Archive for the 'From our Archive' Category
This is the second installment in my series of posts on William Sims and what his discovery and development of continuous aim fire a century ago can tell us about junior leaders and innovation. They are part of the remarks that I delivered at NWDC’s Junior Leader Innovation Symposium.
PREVIOUS: A Junior Officer and a Discovery.
Recently Jonah Lehrer, a writer for Wired and other magazines, wrote a book about the developing field of science that studies creativity and innovation titled Imagine: How Creativity Works. In his book, Lehrer tells us that researchers have “discovered that the ability to stick with it – the technical name for this trait is grit – is one of the most important predictors of success.” Whether talking about Bob Dylan taking years to get a song just right in order for it to become a classic, or J.K. Rowling sending her kids book about a wizard school to 12 publishers before it was accepted and we all got to read Harry Potter, that tenacity, never-give-up, never-say-die attitude is necessary for true creative or innovative success.
Lieutenant William Sims had plenty of grit. Even though he had heard nothing from Washington he continued to write reports to the Bureau, updating his findings, refining the techniques, and suggesting new tactics that could be developed. He still heard no response. Sims knew what was happening…he knew that the Bureau was ignoring him because he was simply a Lieutenant, and one that was deployed at that. He wasn’t even an expert on the Bureau’s staff. Sims wrote to a friend and fellow officer:
“With every fibre of my being I loathe indirection and shiftiness, and where it occurs in high place, and is used to save face at the expense of the vital interests of our great service (in which silly people place such a child-like trust), I want that man’s blood and I will have it no matter what it costs me personally.”
While Sims respected those who were senior to him, rank alone didn’t seem to impress him. Navy Staffs that stood on bureaucracy and focused on building bullets for their own fitness reports over the combat effectiveness of operating forces were his enemy. He apparently felt pretty strongly about it.
I’d say that Sims certainly had true grit in this case. He continued writing reports. However, his language became more dramatic as he pointed out the risks involved in ignoring the TTP’s he was developing. Besides sending his reports to the Bureau he began to send them to battleship Captains across the Fleet, on his own initiative. He got his Commanding Officer to endorse the reports, and the Admiral who headed the Asiatic Squadron on China Station. They had seen TERRIBLE and KENTUCKY in action and couldn’t deny the success.
As word spread in the Fleet the Bureau realized that they needed to do something. Captains were writing messages back to headquarters and asking questions. They developed a test to prove that continuous-aim-fire didn’t work. After the test, they wrote a report that said Sims’ claims were a mathematical impossibility. However, they conducted the test without making the modifications Sims suggested to the guns, and they completed the test on land…for a gunnery practice designed for a rolling ship. The Bureau of Ordnance submitted their report that continuous-aim-fire was impossible. Belief in Sims’ claims evaporated overnight.
Sims had submitted 13 reports in all, over the span of two years, each one continually improving his method and technique. When he heard that the Bureau of Ordnance had completed a test and proved that what he claimed was impossible, he finally had enough. He knew that if the United States Navy went up against a force that was using continuous aim fire it would be decimated. Destruction of the fleet would open up the U.S. coast to invasion, as the Brits had done in the War of 1812 (a war that was roughly as distant to him as World War I is to us). He believed that the nation’s security depended on his success.
Lieutenant William Sims did something that he later characterized as “the rankest kind of insubordination.” He wrote a letter to the President.
President Roosevelt had been Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt. He was a navalist in the truest sense of the word. He was the author of the seminal work “The Naval War of 1812” and friends with Alfred Thayer Mahan. He would become the inventor and deployer of The Great White Fleet. As Presidents sometimes did a century ago, he actually read the letter that the young Lieutenant on China Station sent him, and he was shocked. If Sims was right and continuous-aim-fire worked, then he was also right that it was an issue of the highest importance.
Roosevelt had ordered a gunnery exercise in order to demonstrate the existing state of naval skill. The results were worse than anyone predicted. Five ships from the Atlantic Fleet each fired for five minutes at a former light-ship, at a range of about a mile. After 25 minutes of firing, two shells had gone through the light-ship’s sails and none had struck the ship itself. Roosevelt ordered the Navy to bring Sims back from China Station, saying: “Give him entire charge of target practice for eighteen months; do exactly as he says. If he does not accomplish anything in that time, cut off his head and try someone else.”
