Archive for the 'Marine Corps' Category

The Commandant’s “Connection Challenge”

37th CMC Official PhotoCommandant of the Marine Corps General Robert B. Neller joined The Muster via Skype. Unlike previous speakers at the Idea Lab who had answers to the question what is your “Big Idea for America” the 37th Commandant had a request. He asked veterans to “stay connected” with those they had served with. “Too many of our friends are still struggling . . . . Please stay connected via any means possible.”

Speaking to a standing-room only crowd, “stay connected” was the only answer he had for a junior Marine’s question some months earlier about what the Commandant was doing to help those veteran Marines that were killing themselves.

While the “great majority are doing well,” the Commandant said, “the technology” was “probably there” to help veterans stay connected. Bunker Labs CEO, Todd Connor, told General Neller that Bunker Labs would take on the digital dimension of the Commandant’s “Connection Challenge.”

The Marine for Life Network is designed to connect “transitioning Marines and their family members to education resources, employment opportunities, and other veterans services that aid in their career and life goals outside of military service.”

Chicago’s Marine for Life community is strong, well supported and holds monthly meetings that alternate between the city and suburbs. In at least one case, however, there was a disconnect between Marine for Life and a Chicago Marine veteran who was told during his official transition to call Marine for Life only if he was considering suicide. Months later discovered Chicago Marine for Life was ideally suited to help Marine veterans stay connected and find jobs.

Changing the Narrative

150116-Z-ZZ999-002Acting Secretary of the Army Patrick J. Murphy’s “Big Idea for America” was to “change the narrative — veterans are civic assets, not victims.”

The Secretary noted that the veterans as victims stereotype was factually inaccurate and a barrier to recruiting all volunteer forces. Compared to their civilian counterparts, he noted, “veterans are more likely to run their own businesses and to succeed.”



Increasing numbers of post-9/11 veterans are dedicated to “changing the national narrative” — veterans are civic assets and not victims. Key leaders in this initiative include Chris Marvin and Todd Connor.

Chris Marvin flew U.S. Army helicopters in combat in Afghanistan until a crash near the Afghan-Pakistan border that ended his military career and began a four year recovery from his wounds. In 2012 Chris founded and was the executive director for the national veteran campaign Got Your 6 — a coalition of entertainment industry companies and nonprofits focused on veterans and military families. Chris and the Got Your 6 Team commissioned a 2014 report, “Strengthening Perceptions of Americas Post 9/11 Veterans.” [.pdf] The report described how America’s current view of veterans is fundamentally defines by a duality that allows people to view veteran’s as concurrently damaged and heroic, a combination that tends to produce charity rather than opportunity for continued leadership.

Source: Strengthening Perceptions of America's Post-9/11 Veterans: Survey Analysis Report (Drew Lieberman and Kathryn Stewart / Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research on behalf of Got Your 6, 2014)

Source: “Strengthening Perceptions of America’s Post-9/11 Veterans: Survey Analysis Report” (Drew Lieberman and Kathryn Stewart / Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research on behalf of Got Your 6, 2014).

The 2015 Veteran Civic Health Index for Chris Marvin and the Got Your 6 Team [.pdf] defined civic health as a community’s capacity to work together to resolve collective problems — the degree to which people trust each other, help their neighbors and interact with their government.

The 2015 report indicated that veterans strengthen communities by volunteering, voting, engaging in local governments, helping neighbors, and participating in community organizations— all at higher rates than their non-veteran counterparts. Key findings include:

  • Veteran volunteers serve an average of 160 hours annually—the equivalent of four full workweeks. Non-veteran volunteers serve about 25% fewer hours annually.
  • Veterans are more likely than non-veterans to attend community meetings, fix problems in the neighborhood, and fill leadership roles in community organizations.
  • 17.7% of veterans are involved in civic groups, compared to just 5.8% of non-veterans.
  • Veterans vote, contact public officials, and discuss politics at significantly higher rates than their non-veteran counterparts.
  • Compared to non-veterans, veterans are more trusting of their neighbors. 62.5% of veterans trust “most or all of [their] neighbors” compared to 55.1% of non-veterans. Veterans are also more likely to frequently talk with and do favors for their neighbors.

I spoke with Chris Marvin on 4 May 2016. His assessment was that the veteran narrative was becoming more of one of empowerment at the national level but that traditional veteran agencies were focused on service and charity.

Former U.S. Navy surface warfare officer Todd Connor, the CEO of Bunker Labs, is changing the veteran narrative by supporting veteran entrepreneurs: “Military veterans are builders, dreamers, and doers — who are committed to lives of service. Bunker Labs is committed to creating the place, across the U.S., where military veterans can realize their greatest potential, launch businesses, and build the next greatest generation.”

Since its founding in June 2014, Bunker Labs has raised over $23 M in total capital raised, generated more than $17 M in total revenue, supported more than 70 companies and created more than 290 total jobs. On 10 May 2016 JPMorgan Chase announced a two-year, $1.5M commitment to Bunker Labs for the Bunker Builds America Tour of twelve cities showcasing local veteran entrepreneurs and heralding new chapters of Bunker Labs.

It’s just before 6 P.M. on 11 May 2016. Millions of Chicago’s commuters are bound for home. Here in Bunker Labs (HQ), things are just getting going with young veteran volunteers who have just finished their 10+ hour day jobs are here to get ready for The Muster tomorrow on 12 May. This second annual Muster includes over 450 participants; keynote speakers, via Skype, include Acting Secretary of the Army Patrick Murphy and Commandant of the Marine Corps General Robert Neller; thirty three veteran entrepreneurs pitching their businesses; An Idea Lab for expert talks and panel discussions about defense innovation trends, veteran contributions to civil health; and Marketplace for Bunker member product and services.



AING-hominy-grits-2_sql few years back, a group of psychologists ran some tests on groups of first-grade students in the U.S. and in Japan. The researchers gave each group of students an impossible math problem, then sat back to watch how long the kids worked on the problem before giving up in frustration. On average, the groups of American kids worked at it for less than 30 seconds before quitting. The Japanese kids, however, worked and worked on the problem; each time, the researchers cut them off after an hour and told them that the problem was impossible to solve. The take away: the American kids quit at the first signs of frustration because they were not used to hard work, while the Japanese kids were determined to gut it out. One set of kids showed grit, the other set did not.

