Archive for October, 2016
By Mark Tempest
Please join us at 5pm EDT on 30 Oct 16 for Midrats Episode 356: Fall Free For All Spooktacular!
Midrats is back live! With a week left to go till the election, I am sure you are about done with all the political talk, so join us at 5pm Eastern this Sunday, October 30th as we cover the the globe on the breaking national security and maritime issues that have come up over the last month.
From FORD to KUZNETSOV; from The Baltic to Yemen we’ll have it covered.
As always with our Free For Alls; it is open mic an open mind. Call in with your issues and questions, or join us in the chat room.
Consider for a few moments two benchmark facts.
1. Aircraft Carriers are the premier capital ship in our navy and for navies throughout the world. Sorry submarine bubbas, it’s true.
2. By the time he leaves office, SECNAV Mabus will have been on the job roughly eight years.
Mid-month, SECNAV put out this rather remarkable comment;
“The Ford is a textbook example of how not to build a ship,” Ford told reporters. “(We were) building it while it’s still being designed” — which results in costly do-overs of already-finished components — “(and) trying to force too much new and unproven technology on it” — whose teething troubles result in unplanned delays and costs.
“That was already on fire when I got in,” said Mabus, who became Navy Secretary the year the Ford’s keel was laid. “But we’ve stopped the cost growth.” The carrier’s schedule is still slipping, however, with a November delivery to the fleet postponed indefinitely due to problems in the Main Turbine Generators (MTG).
Mabus is correct. He did not conceive this baby, but it has been his responsibility to raise it. I am sure his comments are informed from what he has been briefed on via the review our Sam reported on back in August, or what led up to the review.
How could we have such a screwed up program for the crown jewel of our navy? The premier capital ship in the world’s premier navy? For regular readers, this will come as no shock; spawn of the Cult of Transformationalism that abandoned the evolutionary for the revolutionary.
FORD sprouts from the same intellectual well that LCS and DDG-1000 do. The Transformationalists decided that they could just wish aside centuries of experience on how to modernize a fleet. By their own confidence in their own self-perceived brilliance – compounding risk; technology, budgetary, programmatic, etc – none of those problems would be theirs.
I was hoping the issues with FORD would be a focus on itself, but then things got a bit strange. Mabus quickly pivoted and started to defend what almost all agree is a snake-bitTtransformationalist flop, LCS;
Isn’t LCS also a textbook example of a troubled ship program, I asked Mabus, for much the same reasons as Ford?
“No,” said Mabus. LCS is more an example of typical teething troubles on a new design, he argued.
“Every time you start a new class of ship…you’re going to have issues,” he said. “LCS gets a lot of attention, but during the first deployment of an LCS to Singapore…it was ready for sea more than the (US) Pacific Fleet average.”
“It’s got a lot of attention mainly because it looks different,” Mabus said. “It is a different kind of ship.”
Ummmm, no. FREEDOM Class does not look all that different, and eight years after the commissioning of HULL-1, “new class of ship” excuses for the cascading failures no longer applies. INDEPENDENCE looked different a decade ago. We’re used to it now. Then again, he has a lot of personal capital invested in LCS, so one would expect a bit of a blinkered view.
Why do two programs with similar troubles get such a different reaction from Mabus? It’s especially striking because the carrier program matters much more to naval traditionalists, who often disdain the relatively tiny and lightly armed LCS. But throughout Mabus’s seven years in office — the longest tenure of a Navy Secretary since World War I — he’s measured his success in terms of numbers of ships.
From 2001 to 2008, Mabus said today (as he says in every speech he makes) the US Navy fell from 316 ships to 278 and put only 41 new ships on contract. In the seven years since 2009, Mabus has contracted for 86.
“Quantity has a quality all of its own,” Mabus said — and you don’t get quantity without a small ship cheap enough to build in bulk. In the face of two skeptical Defense Secretaries and sometimes bitter criticism from Congress, Mabus’s commitment to LCS explains a lot about its survival
Perhaps it would be unkind to state that we have been engaged all month in littoral combat off of Yemen, but no one in their right mind wants a LCS anywhere near that coastline.
Perhaps it is best to leave that there so we don’t wander in to another LCS post. Let’s stick to the FORD issue.
If I may be self-indulgent a bit; when we few, we happy few anti-Transformationalists began tilting against the Transformationalist series of ships that came before FORD; LPD-17, LCS, DDG-1000 – from titanium fire mains to NLOS, one of our primary critiques was a cavalier view towards technology risk. It is great to see that, in his own way, Mabus is on the same page of the hymnal with us now.
Speaking Thursday with the massive carrier in the background, Mabus said, “I think we’re a long ways down that road” to fixing the power-generation issue.
He gave a similar assessment of the advanced arresting gear (AAG), which has been installed on the Ford but is still being tested.
The Navy is studying whether to continue with AAG on the next Ford-class carrier, the John F. Kennedy, which is under construction at the shipyard and about 23 percent complete.
“Everything that has been brought up lately, we have been looking at for years, and testing for years,” he said.
Kendall ordered a review of the Ford program, which is now under way and should be complete by December. Until all concerns are resolved, Mabus said he can’t specify a delivery date.
“As soon as it’s ready,” he said. “I’m not going to give you a date. But the testing is going well. Getting to the root cause of the generator problem is going well.”
He also reiterated an oft-stated observation: that the Ford suffers from a decision made more than a decade ago to pack new technology on the ship instead of phasing in new systems over three ships.
“It’s not the shipyard,” he said. “It was us doing this to them.”
How bad is the AAG issue?
The ship’s Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) is more problematic, and “has had significant delays in completing its land-based test program due to the technical challenges encountered in transitioning from design” through final testing, Mabus reported. Other Navy sources report dozens of roll-through tests have been conducted with the AAG at the Navy’s test facility in Lakehurst, New Jersey, but to date no true arrested landings have been accomplished.
Mabus noted that the Navy is reviewing whether to continue with AAG installation on the Enterprise (CVN 80), third ship in the class, or return to the standard Mark 7 aircraft recovery system operating on all current carriers. Installation of AAG on the second ship, John F. Kennedy (CVN 79), is continuing for now, Mabus noted, because design and construction work has progressed to the point where a replacement would have a significantly negative impact on costs and schedule.
Less of a Transformationalist problem, LPD-17 has been made useful with the extra Sailor sweat and seabags of money prescribed to fix her. LCS and DDG-1000 are what they are, but there was great hope that we would somehow get FORD right. That we would be lucky and good – looks like we were neither.
I think everyone understands technology risk as a factor described above, but what is programmatic risk? Part of programmatic risk is just that; as the DDG-1000 people will tell you, if you are too much of a burden your program will be cancelled. You also can become your own parody. In doing so, you open the door for those who want to do things with that money and effort – specifically the likes of our friend Jerry Hendrix;
The first move of a new presidential administration will not be to “cancel any of these programs but we’ve shown it is possible to make significant changes in short time,” said Jerry Hendrix, one of the report’s authors and a senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank.
