Archive for the 'Training & Education' Category

I, as many alumni, believe that USNA is a national treasure and should continue. BUT – to do so, it must be able to continue to demonstrate USNA is required. It must demonstrate that it is effective in carrying out its primary mission – to “graduate leaders dedicated to a career of naval service.”

Recently, in response to a FOIA request, after almost 3 months, USNA has been unable to provide even the definition of “a career of naval service,” let alone an evaluation of its mission effectiveness.

Captain Westbrook’s article does not, unfortunately, support his premise that USNA is needed. In his response, he fails to provide the proof he says he will. His article does not prove:

  1. That USNA accomplishes its mission;
  2. That USNA produces, in the long term, better officers than NROTC or OCS;
  3. That USNA provides officers who have (using Westbrook’s quote of Huntington’s 1950 tenets) more expertise, are better able to execute their responsibilities or have more “corporateness.”

150701-N-TO519-254Westbrook’s cost analysis is flawed. One must compare the total cost to the Navy to produce a commissioned officer. He rejects that concept, seemingly because it costs the Navy significantly more, as Fleming pointed out, to provide a commissioned officer from USNA than from any other source.

If USNA is cost effective and mission effective – if its officers are better and stay in longer – then the higher total cost to produce a graduate can be accepted. Unfortunately, neither Westbrook nor USNA has provided the data to substantiate that.

One can tell when one’s argument is unconvincing. Westbrook resorts to ad hominem attacks – such as inferring Fleming is a “charlatan.” That’s what one does when one’s “facts” don’t support his premise.

The measure of whether or not the taxpayers are getting their money’s worth is whether or not, compared to other officer accession programs, USNA is graduating leaders who are more dedicated to a career of naval service and are more competent officers throughout their career. Unfortunately, Westbrook’s article provides no proof of either.

I think USNA should continue – want it to – but taxpayers need for USNA to demonstrate that the officers produced are worth the additional “fully burdened” cost to operate USNA.

I hope it will – and soon!

This is a response to Bruce Fleming’s article published on on 7 March. His article was titled in the hyberbolic terms and vernacular one does not normally expect from college professors: “Let’s get rid of Annapolis: Our military academies screw taxpayers and the students — and serve only the powerful brass.”

I am writing from aboard the Sixth Fleet flagship, USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20), steaming in the Adriatic Sea. Despite submitting this rebuttal to the editors of soon after Fleming’s article was published, they have refused to print my response. Many thanks to the U.S. Naval Institute Editors for including in here.

In response, I offer your readers an alternative to Mr. Fleming’s rant: the perspective of that of a U.S. Navy Captain, at the point of 23 years of active duty service. I am a Surface Warfare Officer, which means that during my numerous tours of duty at-sea I drive warships and lead the teams of great Americans who serve in these vessels. Leading the crew of every Navy ship is the small cadre of commissioned officers charged with developing, training, and managing the current and future operations of ship and crew. Approximately one third of these officers began their careers one hot summer in Annapolis as new Naval Academy Midshipmen. As any number of the leadership classics written by democratic statesmen or capitalist magnates explain: peak-performing teams require bold, qualified leaders. In the military, we call them officers, and the U.S. Naval Academy produces some of the best.

150701-N-TO519-191As part of Samuel Huntington’s 1950’s classic The Soldier and the State, he presented his readers with the seminal treatise on military officers. He wrote that though there are many vocations and jobs that are beneficial to society, he defined four as the only true professions: law, medicine, clergy, and military officership. Huntington identified three key principles required to meet his definition which serve to bind these professions to their respective duties: expertise, responsibility, and ‘corporateness’. His essay, a subset of the larger tome, is a quick read and I encourage your readers to examine it in detail. But here I will quickly attempt to paraphrase Huntington’s key tenets:

Expertise: The inherent professional education and experience that separates professionals from laymen, which can only be instilled initially by institutions of research, history, and education. This expertise is perpetuated between the academic and practical sides of a profession through professional writing, journals, conferences, and the circulation of personnel between practice and teaching.

Responsibility: Governed by a canon of ethics, empowered by law with authority—but also regulated by the State, with an auditable process for promotion and certification by qualified peers. And in the case of military officers: sworn by oath to serve the fundamental foundation of our nation’s laws. He noted that responsibilities of commissioned military officers, unlike any of their civilian professional counterparts, includes the “management of violence.” This responsibility does not include the authority to start the next war, but rather depends on the intellectual skill borne of near-continuous study throughout a career, to ensure that, if possible, the officer’s actions may avoid the next conflict.

Corporateness: Empowered by custom, history, and collective discipline of the group, professionals engender the trust that society places on them through the self-regulation of their members. An officer’s commission is the legal right to practice his or her profession, just as the license to practice applies to a physician. Through a combination of professional associations and an efficient bureaucracy, the integrity of the commission is maintained, and levels of competence are rewarded over time through the promotion of the best and fully qualified.

Mr. Fleming’s narrative misses the point that institutions like Annapolis, our nation’s other esteemed Service academies, and the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) units across the country’s university system, are the crucible of the cultural indoctrination and education in which the principles above are imbued.

