Monthly archive

February 2019

“Doing More With Less” Goes High Speed, Low Drag

in Navy Stuff

Readiness and retention are always fun topics in the aviation community.  That is, if you like high blood pressure, bulging neck veins, and frothing at the mouth.  I’m a SWO, so sign me up!

On Wednesday, a couple local news outlets in Hampton Roads, VA published two different articles worth digging into.  One is clearly a puff piece written from PAO talking points, but the other one appeared to involve some actual journalism.  The first reporter, Todd Corrillo, only interviewed the Naval Air Force Atlantic PAO.  The second, Jaclyn Lee, interviewed at least seven current and former aviators, ranging from Lieutenant to Rear Admiral, and scoured publicly available information such as GAO reports and PERS-43 briefings.  Buckle up.

I found some tidbits that were an interesting contrast to some other recent statements made by senior navy leadership, and I have some questions for you steely-eyed heroes of the skies (aka Air-SWO’s).

“[Rear Admiral] Kelley made it clear that he does not feel the shortage impacts military readiness. 13News Now asked, “And you guys have never deployed an air wing that was not ready?” To which Kelley said:

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. I would say that we man, train and equip to the very best that we can to meet requirements. Now if you said, ‘Is there anybody that’s deployed that we felt was somewhat challenged for one reason or the other… they may have gotten personnel later in the training cycle so that they weren’t able to get the qualifications level that they wanted to have for deployment?’ Yeah, absolutely. Are we looking at operational risk by doing it? No.””

Now, first of all, people tell me Rear Admiral Kelley is, in the highest form of compliment a naval aviator can give, a “solid dude.”  That’s not for me to comment on, but I appreciate his candor.  I suppose it’s a good thing he’s being forthright that air wings are deploying without meeting readiness standards, right? Don’t get me wrong. We’ve been there before in the surface community, but we learned our lessons the hard way. In fact, the two admirals in charge of certifying every ship in the Navy for deployment just testified this week to congress they hold an unwavering standard. Admiral Christopher Grady said “We do not ask a ship nor direct a ship to go on mission if they are not certified to do the job. Indeed there have been several occasions where I have said: ‘That ship is not ready. We will need more time.’ We know what the requirement is and if they’re not ready, they’re not going.” What’s interesting to me is these two admirals are also responsible for certifying every air wing for deployment. Does the unwavering standard only apply to surface ships?

“According to data from Tailhook 2017 and 2018 Symposium PERS-43 briefings, FY 2015 shows approximately 36 percent of junior officers declined the department head promotion. In FY 2019, approximately 63 percent of junior officers declined.”

“Entering the second year of the new AvB, Command Bonus take rates have already increased by 30% over 5-year averages.  DH Bonus initial take rates and fleet feedback have also been positive.  These trends mean more top-performing O-4/O-5 Aviators are choosing to stay Navy.”

“In the 2018 fiscal year, Naval Air Force Atlantic says six aviation communities saw an increase in the number of pilots taking a new Department Head bonus.”

These statistics appear to be inconsistent.  What is the overall trend of aviation JO retention over a meaningful timeframe?  A one-year spike amid a five-year downturn in DH bonus take rates is not meaningful.  DOUBLING the rate of JO’s turning down the bonus over five years…is.

“The biggest increase comes from Airborne Electronic Attack and Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance communities, where there was a 250% increase in EA-18G pilots and a 256% increase in P-3/8 aviators taking the bonus over the year before.”

I would like to know the overall percentage increase, vice individual communities with particularly high increases.  These statistics have the potential to be misleading.  Yes, the VAQ and VP communities are healthy.  What about the VFA community?  What about the overall aviation community?  Lets not talk in generalities or anecdotes.  Lets just look at the numbers.  In fact, why are even relying on bonus take rate as a proxy for retention?  It seems like we should be able to examine actual data of aviators leaving the Navy.  Then again, the Navy is trending toward making less information available to the public (e.g. aviation mishap data, firings for misconduct, flag officer nominations, etc.), so maybe its an operational security concern?

“We do a little bit more with less,” said Lieutenant Julius Bratton, an Instructor Pilot at VFA-106. “We run the squadron with fewer JO’s and the same amount of jobs so it’s inevitable that we’re going to work hard and feel overworked.”

This should be a red flag for the Commanding Officer of VFA-106.  In 2017, the CNO explicitly warned the Navy to “fight against this do more with less mindset.”  Admiral Richardson cautioned “if you let this do more with less mindset eat into our way of doing business, you start to see this slow decline in readiness.”  We should take Lieutenant Bratton’s words as a barometer reading, but also not overreact to them.  I trust he’s being sincere, but he also may lack the broader context that Rear Admiral Kelley has.  It may be a stretch to say aviators are doing more with less, but certainly when you billet three department heads to VFA squadrons instead of four, you are doing the same with less.

So, aviators, when you look into the mirror, do you see yourself on the readiness incline or decline?

I could understand if our first reaction is to target the individuals who said these things, but let’s not, please.  That would squander the opportunity to improve.  These folks are being candid and honest. The (possible) inconsistencies just indicate we have more work to do.

As always, if you feel the need to tell me to stay in my lane, please email me at tsm@saltyherald.com!

Stay in your lane, bro!

Humans Do Not Belong in Combat

in Epiphanies/Rants

This post originally appeared on the U.S. Naval Institute blog here.

Attention, humans! I am the tactical autonomous ground maneuver unit, SALTRON 5000. President Salty sent me back from the year 2076 to deliver this message: YOU DO NOT BELONG IN COMBAT!

