U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Geoff Shepelew's ReenlistmentHopefully, most readers here have already listened to EagleOne and my one hour interview on Midrats with Vice Admiral Bill Moran, USN, Navy Chief of Naval Personnel, and Commander Guy “Bus” Snodgrass, USN, concerning Bus’s paper, Keep a Weather Eye on the Horizon.

If not, you can listen via the Midrats archive here. If you have yet to read the paper, then click the link in the above paragraph to get that too.

Well, the “quick look” is out and you can get it here. It is an executive summary, in a fashion, that outlines the respondents’ demographics and the above-the-fold responses from an unofficial survey taken between May 1st – May 31st.

A couple of things out of the box; yes, everyone knows this is not a scientific survey and only represents those who decided or were able to respond – but it is still useful. You know the old phrase, “half of life is showing up?” Well, take a large dose of one of my favorite versions, “the future belongs to those who show up,” and a dash of, “you must be present to win” and “it isn’t the people, it is the voters who decide.”

No one was forced to take it, so this is really a snapshot from the, “I’ll at least make the effort to take your survey” brigade. Does that skew the results? Who knows … and really who cares. To be part of a conversation, you have to make the effort to speak. These people decided to join the conversation, so we should listen to them.

For statistics geeks and fanatics for transparency and the messy yet vibrant creative friction found only in the market of ideas, this is the – dare I say – sexiest part;

A full report will be published in early fall which will provide an in-depth look at survey background, methodology, and analysis.

This gives everyone with a good understanding of the art to play around with the results and make their own suppositions and observations. From what we have already, there are a few things the stick out.

First, the a few things about who participated sounds about right:
1. Warrant Officers and those already retirement eligible really are not interested in surveys – their decision has been made.
2. Those who are at the most critical decision point are the most interested in the survey.

The results present what appears to be a slit personality – but one most of us will recognize. All you STEM types can roll around in the numbers and graphs, let me summarize the personality type of the plurality of those who responded.

They feel they are making a difference in their job (60%), but regardless of what they do – they don’t think they will be rewarded in any way by superior performance (64%).

Looking at what they could do if rewarded for performance, luck, or whatever the flavor of the board is – most aren’t really sure they would even want their boss’s job (61%).

Not that any of this matters anyway – they have no confidence that senior leaders will take the time to try to internalize and take action on anything they have to say anyway (62%).

In spite of it all, they want to make a career of the Navy (56%).

One of the more cynical things that is said about this line of work is that lesser men ride to the top on the backs of the well meaning and idealistic. The implication is, of course, that the well meaning and idealistic are too slow witted to know what is happening.

Well, I don’t know. Taken together, the profile we have is of people what are striving to make a difference, and want to dedicate the most productive years of their life pursuing something they find of a value larger than themselves. They know they won’t be rewarded for doing it well – are not sure they want to be – and really don’t feel that those promoted in position of authority above them care what they think anyway.

Yet … they sign up. They deploy. They serve. They leave their families. They die – in spite of it all.

For those reasons along, I do hope that the 38% were right. We have good, smart people in positions to try to address this perception/reality – maybe they can prove the 62% wrong.

Many of these issues and attitudes have always been with us and always will be. They key is the degree, extent, and strength of feeling. No human system is perfect, but you can make them less imperfect.

The people we have are not the problem if we desire to have a meritocracy and the best Navy we can. No, the problem is the structure and senior leadership they find themselves working with.

Posted by CDRSalamander in Navy

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  • CAPT Mongo

    Hopefully we will see a breakout by designator. This survey is very depressing. Junior people are supposed to be eager, hopeful and positive–not jaded and cynical as this survey indicates. Bad omen for the future of our Navy.

    • NavySubNuke

      Most of the officers I knew who stayed in were in one of two categories: 1) prior enlisted 2) those to stupid to survive in – or at best too scared to survive in – the real world. A very small percentage of those who stayed in were the ones who you would actually want to serve under and would make good department heads, XOs and eventually good COs.
      The rest of us were so tired of the micromanagement, crushing bureaucracy, and never ending pointless paper work that we left the navy as soon as we could. The few moments were you could actually enjoy being an officer – running your watch team, driving the boat, actually doing things – were so few and far between it just wasn’t worth putting up with the mountain of sh*t to keep doing them.
      The best was when the commodore of my squadron sat down the JOs of our wardroom and asked why everyone was getting out. Every time someone raised a point instead of actually listening to it he would just explain why the point was wrong or not valid. The meeting ended pretty quickly once it became clear he – like most of the Navy’s senior “leadership” – was more interested in telling us why we were wrong instead of actually even considering we might contribute something of value.

      • grandpabluewater

        Your case that the best and brightest get out (like yourself) – and those who remain behind are mustangs (pretty sharp folk, in my experience, though there were exceptions); or the stupid (not you, presumably); or those terrified of the rigors of civilian life (?!); would be a mite stronger if you consistently demonstrated when to appropriately spell the triple homonym “to, two, too” as tee double oh, rather than tee oh.

        Ah, proof reading. Genius laid low again. Damn details.

