Archive for the 'meet the author' Tag

It was an honor for me to e-interview one of my favorite authors and one of our nation’s best naval historians, Paul Stillwell, about his latest book, Submarine Stories: Recollections from the Diesel Boats.

What inspired you to compile nearly five dozen first-person accounts from diesel submariners into Submarine Stories?

The inspiration came from having done the oral histories of many submariners and wanting to share the results of those interviews with a wide audience. In addition, I learned of other first-person accounts to supplement those in the Naval Institute’s oral history collection. The real value is being able to learn of events through the words of the men who experienced them personally.

What criteria did you use to select the stories that appeared on the pages of Submarine Stories?

The idea was to pick memoirs that were informative and had good storytelling qualities, so that the reader can both learn and be entertained. Also I wanted to cover a broad spectrum of time in telling the history of the U.S. diesel submarine force.

Commander Jerry Hendrix, formerly a Naval Institute board member, told me of a 1905 letter that President Teddy Roosevelt had written after taking a plunge in the USS Plunger. That event kicks off the book’s timeline.

At the other end of the spectrum, in 2006 I visited the USS Dolphin, the Navy’s last diesel submarine, just a few months before she left active service. I interviewed her last operational skipper, Commander Andy Wilde, chatted with crew members at the tiny mess table, and went into the engine room that housed the diesels.

In between the Plunger and Dolphin are dozens of tales from peacetime and wartime-personal anecdotes, insights on the development of ever more sophisticated submarines, and stories that are just fun to read. In the process a reader gets a sense of both the technical challenges of operating undersea craft and the amusing stories that are part of day-to-day life.

A personal favorite of mine was the late Captain Slade Cutter, one of the top-scoring submarine skippers of World War II. The process of interviews and visits developed into full-fledged friendship. I particularly came to admire Slade because of his humility. He was proud of his achievements but not one to brag. He considered his success as something that came about because he was just doing his job. The book is dedicated to him.

In addition to the using recollections from men whom I interviewed myself, I also drew upon interviews from my predecessor, Dr. John T. Mason, Jr. When he was at Columbia University, before coming to the Naval Institute, he had interviewed Vice Admiral Paul Foster, who had a gripping experience as a submarine skipper in World War I.

Admiral Stuart “Sunshine” Murray was a gifted storyteller as he unfolded a narrative of being among the first students when the Submarine School was established at New London, Connecticut, and then his command of one of the first submarines based at Pearl Harbor. He described the human qualities of the future Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz.

In the early 1930s, as a junior officer, Bill Irvin was a shipmate of Lieutenant Hyman Rickover in the diesel boat S-48, long before Rickover ran the Navy’s nuclear submarine program.

Captain Harry Jackson was an expert ship designer who had a crucial role in the development of the teardrop hull that is now standard in nuclear submarines. The diesel boat Albacore was the model for the generations of nukes that followed.

A serendipitous addition to the book came when I happened to be in a waiting room with a veteran sailor named Wayne Miller. He had some time to kill while heating up a bag of microwave popcorn. We chatted while the corn was popping, and that led to an interesting interview about his experiences, including the steps involved in earning his dolphins.

I reached Master Chief Charles Wormwood on his cell phone when he was on a shopping trip. Before the call was over, he had told me much about being chief of the boat in the Navy’s last diesel attack submarine, the Blueback.

Once, during a visit to the memorial submarine Bowfin at Pearl Harbor, curator Charles Hinman told me of Hosey Mays, one of the relatively few black submariners in World War II. That led to a valuable interview. Mays and his one black shipmate, also a steward, slept in a pair of side-by-side bunks suspended from the overhead in the forward torpedo room.

Who are some of the people you profile in this book?

In addition to those mentioned, Vice Admiral Eugene “Dennis” Wilkinson was an enthusiastic interviewee. Though he is best known as the first skipper of the world’s first nuclear submarine, Nautilus, he was a capable diesel boat officer before that. Among his other tales, he recounted being shipwrecked during the Battle of Leyte Gulf and later being in on the advent of submarine-launched guided missiles.

Gunner’s Mate Jerry Beckley was in a diesel-powered guided missile boat, Grayback, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He contemplated the end of the world if his submarine had been ordered to fire her Regulus missiles.

Machinist’s Mate George Rocek survived the World War II sinking of his submarine Sculpin and later the sinking of the Japanese aircraft carrier in which he was held prisoner.

Lieutenant Bob McNitt was executive officer on board the Barb during the war, serving with Commander Gene Fluckey, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his exploits. McNitt’s chapter tells of rescuing Allied prisoners of war after their prison ship was sunk.

In 1943 Lieutenant Julian Burke was slated for duty on board the submarine Wahoo. A chance meeting with the skipper of the Flying Fish got him rerouted to that boat instead. Soon afterward the Wahoo was lost with all hands.

In the era shortly before nuclear submarines entered the fleet, Commander Paul Schratz of the Pickerel took his Guppy boat on a record-breaking submerged transit from Hong Kong to Pearl Harbor.

Lieutenant Commander Joe Williams commanded the Bluegill when she tangled with Soviet naval forces in the North Pacific. His crew was on patrol so long that their uniforms were sickeningly pungent before they could be brought ashore to be washed. The odor of diesel fuel even permeated the stationery he used when writing home. His son Clark could walk in the door, smell the air, and conclude that a letter had arrived that day from his submariner father.

