Archive for the 'Training & Education' Category

As our platforms and missions become more complex, our need for talented people continues to be a challenge. We need to recruit, train and retain the right people…”

Admiral John Richardson, U.S. Navy
Chief of Naval Operations

In 2017, nearly 2,000,000 young men and women will graduate from colleges and universities throughout America. We want 200 of the very best to commission through Officer Candidate School (OCS) and serve America as a Navy Surface Warfare Officer (SWO).

To be sure, we have historically attracted and retained great people in Surface Warfare. With an eye toward our return to Sea Control and distributed, more lethal warships, we should ask ourselves a series of critical questions, “Can we do better?”… and… “Are we tapping into the full potential of America’s shining youth?” Former Joint Chiefs Chairman, Admiral Mike Mullen, referred to the “sea of goodwill” that has given rise to a tide of support for our military since the attacks of 9/11. Is that goodwill sustainable?

Talented young men and women matriculating from our nation’s colleges and universities have life options. Surface Warfare could be one of those options, but it is not enough to sit back and wait for talent to come to us. In the competitive market of America, we must reach out, connect with, inform and attract the most talented into our community – and our Navy – in order to position our warships to fight and win when the nation calls.

There are extraordinary young men and women throughout this nation who would thrive as Surface Warfare Officers, but literally have no idea that the amazing opportunity to serve on warships… leading at sea… undertaking impactful work for our country… is even a remote possibility in their lives.

We are positioned to turn a life opportunity into reality for our nation’s best. Here is how we are doing it.

We know who we want

Through a series of surveys and data collection efforts, we have mapped attributes and characteristics of successful young SWOs.

These include: previous proven leadership experience – of any sort, at any level – in a varsity sport, club or organization; demonstrated initiative; oral and written communication skills; positive contribution to organizational efforts as part of a “team” – assessed through previous participation in organizations, clubs and sports; work experience that illustrates a sense of discipline and accountability; time management and organizational skills that reflect an ability to follow established procedure and demonstrate attention to detail; enthusiasm and passion for the nation and the Navy that would prompt internal motivation in the face of adversity; and, a desire to work hard, remain committed to mission accomplishment with a strong desire for service with impact.

In March, we worked with Navy Recruiting Command and we generated guidance to the entire officer recruiting force in the country, reflecting these attributes and characteristics.

Leveraging our competitive advantage

Junior Officers have told us that the principal attractors to Surface Warfare are: 1) the opportunity for immediate leadership; 2) the opportunity for adventure and travel; 3) the opportunity for a flexible, option-based career; and, 4) the opportunity for postgraduate level education.

In business terms, Surface Warfare has a near-monopoly on these attractors. Can we better leverage that competitive advantage in a more meaningful and vibrant way?

Outreach and the Power of Social Media

In Fiscal Year 2016, 18 young men and women applied to be SWOs through Officer Candidate School from the states of North and South Carolina –combined. We met our “numbers” and we got great people. But there are more than 125 colleges and universities in these two states. Do graduates from these schools – and thousands like them around the country – even know that Navy Surface Warfare is a life option for them and, consequently, are we missing out on large segments of the population who could serve and propel us to even greater heights as a Navy?

Through the power of social media, we can – at a minimum – begin to raise nation-wide awareness of the opportunities in Surface Warfare. This is not about numbers. This is about reaching out and connecting with talented young men and women to ensure they are aware of the opportunities to serve in our community today, ultimately leading our Navy and serving as the sea captains of tomorrow.

Bringing it together

We know who we want, we know what attracts men and women to serve in Surface Warfare and we have the ability to connect with America at our fingertips. Can we take these pieces and integrate them in a meaningful way? Conceptually, we want to move toward “getting who we want” to serve as Surface Warfare Officers – quality men and women, with characteristics that set themselves up for success as a SWO and who are drawn to our community. Along the way, we should connect with America’s exceptional youth from backgrounds and demographics that are under-represented in today’s force.

This is possible today. So we are seizing an opportunity – and moving out quickly!

In a collaborative effort with Navy Recruiting Command, we launched our community’s first-ever targeted outreach into America using the power of social media. Through a newly formed teaming effort with LinkedIn – the largest connector on the planet – we now have the ability to “meet people where they are,” connecting directly with people all over the country using high end talent matching and recruiting functionalities imbedded in LinkedIn.

We also have the ability to provide interested candidates with access to our #1 asset – our people. Today, a cadre of more than 50 junior officers in the current force who have “walked a mile in the shoes of a SWO candidate” are aggregated in an on-line platform. Have a question about serving in the Navy? How to apply for a commission? What does a Surface Warfare Officer do? Those answers are a keystroke away on social media.

The overall concept is simple. Connect directly with the people we want to serve in our ranks, invite their attention to the opportunities of future service as a SWO and provide on-line access to the exceptional men and women we have in today’s fleet. Then, turn interested candidates over to the exceptional professionals in our Navy Recruiting Districts all over the country to support application for Officer Candidate School.

