Dissecting the Academy Awards

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Just yesterday, a Texas jury returned a guilty verdict in Eddie Ray Routh’s murder trial. Routh was accused, and has now been convicted, of murdering former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefied. To the extent that I can be made happy by a just ending to an awful event that saw the end of two innocent lives, I am pleased by the verdict. Yesterday’s courtroom news stirred my brain and brought to mind a few important points. Firstly, don’t commit a crime in Texas and hope that you will be found innocent because someone picked on you in middle school. It won’t play out that way. Secondly, we, as in none of us, have spent enough time talking about Chad Littlefield. I know nothing about him except that he was close with Chris Kyle. The impact of a man’s death has nothing to do with his fame or fortune. Children’s tears are no less salty; the emptiness in the hearts of family members are no less cavernous. Thirdly, I’m not done with the Oscars. I thought I was. I’m not. I have some lingering bitterness.

You must know that I don’t care about the Academy Awards, nor do I care about any awards focused on the entertainment industry. They are nothing more than self-administered adulation that serves only to prop up the very industry that puts them on your television. Talk about a self-licking ice cream cone. This is an ice cream cone that builds its own ingredients from scratch, pieces them together, promotes the product, sells it at a premium, and then reviews the results. You don’t even get a vote. No one cares what you thought about the ice cream cone. The ice cream cone will tell you how good the ice cream cone was, thank you. External inputs are neither required nor desired.

I do not hesitate to admit that movies can be a very powerful social force. Some people lack the ability to immerse themselves in reading. That comment is not intended as slander. These aren’t lazy or intellectually bankrupt people; they simply don’t get enveloped by stories that appear in written form. Movies, on the other hand, provide a visual representation of the story that is unavoidable. You can put a book on the night-stand. You can’t hide from the visceral reaction stirred by moving pictures. Although I’ve read books that were haunting, they never scared me. I’ve seen movies that prevented a good night’s rest for weeks. They require us to see the world through a different lens, and I think we are the better for it. I relish the perspective they provide. “Philadelphia” helped us understand the plight of those afflicted with AIDS. “Roots” helped us understand the long-term effects of oppressing an entire demographic.

Movies are a part of our social fabric, and they should be celebrated. Most Hollywood moguls, while reminding the viewing public that what they create is art, would wholeheartedly agree. They will also remind you that you can’t judge or grade art. Scoring and ranking systems represent no more than an affront, yet, those same moguls are obviously more than happy to mug on the red carpet and accept statues that symbolize their superiority. Doc Holliday said it best: “My hypocrisy knows no bounds”.

I did not want to watch the Academy Awards. They were just on. You’re going to have to accept that. I did not watch them in their entirety. I saw just enough to remember why I don’t watch them. The unsolicited commentary from the buffoons who win these awards is simply too much to bear. What leads them to believe that we want their advice is a complete mystery to me. You make the movies. You act in the movies. We pay for and watch the movies. End of story. The fact that you suddenly have a microphone in your face and an impromptu world-wide audience should not compel you to explain to me how things should be. Just collect your award, thank your family and your agent, and be on your way. Your opinions on current events and social injustice mean less to me than an atheist’s thought’s on when you should open Christmas presents.

From Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu:

“I want to dedicate this award to my fellow Mexicans, the ones who live in Mexico. I pray that we can find and build the government that we deserve. And the ones that live in this country, who are part of the latest generation of immigrants, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation.”

Thanks, Alejandro. Clearly this country has been a difficult adjustment for you. As it pertains to the Mexican government, I completely agree. Just make sure you check with all of the policemen whose families were murdered by drug kingpins to get their take.

From Laura Poitras, who directed the documentary “Citizenfour” about our national hero Edward Snowden:

“The disclosures that Edward Snowden reveals don’t only expose a threat to our privacy but to our democracy itself. When the most important decisions being made affecting all of us are made in secret, we lose our ability to check the powers that control.”

Thanks, Laura. When I want advice about what type of film to use in low-light environments, I’ll give you a call. Your feelings about treasonous acts don’t interest me in the least.

