Odd Promotion Criteria

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There are surely some of you who are not long-time readers and are thus not well-versed on the back-story. I’d rather we not take another lap on the spinning teacups. My stomach is only so strong. Should you need an introduction or refresher, my most recent post on the matter is located here. A synopsis of the most salient events…

After a wave swept a Navy helicopter and two pilots off the flight deck of a destroyer in the Red Sea last year, early reports described a freak accident caused by a “rogue wave.” But a recently released investigation points to the speed of the ship as it changed course, and the admiral overseeing the report has faulted the ship’s commander for the accident.

Navy pilots Lt. Cmdr. Landon L. Jones, 35, and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jonathan S. Gibson, 32, died after their MH-60S helicopter broke its chains and slid off the flight deck of the USS William P. Lawrence on the afternoon of Sept. 22, 2013, the result of a large wave hitting the aircraft as the ship rolled violently. Both men were still inside the aircraft when it plunged overboard.

In a 10-page assessment of the investigation, which was released in April and recently made public by the Navy, Harris faulted a decision by the Lawrence’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Jana A. V, to turn the ship immediately after the helicopter landed on the flight deck. Combined with the ship’s speed, the move put the vessel into rough “quartering seas,” he said, causing it to roll as large waves hit the deck.

“There was time to rectify the situation by simply reducing speed after taking (the helicopter) aboard,” Harris wrote. “[A] significant reduction in speed, thereby creating a more stable platform, could have been achieved in seconds.”

The admiral promised “appropriate administrative action” for V. The former CO is now serving in Coronado, California.

The Navy did take “appropriate administrative action” on CDR V by screening her for major command. I’ve dispensed administrative action many, many times. The recipients never smiled.

Although I can’t say for sure, I’m confident there are still some card-carrying members of the “this was an unfortunate event and sometimes bad things just happen” crowd. If you are one of them, I will jumble the story in an effort to give it new life and find a way to reach you.

Imagine that you are a married man. Your wife, and the mother of your children, is a devoted triathlete, among other things. She is a gifted athlete in dogged pursuit of a new personal record at an upcoming event. Because the bike is her weakest leg, she bought a road bike she uses on group rides with other women to push herself harder.

It’s Tuesday, which is hill day. The morning is graced by a light sprinkle that is expected to be no worse than moderate rainfall at any point in the day. Still, it’s rain, and that will have to figure into the aggressiveness of the ride.

The spoke-sisters set out for their training session, taking the appropriate precautions that are second nature to them. They have lights and reflective clothing, and they ride in a group so it is easier to see them.

Coming in the opposite direction is a tractor-trailer truck. The driver is operating his truck at a safe-speed, even considering the wet roads, until he gets a call from his boss. The boss urges him to drive faster, telling him that the company gets a bonus if the truck arrives before 9 PM. Although it jeopardizes the safe arrival of his haul, the truck driver does not tell his boss that driving faster will be dangerous. Either by accepting the increased risk or by being blind to it, the driver gently depresses the accelerator.

The wet roads force the truck wide on a downhill blind turn, where it carefully extracts the outer-most bike-rider in the pack, killing her instantly. Knowing what he has done, the truck driver stops immediately and returns to the scene. Your wife’s fellow riders have already phoned for Emergency Medical Services. Crest-fallen, the truck driver calls his boss to explain the details of the horrific accident.

Your phone is lighting up with vague details of a bike accident. Someone is badly hurt. Rather than jump to any conclusions or promulgate bad information, everyone is patient. Except the trucking company. They post the story on Facebook while expressing their condolences for your wife’s death. That’s how you were notified.

Understanding that your wife will never come back, and that your kids will not grow up to know their mother, you do what you can to pick up the pieces and move forward. There are good days and bad. More bad days than good. On the worst of those bad days, you wonder what ever became of the truck driver. He never even called. You know he didn’t kill your wife on purpose and so you don’t want revenge. That doesn’t mean you don’t wonder.

That’s when you discover that the truck driver was not only retained in the company, he was actually selected for a more prominent position in it. In this more prominent position, he will not only keep driving trucks, but he will also supervise a great number of other truck drivers and be responsible for their performance and safety. Soon thereafter, you learn that the promotion was approved by the President of the trucking company and received a stamp of authenticity from the US Department of Transportation. All that awaits is the pay raise.

That’s where we are now.

Do you still think that bad things just happen? I don’t. Not in this case, anyway.

The contrarians here use two words. Random. Unlucky. I have two words of my own. Offensive. Disrespectful.

The FAA, hardly known for being efficient and succinct, offers the following guidance in its Federal Aviation Regulations to pilots entering turbulent air: slow down. It really is that simple. I suspect it applies equally well to seagoing vessels.

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What I’ll Miss About Serving in the Navy

For the second time in a week, I received a request from an active duty Naval Officer in pursuit of first-time-guest-poster status. The post that follows was authored by Ben Kohlmann. You may recognize Ben’s work. He is a prolific writer and enemy of the status quo. If you sit him in the corner of a room and repeatedly say, “But we’ve always done it this way”, he will curl up in a ball and sob uncontrollably. As will I. Unlike Ben, I will even start sucking my thumb. Our Navy is better because of officers like Ben. I wish him well, and I thank him for his contributions. If the ball is in the middle, add a little power, my friend. If the ball doesn’t rise, you were underpowered. Add a little more.


WHAT I’LL MISS ABOUT SERVING IN THE NAVY

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After 11 years of service, I’m leaving active duty. There are many reasons why, most of which have been thrown out time and again on various “why I’m leaving the service” articles. Indeed, I thought about penning my own screed. Yet, as I draw closer to the end of my active time, the memories I have are filled with fondness. I know the decision for me to leave was the right one, but with the aid of hindsight, I can’t help but think what an amazing ride the last decade was.

I’m no stranger to launching broadsides against the establishment. In a fit of frustration, I wrote “The Military Needs More Disruptive Thinkers” in 2012, igniting a firestorm throughout the defense world.   I cringe a bit when re-reading it, yet the term “disruptive thinking” has found its way into the defense lexicon – often popping up in places surprising and amusing. Along with “Bus” Snodgrass, I helped co-author and spearhead the 2014 Navy Retention Study, eliciting both vigorous criticism and energetic support. I even started and currently run a non-profit, The Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, that has built a robust and growing community around reforming our pervasive bureaucracy.

However, my frustrations are best aired over a few beers, so I’d like to shift the conversation to 3 things I’ll miss most about being in uniform.