Earlier this month, we conducted our first significant outreach — a direct communication to 150 students possessing the background, attributes and characteristics we want in future SWOs. These students are enrolled in universities and colleges in North and South Carolina – among them: Duke, Wake Forest, the Universities of North and South Carolina, Clemson, Appalachian State, Elon, Davidson, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) like North Carolina A&T and Benedict College.

In a great example of the power of high velocity learning, we have already captured key lessons and applied them – enabling outreach to specific people in even larger audiences on-line.

More broadly, perhaps we open new doors and find opportunities by using a similar approach in critical areas for national security like cyber.

We are also thinking differently about how to more vibrantly leverage social media and networks of influencers to connect with young men and women seeking a commission through the U.S. Naval Academy and Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC).

From 2,000,000 young men and women, we want the best 200 to serve America as a Navy Surface Warfare Officer – executing military diplomacy, sea control and power projection.

Let’s go get ‘em!



philosophy_03When the path towards progress in a field becomes muddied, the best response may be to step away from all the technical specifics that make up day-to-day practice and begin pulling up the floorboards. In other words, rather than continuing to push on the science, it may be best to ask about the unspoken philosophies supporting that research effort.

What could an article by Adam Frank at NPR, unrelated to anything involved directly to national defense, have to tell us about how we look to build the fleet for mid-century? Actually, quite a lot.

One of the underpinnings of the critique of many of the flawed program decisions of the last few decades has been that smart people were excited about the possibility of new ideas and technology so much that they fell in love with them. As such, they were unable to accept the cold, hard truth of what real world experience, data, and facts showed them about the object of their affections.

With each passing iteration their hopes and desires became more unmoored from the reality that was making a shadow on the ramp or displacing water pierside.

Is this situation just our problem, or a common part of the human condition when people have too much faith in the theories that they become emotionally invested in? Well, no it’s not unique to us; we may share a crisis of consciousness with the world of physics that is best explained by another discipline, philosophy.

In a book trying to rewire some of the philosophical foundations that inform physics, physicist Lee Smolin and philosopher Roberto Unger published a book in 2014, The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time. Frank pulls out some observations that need to be reviewed.

…our study of the cosmos has been taken too far from what data can constrain…it all adds up to muddied waters and something some researchers see as a “crisis in physics.” …the lack of empirical data has led the field astray.

Think about our approach to LCS at the start from assumptions related to NLOS, manning, mission modules, along with what we saw with DDG-1000, ACS and other programs. Does this hit home?

“Science is corrupted when it abandons the discipline of empirical validation or dis-confirmation. It is also weakened when it mistakes its assumptions for facts and its ready-made philosophy for the way things are.”

This ground is well plowed, but here is where it gets interesting. Good people in hard jobs sometimes make mistakes, but why?

Is the answer to be found in the realm of philosophy? Is our debate between transformationalism and anti-transformationalism just our theater in a larger intellectual conflict? Is the same conflict to be found not just in programmatics, but also in different approaches to future strategy?

One of the more memorable quotes from Alvin Toffler is, “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” The quote speaks towards the necessity of adaptability, and intellectual humility in knowing when one is wrong regardless of the amount of intellectual effort put into developing a concept.

Before there is any empirical validation of models developed to explain reality, all there is, are concepts. Concepts governed by rules of logic, which can get ahead of themselves in many instances, and become more about validating a logic-based ontology rather than ensuring understanding of anything outside of that rule-based reality. Cosmology over the last decade or so has begun to exemplify this circumstance, and in many ways, so too has the Navy.

“Some researchers now see popular ideas like string theory and the multiverse as highly suspect. These physicists feel our study of the cosmos has been taken too far from what data can constrain with the extra “hidden” dimensions of string theory and the unobservable other universes of the multiverse.”

Lots of thought and work have gone into defining what is known, how something can be known, and what the best paths towards certainty in knowledge are. Among many others, there are two camps of thought; Empiricists and Rationalists. The debate between the two regards how we can be certain in what we know. In contemporary Cosmology, Rationalism is holding sway, in that the validity of math alone is enough to establish knowledge. However, Empiricists are earnestly pushing back.

Theoretical physicists are inherently Rationalists aided by a powerful ally in mathematics. They can model the universe in equations based on axioms and other equations that have been empirically validated. However, the physics isn’t based on reasoning alone, experimental physicists work to develop experiments that test theoretical work done by other physicists, towards validating, falsifying, and refining theories.

From this a question arises; how far can one extrapolate from the empirically proven before the certainty of empirical observation can no longer faithfully add verification that reasoning lacks? Many argue today that theoretical physics has ventured to a point that rationality is being relied upon far too much, with validation being derived not from observation of phenomena, but from abstract models of how it is thought reality to be.

To put the question another way: When is it right to give up on using reason alone to understand something? In a more military sense, when does a strategy or policy created with a Rationalist approach need to be replaced by the Empirical experience of those implementing the strategy or policy?

