Archive for August, 2014
On March 7, 2014, a self-directed study was emailed to Vice Admiral Bill Moran, the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Naval Personnel. Titled “Keep a Weather Eye on the Horizon: A Navy Officer Retention Study”, the paper provided Vice Admiral Moran with a canary in the coal mine, describing a looming retention downturn using historical data and, perhaps most importantly, timely and relevant information based on primary source interviews with hundreds of U.S. Navy Sailors.
Within days, the paper leaked from the Navy’s Personnel Command and made its way throughout the Navy. The message resonated with Sailors at the deck plates — officer and enlisted alike — and caught the attention of senior leaders throughout the U.S. Government. To their immense credit, Vice Admiral Moran and other senior Navy leaders have responded to decreasing retention indicators with personnel changes designed to improve morale and a Sailor’s ‘quality of service’. These changes provide commanding officers with greater flexibility to prescribe uniform wear, increase sea pay for Sailors on extended deployments, and reduce general military training requirements on commands, just to name a few.
Larger initiatives are in the works although they have not been publicly announced. Some initiatives, like expansion of the Career Intermission Pilot Program, require Congressional approval. There is also a desire to better understand the current retention downturn before acting. This is understandable. The Navy is a large, diverse, and dispersed organization and more information is required to ensure the next round of changes provide the greatest return on investment. However, the time to act is now.
So, how do you determine the right course of action to provide the greatest return on investment?
Senior decision makers are asking important questions. First, is there really a retention problem? Is it possible we are retaining the right quality of Sailor, just in fewer numbers? Are previously cited retention factors — an improving economy, significant operational tempo, perceived reductions in quality of life, among others — truly impacting our Sailor’s “stay/go” decisions? If so, in what ways?
The desire to further expound on the tenets of the paper — in a thoughtful and deliberate way intended to benefit senior leaders — led to the creation of an independent 2014 Navy Retention Study Team in March 2014. The team is comprised of a volunteer group of high-performing active duty Sailors and select civilians who have dedicated their off-duty time to create a first of its kind retention survey — created by Sailors for Sailors. All of our members are upwardly mobile, highly-placed individuals who want to measurably contribute to the continued success of the U.S. Navy. The success of this initiative is due largely to their sense of ownership for the Navy and their correspondingly impressive efforts.
This report details the results of this year’s survey, including a broad analysis of factors which are assessed to affect retention and additional recommendations to avoid the shoal waters of a multi-year retention shortfall for several communities. Further, it is important to provide relatively unfettered access to the survey data (as appendices in this report) with more raw data to be made available throughout Fall 2014.
While our analysis of the data is presented for your use, I suggest you don’t take our word for it — read and assess the data for yourself. Then read widely, think deeply, write passionately, and act decisively to help retain our most talented Sailors in uniform.
We must continue to cultivate a strong sense of ownership within the U.S. Navy. Reassuringly, many Sailors have stepped forward with innovative ideas to improve processes and policies, whether as a Yeoman, a Lieutenant in the F/A-18 community, or as a pre-major command surface warfare officer. In the end, no matter your rank or position, it’s about asking ourselves what type of Navy we want to dedicate some portion of our lives to … and what type of Navy we want to leave for those that join 5, 10, 15 years into the future and beyond. It’s easy to lay problems at the feet of our senior leaders, however it’s incumbent upon all of us to take part in solving this issue.
At the end of the day, the Navy cannot directly hire uniformed personnel into positions of responsibility, nor can it surge leadership, trust, and confidence. Instead, we must explore changes to legal statutes and internal policies in order to retain our very best, brightest, and most talented — the continued success of the U.S. Navy depends on nothing less.
The 2014 Navy Retention Study report may be downloaded at: www.dodretention.org/results beginning Sept 1, 2014.
By Bill Doughty
On Sept. 11, 2001 Michael P. Murphy was an ensign in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training.
Michael Murphy, a graduate of Penn State University, who grew up in Patchogue, Long Island, New York, internalized and personalized what happened on 9/11, according to colleagues, mentors and writer Gary Williams, author of “SEAL of Honor: Operation Red Wings and the Life of Michael P. Murphy, USN.”
The book is on Adm. Greenert’s bookshelf as an essential Warfighting First selection of the CNO Professional Reading Program.
Murphy led a SEAL team into Afghanistan in 2005 where he faced a profound ethical dilemma after capturing some civilian non-combatants. (His dilemma and moral decision is examined in detail in another book about Operation Red Wings, “Lone Survivor” by Marcus Luttrell.)
The team then endured a prolonged firefight against a larger Taliban force. At the end of the terrifying and deadly fight, Murphy faced a second, more personal moral choice. At great personal risk, he put himself directly in the path of enemy fire in order to call in help for his team.
In “SEAL of Honor” Williams introduces us to Murphy’s family, shows in detail his training regimen as a Navy SEAL, describes the mission Murphy led in Afghanistan during Operation Red Wings, and shows the honors paid to Murphy and his family after he was killed. “SEAL of Honor” preserves history and offers a well-documented biography of an American hero.
Murphy’s bond with first responders from his home state is legendary. He had his unit wear the bright orange patch of FDNY Engine Co. 54, Ladder Co. 43 — “El Barrio’s Bravest” — on their uniforms as a team symbol and constant reminder of 9/11 and why the SEALs were in Afghanistan, according to Williams.
Marcus Luttrell also refers to the patch several times in “Lone Survivor.”
Like Williams’s “SEAL of Honor,” Luttrell’s book is understandably an autobiographical account. Before describing Operation Red Wings, “Lone Survivor” explores Luttrell’s upbringing in Texas, his SEAL training in San Diego and a mission in Iraq desperately searching in vain for weapons of mass destruction: “chasing shadows out there in that burning hot, sandy wilderness.”
