4477314924_4c82c411da_zThere is a habit in the military of holding one’s tongue for the future, when the present would profit most by speaking now.

Some keep their thoughts to themselves when they see problems, or keep them firmly behind closed doors. Others see the requirement to step from the shadows to confront in the open what others are keeping silent about.

Why are so many people in the profession of arms so quiet? The reasons are many and varied; loyalty to ones chain of command, deference to authority, orders, propriety, fear, passivity, verve, desire to retain professional viability, or just a lack of confidence in ones opinions.

When is the supported institution best served by silence, and when by open and contentious discourse? Is this a time for silence, or a time for those at the highest levels of leadership to dare to read, think, speak, and write?

Not put their name to something a person on their staff wrote; not some “It takes a village to write 3,000 words” safety-in-numbers collaboration. No – something in their own words either in their personnel by-line, or by a properly vetted “Federalist Papers” format.

At its best though; Sims, Mitchell and Connolly – there is the benchmark that we need right now.

What do those three General Officers/Flag Officers (GOFO) have in common? Well, at different stages in their careers, they were highly influential due to their very public outspokenness about what was not being done correctly in order to, in their minds, address the critical shortfall in weapons development, procurement and strategy in order to have an effective fighting force.

They put their reputations and careers on the line – while on active duty and planning to stay on active duty – in order to elevate the discussion in the open. The did this for one reason – in order to bring about a better American military.

Sims was sending letters directly to the President, used rather colorful terms to identify critical shortfalls, and was an aggressive publisher of anti-establishmentarian ideas. Mitchell beat the drum and edged across a few lines to pronounce to an unlistening and ossified parochial bureaucracy the future influence of air power upon history. Connolly had no problem aggressively explaining Newtonian physics against the Joint-fetishists of his day. Sims was rewarded, Mitchell was Court Martialed, and Connolly found himself a terminal 3-Star.

They chose the risky path – and rewarded or punished individually; their nation’s military were the better for it collectively.

There is another path – it is an honorable one as well – one that has a mixed record of success. While it is true that the higher one goes up the chain, the more perceived “power” one has and as a result has the ability to affect change, most of the time that remains just-beyond reach. That power lever is a mirage. It is a trick. It is the triumph of hope against experience.

Good people who are truly trying to do the right thing often find they have waited too long. That magic set of PCS orders, that enabling rank – it never comes. All of a sudden, they find themselves scheduled for Executive TAP, yet realize their work is incomplete.

And so we find the parting shot. Look at one of General Craddock’s final speeches as SACEUR. Look at Admiral Harvey’s parting gift, and finally, we have this.

Does the United States need a 300-ship Navy or will it over the next 70 years need seven strategic nuclear submarines on patrol in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans? Each would have 24 intercontinental ballistic missiles, all of which could carry up to five nuclear warheads.

That was the choice Vice Adm. William Burke, deputy chief of Naval Operations Warfare Systems, described Tuesday at the Congressional Breakfast Seminar Series.

Burke, who is set to retire in the next few weeks, spoke frankly about the undersea portion of the U.S. strategic nuclear triad “and its intersection with our shipbuilding plan.”

His conclusion: “If we buy the SSBN [the planned 12 replacement strategic submarines for the current 14 Ohio class now in service] within existing funds, we will not reach 300 ships. In fact, we’ll find ourselves closer to 250. At these numbers, our global presence will be reduced such that we’ll only be able to visit some areas of the world episodically.”

This topic of the impact of SSBN recapitalization in the face of a perfect storm of macro-budgetary crisis and the delayed effects of the procurement Lost Decade from poor programmatic decisions that will be the 2020’s is not new. Indeed, many of us have been writing and speaking about the need to address the coming “Terrible ‘20s” for years.

Why is it a GOFO scheduled to “retire in the next few weeks” is the one who is talking about this? On this and many other issues; you can have all the “Disruptive Thinker” JOs and sharp enlisted you can jam in a conference room, you can have scores of retired Field Grade officers pounding away at their dinner table each evening, and you can have the pundit-pondering think-tankers of the Potomac chattering until Judgement Day and it won’t have the impact of serving GOFO standing up and speaking without guile or hedge about what everyone sees, but few openly say. As long as they do not, then you will get the B-team working the creative friction.

