Archive for the 'Leadership' Tag


One of the primary responsibilities of leaders is to be an example to junior personnel. The expected ideal is to “lead by example.” That “example” is understood to be a positive one, but often it is not. On occasion a leader becomes a negative example – “that guy” who everyone is told not to be.

This week we saw one of the last parts of Act-III from the tragedy of General James E. “Hoss” Cartwright, USMC (Ret.).

Josh Rogin over at WaPo outlines the story and its context well, and we’ll get to that later on in the post, but here is the take-away everyone in uniform must know – you are not part of the cool-kids club in DC. Only a very few ever have crossed that barrier, and you are not one of them.

There is a problem with spending too many years in the Imperial City rubbing elbows and watching the Byzantine stew of politics, press, sex, fame, money, and power that swirls around you. If you are lucky, you have enough of a sense of history and self-awareness to know your place, or you have a wife or the ever-rare circle of friends you will listen to who will keep you grounded. Even then, it may not be enough. Even the greatest are human too.

Some can spend the balance of the decades of their life in DC and remain unsullied by its nature, uncompromised, unmoved by the warped ethics and moral compromise one sees every day. Others can be seduced by it inside a single PCS cycle.

It is not a hard sell to think that you have to play by the rules those in suits and pants-suits do to make things happen. You can feel forced to bend, but just as many want to bend. They can smell what is there, and they want to be part of it.

High rank, personal staffs, and a parade of sycophantiUlysses_and_the_Sirens_by_H.J._Draperc obsequiousness can build on top of the existing human desire for power, influence, and position. A person in uniform can see which civilian tactics, techniques, and procedures are used to best effect, and that the civilians get away with it.

Why not you too?

Here is why; you are not them. You wear the uniform. It isn’t that you are held to a different standard, you are, but not for the self-serving reason you think. It isn’t your “higher sense of honor” or any of that. No, it is much baser.

You are not in their club. You do not know their secret handshake. You are not in their circle of influence, cabal, or family though marriage, affairs, or shared history. Even if you went to the same schools, you are outside that circle. Even if they make you feel you are – you are only being patronized for their own interest; you aren’t.

To many there, you are just “The Other.” You are just another government employee who, even as a General Officer and Flag Officer, are seen somewhere between a GS-15 and a Deputy Undersecretary.

You can play some of their games, but even then you will not be allowed to play by their rules. To them, you aren’t just expendable, you are a potential sacrifice to appease whatever is the angry god of the moment’s demands.


The Imperial City is a fascinating place, but only if you know it for what it is. Its standards are not for you. Its concept of accountability do not apply to you. It isn’t because you are better, it is because you are The Other.

Go back to the fundamentals you learned as a JO and grab a map/chart. The Pentagon isn’t even in DC, it is in northern Virginia. Keep that in mind.

The Obama administration Justice Department has investigated three senior officials for mishandling classified information over the past two years but only one faces a felony conviction, possible jail time and a humiliation that will ruin his career: former Joint Chiefs of Staff vice chairman General James E. Cartwright. The FBI’s handling of the case stands in stark contrast to its treatment of Hillary Clinton and retired General David Petraeus — and it reeks of political considerations.

Monday marked a stunning fall from grace for Cartwright, the man once known as “Obama’s favorite general,” who pleaded guilty to the felony charge of lying to the FBI during its investigation into the leaking of classified information about covert operations against Iran to two journalists. His lawyer Greg Craig said in a statement that Cartwright spoke with David Sanger of the New York Times and Dan Klaidman of Newsweek as a confirming source for stories they had already reported, in an effort to prevent the publication of harmful national security secrets.

The defense attorney’s job is to paint the best picture for his client. Re-read the above last paragraph for clarity.

Under his plea deal, Cartwright could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Last year, Petraeus cut a deal with the Justice Department after admitting he had lied to the FBI and passed hundreds of highly classified documents to his biographer and mistress Paula Broadwell. He pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor of mishandling classified information and was sentenced to two years probation and a $100,000 fine.

Clinton was not charged at all for what FBI Director James B. Comey called “extremely careless” handling of “very sensitive, highly classified information.” Comey said that although there was “evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information,” the FBI’s judgment was that no reasonable prosecutor would have filed charges against Clinton or her associates.

Is this fair? Is it right?

That doesn’t matter. It is.

“The FBI will continue to take all necessary and appropriate steps to thoroughly investigate individuals, no matter their position (emphasis added), who undermine the integrity of our justice system by lying to federal investigators,” said Assistant Director in Charge Paul Abbate.

That statement reveals that the FBI is trying address public criticism that it gives senior officials like Petraeus and Clinton special and favorable consideration, Aftergood said.

“They seem to be trying to make a policy point,” he said. “The Justice Department would say they are not influenced at all by policy or political considerations. In the real world, of course they are influenced.”

One of the best things Cartwright could do is, after a cooling off period, write a book about this whole affair. Not a book to push blame on others. Not a book to try to spin the story in his favor. No. He is a Marine Aviator. He needs to look at this as a mishap report. Focus on what he did wrong. Clear, unblinking honesty of how he found himself walking up the steps to a courthouse. It might help those who follow. Might.

Cartwright, by contrast, was short on high-profile Washington friends. He had long ago run afoul of his two Pentagon bosses, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who never forgave him for going around the chain of command to join with Vice President Joe Biden to present Obama with an alternate plan for the Afghanistan troop surge in 2009.

Cartwright’s greatest mistake was not talking to reporters or lying about it; he failed to play the Washington game skillfully enough to avoid becoming a scapegoat for a system in which senior officials skirt the rules and then fall back on their political power to save them.

Bingo. It wasn’t his game to play. He didn’t even understand the rules.

I just hope this doesn’t eat in to his soul, as it would take a lot for it not to eat in to mine;

Will the other Stuxnet leakers be held accountable? No one has suggested that Cartwright was the primary source of the Stuxnet disclosures. According to emails obtained by the conservative action group Freedom Watch, Sanger had meetings on Iran with several other high-profile administration officials, including National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and even Clinton herself. There’s no evidence of any other Stuxnet leak investigations of high-level officials.

Not being in the club has its consequences.

In his best-case scenario, Cartwright could avoid prison time but will be saddled with a felony conviction that will bar him from most money-making opportunities. In the worst-case scenario, he could be getting released from prison around the same time Clinton finishes her first term.

In his statement taking responsibility for lying to the FBI, Cartwright asserted his motivations were patriotic. “My only goal in talking to the reporters was to protect American interests and lives; I love my country and continue to this day to do everything I can to defend it.”

All glory is fleeting.

14523006_612870865559081_753367960923572387_nNow that everyone has absorbed the impact of the announcement last week ditching the Navy ratings system, let’s talk about the what and why.

Let us talk as adults. It is the mutually respectful thing to do.

