There are times in history, where there is a roll call. Col. John Boyd noted, “That’s when you have to make a decision: to be or to do.” With sequestration threatening to leverage the full trillion in cuts against our increasingly papered tiger, the dissenting brass must recognize this roll call. Not every fight is at arms in the field, some are quiet battles at home whose only answer is a sacrifice of power.

Those who say that sequestration “won’t happen” and “isn’t a threat” are wrong. Like FDR’s preparations for the oncoming war, the Navy’s preparations indicate the worst. From cutting 3rd/4th quarter ship and aircraft maintenance to reducing the Persian Gulf carrier presence to one, in order to survive, the navy must put itself in more danger than any terrorist threat has. A candidate for SecDef has been nominated who thinks the DoD is still bloated after the first 500 billion dollars in cuts. While the defense department prepares for a second 500 billion in cuts, the debt ceiling deal spent 60% of the savings on the first round for pork projects. Meanwhile, the military is asked to support increased global drone operations, defend from two nations whose entire military is designed to counter the US way of war, and pivot towards Asia. Of course, the Middle East has a firm grip on that pivot-foot. The strategic policy is sound, but the whole-sale undermining of the force meant to do it is unconscionable.

The situation is a strategic-level version of the F-22 debacle. Superficially, the F-22 looked like the most deadly fighter in human history. In reality, the F-22 had a deep systemic flaw that eventually caused pilots to black out, putting their lives and the aircraft they were flying in danger. The problem was largely white-washed until Maj. Jeremy Gordon and Capt. Joshua Wilson took the message to the public. The pressure from civilian authority forced the Air Force to unwillingly face their problems and limit the operations of the F-22. The US Defense Establishment is that F-22; the pilot is breathing from a bad oxygen system and will black out unless something is done. Navy leadership has already attempted the route of the F-22 whistleblowers. ADM Gortney and VADM Copeman have discussed the hollowing of the force at length. Lt. Gen. James Kowalski has lamented the dangerous decrease in proficiency in what many recognize as an already aging airforce. Recently, Secretary Panetta has come out swinging, stating clearly that sequestration will make the US a “second rate power.” These are calls coming from the only branch of government to quietly accept not only the burden of America’s wars, but the lion’s share of her war on the debt. If these calls continue to fall upon deaf ears, like-minded leadership must accept the full burden of their command.

Resignation is the only option for strategic-level leadership that truly disagrees with sequestration; the time has come for a new Revolt of the Admirals. In 1949, the Navy faced another form of sequestration, in which the airforce would drain the expeditionary power of the military into a practically all-nuclear defense strategy. The cancellation of America’s first supercarrier, the USS UNITED STATES, was seen as a signal that America’s defense policy would entire Lemay-style nightmare. Left with only the option of massive nuclear-retaliation, defense policy would lose balance and the oath to defend the constitution become a paranoid atomic nightmare. In response, the Secretary of the Navy and a series of compatriot admirals resigned in protest. Eventually, this resulted in the partial refunding of carriers and the restoration of balance to defense thinking. Those who no longer feel able to execute their oath to defense the constitution cannot in good conscience remain in office.

This is not a slippery slope in which every officer can throw down his mantle. On the tactical and operational level, officers are asked to accomplish concrete tasks with their assets that are easier to assess. If one is ordered to take off in a jet without fuel, one merely does not take off. It is the job of the operational leadership to make do, to innovate, and to work around the limitations put in front of them to answer the call. It is the job of the high command to make sure those operations can culminate into that strategic thrust. When one is asked to deter Iran and secure the freedom of the seas in the gulf with a single carrier that is in the crosshairs of every coastal battery on the Iranian coast, there is no concrete way to show that is not being done and no physical limitation that can be noted as the cause for something so conceptual. When civilian authority habitually ignores the “bridge out” signs, resignation is the only way to show that the strategic-level tasking is untenable.

To resign is the ultimate recognition of civilian authority and the oath of office. To use one’s position to actively fight civilian authority, as General MacArthur did during Korea or RADM Gallery did during the Admiral’s Revolt is an appalling breach of the civilian trust. Those who would remain in office despite knowing the terrifying impact of sequestration should well remember, “I was just following orders,” is never an excuse. They cannot in good conscience lend the dignity of their office or their good word to such a program.