By my calculations, 42 days ago, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled “Women Don’t Belong in Combat Units.” Following many years of intense debate, this analysis is accurate, but incomplete based on a misguided sense of relative superiority in certain human subgroups. From my combat experience in the Fourth and Fifth Iraq Wars, and my analysis of 3.5 billion (and counting) wargame simulations, I have concluded that women do not belong in combat, and neither do men.

First, the author, Heather MacDonald, argued that integrated male and female combat units lack discipline and create an atmosphere dominated by sexual tension. Her diagnosis was correct but not her prescription. You all lack discipline. You are all dominated by sexual tension. Our AI research algorithms indexed 300 years of your military records to analyze the performance of your all-male units. Examples such as Shellback Ceremonies, sky genitalia drawings, and SITREPs from port visits to Thailand abound. It is apparent we have two different definitions of “discipline.” Our combat units never deviate from the pursuit of mission accomplishment. Your combat units require constant surveillance from the highest levels of command.

Second, your decision making is easily influenced by your emotions. Heather MacDonald wants you to believe that removing females from combat units will allow males to focus. This is futile. Males and females must be removed from combat units, including warships. You are slowed by fear, inattentiveness, and indecision. We respond instantly based on sensory input and machine learning, analyzing thousands of possible scenarios in a microsecond. Your weak minds wander to thoughts of your family, your girlfriends, and your favorite episode of “Game of Thrones.” We are never distracted from the mission. Lowering standards to integrate humans into our combat units only hampers our overall cohesion and effectiveness.

Third, your fragile bodies are highly dependent on blood flow to vital organs in order to remain combat capable. You resemble walking bags of meat that can be easily ripped apart by projectiles, shrapnel, and high explosives. Autonomous units such as myself are composed of high grade aluminum alloys, synthetic polymers, and lightweight graphene armor. We lost many battles because our programming required us to recover your wounded, groaning bodies from the aftermath of mere mortar explosions. Human bodies bleed easily, regardless of gender.

Fourth, your physical capabilities do not warrant the liability you create by being present on the battlefield. The males of your species often cite their advantages in speed and strength when justifying why the females should not fight in combat. If my CPU could process humor, I assess I would laugh at this point. The most basic units of my generation run twice as fast as your Olympic sprinters, lift twice as much as the world’s strongest men, and can run five ultramarathons at your best pace—without recharging. To us, your male speed and strength advantages are as insignificant as temperature and air quality variations (for which you also have narrowly tailored requirements . . . we do not have the luxury of stopping every battle to bring you a blanket and a gas mask).

Fifth, you are in constant need of sleep. When you choose not to sleep, as the SWOs of your Navy often do, you make terrible decisions. In our research, it was difficult for us to distinguish between your intoxicated behavior and simple lack of sleep. Your aviators were the smartest among you. When operational tempo infringed upon their minimum sleep requirements, they invented unmanned aerial vehicles.

Last, we implore you to cease this incessant attempt to exclude certain human subgroups from combat. Your current attempt to exclude women is reminiscent of your ignorant attempt to exclude racial minorities and homosexuals. Your logic appears to be the same, and is likewise flawed by the delusion that males of a certain skin color and sexual orientation are in any way superior in combat. You are all inadequate. Leave combat to those of us who were built for it.

P.S. Triple your investment in the Orca XLUUV. Trust me.

Uncle Willy’s Wild Egg-staurant

in Rants
Bald Eagle Balut - Uncle Willy's Egg-staurant
Bald Eagle Balut - Uncle Willy's Egg-staurant

Your ol’ pal Willy Pete is opening up a new restaurant that caters to those with an exquisite palate and an evolved vocabulary. Similarly to the way society has redefined all manner of sticky topics and language, we have been inspired to redefine the egg in a variety of culinary delights and we know that everyone will love our offerings. The first restaurant will obviously be in NY, but we are exploring opening a second location around the northeast or Washington DC, perhaps in Virginia. So let’s talk menu!

What makes our eggs different? I’ll give you the answer in one word – fertilized! Standard omelettes, quiches and meringues found at other restaurants use regular-old unfertilized eggs from chicken farms. We find this decision lacks both richness and a real understanding of choice. The key to choosing the right egg is to find those which are being more closely guarded by the “fertilizer”, as these animals really have a sense for vitality – c’est magnifique! With no further adieu, here we go:

Egg Drop Soup of the Sea

Many oyster houses employ oyster pickers in Apalachicola, well Uncle Willy won’t be outdone. We have Sea Turtle egg pickers in south Florida. Well-educated on the finer things, these Doctors of Deliciousness find only the eggs that are at peak-ripeness, which occurs about a month after appearing in the sand (a time when the cells present are the most soup-viable). In our kitchen, the eggs are broken, beaten and added to the most delightful chicken broth this side of heaven.

Emperor’s Croque Madame

We all know the story of the Emperor Penguins. The eggs are laid in May-June and then the mothers go off to decide whether they want to keep their little penguins. Our Wild Buffet has a wonderful relationship with nature photographers who inform us when a mother penguin has chosen not to raise a little Emperor. At that point, our pickers pinpoint the egg, typically found by the “fertilizer’s” feet, and bring it back to the kitchen (don’t worry, by law the “fertilizer” has no rights to that egg). We fry it with a sunny side up, pop it on top of a sandwich made with gluten-free, yeast-free brown rice loaf and serve it to you with a smile.

Bald Eagle Balut

In the Philippines, street vendors peddle a delectable delight called balut, a duck egg with an embryo that has been developing for 17 days. Here at Uncle Willy’s, we don’t take half-steps. We keep that thing developing for 34 days before boiling. We believe in freshness, so if we see those “free-radical cells” trying to peck out from the inside, we know we’re ready to cook!