The military has its own Empiricists and Rationalists. From a structural sense, the design of the chain of command makes certain ranks empiricist and others rationalist. Any practitioner of the naval service will repeatedly experience their best-laid plans needing to be revised over, and over again. The most humble person aboard ship is the watch bill coordinator—who are constantly called to the quarterdeck, having to one-line and revise the list of names standing watches. Reality is swift, fast and unforgiving with random medical appointments, those unbeknownst on leave, and numerous other reasons that prevent watchstanding. Simply put, Empiricism beats a Sailor into perfecting their ability to lead.

The Rationalists in the military develop after years of toiling under the empirical kludge, developing the ability to think abstractly about what must be accomplished to ensure victory and train the next generation of service member.

If Empiricism is painful, then Rationalism is seductive. Understanding the system we operate can lead to confining decisions within what has been established, regardless of being proven. For Cosmologists, it can be the elegance of math, the beauty within equations that leads them to confining their inquiry within what is beautiful. For the Navy, it is maybe not beauty that confines inquiry, but it is something similar, and something that results in hubris at its worst.

A recent article by the Navy Times cites that the experience with the Littoral Combat Ship has informed an examination of the Navy’s rating system, resulting in a decision to breakdown the barriers that define a rating.

With the Littoral Combat Ship having only proven itself in need of refining into something more like a Frigate, we can see where the military is taking more of a rationalist approach than empirical. Rather than un-learning, the Navy is building on unproven theories. It has chosen to not unlearn methodologies so recently developed. It’s time to demonstrate how we’ve pulled-up floor boards, and taken a hard look at our recent history to ensure we’ve actually proven, falsified, and know what decisions we are making.

This post was co-written with CTR1(IW/SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III.



hqdefaultIf you have not already, you need to read one of the more important wake up calls written by a navalist this year; Bryan McGrath’s remarks published over at WarOnTheRocks, War and Survivability of U.S. Naval Forces.

It will come to no surprise to those who read my post last week, that I am roughly in full alignment with the direct and unblinking comments he brings to the reader;

(in the post-Cold War era) …we built and operated a Navy in the post-Cold War era that reflected this. We created a fleet architecture that raised defense to a high art. We became proficient in the art of precision land-attack and maritime constabulary missions while the surface force essentially abandoned the playing field of offensive naval warfare. Because there was no anti-submarine warfare threat to speak of, we walked away from the mission while turning our sonar techs into .50 cal gunners and visit, board, search, and seizure crew. We walked away from the anti-surface mission to the point where we haven’t built a ship in the United States that could kill another ship over the horizon since USS Porter in 1999.

That is where we find ourselves by our own hand, and this is where we need to go;

We have to be begin to be more direct about what we face. We have to recognize that our unchallenged mastery is now challenged. We now have to recognize that there are nations who see the system we’ve crafted since World War II as unhelpful to their strategic goals. We have to recognize that in order to deter nations like this, naval forces operating weeks over the horizon are insufficient. We must recognize that presence, showing the flag, being there, is just not enough.

Distributed lethality is the leading edge of that recognition. By increasing the unit-level lethality of virtually every ship in the Navy and then operating them innovatively in a dispersed posture designed to present an adversary with numerous and diverse threats to what he holds dear, we are once again realizing the deterrent value of offensive power. The surface force seems to have recognized the changed environment, the re-emergence of great power dynamics, and the requirement to break a defensive mindset while taking to the operational offensive once again. Future strike group commanders and numbered fleet commanders and four-stars must begin to think about and more importantly communicate a recognition that the stakes have changed, and that a force that places too much value on survivability may be placing insufficient emphasis on threatening the other guy’s survivability.

We need to harden surface presence forces not just for the sake of protecting the people serving on the ship, but also to present would-be aggressors with a more effective deterrent. We need — when we talk about survivability — to ensure that we are talking about it as a means to an end — conventional deterrence — and not an end unto itself

Finally, I want to try and get something going here with you. I’d like us to stop talking about “survivability” altogether. That’s right — eliminate it from our lexicon. When you folks go back to your jobs wherever they may be, but especially at the Pentagon, the systems commands, or at the surface type command, try to get the Navy to walk away from it. Truth be told, it is a loaded term, and one that conveys defense and weakness and timidity. The Air Force — which has a much tougher job in justifying the expense of large land bases that don’t move — never talks about “survivability.” They talk about “hardening,” as I’ve done here today.

We need to harden the surface force in order to make our adversaries spend more of their tax dollars in trying to overcome it — or better yet — decide that such expenditures aren’t worth the opportunity cost. This is, of course, the essence of conventional deterrence.

He brings a lot more to the discussion. Read it all.



Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on June 5, 2016, for Midrats Episode 335: War of 1812 in the Chesapeake: A Schoolhouse at Sea

Last month started what we hope will be a regular occurrence in the education of our future leaders; the US Naval Academy took 10 Midshipmen along with a group of instructors on-board the topsail schooners Pride of Baltimore and Lynx as part of an elective history course titled “War of 1812 in the Chesapeake: A Schoolhouse at Sea.”


