A Holiday Without Peer


I took this picture at a golf tournament about a month ago.

I won’t subject you to the litany of reasons why, but this is my favorite holiday of the year. This is also my favorite time of the year.

I have no desire for an endless summer. You can’t fully appreciate the sun’s warmth on your skin if it never rains. You can’t fully appreciate the joy of happiness if you don’t feel the occasional sting of sadness.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Veterans Day and Meaningful Service

I’m taking a different approach today, my usual trope being worn out and all. Before I do, I want to briefly discuss the picture above, and the generation it represents. It has taken me time and maturity, the latter of which came slowly, to fully appreciate them. My lack of full commitment is superficial in that I can’t ever imagine a time later in life when I would put on a uniform and walk in a parade while waving a small American flag. That’s too bad, really. But that gentleman and I come from a different place. There is a chance that he was plucked form a small Pennsylvania town and hurled into combat after only minimal training alongside men he had only recently met. His real training occurred on the job, bullets whizzing by his all-too-thin helmet. There is also a chance that he hid some medical defect in order to make sure he was able to go. I salute you, sir. And whether or not I’m supposed to say this any more, I thank you for your service.

The below letter was sent to me earlier this week. The timing was fortuitous. There are many salient points and parables woven throughout. I don’t predict you’ll have trouble picking them out. For those who have already decided that they won’t navigate the wall of words, focus on the bold print.

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your posts over the past few years.  They never fail to generate a tiny glimmer of hope that reason and rational thought can and could be applied to the NAVAIR behemoth.  Please indulge me to share some background before I get to the real reason behind my correspondence.

I am part of the “Exodus”, however small or large, I am one of those guys (2004 year group) on that golden path who just had enough.  Not bitter and jaded though, a little frustrated maybe, but more fortunate and content.  With each and every job I found myself in yet another unique and lucky circumstance where I somehow reached down and pulled a fist-sized diamond of a mission or assignment.  Here we go:

After being one of the first SNAs to fly the new T-6 (albeit I did have to survive Air Force primary at Moody, AFB) I was assigned Helos. Just like that the little 5 year old who had worked every waking moment of his whole life to be a Navy fighter pilot saw his dreams vanish in an instant.

“Oh god anything but helicopters, I didn’t even put that down on the sheet.”

“There’s a war on and all I’ve ever wanted to do was to put on those gold wings, point my grey aircraft toward the earth and break stuff with it.”

I was told that the best chance of getting in the fight was with the air wing and then maybe someday HCS-4. So, I selected HS out of advanced and ended up deploying with CAG-8 on the TR in 2008.  I was in a great squadron and CAG, the workup cycle was fun and we were finally on station taking the fight to the Taliban.  Well, I was flying plane-guard and watching my buddies come back to the boat with empty bomb racks.  Don’t get me wrong, I was having a great time as the AVARM Div-O and a new aircraft commander.  However, most people who fail to ultimately achieve their goals move on to something else.  I, on the other hand, got to watch people doing the very thing I would give anything to do on a daily basis.  I couldn’t take it anymore.  I wasn’t angry, just determined.

I sought the advice of a former HS pilot who was now a DH in one of our Rhino squadrons who gave me the transition rundown. At this point in time I was right in the middle of my JO tour so I had to pull the trigger on this transition sooner than later, which meant it was time to sit down with the Skipper and XO  to politely tell them that I wanted to leave the community.  These guys were awesome. I mean, you’ve never met a front office that was more on the same page with each other and even tempered to boot. Even then I knew I’d never draw a CO/XO combo like this ever again. They were the kind of team that always had your back. Even keeled gentlemen who implicitly trusted you as a pilot and never once killed a messenger. I wasn’t afraid to ever bring them bad news but I’d be damned if I didn’t already have a solution in the next breath. This is the only reason I approached the CO with what would otherwise have been my professional demise. Even still, I was really nervous as I sat down on the naugahyde covered cruise box crammed in front of the first row seats in the ready room that night. He patiently listened to my case and told me to go find out about the process and we’d discuss it further. That was that. A day or so later I got a call from the SDO that the Skipper wanted me to come down to his stateroom.  I tossed on my flightsuit with all of the speed and nervousness that comes from being summoned to the top of the JO’s “last place on earth I want to be” list.  Here’s how it went.

“Don’t worry about that transition stuff right now. I need you and your roommate to pack your bags to leave tomorrow.  I’m sending you two out on the Anti-Piracy detachment with the XO.  Oh by the way, you two are going to be combat-crewed together.  Don’t eff it up, have fun.”

A couple of days later we were patrolling the Gulf of Aden, single ship, out of radio range, guns out, sniper team onboard, and looking for a fight.  That kind of freedom instantly erases any misgivings a 25 year old LT had about what was right or wrong with his lot in life, ever.

After we got home we did a unit PCS to Norfolk, transitioned the squadron from the SH/HH-60 to the MH-60S and moved to Norfolk. As the QAO, I got to receive 8 brand new birds from the factory and life was good. One morning in January, I was in the ready room watching breaking news about an earthquake in Haiti when the skipper walked in, called me a lucky SOB, and told three of us we had 90 minutes to go home and pack a 6 week seabag.  That night we joined 22 other helicopters on the Carl Vinson and headed south. Over the next 6 weeks, I logged over 100 hours doing some of the most meaningful and solemn work I will ever do. In stark contrast to the overwhelming sense of tragedy was the complete awesomeness of coming together with my RAG classmates, all senior JOs now, in the four other squadrons aboard, as we turned CVN-70 into CHN-70.  The Admiral let us have at it and we had a hell of a good time organizing and executing that mission.  It’s a whole other story unto itself.