Electrician’s Mate Jim O’Meara of the World War II boat Seahorse reminisced wistfully about the pleasures of liberty ashore after long patrols against the enemy. As he put it, sub sailors dreamed of three things-booze, women, and going home-and the priority changed depending on the situation.

Captain Ned Beach, the noted author of Run Silent, Run Deep recounted his experience in being aboard the Trigger when she ran aground on the eve of the Battle of Midway in 1942. Ten years later, he was the first skipper when a new Trigger was put into commission.

Ensign John Alden went off to war in 1944 as a newlywed. Sixty years later, he sent out a Christmas card that showed his extended family gathered for a reunion. In his chapter he tells of those early days, when there was no certainty that he would ever see his bride again.

Mike Rindskopf, a junior officer, reported to the new submarine Drum shortly before the onset of World War II. Within a few years, he had become the boat’s skipper and done much to contribute to her success.

The book also provides accounts of submarine sinkings in the 1920s and 1930s. The loss of the S-4 and S-51 in the 1920s led to the development of rescue devices that were used in 1939 to save some of the crew members from the Squalus. Chief Machinist’s Mate William Badders recounts his Medal of Honor service in rescuing those who were saved from the boat. Two naval engineers, Charles Curtze and Robert Evans, provide informed viewpoints on why the Squalus sank.

Dr. Waldo Lyon described in his oral history the Navy’s early tentative attempts to operate under ice in the Arctic and Antarctic shortly after World War II. Ten years later, he was on board the Nautilus when she made the first submerged transit under the North Pole.

Who should read Submarine Stories?

Anyone who has been to sea in a submarine and anyone who would like to have that experience vicariously. This is a story told in human terms, so any reader can identify with the courage and achievement of these undersea men.

Any other books you are currently working on?

I’ve recently completed a manuscript containing the recollections of George Cooper, one of the Navy’s first black officers, and his 95-year-old widow Margarett. They lived through more than 80% of the 20th century and in that time witnessed dramatic changes in how African Americans have been treated and what they can now aspire to. Peg Cooper first voted for a President in 1936, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Seventy-two years later she helped elect Barack Obama.

I’m also long overdue on finishing a biography of Vice Admiral Willis A. Lee, Jr., who was the foremost battleship admiral in the U.S. Pacific Fleet during World War II. He was a championship marksman as a midshipman and junior officer in the early years of the 20th century; later he used his knowledge of radar and gunnery to great effect in World War II.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

The Naval Institute’s oral history collection is a precious resource. In the past, for example, the collected transcripts have been used in writing the biographies of such naval officers as Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, Fleet Admiral Ernest King, Fleet Admiral William Halsey, Admiral John Towers, Admiral Joseph “Jocko” Clark, and Captain Slade Cutter.

Sound bites have been used in audio programs, such as one on Jimmy Doolittle’s famous bombing raid against Tokyo in 1942.

Senator John McCain tapped the collection for source material about his father and grandfather in writing the bestselling memoir Faith of My Fathers.

Evan Thomas of Newsweek magazine used oral histories in writing a fine book on the 1944 Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Oral histories were the basis for the book The Golden Thirteen: Recollections of the First Black Naval Officers.

The screenwriter for the movie Men of Honor, starring Cuba Gooding, Jr., drew some of his material from the Naval Institute’s oral history of Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate Carl Brashear, the Navy’s first black master diver.

The greater the use of the oral histories, the more they fulfill the purpose for which they were collected. The Naval Institute’s website contains a list of the available transcripts.

Though much has been drawn from the memoirs already, there is far more potential still to be mined.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books | 8 Comments

21 years ago today, the USS Samuel B. Roberts struck a mine in the Persian Gulf. What followed was a story worth telling and one that Bradley Peniston captured in his book, No Higher Honor: Saving the USS Samuel B. Roberts in the Persian Gulf.

What inspired you to write No Higher Honor: Saving the USS Samuel B. Roberts in the Persian Gulf?

Most naval buffs have heard of the Roberts — if only as a one-line cautionary tale about the underappreciated danger of mines. But like most tales, the story of the Roberts gets better when you know the whole thing: how a superb crew was forged aboard an underrated vessel, how they journeyed into war, and how they faced their mortal test.

In 2002, the Naval Institute Press arranged for me to have dinner with the ship’s recently retired commander, Capt. Paul Rinn. That turned into a three-hour conversation, which launched a fullblown effort to interview other crew members, dig up records at various naval archives and libraries, and write the book.

How close did the ship come to sinking?

I’ve been told that when engineers at the Navy’s David Taylor Model Basin tried to simulate the damage to the Roberts, they couldn’t do it without sending their model to the bottom of the tank. (I couldn’t confirm that; Navy officials declared the tests classified.) But the ship was surely in peril.

The Roberts is part of the Perry class of guided missile frigates, which were designed in the early 1970s with just 50 tons of growth margin for new gear. By the time the Roberts was launched in 1986, Perrys were carrying several hundred tons more than their design weight. The ship’s first Damage Control Assistant calculated that the Roberts might not survive a hit that flooded three of the ship’s 11 watertight compartments.

When the mine detonated around dusk on 14 April 1988, it put a truck-sized hole in the frigate’s hull below the waterline. Seawater rushed in, nearly filling the main engine room and an aft machinery room. The blast also perforated the engine room’s forward bulkhead, allowing jets of water to begin flooding a forward machinery room. Within seconds, a ship that was already beyond its original safety margin became several hundred tons heavier still.