Lieutenant Sims returned to the United States and assumed the responsibilities of the U.S. Navy’s “Inspector of Target Practice.” He held the position for six and a half years. He was given a small staff of two junior Lieutenants and was tasked with revolutionizing naval gunnery. Three Lieutenants, change the world…no sweat.
Sims re-circulated his reports to the Fleet and instituted annual practice requirements for gunnery. He didn’t make his method of continuous aim fire mandatory, he simply sent out the reports for gunnery officers to read. He established a yearly fleet wide gunnery competition. Every ship in the Navy would compete, and could use any system or technique that they wanted. They were all welcome to start with continuous aim fire. The winning ship would be identified to the Navy and the country, and the winning gunnery officer was responsible for writing a report on his TTPs. Each year, the gunnery officers across the Fleet would pour over that report, and the reports that came before, and make constant refinements and adjustments to gunnery TTP’s. They sent out their own reports out and wrote articles for the Naval Institute’s place for disruptive thinking, the journal Proceedings.The winning ship each year received a pennant that they could fly on their yardarm, a pennant with an E on it for gunnery excellence. This was the birth of “The Battle E.”
Sims was promoted to Lieutenant Commander, and he and his assistants Lieutenants Ridley McLean and Powers Symington were in constant demand to visit the ships of the Fleet. Here you can see an invitation to “The Gun Doctor” and his assistant’s “Ping” and “Pong” to visit the wardroom of the USS Missouri for a “silent dinner,” which was like a Dining-In, with rules like Vegas: what happened at a silent dinner stayed at a silent dinner.Toward the end of Sims’ years leading the gunnery revolution, one gunner on the winning ship made fifteen hits in one minute at a target 75 by 25 feet at the same range as the test ordered by President Roosevelt years before; half of the hits were in a bull’s eye 50 inches square.
The US Navy rapidly overtook the Royal Navy as the greatest gunners in the world…and it wasn’t until the US adopted continuous-aim-fire that the Brits realized that their own Gritty revolutionary Percy Scott had been onto something all that time, and they followed the American TTPs that had been developed from watching Scott. Even Admiral Newton Mason, the Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, admitted “The renaissance in gunnery which came about chiefly through the instrumentality of Commander Sims, has … led to great improvements in ordnance.” In the Fleet Lieutenant Commander Sims became known as “the man who taught us how to shoot.”
NEXT: Expertise, Voice, Grit, and Listening…A Look At The Possible.
The May 2012 Proceedings reached me while I was on some active duty facilitating some war games at NDU. It is my second-favorite Proceedings issue of the year. It is the Naval Review issue. Contained therein is every Navy Flag Officer currently serving. Three hundred thirty one in total, according to USNI.
There has been discussion aplenty here and elsewhere regarding the absurdity and wastefulness of having 1.17 Admirals for EACH SHIP in the United States Navy. While the profligate growth of stars in the Navy’s senior ranks may have seemed like a good idea at the time, it is unconscionable in the current environment of extreme fiscal constraint, especially as the Sea Service is hemorrhaging highly qualified E-6 Sailors one hitch short of retirement eligibility. It is well past time to cull the Flag herd. And here’s one way forward (Hint: Simply shouting “you CAN’T!” and “we NEED!” does not constitute a counter-argument).
Among Rear Admirals, and Rear Admirals, Lower Half, there are 62 positions that are Deputy, Vice, or Assistant positions. Fill each with a Captain, breveted temporarily one or two ranks while serving in those billets. A successful tour in one of those positions would be a career enhancer for a Captain, increasing chances for permanent promotion.
Among Vice Admirals, there are ten positions that are Deputy or Assistant positions. Reduce those positions to two star rank. Reduce the billet of VCNO from four stars to three. Ditto Fleet Forces Command. Next time NDU is a Navy fill, do so with a Rear Admiral instead of a Vice Admiral. The Naval War College gets a Rear Admiral, Lower Half.
And have a long look at the Joint Billets that swell the Navy’s senior officer structure. Pursuant to meaningfully re-evaluating Goldwater-Nichols, which is now in its 27th year.