I will attempt to provide the “proof” that his article demands:

I consider myself uniquely qualified to respond to his article, since I am independent of any of the forces of nepotism which he alleges. I have no children nor relatives enrolled at any service academy, past or present. I was not educated at the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA), but was a 4-year Navy scholarship student at a respected private institution, Tulane University. I entered that program following three years of high school as a scholarship student at a small private school in Tennessee, where I washed dishes every day after lunch to fund my tuition and academic aspirations—there was no “brass” supporting my college plans. When I applied to the Navy for educational opportunities, I received the offer of both an ROTC scholarship and was also accepted to Annapolis. Absent the nepotism Mr. Fleming suggests, I was offered these options based on my own academic merit, not due to any connections with USNA alumni, siblings, or school administrators. My ultimate decision to attend Tulane ensures that today I write not from a position as a USNA alumnus, but as an independent observer unaffected by Fleming’s allegations of the hush-culture of a “henhouse guarded by foxes” (his terms).

I am also qualified to respond to the numerous fiscal errors in his article, since I periodically have served tours of duty ashore as a Navy budget officer when I have rotated ashore between sea duty assignments. A level-3 certified defense comptroller, I am intimately familiar with the financial analysis required to run the United States Navy, which if it were a for-profit business would rank #9 on the Fortune 100 based on annual budget and overall manpower. I have done cost-benefit analysis of nearly every aspect of naval service, including the fully-burdened cost of education and training of officers and enlisted personnel. The only “smoke and mirrors” (his term) on this topic are the specious sound bites he presented as fact to his readers regarding return-on-investment for the education of the seed corn of our professional officer corps.

As with all statistical analysis, charlatans can use samples of data to suit their needs. For example, “9 out of 10 doctors surveyed prefer this product . . . ” can be misleading if an advertiser gets to pick which group of ten doctors out of a much larger survey group to meet their needs. Similarly, Mr. Fleming’s misleading figure of “fewer than one in five” officers in the Navy graduated from Annapolis is a selective manipulation of the facts to fabricate a dramatic sound bite. In fact, the Annapolis-trained portion of the total number of ALL officers serving in the Navy, including reservists, officers of the restricted line (the support branches), staff corps, doctors, lawyers, dentists, professional engineers, and the prior-enlisted technical leaders of the Limited Duty Officer/Warrant Officer “Mustang” corps represent close to that smaller slice of the overall pie chart.

However, the express charter of the Service Academies is to primarily train officers for service in the Unrestricted Line (URL). Unrestricted Line Officers are those trained to aspire for command of ships, submarines, aviation squadrons, special warfare commands, and other units of combat arms. The U.S. Naval Academy provides approximately 1/3 of the graduates for each of these communities. A very small number of Annapolis officers graduate annually with commissions into the staff corps communities, primarily due to being unqualified for the URL billets for medical reasons.

Within my own community of Surface Warfare:

  • 29% of my peers who serve in ships were Annapolis graduates,
  • 35% from ROTC,
  • 26% from Officer Candidate School (OCS),
  • 6% from enlisted-to-commission programs,
  • 4% from all other sources.

Annual officer accessions vary slightly by graduating year, community choice, and the needs of the Navy, but the approximate 1/3 USNA and 1/3 ROTC share of commissioned officer average remain consistent year after year within the URL.

150917-N-ZZ999-023The seventy-seven Navy ROTC units, comprised of students from 156 universities across the country produce the largest volume of annual accessions as noted above. Depending on the commissioning university, the cost of the tuition alone exceeds the tuition equivalent at Annapolis, including all of the essential costs that Mr. Fleming believes are frivolous, to include room, board, and medical coverage. An “apples to apples” cost comparison is avoided in Mr. Fleming’s article, in which he provided a fully-burdened cost per student . . . not the same as tuition cost. His estimate, like a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, utilizes the Naval Academy’s annual budget appropriated by Congress to operate and maintain the U.S. Naval Academy, and divides that figure by the total student body to derive a cost-per-student of nearly $400,000 from recruitment through graduation, or almost $100,000 per-student/per-year.

This figure seems outrageous, but when compared to a fully-burdened cost of state universities and private universities, which are funded from a combination of state taxes (state schools only), multimillion dollar endowments, and income from research and sports contracts, the total cost to educate of nearly $100,000 per-student/per-year is right in line with upper-tier institutions.

For example, at my own alma mater, the cost of annual tuition, room, board, and medical insurance is priced at $66,700 per year in the 2016-2017 academic year catalog. Tulane University’s audited financial statement reflects annual non-tuition “operating income” from endowments, gifts, grants, research, and other contracts at over $520 million per year. With minor exceptions (specifically, insurance and interest on debt) Tulane and other universities spend their annual expenditures on the same sort of expenses that the Naval Academy executes in their annual outlays mentioned in Fleming’s article, daily operations of the university, maintaining facilities including prestigious on-campus historic homes for their most senior educators, grounds keeping, staff salaries, etc. When the $520 million operating income is divided by Tulane’s total full-time student enrollment of 13,449 students this year (undergrad and graduate), the per-student costs borne by the university is $38,664.