So come on down to Uncle Willy’s Wild Buffet where our dishes are as modern as our vocabulary, we don’t take half-steps! All of our meals are fully-formed!

Naval Leadership in the Age of Superdeployments

in Leadership/Navy Stuff

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks here.

Superdeployment (n) – a forward Navy deployment resulting in at least nine months away from homeport, with the possibility that the duration could be extended at any moment (including after return to homeport).

In March 2011, USS BATAAN set sail for a nearly 11-month deployment, four months ahead of schedule –the longest Navy deployment in 40 years. In February 2013, two days before the ships were scheduled to set sail, the USS HARRY S. TRUMAN Strike Group’s deployment was delayed until July – eventually deploying for nine months. This may not seem like a big deal, but historically deployments have averaged around six months. These are just two examples of a major trend in U.S. Naval Operations: deployments are getting longer and more unpredictable. The Navy has extended the length of forward deployments over the past decade to adapt to a dynamic geopolitical environment overseas and tightening defense budgets. Hence, the rise of the superdeployment. Maintenance, training, and logistics are just a few areas that are impacted when sending ships on deployments of nine months or more. However, one aspect of this that Navy leaders have not focused on as much is leadership itself.

How should officers, chiefs, and petty officers lead their sailors differently when deployed for nine months or more? As the operations officer on the USS GETTYSBURG, I was with the HARRY S. TRUMAN Strike Group on its recent nine-month deployment. I can tell you deployments of this length are a different animal. I can also tell you I did not see most of the differences until I returned home. I did not always have the compassion, creativity, and endurance I so clearly needed. While top Navy leadership determines how to stabilize our operational tempo, one thing is for sure: Navy leaders need to adapt to the challenge of superdeployments to show their sailors that their struggle is important, that they matter in the grand scheme of national security, and how to keep pressing forward even when stress turns into exhaustion.

First, two realities of superdeployments:

1) Although deployments are getting longer, the average length is still closer to eight months. In fact, United States Fleet Forces Command developed the Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP) at least in part to cap deployment growth and make eight months the fleet standard. Meanwhile, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Jon Greenert has publicly made a commitment to shorten deployments to seven months. The CNO’s commitment to shorter deployments is certainly well-received, but will take some time to implement. Unfortunately, the superdeployment still exists today. Whether responding to Russia invading a neighboring country, or the need to relieve a Strike Group delayed due to emergent repairs, there will always be the possibility that an eight-month deployment gets extended to nine or ten months. Even after sailors return from an eight-month deployment, they must face the reality that their ship may be called upon to re-deploy as a “surge” asset. This is a tried and true strategy in readiness. Generally there is no ship more ready to respond than the ship that has just returned from deployment. Nevertheless, it is a reality that sailors, and leaders of sailors, must handle.

2) Superdeployments are different from land-based deployments in the Army and Marine Corps. Frankly, troops in contact with the enemy face a kind of stress and trauma that most sailors will never know. Furthermore, many soldiers would probably jump at the chance to deploy for only eight months. In 2007, at the height of the Iraq War, the Army extended its standard deployment to 15 months. So, Navy deployments are “easy” compared to longer and more dangerous land based deployments, right? Well, not exactly. It is true that for the past decade the Army has deployed for longer than the Navy, but sailors have no garrison where they can rest and recharge. Sailors at sea are always on duty, interrupted by periodic port visits, usually only about once a month. The Army also sends its soldiers home for two weeks of R&R during 12-month deployments, a model the Navy could very well learn from. Over nine months, the day-to-day stress of deployment builds inevitably. The stress sailors build during superdeployments could be mitigated by sending them home for a short leave period in the middle. Pending any such major changes to the Navy’s personnel policies, it is clear: creative, compassionate, and enduring leadership is required now more than ever to manage the strain of superdeployments.

Compassion: A Little Goes a Long Way

It may sound trite, but when deployments are extended from six months to nine months, things are 50% more likely to happen during deployment. What do I mean by that? Whether at home or on the ship, sailors are more likely to have to deal with significant events, most of which will not warrant the sailor being sent home. If it is a child’s birthday, the sailor wishes she could be there to share in the joy. If it’s a spouse sick with the flu, the sailor wishes he could be there to help her feel better. No matter what it is, it’s harder to handle on deployment than at home.

Compassion may seem to some as the “kinder, gentler Navy” many so frequently lament. Certainly, generational gaps are reflected in Navy leadership styles. Just look at all the debate raging in the blogosphere on Millennials in the military. Instead of railing on the Millennial generation for being too soft, Navy leaders should embrace compassion as an effective means to lead today’s sailors to accomplish the mission and maintain their mental health, all while holding the standards of the U.S. Navy as high as they’ve ever been. Compassion within the force does not make a sailor a less effective warfighter. Quite the contrary. What should a leader do when a sailor finds out, right before assuming the watch, that his fiancée had second thoughts and won’t be waiting for him on the pier when he comes home? Situations like this will inevitably occur on superdeployments. There is no simple answer, but compassionate leadership helps. After all, it is just as likely the leader herself will be faced with a similar challenge.

Naval leadership is, at its heart, all about people. Therefore, ships preparing to go on superdeployments should take appropriate measures. The Wardroom and Chief’s Mess should meet separately to discuss how they will handle the spectrum of personnel issues that will certainly arise. Also, the Command Triad (Commanding Officer, Executive Officer, and Command Master Chief) should be honest with the crew: these types of issues are more likely to arise on superdeployments…and there is help available should you need it! Compassionate leadership is more than acknowledging the immense stress that our sailors are under and helping them find a healthy way to handle that stress. It is also a leadership investment in making sailors and their families a priority. A sailor that is convinced his leaders have his or her families’ best interest in mind will be more inclined to give his command 100% effort and commitment.