Implement this concept, and you have at least a 20% reduction of Navy Flag Officers. Between 65 and 70, depending on which path one takes regarding force structure tied up in Joint assignments. It’s a start. The path we are on gives this nation a Navy of 200 ships and 400 Admirals before the end of the next decade. That ain’t no way to run a railroad. Or win a war at sea.
Yes, I will have a similar look at the Marine Corps in the near future.
From the April 2012 Edition of Leatherneck Magazine:
By R. R. Keene
If you’ve never been to Dong Ha, you haven’t missed a thing. Well, perhaps with the exception of Easter 1972.
No one really knows how many of those who were there are still around to talk about it. The South Vietnamese Marines are no more: banished or dead. The North Vietnamese soldiers who fired their weapons in frustration from across the Cau Viet River are scattered and old or dead. John Ripley’s been dead for three years and wasn’t the kind to brag.
So, from time to time we have to retell his legendary tale and pass it to every generation of Marines.
Colonel John W. Ripley: When they talk of Marines with cojones, one thing comes to mind—Ripley as a captain at the bridge at Dong Ha.
At 33, Ripley was an “old Asia hand” on his second Vietnam combat tour. He deployed in country as a reconnaissance platoon leader in 1965 and then commanded “Lima” Company, 3d Battalion, Third Marine Regiment. “Ripley’s Raiders” they call themselves, and they insist the “33” label of Vietnamese “Ba Muoi Ba” Bier (beer) really means 3d Bn, 3d Marines. They liked Ripley. He was no wuss. He gave his Marines no slack, kept them in the field and got them in plenty of combat, but also took good care of them, and they took their wounds together.
In addition to the Purple Heart, Ripley won a Silver Star during an attack with Lima Co against an NVA regimental command post.
The men of Lima Co admire their “skipper” and like telling stories about him.
One Marine said, “I remember Staff Seargeant Joe Martin saying, Ripley was on Harlan County [(LST1196)] in port on the Caribbean in 1964. He was crossdecking when one of the ‘squid’ officers of the day said something insulting about the Corps. ‘Rip’ threw him in the drink. They put him in ‘hack’ down over the bilges in the bowels of USS Boxer [(LPH4)], where the hull makes a V. He did pushups all day. Eventually he took over Weapons, 2/2 and was Martin’s platoon commander.”
Ripley, even for a Marine, was a physical fitness animal. He was a “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war” believer who’d taken it to heart—and all the other muscles of his body—as an enlisted man and later as a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. It gave him an edge on his exchange tour with the British Royal Marines on the Malay Peninsula, at the U.S. Army’s Airborne and Ranger schools and with the Navy’s underwater demolition teams. He had be come jump, scuba and Ranger qualified.
Ripley said, “Endurance: We confuse this with fitness … but mental endurance is like an extra bandolier. … You lock and load and keep going.”
More about the Memorial to Company L, 3d Battalion, Third Marine Regiment gathered at Semper Fidelis Memorial Park, National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Va., to dedicate the “CAPTAIN J. W. RIPLEY LIMA CO RVN-1967” Memorial, honor their fallen comrades and remember their commanding officer.
Thank you Leatherneck Magazine and Mr. Keene.
Semper Fi Dad
Explorer- filmmaker James Cameron became the first person to dive solo into the Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench, the deepest place on Earth. He completed the dive the night of 25 March, Eastern Daylight Time, off Guam. In light of his feat, we thought it appropriate to post an interview done for Naval History magazine in 2000 with Dr. Don Walsh, one of the two men who beat Cameron to it more than 52 years ago.
Fred L. Schultz
From Naval History Magazine, April 2000
In January 1960, he and Swiss copilot Jacques Piccard navigated the U.S. Navy’s bathyscaphe Trieste into the Challenger Deep, the deepest spot in the World Ocean. At nearly seven miles, the record still stands. Retired U.S. Navy Captain Walsh also was a member of Operation Deep Freeze in 1971, spending more than a month on the ice in Antarctica and earning recognition for his contributions there by having an Antarctic mountain ridge named for him. Today, Captain Walsh is president of International Maritime, Inc., an Oregon-based consulting company that has completed projects in 20 nations. He is one of 20 living Honorary Members of the Explorers Club, an Honorary Life Member of the Adventurers Club, and a Fellow of England’s Royal Geographic Society. Captain Walsh is a 1954 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and earned Master’s and Doctorate degrees in Oceanography from Texas A&M University and a second Master’s degree from California State University in San Diego. A technical advisor for such films as Gray Lady Down, Raise the Titanic, The Hunt for Red October, and The Abyss, Captain Walsh is scheduled to lead an expedition in April 2000 to HMS Breadalbane, the world’s northernmost shipwreck, 350 feet beneath the ice off Beechey Island in the Canadian Arctic. He spoke recently about a variety of topics to Naval History Editor Fred L. Schultz.
