140305-N-LE543-054Judging from the comments on social media and the notes I have received from active and retired shipmates, the buzz surrounding CDR Guy Snodgrass’ “Keep a Weather Eye on the Horizon” is real and I’m encouraged to see it. It’s no surprise why this paper has become a topic of discussion in wardrooms and ready rooms around the fleet, and passed electronically across warfare communities.

Our Navy has a proud tradition of professional discourse, and this excellent paper lies squarely in that mold. Good arguments are typically dual-edged – one side passion, the other logic. Guy’s passion is evident and it appears many of you share it. More than that, he understands complete loyalty means complete honesty, and I know – personally – that he wrote this paper only to help make our institution better. It already has. Top naval leaders are aware of several of the issues he touches on. Many are being studied, budgeted for, or in the early stages of implementation. Others give us pause.

I share many of the concerns and have similar questions to those detailed in Guy’s paper. A quick example – many of you have heard me on the road talk about how BUPERS (being self-critical) historically “swings behind the pitch”, unable to nimbly react to economic and early stage retention issues. It’s not neglect, good people here trying to do the best they can with limited tools, but the fact is it has cost us in both good people and money. We have to do better, and I must say that this discourse helps.

We’ve all been JO’s and yes we can also fall victim to forgetting what it was like, but this is also the power of discourse. The idea that there is a perception that operational command is not valued and there is an erosion of trust in senior leadership bothers me…I want to hear more, learn more from you.

Fostering an environment where folks feel empowered to share their thoughts on important issues is a core responsibility of leadership. Ideas, good and bad, have no rank. Yet the discourse can’t just stop there. We need thoughtful debate on how to solve problems, not just an articulate accounting of what’s wrong and who’s at fault. We need leaders willing to offer new and innovative solutions to problems that at times appear impossible or hopeless. Those kind of leaders inspire all of us to continue serving men and women in our charge.

Guy has set an example for one way to ensure thoughtful debate has a voice. Please push your ideas forward — write about them, talk about them with your Sailors, up and down the chain of command. This is the only way we will overcome the challenges ahead of us – together.

Posted by VADM Bill Moran, USN in Aviation, Innovation, Navy, Soft Power, Tactics, Training & Education

You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

  • The Navy’s Grade 36 Bureaucrat

    I can quickly give you two reasons most don’t bother pushing their ideas forward:
    1. We get ridiculed. If you point out something that is broken (say, JOs have a horrible lifestyle their first few years) you get told that you’re a whiner, a rebel, don’t have enough experience, etc. Most JOs will say “Why risk the extra criticism?” and will suffer in silence.
    2. Even when we do point out stuff, nothing gets done. For example, my unit has pointed out issues continuously in DRRS-N, yet we get nothing but lip service from the TYCOM. If we spend the extra hours putting it all together, only to get no action from higher up, then that is a very strong signal to simply report “all is well” and live with mediocrity.
    I’m not saying this is right, but it is VERY present in today’s Navy and I would offer it needs to be addressed first before you will see any change in JO attitude.

  • veteran222

    part of RIF of 2008, the Navy downsized their critical thinkers. I’m now critically thinking for the private sector and miss the Navy.

  • Jschon

    I agree with Grade 36 Bureaucrat. After serving aboard USS FREEDOM (LCS 1) as the MPA during the initial Sail Around from the East Coast, I can personally attest to the chaos and bureaucratic malaise that really brought that program to it’s knees in terms of congressional approval.

    The concept is phenomenal, but the execution of the supporting structures (training, shore support, equipment reliability, maintenance structures, PMS, etc) were all non-existent and the more the crew fought to bring the ship to life, the more our inputs were ignored. Without opportunity to be feel our work actually matters or that the larger Navy cares about the development of its personnel, Sailors become frustrated and I, for one, resigned and moved on to private life.

  • O-5 Aviation Squadron CDR

    CDR Guy Snodgrass has succinctly addressed the majority if not all the issues relating to retention and manning. He also lists a number of recommendations that if implemented would go along way in addressing the majority of these problems. It would be nice to see a dedicated point by point response from senior leadership in the Navy WRT CDR Snodgrass’ point paper. In 28 years of wearing a uniform, this is one of the best and MOST accurate snap shots of the Navy today and the issues we face. I emplore senior leadership to do more than lip service when it comes to addressing these issues.