What impact can a GOFO have as he is heading out the door? Not really that much. Like a lame-duck politician – his professional capital is spent. The cynic and critic will simply dismiss his comments as sour grapes. His natural allies will just set their jaws and mumble “too-little-too-late.” If the only issues he raise are related sequester, then he will be looked at as just a political hack.

Are these professional death-bed conversions helpful? While the decision to be silent and work behind the closed door is a valid and honorable one, in the end is it really a false economy of delayed revelation? Better late than never, or just another lost opportunity?

Sure, comments heading out the door can be helpful, important, and impactful in a fashion, but they have but a shadow of the impact they could be have had if these actions took place in the open, in high profile, years before while the GOFO were still in uniform and intended to stay as such for another tour or two.

As our Fleet shrinks and is balanced out with either sub-optimal platforms such as LCS or expensive Tiffany porcelain dolls; as our carrier decks are full of short-legged strike fighters and underarmed expensive F-35s (TBD), our deployed Sailors are burdened by a bloated, demanding, and ineffective Shore/Staff fonctionnaire cadre, and a money-sponge of a SSBN recapitalization requirement is squatting right in front of us – where are our Sims, Mitchells, and Connellys?

Do we need them? Do we have them? What do they need to do?

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  • PeaceFool51

    Many a Junior Office would love to truly speak their minds, yet oftentimes lack the proper forum. There are legitimate issues of tactics or budgetary concerns that I feel need to be addressed within my particular community and AOR, yet are not suited for an unclassified forum. Am I supposed to phone up the Admiral, ask him to kick secure? Send a SIPR email cold? Our O4/O5 chain is typically not receptive to any rocking of the boat…..

    • Those JOs should write for Proceedings, and any number of navy-oriented blogs. The Institute has to beg to get articles, so this cadre of JOs (or any other navy member who sees an area where we could do better) you reference have no excuse for their silence. I am of aware of at least three or four other blogs that get a lot of traffic because of superb, cutting-edge writing/thinking.

      • PeaceFool51

        and none of those blogs, nor Proceedings, are a secure, classified forum. ultimately that limits any discussion active duty professionals could possibly participate in.

      • Southern Air Pirate

        OH SHENNIGANS!!!!!
        I have seen the kids from the PatRon/FAIRECONRON running articles talking about the issues in their community since I was a kid in GI Joe t-shirts and Proceedings was running articles debating the than new law of Goldwater-Nichols. Ditto for the UDT/EOD/SEAL teams talking about how utter POS the SDV and SDV hangars were or where future of UDT/SEAL should go. Lets not even talk about the crazy kids in the StratWeapons world who were able to debate TS/SCI level strategy, need to up date weapons, needs for better coms and better leadership within the confines of the jointness of the USAF, US Army, NATO, etc over who can run what. A number of times those articles have spurned closed door discussions to have improvements brought into communities or even on the Navy as a whole.

      • PF51, Respectfully disagree. There are any number of issues facing our navy where young officers have insight/contribution. From big deck vs small deck carriers, to LCS vs something else, these young people operate where policy meets reality, and they are equipped to contribute. Will some conversations have to be taken offline: of course. But the larger issues of strategy, tactics (ends, ways, and means)—such as our shipbuilding plan, are public conversations.

  • Thank you for this article. I would also like to know USNI’s opinion of the push by the Navy to early retire the cruisers. I need an opinion I can trust…. I can’t trust the current leadership right now.

    • grandpabluewater

      I, while a life long member, am in no way an official, or represent an official opinion. with reference to the USNI.

      I am always happy to provide an opinion, on the decommissioning of cruisers before their time it is: A very bad idea indeed.

      Let the joust begin.

  • cgberube

    James Smith: USNI does not offer opinions on issues. It is an independent forum. USNI publishes pieces based on submissions and review by the editorial staff and editorial board. If you submit a piece about the cruisers, we will review it.
    – LCDR Claude Berube, USNR, Chair, USNI Editorial Board

    • robert_k

      Not entirely true – USNI is greater than Proceedings. Staff members offer opinions in a variety of forums. Further, as you are well aware, USNI publishes many commissioned pieces in Proceedings and they don’t seek out authors with opinions
      they disagree with. USNI may not
 offer opinions, but it shapes the
      narrative. Not saying this is right or wrong, but things are not as simple as you indicate.