Luttrell’s telling of the firefight with the Taliban in Operation Red Wings is gripping and graphic, but at the end of Luttrell’s book the reader is left with a hunger to know more about the hero, leading protagonist Michael P. Murphy.
“Seal of Honor” shows us how Murphy’s qualifications as a leader developed starting in early childhood. As a toddler, Michael’s favorite book was Wally Piper’s “The Little Engine that Could.” He was a voracious reader at Canaan Elementary School.
According to Williams, Murphy’s favorite book as an adult was “Gates of Fire” by Steven Pressfield, a historical fiction novel about the 480 B.C. Battle of Thermopylae, in which 300 brave Spartans protected their homeland and democracy from an invading Persian Army. Greek warrior culture is part of the SEAL tradition.
The never-give-up attitude, willingness to sacrifice for a cause and strong personal ethos all contribute to what makes a Navy SEAL, provided the individual can tough it through BUD/S training, described in detail by Williams.
“Despite the brutal training, Michael soon realized that almost anyone could meet the physical requirements of the SEALs, but the unending challenge from day-one would be the mental toughness, that never-ending inner drive that pushes you forward when every nerve and muscle fiber in your body tells you to stop — to quit. That warrior mind-set — the mental toughness — is what separates a Navy SEAL…”
“SEAL of Honor” includes inspiring SEAL Creed excerpts or, in some cases, complete remarks from SEAL leaders like Adm. Eric T. Olson, Chief Warrant Officer Mike Loo and Commodore Pete Van Hooser. All focus on leadership expectations and maintaining high standards.
Williams describes the tragic rescue attempt in which Lt. Cmdr. Erik S. Kristensen and 15 other would-be rescuers were killed when their MH-47E Chinook helo, call sign Turbine 33, was shot down by the Taliban.
Both “Lone Survivor” and “SEAL of Honor” showcase the importance of the concept: “no one left behind.”
Near the end of “SEAL of Honor,” Williams lists each of the warriors who died trying to rescue Murphy and his team.
He describes the many tributes to Lt. Michael P. Murphy, including the awarding of the Medal of Honor by then President George W. Bush. One of the most significant tributes, especially as far as Sailors are concerned, is the naming of an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer for him, dedicated May 7, 2008.
During his remarks, then Secretary Donald C. Winter predicted, “Every Sailor who crosses the bow, every Sailor who hears the officer of the deck announce the arrival of the commanding officer, and every Sailor who enters a foreign land representing our great nation will do so as an honored member of the USS Michael Murphy,” writes Williams.
Osama bin Laden haunts both books, written prior to President Barack Obama’s authorization to kill or capture the terrorist leader of al-Qaeda, the group responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. After a Muslim ceremony, bin Laden was buried at sea from USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) just days before the USS Michael Murphy christening.
“It is my sincere belief that this ship will build on the momentum gained by our special operations forces in the fight against extremism and sail the seas in a world made more peaceful by sustained American vigilance, power and dignity,” said then Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead. “This ship will carry Michael’s legacy and values to Sailors several decades from now and to a new generation of Americans…”
USS Michael Murphy’s homeport is Pearl Harbor.
(A version of this review was originally published Sept. 10, 2011 on Navy Reads.)
General Robert H Scales (USA Ret.) discusses firepower and the American way of war, specifically: firepower’s use, effectiveness, and place as a cultural phenomenon in American military thinking.
The public opinion pendulum seems to be swinging away from the post-9/11 clamor to enhance our homeland security readiness, even while the threats to the US proliferate and evolve. What does that mean for a service that is both a law enforcement agency and a military service?
The Coast Guard’s dual military/law enforcement status is a rare exception to posse comitatus, which requires the service to balance Title 10 and Title 14 responsibilities. In its law enforcement capacity, the Coast Guard must be judicious in its observance of legal procedures and careful to cultivate the trust of the American public. As a military service that provides critical capabilities to the Joint Force, the Coast Guard must train and equip for defense operations that demand a combat-oriented skillset and ethos. Recent events remind us of why it remains important to keep those roles distinct, even as our enemies make it ever more difficult to distinguish criminals from combatants.
Law enforcement agencies in the United States recently came under national scrutiny as a result of indications that the public is growing alarmed at the “militarization” of US police forces. The civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri brought the issue to a head when images of local police confronting protestors while outfitted with camouflage uniforms, heavy body armor, and assault rifles streamed across major media outlets with the effect of further escalating the already volatile situation. The controversy over police wielding military-grade equipment elicited a promise for Congressional review by the Senate Armed Services Committee and a personal letter from House Armed Service Committee member Duncan Hunter to Defense Secretary Hagel encouraging a formal review of a federal program that allows DoD to transfer excess military equipment to police forces.
This latest outcry reminds us of an inexorable truth: free societies tend to vacillate about their desire for security. From Athenians condemning Themistocles to exile after the Persian menace waned, to the widespread vilification of the Patriot Act within the US only a few years after its near-unanimous passage, history demonstrates a consistent pattern wherein an existential threat will motivate the populace to demand greater security from their government, only to later denounce those same security measures once the threat appears to dissipate.
For the US Coast Guard, the recent backlash against militarized police is cause for reflection. The Coast Guard relies on a high degree of public confidence to maintain its dual status as both a law enforcement and military organization. Any erosion of that confidence compromises its ability to fulfill its diverse mission set. Yet there can be little doubt that it has adopted a much more overtly military appearance in recent years. The twin catalysts of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina produced major organizational changes in the service’s missions, capabilities, and identity. The most readily-apparent difference is the enhanced security posture the service adopted to mitigate the terrorist threat to the homeland. The Coast Guard added Maritime Safety and Security Teams and a Maritime Security Response Team, and aligned itself closer to the Department of Defense both for Homeland Defense missions and contingency operations abroad. Coast Guard response boats patrol our waterways with crew-served weapons mounted, armed Coast Guard helicopters circle the Capitol daily, and Coast Guardsmen perform a variety of maritime security missions in SWAT-like tactical gear. The result is that the Coast Guard’s public image has evolved from a primarily humanitarian, life-saving and law-enforcement service that performs a combat role in time of war, to one that remains all of those things, but also wields distinctly-military capabilities close to home and in full view of the American public.
