Archive for July, 2012

Episode 132: The Naval Author with R.L.Crossland 07/15 by Midrats | Blog Talk Radio:

The naval experience is fertile ground for an author of both fiction and non-fiction. How does real world experience inform that author, and how does fiction and non-fiction writing inform those serving today?

Our guest for the full hour will be author R. L. Crossland, Captain, USN (Retired). A SEAL, Captain Crossland served 35 years service, active and reserve, from Vietnam to Afghanistan.

Widely published on maritime unconventional warfare and naval history, he holds a merchant marine captain’s license and is a practicing trial lawyer. He resides in New England.

A graduate of Columbia College with a degree in history, and the Naval War College Command and Staff Course, Crossland has written internationally on the subject of maritime unconventional warfare and includes U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings and the New York Times among his credits. His articles “Rusty Hand of Steel” (Proceedings, December 1979) and “Unconventional Warfare Afloat” (Proceedings, November 1981) were required reading at the Naval War College for several years after their publication. His most recent article (Proceedings August 2009), “Sometimes the Insignificant is Significant,” analyzes aspects of the rescue of the Maersk Alabama from Somali pirates.

His second novel, Jade Rooster, a mystery set in the 1913 Asiatic Fleet, allows him to apply his experience to the elements of intrigue that grow when the daily life of a sailor of an emerging navy in the age of coal-driven ships crosses courses with the then growing cross-tensions in the Far East.

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This post is part of a group covering a Lockheed Martin media event for the F-35 Lightning II. For an analysis of the fighter’s potential as an unmanned aircraft, visit For my discussion of the Joint Strike Fighter as an international acquisitions program, visit the NextWar blog at the Center for International Maritime Security.

The F-35 Lightning II, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, has seemed to be the third rail of defense acquisitions. The aircraft program’s costs and operational role have been thoroughly discussed both here and elsewhere. When USNI kindly offered me the opportunity to represent them at a Lockheed Martin event, I felt daunted by the volumes of ink spilled to date on the subject. But, I think the JSF program as suffered from polemic coverage and needs some measured commentary. I learned a lot and hope this knowledge serves as an antidote to the vitriol surrounding this aircraft:

  • Whatever its costs and however well the F-35 does or does not fit American strategic and operational interests, nobody says it isn’t an impressive aircraft in its own right. This is a point worth saying out loud. At one point, we were shown infrared video from a test flight. We could see on the camera an outline of a Joint Strike Fighter on the tarmac – that was the place where the aircraft was parked 45 minutes before. The F-35 could sense the difference in solar heating of the runway caused by the aircraft’s shadow after that amount of time – incredible! While I think President Eisenhower’s statements on the military-industrial complex are worth heeding, America and its partners are pioneering impressive new technologies to increase our military capabilities. The bottom line: how can we best leverage the capabilities of the F-35 in a continually evolving threat environment? And how can we use technologies pioneered in this program to support other platforms? Answering these questions would allow the United States to recoup more of its significant investments in this program.
  • Lockheed was open to discussing the different cost estimates of the program. I was expecting to have a certain figure placed in front of me. But Sam Grizzle, Lockheed’s Director of Communications for Aviation, admitted on the subject of costs that “other folks may come up with a different number.” This transparency impressed me. Further, Lockheed employed an interesting defense of the JSF program’s cost. We often compare the JSF to other acquisition programs in the present or to similar ones of the past. Essentially, they argued that you would have to compare the JSF program to whatever alternative DoD would have pursued (each service independently pursuing different strike fighters, for example). It’s difficult to prove a negative – so we ultimately can’t know whether a different program might have been a better alternative. I can think of many counter-arguments to this line of reasoning, but they only made my head hurt. Ultimately, people with differing views on the cost of the program will continue to circle each other in a rhetorical dogfight, but the aircraft is in production and so I think that discussion is moot for those in uniform. Our civilian government will make financial choices to meet our national priorities. A very interesting dialogue does remain, however, on how the aircraft will be employed, and this is where we as a community can contribute – Galrahn has some interesting thoughts on the JSF as a command and control platform and I wrote a piece on unmanned JSF’s for
  • Many have noted that the Navy’s F-35C has a single engine like all other variants – at first blush, this lack of redundancy would give me pause if I were alone over the ocean at night. But the F-35’s engine is shrouded as a stealth measure. I asked Lockheed officials whether this might mitigate foreign-object damage and increase the engine’s resiliency. They said, “That’s an interesting question.” I was surprised that they hadn’t studied this in detail. The bottom line: is the F-35’s single engine more reliable and survivable compared to past engines? Claiming that two engines are better because that’s how we’ve done it in the past is flawed reasoning. It’s also neglects our history, as many of the retired fighter pilots in the room reminded me. In 1958, the Navy was deciding between the single-engine Vought F8U-3 and the twin-engine McDonnell F4H. The safety record of twin versus single-engine airplanes was examined and determined to not be a deciding factor. The only twin-engine airplane at the time was the A3D Skywarrior, which had two engines because it was too big to be powered by only one. At 40,000 lbs. of thrust, the JSF doesn’t need two engines by this measure. Also, looked at from a different side, having two engines simply doubles the chance that one fails. There are control and stability issues on one engine and it’s unclear whether a dual-engined JSF could reasonably make a carrier landing on a single engine. Personally, I’d like to see more data – and anyone wanting to have a reasoned discussion of this issue should as well.
  • I learned a lot about the international program, which I’ll cover extensively at the other blog I contribute to, CIMSEC’s NextWar blog.One interesting note: the event showed USNI’s influence in stark relief. Once the floor was open for questions, the first two focused on the Chief of Naval Operations’ recent Proceedings article “Payloads over Platforms.” These questions weren’t from me, but from bloggers from other venues. It was a moment that underscored how much the Naval Institute frames the discourse on maritime security.

