Archive for the 'Training & Education' Category
Chief of Naval Operations Richardson has put out a call for more naval professionals to contribute to their profession through writing. Other Flag Officers have followed his lead and there is a rising movement across the joint force. The first post in this series examined how someone can develop an idea into a professional article. The next two posts will look to offer a clearer picture of what a writer should expect once their article is written: from submission to when it is out in print or online.
The advice in this series is based on professional writing for a print or online magazine/journal. People interested in blogging can certainly also learn from these ideas. But blogging has a slightly different place in our digital society, and frequently has different (sometimes looser) standards. As seen from the fact this series is published on a pair of blogs (USNI and the Military Writer’s Guild), I see a lot of value in both approaches.
One of the most intimidating things about publishing a professional contribution is fear the author will get something wrong, or embarrass themselves through small mistakes. The reality is a typo, an improperly used italics formatting, or a misspelled name is not something most editors care about. If the problems are repeated and glaring, that is different, but a couple of small mistakes are not very important.
Personally, this is why I like working with journals and magazines more than unedited blogs, or blogs run from personal websites. My work always benefits from the critical eye of a dedicated editor, whether a paid employee of a publication or sometimes a volunteer. That kind of sanity check has kept me from embarrassing myself when the editor asks “hey, are you sure that is right?” or “what is your citation or link for this fact?” From fixing typos, to helping improve the writing in terms of style or house format, and challenging flawed logic or argument, editors have always made my work better. Once the article or essay has made it through them, or their editorial board, there’s a much smaller chance I am embarrassing myself.
Finding a Publication
With a completed draft on the computer screen, it is time to decide where to submit the article. There are many, many options. For naval writers there are the big time naval professional journals like Proceedings and Naval War College Review, to the magazines published by community organizations like Tailhook and the Naval Helicopter Association. The other services have similar venues like Military Review, The Gazette, or branch publications like Armor. There are also the online publications about defense and national security issues. Authors must realize each and every publication has its own niche and its own style. Your manuscript should aim to fit their unique niche and style.
There are two good rules of thumb for selecting where to send the article. First, make sure you’ve read articles from the publication you want to target and ensure your article is the kind of thing they publish. Second, find the publication’s “contributor guidelines.” They all have them, and the editors actually put hard work into getting them just right. Here is the link to Proceedings, and here is War on the Rocks, to give you an idea of what they include. Frequently, these pages are also a wealth of advice on good writing. FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES. (Yes, I just stomped my foot and yelled at you.) Do not let the word “guidelines” fool you, these are the rules for the publication. The quickest way to get rejected by an editor is to send them something clearly violating the rules they have put out in the open. And don’t blast the article out to multiple publications at the same time. Pick one, submit, and be patient. Give the editors a couple days to acknowledge your submission, and even more time before you demand an answer. Some have review processes which take months. Even if the article is rejected, you frequently will get constructive feedback that will help you make it better before sending it to the next publication.
You may decide you are interested in a less formal arrangement, and go with a blog such as USNI Blog or work with junior folks like at CIMSEC. But deciding where to send your article should be a conscious choice based on knowledge of what they publish and how you fit into their corner of national security or professional discussion. You do not need a personal introduction to an editor. Find the email address for submissions, write a brief introductory email (include who you are, title of the article, length, and where you see it fitting into the publication), attach the article (or just make a pitch if that is what the guidelines say), and hit send.
Working with Editors
Editors are here to make our work better. Sometimes, we don’t like to hear their criticism, but it is really crucial we listen and consider it. You can push back against an editor’s changes or suggestions, but you should be able to explain why. Also, you can ask an editor to explain the reasons they have made or suggested a certain change. The writer-editor relationship should have plenty of back and forth, with give and take from both sides.
A professional editor will also never talk about the details of the work they do with you. For example, the Editorial Board at the Naval Institute has very strict privilege rules covering what is discussed in the boardroom. Some new writers fear editors will bad mouth them to other publications or with other writers, but that has never been my experience. In fact, I’ve had many editors try and help me by suggesting other publications which might be a “better fit” if they have rejected my work. Editors have also offered to make introductions to other publications for me. While talking with an editor isn’t quite like talking with a Chaplain, respected outlets are run by respectable people. Publishers always want you to come back with good material, because it is how they keep their journal up and running.