Moreover, the explosion’s fireball had traveled up the exhaust stack, igniting blazes on four decks. So the crew began fighting the fires — which meant pumping even more water aboard. In fairly short order, the ship was riding so low that the flight deck was just an arm’s length above sea level. At that point, Capt. Rinn took a gamble: he ordered his sailors to stop pouring water on the flames until the flooding could be brought under control.

Even after the ship was reasonably safe from sinking or even capsizing, it remained in danger of breaking up. The mine blast had broken the keel, leaving the entire ship to flex around the main deck, like a Coke can bent back and forth until it tears.

How did the mine explosion that nearly sank the USS Samuel B. Roberts send ripples through the Gulf?

The day after the explosion, Navy divers pulled from the water several mines whose serial numbers matched up with weapons seized several months earlier aboard an Iranian minelayer. President Reagan ordered limited retaliation, and the result was Operation Praying Mantis, a one-day battle that was, among other things, the U.S. surface fleet’s biggest firefight since World War II. On 18 April 1988, U.S. forces sank two Iranian ships, burned another to the waterline, damaged at least one Iranian F-4 jet, and destroyed several armed powerboats.

Two months later, a U.S. warship that had been rushed to the Gulf to cover the extraction of the damaged Roberts — the cruiser Vincennes — accidentally shot down an Iranian airliner.

These two violent events helped convince Ayatollah Khomeini that the United States would not permit Iran to prevail in its eight-year war against Iraq, and Iran shortly accepted a ceasefire that ended the world’s bloodiest conflict since World War II. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein used the break to withdraw his forces from the Iranian border, rebuild them, and two years later, send them southeast to capture Kuwait.

What lessons can be learned from your book for commanding officers and crewmembers alike?

Almost everyone I talked to had good lessons that they wanted to share. Among the many interesting aspects of Rinn’s leadership style was his insistence that his crew learn about the name on the ship’s stern. Samuel B. Roberts won a Navy Cross helping Marines at Guadalcanal, and the first ship named for him helped turn away the Japanese Center Force at Leyte Gulf.

The mine strike also demonstrated the damage that crude weapons can do to sophisticated and expensive ones — a lesson tragically relearned through roadside bombs in the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What projects are you working on now?

My day job — managing editor of Defense News — keeps me pretty busy. We publish a weekly newspaper, update our Web site ( constantly, and just last year debuted a Sunday television show that interviews defense-related newsmakers (This Week in Defense News,

I did recently help launch Philly Pecha Kucha (, a sort of rapidfire creative show-and-tell series in Philadelphia.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

You can see photos of the ship and read the book’s foreword (by the late JCS chairman, Adm. William Crowe) and its first chapter at Many thanks for having me on the blog.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books | 3 Comments

SECDEF Gates’ recent decisions about the FY 10 Budget has sparked a new round of lobbying on Capitol Hill so it is only fitting I post my recent e-interview with Matthew R. Kambrod about his book, Lobbying for Defense: An Insider’s View.

What inspired you to write Lobbying for Defense: An Insider’s View, and what is it about?

After retiring from the Army in 1987, I began working as a consultant and lobbyist with a number of US and foreign companies, all the Military Departments, and both Houses of Congress. In each case I found a great lack of understanding of what the role was of the other organizations on the part of the staffs involved. Particularly on the part of industry was there a profound lack of awareness of how the Services prepare their priorities and budgets, conduct business with industry, and how the Congress responds in its role as authorizer and appropriator of funds in support of Service requirements.

Clearly, when I mention “industry” in this case, it’s not in the sense of Defense Goliaths, the Lockheeds, Northrup Grummans, L-3s, those corporate giants with their own in-house stable of lobbyists and consultants and an extensive knowledge of how to do business with the Government. I do, on the other hand, mean the hundreds of smaller Defense contractors from East to West Coast whose exposure to the Pentagon and the Hill is minimal or non-existent.

The book, then, was written 20 years after retirement from the Army as a tutorial intended for readers at all levels in the industrial-military-congressional equation to gain a background in the lobbying process. It carries the reader through the various steps needed to be taken by a lobbyist and his clients to secure funding for Defense programs.

In so doing, it leads the reader through the roles of major military field and systems commands; the Pentagon; discussing the often difficult to understand defense budget formulation process tied to annual milestones; and more importantly, the need to understand “funded” and “unfunded” Defense requirements. It covers, among a host of other matters, the role of congressional delegations, document requirements needed to be provided the Congress in requesting funding, and the role of the Professional Staff Members on the four Defense Committees. Included is a chapter offering insights into a myriad of often asked questions about the mechanics of getting around the Pentagon and the Hill.

Who should read it?

For starters, I think the book would be helpful reading to any staff officers beginning a tour in the Pentagon related to management of weapons systems. On the Hill, incoming staff officers planning to serve their Members as Military Legislative Assistants, “MLA”s as they are known, would gain a better understanding of how the Pentagon does business, a knowledge probably very helpful in their roles as advisors to their Members on military issues.

I think much would be gained from the book by industry executives and their marketing force hoping to generate interest on the part of the Military Departments in their products; and, if successful in generating that interest, how to steer their companies or corporations to maximize opportunities in the Defense arena and on the Hill with their District Representatives and State Senators. If industry is going to play well in this type Government activity, it needs to know the rules, and these the text covers in detail.

One group should particularly read the book, and that is made up of those rising officers assigned to the Military War Colleges, from which as graduates many will go to key assignments in the Pentagon and become involved with both industrial and congressional issues tied to major Defense weapons programs. The Services do not readily acknowledge lobbying as a reality of Defense business in the sense of teaching much about it, yet it’s basic “lobbying” that secures additional funds for many Defense programs which fall into the “Unfunded Requirements” category, supplementing major Defense budget shortfalls.