  • Hippocrates

    Agreed with Grade 36 Bureaucrat and Jschon. I have little trust in our Flag Officers ability to listen to our concerns. The proof is in the pudding, EVERY time a Flag come to tour any ship they always have some predestinated tour route that we clean for hours and hours before their arrival not seeing any of the dirty laundry tossed behind each closed door they pass by. They rarely speak to the crew (not that we would give honest input to a Flag officer in front of the CO) then disappear never to be hear from again all in 20-30 mins. If you want smoke blown up your rear you can have that done back at your office without me having to take many hours out of my day to prep for it. Also, where is the Flag Officer “CO suggestion box?”

  • LT W.T. Door

    Off topic, but this afternoon the USFFC SAPRO held a base-wide “first-line supervisors’ call” (E-5 and up) about sexual assault and suicide prevention, and the presentations raised some questions that I’ve been kicking around.

    1. With a single-digit percentage of sexual assault perpetrators being held accountable (2558 unrestricted reports and 238 court-martial convictions for sexual assault in FY12–NJP doesn’t count), and several failed high-profile prosecutions in the last year, how do we show our Sailors that Big Navy is serious about deterring this force protection problem?

    2. The SAPRO mentioned one factor inhibiting prosecution is that victims often feel like they share partial responsibility for what happened. How do we stamp out the idea that when someone chooses to commit a violent crime against you, you are accountable for his (and it’s almost always his) actions?

    3. Switching gears: Sailors who are under all the stress they can take will play hurt in order to accomplish the mission, right up to the point where they break and go sad–or worse. This is especially true when seeking help to do their job better carries the risk of being PRP decertified and no longer being able to do their job at all. How do we shift their risk/benefit perception in favor of seeking help? Can we get to the point where we say as a matter of policy, “On paper, this counseling is Potentially Disqualifying Information, but we see it as you voluntarily *enhancing* your reliability by developing the coping skills you need?”

  • LT R

    I think that CDR Snodgrass has done a great job at succinctly conveying issues facing the Navy today. To people who read this: Please don’t complain about how flag officers never listen when you are being solicited for feedback.Having said that, I offer the following feedback on his recommendations:

    1) Don’t put OPTEMPO on a Sailor’s LES unless you have a mechanism to compensate him for his time (and that’s an option worth pursuing). He will just compare it to his buddies to prove how he got boned more before he leaves at EAOS.

    2) I caution against stereotyping millenials the way that CDR Snodgrass does. I agree that cultural values shift over time, but assuming that every officer born in a 20 year timespan values the same aspects of their professional and personal lives equally narrow-minded. Often what comes with that stereotype is the ultimate conclusion that millenials aren’t willing to work hard, which is objectively false. The millenial generation has some of the hardest working people out there.

    3) I’m pretty much in verbatim agreement with the rest of his points.

    Personally, I decided to “stay Navy” because of graduate education opportunities on post JO shore duty paired with genuinely enjoying my job. The paradox is that I enjoy my job at sea, but have to go without seeing my family. I tolerate my job inport, but at least I see my wife and two small kids. At the next time I get to make the decision, it will be whether the instability of moving my children into a different school district every 3-5 years, the cost of perpetually renting a home vice building equity — which is currently racked up at over $100,000, spending long periods of time as a geobachelor in command courses, and the lower corporate job earning potential by staying in the Navy until retiremement will be worth $40k/year. It would be a no-brainer for me to “stay Navy” if there was a guaranteed way to stay at a homeport for 7-10 years so I could buy a home and have some stability for my family, even with the time spent at sea, and my wife can build a respectable career. But I look at my potential budget when my kids are teenagers going to college in the next couple years, I’m looking to buy my first home, and I’m in my mid 40s competing with people have my age trying to start a new career and suddenly $40k/year in retirement doesn’t look very appealing.

    So while I think the job of CO at sea is respectable and something I aspire to, even if they are kept on tight leashes these days, I will do what I think is best for my family first and foremost.

    So that’s a really long way of saying that I think another way to increase officer retention is to allow mid-grade officers to stay in a geographic location for a prolonged period of time. Plus it saves the Navy money on PCS moves.

  • Someone Who Cares

    Dear Admiral Moran et al –
    Hopefully you will join me in stating CDR Guy Snodgrass’ essay was impressive. I do not agree with everything stated within it, but the vast majority hit the nail square on the head. Will you listen and respond?

