Archive for the 'Marine Corps' Category
The House of Representatives recently passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act sponsored by Representative Ken Buck (R-CO) that would “prohibit funds to implement Department of Defense (DoD) Directive 4715.21 on Climate Change Adaption and Resilience.” It is a short-sighted and ill-conceived action that will jeopardize U.S. military effectiveness.
Successful, prudent planning requires considering all pertinent variables. For that reason, DoD needs the ability to factor climate change as a variable at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. If Congress wishes to limit the scope or cost of a specific program it should do so, but it must not limit the ability of the military to plan.
Having served as the senior environmental executive for the United States Air Force in the George W. Bush Administration, I would like to address this, both as someone who had the responsibility to plan for and respond to environmental contingencies, and as a Republican needing to work with a Democrat Congress to effectively govern.
The fact that the climate changes is not a political issue, it is reality. It has been changing for millennia. While the cause may be debated by some, the reality is that climates evolve and such developments have a major impact on security interests. You don’t have to believe that the cause is man-made. You can believe it is part of an ongoing cycle and point to whatever study you want to back up your point of view.
Irrespective of the cause, the climate changes and those changes affect the weather, sea level, crop production and migration patterns. Rising sea levels have displaced populations, land failing to produce crops due to drought has exacerbated already complex Syrian issues, and ocean temperature killing coral is moving fishing grounds further into the South China Sea; all of these can lead to conflict and must be prepared for. These are key variables that are affected by climate change and impact everything from broad strategy to discrete tactics.
In a statement, Representative Buck said, “The military, the intelligence community [and] the domestic national security agencies should be focused on ISIS and not on climate change.”
To understand the importance of climate and weather in very concrete terms, one only needs to look back at the critical value of a weather forecast for the D-Day landings. To bring off the invasion, General Dwight D. Eisenhower needed a full moon, a low tide, little cloud cover, light winds and low seas. (The low tide was necessary to allow soldiers to see, avoid, and disarm the mined obstacles that the Germans had placed in the surf.) He could have had the full moon and low tide on June 5, 6, or 7. He could have had the low tide without the full moon on June 19 or 20. But what about the weather?
The landing was originally scheduled for June 5, but was moved to June 6 based upon a weather forecast and succeeded not because of the brilliant work of any solitary forecaster, but because a group of forecasters imitated the weather. They jostled, yelled, scribbled, and cast malevolent looks at one another. They fought it out and voted. And in the end, they were just right enough.
Imagine, if Congress, in 1944, had said that the military and the allied forces should be focused on the Germans and not on the weather, then passed an amendment that prohibited identifying and assessing the effects of the weather. Well, that is pretty much what Representative Buck’s amendment does in a 21st-century context.
The fact that the climate changes is a significant variable that needs to be considered by our military planners. Given the sophistication of modeling and analytic capability available to our military, being able to understand and predict broad patterns in the climate cannot be underestimated. It is a strategic advantage that will play out in tactics against the range of current and potential adversaries.
If you actually read Department of Defense (DoD) Directive 4715.2 [.pdf], you will find that it is not about pushing a “radical green agenda” as Representative Buck asserts. DoD Directives flow from policy and assign responsibilities for carrying out that policy. In this case, the DoD policy is to ensure that the DoD is able to adapt current and future operations to address the impacts of climate change in order to maintain an effective and efficient U.S. military.
Nowhere in the Directive is there language that speaks to the cause or reason for the climate changing. It is focused solely on identification and assessment of the effects of climate change on the DoD mission; taking those effects into consideration when developing plans and implementing procedures; and anticipating and managing any risks that develop as a result of climate change to build resilience.