Is there such a thing as a good earmark?

Absolutely. Most Defense earmarks are factually “good” earmarks. Defense together with the Congress has a system of checks and balances in place which controls which earmarks are actually considered as candidates for funding. The process involves most fundamentally the preparation by the Military Departments of their formal “Unfunded Requirements List” which annually identifies to the Congress what programs the Pentagon has prioritized as essential for execution, but for which insufficient funds had been provided by Office of Management and Budget at the start of the Budget cycle.

It is largely against these unfunded requirements that earmarks submitted by Members are measured for legitimacy by the Professional Staff Members of the Defense Committees, personnel who are uniquely qualified to make those calls, and in constant contact with the Services to confirm the validity of the Member requests.

Further, recent requirements put in place two years ago by the Democratic Congress calling for transparency, i.e., the identification of what earmarks are submitted by what Members, for what programs, and in what amounts in actual Defense Committee Reports, has factually reduced Defense earmarks substantially, again insuring that what is funded is legitimate and necessary to the Pentagon, and open for public review.

Conversely, are there “bad” earmarks? You bet………..but the numbers are now minimal. There are still on rare occasion powerful Members of Congress wishing to support their constituencies at the expense of soldiers, sailors or airmen who are sadly charged to fight with the Member’s less capable equipment, but this is increasingly a rare phenomenon, although it does go on even today.

Part of this problem, quite frankly, rests also with the Service, and its sometimes reluctance to stand up to a powerful Member by refusing to apply his/her directed funds to a known flawed program; or, as a minimum, to compete that program to give the user of the equipment a better chance at gaining the best product that can be fielded. This is totally within the purview of the various commands dealing in combat system hardware procurement. Some control it well, such as the simulation command in Orlando, Florida, while others bend to the will of a Member flooding the field on occasion with sub-standard equipment.

An example would be a Service’s receiving Member directed funding for procurement of diagnostic systems known to be less efficient than other available systems, but a Command’s refusing to compete the Member’s favored system, for fear of non-selection of that product by a legitimate Source Selection Board, and perceived consequences downstream driven by the Member. These situations are increasingly more rare these days, but they do still exist.

What happens in such cases, is that the funds directed by a Member toward his constituent’s
Product constitutes a “sole source procurement” which is allowed only under specific conditions spelled out in Federal Acquisition Regulations (FARs). Seldom do programs forced upon a Service by a Member fall within the FAR “sole source” guidelines justifying that procurement, and this type acquisition becomes basically a sham, and a travesty to the soldier the acquisition process was designed to support.

What are some recommendations you have for the earmark process?

I would like to see legislation specifying a “no longer than” period of time, factually a limitation for funding earmarked Defense programs. For example, if earmark funds are applied to a specific “research and development” or “acquisition” program supported initially by a Service, allow the Member to request funding for that program for only three years, i.e., essentially provide “bridge money” to jump start what seems at the outset a good idea. If in that time the Service does not budget for the program’s continuation internally, i.e., in its Program Objective Memorandum (POM), that is clear signal to the Congress the program is neither successful nor a priority to the Department and should be terminated.

The Member can then focus on another program within his District with a higher probability of success, and the Service has sent clear signal to the Congress that there is no future for the specific program, that it is a failure, that no more dollars should be appropriated, and that the program should be dropped. Otherwise, these programs tend to develop a life of their own, are funded sometimes interminably, and the only gain to be made is by the company in someone’s District that continues happily to suck Defense dollars till someone somewhere sees the absurdity of the goings-on and shuts them off.

This three year limitation is not my idea. It was known years ago as “the Thurmond Rule” and practiced by Senator Strom Thurmond. Senator Thurmond would terminate any earmarked program requested in South Carolina through him that was not funded by a Service in its POM within three years. Smart man. Everyone benefits in this case, even the contractor whose product would ultimately not survive, as he can move on to other opportunities, no longer wasting time and money.

Another recommendation would be to leave “Defense” alone in this debate. Discuss earmark reform in terms of transportation, commerce or agriculture, or any of the remaining appropriations. While you’ll certainly find some programs funded in Defense which could be contestable, that number is small, very small. For a change, focus should be elsewhere. Defense learned its lesson two decades or more ago with public outcries challenging $500.00 toilet seats, and now works together with the Congress to do what is necessary to compensate for an Administration’s and OMB’s shortfalls.

Today’s installment of Meet the Author features LTG. Julius Becton, Jr., USA-Ret. His outstanding memoirs are entitled Becton: Autobiography of a Soldier and Public Servant. A great read. If I can be half as successful as LTG Becton, I will be most pleased. Enjoy the interview.

What contributed to your success?

My family upbringing, my K- 12 schooling, my basic Christian beliefs, and my very supportive family. Louise and I celebrated our 61st anniversary last January.

If you could live your life over again, is there anything you would change?

Very little. I would try to avoid all the miss-statements I have made to the media, and I would certainly spend more time with our children during their formative teen years.

Who were some of your Army mentors?

While not a soldier, I must always include my father (Julius W Becton, Sr., which is why I continue to use “Jr” after my name even though Dad died more than 40 years ago) and my first pastor (Rev J Arthur Younger), who baptized me, conducted our marriage ceremony, baptized Louise, christen our first two children, and remain a friend and advisor until his death. Army mentors include General Creighton Abrams, MG Frederic Davison, General Bob Shoemaker, CSM Walter Krueger, and a host of former military leaders, warrant officers and NCOs.