The vast majority of material published today ends up online. Even print journals like Proceedings place their articles on their website. Along with this comes the dreaded “comments section.” Realize there is no obligation for you to read the comments section. Frankly, most of the time I try and ignore it. For each ego stroking reassurance you have offered a brilliant analysis, there’s a troll looking for a fight or a pedantic fact checker ignoring the actual point. Sometimes, a genuine expert in your subject might respond with good insight. When I am tempted to look, and I discover someone like that, I have been known to contact them directly to learn more, but not engage in the furball of likes and unlikes and replies. Most publications want their authors to engage, on more than one occasion staff at USNI have suggested I dive in. However, the key for any author is to realize engaging with commenters is entirely a personal choice. There is no requirement to do it, and there is no requirement you ignore it.
A number of professional naval journals have had a history of allowing the use of pen names. Many excellent digital commentators, like our friend Cdr Salamander, use them with skill and for excellent reasons. The first thing to realize is most publications have a specific policy on the use of pseudonyms. They probably are not going to break their own rules for you, and you better know what they are before you try and submit as “W.T. Door” or “Sailor Timmy.” Many blogs also have a policy on it as well. If you decide you need to use a pen name to protect yourself, you may be limiting how seriously your work will be taken and limiting the kinds of publications you can approach.
Personally, I have also found my writing is far better when I do it under my own name. There is less of a temptation to resort to snark and sarcasm and greater incentive to make sure the research is fully and rigorously sourced. Since we have been talking about writing for professional journals and magazines, it is uncommon for them to resort to pen names. If you are publishing in a respected journal or online publication the odds are you want some credit for your ideas, and for having the guts to get them out there, anyway.
This post is the second in a three part series where the author shares lessons learned from a decade of his own professional writing, almost four years on the editorial board of the U.S. Naval Institute, as a Senior Editor with War on the Rocks, and as series editor of the 21st Century Foundations books from the Naval Institute Press. The advice contained is worth exactly what you have paid to read it and individual experience will vary. The opinions expressed are offered in the author’s personal capacity and do not represent the policy of the US Navy, Department of Defense, or any government agency.
The June issue of Proceedings offered a call from CNO Admiral Richardson, and his speechwriter Lt. Ashley O’Keefe, encouraging naval professionals to engage with their service through the act of professional writing. The CNO has not discovered a new idea, but instead lends his voice to something a number of recent senior officers have called for, from Stavridis to Winnefeld. Even some “not so senior” officers have suggested the same. Others have written indications and warnings about the risks the voyage entails.
There have been a long list of professionals throughout our history who have participated in the development of naval affairs in this way, from Maury to Mahan, Nimitz to Zumwalt. And while the spark for this post came from the CNO and the Navy, the other services have a history here too: from soldiers in the 19th century to leaders like Patton in the 20th century. However, the repeated calls to arms over time, or perhaps calls to pens, have missed something. How do you do it?
Our Navy is a technically oriented service. This is also generally true of the other services to greater or lesser degrees. Our educational policies focus on engineering and technical study, and rarely encourage us to learn how to communicate in writing beyond a bare minimum. In our staff positions we use briefing slides and other communication methods which inspire partial thoughts, quick hits, and incomplete sentences and no concept of paragraph structure or style. For cultures raised on procedural compliance and powerpoint, what is the procedure for writing a professional article? Some simple steps inspired by the words in the Naval Institute’s mission can help set our course.
The mission of USNI is to:
Provide an independent forum for those who dare to read, think, speak, and write to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and other issues critical to global security. [emphasis added]
The bold words are borrowed from President John Adams. In his 1765 pamphlet “Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law,” Adams examined monarchy and feudalism and compared them to the growing movement for freedom and liberty in the American colonies. The future president called for Americans who valued liberty to develop their knowledge, and their argument, by daring to read, think, speak, and write on the subject. It was a clarion call, but it also hinted at a certain amount of process. Adams was a careful writer and it is quite possible he put these words in a very specific order. Following his counsel can help professionals chart their process for developing an article which contributes to understanding of our profession.
In order to make a contribution to the field of military, naval, or national security knowledge, you have to know the state of the field. The way to do this is by reading. If you have come up with an interesting analogy for a current debate the only way to know if someone has made the argument before is by reading the field. If you wonder what counter-arguments may be against your position, that also comes with reading the field. Articles in journals like Proceedings, Military Review, or Naval War College Review, online publications like War on the Rocks and The Bridge, blogs like Next War, all contribute to the state of the field. Not only will reading them give you new information, and new ideas, but they also tell you what others have said before. It can save you from the embarrassing retort: “yeah, Lieutenant Commander Jones said it six months ago and had a better argument.” (Not that you have to be entirely original, but knowing the field helps you understand where you fit.)