Shortly thereafter I was picked up for the SEAWOLF WTI course and spent my shore tour at the HSC Weapons School in Norfolk.  It was a fantastic tour working in the air and on the ground with JSOC units, teaching CAS, and improving CSAR.  The autonomy that came with being a SME and the ability to have real impact throughout the fleet was amazing. The countless Air Wing Fallon dets and ARP workups were fulfilling and fun to facilitate and fly.  I even got to team up with another WTI and come up with the plan on how to best employ the new M197 20MM gun.  We were able to work out a drug deal with some 160th DAP pilots who hosted us at Fort Campbell to teach us.  Then we, as the new SMEs, turned around and taught the next squadron to deploy with it.  By the end of the tour I had worked out a Skipper to Skipper agreement that next assignment would be with the HSC-84 Redwolves.  They needed experienced pilots and their future was still bright at this point.  Things were looking up, we would stay in Norfolk, and HSC-84 was the place to be to get in the action.

Nothing like a detailer to mess it all up.

“I don’t care what you think you worked out, but Guam needs a Squadron Training Officer.”

FDNF it was.  We moved out to Guam to one of the largest helicopter squadrons in the fleet where I inherited the responsibility of the tactical readiness of 120 pilots and aircrewmen.  This squadron also has the unique challenge and privilege of maintaining a Coast Guard SAR/MEDEVAC alert 24/365 on top of providing two deployed expeditionary detachments.  A rapid series of unexpected changes of command had also left the organization with more than a few challenges.  It wasn’t all fun, but it sure was an enriching experience.  We were expecting child number three and the grind of the past 9 years had taken its toll.  I had made the 0-4 list on the first look and DH was sure to follow.  Did we want to keep doing this?  I deployed two days after our first child was born and the time away hadn’t slowed down since.  I didn’t really sign up to be a Skipper and command a squadron. I signed up to be a Naval Aviator and do cool stuff with airplanes.  That had definitely happened, lady “operational” luck had smiled upon me multiple times. I looked in to taking an FTS slot at HSC-84/85 and their future was uncertain as best.  Yeah I had had enough, it was time to try something else. I dropped a don’t-pick-me letter to the board and sought life elsewhere. Guam was a great experience. I flew 3-4 days a week and got to do some amazing work out there.  My bosses backed my decision to get out 110-percent and were extremely helpful throughout the process.  This was the perfect time to call it. Ten straight years in the cockpit, at the top of my game, and with no regrets.

So here I am, a first year MBA student at Columbia Business School in New York.  Thankfully there are two other members of the Exodus with me here.  A Cobra WTI “Chili,” and “Donger,” an OSPREY/PHROG pilot who also did a pump as a JTAC.

Now to the point of this email.

Chili and Donger are two of the three founders of The Wingman Foundation (wingmanfoundation.org).  TWF is a Marine and Navy Pilot run non-profit whose sole mission is post-mishap relief for those killed and injured in Naval Aviation mishaps.  This includes aircrew, passengers, flight deck and squadron personnel, and JTACS.  After a series of mishaps in the HMLA community and the first aviation loss in Operation INHERENT RESOLVE, Chili, Donger, and Bronco decided that passing the hat around the ready room just didn’t cut it or have any real longevity.  We fill in the immediate gaps where DOD doesn’t move fast enough.  Last summer a Camp Pendleton based Osprey crewman broke his back during a crash in Hawaii.  The Skipper called us and we had his wife at his bedside within 24 hours.  The bureaucracy just can’t really do that.   We are also forming a veteran surviving spouses network to be on call to come in to help if requested by a recent surviving spouse.  All immediate requests come through the squadron CO or OMBUDSMAN.  Longer term, we preserve the memory of the fallen through erecting and maintaining memorials while also having hometown streets or other venues renamed in their honor. These guys have done a great job getting word out on the Marine Corps side.  They brought me on as the Naval Aviation guy.  I’m currently reaching out to most of my contacts and plan to do an East Coast road show to give our pitch to the various COs and Commodores. We currently have about $120K in the coffers. We’ll be a CFC charity next year and are going to try to be a permanent part of the Tailhook/NHA/ANA festivities as well.  This spring we are holding an inaugural gala on the Intrepid and plan to have some heavy hitters in attendance.  Our goal is to run awareness of this thing all the way up to Naval Aviation Hallway.  Nobody on staff gets paid. It’s a small for-us-by-us team of nine guys who are on active duty or recently transitioned to upper-tier MBA programs.  We plan on doing this as long as it makes sense and then passing it down to the next generation of flyers.

You are always a great source of sage advice and I wanted to fire this your way.  While this letter was mostly an informational vent I would like to work with you to put out the word about the foundation on the website.   Thank You for taking the time to read this.  I sure enjoyed writing it all down today.  It really puts things in perspective.  Please check us out at wingmanfoundation.org and tell me what you think.


So there it is. No hidden agenda. Not a paid plug. Just goodness. For a small group of guys who stepped out of uniform, you can’t argue that they didn’t find a way to continue meaningful service.


An Opus on Aviation Culture

I would never be so presumptuous as to consider myself a Navy John Q. Public. I’m also certain that JQP does not and has no desire to consider himself an Air Force Ask Skipper. The truth of the matter is that his product is much closer to actual journalism than mine. I admire him for that. What I like most about his work is that he clearly gets “it”. If you don’t know what “it” is, you need to visit his site and have a look around. He takes a very reasoned and rational approach to most everything. It warms my heart.

JQP recently published a post that is particularly salient. The full text is here. The punch-in-your-face moment is best encapsulated by this excerpt:

There’s not enough money in the world to compensate for a loss of combat aviation culture, and the first people to notice will be those whose combat success depends on that culture. They’d rather be homeless panhandlers hustling for bus fare and pissing in the gutter than be part of a team that’s not even trying to win, and is making itself miserable on the deliberate path to mediocrity and failure.

Nothing hurts so much as the truth. Please read the entire post, and make sure you don’t have any liquid in your mouth when you get to the e-mail at the end.

I’ve repeatedly said that salary, total compensation, and benefits are important, but that they pale in comparison to culture. When people feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves, when they feel rewarded in ways that have nothing to do with money, and when they enjoy their job rather than just small fractions of it, they will stay. It really is that simple. Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks so. In the season of Thanksgiving, I find that reason enough to be thankful.