    If I may say, you’re not off to a good start. The response your Flag Sec/Flag Writer/PAO tee’d up for you above is an embarrassingly poor, yet predictable, response. The “I’m looking into it” isn’t very convincing and lends to it the feeling that you’re staring at your blotter calendar and figuring out your rotation date and how much time there’s to kill so you can issue a “whoops, time ran out” sort of response. Flag officers typically enjoy “critical and creative thinkers.” That’s until the Flags are faced with those thinkers and have to provide an answer to their questions.

    Just so you know where I’m coming from, a little about me: I have worked very hard always and asked for very little in return. Senior leadership has asked this of me and I’ve complied. I’ve had the hard break-out Fitrep nearly every time, graduated with honors in any school you’ve ever sent me to (to include graduate education), passed each and every inspection I’ve been faced with, done quite well on all deployments and always taken the toughest jobs. I screened for CO/XO command at sea on my first pass. I’ve had the respect and dedication of my sailors and they’ve received mine.

    I’ve held up my end of the bargain. I will be departing the service after my O-5 command.

    Normally a humble individual, I am stepping out from beneath that label for just an instant to say – I can assure you, you need me more than I need you. Who will you now promote? More people like you? Maybe that’s what you want/need, the comfort factor knowing you can control the newest Flags.

    I can see it now, people wearing stars on their collars reading this in the privacy of their own office saying boldly and without any understanding of consequence, “I don’t care. We don’t need people like you. Just leave then there’ll be others waiting in line to fill your void.”

    I disagree with that statement on many levels, but without getting long winded, let me be blunt: You do need me, and there are not a lot of people “like me” willing to stick around. I pride myself on the fact that I’ve worked very hard to attain and maintain the circle of professionals and friends that I do. A bit of insight into this over-achieving, middle management circle: They all think like me. You have a bigger problem on your hands than you think. So again I ask you, who will you promote?

    One of the most on the mark statements was actually made in the ‘Comments Section’ of CDR Snodgrass’ essay by “Andy.” His #8 point is more accurate than you can ever imagine. We just don’t trust you as a whole. Of course, like any other situation there’s a few outliers, but as a “senior leadership” overall, you’ve earned as much trust as Congress.

    How will you change? Can you change? All I can say is you chose to put on this stars. I don’t want them, but you took them. In doing so you’ve made a promise to all of us to look out for our best interests. As a Divo I was in awe of the Admiral who came onboard and spoke to us – I used to look at you with pride and a sense of “that’s who I want to be someday.” Now when you walk onboard my stomach turns, a feeling of “you’ve left your ivory tower long enough to get a picture with one of my hard working sailors who falsely thinks you have his best interests in mind.” I won’t tell him this, of course, because I am a good leader and will shoulder the burden of leadership for you. So enjoy the picture of my Sailor of the Quarter and you staring at lagging long enough for it to be published on your command webpage. I’m cynically positive you’ve forgotten his name by the time you’ve hit the brow and lost interest in taking care of him by the time you’ve hit the foot of the pier. After all, you’ve got a luncheon with some of your retired, contractor cronies that have understandably taken more of your attention on this day. Not to worry though, I will take care of him in your chosen absence.

    I am no longer disappointed, sad, etc. I am angry. You’ve taken your end of the bargain and done little to nothing with it. Those in your group who had the gumption to speak out have been spared another star and sent home. I’ve watched the CNO hold a proverbial gun to everyone’s head over LCS. Guess what, the emperor has no clothes, LCS is terrible and no one wants to have it for their command. (Insert Flag comment here about command being command and we’ll just give it to someone else). I’ve watched retired three and four stars writing an open letter regarding pay and benefits with the tone of “deal with it.” That’s funny, you’re not dealing with it since Congress changed that with the 2007 proposal taking care of the three and four stars pay and benefits, but you have the gall to submit such a line of thinking. It took VFW, American Legion, and like organizations to stand up for “us.” How many 8 month deployments have you done? I don’t mean from the comfort of Flag Country on a carrier; I mean three section watches sleeping in an overflow berthing? Did they have these sort of deployments when you were a Divo? Where are you, senior leadership? When can I depend on you? I’m tired of “just deal with it.” How about you just deal with it.

    I’m sure most of what I’ve written will simply be dismissed with a head shake and uttering of the words “not seeing the big picture” and “too naïve.” Am I? I’m on the deckplates daily, where are you?

    As for you, CDR Guy Snodgrass – you’re terribly accurate in stating this argument is cyclical. I’m damn proud of you. By the time this argument comes around again you and I, sadly, will likely be out of uniform and it’ll be someone else’s fight. I admire you for putting your neck out there – I’d like to think this will gain momentum and evoke action. Unfortunately a bigger part of me believes that you should update your resume and start budgeting for O-5 retired pay. That’s our sad state of affairs.