Do we have grit as a nation? Have we lost it? If so, can we regain it somehow?

When I think of Americans with grit, I think of Louis Zamperini, Anne Hutchinson, James Stockdale, and Sojourner Truth. I think of people like my great-grandmother, who successfully raised seven kids (two of them severely disabled) during the Depression. Grit reminds me of families surviving the Great Depression, the Johnstown Flood, or Hurricane Camille, through extreme suffering and severe hardship, even when all hope has been taken from them. Grit tells of men and women facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles yet digging in and persevering, pushing hard in the face of incredible odds and demonstrating courage even in the face of death.

Images like these tend to belong to events in our collective past. To anyone who is a parent or has served with Millennials, the idea that American kids today suffer from a lack of grit may be very familiar. We are constantly bombarded with the idea that American youth today consists primarily of entitled, coddled, self-absorbed individuals who don’t understand what hardship or hard work is. By this narrative, Americans—especially Millennials—are spoiled, lazy creatures consumed with ridiculous first-world problems who are growing into ineffective adults because they have been raised without taking risks and with the ease of the internet at their fingertips, all while being coddled by helicopter parents. They are used to getting info and materials instantly, can’t talk or relate to others on a personal level because all they know how to do is text, need trigger warnings before hearing harsh words, and don’t understand suffering or deprivation. And they are self-absorbed, expecting others to be interested in the inane details of their lives while constantly putting on a show of how enlightened and amazing they are (a la White Savior Barbie). Generation X is certainly not immune to these same criticisms, but the focus has been particularly harsh for Millennials.

Similar observations also come from long-term educators. School administrators complain about the worrisome changes they have seen in incoming students, whose parents are overly involved in the minutiae of their children’s lives. Camp counselors tell stories about kids who have to call home every day, or who wouldn’t make decisions for fears of choosing the wrong answer. Senior military leaders grumble about the self-absorption of their young Marines and Sailors and question whether or not younger generations can work hard enough to keep our nation safe.

A 2007 study on grit, in fact, emphasized the critical role that individual grit played in determining whether or not West Point cadets would successfully complete their first summer, Beast Barracks.

I’ve got my own fears and questions about the future, and worry that my kids will be weaker adults since they are growing up in a more comfortable (entitled?) world than the one my husband and I came from. What happens to our military in the next two decades if the people who populate it are a bunch of unimaginative, coddled nincompoops who don’t know how to gut through a challenging problem? What happens to our country by 2050 if the women and men who will one day lead it can’t relate to each other as people and can’t lead their way out of a paper bag? What happens to my kids if they can’t function as adults?

But a few recent observations have made me reconsider these fears.

Last summer, I wrote on this forum about a trial run camp that my husband and I held in our town. While talking one afternoon with friends about everything we wanted to teach our kids, we realized that we learned many of those skills at OCS, TBS, USNA, and while turning from an immature 21-year-old into a junior officer. So we held a 5th-grade version of TBS, with a bit of other stuff thrown in. It was a resounding success—the kids loved it, we had a blast planning and running it, and the feedback was overwhelming. This spring, we’ve adapted our camp into an after-school program, and are partway into the first session right now. We are attempting to teach, test, and emphasize hard work, leadership, and teamwork, how to tackle complex problems, and to enable them to lead peers in an unfamiliar and at times demanding physical environment. In a way, we are trying to teach grit.

So far? The kids eat it up. They are hungry for more responsibilities, more challenges, and tougher stuff. They relish the struggle. One of the less-athletic kids gets anxious at the thought of anything physical and competitive, and grows worried before each event, but she keeps coming back and is hugely proud of her accomplishments. Another is deathly afraid of heights but is really excited each time he climbs up an obstacle, visibly proud of conquering that fear. It’s like this whole world is out there that they can’t wait to get their hands into, and once there they shine.

What we are doing, in many ways subconsciously, is weaving a bit of struggle into all that we do with the kids. Look back at that early classroom experiment on Japanese and American kids. One researcher noticed a key difference between Japanese and American classrooms: the Japanese teachers that he observed uniformly taught and emphasized struggle. They picked tasks that pushed their students beyond their current capabilities, then discussed how the hard work and struggle was part of the successes the students had when they had them. And that grit study that looked at West Point cadets? It also found that grit increases with age. Life will certainly hand us all some trials, and if we succeed and pass these trials, we tend to develop and use grit. So it does come along at some point to some of us. But why wait until poor habit patterns are set to learn hard work? Why don’t we teach hard work and struggle earlier, to set our kids up for success, so that when the real struggles come, they are more prepared?

As for fears that the ease, comfort, and “politically correct” nature of our kids’ world is uniformly bad for them, my recent experience at the Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference (NAFAC) has made me view those fears differently. During the conference, I worked with a group of about 15 college students, about half of them midshipmen. I didn’t know what to expect. But during the roundtables, I grew impressed with both the demeanor (incredibly civil and professional) and the level of foreign policy knowledge and awareness demonstrated by the college student participants. I don’t remember seeing anything remotely like that level of sophistication when I was the same age. And the ideas and solutions they proposed to problems facing the United States today were insightful and creative precisely because of the knowledge that each brought to that roundtable. Maybe all of that internet stuff played a role, and maybe the greater emphasis on manners—or political correctness, to some—did as well.

What if that education, ease, and internet accessibility helps future leaders cast a wider net in the hunt for workable solutions? Compare it across generations: when given a task in elementary school, I had the local library and my parents’ old Encyclopedia Britannica to search through. But my kids, they will have the world. More knowledge and more information = more alternatives and more solutions. How is this not good?

So I believe that we can teach grit, and we can do it by building struggle into school, work, and daily tasks in imaginative ways. We can ensure that young people are allowed the gift of failure, a gift that for most of us will keep on giving. And we can expand our ideas of learning, fully embracing the wealth of information available to people today. The sooner we give that gift, and enable those struggles, and rethink what it means to teach and to learn, the more mature and grittier America can be.