“We want to stir the debate.” he added.
The proposal was first reported by The Washington Post.
Most notably, the report calls for canceling the $40 billion Ford-class aircraft carrier program, halting construction of the littoral combat ship, and purchasing fewer F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
Those funds would be reallocated for the stealthy B-21 bomber, adding 16 additional submarines, and investing in emerging technologies like high-energy lasers, the CNAS report recommends.
Combine the latest news with FORD and the bitter fruits of the Light Attack Mafia’s bureaucratic victories in the 1990s and early 2000s, and you give other ideas room go grow. You can get the full report here.
The 2020s will be, how do the Chinese put it? Interesting.
I had the opportunity to attend the program on 24 September to celebrate the College of Holy Cross NROTC Unit’s 75th Anniversary. I received Naval Institute CEO Vice Admiral Peter Daly’s permission to post his abridged remarks here.
* * *
. . . This superb NROTC unit whose 75th anniversary we salute came into being in 1941.
Pearl Harbor was just 90 days away when the first 115 NROTC students enrolled. J. William Middendorf and Edwin Meyer—here tonight—were in that first group. In those days, Holy Cross enrollment was about 1,200 male students, taught primarily by Jesuit priests. They taught more than the liberal arts; they imparted values. Values that Holy Cross students—and even some notable faculty—would carry with them to war.
The country was preparing for war—total war. And America needed more naval officers than the Naval Academy and NROTC could produce—and fast!
Today, it is hard to imagine the total national commitment required to fight and win World War II. Everyone was involved and, with so many young men going to war, a small school the size of Holy Cross may not have survived without some affiliation with the military.
As an example of the times, my father Joseph Daly was Holy Cross ’43. The Navy came in February 1943 and said: “College is over; consider yourselves graduated.” The Navy ordered my dad to report to V-7 Midshipman School at Columbia University a few days later. Ninety days after that he was Ensign Daly, U.S. Naval Reserve, gunnery officer on a destroyer escort in the North Atlantic.
In the next 24 months, his ship escorted convoys in the North Atlantic nine times. After that, his ship was modified to carry frogmen (to blow up beach obstacles) and sent to the Pacific. First place they went was Okinawa in March of 1945.
The fact Holy Cross already had an NROTC unit played large in the school being selected in 1942/1943 as one of the schools to take part in the V12 program which included course work and training right here on campus. NROTC plus V12 ensured that Holy Cross had enough students! Many also enlisted, and many entered combat.
Our O’Callahan Society namesake—Father Joseph T. O’Callahan, S.J.—received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on the aircraft carrier USS Franklin (CV-13) in 1945. One of Father O’Callahan’s students, First Lieutenant John V. Powers, U.S. Marine Corps, would also receive the Medal of Honor for courageous actions during the Marshall Islands Campaign. These men combined Holy Cross values with Navy and Marine Corps values such as honor, courage, and commitment and carried them to war.
NROTC and the other officer programs at the school were important for Holy Cross and important to the nation.
After the war, after so many had served and so many died, what was Holy Cross’s relationship with the military going to be? Would it continue? Following the war, the Navy was at a major personnel crossroads. Ninety percent of the officers who had fought in the war were not Naval Academy grads. Three million officers and men had been demobilized.
Rear Admiral James L. Holloway, Jr., led a Navy board to recommend the best system and approach for educating officers in the Navy. They looked at three schemes:
- Following coursework civilian college, channel all career officers through the Naval Academy for one or two years.
- “Double down” on the Naval Academy. They examined whether to build a second Naval Academy and expand the Academy at Annapolis.
- Use both the NROTC and the Naval Academy. Maintain the four-year undergraduate program for each.
The third option—that became known as the “Holloway Plan”—was recommended and adopted because of the proven track record of NROTC, and because of the strategic flexibility it provided in dealing with change.1 Under this plan, most NROTC grads would now receive regular Navy—not Reserve—commissions.
In the early 1980s, Admiral Holloway, long since retired, reflected in an interview on some of the inner sanctum deliberations of the board. Thinking back, Holloway—said, “I was confident that the four years at Annapolis was the optimum system to create—I don’t like the word ‘dedication’—‘a habit of service’ in people who would stay with you. Some would get out, of course, but in most cases the imprint of those four years of almost Jesuitical preparation would produce a career commitment.”2
“Almost Jesuitical preparation” and “habit of service” are interesting words from a Naval Academy grad like Holloway! Upon commissioning, Holy Cross graduates know the meaning of service and, through the decades, have and are serving with honor and distinction. We rely upon the midshipmen here tonight to continue that tradition of service! When Holloway talked about commitment, he also meant career commitment.
The NROTC unit here at Holy Cross has provided more career flag and general officers (16) per capita than any other NROTC unit in the country. . . .
The Navy includes people of all faiths. As you may know, Roman Catholics have the highest representation as a religious group within the military. In the Navy, the officer corps is skewed even more toward Catholicism. Maybe these two groups—Catholics and Navy—really do go together:
- Lots of rules
Or maybe, more seriously, it is the shared values: The notion of the servant leader; empathy and concern for others that arises from a liberal education; and a standard of critical thought and responsible action.
Those same values carried then Lieutenant Commander Thomas Gunning Kelley to “disregard his injuries and lead his men to safety” as commander of River Assault Division 152 in Vietnam in June 1969. Tom Kelley was the third leader from Holy Cross to earn the Medal of Honor.
Four years after Tom Kelley’s actions, when I was a new midshipman fourth class in early September 1973, I was looking around the NROTC unit spaces in O’Kane Hall and wandered into the large, old NROTC lecture room—wood slat construction, tin ceiling. I am sure many here can picture it. At the base of the room were several large tables. Each was piled high with textbooks. I was curious and started checking out all these books, each stamped “property of NROTC.”
As I looked, I realized each table represented a different school . . . all the first table said, “property of NROTCU Harvard.” The next was all books from NROTCU Dartmouth . . . next Yale, then Brown. . . .
In 1969, in protest to the Vietnam War, those Ivy League schools decided NROTC had to leave. No new midshipmen entered those schools, and the number of NROTC students dwindled through the spring of 1973. I remember wondering about all the students who used those books. I knew how important having a NROTC scholarship was to my family and my opportunity to attend Holy Cross and become a naval officer.
Now, at these schools, the program was banned. Their books were now collected and stacked high on those tables. So in the fall of 1973, Holy Cross was the last full-up NROTC school in New England. The fact it was still standing is testament to College President Father John Brooks, S.J., who could have accepted the political trend and the recommendation of a report from the “Ad Hoc Committee for the Study of ROTC.”