Brush aside the spin, the squid ink, the general excuse making and post-decision 2nd and 3rd order effect justification on why this change was made, for what purpose, and what manner. Things such as giving a job description that will help a Sailor or Marine have a better civilian resume. Really, just stop. No one is buying it, and trust me, as someone who made the transition a bit more than half a decade ago, it won’t make a difference in that area.

With some time behind us post-announcement, there is more to discuss. We are lucky in that Mark D. Faram of Navy Times has a thorough, balanced and much needed expose from “behind the scenes of the Navy’s most unpopular policy.”

The simple answer is this; fed by some of the less intellectual threads from the 3rd Wave Feminist theory that seems to inform much of his ideas on “gender,” the SECNAV wanted to grind in his stamp on a pet agenda item before he leaves office.

How it was to be done? That was the question. There was no question of “if.”

This action began and ended with the SECNAV and full credit positive or negative belongs firmly there.

Now, let’s get in to some of Faram’s details.

Good ideas are usually given a nice warm up. This, however, was known from the start that it would be toxic upon delivery. As a result, the delivery was for most as a bolt out of the blue;

Beyond a small working group, convened this past summer and led by then-Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens, next-to no one in the Navy saw this change coming, sources with knowledge of the decision-making process say. And it’s been received with near universal contempt by sailors past and present.

In the course of military service, we have all done things we did not agree with, but duty is what duty is. If it is a lawful order, you do it. If it is a nasty bit of work, you try to come up with the least horrible way of doing it while still getting the OK from the boss. This is why I believe that those who oppose the new policy should hold no ill feeling towards those in uniform who were in the group that produced this for approval by the SECNAV. Likewise, those supporting it should not give them credit either. We’ve all been there, they did the best they could – but the initiating directive came from SECNAV, and if it weren’t for him, it would not have happened.

“I felt it was not optional,” Stevens said, “but my duty to lead this effort, knowing all along that there would be controversy attached to it.” The former MCPON, as the position is known throughout the service, says he believes the move is necessary and that now Navy leaders “must follow through.”

The post announcement spin has been a solid effort to define some positive 2nd and 3rd order effects, which there may be, but that is all they are – 2nd and 3rd order effects. Not designed, just byproducts.

Mabus declined to speak with Navy Times. He and other top Navy officials, including Richardson and Burke, have said that the change, while a nod to gender neutrality, will facilitate sailors’ professional development and career advancement by freeing them to cross train and attain broader skills spanning multiple specialties. That should make them more marketable when they leave the military, too, they’ve noted.

Mabus did speak today, and we’ll end the post with that, but let’s stick to this part of the story for now.

It would be hard to find a more divisive way of making such an announcement that impacts every Sailor.

Much of the frustration tied to Mabus’ decision stems from its timing. Most average sailors and deckplate leaders alike don’t understand why the announcement was made while so much of the plan remains undeveloped.

Well, many did. There were hints and background warnings over the summer.

Mabus, sources said, was determined to put ratings reform in motion — and on the record — before he leaves office.

The power of the office. Once you have been in a while, you begin to enjoy it and find ways to use it. When you see that power soon leaving with much work left undone, well, time to get moving.

Let’s go back to the sausage factory. Direction and guidance was both clear and vague. Interesting how MCPON tried to cobble something workable together.

…while Mabus was focused on removing the word “man” from the Navy’s job titles, he never specifically asked for a plan to eliminate rating titles entirely.

The MCPON assembled a working group composed of “about 12” individuals,…

“Course of action number one was simple: Remove man from titles,” Stevens said. “What we found was that you could in most cases, remove the word ‘man’ and replace it with the word specialist or technician…

The second proposal built upon the first and sought to determine whether the job titles in fact aligned with the work being done. An example here is yeoman; it’s a historic title, but it was decided that “administrative specialist” was a better fit for the work being performed, …

But none of the changes seemed right, he added. Taken in total, they did not amount to the profound change he felt the Navy needs. That’s when Stevens suggested something groundbreaking.

“What if we just eliminated rating titles altogether and simply referred to ourselves by our rate? That’s the traditional Navy word for rank. You could feel the air leave the room,” he said.

There you go.

In case you are wondering, the article didn’t outline well what COA-3 was, but it does not really matter.

“If you want to do just what you asked us to do, here are the rating title changes that need to happen to remove ‘man’ from those titles. He said ‘it’s done and it’s easy and we can do it tomorrow,’” Stevens said, recalling the conversation with Mabus.

Stevens then outlined the idea of removing all rating titles, telling the secretary that he felt this was the the best proposal for the service. But he followed up with a warning.

“Make no mistake about it,” Stevens recalled telling Mabus, “this course of action will be the most labor-intensive, probably the most expensive, certainly the most controversial as well as difficult to accept socially throughout the Navy. But it certainly advances us the furthest.”

Mabus “sat there a little bit, pondered it, asked a few questions and then decided, in the best interest of the Navy’s future, this was the path he wanted to take,” Stevens said.

And that is how a very personal part of our Navy for over two centuries ended.

The pushback was as expected, I assume.

There was “absolutely no signal, no hint that a move of that magnitude was being planned, discussed or soon-to-be forthcoming,” said the command master chief, who also spoke to Navy Times on condition of anonymity. “Our sailors don’t understand it. They don’t understand why the ratings that they chose to enter have been selected for elimination, and they don’t see the need for it.”

Actually, there was, but few wanted to believe it. No question now.

“We don’t understand why this could not have been a two-to-three year, very gradual process that examined all of the effects from advancement to recruiting, and how it will affect the administration of our Navy on many different levels. It doesn’t appear,” the CMC said, “that any thought was given to that.”

Come on Master Chief, you have to understand why. The focus is all on the calendar, a calendar getting short for the SECNAV.

I know there are many who refuse to accept that this all comes from the SECNAV’s desire. Thanks to Hope Hodge Seck’s article today on his speech at the National Press Club, SECNAV Mabus underlined his priority and should remove all doubt,

“Ratings names change all the time,” Mabus said. “Corpsmen, our medics, that rating came in after World War II. Corpsmen were first called Loblolly Boys, which, I’m not sure where that came from. I thought it was important to be gender-neutral.”

In case you aren’t fully up to speed, looks like we are losing Corpsman for Medic.

I know. I know.

not-my-circusIf you have not already, before you go further in this post, I highly recommend that you read the recent and important article by Admiral William H. McRaven, USN (Ret), A warrior’s career sacrificed for politics.

Seriously, click the link, read, and then come back.

Now that you’re back, I suspect that at first blush many of you had a similar reaction that I did; a rush of agreement and relief that a senior officer has come to the defense of a colleague who, as many of us have seen with our own friends and colleagues, was caught in the Kafkaesque IG process.

As most who have been around for awhile have their own stories about good people who were caught in a vindictive and unaccountable witch hunt of a system, it is easy to slide in to a position of agreement and sympathy for McRaven’s line of thinking. It is, after all, a heartfelt and reasoned argument. I am in full alignment with McRaven, but there is a blindingly incomplete sense of proportion and outrage that by now I hope is sinking in.

