Archive for the 'Jeff Withington' Tag

M/V Maersk Missouri underway in the Mediterranean Sea (photo LT Alex Smith)

M/V Maersk Missouri underway in the Mediterranean Sea (photo LT Alex Smith)

Every 22nd of May, unbeknownst to nearly all Americans, the United States celebrates National Maritime Day. It is a day to celebrate our nation’s rich maritime lineage, cherish our goods delivered by sea-going ships, and remember the importance of our officers and sailors who sail in the far-flung corners of the world. In Washington, D.C., the Department of Transportation held a ceremony at their headquarters. Salutes were smartly rendered and rousing speeches delivered. At the end of the ceremony, eight bells were rung to signify the end of the watch and honor the Merchant Marine.

The next day, Maritime Administration (MARAD) officials went back to regulating one of the most poorly funded (under $500 million annually) and misguided (only one top official is a past merchant mariner) administrations in our nation’s capitol. Since the founding days of our nation to the recent conflicts in the Middle East, the need for a strong militarily-useful and privately-owned U.S. flag merchant marine to protect, strengthen, and enhance our nation’s economic and military security has been clear. In times of peace and war, our U.S. flagged vessels effectively answered our nation’s call and provided unprecedented sealift capability to support our economy.



According to Rose George in Ninety-Nine Percent of Everything, trade carried by sea has grown fourfold since 1970 and is still growing. Three years ago, 360 commercial ports of the United States received in international goods worth $1.73 trillion. There are more than one hundred thousand ships at sea carrying all of the material we need to live.

Despite the amount of wealth reaching our shores, there are fewer than one hundred oceangoing U.S. flagged ships. Only 1 percent of trade at U.S. ports travels on an American-flagged vessels, and our fleet has declined by 80% since 1951. Less than 2% of all seagoing mariners are women. In a world of progressive ideology, it would seem that the other world – on the sea – is adrift and heading in the wrong direction.

It is seemingly unimaginable that most Americans are ignorant to the world of shipping. Play a game the next time you go out to a restaurant or visit your local coffee shop and see how many items you can count that came from a sea-going vessel.

  • Plates: Made in China, containership
  • T-Shirt on young child: Made in India, containership
  • Chair and table set: Looks expensive, but likely IKEA: containership
  • Gap Jeans: Made in Bangladesh, containership
  • Cell Phone: Made in China, containership
  • Coffee: Beans from Latin America, containership
  • European car parked outside window: German, roll-on roll-off ship
  • Fuel presumed in said European car: Crude from Middle East, tanker
Underway in the Suez Canal (photo LT Alex Smith)

Underway in the Suez Canal (photo LT Alex Smith)

The list is extensive. Better game: what was not brought over by maritime shipping?

Proceedings focuses mostly on developments in the maritime security domain, but a deeper conversation should revolve around the status of our civilian mariners. After all, one of our primary missions as sailors of the U.S. Navy or U.S. Coast Guard is to uphold the umbrella convention as mandated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Even though the United States has not ratified the convention (we do not like its deep-sea mining stipulations), we uphold its core meaning. Over 300 articles aim to create “a legal order for the seas and oceans which will facilitate international communication, and will promote the peaceful uses of the seas and oceans, the equitable and efficient utilization of their resources, the conservation of their living resources, and the study, protection and preservation of the marine environment.”

Simply put, our maritime security organizations exist to support the global merchant marine and to promote free trade domestically and abroad. But when we lose American flagged vessels and shipyard workers lose their contracts, their income and their wealth of knowledge is lost. For our government – and in particular the Department of Transportation and Department of Defense – this means that an insufficient number of American mariners will no longer be there to support the industry. The next time we need to support a global war, we will have to rely on foreign shipping companies to move U.S. war material abroad.