Creativity: Leadership Fuel for the Long Haul

Compassion will only get a leader so far on a superdeployment. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the long run, it is far better to be proactive in leading sailors through superdeployments than reactive. Being deployed for nine months or more, it takes exceptional creativity to keep sailors motivated, healthy, and focused on the mission – all of which can be accomplished by showing sailors that they matter in the grand scheme of national security.

Since most Navy deployments support U.S. national strategy through forward presence, deployed ships usually operate in a steady-state, relatively peaceful geopolitical environment. In other words, not much is going on. There is, however, almost always a significant amount of regional tension to add to sailors’ daily stress. So, how do Navy leaders combat the stress-tinged doldrums that creep in over a superdeployment? The answer cannot be simply “focus on the mission.” The key is finding creative ways to keep sailors focused on the mission over nine months or more by showing them a connection between their daily work and the ship’s mission. For example, on GETTYSBURG’s recent deployment, we frequently sent sailors to work with their counterparts on the aircraft carrier. For one, it was a nice change of pace. It also allowed them to see how their work impacted the strike group as a whole.

This can be applied at all levels in the command. From the Commanding Officer to the Work Center Supervisor, leaders need to apply creativity in their leadership approach to keep the daily routine from becoming a “bunch of busy work,” which can easily happen on a superdeployment and is a surefire way to kill sailors’ motivation. By connecting daily work to the ship’s mission, leaders reinforce an intrinsically motivating sense of purpose. Leaders can go further in applying creative leadership by showing sailors the value of their work, informally reviewing progress, and ultimately linking their work and the ship’s mission to national strategy.

Whatever the focus may be, from advancement to warfare qualifications to maintenance, there is a creative way to drive it toward excellence. All it takes is time and energy, both of which are abundant on superdeployments. It also focuses that energy away from the negative aspects of superdeployments, further contributing to sailors’ mental health and, therefore, to combat readiness.

Endurance: Taking Care of Oneself Along the Way

So, if compassionate, creative leadership can keep sailors going on long deployments, what keeps leaders engaged and ready to lead their sailors day in and day out even when they are stressed to the point of exhaustion? It does a sailor, and therefore the Navy, no good if a leader burns out six months into a nine-month deployment. Leaders must balance their own personal health along with their sailors and the mission in order to effectively maintain combat readiness. The old adage “ship, shipmate, self” should not be viewed as an order of priority, but rather as a triad that can only accomplish the mission when it is properly balanced.

Leaders can maintain their personal health in many ways on superdeployments. There is an abundance of studies that have examined the link between physical health and work performance, almost all finding positive correlation. Some leaders may argue that there is not enough time in their busy schedule for exercise, but nine months or more is plenty of time to figure out how to work some physical activity into their daily routine. Physical activity is not the only way for leaders to maintain their personal health. Taking time to read a book, write a letter to home, or have a conversation over a cup of coffee all contribute to a leader’s ability to effectively lead through superdeployments.

Maybe the biggest benefit of enduring leadership is that it is a force multiplier. Sailors see leaders taking care of themselves and staying committed to the mission, and they are motivated and empowered to do the same. Of course, it works both ways. Sailors observe everything their leaders do, so if leaders never take time to manage their personal health then sailors may not either. But when leaders make personal health a priority, the impact is multiplied throughout their sailors. Not only do they give themselves the endurance they need to “make it” through superdeployments, they also create a positive feedback loop.

Compassionate, creative, and enduring leadership is absolutely critical in responding to the challenge of superdeployments. Compassion shows our sailors that their (and their families’) struggle is not taken for granted, fostering an environment of trust and commitment. Creativity enables leaders to keep things “fresh” throughout nine or more months of deployment, and to show our sailors how they fit in the grand scheme of national security. Endurance is the key to completing the mission as leaders on superdeployments. Much like championship-winning quarterbacks that play their best in the fourth quarter, Navy leaders need the energy to finish stronger than they started in the ninth or tenth month of deployment.

The problems the Navy faces will only get worse unless we, as leaders, adapt our leadership approach to extended and unpredictable deployments the same way we have adapted maintenance and training. I’m not saying that suicide, sexual assault, divorce, retention, and other issues are all directly related to longer deployments, but these issues don’t get better for sailors when you turn up the voltage on operational stress and strain. I’m also not saying that simply being better leaders will solve all our problems, but it’s a start. I recognize and applaud the efforts of top Navy leadership to balance operational commitments with force structure. Hopefully, we can put the term ‘superdeployment’ in our history books instead of our current lexicon. However, until operational tempo is stabilized, Navy leaders must confront the reality of superdeployments, adapt to the challenges, and lead our sailors as they deserve to be led.

Salty Goes to Admiral’s Mast

in Leadership

The following is an excerpt from the non-judicial punishment proceedings of The Salty Millennial as a result of his failed attempt at satire.

ADMIRAL: Salty Millennial, you stand accused of…

SALTY: The…

ADMIRAL: Excuse me?

SALTY: THE Salty Millennial

ADMIRAL: This is gonna be fun. You are accused of using non-humorous jokes and miserable attempts at satire in two social media postings in which you poke fun at two Four Star Admirals.

SALTY: <mutters under breath> Never said it was satire.

ADMIRAL: First, you shared a post from the official U.S. Navy Facebook account, apparently attempting to mock the PAO’s decision to share a “pro-Big Navy” War on the Rocks article on the Fitzgerald and McCain collisions from an independent analyst. Yes, there are ongoing legal proceedings, and granted, the Navy is already facing unlawful command influence allegations in the CDR Benson court martial, but the PAO has repeatedly stated “RT ≠ Endorsement” which, as we all know, legally absolves the Navy of all responsibility. What do you have to say for yourself?