After 3 wars in a 40-year Army Career, you became President Reagan’s FEMA Administrator, a University President, and D.C. Public Schools CEO. How did your Army career prepare for these demanding positions?

I can’t think of anything I encountered as a retiree in those positions you mentioned that I did not experience as a soldier. Additionally, I developed a philosophy of command during my later years of soldiering that I used consistently in every post-army retirement job, under the title of Philosophy of Management (my civilian personnel did not like the term command):

1. Children First (added after I became the CEO/Superintendent DCPS)
2. Be Professional
3. Integrity is non-negotiable
4. Loyalty is a two-way street
5. Chain of command works – if we use it
6. Innovate – seek a better way
7. Admit mistakes
8. Disagreement is not disrespect
9. Challenge assertions
10. Be sensitive to (and intolerant of) abuse and misuse of our people
11. Conservation, security, safety and education: Everybody’s business
12. Maintain your sense of humor
13.Keep things in perspective

How long did it take you to write your memoirs?

I started to work on it while president, PVAMU in 1992 and I finished it in 2007. I am a slow learner.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

In every position since commanding an airborne cavalry squadron in Vietnam in ’67-’68 until I retired in 1983, I have maintain contact with many of those professional soldiers, as well as folks from those four civilian positions, until this day. Finally, we are very fortunate that we are in frequent telephonic and email contact with our five adult children, 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren — and they all like each other and get along well.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books | 5 Comments

Civilians are an important part of the Navy-Marine Corps Team! It is what that fact in mind I recently e-interviewed Tom Cutler about his latest book, NavCivGuide: A Handbook for Civilians in the United States Navy. This book is a gem! 

What inspired you to write NavCivGuide: A Handbook for Civilians in the United States Navy?

One day I was reading an article that championed the idea of the Navy as consisting of a triad of personnel and how the three components-active, reserve, and civilian-are of vital importance. The article made sense, and it pointed out that there some 180,000 civilians in the Navy in a wide spectrum of activity (as engineers, secretaries, teachers, etc, etc.). It suddenly occurred to me that this large component of the Navy-unlike the other two-does not go to Boot Camp or OCS or any other formalized introduction before entering this strange new world. And they have no introductory/reference book like The Bluejacket’s Manual to help them with this transition. So I decided to write such a book, geared specifically to them.

What are some of the topics you cover in NavCivGuide and what process did you use to select them?

I tried to think about what it would be like to be a civilian with no prior knowledge of or experience with the Navy, what it would be like to enter a world where people often referred to floors as decks, where 1315 was not a date in ancient history but a time in the here-and-now, where acronyms are a new language with no Rosetta software, where people have all sorts of things attached to their clothing that are not mere ornamentation. I tried to imagine what it would be like for a civilian to go aboard an aircraft carrier for the first time and have to find their way about. I then set about helping those individuals “crack the code” by writing NavCivGuide to cover all of these things and a great deal more.

Who should read NavCivGuide?

The obvious answer is anyone who is hired by the Navy, but there are many civilian contractors who could benefit from this book as well. And there are the so-called “buffs”-people who have no official connection to the Navy, but who have an interest in the service nonetheless.

What is the Blue & Gold Professional Library series?

These are all the books that the Naval Institute has been publishing, almost since its very beginning, that help Navy professionals do their jobs better. Such things as The Naval Officer’s Guide, Career Compass, Naval Shiphandling, The Chief Petty Officer’s Guide, and many more.

Most of the information found in these books can be found in Navy Instructions, on the Internet, and in various other locations, but what these Blue & Gold books do is collect that information into a single, organized source, synthesize the information so that it is much more accessible (free of official-speak, etc.), and perhaps most important of all, provide advice and guidance that you will not find elsewhere.

Are you working on any other books?

Always. I just finished a revision (24th edition) of The Bluejacket’s Manual that will be out soon, and I am currently working on a Navy equivalent of the Naval Institute’s recently well-received illustrated history of the U.S. Marine Corps: Leathernecks.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Only my thanks for the opportunity to talk about these things. I love writing, but it is a strangely lonely occupation in that, even though you trust you are communicating with lots of people, you do not so directly and you must work in a kind of vacuum. It’s always a treat for a writer to be able to talk about his/her work.

With scrambling for Federal $$$ more important than ever before given today’s economy, I recently e-interviewed Bill C. Giallourakis, author of Contracting With Uncle Sam: The Essential Guide for Federal Buyers and Sellers.

What inspired you to write Contracting With Uncle Sam?

Trying to fill a need of Engineers; Procurement Specialists, Logistics Planners; and Program Managers to have a reference which explains the Federal Procurement System in simple terms, explaining the Federal acquisition process and related procedures before they log onto the plethora of websites to face the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FARs).

The need was defined as I taught students from industry and government that came to my contracts classes sponsored by AFCEA in the Washington area. The staff at AFCEA were part of my support for the new book. The big push to actually write the manuscript came from my main cheer leader, my wife, Antonia, who encouraged me to write even as I waited outside the patient and intensive care rooms of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York as she fought with cancer in the years before she succumbed. I could not let her down!

What are some of the key topics you cover in Contracting With Uncle Sam?