It’s Time to Lift up a Fellow Warrior


The roads that run through Central California are, Tule fog notwithstanding, open and inviting. Those same characteristics make them notoriously treacherous. I hosted more than one memorial service for Sailors who were victimized by drivers who could not be bothered to operate their vehicles with a modicum of caution.

The dangers of the San Joaquin Valley’s roadways have again set upon us.

Two people were killed and a third seriously injured in a collision Tuesday caused when the driver of a stolen pickup broadsided two cars in Kings County after an aborted pursuit by law enforcement, the California Highway Patrol reported.

The driver of the stolen pickup, identified as Mitchell K, 19, of Fresno, had moderate injuries from the Tuesday morning crash at Grangeville Boulevard and 22nd Avenue, about three miles south of Riverdale.

The “third seriously injured” is the young man you see pictured above on the right. He is reportedly now locked in an epic struggle because of those injuries.

Very recently, we talked about the community we’ve built here and how to use it for good. That time is now. I’ve only asked this of you once, and that was when a friend’s son went missing in Mexico. I’m asking again. Please say a prayer for this warrior in accordance with your custom. If prayer is not your thing, positive energy is also welcomed. Whatever the medium, please also remember the young lady pictured next to him who cares for him above all, and everyone else whose life he has touched. I am fortunate to be among them. Let it suffice to say that the sun shines a little brighter when Buddy is around.

My hope is that there is power in our numbers, because the Navy needs men like this one around. You know what to do. Get after it.


Should we start a forum here?


Some call it a bulletin board. Whatever you want to call it, I think (or hope) you know what I mean.

What I envision is a forum internal to this website. You would access it via one of the menu tabs at the top of my page. There are software plug-ins available that could incorporate this feature almost seamlessly. I think (or hope) I could set it up in a weekend, with only occasional breaks for watching football. What I really want to know is if there is any appetite for such a venture. I’ll obviously maintain 51-percent of the vote regarding whether or not this happens, but your inputs will go a long way toward determining my potential level of investment.

The Purpose

By my best estimate, I spend approximately 3 hours on each blog post. That includes research, writing, posting and sharing. There is some time spent in follow-up as well: monitoring comments, editing, providing feedback, etc. I am not complaining, mind you. This is my blog. I write, I pay the bills, and I deal with everything that accompanies the same. If that’s a burden I can’t shoulder, I shouldn’t complain to you about it, I should pull the plug. You don’t come to my site to hear me whine. I do believe that a bulletin board / forum has the potential to enhance the overall experience in this ready room. I don’t say that without reservation. Please understand that this forum would be “in addition to” and not “in lieu of”. It would represent more of an expansion than a wholesale change. What it would really do is give us the opportunity to have discussions that aren’t currently taking place. I’ll further explain below.

Forces For

  • I have either considered writing or started-and-stopped writing literally hundreds of posts that never made it to publishing. In some cases I didn’t have enough of a unique angle to make it worthwhile. In other cases I didn’t have enough time to do the topic justice. More often than not, the topic wasn’t worthy of a full blog post, but was worthy of discussion. Such topics are perfect for a forum.
  • In a forum, I don’t always lead the discussion. Anyone can. Many of you have been kind enough to propose worthwhile topics in the past. This would enable you to start the conversation. Do you wonder why no one cares that Hillary Clinton sent and received TS/SCI e-mail on her personal unclassified server? Me too. Let’s talk about it.
  • We have built a community here. I’m very happy about that. I envision a scenario where we could help each other. Who do I contact to get a quota at the Ruehlin seminar? What is the Ruehlin seminar? Has anyone done an exchange tour in Spain? Where do I file a PPM claim? Want to rent a house in Atlantic Beach? What do I do about my dog when moving to Hawaii?
  • I’d likely start with an open forum, but there may be merit in private membership for certain topics or demographics (think active duty).

Forces Against

  • I don’t want the forum to detract from the actual blog and whatever I decide to post there.
  • Similarly, I don’t want discussions we can and should have on the blog itself to move into the forums. Comments about what I write (the topic and my take on it) would stay on the blog in my perfect world.
  • To use the forum, you’d have to register. I know people, especially those on active duty, are very protective of their anonymity. I can offer a lot of reassurance, but I’m afraid many will still take a pass.
  • Although I can alleviate the threat of damaging information with good moderation, I worry about rumors. “I heard a jet just went down in Fallon. Who knows something about it?”
  • Most of all, I don’t want to host a venue for backroom brawls where malcontents who rarely see the sun constantly lob spears. It’s a sure sign of failure when 3-percent of the members are doing 97-percent of the posting.

That’s what I think. What do you think?


Requiescat in Pace, Marine


I obviously don’t post every time a service member passes into the clearing. When I do, there is likely some affiliation for me, or the death somehow struck a personal chord with me. In this particular case, f felt compelled by an outpouring of support that I’ve not witnessed in a long time. It’s clear that this man was dearly loved by a wide range of fellow humans. While I’m here, I wish to make clear that my belief system is such that no loss of life is more tragic than another. What differentiates one from the next is the impact they have on us. The man you see pictured above, although I didn’t know him, had an unmistakable impact on the lives he touched.

I have seen a massive number of tributes to Taj. They are all meaningful and heartfelt. The real reason I’m writing this post is to provide us – us being the community we’ve built here in this ready room – a single place for anyone who feels moved to pay homage to this warrior. It will serve as a collection of sorts. My hope is that it will bring someone solace. Maybe it will bring a lot of people solace. It can serve as a future link to help summon a smile when melancholy overcomes us.

So, dear readers, leave some footprints. Share a wonderful memory. Help spread the news of this beloved man.

Brother Taj, I look forward to meeting you. I will see you where the tailwinds always blow, where the pizza at the FBO is always hot when you land, and where the thunderstorms always part just prior to your arrival. I think we would have gotten along swimmingly. I think we will.

To break up a somber moment, can I just say how jealous I am of this guy’s hair? Holy coiffe!


I implore you to do your own research before deciding whether or how to give, but there is a gofundme page set up here if you would like to check it out.