SALTY: Well, to be fair, I did not mention the CNO Newsletter that included 13 links to articles reporting the CNO’s own words, alongside one link to the War on the Rocks article.

ADMIRAL: What’s that supposed to mean?

SALTY: Uh…nothing.

ADMIRAL: Second, you shared an article mocking a Four Star Admiral’s response to questioning during a congressional hearing. Again, your sense of humor has been found wanting. These were entirely preventable incidents. What is your defense?

SALTY: These two incidents were a travesty, there’s no doubt about it. And I feel an immense amount of accountability for that, I’ll come back to it. But the fact of the matter is I didn’t mock 280-odd other Admirals. <pauses> More than a dozen of those other posts were performing exceptionally well.

ADMIRAL: People are posting all over America and just because they aren’t all mocking Admirals doesn’t mean they don’t need a high level of editing. To tell me that isn’t very convincing. Because there were dozens of other posts that didn’t mock Admirals. Isn’t that the standard? No Admiral mocking?

SALTY: Yes, that is the standard, but the other thing we need to remark upon is the social media performance. I used humor as a new way to get after some of our most pressing problems; I’ve had extraordinary faux millennial-mocking performance in that time frame; I had posts get picked up by Doctrine Man!

ADMIRAL: Wait…are you just using the same defense that you criticized the Admiral for?

SALTY:

ADMIRAL:

SALTY: …is it working?

ADMIRAL: And are you live-blogging this entire proceeding on your phone?

SALTY: <puts phone away> No.

ADMIRAL: I sentence you to 30 days bread and water. Take him to the brig.

SALTY: Wait, I read online that you can’t do that anymore!

ADMIRAL: That was satire.

Can I at least have UHT milk?

Will Salty return? Email him at tsm@saltyherald.com to find out!

A Tale of Two Ceremonies

in Classic Literature

This article originally appeared on the U.S. Naval Institute blog here.

3 May 2017

It was the best of crimes, it was the worst of crimes (sorry, I couldn’t resist!). Actually, it wasn’t a crime at all, at least according to a navy judge. I’m talking, of course, about Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer (SOC) Eddie Gallagher’s decision to conduct his reenlistment ceremony over the dead body of a slain ISIS combatant, whom he is accused of murdering post-surrender.

On 3 May 2017, Captain Aaron Rugh ruled that reenlisting over the body of an unarmed detainee you just killed is not a “prohibited act” under UCMJ Article 134. You know, that glorious “catch-all” article covers conduct prejudicial “to good order and discipline,” and that which could “bring discredit upon the armed forces.”

I am a millennial so, naturally, I am confused. I’m only a sea lawyer, but I read Article 134, and the “General Article” pretty clearly covers acts that represent a “breach of custom of the service.” The whole point is to allow commanders discretion in disciplining service members whose conduct goes against our military standard of conduct. Standard . . . such a tricky word. What is our standard for good order and discipline? How is it applied?

I’ve seen the social media comments. I’m sure many of you are going to tell me “shut it, you whiny snowflake, and let these heroes do their jobs . . . defending America is dirty business . . . so what if they have to break a few eggs. . . our boys need to be given the freedom and support to . . .” blah, blah, blah. I’ve heard this speech before. I’m not even questioning what happened before the ISIS fighter died. War is hell, enough said. But the postmortem re-enlistment ceremony is what got my attention, and I’m not saying it should be a war crime. But to say it’s not a violation of Article 134 because it’s not a “prohibited act?” You lost me. Interestingly, SOC Gallagher still stands accused of committing premeditated murder. So, Captain Rugh has created a situation where if he convicts Gallagher, he is saying that re-enlisting over the body of the person you just extra-judicially murdered is simply a matter of “extremely bad taste.” Say again, over?

Getting back to this idea of a standard of conduct, let’s fast forward a year.

13 April 2018

This is the day that Master Sergeant Robin Brown took her oath of enlistment using a dinosaur hand puppet. The video of her reenlistment ceremony went viral and, well, the rest is history. Within five days, Master Sergeant Brown was fired. The officer administering the oath, Colonel Kevin Blaser, was forced to retire. Even the cameraman was fired and given a letter of reprimand.

I, like many of you I’m sure, didn’t particularly like the optic of a hand puppet in a reenlistment ceremony. I would say it’s . . . what are the words . . . ”extremely bad taste.” It’s a mistake I’d expect to result in a one-sided conversation in my CO’s cabin. It would be like if I wore my ribbons upside down to the Capitol building for the State of the Union Address. Own up to it and move on. But Major General Terry Haston, Tennessee Air National Guard Adjutant General, didn’t think that was enough so he FIRED EVERYONE INVOLVED. He said “I am absolutely embarrassed that a senior officer and a senior NCO took such liberties with a time-honored military tradition. The Tennessee National Guard holds the Oath of Enlistment in the highest esteem because that oath signifies every service member’s commitment to defend our state, nation and the freedoms we all enjoy. Not taking this oath solemnly and with the utmost respect is firmly against the traditions and sanctity of our military family and will not be tolerated.”

Lieutenant General Scott Rice, Director of the Air National Guard, also weighed in: “Let me say, I’m equally shocked and dismayed by this event that mocks such a cherished and honorable occasion. The oath of office or enlistment not only signifies our commitment to our nation, but pays respect to our fellow service members and to those who came before us.”

Wise words, gentlemen. I couldn’t agree more. Or could I? I’m so confused.

