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Look closely, you might find a grain or two of salt. More so, you’ll find a bunch of sea water. Don’t take me wrong, I’m not saying I’m experienced. But, I’ve seen the block, at least. I know what comes with a deployment, and I relish the idea of many more to come. Just the same, though; I want to go back and whisper into that kid’s ear. That kid who looks just like me, yet has “NON-PO” on his CAC card.

Want to know what I would whisper into his ear? For me to tell you that I need to tell you this, first:

“Flight of the Intruder” by Stephen Coonts.

Besides flying, he also acted as the squadron’s personnel officer, supervising a chief and [five Yeoman and Personnelmen]. The only portion of his administrative duties that he did not visibly detsest was his work as awards officer. He drafted the citations and recommendations for medals and gave them to the X.O. Harvey Wilson, to approve and forward up the chain of command. Lundeen kept a thesaurus on his desk that he referred to constantly as he drafted the award citations. He would gleefully read his better efforts to Jake as proof positive that the military in general and the navy in particular were “all [‘Effed] up.”

A long quote–I know. But, it is for good reason. I came right out of Boot/A-School to SAN ANTONIO. I knew nothing, I had no idea what it was to be aboard ship. I only knew I was going to do what Sailors are to do. I looked forward to it with relish. But, halfway through the tour, I began to wonder–I began to ask: What the hell was I or anyone aboard thinking. I would look around, and only be able to think that all any of us were able to accomplish was far, so very far, short of the standards held by those who came before us.

But, no. I was wrong. Part of my problem was the fact that I was privy to the writing of others, who would question what we as a Navy we doing. With all the challenges we face, all the ‘supposed’ shortcomings we have as a Fleet, I was reading ALL OF IT! God, what a mess my Ontology was–it was so hard. Imagine yourself, standing there at your DC locker, attempting to fit that experience into reading the writings of those 5-6-7 pay grades above you, let alone the amount of years they served. It was not an easy fit; truth be told, it didn’t fit. Ontology formed by experience does not juxtapose well with reading words. Especially when not much of it is favorable. Why? Here’s why…

I had a massive lack of context to place into anything I would read in regards to the challenges faced by the Navy in relation to acquiring new hulls, weapon systems, or anti-access strategies. To use a Thanksgiving analogy, I was child sitting at the adult’s table. The line between what was being discussed at the various blogs and what I was living on the deckplates is not a linear one–it’s non-linear, and filling in the aspects of a non-linear relationship is a painful one to live.

This is not to say that those writing such words as my mentors (CDR Salamander, Ray Pritchett, Steeljaw Scribe, CDR McGrath, as well as Byron, and any number of commentors on blogs) were misplaced, or wrong for finding such virgin ears such as my own. Rather, that such words do not give context anywhere near as well as experience does.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that it was a difficult tour aboard the USS SAN ANTONIO. Everyday was a new experience, as I am sure, that the cliche of any day deployed is ‘groundhog day’ falls flat aboard any Grey-hull. Christ, it was my first tour, after-all. But, those experiences have taken sometime to settle-in, as have the words of wisdom from the blogs I read since day-one of Sea Duty.

So, then, what have I come to? Heh, yeah, it’s in lines of what I read in the quote above.

The military is chaos. War, and it’s analogs (any deployment), is chaos. It’s going to be a mess, it’s going to be no where near the order and rote-reactions that we portray to the public at large, and this isn’t a bad thing, either. In a manor of speaking, what separates the wheat from the chaff in terms of those who serve is who can deal, or who wants to deal, with such circumstances. Such a notion isn’t that far removed from ‘civilian’ life either.

Why do we train and drill constantly? Because we need to deal with the known before we can sufficiently deal with the unknown. On deployment–doing what we’re paid to do–the unknown is concentrated even during the best and most irrelevant (read: administrative) of circumstances. So, when faced with such a reality, it doesn’t jive with any expectations one may have preconceived regarding the military.

I’ve never had a Chief who didn’t try to articulate this fact to me. It’s not that every Chief failed at explaining this to me. It was that I had ‘read ahead’ in a sense. So, their explanations to me had much more to contend with in terms of my ontology before it could become an accepted fact… Man, it wasn’t easy. But, after Afghanistan; after a FIFTH Fleet deployment, and nearly a year of duty with NATO; after something like 20 books and hundreds of blog posts–Chief’s words are starting to sink in, I’m starting to understand.

The chaos will never end. The situations you find yourself in are going to always be new, and it is your duty to find the way forward–to recommend to your superiors what you think is the best course of action. More so than anything else, the devil is in the details. When you’re sitting there, and are attempting to articulate the challenge you face–as well the way forward–it’s almost inherent, that you will leave out some detail that really matters, but seems ill-fit to mention during the brief discussion you have. What results is an impression during the first moments of taking action, that the whole of the Navy is ‘effed up.’ As that YNSN, just starting out, your only default position is that the whole enterprise of the Navy is ‘effed up from the foundation up. That EVERYTHING is wrong, that you alone know how to fix the foundation, and will be able to improve everything by fixing this foundation. Some people call this idealism, and stop there. They think that when they reach these first challenges that cannot really be fixed, that any further movement beyond them–without really fixing them–is selling out, and accepting less than should be.