      • Robert – I believe you are mistaken in this comment; “…they don’t seek out authors with opinions they disagree with.” My experience with USNI is just the opposite. They are active believers in creative friction and are aggressively looking for authors with varied opinions – especially from the under-40 crowd.

      • robert_k

        I get it – controversy sells. And with genuine
        respect, that is a skill you have mastered – institutional knowledge, facts, strong opinions and a little bit of Tabasco sauce mixed in – creates an interesting forum.

        However, CDR Berube, has commented on the editorial process a few times (which is fantastic because it makes the process more human). But Proceedings is not entirely bottom-up content and uses commissioned work to shape the message. As you indicated, USNI seeks out specific
        authors to write on topics and therefore by extension, select a known opinion
        an issue.

        Do all well-written articles get published? As indicated by others, some sit in the queue for
        years. The filtering out of issues that make it to print is part of a process that USNI has complete control. I’m sure this is the case with all publications and USNI is much better than most – but the process described by the CDR is not as
        sterile as indicated.

        To get back to the original comment, if USNI thought there was interest in the Cruiser issue, why not seek out someone to write a piece on the topic as requested by Mr. Smith? Perhaps
        opinion wasn’t the right phrase but to address the issue, nonetheless.

      • cgberube

        Here’s another option since you mentioned “bottom-up content”: please consider writing or finding the right person to write an article about cruisers.

      • cgberube

        robert_k: there’s a difference between USNI having an opinion and seeking out someone who can write about a controversial issue which we’ve been hearing about. The EB does sometimes provide suggestions on these but in my 2.5 years on the EB, I really haven’t seen that many commissioned pieces unless you’re talking about one of the monthly columns by Sr. Chief Murphy, Norman Polmar or Tom Cutler.

  • apsfive

    Said the retired guy writing under a pseudonym? Love you and what you do for the Navy, but that’s funny!

    • Yea! Let’s make it about me! As much as I love all the attention … you should perhaps read the post a little closer, or at least in full. “No – something in their own words either in their personnel by-line, or by a properly vetted “Federalist Papers” format.” My quasi-pseudonym has been properly vetted, in the finest traditions of the authors of our founding documents, by USNI. Therefore …. your point is exactly?

      • apsfive

        I will gladly retract/delete of you take offense. More a wink-wink type of jab. Sorry you took it that way.

      • No, no, no, no, no. You’re fine and we’re cool. I’ve got my big-boy pants on, and my reply had a mirthful smirk with it. I covered the other details with you on FB. All is well and you’re all good in my book. XOXO.

    • cgberube

      apsfive: see the various pseudonyms of LT Matthew Maury during the 1830s and the influence he had in shaping the debate about the navy. I don’t discount CDR Salamander or Raymond Pritchett at ID b/f he came out from his Galrahn moniker. It’s not a policy we permit for Proceedings but USNI blog allows that flexibility.

  • As John Boyd said, “to be or to do, which way will you go?” Sadly, too many take the well-trodden path of silence and conformity.

    The money quote: “…GOFO standing up and speaking without guile or hedge about what everyone sees, but few openly say. As long as they do not, then you will get the B-team working the creative friction.”

    It seems we have institutionally lost our way—global force for good…In Sandy Woodward’s One Hundred Days, he quotes one of his frigate skippers, Captain John Coward who was fond of the following motto:

    “The essence of war is violence. Moderation in war is imbecility.”

    This is offered as I believe it would be helpful if our navy vigorously studied the Falklands War, and caught a modern glimpse of where policy meets reality…

  • CAPT Mongo

    Behavior by a GO/FO such as you describe would be terrific. In this administration it would also be instant professional suicide. While I am no longer in the pit, I strongly suspect that guidance from above delimits even internal discussion by senior officers. I truly hope that the War College still allows unfettered discussion as it did when I attended so that some intellectual activity (as opposed to PC brown nosing) actually still festers in our Navy.