Military planning is an art that requires an in-depth understanding of numerous critical elements or factors that may impact on the mission — both positively and negatively — and an assessment/analysis of how those elements or factors can be either negated, overcome or exploited to give the Commander the advantage required in the execution of the mission. The inability to take into account the changing climate would be catastrophic limitation. This limitation would be compounded by the fact that most of our efforts, against ISIS and other potential adversaries are carried out though multinational coalitions. U.S. joint strategic plans and contingency plans prepared in support of multinational efforts are developed, reviewed, and approved exclusively within U.S. operational channels. Currently, Combatant Commands are integrating climate-related impacts into their planning cycles to reduce the national security implications associated with climate change. This includes monitoring, analysis, and integration of climate related risks into existing overall risk management measures, as appropriate for each combatant command. The Buck Amendment would tie the hands of not only our Combatant Commanders and military planners, but render the United States ineffective in joint planning and operations.
If the purpose of the amendment is to limit spending on overly expensive showcase projects like the Navy’s Great Green Fleet, there are better ways to do that than prohibiting the assessment and analysis of a key long-term variable in our nation’s ability to fight and win.
For example, in 2007 and 2008 when the nation was facing oil prices of $140 per barrel, the Air Force undertook an effort to use domestically produced synthetic fuel in our aircraft to reduce the need for foreign oil. We made a conscious policy decision that the program would be market-based and that the Air Force would do only those things in our control that would create the conditions for success, but not to subsidize uneconomic alternatives.
The Air Force successfully certified every aircraft and associated system to be able to fly on a 50/50 blend of synthetic fuel, and we made a commitment to buy half of our domestic fuel requirement as a synfuel blend as long as the price of the synthetic fuel was competitive with conventional fuel.
At the same time, there were those in Congress who were concerned about the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of synthetic fuels from coal, but rather than completely stop the program, they passed Section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which restricts the federal government’s procurement of alternative fuels that exceed the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions associated with conventional petroleum based fuels. While not ideal from the Air Force perspective, it was a proper and constructive use of Congressional prerogatives; it was congruent with the Air Force commitment to be good stewards of the environment, and simultaneously allowed the Air Force to move forward with our testing and certification.
Rather than Representative Buck’s draconian approach to prohibit funds to implement Department of Defense Directive 4715.21 and not allow planners to identify and assess the effects of climate change on the DoD mission, it is wholly appropriate for Congress to require that all efforts with regard to climate change be market-based and that the prices paid for biofuels and other alternative energy sources be competitive with the least cost alternative.
DoD’s ability to successfully counter terrorism, defeat a near-peer adversary, or respond to a natural disaster depends on its ability to collect, analyze and assess data regarding all contingencies, including changes in the climate. To limit that ability puts the lives or our sons and daughters who wear the cloth of our nation at risk.
Per last month’s post on the USNI Blog, the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, General Robert Neller, challenged veterans to “stay connected with those they served with” as an answer to help stop “young Marines from killing themselves.”
Strengthening personal moral bonds between veterans is part of the answer. So is strengthening moral bonds between U.S. Presidents, members of Congress and those they order to war. From 1798 to 2016, Congress made 11 declarations of war and 11 statutory authorizations for the use of military force. Congress did not authorize the Korean War. President Truman committed American troops to war in Korea citing U.N. authorizations and resolutions.
National moral bonds in the U.S. were strongest during World War II. The president requested and the Congress declared war against Japan and Germany. Three of President Franklin Roosevelt’s sons served with distinction in combat during World War II. James Roosevelt earned a Silver Star and promotion to brigadier general in the U.S. Marine Corps. Elliot Roosevelt enlisted in the Army Air Corps, flying 300 aerial combat missions as a pilot and commander and retiring as a brigadier general. John Roosevelt earned a Bronze Star as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy. Americans committed themselves to the personal and national sacrifices necessary for unconditional military victories over Japan and Germany. Their sacrifices included a draft, rationing, and military industrialization instead of commercial industrialization. From 1941 to 1945 more than 16 million Americans, about 12% of the U.S. population, served in the military and over 405,000 military members were killed.