It was almost his first order of business as president when he took over in 1970. He decided to reach out to the officer who led the NROTC unit: Captain Harry Moore, U.S. Navy. Father Brooks started a dialogue and invested himself in it. John Brooks and Harry Moore worked over the ensuing months to engage students and faculty on the critical need for an officer corps with a diverse set of values and a strong moral compass.
Less than six months after a campus-wide strike and demonstration, the majority of students participating in a student body referendum voted in favor of retaining ROTC. A bit after that, Father Brooks convinced the faculty to do the same.
The year 1973 was a turning point for the country and military overall.
The majority of troops were pulled out from Vietnam. The national draft ended in early 1973. The draft—which had ensured at least a basic measure of diversity across layers of society—was now gone.
With an all-volunteer force, what would it mean if certain parts of society completely abandoned the idea of military service? Father Brooks was a strong advocate for the need for a professional officer corps that was exposed to a broad diversity of academic thought and underpinned with a solid grounding in Judeo-Christian ethics. He knew we needed to a bridge between the nation and the military.
That bridge extended to a broader consortium of schools in Worcester. By January 1979, the unit enrolled ten scholarship students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and included other students from Clark University, Assumption College, and Worcester State. Currently included are Worcester Polytechnic and Worcester State and now, Brown University.
Just two years ago, an emissary from the Navy visited the Dean and outlined a Navy proposal to modify to the NROTC program to reduce the Navy’s scholarship commitment to liberal arts grads. Under this scheme, only technical/STEM majors would receive the full scholarship. Non-technical, liberal arts grads would get a significantly lower tuition stipend. The “draft” STEM program already was baked into the Navy’s budget!
Concerned members of the O’Callahan Society saw this as a call to action. In a team effort, the Society collected its points and wrote to the Navy to make the case for all NROTC students at Holy Cross and throughout the country. The key points made by the O’Callahan Society were:
- Holy Cross consistently has produced quality officers who can succeed in the Navy’s technical programs.
- For example, Holy Cross grads performed very well in nuclear power training.
- Under the proposed scheme, liberal arts disciplines would be priced out by tech majors and tech grads.
- Liberal arts institutions would be adversely affected.
- The Society made the point that, just as diversity of race, color, and creed are valued, so too should diversity of thinking.
Happily, the O’Callahan Society’s letter caused the Secretary of the Navy to reconsider the proposal, and it was stopped at his desk at the 12th hour . . . .
The NROTC units at Holy Cross, at Worcester, and units across the land bring the Navy to the nation. In that regard alone, NROTC is important. Through this program students, parents, neighbors, educators, influencers —side-by-side—develop a greater understanding, appreciation, and respect for each other.
The officers commissioned through NROTC units across the land bring a diversity of knowledge, talents, expertise, and backgrounds. They provide a far stronger and more capable Navy and Marine Corps, than if the ranks were filled from Annapolis alone. . . .
Simply stated, we need more than specialists to man today’s Navy and Marine Corps. We need broadly educated officers with diverse backgrounds, who possess sound character and a strong moral compass.
That is why Father Brooks supported ROTC at Holy Cross. He saw this need. He knew that bringing together all facets of society—serving one another—was and is to key to strengthening the nation.
Whether it is on the Navy’s side or the college’s side we have to work at this relationship. We can never stop building that bridge, and we can never take this very special relationship for granted! For 75 years Holy Cross has epitomized the spirit and faith that have served our Navy and Nation, and it will continue to do so for our future.
- Rear Admiral James L. Holloway, Jr., U.S. Navy, “The Holloway Plan – A Summary View and Commentary,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, vol. 73, no. 11 (November 1947).
- Admiral James L. Holloway, Jr., U.S. Navy (Ret.) with Jack Sweetman, “A Gentleman’s Agreement,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, vol. 106, no. 9 (September 1980).
One of the primary responsibilities of leaders is to be an example to junior personnel. The expected ideal is to “lead by example.” That “example” is understood to be a positive one, but often it is not. On occasion a leader becomes a negative example – “that guy” who everyone is told not to be.
This week we saw one of the last parts of Act-III from the tragedy of General James E. “Hoss” Cartwright, USMC (Ret.).
Josh Rogin over at WaPo outlines the story and its context well, and we’ll get to that later on in the post, but here is the take-away everyone in uniform must know – you are not part of the cool-kids club in DC. Only a very few ever have crossed that barrier, and you are not one of them.
There is a problem with spending too many years in the Imperial City rubbing elbows and watching the Byzantine stew of politics, press, sex, fame, money, and power that swirls around you. If you are lucky, you have enough of a sense of history and self-awareness to know your place, or you have a wife or the ever-rare circle of friends you will listen to who will keep you grounded. Even then, it may not be enough. Even the greatest are human too.
Some can spend the balance of the decades of their life in DC and remain unsullied by its nature, uncompromised, unmoved by the warped ethics and moral compromise one sees every day. Others can be seduced by it inside a single PCS cycle.
It is not a hard sell to think that you have to play by the rules those in suits and pants-suits do to make things happen. You can feel forced to bend, but just as many want to bend. They can smell what is there, and they want to be part of it.
High rank, personal staffs, and a parade of sycophantic obsequiousness can build on top of the existing human desire for power, influence, and position. A person in uniform can see which civilian tactics, techniques, and procedures are used to best effect, and that the civilians get away with it.
Why not you too?
Here is why; you are not them. You wear the uniform. It isn’t that you are held to a different standard, you are, but not for the self-serving reason you think. It isn’t your “higher sense of honor” or any of that. No, it is much baser.
You are not in their club. You do not know their secret handshake. You are not in their circle of influence, cabal, or family though marriage, affairs, or shared history. Even if you went to the same schools, you are outside that circle. Even if they make you feel you are – you are only being patronized for their own interest; you aren’t.
To many there, you are just “The Other.” You are just another government employee who, even as a General Officer and Flag Officer, are seen somewhere between a GS-15 and a Deputy Undersecretary.
You can play some of their games, but even then you will not be allowed to play by their rules. To them, you aren’t just expendable, you are a potential sacrifice to appease whatever is the angry god of the moment’s demands.
The Imperial City is a fascinating place, but only if you know it for what it is. Its standards are not for you. Its concept of accountability do not apply to you. It isn’t because you are better, it is because you are The Other.
Go back to the fundamentals you learned as a JO and grab a map/chart. The Pentagon isn’t even in DC, it is in northern Virginia. Keep that in mind.
The Obama administration Justice Department has investigated three senior officials for mishandling classified information over the past two years but only one faces a felony conviction, possible jail time and a humiliation that will ruin his career: former Joint Chiefs of Staff vice chairman General James E. Cartwright. The FBI’s handling of the case stands in stark contrast to its treatment of Hillary Clinton and retired General David Petraeus — and it reeks of political considerations.