We will have two of the instructors for the cruise with us for the full hour, returning guest LCDR Claude Berube, USNR, instructor at the USNA Department of History, Director of the US Naval Academy Museum and organizer of the program, along with USNA leadership instructor, LT Jack McCain, USN who focused instruction during the cruise on naval hero Stephen Decatur.

We will discuss the genesis of the program, the areas of instruction, the experience, along with the general topic of the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake.

Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here. Or get it later from iTunes or Stitcher



k1In 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.

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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 Navy has forgotten the STARK. As a comparison, a quick Google search will take you to the USS COLE homepage, with a link to its memorial. Each year, ceremonies span our shores and ships as we remember the lessons learned and the lives lost during that terrible incident. Social media explodes with articles and words demanding that we “Remember the COLE.” And we should remember the COLE and the Sailors we lost that day. However, replace USS COLE in a Google search with USS STARK and Wikipedia is the first to pop up, followed by articles from small local news outlets.

Twenty-nine years ago, the surface navy learned a hard lesson aboard STARK. In a matter of minutes, two Exocet missiles from an Iraqi Mirage aircraft made real the dangers of insufficient training and complacent watchstanding. Sailors were ripped violently from their racks as the missiles’ impact tore into the port windbreak; others ran to contain the flames and save the ship. In a true testament to the Navy’s fighting spirit, the crew battled the damage for over twenty-four hours, and miraculously, managed to return the ship to Bahrain under its own power. Ultimately, USS STARK (FFG 31) lost thirty-seven Sailors, with twenty-one more wounded.

Yesterday in Mayport, FL, a small ceremony took place honoring STARK and her crew. The STARK incident hits close to home for Mayport Sailors, as she was homeported in and returned home to Mayport after her attack, and some of today’s Mayport Sailors once served aboard her, carrying on her legacy and wounds alike. As a Frigate Sailor myself, I have walked similar passageways and layouts to those torn apart twenty-nine years ago. I learned more about the STARK incident as I prepared to take charge of the Fire Control division on a cruiser, a division whose sole purpose was to ensure excellence in Air Defense…the same air defenses that were lacking when STARK was hit. The STARK incident resonates with most of us, but to the “Big Navy” she seems to be all but forgotten. There was not a single article from OPNAV Public Affairs, nor a post or photo in honor of the incident from the Navy’s social media team. Instead, articles and posts appeared lauding the anniversary of Top Gun and the impact the movie had on the Navy. The only mention of STARK was as a footnote on the Naval History and Heritage Command website.

Yesterday, rather than showcasing the tenacity, dedication, and resilience of the Surface Navy – especially the STARK crew, and honoring the lives of the thirty-seven Sailors who paid the ultimate sacrifice, the Navy’s public affairs office chose to honor the thirtieth anniversary of the movie Top Gun. While Top Gun had great recruiting value for the Navy in the late 1980s (and perhaps does today), it bears far less weight than our own naval heritage. Our heritage, from the Barbary Wars, to the battles of Midway and Leyte Gulf, to Operation Praying Mantis, plays a profound role in who we are as surface warriors, and as naval professionals. These milestones helped develop our doctrine, refine our systems, and strengthen our resolve. We have an obligation to honor those who came before us, those who showed us what real sacrifice is, and those who led the way in making the Navy the fighting force it is today. We failed to uphold this obligation yesterday.

Not only did we not uphold our obligation to learn and remember the lessons of our history, but we trivialized those lessons. Yesterday’s video advertised the Surface Navy’s new “Top Gun” cadre, its Warfare Tactics Instructors (WTIs), equating the antics from the movie Top Gun and the aviators’ success at Fighter Weapons School to the new cadre of surface WTIs. But the video misses the point. Top Gun was created out of necessity, not vanity. After suffering devastating kill-to-loss ratios in the first part of the Vietnam War, and after the publication of the Ault Report that concluded that insufficient training in Air Combat Maneuvering was the root cause of Naval Aviation losses, the Navy created Fighter Weapons School in 1969. We applied history’s lessons at FWS: it is more than just the systems that win the fight – most of all it is the “man in the box.”

Today, Warfare Tactics Instructors exist to improve the tactical skill of the Surface Navy and sustain our warrior ethos. Instead of glorifying a movie, we must show how history has taught us that uneducated and complacent leaders and watchteams will get Sailors killed. Much like the graduates of the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center’s Weapons Schools, we do not do this job to pay homage to a Tom Cruise character, we do it to ensure our Sailors and teams have the tools to come home safely from the fight. It’s high time the Navy recognized that this is why we’re here. Thank you, but we don’t need Tom Cruise references to be relevant.



Perhaps the most unfortunate buzzword today is “millennial.”

Abraham Lincoln once said, “If you look for the bad in people expecting to find it, you surely will.” Folks have certainly been looking. And looking. And looking. And looking.