It is not just articles and online posts we should be reading. Books have long given us the deep knowledge needed to understand where the profession has been and where it may head in the future. There is a common refrain in the modern world that we simply do not have time for books. The watch schedule keeps us too busy. Digital media has affected our attention span. Military service is demanding, and we need time with our families. Yet we find time for physical exercise, while we discount intellectual exercise. According to some studies the average college graduate reads around 300 words a minute. If we read 15 minutes each evening, it totals up to 18-20 books a year. The excuse there is “no time” would never be accepted when we failed the PFT. Accept the challenge to read more widely. Maybe this sounds “high brow” or too “egg headed” but as President Truman, a WWI Army veteran, said: “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”
Once a servicemember or natsec professional has an idea of the subject they want to write about, has done some research and reading about it, and has come up with the initial kernel of an argument, they must spend some time thinking about it. This advice probably goes against the grain of what digital media incentivises, or what social media seems to encourage. However, the point of this effort is to make a contribution to the field of military and naval affairs or national security, not to rush into being a “thought leader” in the crashing tide of the blogosphere. Thinking hard about the subject you intend to tackle includes attempting to employ the skills of critical thinking.
Critical thinking gets a lot of attention these days and there are numerous competing definitions of what it means. Unfortunately, too many people seem to think “critical thinking” means “thinking about important or critical things.” That’s not the case. Instead we need level criticism at ourselves and our ideas. We need to examine our ideas with depth, and rigor, in order to get to the heart of whatever issue we want to write about. This includes becoming a critic of yourself and your own ideas, as well as the ideas of others. As you develop the concept for your article, be exacting and penetrating with the evidence you have amassed either through research or your own experience.
Having researched, considered experience, and critically examined the subject in your own mind, it is important to get a sanity check from someone else. In the academic world, this is part of the reason there is peer review before journal articles are published. In the professional and popular press, editors and editorial boards will judge your work with a dispassionate eye. The best way to ensure your argument makes sense, and you have developed a sound approach before contacting an editor, is to talk about it with other people.
Speaking about your idea can take a number of forms. It can happen with a pint in your hand at a pub with a mentor or group of respected friends. In the lost days of our Officer Clubs this was actually a common way of helping people develop professional ideas. It could also involve a cup of coffee. Seek out a mentor who you trust, whether a senior officer or a former professor or co-worker, and see what sticks in your conversation with them. Speaking also does not have to be taken literally, even if some of us work better in the give and take of live conversation. It can take the form of an email or social media exchange. The goal is to introduce new criticisms the writer has not considered, or clarifying the way to express the ideas.
Sit down and write the article. Just do it. Don’t allow the blank page on the computer screen to intimidate. One of the benefits of having thought through the idea systematically, and then spoken about it with a trusted friend or mentor, is you have already started to develop the words to express the idea. As many successful authors have told us, from Stephen King and Anne Lamott to Ernest Hemingway: the first draft is going to be bad. It does not matter. Sit at the keyboard and bang away until you have said everything you want to say.
Once the words are on the page, raw and terrible as they might be, the writer has crossed a major hurdle. After that, it is a matter of editing, organizing, and rewriting, which should be easier than putting the idea down the first time. The editing does not need to be rushed, and the mentor or friend you spoke with probably will be excited to take a look at the article and help make suggestions to improve it. You have already made them feel like a part of the process. When the draft is something which reads well, and you’re happy with it, then it is time to start looking for a place to publish it. Good editors, strong editorial boards, and the review process they use will help strengthen the piece even more. Be ready to make more adjustments to help clarify any issues they discover.
The RTSW Loop
The steps of RTSW might be seen as a sort of OODA loop for professional writing. In some ways it is similar to Boyd’s strato-tactical ideal. For example, each element can send you back to a previous spot. Speaking with a mentor may send you to a book or article you had not heard of before which you need to read, or the process of writing may cause you to return to your thinking and reorganize your approach. But there are also differences with Boyd’s Observe-Orient-Decide-Act sequence, most notably speed. Speed can be your enemy when writing a good professional article. There is no hurry. Please do not try to beat the rush of modern media, this can lead to shallow writing, weak argument, and poorly sourced facts. Doing it right may take time, and multiple rounds of the “RTSW loop,” but that only makes the article stronger and a better contribution.