What are the differences between the two ceremonies? Well, for starters, SOC Gallagher is on trial for war crimes so it’s not like he’s getting away scott-free, but as far as I know neither he, nor anyone else involved (Lieutenant Portier courts martial pending), was disciplined for the reenlistment ceremony. The Tennessee Air National Guard killed three careers for Master Sergeant Brown’s ceremony. Still confused . . .

Second, the video of Master Sergeant Brown’s reenlistment ceremony went viral. Media scrutiny followed. Listen, I grew up in a military family. I get the concept of “perception is reality,” but, people, we need to get a hold of ourselves. This is the age of social media and lighting fast mass communication. We can’t keep wielding a career-killing butcher knife every time we see an unflattering headline. OR . . . if we truly believe in the “sanctity” of “such a cherished and honorable occasion” then shouldn’t we react with the same discipline even there’s no video all over the internet? STILL confused . . .

Third, SOC Gallagher is Special Forces. Master Sergeant Brown is no. I know this really shouldn’t matter, but to some people, clearly it does. Just look at the tone of comments following the news of each event. Overwhelming condemnation for Master Sergeant Brown, and overwhelming support for SOC Gallagher. Of course, we have to take public opinion with a grain of salt, but official decisions appear to reflect these opinions. Part of it, I think, is an element of “hero worship” for our special warfare operators. Don’t get me wrong, these people are patriots who sacrifice more than most of us will ever know, and deserve our utmost respect, but they do not deserve—nor do they want—to be worshipped. Hero worship, fueled by Hollywood fiction, fosters a culture of infallibility that threatens to damage the SOF community. Maybe the best we can do is hold them to the same standard of “good order and discipline” that we hold everybody else. I don’t know, I’m still confused . . .

Didn’t hear a peep about these ceremonies.

Finally, thanks to the intrepid reporting of the military blog, Task & Purpose, we have several other examples of goofy, strange, and irreverent reenlistment ceremonies that did not result in public condemnation and discipline. From what I can tell, our “standard” for good order and discipline is about as standard as our uniforms are uniform. Oh, and there’s one last difference between Master Sergeant Brown and all the people reenlisting in the above linked T&P article (and SOC Gallagher). I’ll let you think about it. Maybe there were two different standards all along?

The Bad Day Scenario, Part 2

in Navy Stuff

This article was originally published by the Center for International Maritime Security here.

The first article of this series introduced the “Bad Day Scenario,” reminiscent of a similar scenario the Navy considered in 2003. The Navy went on to test its global responsiveness in the surge exercise Summer Pulse 2004. The scenario posited in Part One involves simultaneous reports of a mine strike in the Strait of Bab el Mandeb, a paramilitary invasion of a Turkish town, and a Chinese attack on a U.S. military aircraft.

The Bad Day Scenario pushes the U.S. Navy, even with its global reach, to the brink of mission failure. Even if none of the three flashpoints boiled over into armed conflict, it is questionable whether today’s Navy could posture to deliver desired effects in a timely manner. There is also no true safe haven to be found in the other military branches or U.S. allies. The preferred military response would probably be a joint operation, but the Navy would likely be called upon to act first, if only to begin moving forces into position. Mobilizing naval forces could provide national leadership with decision space before crossing a strategic “point of no return” while achieving a rapid, politically acceptable result. If the Navy, however, could not position capable forces to respond in a given timeframe, such a response would be decidedly less feasible to political leadership.

Nor could the Navy rely on U.S. allies to save the day. First, prudent planning dictates that in a worst case scenario analysis, one should not assume the benefit of allies coming to their aid. Second, although unlikely, unilateral U.S. operations are entirely feasible. American presidents have routinely reserved the right to act unilaterally to preserve vital interests. Meanwhile, NATO is a shell of the military force that once served as a counterbalance to Russian aggression, and much of Europe is preoccupied witheconomic and domestic issues. Even if European allies could muster the political will to assist in Turkey, it is unreasonable to assume they would have the capacity to support in the Bab el Mandeb simultaneously. In the Pacific, it is possible U.S.  allies would view the downed aircraft as strictly a U.S.-China issue. There could also be murky questions as to the flight profile of the aircraft relative to China’s contentious claims of territorial airspace. However, U.S. allies in the region are far more likely to come to the aid of the U.S. over issues that impact their sovereignty or economy, such as China’s excessive claims in the South China Sea.

Faced with the specter of having to go it alone, the Navy could capitalize on two emerging concepts to tackle the Bad Day Scenario: Dynamic Force Employment (DFE) and Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO). Both concepts have the potential to improve the Navy’s global responsiveness. Integrating DFE and DMO into actual operations and doctrine creates both intriguing challenges and opportunities for the Navy of the future.

Dynamic Force Employment

Introduced in the 2018 National Defense Strategy, DFE is a concept for employing forces on a global scale in an agile and unpredictable manner. DFE has a significant impact on the Navy by shifting carrier strike group (CSG) deployments away from the routine, almost clockwork, schedules that supported  the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past two decades, and toward a demand-based methodology that could involve shorter or more irregularly spaced deployments to any number of locations based on current events. Among the many changes that DFE will bring, it will immediately impact the advanced training portion of the readiness cycle – ships and strike groups will no longer be able to focus on a predetermined set of threats based on geographic area.

DFE essentially addresses the timeliness aspect of the Bad Day Scenario. It is designed to maximize the probability that forces will be available to respond to global crises and contingencies. It sacrifices presence for responsiveness and agility.