  • Outside thinking. Fund and stand up an independent, outside think tank that can meet the maritime challenges of the 21st If we do not try and sort out the maritime industry, the stability necessary for U.S. flag companies to attract the investments they need and for maritime labor to recruit and retain the mariner our country needs will simply not be there. Create a long term
  • Bi-Partisan Support. MARAD should continue to lobby and build coalitions to ensure proper funding efforts to build a robust, seagoing merchant marine. If the United States is serious about the declining state of our maritime industry, we must modify existing programs and create new ones that would increase the number of vessels operating under the U.S. flag, the amount of cargo carried by U.S. flag vessels, and the shipboard employment opportunities for licensed and unlicensed merchant mariners.
  • Reward companies that flag their vessels under the United States. Under the auspices of the intricately elusive tool of “flag of convenience,” where ships can fly the flag of a state that has nothing to do with its owner, cargo, crew or route, many shipping companies have chose to dodge taxes and pay mariners less. Consequently, many civilian mariners can’t find work. We should create tax incentives for companies that fly under the American flag and hire more mariners, rather than allow ships that maintain a crew of twenty to reap in the benefits of maritime trade.
  • Subsidize shipbuilding in the United States. In order to compete with South Korea and other major shipbuilding nations that construct vessels on the cheap, we need to craft private-public contracts to allow our shipbuilding to flourish. Explore new ways to meet the capability and capacity to meet the most demanding wartime scenarios that might lie on the horizon.
  • Rethink maritime officer and crew placement. Even though ships are getting considerably larger, crew sizes are getting smaller. Nearly a thousand professional mariners graduate from the US Merchant Marine Academy and state maritime academies each year with no prospective deep-sea job opportunities. Most sea-going accidents occur due to fatigue and most mariners have reported working over 80 hours in a given week. We should expand Military Sealift Command employment so U.S. Naval Reserve / Merchant Marine Reserve can serve on ‘active duty’ in the merchant marine. If this model works, we can incentivize a program in the private sector where larger crews are rewarded with tax breaks for operating safely.

Trade has always traveled and the world will continue to trade in our globalized society. The United States relies on a few VLCCs (Very Large Crude Carriers) to bring in two-thirds of our oil supply every day. Without the assured commercial sea power capability provided by the U.S. flag merchant marine and civilian manpower, we will find ourselves at the mercy of foreign vessels that are owned and operated by foreign interests.

The symbolic ringing of eight bells was superfluous this past National Maritime Day. Through bad policies over the last several decades, we have left the U.S. maritime industry at the whim of Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand,’ then wondered, what happened to the Merchant Marine? Answer: it was turned over decades ago to the rest of the world.

You have been properly relieved America. Maersk has the watch.

By popular vote, Naval Institute blog wins best Navy Blog from the military blogging conference sponsored by and USAA.

This is entirely due to the guest bloggers who take time (unpaid) to share their voice on this blog and to those who participate in the comments to continue the dialogue…and to all of those who dare to read, think, speak, write, and blog…

A close friend of mine who selected Marine Air out of the Academy will shortly head to Afghanistan. Strangely enough, he’ll beat out another good, mutual friend who drew infantry out of TBS–and he only had 2 weeks before commissioning and reporting to TBS! Needless to say, he’s not happy with this (being beaten to Afghanistan; he volunteered to get the jump on TBS).

While we were commissioned 11 months ago, John is actually the first friend and classmate I know to head to Afghanistan. Sure, it’s “only” a 5-6 month assignment to fill an IA billet, but it’s a curious feeling to actually know your classmates are starting to finally get out “there.” Invigorating in a way…? I’m sure many of you know the feeling and could describe it better.

In a way, the SWOs beat all of us to the punch. I saw, courtesy of Facebook, one of my companymates earned her SWO pin 2 months back. I regularly keep up with a rooommate who is on a destroyer out of San Diego; his ship just had a “Family Day,” and he had a lot of fun taking his mom out for a cruise. He’s looking forward for his ship’s overhaul to be completed.

Some of those who went to Pensacola are approaching the end of training, I think. My other roommate (a NFO) is moving to Corpus Christi soon, and I really should call him to see how things are going. Playing Call of Duty 4 online with each other really isn’t a good medium for catching up.

My class of submariners is preparing to start shift work at prototype. I’ll start with the midnight shift this Sunday (1930-0730) and rotate to new hours after about a week of this. This point represents about 1/3 the way to completing prototype, the final phase of nuclear training before reporting to a submarine.

Getting there, and less than 11 months till “there.”

Reporting In

Upon checking into the next phase of training, our CO encouraged us to keep a journal, write down our thoughts…and/or blog. So…

I am currently stationed in Ballston Spa, NY where I am continuing my training in the Navy’s nuclear power pipeline at “prototype.” Having completed Nuclear Power School, I am now preparing to operate a reactor. Currently, I am getting qualifications to operate the reactor the Navy has here and will qualify by early September. At that point, I will be qualified to start qualifying as an Engineering Officer of the Watch on a submarine. Then, I will head to Groton where I will attend Submarine Officer Basic Course after which I will report to a submarine. Should everything going smoothly, I would be reporting in late November/December.

That’s where I am in the grand scheme of things.