From Patricia Arquette:

“To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation. We have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all. And equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

Thanks, Patricia. Take out an ad in the paper so I don’t have to listen to you. Your net worth is $24M. I think you can cover the tab, even if your male counterparts are making more.

American Sniper, by far the most successful movie of the year, came away mostly empty. Bradley Cooper? Nothing. Clint Eastwood? Nothing. The movie? Best sound editing. Best effing sound editing. Top honors instead went to “Birdman”, directed by Inarritu.

There were eight movies nominated for Best Picture. Confession: I have not seen most of them. It is therefore quite possible that the best movie won and all the awards went to their rightful place. I’m still left with the impression that “American Sniper” was a purposeful snub. Am I just a whiny victim of chafing? Perhaps. I can’t be alone. Sniper grossed more money than six of the other seven nominees combined. While these awards have nothing to do with box office receipts, they are a good indication of what the viewing public thought of the movie. It’s not as if Sniper was a mind-less war-flick with nifty action scenes. It was much more, as anyone who saw it will readily attest.

Then again, maybe I’m the stereotype – the guy who just doesn’t appreciate true art. I don’t think that’s the case, but if it is, I can live with it. I know for certain that I won’t watch the Oscars next year, even if it requires full retreat with a book and a glass of wine to avoid the television. My hypocrisy only goes so far.

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Victory Through Combat, not PowerPoint

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It was not long before my arrival at the crystal palace, where water turns into wine and all is right with the world, that lectures were presented on slides. Actual slides. The ones that went click, click, click in the feeder, only to be interrupted by an occasional jam. A gifted instructor could un-jam the slide projector without flinching or breaking stride. If you weren’t watching closely, you might not even know it had happened. PowerPoint took over as technology advanced. Not everyone was enthralled. Manual slides took time, energy and money to alter, which meant that the staff was quicker to accept the media and focus on other, more important matters. Once corrections required no more than a click of the mouse and a few taps on the keyboard, it was on. By that I mean, it was on. For only a great fool fails to realize that 5 lbs. is more properly written as 5 lb. Plural is assumed and the period is entirely gratuitous. This, and other similarly contested topics, became the source of great debate and a prelude to near-fisticuffs. I jest not.

Fast forward just shy of two decades, and our new Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, has summoned 30-plus high-ranking military officers and diplomats to Kuwait in order to discuss our nation’s strategy, namely that we don’t have one. I gather they’ll get to that. I had the pleasure of briefing Dr. Carter once. He is very smart, energetic, and engaged. I hope he can accomplish a great deal before getting sideways with the White House administration.

Interestingly, what’s grabbing headlines is not the existence of a pending summit, but instead the Secretary’s edict that the event be PowerPoint-free. While it’s a commendable proclamation, I’m not fawning quite yet. It was a heart of the envelope shot, not unlike using a fart-noise to make a 7-year-old giggle. It works every time.

This odd turn forced me to think. It took me very little time to conclude that our angst toward PowerPoint is entirely misplaced. It is great software. It is powerful. It is simple to use. In the right hands, it is elegant. Yet somehow, we blame it for all of our staff-work woes. It has grown into a symbol of all that is wrong with bureaucracy, The Man, the Bobs, and everyone in between. But PowerPoint isn’t the enemy. We are. This crisis is completely man-made. Instead of accepting the blame and fixing the problem, we found an inanimate object and made it a scapegoat. How convenient. I have news for you. If you can’t routinely drain a two-footer, your problem isn’t your putter, it’s the guy holding it.

I offer the following advice, for my usual fee, so that we might collectively take ownership of our ability (or inability) to engage an audience.

1. When you finish making your slides, figure out a way to remove 30- to 50-percent of them. You made too many. I promise. I understand that you want to cover everything. I applaud you for it. But by attempting to cover everything you will lose sight of what’s important, and so will your audience. If you inundate them with material, they will only grasp one-half of what you present. Do you want to decide which half they grasp or would you rather leave it to chance?