Maybe they are right; I’m not going to tell them they are wrong, at least. But, just the same, when you move beyond and start to see the other aspects of reality in an organization that exists primarily in the unknown, you start to see reasons that might not jive with the more foundational aspects (E-4 and junior) of being apart of the organization. It is at this point that you start to understand the nature of a non-linear relationship.

What I am left at to this point, is that I know nothing. just as when Socrates (I think I am right, when I attribute this to Socrates) went to Delphi and was told by the Oracle that he was the wisest of all the Greeks, because he knew that he knew nothing; I feel that because of continuing to read of my profession and those who have gone before me that I have THAT much more to learn. For a Sailor junior to me–even for those newly minted ensigns–I feel it is my duty, to now help them become accustomed to the random, the unexpected and even the unacceptable.

…If I could only go back, and tell that YNSN that it’s ok, you’re dealing with the unknown just as everyone else has. Maybe then, it wouldn’t have seemed that impossible and difficult to him…

My ex-fiance got tired of hearing from me. I’d email her every morning (my afternoon) and say good morning to her. This would upset her on the weekends, as she didn’t have revellie at 0600 as I did. But, it was too tempting not to email her and have her blackberry wake her up, when I am sitting at my computer banging out 1650s.

It’s not that every service member is blessed as a Yeoman is with having email constantly available (EMCON permitting). But, the ability for service members while deployed to keep in contact with their family is exponentially greater than it ever has been in the annals of history. What you will hear from most people regarding this is how great of a thing it is–how families will not seem so distant, the little details of life known to the service member. But, those little details from home aren’t always great, and significant others don’t like being woken up early on the weekends (well, maybe at first. For the first couple of months. But, by month three or four–sleep is more important and the novelty of emails from Sea has worn off).

Subtly, this increase in communication has placed an additional burden on the service member. Once you’ve talked to someone back home for a while, and you’ve gotten through all the questions about the weather, and if you’re safe and how you’re liking it, the conversation turns to what life is REALLY like while deployed. It’s not fun–I mean it can be, it is an adventure and most of the people you’re deployed with are good people. But, there is a reason why less than 1% of the United States has served in uniform–It’s hard and you have to put up with a lot. In describing such a life, I think I have had to be the most careful with my Mom. There’s nothing wrong with this, nor am I saying that my Mom is one to over react, or over-worry about things. Rather, from my point of view, I don’t want to say anything to her that would make her worry more for her son. Of course, in talking to my Sister I feel much the same way and then to a lesser extent my Dad. Friends, meh, I’ll just tell them the funny things that happen, as that’s all they want to hear about anyway.

What makes it so difficult to describe the life we live is that outside of the context defined by the skin of a ship, it is hard to have the right perspective on what is actually going on. Regardless of how well I articulate that context, it tends to be something that one HAS to experience (what Ayn Rand calls an “ostensive definition”). Flying jets and helicopters off ships IS crazy. Sleeping in the Ship’s Office cause the 1MC doesn’t work in the berthing IS crazy. But, there is a method to the madness, and that method only makes sense given the circumstances in being deployed. In attempting to explain such circumstances to my Mom, or anyone back home borders on the impossible, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I’ve more or less had to figure this out on my own, as all service members do. This reality is one of those tacit understandings that we all have learned by being deployed. To date, this arrangement has worked alright. There has been no need for what can loosely be termed as ‘communications training’ for service members beyond OPSEC and INFOSEC, because the amount of time service members could possibly spend communicating with their families was very brief, and the odds of getting into things that could cause tumult ashore was small.

However, I think this may well have changed things.

My son and I emailed each other and I sent him some boxes – you know, care packages – and he called me once. Just once. We touched base and he mentioned that the heads still weren’t flushing. He expressed his frustration at the fact that things had been flushed or shoved into the system that shouldn’t have been. I still didn’t take the situation very seriously. I only thought about looking into the system. I mean, what can I do about that? It’s the Navy. I can’t do anything to influence the Navy!

That’s Mom. And, well, Mom got the CO to respond, at length. It’s a helluva situation, and I have to stop short of saying that a Sailor’s Mom was wrong for what she did. Things like this with Sailor’s families is not altogether rare, either. Being a Yeoman, you open much of the mail that comes to the Ship. Some of that mail is from the United States Congress asking about a letter or phone call they received from a Sailor or their family. Then, your Chain of Command scrambles to get the gist of a letter back to Congress down on paper, and YN2 goes ahead and Yeoman-izes it, with the hopes of returning Congressional correspondence in the mandated time.

There’s good reason why service members and their families can write their congressmen about things they think are wrong. There’s a story where Nimitz was riding back to his home one evening during the war. As they were driving, he had the driver pick up a Sailor who looked like he had one-too-many. That Sailor, too drunk to realize who he was talking to, went on-and-on about how lousy his command was. The next morning, Nimitz made a surprise visit to the command and got confirmation on everything the drunk Sailor had said and Nimitz had the the situation taken care of. But, in all honesty, those situations are the exception rather than the rule (which is why that story from Nimitz is even remembered).