If not, wait for that first flush to exhaust itself in your system. Take a deep breath. Let your head and blood clear, then think about the article and its central argument anew.

There we have McRaven, standing athwart RDML Losey’s crumpled body bravely pointing a finger at the hulking civilian politicians in the distance who have done wrong for crass, self-serving political gain … but … wait. Something seems a bit, well, off.

That is when it hits you. Like Bender says, “No dad, what about you?

This isn’t personal, there is much more than that. Both officers are great Americans and great leaders – but that is not the story. They are good stand-ins for a larger issue, so let’s dive in to it with that understanding.

As much of an injustice that seems to have visited Losey’s service, at this point I’m not sure I see why his case, now, should be such a big deal to anyone else. Priority. Proportion. Perspective.

Not that I don’t care, I do, but like seeing a broken window on a derelict building, I don’t see how it is a shocking eyesore in the context of a full view of the general neglect upon the whole facade. As McRaven the General Officer/Flag Officer (GOFO) points his finger at civilian politicians, what about the other three pointing back at him, and as a representative of his peer group, his entire cohort of leaders?

As with the many instances I have covered at my homeblog over the years, we have a habit of abandoning leaders to the ravages of spiteful “hotline” callers and rogue IG investigations. To be charged is to be convicted. Not willing to blow their “#1” on someone who is tainted, one or two FITREP cycles pass and innocent or guilty – it does not matter; professionally you are done.

All it takes is a call. An email. One unsubstantiated claim. One unbalanced subordinate. One grievance. One ISIC scared of the shadow of a potential cloud covering them as well as the accused.

Welcome to the party.

From McRaven’s article, does this sound familiar?

…over the past decade I have seen a disturbing trend in how politicians abuse and denigrate military leadership, particularly the officer corps, to advance their political agendas. Although this is certainly not a new phenomenon, it seems to be growing in intensity. My concern is that if this trend of disrespect to the military continues it will undermine the strength of the officer corps to the point where good men and women will forgo service — or worse the ones serving will be reluctant to make hard decision for fear their actions, however justified, will be used against them in the political arena.

And it is clear in this case that certain members of Congress didn’t care about Losey’s innocence. Nor did they seem to care that he has sacrificed more for this country than most members on Capitol Hill — or that the emotional strain of this investigation was devastating to his family. It is clear that all these lawmakers cared about was political leverage.

The case of Brian Losey is a miscarriage of justice. But the greater concern for America is the continued attack on leadership in the military.

During my past several years in uniform, I watched in disbelief how lawmakers treated the chairman, the service chiefs, the combatant commanders and other senior officers during Congressional testimony. These officers were men of incredible integrity, and yet some lawmakers showed no respect for their decades of service. I saw the DOD Inspector General’s Office frequently act as judge and jury, apparently accountable to no one, dismissing the recommendations of the services and ruining officer’s careers. I watched time and again how political correctness and pressure from Capitol Hill undermined command authority and good order and discipline.

Although we in the military understand the absolute necessity to serve and respect our civilian leaders — and every good leader understands and appreciates the value of anonymous complaints to ferret out bad leadership — we also need civilians to understand that a strong military, particularly an all-volunteer one, needs the support of our civilian leaders, not the constant refrain of disrespect that seems so common in today’s political narrative.

Let me rewrite that for you.

…over the past decade I have seen a disturbing trend in how GOFO abuse and denigrate military leadership, particularly those in Field Grade Command, to advance their political agendas. Although this is certainly not a new phenomenon, it seems to be growing in intensity. My concern is that if this trend of disrespect to those in Command continues it will undermine the strength of the officer corps to the point where good men and women will forgo service — or worse the ones serving will be reluctant to make hard decision for fear their actions, however justified, will be used against them in the political arena.

And it is clear in this case that certain GOFO don’t care about innocence or guilt. Nor did they seem to care that leaders in Command sacrificed more for their country than many GOFO — or that the emotional strain of this investigation was devastating to their family. It is clear that all these GOFO cared about was political leverage.

The case of innocent Commanders caught in a drawn out and expanded IG, there is a miscarriage of justice. But the greater concern for America is the continued attack on leadership in the military.

During my past several years in uniform, I watched in disbelief how GOFO treated the those in Major Command at Sea, sea-going Commander Command, Shore Command and even Senior NCOs during and after any IG. These leaders were men and women of incredible integrity, and yet some GOFO showed no respect for their decades of service. I saw the DOD Inspector General’s Office frequently act as judge and jury, apparently accountable to no one, dismissing the recommendations of the chain of command and ruining officers’ careers. I watched time and again how political correctness and pressure from Capitol Hill and more senior GOFO undermined command authority and good order and discipline.

Although we in the military understand the absolute necessity to serve and respect our senior uniformed and civilian leaders — and every good leader understands and appreciates the value of anonymous complaints to ferret out bad leadership — we also need senior uniformed and civilian leadership to understand that a strong military, particularly an all-volunteer one, needs the support of our senior uniformed and civilian leaders, not the constant refrain of disrespect that seems so common in today’s political narrative.

Look at that one more time.

I watched time and again how political correctness and pressure from Capitol Hill undermined command authority and good order and discipline.

What about you dad? What about you?

Where was McRaven, Losey, and their GOFO peers as good leaders were destroyed? Where were they when the accused were shunned like lepers while under investigation, and then punished for things unrelated to the initial complaints but dug up in the course of ambitious and broad reaching investigations that few would survive? Where were the articles to support them, to call attention to their scourging?

So, why are we to be concerned in April of 2016 about a GOFO being sacrificed at the alter of “political agendas” when more junior personnel have been fed to the politically correct Vaal for years with nary a peep? The disconnect is gobsmacking.

Again, welcome to the party, Shipmate.

We know where you’ve been, we’ve been right there with you. I was a JO when McRaven and his Year Group +/- were senior LT and LCDR. I know what they did and how they comported themselves, I was right there watching them. I know they saw what I saw post-Tailhook. I know they watched throughout their career so many sacrificed so more senior people could be, “shocked, shocked I say,” at what was said to be normal behavior, but, after a good sniff of smelling salts, was actually unheard of.

Where were all those First Flag Officer in the Chain of Command and up the chain further who swore when younger that when they were senior leaders, they would not be part of watching innocent junior leaders flayed alive like we saw after Tailhook?

Where were they in the last decade when RDML Gaouette, CAPT Honors, CAPT McWherter, CDR Jackson and others were thrown bound and gagged in in front of the Star Chamber?

Unfair to McRaven? Perhaps, as this is not his fault. After all, he has been at the tip of the spear fighting a decade and a half long war most of the time, but he brought up the subject. I do applaud Admiral McRaven for rising in defense of Losey – a great leader and great officer. This may help bring more attention to the IG system, but Losey is not the posterchild to rally a movement behind. What Losey is, however, is just a datapoint in a long, sad, and shameful series of datapoints.