2. When you are building a power point slide, you should act as though you are being charged an exorbitant sum for every single character or pixel that shows up on the screen. Every single one. If it looks like this…

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…or this…

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…you have failed miserably. Not even the dude in the back of the room with the Coke-bottle glasses who helped build the slides knows what they are trying to convey. Make no more than three points per slide. The people listening to you are really only worried about what they are going to have for lunch or when they might squeeze in a workout.

3. Based on point 2 above, why on God’s green earth would anyone every build a quad-slide, and who came up with this ridiculous invention?! Stop inventing things no one needs. One PowerPoint slide is bad enough. Please don’t carve it into four mini-slides.

4. A power point presentation was never meant to stand on its own. The slides are only there to guide you. If the audience can read copies of your slides and glean just as much as they would have had you presented them, you are a horrible briefer and you are wasting people’s time. Consider seppuku.

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Consider distributing handouts with more specifics and detailed information after your brief. Let the audience know that you will do this before or during your brief so they will relax and listen. Should you find yourself muttering these words: “I won’t insult your intelligence; you can read the information on this slide just as well as I can,” you’ve essentially told everyone how unimportant you are to the learning process. Back to seppuku for you.


PowerPoint is an easy target. It is a crutch that has made us all lazy, but it does not deserve the scorn that should instead be reserved for those who’ve endorsed its misuse, either implicitly or explicitly. it is a poor craftsman indeed who blames his tools.

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Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

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According to a study conducted by two PhDs at the Army’s Strategic Studies Institute, Army Officers struggle with routine honesty. Deeper investigation reveals a plot not nearly as nefarious as it looks on the surface. It remains, however, worthy of discussion, as evil has a host in more than just those who occasionally play loose with the truth. Although the results of this study might be troubling, I’m not ready to concede that it’s a crisis in the making. Instead, this is a human condition that has found a way to co-exist inside a system that is terrifically unrealistic.

The suffocating amount of mandatory requirements imposed upon units has been well documented—units and individuals are literally unable to complete the demands placed upon them. Given that it is impossible to comply with every requirement, how do units and individuals reconcile the impossible task of accomplishing all requirements with a bureaucracy that demands confirmation that every directive was accomplished?

In discussions across the force addressing this question, officers usually began with bold declarations such as the captain who emphatically stated, “Never intentionally have I said, ‘Yes, we’re 100% on this,’ when I knew we weren’t.” After a few minutes into the discussion, however, hints would inevitably emerge that there was more to the situation. For example, one senior officer stated, “You find ways to qualify your answer. It’s not quibbling—it’s assuming risk.” Eventually phrases such as, “You gotta make priorities, we met the intent, or we got creative” would surface to sugarcoat the hard reality that in the routine performance of their duties as leaders and commanders, U.S. Army officers often resort to evasion and deception.

That doesn’t exactly sound as if we’re living under a mountain of sin, does it?

I’m not suggesting that lying is acceptable, or that keeping your integrity intact is only a part-time requirement. We’ve all been taught that we can never compromise our integrity lest it become something that hurts less each time en route to becoming a habit. We’ve also been taught not to justify minor breaches of integrity, for they inevitably grow into an all-out collapse. In other words, the “white lie” is but a banana peel on the edge of the pit of malicious deception.

These concepts make good bumper-stickers, but they mask a level of complexity that’s exposed in the harsh light of reality, and reality bites, Winona Ryder. Before you burn me at the stake, tell me that you have never…

  • Added a minute or two of flight time to squeeze out that extra 0.1 hours.
  • Told your mom how much you like the sweater she bought you.
  • Given a #1 EVAL/FITREP to someone who was clearly not #1.
  • Marked 1-2 drinks per week on your medical screening form. 1-2 per hour? Perhaps.
  • Told the Admiral what a great plan he just briefed while the word “idiot” swirls around your brain in an endless loop.
  • Inflated operational readiness ratings to prevent push-back from the boss.
  • Told a subordinate “We’ll look into it” when you knew darn well that you weren’t going to look into it.
  • Compressed SAPR training from 4 hours to 1 hour and reported full compliance to the chain of command.