Adding the university-paid share to the student-paid cost of tuition and fees, the fully-burdened cost of a Tulane education costs over $105,000 per-student/per-year, exceeding total annual costs per student at the USNA.

I did not include the data from Tulane above to “toot the horn” of my own institution, nor to show the inflation-adjusted value of my own degree. I chose Tulane because it is a fair comparison to the Naval Academy’s undergraduate programs by metrics of student selectivity, demographic diversity, average SAT scores, academic attrition rate, and even overall varsity sports performance. Additionally, like Tulane, much of the Naval Academy’s extracurricular activities for students and much of the sports activities are provided by active alumni associations funded solely through the donations of their members. Even the sports performance of both schools is on par and is merely average to above-average in most categories based on respective conference records (with a few shining exceptions in some years). My apologies to both Green Wave and Naval Academy sports fans out there, but this similarity is a testament to both institutions whose primary focus is on academics and the insistence that the student remain priority in all of their “student-athletes”.

Based on these facts, taxpayers who fund the U.S. Naval Academy’s annual budget are getting their money’s worth: Annapolis graduates receive a comparable upper-tier private university education, and at a comparable cost.

The ultimate question of value and return-on-investment is that at the Naval Academy, the product is so much more than merely a bachelor’s degree; Annapolis builds leaders. The “proof” of leadership that Fleming demands, for which fortunately there is no classroom test, can only be borne by the time-tested observations of naval history, by by the current observations of my peers, and by the Sailors we lead.

The real measure of leadership, and the inestimable value of what the Annapolis graduate receives during four years, is as much a product of the naval activities performed outside of the classroom environment as it is in the academic rigors. As Samuel Huntington’s tenet of “expertise” requires, the institution’s training and cultural indoctrination is primarily led by naval officers, most on active duty and several who are retired, who return to Annapolis to teach Midshipmen from their fleet and world experience. Numerous alumni with storied success in the Navy and Marine Corps as well as in civilian careers return to the campus to lecture and to share their varied expertise. The practical application of the tenets of service and of the Navy core values is further exercised by Midshipmen engaged in world travel during summer military training in the Fleet with Navy and the Marine Corps units.

150522-N-SQ432-878Mr. Fleming’s observation that many officers leave the service after five years is almost accurate, but his assessment that this attrition invalidates the entire training model is not. Many officers commissioned in Annapolis, as well as many of those commissioned from ROTC universities, do depart the service in predictable numbers after their initial service obligation. For Naval Academy graduates, the initial obligation ends between five and seven years, depending on community (Navy and Marine Corps aviation trainees, for example do not begin to satisfy their service obligation until after they receive their “wings”, a training process that takes approximately two years). The annual attrition numbers vary annually and are influenced by changes in global economic factors, ship and squadron deployment schedules, as well as the impact of naval service during a time of war that has had a measurable toll on those Navy and Marine Officers who witness it.

No system of recruitment in any major corporation, military branch, or government agency can accurately predict long-term attrition and retention rates, nor can it guarantee long-term retention. Therefore, like the Navy, other businesses and agencies recruit large numbers of initial trainees with the understanding that some will not make it all the way to the IBM boardroom, to the corner office, or to command of a ship, submarine, or squadron. None of those institutions, however, would consider their initial training programs wasteful or worthy of cancellation because some number of their initial applicants didn’t last beyond five years, or because the same number didn’t make it all the way to CEO.

The time Midshipmen spend in Annapolis is the crucible, but after four years, their commission and newly-earned rank of Navy Ensign or Marine Second Lieutenant is merely their “license to learn”. Our enlisted Sailors and Marines swear an oath to God that they will obey the orders of the officers appointed over them, and these officers do not take that obligation lightly. When they get to the Fleet, they embrace this obligation to learn and the responsibilities of active duty with vigor. I have witnessed many superb demonstrations of excellence, self-sacrifice, and devotion to their shipmates by junior officers from all commissioning sources alike. I imagine teaching college students of the age and demographic that America’s towns may send to Mr. Fleming’s English classes may be occasionally frustrating based on the bitter list of what he says “Midshipmen learn” in his latest article to criticize both his employer and his students.

Unfortunately, Mr. Fleming has only seen them perform in the classroom. However, my peers and I have seen them as junior officers in the Fleet demonstrating “what Midshipmen learn” and performing amazing acts of leadership and selflessness using what the entire institution gave them, not merely the time spent in class. Below are just a few of the anecdotes I have observed that featured resilient and resourceful Naval Academy graduates . . . all examples of what they REALLY learn:

  • A newly-qualified small boat officer I sent out at night in 7-foot seas intuitively changed procedures on-the-fly without asking, resulting in a much faster rescue of one of my crew who had fallen overboard.
  • On liberty in St. John, USVI, an Ensign intervened in a deadly attack in a bar, saving the life of one of our Chiefs who was in trouble.
  • An Ensign who returned to work just days after a miscarriage to make direct contributions to execute a complex mission she had originally planned, upon which hundreds of Sailors depended.
  • A Lieutenant (j.g.) who arrived first on the scene of a major fire onboard the ship, evacuated two injured Sailors from the space without any protective equipment, then returned with only an oxygen bottle and mask and fought the fire for five minutes until he was relieved because an ammunition magazine was on the other side of the bulkhead.
  • A Lieutenant (j.g.) who designed and built a shower and bathroom facility out of spare parts to ensure dignity and sanitation for nearly ninety refugees we found at sea. Then she spent every hour off-watch supporting and comforting the passengers, using a foreign language she had learned during an exchange year abroad at a foreign service academy.