Like I said, I’m not going to call-out Mom for devoting a Blog to the VCHT system aboard the BUSH. But, I will say that the burden is on the service member to ensure they don’t say something to their families that can then in turn, be taken out of context and cause needless headaches during a deployment.

I am well trained and versed in not violating OPSEC. But, the training for those things I could say, which may not directly cause harm to ship and crew, but could cause tumult or anguish back home, is not touched upon nearly enough during training. Our service members are going to be in a good amount of communication with home. Hell, they may even end up like me and get a gig blogging while they’re deployed. So, where is the training for that Sailor in terms of how to communicate with home while deployed?

Lastly, Ray, over at his place asks the following

Is the Navy simply “flattening the chain of command?” Are we simply observing the dynamics that comes with competing the hierarchical structure of the chain of command against the flattening of communications that has resulted from tools that allow greater accessibility? Is the Navy effectively balancing the flattening of and hierarchy of the chain of command?

Sailors posting across social media, writing blogs, and exhorting to the world all they feel is wrong with their command is not creating a flat command structure. A flat organization is created by more than just communication. It is created by actions. Communication as it has been done in this instance isn’t a sign that the Navy is flattening anything. In this humble deckplate-Sailor’s opinion, all the Navy has done here is respond to a blog which garnished media attention. In reading the post by the BUSH’s CO, they seemed to be tracking on the solution to the VCHT issues all along (has there ever been a ship without VCHT issues?). Going outside of your chain of command is the surest way to defeat ANY initiative to create a flat organization. Because, the sine qua non of a flat organization is harmony.

I first read of John Boyd in 2007, and quickly became enamored with the man’s ideas, his bigger-than-life persona, and the tales of his exploits in the Pentagon. Though, in mentioning his name to just about anyone would only result in blank stares and uneasy, one-sided conversations; most only knew of him as ‘the OODA-loop guy’. Because of this, I started to feel a certain sense of being alone in my ideas and interests.

Slowly, I’ve became aware of others who had as much a passion for the ideas of Boyd as I do. To make a long story short, finding these kindred souls has culminated in attending the Boyd and Beyond conference last weekend at Quantico.

One such soul, Scott Shipman (Retired FTBC) has written two good accounts of the conference here and here. So, I’ll forego recanting the actual events and presentations of the conference and offer instead my thoughts arising from the conference.

The conference spent a lot of time on the first half of the OODA-Loop, Observing and Orienting. At some point I became convinced that the type of Sailor we need is one that is a “situational autodidact”. Major Marcus Mainz, USMC, during his presentation made the brilliant comment that “training is for the known, education is for the unknown” in this sense, the spirit in which we must educate our Sailors must be towards making them capable of educating their self as needed when the unknown presents itself to them.

I’ve never been actively educated by the Navy in the sense of what the Major is talking about; I’ve always had to do that on my own. In doing so, I know that I am the exception rather than the rule on the deckplates. The Navy does not prepare their enlisted Sailors for the unknown directly, rather it trusts experience during the natural course of a Sailor’s career to do that. This makes sense, and indeed it is the best teacher there is. However, I believe the Navy could prepare its enlisted Sailors to take greater advantage of their experience.

For Sailors to take greater advantage of their experiences, they need to actively question their actions. By this, I mean that a person analyses a question more than they do a statement. But, it has been my experience that when someone recants an experience they had, it is a rare thing to hear someone say anything in terms of ‘why’ they did something. Much more often someone only tells the ‘what’ of their actions. Think of the Socratic Method, where Socrates would answer his students questions with another question. A Sailor who has internalized such a ‘Socratic process’ would be in a position to provide more cogent feedback as well as learn from their mistakes more often than we do today.

What I am saying is not that the training we offer Sailors falls short of its objectives as they stand today. But, that the spirit of the training is not where it needs to be—we focus our objectives too much on acting rather than orienting. The training our Sailors receive are based on concrete and testable objectives that can be measured, quantified and turned into metrics, that fit well into powerpoint. We do no help Sailors to become autodidactic—we are not training them to become students of their environment, but rather students of their school house.

We start to approach training Sailors to be autodidacts of their environment in the Operational Risk Management training we receive (One thing about ORM: It is Boyd’s OODA-Loop operationalized. The Navy has totally ripped off Boyd, and yet we never mention his name outside of the Warfare Universities—shame on us). We need more and deeper training on ORM and how this method applies to everything we do, whether we consciously realize it or not. In giving this deeper level or ORM, we should also find Sailors able to be more articulate of the process they’ve gone through. Thereby becoming able to better train others of their experiences.

In this, it is my hope that with an improvement in how articulate our Sailors are we also will improve the Navy’s ability to self-synchronize. This improvement in self-synchronization will then lessen our dependence on a hierarchical organization structure—flattening decision-making and decreasing the time it takes to move from orienting to acting, and culminating in giving us a decided advantage over any opponent.

