Author Archive

Most naval history fans have heard of Oliver Hazard Perry, Thomas Macdonough and James Lawrence (“Don’t give up the ship!”) and the big battles waged against the British on the Great Lakes in the War of 1812. But who has heard of Capt. Joshua Barney, who led the Chesapeake Flotilla during the War of 1812? A seasoned Navy veteran of the American Revolution, Captain Barney was responsible for identifying the weaknesses in the Royal Navy’s armada that was terrorizing Maryland and Virginia at the time.

In Flotilla: The Patuxent Naval Campaign in the War of 1812, author and marine archaeologist Donald G. Shomette describes the Chesapeake Bay as a collection of estuaries and vast array of navigable waters that allowed the British to stretch deep into the U.S. homeland – en route to Washington, D.C. (and the eventual burning of the nation’s capital). In a lecture at the Navy Memorial this week, Shomette recounted how the Brits’ deep-draft ships hindered their mobility in the shallow Chesapeake and they had to rely on barges to reach the more shallow creeks and ponds and to ferry their troops ashore and to reach the shallow rivers and creeks.

To combat this threat, Captain Barney successfully convinced the secretary of the Navy at the time to build a heavily-armed, shallow-draft fleet of row galleys (or barges) that could nimbly out-maneuver the British in these shallow waters. It was a desperate move, as the Royal Navy’s assets far outnumbered the Americans’. (Estimates were that the mighty Royal Navy had more than 1,000 ships of war and the Americans had approximately 16 at the onset of the War of 1812.)

The flotilla that Captain Barney built was comprised of 26 ships and approximately 500 sailors. They valiantly tried to defend the massive coastline and harbors leading farther inland. He was successful in eliciting a singular victory at St. Leonard’s Creek and he made a heroic effort at Bladensburg in August 1814. But, without ancillary support and a choreography between land and sea forces, Captain Barney’s flotilla was doomed.

The Chesapeake campaign was a diversionary one, as the stakes were much higher in the Great Lakes. But, it served a purpose, hindering the British forces’ advance to Washington. And author Shomette highlights the lesson that Captain Barney’s service and sacrifice illuminated: defending a coastline with a brown-water maritime force is not sufficient. A blue-water force is necessary to defend against commensurate enemy forces determined to invade our shores.

To learn more about this book, go to

How do you properly honor a war hero who didn’t lead such an exemplary personal life? Can you separate a person’s professional legacy from that of his personal character? Col. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, WWII Marine Corps ace fighter pilot, Medal of Honor recipient and former POW, displaying his skills and bravery on the battlefield, with a record 28 Japanese fighters downed in combat.

He initially served with the Flying Tigers as part of the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO), a civilian organization contracted to defend China and the Burma Road. He later served as Executive Officer and then Commanding Officer of VMF-121, a Marine Corps squadron nicknamed the “Black Sheep Squadron.” It was there that he proved his mettle — with a record number of enemy kills, and it was then that he earned his nickname “Pappy,” since he was almost a decade older than his squadronmates. It was during a flight over the the Pacific island of Rabaul in early 1944 — after his 26th Japanese shootdown — that Boyington was shot down himself, picked up by a Japanese submarine and taken prisoner. He was liberated from Japanese custody in mid-August 1945 and was awarded the Medal of Honor by the president and the Navy Cross by the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

So, what would be so controversial about his birthplace of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, wanting to name the local airfield after their hometown hero? Much of the resistance can be traced to his post-war life, which was marked by battles with alcoholism, multiple marriages and divorces, estrangement from his children and financial instability. As a highly decorated war hero, he was sent by the Marine Corps on a Victory Bond Tour after World War II to give speeches and enlist continued support for war bonds. But, he was frequently drunk, seen cavorting with young female companions and generally considered a PR disaster by the Marine Corps. They medically retired him in 1947. He enjoyed a second round of celebrity when a Hollywood rendition of the Black Sheep Squadron was depicted in the popular 1970s show “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” starring Robert Conrad as Boyington’s character. The show was generally considered a hearty piece of fictionalized entertainment, but the squadron’s characterization as a group of drunks and misfits angered many of Boyington’s fellow squadronmates. So, how do you properly recognize his significant professional feats? Can you ignore his personal failings?

A 2008 documentary that screend at the Navy Memorial on Veterans Day chronicles the grassroots efforts of a group of Marines and their campaign to have the local airfield in Coeur d’Alene renamed the Pappy Boyington Field and the resistance in the community to do so. The film, “Pappy Boyington Field” produced by Kevin Gonzalez, interviews many local Marine Corps League members who were behind the effort to rename the field, as well as local media, Boyington family members and even Robert Conrad. Many guessed that the county government and airport advisory board were dragging their feet on the proposal because of his controversial history, but publicly they cited a “safety issue” in renaming an airfield. (A safety issue?) The Marine Corps League kept up the public pressure and the campaign was eventually successful. The renaming ceremony took place in 2008.