The People

My first Carrier Air Group Commander and Aircraft Carrier Captain were CAPT Tom “Trim” Downing and now Rear Admiral Mike “Nasty” Manazir. They were larger than life characters, and while I was just a struggling Nugget, their outsized impact set the standard for what I look for in leaders. CO’s like “Goody” Gudmundsson and my FRS XO “Frag” Grindle showed me what it meant to command or support in challenging environments. To them, I am forever grateful.

Two senior officers took a risk on me when they didn’t have to – RADM Terry Kraft read my Disruptive Thinkers article and immediately reached out, giving me the chance to put my money where my mouth was. His vision and trust in a crazy JO enabled the creation of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, where we got to build a military innovation organization from scratch. He let us assemble our team, ran interference at the highest levels of the Naval bureaucracy, and advocated for our projects when establishment players like the Office of Naval Research looked askance at our proposals. Those projects, by the way, are helping to reshape the 21st century Navy. His visionary work is being carried on with much enthusiasm and acumen by RDML Scott Stearney.

Soon after, ADM Bill Gortney took me on as his speechwriter. I don’t think he knew I was a rabble-rouser when he hired me, but his mentorship and guidance is something I will always hold dear. I’ve never seen a man treat his personal staff better – he demanded a lot, but taught us an immense amount as well. My naïve eyes were opened to a new world – and a peek behind the curtain did wonders for my maturity.

Finally, and most importantly, my squadronmates. From crazy shenanigans in foreign ports to late night ridiculousness in dreary Lemoore, CA, those men and women got me through many a scrape (many of my own doing). Sweet P, Heed, Delilah, McLovin, Chas, JK, Preg-ho, Golden, Euro and many others were the face of our mission, and friends of a lifetime. It’s hard to quantify the amount of beer we consumed and all the problems we solved over many hours in the Fallon O-Club and in far away ports, but I don’t believe I will ever find the same camaraderie anywhere else.

The Mission

I can be a vain and ambitious person, which is one of the reasons I’m leaving. But nothing in the world will match what we in the military do day in and day out. How can you replicate a night in the barrel behind the ship, where it takes you 4 passes to get aboard? How can you replicate the perfect three-wire, “CLARA Ship,” night trap? Where else in the world will you be in a $70 million jet, seeing a firefight emerge on your FLIR, and be called in to save your brothers on the ground?

What we do is hard. Where we go is sometimes forsaken.   Being a staff officer sucks – endless powerpoint slides that have little impact. Yet those few moments when years of training focus on a split-second decision…that is irreplaceable.

I remember sitting off the coast of a foreign country early in my first tour. The crew was surly, they’d been gone from home for too long, and we didn’t understand why we were there. But returning home, understanding the strategic picture better, our presence had impact. It demonstrably affected the course of world events, even if only for a season.

I hope to end up running a successful for-profit venture, and maybe even run for office. But the best professional outcome will still pale in comparison to the first time I signed for a jet, solo, and was launched off the deck of a United States aircraft carrier – right after almost killing myself enroute to my first arrested landing in the might T-45 Goshawk. I still get goosebumps thinking about that incredible feeling.

The Opportunities

Before I started writing, I was warned that there would be sea-monsters, and retribution for those that stepped out of line. And the stories may even have been true – but my experience was much different. I’ve found that those that engaged constructively, even if a bit hastily, were given a fair hearing. There is no other military in the world that would allow such robust and irreverent discussion to go unpunished. From the Duffel Blog and Terminal Lance to CIMSEC and Small Wars Journal, there are frequent and robust conversations that challenge every bit of military orthodoxy. Indeed, it is one of the things that makes our military so effective, despite the many (valid) complaints we may have.

Furthermore, senior leaders are looking for the interesting solutions to their most pressing problems. We have leaders who get it, and want to make our services a better place.

On a whim at last year’s Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, one of my colleagues pitched an Assistant Secretary of the Navy on a revolutionary manpower management tool leveraging the intelligence community. The ASN was intrigued by this cheeky LT’s proposal, and a few months later, invited us to brief him, the Chief of Naval Personnel, and a room full of staffers on our idea. While still in the works, these leaders devoted scarce time to a bunch of crazy JOs. They listened – and are actively looking for ways to get the idea implemented.

These opportunities are in part due to the bureaucracy. We are nearly immune from being fired, so a well-placed, disruptive idea with the right audience can be nearly riskless. Furthermore, I’ve found that the bureaucracy is so tied up within itself, that it cannot react to a swift application of innovation .

My 3D printers-on-ships CRIC team was very creative in how we put a test platform on the USS Essex for sea trials. Piggybacking on a NAVSEA experimental contract, we were able to bypass much of the lengthy and costly redtape most programs need. 10 months after its successful implementation, we got an email from a mid-level civilian staffer directing the ship to cease and desist because the right paperwork wasn’t on file. Fortunately, the initiative was so entrenched and compelling to senior leaders (including being made an official OPNAV program), the Essex was able to hold on to the printer. SECNAV even talked about its success in a recent speech on innovation at Sea Air Space.

It’s heartening to see many of the frustrated conversations we junior officers had a few years ago getting play at the highest levels. A robust discussion and public remarks about the need to reevaluate talent management. A need for better and more realistic training. Bringing our retirement system into the 21st century. Things are changing – slowly – but they are changing. Implementing concrete reforms will be the next step, but I am cautiously optimistic.

So, why am I leaving?

Given the above, it seems insane to explore other options. Especially since I’m over half-way to the Promised Land of a 20-year retirement. I was fortunate to be promoted to O-4 relatively early, and in retrospect, have gotten nearly every opportunity I’ve ever desired. To wit, one of my department heads once wisely said “don’t leave a good party to go find another good party.” Yet, the time was right. My commitment was up, and the graduate education option I wanted to pursue was not possible on the aviation golden path – and I wasn’t interested in doing the career intermission thing.

Furthermore, while I loved flying combat missions – indeed, they were the most fulfilling professional experience of my life – I never wanted to spend 8 months on a carrier again. With a newborn, this desire to take part in as much of his life as possible has only grown. The Navy deploys. I don’t want to any more. It’s voluntary for a reason.

Finally, I felt I’ve done all I can in uniform, and my insatiable (self-directed) wanderlust pulls me onward. This was a difficult decision – and I almost reversed it. But I know it is right for me – and our Navy is in good hands whether I stay or go.