From 1950 to 2016, the moral bonds between Presidents, members of Congress, most Americans and those ordered to fight their wars have become increasingly tenuous and sporadic. Presidential and Congressional strategies to avoid domestic political risks by incrementally side-stepping their constitutional duties repeatedly failed to produce military victories. Neither have they increased national security nor global security.
The most recent statutory authorizations in 2001 and 2002 started two ill defined and open-ended wars lasting more than three times as long as the declared wars with Japan and Germany.
Instead of spreading the cause of democracy these wars are destabilizing the Middle East and North Africa while forcing Europe to absorb tens of thousands of refugees. The sons and daughters of Presidents at war no longer wear the cloth of the nation and lead their fellow Americans to victory in combat against the nation’s declared enemies. The percentage of veterans in Congress continues to decline:
- 18.7% in the 114th Congress (2015-2016)
- 64% in the 97th Congress (1981-1982)
- 73% in the 92nd Congress (1971-1972)
Presently, less than 1% of the U.S. population serve in the military. Most Americans connect with their military with a “thank you for your service” and heart-felt applause for military members and patriotic ceremonies at major sporting events.
The political and media attention presently given to our wounded and post war veterans is necessary but not sufficient. Strong and enduring national moral bonds are created and sustained before, during and after our wars. They require Presidents and members of Congress to lead a majority of Americans in fulfilling the moral obligations necessary to win wars. The difficulties in fulfilling these obligations necessarily constrain wars. They require that all Americans return to sharing wartime risks and sacrifices, not just the 1% in uniform.
Next — Changing the Veteran Narrative: Moral Injury
Surveying the rugged coast of Finland, rocky beaches guarded by an army of small islands and towns once scarred by wars, I am reminded of the resilience and tenacity of the people who call this place home. These attributes were on dramatic display on the shores of Hanko, Finland today as Marines from five nations conducted their first of three amphibious landings. NATO’s inclusion of Finland and Sweden in the BALTOPS 2016 exercise as “Partnership for Peace” nations underscores the fact that their regional security interests in the Baltic are in sync with the 28 members of the Alliance.
Just two days ago on 4 June the exercise participants assembled as an entire group for the first time in Tallinn, Estonia, for the Pre-Sail Conference. On 5 June we set sail from Estonia. On 6 June we hit the beach running. . . Literally! The rapid assembly and deployment of forces in the first few days of BALTOPS 2016 is a powerful testament to the strength and agility of the Alliance. Even more striking is the longevity of the exercise. BALTOPS began in the 1970s as a U.S. exercise with U.S. assets affirming the right to sail in international waters. In the mid-1990s the focus shifted toward building trust with Partnership for Peace nations with the understanding that working together to enhance regional security is beneficial for every nation with interests in the Baltic Sea. In 2015 the exercise took an important step when, for the first time, it was planned and executed by a NATO headquarters and commanded by a NATO commander.
BALTOPS 2016 continues this trajectory today, emphasizing cooperation with full-Alliance members and aspiring partners. Of the nearly 550 marines landed on the Hanko beaches today, more than half were Finns and Swedes. And let me tell you, from their fierce looks I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of them.
Finland and Sweden are already closely integrated within the Swedish-Finish Naval Task Group (SFNTG); however, they do not have large amphibious assault ships. NATO provided the amphibious ship capability with USS Carter Hall (LSD-50) and HNLMS Johan de Witt; Finland and Sweden provided over 300 Marines. For this day of BALTOPS 2016 (a day which happens to be Sweden’s National Day), it was as if NATO was participating in a Swedish-Finnish joint exercises rather than the other way around. To enhance the quality of training there was a great deal of cross-decking. When one Lance Corporal from Wyoming was asked what he thought of the Finnish assault craft that took his Band of Brothers to the beach, he answered, “Awesome,” and continued to describe the assault craft as “the fastest boat I’ve ever been on.” Others—Germans, Italians, Swedes, and Finns echoed this review of the opportunity to train together. On a personal level that’s what it’s all about—learning from one another and building lasting relationships.
