is it appropriately incentivized as a career path? Does it dedicate enough resources to thinking about — much less managing — it?

Two reality checks. First: Iran’s ability to threaten safe passage through the Strait of Hormuz has been a clear and present danger for years now. As the War in Iraq began to deteriorate, Iranian aggressiveness mounted — and then the global economy began to struggle, only heightening Iran’s leverage by means of threatening the Strait. Yet only recently, was there a force posture shift in the Gulf. Right now, four additional Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships are enroute to Bahrain to reinforce the four already forward deployed there — as well as British and other allied minesweepers. Additional MCM helicopters and the USS Ponce (currently being converted) are not far behind. They join five Cyclone-class patrol boats. The only question to my mind is why now, and what took so long? Is this latent appreciation of the imperative to provide a compelling capability — compelling not on paper, or in pure military terms, but compelling to the commercial world — and the markets — to guarantee the Straits. And are there not more PCs enroute because we don’t need them or because the existing combination of aging ships and crews cannot support any more hulls deployed forward?

Second: when I think of the dirty work of patrol boats and minesweeping, I can’t help but think of the example of the U.S. Air Force’s irrepressible (and ongoing) disdain for the A-10 (which also, it turns out, have some utility in this space).

Are we good enough at this space? Are we ready for more serious challenges to international sea lanes in this space? And do we have the tools and dedicated personnel to persevere when called upon to do so?

In the days of the ancient navalists Themistocles and Pericles, men with an interest in naval affairs and national defense surely would have frequented the Agora with their fellow Athenians. To discuss the specifics related to war upon the sea, however, they gathered in small groups in the alleys around the Neosoikoi , the massive ship-sheds that lined the seawalls at Pireaus. With triremes and the equipment of ancient naval warfare stored nearby, they would have discussed everything from the importance of finding a skilled steersman for their vessels to the strategic implications of Spartan and Persian foreign policy.

Today there are a number of virtual online areas that surround our modern Neosoikoi, from USNI’s online offerings to the naval blogosphere’s established writers and other growing thought centers. However, one of the great things about being a member of the Naval Institute is that the organization can still bring people together physically to meet and discuss our shared naval interests, just as the Athenians did centuries ago.

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Of course they aren’t. Besides our own individual experiences and those of peers, superiors, and subordinates, the numbers overwhelmingly agree. 44% of active duty servicemembers have children. Breaking it down by rank shows that the more senior the member, the more likely they are to have children. Over 80% of field grade officers and midgrade to senior enlisted in the Marine Corps have children—and by children, the report only includes those under age 21 or enrolled as a student, explaining slightly lower numbers at the top ranks. The Navy looks similar (from DoD’s 2010 Demographics Report).

This really just tells us that the more senior you are, the more likely you are to have kids. Common sense. So what’s the point here?

As many of us know, military life requires a unique commitment from both the servicemember and the family. Time was, the family norm for society as a whole and the military in particular included a male breadwinner and a wife/mother at home with the kids. Due to the demands of a military career and the military lifestyle, this was a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s simply harder for a spouse to finish an education and find stable, well-paying work if you move every few years. It’s also harder to get child care outside of the home to enable employment if you move often.

However, over the past few decades, America has changed, and so have American families. Women and men are more educated, with women comprising approximately 55% of college graduates each year, and women work outside of the home in ever-increasing numbers. By 2000, only one in five marriages featured a male breadwinner with a wife at home. Even in families with new babies, more than half of the mothers were back at work inside of a year. The vast majority of mothers work outside of the home (from the Hoover Institution’s July 2004 “The Changing American Family” by Herbert Klein).

What does that tell us?

We know the dedication and demands required by a military career, especially in the higher ranks, tougher/more rewarding jobs, and command. To succeed and excel, servicemembers with children need a supportive family: a spouse who can sacrifice to do the majority of the child-rearing, to move when needed, to single-parent when called to.

But families have changed. Military spouses have too: only 45% of officer spouses and 32% of enlisted spouses are unemployed and not looking for work (DoD 2010 Demographics Report). Single parents are increasing among active duty members just as they are in society.

Women are entering the military in greater numbers, and dual-military marriages are more common. The percentage of women in the military is increasing, and will only continue to rise.

And, ironically, women generally hit the most common childbearing years right as they approach the middle ranks, or as their husbands approach those same ranks (and wives have their own careers to maintain).

Fewer stay-at-home-moms + more career-oriented mothers + more educated members/spouses + everybody having kids later + increased demand on fathers despite military obligations + demands of ten years of war on families + no change in policy = more people leaving active duty in the middle ranks due to family obligations

Do we have to do anything to attract these people/families? Of course not. The military could keep on its present course, because there will always be a pool of individuals who fit the traditional mold of the single breadwinner with supportive spouse and kids. But American society and national trends show that this pool will be ever-shrinking. What will this pool look like in another 10 years? 20? Limiting ourselves to a shrinking group of people will severely limit the quality of those who join us and who fill our senior ranks.