Writing for publication can be a rewarding challenge. It is also something a legion of Sailors, Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, and security professionals have done throughout history. Many discover the process of writing clarifies their thinking. It also develops our communication skills, our critical faculties through practice, and our leadership ability. All of these make us better military professionals. Writing for publication is not something we should do because we need another FITREP or evaluation bullet, or because we think we can impress our boss. We don’t do it simply because the CNO says so. It is something we do in order to move our profession forward and to improve our service or our nation’s security. So, it is time to dare. Dare to read, think, speak, and write.
The author would like to thank Cdr Mike Flynn and his Naval Academy summer school class on “Professional Writing” for their invitation to join them for a day of class, where the author had a chance to speak about and refine some of these ideas.
This post is the first in a three part series where the author shares lessons learned from a decade of his own professional writing, almost four years on the editorial board of the U.S. Naval Institute, as a Senior Editor with War on the Rocks, and as series editor of the 21st Century Foundations books from the Naval Institute Press. The advice contained is worth exactly what you have paid to read it and individual experience will vary. The opinions expressed are offered in the author’s personal capacity and do not represent the policy of the US Navy, Department of Defense, or any government agency.
“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!
When 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.
If 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.
In 1955 Air Force General Curtis LeMay, Commander of the Strategic Air Command, built the service’s first base hobby shop in Offutt, NE. His vision was to provide a facility with tools, material, and resources to allow Airmen the opportunity to repair, modify, or completely rebuild their personal automobiles. The first hobby shop was an overwhelming success and soon become popular among all ranks, including LeMay himself. Auto hobby shops soon proliferated across all SAC bases and eventually, along with their sibling wood hobby shops, to most American military bases around the globe. Many of these workshops eventually formalized their training, so service members could achieve recognized certifications for their efforts.
These hobby shops were widely viewed as constructive outlets for military personnel to learn interesting, practical skills and to make positive use of off-duty time by tapping into, or fostering, their inherent desire to “tinker” with things. By the late 1990s they began to lose their appeal and many were closed for financial reasons. The causes for their demise is unclear, whether because cars simply became too complex for the “shade tree mechanic” to repair or as a reflection of American society, where servicemen and women would rather pay someone else to do work they no longer wanted to do themselves.
I do not believe the inherent desire to tinker with things, or using individual experimentation as a learning tool, has gone away. It may, however, be occurring today in new forms. Because the cost of technology continues to decline, it has created an environment where sophisticated tools and devices are now at the fingertips of the average citizen, a condition commonly referred to as the democratization of science and technology.
For the past several years the White House has been championing the “Maker Movement” to stimulate innovation across America. Cottage industries in coding, drones, electronics, robotics, and 3D printing are sprouting up across the country in reflection of and to support this renewed interest. It is clear that the naval services are tapping into the resurgence of the tinkerer as well.
The first naval “Fab Lab” was created in Norfolk in 2015. This joint venture with DARPA and MIT provided sophisticated manufacturing equipment, materials, and world class training to Sailors in the fleet. The fundamental premise for this project was that by putting tools and capabilities into the hands of Sailors closest to our operational problems, they would develop new and innovative solutions. Since its inception, for example, LT Todd Coursey has achieved significant results, expanding interest and demonstrating the utility of this capability across the fleet. His outstanding efforts at Norfolk were recognized by the White House and Secretary Mabus. SECNAV’s Task Force Innovation has funded additional Fab Labs and over the next two years additional facilities, some of them mobile, will be operational at Navy and Marine Corps bases around the globe.
An extension of the FAB LAB concept is the Expeditionary Manufacturing Mobile Test Bed (EXMAN) project led by the Marines and SPAWAR. EXMAN offers the ability to digitally manufacture parts in the field, often at a reduced cost and in much less time. This past week EXMAN was successfully demonstrated to General Neller, a strong advocate of fielding these new facilities with the operational forces. This capability has the potential to fundamentally change how we do battlefield logistics, by making items instead of buying, storing and shipping them across the world.
3D manufacturing is not the only field where the tinkerer movement is making its military comeback. The Naval Postgraduate School built its Robo Dojo to allow students and visiting Sailors and Marines the opportunity to tinker with robots and control systems. In the future it is likely we will see coding bootcamps springing up on naval bases as well. These fora provide the opportunity for Sailors and Marines to learn basic coding skills and eventually build smart phone apps or virtual games. Ideally, all of these complementary capabilities will be connected in an integrated ecosystem, properly resourced and supported by senior leaders, and available everywhere.
These emerging capabilities fundamentally draw upon LeMay’s vision – provide the resources, tools and safe spaces to our people and allow them to cultivate their talents and creativity. We have no idea of the great things they will achieve when allowed to tinker with their own bold ideas, such as STGC Ben Lebron.