The roll call is not an easy burden of command. Leadership is no doubt heady, an intoxicating aroma that convinces many detractors that they can hold the line against sequestration with innovation, pragmatism, and wise words. The continued use of defense cuts to cover overheating civilian spending indicates otherwise. To defend the nation’s ability to defend itself, the roll call must be answered. To bear that burden of command, those who truly fear sequestration must take off the uniform they love; they must submit to civilian authority’s right to rob them of his ability to fulfill his oath. They must stop being; they must do.

LT Trautman/ Illegitimi non carborundum / LT Potemkin is an anonymous junior officer in the SWO community.

Posted by admin in Homeland Security

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  • John

    This is a terrific article. Thank you for writing it. Just it’s a bit hypocritical. Talking about standing up against a fight, but these officers are afraid to attach their names to articles they write for fear of hurting their careers I imagine? I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same thing though – “why risk it” attitude has become a standard and sometimes we forget a fundamental difference between the enlisted and officer oath – to evaluate orders. it makes you wonder where we are as a navy…

  • klmyr

    Easy gentlemen. In the 20 years that I have been paying attention to military
    affairs this ‘resignation’ meme has resurfaced more than a few times when JO’s disagreed with political action. Then, as now, it comes off as a little
    rash. One cannot simply quit when faced with distasteful options.

    I would counter this call to (lay down) arms with a call for senior uniformed
    leadership to reengage civilian leadership regarding our strategic worldwide
    goals. For, at the end of the day, strategy drives operations. If we are being
    positioned such that our operations are no longer tenable in the face of
    current fiscal and/or political reality, then that must be accounted for in our
    strategic goals. Should operations fail, then so does strategy – along with those who created that strategy. All fall together.

    Fortunately for those in the fleet, the highest ranks of our military line
    officer leadership is comprised of former operators that have mastered element, unit, and fleet tactics and operations and led tactical, administrative
    (man/train/equip), and operational (fleet & combatant) commands. Thus do
    they have the clearest view of the true military costs required to support
    national strategy. More so, I can only assume that they have learned during
    staff officer tours to provide their Commanders with their best opinions and
    have learned how to defend those positions with clear and concise arguments. It is this consummate understanding and collection of skills that I would call on our military leaders to implement with all human effort at this point in our national history.

    If we are facing a hollowing of the force (arguably so with each new headline), then leadership must make decision makers understand that this is not the force that can support existing strategy. As is the nature of our profession, our military leaders will work through every option feasible to meet any and all orders, but when those orders cannot – truly, factually, cannot – be met, they must report that to civilian leadership and work with them to devise more realistic strategies. They must make their case every second of every day and using every skill set they have garnered over their long careers. They must not exit in protest but instead must make their factual arguments so persistent, compelling, and inconvenient that they can no longer be ignored. If the services chiefs do believe that the force can no longer support strategy, and I am not privy to know what they believe, then they should be making those arguments to civilian leadership. I can only believe that this is occurring based on what SECDEF Panetta is arguing publicly. I further believe that Hagel, should he be selected to helm DoD next, will do so as well.

    Simply stated, if the reality – actual reality (and not cyclic partisan political
    hyperbole designed to foment crisis that some might argue is a part of this
    debate) – is such that operations cannot be supported, and that operations de facto support strategy, then I cannot agree that “the strategic policy is
    sound.” The strategic policy is a ‘wish’ and must change or face collapse.
    Our uniformed leadership is tremendously capable of speaking to what strategic goals can realistically be supported by military operations and posturing under varying constraints. Those are the discussions worth having, discussions that proffer and fight for solutions and strategic refinement, not ones in which those who can best make those arguments are encouraged to leave the table.

    • AW1Tim

      Unfortunately, this time the monster is very real. There is an administration in place which fully intends, and supports, the gutting of our military in order to provide more bread and circuses for the pedes.

      Providing for the common defense is the very first duty of the federal government, as stated in the Constitution. Social Security, Medicare, Welfare, Food Stamps, Section-8 Housing, and many other programs are NOT. They are of tenuous Constitutionality, only because no one has the courage to bring suit. But I digress.

      The point is that we cannot afford to follow your advice. It would be as foolish to trust this administration as it was for Neville Chamberlain to trust Hitler. Both had no honor, no adverse feelings about lying to gain the trust of others while furthering their own agendas.