The Aviation Major Command Screen Board – When Poisonous Fruit Falls from a Virtuous Tree


I’m going to ask something of you. No, I don’t want your money. Not today, anyway. I’m asking for your attention. If you’ve made it this far, please continue reading this post in its entirety. Do it deliberately. Don’t skim. Don’t gloss over the uploads. This is important. Should you make the decision to indulge me, I’m confident you will agree.

The Navy’s command screening process, and by extension its major command screening process, is not without flaw. Every process has flaws. Some are minor, some are fatal. In my opinion, the flaws in the command screening process are minor. These boards have never been free of axe-grinding or agenda-pushing (wink!), but more often than not, they pick darn good people, and in doing so, they get it right. Some of you will disagree; that is fine. I assure you that, in the vast majority of cases, your angst is best aimed at the Reporting Senior who wrote your hero’s high-water FITREP, and not at the board that used said FITREP as it was intended.

Given that the current screening process is admirable in its fairness and transparency, any move in the opposite direction should be viewed with equal amounts of suspicion and concern. That’s where we are now, which is best illustrated by the e-mail in block-quotes below.

Subject: Change to the release process for AMCSB results

Aviation Leadership,

As a part of CNP’s expanded efforts to manage our officer talent, each TYCOM will now have a larger role in the approval process of our Admin selection board results.  We will continue to ensure that we have the highest caliber officers, with the right skillsets, in critical command positions.  The new process will begin with this month’s Aviation Major Command Board.

How our boards select officers for Command and Major Command will be largely unchanged.  We historically do a very good job of selecting Aviation’s most talented officers, to the “best and fully qualified” standard.  Our board membership is comprised of sitting or recently sitting Operational Commanders, who know first-hand the demands placed on our O-5 and O-6 commanders, and I trust their judgment implicitly.  Going forward, the intent is to preserve that trust and the experience of those selecting tomorrow’s leaders.

There will be a change in how board results are approved/released.  After the board adjourns, I will receive the list of all selects and the category for which they were recommended (CVW, Deep Draft, Major Shore, etc.).  After I review and approve the board results, [CNPC] will release the results as he has in the past.  The published results will list each officer alphabetically by selected command category without reference to IZ or AZ (first or second look).  As before, the Flag/SES web site will publish the select list, and you will then have an advanced opportunity to contact those selected officers you may have mentored over the years.  The two time non-selects will still be called by board members immediately after the board adjourns.

During my review of the results, I will have the authority, if I so chose, to adjust the category for which an officer was selected.  As I stated earlier, my intent is to closely follow the board’s recommendations, and only shift selected officers between categories to better manage Naval Aviation’s talent, or to address a future need/requirement or officer preference.  I will not have the authority to elevate non-selected officers to selected status.

Occasionally during the post results slating process, an officer cannot fulfill their selected position.  Our process in the past has been to remove that officer from the Command select list.  This new authority will allow me to shift this officer to another category during the slating process (better “fit”).  I will use this new authority judiciously, preserving the sanctity of our well-established selection processes, and only if I believe an adjustment to the slate is in Naval Aviation’s best interests.  Other than providing me with board results and the preferences of those officers selected, PERS-43 has no other involvement/influence in these new procedures.

As mentioned, next week’s AMCSB will be the first time we’ve used this new process, so I ask for your patience as we are all accustomed to receiving the results the day the board adjourns.  This added step may take a little time, but we will do our best to expedite and minimize the time between adjournment and results release.

Standing by to provide clarification or answer any questions.  PERS-43 will share this note with aviation O-6 leadership.



To the naive and/or uninitiated, this looks like a harmless policy change that best suits the needs of Naval Aviation and the personal preferences of accomplished officers. Please look more closely. Fully invest yourself and read between the lines. Some say you must be evil to see evil. If that’s true, I’m guilty as charged.

There are a lot of euphemisms in this e-mail. There are terms like “fit”, and “managing talent”. There are a number of other distractors. Don’t fall for them. Everything you need to know is in this passage.

“During my review of the results, I will have the authority, if I so chose, to adjust the category for which an officer was selected.”

Really?! Really. After a board of carefully-selected professionals are sequestered at length in Millington, TN to produce a list generally respected across Naval Aviation, the results will be shuffled via one-man vote conducted behind closed doors at NAS North Island. Zero process. Zero record-keeping. Zero transparency. This change doesn’t “preserve the sanctity of our well-established selection processes”, it spits on their collective graves. Everyone who selects for major command this year, and presumably every year hereafter, is going to wonder where their name was when it left the tank and how it wound up at its ultimate location on the list.

Lest you think otherwise, this is not a victimless crime. For the most part, right or wrong, and whether you like it or not, Naval Aviation Flag Officers come from the CAG and Nuke pipeline. That’s what is at stake here. If you think a 3-star is wrestling away ultimate control  of the major command screen board so he can move the prospective CO of NAS Key West to be the prospective CO of NAS Jacksonville, you are eating shrooms. This is about making prospective TRAWING Commodores into CAGs. Yeah. You heard me.

The Back-Story

Some of you will recall the lengthy delay between last year’s AMCSB results and the AMCSB slate. It was not a delay without reason.

Uploaded below are last year’s results. Take note of the names listed for Major Command Ashore – TRAWING.

Uploaded below is last year’s slate. Look for the same names under the TRAWING header. (Hint: you will only see one of them.)

On the surface, there is no sign of a diabolical plot. The screen rarely matches the slate for any number of reasons. Some officers simply say “no thanks”. Many others are hamstrung by sub-optimal timing. In this particular case, the disappearance is not so innocuous. In fact, it’s not a disappearance at all. It is pure sleight of hand. The gentleman referenced above re-emerged on a different part of the command screen like a quarter pulled from behind your ear. And the guy squirting you in the eye with a fake flower on his lapel was (and is) the Navy’s highest ranking civilian.

You don’t know about any of this because it was orchestrated in back-office negotiations. You were never supposed to know. This charade was carefully planned for execution in the seams between the FY16 screen and the FY17 screen. Orders magically show up with an en route stop at the FA-18 FRS. Congratulations, PDCAG. Move along, everyone. Nothing to see here.