Due to circumstances beyond his control, Mr. Roggio had to postpone his visit with Midrats. He will appear at a later date. In lieu of his appearance, CDR Salamander and Eagle1 held a “free for all” discussion of current events.

You can find our “Spring Time Free-for-All” here.

We regret any inconvenience.

 



23rd

Ten Seconds

March 2016

By

Arleigh Burke was a hard-charger by nature, never content to rest on his laurels.

Thus at the Battle of Blackett Strait–a victory for the United States–Burke was unhappy. Commanding a Destroyer Squadron, he was on the bridge of his flagship, looking out for the Japanese destroyers Murasame and Minegumo. When his radar operator picked up a ship close to shore, Burke hesitated to fire at first.

Sure enough, the contact had been one of the Japanese ships, and Burke’s hesitation allowed them to get within weapons range. A battle ensued, thankfully resulting in the sinking of both enemy destroyers.

Burke, frustrated with himself, asked one of the Ensigns standing watch what the difference was between a good officer and a poor one. After listening to the young man’s response, Burke offered his own:

“The difference between a good officer and a poor one,” he said, “is about ten seconds.”

The Pacific Theatre of World War II tested the United States Navy’s resolve like no other conflict before or since. We look back on the battles memorialized as part of our culture and hold them as the gold standard for naval operations today.

But luminaries like Arleigh Burke knew those engagements could have been better. The same bug that struck him at Blackett Strait–hesitation–cost the United States many other opportunities throughout the theater.

If he were alive today, pacing the bridge wing, Burke might regard the culture of hesitation we seem to have built in our Navy with a more acute displeasure than he did 83 years ago. And he would demand we improve.

Simpler Times

Burke and his crews were successful, in part, due to their understanding of the strategic calculus of World War II: kill or be killed. In a war of attrition, the goal is to inflict as much damage on the enemy as possible while staying afloat, or, in the immortal words of General George Patton, “to make the other bastard die for his” country.

Though the tasks of major war at sea, on land, and in the air were gargantuan, the strategic environment may have been a bit easier. It was the ability of every Sailor to understand this paradigm–down to the mess halls and deck plates–and their commitment to see it through that would catalyze American victory in the 1940s.

Today, the United States still maintains the most capable naval force in the world. We still operate at sea, on land, and in the air, in addition to the realms of space and the broader electromagnetic spectrum. Capitalizing on the ingenuity of our people, we have incorporated technological advances into our platforms that enhance our tactics, techniques, and procedures.

These accelerations in technology have led to a commensurate quickening of decision-making in the battlespace. Colonel John Boyd’s “Observe-Orient-Decide-Act,” or “OODA Loop” describes the process that each individual or unit must go through to learn and succeed. As Colonel Boyd famously proved, the ability to operate inside an adversary’s OODA Loop is often the difference between victory and defeat.

Yet, as we increase the pace of our tactics and decisions, we are doing so at the expense of the strategic proficiency of our junior sailors and officers. Worse, senior officers often exhort to subordinates to “focus on your tactics,” implying that the understanding of strategy and policy should be left to those with “experience.”

This growing lethargy in learning and understanding brings with it a creeping risk–a hesitation–that should be untenable to us as warfighters. We are doing a disservice to our service when we develop aviators who can “center the dot,” but cannot describe the geopolitical diversity surrounding their Carrier Operating Area (CVOA); when we develop submariners who can maintain a reactor within checklist specifications, but cannot debate the merits of improving personnel policy in the service; when we develop surface warfare officers who can stand on their feet for hours on the bridge, but cannot fathom how the position of their ship in the ocean impacts the global economy. We develop this risk across both our Restricted and Unrestricted Line communities.

Sometimes, this risk manifests itself in mistake: the bombing of a hospital instead of a legitimate military target, or confrontation with a tenuous regional actor. Often, however, the risk is in unmeasured opportunity cost: the option or consideration no one in the room brought to attention; the detail that goes unchecked because it wasn’t part of our rigid formula; the stakeholder we do not consider but whose reaction will impact our long-term success or failure. We build in a culture of hesitation to our systems when we make such a clear distinction between tactical execution and strategic understanding. Just as in Burke’s time, it is costing us opportunities.

Shared Consciousness

In his book Team of Teams, General Stanley McChrystal describes the concept of “shared consciousness” by saying, “our entire force needed to share a fundamental, holistic understanding of the operating environment and of our own organization, and we also needed to preserve each team’s distinct skill sets.” Rather than developing bland generalists, McChrystal remarks that the goal for his organization was “to fuse generalized awareness with specialized expertise.”

We are a Navy full of essential skills and experts; we need these to fight. But in order to win, shared consciousness among all ranks and at all levels is required.

Above all, this is a leadership issue. Our service has no place for those who tell their subordinates to “focus on tactics” at the expense of strategy. We may win the battle, but we will surely lose the war. To increase the pace of our various OODA Loops–and mitigate a culture of hesitation– we must develop sailors who are both tactically lethal and strategically aware.

Discussion of strategy and policy should be encouraged at all levels. Many good commanding officers, both past and present, have fostered an atmosphere of questioning and discussion in wardrooms and ready rooms. This should not be mere serendipity; we should select officers for these positions who are capable of engendering this environment, and continue to promote those who have proven they can do so in a respectful, constructive manner.

These discussions should lead to action and writing–to white papers, articles, blog posts–that are read and in turn debated, rebutted, and written about. Moreover, we should not limit this activity to individual ships and units; this environment should exist at the Pentagon, at our Fleet Replacement Squadrons and Afloat Training Groups, with our peers on the Joint Staff and in classroom settings, and with our multinational partners around the world.

Separately, we must not allow our reliance on technology to institutionalize a culture of hesitation. With more information being consumed and analyzed at a much quicker pace than ever before, it is easy to simply complete the blocks in our checklist and make a voice or chat report, rather than developing a system of communication and execution that capitalizes on shared consciousness. We must return to our uniquely naval roots of the Composite Warfare Commander Concept and command by negation in order to build a better system, or else we will be doomed to repeat the kind of hesitation that Arleigh Burke so desperately wanted to avoid.