Talking to the international contingent of young Marines after they charged ashore reminded me of photos of another amphibious assault seventy-two years ago on June 6, 1944, during Operation Overlord (D-Day). Today, our exercise was conducted in peacetime. The participants are well-trained. Many are veterans of BALTOPS 2015. In 1944, the Normandy landing was the beginning of the end of the last great powers war. Many of the soldiers storming Omaha, Juno, and Sword Beaches had never seen combat. Thousands died on both sides. We are training today so that scenes like those on the Normandy beachhead will never be repeated.
There is talk in the news about heightened tension between the West and Russia. I have written about it myself. Russian media has claimed that NATO’s posture is provocative, although we are a defensive alliance, and BALTOPS represents a series of naval maneuvers designed to hone the skills of the allies and partners to deter (or to prevent war). It is important to remember that Russian and Western interests are not mutually exclusive. We are both fighting terrorism in the Middle East. We have worked and trained together in the past and that sort of cooperation is possible in the future, but Russia is not participating in BALTOPS this year. Security, economic prosperity, and freedom of navigation in the Baltic are in the interest of all nations whose commercial ships plow these waters. That’s why NATO is here . . .
The ongoing discussion of the meaning of “distributed Lethality” and methods of achieving it at sea is a welcome return to a more forward leaning posture. By its nature, it assumes a more aggressive navy – as all successful navies have been. There is another side to this posture, something that is always there but becomes more apparent with a stronger light thrown on the subject. As the cliche goes, the enemy gets a vote. The enemy gets to shoot back.
There are certain timeless fundamentals of the naval service that historically applied to the US Navy in its operations; offensive punch, forward through the fight, and an acceptance that we will lose ships and Sailors, yet complete our mission in spite of it.
Besides the small isolated incident or skirmish, the realities of war at sea have not been known in the present generations’ living memory – only on the edge of rapidly evaporating national memory is it there. As such, do we really have an understanding of what it means to put your ships, your capital ships, in harm’s way? That is what “forward deployed” means. That is what “From the Sea” implies. That is what “presence” requires. Have we become too comfortable, complacent, and entitled in our maritime dominance to think that Neptune’s Copybook Headings no longer apply?
In all the wargames we go through, in our discussions about the next conflict at sea with a peer or near-peer challenger – have we fully hoisted onboard what this means?
What does it mean to lose a capital ship? First, we must define a capital ship. In WWII, the capital ship was the battleship and the large-deck aircraft carrier. The German battleship BISMARCK, the British battlecruiser HMS HOOD, the American heavy cruiser USS HOUSTON (CA 30), and the aircraft carrier USS FRANKLIN (CV 13) all met that war’s rough definition of a capital ship. Three of the above were lost in combat, and the 4th, the FRANKLIN, just survived sinking from same.
War at sea is brutal, often fast, and the destruction of men and material shockingly extensive. It does not matter if it was 31 BC, 1942 AD or 2020 AD, this will be the same. As it was, as it is, as it will be.
What is a capital ship today? For the sake of argument, let me pick two that most of you would agree is if not a capital ship, then at least a High Value Unit. First, the USS RONALD REAGAN (CVN 76) and the USS BATAAN (LHD 5). For planning purposes, let’s assume that the REAGAN’s ship company and attached airwing composes 5,680 souls. The BATAAN, fully loaded with Marines, 3,002.
Let’s look at the average loss rates from our selection of WWII capital ships. Not the worst, just the average. What would that mean today? What loss of life in one day? A loss that cannot stop operations or shock anyone – indeed must be planned for as we know it will happen at one point?
Well, here is the graph that tells the butcher’s bill.