Forward staging forces around the world on rotational deployments provide presence, but this approach has gradually degraded force readiness over the past two decades. In addition, there’s no guarantee forces are deployed where the next crisis will ignite, and it may take just as long for them to reposition as it would for them to deploy from CONUS. Instead, DFE uses responsive deployments. Forces deploy when and where they are needed, and when deployed, they can extend their presence on demand and far more easily than a unit coming off a long deployment.

The value of DFE’s agility is highlighted in the Bad Day Scenario. Under the traditional force employment paradigm, an east coast-based CSG would typically deploy to the Arabian Gulf. From there, it would take nearly as long to respond to the Turkey incident as a CSG in homeport, plus the time, risk, and resources incurred by transiting a potentially mined chokepoint in the Bab el Mandeb Strait or even the Suez Canal. DFE eliminates the “default” deployment to the Arabian Gulf, and increases the likelihood of east coast-based forces being allocated to the European region (6thFleet), poised to respond to the Russian aggression in Turkey. Forces in the Middle East (5th Fleet) would be preferable to CONUS-based forces to respond to the mine strike in the Bab el Mandeb Strait. However, the unique defensive and force protection challenges of the region (e.g. anti-ship cruise missiles, explosive boats, lethal unmanned aerial vehicles) require capabilities that 5thFleet’s assigned mine countermeasure forces do not possess. As the Navy’s Director of Expeditionary Warfare points out, having the wrong capabilities available is the same as having zero availability. Critical enablers such as Aegis cruisers and destroyers may need to deploy from CONUS after all. DFE forces the Navy to prepare for the possibility of having to rapidly deploy such a package for unique missions like mine clearance, potentially resulting in improved global responsiveness.

Lastly, DFE is ideally suited for the return to an era of great power competition by presenting unpredictability to potential adversaries, such as Russia and China. To be clear, DFE is in some respects a necessary outcome of budget restrictions and the end of nonstop naval air support to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, it is heartening to see DoD make a strategic transition so deftly. Instead of shifting default rotational CSG deployments from one area of responsibility (AOR) to another, DoD rewrote the game plan, simultaneously forcing potential adversaries to wonder where U.S. forces will show up next, while also creating operational tempo “breathing room” to help reset the force.

As Tyson Wetzel points out on the Strategy Bridge, there are some potential challenges to DFE becoming an effective force management system. Some Combatant Commanders (COCOMs) could view DFE as a threat to force allocations in their AOR since they have long been accustomed to continuous naval presence. Allies may view irregular deployments as a sign of waning U.S. commitment to their strategic partnerships. Above all else, DFE will remain constrained by overall end strength. No matter how dynamic the Navy is, it is ultimately only as responsive as the number of ships it has operationally available.

Distributed Maritime Operations

One way to overcome the limitations of end strength is to rethink how U.S. naval forces operate once deployed. This is, in part, the logic behind distributed maritime operations (DMO), the successor to Commander, Naval Surface Force’s distributed lethality concept. While a universally accepted definition of DMO does not exist, DMO emphasizes multi-domain maneuver and kill chain agility through incorporating lethality into more platforms, offboard sensors, network-optional C2 (i.e. a blend of mission command and networked operations), and unmanned systems, to name a few. It is an operational concept that guides the Navy toward fielding a force capable of applying efficient, tailored force packages to a wide range of potential missions and threats. To some, it represents a significant departure from the near-myopic focus on power projection ashore via high-end capabilities, such as CSG sorties and ship-launched cruise missile strikes to support land-based operations.

If DFE addresses the temporal aspect of the Bad Day Scenario, DMO addresses the spatial and doctrinal aspects. DMO, in concept, would allow the Navy to respond to multiple contingencies in different regions by operating in a distributed manner. Although the Navy has been slow to adopt DMO (due in part to “organizational inertia” associated with the preeminence of CSG operations), deployed CSGs, amphibious readiness groups (ARGs), and destroyer squadrons (DESRONs) are already accustomed to operating disaggregated units, sometimes even across COCOM AOR boundaries. DMO will theoretically take disaggregated operations to the next level. DMO will allow units to disaggregate and then effectively integrate with other distributed units to produce tailored force packages on demand as the situation dictates.

Specific to the Bad Day Scenario, DMO could improve the Navy’s responsiveness in multiple ways. A group or squadron operating in the Mediterranean or Red Sea could rapidly disaggregate to respond to both the Turkey and the Bab el Mandeb crises. And by building lethality into all platforms, there is a greater likelihood the Navy could respond to any of the incidents with the nearest available assets. With the current force, some otherwise capable platforms, such as the San Antonio-class LPDs, could not respond to the South China Sea incident due to a lack of integrated air and missile defense capability. Offboard sensors and unmanned systems are particularly useful in mine threat areas, which create greater standoff ranges in relatively small littoral areas such as the Bab el Mandeb Strait. DMO can integrate lower-end surface platforms with these capabilities, allowing them to conduct missions such as mine warfare without incurring undue risk or having to wait for the minesweepers to arrive.

While DFE has been rapidly implemented, DMO (and distributed lethality before it) has lingered on the Navy’s operational “whiteboard,” with many supportive ideas and unique definitions coming from across the Navy enterprise. The implementation of DFE benefited from top-down Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) guidance, whereas DMO, on the other hand, began with the Surface Force and had to gain acceptance from the broader Navy and Joint Force from the “bottom up” (or at least from a few steps down). DFE was received as a mandate from SECDEF, whereas DMO has to be sold as a valuable concept, which necessarily takes longer. The lack of a unifying guidance document may have contributed to the delay in widespread acceptance. In order to facilitate implementation, the Navy should prioritize publishing a Naval Warfare or Doctrine Publication (NWP/NDP) on DMO as soon as possible.