We need those who express dissatisfaction, even if they don’t have ready solutions – good leaders know how to harness that wild energy and put it to productive use. The canary, while it doesn’t know why it’s killed in the coal mine, is still a useful indicator. But there is always a silver lining. As one who was the poster child for throwing grenades, I’ll be the first to say this is a remarkable organization, warts and all. The past eleven years have shaped me in ways I am only beginning to understand. Whether they like it or not, my grandkids will be regaled with stories that begin, “This one time off Mexico, I was caught in a thunderstorm over the carrier…”

Godspeed, and Fair Winds. First round is on me.


LCDR Ben Kohlmann is a naval aviator. He will matriculate at Stanford Business School this fall. The sentiments above do not necessarily reflect the position of the United States Navy, although sometimes he wishes they did.

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Civility, Manners, and Missed Opportunities

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LT Anna Granville’s article, and the ensuing rebuttals, one of which was posted here, created quite a stir. I didn’t predict it. I rarely do. There are times when I publish a post that I’m sure will land me a major literary award. Without fail, people seem more interested in “25 Ways to Lose More Belly Fat”. Other times, I labor through research, pull a few teeth, throw something on here that feels like a third-grade essay, and the crowd goes nuts. Relatively speaking.

Anna’s topic undeniably evoked tremendous response. There is, however, a razor-thin margin between controlled passion and unbridled emotion. The former is meaningful and beneficial. The latter often leads to hurt and regret.

I did not entirely agree with Anna’s post. A few of her points resonated with me, and we have discussed them on this site a great many times. Other points felt like finger-pointing and a lack of ownership. At no time did I feel offended by what she wrote. Ultimately, I applaud her for writing, I thank her for her service, and I wish her well. If you asked me to best describe her article, I would tell you it reminded me of a Men’s Large polo shirt on a skinny eighth-grader. Hollow by a smidgen. Not filled out.

I did not entirely agree with Jack’s rebuttal either. I did agree with most of it. He took Anna to task for what he perceived as an attack on a demographic, and for presenting problems with no proposed solutions. Anna exercised her rights. Jack exercised his. To his credit, he  did not take issue with her, he took issue with her ideas. There is a difference.

Unfortunately, the very worst of our comments on Jack’s work devolved into men vs. women, SWOs vs. aviators, and retirees vs. junior officers. The discussion should have never focused on white, Christian men. White, Christian men don’t get a vote on being white or male, so you can only “blame” them for being Christian. Even then, no one should need to apologize for being like those who landed on our shores a few short centuries ago. The typical internet food-fights distracted us from what could have been meaningful work. We had a chance to have a real discussion that moved the enterprise forward. Instead, we chose to call each other names. That makes me sad. We missed a great opportunity.

I still allow anonymous comments, and I stand by that decision. While it does permit entry to the occasional troll, it also gives a voice to those who might be harmed by revealing their identity. I am thrilled to have an audience of active duty readers. None of them should ever fear being called into The Man’s office because of what they say here. I want to hear from them. We need to hear from them. I love comments (usually) because they turn my blog into a conversation. If it’s just me talking, it’s not a conversation at all, it’s a soliloquy.

You will notice that I also have a Like/Dislike plug-in. I’m not in love with it. My opinion of it changes almost daily. What I like about it is that it’s an effective defense against someone who wants to dominate a discussion. If one person authors 50-percent of the comments on a particular post, that doesn’t mean he comprises 50-percent of the group opinion. Those stupid thumbs-up and thumbs-down icons help to make that clear. What I don’t like about the Like/Dislike plug-in is that it perpetuates our collectively-short societal attention span. It is far too binary and simplistic for me. My preference would be that you take the time to fully elucidate your praise or scorn in a well-written comment. I acknowledge that isn’t always appropriate, and that time is a commodity. Alas, the plug-in stays. For now.

There is an elephant in the room. We’re going to talk about it. The article written by “Anna” has created a kerfuffle beyond what most of you have seen. As it turns out, Anna is not a real person, which is why I put her name in quotes above. Anna is a pen-name. A pseudonym. She is Mark Twain to Samuel Clemens. You didn’t know that because it was never made clear at Task & Purpose nor elsewhere. To the extent that I perpetuated that ruse, I apologize.

There is still an elephant in the room. Like me, you likely believed that the picture of the saluting female Naval Officer at Task & Purpose was the author. We were duped. It’s not her. The author was presumably a female Lieutenant in her 20s (or thereabouts), so the connection appeared obvious. In reality, the Lieutenant in the picture is an active duty female who was none too pleased that her likeness was associated with ideas she neither hatched nor endorsed. I don’t blame her one bit. I removed her picture two days ago upon request. From others, I expect an explanation is forthcoming. That’s their business and not mine.

On my home page, there is a tab for Rules of the Road. Even though they are simple by design, we’re overdue for a refresher.

1. Be nice.
2. Don’t just visit. Please participate!
3. No personal attacks.
4. It’s okay to be critical if you are respectful.
5. Keep it clean.
6. Be nice.

Have a great weekend.

Photo Credit: www.pbs.org

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A Response to Ms. Anna Granville (Guest Post)

Yesterday, an active duty Naval Officer requested first-time-guest-poster status with the goal of offering a rebuttal to a recent post at Task and Purpose. Permission granted. His by-line is at the bottom. Enjoy.


Yesterday Ms. Anna Granville, presumably a Navy Lieutenant, penned a thought-provoking essay for Task & Purpose titled “4 Reasons I Am Resigning My Commission as a Naval Officer.” Before I offer my thoughts on her essay, I want to make two points plainly clear. First, I have a high level of respect for those who volunteer to serve causes bigger than themselves; clearly Granville has done so, and for that I say BZ. Second, I applaud any officer willing to stick his or her neck out by writing. More officers of all ranks would do well to turn their water cooler complaints into written thoughts, thereby adding to the collective conversation and doing something to foster solutions.

Ms Granville’s essay, as it appeared on Task & Purpose’s website, led off with the teaser, “I love the Navy, it has been an honor to serve, but I want this incredible organization to be better.” The hook intrigued me. I hoped to continue reading and find that she had offered fresh – dare I say innovative – ideas on how to solve the four problems that led her to resign. Sadly, in this regard I was left wanting. What followed her opening were well-worn and tired complaints laced together with sweeping (at times bordering on offensive) generalizations, all while using personal anecdotes to describe “the Navy.”   Some of this can be excused because, after all, these are her reasons for leaving. Her experiences inform her perception of reality and, in the end, it’s her decision to resign after several years of honorable service. However, the manner in which she lays out her arguments undermines what should have been the unassailable.