      Having our senior leadership resign, en masse, in protest poses no more danger to our nation than trying to survive with these massive and counter-productive cuts to defense. In fact, keeping on all those leaders with a hollow, 2nd to 3rd rate force, unable to position itself against potential threats across the Pacific is not just disingenuous, but an affront to the enlisted who will bear the lion’s share of the butcher’s bill which our enemies will present to us.

      Either we stand up now, and “just say no”, or we try and look ourselves in the mirror later on when we have nothing left to show for more than 200 years of tradition but flaming datums and a loss of unrestricted access to overseas markets.

      Simply, this is 1933. Either we act now to stop the foolishness of these defense cuts, or we live with the shame of not-to-distant results.

  • There is great potential for this to be the most important sentiment ever espoused from the USNI blog.

  • Much good medicine here.

  • AW1Tim

    Unfortunately, we can expect no such honor to be evidenced by the Chairman, JCS. He seems to have never met a liberal idea or political opportunity which he hasn’t liked. Tremendously. As such, the example he proffers sets a disturbing example that too many may follow.

    As to the resignation of senior commanders, I would applaud that, but only if there is a copy of the letter of resignation that fully sets out the reasons, and which is sent to all major news and television outlets.

    The folks I feel sorry for are the blueshirts. They have been betrayed by everyone from SecNav to CNO to MCPON and, most unfortunately, by the Goat Locker which, for these past 10 years or so, has taken the easy road and remained silent while too many political changes were taking place in leadership.

    The officers can resign, but the enlisted are stuck until their contracts are over. They need some honorable men to be their guide, to set the standard regarding duty, honor, & country. Hopefully a few of those Senior Officers will resign and show them what those words mean.

  • LT Paris

    I think this was an outlandish article that shows a real lack of understanding of the complexities involved with the situation we find ourselves in. Sequestration would be bad, indeed. But, where did the threat of sequestration come from? Why is it facing us down? What good would a mass-resignation do for the situation? It’s not the only viable option – it’s not an option at all. I think the author, who advocates a type of sacrifice he’s not even willing to show by attaching his name to this article, fails to truly appreciate history beyond what he read on wikipedia nor the current strategic situation our leaders are dealing with. If the author truly believes that quitting will solve things, then maybe he should lead the way.

  • There is a disconnect here. The same people who are beomoaning the draconian cuts that sequestration will bring-will in the next breath decry the revenue enhancements that are needed to keep spending at the levels they need to be. You can’t have it both ways-one cannot keep cutting taxes and depriving the coutnry of needed revenue, and then demand that spending be leveled or even increased. Sequestration is a bad idea to be sure-but it’s cause is not “an administration bent on gutting the military”. It is caused by a refusal of a segment of our elected Congress to understand that taxes have to be restored to the level they were before 2001. The Bush Tax cuts coupled with the unfunded expenses of the wars are the biggest single cause of our deficit growth.

    There are cuts that CAN be made in DOD. There are vertical cuts that can be made, agencies that are no longer useful, and there are cuts in staffs that should have been made a long time ago. The same is true in other areas of the government. There are cuts to be made to be sure-just as there is a need to raise the revenue base of the government to do the things it is supposed to be doing. But “spreading it out” and saying travel is the culprit of increased spending, or stopping training, or furloughing civilians for 22 days, or any of the other things being proposed is short sighted. And glosses over a Navy created problem, namely the service’s inability to say no, that have created the problems its faces today.

    The wars have proven to be the United States “east of Suez” moment. I am more and more convinced that a retrenchment can and should be made from the Middle East and that we must seek to reduce our overall overseas commitment in order to by time and resources to fix the things that need fixing within the United States. That does not mean returning to isolationism-simply an acknowledgement that the US does not have to solve every problem abroad or intervene in every conflict of civil war that kicks off in far off lands.

    The failure to have a proper and serious budget is destructive. It does not allow the government and the people in it to plan. It does not provide security to a large group of folks who need it, and so whatever recovery we are undertaking gets short circuited.. But the source of the problem is in Congress-specifically that part of Congress represented by the increasingly radical group who refuse to listen to reason and compromise. No amount of resignations in DOD is going to change that.

  • robert_k

    “Those who no longer feel able to execute their oath to defense [sic] the constitution cannot in good conscience remain in office.”