(a) Conduct of market searches for multiple sources in order to conduct the requisite full and open competition;
(b) The dissection of federal solicitations in preparation of submitting a responsive proposal;
(c) The anatomy of each principal type of contract used by the Government to purchase equipment, supplies and services;
(d) The methods available and their related criteria for use in the process of selection of a seller of required goods and services by the federal contracting officer;
(e) Cost estimating and cost accounting principals as related to preparation and analysis of cost and pricing data in a vendor’s cost proposal;
(f) Protection of seller’s intellectual property with focus on technical data for reprocurement;
(g) Use of the federal procurement system to implement National socio-economic policies to provide preferences for selected groups(disabled veterans, small business, women owned small business,;
(h) Tools for contract admininistration; and
(i) Procurement intregrity, ethics v. fraud and abuse.

Who should read Contracting With Uncle Sam?

Procurement officials at all levels in industry and government; engineers; quality control officials; logistics officers, contingency planners, project managers,

Moreover in today’s extended recession, Contracting with Uncle Sam is an excellent primer for any business (new, small ,or large) needing a customer to survive — one that has requirements and money to spend– That customer is the United States of America, represented by its contracting officers. What better client could one find!

How did you make a complex subject interesting and current since it is not a dry restatement of federal regulations and statutes?

Use of lots of diagrams; incorporation of personal procurement experiences from the field, and use of internet websites to insure that the text would remain current based on the fact that government websites are periodically updated by their respective sponsors. Without reference to the internet websites, the text book would have been over 500 pages and would become outdated in less than a year.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

It was my honor to have been published by USNI in such a critical economic time. Contracting with Uncle Sam is timely, current and an excellent tool in assisting firms to weather the tough economic times that lie ahead. It was just fortuitous that the text was published at this time.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books | 5 Comments

It was an honor to e-interview Adm. Jim Stavridis about Destroyer Captain: Lessons of a First Command. I hope you find this book as interesting as I did. A must read for anyone aspiring to command at sea. Many thanks to Adm. Stavridis for making this interview happen.

Why did you decide to keep a journal and how did you ever find time to write in it as commanding officer of the USS Barry DDG-52?

I felt that taking command of a ship for the first time would be something I’d always want to look back on and remember. Also, for me, the physical act of sitting and writing has a tendency to crystalize my thinking and learning process; so even as I wrote up what happened each day, and what I did, and the decision process — I reviewed, understood, and learned.

What are some of the lessons you convey in your book?

Certainly the majority of what I learned was about myself — especially my own failures, challenges, and responses. I found the limits of my ability, but in doing so liberated myself from fear of failure. I also learned a great deal about what it takes to lead a ship successfully, which includes above all the ability to encourage and trust your crew. People, in my experience, will almost always become what you convince them they are — so if you are encouraging and positive in your approach, they tend to respond in overwhelmingly positive ways. I also found a great deal of value in spending time walking the ship and engaging in dozens of small but important conversations each day with as many crew members as possible. Finally, I found a real enjoyment in trying to teach the younger officers in the wardroom what I had learned along the way about shiphanding, tactics, and leadership. Fundamentally, a Captain is a servant and a teacher to the crew; what I learned was how to balance those two things.

Can you tell us a little bit about your 28 months in command of the Barry?

In very broad strokes, it was a very operational time from early fall of 1993 to December 1995 — we were underway almost 70% of the time. We deployed first off Haiti to participate in a U.N. blockade; then went on a forward deployment that began with the 50th annviersary of D-Day off the coasts of England and France. Next was the Mediterranean, again for U.N. missions under “Sharp Guard” the maritime blockade around the Balkans during the wars there. We were then pulled into the Persian Gulf to respond to a potential invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein, along with the aircraft carrier GEORGE WASHINGTON.

After returning home and a very short yard period of 6 weeks, we were back at sea for very intense oprerational training and preps for a January 1996 deployment. Incredibly busy and the time seemed to fly by.

What is command at sea like?

Exhilarating, exhausting, educational — all at the same time.

Who should read Destroyer Captain?

I like to think anyone who has ever asked the question, “what is command at sea like,” see your question above. There is certainly a built in, long term audience for the book of young officers who aspire to command and want to know what it feels like from the inside; but I think anyone would be curious. It is hopefully a book that takes the reader deeply into the mind of a Captain — not a perfect one, by far, but hopefully an honest one. As I’ve always said about the book, I’ll let others decide if it is a good book, but I truly believe it is an honest book.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Just thanks to you for taking the time to read the book and write about it. And thanks for your service in the Coast Guard — I’m an enormous fan of the USCG and close friends with Thad Allen, Bob Papp, Rob Parker, Joe Nimmich, and many other contemporaries in the CG.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books | 2 Comments
With today’s surface ships so much in the blogosphere, I thought I would go back in time and interview Vincent P. O’Hara about his latest book, The U.S. Navy Against the AXIS: Surface Combat 1941-1945.

What inspired you to write The U.S. Navy Against the Axis?

I wrote The U.S. Navy Against the Axis because no such work existed. It started many years ago when I began collecting information on naval actions thinking to construct a simulation. I discovered that a few famous battles were well described, like Salvo or Leyte, but the most were hardly mentioned. In fact, just identifying all the occasions when large warships exchanged gunfire or torpedoes proved a challenge. I kept waiting for a book to come along that would address this problem, but one never did. Finally, I decided to write it myself.

What makes your book unique?

The U.S. Navy Against the Axis has an uncommon thesis: it argues that the surface forces were critical to the Pacific campaign and that their contributions have never been properly credited. While the combination of fast carriers and submarines eventually guaranteed American victory, in the crucial 1942-43 period carriers were too few and too fragile to secure sea control and submarines were ineffective due to faulty torpedoes. Even as late as October 1944 surface ships repulsed the Japanese assault on the Leyte beachhead after fast carriers and submarines had failed to do so.