One could argue that the most difficult part of the loss of a CVN or LHD with a full wartime complement on par with other capital ships lost at sea would not be the operational or tactical implications, but the political implications. Do we have the PAO, INFO OPS, and even PSYOPS pre-planned responses well rehearsed and, yes, focus grouped to deal with such an immediate loss? If not, we are at national strategic risk poking our nose anywhere.
Look at the LHD numbers; 2,183 dead in one day. That is just a little more than all the losses of the USA and UK in Iraq during the three years bounded by 2006, 2007, & 2008 – combined.
The loss of a carrier? That would be roughly the same as all the USA and UK losses in Iraq in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, & 2009 – combined.
In almost any scenario such a loss would take place, there would be no time to pause, consider, or debate. You have to fight on – indeed, you need to assume such losses and plan around it.
Are we prepared for this as a Navy? Has the Navy properly prepared our political bosses? Are they prepared to respond to the citizens’ reaction?
We should all hope so, as history tells us that is not a matter of if, but when.
“The Battle of Anzio shows both the agony of command decisions and the heroism of men who carry them out.”
—Gen. William H. Simpson (U.S. Army, Ret.)
Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. These words, spoken by the philosopher George Santayana, have enduring truth. Though daily operations claim much attention in a dynamic Europe-Africa theater, it is important to revisit the battles of the past, to contemplate the critical decisions made by military commanders, and reflect on the will of those who fought these battles. With Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2016, the premier Baltic maritime exercise that will feature amphibious landings in Finland, Sweden, and Poland, just around the corner, the staff ride was especially fitting as we applied the lessons learned from Anzio to our final exercise PLANORD.
There is no substitute for walking the beachhead like those who came before us. More than 50 members of my U.S. 6th Fleet staff and I conducted a Staff Ride in early May of Anzio and the battle fought there during World War II, code-named Operation Shingle. We visited X-ray beach and the Sicily-Rome Cemetery, incorporating stories of bravery along the way.
Anzio native Alfredo Rinaldi is a living history of the standoff at the beachhead in Anzio and was the cornerstone of this staff ride. The only way to understand these battles is to step in the shoes of those that have gone before—and hear directly about what they experienced. And Alfredo gave us that essence in a truly touching way.
In 1944, Alfredo was an adventurous soul, a 16-year-old with an insatiable desire to live all that life had to offer. To him, in the thralls of a German occupation, war was a playground, an open door for new experiences. Alfredo Rinaldi and the many residents of the Italian seaside town of Anzio were relocated to Rome when it became obvious that the shorelines were going to become battlegrounds. Alfredo became sort of a transient in Rome, a teenage wanderlust hoping to see action and aimlessly roaming the cobbled streets of Rome in search of it. He was lucky to avoid the ranks of the German Army, apparently because he was young and scrawny; his brother had been drafted into the Wehrmacht, but he deserted and was hiding somewhere in Italy. And then the news came in that the Americans [and British too] had landed at Anzio.
With the Allied Italy campaign at a standstill, Allied Forces struggling to gain ground up the Boot, an amphibious operation—Operation Shingle—was hatched to land behind enemy lines. On Jan. 22, 1944, at an H-hour of 0200, a combination of U.S. Army, British Army, and British Special Forces came across a 15-mile stretch of beach between Anzio and Nettuno.
As the reports flooded the hopeful Roman populace, vibrant with excitement that liberation was at their doorstep, Alfredo chose to start marching toward Anzio, a 20-kilometer journey roiled with barbed wire, snipers and German booby traps. He left in the early morning and arrived late that night, somehow steering clear of German munition dropped from above and well-laid land mines. Alfredo’s first contact with Allied Forces was with an African American U.S. army soldier who said, “What in the world are you doing here kid?,” and ultimately gave Alfredo a ride to Anzio in his jeep. Alfredo told us that until this point in his life, he did not realize that America included “people of color” and that this man had changed his life forever . . . Along the way, Alfredo saw his family’s abandoned house, unscathed despite the wreckage from the German air bombing campaign, elevating his mystical belief in America and its forces even more.