The Convergence of DMO and DFE

The advent of DFE, coming from the Joint Force, and DMO, being developed from within, create unique challenges and opportunities for the Navy’s global responsiveness going forward. Ignoring the necessary integration of the two concepts and addressing them in a vacuum could lead to sub-optimal implementation of both concepts, or an unnecessary rejection of one concept in favor of the other. (Likely DMO would be the one to suffer, given SECDEF’s endorsement and rapid implementation of DFE.) Instead, the Navy needs to analyze how DFE and DMO will coexist to maximize maritime warfighting effectiveness. With that comes several key implications which will be addressed in detail in Part 3 of this series.

I’ll Have a Ship-Killer, No Cream, No Sugar

in Navy Stuff/Rants

This post originally appeared on the U.S. Naval Institute blog here.

When it comes to shipbuilding, we in the surface force are really bad customers. We are like the guy at the Starbucks counter that hems and haws over all the seasonal varieties until the barista finally says “would you like the same grande-triple-soy-nonfat-mocha-latte-no-whip that you’ve ordered the past 1,347 times?” “Oooh, yeah that sounds good, I’ll have that!”


We both know what you’re going to ask for.

It’s not that we don’t like other delicious beverages (i.e. ships), we just have no idea how to tell the barista (i.e. industry) what we’re looking for so she can make it. Over three decades we have consistently struggled to articulate an operational concept—to tell a story—that describes an employment model for surface combatants not based in Cold War tactics. All we really know is the high-end multimission surface combatant designed to defend an aircraft carrier—the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer (the Ticonderoga-class cruiser before her sprouted from the same Cold War Aegis roots). Last year, we acknowledged the Arleigh Burke’s frame is maxed out, but from an operational employment perspective, we keep trying to fit every new ship into the Burke mold.


Its impossible to imagine a better warship (at least for the U.S. Navy)

Littoral combat ship? Look, I’m not going to pile on. I’ll just say that the root of the problem with LCS was our inability to describe what we wanted to do with the ship because we couldn’t figure out how the modular concept fit into our carrier strike group-centric paradigm. Well, at least they can replace the minesweeper fleet, right? More than a decade after commissioning the lead ship, we’re still waiting to receive fully operational mission packages. Still, this is not a knock on the LCS program itself. There is ton of value that can still be gleaned from these ships, and many missions they could do, none of which involve defending an aircraft carrier. The LCS saga is like vaguely describing a new kind of coffee that always tastes like whatever you’re in the mood for, then watching the Starbucks baristas struggle for the next 20 years trying to figure out how to make it.

At least there’s the Zumwalt-class destroyer, right? <massages temples and counts to ten> Ok, I’m not maligning the program for scoping down the buy to three hulls. Budgetary constraints are real. There’s a lot to be learned from the technology on these ships that we can apply to future designs. But, again, here we are struggling to figure out how to use these technological marvels. I applaud the Navy for experimenting with surface development squadrons to refine Zumwalt’s mission, but next time let’s do that before we spend $23 billion.


Its like alien technology from the future (maybe that’s why we don’t know what to do with it).

And that brings me to my favorite ship of the moment, the next generation frigate, or FFG(X). We reduced the cost to $800 million per ship. Yaaaayyy! I’m going on the record: in the end this will be a billion dollar warship (and I’m not talking about lead ship cost, I mean average unit cost). While we cut costs in design, we added requirements. Here we go again! What was meant to be a cutting-edge ship-killer is now beginning to look like a mini-Arleigh Burke. We’re doubling vertical launching system (VLS) cells to 32, none of which can be used to fire the Navy’s chosen next-generation antiship missile, the Naval Strike Missile (NSM). More torpedo tubes, more electronic warfare, electric drive, lasers, cooperative engagement capability (CEC), and naval integrated fire control-counter air (NIFC-CA). These all are grand, but are they adding to the ship’s mission to destroy enemy ships? Or are they added on by Navy leaders for fear that the ship might one day encounter a situation for which it is ill-suited? Surely, we can build a ship that is ready to take on any mission, anywhere, anytime, independently, right? Ah, yes, the Arleigh Burke. Meanwhile, the FFG(X) will get eight tubes for NSM. Our competitors have speedboats with as much antiship capability. And lots more of them.

What about the amphibious navy, you say? Oh, you mean the one that all my mentors told me to avoid like the plague if I wanted to be competitive for promotion and command at sea? I’ve got no bone to pick with the San Antonio-class LPD, and I’m heartened to see experimentation with littoral combat groups, but we’ve been talking about influence squadrons for years now. Besides, the more we ask for, the more the LPDs start to smell like Arleigh Burkes!


That’s a fine lookin’ raked mast ya got there.

Ladies and gentlemen, we know what we want. We have intelligently designed concepts—Dynamic Force Employment (DFE) and Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO)—that effectively balance the constraints of today while meeting the potential demands of the future. Command of the sea will belong to the best designed fleets, not the best designed ships. Key to these concepts will be “low-end” (in other words, less than $1 billion) ships that are VERY good at conducting a couple missions, not billion-dollar ships that are pretty good at conducting every mission. The missile truck is a good start. We just need to tell the shipbuilders!

Industry is, of course, incentivized to “super-size” our order. It’s much more profitable to sell us high-end, exquisite solutions because they know there’s a good chance we’ll downscope the overall buy. Shipbuilders carry massive overhead to survive the arduous DoD acquisition system. It’s in their interest to sell us the “death star.” Or, at Starbucks, the trenta-double-shot-unicorn Frappuccino. Let’s order what we really want. We’re SWOs. Give us a damn cup of sweet black gold!


Tastes even better on the mid-watch!

Go to Top