There are solutions out there. I’ve mentioned sabbaticals and continue to believe the idea is solid. The current DoD sabbatical program (see the Army Times’ 17 April article for a brief synopsis) has its limits. So far, only the Navy has used it, and it expires in 2015. I like that it limits entrance to the program to 80 members a year, because that might discourage abuse and encourage only those with a real desire to use it. I only found out about such a plan two months ago, which makes me wonder how many others are ignorant of its existence. And I haven’t seen any early assessments of its success. Curious why 2015 is the end-date, too.

What was really interesting, though, was the fifth paragraph in the article, which highlighted that DoD officials were planning to expand the program, which “would give ‘greater flexibility to test and evaluate alternative career retention options in specialties and skills in which monetary incentives alone have not produced required long-term retention results’.”

It’s not about money. You can’t pay most people enough to sacrifice their families, which is how it should be. It’s about attracting and keeping those who want to serve and to continue to serve in some capacity. For the next post, on one hand we have active duty, and on the other we have leaving the service/going on sabbatical. Is there no room for a middle ground? Perhaps there should be.

I began writing this during the 11th hour of Joint Warfighter, feeling like I had something of an information hangover. Coffee was having no effect. Concepts and ideas were jumbled into an atemporal mess in my mind–it has been a long couple of conferences.

After the last session a woman walked past me and remarked that the panel was uninformative. I’ve now heard this sentiment twice in the last two days. In terms of this, I can agree that perhaps the actual information given by panelists might not be new, novel, or insightful. But, at best such a reality is decided on a case-by-case basis, since those in the audience have each been privy to different types, amounts, and quality of data. What was not profound to you, could have very well been profound to someone else. In short, the fact that you might not have found anything new in the discussion is irrelevant. But, it does point my thinking towards a new paradigm for conferences is needed.

There is little information that will be given to you in person that could not have been read elsewhere. The volume of data and information availed online is huge–you want to know about the Navy, you can learn most everything online. You can be given nuance from blogs and context from history. However, it is in person is where you learn about what people are thinking, and what they haven’t decided on. You see the person and all those subconscious things that denote what they’re really thinking.

That is the power of panels, that is why it is worth traveling so very far and spending so much: Experience. My Boss says that nothing supplants meeting someone in person, and he’s right. You can share emotion via the Internet, but you cannot truly experience emotion with someone, not even the subtle emotion felt when one is posed with a difficult question–as is often done in panels.

The division between audience and panel needs to be broken down. I struggle to articulate how to do this short of some hippie-esq ‘let’s-circle-our-chairs-and-hold-hands’ nonsense. But, the answer must be in there somewhere between the connectivity enabled by the Internet and being there in person.

AirSea Battle is in trouble. I don’t really know what it is, and even with engaging with the panel today, I still don’t think there is anyone out there who has the whole story. But. What truly troubles me, is that from the question I asked today.

I asked how AirSea Battle Strategy (anyone know what the word ‘battle’ is doing in a strategy?) would affect the tactical level. From what I remember of the answer, almost nothing will change except that there will be more jointness (termed ‘interoperability’ if I remember correctly) and tactical units will be smaller and enabled to mass quickly if a concentration of forces are needed.

Additionally, the design for AirSea is such that it will be layered over the tactical and operational COCOM level. This is where I really get lost–and I need your help to make sense of.

Wasn’t one of the greatest critiques of COIN that it wasn’t a true strategy, but rather a collection of tactics jumbled together and called strategy? If we are overlaying this strategy on top our existing operational and tactical paradigms, aren’t we doing the same thing COIN is accused of? What I understand of strategy is that it is the larger goals and combination of ends, ways and means towards reaching those goals. In attempting to draft a strategy that does not perturb current tactical paradigms, are we creating a strategy that changes nothing?

I really hope we aren’t, but I will need to be convinced we aren’t.

Another thing is that the crowd drawn to such Conferences are more industry than strategist. The questions routinely posed to the panels concerned acquisition more than they did anything else. There’s nothing wrong with this, but I’m not a contractor and so I am more I am more interested in strategy and tactics. What’s more is that because of the majority of the questions it is now hard for me to separate the future tools for implementing AirSea from the strategy itself.

Is AirSea a collection of new capabilities rather than a strategy in its own right?

While I was told that AirSea was not to have any major impact on the tactical level, there is one area in which I do see it having a major impact. AirSea seems to support the notion of acquiring 5+ generation fighters, new comms gear, and making everything stealth. The fielding of such gear will necessarily drive the need for new tactics, and operational models. From what I understand of the F-22, the logistics and maintenance requirement are quite different from having 15s, 16s and 18s downrange. In addition, if the services are to specialize further in niche but vital capabilities, interoperability is going to demand another round of relocating units CONUS for training purposes. If the Army has an Electronic Warfare requirement for a mission the Navy will have to fill that role. But, odds are that EW Squadron is in Northern Virginia, but the Combat Brigade is located in North Carolina or Georgia. For these two units to train together to be fully interoperable, they will need to train together almost constantly. I struggle to see how this will be cost effective, in the age of austerity with sequestration looming.

