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Leadership

Shipmates, Lend Me Your Ears…

in Announcements/Epiphanies/Leadership/Navy Stuff

This post originally appeared on the USNI Blog here.

Dear Navy,

I am formally announcing my candidacy for the 32nd Chief of Naval Operations.

I know, I know. I hear what you’re saying. Holy cow, would this guy just PLEASE STOP?!? Yeah, well that’s what the master of this merchant said in Canada, so deal with it:

My only goal is to gain more support than LCS.

When Admiral Bill Moran suddenly announced his retirement, declining his widely popular nomination to be the next CNO, I sensed an opening. You see, Admiral Moran committed that egregious sin of having communicating with a person who had been held accountable for allegedly acting like a creepster— allegedly groping women at a drunken holiday party. You heard that right. He maintained a professional relationship with an alleged groper.

Now, the Secretary of the Navy has to move quickly before the current CNO’s term expires on 17 September, leaving less than 30 working days for the Senate to confirm a nominee. He’s even opening up the pool of candidates to three-star admirals. That’s smart. We have a talented stable of vice admirals from which to choose. Arleigh Burke was selected to be CNO when he was a two-star! Why not dig a little deeper and select a lieutenant commander? The only problem is now there are more candidates for CNO than Democrats running for president in 2020.

Could any of them be CNO in today’s Navy?

And now we have one more. Hear me out!

First, you won’t have to worry about me maintaining a relationship with any alleged gropers. I won’t try to mentor anyone. I literally have no friends. Have you read the comments lately? No one likes me. And I’m pretty sure every CO I’ve ever had is frantically deleting all of my texts and emails. I am an island, and islands have no liabilities.

Second, I won’t cut and run at the first sign of trouble. Seriously, I started a blog criticizing the entire Navy and several flag officers. You think I’m going to be sidelined easily? I don’t buy into this new trend of simply retiring when the media starts talking about something you did that somebody, somewhere might find offensive. Hell, I’m not even eligible for retirement. If I get fired, I get nothing. BTW, question for all you social justice warriors out there: If you really believe Admiral Moran did something wrong, how has he been held accountable? He wasn’t allowed to be CNO? He’s retiring with four-star benefits. What does that say about our Navy culture that anyone could describe this as accountability? In truth, I don’t think anyone believes, nor cares, that it is accountability. Its just social media blood. A show for the coliseum.

For the record, I don’t believe Admiral Moran did anything that required further accountability. I started a Twitter hashtag #keepCNOMoran but it didn’t stick. I guess nobody believes they can change what’s happening around them. Now you get me. And you know I love the Navy. If I’m bitter, it’s the Navy’s fault. I’m a millennial, it CAN’T be my fault.

A few campaign promises:

  • Service. Dress. Khaki
  • Performance-based officer promotion
  • More participation trophies
  • Beards and man buns
  • Hands in pockets

And guys, I have an autonomous warbot from the future at my disposal!

So, there you have it, Navy. I could be your next CNO. Spread it on Twitter, the CO’s suggestion box, the 1MC! Pilots, quit drawing sky genitalia and share this message: #Salty4CNO!

Together, we can Make the Navy Salty Again!

I am The Salty Millennial and I approved this message.

There Will Be Another Collision—The Navy Should Learn From Its Recent Legal Mishaps

in Leadership/Navy Stuff

This post was co-authored by Captain John P. Cordle, U.S. Navy (Retired) and originally appeared on the USNI Blog here.

Now that the legal dust has settled, maybe there is an opportunity to learn a separate set of lessons from collisions that occurred in the summer of 2017—on the legal front. Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, but we’ve met a few at cocktail parties. From the layman/surface warrior perspective, the process of assigning culpability for these events was . . . well, let’s call it a legal “near miss” of momentous proportions that presents a rich opportunity to learn lessons. In the spirit of the “Comprehensive Review” recommendation for becoming a learning organization able to transparently review mistakes without attribution, this article assigns no judgment on the character or professionalism of any individual, but attempts to capture an accounting of the facts and the consequences of actions and choices made. Since different generations of naval officers clearly view the collisions through unique generational lenses, Lieutenant Commander Jimmy Drennan caught up with retired Captain John Cordle to discuss the legal lessons the Navy can learn from events after the 2017 collisions.