We’re all sinners, you see.

The psychological distance between a person and the consequences of a dishonest act can also influence ethical fading. A moral decision can lose its ethical overtones if the eventual repercussions of such a choice are either unknown or minimized. For example, it is a common perception that much of the information submitted upward disappears into the ether of the Army bureaucracy and therefore truthfulness is often not a major consideration.

While officers can offer a wide assortment of justifications for unethical behavior, one rationalization appears to underlie all other rationalizations—that dishonesty is often necessary because the directed task or the reporting requirement is unreasonable or “dumb.” When a demand is perceived as an irritation, a person’s less-than-honest response almost becomes a compensatory act against the injustice. As one officer stated, “I think some expectation of equivocation is accepted on dumb things.”

I won’t speak for you because it would be unfair. Your humble scribe feels as though that last paragraph was aimed directly at him. Do you want ten glossy copies of my TPS reports or a unit that is fully prepared to vanquish the enemy in combat? That’s what I thought. I’m actually doing The Man a favor by pencil-whipping the TPS reports and focusing on that which really matters. I am Robin Hood. My misdeeds serve a greater good and a higher purpose.

What is worse, accepting half-truths as a necessary business practice or the system that demands you do just that in order to survive?

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Changes to the LCDR Selection Process

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Perhaps you recall the aviation bloodbath that was the Fiscal Year 2015 O-4 (Line Officer) promotion board? Other warfare communities fared quite well. Those whose officer careers began with a stint in Pensacola did not fare so well. We wrote about this debacle extensively, starting with Throwing Blind Darts, here in this particular ready room. The ensuing discussion lasted for weeks.

As a reminder:

To say that the outcome is staggering is a massive understatement. Kinda like saying “the sun is hot”. The selection rate for Naval Flight Officers was 49-percent. The selection rate for Naval Aviators? They fared much better at 56-percent.

Using the Navy’s criteria for determining selection rates, this is how the other warfare communities broke-out.

1110 (Surface Warfare) – 93-percent

1120 (Submarine) – 96-percent

1130 (SEAL) – 90-percent

The sub community had 62-percent of its above-zone eligibles select for promotion. In summary, you were better off at this board as a once-passed-over submariner than you were as an in-zone Naval Aviator or Naval Flight Officer.

As another reminder, please note that the O-4 promotion board is not a force shaping tool. Line officers compete openly with other line officers in different communities. No one stands at the front of the room and says, “Okay, folks. We need 350 aviators to make O-4 in order to fill all of next year’s aviation Department Head vacancies.” It is possible, however unlikely, that every eligible officer from one community would select for promotion while zero eligible officers from another community would select for promotion. This has nothing to do with minimum service requirements, retention, or the Designated Hitter rule. It took us an eon to get out that rabbit hole previously.

If you are one who believes the Navy got it wrong, and I am, you’re not alone. Someone noticed.

The Navy has made some changes to its officer promotion board process following complaints and criticisms that the most recent board disproportionately failed to promote aviators from lieutenant to lieutenant commander — compared with promotions of submariners and surface warfare officers.

The service is working to ensure they identify the right number of vacancies for lieutenant commander positions and solidify the number of billets available, said Cmdr. Chris Servello, spokesman for the Chief of Naval Personnel.

I’m not quite ready to celebrate like it’s 1999, but this is positive movement. Acknowledging that you have a problem is the first step, right? Identifying vacancies and solidifying billets sounds good. What impact it will have remains to be seen. Surely we have a good estimate for these numbers going into the board, or one would think.

However, the Navy plans to promote a higher percentage of lieutenants in the upcoming selection board. The average promotion of lieutenants over the last two years has been right around 70 percent, Servello said. “Next year will be 80 percent to get some of those that we missed.”

In addition to more informative and insightful community briefs delivered with hurricane force, an 80-percent selection rate will be a tremendous boost. Although I’m not convinced it will be enough to pick up all the talent left on last year’s cutting room floor, it’s a good start, and one we shouldn’t be afraid to celebrate, even if mildly.