But the question remains: Does public recognition of a controversial figure condone his personal behavior? I’d like to think it doesn’t and that we should judge a person’s career by just that. But, I have to admit that I lose respect for public figures — however reluctantly they become public figures — who have reckless personal lives.

I never knew Col. Pappy Boyington or any of descendents and I have not read his memoirs, but I’m in awe of his bravery. I can only hope that his personal struggles after the war humbled him and made his character stronger by the end of his life. Watch “Pappy Boyington Field” and you decide.

To watch the trailer or to buy a DVD of the film, go to the “Pappy Boyington Field” web site:

In a report issued last month, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) concluded that the VA is woefully unprepared for the surge of female veterans trying to access their system and obtain quality and timely care. What a surprise. Why is the VA always caught flat-footed?

The VA’s services for women’s health needs are highly fragmented. Few VA facilities are able to serve all of a woman’s health care needs in one place. Consequently, patients need to travel to multiple facilities to get all of their health care issues addressed. Indeed, the VA recognized this in 2003 and mandated that all VA hospitals and clinics provide basic women’s services – but only where it was feasible. Talk about an edict with no teeth! Six years later and comprehensive women’s primary care clinics are still scarce, with only 14 percent of them providing a one-stop shop for women veterans.

Adding to this inconvenience is the inaccessibility of many VA facilities, as many veterans have to travel long distances to get to any one facility – especially for those veterans who live in rural areas. As the fastest growing segment of the veterans’ population and one that is expected to more than double in the next 15 years, women veterans should be able to access quality care more easily.

I like John McCain’s 2008 campaign proposal: Give veterans a type of debit card that allows them to go to the doctor of their choice in their hometown. Why does the VA have to provide all the resources, when they have already proven that they can’t keep up with the growing demand?

For more info, read the full IAVA report, “Women Warriors: Supporting She ‘Who Has Borne the Battle,'” at the IAVA web site (

At the recent 2009 Defense Forum sponsored by MOAA and USNI, Adm. Mike Mullen addressed an audience of governmental, for-profit and non-profit organizations caring for or providing some measure of support for injured servicemembers and their families. Also in the audience were medical professionals, academics and researchers that are studying how best to care for and support our injured troops. But, suffice it to say that, despite the dedication of everyone in the room, no one has figured out the right formula and glaring gaps still exist. Despite the fact that military medicine can provide world class battlefield care, hospital care and rehab care, it is still clear that outpatient care – especially the bureaucracy behind it – often fails our servicemembers, veterans and their families at their greatest time of need.

“How do we create a system across America that sustains their needs throughout their lives?” Admiral Mullen asked the audience somewhat rhetorically. He didn’t have an answer and he expressed his frustration at the slow pace inside the government to fix the acute problems and innovate the entire system so that a combination of DoD and the VA can do just that – take care of the needs of these servicemembers from the time they raise their hand to enlist until the death of their last dependent.

DoD and the VA cannot do it alone. Despite the fact that less than 1% of the U.S. population serves in the military today, this microcosm of our society needs the entire U.S. populace more than ever. The private sector – corporations, non-profit organizations and local and state government – needs to step up and raise their hand to augment the care and services currently provided by DoD and the VA to our wounded servicemembers, those who suffer from “unseen injuries” from their service in OEF and OIF. There are many organizations that have cropped up since 9-11 to “support the troops,” but most are very small, managed by volunteers and focused on tangible donations, i.e., care packages, quilts, homes, meals, transportation, etc. More highly efficient, well funded and professionally led organizations in the civilian sector are needed that can provide rapidly accessible and convenient services to the injured and their families. There are a few who are in the vanguard of this movement.

Admiral Mullen recognized the efforts of USA Together, a non-profit that matches servicemembers with vetted organizations that can provide services – financial or in-kind. It quickly and simply connects military people who have an identified need with individuals or organizations who have services or goods to donate. It puts the needy and the service provider together with no third-party intervention or referrals.

Another good one is Give An Hour, a non profit founded in 2005 that has created a national network of mental health professionals who are providing free services to U.S. troops, veterans and their families – in the communities in which they live and work.

Another one is the state of Virginia, which is putting together a structure that includes a community service board with representation from all civilian organizations that can augment the VA. This is being initially funded with $1.7 million out of the state budget.

Another one is in the state of Illinois, where then-Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs Tammy Duckworth fostered the establishment of 768 community-based outpatient clinics to allow access to care in remote areas of the state. She also awarded non-profits that were working directly with Illinois veterans with state grants of up to $100,000.