We have a broken IG system and parallel bodies that have their tentacles throughout our system, not just at the GOFO-Congress interface. It has created, and is encouraged by, a culture riven with fear of being denounced by a power hungry IG cadre running around like some diluted and slightly pathetic version of the French Terror and the Chinese Red Guards.

I would offer, if GOFO desire not to be a victim, that they start standing up to the menace that they are presently allowing to consume CDR and CAPT and more junior personnel in positions of authority. Take care of them first, then ask mercy for yourself. By the example of how you treat others, you show how you would wish to be treated. Fix our side of the house, then we can concern ourselves with the elected representatives of the American people.

The first step in fixing this cultural problem must begin with the action of GOFO down the chain. Until that takes place, do not expect any groundswell from the masses as that same culture you enable consumes one of your own … again.

Admiral McRaven, in case you and your peers don’t know it; this is your circus. These are your monkeys.

UPDATE: I would also recommend that you read CDR J. Michael Dahm’s article from the April Proceedings, Innocent Until Investigated. Must be a USNI Member to get the article online.

H/t BJ.

Posted by CDRSalamander in Navy | 15 Comments

From Mr. Midshipman Easy

The greatest error now in our service, is the disregard shown to the feelings of the junior

Frederick Marryat

officers in the language of their superiors: that an improvement has taken place I grant, but that it still exists, to a degree injurious to the service, I know too well. The articles of war, as our hero was informed by his captain, were equally binding on officers and crew; but what a dead letter do they become if officers are permitted to break them with impunity! The captain of a ship will turn the hands up to punishment, read the article of war for the transgressing of which the punishment is inflicted, and to show at that time their high respect for the articles of war, the captain and every officer take off their hats. The moment the hands are piped down, the second article of war, which forbids all swearing, etcetera, in derogation of God’s honour, is immediately disregarded. We are not strait-laced,–we care little about an oath as a mere _expletive_; we refer now to swearing at _others_, to insulting their feelings grossly by coarse and intemperate language. We would never interfere with a man for damning his own eyes, but we deny the right of his damning those of another.

But it remembered that these are not the observations of a junior officer smarting under insult–they are the result of deep and calm reflection. We have arrived to that grade, that, although we have the power to inflict, we are too high to receive insult, but we have not forgotten how our young blood has boiled when wanton, reckless, and cruel torture has been heaped upon our feelings, merely because, as a junior officer, we were not in a position to retaliate, or even to reply. And another evil is, that this great error is disseminated. In observing on it, in one of our works, called Peter Simple, we have put the following true observation in the mouth of O’Brien. Peter observes, in his simple, right-minded way:

“I should think, O’Brien, that the very circumstance of having had your feelings so often wounded by such language when you were a junior officer would make you doubly careful not to use it towards others, when you had advanced in the service?”

“Peter, that’s just the first feeling, which wears away after a time, till at last, your own sense of indignation becomes blunted, and becomes indifferent to it; you forget, also, that you wound the feelings of others, and carry the habit with, you, to the great injury and disgrace of the service.”

Let it not be supposed that in making these remarks we want to cause litigation, or insubordination. On the contrary, we assert that this error is the cause, and eventually will be much more the cause, of insubordination; for as the junior officers who enter the service are improved, so will they resist it. The complaint here is more against the officers, than the captains, whose power has been perhaps already too much curtailed by late regulations: that power must remain, for although there may be some few who are so perverted as to make those whom they command uncomfortable, in justice to the service we are proud to assert that the majority acknowledge, by their conduct, that the greatest charm attached to power is to be able to make so many people happy.

About Captain Frederick Marryat, While he was an early 19th Century man in many regards and attitudes, he certainly got the above correct. References to the “article of war” are to the Royal Navy’s articles of the day.

Nothing sticks in your memory like a “screamer” whether in the service or in a civilian job, especially that part about “we were not is position to retaliate, or even to reply.”

Posted by Mark Tempest in Books | 4 Comments

The Mountain

February 2016


This is a call for direction, to give focus to the avalanche of innovation asked for, by, and delivered to our Navy. I started this essay a dozen times. Every time a new anecdote or angle occurred to me, I would set out again to describe something on the tip of my tongue and it always fizzled out. I have come at it swinging; I have sidled up to it sideways.The truth is, every officer that I know has seen the same systemic inadequacies and has had many brilliant ideas to move the Navy forward. I am woefully underqualified to present the catch-all solution for the Navy’s problems; I lack the experience and expertise. So when I examine the heap of possibilities I wish to engage, I have trouble finding a place to start.

It is a mountain of Everest proportions and geared-up officers at the bottom are still puzzling the path that will move them forward. The bureaucracy has become so large, so complicated, so obscured that every start seems to simply tire and thin the herd. With this many people all looking in the same direction, seeing the same issues, it is incredible that we seem to still be at base camp. Then, I start this essay over again and realize, I too am stuck at base camp with just an essay, not even an actual proposal or policy! Progress proves to be as difficult to define as to execute.

The Problem is the Problems

A foundational issue with trying to see a way forward is that we have a system akin to pre-WWI Europe, one of secret alliances and tensions in which to change one small thing could bring an unending avalanche of consequences. Every time a brave officer comes forward with a solution and attacks the mountain, they dislodge a myriad of other issues which force them back to the safety of the ranks. Even those who have climbed their way to positions of authority, look back on the path they took and can hardly recognize it, with policy and technology changes obscuring and isolating them from bringing others along. The Navy is at the foot of an impossibly high pile of interrelated and cascading issues with no clear path to the top and all of our training and motivation seems to mean nothing when we are not sure how to stabilize the stack to make passage possible.

There is a beacon of hope to guide our efforts, however. Those with the depth of knowledge and experience to see the full set of obstacles are of highest value. Yet with so many people energetic to climb the mountain, it seems that those with the perspective to guide them may be tired from the climb, entrenched in the system which they navigated or bound by the intricacies of bureaucracy. Those of us just beginning our ascent cannot follow their paths, and they aren’t calling down the mountain. The entire way we have been trying to innovate is flawed because we are pulling pieces out from the already unstable bottom, without any guidance from those with a much broader, more mature vantage point.

The Conditions are Right

Anyone who has begun a precarious climb knows that without the right equipment, angle, and direction you are just asking for the ground to crumble beneath you. This is, at best, comical, as you struggle without making any progress and, at worst, dangerous. We, as aspiring innovators, are not navigating the treacherous path of change as well as we should. Yet there are many of us, trained up and passionately ready, to build a navigable trail so that we can tame the mountain.

We must begin. We have tools. We have ideas. We have experts. We have the time. All we are waiting for is the right people to give us the go ahead, and to guide us from their elevated positions. We need those fearless enough to reach great heights to call again upon that fortitude and communicate with us.

The greatest barriers to innovation are feelings of being overwhelmed, thinking in isolated terms, and failure to launch. The time is right, with motivated innovators ready to start who understand the complexity of the issues and are eager for support and guidance. It is time to begin.