Granville’s first point, “Promotions are based more on ‘hitting wickets’ than exemplary performance,” is an argument that has been made for decades; as usual, her discussion precedes no actionable suggestion for improvement. Granville does not tell the reader what warfare community she served, but as an aviator I’ll offer an example I’m familiar with to push back at her premise. The new lieutenant who is killing it as the Coffee Mess Officer is not in the same league as the lieutenant who paddles hard to keep her head above water as the Assistant Operations Officer or Personnel Officer. Comparing the two and suggesting that one should be evaluated competitively against the other is to ignore the obvious – new junior officers are given less stressful and demanding “ground jobs” so they can dedicate more time to learning their warfare specialty. With time in the squadron (ship, unite, etc), this division of labor changes so that more experienced and tactically competent JOs are given more demanding jobs. While this example is specifically pertinent to the aviation community, I believe it transfers well across the various designators.

Ms Granville goes onto suggest that officers are often promoted on the basis of sustained superior timing and not the same high level of performance. In many cases she may be right; she may even have personal evidence to support this claim. I have personal evidence to suggest that this not the case. I watched a previous CO make gut-wrenching FITREP decisions that removed seniority and timing from the equation in order to reward the best performance. So who’s right? Her, or me? We’re both correct; what was incorrect was for Granville to use her anecdotal experience to characterize the entire fleet.

While our lack of agreement has thus far resulted from different experiences, perhaps the most off-putting and offensive portion of her opening argument centered on the “fog a mirror” trope. In 2014, 64 pilots and NFOs failed to select for LCDR despite having multiple high-water EPs both at sea and ashore. In particular, I’d like to ask Anna to explain to a similarly qualified group of twice-passed-over aviators what more they could have done – did they need a bigger mirror? Further, she argues the current promotion system “guarantees that the best, most energetic junior officers to [sic] leave active duty.” Again, the broad generalizations and an insistence on using personal anecdote and opinion of self to characterize the Navy as a whole are disturbing and, most of all, misleading.

Ms Granville’s second reason for leaving, “Unsustainable strain on your personal relationships” also caught my interest because of my personal perspective. My wife and I spent the first two years of our marriage travelling around the world to visit each other during three different deployments. We successfully navigated five more years of deployments, detachments, schools, etc. before my wife transitioned to the reserves. We knew what we were getting into and certainly didn’t (and still don’t) blame the Navy for the time away from one another. To join a seagoing, expeditionary service and be turned off by the “involuntary” six-month separations strikes me as naïve. Again, these are her reasons for leaving and as such, they can’t be wrong per se, but I’m left wondering what Anna’s objective in writing this essay really was? If she truly “wants this incredible organization to be better,” it might prove more effective to set aside the buyer’s remorse and focus on issues that can be addressed. Instead of giving her four reasons to Task & Purpose, perhaps she could have included them in her actual resignation letter to NPC – with a carefully considered list of recommendations for improvement.

The third reason Ms Granville gives for her resignation leads to her most controversial and offensive remarks. We can argue all day whether or not the Navy actually values education. In fact, Anna and I can probably agree that it doesn’t. I might even grant her that the Navy is in fact “anti-intellectual,” as she says; however, the reason given to justify her claim is preposterous. Her statement that “white, Christian, conservative men….who grew up middle-class or privileged and whose wives do not have a career outside the home” are largely to blame for the lack of intellectualism is disgusting and smacks of the same stereotypical and simplistic thought that is usually espoused by those denigrating racial, ethnic, or gender minorities. She attempted to salvage the argument by offering a Seinfeld-esque “there is nothing wrong with any of this…” but it’s too late. Anna showed her cards and it is a losing hand.

Ms Granville is presumably astute enough to realize that her description of senior officer demographics might be superficially correct, but to suggest that she knows how each thinks, what each values, and how each officer approaches a problem set because of outward appearances is shortsighted.  It’s almost as shortsighted as suggesting that racial or ethnic minorities will, by default, bring “diversity of thought” simply because they are racial or ethnic minorities. That’s a dangerous assumption to make regardless of if we’re talking about women, African-Americans, or “privileged” old white guys.

I regret that Ms Granville felt compelled to cite this as a reason for resigning, and insofar as her experiences inform her perceptions, I won’t question those experiences. That being said, that after several years in the Navy she didn’t get to a point where she didn’t prejudge an individual’s intellectual capacity by their skin color or age is more regrettable.

I did not write this to criticize Anna for her decision to leave. I did not write this to point out how her experiences and perceptions are wrong – either task would be impossible and unfair. I wrote this because the reasons Ms Granville gave for resigning her commission leave a lot of questions. One would hope that if she genuinely wanted “this incredible organization to be better,” she may have offered suggestions for improvement. She may have left us with a set of ideas that would address some of the reasons she chose to move on. Instead we were given an oversimplified, overly generalized, and at times naïve set of ideas that leaves the reader thinking that Anna is the only one who “gets it,” while the rest of us are screwed up.

I once worked for a CAG that told me, “when you look around and realize that everyone else is screwed up, it’s time for you to leave.” His words seem rather appropriate – but of course he was just a middle aged white guy.

This is not the first, nor will it be the last, “here’s why I’m leaving” letters to be published. Each has a slightly different take and slightly different tone, but one thing that many (Ms Granville’s included) have in common is a sense of I didn’t like parts of it, so it’s wrong; parts of it didn’t work for me, so it’s wrong; it didn’t fit within the lifestyle I want, so it should change. Rarely do we see someone offer it wasn’t right for me, nor I for it, and that’s ok.   The Navy is a massive organization with countless competing personnel interests. In so much as Ms Granville suggests that there are policies that need attention – we agree. However, I challenge her to apply her talent for writing and her love of the Navy, and offer some carefully considered and actionable suggestions. Vice Admiral Moran and many other senior personnel managers have shown a willingness to listen and experiment with ideas filtered from the bottom up.

We understand why you’re leaving Anna, but maybe on the way out, help us to be the better organization that you longed for?


LCDR Curtis is a Naval Aviator with fifteen years of service. The opinions expressed here are his alone and do not reflect those of the Tailhook Association, the U.S. Navy, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Photo Credit: www.taskandpurpose.com

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Shiny New Admirals

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Even though it will be a while before most of them pin on their new rank, here are the names. My advice to each of them: spend as much time as possible exploring the phrase “Widely Attended Gathering“.

Congratulations, and good luck. We’re all counting on you.


 

Navy Reserve Rear Adm. (lower half) Mark L. Leavitt has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral. Leavitt is currently serving as commander, Naval Air Forces Reserve, San Diego, California.