So far, the Coast Guard has not been subjected to the condemnation currently being heaped upon other domestic law enforcement agencies. However, with public confidence in government nearing an all-time nadir and many Americans weary of war abroad and enhanced security measures at home, the service must consider how it will continue to balance its domestic security responsibilities with its humanitarian and law enforcement missions.
That balance promises to grow ever more difficult in the future. Once-clear lines separating criminals from terrorists and military forces are blurring into amorphous inter-dependent networks labeled simply “irregular threats.” Confronting irregular threats and irregular warfare (CIC/IW) garners a lot of attention within DoD, but its ambiguous nature frustrates attempts to frame a consistent interpretation of where such threats transition from a law enforcement to a military responsibility. The Coast Guard seems ideally suited for taking a lead role in the CIC/IW mission due to its statutory authority and operational capability to act in both capacities, but there is risk to that approach because American principles have historically required maintaining a bright line between the two. The challenge for the Coast Guard will be determining how best to leverage the authorities and capabilities that make it well-adapted for CIC/IW, while remaining within legal boundaries and out of the crosshairs of public condemnation. Equally challenging will be preserving the service’s humanitarian reputation (critical for gaining access to regions wary of US military presence) while some Coast Guard sub-communities evolve to more closely resemble their DoD brethren.
Relaxing the Coast Guard’s domestic security posture is certainly not the right answer. Doing so would be a gross abdication of its homeland security responsibility. Many will recall that the modal conclusion that emerged from numerous post-9/11 “how did this happen?” tribunals was that the clues were there that should have alerted us to improve our security measures, but for a variety of reasons we choose not to. The universal vow that followed was “never again.” Thirteen years hence, we are perhaps reaping the consequences of our own success (at great cost and sacrifice that few fully comprehend) in preventing another major attack on the homeland. To many, the threat is simply not salient enough anymore to justify remaining loaded for bear on the homefront. Yet compared to the current security environment, the decade leading up to 9/11 seems like a halcyon era of relative tranquility. Bin Laden is dead, but that fact is little solace amidst the unraveling of Iraq and Syria, rampant narco-violence throughout the Western hemisphere, sophisticated horizontal weapons proliferation to non-state actors, and technical accelerators that are producing dangerous new capabilities available for commercial consumption. At no time in the nation’s history has “semper paratus” demanded a higher degree of readiness from its Coast Guard.
So how does the Coast Guard maintain necessary readiness without triggering the ire of a war and security-weary public?
Foremost, it must have a convincing strategic narrative that informs the public why an assertively-postured Coast Guard is in their best interest. That narrative needs to clearly detail the nature and magnitude of the threat, what capabilities the Coast Guard needs to confront that threat, and why the Coast Guard’s enhanced domestic readiness does not undermine American civil liberties or detract from its humanitarian missions.
The Coast Guard has done pretty well in this respect so far. The avuncular “Smokies of the Sea” image from the 80s and 90s evolved into “America’s Maritime Guardian” and the “Shield of Freedom” images after 9/11. Media coverage of the service during the Hurricane Katrina response and on popular television shows such as Coast Guard Alaska and Miami help to educate the public on the breadth of the missions that the Coast Guard performs. But more work remains. Evolving attitudes toward issues that the Coast Guard is directly involved with promise to invite more scrutiny into how and why the Coast Guard performs some missions. For example, how does growing support for legalization of certain drugs affect the cost/benefit calculation of further prosecuting the drug war and the related threats posed by narco-terrorism? Does it continue to justify, for example, employing airborne use of force against non-compliant drug smugglers? What about illegal immigration? Those and other missions will certainly come under scrutiny in the future and the Coast Guard must be ready to justify its policies. The best way to maintain support for robust interdiction capabilities is to reinforce their importance to maritime security and conduct them with irreproachable skill and professionalism.
Communicating a clear strategic narrative is not just for public consumption. The Coast Guard needs to internalize it as well. Coast Guardsmen need to understand the precarious balance that their unique status demands and why that requires going out of their way to avoid any instance of excessive force or unwarranted intimidation. That obligation is nothing new. The same guidance traces back to a passage from a letter written in 1791 by Alexander Hamilton to commanding officers of the Revenue Cutter Service (predecessor to the Coast Guard) that remains required reading for all Coast Guard law enforcement personnel:
“They will always keep in mind that their countrymen are freemen, and, as such, are impatient of everything that bears the least mark of a domineering spirit. They will, therefore, refrain, with the most guarded circumspection, from whatever has the semblance of haughtiness, rudeness, or insult. If obstacles occur, they will remember that they are under the particular protection of the laws and that they can meet with nothing disagreeable in the execution of their duty which these will not severely reprehend. This reflection, and a regard to the good of the service, will prevent, at all times a spirit of irritation or resentment. They will endeavor to overcome difficulties, if any are experienced, by a cool and temperate perseverance in their duty–by address and moderation, rather than by vehemence or violence.”
However simple that passage might appear, it may at times prove difficult in practice. Law enforcement and combat require very different mindsets and training approaches, even if some of the missions and capabilities overlap. The potential conflict between developing a resilient “combat ready” mentality that facilitates effective action under fire and ingraining restraint and humanitarian sensitivity was highlighted in the “Kill Company” case study, and explored in Lt. Col David Grossman’s book On Combat. “Cool and temperate perseverance” is appropriate in the course of normal operations, but reacting to a situation that suddenly changes from law enforcement use of force to rules of engagement (such as happened here and here), or homeland defense such as interdicting an inbound terrorist attack, requires the ability to instantly shift mental gears. Because of the diversity of Coast Guard missions and unpredictability of the threat environment, Coast Guardsmen must be ready to instantly transition from one extreme to the other.