There is way too much that has gone unsaid regarding AirSea. I appreciate OPSEC needs as much as the next guy. But, AirSea is starting to be discussed widely across strategy and military focused blogs. The Chief of Staff of the Air Force and the Chief of Naval Operations are appearing together to present this strategy to the American People, and the message is thus far garbled. As we’re in the opening stages of the messaging campaign, I can appreciate that there is tweaking that will be done to it towards answering the myriad of questions we all have regarding AirSea. But, it will be a struggle. My sense is that many bloggers, strategists, and journalists are suspect of AirSea. After nearly ten years of coin being vigorously debated, any new strategy will have an uphill battle.


I saw a lot of GOFO’s over the course of Joint Warfighter. Just about as many as are at SHAPE. But, what is important is that I got to listen to them, at some length. General Allen, COMISAF, VTC’d in for an hour (and it was roughly 2100L AFG). Despite weather delays GEN Dempsey was present for an hour. I don’t know how much experience everyone has will trying to get on a GOFO’s schedule. But, average availability is around 15 minutes. An hour is an insane amount of time.

GENs Cartwright, Allen, and Dempsey all spoke without the use of PowerPoint or notes. They were able to navigate through multiple topics, ensuring that key messages were hit and came across as relaxed. They were all polished and impressive. GEN Cartwright had the luxury of no longer being in uniform and so his candor was particularly poignant.

General Cartwright

General Allen

General Dempsey


I asked a lot of questions, and the way I worded a lot of questions was not readily understood. I’m pretty sure I had to rephrase every question I asked. It sucks when you’ve got a minute or seven standing behind the mic, listening to the other questions being asked, answers that touch upon the one you’re about to ask, and you’re thinking of a myriad of permutations of how you could ask your question. It’s like roulette, you don’t know when the moderator is going to call on you, and where ever your mind is at when you’re asked is the question that comes out.

*Remember, identify your self and your affiliation.*

One question got me asked if I wanted to work on the Joint Staff, and the answer to that is still an emphatic yes (if you want to see how that went down, watch the video. I won’t elaborate further).


During one such evening, at the USNI Member Event, I turned a corner, and Mary stopped me and introduced me to John Nagl. Yes, that John Nagl. Amazing, right? I love the Naval Institute… For more than just this one instance.

In 2007 I attended my first conference. It was Joint Warfighter, and the day I attended ADM Stavridis gave the keynote at Lunch.

I became aware of the conference while I was underway, and emailed the Institute asking how I could pay for the lunches. I was told that the Institute saves a few tickets for Enlisted members, and that I needn’t worry about paying to attend the luncheon keynote. Because of this, I became aware of ADM Stavridis, and sought out everything I could find of his writing. Eventually I found him on facebook as well, and in 2010 this all came together in enabling me to come work for him at SHAPE. It is directly because of the Naval Institute that I am who I am today.


The last keynote of the Conference was from Google’s Chief Technology Advocate. He presented a number of fascinating things Google does as “hobbies”. Google is all about gathering real world information and organizing and availing that information through the internet. I consider this a noble and laudable goal. What’s more is that they are doing an exceptional job at all of it.

However, such a goal is fraught with challenges and disturbing implications. Arthur C. Clark has some very good words to this point

The Information Age offers much to mankind, and I would like to think that we will rise to the challenges it presents. But it is vital to remember that information — in the sense of raw data — is not knowledge, that knowledge is not wisdom, and that wisdom is not foresight. But information is the first essential step to all of these.

Google gets this, and they are actively engaged in finding the right answers to such dilemmas. They seek out expert advice from guys like GEN Colin Powell. They seek to understand the implications of the capabilities and technologies they develop–they seek to build wisdom as much as they compile information.

I think it is important for this conversation to take place, as well as for it to be transparent and done in public. If Google can develop technologies that have significant security implications, it does us no good to bury this fact, as it denies us the ability to develop the wisdom required to understand our new abilities. Further more, if Google can do it, then eventually anyone could do it, being quiet about it won’t prevent this from happening.


All Around It was an excellent conference, I was especially pleased to see so many of our Allies stationed at Allied Command Transformation in attendance. Seeing French, British, German, and Spanish uniforms in the crowd made me feel a little bit like I was back home at SHAPE. Going forward, I think it would be a good thing to try to engage with our Allies more in such conferences. With more focus on Asia being demanded, deepening engagement and ties with our European Allies in other ways is important. An easy, and smart way to do this is with conferences like Joint Warfighter. Plus, JCWC has a nice ring to it (Joint-Combined Warfighter Conference).

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