Jimmy: So, specifically on the CO and TAO of the USS Fitzgerald, we went from negligent homicide charges to Letters of Censure, with all charges being dropped. Sir, I’m still trying to process everything that went down, but I gotta tell you, it sure seems like the Navy gooned this up.

John: Even well-intentioned people make mistakes. In my experience, the Navy tends to focus on the good things, only facing the bad ones when they happen. Looking back, I think Lesson Number One is the need for a cadre of professional investigators. I know this because I conducted the USS Porter (DDG-78) investigation, for which I was woefully unprepared. A post–major command captain at the time, my interaction with the legal process prior to this assignment was limited to a few cases of nonjudicial punishment as a commanding officer (CO), and yet I was put on a plane with 12 hours’ notice to conduct a full investigation of the largest major collision in a decade. I was handed a JAGMAN (Manual of the Judge Advocate General) on an unrelated topic as a template, given a one-hour training session with the force JAG, and off I went. I had great support from two JAG officers, who were indispensable both for their legal expertise and their former status as surface warfare officers and aviators. It appears that the current investigations suffered from some of the same challenges I had in reconstructing the event. According to Commander Bryce Benson’s rebuttal of his Letter of Censure, the comparison of the track provided as part of the prosecution differs greatly from one developed after the fact—this among other disconnects between the two documents shows that this is a challenging process. In my case, had we not found an audio tape, the events of that evening in 2012 probably would be much less clear. I attribute much of this to my own inexperience in this area—the investigating officers seem to have faced similar challenges. As the last person to conduct a similar investigation, I made myself available as a resource but was never contacted by anyone except the press. Had the Navy taken our team’s recommendation to install voice recorders on all ships, there would be audio of these two events to assist in the investigation and capture lessons. Learning occurs, but each team starts from scratch; we continue to repeat that process at our peril, unless we stand up a team of senior officers who are trained in the conduct of investigations and launch them for the next major event.

Jimmy: I saw a TV show about an investigative service in the Navy . . . if only that were real we could leverage their expertise. Okay, it also seems like Navy leadership poisoned the case by talking about who was responsible and what they thought should happen before the investigation was over.

John: Yeah, that would be Lesson Number Two. Don’t talk about it. In naval heritage, the captain is responsible for everything that happens on his or her ship. However, there is a different standard for legal liability, and any comments by anyone in the chain of command during the investigation about the presumed outcome are manna from heaven for the defense team. Again, our warfare professional leaders are not necessarily well-versed in this restriction, so perhaps adding lessons to the capstone course for flag officers would address this concern. It is human nature to answer questions, but as a mentor of mine once told me, it is good practice to “never resist the urge to say nothing.”

Jimmy: We seem pretty good at stiff arming the press when it suits us, so why not here? It almost seems like the Navy did it on purpose to promote a narrative of individual, vice systemic, accountability, even at the risk of unlawfully influencing the court martial. Do you think the Navy responded to political pressure to hold someone accountable?

John. This is a tough one, (especially coming from someone who never served in the Pentagon!) but Lesson Number Three is to try to avoid political pressure. I have seen several collisions and some loss of life in my 30 years of service, and a lot of us older folks felt that (as shown by the difficulty encountered in making the case) the charge of negligent homicide against the two ship leadership teams was a stretch; in fact I think (as Kevin Eyer stated in his article “Negligent Homicides: A Bridge Too Far”), it had to be apparent to the prosecution teams from the beginning that these charges would be impossible to prove. This may be standard practice, but it sure feels like the TV show “Law and Order” approach—to treat professional officers and chiefs who made mistakes like criminals and bully them into taking a lesser plea. In the end, to the layman here, it seems like the Navy drove the outcome by charging them with something that it knew was not reasonable and had no precedent—in a world where precedent is king. This was a safe bet for an environment in which individuals are raised on a relentless diet of taking personal responsibility—represented here as “doing the right thing.” It just does not feel “just.”