In the final analysis, we are not compartmentalized into separate tactical officers and strategic officers. We are naval officers and warfighters; there should be no difference.

Admiral Burke’s experience at Blackett Strait played out between ten and twenty knots. Our experiences today demand that, while our ships may still travel at that speed, our decision-making and understanding scales exponentially faster.

For this generation of naval warfighters and decision-makers, the difference between a good officer and a poor one may be ten microseconds. And we must make every one count.



Here I was, a lawyer from New York City in the middle of the Arizona desert, and surrounded by about $1 billion worth of the most sophisticated and expensive weaponry ever devised – the Joint Strike Fighter. And this was just part of a four-day visit this past November to the Marine Air Station in Yuma, Arizona, the Naval Air Station in San Diego, and an overnight embark on the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) as she was steaming somewhere in the Pacific. During my time with the Marine Corps and Navy I was provided unfettered access to learn how these two key Sea Services are preparing to fight the wars of the future.

My first stop was the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121) Green Knights briefing room at the Marine Air Station in Yuma where the Air Officer for the First Marine Expeditionary Force explained his mission: “We deliver death and destruction from the sky.” But the means of delivering “death and destruction” is undergoing a major transition, and it’s not cheap.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is still in testing, is scheduled to replace the Hornet and the Harrier. The cost is staggering – around $100 million apiece – and Lieutenant General Jon Davis, Deputy Commandant for Aviation, reported to Congress last March that the military has acquired 124 of them. General Davis added that they are waging a “war on cost,” hoping to decrease the price to $80 or $85 million per aircraft.

Notwithstanding these eye-popping numbers, the Marines in Yuma love the F-35. As my group and I were given an up-close and personal tour of the fighter we were told that it is “a cut above” anything the enemy can field. According to one fighter pilot, “it provides first look, first shoot, first kill capability,” and its advanced radar allows it to see the enemy well before it is seen.

Marine Colonel Christopher McPhillips added that “if you’re not in a stealthy airplane you’re not competitive. They’ll see you coming and shoot you down,” and stealth is key according to the Marines in Yuma: “We treat the outer mold line as a weapons capability,” another explained.

Day one was with VMFA-121 and its F-35B Joint Strike Fighters––here, in hover and in the hangar with ground crew.

Day one was with VMFA-121 and its F-35B Joint Strike Fighters––here, in hover and in the hangar with ground crew.

After hearing nothing but praise for the F-35, I couldn’t help myself. “What don’t you like about it?” I asked a major who had flown the Hornet for most of his career and was now training on the F-35. “It’s like switching from an old Android phone to the new iPhone,” he said. “It’s better, but takes a little getting used to.”

The enlisted personnel tasked with maintaining this weapon system were, simply put, awesome. They were not just following steps 1 through 10 to complete a task. They were identifying the defects, writing the manual, and then working with the scientists and engineers from Lockheed Martin to fix the problems. Their technical competency was so impressive that it made me wonder – can the Marines retain these people? After all, the skills are costly to develop and challenging to replace. As one Marine colonel acknowledged, “it’s a concern.”

As I left the hangar, I was unsure whether the cost of the F-35s parked inside is worth it. ISIS and other terrorists are not challenging U.S. air supremacy. In addition, Iran has recently acquired Russian made S-300 surface-to-air missiles. Several American fighter pilots told me that the F-35 is the only plane that has a shot against the S-300, but the outcome is hardly clear, and the new S-400 variant is even more deadly. The Russians deployed it in 2010, and in November 2014 agreed to sell $3 billion worth of S-400s to the Chinese, according to press reports.

The F-35 may be a “cut above,” but the ability of competitors to field counter-measures while the Joint Strike Fighter is still in testing should give us pause. Ultimately, I was concerned that the impetus to continue investing in the F-35 is driven by momentum, the sunk cost given the billions already spent, and the understandable passion the pilots have for this new and impressive platform. But the cost/benefit analysis is shifting rapidly, especially given competing priorities in an austere budget environment.

Our next stop was the Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 (“MAWTS-1”), the Marine equivalent to Top Gun. The last class cost more than $20 million, expended more than 455,000 pounds of ordnance, and trained about 250 pilots, according to the group’s commander. Given that the Marines at MAWTS-1 have just begun incorporating the F-35 into their training program, it’s likely that the cost will go up.

The next stop was with the MAWTS-1 and a noisy ride in an MV-22 that a civilian would have difficulty calling “fun” in tight headgear.

The next stop was with the MAWTS-1 and a noisy ride in an MV-22 that a civilian would have difficulty calling “fun” in tight headgear.

After learning about MAWTS-1, we returned to San Diego. I donned the obligatory helmet and ear protection, “skull crushers” called by some of my comrades, and hopped aboard an MV-22 Osprey. The Osprey is another part of Marine aviation’s ongoing transition – it will replace the CH-46E Sea Knight and CH-53D Super Stallion helicopters.

Lieutenant General Davis also told Congress that the Osprey’s “vertical flight capabilities, coupled with the speed, range” and “endurance … are enabling effective execution of missions that were previously unachievable.” He left out one key thing: it’s uncomfortable. This was no civilian helicopter or airplane or whatever you want to call it. Inside this hulking bird I couldn’t hear a thing, and I couldn’t wait to remove the helmet that was mercilessly pushing my ears closer together. Skull crusher, indeed.

Unlike me, the Osprey’s crew chief was having a great time – he left the rear bay door open, laid flat on the bird’s belly, and peered out the back with his feet dangling in the air as we zoomed over the ground 9,000 feet below. After we landed I asked him what he was doing. “Well I was hooked in and I like to look underneath the Osprey to see if everything’s ok and it’s fun.”

Landing in the C-2A Greyhound on board the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) was strange for a civilian--in seats facing backwards and going from 150 mph to zero in a couple of seconds.

Landing in the C-2A Greyhound on board the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) was strange for a civilian–in seats facing backwards and going from 150 mph to zero in a couple of seconds.