    BTW: What saved Sims, IMO, was the president (TR) to whom he was writing. Had he tried that with, say, Wilson, he would have been a terminal CDR.

  • The SSBN force is and should be the single highest priority defense investment for the United States. It alone, without any other aspect of US military power, guarantees the territorial integrity of the United States and its vital interests overseas.

    • grandpabluewater

      Absolutely true. Which is not to say that it is the only priority. Choosing between having a peerless and absolutely first rate Navy, and a peerless and absolutely first rate SSBN force is a false choice and a false economy, the worst possible strategy, and one absolutely guaranteed to fail utterly.

      I will be happy to explain why to such members of the Peanut Gallery as may wish to further their education.

      • Valcan321

        One thing. For it to do those things the people it would be used against have to believe the President in power WILL use them.

      • grandpabluewater

        Credibility is all, always, all ways.

      • CAPT Mongo

        OOH. I liked that. Will steal with your kind permission sir.

      • grandpabluewater


        Best always/Gramps

      • CAPT Mongo

        Thank you. I may substitute “Integrity” as the situation warrants, as that is equally true.

      • grandpabluewater

        Credibility doesn’t exist without integrity. Then there is the reliability, and the power to deliver components.

        If you can fake all three and caring, too; you too can be a political superstar.

  • The_Usual_Suspect61

    “When you are starting out”, I was told by those far wiser than me at the time,”you have two eyes, two ears, and one mouth for a reason.” I understood that early on it was a point in my career to observe, learn, and absorb. However, that did not stop me from being questioning and opinionated in the appropriate settings. As I became senior, it became my responsibility to pass along knowledge and call BS when I saw it. While not always popular, I could sleep at night. If something isn’t right, you call it out. Seems like a pretty simple concept and a good idea to live by. Something maybe GOFO/FOGO types would do?

    A few weeks ago, I spoke to a soon to be commissioned Midshipmen. We were talking about the future and the subject of promotions came up in the context of experience and MOS. He struck a chord when he spoke
    about people already being concerned about what jobs they would have and how it would affect their ability to promote. He said that he joined
    to serve and that to him it meant to do whatever was needed, whenever
    and wherever he was needed. It wasn’t about getting ahead, it was about
    Service – with a capital “S”. It sounded idealistic, but it rang true.

    So, the current crop of Admirals, where is their voice? Where is their conscience? Whom do they serve – themselves or the Navy? Maybe they should remember something they were taught on their first day: “Ship, shipmates, self.” – that pretty much puts and keeps everything in perspective.

  • J C Harvey, Jr ADM, USN (Ret)

    One point of clarification that I suspect can be readily verified – the
    points I made in my final e-mail to the SWO community leaders referred to above were ones that I had made earlier in a variety of USFF Blog posts, public remarks such as SNA symposium speeches, a USNI article on Navy C2, ASNE day speeches, etc.
    These public expressions of my core beliefs were consistent with the views I expressed in a wide variety of internal Navy forums as well.
    My final communication to my fellow SWO Flag officers offered a great opportunity to summarize in one entry a large number of points I had previously, and publicly, expressed and that I felt were very important.
    Whatever anyone may have thought about what I said in that e-mail, I doubt that anyone was surprised by what I said.
    All the best, JCHjr

    • Admiral Harvey,

      In this context, I think the important thing is the size and definition of “anyone.” I knew, and most readers of your work inside our lifelines were well aware of your opinions. On occasion, such as strategic homeporting issues, your voice did escape outside what is really a very small “talking group” that is very self-selecting and narrow of scope. That is not your fault, that is just the nature of the beast. Also, as described in the post – everything you did and said was well within prescribed norms. As a matter of fact, you along with others such as Admiral Stavridis were much more engaged in the public debate than 95% of your peers.

      The challenge is – does the conversation need to move beyond the small group it presently takes place in? Would that be a net-good, or excessively counter-productive?

      Would the Navy be in a better served by a broader and more open debate leadership by those at the top levels of uniformed leadership, or would that be a senseless frontal attack on the barricades that would create entertaining sound and fury, but would do little more?