The challenge remains to further refine the Coast Guard’s strategic narrative in what promises to be a tumultuous future. The Coast Guard must remain an outstretched hand that saves and a clenched fist that defends; a conscientious maritime constable and a combat-ready naval force. In looking for an effective narrative to emulate, it would be difficult to find one better than the 2003 “All Hands” that General Mattis sent his Marines on the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom. His succinct, three-paragraph message concluded with “Demonstrate to the world there is ‘no better friend, no worse enemy’ than a U.S. Marine.” Guided by a similar maxim, the Coast Guard will ensure that the public it protects continues to feel reassured, not threatened by its presence, while those who seek to perpetrate violence or criminality at sea can count on a formidable and ready “maritime guardian” standing by to oppose them.
Please join us at 5pm (EDT) for Episode 242: “Lost Opportunities: WWI and the Birth of the Modern World”:
A hundred years on, in 2014 what insights can we gain from the war that started 100 years ago in August of 2014? What are some of the lessons we need to remember in all four levers of national power; diplomatic, informational, military, and economic – in order to help steer our future course as a nation, and to better understand developing events?
Using his article in The National Interest, World War I: Five Ways Germany Could Have Won the First Battle of the Atlantic as a starting point for an hour long discussion, our guest will be James Holmes, PhD, professor of strategy at the Naval War College and senior fellow at the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs.
Jim is former U.S. Navy surface warfare officer, graduating from Vanderbilt University (B.A., mathematics and German) and completed graduate work at Salve Regina University (M.A., international relations), Providence College (M.A., mathematics), and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University (M.A.L.D. and Ph.D., international affairs).
His most recent books (with long-time coauthor Toshi Yoshihara) are Strategy in the Second Nuclear Age and Red Star over the Pacific.
Jim has published over 25 book chapters and 150 scholarly essays, along with hundreds of opinion columns, think-tank analyses, and other works. He blogs as the Naval Diplomat and is an occasional contributor to Foreign Policy, The National Interest, War on the Rocks, CNN, and the Naval Institute Proceedings.
Join us live at 5pm (EDT) if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here.
Homelessness is a difficult social issue that faces Americans head-on on a daily basis. Though it can be a complex issue made up of a myriad of different personal stories and unimaginable circumstances, a subset of those affected – homeless veterans – is a particularly painful reality – a reality that must change.
Homelessness is defined in Title 42 of U.S. Code as,
an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence and an individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is a supervised…shelter, an institution that provides temporary residence for individuals meant to be institutionalized, or a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping place for human beings.
Government estimates put the number of homeless Americans as up to 3 million a year, yet many in our society continue to walk with their eyes averted. Members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee attempted to provide amplifying sentiment when they stated, “People don’t want to look at the homeless. But they will look at, or think about, or maybe support, dealing with homeless veterans.” Was their statement accurate, though? Do people pay more attention to homeless veterans, or was that merely wishful thinking or political side-stepping? Due to the inherently transient nature of those on the streets, not to mention the unwillingness of many to speak about their undesirable lot in life, it is incredibly difficult to take an accurate census of the homeless population. Informed estimates by government and non-profit organizations, though, put the total at nearly 300,000 homeless veterans in our country in a given year. In the 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, the Department of Housing and Urban Development stated that no less than 60,000 veterans sleep without a roof over their heads on any given night.
Fifty percent of homeless veterans are younger than 50 years old – nearly double the percentage of total veterans between the ages of 18 and 50. A small number of veterans from World War Two and Korea remain on the streets, and the balance span our nation’s modern history of uniformed service: from the under-appreciated veterans of Vietnam to the continuously lauded veterans of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. Young and old, our nation’s most noble citizens – those who volunteered to serve their country – are stricken with hardships, hopelessness, and illnesses and live without even the most basic dignities that so many of us take for granted.
In 2009, President Barack Obama made a much-publicized announcement that kicked off the Department of Veterans Affairs’ initiative to end Veteran Homelessness by 2015: “Until we reach a day when not a single veteran sleeps on our nation’s streets, our work remains unfinished.” According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, he was the first American President to demand an end to this critical, but often overlooked, social problem. Though many saw his pledge as overly ambitious, the VA’s initiative has received Congressional support and is progressing smartly. Whether the goal will be met remains to be seen.
Though we as citizens should work towards eradicating homelessness in our country, we as service members, veterans, and part of the extended military family must not tolerate our society’s continued habit of looking the other way and ignoring those who served it so honorably. Men and women who served our country – many of them putting their lives on the line – should not be without a roof, and a safe place to lay their heads.
There are a number of ways to get involved and to help our brothers and sisters in arms who are down on their luck. Community-based volunteer organizations and networks provide valuable services ranging from medical care to food and shelter. Donating money, food, clothing, and other life items to shelters is always appreciated, as is dedicating time to serve as a mentor, counselor, or friend to those in need. Organizations like The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and Veterans Village of San Diego, as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs itself, all pose great opportunities to help make a difference in this fight to leave no man behind. Another important step is raising awareness.
Lieutenant Jackie Perez is a graduate of MIT and a Surface Warfare Officer (Nuclear), having served around the world and in combat operations in the Middle East. She recently transitioned to the Naval Reserve so that she could pursue her dreams of becoming a filmmaker. She now lives in California where she continues her service to our country and works as a civilian in Hollywood. She is socially conscious, volunteers at local organizations, and cares deeply about this issue. In her capacity as a young filmmaker, she is looking to highlight this issue in a short film and link the roles of our veterans to the greater society that we all enjoy.