Naval History: In a Naval History interview a few years ago, Jean-Michel Cousteau referred to you as the Buzz Aldrin of the ocean. What do you think he meant by that?
Captain Walsh: I’ve known the Cousteau family for many years. I know Jean-Michel well. I’ve been a guest in the Cousteau home. We go way back, so I believe that was a compliment and not a complaint.
Naval History: We thought he might have meant that Jacques Piccard received more of the credit for your expedition to the Challenger Deep, comparing you to Aldrin and Piccard to Neil Armstrong.
Captain Walsh: Well, it’s a tad nationalistic. Europeans tend to favor the European, and Americans tend to favor the American. I think that’s just human nature. The Piccards, of course, are a dynasty. I don’t think any family in the history of exploration has had three generations who, essentially, all established world records. Auguste, of course, was a great balloonist. He was basically a physicist, but he set the world altitude record in the early 1930s in a balloon. And, of course, his son Jacques was with me in the Trieste. And now Jacques’s son Bertrand is the first man to fly a balloon around the world.
So they’re a dynasty of explorers and scientists in Europe, and, understandably, the press treatment would probably favor them. I don’t think it’s any kind of a deliberate spin; it’s just the way people see the news and report it. It doesn’t trouble me.
Naval History: What was it like competing against the space program at the time?
Captain Walsh: It was pretty tough, because the advent of the space program came at just about the time we brought the Trieste to the United States. We and this inner spaceship we had didn’t even enjoy a year of primacy. NASA already was off and running. The Navy’s entire undersea program has lived in the shadow of the space program. Of course, our project seemed to be under wraps from the beginning.
I remember presenting the program to Admiral Arleigh Burke. Of course, the Navy doesn’t require lieutenants to go the Chief of Naval Operations to get approval for programs, but nobody wanted to make the decision. I kept getting handed up the chain until one day I ended up in front of Admiral Burke.
So I briefed him on the program. And he said, “How many of you are in this thing?”
And I replied, “It’s just myself and Piccard.”
Then he said, “Are there any other Navy people associated?”
And I said, “There’s Lieutenant Larry Shumaker, who’s the assistant officer in charge. He’ll be in charge of the topside aspects.”
The Admiral then said, “Well, if this thing doesn’t come back up, you tell Shumaker that you’re the lucky one, because I’m going to have his lower appendages.” Arleigh Burke said what he meant and meant what he said. So I got the approval from him, but he put a condition on it. He said, “There’ll be no publicity, none at all.” I looked at him in surprise, because if we were successful, this was going to be quite a coup for the Navy.
“The science guys and the research and development engineers in the Navy,” he said, “have been promising me spectacular things. We were going to put up the first earth-orbiting satellite.” They had lit off a rocket at Cape Canaveral, and it shot into the ocean rather than into space. So Admiral Burke said that he didn’t want any more of these promised science spectaculars that turn out to fizzle. “If you do it successfully,” he said, “then we’ll have the publicity. But until then, just keep your mouth shut and go do it.”
So we didn’t really have a ramp-up to this great event. There was no general knowledge of what we were doing. Although Life, National Geographic, and improbably, The London Daily Mail got a whiff of it, the Navy’s Chief of Information bought their silence by saying they could go on the trip but they couldn’t tell anybody. And they didn’t. Does Macy’s tell Gimball’s? They were inside, and the door was shut. They essentially had scoops. And so, off we went to Guam. That was good coverage.