John: OK, my turn to ask the questions. What did you think about the way things played out from your active-duty vantage point?

Jimmy: I would probably say Lesson Number Four is don’t rush to judgment. In a desire to react quickly, several cases of nonjudicial punishment (NJP) were held by officers who later were subject to punishment themselves. The Navy badly miscalculated its Fitz response actions on many fronts when it announced 17 August 2017 that a round of firings and NJPs would occur on 18 Aug 2017, only to revisit all of them after the USS John S. McCain collision on 21 Aug 2017. What did that second collision have to do with the individual punishments from the Fitz? If they weren’t final, why were they announced? For those of us serving, the whole process was hard to follow. Granted, just because I’m a SWO doesn’t mean I deserve a play-by-play explanation, but if I’m expected to wait until final adjudication for a “debrief,” why was I being told right away by Navy leaders that the officers and crew were negligent? Then, in the end, there was no final adjudication, which was frustrating for me. I can’t even imagine how it felt for the families of the fallen.

Jimmy: What is your biggest concern for the future?

John: I think it is the lost opportunities for learning that we will never get back. Lesson Number Five. Be more transparent on the lessons learned.

Jimmy: Great point. Two years after these events, the public has learned more from ProPublica coverage than from the Navy about the human interactions and mechanical failures that caused these events to occur. Two years of mentor sessions have been held using incomplete data leading to negative learning and confusion in the fleet about what to do to prevent recurrence. It makes you wonder: are we really doing everything we can to prevent these tragedies from repeating?

John: You nailed it. I find it especially aggravating, having meticulously created a list of recommendations from the Porter collision that (still) have never seen the light of day, I am convinced that the filters applied by the “Comprehensive Review” (CR) and “Strategic Readiness Review” (SSR), however well intentioned, doomed some of the great ideas of the Fitz and JSM investigative teams to wither in oblivion. Even now, there is no consistent training session or consolidated lessons learned beyond the CR and SRR. For example, the Navy is putting commercial radars on the most sophisticated ships in the fleet to help them avoid collisions (this is an interesting commentary on the acquisition process, but beyond the scope of this conversation) but even more interesting is that, as I recall, the last ship to collide with a tanker—the Porter—had a similar radar and yet it didn’t prevent that event. So why would it do so now? After the Porter, the Navy implemented PQS and training on surface radars that was not there before. I have also not seen any accountability actions on the technical side, despite the fact that the CR and SR indicated significant shortfalls in technical design, operating procedures, training and maintenance supplied to the ships. Several bridge systems are not programs of record even today. Operators are easy targets for litigation, but it is tough to put a finger on a single individual in the technical side to “hold accountable.” This ongoing loss of learning opportunities is the most regrettable outcome of these legal proceedings, undermines a central tenet of the CR and SR, and was the motivation for this article.

Jimmy: A friend reminded me of the parallels to the two Boeing Max 8 collisions this past year, in which poor training and technical documentation may have contributed to the pilots’ inability to overcome the response of an automated system. In that case, it seems Boeing is being held collectively accountable for technical shortfalls, even though it’s probably impossible (nor warranted) to hold a single engineer or technician accountable.

John: My turn to ask a question. What message would you have for your senior leadership?