The Music Bed is now running a contest called #projectfilmsupply, which will award generous film-industry support to three aspiring directors in order to bring their inspirational abstracts to life. LT Perez’ short-film project, My Fellow American, focuses on the issue of Veteran Homelessness and how it is approached by a society that often chooses to keep its head down instead of engaging our nation’s former warriors. The contest, which requires abstracts to be inspirational in nature, will be decided by the Public’s online votes (confirmed via email to ensure contest integrity). While we all might say that we want to get involved, LT Perez is doing it. This is an important project that should come to life and if it wins, the director, cast and crew will all be veterans, ensuring this story is told by those who share in the brotherhood of those they seek to support.
It is easy to avert your gaze or to come up with judgements as to why a person may be homeless, but it is much more difficult to recognize the scope of the problem and to take that first step towards making a difference. Please consider getting involved in your local community. Support the work of people like LT Perez with your vote, and remember that it is not in our code to leave our comrades in the field, cold, scared, and wondering if anyone will ever come to their aid.
“You never know till you try to reach them how accessible men are; but you must approach each man by the right door.”
– Henry Ward Beecher
I’m writing this in response (to the responses, I suppose) of a Proceedings article on Millennials written by CDR Darcie Cunningham, USCG, which lays out the ways in which Millennials are inherently unsuited for military service. The points she raised are echoed in the comments and responses to her article and frankly to the opinions of many of the senior leaders whom I’ve heard discuss the topic. The counter arguments, often penned by Millennial Officers, focus on discounting the arguments without actually looking at the problem from a positive aspect; addressing what the writer gets wrong rather than what the Millennials do right.
The Navy has been my life and home for over 23 years. As a proud Generation Xer, I too watched with dismay as the new generation of Millennials entered the service. Like many Gen X types, I more than once found myself fuming, and saying things along the lines of “Just do your job, what do you want a medal?” or something similar in the snarky language that defines our generation. Over the years, and in particular over the course of my command tour, I have come to realize that this new group of young men and women not only are worthy of respect, but in many ways offer the Navy an opportunity for improvement, provided we commit to both understanding this group, and adjusting our leadership styles to match their desires. First, we old folks need to get over ourselves and chuck the rose colored glasses when looking back at our junior officer days. Second, we need to look at the Millennial Officers for what unique qualities they bring to our organization. Finally, we must understand their equities so we can adjust how we deal with them in order to maximize their potential.
Now, for the purposes of this article and ease of language I will refer strictly to officers in the naval service, but these experiences also hold true for the Sailors with whom I’ve served, and I imagine are applicable across any military service.
The problems described in CDR Cunningham’s article will hardly seem generationally unique if we are honest with ourselves. Seeking to scam off the ship early is a time-honored and expected junior officer behavior. I’m sure I am not the only person to remember the concept of “liberty for the brave.” More fundamentally, given our increasing operational tempo, what value is there to keeping people at work once the work is done? Similarly, informality among first tour officers and a desire by these officers to receive positive feedback is hardly new. On the other hand, the sort of hard partying and behaviors preferred by previous generations are not found in today’s junior officers, through a combination of generational conservatism and increasingly harsh penalties for transgressions. How many of today’s commanders and captains could achieve their positions had camera phones existed in the 1980s and early 1990s in liberty ports around the globe? As for the comments about being delayed in promotion, there are many in my generation whose promotions were delayed due to the Tailhook scandal, including branches of the Navy who couldn’t have attended anyhow! The fact is that junior officers are, and always have been, works in progress. It is our job as leaders not to stifle them, but to learn what drives them, and what they need from us as leaders to develop to their full potential.
Fundamentally, the Millennial Officer offers significant opportunities that are not found in the current crop of generations in our maritime workplace, whether the Baby Boomers with their combination of workaholic tendencies and a firm belief that nobody works as hard as them, to my generation of cynics who feel like they are picking up the mess left behind from the Boomers. This new cohort has a combination of positivity, openness, and general fairness that make them very suited to leadership in a military environment. The average Millennial:
- Possesses a true belief in the greatness and opportunity offered by America and the future.
- Desires to be part of something meaningful, and greater than themselves and to work for a cause in the name of a greater good.
- Feels deeply committed to family and community.
- Believes themselves to be truly multicultural, able to work with people of any background, whether social, economic, or cultural. They accept and value the differences found in groups.
- Values working with a team more so than working alone.
- Is unafraid of technology or of change.
- Values results over effort
All of these identifiers of this generation are seemingly custom fit for working and eventually leading within an organization such as the Navy, which values commitment, teamwork, and diversity, and which embraces modern technology. So why wouldn’t we want them as our future leaders?
All existing generations believe that the follow on generations aren’t as good as them, and expect them to conform to the old way of doing business. As military leaders, however, we must hold ourselves to the concept of servant leadership; namely that the leader exists to serve the people under their command. In particular with the Naval Services, ensuring your people are properly trained, equipped, and motivated will ensure mission success. Doing this, however, requires today’s leaders to change our methods, since the levers that motivated our generation do not work on the current one. Failure to adjust means that we will be stuck looking to only locate people who fit into our narrow mold, vice becoming an organization that draws in the Millennial. So how do we accomplish this?
- Make a compelling case for why their service to the country matters. The Navy appears to understand this concept broadly given the recruiting campaign to be a “Global Force for Good,” but in practice this becomes harder to define. In an ideal world our leadership would only ask for deployments and sacrifice on items truly in the obvious national interest, however as long as there has been a Navy ships have been globally deployed to exert national influence and to provide our government with military options around the globe. Leaders have to find a way to adequately articulate why this matters. For instance, prior to my deployment in command to the 5th Fleet area of responsibility, I used the pre-deployment family training session to not talk solely about support services for the families while we were away, but also spent a good chunk of time describing the recent history and geography of the area, and did my best to explain the value of our continued presence in the area, and talked to them about how to read the news while we were gone. The response from this brief from the mothers, wives, and children of my Sailors was overwhelmingly positive, many remarking that they never understood why their men had to go away before that night. Linking their sacrifice to value is critical for motivating and retaining the Millennial Officer.