The military needs more of these. Admiral Mullen made it clear that he wants to see more collaboration between DoD, the VA and community-based organizations. This sounds like a call for public-private partnerships, a business model that has proven effective for DoD. They already partner with the private sector to build military housing and the Marine Corps museum in Quantico was built by a robust public-private partnership. But many DoD lawyers want all “non-federal entities” to be treated exactly the same to avoid an appearance of endorsement. However, this prohibits the kind of partnerships that create smart and measurable results. It was refreshing to hear the leader at the top of food chain recommending that DoD should find “the gold standard and join them – not compete – and spread the best practices.”

Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute is constantly in news articles and opinion pieces about the military, especially on the subject of acquisition. He is knowledgeable and opinionated – a powerful and highly influential combination from the perspective of those in the military trying to shape a message that is delivered to reporters, the defense industry, and, ultimately, the general public.

Other think tank academics from the Heritage Foundation, the Brookings Institute, the hot new tank in town Center for a New American Security, American Enterprise Institute, CSIS, CNA Corporation, and CRS (just to name a few) are frequently quoted in news articles about the military on just about every subject. An outside industry expert provides the balance, context and/or an opposing view.

So, does the military proactively and regularly engage these experts? Is this engagement institutionalized or haphazard? Do they have dedicated staff responsible for managing these relationships? The technology industry and their marketing and public relations professionals are very good at this. They court the renowned industry analysts (Gartner Group, META Group, Forrester, and the like) as vociferously as they do technology, business and consumer media, as they know that the industry analysts are significantly influential with the media. In fact, before every major product launch, initiative announcement or company news, they schedule one-on-one meetings with these experts to let them see the new products, kick the tires and test drive them. Not only does it give the technology marketers advance knowledge of any weaknesses (perceived or real) to the product, but it also gives the marketers a chance to directly communicate the technology company’s objective, audience and rationale for the new product. The expert may or may not agree with the technology company’s point of view, but at least they are informed directly by the source – not via a third party or a leaked document. When reporters do call them for a quote, these industry influencers will at least know the technology company’s position.

It is clear from the comments many of the defense industry think tank reps make that they are in constant contact with their own well-cultivated DoD sources. But, is DoD leadership as religious in their outreach to these influencers? If not, they should be. Incorporating them into the military’s communications strategy and outreach process will help the military leadership better make its case.

The Navy has employed public relations and public affairs as part of their communications arsenal for decades. But, they don’t take advantage of the technology available to directly market their message to U.S. consumers – consumers who can give them a temperature reading on the nation’s attitudes towards the Navy. In fact, 25 million of the nation’s consumers are veterans, approximately 5.2 million of those who served in the Navy. They can serve as force multipliers for the Navy.

As communications professionals know, direct marketing has evolved from costly direct mail to very cost-efficient email marketing. Maintaining databases of thousands (or millions) of email addresses is getting cheaper and cheaper. These databases can be segmented by age, veteran status, geography, or interests.

So, why doesn’t the Navy take advantage of this? Sure, all the services are starting to get onboard with social media. The services’ social media strategies vary widely and their use is growing in a haphazard manner, with some four-stars and commands hosting their own blogs or “tweeting” and some services blocking the use of Facebook. Those who are using the tools essentially broadcast to anyone who wants to listen – and that anyone is usually an internal audience. Instead of “broadcasting,” what they really should be doing is “microcasting” to discrete audiences that they deliberately solicit to educate and influence.

Why don’t they collect email addresses from people who attend air shows, ship tours, fleet weeks, ship commissionings and commemoration events to join a national Navy mailing list? With technology today, registrants could opt-in to specialized mailing lists depending on their interest: national Navy news, upcoming ship visits, local base news, or policy issue updates (benefits, gays in the Navy, GI Bill).

The Navy (as do all the services) spends significant resources on media relations – a communications medium that is filtered. They also spend significant resources on community outreach, but that return on investment is rarely quantifiably measured. For example, if neighbors complain about aircraft noise and pollution at a nearby air station, the Navy usually holds community hearings, hosts community leaders at annual air shows and makes speeches at the local chambers of commerce and Rotary clubs. These are worthwhile activities, but they can be expensive and resource-intensive. And how do they know if their efforts have quelled public concern? They rely on television and marketing research companies’ polls or media op-eds or local lawmakers’ actions. Is this enough?

Private sector companies employ some marketing strategies to get their unfiltered message out to their consumers that the Navy could consider, e.g., letters from the CEO in full-page ads in national newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post or Wall Street Journal) or notices sent via snail mail (notices from the CEO inserted in monthly statements or newsletters). But why not start with an email marketing campaign?