There are countless other stories like these. I have accumulated these in over 23 years in uniform on active duty in five warships, and continue to see more examples of excellence within the four destroyers in our squadron and on our squadron and task force staffs. With every summer graduation cycle, every ship I have served in over these years has received a batch of fresh and enthusiastic men and women ably trained to serve after four years studying in Annapolis. Each cruiser or destroyer-sized ship typically receives around four to seven new officers every year, distributed generally from the source ratio noted earlier, resulting in a couple of USNA graduates.

150522-N-SQ432-235Upon arrival onboard our ships, I have observed that Naval Academy graduates are consistently better-prepared in the fundamentals of our profession: All Annapolis graduates earn a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree, regardless of their major. Even the liberal arts majors (yes, Mr. Fleming, there are even a few poets, thank God) arrive with the foundation courses required to earn a BS degree. This mandatory USNA curriculum is designed to ensure that all graduates arrive in their ship, submarine, or flight school with a robust knowledge of the engineering, science, math, and physics fundamentals needed to understand our Navy’s ships, submarines, and military aircraft: some of the most complicated machines our country can build.

In the wardrooms of my own ships, the Naval Academy Ensigns were able to demonstrate a level of knowledge upon arrival in navigation, weather, ship handling, small arms, firefighting, and watch-standing that exceeded that of most of the NROTC and OCS graduates. The Annapolis graduates also arrived onboard with a seasoned comfort and familiarity with more than naval custom; they already knew how to “get along” and to work through challenges. The unique training environment of the USNA, starting with the arduous “plebe summer,” bonds these officers together with a common vision of service, tolerance, mutual support, self-reliance, team dynamics, and the ability to overcome adversity.

As Mr. Fleming’s bi-annual call to “get rid of Annapolis” and other Service Academies has hit the blogosphere, I caution taxpayers to rest assured. Navy leaders are not squandering your resources, and continue to select, train, educate, and promote the “best and brightest” to lead the Navy of the future. I am proud to have served alongside Naval Academy graduates everywhere I have been assigned. Thanks to the cooler heads who manage the future of the Navy in Annapolis, throughout the Fleet, in the Pentagon, and in Congress, I am confident that this institution will remain open, and will continue to develop the future of our Fleet long after I have “swallowed the anchor” and pursued a life ashore.

Please join us at 5pm (remember Eastern Daylight Time) on 13 March 2016 for Midrats Episode 323: Building a Navy in Peace That Wins at War

The wartime record of the US Navy in under four years of combat from late 1941’s low point to the September 1945 anchoring in Tokyo Bay did not happen by chance. It did not happen through luck, or through quick thinking. It happened through a process of dedicated, deliberate, disciplined and driven effort over two decades in the intra-war period.

What were the mindset, process, leadership, and framework of the 1920s and 1930s that was used to build the fleet and the concepts that brought it to victory in the 1940s?

This week we are going to dive deep in this subject for the full hour with Captain C.C. Felker, USN, Professor of History at the US Naval Academy and author of, Testing American Sea Power: U.S. Navy Strategic Exercises, 1923–1940.

Listen live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here or later from our iTunes page

For more than 200 years the U.S. Navy has been integral to the security and prosperity of the United States, evolving to meet the security and maritime needs of America. The Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP) grew out of recognition that after 14 years of sustained combat operations for our deployed units, the resultant trends in maintenance and modernization execution, training time compression, deployment length increases and personnel churn were unsustainable. OFRP is designed to optimize a series of processes to generate a maximum amount of operational availability of our naval forces in order to deliver rotational forces; accomplish maintenance and modernization to achieve the service life of our platforms, and be able to surge forces. All of this must be accomplished while maintaining our normal operational tempo – in short “we have to reset in stride.” In order to meet that goal, OFRP creates a framework for predictable deployment cycles with aligned and stabilized manning, stable and predictable maintenance plans, and ready forces fully trained to the high-end level of the warfighting spectrum. This is no small challenge given our Navy’s global presence requirements, resource constraints, and force size. Meeting these challenges, today and in the future, mandates we optimize the processes of our supply-based readiness model by implementing OFRP.