Monday marked a stunning fall from grace for Cartwright, the man once known as “Obama’s favorite general,” who pleaded guilty to the felony charge of lying to the FBI during its investigation into the leaking of classified information about covert operations against Iran to two journalists. His lawyer Greg Craig said in a statement that Cartwright spoke with David Sanger of the New York Times and Dan Klaidman of Newsweek as a confirming source for stories they had already reported, in an effort to prevent the publication of harmful national security secrets.
The defense attorney’s job is to paint the best picture for his client. Re-read the above last paragraph for clarity.
Under his plea deal, Cartwright could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Last year, Petraeus cut a deal with the Justice Department after admitting he had lied to the FBI and passed hundreds of highly classified documents to his biographer and mistress Paula Broadwell. He pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor of mishandling classified information and was sentenced to two years probation and a $100,000 fine.
Clinton was not charged at all for what FBI Director James B. Comey called “extremely careless” handling of “very sensitive, highly classified information.” Comey said that although there was “evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information,” the FBI’s judgment was that no reasonable prosecutor would have filed charges against Clinton or her associates.
Is this fair? Is it right?
That doesn’t matter. It is.
“The FBI will continue to take all necessary and appropriate steps to thoroughly investigate individuals, no matter their position (emphasis added), who undermine the integrity of our justice system by lying to federal investigators,” said Assistant Director in Charge Paul Abbate.
That statement reveals that the FBI is trying address public criticism that it gives senior officials like Petraeus and Clinton special and favorable consideration, Aftergood said.
“They seem to be trying to make a policy point,” he said. “The Justice Department would say they are not influenced at all by policy or political considerations. In the real world, of course they are influenced.”
One of the best things Cartwright could do is, after a cooling off period, write a book about this whole affair. Not a book to push blame on others. Not a book to try to spin the story in his favor. No. He is a Marine Aviator. He needs to look at this as a mishap report. Focus on what he did wrong. Clear, unblinking honesty of how he found himself walking up the steps to a courthouse. It might help those who follow. Might.
Cartwright, by contrast, was short on high-profile Washington friends. He had long ago run afoul of his two Pentagon bosses, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who never forgave him for going around the chain of command to join with Vice President Joe Biden to present Obama with an alternate plan for the Afghanistan troop surge in 2009.
Cartwright’s greatest mistake was not talking to reporters or lying about it; he failed to play the Washington game skillfully enough to avoid becoming a scapegoat for a system in which senior officials skirt the rules and then fall back on their political power to save them.
Bingo. It wasn’t his game to play. He didn’t even understand the rules.
I just hope this doesn’t eat in to his soul, as it would take a lot for it not to eat in to mine;
Will the other Stuxnet leakers be held accountable? No one has suggested that Cartwright was the primary source of the Stuxnet disclosures. According to emails obtained by the conservative action group Freedom Watch, Sanger had meetings on Iran with several other high-profile administration officials, including National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and even Clinton herself. There’s no evidence of any other Stuxnet leak investigations of high-level officials.
Not being in the club has its consequences.
In his best-case scenario, Cartwright could avoid prison time but will be saddled with a felony conviction that will bar him from most money-making opportunities. In the worst-case scenario, he could be getting released from prison around the same time Clinton finishes her first term.
In his statement taking responsibility for lying to the FBI, Cartwright asserted his motivations were patriotic. “My only goal in talking to the reporters was to protect American interests and lives; I love my country and continue to this day to do everything I can to defend it.”
All glory is fleeting.
A Farewell to Arms is the title of one of Ernest Hemingway’s best works and a book that reflects some of his own personal experiences on the battlefields of World War I. The story unfolds right here in Italy. The title is somewhat metaphorical because it represents LT Frederic Henry’s farewell not only to the honorable profession of arms, but also to the arms of his beloved compatriots that he leaves behind.
At the end of October, I will complete my tour as Commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet and Commander, Striking and Support Forces NATO and return to Washington, D.C. for my next assignment in the Pentagon. Leaving this job is hard because I leave behind so many fine young men and women who have selflessly stood the watch for the last two years while navigating in harm’s way. They are composed not only of Americans but also Alliance and coalition partners who share the same ideals of freedom and justice as we do. They are young; they are strong; they are brave; and they deserve our thanks.
Since 9/11, these Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen and Marines have been fighting the war on terror; in the last year, this fight has spread to the waters of the Mediterranean where the USS Harry S. Truman and Eisenhower Strike Groups, USS Wasp Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG/MEU) and French Aircraft Carrier Charles de Gaulle have been conducting strikes on Da’esh in Syria, Iraq and Libya.
As the clock ticked down to the day of my Change of Command, I wanted to take the time to visit, walk the deck-plates, talk to the troops and just say: “Thank you!”
A couple of weeks ago, I did just that onboard USS Wasp (LHD-1) and USS Carney (DDG-64) in the Mediterranean. Wasp has been underway for over 100 days straight delivering lethal strikes on Da’esh in Libya. The morale of the American Sailors and Marines on these two platforms was exceptional. When I asked how they kept such a positive attitude, many simply told me, it’s all about the mission.
Today, I visited USS Ross (DDG-71) and the French Aircraft Carrier Charles de Gaulle, both operating in consort, in the Eastern Mediterranean. As a young Navy Lieutenant, I was very fortunate to have been given an opportunity to study in France as an Olmsted Scholar. My relationship with the French Navy began in 1986 and it has grown even stronger as the Commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet. Charles de Gaulle has deployed three times in the last two years, twice in support of our operations in the Arabian Gulf. They have filled gaps in carrier presence and brought incredible combat capability to the theater. This latest deployment takes place in the Eastern Mediterranean while they service targets in Syria and Iraq.
Like the USS Wasp, despite the high operational tempo of the Charles de Gaulle, morale was excellent . . .it’s all about the mission. They are just like us.
The French Strike Group Commander, Contre-Amiral Olivier Le Bas (himself an exchange pilot with the U.S. Navy) and Commanding Officer, Capitaine de Vaisseau Eric Malbrunot, gave me the honor of addressing the crew on the 1MC after de Gaulle launched and recovered several sorties of Rafale strike-fighters conducting combat missions over Syria and Iraq. This is what I said. This was my Farewell to Arms. . .
For all of you Francophones out there, I spoke to the crew in their native tongue because I think that is very important. I have translated my comments in English immediately after the French text below:
A bord le Charles de Gaulle – Bonjour !
Je suis Vice-Amiral Jamie Foggo, chef de la Sixième Flotte Americaine. Le dernier fois que je vous ai visité été le dix novembre deux-mille-seize.
Votre commandant, Eric Malbrunot m’a chaleureusement accueilli. Le lendemain, j’étais à Paris avec votre chef de la marine et votre Président, nous étions à l’arc de triomphe afin d’assister à la cérémonie de l’armistice. Cette journée de commémoration été très particulier pour moi.
Ma famille a beaucoup en commun avec la France ; mes deux grands-pères ont se battu dans la grande guerre ; puis mon père a débarqué sur les plages du Normandie avec l’armée canadienne.