      Would such actions such as Sims, Mitchell, and Connolly be useful today as they were in the past, or would they be just fruitless vanity if replicated today?

      • If I may add, part of the “nature of the beast” is to exclude controversy. “Self-selecting” is natural—we want to associate with those who agree with our views, and tend to avoid/marginalize those who don’t.

        Clausewitz said:
        “The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish by that test the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature. This is the first of all strategic questions and the most comprehensive.” (On War, translated by Howard and Paret, page 88)

        What kind of war are we prepared to embark upon? The disconnect may be the world as it is, and not the way we’re building/procuring ships and aircraft. The internet has leveled the playing field for information access and many see a different kind of war than our shipbuilding plans would betray. We have young officers who do not see the same world, from a threat perspective, their leaders are planning to. To be clear, the more vigorous our “testing” of that kind of war, the more likely we will prevail. Testing stops when the shooting starts, so debate should be encouraged.

        A good first step would be teaching our young officers JC Wylie—so at least they’d have a good framework for military strategy through a naval lens.

      • J C Harvey, Jr ADM, USN (Ret)

        CDR Salamander

      • Admiral Harvey;

        A little shop-keeping, if I may; first of all, though I know you understand this, I want the readers of our little give-and-take know that – I feel safe that
        this applies to both of us – this isn’t about mano-a-mano or personalities; but ideas. Nothing personal, just “business.”

        I just felt the need to say that as some can read these online exchanges in the wrong “tone.” More than most mediums, online suffers from a lack of easily understood “tone” and “body language.” In order to fill that gap, I ask everyone to consider our back and forth as two guys in rocking chairs on the veranda, a couple of drinks of choice in hand, having a conversation while looking over a tidal estuary at the end of a day. No reason to read it any other way.

        OK, that scene setting complete – let me try to address some of your questions and points.

        1. “When I spoke publicly, testified before Congress, gave interviews or wrote in a variety of articles and blog-posts, I was trying to reach whoever was interested, in my chain-of-command or outside of it, in the Navy or outside the Navy. ”

        – The core of the issue is from my where I sit is; what needs to be done to get the larger public talking about the Navy so the effects can be felt at the policy level? That cannot really be done in “small groups” be they behind oak doors and leather chairs, or pounding away at keyboards by a handful of people. More than most, you were out front, beyond the small group – but is that the exception or the rule? Are those who read blogs, watch CSPAN or read Navy Times just another “small group” as well? Also, it isn’t so much the venue as the topic at hand. Not specifically focused on you, but is the present, standard issue way of doing business bringing important issues and contrary opinion above the ambient noise?

        2. “One thing I didn’t have to do was go outside the chain-of-command because I felt I wasn’t getting a fair hearing inside the chain-of-command. ”

        – That is fair, and is an honorable personal choice, but not the only one. It is the triggering mechanism for the other options that I find the most interesting.

        3. “Had I felt I was not given a hearing to make my case, for whatever reason, on these critical issues, I was ready to continue to push hard
        in every available forum. For me, it simply didn’t come to that. My public voice was used to explain and educate these issues as best I
        could to those outside my chain-of-command and the USFF AoR. Sometimes that group – the coalition of the interested – was fairly small, but sometimes it was very large.”

        – That is a text-book example about how the feedback should and does work more often than not. It is all, subjectively, good and well.

        Here is a question; where is /was that line where it does “come to that?” At what point does one need to define that transition point personally and do it in a professional manner? In the last 20 years or so, is there an example of doing it right? (agree or disagree, I think Gen. Shinseki prior to the invasion of Iraq may be one). What issues are worth transitioning to a more open dialog?

        As a simple example; when will we see three AD Flag Officers publish an article in Foreign Policy contrary to the status quo, vice playing reactionary defense of the status quo against one AD Captain’s questions about the utility of large deck carriers?