The Chief had a vision for a new decision aid to improve ASW operations on the USS Fitzgerald. After finding a JO who taught him some coding skills, Chief LeBron designed the Single Leg Bearing Range program, for which he subsequently won a 2015 SECNAV Innovation Award. His software substantially improves ASW sonar solutions by more than half.(SECNAV granted Chief Lebron a waiver to enroll in the NPS Master’s ASW distance learning program in addition to his formal award.)
The military has long practiced such problem solving. In an examination of culture’s impact on military innovation, Dima Adamsky notes the cultural difference between the US and Soviet militaries during the Cold War. One significant contrast was their approaches to technological adaptation. The Soviets would develop concepts and strategy for use ahead of delivering a technology, whereas the US military usually had the technology and then often took a decade to figure out how to turn it into an operational advantage. We may be experiencing the same phenomenon here with the maker movement.
As mentioned, today’s democratization of science and technology is enabling this tinkering resurgence to occur – not only for us, but for our adversaries. Recently, scholars CAPT Mark Hagerott (ret) and Col TX Hammes (ret), outlined their thoughtful visions of the future operating environment, where naval forces will have to contend with the challenges posed by a new reality of destructive, technology-based capabilities operated in very decentralized and unpredictable ways by our adversaries. The naval services must lead this wave, adjusting our strategy not only to counter these decentralized threats, but to use the skills of our creative workforce to create an operational advantage over our adversaries.
We are entering an era where the operational environment will be characterized by complexity, uncertainty, and unpredictability; to succeed, our naval forces must respond in kind. Simply relying on exquisite weapon systems and massed fire power will be insufficient. One way to overcome this challenge is to fully exploit the ingenuity and talents of our Sailors and Marines. The burgeoning naval tinkering movement is just one step in creating a fundamentally important operational capability that is already resident in the naval services. Failing to harness our tinkerers, and recognize their work, will be to the nation’s detriment.
The 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.”
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.”
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.
A few years back, a group of psychologists ran some tests on groups of first-grade students in the U.S. and in Japan. The researchers gave each group of students an impossible math problem, then sat back to watch how long the kids worked on the problem before giving up in frustration. On average, the groups of American kids worked at it for less than 30 seconds before quitting. The Japanese kids, however, worked and worked on the problem; each time, the researchers cut them off after an hour and told them that the problem was impossible to solve. The take away: the American kids quit at the first signs of frustration because they were not used to hard work, while the Japanese kids were determined to gut it out. One set of kids showed grit, the other set did not.
Do we have grit as a nation? Have we lost it? If so, can we regain it somehow?
When I think of Americans with grit, I think of Louis Zamperini, Anne Hutchinson, James Stockdale, and Sojourner Truth. I think of people like my great-grandmother, who successfully raised seven kids (two of them severely disabled) during the Depression. Grit reminds me of families surviving the Great Depression, the Johnstown Flood, or Hurricane Camille, through extreme suffering and severe hardship, even when all hope has been taken from them. Grit tells of men and women facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles yet digging in and persevering, pushing hard in the face of incredible odds and demonstrating courage even in the face of death.
Images like these tend to belong to events in our collective past. To anyone who is a parent or has served with Millennials, the idea that American kids today suffer from a lack of grit may be very familiar. We are constantly bombarded with the idea that American youth today consists primarily of entitled, coddled, self-absorbed individuals who don’t understand what hardship or hard work is. By this narrative, Americans—especially Millennials—are spoiled, lazy creatures consumed with ridiculous first-world problems who are growing into ineffective adults because they have been raised without taking risks and with the ease of the internet at their fingertips, all while being coddled by helicopter parents. They are used to getting info and materials instantly, can’t talk or relate to others on a personal level because all they know how to do is text, need trigger warnings before hearing harsh words, and don’t understand suffering or deprivation. And they are self-absorbed, expecting others to be interested in the inane details of their lives while constantly putting on a show of how enlightened and amazing they are (a la White Savior Barbie). Generation X is certainly not immune to these same criticisms, but the focus has been particularly harsh for Millennials.
Similar observations also come from long-term educators. School administrators complain about the worrisome changes they have seen in incoming students, whose parents are overly involved in the minutiae of their children’s lives. Camp counselors tell stories about kids who have to call home every day, or who wouldn’t make decisions for fears of choosing the wrong answer. Senior military leaders grumble about the self-absorption of their young Marines and Sailors and question whether or not younger generations can work hard enough to keep our nation safe.