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2014 Aviation Battle Efficiency Award Winners

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VFA(C): VFA-37 / VFA-113

VFA(E/F): VFA-213 / VFA-27

VAQ: VAQ-134 / VAQ-141

VAW: VAW-124 / VAW-115

HS/HSC: HSC-9 / HSC-15

HSL EXP: HSM-46 / HSM-51

HSC EXP: HSC-28 / HSC-25

VP: VP-8 / VP-9

VAQ EXP: VAQ-132

HSM: HSM-70 / HSM-77

HM: HM-15

VQ/VPU: VQ-1

VQ TACAMO: VQ-4

VRC: VRC-40


I would be lying if I didn’t say I’ve always viewed the Battle E as mostly a “This squadron deployed and flew a lot of hours” award, but that shouldn’t take anything away from the winners. I hope those on the list take advantage of the opportunity to hold their chins a little higher and puff their chests out a little further. It’s a great chance to share in a good news story with your sailors and let them enjoy public acknowledgment of their accomplishments.

 

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Why I Won’t Miss Jon Stewart

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I predict that a large number of people, if not a majority, will either dislike this post or disagree with its contents. Those numbers will be biased to the under-35 crowd, and that’s fine. Some have already decided to hate this post based on the title alone. If you are one of them, you are making my point for me.

Far too many people already know what they want to believe, and what they are supposed to believe based on the system in which they are entrenched. At that point, it’s just a matter of feeding them the expected nourishment so they can build battlements around their camp and concentrate its core. We are not closing any gaps; we are widening them. One perspicacious reader pointed out to me that search engines have exacerbated the problem. How? They know your tendencies. They know what you like. They prioritize search results to steer you toward content that suits your historical profile. If you hang out at 9/11-truther websites, you won’t get many links that send you to the Drudge Report. Instead, you get more “nourishment” that keeps you squarely in your swim-lane. Don’t hang on the ropes, please.

I like Jon Stewart. He is very charming and witty. He certainly appears well-educated. I would be happy to play a round of golf with him. I would thoroughly enjoy a night of clubbing in Manhattan with him, Tom Brady, and Justin Timberlake. We would have a grand time. I’m sure of it. And just for one night, because of the handsome fellas in my company, I might not even have to worry about the ladies being all up in my business.

So what’s my problem with Stewart? I don’t have a problem with Stewart. I’m just telling you why I won’t miss him on The Daily Show, and the reason I won’t miss him on the Daily Show is because he is a part of the aforementioned problem. A big part.

Stewart sycophants will tell you that he is just a well-reasoned guy who dishes it out to those on both sides of the aisle, and that he does nothing more than seek out hypocrisy and idiocy in order to hold it up for public ridicule. That may be, but if you think he is dishing it out evenly, you are delusional. There is an occasional jab at Dianne Feinstein or the like, but those are token gestures, eagerly gobbled up by the “conservative political pundit” played by Stephen Colbert. Rest assured that he is not there to paint Republicans in a positive light.

Part of Stewart’s brilliance is his ability to seamlessly weave between the roles of commentator and comedian. There should be no question in your mind that he wants to be taken seriously in the political landscape. He clearly relishes the influence he holds over his fan-base. But when he’s cornered, or when someone takes him to task, he morphs back into a comedian. “I’m just a comedian, you see. After all, my show is on Comedy Central.” I’ve seen him employ this ruse in interviews to great effect. His counterpart doesn’t know if he’s participating in an episode of Meet the Press or if puppets are going to drop down from the ceiling.

I get that people think Stewart is funny. The problem is that those who think he is funny are already bought and paid for. They have long since signed up to follow his ideology, which is why they laugh at his material. That’s the only reason they see it as comedy. They aren’t there to see Stewart mock Obamacare or joke about the wind-bag Harry Reid. They want nourishment. I’m in the blue line on the left. Feed me, please. Got any George W. Bush jokes? Of course he does. Stewart recently made a hilarious comment about the irony of Brian Williams being the only person held accountable for lying about the war in Iraq. Get it?! Bush lied, people died. When you’re in a pinch, just go to the battle-tested standby.