Navy Capt. Danelle M. Barrett has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Barrett is currently serving as chief of staff, Navy Cyber Force, Suffolk, Virginia.

Navy Capt. Eugene H. Black III has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Black is currently serving as director, Surface Warfare Officer Distribution and Career Management Division, Navy Personnel Command, Millington, Tennessee.

Navy Capt. Dell D. Bull has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Bull is currently serving as chief of staff, Naval Air Force Pacific, San Diego, California.

Navy Capt. Ann M. Burkhardt has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Burkhardt is currently serving as Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group fellow, Newport, Rhode Island.

Navy Capt. William D. Byrne Jr. has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Byrne is currently serving as commandant, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland.

Navy Capt. Edward B. Cashman has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Cashman is currently serving as Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group fellow, Newport, Rhode Island.

Navy Capt. Ronald C. Copley has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Copley is currently serving as commander, Joint Intelligence Operations Center, U.S. Central Command, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.

Navy Capt. Moises Deltoro III has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Deltoro is currently serving as major program manager (PMS-415), Program Executive Officer Submarines, Washington, District of Columbia.

Navy Capt. James P. Downey has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Downey is currently serving as major program manager (DDG 1000 Program), Program Executive Officer Ships, Washington, District of Columbia.

Navy Capt. Stephen C. Evans has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Evans is currently serving as senior military assistant to the Secretary of the Navy, Washington, District of Columbia.

Navy Capt. Gregory J. Fenton has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Fenton is currently serving as chief of staff, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan, Yokosuka, Japan.

Navy Capt. John V. Fuller has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Fuller is currently serving as deputy, Littoral Combat Ships, N96, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Washington, District of Columbia.

Navy Capt. Michael P. Holland has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Holland is currently serving as director, operations division, Office of Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Financial Management and Comptroller (FMB-1), Washington, District of Columbia.

Navy Capt. Hugh W. Howard III has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Howard is currently serving as assistant deputy director, Global Operations, Joint Staff, Washington, District of Columbia.

Navy Capt. Jeffrey W. Hughes has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Hughes is currently serving as executive assistant, N98, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Washington, District of Columbia.

Navy Capt. Thomas E. Ishee has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Ishee is currently serving as executive assistant to the chief of naval operations, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Washington, District of Columbia.

Navy Capt. Stephen T. Koehler has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Koehler is currently serving as commanding officer, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), Norfolk, Virginia.

Navy Capt. John W. Korka has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Korka is currently serving as director, Maritime Headquarters, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Navy Capt. Yancy B. Lindsey has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Lindsey is currently serving as executive assistant to the assistant secretary of the Navy (energy, installations and environment), Washington, District of Columbia.

Navy Capt. David G. Manero has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Manero is currently serving as integration branch head, International Affairs, N521, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Washington, District of Columbia.

Navy Capt. Francis D. Morley has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Morley is currently serving as major program manager (PMA-265), program executive officer for Tactical Aircraft Programs, Patuxent River, Maryland.

Navy Capt. Cathal S. O’Connor has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). O’Connor is currently serving as deputy director, N31, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Washington, District of Columbia.

Navy Capt. Paul Pearigen has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Pearigen is currently serving as special assistant, Navy Inspector General, Washington, District of Columbia.

Navy Capt. Peter G. Stamatopoulos has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Stamatopoulos is currently serving as assistant chief of staff for supply and ordnance, Naval Surface Force, U. S. Pacific Fleet, San Diego, California.

Navy Capt. Anne M. Swap has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Swap is currently serving as commanding officer, Naval Hospital, Okinawa, Japan.

Navy Capt. Jeffrey E. Trussler has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Trussler is currently serving as deputy director for analysis and requirements, N2/N6, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Washington, District of Columbia.

Navy Capt. William W. Wheeler III has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Wheeler is currently serving as executive assistant to Commander, U.S. Naval Forces, Europe; Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Africa; and Commander, Joint Allied Forces Command, Naples, Italy.

Navy Capt. Stephen F. Williamson has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Williamson is currently serving as commander, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington.

Navy Capt. Michael W. Zarkowski has been nominated for appointment to the rank of rear admiral (lower half). Zarkowski is currently serving as commanding officer, Fleet Readiness Center, Mid-Atlantic, Patuxent River, Maryland.

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More on the NS Norfolk Shooting

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Just over a year ago, I wrote a brief piece about MA2 Mark Mayo. In this guy’s opinion, he embodied everything it means to be a hero. When a depressed truck driver managed to get his rig through the gate and to the pier where Mayo’s ship was moored, Mayo placed himself between the assailant and a disarmed shipmate. Mayo knew that the term shipmate had been hijacked by those who use it as a substitute for “you are in trouble”.

His was the kind of selfless act that makes those committed to public service special. He had nothing to gain by his actions. He had everything to lose. He gave his life. He didn’t do it figuratively. He didn’t say he would do it in a speech. He just did it. I’m awfully proud to have worn the same uniform as that young man.

According to news reports, this tragedy and its aftermath have predictably led to changes, and altered the life course of those who might have prevented it. Specifically…

  • The Base CO received unspecified but appropriate administrative measures. “The Admiral would not go into details, citing privacy rights.” I’ve never seen any evidence that would lead me to believe privacy rights are a part of the Navy’s collective conscience. If it’s a recent change, I’m all in favor. He was not drawn and quartered because, at the time of the incident, he was still new to the job. Would it not be fair to suggest that the previous Base CO had some responsibility?
  • The security officer, a Lieutenant, also received administrative measures. Unlike the Base CO, he was removed from his job. Interestingly, he had no experience with facilities security. Would it not be fair to address the people and process that put this officer in a position to fail?
  • One Master-at-Arms Second Class and three DoD Civilian gate guards also face disciplinary measures (two have since retired).

At issue is the fact that the assailant/murderer stopped his rig at the front gate, but he never showed any identification. The guards thought he was going to make a u-turn and exit government property. He didn’t. He kept on driving, and the rest is history. The guards neither activated the barriers nor pursued the truck. Sadly, they never even radioed other security forces that someone had run the gate. Nine minutes after the breach, and several minutes too late, they drove around the base to search for him.

Every incident/mishap/tragedy/accident is preventable to a certain extent. Some more than others.