The Solution is Perspective

This last piece of the puzzle is one that our enthusiasm and creativity cannot overcome. We know the value of climbing the mountain; we know the programs, incentives and awards meant to entice us to attack the mountain. We know the bemoaned complaints and the fiery desire for improvement that pushes from behind us. Neither of these are new phenomena and yet relatively little progress is attempted. Every time one problem is fixed, it tugs at the thousand other things to which it is tied and the system rejects the amendment or absorbs it with little appreciation for the intent of the improvement.

Junior leaders simply can’t see a way to conquer it all with our limited experience and perspective. We need senior leaders to take a risk and trust that given a problem, we can provide creative solutions. Then we need them to use that position to properly define the problem, so that we are not solving it from our too-close vantage point, but with proper respect for the breadth and depth of the systems we may impact. There is a broad call out for improvements and passionate leaders giving us broad directions. This is simply not working – the paths they took no longer exist, and the workable way ahead is difficult to distinguish. The mountain is ever more treacherous, precariously balanced and threatening.

Solutions seem easy to come by, and there are many smart, innovative people seeking them with reckless abandon. Yet these are simple solutions to simple problems. No problem in the Navy exists in a truly simple form, or in a vacuum. An entire generation is waiting for their moment, but is unable to see the tangled infrastructure supported by that rock they seek to demolish. We are waiting for the opportunity to marry our education and enthusiasm. Many of the best and brightest spend a lot of time working on wonderful, well thought out solutions. Those who have worked hard and attained the rank and authority to enact change are constantly looking for creative solutions, or those who can help them craft them. With so many people putting forth so much time and effort, there is no shortage of solutions.

Without a clearly defined problem, we can’t know if brilliant solutions are hitting the mark. No amount of innovation or hard work can overcome a poorly defined problem. We need to not only be more enthusiastic in our creative problem solving efforts, but deliberate in defining our problem defining. The accuracy of the definition of the parameters of a problem will directly correlate to the effectiveness of the solution, and when there is no clearly defined problem at all, the solutions are bound to cause more harm than good. The Navy has some of the most innovative minds at all levels of leadership. Junior officers are ready to craft solutions, anxiously anticipating and even creating problems. The youngest members of the wardroom may see many of the problems, but without the scope and clear direction that could be provided by senior leaders, we are bound to waste precious time and effort building paths in the wrong direction. Senior leaders need only shine light down the mountain and give us permission to build.

We have a need, as a Navy, to be better stewards of our own system. We have a responsibility to tackle the mountain of outdated policies and known shortcomings. We need well-defined targets, measured perspective, and large-scale cooperation to manage the secondary and tertiary effects of change. We need not run up the gravel bottom only to backslide, tired and frustrated. There are great leaders along the path; there are many more ready to band together for the trek to the top. Define a problem clearly, give us permission to upset norms, and we will eagerly bring ideas to make the mountain more manageable.


Innovation Buzzkill

February 2016


I am concerned that the Navy will soon be mandated to innovate. Even worse, that the process will be bureaucratized. In a memo dated 31 Jul 2015, Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) Ash Carter directed the Defense Business Board (DBB) to “provide recommendations on how the Department can establish ‘virtual consultancies’ that engage our internal talent.” Six months later, the DBB approved a recommendation to designate an entity within the Office of the Secretary of Defense to champion innovation efforts and to serve as a forcing function for cultural change within the organization. While I agree with the spirit of the recommendation, I believe the Navy can – and will – be more successful by innovating through internal channels.

That being said, I still believe the number one barrier to innovation is organizational culture, in which individual leaders do not invite – or support – their subordinates to challenge the status quo. It’s easy to understand why. To invite change into an organization requires courage and effort. Courage to listen, disrupt, and possibly fail. Effort to mentor, follow-through, and champion. It also takes precious time away from the daily routine and more “pressing” matters.

The Secretary of Defense has certainly reinvigorated the innovative spirit within DoD, and many efforts are afoot to facilitate innovation initiatives. Examples include: CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC), SECDEF’s Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), ATHENA, and Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF) just to name a few. Innovative efforts, however, are not just restricted to the upper echelons. Enlisted members, Junior Officers (JOs), and DoD civilian are getting involved too – in big ways. Under their own initiative, they are self-organizing, collaborating, and making things happen across the Fleet. DoN should take note.

Good ideas have no rank

For example, Surface Warfare detailing (PERS-41) championed three JO innovation cells to undertake a broad series of initiatives to lead the Navy in recruiting and retaining top talent. In March 2016, a DC symposium – organized by JOs, for JOs – will tackle the challenge of how to better evaluate our officers. Later that month, a team of operators and domain experts will gather in Hawaii to develop human-centered solutions to the challenges of Integrated Air Missile Defense Mission coordination. Stakeholders – even very senior ones – are paying attention.

In a message dated 08 Feb 2016, Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Ray Mabus announced his 2015 innovation award winners – ranging from Third Class Petty Officers, Midshipmen, PhD civilians, and senior officers. These winners tackled a wide-variety of challenges to include robotics/autonomous systems, data analytics, additive manufacturing, energy, weapons, decision aide, and many others. Of particular note were the categories of innovation leadership and innovation catalyst. What can be learned from these innovation leaders? More importantly, what is their formula – or process – for inspiring a culture of innovation success?

Opportunities for Innovation

According to the Department of the Navy’s innovation vision, “the [Navy] must anticipate, adapt, and thrive in a rapidly changing environment, which requires freedom, the flexibility to innovate at all levels, and the ability to flatten the organization, break-down silos, and create cross-disciplinary synergies.”

Perhaps SECNAV’s guidance says it best:

  • Commanders at every level must create an environment which allows for the challenging of assumptions, the creation of novel ideas and strategies, and the support to follow-through and make an impact.
  • Commanders at all levels must identify the appropriate conditions for taking risks.
  • Prudent risk takers, and the failures which result in learning, must be recognized and rewarded.
  • Zero-Defect thinking must not permeate promotion boards or performance assessments. Failure that occurs in a learning environment ultimately benefits the organization.

The key to DoN’s innovation success will be a collection of individual leaders who inspire trust in their people – willing to listen, provide feedback, and champion good ideas wherever they may come from. Our DoN members are already partnering with internal Navy circles, industry, small businesses, and academia to organize projects, symposiums, innovation forums, and task groups. I urge Navy leadership to leverage the enthusiasm and creativity already resident inside our organization today. Innovation success relies on relationships and empowerment, not mandates and directives.

DSC00384 copyJanuary 5th marked Commodore Stephen Decatur’s 237th birthday. Decatur was the most celebrated American naval hero of the post-Revolutionary War era. If not for his untimely death at the age of 41, many believe he would have been elected President of the United States.

In honor of his recent birthday, I think it appropriate to take a moment to remember some of Decatur’s career, reflect on his legacy, and consider how we might go about producing more leaders like him.