The London Daily Mail had a wonderful foreign correspondent, Noel Barber. He was out of the trench coat-Lowell Thomas school. When the Dalai Lama came out, Barber hired horses and rode a hundred miles into Tibet to greet him and get the scoop. He was a wonderful raconteur. During the evenings in Guam, when we’d all go out for dinner, we didn’t talk about the Trieste, we sat around and listened to the reporters tell stories about their adventures. It was great fun.
Naval History: Were you at all trepidatious before your dive in the Marianas Trench to the Challenger Deep?
Captain Walsh: No. People say, “Well, you’re just being modest.” And my wife says I’ve got a lot to be modest about. But the fact is, the whole strategy of the testing of the Bathyscaph, over nearly a year, was to make increasingly deeper test dives. When we got it, it was configured for only 20,000-foot diving depths. We had to reengineer it, enlarge it, and buy a new cabin for it, to be able to go to 36,000 feet. And so we did a few test dives in San Diego, then shipped the whole thing to Guam.
At Guam, we started out at 400 feet in the harbor and worked our way offshore, in increasingly deeper water. And we actually brought the world’s depth record home to the United States in November of 1959, when we made a dive to 18,000 feet. The previous record, of course, was held by the French Navy, at 12,500 feet, which actually is the average depth of the ocean. That was set in 1954. So we captured the record again in 1958, and by early January 1960 we dove to 24,000 feet. Then 12 days later we made the deep dive. It was all incremental.
So I say it was just a longer day at the office, and people think I’m trying to be clever. But that’s the truth. All the manipulations we did to make it dive were the same whether we were diving 1,000 feet or 36,000 feet. And we got to know it intimately. I’d put on a boiler suit, scrape rust inside that tank, and help paint it. Everybody turned to. We were a small team—only 14 people. And we worked seven days a week, dawn to dusk, at Guam. You build a certain confidence in your equipment.
Tomorrow, 11 March 2012, the storied USS Enterprise (CVN-65) will leave home port to ply the world’s oceans for the 22nd, and last time. As she is about to head toward Middle Eastern waters, the Associated Press published a nice piece about her, and the challenges that her crew of 4,000 face in keeping a ship that is older than most of their parents operating and ready.
Since SWMBO reminded me how expensive picture books were to print, I figured I would take advantage of this newfangled internet thing to post some pictures of the Big E, and relate some things about her 52 years in service. A good deal of these pictures will come from familiar places, such as NavSource.org, and DANFS, as well as some others included from various spots.
It is staggering to think of a ship 52 years in commission. How long is that? Here are some facts about Enterprise and her history:
The sitting Secretary of the Navy, William B. Franke, whose wife christened CVAN-65, had been born in 1894. He lived to be 85, and still died 33 years ago.
Enterprise’s first CO, Captain Vincent P. de Poix, Annapolis ’39, had been a World War II aviator, and is still with us at 95!
In February of 1962, Enterprise stood by to assist with the recovery of the first American to orbit the Earth, LtCol John Glenn, USMC, in Mercury 6.
Enterprise was a part of the Second Fleet force that established the “Naval quarantine” of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, October, 1962.
Enterprise was the first nuclear powered warship ever to operate in a combat zone, off Vietnam, December, 1965.
Enterprise remains the longest warship ever to put to sea at 1,102 feet, 2 inches.
On May 24th, 2011, a Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet of VFA-11 made arrested landing number 400,000 on Enterprise.
When Enterprise joined the fleet in October of 1961, she was one of 24 carriers, and the only nuclear-powered carrier, in a Navy of 870 ships. Today she is one of 11 nuclear-powered carriers in a Navy of 285 ships.
Enterprise deployed to Vietnam six times, Operation SOUTHERN WATCH three times, Operation ENDURING FREEDOM four times (about to be five), and Operation IRAQI FREEDOM three times. Her CO, Captain William Hamilton, was not yet three years old when Enterprise was commissioned, her XO would not be born for another five years.
Best of luck to all the Officers and Sailors who crew this venerable old warship. She carries a glorious name proudly. One day you can tell your grandchildren you sailed on her. When you return, she will pass from the Navy list and into history.
But perhaps her name can live on with CVN-80. There always should be an Enterprise in the US Navy.