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Indiana and the Law

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One of my daily duties when I was but a wee pleber on the banks of the Severn River was to read the newspaper. As chores go, it was a good one. but it was still a chore. Yet another mandatory function in a long list of mandatory functions. At the very least, we were allowed to choose our newspaper. I read the Washington Post. My roommate, a native of the five boroughs, read the New York Times. The Washington Times, Capital Gazette (Annapolis), and Baltimore Sun were also available for daily delivery, right to your door. The only trick was retrieving the paper without catching the wary eye of an upperclassman whose poor Electrical Engineering grades generated angst that was in dire need of an outlet.

Another daily chore – one that you would never find written down but was nonetheless deemed legitimate by those of us who had no vote – was to produce two neatly trimmed comic strips at the lunch table for the amusement of the upper class. The comics might solicit a smile, so it behooved us plebers to choose them wisely, for happy upperclassmen are more likely to let you eat lunch instead of yelling at you before sending you away with a grumbling stomach.

The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes were the comics of choice in my day. I preferred Calvin and Hobbes. It seemed so very humane and reminded me of my childhood. That may sound inconsequential, but there are some dark days during the first year at Annapolis. Any reason to find joy, even if momentary, is a good one. The cartoon shown below is in my top five.

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The point should be obvious. Calvin’s goal is outrage. The topic is both negotiable and  irrelevant. Which is how we find ourselves, yet again, missing what’s important and focusing on all the wrong things.

In 1993, President Clinton (William Jefferson) signed into federal law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). He did so with unanimous support in the House, and only three dissenting votes in the Senate. This law was inspired, at least in part, by a Supreme Court decision in a case when two Native Americans were denied unemployment benefits after being fired from their jobs for testing positive for Peyote, which they ingested as part of a religious ritual.

The federal RFRA prevents the government from “burdening” people’s practice of their religion unless it has a “compelling” reason for doing so and is doing so in the “least restrictive” way possible.

On 26 March of this year, The Governor of Indiana signed similar legislation into state law, joining 19 other states that had previously taken the same measure. Two differences in the Indiana law ignited an uproar.

  1. The law applies to closely held corporations, and not just individuals.
  2. The law allows the RFRA to be used as a defense in discrimination suits between private entities, and not just disputes between an individual and the government.

Those subtleties somehow led massive quantities of people to believe that the LGBT community was specifically targeted. In fact, I have seen references to this legislation as the “Anti-LGBT Law” in what I had previously considered reputable news sources. In no less than fifty articles, I have not seen a single reference to Muslims, Jews, neo-Nazis, the Amish, or any other group claiming oppression. Not one.

The aforementioned massive quantities of people made a tremendous racket, as is their right, and a right that I wholeheartedly support. As a result, the state of Indiana passed a revision to the RFRA in the form of clarifying language.

The law does not authorize a provider — including businesses or individuals — to refuse to offer or provide its services, facilities, goods or public accommodation to any member of the public based on sexual orientation or gender identity, in addition to race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex or military service.

The clause mentioning sexual orientation and gender identity was an add-on.

The ironic lightning-rod for these discussions is invariably catering/photography/flowers for same-sex weddings. It is an over-played vignette, and I’m tired of it. If you want to force someone at bayonet-point to make a cake for your wedding, just make sure all of your guests like toothpaste in their frosting. There was a bakery in Oregon that closed shop rather than be forced by the state to provide a cake for the wedding of two lesbian women.

In the paragraph above, I used the word ironic. Why ironic? Easy. Do you really think those two lesbians so desperately wanted a cake from that particular bakery? C’mon, man. There is no shortage of businesses that will gladly take money in exchange for goods and services. And I personally don’t feel compelled to give my money to someone who chooses to judge me. In fact, I will go out of my way to make sure I don’t give them my money. I will also tell my friends. We’ll boycott that business, and we’ll be on our way. This catering issue is a red herring and nothing more. The likelihood of two gay men choosing a Christian pizzeria to cater their wedding is so small it cannot even be measured.

The fundamental difference between the federal law and the state laws is the perception of who they are designed to protect. Note that I wrote perception. The federal law protects Native Americans. The state laws protect narrow-minded Christians. The disparity in “victims” dramatically changes the public point of view and ensuing support.

I firmly believe that this story ended well. Religious freedoms are protected, and potential discrimination is thwarted. The process that got us here troubles me. This controversy felt completely manufactured. As it stands, we have enough true controversy. These are people who use the law not as a protective shield, as it is intended, but rather as an offensive weapon en route to the goal of forced approbation. It is less about approval than it is compliance. I don’t care for it.

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Round Two – Sharing Isn’t Caring

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I never fully understood all the secrecy surrounding ship’s port calls. At least in the endgame, it’s certainly not classified information. If it was, family members would have no idea when or where, and we all know that’s not the case. At some point, staff officers at numbered fleets are talking with husbanding agents on the phone. One can only presume they are not having that discussion on a secure line. There are tugboats, harbor pilots, and line handlers. They must be told what day to come to work and why. Let it suffice to say that no aircraft carrier has ever arrived in a foreign port of call unannounced. By my best estimate, I’ve made some 50 port calls over the years during cruise and workups. Yes, workups. Don’t ask. There was never a single moment when someone acted surprised to see us there. I once visited the lovely island-nation of Malta. By the time we were pier-side, the citizenry of the entire country was already queued up awaiting a tour of the ship. They somehow got the word.

As it was explained to me, and as I was reminded during annual computer-based training, Operational Security (OPSEC) is the process by which we protect unclassified information that can be used against us by our adversaries. You diligently make efforts to safeguard information, even if it’s not classified, because when combined with other pieces of seemingly harmless information, certain conclusions become discernible. Flight schedules are an easy example. They are not classified, yet we don’t post them to the internet. Instead, we e-mail them to those who need to see them, or we password protect a sharing portal. We take these steps with a single thought in mind. Don’t make it easy on the enemy. Remember that.

This is the Navy’s response to the recent release of the ISIS “hit list”. For those who don’t want the re-direct, here is the text.

RMKS/1. As you are all aware, this week 36 of our shipmates’ names and addresses were posted on a website claiming to be friendly to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) cause. While Department of Defense (DoD) and Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) have not found evidence of operational planning or an imminent threat, there is little doubt that this gesture has caused concern and anxiety specifically for those on the list, their families and shipmates and more generally to the force. To inform conversations with Sailors and their families, I want to address some of the most common concerns we’re hearing across the Fleet.

2. This incident is a reminder of the importance we individually have to place on our personal safety and operations security. The guidance shared with Sailors in their sustained and cyclic training remainsvalid…stay aware, stay vigilant and be prudent about the information you share. Standing guidance for our web pages and command social media accounts remain valid as well–there is not a need to make a change. Ongoing intelligence and law enforcement assessments continue to reinforce that sharing information smartly and with due caution remains safe—this includes dealings with vetted U.S. and international media. If anything changes or new intelligence becomes available, we will pass that information via the appropriate channels.