My next stop: the John C. Stennis, a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered super-carrier. But she wasn’t dockside – we had to take a ride aboard the propeller-driven C-2A Greyhound, or COD (carrier on-board delivery aircraft), to reach her four-and-a-half acres of sovereign U.S. territory steaming in international waters. In backwards-facing seats, the Greyhound screeched to a halt, going from 150 mph to zero in the course of a few seconds. The C-2A’s tailhook caught the steam-powered arresting wire, saving us from boltering off the angle deck amidships to come around for a second attempt.

Gravity, a force that I have given little thought to over the years as I traveled from home to office to court house during my normal daily routine in Manhattan, suddenly reminded me of its brutality as it slammed me deep into a seat that was padded with a Spartan-like cushion that did little to absorb the shock. The pressure was so great that I started laughing uncontrollably – either because I was having a great time or because the pressure pushed the air out of my lungs. Or maybe it was both.

We were quickly hurried off the COD, onto the carrier’s flight deck, and inside for a welcome briefing in the Captain’s lavishly decorated inport cabin. As I thought about this new and strange environment that I had literally just dropped upon from out of the sky, it occurred to me that this idea – an airport at sea – must have been dubbed by early detractors as utterly preposterous, foolish, and pointlessly dangerous, and yet it has become a key component of America’s ability to project power across the globe and deter many would-be adversaries, “ready on arrival” wherever it is deployed, as the Navy is proud to point out.

Each officer I encountered gave me a different perspective of the biggest challenges they face. For Rear Admiral Mark Leavitt, Commander of the Naval Air Force Reserve, who I met in San Diego before leaving for the John C. Stennis: planning without a budget. For Rear Admiral Ronald A. Boxall, in charge of the armada of ships and planes surrounding us in the Pacific (Carrier Strike Group 3): integrating all the forces at his command. For Captain Michael Wettlaufer, the commanding officer of the John C. Stennis: safety. For his executive officer Captain Kavon “Hak” Hakimzadeh – who fled Iran as an 11-year old boy in the wake of the 1979 revolution – and who was akin to a chief operating officer: getting sailors “not to use their mobile devices because we’ve got a limited bandwidth and a war-time mission.”

The South China Sea dispute was also on their radar, and Admiral Boxall acknowledged the challenges: the Chinese have “a very capable force,” and “we’d likely be operating in close proximity” in the event of a confrontation. Admiral Boxall’s team was preparing for deployment, maybe to the South China Sea maybe somewhere else, but the routine was intense: training, testing systems, and then training more and testing more, and then again and again, and over and over, training and testing. During our first day, the John C. Stennis launched 85 sorties.

After dinner with some of the officers, Admiral Boxall took us up to the “porch,” an outdoor area on the island structure of the ship where we had an unobstructed view of the flight deck from on high. The sky was cloudless, the light virtually non-existent (after all, we were on a warship that doesn’t want to give away her position), and the stars were some of the most brilliant I have ever seen. This incredible natural scene was interspersed with screaming jets landing and launching in rapid succession on a runway that bobbed, weaved and rolled with as much predictability as an ocean swell, and the burning jet fuel made my eyes tear. The bright glow of after-burners was one of the few sources of light that illuminated this dark dance of ship, jets, and sailors at sea.

F/A-18 makes a carrier landing on John C. Stennis in 2015.

F/A-18 makes a carrier landing on John C. Stennis in 2015.

One fighter jet on final approach caught the first arresting wire running across the flight deck, a successful landing to be sure, but a bit too close to the fantail at the stern of the ship all the same, and thus not perfect. Admiral Boxall noted that all aircraft recoveries are scrutinized in post-flight briefings, and that friendly ribbing among the aviators about technique would likely continue into the evening.

It did. As I joined the pilots in the wardroom for late-night omelets they mercilessly (but hilariously) commented on the performance of those that fell short of perfection. The desire to be the best, and belittle anything less, was pure Top Gun, but sensible in light of the incredibly dangerous nature of their day-to-day routine.

In the image of Dr. Strangelove’s Major Kong, the author sat astride the giant GBU-24, 2,000-pound bomb, hat in hand, and got a picture worthy of a social media outlet.

In the image of Dr. Strangelove’s Major Kong, the author sat astride the giant GBU-24, 2,000-pound bomb, hat in hand, and got a picture worthy of a social media outlet.

We were given a whirlwind tour of the ship: the air traffic control center, flight deck, flight deck control, forecastle, combat directions center, bridge, Admiral’s operations center, medical office, and more. At one point I asked the weapons officer to direct me to the biggest bomb on the ship (at least the biggest one they would tell me about) – the GBU-24, a 2,000-pound bunker-busting laser-guided behemoth that can penetrate 16 to 24 feet of solid concrete.

As my group was preparing to leave, a pre-production crew from the new film Top Gun 2 was arriving for the private tour of the ship I had just completed. They began blasting “The Danger Zone,” the theme song from the 1986 hit movie Top Gun starring Tom Cruise, on the speakers, and the crew was excited. Some of the sailors mistakenly thought I was part of the Top Gun 2 team, and I did nothing to disabuse them of that notion – being connected to Top Gun on an aircraft carrier has perks that a lawyer from midtown Manhattan can only dream of.

We launched off the ship in what is called a “catshot,” and with the seats still facing backwards, the five Gs were so powerful that my entire body lifted off the seat as we rocketed off the runway. The only thing stopping me from smashing into the back of the plane was the four-point harness holding me firmly in place.

After spending four days with the Marine Corps and Navy, from sailors to admirals, it was time for me to take a jetBlue ride back to New York City. But what was my take-away from this trip, the upshot, the purpose of it all? I was returning to the city that is home to Wall Street and the much-maligned “one percent,” but there is another “one percent” – those who have chosen to put on the uniform. Fewer and fewer Americans have a military experience that allows them to connect, empathize with, and understand the challenges faced by our armed forces. We still all have our opinions – too much defense spending or too little; yes to this fight or no to that one; the military should behave this way or that way – but the more disconnected civilians become from service-members, the greater we will lose context in the course of discussing these critical issues. We may need to have some hard discussions about costs and benefits, risks and opportunities, policies and procedures, but context is key, and I got some of it over four days.