The book also contains a great deal of uncommon information you won’t find anywhere else. For example, the only place you’ll find a reference to an action against German destroyers off the Italian coast in late 1944 is in my other book, German Fleet at War. I also try to present the perspective from both sides. The work has many maps and tables and is consistent in its presentation of material. This is an uncommon approach to navy history, but readers have been very receptive.

What were some of the factors that affected the U.S. Navy’s surface forces as they entered World War II?

The book’s first chapter describes these and compares the U.S. Navy to the Japanese, covering topics like training, doctrine, weapons, intelligence, aviation, technology, logistics and other important factors.

The Navy believed that sea power would be gained by sinking enemy warships, most effectively in a decisive battle, and that battleships were the premier weapon to win and maintain sea power. However, the way that war erupted, with the crippling of the battle line, and the fact that it was initially fought in unexpected waters, like the Dutch East Indies, immediately forced the Navy, out of its comfort zone. It had to react applying a doctrine that did not fit the circumstances or the forces available. It was truly a case of adapt or die and unfortunately, many U.S. sailors, particularly in the Asiatic Fleet, did not make it.

Also, the Navy was in the midst of a tremendous expansion and the outbreak of war caught the surface forces assimilating new men and new ships – as well as new technologies, principally radar. To this add the fact that the surface fleet deployed defective torpedoes and some of the results of the early battles come as no surprise.

What are some of the lessons learned from your book that are important today?

The book shows how doctrine was applied in battle. In the beginning results were largely negative. The process by which U.S. doctrine was rewritten, and honed to the point where new ships manned by draftees and skippered by reserve officers could outfight Japanese veterans is rich in lessons we can apply today in besting the asymmetric foes we face. The failure of our enemy, the Japanese, to apply a similar process is likewise relevant. For example, the U.S. Navy Against the Axis demonstrates the importance of intellectual honesty. Even as late as the battle of Leyte Gulf, the Japanese believed they had won a great victory because they tabulated the destruction claimed by their airmen and sailors and concluded they had destroyed the American Fleet. And this was on top of their destruction of the American fleet off Taiwan the month before. Rather than questioning their interpretation of their own intelligence, they wondered where the Americans were getting all these fleets from. At the beginning of the war the Americans suffered from a similar problem, but we quickly learned better.

The importance of adaptability is another lesson. The actions of the surface forces and the way relatively junior officers were willing to test new solutions was an important ingredient in America’s eventual victory. The home-brewed development of CIC is one example, the adjustment of torpedo depth settings in battle is another. There are many others.

Do you have plans for another book?

The Naval Institute Press is publishing my next book, Struggle for the Middle Sea: The Great Navies at War in the Mediterranean Theater, 1940-1945 in June 2009. This work examines the Mediterranean theater with a focus on surface combat. It relies heavily on Italian and French material and tackles many of the old myths about Italian competence or French motives that haunt traditional Anglo-centric histories of this campaign. I am also a co-editor of a very exciting work on the Navies of the Second World War that the Naval Institute Press will publish in 2010.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would add that the U.S. Navy Against the Axis is based largely on primary sources for the Americans, the most helpful of which were individual action reports for many of the ships involved, and the Command Summary (Grey Book) produced by the Pacific command. On the Japanese side I was able to commission or secure translations of the Senshi Sosho, Japan’s official history, for all the actions involved. I also used ship’s actions records, the Monograph series, interrogations and translations of individual accounts.

Finally, I very much enjoyed writing this book. It is a work of passion and I have been pleased by the reviews it has received. Most particularly, I am happy that the reviewers have universally noted it is a well written and accessible work because I write to be read.

I recently had the honor of e-interviewing Col. Joseph Alexander (USMC-Ret.) co-author of Through the Wheat: The U.S. Marines in World War I

What makes Through the Wheat the best history of the U.S. Marine Corps in World War I?

I’ll not stake that claim, but I believe Through the Wheat is the best comprehensive history of the U.S. Marine Corps in World War I because it covers in depth not only the 4th Marine Brigade on the Western Front, but also the pioneering combat deployment of Marine aviation to France and the Azores, the service of thousands of other Marines with the Atlantic Fleet, and the experiences of Marine expeditionary forces in Central America, the Caribbean, and the Far East-including the little known landing of Marines in Siberia during the Russian Revolution. I think the best book about the Marines in World War I is John W. Thomason’s fictional but authentic account, Fix Bayonets! (1925). Other notable books about World War I Marines include Robert B. Asprey’s At Belleau Wood (1965), George B. Clark’s Devil Dogs (2000), and Peter F. Owen’s To the Limits of Endurance (2007).

Brig. Gen. Edwin Simmons was eulogized by General Carl Mundy as a “Warrior Historian.” What was it like to be asked by him to complete his World War I book?

For all of General Simmons’ love of military history, he was a warrior first, an infantry officer who commanded every element from a platoon to a regiment. His defense of a roadblock in Seoul against a North Korean armored attack in September 1950 reflected discipline, courage, and quick thinking. He brought those qualities to the new position of Director of Marine Corps History. We had collaborated on several combat documentaries for The History Channel and had written sequential monographs for the 50th Anniversary of the Marines in the Korean War. I knew he was concerned about being able to complete his long deferred history of the Marines in WW 1 before his health deteriorated, but I was floored when he asked me to finish the project. Floored and honored.