    Even with sequester cuts, defense spending will remain above historic levels so I fail to see what this would accomplish. Obviously this would be an attempt to send a message but I’m not sure how effective it would be.

    As others have noted, the authors have a limited understanding of sequester and may be falling victim to the hype intended to put pressure on Congress. Sequester could be managed however the problems the navy is experiencing recently are due to the anticipated problems
    of the CR.

    What the authors don’t address is the reality that the American tax payers
    overwhelmingly support decreases in defense spending. As the president of an influential think tank recently noted, there is no logical argument the SECDEF could present to the American public to maintain the current level of defense spending with the exception of losing jobs. Do flag officers really want to support that argument?

    The resignation of a significant number of admirals would likely be welcomed by the American public and would likely be seen as an effective efficiency initiative. I think Gates tried to purge a large number of GO/FOs but failed.

  • Why not a reference to Jim Webb resigning as SECNAV because of budget cuts?

  • There’s a lot of hype here and not much researched fact…The most glaring: how does going from 2 carriers to 1 in the gulf “put [the Navy] in more danger than any terrorist threat has?” Wasn’t that policy started in 2010? Were we operating at great risk to our forces until 3 years ago? Begin by looking at the historical level of funding of the DoD since WWII.

    Canceling maintenance for the rest of the FY will be terrible for ships but it is a very tangible way for the Navy to show Congress how these frustrating CR’s affect the force.


    This is nonsensical. Reducing carrier presence in the gulf has no effect other than to keep carriers out of a very tight spot where they provide little to no real value anyway. Mass resignations of senior officers would have no effect since they’d all be replaced. Sequestration is a big deal, but military officers resigning is not going to have any effect on politicians. Why would it? They don’t care enough to pass a budget, why would they care about mass resignations? I understand the frustration, but jumping on a grenade to save nobody makes no sense. Every flag officer in the military could resign and politicians wouldn’t be moved an iota. They’d more likely laugh about it to no end. The military will have no impact on the political class’ willingness to pass a budget. The only way to affect them is to threaten their ability to get re-elected, which is their only concern. Nothing else matters to any of them. Nothing. Certainly not a bunch of people acting out of an abundance of “honor.” Now a constitutional amendment requiring a signed budget before the beginning of the fiscal year or everyone in office loses their job, elections are called, and incumbents are barred from running for re-election. That would get something done. We’d get budgets, you’d better believe that.

    The truth of the matter is that presidents, senators, and members of the house care not a whit about the nation, national security, or anything else other than their re-elections. The only way to affect budgets, or any other piece of national policy is to hold their jobs at risk, period.

  • I was surprised to hear the CJCS say this, but it really hit home when thinking about this issue…
    “None of us walk away or run away from a crisis or a fight. You know that’s not our nature. But I will tell you, personally, if ever the force is so degraded and so unready and then we’re asked to use it, it would be immoral.”
    -General Dempsey


    I hung this over at Sal’s place, and am going to pile on Matthew’s post with some additional surrounding dialouge for context. While I understand the sentiment, resignation seems like a petulant reaction, not the ultimate recognition of civilian authority. Here is how a strategic leader, the Chairman, answered just this quesiton it in testimony before the SASC on 12 FEB 13. I encourage reading all the testimony, as the service chiefs articluate the terrifying impact of sequestration to our civilian leadership quite well and in detail along with Under Secretary Carter, which may be more effective than tearing off their stars and leaving in a huff.

    OK. OK. Has anybody thought about resigning in

    DEMPSEY (?):

    Let me — you ask me that a lot, Senator. I
    don’t know if you’re trying to send me a message.


    No, I don’t want you to resign.


    But I just want to make this real to people
    up there. I mean, we’re putting you in an almost untenable…


    DEMPSEY (?):
    Well, your points are good. Look, none of us — none of us walk away or
    run away from a crisis or a fight. That’s — you know, that’s not our nature.
    But I will — I will tell you personally, if ever the force is so degraded and so unready, and then we’re asked to use it, it would be immoral to use the force unless it’s well-trained, well-led and well– equipped.


    Are we on the path to creating that dilemma?

    DEMPSEY (?):

    We are on that path.


    So please understand that, colleagues. We’re on the path of requiring our military in the future to protect us in a circumstance where they know they don’t have the ability given what we’re doing to the training, the readiness of the force. And, General Dempsey, I can’t say it any better.