As the sun’s rays broke over the top of the eastern hills this morning, the military blogging community was coming to grips with the loss of a truly remarkable man. Retired Navy Captain Carroll LeFon, who was known to thousands by his “nom de blog” of Neptunus Lex, died when his Israeli-built F-21 Kfir single-seat fighter aircraft crashed at NAS Fallon at around 0915 yesterday morning.
The challenge in writing about such a man is that my command of the language to do justice to him is insufficient for the task, yet his mastery of words gave vivid understanding on most everything he chose to chronicle. “Lex” was one of the first and perhaps the best of those military bloggers (milbloggers), with a large and faithful readership that included his former Navy shipmates, other military types (including myself), former military types, and civilians of all descriptions. That readership came and stayed because Lex was far more than a milblogger who wrote about all things military. He had a wonderful gift with the written word, speaking to his readers as if engaged in a conversation at a back table of a favorite pub. His eloquence about military issues, his witty and often brilliant commentary on things political and social, always provided thought provoking reading. His commenters, even while disagreeing and adding rich commentary of their own, respected each other and revered their host.
His post was a daily read for me, and several times a week I would push my chair back from the desk and think (and sometimes say) “Damn! I wish I’d said that!” or “I wish I could write like that!” Lex wrote eloquently of the human condition, both in and out of uniform, and had an appreciation for others who did, as well. We had in common a love of Kipling and the classics of martial poetry and other such works, and I would always smile to read them quoted at some appropriate juncture or situation. His remarkable Rhythms, a superb narrative of a day in the life aboard a CVN, is suitable for publishing. (USNI?)
But Lex did something extraordinary in his missives. In the impersonal world of the internet, he gave us glimpses of himself. His writing brought his readers into his cockpit, where he described in common terms the joys and challenges of flight and what it took to be the exceptional pilot he was. He also wrote incredibly lovingly about his wife and children, his love for them and pride he felt, and the worries he carried as a husband and father. And he managed to do so without intruding into their lives or his, but in a way that allowed us all to share just a little of him.
Lex chose to re-grip the flight controls to serve again the Navy he loved, by doing what had been his passion (outside of his wife and children) for his far too brief time this side of heaven. He helped to train Navy pilots to be better Navy pilots, and accepted the concomitant risks long after his time in uniform ended. The value of men such as he cannot be overestimated. His loss leaves a hole, a void, that never really is filled.
Our thoughts and prayers to his wife, his Navy pilot son, and his lovely daughters. Theirs is a deep grief that cannot be assuaged by the words they will read today and in the coming days. But perhaps, as that grief lessens, they can be warmed with a pride of having been the greatest treasure of such a remarkable man.
Captain Carroll LeFon, United States Navy (Ret.) has stepped into the clearing. Far more than most, he will be missed.
Among the Americans serving on Iwo island, uncommon valor was a common virtue.
-Admiral Chester Nimitz
America lost 6,821 of her sons on Iwo Jima. More than 19,000 were wounded. Twenty-seven Medals of Honor and more than 200 Navy Crosses were awarded for heroism on that island.
Where is USS Michael Strank? USS Franklin Sousley? USS Harlan Bloch?
As the Independent Forum of the Sea Services – also celebrating our birthday this week – we are proud to be a part of the narrative that has helped shape our United States Navy’s rich history and way forward. Since 1873 – Taking the Dare.
The Naval Institute celebrates the 236 Years of the United States Navy and welcomes the new CNO Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert. Here are his Sailing Directions:
Warfighting First: Be ready to fight and win today, while building the ability to win tomorrow
Operate Forward: Provide offshore options to deter, influence and win in an era of uncertainty
Be Ready: Harness the teamwork, talent and imagination of our diverse force to be ready to fight and responsibly employ our resources
The CNO, MCPON, and SECNAV message:
And let us not forget the birthday of the U.S. Naval Academy.
With that, we offer you a piece from our archive; a celebration of the future and knowledge through discourse.
NAVAL EDUCATION. By Commander A. T. Mahan, U. S. Navy.
The following selection comes from Zumwalt Staff Officers Volume I, an oral history collection produced and owned by the United States Naval Institute. These oral histories done by USNI are simply fantastic gems of history, and this one on Zumwalt is no exception.