Right now, I am learning as much as possible about the many, many systems which comprise the nuclear plant up here. I arrive at the “site” (the installation is actually “owned” by the Department of Energy) at about 0700 everyday. My partner and I then come up with a plan for the day (what systems to tackle that day), grab the reference manuals and start studying. After we feel comfortable with the material, we take a quiz on the computer. Passing the quiz allows you to be tested by an instructor on the material, who can sign to the proficiency on the material in our thick qualification binders. Just to give readers an idea, we study 56 hours a week for 6 months. It’s a thick binder.

This past week went by quickly (as did the weekend), but we discovered a place which does $.20 wings on Thursdays, so that practically adds a day to the weekend, right?

Anyway, I’m trying to get back in to the blogging habit. One of my friends at Power School remarked that he wished he had kept a journal while he was at the Academy and I agreed. In the moment, JOs feel so busy; we are busy, but thinking, writing and reflecting are habits. I’ll try to get back into them.

Congressional elections are approaching and according to my Facebook news feed, EVERYBODY has an opinion. Hurray for democracy and free speech, right? My civilian friends are most certainly ethically unencumbered to express their choice for candidates/parties. But what is the best way for members of the military to express themselves in accordance with regulations? When it comes to online “speech,” it is sometimes a little unclear what the ethical choices are.

DOD Directive 1344.10 details the types and extent of political participation of members of the armed forces. For example, we may “Sign a petition for a specific legislative action or a petition to place a candidate’s name on an official election ballot, if the signing does not obligate the member to engage in partisan political activity and is done as a private citizen and not as a representative of the Armed Forces.” Suppose a member joins a group over Facebook supporting a legislative measure, surely he’s acting as a private citizen, right? What if he has set his profile picture to a picture of himself in uniform? Is he still really acting as a private citizen? It doesn’t seem so to me–all the rest of the world sees is a member of the military supporting a political cause.

One thing is clear, we are not permitted to “[publish] partisan political articles, letters, or endorsements signed or written by the member that solicits votes for or against a partisan political party, candidate, or cause.” This should extend to online activity. Think before you update your status!


Quick Update

September 2010


While nuclear fission is a “blast,” it’s probably not as exhilarating as hunting pirates or as poignant as some moments overseas (USNI bloggers are all over the globe these days!). Nuclear power school has certainly proven to be the most competitive academic environment in which I have been. We’re learning three technical subjects at once with at least one test per week.

The first test, covering the basics of the reactor, fell on the Wednesday following Labor Day Weekend. Before the schedule had been released I had booked a flight to DC, arriving back in Chucktown (Charleston) on Monday evening. One of my roommates had a similar predicament.

Let me tell you, the basics of a reactor aren’t really that basic.

As I would be gone all that weekend, my roommate and I put in some extreme hours starting a week out from the exam. 0530 wakeup, returning to the house around 2200+ a few times. Upon arriving at the airport, we found our flights were delayed…giving us a perfect opportunity for one more hour of studying.

Gotta head to bed; physics exam on Wednesday. If any NUPOC/ROTC/Academy/prospective nukes stumble upon this and have any questions about power school, feel free to ask in the comment section.


Back to School!

August 2010


It’s been awhile since I last checked into USNI blog! Since commissioning on May 28th from the Academy, I visited Italy for leave with my brother and saw my great-uncle’s grave at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial. After leave, I spent a few (great) weeks at a stash/TAD job with the Information Technology and Systems Division at the Institute for Defense Analyses in Alexandria, VA.

Most recently, I’ve been becoming familiar with Rickover Center, Charleston, SC, and the view from my 6 ensign house (power in numbers). But really, lots of Rickover Center. As part of the submarine training pipeline, I am attending Nuclear Power School, a 6 month crash course giving us an academic background in the hot rock that makes the boat go. Right now, I’m in what is fondly referred to as “pre-school,” a 3-week course designed to acclimate students who graduated with a non-technical major to the rigors of nuclear engineering.

It’s been a lot of work. Our class periods start at 0700 (muster at 0645) and can run until 1615. They crammed the ~3 semesters of calculus I’ve had into about 2 class sessions. We have a 3 hour preschool “final” on Thursday. Of course, this will be followed by a class outing that evening to the Class-A Minor League Charleston Riverdogs where hotdogs topped with bacon can be found.

While pre-school has kept us busy, it’s also been a great opportunity to meet fellow students. My pre-school class of ~50 includes LTjgs who are coming from a SWO (surface ship) tour and are in training to operate the plants onboard our nuclear-powered carriers and ensigns from OCS, ROTC, and the Academy. One of the classes before us have PXOs, the prospective executive officers of carriers, who also have to attend nuclear power school before assuming their duties. While they get their own study room (with a “NUCLEAR AVIATION” sign over the door) and their own pre-filled sets of notes, the instructors tell us they tend to be the hardest working students in the class. After all, they have gotten to be PXOs for a reason. The entire Class of 1006 will comprise of ~100 students to include the majority of the Navy’s first female submariners.