But let us examine the facts:

-“Millennials” are defined as individuals born between 1980 and 2000.

-The majority of the men and women in this age group volunteered to serve their country not merely in a time of war, but during a time when the United States of America was attacked on our own soil.

-Today, more than 80% of enlisted sailors and 50% of officers are “millennials.”

-“Millennials” have proven their honor, courage, and commitment, time and again.

Every generation believes it is “The Greatest Generation.” Each retiring generation believes it had it “the toughest” or “most real.” Judgment of these beliefs matters not; there is no inter-generational points system or scorebook with winners and losers.

Millennials joined the military for the same reasons that our predecessors did: for love of country; for family; for a career; for the educational and health care benefits; for a lack of options, even. My grandfather once said, “It was either the Marine Corps or jail, and I didn’t have anything else better to do.”

Like our predecessors, we believe we are more innovative than those who have gone before us (or, at least, more in touch with current technology). We want to do things better, faster. We are operating in a more complicated geopolitical environment, through more complex weapons systems, across multiple domains simultaneously. And, yes, we have a healthy impatience for waiting to do things better. Resting on our laurels has never been–and should never become–a standard trait of the United States Naval Service.

And yet, the military isn’t necessarily for all of us. We have these discussions using the technology of our time; these conversations have moved from scuttlebutt on the mess decks to Facebook and the blogosphere. We will debate about our grievances with the service, just as you did in your time: how do we best retain our people? How do we best care for our families at home? How do we triumph in strategy, operations, and tactics? Refining our arguments in public writing actually makes us a stronger, more grounded, more reasonable service.

The military attracts a certain brand of “can-do” personality. Is there a better way to manage our personnel? A better way to care for families? A better way to fight and win? Then let’s do it. This personality has always been at odds with a stand-still bureaucracy or the status quo.

Leaders and policymakers should end the practice of tacitly blaming or claiming to cater to a different generation when it comes to dealing with military innovation, retention, and technology. Start talking about these topics in terms of cost, efficacy, velocity (which has both speed and direction components), and lethality. It is not about “what millennials want;” it is about fighting and winning our nation’s wars with resilience both abroad and at home. Institutionally walling-off conversation and action on topics such as strategy, acquisition reform, and defense programs based solely on seniority without involvement from the men and women who will execute on those realities creates an unnecessary barrier to the long-term health of our ever-evolving service. We are all on the same team, with the same goals.

We are a service united by purpose and oath, not divided into generational interest groups. We are not “millennials.” We are: Sailors. Marines. Aviators. Coast Guardsmen. Americans. Nothing else matters.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Today’s cyber world is getting more complex. For those charged with ensuring information systems remain secure the question remains – how can we be certain we are taking the right actions when we continually hear of systems penetrated, information stolen, and resources plundered due to nefarious cyber actors? Is our confidence in our cybersecurity efforts based on reality or something else? In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel prize winner Professor Daniel Kahneman explores the manner in which we think. To ensure cybersecurity efforts will be successful, we must first understand how we think, and how the way we think impacts our ability to bring about real cybersecurity improvements.

110524-N-GS507-210 PENSACOLA, Fla. (May 24, 2011) Students from the Center for Information Dominance (CID) Corry Station, Cryptologic Technician Collection Seaman Recruit Ben Lowden, of Brownsberg, Ind., Cryptologic Technician Networks Seaman Apprentice Alicia Sutliff, of Jacksonville, Fla., and Cryptologic Technician Technical Third Class Steven Tometczak, of Reno, Nev., preview the Integrated System for Language Education and Training program (ISLET), which is being tested by the CID-based Center for Language, Regional Expertise and Culture (CLREC) and the Academic Consortium for Global Education (ACGE). Conceived as an alternative to traditional computer-based training and classroom instruction, ISLET employs online social networking, interactive role-play, competitive gaming and speech recognition to create an immersive environment for collaborative learning. (U.S. Navy photo by Gary Nichols/Released)
Students from the Center for Information Dominance (CID) Corry Station (U.S. Navy photo by Gary Nichols/Released)

Thinking, Fast and Slow Concepts

In his book, Professor Kahneman addresses the two ways we think. Thinking Fast, identified as System 1, is how we quickly and easily put limited information together to tell a coherent story. Thinking fast is hardwired into our DNA. It’s what gives us our gut feeling which will keep us safe in some instances. Thinking Fast is what we are doing when we breeze quickly through new articles, like this one, looking for information that is familiar, instead of trying to figure out if the concept really applies to us.

Thinking Slow, identified as System 2, takes serious mental effort. Thinking slow enables us to be factual, challenging accepted beliefs with all available evidence. Thinking slow is what gives us self-control, like not indulging in too much chocolate. Thinking slow takes real effort, which is why it is difficult to do all the time, or when we are fatigued. Thinking slow is what is necessary to grasp new concepts.