Forgive me for not delving into this further. But, I have 15 minutes of battery life left and no outlet at the coffee shop here on Q street in DC to charge my computer. In talking about Boyd and Beyond and my thoughts, I wouldn’t be topical if I posted tomorrow, or later. Please, as I bleieve that such ideas are fleshed out via discourse, comment on this post, and as I have time I will respond and delve deeper regarding my thoughts here.

Lastly, I hope to see you all at the USNI Honors night on the 19th!

Did you happen to catch the @ISAFmedia twitter feed in the last week? Or, ever? That feed is getting some considerable accolades from some of the more active members of the Twitterverse. Why? Because of the discourse that ISAF is having with individuals. Think about it for a minute. Rather than a citizen having to get their information by proxy during a press conference or statement, the citizen is now able to engage with ISAF (or any organization) directly. The nuance of message that such an ability allows serves to make the information availed by ISAF all the more cogent.

Read through the links recanting the conversations the @ISAFmedia account has had. It’s no easy feat, twitter moves fast with many people able to come at you at once–and never mind the time difference between those in the conversation. So, what does it take to be able to be the person at the helm of an organization’s social media? As usual, the Marines have exceptional guidance for where to begin. It’s no wonder too, the social media chief listed in their guidance is an E-5 (natch).

Listen to active audiences to determine how to best engage. The paradigm of telling everyone what they
need to know no longer carries significant weight when communicating via social media channels —
social media requires, and begins with, listening. If you don’t know and understand the audiences you are
communicating with, then the interaction will be of limited value. Listening to the online community and
complying with Department of Defense policies is paramount to communication success.
One thing I would add to their guidance for organizations is that after listening comes engagement, with enough engagement comes familiarity and with familiarity comes a rapport. The Marines have laid out what I’d consider the basic school for social media engagement (by anyone, it’s worth reading even if you only check facebook once a week). Their guidance will get you up to the familiarity point of social media engagement. After which, it is the individual at the helm which actually builds rapport.
The abilities of @ISAFmedia and their social media team are where the rest of the military’s engagement in social media needs to be. However, it is worth mentioning that one social media ‘personality’ does not and cannot work for all commands. By this, I mean that the topics relevant to a COCOM are significantly different from a rifle platoon, where topics are what drive personality. We don’t need dozens of @ISAF clones out there. What we do need are Service Members as informed and plain spoken as @ISAFmedia; able to hold their own in social media while imbued with the sensibilities outlined in the Marine’s social media guidance–IMHO.

[Ed. Note: This reads like a report, because it is. This is what I turned in for my expository essay in my Writing 101 class. I got a 93 on it, and I’ve been trying to write this more as a blog. But, it’s already written, so why am I reinventing the wheel? And so here it is: How I finally began to truly understand the rank structure in the military and where the tactical fades into the strategic.]

There is a quote I frequently see while playing Rome: Total War attributed to Julius Caesar, “[i]n war important events result from trivial causes.” I had always considered the quote cogent and well said. But, more recently, I came across a new (to me) terminology for a type of event called a Black Swan. Once I had made the connection in my mind between Caesar’s quote and a Black Swan, I found myself thinking about another work by General Charles Krulack, USMC (ret) where he spoke of the importance of junior leadership in modern conflicts. Between Caesar’s quote, Black Swans and General Krulak’s work, there is a coherent theme explaining rank structure in the military and the synergistic relationship that exists between the tactical and strategic levels of warfare.

Caesar’s quote strikes me as a tacit understanding of “Black Swans” and their implications for military campaigns. Nassim Taleb introduced the terminology for a “Back Swan” in his book The Black Swan. Taleb defines a Black Swan as an event denoted by its “rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective (though not prospective) predictability.” Meaning that a Black Swan is an event of great significance that was never expected nor predicted to happen. According to Taleb, Black Swans explain why things occurred in history and our personal lives.

Caesar’s words intersect with Black Swans in that Caesar describes the causes of “important events” as “trivial.” Caesar, states there to be causation between the “trivial” and “important” while also denoting a qualitative difference between cause and effect in his words. It is logical to conclude that if one has a series of trivial events, that their sum would be trivial as well, or that there is a linear relationship between trivial events and their effects. However, by Caesar’s words, this is not the case. Rather, it is the sum being greater (important versus trivial) than the whole—a nonlinear relationship. To individuals looking at a series of trivial events and attempting to predict the outcome, it is hard to see how they could predict anything important deriving from the trivial–Such “low predictability” is a key aspect of a Black Swan.

Caesar’s words come from a strategic perspective. As the leader of the Roman Legions marching through Gaul, Caesar was responsible for subjugating 300 tribes and destroying 800 cities, in all affecting three million Gauls, killing close to a million of them. But, what was trivial to Caesar may not have been so trivial to one of his Centurions—it is a matter of perspective. Such perspective is inherent in the duties between those who are charged with leading tens of thousands and those leading hundreds (or less). Does the fact that there are two different perspectives mean that Caesar was wrong in calling such causes trivial? In a word, no. He is correct based on his perspective and context in-which he performed his duties. Caesar did not confuse his duties and station with those of his cohort commanders. What’s more is that his Centurions would probably call the duties Caesar carried out as trivial in comparison to the harsh realities of fighting hand-to-hand.