None of this occurred in a vacuum, of course. Last year’s slate was held up for over two months. You can’t interrupt a process that prominent without anyone noticing. Dozens of very senior officers, to include Flag Officers, either knew this violation of the board’s results was happening or participated in it to some extent. That’s not to say they endorsed it, but they weren’t oblivious.

In light of this very troubling revelation, the e-mail I embedded above no longer looks like a solution in search of a problem. It makes complete sense, does it not? It serves two purposes. It provides sufficient cover for last year’s antics, and it paves the way for similar antics in the future. After all, why would anyone now accept unfavorable board results of any kind? Didn’t make O-4? Didn’t screen for O-5 command? Didn’t select for that Olmsted Scholarship? Just get it changed. You could be forgiven for not knowing that was an option.

Upon request, I will provide cell phone numbers for Newk, Proton, or any other Great Americans who might be left on the curb in order to facilitate apologies.

Update: It’s not just me. Take a look at what our very own Phibian Salamander has to say about this issue.


The Navy’s Uniform Androgyny (Guest Post)


diversity (n.)   1) the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc. 2) a range of different things

gender equality (n.) The view that women and men should receive equal treatment.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus appears to believe gender equality (which he has openly stated is one of his “signature issues” during his tenure in office) necessitates that male and female Sailors dress alike.

For several years now, various groups of female Sailors have been wear-testing male uniform components to determine said components’ feasibility for inclusion in the women’s seabag. Reviews were mixed (at best). Last week, NAVADMIN 236/15 announced the results of these wear tests. Among other things, enlisted female Sailors will soon begin wearing Dixie cups and dress uniforms (cracker jacks), and female chiefs’ and officers’ seabags will include male combination covers and choker jackets.

I regard these attempted uniform changes with a healthy dose of skepticism. Why is Secretary Mabus so intent on making male and female Sailors look alike? Upon release of the NAVADMIN, Secretary Mabus addressed the changes, saying, “We are ending the way we segregate by uniforms. Rather than highlighting differences in our ranks, we will incorporate everyone as full participants.” But until he mandates co-ed berthing and heads aboard ship, I call shenanigans (and no, I do not think either of those would be a wise decision!).

Despite the many years that have elapsed since my Plebe Summer, I can still vividly recall the excitement I felt as the day approached when we would first be permitted to wear our White Works Alpha – the first time we plebes would eschew the Dixie cup for the midshipman combination cover. At the time, female mids wore the traditional women’s combo cover, and I loved mine. I tried it on over and over, wanting to be sure it fit just right, and counting the days until I was authorized to wear it in public. I still remember the pride I felt at being not just a midshipman, but a female midshipman. I didn’t want to look like my male counterparts. I wanted to earn my place in the Brigade because I worked hard and contributed to the team, not merely because those around me couldn’t tell me apart from anybody else.

Secretary Mabus further said, “In the Navy and in the Marine Corps, we are moving towards uniforms that don’t divide us as male or female, but rather unite us as sailors or Marines.” I’d counter this statement by arguing that units are united most not by what their members wear, but by what their members work together to accomplish. And the overwhelming majority of that work is completed in working uniforms – flight suits, NWUs, medical scrubs, flight deck jerseys – which are unisex anyway. It is in the unisex uniforms that Sailors, male and female alike, test their mettle and demonstrate their technical and tactical proficiency. Those are the capabilities on which Sailors are judged. Those are the qualities that establish each Sailor’s contribution to their unit and to the Navy at large. On the contrary, the uniforms being changed by this new policy are “service” or “dress” uniforms, which are worn frequently in more formal work settings (Pentagon, I’m looking at you) but also on liberty or to infrequent occasions like change of command or retirement ceremonies. Due to the more formal or ceremonial nature of these uniforms, I’d argue that while they are being worn, there is nothing wrong with men looking like men and women looking like women.

To put this another way, Sailors are differentiated (or differentiate themselves) based on their performance, not their attire. High-performing Sailors are treasured by their units because they contribute greatly to the unit’s mission. Low-performing Sailors are less valuable to their units because they do not contribute to the unit’s mission. This is where “differences in our ranks” make themselves clear – skirts or pants don’t even enter the equation.

Here’s the thing. We all look different from one another…and that’s OK. Black Sailors, Asian Sailors, and white Sailors are easily distinguishable. And that’s OK. Female Sailors and male Sailors can be told apart by differences in hairstyle, facial features, and body shape. And that’s OK too! Sailors don’t need to be shoehorned into the same mold in order to belong or to succeed. As a general rule, women and men have different personalities, different strengths (and weaknesses), different approaches to problem solving, different ways of communicating…the list goes on. And those are good things. They contribute significantly to the diversity that Secretary Mabus so enthusiastically celebrates. So if we’re going to embrace those differences, why the desperation to ignore the physical differences in men’s and women’s appearances? If Big Navy’s push to celebrate diversity is sincere, then it shouldn’t be so eager to disguise such a large group of its force in the wrong uniform.

LCDR Josette Curtis, USNR, is a 2001 Naval Academy graduate. She served nine and a half years on active duty before transitioning to the Reserves. She currently serves as a USNA Blue and Gold officer, where she routinely recruits and interviews prospective midshipmen (while proudly wearing her female combination cover).


A Bit of Colored Ribbon: The Participation Trophy Navy


“A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

To frame this discussion, take a look at this picture of a bona fide American military hero: Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz. Pay particular attention to the right side (your right, his left) of his uniform coat and give me a quick count of his awards. I’ll save you the 0.02 seconds it will take you: it’s six. Those six are the Navy Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) (times three, based on the two gold stars thereon), the Lifesaving Medal, the Army DSM, the WWI Victory Medal, the American Defense Service Medal, and the American Campaign Medal. According to Wikipedia, which is always 100-percent accurate, he would also be entitled to the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the WWII Victory Medal (one would assume that’s accurate), and the National Defense Service Medal. (I think that’s probably inaccurate, based on his retirement date, but who am I to argue with Wikipedia?)

So, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who led the Navy to victory in the central Pacific, who served his country for 40 years, who signed the instrument of surrender in Tokyo Bay, thereby ending the Second-Freaking-World-War, had either ten or eleven medals to summarize his career achievements. In fairness, he also has an aircraft carrier, roads, and the Naval Academy’s library named after him.  By the way, Audie Murphy, the war’s most decorated soldier, had about 10 personal awards (separate from service and good conduct awards, and unit awards).

Now, take a look at a modern example.


Before we proceed, let me make one thing clear: I have nothing against the officer whose ribbons are pictured; I cast no aspersions on his/her career, make no accusations about his/her record of service, or about this person’s individual merits. This is a discussion merely about the nature of the awards system in today’s Navy and I’ve used a modern ribbon rack as an example only.

All that said; let’s focus on what we see. Two DSMs, a Defense Superior Service Medal, four Legions of Merit (Legion of Merits?), two Meritorious Service Medals, four Navy Commendation Medals, and three Navy Achievement Medals (NAMs). That’s a grand total of sixteen decorations. We’ll call it quits there, but that’s just the first six ribbons, there are ten more on there, many of them with multiple awards.

And yet, there has been no world war, no massive cross-ocean societal mobilization and campaign to organize, and no struggle to save the nation since Nimitz earned his measly ten awards for his forty year career.

Not explicitly, but by implication, we have consistently eroded the accomplishments of our professional ancestors by cramming a North Korean-esque number of medals on our collective chest over the course of recent decades. After every tour (with some minor exceptions), an officer is awarded a medal, no matter how mundane his service during his tour, no matter what jobs he held.

Sea Story: When I was a midshipman, one of my classmates performed CPR on one of the school’s administrators and saved his life. For his efforts, the young man was awarded a NAM to the thunderous applause of the Brigade of Midshipmen. The sight of one of our own, decorated for service, recognized for his actions, was amazing and inspiring. The NAM seemed to be for us an unattainable goal.

Fast forward ten years, and I have seen more than my fair share of lieutenants awarded the same NAM for exemplary service as the coffee mess officer. This is the same NAM as the one awarded to a sailor who takes on additional duties and assumes leadership of a team to ensure that a crucial project is completed on time. It’s also the same NAM awarded to a sailor who just punches a clock and doesn’t get a DUI for three years.

In researching this story, I searched for the documentation that would allow me to put together a precise timeline for what I believe are the causal factors. Unfortunately, older documents and rules can be tough to find, and pinning down the timeline is going to mostly be a matter of conjecture, unless helpful sleuths can point me in the right direction. But here’s what I know.

The number of available awards has grown considerably over time. During the Big One (the second one), the US had approximately 16 total awards, ranging from the Medal of Honor (MoH) at the top, to the three theater-specific campaign medals. Currently, the Navy has approximately one million available awards, ranging from the MoH down to the pistol qualification ribbon.

Quick aside, for those not familiar, a “medal” is more prestigious than a “ribbon,” and personal awards like the MoH or NAM rank above unit awards, given to whole units (ships, battalions, squadrons, etc.), and service awards, which are earned by being in the military during a time of conflict (e.g., there’s a service award for service in Iraq, one for Vietnam, one for just general times of national defense, whatever that means). (Ir)regardless, the number of all three types (personal, unit, and service) has grown.

During that time [citation needed], restrictions on the number of awards a commanding officer can award have been lifted, leaving COs the ability to hand out unlimited free NAMs. Couple this with the fact that awards contribute points towards enlisted personnel’s advancement score, and you can see where we’re heading (if you can’t, I’ll spell it out).

Any good CO who cares about his enlisted sailors’ ability to promote will do everything possible to ensure that they will indeed promote. This includes providing opportunities for schools, leadership positions, and good performance evaluations. It also includes conferring awards, since a NAM (for example) is worth two points towards advancement.

Two points doesn’t seem like much, but it can make the difference between one sailor and another. Long ago, some skipper decided that his best sailors would now get their free NAMs, maybe because they deserved it, maybe because the skipper just wanted to give his troops every advantage, probably both. Well, the CO next door saw that his neighbor’s sailors were getting an additional two points, and he wanted his folks to be competitive, so his guys started getting NAMs too. This rippled down the seawall/flight line, and soon every unit’s CO was handing out awards to his sailors to level the playing field.

It sounds crazy, but I’ve literally (literally!) watched it happen in awards boards, where sailors are given awards not based on their service, but based on their time in rank, time in the squadron, and place in the promotion cycle. It was nothing nefarious, nothing underhanded, and nothing conspiratorial, it was just officers trying to ensure that their career-minded sailors had every chance to promote. In other words, it seemed like officers exercising good leadership within the confines of the system.

I suspect (but can’t confirm) that officer awards proceeded along similar lines, and although there are no “points” for officers, a LT with four NAMs looks better on paper than one with two.

But does that make it ok? When we give a NAM to YN2 Schumkatelli for “expertly managing a database of personal information for 350 sailors,” aren’t we just saying “for doing what we asked of him?” (Not to mention that we’re paying him to do it.) The Navy Awards Manual (monster-sized PDF) says that a NAM should be given for actions that “clearly exceed that which is normally required or expected.” Saving the life of a heart attack victim? Sounds good. Coffee mess officer? Not so sure…

At the risk of making it sound like a personal thing, here are two more sea stories.

My father served for 21 years. In that time, he was awarded one (1) NAM, when he was a LCDR, and it was a huge deal. The whole family went, including his mother, who came up from Florida to see her son be decorated for his service. My mother, also a naval officer, was nominated for a NAM and got a poem in a card from her CO instead. The poem read:

If ye win through an African jungle

Unmentioned at home in the Press,

Heed it not: no man seeth the piston,

But it driveth the ship none the less.

It should sound familiar to ring-knockers.

So that attitude has transformed into the world in which we live. One in which I can comfortably fill a job for a couple of years and leave with another “gold star in lieu of,” provided I don’t do anything to get myself, or my CO, fired. Sometime between about the first Gulf War and the present (possibly stretching back into the 80s), the number of awards increased, while the criteria for awarding them was degraded, perhaps in practice, if not in regulation.