The unfortunate reality is we are all “lazy thinkers.” We rely on fast thinking for the large majority of activities in our lives. In many instances that is perfectly acceptable. In familiar situations, where we have a lot of experience, thinking fast usually works fine. However, in unfamiliar areas, thinking slow is what is needed in order to succeed. The complex and challenging world of cybersecurity is just such an area where it is critical to understand how our thinking could mean the difference between success and failure.

Two concepts brought forth in the book are critical in identifying where fast thinking can lead us astray. Those concepts are What You See Is All There Is and Cognitive Ease.

What You See Is All There Is (WYSIATI).

“System 1 (fast thinking) is radically insensitive to both the quality and the quantity of the information that gives rise to impressions and intuitions.” When we are thinking fast we tell ourselves a story that supports a specific belief. In creating this story, we grab whatever information will support a belief and don’t consider anything that may refute it. We are content with What You See Is All There Is (WYSIATI). Our ignorance of other evidence, which may be of greater quality, allows us to remain in bliss. “Contrary to the rules of philosophers of science, who advise testing hypotheses by trying to refute them, people (and scientists, quite often) seek data that are likely to be compatible with the beliefs they currently hold.” WYSIATI is fast thinking, and in the world of cybersecurity, this fast thinking can result in having faith in actions that do little to improve cybersecurity. Unfortunately, WYSIATI has a fast thinking partner in crime that also conspires to keep us ignorant. That partner is Cognitive Ease.

Cognitive Ease

Cognitive Ease is simply how easy it is to retrieve a thought from memory. Something we have heard or thought on many occasions will be retrieved more easily from memory. The easier it is to retrieve something from memory gives greater confidence that the belief is true, although the reality may be the exact opposite. For example, you could be performing a certain “best practice,” like patching software or upgrading operating systems. Labeling something a “best practice” can make you think this practice has been shown through data and analysis to result in significant improvements. However, if the initial conditions are different than those considered when developing the “best practice,” this “best practice” may only result in wasted resources. Regardless of the reality, the more you recall the “best practice” from memory, along with the story that you are performing it to improve cybersecurity, the greater your confidence will be that the best practice will improve cybersecurity. WYSIATI and Cognitive Ease are truly super villains. The super hero with an “S” on its chest that can save the day is Slow Thinking.

Slow Thinking to the Rescue

Slow thinking is what is necessary to end storytelling and discover the truth. Slow thinking is about reframing the problem in order to find information that can challenge existing beliefs. As slow thinking uncovers new and better information, Cognitive Ease will remind you of your confidence in prior beliefs. Your gut will be telling you that no additional information is necessary (WYSIATI). Slow thinking is what will give you the self-control to fairly assess the new information you have discovered.

Fortunately, the Department of Defense has leaders who encourage slow thinking. The Department of Defense Cybersecurity Culture and Compliance Initiative (DC3I) was signed in September 2015 by Secretary Carter and General Dempsey. The DC3I is based on “five operational excellence principles – Integrity, Level of Knowledge, Procedural Compliance, Formality and Backup, and a Questioning Attitude.” Similarly, in his Principles of Better Buying Power, Secretary Kendall instructs us that, “Critical thinking is necessary for success,” and we should “have the courage to challenge bad policy.” These three DOD leaders are asking us to think slowly. This article will examine three separate areas; Cybersecurity Training, Our Cyber Adversaries, and The Certification and Accreditation Process, to illustrate how slow thinking can lead to improved cybersecurity.

Cybersecurity Training

In order to utilize slow thinking to improve cybersecurity, we must first be able to recognize where we are thinking fast. Cybersecurity training is an area that can clearly illustrate the difference between fast and slow thinking.

A typical approach to training on cybersecurity is to track the percentage of people trained in a particular cybersecurity area. As the percentage of people trained goes up, then the cybersecurity readiness of the workforce is assumed to be improving. This is a perfect illustration of WYSIATI. Limited information has been put together to tell a coherent story. In order to determine if the story is fact or fiction, slow thinking must be used to actively look for information that can confirm or deny the assertion that training is improving cyber readiness.

Unfortunately, there are a number of potential flaws to the assertion that training is improving cyber readiness. The training could be incorrect or inadequate. The training may not actually provide the workforce with skills required to improve cybersecurity. The workforce may not take the training seriously and not actually learn what is covered by the training. In some cases, knowing what to do isn’t enough to ensure the correct actions are taken. In the area of spear phishing, which is still the most common way malicious software enters information systems, a person must first be able to recognize a spear phishing attempt before they can take the appropriate actions. Even if spear phishing training provides a number of examples of spear phishing attempts, when people are tired, or in a rush, or possibly just don’t believe they will get spear phished, the chances of them taking the correct actions are not good.