I am not sure what the procedure is for USNI members to get a copy of this kind of stuff, so maybe someone on the staff at USNI can address that in the comments below. As I have been reading through some of these interesting pieces of history, I keep thinking there is useful information that someone at every level of leadership from the Department Head up would find useful.
This is the first of what may be multiple posts on this Zumwalt oral history. In the section below Paul Stillwell is interviewing Captain Howard J. Kerr, Jr., U.S. Navy (Retired), who served on Zumwalts staff as a LT in Vietnam immediately after getting his Masters Degree at Tufts. Noteworthy in the context of this quoted section, LT Kerr turned down command of a coastal patrol vessel to take the position on Zumwalts staff, something his detailer insisted would hurt his career as LT commands at the time were very rare. He had never met VADM Zumwalt prior to accepting the position, and had only really learned about the man after being offered and initially turning down the staff job offer.
This section is discussing what I always find to be the most important issue Navy leaders must deal with – people. I think different readers can and will find different lessons or analogies to today in this section, and likely come to different conclusions as it relates to today. It begins with a question of inventives provided by the Navy for people to go to Vietnam.
Q: And there were not incentives provided for people to go.
Captain Kerr: Well, no, there weren’t any incentives to go, and there weren’t any rewards for having done a good tour there. Admiral Zumwalt fought like hell to give some rewards to the lieutenant commander who had gone over to Vietnam and who had done exceptionally well, who had put his life on the line, who had been in a very threatening environment for a year, and who when he came out was getting zero credit for that from the bureau and wasn’t even making the XO cut. That was kind of the typical guy. He worked very hard trying to turn that around. He put his own personal involvement in it. We used to talk to the bureau almost every night from Saigon in an effort to impress upon them the fact that, “You may not agree with what the country is doing~ you may not agree that this is the kind of training that a naval officer needs, but the fact is that this is national policy; the country is at war, and we are the warriors dedicated to fighting this country’s battles. It’s incumbent upon us to ensure that the very best people are sent over, because people’s lives are at stake and the national honor and prestige are at stake in this particular war.” And our ability to execute a very complicated sophisticated mission–namely, as I’ve said before, getting the Navy involved while at the same time trying to train the Vietnamese Navy and turn the damned thing over. It was a multifaceted operation that involved a lot of sophistication. It just required the best talent the Navy had. That’s the way Admiral Zumwalt felt about it. The bureau simply was not supporting that up until that time.
Now, they responded to him, and you began to see a little turnaround. Pretty soon, after nine months or so, some people who were considered “front-runners” began to show up in country. But up until the time Admiral Zumwalt got there, that was simply not the pattern, not the case. I feel that in many cases the detailers were being driven by what they considered the right, quote, “right career pattern” for a surface guy, and it just didn’t include a tour in Vietnam. It was more important to go off to destroyer school, or have a weapons officer tour on a DDG or something than it was to go to Vietnam. Those guys were doing just what they basically were being told what the policy within the bureau is. So, in that sense, we weren’t getting support even from our own personnel distribution system for the Vietnam war in country at that time. They supported us in the sense of putting in the numbers that had to be there. They were there. But they were not reaching down and looking for the top people and putting them over there. In a sense, it was inconsistent with the right career path to go over there.
You reflect upon that, and it’s an extraordinarily hard thing to understand for me – how we could view that war as just another tour of duty – it turned out that it just didn’t rank as high as other tours of duty. There are an awful lot of people who have remarked to me that at the time they didn’t want to go to Vietnam – not that they were afraid to go to Vietnam, but they just didn’t see how it was going to help their career.
Q: What did Admiral Zumwalt do to provide incentives for the Navy captains that were there?
Captain Kerr: Well, I think one of the biggest incentives right away was when Bob Salzer got selected for flag. There had never been a flag officer out of Vietnam. He got selected for flag. People tend to go to where people are being selected. If the water at this hole is a little bit sweeter, that’s where everybody goes to drink. And the water in South Vietnam had been a little stale. So when Bob Salzer got selected, that sent out a signal through the Navy. Zumwalt was there. Zumwalt was building a reputation. It was becoming common knowledge that Zumwalt had taken charge, had taken hold. The Navy was turning its act around and on in South Vietnam. That some good people were beginning to go there, to get involved. Bob Salzer had been selected for flag.