  • Dave Schwind

    As I read the reactions to the impending budgetary crisis, I have to shake my head in amazement. Budget cuts are looming…so what does the DoN do? Take away maintenance from ships, allowing them to fall further into disrepair than they already potentially are. But where does that money that’s been “saved” go? To the new Office for Hazing Prevention, of course! Seriously? Having served in the Navy and now in civilian industry (that is completely detached from the DoN or DoD), it amazes me the dichotomy in the ways of thinking. Here, we have Navy Junior Officers recommending flag officers commit career seppuku over the dishonor of budget cuts, while other people keep on investing in pork barrel nonsense (yes, I consider the Office of Hazing Prevention to be pork-barrel nonsense…isn’t that the job of the Command “Triad”? Or has the Navy bred them to be so inept as to be unable to actually have effective oversight of their commands, that the powers that be are required to shift that responsibility to a cube-farm in the Pentagon? Yikes!)

    In the Real World, when budget cuts loom close, what happens? Before I get into that, I’ll tell you what DOESN’T happen – the maintenance of the machinery that makes money doesn’t get cut (in my industry, we rely on major machinery as our source of income…if it’s not working perfectly, the company fails…) What does happen first is the “pork barrel” projects get cut. Those “nice to have” things, some modernizations, some R&D, some morale items…those fall by the wayside. Never in sufficient quantities, however, to effect the overall operation of the company. Second, the company cuts back on people. I know, it’s a strange concept for the DoN or the DoD to cut back on people as they are a beautiful picture of a welfare state, but let’s look at this realistically: people are very expensive. Not just in the form of base pay, but the benefits, the medical care, not just for the service member or civilian employee, but their dependents as well. I know it’s sacrilege to suggest the elimination of employees as that is hugely politically unpopular (far too many voters are prone to “veteran worship” these days) but the monetary savings would be dramatic.

    And I’m not suggesting that people be separated with full retirement benefits either. We’ve seen how that works and guess what? That costs the DoD money too. How about getting rid of the “dead wood” with no other benefits than the fact that they had the privilege of serving their country? How about taking those E-6s with 18 years whose entire job is assisting gravity with holding down the smoke deck and giving them the boot? That O-4 who has been fired three times in a row from three commands? See ya. That undeployable E-5 with two girlfriends and six kids who is on “permanent” LIMDU for the third time in a row? Dosvidanya! That GS-7 whose been counseled for the fourteenth time for coming into work drunk? Bye-bye… (and yes, I’ve seen all of these…and plenty more…as I’m sure we all have.)

    I fail to understand the concept of cutting the readiness of our frontline forces and suggesting that the Navy’s leaders resign in protest while thousands of Sailors and civilian employees simply plod along, biding time, doing just as much as they have to in order to get to retirement eligibility so they can continue to suckle off the teat of the government and the taxpayer. It’s easy to see the big cuts when high visibility things happen, but it’s far better in the long run to see if the core of the structure isn’t what needs fixing first. It’s like a house with termites…you can change the shutters all day long, but if you don’t fix what’s rotting it at the core, you’ll continue to have problems. There’s an enormous amount of money that can be saved in cutting the “dead wood” from the military, and leaving them without the benefit of billions in pensions and medical care. That’s where having the guts to stand up and do something really unpopular comes into play…and it’s far more effective in the long run than merely replacing those leaders at the top with another set to deal with the same problems again and again.

  • Desert Tortoise

    Sequestration is only a problem because the Federal Acquisition Regulations do not permit any branch of government to change the “color of money”, in other words money intended for procurement or RDT&E cannot be moved to an account for operations and maintenance (O&M), MILCON or MILPERS. Once money is authorized by Congress, it has to be spent as authorized. Since we are running on Continuing Resolutions, the spending patterns of the last appropriations bill are locked into place. It also means that existing programs cannot be canceled nor can new programs be started.
    This becomes a problem for the Navy not because their overall budget is too little, but because they cannot move money from procurement and RDT&E accounts over to O&MN where it is needed this year. The Navy is locked into last years O&MN spending profile and it is not enough for this year’s needs, and the FAR prohibits the Navy from taking RDT&E or Procurement money to fill the gap.
    Congress could easily remedy this problem with a vote of each house.