CSG Alignment

The previous force generation model, the Fleet Response Plan (FRP), needed adjusting in order to more efficiently deliver ready forces for deployment; achieve the life-expectancy of our platforms and provide a more sustainable surge capability. The Optimized Fleet Response Plan provides the needed change to maximize readiness by aligning staffs, ships, and air wings to Carrier Strike Groups (CSG) and Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) at the beginning of a 36-month cycle. A key distinction in the OFRP instruction is the delineation of Carrier Strike Group Commanders and Amphibious Ready Group Commanders as the Supported Commanders. Previously, TYPE Commanders (TYCOMS) moved units through the Maintenance and Basic Phases of the training and readiness cycle, with a notional hand-off to the CSG Commander when the ships entered the Integrated Phase and began operating as a Carrier Strike Group. Today within the OFRP framework, all of the ships are brought under the CSG commander at the beginning of FRTP. According to Russ Williams, USFF Deputy Director for Fleet Training and the OFRP Cross-functional Team lead, this means that “The CSG, ARGS, and TYCOMS work together to ensure the readiness of that Strike Group given where they are in the OFRP phase.”

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower operationsUSS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) and the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group is the first aircraft carrier and Strike Group to implement OFRP, having entered into the first cycle of OFRP last fall, and initiating the Navy’s new strategy for force generation. The Ike CSG and all of its assigned units have been a complete team throughout the maintenance phase and into the basic and integrated phases of OFRP. As they prepare to deploy mid-2016, Ike CSG’s progress through OFRP reveals the benefits of the plan and what can be improved upon.

Maintenance and Modernization

One of the goals of a maintenance and modernization process is to achieve on time and on cost execution of the schedule. OFRP is designed to help stabilize and synchronize the execution of the maintenance and modernization of our fleet in order to achieve these two goals. The stabilization and synchronization leads to other benefits than predictability. Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus said to the House Armed Services Readiness Committee on Sept. 10, 2015, that he was confident the Navy is taking the right steps to get maintenance on track. “We’re going to be in a position to get the life span of the ships that you’d expect out of those ships when they enter the fleet.” This is in large part due to the Optimized Fleet Response Plan. Russ Williams stated that with OFRP maintainers are given more time to “dive into the planning phase of maintenance.” With more time to plan the maintainers ensure the efficiency of the phase. It appears OFRP sets up CSGs going through the process to achieve these goals, yet with all new processes there are some issues to work on. What makes OFRP different than previous force generation models is that it takes into account the Navy being a learning organization, and therefore fosters an environment of innovation for problem solving. “World events will cause changes to the production plan – if somebody’s maintenance gets extended beyond our ability to absorb it within the shock absorber that’s built into OFRP, we would have to adjust accordingly and modify the schedules,” Rear Admiral Jeffrey Harley told the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee. Issues in the maintenance phase faced by Ike CSG lead to four of the seven Ike CSG deployers experiencing unexpected delays. Russ Williams noted that the “industrial base simply cannot support eight or nine surface combatants going into maintenance at the same time and coming out at exactly the same time, but that isn’t the goal of OFRP, it isn’t designed to be that rigid.” This sort of issue highlights the importance of OFRP’s flexible yet disciplined approach to force generation. Each of these late deliveries created issues in the Basic Phase of Training that had secondary negative effects leading into the Integrated Phase of training. Meeting the issue head on, the Casualty Report to Certification Crosswalk (C3) process was developed to minimize the impact of the unexpected delays. This now helps ships identify, prioritize and facilitate maintenance solutions that enable the ships to complete their certification events on time, first pass. Russ Williams notes “It was never the OFRP intent to get everybody out of maintenance at the same time. It was an OFRP construct to get everybody to begin the Integrated Phase at the same time.” Mr. Williams went on to say that OFRP enables backlog to be rectified within the cycle. The OFRP process has led to some incremental material improvements within Ike CSG, yet Maintenance and Modernization remains a critical Line of Effort (LOE) that requires continued attention by naval leadership in order to ensure the Strike Group assets all enter the Integrated Phase on schedule.

Manning and Individual Training

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower operationsHistorically, ships have struggled to achieved their manning goals early in the pre-deployment work up, often receiving new Sailors “just in time” before the deployment, or prior to composite training unit exercise (C2X), the Integrated Phase capstone training event. This resulted in numerous x- deck personnel transfers, which sub-optimized the deploying unit’s readiness, hurt the manning of the ship remaining at home, and eroded the morale of the force. Sea-centric manning policies under OFRP prioritize personnel requirements to ensure forces are ready to deploy on schedule with the right Sailors in place fully trained. This policy mandates units be manned to 92% fit, 95% fill and at threshold for all critical naval enlisted classification code (NECs) by the target Manning Date, or “M-Date,” which is the start of Basic Phase or 12-months prior to deployment (if Basic phase starts earlier than that). This allows the necessary time for shipboard teams to form, train together, and build a cohesive warfighting team prior to deploying. It is because of this OFRP protocol that Ike CSG has seen the greatest improvement in the manning and individual training LOE. With deploying Sailors onboard earlier, OFRP ships in the Ike CSG were able to better manage their school requirements and ensure individuals received the training they needed prior to both the Basic and Integrated Phases. Additionally, direct support Sailors were assigned no later than nine months before deployment (D-9) which further enhanced the integration of off-ship personnel into the warfighting team. As a result, Strike Group warfighting syndicates were able to start developing during the Maintenance Phase, leading to early engagement and increased tactical training opportunities across the Strike Group. Having the right Sailors at the right time provides a more stable and predictable organization and ultimately leads to greater unit cohesion, experience, and development of the critical warfighting skills needed for deployment.