Who are some of the Marines you profile in Through the Wheat?

John A. Lejeune casts a long shadow through these pages. He helped the Corps maintain its traditional standards of discipline and marksmanship throughout its unprecedented 5-fold expansion and commanded the U.S. 2nd Division in the critical battles of St. Mihiel, Belleau Wood, and the Meuse-Argonne. Other future commandants-Wendell Neville, Thomas Holcomb, Clifton Cates, and Lemuel Shepherd-displayed early evidence of their gritty leadership in the slaughter-pen of Belleau Wood. Some of the Corps’ most legendary NCOs stood to the fore in this desperate fighting, men like Dan Daly, Louis Cukela, Gerald Thomas, Charlie Dunbeck, and James Gallivan. Aviation pioneers Alfred Cunningham and Roy Geiger trained a new generation of flyers, including slightly built, poetry-writing Ralph Talbot, the only Marine officer to receive the Medal of Honor in the war.

Why does Belleau Wood still resonate as a touchstone battle of the Marine Corps?

Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, and the Chosin Reservoir are the three touchstone battles for the Corps. At Belleau Wood the 4th Marine Brigade sustained 55% casualties in 20 days of point-blank fighting. With considerable help from US Army and French infantry, artillery, and engineers, the Marines decisively defeated the better part of three veteran German divisions whose explicit mission was to defeat and humiliate the Americans in their first major combat. Before Belleau Wood, the Marines had served primarily as sea-going light infantry, best suited for short landing operations against bandits, pirates, or insurgents. Belleau Wood revealed that the Marines could fight and win significant battles against the most well-armed enemy the nation had yet to face.

What inspired Edwin Simmons’ interest in World War I?

Growing up in Billingsport, New Jersey, young Ed Simmons used to accompany his father on weekend visits to the local American Legion Hall, where middle-aged veterans of World War I held forth with their accounts of the great battles of Chateau Thierry, Belleau Wood, and Soissons. Later, a German veteran working on the Lehigh University campus provided detailed accounts of the temployment of Maxim heavy machine-guns in both the offense and defense. Simmons later put those principles to good use as commanding officer of the weapons company in the 1st Marines in the Battle for Seoul. He had also known many of the Marine veterans of the Western Front, including Lemuel Shepherd, Gerald Thomas, Logan Feland, and LeRoy Hunt. In his last years he enjoyed a memorable tour of the World War I battlefields with his son Clarke.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

The book introduces a number of lesser known Marines, riflemen and aviators alike, whose story in many cases is told for the first time. Typical of these is Private James T. Hatcher, a Texan who originally tried to enlist in the US Cavalry, then chose the Marines. Hatcher’s reflections on his recruit training, deployment, and fighting at Verdun, Belleau Wood, Soissons, St. Mihiel, and Blanc Mont (wounded and evacuated) provide an exceptional perspective from the ranks. It was a hell of a war, and it changed the Marine Corps irrevocably.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books | 2 Comments

With some of you loyal readers possible getting orders soon to Bahrain, I recently e-interviewed Dave Winkler about Amirs, Admirals & Desert Sailors: Bahrain, the U.S. Navy, and the Arabian Gulf

What inspired you to write Amirs, Admirals & Desert Sailors?

Actually the question should start: “Who inspired you….” and the answer is the Commander Fifth Fleet in 1998, Vice Admiral Charles W. Moore who had just taken over the Bahrain-based job and wanted an appreciation for the 50 years of relations between that Gulf state and the USN. He told his staff that he wanted a book written on the subject and next thing you know I was plucked out of my day job at the Naval Historical Foundation and found myself heading to Bahrain on active duty.

What were the early years of the relationship between the USN and Bahrain like?

Until 1971, Bahrain was a British “protectorate” with the Royal family having responsiblity for internal affairs while the British handled Bahrain’s defense. The USN had a small presence at the Royal Navy base HMS Jufair supporting Middle East Force ships that rotated in and out of the region. Relations between the different Middle East Commanders and the Royal family were cordial.

What made this unique relationship thrive during some tumultous times in Middle East history?

I would argue that over the years a strong bond was built between the men who served as Commander Middle East Force/Fifth Fleet and the Amir/King. Shaikh Isa, who led the nation from before its independence from Britain until his death in 1999, referred to the senior American naval officer based in Bahrain as “his admiral.”

However, personal relationships can take you only so far. Both countries appreciate that the region’s well-being depends on peace and stability. This partnership serves both nations security interests well.

In addition, the Bahrain International School, a DoD operated K-12 facility allowed Bahrainis and children of other nationalities to attend and this facilitated cultural understandings that helped in the long-term. For example, the present Crown Prince is a graduate of the school.

Who Should Read Amirs, Admirals & Desert Sailors?

First and foremost, anybody in the Navy and their families who may be lucky enough to receive orders for an overseas tour there. The book will provide wonderful context for what will be an interesting tour. A second group are those who had served in the Middle East or are studying the region. This book highlights an important aspect of America’s long-standing interest in the area. Finally, those who are interested in naval history in general. This book covers aspects of American naval history that are not found elsewhere.

Are there any lessons that could be learned from this unique relationship that might be helpful in developing new ties or strengthening old ties with other nations around the globe?

Only that relationships are not formulated overnight. The USN-Bahrain relationship is strong because of patience and trust that occurs over time.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thanks to Naval Institute Press for publishing the book. It has been well-received — especially in Bahrain.

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