My ultimate take-away, however, was simple: America is fortunate to have patriotic men and women committed to serve and defend our country



c5db817c565459e739af64f9cd6c617a9189b9eaLack of self-awareness. We all know people who suffer from this problem. Can organizations suffer from the same?

Let’s look at the basics of looking for problems and fixing them and see where it takes us.

As a firm believer in continuous improvement, no organization can remain excellent over time without clear, and often cutting, self-examination. Good, regular “preventative maintenance” is just solid leadership. When all is well, you want to make sure all is well. You inspect, measure, compare and report. If something is not what it should be, you correct and move on.

Sometimes, problems come to you before you can find them. At sea, in the air, or even in a car – you can often “feel” something is not quite right well before a light or alarm goes off. Sometimes it is obvious like a subtle shimmy or noise, other times obvious – but you never just ignore it, you investigate.

As is often the case, you may not find the cause of your unease on the first path you take in trouble-shooting. You try one thing for a certain period of time, and if that is not productive, you move on to another possibility. What you don’t do is to double down on an area of investigation that, in a reasonable period of time, shows you nothing that is wrong.

Most can agree with this. So, let’s move away from the practical area of trouble shooting to the other side of the brain, the bureaucratic method.

What if an organization created to fix a problem finds nothing, but in its search, exemplifies a greater problem that is infecting the entire organization?

Well, we may have that.

Behold, the Pentagon’s Office of the Senior Adviser for Military Professionalism;

(RADM Peg) Klein has spent nearly two years helping the services sharpen their professional development and leadership training. Her office was created in March 2014 by then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel amid a spate of scandals involving senior officers and mounting concerns of a systemic or cultural problem in the ranks. Those fears may have been overblown, she said.

“We’re not in a crisis. But this subject of human behavior requires constant attention,”

What have we found?

The slew of scandals that emerged a few years ago made for stunning headlines. A Navy corruption scandal. An Air Force major general who oversaw nuclear missiles was fired after his drunken bender on a visit to Moscow offended both his Russian hosts and his own staff. An Army four-star general was reprimanded for spending lavishly on official trips.

But Klein said those are anecdotal and she’s found no systemic or deeply rooted cultural problem. “We’re seeing numbers within historic norms,” she said.

OK. No crisis. Good intentions here though;

“We always want to be shooting for a target that decreases the incident rate.”

“We think the right answer is a little different for each service based on their heritage.”

Improvement. Good. What other subjective ideas have come up in two years? I say subjective, as I don’t see any metrics. What we know is that they like the Marines and the Army and all their schools. They think, ahem, that the Navy and USAF officers spend too much time … well … not going to school, I guess;

During the past two years, Klein and her seven-member staff have helped the Navy and Air Force set up their own centers: the Navy Leadership and Ethics Center at the Naval War College in Rhode Island and the Air Force’s Profession of Arms Center of Excellence at Joint Base San Antonio.

“Those two organizations are helping airmen and sailors to understand the importance of trust, humility, integrity, empathy. They are helping them understand those very important virtues of command,”

Let’s take a moment and let that soak in. Based on a staff of seven’s subjective service envy, we have set up schools that won’t touch but a few officers, to understand “trust, humility, integrity, empathy.”

If you have made it through the selection process for an officer program, OCS, NROTC, USNA, and go through at least one sea tour – and we as an organization do not know at a minimum that you are a trustworthy person with integrity – what are we doing? As for humility and empathy, neither one of those things can be taught, they can only be demonstrated.

I’ve worked a lot with Marines, Army, and Air Force personnel, and have served in their units as well. Do they have different cultures? Sure do. But …

“The Army and the Marine Corps have a very mature profession of arms,”

“The ground forces, they send really junior people into leadership positions. They have company command, they have O-3s going into command, and their professional identity is learned very early on,” Klein said, referring to the paygrade for captains in the Army, Marines and Air Force. Navy O-3s are lieutenants. Yet the Navy and the Air Force, historically, “are very technically focused,” she said.

That is an incredibly broad brush. I’m not sure what she is actually going for here. Is the implication that our Navy is “immature” in its professionalism? That your standard issue Navy O3 has no “professional identity?”

That might be true in isolation, but I don’t see that in any general way in the Navy than other services. A LTjg flying a EA-18G? A LTjg XO of a PC? A LT SEAL?

Do we need more LT and LCDR commands? Of course, and to our great shame we don’t, but I don’t think that is what her team is focused on.

… Klein found that the Army and Marine Corps created “centers of excellence” for commanders’ professional development, but the Navy and Air Force had not. These organizations develop training programs for current and future leaders that focus on the intangible virtues of leadership as well as more mundane matters like travel regulations, restrictions on accepting gifts and using official vehicles — issues that can cause headaches for some leaders and their staffs.

I’ll stop there. You can read the rest Andrew Tilghman’s bit over at MilitaryTimes. But after two years, the answer for the Navy and the Air Force is less time leading Sailors, forward deployed, honing their craft – but busy work ashore to make sure they don’t have issues with,

travel regulations, restrictions on accepting gifts and using official vehicles

This has nothing to do with “warfighting first” or building leaders, this has everything to do with trying to prevent bad news stories that evolve from fallen beings in an imperfect world making leadership read embarrassing stories like Fat Leonard in … MilitaryTimes.

Goodness knows we don’t want “some leaders” having headaches or their staff’s dealing with problems.

Shipmate, I’ve got news for you – the job of “some leaders” and their staff is just that – dealing with headaches. That is why they exist.

I am not impressed. We have no uptick in human failings, by her own admission, and are not in crisis, but we are acting as if we are in crisis. It begs the question, why?

If we are concerned about people with personality defects being promoted, then we need to stop promoting them. Do the regression analysis. More schooling is not going to make an adult suddenly have more empathy or humility. Look deeper in to a culture that promotes people with these problems. If we actually have one.