I have tried to watch The Daily Show dozens of times. I have given it an honest effort to make sure I’m not being closed-minded and hence missing something both wonderful and enlightening. I’ve never made it through an entire episode. I simply can’t do it. In spite of my earnestness, I can’t see it as anything but more polarizing dialogue. Everyone tuned in already knows what they want to hear. As I’ve said before, we seek affirmation, not information. It’s not about exploring new ideas, it’s about fortifying the ideas we already have. We seek not to challenge our beliefs, but rather to take solace and comfort in the fact that others share them. Don’t you see? I was right all along. Jon Stewart just said so, and everyone laughed.

We need to do better, or the bedrock of our entire political system will be exposed as a fraud.

Photo Credit: www.salon.com

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Propaganda and Lessons Not Learned

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My assumption for this post is that there is a knowledge baseline regarding the ongoing saga that surrounds Fat Leonard, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, and the US Navy. If my assumption is incorrect, you can get a primer here. It’s not the whole story, but you’ll get the basic idea. There have been a handful of charges and arrests, followed by an almost equal number of plea bargains. There are also many others who are wading in the nebulous cesspool that is purgatory – neither heaven nor hell. While they have not been charged with anything, they are not free to go and they are not free to continue forward with their careers. They are tumbling in a timeless abyss with no expiration date. No one tells them anything. Meanwhile, prosecutors and journalists are looking to make a name for themselves and leave a permanent mark on their professions.

There are other ugly facets of this fiasco. The Navy’s Senior Intelligence Officer still does not have a security clearance, yet somehow remains in his job. Sympathy for the N2’s plight aside, this is a courtesy that has not been afforded numerous others. And then there is the appearance of outright deception.

Linked here is the official Navy press release – as in navy.mil – for the July 2014 US Naval Academy change of command ceremony.

The U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) held a change of command ceremony July 23 in Annapolis, Maryland.

Vice Adm. Walter E. “Ted” Carter Jr. relieved Vice Adm. Michael Miller, becoming the 62nd academy superintendent.

Carter, a native of Burrillville, Rhode Island, served as president of the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, before he was nominated in June as the next superintendent. A career naval aviator, he graduated from the Naval Academy in 1981.

Miller, a native of Minot, North Dakota, and 1974 USNA graduate, retired at the ceremony, completing 40 years of active duty naval service.

It’s a compelling story, but it’s not the whole story, and parts of it are completely untrue. From Defense News:

Except that when the hoopla died down, Miller wasn’t allowed to leave the service just yet. Even though his official online biography reads “retired,” he’s still being carried on the Navy’s active-duty rolls — at a reduced two-star level. And although he has no specific job — or billet, in Navy-speak — he counts against the service’s allocated total of 219 admirals.

You have a three-star Admiral who was supposed to be retiring, but did not retire, and I’m supposed to believe that no one knew? Not one single person who reviewed an official CHINFO press release knew that the Admiral was not retiring. Rubbish. I don’t buy it. Transparency can’t be a part-time attribute; it has to be a full-time commitment. We can’t selectively decide to protect people’s privacy. That ship has sailed. Either put it back in the harbor or let it stay on course. Rocking side-to-side with the power-plant shut down is the worst possible option.

Tailhook ’91 offered many lessons. I can’t tell you how many of them could be categorized as lessons learned. One that stood out to me, but apparently not to the current Secretary of the Navy, was the loss of faith created by the long list of those whose careers reached a mandated dead-end in spite of the fact that they were never so much as charged with any wrongdoing.

Which once again places us squarely at a crossroads. Either levy charges against these “suspects” or let them go. I know “these things take time”, and I don’t care. It’s been a year and a half since the public was made aware of this investigation. It started long before then. I’m not advocating for an end to the investigation. That’s not going to happen. I am advocating for an end to the second and third-order effects of this madness and the stranglehold they are putting on the Navy.