A 2007 study on grit, in fact, emphasized the critical role that individual grit played in determining whether or not West Point cadets would successfully complete their first summer, Beast Barracks.
I’ve got my own fears and questions about the future, and worry that my kids will be weaker adults since they are growing up in a more comfortable (entitled?) world than the one my husband and I came from. What happens to our military in the next two decades if the people who populate it are a bunch of unimaginative, coddled nincompoops who don’t know how to gut through a challenging problem? What happens to our country by 2050 if the women and men who will one day lead it can’t relate to each other as people and can’t lead their way out of a paper bag? What happens to my kids if they can’t function as adults?
But a few recent observations have made me reconsider these fears.
Last summer, I wrote on this forum about a trial run camp that my husband and I held in our town. While talking one afternoon with friends about everything we wanted to teach our kids, we realized that we learned many of those skills at OCS, TBS, USNA, and while turning from an immature 21-year-old into a junior officer. So we held a 5th-grade version of TBS, with a bit of other stuff thrown in. It was a resounding success—the kids loved it, we had a blast planning and running it, and the feedback was overwhelming. This spring, we’ve adapted our camp into an after-school program, and are partway into the first session right now. We are attempting to teach, test, and emphasize hard work, leadership, and teamwork, how to tackle complex problems, and to enable them to lead peers in an unfamiliar and at times demanding physical environment. In a way, we are trying to teach grit.
So far? The kids eat it up. They are hungry for more responsibilities, more challenges, and tougher stuff. They relish the struggle. One of the less-athletic kids gets anxious at the thought of anything physical and competitive, and grows worried before each event, but she keeps coming back and is hugely proud of her accomplishments. Another is deathly afraid of heights but is really excited each time he climbs up an obstacle, visibly proud of conquering that fear. It’s like this whole world is out there that they can’t wait to get their hands into, and once there they shine.
What we are doing, in many ways subconsciously, is weaving a bit of struggle into all that we do with the kids. Look back at that early classroom experiment on Japanese and American kids. One researcher noticed a key difference between Japanese and American classrooms: the Japanese teachers that he observed uniformly taught and emphasized struggle. They picked tasks that pushed their students beyond their current capabilities, then discussed how the hard work and struggle was part of the successes the students had when they had them. And that grit study that looked at West Point cadets? It also found that grit increases with age. Life will certainly hand us all some trials, and if we succeed and pass these trials, we tend to develop and use grit. So it does come along at some point to some of us. But why wait until poor habit patterns are set to learn hard work? Why don’t we teach hard work and struggle earlier, to set our kids up for success, so that when the real struggles come, they are more prepared?
As for fears that the ease, comfort, and “politically correct” nature of our kids’ world is uniformly bad for them, my recent experience at the Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference (NAFAC) has made me view those fears differently. During the conference, I worked with a group of about 15 college students, about half of them midshipmen. I didn’t know what to expect. But during the roundtables, I grew impressed with both the demeanor (incredibly civil and professional) and the level of foreign policy knowledge and awareness demonstrated by the college student participants. I don’t remember seeing anything remotely like that level of sophistication when I was the same age. And the ideas and solutions they proposed to problems facing the United States today were insightful and creative precisely because of the knowledge that each brought to that roundtable. Maybe all of that internet stuff played a role, and maybe the greater emphasis on manners—or political correctness, to some—did as well.
What if that education, ease, and internet accessibility helps future leaders cast a wider net in the hunt for workable solutions? Compare it across generations: when given a task in elementary school, I had the local library and my parents’ old Encyclopedia Britannica to search through. But my kids, they will have the world. More knowledge and more information = more alternatives and more solutions. How is this not good?
So I believe that we can teach grit, and we can do it by building struggle into school, work, and daily tasks in imaginative ways. We can ensure that young people are allowed the gift of failure, a gift that for most of us will keep on giving. And we can expand our ideas of learning, fully embracing the wealth of information available to people today. The sooner we give that gift, and enable those struggles, and rethink what it means to teach and to learn, the more mature and grittier America can be.
- On Midrats 19 Feb 2017 -Episode 372: Andrew Jackson’s Navy; Now More Than Ever?
- SECDEF Mattis to NATO: Sober Up
- On Midrats 12 Feb 2017 – Episode 371: Rice Bowls, Silos, & Firewalls – the National Security Bureaucracy
- China Sees Our 350, and Throws Another 150 on Top
- On Midrats 5 Feb 2017 – Episode 370: The SECNAV’s In Basket With James Holmes