“Okay, so what? It’s not a big deal, as long as we’re all getting participation awards, then who cares?”

There are two problems with our awards spending spree, one internal, one external.

The internal problem is backwards looking. The aforementioned Audie Murphy earned a Bronze Star for leading an attack on a German tank at Anzio, and then later single-handedly destroying the tank hulk while under fire to help the Allied advance. Pretty impressive stuff.

Meanwhile, for example, personnel in recent conflicts (in order to avoid singling anyone out, no link provided) have been given the same award for “single-handedly [developing] all the intelligence products for the battalion.” This citation is for an Army intelligence specialist, whose job description probably includes the phrase: “develop all the intelligence products for the battalion.”

What this evolution does is cheapen an award meant for “acts or services… performed in a manner significantly above that normally expected, and sufficient to distinguish the individual above those performing similar acts or services.” Does that standard apply to an intelligence specialist whose award citation includes a basic description of exactly what the military expects of him? Are these accomplishments really on par with the single-handed destruction of a German tank under fire on a hostile shore?

Search your heart; you know the answer.

Less dramatic examples abound. Does the NAM given to an officer after a three-year tour really equal that given to a sailor after an eight-month cruise? Does the NAM given to a sailor who takes charge of an important project and runs it to completion equal that given to the officer who just does his job for three years? On a bus ride through Kandahar air field, I once heard two admin-specialty soldiers discussing what awards they would get upon their return home in front of a couple of infantry soldiers who were in Kandahar on R&R. Let the tragedy of that statement sink in.

The 2015 lieutenant with four NAMs cheapens the 1989 LT with zero, implying that service in 2015 was more valuable by virtue of the decorations awarded. Likewise, the 2015 Bronze Star for avoiding paper cuts on a NATO airfield complete with its own Dutch milkshake stand (run by pretty, blonde, Dutch twenty-somethings) cheapens the one awarded to the twenty-something infantry sergeant who braves hostile fire to complete a life-or-death mission.

This leads in to the second problem with the awards culture. Awarding ourselves all of these ribbons and medals inflates the public perception of the military. I mean, look at our leadership, they have so many decorations, they must have singlehandedly wrestled Saddam into submission! They must have exploits that rival whichever SEAL is currently claiming to have killed bin Laden! That Air Medal must have been earned on a low-level ingress over Damascus under hostile fire and definitely not by flying over Afghanistan twenty uneventful times.

Civilians are generally ignorant about awards, but they know that the MoH is an almost-holy relic in our culture, bestowed upon fewer and fewer people. The leap of logic from “Medal of Honor” to just “medal,” is not far, lending even the most mundane award an absurd gravitas in civilian consciousness.

I’m not going to say that this creates an entitlement mindset and sense of Spartan superiority, a super-decorated, everyone-gets-a-trophy, entitled-to-an-award military, but if you want to draw that conclusion on your own, I won’t stop you.

The American public trusts us to an incredible degree, and they take us at face value. If you wear a rack full of ribbons in front of a civilian, they are going to assume that you are a genuine war hero. Which, I’m willing to bet, you aren’t (which is okay, most of us aren’t). Our awards-happy culture dupes civilians into thinking that we’re all Audie Murphy, that our accomplishments set us above and beyond those of the mere mortals who work in retail or investment banking or whatever “consulting” is.

So what’s the fix (because, as I’ve said before, I’m a solutions guy)?

  1. Unlink awards from advancement points. The award itself is the reward. You don’t get an award to get a leg up on the competition. You get an award as a free-standing recognition of your meritorious service. Extra credit for awards effectively nullifies the benefit, as every skipper worth his salt will ensure that his best sailors get an award no matter what.
  2. Impose quotas on the number and type of awards a CO can award. If a skipper has to think critically while awarding a finite number of medals, those decorations will be judiciously meted out to those that deserve it most. Those who have “clearly [exceeded] that which is normally required or expected” get the award. Those that fill a space in the unit do not.
  3. Recalibrate your idea of what earns an award. This is the Navy. We expect maximum effort from ourselves and our sailors all the time. No one “deserves” an award just by virtue of showing up. An award is a symbol of recognition for your work, bestowed by the citizens of our country. If you think John Q. Public would be impressed that you “expertly maintained a positive balance of the squadron’s coffee mess account,” you may have an over-inflated idea of your own importance.
  4. Wear the awards you’ve earned. Yes, maybe you got a NAM for maintaining a heartbeat for three years. Maybe you got a Bronze Star for setting up your unit’s computer network in your headquarters in Bagram. Maybe you got an Air Medal for twenty uneventful flights to and from various tankers in Afghanistan. And maybe that seems insane (and it is), but they are still awards bestowed by your country in recognition of your service under the rules established by the Navy.  Ridiculous or not, you earned them under the rules that govern our awards, they are part of your uniform, wear them with pride. If your service authorizes you to wear some ribbons and skip others, maybe that’s not a bad idea; it’ll keep you from looking like a Commissar General and will save you money! Just remember…
  5. Be humble. You are not Audie Murphy. Or Michael Murphy. Or Dakota Meyer. You are probably not even Dakota Fanning. You went were you were told to go, did what you were told to do, and maybe worked harder than you thought you would have to work. Maybe you got a medal. Maybe not. You driveth the ship none the less. Your efforts probably were vital to the unit’s success. But you are not a special snowflake. The next guy with your job will also be vital to the continued success of that unit. Your satisfaction should derive from a job well done, not by whether or not you see your name in lights. And if you do stand at attention in front of the wardroom, remember, you are not a hero. The public will see your chest of ribbons and assume that you’re Superman. You are not. Very few are. Having a medal that says you are doesn’t make it true.
  6. Revamp the awards process. There is currently a DoD-wide review of the awards process. My input to those involved: commonly-given awards must become more selective and the criteria must be more strictly adhered to. Or, here’s a novel idea in the history of the military: get rid of some. There is a ribbon given to Navy personnel for deploying on a ship. Think about that. That is literally the definition of what a Navy does. Why in the world do we give out an award for that? There are awards for distinguished service, meritorious service, superior service, and joint service. There are ribbons for recruiting duty, reserve duty, sea service, recruit training, ceremonial guard service, and completing basic training (it is an actual participation award for just being in the military, the Air Force and Army specifically). The Navy, while trying to maintain a patina of respectability, has just created a ribbon for the Boot Camp honor grad. I think anyone who’s been in the military for longer than six months can see how much being Boot Camp honor grad gets you (spoiler alert, moms and dads of young sailors: it’s nothing, you earn your reputation on the job).