Alfredo ended up introducing himself to a group of soldiers, an infantry company, and instantly befriended them. Without any formal paperwork or agreement, he was essentially enlisted. The soldiers told him it was unsafe to for him to go back to Rome, and he preferred to stay anyway. And so he became their translator and their ‘mascot,’ a cheerful soul in a grim and beaten war.
Alfredo retells his story of those days on the beach in great detail. He remembers crouching in what where manmade fox holes as shells from “Anzio Annie,” the German 218-ton railway gun, pounded the beach. He describes hearing the whistling sound of the big rounds as they screeched by his makeshift bunker.
Alfredo was most likely the only Italian patriot embedded in an American unit, but he was not the only one from a fractured Europe to join the ranks for the Allies. Gunnar Erik Mettala was a Finnish-born U.S. Army combat engineer with the 345th Engineer General Service Regiment and the grandfather of my Deputy N6 Cmdr. Erik Pittman. Gunnar left Finland for the United States just before Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union invaded Finland in what was then known as the Winter War in 1939. He would join the U.S. army shortly after immigrating, enlisting in 1941, around the age of 23.
Gunnar landed on Anzio the second day of Operation Shingle landing with the 36th Combat Engineers and alongside the 45th Infantry Division. From the landing until the German counter attack on Feb.11, Gunnar’s Treadway Company was engaged in repairs near the port. He would later pass on to his son, who passed on to Erik: “Every day the German Luftwaffe would strafe and bomb the port; every day we’d rebuild and resurface the docks and the roads leading to the docks. Such was the tit-for-tat, hold-your-ground fighting that was the essence of a long period of entrenchment at Anzio.”
Gunnar was wounded after taking machine gun fire to his thighs, as he and others of his company were pushed to the front lines to defend the Allies extended perimeter from German counter attack. He recovered and would serve out the rest of the war in Allied Forces Headquarters in Naples as a staff judge advocate—ironically in the same place his grandson would serve 70 years later…
Despite the attrition faced by Treadway Company and a handful of other companies on the front lines during the initial German counter attack, four months passed with neither side giving or getting an inch. An Allied breakthrough occurred on May 23, 1944, in an operation known as Operation Diadem. While a combination of forces from Britain, Canada, Poland, and the U.S. broke through the Gustav Line, the United States’ VI Corps, controlled by 5th Army, took advantage of a reeling German force to race somewhat unfettered to Rome.
Meanwhile, our man Alfredo traveled with his unit, returning to his exiled home of Rome to raucous cheers from fellow Italians. Alfredo lived a storybook life from there, transitioning from military service to become a driver/caretaker at the American cemetery in Nettuno, constructed to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the Italian campaign. From there, he drove buses for ten years, then opened up a photography business with his son, and ended up returning to the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery as an official photographer, where he met then President George H.W. Bush during the cemetery’s annual Memorial Day commemoration.
Alfredo, now 88 and retired, continues to come every Memorial Day to the commemoration at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery at Nettuno. And this is where I first met him and became enchanted with his story, just as those Army men were enchanted with him in 1944. Alfredo still has that spark in his eye and spring in his step.
Walking through the cemetery—either on Memorial Day or just a beautiful spring day in southern Italy as was the case for our staff ride—one is reminded of the sacrifices made on behalf of freedom. The cemetery sits in the zone of advance of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division as part of Operation Shingle. The perfectly cut lawn now dotted with headstones sits beneath a mountaintop – the same perched position that allowed the Germans to hold so tightly to position with their counter attacks.
There are nearly 7,861 Americans memorialized in the Nettuno cemetery, a majority from the landings on Sicily, Salerno, and Anzio.
During our time at the cemetery, my deputy Executive Assistant, U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Tony Bates had the privilege of reading the citation of Sgt. Sylvester Antolak, who heroically stormed a German machine gun nest on day two of the Anzio invasion, racing into enemy fire despite warning from his own troops. His heroics allowed the Allies to secure a perimeter and save countless others.