Lockheed was reluctant to discuss the piece, at one point Lockheed’s Bob Rubino joked “CNO’s article? Didn’t see that…” Many have taken the CNO’s piece – especially his discussion on the limitations of stealth – as an indictment of the F-35 program. But if you read the piece closely, I think a better summary would be that stealth is important, but isn’t the sole determinant of a successful aircraft.

The Joint Strike Fighter inspires strong feelings in both supporters and detractors, and so it’s difficult to have a measured discussion of the program. What’s clear is that the Navy, the United States, and many allies and partners are counting on the program’s success. After today, any discussion of the program that isn’t constructive towards that end holds little interest for me.

I think everyone has ideas on how we can make our FITREPs better – mine have been the same since the latest version came out in the Clinton Administration – but there is one aspect that I never really had an issue with: rankings.

It had always made sense that you had to make the call; not everyone gets a trophy and someone must be #1, #2, etc. It seemed rough, but needed in order to help others read the entrails in our opaque system to divine who are our best players.

Is there something wrong with this part of our FITREPs that may, by its very nature, be destructive to fostering an environment of innovation and progress? Is this one of the sources of our problem with more of a focus on loyalty to individuals vice loyalty to institutions?

Over at Vanity Fair, our buddy Chap sent along to me a short but devastating piece on Microsoft’s Lost Decade. A little close to home?

…. a management system known as “stack ranking”—a program that forces every unit to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, good performers, average, and poor—effectively crippled Microsoft’s ability to innovate. “Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees,” Eichenwald writes. “If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, 2 people were going to get a great review, 7 were going to get mediocre reviews, and 1 was going to get a terrible review,” says a former software developer. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”

Not just Microsoft in the “don’t be like them” category; ponder back some more.

“I see Microsoft as technology’s answer to Sears,” said Kurt Massey, a former senior marketing manager. “In the 40s, 50s, and 60s, Sears had it nailed. It was top-notch, but now it’s just a barren wasteland.

That rolled in the last line of the article reminded me of how we used to make fun of the Soviet Navy back in the day.

“They used to point their finger at IBM and laugh,” said Bill Hill, a former Microsoft manager. “Now they’ve become the thing they despised.”

How do those in the Royal Navy see our seamanship? How do the Japanese see our PMS and maintenance practices? How do the Dutch, Danish, and Norwegian shipyards see our methods?

If we want our future Navy to think and be nimble – perhaps we could start a conversation about what organizational cultures we like, and see how they recognize and grow talent internally. That could at least be a good way to kick things off.

Posted by CDRSalamander in Cyber | 30 Comments

He won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Marty (1955). And his many screen roles include Sergeant “Fatso” Judson in From Here to Eternity (1953), General Worden in The Dirty Dozen (1967), and Dutch Engstrom in The Wild Bunch (1969). But he is perhaps best remembered as Lieutenant Commander Quinton McHale, the title character in television’s madcap sitcom, “McHale’s Navy” (1962-66). The congenial “real McHale” talked recently about his decade in the U.S. Navy and his film work with Naval History Editor Fred L. Schultz.