        Having hung on to the point of trading my blue suit with gold double breasted buttons for a comfortable pension, and watched the pendulum swing on JO retention a number of times, my experience is that the obviously misfit leave early in large numbers. Then the proportion of less than best fitted Dept Heads, XO’s, CO’s, ISIC’s and Flag officer stays pretty constant, given the proportion of good XO’s that aren’t so red hot as CO’s (and vice versa) is relatively constant as well.

        The short term for this rather complicated phenomenon is “the human condition”. There is no known cure.

        For them as stay (not you) I humbly offer these suggestions…

        Work until very fatigued, then rest. Sleep deprived is stupid. Exhaustion kills. Perfect the art and science of the tactical catnap.

        Do your best at all tasks assigned, but don’t obsess. Perfection is the enemy of adequacy in time to be useful.

        When on watch, be on watch. Exclusively. Learn from your mistakes, and more importantly, from your subordinates, peers, and “higher”. Bad examples are most instructive. Thank people who point out a mistake.

        Hang tough. Keep punching. Learn constantly. Insist on safe practice. Organize yourself.

        Courtesy is the lubricant of human interaction. Apply liberally.

        Do the SLJ right away, consistent with the above. Train constantly.

        Guard your virtue. Don’t compromise your integrity.

        Never trust a rudder, a compass, a charted light, or a contact report, Check all of them, always.

        Bloom where you are planted. You never know who will notice.

        Good luck. May every genius who quits in disgust be higher than you on the pecking order.

      • NavySubNuke

        thank you for illustrating my point perfectly – don’t worry about the content of my post simply criticize the grammar and ignore the rest – no worries.

      • grandpabluewater

        Actually, I criticized something else. The unstated postulate of your piece inherent in your prose.
        I agree with your decision to leave the service. Your reasoning? “- no worries”.
        I explained in more detail, but the message seems to have been carried off to limbo.

      • NavySubNuke

        I actually did manage to read it – before the moderators deleted it that is. I appreciate your opinion but you were so busy assuming everything I said was wrong you never even stopped to consider if any part of what I said was correct.

        You assumptions for why most of us are getting out were totally wrong – it isn’t the work hours or the time away from home those were the things we expected. In fact, most of us loved the hard work, the time we spent driving the ship, and the time we spent interacting with and leading our sailors. What we couldn’t stand was the “no
        risk” navy that treats everyone like a china doll wrapped in bubble wrap, the constant micromanagement of COs so paranoid about being fired that they barely let JOs piss without CO permission to operate their zipper, and the constant stream of political
        correctness indoctrination masked as “training”.

        Was my post arrogant? Sure. But that doesn’t mean it was wrong. And that doesn’t mean I was a sh*tbag officer who didn’t deserve to stay
        in. My first CO actually came to my house for dinner while I was on shore duty to try to convince me to stay in and it almost worked. But in the end the desire to be with my family and the knowledge of what I would have to put up
        with as a department head in the “modern” navy was too much and so I got out – as did almost all the good guys I knew from my year group.

        I know manning crisis come and go but this one is different than the ones that came before it – at least according to several I have spoken
        with about it in the submarine force (I can’t speak to SWOs or aviators because I just don’t know about them) – this one isn’t about losing numbers it is about losing quality. They are getting plenty of JOs to stay in the – the trouble is they aren’t the JOs the Navy actually wants to stay in. It will be interesting to see if they get a handle on it – since year group 2005 they have actually started honestly screening department heads again instead of giving everyone who passes PNEO a free pass – but the early indications aren’t great.

      • grandpabluewater

        Actually the current problems with manning and training sound eerily reminiscent of the one in the early seventies, just like NR’s lack of love for mustangs goes back to the early sixties. Both look/looked like all the really good guys are going.

        I maintain that, to a degree, it, in both cases, is an illusion. Why?

        Human beings grow. Individually. They also make mistakes. Individually. For widely varying reasons. And recover and learn from those mistakes. Some thrive in situations that completely stump others. We know that all will stress out, under unrelenting strain, but how soon or late can’t be known.

        The illusion that an entire career’s success or failure can be predicted when an officer has 5 or six years experience, or less, is ridiculous. No system or group is perfectly imperfect. The validity of professional reputation among one’s seniors or peers isn’t strong enough to be accurately predictive.

        The things you hated are a result of stressors your seniors were not trained for. Some number of they just don’t know what to do in the brave new world. Retention problems don’t just exist at the JO level.

        None the less, some survive. The real gift and curse of high rank is that so many of the high ranking make decisions that, for good or ill, are decisive.

        The only thing we know is true of all who sit at the really high stakes tables is they all stayed, no matter what.

        The name of the game is Big League Navy, the only one there is. The only way to play is to siddown, ante up, and kick in. You play the cards you get until you quit the game or the game leaves. Fold after a few hands, well, you will never know what the game is like at sunrise.

        I retired before the current crop of Commodores were commissioned. That 40 odd year gap between me and thee means I don’t know how the cards are rolling up in the current game. But neither do you, for the same reason. The game constantly changes, and the players, perspective change with it. And both of us are on the side lines.