Mois – j’ai fait une grande partie de mes études en France. J’ai appris le français par l’une des Grandes Dames de Paris Madame Elisabeth Girardet , à l’alliance française en mille-neuf-cents-quatre-vingts-six. Femme d’un Professeur fameux de Sciences-Po, m’a donné une passion pour la langue et la culture de la France.
J’ai continué mes études à Strasbourg, sur le professeur Francois-Georges Dreyfus – l’homme Politique, l’auteur, et speci’aliste des relations Franco-Allemands en France. Il était mon mentor. Alors, vous voyez que je suis un francophone et un francophile. Ma famille a eu des liens avec la France pendant une siècle. Mais, nos pays ont eu des liens bien plus qu’une siècle! De Lafayette pendant la révolution américaine et L’Enfant – l’architecte de notre capitale Washington D.C. En mille-sept-cents-soixante-dix-neuf le roi Louis seize mis à disposition la frégate Bonhomme Richard à la marine américaine – le Continental Navy.
Notre héro naval américain John Paul Jones disait “Donnez-moi une navire rapide, parce que j’ai l’intention de chercher le danger.“ Alors, il a pris le Bonhomme Richard en abattant le HMS Serapis dans une des victoires les plus célébrés dans l’historie maritime des États-Unis.
Malgré nos différences occasionnelle, nous sommes très similaires et nous avons crée des marines puissantes avec une portée globale. En particulier, nos deux marines sont les seuls qui disposent des porte-avions nucléaires.
Le lendemain de mon départ de Paris était le douze novembre un jour avant les attentats à Paris. En vue de ces pertes de cette tragédie, personne n’étaient plus triste que moi.
Toute de suite après, le Charles est déployé en Méditerranée orientale, afin de porter le combat vers l’ennemi — Da’esh. Puis vous avez continué votre travail a cote de nous et des autres partenaires de la coalition dans la golfe arabe. Et vous avez fait un travail magnifique !
Vous étés ici encore une fois, mais vous n’êtes pas seules. Comme le français ont nous soutenu pendant notre lutte de la libération, mon gouvernement a envoyé l’USS Ross pour vous assister. Nous avons aussi des officiers américains abord le Charles, et nous nous battons ensemble contre un ennemi abominable. C’est la solidarité franco-américaine !
Alors, nous avons beaucoup en commun ; je suis venu pour vous dire que je suis très fier de vous et vos compatriotes en restant forts toujours contre cette menace tyrannique. Nous ne pouvons pas vaincre cette ennemi sans travailler ensemble.
Mon amis et ancien chef des forces alliées en Europe, amiral Jim Stavridis, disait souvent – We are stronger together » – Nous sommes plus forts ensemble ! Je suis totalement convaincu par cette phrase. Merci pour ce que vous faites ; merci pour votre sacrifice personnelle et de votre famille.
Merci pour votre amitié et l’alliance. Vive le Charles! Vive la France! Et Vive l’amitié Franco-américaine !
The world is watching you. Bonne courage!
On board the Charles de Gaulle – Hello!
I am Vice Admiral Jamie Foggo, Commander of the U.S. Sixth Fleet. The last time I visited you was 10 November 2016. Your commander, Eric Malbrunot welcomed me warmly. The next day I was in Paris with your CNO and your President; we were at the Arc de Triomphe to attend the ceremony of Remembrance Day on 11 November. This anniversary was very special for me.
My family has a lot in common with France; my two grandfathers both fought in the Great War; then my father landed on the beaches of Normandy with the Canadian Forces in 1944.
I did a large part of my studies in France. I learned French from one of the Grandes Dames of Paris, Madame Elisabeth Girardet, at the Alliance Francaise in 1986. She was the wife of a famous Professor at the University of Paris (Raoul Girardet) and she gave me a passion for language and culture of France.
I continued my studies at the University of Strasbourg. I studied under Professor Francois-Georges Dreyfus, politician, author, and specialist in Franco-Germans relations.
He was my mentor.
So you see I am a both a Francophone and a Francophile. My family has had links with France for a century. But our countries have had links for much more than century!
For example – Lafayette during the American Revolution and L’Enfant – the architect of our capital in Washington, D.C. in 1779, King Louis XVI provided the frigate Bonhomme Richard to the U.S. Navy – the Continental Navy.
Our American naval hero John Paul Jones once said: “Give me a ship fast, because I intend to go in harm’s way!” So he did when he commanded Bonhomme Richard and engaged the HMS Serapis in one of the most celebrated victories in the history of the United States Navy.
Despite our occasional differences, we are very similar and we have created powerful navies with a global reach. In particular, our two navies are the only ones who have the nuclear-powered aircraft carriers like the Charles.
The day after I left Paris on November 12, 2015, was the day before the horrible terrorist attacks in your capital. In response to these tragic losses, no one was sadder than me.
Immediately after the attacks, Charles de Gaulle deployed to the Eastern Mediterranean, to take the fight to the enemy – Da’esh. Then you continued your work with us and other coalition partners in the
Arabian Gulf. And you did a wonderful job!
You are out here again, but you are not alone. As the French supported us during the American Revolution, my government sent the USS Ross assist you.
We also have several American officers onboard the Charles, and we fight together against an abominable enemy. This is Franco-American solidarity at its best!
So we have a lot in common; I came to tell you that I’m very proud of you and your compatriots as you remain strong against this tyrannical threat. We cannot defeat this enemy without working together.
My friend and former Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), Admiral Jim Stavridis, often said – “We are stronger together.” Of that, I am totally convinced.
Thank you for all that you do; thank you for your personal sacrifice and the sacrifice of your family. Thank you for your friendship and alliance.
Long live the Charles! Long live France! And long live Franco-American friendship!
The world is watching you. Bonne courage!
Let us talk as adults. It is the mutually respectful thing to do.
Brush aside the spin, the squid ink, the general excuse making and post-decision 2nd and 3rd order effect justification on why this change was made, for what purpose, and what manner. Things such as giving a job description that will help a Sailor or Marine have a better civilian resume. Really, just stop. No one is buying it, and trust me, as someone who made the transition a bit more than half a decade ago, it won’t make a difference in that area.
With some time behind us post-announcement, there is more to discuss. We are lucky in that Mark D. Faram of Navy Times has a thorough, balanced and much needed expose from “behind the scenes of the Navy’s most unpopular policy.”
The simple answer is this; fed by some of the less intellectual threads from the 3rd Wave Feminist theory that seems to inform much of his ideas on “gender,” the SECNAV wanted to grind in his stamp on a pet agenda item before he leaves office.
How it was to be done? That was the question. There was no question of “if.”
This action began and ended with the SECNAV and full credit positive or negative belongs firmly there.
Now, let’s get in to some of Faram’s details.