Nothing you are doing is unique or special. It has been done before, it will be done again. You don’t need a trophy, just do your job. Those in charge of this review need to think extra hard about scrapping many of these awards. I’d be happy to see the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, the shooter qualification ribbons, and even the NAM and the Navy Commendation Medal just fade into the night and the whole concept of the “end of tour” award go away. Your end of tour award is whether or not you get the orders you want. If you don’t get those orders, guess what? You could have done better. (Millennials, that doesn’t mean you’re worthless, please don’t be offended.)

Unfortunately, the prospect of idea number 6 happening is slim. When we have a flag billet for the “Office of the 21st Century sailor” (a title that encompasses literally every person currently in the Navy), it’s clear that our goal is not slimming down, but adding to the list of plaudits we give ourselves. I said it as a joke earlier, but the risk of making ourselves resemble a reviewing stand of Communist officers becomes ever more likely.

Napoleon knew that the proper allocation of “a bit of colored ribbon” would inspire his Grande Armée to conquer the world for him. But when that colored ribbon becomes as common as the uniform it adorns, it cheapens the heroics of the past, inflates the egos of the present, and ensures that future service members will resemble cartoonish caricatures, becoming ever more decorated for accomplishments that are ever more mundane.


Graham Scarbro is a reasonably-likeable, French-speaking, baseball fan. His views are his own and do not represent official U.S. Navy, DoD, or government policy… Yet.


Rotary Wing Strike Leads: It’s a Good Thing (Guest Post)


Many reading the title would disagree, and that’s okay. But before jumping right to the comments section below, I’ll ask one simple question. What’s the NAWDC (not pronounced “Nazi”) definition of a strike lead? I bet you get it wrong.

The concept is nothing new. For years CAGs have been designating helicopter pilots as strike leads, but it was always personality driven. The first were probably leads for combat search and rescue (CSAR), and then, as the capabilities of the helicopter improved, many were designated as Maritime Strike; most recently, Special Operations Forces (SOF) Strike Lead. The problem is that the practice varied wildly from CAG to CAG. It still does. It’s time to understand the qualification, where naval helicopters fit into the structure, and address it through appropriate instructions.

But before we go there, why? If I’m a CAG and own the qual, why would I want to designate a helicopter pilot as a strike lead?

First of all, if a CAG launches a strike package, he or she knows exactly the qualifications, experience and proficiency of the individual leading the strike. They have been through a NAWDC codified, CAG modified syllabus, monitored by the CAG Strike Officer, certified and designated by CAG. When a CAG launches helicopters on an operation of similar complexity (non-compliant vessel take-down, FAC/FIAC), there is no similar understanding of that individual’s qualification. This is about standardizing the process to increase CAG’s situational awareness.

Secondly, let’s look at the construct of today’s air wing. Twenty years ago, it was made up of 72 aircraft, six of which were helicopters, all purely ASW. CAG now owns 65 aircraft, almost one-third of which (19) are helicopters. They carry Hellfire missiles, guided and unguided rockets, torpedoes, 20mm ordnance, and incorporate advanced integrated self-defense systems. Naval Aviation is a warfighting force, and if the NAE buys helicopters with warfighting capability, CAG should expect to use them. When it happens, CAG should expect the same tactical excellence in their rotary-wing assets as in their fixed-wing assets. This isn’t just about performance of the aircraft. The air wing, with two helicopter squadrons, now has over 50 rotary wing pilots. CAG should expect, and receive, the same tactical excellence throughout his ready rooms – regardless of how fast the aircraft moves through the air. It’s a fundamental truth of psychology, that humans will rise, or fall, to the expected level of performance. With finite assets, the Navy can greatly increase the effectiveness of its air wings by expecting the same level of tactical proficiency across all platforms.

So you say “Mmmm. Makes a little sense, but I still don’t think helicopters should be strike leads.” Okay. Let’s go to the definition:

A SL is an individual capable of planning, briefing, leading and debriefing a Large Force Exercise (LFE) to include a large force strike (LFS) from an aircraft carrier.

I asked a lot of people. CAGs. Post-CAGs. Flags who were CAGs. They all had different answers. Some said it had to be over the beach. Don’t tell that to our Midway vets. Some say it had to be joint. Okay. Got it, and we can do that, but it’s not in the instruction. Many may not like the term “Strike Lead” for helicopters. Although I’m not tied to the term, I would refer back to the definition. Happy to entertain suggestions. The over-arching instruction where this definition is found lies with NAWDC, the organization responsible for advanced tactical training of all aviation TMSs – to include helicopters. Call it what you want, there is no reason why this certification should not be extended to rotary wing.

I’m open, but so far, I’ve not heard a convincing argument against the designation. It’s tough to argue against increasing CAG’s awareness of the competencies and proficiencies of those pilots leading operations sourced primarily by helicopters. It’s tough to argue against raising the tactical bar for a third of the air wing. In an era of tight budgets, it’s tough to argue against increasing the effectiveness of the air wing at no cost. And that’s what it should be about, right? Fly. Fight. Lead. Win.

The author is currently the Commodore of HSCWINGPAC. He spent his career as a straight-stick west coast HS guy, with one stint in the FDNF at CVW-5. As a fleet CO, he transitioned HS-8 to HSC-8. He’s also a long-time friend. You are welcome to attack his ideas. You are not welcome to attack him. If you do, I’ll double your Google ad footprint (after I learn how).