Jimmy: Send a consistent message. That would be Lesson Number Six. One senior leader tells congress “we have completed most of the steps” from the CR and another says we haven’t actually completed anything because we never truly will be “done.” One leader says that commanding officers should be given a medal if they push back based on their own risk assessment (i.e., “saying no”), another leader says if they can’t do it we will find someone (or some ship) who can. Talking points that prioritize “risk-taking” by afloat commanders should be reflected in accountability actions in collision cases—and articulated in terms of what to expect when risk is realized. From where I sit, waterfront leadership is skeptical of the Navy‘s commitment to truly learn from these mistakes and developing a culture of openness where saying no is a responsibility, not a career death sentence. Interestingly, the current Fitz CO is in the news for stopping work and calling out the shipyard for unsatisfactory fire safety . . . he doesn’t need a medal, but I’d love to see what affect that will have on his career (especially considering the urgency to complete maintenance on time). The public airing of the Navy’s letter of censure, listing charges as facts without a hearing, and the rebuttal letter by Commander Benson have been like watching a tennis match with no referee. Not following through with the court-martial left each of us to make our own conclusions, which doesn’t feel like the hallmark of a learning organization.

John: Quick note on the Fitz article—did you notice that it also says “the Navy has not released information about the root cause of impact of the OSCAR AUSTIN fire” that occurred back in November 2018? Another example of a potential opportunity missed to share lessons while litigation drags on and perhaps prevent a recurrence. That CO did exactly what the CR encouraged him to do, but the Navy failed to provide him with the lessons that he could have used to implement change. Not to mention the (very real) possibility that these safety issues in shipyards represent a larger systemic problem (see Lesson Five).

Jimmy: From down here in the arena, I have to agree on the skepticism. Anything else we are missing?

John: Yeah, now that you mention it —you gave me Lesson Number Seven. Consider the strategic context. Completely lost in all these conversations was the fact that for a ship in Seventh Fleet at this time, we were on the brink of war. North Korea was testing rockets and nuclear warheads that summer and the Commander-in-Chief was tweeting that any aggression would be met with “fire and fury.” Less than a year earlier, Navy ships came under missile attack in the Red Sea. The crews on these C7F ships believed they were in a similar position as a humvee commander driving through Afghanistan in a war zone. The Navy trains surface warriors to be just that and expects them to push the envelope to be prepared for a fight which, at that time and place, must have felt imminent. I have spent the night on a warship the evening before it launched Tomahawks and expected enemy counterattacks via missiles or mines. There is no way to replicate that feeling in a courtroom or living room. From what I saw in the legal process, there was no consideration of the mind-set of shipboard crews at the time. By the same token, public reporting has indicated a sense of complacency in some areas and toxic interpersonal relationships that contributed to watch standers not properly executing procedures that could have prevented the collision. This is tough to reconcile, but does not change the strategic context. I guess you never know how people are going to respond to stressors.

Before getting to the last lesson, a disclaimer: nothing here is intended to diminish the loss to the families and the Navy of 17 precious shipmates; as a former USS Cole (DDG-67) executive officer, I know this feeling all too well. If there is anything that could be done to honor the lives lost in 2017 and hold the organization accountable, it should be to build the learning organization the Navy claims to so vehemently desire and, instead of ticking items off a list that is now almost two years old, waking up each day and asking “what have we not thought of?” to prevent or mitigate another such catastrophe. The events of 2017 probably were avoidable but driving ships is a dangerous business—this also could happen to anyone in command, and any current or former commanding officer who thinks this could not happen on their watch is a fool—a dangerous one.

Jimmy: That’s a great point. I have always said that the learning of lessons should continue long after the events and their aftermath. The most important ones are often the hardest to see and take the most time to implement, but it’s worth the investment. There is a new Readiness Review Oversight Committee structure in place to do this, so hopefully it will work; after all, this is about the lives of our sailors and the accomplishment of our mission—to win our nation’s wars at sea. Any final thoughts?

John: One, Lesson Number Eight. Learn from this tragic event as an institution. Develop a set of preplanned legal and leadership responses. Statistically speaking, there will be another collision.

Jimmy: Yeah, from a legal standpoint, we pretty much blew it this time—let’s hope the Navy will look hard at the lessons to not just prevent collisions, but also invest in a plan to ensure accountability when one eventually does happen again.