Now, compare training on spear phishing to actively spear phishing your employees. If your employees know they will be spear phished, and held accountable for their performance, then they will be more on the lookout for suspicious emails, whether they are actual or training spear phishing attempts. By actively testing your employees with quality spear phishing attempts, you will compile real data on how the workforce is responding to this threat, and be able to provide additional training for those who aren’t. Training on spear phishing is like reading a book on running. Actively spear phishing employees would be like timing your employees for a run around a track. One is a Fast Thinking story. The other is Slow Thinking reality. Unfortunately, as illustrated by Professor Kahneman’s book, our default response in most situations is fast thinking. This can be especially true in circumstances where we have a problem that we are desperate to solve. We look for information that supports our success, and fail to look for, or disregard, information that would tell us we aren’t improving.

Outside Secretary Kendall’s door is a sign that states, “In God We Trust; All Others Must Bring Data.” One of his Better Buying Principles is “Data should drive policy.” In this circumstance, the data that we seek isn’t the simple, fast thinking question of how many people have been trained; it is the more difficult, slow thinking question: are our cybersecurity training efforts improving cybersecurity readiness? Only through slow thinking will we obtain meaningful data to drive policy and our cybersecurity efforts.

Our Cyber Adversaries

The SONY attack, the OPM breach, the Target theft, Edward Snowden, Private Manning – all involve information destroyed and stolen, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars. The cyber threat is certainly real, as the incidents above all attest. Unfortunately, the above incidents, and the press coverage that brings these threats repeatedly to mind, can lead to the perception that any system can be exploited by our adversaries at any time. As we learned previously, thoughts that are repeatedly brought to mind are more easily remembered, which Professor Kahneman describes as Cognitive Ease. In the world of cybersecurity, Cognitive Ease can make us quite confident that every single system can easily be exploited by any random hacker. With limited time and resources to address every system, it is critical to gain a clear understanding of how vulnerable systems are, and the impacts that can result if systems are exploited. If we attribute capabilities to adversaries that they don’t have, or install unnecessary protections in systems that aren’t at risk, we not only waste resources, but we continue to remain ignorant of the actual threat to our systems. Let’s see if we can do some slow thinking on the challenges faced by our cyber adversaries.

Eliminating the Fog of War

Cybersecurity firms often demonstrate the damage that could be done to information systems if hackers got control of them. What needs to be recognized is that the people performing these demonstrations have full access to system documentation, the system itself, and can run tests repeatedly until they get a desired effect. These demonstrations are a perfect example of WYSIATI. The people performing these demonstrations would have you believe (and often believe themselves) that If these demonstrations can be done then surely our cyber adversaries can do the same thing. The problem with demonstrations like these is that they eliminate the Fog of War, the uncertainty that is pervasive in almost every aspect of warfare. For our adversaries the challenge is much greater. System software and hardware configurations are constantly changing, so even if adversaries have system documentation, that information often very perishable. How will our adversaries know if that configuration is still in the Fleet? How will they locate a system that has that specific configuration so that they can test to see if their cyber-attack will work? How will they conduct the test in a manner that won’t tip off their adversary (us) about a potential vulnerability? How will they gain the necessary access to test out the attack? If they are able to locate the system, and attempt to perform their attack, how will they get the necessary feedback to understand why a test may have failed? These cybersecurity demonstrations show what is possible – with perfect knowledge, perfect access, and perfect conditions. What they don’t address is what is probable. Every step in the enemy kill chain is assumed to be perfect, which can then, of course, generate extremely significant consequences. Under those conditions, tremendous damage can be caused in non-cyber areas as well. For instance, any of our fighter planes would cause an amazing amount of damage if it was crashed into a carrier by an insider threat pilot. While everyone would admit that is certainly possible, we all recognize that the probability of that occurring is extremely low so we don’t waste valuable resources trying to create technical systems that could stop a rogue pilot from crashing their plane. In order to obtain value from our cybersecurity efforts we must understand all the challenges our adversaries must overcome. We must not focus on what is possible and then try to fix every associated vulnerability. We must use slow thinking and improve our understanding of what is probable in order to best utilize limited resources.

The Certification and Accreditation Process

The Department of the Navy spends a lot of time and effort on certifying and accrediting information systems to ensure information systems have a certain level of cybersecurity. The WYSIATI approach to certification and accreditation is simply that by using this process, and tracking the correction of system vulnerabilities, then information systems will become more secure in terms of cybersecurity. Systems that are certified and accredited are better off in terms of cybersecurity than systems that aren’t.

Once again we have a fast thinking coherent story that seems to makes sense. Let’s now willingly look for information that can compete with this story. In his book, Professor Kahneman describes an approach to enable Slow Thinking called a Pre-Mortem. The Pre-Mortem is an intellectual exercise done prior to committing to a major initiative that challenges people to think about how the initiative might fail or make things worse.

A pre-mortem for the certification and accreditation process might predict that the process could fail by taking such a long time that it significantly delays the implementation of cybersecurity capabilities. The pre-mortem could predict that due to unclear requirements and untrained personnel the certification and accreditation process might generate very little improvement in cybersecurity, wasting precious resources on something that is primarily a paperwork drill. In this situation, since the C&A process has been in place for a number of years, we can look for indications that support these predictions.