    I put on the uniform out of a sense of pride and love of Country. If you offer bonuses, sure I’ll take them because they’re there, but that wasn’t my motivation to join or stay. I think you, senior leadership, know this about me and have taken full advantage of yanking me around since you know my love of Country will persevere over all of your shortcomings.

    I will continue to bust my rear to my last day since that’s how I’m built. Honor, Courage, and Commitment aren’t just things printed on the insert to my Change of Command program. If this posting seems saturated with emotion, you’re damn right it is. Because I care. Do you?

    Very Respectfully,
    Someone Who Cares

  • Aviation Skipper

    I am a sitting CO of an aviation squadron, and I consider this privilige the best job in the world. However, this entire discussion saddens me, because we would never have gotten to this point if we had leaders who would have made a modicum of effort to spend some time to understand the very people their decisions effect. The comments by “someone who cares” mirror some of my own; my trust in senior leadership has eroded to a point where I am having a profound struggle with my decision to leave a service I love. Our senior leaders are fine officers who are doing their best to steer the service away from shoal water during a highly politicized and budget-driven environment. Because they are always dealing with the ‘closest alligator to the canoe’, little time is left for the business of leadership. How many times have we heard the phrase “know your Sailors”? Admirals, I’m sorry to say that you have lost touch with yours. During CLS in Newport, when flag officers were asked advice on how to handle hot-button issues of the day, particularly ERBs, I was amazed to hear each and every one respond with “that’s for you to figure out Skipper.” Got it, it’s up to me to run my command, and I’d prefer it that way, but if you’re not going to give me guidance on how to message the most unpopular policy the Navy has handed down since banning alcohol on ships, then don’t be surprised when I lose faith in your sincerity. We are a resilient group of men and women, and we will take whatever soup sandwich of an assignment the Navy hands us, and do it well. All we ask for is some honesty and consideration for our efforts. When I’m planning on promoting in April, don’t wait until the day before to send out an impersonal message that promotion dates are being delayed for 5 months. When I’m looking forward to receiving a command bonus as I embark on this great journey, at least give me head’s up that it’s not going to happen so I don’t have a “Clark Griswold” moment when I realize I can no longer afford the pool I promised my kids. When my Department Heads are getting paid more than me, what message does that send to my JO’s? If you need me to go on an IA to Afghanistan, don’t tell me it’s because it will look good in my record for the screen board when we know that’s not the case. Due course officers usually don’t get sent on IAs because they’re too busy in ‘valued’ community billets. When I ask you a tough question, at least give me something I can work with, not the “we’re looking into it” answer we expect from elected politicians. You’re better than that. I want to stay Navy. But I don’t see how I can sacrifice my family for an organization that no longer values the leadership principles they have tought me to believe in?
    – A deeply concerned and saddened Sailor

  • Richard Johnson


    I am curious why you eluded that the post by “Someone Who Cares” quote “jumped the shark” with his or her observations on the Sailor Bob SWO website?

    I guess that is an easy way to ignore, discredit, and dismiss the issues that “Someone Who Cares” wrote about on this blog.

    Richard Johnson

  • Disillusioned

    So many of CDR Snodgrass’s comments hit true it leaves me shaking my head. When I first joined the Navy as a mid at USNA low those many years ago, I subscribed to an ideal about what military service was. I believed it was a higher calling, a duty above the fray, “no rat-race for me.” As I grew up in the Navy, though, I quickly discovered (oh so quickly) that it was no better than any other occupation. I’ve spent a career watching seniors avoid telling their bosses the truth (and vice versa) and watching them learn how to either abide by the letter or spirit of the law – whichever suited their best interests at the moment. We’re alleged to be decisive; we’re anything but. I’ve observed seniors postpone decision making for as long as possible until only one course of action was left; that way, they could never be accused of having made a bad decision…”what else could I have done?” It absolutely infuriates me to think that, thanks to the misdeeds of a few (senior) officers, the rest of us are going to be subjected to lectures from those SAME OFFICERS about ethics and how we need to make better judgments. I’m already accused, annually in training, of being a suicidal rapist. Now I guess I’ll be a lying suicidal rapist. I’m an O-5, retiring soon, walking away from a TS clearance and all the opportunities it might afford, because I can frankly no longer stomach working for the US government. Give me the private sector, where life is no better save this: in the private sector, they’re out in the open about putting themselves first.