 

Just to sum up:

Lesson Number One is the need for a cadre of professional investigators.

Lesson Number Two. Don’t talk about it.

Lesson Number Three is to try to avoid political pressure

Lesson Number Four is don’t rush to judgment

Lesson Number Five. Be more transparent on the lessons learned.

Lesson Number Six. Send a consistent message.

Lesson Number Seven. Consider the strategic context.

Lesson Number Eight. Learn from this tragic event as an institution.

 

A Man’s Guide to Leading Women in the Sea Services

in Leadership

This post originally appeared on the USNI Blog here.

Take a look at this picture.  This is (probably) a White House summit on women in the military.  Notice something about the people around the table? It’s pretty obvious who’s missing… that’s right, me!  Clearly, you men need my advice on how to lead women in the sea services.  Women are an important, congressionally-mandated part of our force, and we need to figure out how to lead them so they stay in the military and stop writing books.

Army Colonel Jo Rusin set the standard with his book “Women on Your Team: A Man’s Guide to Leading Women.”  Colonel Rusin lays it all out like only a man could do, so I thought I’d adapt the guide to a naval audience.  Now, we’ve all heard the terms “mansplain” and “hepeat,” which are blatant attempts to poke fun at men and undermine our authority.  Since these tried-and-true leadership techniques are under attack, here are some new tips for getting women to contribute to your lethality.

  1. Use their skills wisely. Don’t make them do things they’re not good at, like leadership and math.  Instead, assign them duties in line with their natural skill set, like coordinating social activities, to free up the men to do the hard work.
  2. Choose your language carefully. When communicating with women, replace aggressive or technical terms with emotional words. “This formation allows us to better ‘hug’ the hostile contact and make sure every ship feels supported and valued.”
  3. Be sure to incorporate women’s issues into your command philosophy. Think of things like wedding planning.
  4. Two words: intrusive leadership.
  5. Be careful with mission critical tasks. Remember, to a woman, naval service is just a hobby to give them a break from their work in the home.  So, at any moment, they might just abandon their shipmates and run home to their babies.  Thankfully, we men can tell our wives to take care of those pesky child care issues.  Plus, you never know what a woman will do to get out of work.
  6. Look after their mental health. Women making explosive claims could be suffering from hysteria.  Connect them with a mental health professional immediately.  If this hysteria spreads, the men will become confused and they may begin to question their own beliefs, which would impact their lethality.
  7. Treat them like family. It’s always best to impose your sense of morality and family values on your subordinates.  Treat women in your command like your daughters and wives.  If a sailor’s outfit on liberty makes you uncomfortable, make her change.  Have your Supply Officer stock these handy robes just in case.
  8. Show them you care. As with men, it’s important to let your female subordinates know you’re invested in them personally.  Ask her how the breastfeeding is going.  Tell her that perfume reminds you of your wife.  Forming that close personal bond will pay dividends.  Bonus: you might find out she’s totally into you!

So, gentlemen, hopefully with this guide you’ll be able to wh- oh, wait… shhhhhh!  Here they come!

 

(what?!? Colonel Rusin is a woman? Ugh, fire the Research Department!)

Hobson’s Revenge

in Leadership/Navy Stuff

This post originally appeared on the USNI Blog here.

The Navy has long held fast to the standard of accountability immortalized in Vermont Royster’s 1952 Wall Street Journal editorial, “Hobson’s Choice.” If you’re reading this blog, I assume you’ve read it. I want you to read it again. This time, focus not on the exaltation of the Navy’s “cruel” standard of accountability, but rather the condemnation of American society’s accountability. Royster wrote “all around us … we see the plea accepted that what is done is beyond discussion, and that for good men in their human errors there should be afterwards no accountability” and “almost everywhere we have abandoned accountability. What is done is done and why torture men with asking them afterward, why?”