First let’s talk about Stephen Decatur’s naval education and the early wartime exploits which made him a household name. The son of a merchant captain, Decatur obtained an appointment as midshipman in 1798. He served aboard USS United States, captained by his good friend and mentor John Barry. Barry was a hero of the Revolutionary War, and is recognized as the American Navy’s first flag officer. Decatur was also tutored by Talbot Hamilton, a former officer of the Royal Navy who instructed him in navigational and nautical sciences. While serving aboard United States, Decatur received formal naval training not only from Hamilton, but through active service aboard a commissioned ship. This experience, as well as his continuing education aboard other ships, would serve him well when it came time for him to lead in combat.

Before I recount Decatur’s heroism in battle, let’s briefly set the stage. In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson sent our nation’s tiny naval force to the Mediterranean to protect our expanding trade against the Barbary pirates, who had long demanded ransom for the safe passage of our merchant ships. President Jefferson’s refusal to pay for safe passage led Tripoli to declare war against the United States. “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute” became our rallying cry for the ensuing conflict – the First Barbary War.

On 23 December 1803, only a month into his command of the schooner Enterprise, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur and his crew captured the Tripolitan ketch Mastico as she sailed from Tripoli to Constantinople under Turkish colors. Mastico had taken part in the capture of the frigate USS Philadelphia earlier that year, and was thus deemed a legitimate prize. Refitted and renamed USS Intrepid, she was taken into service under Lieutenant Decatur’s command.

Because of her appearance, the Intrepid was well-suited to enter Tripoli’s harbor, where Philadelphia remained, without raising suspicion. In February 1804, Decatur sailed the Intrepid close enough to the captured Philadelphia for his crew, a detachment of U.S. Marines, to board, capture, and burn the frigate, which was not seaworthy. The mission was executed flawlessly, and subsequently deprived Tripoli of a powerful warship. Lord Horatio Nelson, then a Vice Admiral in the British Royal Navy, called Decatur’s mission “the most bold and daring act of the age.”

DSC00373 copyLater in 1804, during a month of sustained attacks on Tripoli, Decatur’s younger brother, James Decatur, was mortally wounded by a Tripolitan captain while boarding a corsair feigning surrender. Stephen Decatur received word quickly, and diverted his own vessel to the corsair to exact revenge. He was the first to board the Tripolitan ship, outnumbered five-to-one, but ready for a fight. Decatur immediately found the man who had wounded his brother. The Tripolitan captain outweighed him by 40 pounds, but Decatur ferociously thwarted the captain with his cutlass and after a direct hand-to-hand fight, killed him with his pistol. The story of this fight made Decatur a household name, shaping the image of our still developing U.S. Navy.

For his leadership and bravery in the First Barbary War, Stephen Decatur became the youngest naval officer in history to be promoted to captain at the age of 25. His naval career continued far beyond this initial success. Decatur would further distinguish himself while fighting in the War of 1812 and the Second Barbary War. He would achieve the rank of commodore and serve on the Board of Navy Commissioners until his death in 1820 following a duel with another naval officer.

The story of Decatur’s life and career is a rich one – I’ve only scratched the surface here. Now let’s explore how and where he is remembered. Beyond the 48 cities and seven counties named for Decatur, the longest road on the Naval Academy’s 338-acre campus is named Decatur Road. The road ends next to Preble Hall, the Naval Academy’s Museum, which is named for Commodore Edward Preble, under whose command Decatur fought in the First Barbary War. Adjacent to both Decatur Road and Preble Hall sits the Tripoli Monument, the oldest military monument in the United States. It was carved in Italy in 1806, and moved to the Naval Academy in 1860. The Tripoli Monument honors six heroes of the First Barbary War, including James Decatur, Stephen’s brother.

Another name on the monument is Richard Somers, who died aboard the same USS Intrepid that Decatur captured and used to sneak into Tripoli’s harbor. Somers was a close friend and midshipman with Decatur aboard United States, and assumed command of Intrepid one month after James Decatur was killed. Intrepid had been fitted as a “floating volcano,” loaded down with 100 barrels of powder and 150 shells. The plan was to sail her into Tripoli’s corsair fleet, light a 15-minute fuse, and abandon ship before she exploded. Unfortunately, the Intrepid exploded prematurely, killing her entire crew of volunteers.

I mention Richard Somers because six U.S. Navy ships have been named the USS Somers in his honor, the second of which has a crucial connection to the Naval Academy. In December 1842, Midshipman Philip Spencer, son of Secretary of War John C. Spencer, was hanged for intention to commit a mutiny aboard USS Somers. This high profile hanging became known as the Somers Affair, and contributed to the decision to create a land-based academy where midshipmen could learn their craft instead of doing so only at sea.

The same midshipman experience which greatly benefitted Stephen Decatur was not always as successful. The United States Naval Academy, established in 1845 by Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft, would seek to formalize a curriculum for aspiring naval officers, producing a fresh crop of talented leaders each year. 170 years later, the scope of our operation has changed, but our goal hasn’t. I mentioned earlier that Decatur had his own tutor aboard the United States to teach him the technical skills and naval science he would need to succeed as a naval officer, and eventually as a naval commander. He also had on-the-job training aboard a real ship, filled with opportunities to practice and hone his craft. That’s exactly what we endeavor to provide today’s Naval Academy midshipmen, and how we go about developing leaders has been my number one priority since taking over as Superintendent.

My major focus is experiential leadership. Leadership cannot be taught exclusively in the classroom. The technical skills required of a competent leader can be learned at a desk in many cases, but that’s not enough. Leader development must be immersive. It takes repetition, with allowance for failure and success. It’s also all about being given the opportunity to try, fail, try again, and eventually succeed when the stakes are manageable. Today’s midshipmen get a world-class education from our outstanding faculty, just as Decatur had Talbot Hamilton – a seasoned officer of the Royal Navy – to keep him on track. But they also get chances to lead, be it aboard smaller ships during summer training or amongst their peers in the Brigade leadership structure.

DSC00390 copyI don’t know exactly how many modern day Decaturs I have in the Brigade, but I am confident that we provide the conditions and the opportunities for our future Navy and Marine Corps heroes to thrive and grow. Time and again, Stephen Decatur found himself where the action was. Time and again, he proved himself with his leadership and bravery. I am confident that our next generation of leaders will be up to the task as well.

I’d like to end with a brief mention of my own distant connection to Decatur. His first full command was the USS Enterprise, fighting piracy to protect American trade. The Enterprise he commanded was the third U.S. Navy ship of its name. My most recent fleet command was the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group (CSG-12), whose centerpiece was the eighth USS Enterprise. In 2012, I took the Enterprise on her 21st and final deployment in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and – yes – multiple anti-piracy missions. Soon, the keel for CVN-80, the ninth USS Enterprise, will be laid, extending the connection to Decatur for thousands of future Sailors who will follow his legacy.