As events transpire, the implications of what causes Black Swans are of importance at the tactical level, and the Black Swan itself is important at the strategic level. However, at any level it is of importance to have an understanding of previous Black Swans (their causes and the event itself) that are not limited by post hoc narratives.

General Krulak is well known for this article titled the “Strategic Corporal: Leadership in the Three Block War.” His work concerns a fictitious conflict occurring in a few blocks of a city. He describes the tactical actions of Corporal Hernandez and their possible strategic implications. Caesar’s “trivial causes” are described. But, the General goes beyond merely describing decisions and their ramifications in stating that junior Marines have an intuitive—intuitive, not explicit—understanding of their “trivial” actions resulting in “important events.”

The General explains how Cpl. Hernandez’s decisions were made in such a manner that it, in essence, prevents a Black Swan type event from occurring. Cpl. Hernandez took the training he had been given, and imbued with an intuitive understanding of the implications of his actions and made the right decisions, thereby preventing the tactical situation from evolving into a situation with “strategic implications.” Where Caesar does not, in a single sentence quote, comment on the role of his Centurions in battle or their ability to prevent Black Swans, Krulak does by describing the challenges faced by Corporal Hernandez. Caesar is describing events from a ‘big picture’ perspective, and General Krulak described them from a ‘smaller picture’ perspective, Taleb’s Black Swan is the concept that ties the two together.

From the age of the Roman Empire to today the military has been facing the same types of challenges. It is from these challenges that we have decided how best to partition responsibilities, delegate decision-making authority and deal with the unexpected. Black Swans will never allow perfect predictability. Black Swans have always existed, and military professionals have been discussing them, the implications and best methods for overcoming them since Caesar. The only difference between what military professionals have had to say regarding Black Swans is the vocabulary used.

The challenges of leading men into battle do not change, only how we chose to describe those challenges. With Taleb’s words we find a common vocabulary that bridges thousands of years. With this common vocabulary we can better understand what is said by other writers and find the other truths that have endured through the centuries.

I continue to be impressed and humbled with how much Belgians remember the sacrifices made by others for their freedoms. No one asks them to do it, nor do I think the Belgians themselves make any effort to let Americans back in the States know what they do. They remember Americans of my Grandfathers generation just because they want to, I don’t think I will ever stop being amazed by this fact.

This weekend Mons marked the anniversary of their liberation from the Nazis. Mons was the first city in Belgium to be liberated (2 September). In remembering this event, Belgians, French, Spanish and others dress as US Service members did during WWII.

Seeing Belgians remember Americans for what we did means a lot to me, not just because I wear a uniform today, but also because one of my Grandfathers served in Belgium as an ordnance officer during WWII.

A block from my Apartment I ran into General Patton. He didn’t speak alick of English. But, he did carry a picture of the General with him in his wallet, which if I understood him, his father took back in 1944.

Most of those dressed as GIs wore the 101st unit patch, despite the fact that it was the 1st Infantry Division which came through Mons. The fact that Band of Brothers centered around a unit from the 101st, is what I assume to the reason why so many Screaming Eagles were present today.

I’ve been told that Mons displays more tanks and American WWII vehicles for their liberation day than anywhere else in the World. The Grand Place isn’t a small square by any means and today it was filled with vehicles.

I am not able to identify the class of Tank with the yellow “F-12” on it. But, the building behind it was standing when we came through Mons (its been there since the 1500s).

This is the second time that Belgians have humbled me with how they remember their and America’s shared history. What makes it mean the most, I think, is that no one asks them to remember America’s part in their history. They don’t have to wear American uniforms, or lovingly restore parts of America’s history. But they do, and what’s more is that when you talk to them and they hear your American accent, they are surprised that an American is even there.

Though, out of everything I saw today, I think I got the biggest kick out of the ‘Sailor’ I met today wearing Utilities that she though were dungarees. I still have my utilities and there is always next year.

Ed Note: The post below was written by a mentor of mine from the Chief’s Mess, who has asked to otherwise be anonymous in this post. I will say nothing else, and let him take it from here.

Navy manning policy cycles through phases so regularly it could be best described as a soap opera “As the Pendulum Swings.” First was the Reagan Era build up, then a Clinton Era “peace dividend” drawdown. With Donald Rumsfeld came “faster, leaner, more lethal,” and the twin monsters of “Optimal Manning” and the infamous “Top-6 Roll-down.” Broken ships and ineffective crews were the result. Now the revealed Word from Washington is that the Optimal Manning Experiment is over. ADM Greenert’s statement of “we’re going to effectively migrate, reconstitute in a way, the surface fleet afloat,” is encouraging, but the actions needed to meet his goal of sustaining the fleet seem distant, if not impossible given the corporate track record.