        “The young recruit is silly; He thinks of suicide; He’s lost is gutter-devil: and he hasn’t got ‘is pride…”

        Have you ever considered that that Commodore wasn’t listening because, in the light of experience, what you had to say was mistaken?

        Best of luck in your civilian work. You might have gone far. But we will never know.

        Ever hear of a guy named Gabreski?

      • NavySubNuke

        You make a valid point about people learning and growing as they move forward. The only caveat to that is that some things can’t be taught. No matter how hard you try some people will never be good ship drivers, some people will never be good leaders, and some people will stop being so nervous they can’t get any work done. The other problem is that we are so heavily micromanaged and the Navy has made officer tour lengths so short (you have to make your “gates” to ensure you are “competitive” for promotion – even at the expense of your tactical and leadership development) you barely have time to learn anything at all.

        As to the commodore – and we are really blowing this incident out of proportion especially since it was just one of many – it is pretty easy to tell when someone is actually listening and when someone doesn’t care what you have to say because they have an agenda to get across and they are going to do so at all costs. The commodore’s mistake was telling us he wanted to hear our opinions when really he just wanted to tell us we should stay in the Navy because we will never find jobs in the civilian world (yes he actually said that to a room full of submarine JOs). Don’t tell people you want to hear their opinions when all you really want to do is tell them something. It just makes people angry because it is a waste of their time.

      • NavySubNuke

        I will clarify one point though – you are right there are a lot of great prior
        enlisted officers out there and I did not mean to say they weren’t great. The problem – at
        least in the submarine force – is that many of them retire prior to
        their CO tour. NR has actually (in most cases) stopped assigning prior
        enlisted officers as engineers because of this. Since either the CO or
        XO must be a served engineer the Navy were having to screen people to be COs
        and XOs that they didn’t want to simply because they didn’t have enough
        good served engineers to fill the billets.

      • Well said, thank you.

  • grandpabluewater

    Check the assumptions. “The dismantling of Al Queda”, “shifting to a steady state effort in the war on terror”….mmmm, I would watch the daily paper, there are going to be emergent threats.

    Question is, how do you respond to them, when there is a blitzkrieg (of Toyota pickups with a heavy machine gun mounted on the bed) in progress – which has reached about 50 miles from the national capitol down a single road, in single file – and our national government decides to send some folks to open discussions on why it’s happening and what to do – about a week into the rout. Number of enemy, about a brigade – sorta – by published accounts.

    The NCA is trying to decide what to do……..REALLY? Hrmph!

    Yes, you only get to promote who shows up, and the Admirals don’t get as much selectivity when retention sucks. Based on 10 years of past performance, why think that what the current incumbents of Higher prefer is better than what the folks who are stubborn, smart enough and lucky enough not to get tipped the Black Spot, and dedicated to the career, come what may can provide, when THEY get the chance.

    Abandon the illusion of control and the micromanagement time wasting it causes. Stick to the basics and executing the fundamentals well, and do the very best you can with what you have.

    That just boils down to muddling through? It always has.

  • Old Farter

    “They know they won’t be rewarded for doing it well – are not sure they
    want to be – and really don’t feel that those promoted in position of
    authority above them care what they think anyway.”
    When I started out, I did not know I would not be rewarded for doing well. I was not in it for the reward or recognition. I felt like my bosses listened to what I had to say and usually let me know when I succeeded and definitely when I didn’t. Recruiters certainly don’t tell new recruits they won’t be rewarded well or “taken care of.” It is only in the last few years with the explosion of available information that a young sailor or officer can really see the big picture beyond his or her division, squadron or ship and make an informed decision. Seeing behind the curtain in Oz is only a few clicks away.


    Bus’ paper is spot on in my opinion. He has captured what I observed until leaving the Navy a month ago.

    Everything – and I mean everything is somehow more important than operational performance and tactical execution.

    Meeting metrics is critical to the appearance of success, but the metrics often do not measure what is important to actual execution.

    Nobody wants to hear the truth about anything. Every attempt to pinpoint a problem is screened out of existence by staffs in pre-briefs and “O-6 level reviews before decision makers getting to hear about it. Nothing ever gets fixed because nobody senior is ever accountable for the results they produce.

    I think the Navy is at a point where this sort of low level corruption is systemic in nature, resulting in “reverse elimination,” a process already well documented in the PLA, where those willing to be less than honest gradually eliminate all those not willing to do so.

    Of course there is no comparison between the outright corruption of the PLA and the desire not to be the messenger of bad news or inconvenient truths in the USN, but it’s a matter of degree, not of type, and it bodes ill for the future of the service.

    I think it’s sad and I’m glad I’m gone.

  • grandpabluewater

    Ok, Admin. I’ll keep writing ’em. Howz about you use my real email and tell what you won’t leave up – when you won’t – and why?

    Or you could just leave ’em up. The commentariat will attack as a pack if I get too old and crazy.

    Or I can keep a record copy and repost a sentence at a time. I won’t get sweeter and more bid-able as a consequence.

    “Nuff said on this topic. I look forward to lurking and reading those who are sure I’m all wet.

    As George Patton said “When everybody thinks alike, some aren’t thinking at all”.

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