Do we have things in our Navy culture that needs improving? We sure do, but I don’t see anything in RADM Klein’s report that would do that except more LT commands.

Another thing we need to do is to know when we have dug a dry hole. Let’s go back to part of an earlier quote;

RADM (Peg) Klein has spent nearly two years helping the services sharpen their professional development and leadership training. Her office was created in March 2014 …

Wait for it;

She has asked Defense Secretary Ash Carter to extend its life through January 2017. “A little bit more time is a really inexpensive investment in getting traction in these ideas that we’re trying to institutionalize,” she said.

A few years ago, I tried to create a measure of time that would give proper context to the programs we keep shoveling money borrowed from our grandchildren in to. I called it a WorldWar, or WW.

A WW is the length of time it took to fight WWII. 1,366 days = 1 WW.

From March 2014 to Jan 2017, that is roughly .76 WW.

In ~3/4 the time it took us to fight WWII, we are going to have a 2-star and a staff of 7 look in to the cause of,

a spate of scandals involving senior officers and mounting concerns of a systemic or cultural problem in the ranks.

~.5 WW in to that investigation, the group realized that concerns were unfounded, but they liked their little exercise and wanted to extend its life by another 50% to see if they could find any more happys that needed to be put in to glads. Any light grey that needed to be dark grey.

If you are looking for cultural problems, you can start here. In a time where the US Navy is facing,

… a $7 billion reduction in fiscal 2017 funding – about 3.5 percent over last year’s plan … The Navy is planning on a uniformed force of 322,900 sailors in 2017, down from 327,300 authorized in 2016 and last year’s forecast of 326,500 for 2017. … the permanent elimination of a tenth carrier air wing and four aviation squadrons, and a new request to take seven cruisers out of service in 2017 …

… and we are trying to keep a Flag Officer project alive another year that, after two years, determined that the purpose for which it was created was unfounded, nothing is systemically broken, but they found some things they personally found interesting that they want to spend unknown millions of dollars to tinker with.

This staff has done its job. It has some recommendations – some that one could argue could have been discovered in a much quicker time. It is time to let it submit its report and to recode the manning document.

It has been .5 MM.

The Tamarians may have had, “Shaka, when the walls fell,” perhaps we can have, “Klein and Hagel on leadership.”



“Never paint over rust, it doesn’t solve the underlying issue — the rust. It may make the ship look better but only for a very short time; it fixes nothing; and you will only be fooling yourself.” — XO, USS Ramsey (DEG-2) to Ensign Crowder circa 1974.

Wow, I haven’t seen the defense and Navy blogosphere light up like this in a very long time. Print newspapers, such as the Annapolis Capital Gazette are running daily front-page stories. What’s gotten everyone so worked up?

Well, according to numerous media sources, the Secretary of the Navy has directed his two service chiefs to look at dropping position titles that end in “man” as a way to further fully integrate the force. Quoting the letter to the CNO, Navy Times reported that Secretary Mabus wrote:

“Lastly, as we achieve full integration of the force … this is an opportunity to update the position titles and descriptions themselves to demonstrate through this language that women are included in these positions. . . . Ensure they are gender-integrated as well, removing “man” from their titles, and provide a report to me as soon as is practicable and no later than April 1, 2016.”

110630-N-AC575-007So, I picked up the somewhat dog-earred Merriam-Webster Dictionary on my desk to investigate why the “man” in titles and positions was potentially offensive. The first definition of the word man was “an individual human” and the second was “the human race.” Neither appeared to describe a specific gender. Then I looked up the word seaman, ostensibly one of the naval titles that some might find necessary to change. Again the dictionary’s first definition of seaman was “sailor, mariner” and the second was “any of three ranks below petty officer in the Navy or Coast Guard.” Again, there appears to be no gender bias.

As previously mentioned, the Annapolis Capital has had a field day getting readers’ input on the possibility of dropping “man” from midshipman. For etymology fans, the study of the origin of words, the term midshipman dates from around the year 1600 to describe a sailor’s watch station amidships. The title or position of midshipman has thus endured for more than 500 years.

So I decided to do a little research in the commercial world to see if there has been movement to change titles and job descriptions by “removing ‘man’ from their titles.” I visited the official websites of the following Fortune 100 companies: Xerox, Coke, IBM, General Motors, Lockheed Martin, and General Dynamics. In each case, the senior official at these giant firms held the titles of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chairman. And in each case, the CEO and Chairman is a woman (gender specific). My experience working at a giant Fortune 30 company tells me that if the Chairmen listed above thought that the Chairman title hindered gender integration at their companies in any way, they had the power and mandate to change the title, yet none was.

So, before we tackle a valid challenge such as better gender integration, let’s make sure we are developing real initiatives that will actually do so. As I harken back to my ensign days, it doesn’t make any sense to simply paint over rust — then or now.



Please join us at 5pm (EST) on 24 Jan 16 for Midrats Episode 316: “Getting Female Combat Integration Right With LtCol Kate Germano”

How do we get combat integration of women right? The quest has moved well away from “if” and in to “how.”

With an apparent broad disconnect between biological realities, cultural norms, and political desires, what is the right way for military leaders to carry out their orders while ensuring that combat effectiveness is maintained.

Our guest to discuss this and related issues for the full hour will be Lieutenant Colonel Kate Germano, USMC.

Commissioned in August 1996, LtCol Germano has served for over 19 years on active duty in the United States Marine Corps. A combat veteran, she additionally participated in numerous operational and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief deployments. Ashore, her duties including a year as the Marine Aide to the Secretary of the Navy.

She was selected for command twice, most recently as the commanding officer of the Marine Corps’ only all-female unit, the 4th Recruit Training Battalion. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Goucher College, where she majored in History with a pre-law emphasis. In 2011, she graduated with distinction from the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, earning her Masters of Military Science degree. She is actively engaged in the struggle to end gender bias in the military, and is a vocal proponent for equal rights and the elimination of double standards and lowered expectations for female conduct and performance.

Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here. You can also pick up the later from our iTunes page here.