3. We serve in the most dynamic and powerful Navy on earth, made possible by our Sailors’ efforts and the support of their families. Taking the time to discuss this issue, to place it in the appropriate context, will help ease anxiety and focus responsive effort on productive, appropriate and necessary measures. This approach serves our Sailors and their families best.

Perhaps some of you have trouble reading between the lines. If you count yourself among them, allow me to translate. “You all need to review and heed our guidance in order to adopt best practices. We’re good though. Business as usual. Best of luck. We’ll be in touch.”

I have spoken with people directly affected by the “hit list”. Like in the message above, I assured them that someone would have called if there was any corroborating evidence of planned action. I’m quite confident the ISIS Hacking Division (the dudes at Anonymous are rolling their eyes) got a pre-paid $50 debit card and an account at whitepages.com. Or Spokeo. It doesn’t matter. Terrorists use fear as a weapon. That’s why they are called terrorists. You can tell a service member there is no cause for alarm all day. Try that same approach with a wife who has been alone with the kids for months and already hears random noises that keep her up through the night. She deserves better than to be told, “All is well. No changes are necessary at this time.”

I don’t know the young lady in the photo that was in Wednesday’s post. In spite of the fact that I am proud of her and what she is doing, I don’t even remember her name, which is why I never needed to read it in the first place. If you want to post a picture of her, with name attached, hoisting a Pilot of the Year trophy while on shore duty, have at it. Doing the same while she’s preflighting a jet before flying into combat? C’mon, man. We’re better than that.

I understand the need to tell our story. I also understand the need to find balance. Everyone can devise better guidelines and business practices to that end. Everyone includes not just the individual, but the institution as well. Above all else, don’t make it easy on the enemy. Surely we can we all agree to that.

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Sharing Isn’t Caring (Guest Post)

Remember that Greenie Board guy? He’s back, and you can read his work right here. Normally when I leave a comment on one of my posts, I am commenting about a comment. Now I get to comment about the actual post. Time to don the carnival-barker hat. Smell like cabbage. Small hands.

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Recently, ISIS released the names, photos, and addresses of 100 American service members, calling for its sympathizers to launch what have come to be known as “lone wolf” attacks against these “targets.” On Tuesday, Navy Live, the Official Blog of the United States Navy, posted “Four Things to Know about Operations Security and Your Privacy.” The post begins with:

“Online searches. Public records. Social media. And more. Each presents a unique challenge to protect Operations Security and your privacy. It’s always a good time to ensure you’re practicing good habits to better protect both. Below are four things to know about OPSEC and your privacy.”

1) You should be careful about sharing too much information: Share information about yourself smartly and be careful about what you disclose about your family and occupation. Sailors and their families should be particularly careful not to share:

  • Deployment status
  • Home address
  • Telephone numbers
  • Location information and associated location information in posts, tweets, check-ins
  • Schedules

2) Sailors and families should be careful about sharing too much information:

  • Dangerous
    • My Sailor is in XYZ unit at ABC camp in ABC city in Iraq.
    • My daughter is aboard XYZ ship heading back to ABC city/country in X days.
    • She will be back on X date from ABC city.
    • My family is back in Youngstown, Ohio.

3) Be careful who you friend or those who follow you on social media:

  • Not everyone who wants to be your friend or follower is necessarily who they claim.
  • Be mindful of others attempting to use your social presence.

4) OK to share:

  • Pride and support for service members, units and specialties
  • Generalizations about service or duty
  • Port call information after it has been released to the media
  • General status of the location of a ship at sea (i.e., operating off the coast of San Diego)
  • Released posts from official U.S. Navy social media presences

Undoubtedly, American service members must pay closer attention to what they willingly put out into the public domain, and as such the basic advice offered above is sound. Even in the absence of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media outlets it is neither impossible, nor particularly difficult, to obtain information about someone. Public records are just that, and our free, open, and democratic society thrives on a certain level of access and transparency.

I believe the point Navy Live attempts to make with this post is that we shouldn’t make the process of collection any easier for would be criminals. Again, this advice is sound. The question is; are the people and agencies issuing this advice following it themselves? From the Daily Beast:

“As it turns out, the group [ISIS] didn’t need to hack the Pentagon. At least two-thirds of the troops on the ISIS “hit-list” had been featured on public Defense Department websites designed to promote the military.”

Unfortunately, the U.S Naval Central Command / Fifth Fleet Facebook page serves as prime example of this phenomena. Below is a summary from the last thirty days. I won’t provide links. If you need verification you know where to point your mouse.

March 24th – Four Things to Know About OPSEC and Your Privacy

March 21st – Letter from Major General Michael Garret, CENTCOM Chief of Staff concerning recent threat from ISIS and recommendations for increased social media vigilance.

March 16th – Posted official U.S. Navy photos that identify two Sailors by name, with hometown and unit (see points 1 and 2).

March 15th – Posted official U.S. Navy photo identifying a Lieutenant Commander by name, squadron, and aircraft (see points 1 and 2).

March 8th – Posted official U.S. Navy photo identifying Naval Aircrewman by name and squadron (see points 1 and 2).

March 5th – Posted official U.S. Navy photo identifying Navy Diver by name and unit (see points 1 and 2).

March 3rd – Posted official U.S. Navy photo identifying Naval Aircrewman by name and unit (see points 1 and 2).

March 3rd – Posted official U.S. Navy photo identifying Third Class Petty Officer by name and squadron (see points 1 and 2).

February 26th – Posted official U.S. Navy photo identifying a Seaman and Third Class Petty officer by name, hometowns, and unit (see points 1 and 2).

Some may argue that the information is out there, and a dedicated assailant could find it with enough time and determination. That can’t be refuted; however, we must ask ourselves: if the intent of the Four Points memo is to provide techniques for making the collection more difficult (again, not impossible), then why is that advice good for the Sailor, but not the Navy? Why does NAVCENT think it’s acceptable to put this image on their Facebook page:

 

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Others may argue that the benefit is worth the risk because the Navy is able to provide positive imagery that supports a larger narrative of forward presence and international resolve; however, the Navy can meet that objective without plastering names, pictures, and hometown information across its publicly accessible social media outlets. The Navy (and the entire DoD) can meet that objective by adhering to some of the same practices it encourages its Sailors to use with their personal accounts.