I will update you MUCH more regularly now that I am here. Let me know if you are curious about anything in particular!

I’m afraid I’m no longer a midshipman blogger. On Friday, May 28, I was commissioned as an ensign along with ~755 of my closest friends and classmates (255 more became 2LTs in the Marines). My brother, USMA Class of 2012 (West Point), gave me my first salute.

I started blogging for the Naval Institute during the second semester of junior year and I’ve had the pleasure of conducting several interviews (including with (then) VADM Harvey) and writing about topics from pirates to sleep deprivation to interviewing for nuclear power.

It’s been lots of fun and I plan on sticking around–just not as the resident midshipman blogger! A replacement is in the works, but nothing official yet. In late July, I’ll head down to Charleston, SC to report for nuclear power school and start the next part of my journey!

The role diversity ought to play in the Navy’s personnel policies has been the subject of much attention in the blogosphere (CDR Salamander’s Diversity Thursdays) and traditional media. I hope to examine the potential effects of diversity in the military and offer a new way forward in the public debate regarding diversity in the military.

First, let’s establish that the Navy’s policies should propel the service in the direction of effectiveness. Furthermore, diversity is a means to an end and advocates of diversity should realize its hard to sell the circular logic that “efforts to diversify personnel are good because diversity is good.” Using this language, diversity is both the means and the end! However, can a connection be made between diversity and effectiveness, which should be the ultimate goal of every policy? I think so.

I, too, was skeptical of this claim regarding the benefits of diversity, but the core arguments in favor of meaningful diversity are rather simple. Dr. Scott Page, a researcher in modeling complex systems, explains: “Diverse groups of people bring to organizations more and different ways of seeing a problem and, thus, faster/better ways of solving it. People from different backgrounds have varying ways of looking at problems, what I call “tools.” The sum of these tools is far more powerful in organizations with diversity than in ones where everyone has gone to the same schools, been trained in the same mold and thinks in almost identical ways.”

It’s important to note that Dr. Page is commenting on cognitive diversity, not identity diversity (although is a connection between the two). His book, The Difference, opens with a discussion of how diversity advanced the ends of the military during WWII. The success of Bletchley Park in breaking the German Enigma code owe in large part to the diverse nature of the team of mathematicians, philosophers, chess champions, and crossword puzzle whizzes! When you have a team composed of individuals who each approach a complex problem in a unique manner, you can find the most effective solution. As the CNO’s Diversity Policy explains, “Diversity of thoughts, ideas, and competencies of our people, keeps our Navy strong, and empowers the protection of the very freedoms and opportunities we enjoy each and every day.”

 The Marine Corps’ Lioness Program is a modern example of how diversity in the military is used towards effective ends. ““I don’t think there was a Marine out there who didn’t understand the importance of having females there,…We didn’t look at them as females serving at a checkpoint, we just saw another Marine,” said one Marine. Would the US military of 50-60 years ago think to engage a foreign population of women? Would it have done so effectively?

When advocates of diversity wander from the task of strengthening the Navy/Marine Corps team and merely understand diversity as a means to itself, then diversity policies are rightfully criticized. However, diversity is clearly a tool we can use to strengthen the Navy and Marine Corps when we understand its power and effects.

Private security contractors killed a Somali pirate Wednesday–and no one seems to know how to react.

Roger Middleton from the British think tank Chatham House commented that there’s currently no regulation of private security on board ships, no guidelines about who is responsible in case of an attack, and no industrywide standards. So what’s next?

“This will be scrutinized very closely…The bottom line is somebody has been killed and someone has to give an accounting of that,” said Arvinder Sambei, a legal consultant for the U.N. In other words, security contractors should standby to be investigated for their actions. It’s just not clear who will be doing the investigation–the ship’s flagged nation (Panama), the owners’ home nation (UAE) or the nation from which the contractors have citizenship (unknown).

All of this is making me wish I attended an open lectureheld here at the Academy by LCDR Berube on private security contractors as a possible solution to the piracy question held here at the Academy a few weeks ago. (LCDR Berube was recently spotted on Midrats talking about DADT.)

Do we want private security contractors helping secure ships from piracy? Sure, ships have the right to defend themselves. The follow-up questions of how closely their actions are monitored (a huge investigation every time there’s an incident could prove unwieldy) and who holds them accountable have yet to be answered. Any thoughts?

« Older Entries