- Since families matter, the command must make a concerted effort to not merely pay lip service to caring for families, but actually expend reasonable command effort to live up to these expectations. This means doing everything possible to ensure parents are together for births, giving the crew time off from work to complete deployment preps months – not days – in advance, or frequently hosting family friendly events where the command team is present and engaged, to name a few examples. In particular in this era of cutbacks of services traditionally supported on base, a command team must commit to caring for families. Note that in today’s world this means engaging the parents as well, who remain an integral part of many young adult Millennials’ lives.
- A leader must be personable, and actually care for their people. Remember that this generation has been raised with their parents as their friends. Authority figures may not have been a part of their lives to this point. This means that as a leader you will need to balance being firm and setting expectations with being approachable. If you don’t show sincere concern for their personal lives and development, and make a connection with your people, the Millennial will not want to work for you. This means allowing more informality into the relationship than may have been expected 20 years ago when we were junior officers; as long as there are clear and defined standards being greeted below decks with “Hi Captain” vice “Good morning, sir/ma’am” will not jeopardize good order and discipline.
- Senior leadership should be ready for unrealistic expectations, and work with their people to turn these into a realistic plan. One of the defining traits of this generation is huge aspirations with little idea of how to get there. If dismissed and left unchecked this will drive down retention since our brightest and most ambitious officers will depart the service in pursuit of their grand goal. Frequent counseling and career reviews are critical to understanding where your people see themselves in five or ten years. Knowing their goals and understanding their personal lives as described earlier will allow leaders the opportunity to steer the individuals into a path to success. In my experience, this needs to be done whether the officer decides to stay in or leave the Navy. Full support of a departing officer’s goals will help convince the others that you truly have their best interests at heart.
Every generational shift is accompanied by the same resistance to change from older generations. Establishing a dialog that accentuates the positive aspects of generational divides vice using positional authority to reject these same issues is critical to the long term health of any organization, even one as traditionally resistant to change as the Navy. The Millennial generation represents the future of this nation, and brings dramatically different values to any organization. Embracing these values, and working with vice against this generation, will improve our readiness for the coming, challenging years.
In the August issue of Proceedings, Commander Darcie Cunningham, USCG complains about the personality traits brought to the naval service by millennials and gives advice on how to better assimilate them into the ranks [For other responses to the article see here and here]. I find the article incredibly condescending and patronizing with a hint of fear of impending irrelevance in a world that the Commander does not want to see change. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of remaining stagnant. The world is continuously changing. Our great nation is continuously changing. Our long tradition of citizen soldiers demands that we change with it.
I currently serve on a multi-generational crew with a hearty presence from generation X (those born between the early 1960s to 1980). They have stood a solid watch and I firmly respect how their service strengthened American seapower, but they are less dynamic than the current generation. They cling to inefficient means of communication and are more concerned with “work ethic” than the quality of product produced. This generation has me questioning how they can adapt in today’s rapidly changing world.
Here are some of their behaviors I have noticed:
• While the younger generation is more concerned with quality product, the older generation views a correlation with performance and hours worked. Given the same quality of results, they see laziness and a lack of dedication instead of efficiency.
• Along the same lines as correlating product with hours worked, they also would much rather see a more experienced individual be promoted over one vastly more skilled and qualified. They view accelerated advancement as an affront to their culture of advancement through keeping their head down and staying out of trouble. To them it is much better to be cautious and safe than tenacious and bold.
• They do not understand the need for the younger generation to know the basis behind requirements. The younger generations sees power through knowledge and asks why in hopes of finding a way to improve the status quo. The older generation is more apt to simply accept the way things have always been and can devolve to a frustrated “because I said so,” when asked for an explanation from subordinates.
Whether the older generation likes it or not, millennials are currently leaders within our organization. We are serving with discipline and dedication equal to those who have come before us, but we are doing it our own way. We will continue to preserve the liberties this country enjoys. So how does the structured military culture adapt to our new generation?
First, we must educate them on the benefits of promoting based on merit and not time in grade. The current antiquated system lets more competent individuals await their turn while they watch the less skilled continued to advance once it is their time to promote. If this merit-based promotion idea does not sit well with some members of the older generation, perhaps it is a subtle concern that they needed a time-based system to make it as far as they did. Job satisfaction should be the motivator for retention, not scare tactics of a poor economy and poor unemployment rate.
They need to be “course-corrected” that a desire to understand the basis for requirements and wanting to improve how we do things are NOT insubordination or disrespect. If this does not happen, our best will continue to be driven out and the military will remain a carbon copy of what it looks like now. Once we stop adapting we will most surely become irrelevant. The only way we can improve is if we ask if there is a better way and have an open and honest discussion about it. Progress has always been seen as a threat to the present. It takes courage to move forward as an organization.
I am very appreciative the older generation of senior leaders made sure the United States continues to rule the seas. They did an amazing job and they all deserve our thanks and respect. Their way of doing business worked, but previous performance does not guarantee future success. There are sure to be aspects of the current way of doing business and we should figure out what those are, but blindly maintaining the status quo is a sure way to fail.
How does policy shape, limit, or empower the effectiveness of command at the unit level? Which policies are a net positive, and which ones are counter productive? Are there things we can do to better balance larger Navy goals with the requirement to give leaders the room they need to be effective leaders?
In times of austere budgets, can you both reduce end-strength while at the same time retain your best personnel? Are we a learning institution that can adjust policy that answers the bell from DC in shaping tomorrow’s Fleet, yet does not break trust with Shipmates?
To discuss this and more we will have as our returning guest, Vice Admiral Bill Moran, USN. Chief of Naval Personnel. A P-3 pilot by trade, he held commanded at the squadron, wing and group levels. As Chief of Naval Personnel, he oversees the recruiting, personnel management, training, and development of Navy personnel. Since taking over a year ago he has focused on improving communication between Navy leadership and Sailors in the Fleet.
Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here.
U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Margaret Keith
This post is the first in a series being cross-posted from CIMSEC.
The United States Navy’s surface fleet finds itself in dynamic times. The standard length for deployments continues to rise, numerous hulls are on the chopping block, maintenance is battling to keep up with a harried operational tempo, and as ever, its leaders – Surface Warfare Officers, or SWO’s – are struggling to both improve, and in fact define, the community’s identity. Whether it is the uniforms we wear, our training pipelines, or our often-mocked culture, the community seems to lack a firm grasp on who we are, what we stand for, and how we do business. Over a series of three articles, I intend to first analyze a few counterparts – the Royal Navy, U.S. Naval Aviation, and U.S. Navy surface nuclear officers – and then explore some proposals meant to solidify the officers who take the world’s most powerful ships to sea.
After working alongside the Royal Navy, most American surface warriors walk away immensely impressed by the impeccable professionalism of their British counterparts. When SWO’s talk about improving their community, the Royal Navy’s practices inevitably come up. “We should do it like the Brits,” is a common theme. Few truly appreciate what that statement means, though. The Surface Warriors of the U.S. and Royal Navies are different: in size, mission sets, tempos, training, and priorities. There is not always a one-for-one correlation between the two. Before analyzing proposals or judging the merits of each side, let us simply gather some information by comparing the lifestyles of Sub Lieutenant Snodgrass, RN, and Ensign Timmy, USN.
The first area of comparison is training and path to qualification. All Royal Navy officer cadets spend between six and eleven months at Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC), where students receive military indoctrination and learn the ins and outs of the naval profession through a standardized curriculum. Upon graduation from BRNC, the young surface officer proceeds on to a training track for Warfare Officers or Engineers. The prospective engineers endure a rigorous 20-month pipeline of practical and theoretical training.
Our Sub Lieutenant Snodgrass is a Warfare Officer, which is the career track most comparable to an American SWO’s. He and his comrades train for an additional 18-months. First, they attend three months of advanced seamanship theory training, followed by an intense year of practical bridge watch standing under instruction. If they are successful to this point, they stand for a week of individual bridge simulator assessments. Students must achieve passing marks on these assessments to proceed on to a final three months of advanced seamanship and navigation training. Upon graduation, they report aboard their first ship as an Officer-of-the-Watch (OOW) with a well-earned Navigational Watch Certificate. Within a month or so, SLt Snodgrass has earned his Commanding Officer’s Platform Endorsement – akin to a SWO’s Officer-of-the-Deck Underway Letter – and is entrusted with operating the ship unsupervised. While some Warfare Officers attend a 4-month long course and become navigators after gaining at least 4 years experience as an OOW, the next major pipeline for now-LT Snodgrass is the Principal Warfare Officer (PWO) Course and occurs at the nine-year point. Thirteen months long, the PWO Course trains Royal Navy surface officers to be the Commanding Officer’s advisor on either “Above Water” or “Under Water” Warfare, and can see up to 40 percent attrition.
The U.S. Navy SWO training pipeline has seen several iterations over the past 12 years. Before 2003, newly commissioned Surface Warfare Officer Trainees attended the six month-long Division Officer’s Course. SWOSDOC, as the course was called, taught the basics of ship handling, navigation, shipboard maintenance, damage control, leadership, and divisional administration. The objective of the course was to give all ensigns the tools necessary to immediately contribute to their wardrooms and a foundation from which to qualify aboard their ship. This course was disbanded in 2003 and for approximately nine years, new officers reported directly to their ships, took over their divisions, completed computer-based modules, and received on-the-job training as they progressed through their qualifications. The current training model sees new officers attending an 8-week Basic Division Officer Course (BDOC) in their Fleet Concentration Area, where they delve into many of the topics found in the old SWOSDOC program.
Upon completion of BDOC, ensigns report to their ships and are assigned a division of anywhere between 10 and 30 Sailors to lead and the associated responsibility of the maintenance of their division’s systems. Concurrent with their division officer duties, they embark on a journey to earn their Surface Warfare Officer designation and pin. This journey, nominally 18-months long, entails qualifying in a series of watch stations – namely, Officer-of-the-Deck In-Port, Small Boat Officer, Combat Information Center Watch Officer, Helm and Aft-Steering Safety Officer, and ultimately, Officer-of-the-Deck Underway – through the completion of Professional Qualification Standards (PQS) books and various oral boards. The milestone pre-requisite to the SWO Pin is the Officer-of-the-Deck Underway letter – similar to the Royal Navy’s Platform Endorsement – and usually comes after about a year aboard the ship and ultimately represents the Captain’s trust in the officer to safely and professionally operate the ship in their stead.
Typically, our Ensign Timmy will accumulate another six months of experience leading his bridge watch team, his division, and learning the catch-all nature of his chosen trade before sitting for his “SWO Board.” The SWO Board is a memorable event and involves the candidate sitting across from what, at the time, seems like a firing squad made up all of the department heads, the executive officer, and the Captain. While there is no formal, written or otherwise, fleet standard (outside of the pre-requisite watch stations) and no tangible result (aside from the pin), the SWO qualification represents a junior officer’s journeyman-level grasp of the surface, naval, and joint profession. Topics covered range far-and-wide: from logistics matters to amphibious landings and missile engagements, to personnel records, geography, ship and aircraft capabilities, emergency procedures, and naval justice fundamentals to meteorology. Now, with a pin and new officer designator, Lieutenant Junior Grade Timmy completes his first tour and attends approximately 1-2 months of job specific training before reporting to his next ship for a two year tour as Navigator, Auxiliaries officer, Main Propulsion Assistant, Fire Control Officer, Training Officer, Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer, or Force Protection Officer.
At the 8-year point, prospective SWO Department Heads attend up to nine weeks of intensive training in combat systems fundamentals, followed by 6-months in the Department Head Course, which includes three months dedicated to maritime warfare, and three months dedicated to administration, maintenance, damage control, and topics unique to the officer’s future billet.