I was saddened to read about the troubled Army sergeant who is accused of killing five fellow servicemembers this week in Baghdad. However, I know that an incident of that kind – either a murder or a suicide by a servicemember or veteran – is probably more likely to happen after that person returns home. The signature injuries of this prolonged war are Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and I have read that the symptoms can appear years after the incident. So, while we can argue about the type and amount of care that sergeant received in theater, I believe our collective efforts could probably be better put to use in finding long-term care solutions here at home.

I recently read about a relatively new non-profit organization called Give An Hour ( that solicits donations of time from the civilian mental health industry to servicemembers and veterans. The organization has a roster of 4,000 licensed mental health professionals in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Servicemembers simply go to the web site to find a licensed counselor in their area and make an appointment. Give An Hour vets the counselors, so that the servicemember can be assured of their credentials. Since its inception in 2005, Give An Hour has donated 12,421 hours of mental health services, which equates to an in-kind donation of more than $1.2 million (assuming a nationwide average counseling rate of $100/hour). They have been endorsed by numerous national mental health organizations.

What I like about this model is that it appears to fill a gap in military and veterans services – either due to location or bureaucratic obstacles to receiving care – at a much reduced cost. Give An Hour states a goal of recruiting 10% of the approximately 400,000 license mental health professionals in the U.S. – with a projected, estimated savings to the military of $4,000 a week in mental health costs. That can add up to some pretty hefty savings for taxpayers and a big fat cut through the red tape for servicemembers and veterans.

Could this model be applied to other apparent needs for veterans? How about financial management advisors? How about job placement services? Again, the military and the VA provides these services and can do it well, but are they convenient for the individual client? Are they easy to access? How long does a servicemmeber or veteran have to wait?

Too often, the military and the VA are expected to provide the entire dedicated pool of professionals to serve all these needs. Like Give An Hour, why not tap into the wealth and capacity of private industry to volunteer their time and expertise? When private industry says that they “support the troops,” this type of effort would truly be putting their money where their mouth is.

Posted by The Bunny in Army, Policy | 16 Comments
Recently I was handed a promotional brochure created by the Center for Military Readiness, an organization that is adamantly opposed to the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy enacted during the Clinton Administration more than 15 years ago. It was signed by dozens — maybe hundreds — of retired flag and general officers who support keeping the policy intact. It made me laugh. I recognized many of those names and admire many of the men who contributed their names to this campaign. But, it would have had a much more significant impact if it had been signed by veterans of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom — 20-somethings who have recently served and can actually attest to the impact of the repeal on unit cohesion, morale and military readiness.
I would assert that today’s youth share few opinions with their grandfathers on this issue — and the men who signed this document are almost two generations removed from the majority of today’s soldiers and Sailors. They are, indeed, grandfathers to this generation. It reminded me of a conversation I had with my own grandfather more than 20 years ago. Like these men, he was a retired flag officer and grew up in a vastly different America than the one that raised me. He was an intellectual giant (in my opinion) and a decorated WWII hero — I beamed with pride at being introduced as his granddaughter. But, he gave me pause one day when we were discussing gays serving in the military. I assumed he was against it, but I had never heard him tell this particular story before he and I sparred that day on the issue. He admitted to me that his Naval Academy roommate was court-martialed in the 1920s for homosexual behavior and this former roommate asked my grandfather to serve as a character witness at his trial. My grandfather refused, the man was convicted and thrown out of the Navy. He later committed suicide, and my grandfather angrily said, “If I had had a gun, I would have shot him myself.” I furrowed my brow and said, “Why? Why woudn’t you serve as a character witness for him? Wasn’t he your friend?” He responded, “He was a great roommate and friend. He used to make my bed in the morning when I didn’t have time. He was a very talented naval aviator. I was so angry at him when I heard the news.” I looked at him and said, “You just attested to his character, Grandaddy. You just told me what a great person and friend he was.” Grandaddy was speechless and this legend in my eyes suddenly looked very small. After a pregnant pause, he responded: “Well, I guess you just can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
I bring up this sad, personal story because the opinions of retired flag and general officers on the issue of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are irrelevant and remind me of my grandfather’s attitude. Today’s generation of youth — those who are joining and serving in the military today — have grown up with openly gay individuals. I found online some results of a Zogby poll from December 2006 which concluded that 72% of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are “personally comfortable” with gays. An Annenberg poll from 2004 concluded that, a majority of junior enlisted personnel favor letting gays serve openly. They don’t see homosexuals as predatory threats; on the contrary, they see them as fellow professionals and friends. They expect them to be held to the same fraternization standards as heterosexuals. Simply put, their presence is not an issue. Organizations like the Center for Military Readiness — groups that profess to be strong supporters of the troops, should spend some time in uniform and spend some time with gay and straight soldiers and sailors to find out what issues are really important to them. Serving together is not one of them.

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