Naval History: What made you decide to enlist in the Navy rather than any of the other services?

Borgnine: I’m what you call a Depression sailor. I got a job immediately after leaving high school; I was lucky—three dollars a week and all I could eat, working on a vegetable truck. I had never thought of it as a career, but that was all I could find in those days. You were lucky to get off the streets. One day while riding on the truck, I saw a sign that said: “Join the Navy, See the World.” So I went to the recruiter, unbeknownst to my mother and dad, and said I’d like to join the Navy. They put me on a waiting list and asked if I’d be ready to come when they called. I said, “Absolutely!” So I got the call and, believe it or not, got in on another fellow’s case of the piles. He failed, and I made it. I believe at that time only 11 or 12 of us made it out of 12,000; that many people were ready to go into the service, simply because they wanted to get off the streets. It wasn’t that we were bums. We just wanted to help our families, as I did, and also wanted to get out there and learn something.

So I joined the Navy and went to the Newport, Rhode Island, Training Station in September of 1935. It was a whole new experience. I’ll never forget the advice my dad gave me the morning I left. He said, “You know, son, you’re not going to be tied down by your mother’s apron strings any more.” He said, “You’re going to have to go out and do it on your own.”

I remember one day—I still get a little choked up about it—I was on board a ship, the four-stacker destroyer Lamberton (DD-119), and the crew was celebrating Mother’s Day by listening to a program about it on the radio. That hit me in such a way that I sat under a ladder and cried. You can’t imagine how hard I cried. And after it was over, I suddenly realized I had cut the apron strings. But it made a man out of me. And I have never regretted one day, not ever.

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The sad news has just broken of the death of iconic character actor Ernest Borgnine. Known to anyone in the Baby-Boomer generation who did not live in a cave as the skipper of PT-73, Commander Quinton McHale of McHale’s Navy, Borgnine was in actuality a Navy Veteran who enlisted in 1935 and served throughout World War II.

Borgnine, a native of Connecticut, got his first big break in film as the self-consciously homely Marty in the film by the same name, which earned him an Oscar. He was also the villainous and brutal jailer Sergeant of the Guard Fatso Judson in From Here to Eternity, who beats Frank Sinatra’s character Maggio to death. Borgnine starred in, or appeared in, a great many other movies, including The Wild Bunch, with Bill Holden, The Dirty Dozen, and Bad Day at Black Rock.

He will be best known, however, as the screwball Commander McHale, whose crew of Ensign Parker, and Gruber, and Virg, and Tinker, and Happy, and the unlikely Japanese “prisoner” Fuji, was always trying to get over on Captain Wally “Lead Bottom” Binghamton (the late Joe Flynn) and his toady LT Carpenter.

Somewhere up there, you can hear Lead Bottom standing at the Pearly Gates, asking impatiently; “What, what, what, McHale? What, what, what?”

Ernest Borgnine was 95.

I picked these up a decade ago when I went through the Executive Officer Course at the Command Leadership School, enjoyed reading them, thinking about them and summarily posted them outside my stateroom. Oddly enough they had a more significant impact than I expected and were the second most requested item from people after I transferred.

The most popular were the Battle ‘E’ certificates.

Rule 1: Timing is everything in life.
Rule 2: Bad news doesn’t get better with time.
Rule 3: 50/50/90 – Given a 50/50 chance, 90% of the time you make the wrong choice.
Rule 4: Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good—as long as you know the difference.
Rule 5: Hope is not a military course of action.
Rule 6: The first report is always wrong.
Rule 7: The second report is usually wrong.
Rule 8: Everyone is capable of error free work (you drive home thousands of times—how often do you end up at the wrong house).
Rule 9: The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of meeting the schedule has been forgotten.
Rule 10: Unhappy people vote with their feet.

The week after my squadron returned from what was my first deployment, we held an officers’ meeting in the Ready Room. At the meeting’s close, our XO stood up and asked the younger pilots to stay behind. The Ready Room emptied out and eventually only a dozen of us first lieutenants and captains were left. The XO shut the door, then saw me and kicked me out too. He needed to speak to us because the squadron had to supply a pilot to be a Forward Air Controller for an infantry battalion, but he didn’t want me there because I wasn’t allowed to be a FAC with an infantry unit.

No one really wanted the FAC tour just yet, since we’d just finished our first deployment as new pilots and had been busting our butts learning how to fly and fight our aircraft. The war in Afghanistan was new, we were young and unscathed, and we were chomping at the bit to do our jobs. But we needed to send a pilot to the battalion, and as a woman, I was unqualified.