Little value for the effort.

The Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) at Dahlgren, Virginia is just one of the Navy’s centers for innovation. In 1920, only 17 years after the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk, engineers at Dahlgren launched the first remote control airplane. The plane crashed, but the boldness of such an effort, so soon after the first manned flight, is striking. Innovation remains a constant pursuit by the men and women who serve at Dahlgren NSWC today.

Recently, four of Dahlgren’s engineers, with combined experience of more than 100 years, noted their concern with the certification and accreditation (C&A) process. Over the course of 18 months they examined the resources and time required to get 43 information systems processed through the C&A process. These packages took 33,000 hours of work for a cost of $3.5M, and in the end all of the information system packages were certified. Yet all that administrative work only generated one minor technical issue that needed to be corrected. $3.5 Million worth of time and effort generated almost no changes to the systems in question, and took talented engineers away from the process of innovation, research, and development which our country needs them to be doing.

Forgetting the Commander in Situ

The “Commander in Situ”, which stands for the Commander in the Situation, is a military term that recognizes it is the Commander actually on scene, or in the situation, that has the best understanding of what is going on and what needs to be done. This principle has been evoked over the years after horrible mistakes have been made by those far from the scene who tried to order what must be done with imperfect knowledge of the situation. “Commander in Situ” is all about decentralized control, leaving control to those with the best information.

Unfortunately the C&A process is a very slow, centralized process that pushes information system packages through to one approving authority. What should be recognized is that the farther the approval chain gets away from the system requiring certification, the less knowledge and understanding decision makers have regarding the system in question. In many cases, the people who make the final decisions for approval don’t have any technical expertise on the systems they are approving. System experts have to educate those who give final approval of their system. In cases such as this, decisions that could be made, literally, in minutes by the local experts, have taken over a year to run through the certification and accreditation process. The lack of local authority for cybersecurity matters is quite stunning. For example, the Dahlgren Naval Surface Warfare Center is one of the few organizations in the United States that has the authority to handle the Anthrax virus. Dahlgren can also handle and detonate ordnance up to 10,000 pound bombs. Yet if engineers at Dahlgren want to connect a new microscope to a standalone laptop, that requires a process that can take over six months and requires routing paperwork through four other organizations to gain the necessary permission.

The Illusion of Authority to Operate

When an information system successfully completes the certification and accreditation process it is provided an Authority to Operate (ATO). The ATO authorizes a particular information system for operations, normally for a period of three years. So at two years and 364 days from the date the ATO is provided the system is still good, yet two days later these systems are no longer acceptable for operation. In some instances, when a system is deemed to be at higher risk, an Interim ATO is granted for a period of six months or less. How the length of the time periods of the ATOs are linked to reality is not clear. These information systems are being treated like cartons of milk with expiration dates. While we know the science behind why milk goes bad, there is no science behind why an information system should have an ATO of three years, two years, or six months. This is just a story we have been telling ourselves.

Disregarding Design Thinking

The movie The Imitation Game details the story of the United Kingdom’s efforts to solve the Enigma machine – the encrypting machine the Germans used during WWII to send messages. The movie pits Professor Alan Turing against a group of mathematicians and code breakers. Each day, the mathematicians and code breakers scribbled furiously on paper in order to try to break the code, and each day they failed. Professor Turing was an early practitioner of design thinking. He realized he needed to design a solution that would be a good match for the problem at hand. Professor Turing eventually solved the Enigma machine by creating a machine to do it. Unfortunately, like the mathematicians and code breakers in The Imitation Game, our certification and accreditation process is a slow, centralized, and bureaucratic solution, which is unfit for the very fast, decentralized problem of cybersecurity.

The examples and concerns I have brought forth above are not intended to blame or criticize, but instead to engage in the type of critical thinking that DoD leadership has encouraged us to do. In our efforts to address current cyber challenges we are all on the same team. The examples above are meant to illustrate the concepts of fast and slow thinking in order to best address these significant cyber issues. A fast thinking response to these concerns would be to dismiss them or dispute them. A slow thinking approach would be to willingly investigate them and try to confirm them. New processes should be developed for those concerns that are confirmed.

High Velocity Learning

Recognizing that we must respond to a changing global environment, in January 2016 the Navy issued A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority. In the document four lines of effort are established, one of which is to “Achieve High Velocity Learning at Every Level.” The objective of this effort is to “Apply the best concepts, techniques and technologies to accelerate learning as individuals, teams and organizations.” Our Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson, has made it clear that the US Navy will be a learning organization. But to accelerate our learning we must first understand how we think. In the end, we should recognize that what we need to effectively address our cyber challenges, as well as achieve high velocity learning, is slow thinking.

The above views are solely my own and have not been endorsed by the Navy. All quotes are from Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, a tremendous book that I highly recommend.

 



23rd

Ten Seconds

March 2016

By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simpler Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shared Consciousness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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