Good ideas are usually given a nice warm up. This, however, was known from the start that it would be toxic upon delivery. As a result, the delivery was for most as a bolt out of the blue;
Beyond a small working group, convened this past summer and led by then-Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens, next-to no one in the Navy saw this change coming, sources with knowledge of the decision-making process say. And it’s been received with near universal contempt by sailors past and present.
In the course of military service, we have all done things we did not agree with, but duty is what duty is. If it is a lawful order, you do it. If it is a nasty bit of work, you try to come up with the least horrible way of doing it while still getting the OK from the boss. This is why I believe that those who oppose the new policy should hold no ill feeling towards those in uniform who were in the group that produced this for approval by the SECNAV. Likewise, those supporting it should not give them credit either. We’ve all been there, they did the best they could – but the initiating directive came from SECNAV, and if it weren’t for him, it would not have happened.
“I felt it was not optional,” Stevens said, “but my duty to lead this effort, knowing all along that there would be controversy attached to it.” The former MCPON, as the position is known throughout the service, says he believes the move is necessary and that now Navy leaders “must follow through.”
The post announcement spin has been a solid effort to define some positive 2nd and 3rd order effects, which there may be, but that is all they are – 2nd and 3rd order effects. Not designed, just byproducts.
Mabus declined to speak with Navy Times. He and other top Navy officials, including Richardson and Burke, have said that the change, while a nod to gender neutrality, will facilitate sailors’ professional development and career advancement by freeing them to cross train and attain broader skills spanning multiple specialties. That should make them more marketable when they leave the military, too, they’ve noted.
Mabus did speak today, and we’ll end the post with that, but let’s stick to this part of the story for now.
It would be hard to find a more divisive way of making such an announcement that impacts every Sailor.
Much of the frustration tied to Mabus’ decision stems from its timing. Most average sailors and deckplate leaders alike don’t understand why the announcement was made while so much of the plan remains undeveloped.
Well, many did. There were hints and background warnings over the summer.
Mabus, sources said, was determined to put ratings reform in motion — and on the record — before he leaves office.
The power of the office. Once you have been in a while, you begin to enjoy it and find ways to use it. When you see that power soon leaving with much work left undone, well, time to get moving.
Let’s go back to the sausage factory. Direction and guidance was both clear and vague. Interesting how MCPON tried to cobble something workable together.
…while Mabus was focused on removing the word “man” from the Navy’s job titles, he never specifically asked for a plan to eliminate rating titles entirely.
The MCPON assembled a working group composed of “about 12” individuals,…
“Course of action number one was simple: Remove man from titles,” Stevens said. “What we found was that you could in most cases, remove the word ‘man’ and replace it with the word specialist or technician…
The second proposal built upon the first and sought to determine whether the job titles in fact aligned with the work being done. An example here is yeoman; it’s a historic title, but it was decided that “administrative specialist” was a better fit for the work being performed, …
But none of the changes seemed right, he added. Taken in total, they did not amount to the profound change he felt the Navy needs. That’s when Stevens suggested something groundbreaking.
“What if we just eliminated rating titles altogether and simply referred to ourselves by our rate? That’s the traditional Navy word for rank. You could feel the air leave the room,” he said.
There you go.
In case you are wondering, the article didn’t outline well what COA-3 was, but it does not really matter.
“If you want to do just what you asked us to do, here are the rating title changes that need to happen to remove ‘man’ from those titles. He said ‘it’s done and it’s easy and we can do it tomorrow,’” Stevens said, recalling the conversation with Mabus.
Stevens then outlined the idea of removing all rating titles, telling the secretary that he felt this was the the best proposal for the service. But he followed up with a warning.
“Make no mistake about it,” Stevens recalled telling Mabus, “this course of action will be the most labor-intensive, probably the most expensive, certainly the most controversial as well as difficult to accept socially throughout the Navy. But it certainly advances us the furthest.”
Mabus “sat there a little bit, pondered it, asked a few questions and then decided, in the best interest of the Navy’s future, this was the path he wanted to take,” Stevens said.
And that is how a very personal part of our Navy for over two centuries ended.
The pushback was as expected, I assume.
There was “absolutely no signal, no hint that a move of that magnitude was being planned, discussed or soon-to-be forthcoming,” said the command master chief, who also spoke to Navy Times on condition of anonymity. “Our sailors don’t understand it. They don’t understand why the ratings that they chose to enter have been selected for elimination, and they don’t see the need for it.”
Actually, there was, but few wanted to believe it. No question now.
“We don’t understand why this could not have been a two-to-three year, very gradual process that examined all of the effects from advancement to recruiting, and how it will affect the administration of our Navy on many different levels. It doesn’t appear,” the CMC said, “that any thought was given to that.”
Come on Master Chief, you have to understand why. The focus is all on the calendar, a calendar getting short for the SECNAV.
I know there are many who refuse to accept that this all comes from the SECNAV’s desire. Thanks to Hope Hodge Seck’s article today on his speech at the National Press Club, SECNAV Mabus underlined his priority and should remove all doubt,
“Ratings names change all the time,” Mabus said. “Corpsmen, our medics, that rating came in after World War II. Corpsmen were first called Loblolly Boys, which, I’m not sure where that came from. I thought it was important to be gender-neutral.”
In case you aren’t fully up to speed, looks like we are losing Corpsman for Medic.
I know. I know.
At least for the Western democracies, my initial push-back has always been that regardless of how good your AI gets the legal/ROE issues will get in the way if you cut away the man-in-the-loop such that we have now in the TLAM to Reaper spectrum of autonomy.
Other parts of the world? Not everyone has the niceties that we are used to when it comes to moral or safety considerations.
You cannot classify math, and what is cutting edge for one generation is old and primitive for another. The North Koreans building nuclear weapons is a case in point.
There is, of course, the usual reply from the AI advocated that AI will be the next thing in military etc etc etc.
What if we are scope-locked in our AI discussion? What if we simply do not get the big picture of what is going on?
Author Sam Harris is having me rethink all of my previous assumptions about the direction we are going with and thinking about AI.
The question we should be asking isn’t as much, “if it will meet the promise,” as “should we even let it get close.”
“We.” Unfortunately, there is no international “we” with the force to keep a genie in a bottle, is there?
You need to watch the full video from his TED Talk below, but in it he outlines three assumptions you need to hoist onboard in order to fully understand what the real challenge of AI is.
1. Intelligence is the product of information processing. General Consciousness will eventually be built in to our intelligent machines.
2. We will continue to improve our intelligent machines.
3. We are not near the peak of intelligence.
Agree with the above? Well, you may not want your AI air superiority fighter anytime soon
Last week, the Navy’s top leadership announced the swift transition from traditional rates to alphanumeric Navy Occupational Specialty (NOS) codes. In the matter of a three minutes and thirty-four second video, over two-hundred years of U.S. Navy Ratings – and traditions – were history. Gone. Finished. Dead. Never-to-be-talked-about-again.