Times have changed since Decatur proved himself a naval hero, but the principles for which we fight have remained constant. I’ll leave you with the oft-misquoted and misapplied words of Decatur himself, a post-dinner toast at a social gathering in April 1816. “Our country – In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; and always successful, right or wrong.”

“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity.
Without it, no real success is possible.”
-President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Character is the most fundamental and indispensable quality of leadership. As junior officers, we serve as a critical link between the enlisted sailors and senior officers. Without the vital component of steadfast moral integrity, our ability to accomplish the mission would be severely degraded. Too often we have seen the results of epic failures in an individual’s character. These events erode the public trust in our military, but more importantly, it erodes the trust our enlisted men and women have in their officer corps. In order for the military to refocus it’s leadership balance we must all reevaluate the process in which we lead.

To accomplish this rebalancing, I propose a four-tiered pyramid entitled “The MP3 Model.” I have named these four tiers the Moral, Personal, Practical, and Professional levels. In this turbulent and challenging world, the Moral level must be the base of this leadership paradigm. Morals and ethics must be the guiding light for all leadership decisions. If we as leaders drift away from morality, the results can be catastrophic. A strong moral base is not something that you wake up with one day, it is the cumulative wisdom amassed over your lifetime that informs your decision-making process on a day-to-day basis. It should be a sensation that occurs practically subconsciously; however, there is a conscious component to morality. In his bestselling book, The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty, Dan Ariely showed in a variety of experiments that people in general performed to higher moral standards when simply reminded of these morals before taking the test. An example was having people sign a one-sentence statement at the top of the first page of the test that said, “I will not cheat on this test, and the work submitted is my own.” Just this small impetus dropped the amount of people who tried to cheat, (Ariely 2012). What does this mean to us as Naval leaders? It means that morality is largely a subconscious act, but that it is also a “perishable” skill. What I mean by that is it is easy to get caught up in the “daily grind” of work in the military, where you are just trying to accomplish the mission by any means necessary, and the lines between right and wrong become blurred. It is incumbent upon the junior officers of the Fleet to ensure we discuss these issues. There is absolutely no reason to require everyone to sign statements of morality as in the example; but having junior officers who stress the importance of moral righteousness and uphold the Navy’s values can and will make a difference in the future. Morality is the sine qua non of this paradigm and will ensure the integrity of our Navy.

MP3 PoulinOnce a sound Moral base is established, it will be the foundation for the subsequent Personal, Practical, and Professional levels of leadership. The Personal level is centered on the very basics; it is the individual’s presence, appearance, and overall military bearing. Rightfully so, the Navy expects this as a basic prerequisite for any Naval officer. A Naval officer must know the proper uniform regulations and follow them, be physically fit, be professional in his/her conduct with others, be proactive, be able to communicate effectively, and maintain high standards in others; simply the basics.

Next is the Practical level. As the world becomes dramatically more technologically advanced the Navy is likewise becoming increasingly technically driven. This level of leadership is thus focused on the technical expertise related to your job, whether learning the ins and outs of your aircraft fuel system, having an in-depth knowledge of your submarine’s nuclear reactor, or becoming an expert on demolition. This technical expertise is critical to successfully accomplishing the mission. What it means at the most basic level is simply to “know your job.” Admiral Chester Nimitz spoke on several occasions about the “readiness to serve.” As the leader of a division in a technologically advanced military, this technical expertise is an integral part of being able to serve when called upon; when the order comes to launch a torpedo or fire a missile, there must be no doubt up and down the chain of command that this task can be completed. Following this logic, it is unequivocally the responsibility of any leader to seek a level of professional knowledge that surpasses the level needed to accomplish the mission. President John F. Kennedy proclaimed that, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” The active leader understands this legacy and is constantly striving to learn more.

At the top of the pyramid is the Professional level, or more informally, the “change the world” level. This level is focused on an individual’s ability to lead sailors and marines in order to accomplish the mission. At this level, you must be able to concisely communicate your vision and your goals to your subordinates, while also providing feedback to your superiors about what you need to accomplish the stated mission. You must be able to make decisions quickly with little information, to look out for the welfare of your people both professionally and personally, to communicate effectively, to know every facet of the mission and devote your resources to accomplishing it, and you must be able to apply everything from the preceding three levels of leadership. Now, any person of sound mind and unyielding work ethic should be able to maintain the first three levels of the leadership pyramid without a terrible amount of difficulty. But being able to effectively employ your leadership skills across a wide spectrum of personnel and events is an exceptionally distinctive talent. The two best questions any junior officer can ask himself/herself at this level is 1) What can I do to make my division or unit more efficient and 2) What can I do to make my sailors’/marines’ lives better?

The Moral, Personal, Practical, Professional pyramid represents the pathway to sound leadership. The natural question is, is it possible to be an effective leader without one of the other levels? The answer is absolutely, but beware of the results. There are plenty of brilliant professional leaders in the military that may not maintain their personal or practical sides of leadership and are still successful. However, when you ignore one of these levels, it is as if that level on the pyramid is hollowed out, creating a “house of cards” that is trying to support the upper echelons but will likely fail. To ensure the integrity of our system we must all strive to maintain the four levels of leadership.

The importance of morality in leadership is not a new phenomenon. The most recent edition of the Navy Divisions Officer’s Guide notes that, “According to general order 21 (as first issued) leadership is defined as, ‘the art of accomplishing the Navy’s mission through people.’ It is the sum of those qualities of intellect, human understanding, and moral character that enable a person to inspire and manage a group of other people successfully. Effective leadership, therefore, is based on personal example, good management practices, and moral responsibility,” (Stavridis and Girrier 2004, 4). Moral leadership is therefore not a new idea, but does require occasional reflection.

There must be a reason that the Navy has had several high-profile scandals within the past couple of years, many with a principal moral component. Perhaps these incidents can be attributed to individuals who were caught up in the daily routine and not thinking through their actions. Regardless of the reason, these incidences are unacceptable. A Google search of “navy scandal” reveals the following top results: Navy Expels 34 Sailors in Nuclear Cheating Scandal, Navy to Retool Blue Angels after Scandal, Navy’s Bribery and Prostitution Scandal is Worse than Imagined, Three Admirals Censured, and many more. These episodes erode the public trust, which is absolutely essential to our continued operation. The military is rightfully held to a much higher standard than our civilian counterparts in a lot of respects. One of these episodes is too many, and several is an epidemic. What is particularly troubling is that a lot of these issues of questionable morals take place up and down the chain of command, even at the Commanding Officer level and above. It is incidences like the ones delineated above that underline the importance of why we all must rebalance and refocus our leadership. A strong Moral base will enable all leaders to make the best decisions at the Personal, Practical, and Professional levels of leadership.