Fast forward to 2019. Does American society look like it did in 1952? Do we have the same standard of accountability in our society? I suggest we do not. Men (and women) are now held publicly accountable for events that transpired decades ago. There is no statute of limitations in the #MeToo movement, the relative merits of which are outside the scope of this article (so don’t @ me). Across the country, police face a reckoning due to biased treatment of minorities, however widespread, with sometimes lethal consequences. Anyone in the public eye, from athletes to celebrities to politicians, is subject to their social history being excavated and brought to light, sometimes ending their careers (again, I am not weighing in on whether this is right or wrong). The simple fact is our society in 2019 displays a high sense of accountability, even to the point of mob rule in some cases.

How does Royster’s comparison of the Navy’s and the broader American society’s standard of accountability hold up in 2019? What would he write if he could update his iconic article today? I argue that, while accountability in our society has gradually risen, our Navy’s standard has remained static by canonizing the “Hobson’s Choice” concept of accountability. CAPT Michael Junge said it wonderfully on Strategy Bridge:

“Today he would likely write much as he did in 1969 and call for a public accounting of the continuing aftermath of the U.S. Navy’s terrible summer of 2017 … Fifty years ago, Vermont Royster wrote that “it may seem cruel, this tradition of asking good and well-intentioned men to account for their deeds.” This accounting should not stop with the commanders at sea, but should also go to actions ashore, including how incidents like this are handled, and learned from.”

Royster never meant to claim the Navy had a perfect sense of accountability, only that the Navy had a higher sense of accountability than American society in 1952, and rightfully so. Today, we still hold Commanding Officers of ships to the “Hobson’s Choice” standard, but we see all around us examples of wayward officers and sailors who benefit from the uniform they wear to evade public scrutiny or retire with full benefits. I believe, if not for the uniform, many of these shipmates would face a higher (or at least the same) standard of accountability from the American public. Is that the dynamic we in the Navy should strive for?

Which brings me to the final adjudication of the cases against the USS FITZGERALD CO, CDR Bryce Benson, and Tactical Action Officer, LT Natalie Combs. Last Wednesday, the Navy announced the Chief of Naval Operations will dismiss all charges against them, and the Secretary of the Navy will issue both a Letter of Censure. The officers were dismissed from their jobs, received non-judicial (administrative) punishment, and issued letters. That is a far cry from the original charges of negligent homicide, which arguably were always an overreach. The Navy certainly faced trouble in prosecuting these cases, and it may turn out we have more to learn from events after the collisions, than before. Still, is this accountability? According to USNI News, a letter sent to the families of the fallen “concludes with the service promising ‘to provide updates on significant information related to accountability actions and the Navy’s corrective measures to improve the safety and security of our people and our operations. Your loved ones did not die in vain; their legacy lives in the form of a stronger and more capable Navy.’”

What would Vermont Royster think? What do you think? I’ll finish with this: the day after the Navy announced final adjudication of the cases against Benson and Combs, we announced the nomination of the next CNO. Anyone casually following Navy news – not just a suspicious SWO – has to wonder whether the two announcements are related. It’s understandable that the current CNO would want to bring this saga to a close before the end of his term, but the obvious question now is: did career timing somehow factor into the final pursuit of justice and accountability? Even if not, the timing only serves to fuel the notion that our ideal of accountability at sea has devolved into complacency in accountability writ large. Our decades-long unquestioning devotion to “Hobson’s Choice” may now be having its inevitable revenge. Whether you believe individual or systemic accountability is most necessary, we are a now at risk of achieving neither. Perhaps it’s time we re-examine our venerated standard of accountability in the Navy.