A “side effect” of previous manning practices was that many times units may not be as well-trained as they could be. OFRP ensures forces are trained with the right capabilities and trained to a single, high-end standard. Unit level training during the Basic Phase is the critical foundation toward maximizing Strike Group combat effectiveness and efficiency. Optimizing the basic phase helps by giving time to identify and overcome possible shortfalls. For example, issues during the Maintenance Phase led to a compressed Basic Phase schedules for four of seven Ike CSG deploying ships. In order to lessen the impacts of these delays, the Maintenance-Operations Float Process was employed as part of a cross functional working group to identify risks to the mission – deploying on time and fully trained. This process leveraged the expanded relationships of all the stakeholders to mitigate the identified risks. For instance, both USS Monterey (CG-61) and USS Nitze (DDG-94), both a part of Ike CSG, conducted combined sea trials to regain time within their Basic Phase schedules. Additionally, through early engagement and collaboration with Afloat Training Group (ATG), CSG-4, and Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (NSMWDC), Ike CSG developed a group sail schedule. The schedule included Basic Phase events, and moved previous unit-level events that were historically conducted in C2X, forward into the Basic Phase, and added new Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) events early in the Integrated Phase. This collaborative effort will have allowed the entire Strike Group to get to C2X on time, fully prepared to train to the high-end level of tactical warfare.

160204-N-QD363-122In order to maximize the benefits of optimizing the basic phase Ike CSG utilized information technology and subject matter experts to help units meet their goals. Ike CSG used a Schedule Synchronization Tool (Integrated WEBSked), which is available to all stakeholders as required by USFF/CPF Instruction 3000.15A, and a Command Monitor/Mentor Process that together identifies areas where staff subject matter experts can provide assistance to individual units prior to ATG inspections or certification events. Implementation of this program has had an immediate impact on Strike Group units. Two ships, the USS Mason (DDG-87) and USS Stout (DDG-55), within Ike CSG, have completed the Basic Phase and according to ATG Atlantic, both of these ships performed above fleet average, which is attributed to the implementation of our Optimized Fleet Response Plan protocols.

Ike CSG was in the Integrated Phase of OFRP (as of the time of publishing this article), and there were some successes due to innovative measures to cope with early challenges brought about mostly by disaggregated ops being conducted within the FRTP cycle. For example, USS Oscar Austin (DDG-79) returned from a seven-month deployment during which she superbly executed national level tasking. Rejoining the Strike Group’s schedule, she met every Joint Fleet Maintenance Manual milestone, including her CNO Maintenance Availability. USS Porter (DDG-78) transferred to Sixth Fleet two weeks earlier than scheduled after completing a Joint Warrior exercise with British and NATO allies. She completed her first BMD patrol and did very well in her first maintenance availability overseas. USS McFaul (DDG-74) deployed with 91% FIT/97% FILL /1 in manning and no active C-2 CASREPs. She finished her Fifth Fleet deployment and escorted USS George Washington (CVN-73) through SOUTHCOM area of operations. These successes continue to show that OFRP allows for adaptation in order to ensure forces are ready to deploy with the right capabilities and trained to a high standard.

FRP Length

World events and our previous demand-based force generation model put stress upon Sailors and their families with long deployments, deferred and unpredictable ship maintenance schedules and unpredictable pre-deployment schedules. Chief of Navy Personnel, Vice Adm Moran said “We need to make sure we attract and retain the best people,” and he believes that the predictability and stability afforded by the Optimized Fleet Response Plan will help increase retention. OFRP provides stability and predictability, thus relieving stress and lessening uncertainty, to our Sailors and their families. Ike CSG has been scheduled for a seven-month deployment since entering OFRP. Despite 23 months of collective maintenance delays across the Strike Group, the scheduled deployment date has not shifted. The flexibility afforded by OFRP across the Strike Group has allowed the Ike CSG to absorb the maintenance delays and training schedule changes, while still tracking to the initial deployment date, fully trained to the high-end level of tactical warfare, creating a more predictable schedule for Sailors and their families.


At the outset, Navy leadership was clear that fully implementing OFRP across the Fleet would take time. As the first Strike Group to enter and execute the early cycles of OFRP, Ike CSG is laying the foundation for significant improvements throughout the entire process. The lessons learned have enabled the improvement of manning and training within the scope of the Strike Group; however, there is still work to be done in the maintenance and modernization LOE. While the performance in the Basic Phase continues well above average, the ultimate measures of effectiveness will be deployed performance. The Ike CSG goal is clear: to tactically outperform the Theodore and Harry S. Truman CSGs during the demanding and rigorous pre-deployment training and throughout deployment, and to have the Bush CSG outperform us. As a premier learning organization, only then will it be known if OFRP has been operationalized at the tactical level.