The next point of comparison is more overt and was touched on briefly above. In the Royal Navy, recruits select and compete for a specialization before attending the Royal Navy College. They attend training either for Warfare Officers, Marine Engineers, Weapon Engineers, or Air Engineers. Warfare Officers are first responsible for bridge watch standing and safe navigation, and later in their careers for the tactical employment of the ship’s combat systems. Their engineers are responsible for leading the ship’s technicians and the upkeep of their respective kit – or in U.S. Navy terms, the preventative and corrective maintenance of their assigned shipboard systems. SLt Snodgrass, our Royal Navy Warfare Officer, will start his career with three tours as a bridge watch keeper. Later on, he serves two tours as a Principal Warfare Officer. His engineer counterparts – either marine or weapon – leave their training and serve a tour as a shipboard Deputy Head of Department, where they ultimately sit a professional board qualifying them as capable of leading a department. After engineering focused “shore drafts,” those who qualify return to sea as Heads of Department.
In the U.S. Navy, Surface Warfare Officers do not formally specialize in their billets. The community prides itself in producing Jacks-of-all-Trades. Ensign Timmy starts his career as a SWO by serving two division officer tours. He has little to no say in what his first billet will be – he could just as easily serve as the Electrical Officer as he could the Gunnery or Communications Officer. When proceeding to his next tour, his desires and performance are taken into account along with the ever-present needs of the Navy. En route to his second ship, LTJG Timmy receives his first formalized billet training. His second division officer tour may or may not fall under the same department as his first. After four years ashore, now-LT Timmy serves two 18-month Department Head tours. While his desires are given heavy weight, his assignment will not necessarily be to a department in which he previously served. The career experiences, training, and development of SWO’s is designed to ensure that they are notionally plug-and-play – able to serve in any capacity at a moment’s notice. The U.S. Navy does not have a direct comparison to the Royal Navy’s Marine and Weapons Engineers, though in our system, they would most closely be seen as a mix of our Limited Duty Officers and Department Heads.
A final point of comparison is the Royal Navy’s focus on watch-standing over billets in their Warfare Officer community. On a typical Type-23 Frigate, their Warfare Officers will fill the roles of the four Officers-of-the-Watch, Navigator, PWO Underwater, PWO Abovewater, Operations Officer, Executive Officer, and Captain. Other billets, including Weapon Engineer Officer, Marine Engineer Officer, and their deputies, are filled by specialized engineering officers.
The primary duty of SLt Snodgrass, as an assigned Officer-of-the-Watch and later a Principal Warfare Officer, is watch keeping. Officers-of-the-Watch are also assigned secondary duties like Classified Books Officer, Intelligence Officer, and XO’s Assistant. They are also responsible for the pastoral care of a group of Sailors. While leadership and special duties are a reality for the Warfare Officer, it is a fact of life that they come second to their job as professional watch standers. This fact was driven home to me by one Royal Naval Officer who said, “an OOW is a prime target for secondary duties… then we encounter an incident, and a casual factor is found to be that the OOW was distracted from their core task of watch-keeping, and an admiral directs a high-pressure blast getting rid of many of them (secondary duties).” Junior PWO serve as their Captain’s advisors on warfare and as the lead watch-stander in their Operations Room. When not standing watch and serving as a warfare advisor, they serve as shipboard staff, execute event planning, and serve in what the U.S. Navy might consider a special projects officer capacity, in addition to the pastoral care of the junior officers in their wardroom.
Surface Warfare Officers are detailed, or assigned, to a specific shipboard billet. This billet is not only on their orders, but also serves as their very identity aboard the ship. They are the Gunnery Officer – GUNNO – or the Chief Engineer – CHENG. As a division officer, Ensign Timmy spends his day seeing to his division’s Sailors, equipment, and operations, while also standing roughly ten hours of watch per day, whether that be on the bridge, in Combat, or in the engineering plant. Later on, Lieutenant Timmy leads a department of approximately three divisions. While serving as a Department Head, he qualifies and stands watch as Tactical Action Officer, leading the watch team tasked with employing the ship’s sensors and weapons and serving as the senior watch stander aboard the ship. Watches are not collateral for SWO’s, yet their professional bias is most certainly towards their billet and their people.
One key difference between the two navies that creates this disparity in bias is their respective approaches to duties covered by officers – specialists or not – vice enlisted Sailors. In the Royal Navy, most of the day-to-day upkeep of a division’s personnel and spaces is delegated to a senior petty officer. The Royal Navy also uses officers in many watch stations, like Quartermaster-of-the-Watch (duties considered a core competency of an RN OOW), Air Intercept Controller (Fighter Director in the RN), and Anti-Air Warfare Coordinator, that the U.S. Navy either mans with senior petty officers and chiefs, or splits between enlisted and commissioned watch standers. As a Royal Navy PWO broke it down for me, “tactical advice on Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) is my job as PWO(U), planning ASW matters is my chief’s job, looking after the ASW ratings is my petty officer’s job with direction from the two levels above, and maintenance of the ASW kit is the Deputy Weapon Engineering Officer’s job.” In the U.S. Navy, while surface Sailors are certainly empowered through delegation, a division officer or department head would have their hands in all of those levels in the execution of their assigned billet, while also concurrently standing watch throughout a given day.
Undoubtedly, each country could take something positive away from the other for their own betterment. Our unique cultures and operational commitments, as well as our relative sizes, certainly drive our respective methods. Now that we have a better understanding of how the Royal Navy does business, we can draw rough comparisons to the American Surface Warfare Officer community and start to imagine elements we might adopt as we endeavor for self-improvement. Before exploring specific proposals, though, my next piece in this series will again seek to inform by comparing the professional standards, training mindset and approach to attrition of the SWO community with that of both Naval Aviation and nuclear trained officers.