After nearly a year in the squadron, I was just another pilot among many. But suddenly I became a female pilot, and was set apart. And regardless of personal qualifications, my presence immediately limited the command’s options.*

Why keep a capable, qualified pilot from serving as a FAC with an infantry unit? Why restrict any qualified individual based on assumptions about his or her gender? This debate has been going for years, and the same arguments against lifting the restriction on women in combat keep echoing, but after a decade of war, those arguments sound empty given the reality on the ground and in the air.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, women have repeatedly proven that they can handle the physical and mental stresses of combat in many different forms. Nearly 300,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, in a range of jobs unmatched in recent history. They have participated in combat operations at historical rates. Women can do the job, and women are doing the job, right alongside men who have long since stopped seeing them as women, and instead simply see them as fellow Marines, Soldiers, Airmen, and Sailors. My own experiences overseas and those of many of my generation—male and female—have rendered the combat restriction obsolete, reinforcing that gender does not matter if one can do the job…it’s about ability.

Debates about the legal restriction on women in combat units are usually accompanied by arguments about physical strength and biological differences, the nature of combat versus the nature of men and women, and the effect women will have on men and, therefore, on unit cohesion and effectiveness. But the past decade has offered up years that counter these assumptions, showing that we have systematically underestimated our Marines and Sailors and their abilities.

Physical strength:

Women are already carrying the same loads that men are, in training and in theater (has anyone seen the pictures accompanying General Amos’ road show brief?). From The Basic School to Iraq and Afghanistan, we all carry and wear lots of gear. But to erase lingering doubts about capabilities, set one physical standard for combat units and stick to it. Maybe only a few women will make the cut, but we may see less 130-lb, video-game-playing 19-year-old men, too. If someone is physically qualified, they should not be restricted based on gender. Period.

The nature of combat vs. the nature of gender:

Passive women, aggressive men, nurturing mothers, protective fathers…these are stereotypes that do not cover all—or arguably even many—people. Most people, male or female, are not suited for the violence of combat (or for any military service, for that matter). But some are. There are female Marines I’d follow anywhere and male Marines I wouldn’t. We all know those who don’t fit the gender “mold.” Let ability be the deciding factor.

Showers and toilets:

Everybody stinks after awhile. Water bottles, solar showers, wet wipe baths. Not pretty, but I did it. Everyone does it. As for privacy and bathrooms, we all adapt and figure out how to make things work. If you have enough gear on, nobody can see anything, anyway. One of our bathrooms in Iraq was the rusted hulk in the picture at the top. Worked like a champ if timed right. If you want more details, I’m happy to provide. Bottom line, women make do, just like men do.

The effect of women on men and the breakdown of unit cohesion:

Claiming that men are “hard-wired” to compete for women insults men and women alike. It insults our integrity, intelligence, dedication and professionalism, and places the responsibility for handling this “natural” occurrence squarely on the shoulders of women. The usual argument is that men can’t handle themselves around women, so women should not be allowed. Whatever happened to leadership, professionalism, and taking responsibility for one’s actions? And as women and men train together, gender can disappear, and then we are all simply what we wanted to be to begin with: Marines. Not male Marines, not female Marines, but Marines. If you see someone every day and you know that person can do the job, there’s no distraction.

Our Marines and Sailors are not so poorly trained or simplistic that the presence of someone who looks different will destroy a unit from the inside. Women—just like men—have heart, soul, and incredible motivation, and join the Marines to be a Marine: to be challenged, to serve with the best, and to be part of something great. Claiming that the presence of women will destroy a unit underestimates the intelligence, dedication and professionalism of our military, and—above all else—shows ignorance of what our military does on a daily basis.

Look at our forces today. Women have been serving and fighting alongside men in Iraq and Afghanistan all along, and the sky hasn’t fallen. The fears have not materialized. Unit cohesion has not collapsed, the mission is being accomplished, and men and women are serving and sacrificing side-by-side. As Marines. Ask all four Wings or the Marine Logistics Groups. The Divisions are no different: find an infantry battalion without women “attached” in theater. By all measurable standards of readiness, we have co-ed units deployed today capable of successfully performing the most complex missions. If the presence of women will break down cohesion, causing readiness to plummet and units to fail, where are these failing units? Where is the mission failure?