Message to the Fleet: Go Lead Yourself!

in Leadership
Then-Capt. Hyman Rickover helps teach school on Okinawa in late 1945, shortly after Typhoon Louise destroyed his ship supply and repair depot. That was the closest he got to battle in World War II. The Navy considered his installation so non-essential that officials didn't even bother to repair it. He returned to the U.S. facing the dreariest duty imaginable, mothballing surplus warships. He'd spent 23 years in uniform and could've retired as an O-6 but then the iconoclastic and tireless skipper decided not only to lead himself but to become an important leader for his Navy and his nation. In 1946 he was one of five officers sent to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to study the idea of powering a submarine with atomic energy. Adm. Rickover retired in 1982 after 63 years in uniform with the moniker "Father of the Nuclear Navy." (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

This article originally appeared in Navy Times here.

Shipmates, if you’re waiting on inspirational leaders to reach out take you under their wing, you’re likely to be disappointed.

If you’re relying on Navy bureaucracy to take care of you and make it all better when things go south, you’re in for an even bigger disappointment.

Ours and future generations now own a Navy that grew accustomed to uncontested command of the seas while missing investment opportunities and maintaining a stagnant personnel management system.

We’ve become fixated on assigning blame, from top to bottom, but who will drive the ship if we’re all pointing fingers?

If you think anyone else is going to turn the ship around, I’ve only got one thing to say to you: You can go lead yourself.

We spend too much time talking about “ship, shipmate, self.”

We have to stop putting ourselves last and hoping our shipmates will hold out a lifeline at the last minute.

Yes, that’s the ideal but it needs to be the last resort. You are your own first line of defense. Go lead yourself.

You want that C-School opportunity? Find and meet the qualifications, fill out the paperwork, then go have a conversation with your supervisor.

You have problems at home? Be up front with your boss and tell him or her you need some time to sort things out, and seek out the resources on the ship and on base to help you through hard times. They’re waiting for you!

You’re not getting support from your chain of command? Try to figure out why and adapt your approach, and then reach out to someone else if you need to do that!

Officers, you’re not off the hook either.

How are you going to maintain credibility with your sailors if you can’t take care of your personal responsibilities?

Can’t make liberty expiration on time or pass the PFA? Go lead yourself.

Stressed? We all feel stress, and it’s no excuse. Get the help you need so you can lead your sailors.

At the same time, look out for your shipmates, but don’t be that officer that gives everything for their shipmates at the expense of their own well-being.

And don’t be afraid of things like failure, risk, and accountability.

Our Navy leaders are putting the ball in our court by saying things like the base housing crisis is a result of deckplate leadership failures.

I’ve got a few things to say about that, but it’s not a battle worth fighting here. Answer the call by rooting out problems, and voicing the ones you can’t solve with the resources you have.

You might get ignored or told to pack sand, but your problems definitely won’t get any better by pretending they don’t exist.

Look at what happened to the guided-missile destroyers John S. McCain and Fitzgerald. A few people did voice their concerns in the years before the collisions, but obviously not loudly or often enough.

If you can’t get your ship underway safely, or you can’t operate your equipment proficiently within specifications, you need to speak up. Don’t live in fear of a “fail to sail” or a CASREP. Fix her up, get the training, move on.

When the Fleet Forces Commander tells us he’ll find ships to get underway if we can’t do it, he’s doing his job. Our job is to get our ships underway safely to go fight and win our nation’s wars at sea, not to just get our ships underway.

Do your job and trust your shipmates will do theirs.

If you think “Big Navy” is going to improve on its own, you are sadly mistaken.

If you even believe in the idea of “Big Navy,” you are fooling yourself. The Navy is just you and your shipmates working hard to accomplish the mission.

The Navy does have great leaders, and they can make teams out of individual sailors, but not if everyone is waiting for someone to solve their problems for them.

We all need to be leaders, and it starts when we look in the mirror every morning. Your top responsibility is staring right back at you. Go lead yourself.

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!