The Statute of Limitations for any type of Non-Judicial Punishment (Admiral’s Mast / Captain’s Mast / Office Hours) has long since passed. In some cases, we are talking about events that occurred more than a decade ago. This is currently a Department of Justice investigation, so If someone has committed a crime, they do not have to be in the Navy in order to be charged. If they are in the Navy, then Court Martial is an option. Otherwise, if we’re just talking about people who paid $50 for a dinner that might have cost $100, this is a self-inflicted wound of epic proportion.

Carter also stressed the importance of character development in the training of future leaders.

“Character matters. It is the most important element of ethical leadership. It is needed today more than ever before,” said Carter. “Building a strong foundation of character will shape the midshipmen’s individual decision making. It will prepare them to become the next great generation of Americans who will persevere where and when America needs them the most.”

I concur. Honor, courage, commitment. Do the right thing. (Insert similar platitude). It’s time.


Editor’s Note: In the name of full disclosure, I’ve worked with Admiral Miller and think very highly of him.

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House Veterans’ Affairs Committee

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Thanks to reader TH, we have a unique opportunity to provide inputs to a very important issue – Veterans’ Affairs.

Kathleen Rice is a freshman Congresswoman representing New York’s 4th District. She was appointed to serve on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. The aforementioned reader was asked to sit on her veterans advisory council, and they are meeting with Congresswoman Rice in the near future to begin addressing the matters deemed most important. If you are willing, we get to be part of the conversation.

Given that introduction, what veterans’ issues are most important to you? I’d ask that you hang some flesh on the bone. Meaning, instead of just saying “healthcare”, I’d rather you say “timely access to affordable healthcare” or “limited co-pays on prescription drugs”, etc. Don’t worry about attaching money to these initiatives as a way of ranking them. This is simply a conversation starter. Therefore, if GI Bill education benefits are most important to you, please so state.

A brief reminder: if you are serving on active duty right now, you are a veteran, even though many of your VA benefits are not yet available to you. This isn’t just for those of us who go lawn bowling on the weekends. I jest. My lawn bowling membership doesn’t start until August.

And….. go. Let’s hear it.

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Hey, About Those Sea Dragons

HM-14_InsigniaNot terribly long ago, we had a discussion about this particular airframe, its woes, and the tragic fallout. For some, these discussions will never end. I must admit I thought this topic would go quiet for a spell. Maybe even a long spell. Not so much.

More than a year after a Navy helicopter crashed off the coast of Virginia, killing three crew members, high-ranking military officials are worried not enough has been done to prevent a similar tragedy, according to confidential documents obtained by The Virginian-Pilot.

After an MH-53E Sea Dragon caught fire and went down on Jan. 8, 2014, the military ordered crews to inspect all Sea Dragons in the fleet – and every CH-53E Super Stallion, the Marine Corps variant – for signs of damaged fuel lines and wires like those that caused the crash.

There’s now evidence that many of those inspections were conducted haphazardly, if at all, leaving dozens of potentially unsafe helicopters in service and sending officials scrambling to come up with a plan to fix the problems, according to a chain of emails circulating last week among leaders at Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), the Maryland-based office that oversees all Navy and Marine Corps aircraft programs.

“Please close hold this information and do not forward,” a Marine officer wrote at the start of one email about the shortcomings of last year’s inspections. “Engineering is very concerned. … We don’t need another mishap as a result of chafing wiring on a fuel line.”

“We don’t need another mishap as a result of chafing wiring on a fuel line.” Concur. Wholeheartedly concur. What troubles me – the whole thing troubles me, but more specifically – is the stark disparity between this officer’s concern and this officer’s request. I fully understand the concept of close hold information. I’ve used it many times and I still use it. But in this situation, you are dealing with improperly executed inspections of an observed fault with potentially catastrophic consequences. Consequences that have already been realized at least once. Close hold no longer applies. Even if it did, it would be a much lower priority than ensuring the safety of aircraft being operated by great Americans.