I recently spoke on a panel on combat integration held by the Service Women’s Action Network at a think tank in downtown Washington, DC. After the panel, I had the privilege of speaking with a group of midshipmen and young officers. During our conversation, one of the officers asked how to make organizational change happen. Without hesitating, I said, “Be willing to rock the boat and make your voice heard.” While my response may have seemed glib, it was actually quite genuine. As part of the military, we owe it to our respective services to speak out when we believe change is necessary. Admiring problems has never been a naval tradition. We need bold young officer and enlisted personnel to take up their pens as they would their swords to courageously identify problems and propose solutions for the betterment of the sea services. This is the essence of constructive dissent.

4th Marines Jump Through ITX 2-15While sitting at the airport a few weeks ago, I listened to a fascinating TED talk by Margaret Heffernan about courage. During her presentation, Ms. Heffernan discussed a survey of thousands of employees across Europe and the United States on organizational effectiveness in the corporate setting. The employees were all asked, “Are there issues people are afraid to talk about in your organization?” Astoundingly, she found that 85% of the employees responded yes, despite the fact that none of the employees taken any action to address the issues themselves. She called this phenomena willful blindness – the tendency of the vast majority of people to look the other way even when they know something is wrong.

In examining what makes the 15% willing to speak up when they see problems, Heffernan’s research revealed that job title and authority are not the determining factors in who demonstrates the courage to speak up. In fact, she found that many whistleblowers are often junior in rank, position, or experience, but are simply doggedly committed to making change happen. Most importantly, Heffernan determined that people with the courage to speak freely help create an organizational culture that makes it more permissible for individuals at every echelon in the chain of command to voice their concerns. It turns out that this up and down free flow of ideas and information is the way to reverse willful blindness and change organizational culture for the better. In my view, this is exactly the kind of environment the military aspires to, but more often than not, fails to achieve.

Heffernan’s TED talk and my discussion with the young officers after the combat integration event made me stop and think about this predicament. In the military, it often seems like senior ranking bright idea fairies are harder at work than anyone else. No matter our age or experience, every service member at one point or another has felt frustration about a policy or service mandate and wondered where the hare brained idea came from. But rather than raise our concerns in a constructive manner, most of us choose to gripe about the problem amongst friends and drive on with the tasks at hand. The question is why more service members do not recognize the value of using media forums to present their ideas and foster discourse and public debate. Simply put, each of us has the potential to be a change agent, because each of us has a hot button issue we feel passionately about. It doesn’t matter if you are officer or enlisted–anyone can spark a debate, simply by putting pen to paper.

In speaking to the midshipmen who attended the combat integration panel, I was struck by their versatility of thought and their willingness to step forward and talk to me about their ideas. The common thread to the conversations was an inherent frustration about the current “system” and a feeling of powerlessness to do anything to change it. But the reality is that you can’t simply think an idea up and expect change to happen. You have to be willing to expose the idea to criticism from others by talking about it and writing about it. Being willing to rock the boat means that you have to be willing to be vulnerable by putting your thoughts and ideas out there in the marketplace of ideas for others to refute (or potentially agree with!). You must have the courage to expose yourself to potential ridicule by others who may not share your point of view. But the beauty of having an idea shot down by someone with a dissenting view is that if your idea truly has merit, the opposing view will allow you to hone your own argument and make it stronger. Sadly, fear of rejection condemns most of us to the silent majority of problem admirers.

140718-N-TO519-002Luckily, one of the best ways for service members to stimulate constructive dissent is right at their fingertips – literally. By putting your ideas about why change is necessary out there in the marketplace of ideas for others to read and consider, you have the power to influence how decisions are made in your service. There are a number of credible forums devoted to the military readership, to include Proceedings and this blog. Further, using digital connectivity to vigorously advance a well-articulated idea ensures that an audience of hundreds of thousands of readers is just a click away. It has never been easier to become published. But first, you must put your pen to paper.

So what is the worst that could happen? That you go down in history as someone with the courage to speak up? What is more likely is that by speaking up, you will have individuals you have never met contact you to thank you for saying what they have been thinking for a while but just didn’t know how (or have the courage) to express. As Amelia Shaw, State Department employee and winner of the 2015 W. Averell Harriman Award for Constructive Dissent said, “But I can’t help wondering what the department would look like if there were more of us willing to speak up about issues that matter, large and small, regardless of whether or not we think we can actually change anything. Or as one senior officer pointed out to me, we dissent every day—but the difference is whom we dissent to and how far we are willing to go with it.”[i] So be bold. Speak up and let the sparks fly. With courage and conviction, you can move the world, and truly, this is the stuff of progress.


[i] Shaw, Amelia. Deconstructing Dissent. American Foreign Service Association, September 2015,

I was intrigued by the recent article under the ‘Charting a Course’ column. The notion of ‘geometry’ in a career is certainly an interesting one, and in the previous article it is formed by the relationship between the individual officer and the Detailers, with an aim to help the individual officer get what they want. We can extend the author’s concept of geometry to the relationship of all Officers with the Enterprise. As a supplemental lesson, I would like to present the ‘iron triangle’ of manpower.