Tony is sixty years removed from these men but is a living hero in his own right. He was an advisor team leader for the Afghan National Army serving in Sangin district of Helmand Province, Afghanistan in 2011 working to equip Afghan forces to defend their homeland from the Taliban. Much of the work was patrolling and clearing neighborhoods of the Taliban, while working to build trust from communal leaders. From their Forward Operating Base in Sangin, they would often experience Taliban machine gun fire but withstood multiple ambushes through determination and combat skill. Improvised explosive devices were a common tactic used by the Taliban in this time as Marines and Afghan troops would set off IEDs while conducting routine patrols or even in the vicinity of where kids were playing, as it was common for children to lay parts and pieces of the IEDs. Tony’s unit discovered the maker of these IEDs in a remote village in Sangin and sought to apprehend him. During that mission, Tony stepped on an IED, which resulted in serious injury and his left leg being amputated below the knee. Tony was awarded the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Valor device for combat action and Purple Heart for his resolve in leading those Afghan forces, and he continues to serve with the utmost pride and honor.
We started the staff ride at X-ray beach and finished at with lunch at a restaurant that sits beside the beach, a picturesque spot where the waves ever-so-calmly splash over the rocks and sand. Standing there, looking out on the beach of Anzio with Alfredo brings so many thoughts to mind. You imagine each Soldier coming across the beach, uncertain if they’d immediately take enemy fire or if death lay over the horizon.
For my friend Alfredo, he considers himself—and rightly so—a U.S. Army World War II veteran. His patriotism is remarkable for someone that doesn’t claim any official nationality to America. As we part ways, he extends a sentimental, “God bless America.” We in America have come to make this saying cliché but I can tell that Alfredo truly means it, a reflection of the appreciation that he and thousands of other Italians expressed as they were liberated from Fascist and Nazi hands.
The courage of those that took up the call for freedom on the beach of Anzio, and so many other beaches across Europe and the Pacific, should never be forgotten. So many, like Sgt. Antolak paid the ultimate sacrifice, and for this, we must continue to pay homage to their legacy of heroism. As we always do, this Memorial Day, we remember . . .
In 1955 Air Force General Curtis LeMay, Commander of the Strategic Air Command, built the service’s first base hobby shop in Offutt, NE. His vision was to provide a facility with tools, material, and resources to allow Airmen the opportunity to repair, modify, or completely rebuild their personal automobiles. The first hobby shop was an overwhelming success and soon become popular among all ranks, including LeMay himself. Auto hobby shops soon proliferated across all SAC bases and eventually, along with their sibling wood hobby shops, to most American military bases around the globe. Many of these workshops eventually formalized their training, so service members could achieve recognized certifications for their efforts.
These hobby shops were widely viewed as constructive outlets for military personnel to learn interesting, practical skills and to make positive use of off-duty time by tapping into, or fostering, their inherent desire to “tinker” with things. By the late 1990s they began to lose their appeal and many were closed for financial reasons. The causes for their demise is unclear, whether because cars simply became too complex for the “shade tree mechanic” to repair or as a reflection of American society, where servicemen and women would rather pay someone else to do work they no longer wanted to do themselves.
I do not believe the inherent desire to tinker with things, or using individual experimentation as a learning tool, has gone away. It may, however, be occurring today in new forms. Because the cost of technology continues to decline, it has created an environment where sophisticated tools and devices are now at the fingertips of the average citizen, a condition commonly referred to as the democratization of science and technology.
For the past several years the White House has been championing the “Maker Movement” to stimulate innovation across America. Cottage industries in coding, drones, electronics, robotics, and 3D printing are sprouting up across the country in reflection of and to support this renewed interest. It is clear that the naval services are tapping into the resurgence of the tinkerer as well.