Over the weekend I watched as many within my social network (myself included) changed their Facebook names and profile pictures. Personally, I removed photos that were clearly related to my service or showed me in uniform. Is that an overreaction? At least one well-respected friend (and senior military officer) suggested so. Of course, neither his nor my face appeared on an ISIS hit list this weekend – so maybe we don’t have proper perspective. The bottom line is, I was reminded this weekend that we should always be mindful of what we’re putting out into the public domain. Always. Whether we’re protecting against identity theft or jihadists, paying attention to our profiles, photos, and posts is something we should ALL be mindful of.

If the Navy believes posting a “selfie” in uniform, pre-flighting an aircraft before launching to battle ISIS, is over the line (and it is), then why is it acceptable for NAVCENT to do it for me? And remember, they do think it’s okay – see point four – under the “OK” bullet: “released posts from official U.S. Navy social media presences.”

It’s long past time for the Navy and its public affairs officials to reevaluate their approach to information sharing via social media. If these posts and photos aren’t directly endangering service members, then, at a minimum, they are making family members unnecessarily uneasy. Is ISIS going to send a militia force to Oceana, Whidbey, San Diego, or Lemoore? That seems highly unlikely. Is the Navy’s irresponsible use of social media making it easier for potential lone-wolves to find, fix, and target service members? Yes.

The real test will be to watch Navy, and DoD, social media over the coming weeks, and months. Will the techniques offered to individuals resonate with the larger organizations? Will public affairs officials be able to resist the urge to “over-share”? I’m skeptical. After all, we’re talking about some of the same individuals who allowed a wife and mother to learn of her husband’s death via an official U.S. Navy Facebook page.

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The Strike-Fighter Shortfall

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Let’s say that I have two sleeves of golf balls on hand. I’m not too worried about the low inventory. I have only two rounds of golf scheduled before my next sleeve arrives in a week. During my first round of golf, I hit two balls into the water on the very first hole. I’m still not panicked. I have that second sleeve of balls in reserve. I don’t expect to use them, but I can if required. Later in my round, I snap-hook my drive into deep brush that doubles as a Titleist graveyard. I dip into the second sleeve of balls earlier than planned. This is still not a crisis. Mid-way through the back nine, I receive a text message from my boss. The company has high-profile clients coming into town and we have to take them out for 18 holes at the local country club. Awesome. An unplanned round. As long as my swing soon comes into form, I’ll have a sufficient quantity of golf balls. Just as I skull a wedge into the creek that sits behind the 17th green, I get an e-mail from USPS telling me that my shipment is delayed. Now I have a full-blown crisis.

Substitute golf balls with FA-18s in the above analogy, and F-35s for the pending shipment, and you have not just a crisis, but a crisis with national security implications. Wipe the sleep from your eyes, for this is not a dream, it is reality. It is a harsh reality with very dire implications.

Like the last kid picked for dodgeball, the seafaring service never says no. It is unbeknownst to me whether or not saying no is an option, as I am rarely at the table when the Global Force Management process is underway. You can’t argue that the Navy isn’t a can-do organization. It is the service’s hallmark, but one that is equal parts virtue and vice. The reputation for unfailingly answering the call is well-earned. The cost is watching your equipment driven into the ground. One might make the case that the humans who operate and maintain it are driven likewise.

Situation report to follow.

The US Navy’s case for requesting more Boeing-made F/A-18 Super Hornet strike fighters rests with two issues: requirements and replacements.

It’s been only two years since the US Navy quit buying F/A-18 Super Hornet strike fighters — part of a long-planned transition to the F-35C joint strike fighter — but a confluence of events has led to the new possibility that more attack aircraft could be ordered from Boeing.

When the US Navy submitted its fiscal 2015 request a year ago, it was the first budget since the 1970s that did not include some version of the F/A-18 Hornet strike fighter. Procurement of F/A-18 E and F Super Hornets ended in 2013, and the last of 138 EA-18G Growler electronic warfare versions was included in the 2014 budget.

Congress, however, added an unplanned-for 15 Growlers in the 2015 budget, responding to a Navy unfunded priority list request to meet a joint tactical need. The move keeps open Boeing’s St. Louis production line an extra year, through 2017.

Now, a strike fighter shortfall the Navy thought it could manage by a variety of methods is being further exacerbated, and it seems highly likely that when the new unfunded requirements list is submitted to Congress by mid-March, it will include a request for new Super Hornets.

The shortfall is not a new situation — it’s been developing for years, and was something the Navy’s leadership thought it could manage its way through. But in recent weeks, sources said, the emphasis has shifted from using current resources to deal with the problem to including the purchase of new aircraft as part of an overall solution.

That’s because the current resources don’t exist. We’ve already extended the planned service life of FA-18Cs from 6,000 to 10,000 hours. This extension comes at a steep cost in terms of both manpower and money. Depot facilities are already overwhelmed, and the specter of sequestration threatens to pour gasoline on the fire. While you can extend service life in terms of making sure the fuselage doesn’t snap in half, there is no way to predict what parts will eventually start failing at a high rate. And fail they will.

Budget constraints and software development issues have pushed out F-35C procurement to the right — delayed by several years — and the first “35 Charlies” aren’t scheduled to reach initial operating capability until 2018. Full rate production of 20 aircraft per year isn’t planned until 2020, and it will be another two years before those aircraft enter service.

My shipment of golf balls is delayed.

Increased operating tempos due to combat operations against the Islamic State in northern Iraq and western Syria meant that the Navy did not realize reduced flying hours from the drawdown in Afghanistan.

Unplanned round of golf with clients. Given current global volatility, it is unwise to ever assume the enemy doesn’t get a vote.

Increased operating tempos due to combat operations against the Islamic State in northern Iraq and western Syria meant that the Navy did not realize reduced flying hours from the drawdown in Afghanistan.

I had to break into that second sleeve of golf balls earlier than planned. The term death spiral comes to mind.

To mitigate, the CNO proposed the purchase of 36 Super Hornets, enough to equip three squadrons. That’s not enough to make life easy, but it puts a finger in the dike, and it neutralizes the risk that comes with wear and tear on the current inventory. FA-18Es and -Fs are eventually going to face the same maintenance issues plaguing the FA-18C fleet right now. Believe it.

We have many options here, but only two of them are viable.

  1. Tell the JCS Chairman, the Combatant Commanders, and the entire national security establishment what we won’t be able to do without these aircraft. And stick to it.
  2. Buy these aircraft.

I favor option 2. Even the kid continually picked last for dodgeball will eventually say no.

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