Figure 1: The “Iron Triangle” of Operational manpower, modeled after expeditionary helicopter squadrons. At any given time, 36 LTs representing 3 year groups will ‘neck down’ to 12 Department Heads, eventually becoming 3 CO Selectees (CO, XO, PXO) Other community triangles may have different angles, but all follow the same basic geometry. This is stolen, of course, from the “iron triangle” of systems engineering, which consists of Weight, Strength and Cost.

While we can argue about selection policies for any given year group, in aggregate, the Operational Fleet as a whole cannot stray too far from the triangle. This structure is in our organizational DNA and attempting to change it would be folly. Actual selection rates should be slightly higher than the triangle, because some leave the Operational Fleet, either by separating or transitioning to staff/support functions.

If you are convinced that you will make it to the top of your operational triangle, I wish you all the best.

If you are not as certain as the average Charting a Course reader – or if you supervise someone who might not be certain – the next part applies to you:

Your Operational leaders don’t usually know very much about those who ‘evaporate’ from the triangle – i.e. escape from the sides. This is because everyone you deal with in an operational setting is by definition still inside. Here’s the insight and our second lesson in geometry – Corporate Navy is not a triangle but rather a ‘square’.


Figure 2: The “Iron Triangle” in context with the overall ‘value ecosystem’. The challenge for talent management in the current epoch is to recapture those who exit the ‘white’ pyramid and put them into the Orange or Green triangles.

The challenge for the manpower system is to manage the box as a whole. Should the white triangle take priority? Absolutely. It should not do so to the complete disregard of the box. Picking and Paying for the equipment is neither (physically) dangerous or glamorous, but it does require competence – frequently in specialties that bring unique one-off skills to the Navy.

BONUS: Sometimes we don’t get what we want from the Detailing Process. Sometimes we wonder why our tours/careers/lives have taken the path they have, it is useful to recall Sherlock’s answer when Watson asks a similar question (His Last Vow, BBC, 2014)

Watson: What have I ever done? Hmm? My whole life, to deserve you?

Sherlock: Everything.

Watson: Sherlock, I told you. Shut up.

Sherlock: No, I mean it. Seriously. Everything, everything you’ve ever done is what you did. You were a doctor who went to war. Your best friend is a sociopath who solves crimes as an alternative to getting high…you’re addicted to a certain lifestyle! You’re abnormally attracted…to dangerous situations and people, so is it truly such a surprise that the woman you’ve fallen in love with conforms to that pattern?

We are who we are, or as Popeye the Sailor man would say:

I yam what I yam.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, we may have that.

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

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

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

What have we found?

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

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

OK. No crisis. Good intentions here though;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

travel regulations, restrictions on accepting gifts and using official vehicles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait for it;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It has been .5 MM.

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

CAPT Cooper’s “Retaining Our Most Talented…To Fight And Win” is both exhilarating and empowering. As a SWO and Officer Recruiter (OR) for all 3 accession sources, provided are actionable recommendations to support PERS-41’s goals in front-end talent management.

For USNA/NROTC, the first sales pitch is at grey hull cruise. Deep engagement is necessary and a responsibility that lies with the COs of ships. The Midshipman Early Ship Selection Initiative is on-target to emphasize this priority.

Within Navy Recruiting Command, there are opportunities. The following are immediate impact changes that parallel the paradigm shift from ‘most willing’ to ‘most talented’ for recruiting:

  1. Allow SWO to be third or below choice on applications. Currently, if an applicant desires SWO behind two other communities, their application is an immediate nonselect, regardless of qualifications or desire to serve as a Naval Officer in any capacity. This creates a barrier to entry for competitive nonselects of Nuclear Power, Civil Engineer Corps and Naval Aviation (all of which are prioritized via incentives for ORs).
  2. If selected SWO before next higher board convenes, work with SWO ORs to push sale for acceptance vice waiting. Once the next community selects an applicant, the offer for SWO is retracted. Alternatively, remove requirement for ranking of programs until after boards convene.
  3. In some cases, the SWO application is more cumbersome than others. Because we are competing so extensively with other communities for talent, our application should be streamlined to the least common denominator. By removing recommendation letters and test requirements, for example, our checklist requirements would match the Nuclear Power and Civil Engineer Corps programs.
  4. Create Board Precept to be disseminated to the field outlining attributes desired by the initial talent pool as well as quantifiers for recruiter identification.
  5. Insert a structured interview with an O-3 or above SWO into the application process.

At the “identify” step, the perception among ORs is that the SWO program is leftovers. This perception is valid in that our ideal applicant is poorly defined compared to other communities. In reality, a SWO prospecting plan is nonexistent because the profile of a SWO top-performer prior to commissioning is unknown.

Beyond the horizon, SWO can differentiate itself by evolving our selection process. Doing so will create a competitive advantage over other communities. While the rest focus on GPA and test scores, the opportunity exists to emulate Fortune 500 companies utilizing job analysis to identify which behavioral competencies are most suitable for their organization and then structuring selection to hire individuals with those attributes.

The OR is our strike capability. If we make SWO distinguishable and recognizable to them, via development and formal communications, the probability of a sale for SWO over another program when better fit exists will increase and reduce the risk that applicants choose another program when SWO may best serve them. This will allow us to attack effectively first in this zero-sum game of talent acquisition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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