Q: Well, I think he was selected after he left.
Captain Kerr: Well, he had left, but see, he only had a few months to do when Admiral Zumwalt arrived. It didn’t make any difference when he got it. The fact is that it came right after his tour in Vietnam. So that was seen as a plus.
Q: My point is that the principal subordinates were still captains, whereas their counterparts, you were saying earlier, in the other services were generals.
Captain Kerr: Yes. That didn’t change. The admiral never got those jobs upgraded to flag rank. But he began to write the kind of fitness reports that helped people. He got General Abrams to sign off fitness reports for some of those officers, which was very helpful. Those are the kinds of things that you do to begin to support your subordinates in the field. He went personally after people. He used to get on the phone at night and call them. He’d work the detailers at night. A lieutenant commander comes out of Saigon with a top record, and the bureau doesn’t give that any merit. And instead of going to an XO’s tour, he goes someplace else; that tells the lieutenant commander community something. The admiral understood that, and he tried to turn that around–not only to give the right image of what was happening in Vietnam, but because he believed that that person deserved that because of what he had done in country.
You know, the admiral once said that every fitness report you’d get in the Navy that’s not under fire is just a guess. These guys were out in the field. getting shot at. They were running the war. The responsibility, the initiative, the sense of command and leadership that they were learning at this early age was remarkable. Plus, they were doing it in the battlefield. Those were traits and values and demonstrated performance things that are more important to a fighting man in many respects than being able to run an NTDS system on a guided missile destroyer. In other words, you could learn to run an NTDS system, but you never know how the guy is going to react in battle unless he’s been in it. And these guys had been in it. And our own system wasn’t recognizing that. If the guy somehow hadn’t been at the top of his performance ratings on his last ship, that’s what they were paying more attention to than how well he was doing in country. I feel very strongly that the bureau let the Navy down in country. I think, as I said, it began to turn around after Admiral Zumwalt got there, but I don’t think that the Bureau of Naval Personnel with regards to its detailing policies in the in-country effort, prior to 1968 certainly, can be very proud of its efforts to support the war. I mean they were more concerned about their own selfish policies of putting people in the right jobs and keeping them on the, quote, “career path” than they were with supporting the war effort in Vietnam.
Q: Well, did he work it from the other end also? There is a delayed reaction if you have to wait until the selection board results come out. Did he badger BuPers to send him brighter, better people earlier?
Captain Kerr: Yes, absolutely. There were people that were going off to the war colleges. I hate to belabor this, and I’m probably a little cynical about it, but I had people tell me that their detailer told them, “Let me put you at the Naval War College. You don’t want to go to Vietnam. That’s not going to do your career any good. You might as well spend a year at the Naval War College.” Can you imagine that? The goddamned country is at war! People are getting killed! And we’re thinking in terms of what’s best for promotion purposes. It’s unreal. In many respects, while I have disdain for both, I have less disdain for the person who ran off to Canada than I have for the person who ran off in uniform to the Naval War College.
One of the things that stood out to me in this section of the interview was the value of combat experience. US Navy fixed-wing aviators have dropped bombs on targets for 10 years, but 99% of those attacks have been in environments where the enemy lacks the capability to shoot back. The submarine community has never been attacked by a credible ASW threat in the lifetime of all US Navy submariners. The vast majority of combat experience of the SWO community comes from lobbing cruise missiles from positions offshore the enemy could not reach with counter-battery.
Put another way, RW pilots and the SWOs who conduct anti-piracy operations on small boats are about the only non-special forces sailors to find actual combat experience today, because they are the only US naval forces today that operate under legitimate threat of attack. Somehow I doubt the promotion system reflects that reality any more today than the promotion system reflected combat experience in Vietnam in the late 60s. AEGIS warships, aircraft carriers and strike fighters, and nuclear powered submarines cruising the South China Sea are so much cooler from a promotion system perspective than RHIBs and helicopters operating in pirate infested waters, or at least recent history suggests as much.
I think people can read this section and find other topics as well. Good history can do that.
Admin Update to Galrahn’s post regrading “I am not sure what the procedure is for USNI members to get a copy of this kind of stuff, so maybe someone on the staff at USNI can address that in the comments below.”
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