Ultimately, the MP3 Leadership Model provides a guideline of expectations for successful leadership. All leaders in the Navy should strive to maintain the highest standards of Moral, Personal, Practical, and Professional leadership. Most importantly, we all must maintain our moral foundation. Our Navy’s moral core will invigorate and strengthen our resolve and enable the United States to continue to lead around the world. When he was retired, Admiral Stockdale spoke about the importance of character in leaders. He noted, “Character is probably more important than knowledge…Of course, all things being equal, knowledge is to be honored…But what I’m saying is that whenever I’ve been in trouble spots—in crises (and I’ve been in a lot of trouble and in a lot of crises)—the sine qua non of a leader has lain not in his chess-like grasp of issues and the options they portend, not in his style of management, not in his skill at processing information, but in his having the character, the heart, to deal spontaneously, honorably, and candidly with people, perplexities, and principles,” (Cook 2012, 13). The Naval leaders of today must continue to uphold this legacy as we move forward in a challenging world.


Ariely, Dan. The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY: 2012.

Cook, Martin L. 2012. Reflections on the Stockdale Legacy. Naval War College, June 1, 2012.

Stavridis, James and Robert Girrier. Division Officer’s Guide, Eleventh Edition. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD: 2004.

U.S. Department of Defense. The Armed Forces Officer. National Defense University Press, Washington, D.C.: 2007.

Today, the Aviation Major Command Screen Board (AMCSB) convenes in Millington, Tennessee. It is the annual gathering to determine the future of Naval Aviation’s most promising leaders, and plays a large role in setting the strategic direction of our enterprise.

As we alluded to in our August 2015 Proceedings article “On Becoming CAG,” the fates of aspiring leaders were determined years prior to this week. FITREPs, joint jobs, and other career assignments funnel COs into competitive tracks for leadership positions, including Carrier Air Wing Commander, or CAG.

However, as the current AMCSB convenes, one troubling trend remains: Naval Aviation has gone five years since a non-VFA CAG was selected.

After publishing “On Becoming CAG,” the authors received intense positive and negative feedback about our arguments. Notably, at the annual Tailhook Reunion in Reno, Nevada this year, PERS-43 addressed the debate in an open forum (you can watch it here).

He pointed out that CAGs are responsible for the mentorship of squadron COs, with the ultimate goal of cultivating leaders who are able to replace him or her as CAG.

Reflecting on the past five years, it appears as though CAGs have failed their non-VFA Commanding Officers in this essential mentoring. All else being equal, if zero COs from outside the VFA community have been selected, we arrive at one of two conclusions:

1) VAQ, VAW, HSM, and HSC squadron COs have been inadequate leaders compared to their VFA contemporaries. If this is true, it points to a huge, unspoken problem in these communities that Naval Aviation has not addressed.
2) VAQ, VAW, HSM, and HSC squadron COs are not viewed as equally qualified leaders by CAG when FITREP time comes. If this is true, it points to a problematic culture within our ranks that Naval Aviation has not addressed.

As thousands of junior officers and Sailors will attest, we have seen many outstanding leaders from the VAQ, VAW, HSM, and HSC communities over the past five years. Conclusion #1 would seem to offend this reality.

As such, we are left with Conclusion #2, and the problem it exposes in the process of selecting carrier aviation leadership. The culture change needed in our collective Ready Room is the realization that aviation major command is about leadership; not tactical proficiency. We expect this proficiency of our junior officers and our junior officers expect leadership—both within the Air Wing and across the joint force—from their major commanders.

The ability to fly a strike mission from an F/A-18 or execute a flawless fly-by of the carrier are impressive skills, and it is true that only one community can really experience those fully. But CAG is a leader at the operational level of warfare, and the leadership required to execute at that level is not exclusive to the aviators of a single airframe. If our process for selecting CAGs is based on tactical proficiency as a proxy for promoting certain types of officers at the expense of an equally talented pool of others, that system–and the culture that underpins it–must change.

The authors believe that increasing the diversity of perspective at the CAG level will improve combat efficiency, leadership acumen within the air wing, and interoperability with the joint force. We invite you to join in the constructive debate of these issues.

Over the coming weeks, the authors will share some of the most common feedback received from “On Becoming CAG.” The most important takeaway is that people on each side of this issue care about Naval Aviation and seek to make it better.


A Woman of Substance

October 2015


stockdalesAs my father let me know early on in my life, the most important decision a man can make is the woman he marries. It wasn’t until I was much older, and well in to my own marriage, that I realized how true his observation was.

While all relationships have their own dynamic, there are some who are a benchmark – a spouse who match the greatness of the man they helped make. They are the scaffold all else was built around.

If someone is about to join another on a journey with a spouse that is serving, Sybil Stockdale is a good benchmark to use.

She has left us to join her husband after a long time away. Via the DailyMailUK;

Sybil Bailey Stockdale, a Navy wife who fought to end the torture of U.S. prisoners of war in Vietnam, has died.

Stockdale’s son, Sid Stockdale, said Tuesday that his mother died Oct. 10 at a hospital after suffering from Parkinson’s disease. She was 90.

Stockdale is the wife of the late Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale. She found her calling after her husband’s plane was shot down during the Vietnam War in 1965 and he was taken prisoner. The U.S. government at the time discouraged military wives from speaking up about the mistreatment of the prisoners of war, Sid Stockdale said. Nonetheless, Stockdale organized military wives who demanded the U.S. government pressure North Vietnam to abide by the Geneva Convention.

Stockdale helped found the League of American Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia and she served as the organization’s first national coordinator.

She appeared on national television, met regularly with then-President Richard Nixon and confronted a North Vietnamese delegation at the Paris Peace Talks. At the same time, she worked closely with the CIA to be able to write secretly encoded letters to her husband, who was tortured by his captors.

The military credited Stockdale with helping secure the safe return of her husband and other POWs in 1973.

James Stockdale, then a commander, disfigured himself so he could not be used in Vietnamese propaganda films — an action for which he received the Medal of Honor in 1976, according to the Navy Times.

Sen. John McCain, a naval aviator, was a fellow POW in the Hanoi Hilton with Stockdale’s husband.

“Sybil’s selfless service and sacrifice fighting for American prisoners of war, those missing in action, and many who are still unaccounted for has left an indelible mark on this nation that will never be forgotten” McCain said in a statement to the newspaper.

To know the full background on what this incredible woman did in a challenging time, I highly recommend you get a copy of the book, In Love and War: The Story of a Family’s Ordeal and Sacrifice During the Vietnam Years;

“I think the book’s message was to recognize that there’s a place and time and need to be loyal and recognize the military is a unique institution with a big job to do, but then at the end of the day, it’s very important if you feel as though you need to speak up, then you should do so. I think it’s a fantastic message,” he said.

Her papers and memoirs from the Vietnam era, written in long hand on yellow legal pads, today are kept at the Hoover library.

Until the end, she continued to meet at her home monthly in Coronado with the wives of POWs and those missing in action.

A memorial service will be held for Stockdale in Coronado and she will be buried beside her husband on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

We all benefited for her love and passion for her husband, her Navy, and her nation.

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