Keeping the legal restriction in place reinforces and perpetuates the assumption that women cannot fight as well as men and cannot protect themselves. It draws lines between Marines that don’t need to be there. In deployed units, this can have highly negative consequences and can poison units from within, something I have experienced firsthand.

This restriction keeps women from serving in all capacities based on what is assumed about the abilities and natures of all women and all men. Ostensibly, these regulations protect vulnerable women from the dangers of combat while keeping men from being distracted—or endangered—in combat by a woman (whether protecting her or picking up her slack). This generalizes all women and their capabilities while denying women the opportunity to fully answer the call to serve. Just like men, women are capable of great ambition and of yearning to belong to something bigger than ourselves, to serve and sacrifice. Isn’t that why we all—no matter the gender—sign up?

It’s time to finish this debate and do what’s right. Putting up barriers between men and women based on generalized assumptions distracts those serving and wastes time and energy. We should let the best person have the job, regardless of what’s between their legs. To many of those fighting the war today, it’s a non-issue. They are already serving together, and have been for years.

General Amos, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, recently sent a letter to the senior leadership, addressing the ongoing discussion on women in combat. He described the research that the Marine Corps is conducting on the topic and closed the discussion with, “Our end state is a thorough, credible, and defensible Service position that responds to our civilian leadership while keeping faith with our Marines, in garrison and in combat.” Let’s keep faith with all Marines. Open up all MOSs to everyone, keep the standards high, and do not raise invisible barriers. Let Marines be Marines, and the rest can follow.

*as for the FAC tour, a friend took it, and I never felt right about it.

We have the war with us in Afghanistan that is winding down one phase, and the global security environment in front of us. What is going on now, and what are the options in the near and medium term that the national security decision makers need to make on budget priorities and strategic direction?

Our guest for the full hour will be retired US Army Colonel, Dr. Joseph J. Collins, Professor of National Security Strategy at National War College. He also served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Stability Operations, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where he did research on economic sanctions, military culture, and national security policy.

Dr. Collins’s many publications include books and articles on the Soviet war in Afghanistan, Operation Desert Storm, contemporary U.S. military culture, defense transformation, and homeland defense. including his book, Understanding War in Afghanistan. He writes frequently for Armed Forces Journal and the national security experts’ blog of the National Journal.

As always, if you miss the live show, you can catch the episode at the Midrats BlogTalk Radio site or on our iTunes page.

Posted by Mark Tempest in Podcasts | No Comments

Two Sentences

July 2012


Some years ago, I was engaging in a conversation with my niece, a lovely and talented high school junior at the time (now about to be a college senior), who informed me that her English teacher had made the rather unequivocal statement that with perhaps the exception of Melville, no American authors had produced much of any real value. My dismay at hearing this was tempered by the opportunity to disabuse my niece of such a rather uninformed and narrow notion. I told her that, among the most powerful and beautiful words ever uttered or written by mankind was the greatest of all political treatises. And it was a mere two sentences long.

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Those 182 words, spoken plainly and firmly, eclipse the thousands of pages Hobbes, and Locke, and of Rousseau and Montesquieu. And the nascent works of Chinese and Greco-Roman antiquity. Our politicians of every ilk, present and future, would do well to understand those words at the levels of both the intellect and the soul.

(The paragraph here was in error, and has been removed. Pointed out by a reader.)

Today as we celebrate our independence, let us remember to give thanks to the courage, character, wisdom, and brilliant foresight of our Founding Fathers, and for the good providence of God for having shed His grace on us. And to all those who have stood and suffered that we may still count ourselves among the world’s free peoples.


Almost a year ago, I posted a guest blog here in response to a blog post by “Steeljaw Scribe” about an article on Professional Military Education (PME) I had written for AOL.Defense. Since then, I’ve written an article for Orbis and a book on PME, (forthcoming in October 2012), in which I’ve continued to advocate open discussion as a necessary step toward improving one of America’s most valuable assets: Professional Military Education. A year later the good news is that discussion has flourished; the bad news is that for the most part it’s business as usual in PME.

The initial response from many readers and commenters to even mild suggestions that the academic rigor and practices in PME could be improved was to dismiss them as the ramblings of one or two disgruntled or failed academics, or those who just “didn’t get” that PME “is different.” There was a time when those caustic responses might have shut down the debate, but in the era of new media, many individuals– even if under a pen name or after they leave PME — nonetheless continued to express their views. The ongoing discussion confirms that there are widespread issues common to PME in general that are not limited to one or two institutions, or a few grumpy faculty.

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