The first naval “Fab Lab” was created in Norfolk in 2015. This joint venture with DARPA and MIT provided sophisticated manufacturing equipment, materials, and world class training to Sailors in the fleet. The fundamental premise for this project was that by putting tools and capabilities into the hands of Sailors closest to our operational problems, they would develop new and innovative solutions. Since its inception, for example, LT Todd Coursey has achieved significant results, expanding interest and demonstrating the utility of this capability across the fleet. His outstanding efforts at Norfolk were recognized by the White House and Secretary Mabus. SECNAV’s Task Force Innovation has funded additional Fab Labs and over the next two years additional facilities, some of them mobile, will be operational at Navy and Marine Corps bases around the globe.
An extension of the FAB LAB concept is the Expeditionary Manufacturing Mobile Test Bed (EXMAN) project led by the Marines and SPAWAR. EXMAN offers the ability to digitally manufacture parts in the field, often at a reduced cost and in much less time. This past week EXMAN was successfully demonstrated to General Neller, a strong advocate of fielding these new facilities with the operational forces. This capability has the potential to fundamentally change how we do battlefield logistics, by making items instead of buying, storing and shipping them across the world.
3D manufacturing is not the only field where the tinkerer movement is making its military comeback. The Naval Postgraduate School built its Robo Dojo to allow students and visiting Sailors and Marines the opportunity to tinker with robots and control systems. In the future it is likely we will see coding bootcamps springing up on naval bases as well. These fora provide the opportunity for Sailors and Marines to learn basic coding skills and eventually build smart phone apps or virtual games. Ideally, all of these complementary capabilities will be connected in an integrated ecosystem, properly resourced and supported by senior leaders, and available everywhere.
These emerging capabilities fundamentally draw upon LeMay’s vision – provide the resources, tools and safe spaces to our people and allow them to cultivate their talents and creativity. We have no idea of the great things they will achieve when allowed to tinker with their own bold ideas, such as STGC Ben Lebron.
The Chief had a vision for a new decision aid to improve ASW operations on the USS Fitzgerald. After finding a JO who taught him some coding skills, Chief LeBron designed the Single Leg Bearing Range program, for which he subsequently won a 2015 SECNAV Innovation Award. His software substantially improves ASW sonar solutions by more than half.(SECNAV granted Chief Lebron a waiver to enroll in the NPS Master’s ASW distance learning program in addition to his formal award.)
The military has long practiced such problem solving. In an examination of culture’s impact on military innovation, Dima Adamsky notes the cultural difference between the US and Soviet militaries during the Cold War. One significant contrast was their approaches to technological adaptation. The Soviets would develop concepts and strategy for use ahead of delivering a technology, whereas the US military usually had the technology and then often took a decade to figure out how to turn it into an operational advantage. We may be experiencing the same phenomenon here with the maker movement.
As mentioned, today’s democratization of science and technology is enabling this tinkering resurgence to occur – not only for us, but for our adversaries. Recently, scholars CAPT Mark Hagerott (ret) and Col TX Hammes (ret), outlined their thoughtful visions of the future operating environment, where naval forces will have to contend with the challenges posed by a new reality of destructive, technology-based capabilities operated in very decentralized and unpredictable ways by our adversaries. The naval services must lead this wave, adjusting our strategy not only to counter these decentralized threats, but to use the skills of our creative workforce to create an operational advantage over our adversaries.
We are entering an era where the operational environment will be characterized by complexity, uncertainty, and unpredictability; to succeed, our naval forces must respond in kind. Simply relying on exquisite weapon systems and massed fire power will be insufficient. One way to overcome this challenge is to fully exploit the ingenuity and talents of our Sailors and Marines. The burgeoning naval tinkering movement is just one step in creating a fundamentally important operational capability that is already resident in the naval services. Failing to harness our tinkerers, and recognize their work, will be to the nation’s detriment.
The Commandant’s “Connection Challenge”
Commandant 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
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.
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.
A 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.
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