The Balisle Report recommended that over 6,500 billets be restored to the fleet. Only 2,200 were approved, with another 3,900 slated for FYDP accessions. The fine print never makes the headlines in All Hands, or the Navy Times. At this time we are told to cut the Navy by 9,000 Sailors. We have to cut solid performers who happen to be in overmanned ratings, while we should cut those who don’t meet standards, or are marginal performers at best. Why must we do this? Because personnel costs, and the billions of healthcare dollars those personnel require for readiness and recovery, are “eating us alive.” Leadership chants the mantra of “people are our most important resource,” but the reality of where the Navy is putting its money is clear. The Naval Vessel Registry lists 245 active hulls as of June, 2011. The same registry lists 268 Flag Officers: 243 Active, 22 Active Duty for Special Work, and 3 Full Time Support. Last time I walked the Naval Station piers, only three ships had broken an Admiral’s Flag at the masthead. Merging Second Fleet into Fleet Forces Command is supposedly one such “cost savings” designed to optimize the Fleet. But, no Flag billets were harmed in the merger. With President Obama announcing a drawdown of 33,000 combat personnel from Afghanistan, and Congress clamoring for further cost savings, it is only a matter of time before budget pressure on incoming Secretary of Defense Panetta turns the magnifying lens on our “greatest asset,” Deckplate Sailors.

Division officers and Leading Chiefs rarely have time, much less energy, to spend on the fine print in the “big picture.” Getting through the training cycle with often less than 70 percent of their required Sailors, often inadequately trained, to meet all the tasking given down by their Commanding Officers is an 18 hour a day job. Mandatory training days, meetings, and pre-meetings, operational briefings, watchstanding, and documenting every Sailors performance and attendance is a job in itself. Additional time to train, mentor, supervise maintenance, preservation, professional development all comes from somewhere – sleep time most likely, which NAVMAC cheerfully points out is eight hours a day – but in reality is maybe five or six.

What the spreadsheet wizards at OPNAV N1 and BUPERS missed in their calculations is a vast amount of time and work that is always needed, yet seldom calculated in manpower estimates. How do they account for the hours preparing for a 3M spot check, only to have the inspector reschedule because of a surprise visit from ATG or the Squadron Chief of Staff? Trite promises such as “civilians will do surface preservation when in port,” to justify the loss of half your deck department force, ring hollow. Standing up additional Force Protection Condition (FPCON) requirements drain away both production, and stamina. My last ship stood up FPCON CHARLIE measures in a CONUS maintenance availability because Second Fleet enforced a requirement written for “non-Navy controlled ports.” If there was ever a port controlled by the Navy, it is Norfolk Virginia. Yet that is what we did for 18 months–until leaders with the best interest of the crew proved it was hurting production far more than ensuring security. Lest anyone be ignorant, every VIP or Flag Officer visit adds another 4 hours of field day to the ship’s workforce; time also needed for training, preventive and corrective maintenance. More time is lost checking up on the contract repair teams that require quality inspection time equal to the time spent on the repair itself–another thing not factored into NAVMAC’s computer. A couple years ago I went to a conference to discuss the “standard Navy work week.” After several days of reality based discussion, the whole meeting was round-filed because our input would have increased the documented hours – and thus full time billets required – by 30 percent. “Not the answer we were looking for you to endorse,” was the message, and we went home to our ships. What safety procedures could be changed to reduce manning? Could we get by with less wing-walkers when moving aircraft? NATOPS categorically said “no,” and had safety statistics to prove it. Could we add the three hours of CNO mandated physical training to the work week calculation? No, because it would create a need for more billets. The message was clear – we want to reduce head count – don’t confuse the system. Dilbert seemed very apropos.

Manning requirements are estimates. When designed, they are one number. After built, they are usually less, because N1 is looking to save money for N4 to buy missiles. After being in service for a while that number drops again. Congress lowered the authorized end strength, or “boots on ground” requirements exceed two whole Carrier Battle Group’s worth of Sailors. Someone gets a medal, for reporting those ships stay “mission ready” despite manning shortfalls. It’s just a SHELL GAME.

Your ship must be at 90 percent or better manning to deploy. You have 75 percent. Calls are made, hands are shaken, and golf course diplomacy secures the critical NEC and general labor is sent TAD to the ship – for 90 days or so – enough to show the TYCOM you are at manning requirements. But this plus up is not really a fix. TAD Sailors in critical specialties don’t end up on the Force Protection watchbill. They often don’t end up in the repair locker. Sometimes, they don’t even stand duty. Because they are special – it’s in “the deal.” They often don’t use chipping hammers, needle guns, or paint brushes either.

Your division’s work is supposed to be done by 35 Sailors. The Ship’s Manning Document (SMD) calls for so many Sailors of different ranks, NEC and specialized schools. Odds are, You won’t have them. Due to “funding constraints” the Billets Authorized (BA) is only 30. If your command is lucky, the Navy Manning Plan (NMP) allocation might equal funded billets. Often, the time your Division’s share of NMP might be only 20. Either way, your division is still not going to have all 35 Sailors. First, some will be on terminal leave. Some billets will be gapped either from the Sailor being LIMDU, or ADSEP for discipline issues. Secondly, some billets may seem filled, but the Sailor is TAD away to required schools (that never seem to get completed) en route to your command. Depending on the billet they are designated to fill, some Sailors need up to nine months of schools AFTER reporting aboard for a 3 year tour. Lastly, the open wound of Individual Augmentation festers on your Watch, Quarter and Station Bill.