But not so fast, everyone. Just minutes after the release of NAVADMIN 218/16, Facebook and social media seemingly deteriorated into a bomb box of antipathy, false equivalencies, and irreverent commentary. Public manifestos protesting the continued tyranny of Secretary Mabus’s tenure inundated message boards and status updates. Nuclear meme proliferation.
To be fair, the observed reaction among the force has ranged from tranquil ambivalence to outright hostile rejection. In typical hyperbolic fashion, the Navy Times pounced on the announcement and labeled it “the most radical personnel overhaul in a generation.” Not to be outdone, the San Diego Union Tribune called it a “tsunami of a cultural shift.” Duffel Blog headlined their page with a satirical news story entitled, “Ray Mabus Admits he Just Hates the Navy,” which like most articles attacking SECNAV resort to the usual talking points: he likes to give women a fair shot, he names ships after civilian heroes and leaders, and he doesn’t play very well with Marines.
The announcement dissolving Ratings is not an epochal policy change. It’s a tweak in syntax to ensure the personnel structure is securely in place for the future Navy. Bigger, more imperative changes have already been instituted over the last decade. Every specialty is open to women; gays can serve openly; maternity and paternity leave is guaranteed; and men and women can come to work without fear of sexual harassment or assault. These types of policies took generations of political will to develop and bring to the force, then were implemented and executed by all of us in a short period of time, sometimes despite initial and widspread resistance. Evidence clearly suggests that the aforementioned personnel changes have enhanced us as a fighting force.
Notwithstanding our increasingly connected Navy, it almost seems like Sailors are more self-compartmentalized than ever. Exhibit A is our rating system. Purely designed to categorize people based off professional skill sets, the Rating system mysteriously became a means of singular identity. Although each rate is exceptional (because each sailor is exceptional), perhaps the “Subject Matter Expert” exceptionalism spurred beyond its intended tactical structure and self mutated into hyper-compartmentalized hues of Rate camaraderie. Over time, some sailors identified themselves more according to their Rate as opposed to their service.
Therefore, beyond the minutia of personnel policy, a broader question has clearly emerged. How is it that our sailors identify more with their job title than the credos of a Sailor? Or, better yet, why such a languid and tepid response to something so clearly beneficial to enlisted sailors for the sake of the benign and often mischaracterized zeitgeist that comes with terms like “tradition?”
Change is hard in an organization, especially when our organization has a predisposition to divide forces into ranks and rates and rules and flow charts. So embedded are our social traditions in the military orthodoxy that even the slightest of changes seem to throw earth off its axis. And to be clear, this policy will result in tangible improvements for everybody in nearly every quantifiable category. With promotion rates in particular rates stagnant, good sailors will be get to stay in, learn new skills, and continue a rewarding career. Shore Duty billets previously reserved for specific ratings can open up to more sailors, thereby placing even more emphasis on performance at sea. Sailors who earn new skills stand to be offered incentives in the form of increased monetary compensation or other substantial benefits.
In other words, the playing field will continue to level out and provide hard-working sailors the opportunity they deserve.
The second order effects are also clear.
- The system will tap into the brilliance of our sailors, allowing for ideas and best practices studied in a different NOS to be applied in new ways and in new fields.
- If properly managed, critical NEC’s can be adequately covered despite an unforeseen personnel loss.
- In the age of autonomous airplanes, unmanned underwater submarines, and sophisticated computer networks, the revised system will naturally find new jobs for sailors displaced by technological improvements throughout the force.
As most of us know, an organization glued to tradition is an organization drifting off course and not innovating.
I confess that I have never wore an enlisted uniform, so my nondescript commentary should be rebuffed with enlisted perspectives, but I must admit, I have found it is interesting to watch people fill the void of change with the call of action to go back to a system so unprepared for the future force. Rather than quibble, we should focus our effort by demanding transparency in the Navy’s new policy so we can all adequately craft the future force.
Under Mabus’s leadership, our personnel changes have occurred with admirable swiftness and efficiency. But we should be clear about the dissolvent of the Rating system. This is not a change. It’s merely a data-driven adjustment to ensure our personnel system is aligned to meet the demand of the 21st Century. Our sailors deserve more opportunity, more flexibility, and more options, even if they choose to get out.
As we transition out of a Navy that once relied on sheer manpower with adequate supervision to a Navy that cherishes specific, individual skill sets, our force structure must change. So before we sign on to more petitions and lay waste to social media, perhaps we can let ideas breath and allow everyone to absorb a new innovation and consider its broader implications.
When I say “The Navy conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations in order to advance security and stability in Europe and Africa,” I truly mean the full spectrum of operations. That includes both the treble and bass clefs.
Within the DoD the Navy takes on a diplomatic role, showing the flag and defending American interest abroad. The Navy is in the vanguard, representing American foreign policy and values as her ships steam across the world’s oceans. The disadvantage of our inherently maritime presence is that a ship underway is often “out of sight and out of mind.” If we are not careful, this lack of awareness can be true for both the American public and our international Partners and Allies. While a warship in the Mediterranean or Black Sea may be a powerful deterrent to potential adversaries and reassurance to policymakers within the Alliance, it is more difficult to get these messages across to the public. Cue the Band. Nothing in the world is able to bridge two distinct cultures while expressing the uniqueness of each quite like music. In their distinctive role, Navy musicians build upon a critical capability of the U.S. Navy presence.
The U.S. Naval Forces Europe Band is a force multiplier. From the headquarters in Naples, Italy, it represents U.S. interests to 105 countries in Europe and Africa, just over 25% of the world’s population. American Sailors are among our most capable ambassadors, and in our area of operation we average 10,000 Sailors at any given time. Most of these Sailors, though, are either underway or concentrated near a few Navy bases. The Band’s 50 musicians—including five Italian members—are extremely adaptive and play as one large unit or within smaller, specialized groups. Like all Navy bands, they support our mission, enhance international diplomacy, improve community outreach, and help forge enduring relationships. Each component of the Navy is concentrated on support of the warfighters and their mission. The Band is no exception.
In Europe, commemorative events surrounding the World Wars are deeply personal. The scars of those cataclysms are still visible. Locals remember the exact moment U.S. Servicemembers arrived in their town, city, and country. Americans fought beside them, and many died and are buried in the very soil they helped liberate. Annually, the Band plays at Memorial Day services for the Battle of Anzio in Nettuno, Italy, and for Operation Dragoon in Théoule-sur-Mer, France, as well as at the commemoration of Operation Avalanche in Salerno, Italy. With each performance they are reiterating to a different audience and with different music the same consistent message, that America is committed to the values and interests that have made the transatlantic Alliance the most successful in history. This year the U.S. Naval Forces Europe Band also supported the 72nd Anniversary of the D-Day Landings in Normandy, France. As the number of World War II veterans is dwindling, so too are the number of Europeans with the first hand memories of their arrival. By participating in commemoration events, Navy bands reinforce the shared values and common goals we have with other nations.