Over the past several months, senior naval leaders have highlighted the importance of organizational learning to accelerate innovation and adapt to future challenges. For instance, the SECNAV noted the confluence of people, ideas and information as the foundation of the DON’s Innovation Vision; Admiral Richardson introduced his concept of “accelerated learning” in A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority; and LtGen Walsh unveiled the Marine’s “campaign of learning” in a speech at CSIS. However, many internal barriers must be addressed to fully implement their vision.

The concept of a learning organization has been discussed in management circles for several decades. Yet there is no consensus on a standard definition nor are the steps to build one clear. A 1993 Harvard Business Review article by Professor David Garvin serves as a useful starting point for the Naval Services to consider.

Garvin defines a learning organization as, “…an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.” Garvin also identifies five building blocks to create such an organization. They are:

Systemic Problem Solving: This first activity rests heavily on the scientific method, wide use of data and statistical tools. Most training programs focus primarily on problem-solving techniques, using exercises and practical examples. Accuracy and precision are essential for learning. Employees must therefore become more disciplined in their thinking and more attentive to details. They must continually ask, “How do we know that’s true?”, recognizing that close enough is not good enough if real learning is to take place. They must push beyond obvious symptoms to assess underlying causes, often collecting evidence when conventional wisdom says it is unnecessary. Otherwise, the organization will remain a prisoner of “gut facts” and sloppy reasoning, and learning will be stifled.

Experimentation: This activity involves the systematic searching for and testing of new knowledge. Experimentation is usually motivated by opportunity and expanding horizons, not by current difficulties. It takes two main forms: ongoing programs and one-of-a-kind demonstration projects. Ongoing programs normally involve a continuing series of small experiments, designed to produce incremental gains in knowledge. Demonstration projects are usually larger and more complex than ongoing experiments. They involve holistic, system-wide changes, introduced at a single site, and are often undertaken with the goal of developing new organizational capabilities. Because these projects represent a sharp break from the past, they are usually designed from scratch, using a “clean slate” approach.

Learning from past Experience: Companies must review their successes and failures, assess them systematically, and record the lessons in a form that employees find open and accessible. Unfortunately, too many managers today are indifferent, even hostile, to the past, and by failing to reflect on it, they let valuable knowledge escape. A study of more than 150 new products concluded that “the knowledge gained from failures [is] often instrumental in achieving subsequent successes… In the simplest terms, failure is the ultimate teacher.”

Learning from Others: Not all learning comes from reflection and self-analysis. Sometimes the most powerful insights come from looking outside one’s immediate environment to gain a new perspective. Enlightened managers know that even companies in completely different businesses can be fertile sources of ideas and catalysts for creative thinking. At these organizations, enthusiastic borrowing is replacing the “not invented here” syndrome.

Transferring Knowledge: For learning to be more than a local affair, knowledge must spread quickly and efficiently throughout the organization. Ideas carry maximum impact when they are shared broadly rather than held in a few hands. A variety of mechanisms spur this process, including written, oral, and visual reports, site visits and tours, personnel rotation programs, education and training programs, and standardization programs.

To some extent the naval services are already engaged in these activities but significant improvement is needed if we are to turn these efforts into a real competitive advantage. Several internal challenges need to be addressed to become the learning organization envisioned by our senior leaders. Here is a short list:

Culture: Dr. Frank Hoffman recently noted that the Navy’s learning culture was essential for overcoming the challenges of countering German U-Boats in WWII. According to Hoffman, “Brutally candid post-exercise critiques occurred in open forums in which junior and senior officers examined moves and countermoves. These reflected the Navy’s culture of tackling operational problems in an intellectual, honest, and transparent manner.” To regain this learning culture, two issues must be addressed: fostering an environment of candor and preventing organizational hubris, often buttressed by questionable models or rhetoric intended to defend programs of record, from lulling leaders into a false sense of security. Learning cannot begin if we cannot have candid conversations about what is working and what needs to be fixed. The best agile organizations today continually use stress-testing of plans and strategies to identify areas for improvement.

Incentives: Many individuals and organizations view knowledge as a source of power. Therefore, the more knowledge one collects and retains, the more one’s standing and influence increases. In Team of Teams, General McChrystal examines this issue through a game-theory lens. In a “knowledge-is-power” environment, those who share knowledge are considered the losers, while those who receive knowledge are winners. We must create the right incentives to change this behavior by rewarding those who put effort in to sharing knowledge and penalize those who hoard knowledge or prevent information from being shared.

Outdated Tools and Policies: Since the advent of the internet, senior leaders have called for shifting from a “need-to-know” approach to a “need-to-share”. Unfortunately, this shift is difficult to achieve because of outdated information-centric policies, exaggerated treats, and risk-averse leaders. The workforce must have the proper tools and effective policies so knowledge transfer can occur easily and risk is realistically considered. Further, we must resolve how to capture the great ideas of our talented workforce and share our problems with public. Our naval culture and our desire to solve problems internally often prevent us from sharing our complex problems with “outsiders”. This practice prevents novel solutions from entering our decision making cycle.

Undefined Learning Ecosystem: Pockets on knowledge and learning exist across the DON but sharing is often stove-piped by organizational boundaries. Many organizations created the position of Knowledge Managers but their effectiveness is inconsistent and there is no strategy to create a “knowledge CO-OP” across the organization. Having an enterprise-wide strategy would prevent duplication of effort in knowledge generation and permit learning from other’s experience. The DON must create a learning ecosystem, with the appropriate infrastructure, tools, and practices that enables us to become an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.

Having senior leaders champion these issues today is an important first step to develop this important capability. However, the organization needs to move with a sense of urgency and not treat learning as another passing fad or simply leave organizational learning to happenstance. The digital natives entering the workforce today are knowledge sharers by nature. If no improvements are made to the issues discussed above, they will go “outside the wire” to collaborate on work related issues. This will increase risk and detract from organizational learning.

The Department of Navy possesses an incomprehensible amount of data, information, knowledge and practical experience; all are underpinned by a wealth of naval history from which to learn. We must place a priority on creating a learning organization and turn this concept into a true competitive advantage for the future.



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