When a message tasking your ship to provide a critically needed NEC E5-6 with a perfect record, security clearance, and long enough PRD to meet the Noble Eagle mission timeline is likely to grab your divisional LPO, 3M Workcenter Supervisor, or the ONE and ONLY Sailor with that NEC needed for mission critical maintenance. You might have two on paper, but the other sailor is LIMDU or TAD to a critical school for another couple months. So, you protest. You send up your impact statement to RECLAMA. Your protest falls on deaf ears since the Commodore is going to HAVE to send someone, and dammed if it’s the guy from his flagship.

Optimal Manning was supposed to streamline training to “just in time” pipelines that provided fully trained Sailors to ships at the right time, so no loss of readiness occurred at PCS time. It’s a pipe dream. The Sailor you are losing has years of experience with that equipment, which is guaranteed to be slightly different from another ship of that class. The new guy is very likely to be junior, or not quite fully recovered from LIMDU, or missing the pipeline training. The last 30-60 days of the outgoing Sailor are focused on THEIR moving off. The arriving Sailor might not report for weeks or months after he transfers. End result is you’ve lost six months of effective production from that billet and everyone else in the workcenter, duty section and ship needs to work that much harder.

Optimal Manning never seemed to hit the Wardroom as it did Mess Deck or Goat Locker. My last ship was designed for a complement of 23 officers. Most of the time we had 40 officers on deck, and a few more off TAD, IA, or other places. It was sickening how many titles started with “A.” Yet, officers need training, and the best place for that is at sea. But many officers without portfolio cab give the XO heartburn, so they all get some job. VBSS officer, Anti-Terrorism Officer, Fire Control Officer, Weapons Officer, Magazine Officer, and other such lofty titles were given the Ensigns, despite the requirement for those billets to be held by second-tour division officers or department heads.

If the Navy needs to save money on personnel costs, I suggest it start with the Wardroom, and then move on from there. I would have a more effective ship with 25 officers, and use the cost savings to retain 30 more blue jackets. If the Enlisted Retention Board is kicking out Sailors who made Senior Chief Petty Officer in less than 14 years, simple fairness suggests we explore ALL options. Lengthen sea tours for officers to develop them further, rather than an 18 month sprint to the next ticket punch. Increase the time in grade from ENS to JG, and JG to LT. Since it’s an automatic promotion, it cannot “hurt their career.” Do we really need all 268 Admirals on the current (and future) payroll? Could all the limited duty officers be as effective as Warrant Officers? Many could, and it would save money for other programs.

My take is this: When 23 of your 40 officers are LT or senior, almost no junior officers are left in duty sections to stand watch, get leadership experience, and master their craft. Being a commanding officer is a grueling slog with professional pitfalls surrounding you. Spending a few more years moving up the chain, especially as a junior officer afloat for 3 year sea tours, 3 years in grade, would give current CO’s the TIME they need to develop them. With the XO fleet up to CO on many ships, that XO/CO will now have the time on board to see that process through, rather than a 14-20 month snapshot.

Admiral Harvey posted to his blog that SAN ANTONIO is underway again.

The hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life was serve aboard SAN, especially during the last deployment and the start of the yards period right after — Afghanistan was nothing compared to the deployment aboard SAN (granted, I was a fobbit out there). I am incredibly proud to have served aboard her, and of my Shipmates in seeing her underway again, especially of those still aboard who checked-in the same year I did (2006).

Galrahn had a post the other day saying that no one has been held responsible for all the challenges SAN and the class have had. I would add a caveat to his statement: The crew has been held responsible for all of the challenges. The crew has constantly worked to meet those responsibilities — no matter what happens the crew returns to the 17 every day, stands their watches, works to fix the problems. There were times when I couldn’t get my head around how the Snipes did it, how they stood all the watches, how they would be so ambivalent over being doused with lube oil multiple times during the deployment, how they were able to keep pushing despite challenge after challenge was discovered. The ITs running all over the Ship dealing with SWAN challenges. The officers and Chiefs earnestly working to manage all of it, and also standing their watches. Through three ‘generations’ of crews I watched and was apart of all this.

Outside the skin of the Ship, you don’t see nor hear it. But, there’s a lot of emotion invested by the crew into their Ship, a lot of emotion. The sweat and tired eyes are just the tip of the iceberg. Coming back from the maiden deployment, I was in a way worse state of mind than when I came back from Afghanistan.

If you haven’t seen the door to the chartroom, it’s well worth it. As it is emblematic of the spirit that has carried the crew through it all. It has never been easy to read Naval blogs as I do being a SAN ANTONIO Sailor. You can’t help but take even the best intentioned criticism of the Ship a little personal. But, because of the crew I will always hold my head high and say I sailed in LPD 17 for the maiden deployment — I was there. HOOYAH SAN ANTONIO!