The band does not limit itself to the European theater. The tyranny of distance makes port calls in Africa even more challenging than they are farther north, but the Band travels throughout the continent. Through music, the Band continues to build mutual understanding and trust, a subtle but memorable reminder of America’s commitment to our friends in the region.
That was exactly the effect we got when we sent a twelve-member Band contingent performing throughout the Gulf of Guinea region in 2010. I was N3 back then, coordinating operations for Naval Forces Africa (NAVAF). The Gulf of Guinea was known for piracy and the local governments had difficulty coordinating efforts to secure the maritime domain. Our goal was to help our partners emerge from “sea blindness” to “sea vision” in a region of increasing strategic importance due to its natural resources. Initiatives included flag officer visits, training, and mil-to-mil engagement, but the star was MU2 Kori Gillis and the eleven other Band members stole the show during a live performance on Gabon television viewed by millions over the course of several days. Regardless of whether or not you like the cliché “winning the hearts and minds,” the fact remains that working effectively with partners requires buy-in from the population. The Band is, plain and simple, a force multiplier for us.
When I returned as the Deputy Commander to Naval Forces Europe and Africa and the Sixth Fleet Commander in 2014, I again saw the Band’s effect firsthand during the opening ceremony of Obangame/Saharan Express 2016 in Dakar, Senegal. The history of the region is tumultuous. The westernmost point on the continent, Senegal was the last stop for slaves traveling from Africa to North and South America. Today, though, Senegal has overcome this history and is a bright spot of stability on the West Coast of sub-Saharan Africa. The moderate Muslim country has a tradition of civilian control of an apolitical military much like the United States.
Within that context imagine how poignant it was for the Americans, Senegalese, and African and European partners to hear the Navy Band and the Musique Principale des Forces Armées Sénégalaises belt out in unison New Orleans jazz tunes and the two national anthems. No one remembered the speeches that day. What they and I will always remember was that outstanding joint performance—a clear symbol of how the United States stands beside our partners in the region.
When the Band plays the national anthem of an Ally or Partner, it has achieved its objective within the first few notes. It is up to Navy leaders to ensure these notes are played to the right audience. That could be an MWR Fourth of July celebration showing appreciation for sailors and their families; in a public venue like the Royal Edinburgh Tattoo where military bands from across the world play to sold out crowds each year; or to representatives of foreign militaries. Our Band has participated in ceremonies from BALTOPs in the Baltic Sea—almost within earshot of the Russian border—to Africa Partnership Station in the Gulf of Guinea where Partners aided by U.S. naval expertise are resting control of ungoverned spaces from pirates, illegal fishermen, and smugglers.
The Band’s “inland ports of call” in nation’s capitals are cities where no Navy ship will ever weigh anchor but where our message must be heard. We deploy the Band to these places to show our commitment to a specific relationship because relationships matter. In the DoD we call them Alliances and Partnerships but they must be fostered just the same. An Alliance is built on much more than goodwill. It is shared interested and shared values. The Band exists at the tactical level of relationship building. At the boundary between cultures, the Band is the bridge.
General Omar Bradley—an Army officer, and the last man to hold a 5-star flag in the US armed forces—once said, “Set your course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship.” As we face change, we must not forget what makes us who we are.
The United States Navy has experienced a lot of change over 241 years. From wooden ships with sails to submarines and aircraft carriers powered by nuclear reactors, from crackerjacks and dixie cups to a myriad of Navy Working Uniforms, from John Paul Jones to Delbert Black, change seems to come and go as regular as the tide.
Along the way, there has been a healthy tension in our service between those who say “we’ve always done it this way” and those who believe we should implement something better. This friction both encourages sailors to truly master their craft, and helps move the service forward by ensuring we never become too complacent.
Recently, the Secretary of the Navy announced a plan to modernize the Navy’s rating system. This system has been in existence for more than 241 years—indeed, it predates the founding of our Navy. These changes are intended to modify the way we address one another and plan our careers, but they are not without substantial controversy.
Sailors find identity and belonging in their rating. It gives them a sense of pride to advance within their rate. In an undeniably technical service, our rating system develops and safeguards quality professionals that do the hard work of keeping our Navy running every hour of every day. Many men and women continue to identify with their rate long after they have left active service.
Yet, our enlisted force—much like its officer counterpart—has problems with its personnel system. We could use a good dose of flexibility in career management; sailors could benefit from being able to advance in more than one area of expertise. We should be able to leverage technology to better connect sailors with the aptitude and the drive to opportunities that would benefit both them and the Navy.
But today, we sit at a crossroads of massive discontent. Eliminating the rating system will have a long-term, deleterious effect on morale. Indeed, this may lead many to mistrust any important, positive change in the future. But it does not have to be this way.
Winston Churchill once said, “without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.” Tradition and change do not have to be mutually exclusive; we can keep our ratings and change our personnel system. The key to this change—and to all change we have faced in our 241 years of history—is our people.
We must recognize that there is more than one way to bring about change. Sequestering working groups behind closed doors in the Pentagon may not be the best way anymore. We have a Fleet of more than 300,000 men and women who are capable of rapidly iterating solutions to any problem. Leveraging the concepts of human-centered design, we also have many ways to organize those men and women into a powerful idea-generating force.
The real question for our leadership is, how will you harness those sailors? Will you continue to dictate policy to them, or can you trust them to help develop solutions that will work?
If we press the reset button on the rating modernization plan, we can bring sailors together from around the fleet to both define the problems we are trying to solve, and bring about solutions that work well and are representative of all our people. This can serve us better by ensuring all hands both understand and appreciate the problems being addressed, and are fully engaged and bought into the solutions developed.
There are models to bring about this kind of Fleet engagement, and sailors ready to get to work on them. For instance, earlier this year, a small group of DC-area junior officers convened a symposium to address changes to the Navy’s personnel management system. In just a day, this group defined the problems in the system and developed solutions to improve, delivered to the Chief of Naval Personnel. Participants felt engaged, appreciated, and motivated. We can build on this model to address changes to the rating system and develop good solutions to the problems we are trying to solve.
If we are truly to become a “high velocity learning” organization, our old way of solving problems and dictating policy—of waiting for missives from on high—won’t work any longer. “In keeping with the highest traditions of naval service,” it’s time to change how we change, and believe in the intellectual capital of our sailors.
- On Midrats 19 Feb 2017 -Episode 372: Andrew Jackson’s Navy; Now More Than Ever?
- SECDEF Mattis to NATO: Sober Up
- On Midrats 12 Feb 2017 – Episode 371: Rice Bowls, Silos, & Firewalls – the National Security Bureaucracy
- China Sees Our 350, and Throws Another 150 on Top
- On Midrats 5 Feb 2017 – Episode 370: The SECNAV’s In Basket With James Holmes