Orders to the Helm?

in Leadership

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

Hello again. In case we haven’t met yet: I’m a snarky young whippersnapper who thinks the war on millennials, the Navy’s personnel management system, and its stance on medical marijuana/cannabis for veterans are ridiculous. Now, I want to set a more serious tone and discuss one of the Navy’s favorite topics: leadership. I know what you’re thinking…what’s a millennial going to teach me about leadership? This guy’s been in the Navy since breakfast. He’s never had command, he doesn’t understand it, and his opinions aren’t needed. Well, I’ve observed a few things since I finished my avocado toast this morning, and I don’t really care whether you want my opinion or not. Here it comes.

There’s a pretty big difference between how the Navy talks about leadership and how it leads. The Navy talks a lot about character, ethics, and mentorship. Take a look at the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral John Richardson’s Naval Leadership Development Framework. It sounds a lot like servant leadership, but officers who are particularly good at this brand of leadership are not the ones we tend to promote to the highest levels. Why? Maybe it comes down to results. The proof is in the pudding. How many Battle E’s did your ship win? How did you perform on deployment? How did INSURV go? Crew advancement and retention numbers certainly are key metrics, but generally they are secondary to more warfighting-focused areas . . . and that’s not wrong. After all, warfighting is the mission. Its why we’re all here. But what happens when leaders get scope-locked on results?

Likewise, the CNO’s framework, and its many predecessors, aren’t bad either. The problem is the Navy pays them lip service. We say one thing and do another. A vice admiral (who since put on a fourth star) once told me and an auditorium full of prospective department heads (oooh . . . identity teaser!) that we were all “fungible.” To be honest, I had to look it up: easily replaced, essentially interchangeable. Needless to say, I didn’t feel very valued as an individual. Maybe that’s OK. Maybe we surface warfare officers (SWOs) do need to “suck it up” a little and just do their jobs, which is to lead. So, was I supposed to mentor and develop my junior SWOs individually? Or just teach them that they are interchangeable, and they need to put their heads down and focus on the next inspection? Or maybe I’m supposed to develop my subordinates individually while acknowledging that I’m the one that has no unique value? How do we sustain such a dichotomy? That’s like Santa Claus for kids. Eventually, they grow up and you either tell them it was all made up, or they figure it out for themselves. The message is clear: we told you we cared about you because you were a young ensign and that was a lie you needed to hear. You’re getting older now, so shut up and get to work!

So, why doesn’t the Navy abandon the servant-leadership myth and embrace the results-based leadership it tacitly promotes? Well, for starters, it’s not working. It doesn’t take Corbett or Mahan to look at the state of the Navy, particularly the surface force, and know there is a problem. The tragic collisions of 2017 were just the latest symptoms. Farsi Island incident ring a bell? Ever heard of Fat Leonard? Even the 2016 SM-2 intercept of cruise-missile attacks by USS Mason (DDG-87) can’t be celebrated. The other DDG in company didn’t even see the missiles. Fifty percent ain’t good. Not to mention the Navy’s well-documented struggles to keep up with deployment schedules amid maintenance delays and constant operational demand. Dynamic Force Employment won’t fix everything. Not without a healthy cultural overhaul. Decades of resource and demand imbalance on leaders gave birth to a cultural rot in the Navy, forcing officers more and more just to do what it takes to get the job done, leaving little room for training, development, wellness and other tenets of the leadership models the service so proudly touts.

How long will the Navy keep trying to stuff more you-know-what in that five-pound sack? Now, even rebalancing resources with demand won’t be enough. Much like black mold, cultural rot must be addressed directly and eradicated, sometimes taking the structure down with it. Some of the Navy’s sharpest young officers already are tackling the cultural rot from the fleet, by breaking down the barriers between warfighting communities and more widely sharing knowledge. Unfortunately, the other communities may not be as welcoming of a surface force so plagued with problems. To be sure, there will be no substitute for good old-fashioned hard work. Even a millennial can see that. It also will require some senior admirals publicly addressing the problem and acknowledging that it may take as much time to fix as it took to develop. It likely won’t be solved on their watch. I’m not holding my breath.

Remember, it’s all about results.

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