About a month ago, there was a request for volunteers to participate in the Memorial Day Ceremonies here in Belgium. Four Sailors and myself volunteered. One other Sailor and myself on the Color Guard and the rest as members of the Honor Platoon or wreath bearers. I’ve marched before; I’ve held a rifle before. But, my god, I’ve never done so much of it over the course of a weekend — not even in being part of a 900 Division in boot camp.

We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years and we’ve done this as recently as the last year in Afghanistan and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in…”

— Secretary of State Colin Powell

There are three cemeteries in Belgium:  Ardennes, Henri-Chapelle and Flanders, we honored the fallen at all three. The love and care put into the grounds there are at a level beyond anything I can remember seeing in the States. There was literally nothing that looked unkept, everything was immaculate and proper. Those who care for the grounds there we owe a huge debt.

I really was not sure what to expect from a Memorial Day celebration outside of the United States. I wouldn’t expect anyone but American Citizens to ever want to honor the memory of those we lost in battle. When we practiced we were told that they were large, well attended ceremonies. But, I still couldn’t conceptualize what I actually saw over the course of the weekend.

I don’t know the exact count. But, there must have been over 200 people in attendance at each Cemetery (standing room only at Flanders), the minority of which were Americans. I met a very nice lady from the Netherlands and her friend. They had taken pictures of me at Henri-Chapelle and shared them. She has adopted grave sites and the names of the missing at Cemeteries in the Netherlands, Belgium and France. She attends the Ceremonies every year, and has never looked to be recognized for her support. There were a significant number of Belgian Veterans in attendance, you could spot them by their awesome mustaches (it seriously must be a requirement to grow an epic mustache to receive veteran benefits in Belgium) and the medals they wore. Many had their Unit’s colors with them, embroidered with the dates of the campaigns they fought in. School Children in Waregem have learned our National Anthem since the 1920s, both the Belgian and US National Anthems were sung by them. Speeches were given by the US Ambassadors to the European Union and Belgium, The US Military Representative to NATO and Senator Leahy. From Belgium the King sent a representative and the Mayors of the towns in which the Cemeteries are located also spoke.

In all 14,151 of our dead were honored. There were no Belgians, Americans, or anyone of any Nationality there. There were only we who remembered those who gave the last full measure of devotion to a cause greater than themselves and their homelands. The French version of the Belgian National Anthem has a line which translates as “To you we stretch our hearts and arms” and that is how I felt this Memorial Day weekend. I would never expect anyone from a Nation other than the US to thank me or anyone for our service and the sacrifices we make. But, they do and they are sincere when they give thanks.

When you play chess, you learn that you don’t win because of what you did right. You win because of what your opponent did wrong, that the person who wins made the least amount of mistakes. Many commentators are taking about how the US got Bin Laden. Dr. Barnett over at Time’s Battleland Blog mentions Boyd’s take on Sun Tsu, “Interaction permits vitality and growth, while isolation leads to decay and disintegration”. The credit for this isolation is given to the US by the constant pressure we placed on Bin Laden in our efforts to find him. But, one thing I am stuck by, is the lack of mention of Bin Laden by anyone, on either side, for the majority of any of the wars.

Since the Taliban lost control of Afghanistan and ran South of the Durand line, our strategy in Afghanistan has not focused on Bin Laden. Since that time we’ve focused on rebuilding two countries, and termed our enemies as those who are against stable and viable States. The moves we have decided to make have only been in terms of isolation by proxy. Our ability to articulate our goals and the benefits of a liberal system of governance have not been exceedingly successful. We did not isolate Bin Laden. Bin Laden, his ideals and his own strategy did that.

We originally went after a small group who wished to see grand political change from India to North Africa and used the United States as their narrative’s foil. Before 9/11 the perceived size and ability of Al Qaeda was not considered a threat. From the hysteria of 9/11 our perceptions changed and our enemy seemed much larger and more capable. As we got onto the ground first in Afghanistan, then into Iraq, the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula we found that not everyone who uses violence and quotes the Koran thinks the same way Bin Laden does. Those who we war against today, have much more local aims than Al Aqaeda does and only align themselves with a more popular organization for clout.

We’ve found that “Global Jihad” has an inherently local flavor. The groups and organizations we fight against form strategic partnerships based upon very specific criteria that do not readily lead to a Caliphate, as the notion of a Caliphate is not something many will rally around. The central failing of Bin Laden has been that you can’t talk to people about radical political change across much of the Eurasian and African landmass when they still worry about feeding their families and the security of their neighborhoods, let alone regional security and clear political hegemony. Bin Laden’s dreams fall flat, even with a central enemy to rally around. We didn’t isolate Bin Laden in any meaningful way. The images of Bin Laden looking like Howard Hughes are fitting not in that he was stuck in a building. But, that he was looking back over recordings of when his message was still viable.

How many right moves have we made, and how many wrong moves have our enemies made? But, the question is more than that, isn’t it? We’re playing a game of chess, where we’re also switching opponents. Bin Laden made a lot of wrong moves. But, what of the rest of the players? There’s a lot more isolation to be done. The war isn’t about geopolitics as much as it used to be, we enter the middle game.

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