Brief tutorial for non-aviators: There are a number of ways to discover a chronic mechanical problem with an aircraft. Sometimes a young Sailor recognizes it and reports it, and others do likewise until someone recognizes a pattern. Sometimes it’s fallout from a mishap. Sometimes an engineer has an epiphany and realizes his previous calculations were wrong. If NAVAIR determines that the fault’s severity and likelihood is below a certain threshold, they will direct inspection or repair inside a window. Inspection must occur within the next 50 hours of flight time, for example. Faults that exceed the aforementioned threshold for severity and likelihood are called a “red-stripe”, so named for the actual red-stripe that adorns the accompanying paperwork. This means that the aircraft are all down until detailed steps are completed. The impact of these decisions and the ensuing procedures should be obvious, even if you’ve never even been a passenger in an airplane, much less a pilot.

Bottom line up front, Vanderborght (Sea Dragon and Super Stallion Program Director) wrote to begin the slides: “The risk of cabin fire was not mitigated and the hazard of chafing on fluid-carrying lines and wires was not eliminated.”

Did you hear the needle scratch its way across the face of the record? Risk not mitigated. Hazard not eliminated. If that’s true, and I can only assume it is because a program director would never address such a serious situation with levity or satire, I can’t possibly fathom why the next step wasn’t to down the fleet. Yet…..

The internal emails and documents sound an alarming tone, yet more than two weeks after the discrepancies were discovered, Sea Dragons and Super Stallions continue flying here, at bases across the country and overseas. Further, there is little indication that maintenance crews who work on the helicopters or sailors who fly them have been fully briefed on the matter.

They haven’t been fully briefed on the matter because it’s embarrassing. NAVAIR predicted that a properly conducted wiring / fuel line inspection would take 36 hours. Many of the inspections were conducted in less than three hours. That is well outside what I would expect to be a standard deviation.

In a statement Thursday, Rear Adm. J.R. Haley, commander of Naval Air Force Atlantic, said he is confident in the Navy’s ability to ensure Sea Dragons are safe to fly and trusts the service’s “culture of safety,” which gives even junior pilots authority to demand that repairs be made if they are uncertain of an aircraft’s safety.

I am confident in the Navy’s ability as well. It’s their willingness that concerns me.

Editor’s Note: This is a link to the Airframe Bulletin (AFB) power point presentation. If you want to nerd out, it’s an interesting and brief read. Of the 28 aircraft that were spot-checked after the initial inspection, 70-percent still had the discrepancy that the AFB was intended to address.

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A Tribute to a Fallen Warrior

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By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard or read about the Islamic State killing Jordanian pilot 1st Lieutenant Moaz Youssef al-Kasasbeh. You will find no videos or gruesome details here. All you need to know is that they burned him alive in a cage because their standard tradition of manual beheadings was not gruesome enough. Their disdain for the sanctity of human life is so disgustingly thorough it defies logic. Oddly, al-Kasasbeh was a Muslim, but he wasn’t their kind of Muslim. Any attempt to apply reason is futile and maddening.

The IS never had any intention of releasing this pilot. His date with destiny was sealed on 24 December 2014. From that day forward, he was nothing more than an instrument of information warfare – a message to other Arab nations. We can only hope that the message sent is not the message received, for there is a large percentage of this fight that simply cannot be shouldered by Western nations. If those closest to the fight are unwilling to eradicate this scourge, our mission is doomed to stalemate at best.

Perhaps you aren’t fond of phrases like “Je suis Charlie”. Maybe you find them too trite or convenient. Although I’ve heard the arguments and I understand them, I think we way over-analyze the utility of joining a worthy cause. I don’t live in France, and I’m a lousy artist, so obviously I’m not Charlie Hebdo. It’s a show of solidarity and support. Nothing else. Let that be enough. And so, Lieutenant al-Kasasbeh, fellow fighter pilot. I will raise a cup of tea for you, and I will pray for you and your family.

Jordan’s King Abdullah: “It is every Jordanian’s duty to stand together”.

May we stand beside you?

Tip of the Hat: to brother warrior and blog reader JN for the custom rendition of the Jordanian flag.

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