        4. “Even within a military organization, in which a strong, vibrant, responsive and “thinking” chain-of-command is absolutely critical to accomplishing the mission, there is generally significant room for debate and discussion “

        – I believe there is a disconnect between the Navy in general and specific UIC, with the UIC you describe above is the exception not the rule. Just last week, I learned that one of our brighter young minds had a very good article of a historical topic spiked by his chain-of-command (yes, everything must be vetted) because they thought it might – might – cause people up the chain discomfort. We’re talking “not of this century” historical. I’ve read the article in question, and am gobsmacked that is was spiked. Only an insecure paranoid culture could take it as such. Sad, but not an isolated event – parallels what I experienced on AD as well. We have a culture that in general discourages debate and discussion – with exceptions in a very few UIC. As a result of this – in the micro – that very good article will not see the light of day in its present form. In the macro, the population of those contributing to the conversation shrinks and loses vitality. As the cost/benefit ratio is so small, that article is not something worth “throwing yourself against the barricades” for and so will not see the light of day, but nonetheless, because of a cultural defect, our intellectual harvest will be a little less this year.

        5. “Striking the correct balance of public support for your boss on a tough issue while also expressing your personal professional opinion is not easy. Striking the balance is a learned skill and one that takes time to learn – particularly in an era characterized by the intense public
        glare provided by the 24/7 social media spotlight.
        Unfortunately, some leaders err on the side of too little public expression as the issues are being shaped while also not providing the required public support once the decision is made. I think you need to do both.”

        – Perfect description of the exact issue at hand.

        6. “And you’d have to go ahead and act despite the fact there is no way you
        could predict the ultimate usefulness of your actions. Sims’ actions
        could have just as easily resulted in disgrace and discharge as
        promotion; he couldn’t truly know at the time he acted what the result
        would be despite his close relationship with the President.
        Taking a principled stand or grandstanding and playing to the crowd? Useful action or “fruitless vanity”? ”

        – Again. Spot on. That is the moral dilemma. That is the core of the argument, isn’t it? I don’t’ think there is a perfect, nicely wrapped up with a bow on it answer to it either. I believe it is a critically important topic at the personal level for those who have to make the call if they “are there” – but it is also critically important for the Navy as an institution whose future sits on a foundation of having the best ideas, people, and institutions finding the best answers to the challenges it faces.

        Group think and mindless conformity on one end, and the anarchy of shouting matches on the other will not get us there, but somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot – the intellectual Laffer curve maximum if you will – where you get the maximum benefit between the two extremes. Are we there – and if not, what do we need to do to get there?

  • I’m on break from class – this will be short.

    Most don’t know how to talk about ideas. Most don’t know how to keep their ego and ideas partitioned.

    This confluence keeps most from writing.

    Lastly, it’s sad that many risk their lives for their Nation. But, don’t risk their career.

  • Unfortunately, the United States Navy spent the better part of the first decade of the 21st century doing two equally stupid things: 1) wasting its energies on a continuing series of pointless reorganizations which accomplished nothing save for preserving the total number of flag officers in the service and 2) using up its flying hours and service life of its ships on the series of pointless wars that the country engaged and still is engaged in. This while at the same time sacrificing a generation on the altar of the IA program.
    its a simple truth that with respect to aviation at least-all of the platforms that could and should have been retained and upgraded could have been procured at least 5 years earlier-the technology was ready then-but they were not. The Navy bears most of the blame for this-but not all. In many cases it was responding to broader pressures from really bad men. ( Take a bow Mr. Rumsfeld).
    Its not going to get any better-when you have the CNO calmly speaking about the “necessity” of having 8+month deployments ( there is no need for that and its simply wrong)-there are bigger issues afoot than the SSBN force right now. To get back on track-the Navy has to start speaking up about its operating tempo and the need to say “no” to commitments we never should have made in the first place.

    • CAPT Mongo

      Yes!! Back to Naval Districts, Bureaus, Fleets, Flotillas, Squadrons and Divisions.

      Rescind Goldwater-Nichols and let us be Naval Officers again (though retain joint operations),

      Oh–and let’s go back to the purpose of the Navy is to crushingly defeat any enemy it is sent against while we’re at it.

      • grandpabluewater

        Capt Mongo: comma, by maintaining readiness for immediate and sustained successful combat at sea.

      • CAPT Mongo

        GPBW: Exactly, that being the only way to be sure to fulfill that mission IMO.