Mar 17 2012

A red herring

Published by at 3:22 am under Flying,Military,Navy

There is a post up over at the USNI blog that really kind of made me angry. It's a good post, well written-but it's based on a flawed premise. Here I will set out to explain why.

Ever since the Navy came out with its completely assinine policy about breathalyzers at the quarterdeck-there has been a subset of folks who have said that the fact the Navy has resorted to this-shows how the service is missing the point. Its not alcohol but a poor command screening process and "poor character development". That's a lot of, excuse me, bullshit.

So, according to Secretary Mabus and the cowardly sycophants who thought up this scheme, the problem is not that we have poor character development and command screening processes. Rather, the problem is that we can't possibly tell when people are drinking too much and displaying conduct which suggests they might not be fit for command. And breathalyzing every O-5 and O-6 on duty ensures that we will have the soberest bunch of moral coward commanders in the history of the naval force. The solution to commanding officers abusing their positions in alcohol related incidents isn't character development and rigorous screening. The solution is a breathalyzer. Oh. My. God. What have we become?


Having sat on a selection board and spent more than few days in command-I thoroughly disagree with the above proposition. The "moral character" of our force (whatever the hell that means) is just fine. 99% of our Sailors do the right thing-every time, all the time when it comes to the particulars of their profession. For the other 1% there are already sufficient remedies in place-there is absolutely  no reason to add to them. I agree that Secretary Mabus is a craven idiot and the uniformed leadership is guilty of incompetence and neglect to allow this policy to go into place-I do not agree with the idea that the Navy has a morals problem. 

Now don't get me wrong-the "system" is failing the people who are in it. Its just that the failures are not in the command screening process or in the "moral development" of our CO's ( God I hate that phrase-just typing it made my head hurt). The problem that is getting CO's fired is three-fold. And they have to do with looking at the incidents for more than what you read in Navy Times.

1) Our people are not getting enough time in the cockpit or at the conn before screening for command.    There is no substitute for experience-the career path laid before our folks today does not put a premium on that. You have folks showing up to Department head tours with barely 1400 hours-when I went to my department head tour I had almost 2700 ( And yes its true I was a whore for flight time-if you were not flying, what was the point of being in the Navy after all?). Thanks to IA's, disassociated tours and other workarounds for nonexistent problems, quite simply you are not "saving" enough in the experience bank so that when people do assume command the don't have that experience to draw on. Don't believe me-go back and look at how many reliefs have occurred for shiphandling. Its more than a few.

Three tours of three years flying, floating or submerging should be the minimum-not the exception. One side benefit of that will be a great intangible : developing a community reputation-which I suspect has been less of a factor in recent screen boards than it should have. I'd rather see a board more focused on that than the skin color or gender of its selectees.

2) The world our CO's have to live in has changed-and not necessarily for the better. One of the things that amazes me is that the Navy creates , repeatedly, situations that set our folks up for failure and then is shocked, SHOCKED-when they give in to temptation. And yes, disgruntled commenter from January-that has to do with the presence of women on board. And ridiculous assumptions about what the rules should be-and should not be. People tend to forget that the average CO is a normal man or woman in their late 30's early 40's who are going through the normal progression of life. Many are married-some marry well, some not so well-but the burdens don't go away on them simply because they in the Navy. 13-of  20 incidents involved alcohol-but I submit the alcohol had NOTHING to do with the incident that got these folks fired. About half of those thirteen incidents are things that would not have gotten you fired 20 years ago. Counseling maybe-but not relief for cause. Then again cell phones, Twitter, and Facebook didn't exist either. Three CO's were relieved for things they didn't personally do-but that their Sailors did. Off the ship.  How crazy is that? Like it or not-Sailors are going to date, they are going to have sex and they are going to drink. "Wars and lechery-nothing else holds the fashion". Here's an unpopular notion: the problem is not that Sailors are dating, having sex or drinking. Its who they are dating, having sex with or drinking with.   

Sailors dating people in their chain of command is a problem. (I'll take it a step further and say in their command period) It is a problem for the Navy-even if its not a problem for the Sailor(s) in question. A Sailor dating a married woman who works out in town is a problem for the Sailor-but probably not a problem for the Navy. There is a difference-and when the Navy lost sight of that alone, it created a lot of the current issues it deals with. The Navy's focus should be on avoiding problems for the Navy-while encouraging Sailors to avoid problems for themselves. And yes Virginia, that will probably include the intermittent free-lancer at Impanema. Get over it.  Pass out the condoms ahead of time.

" What are you saying? That you should just encourage rampant immorality?" No. I am saying-fight the fights you can win. Scope the problem so that it is manageable. And try to remember that you are running a warfighting organization-not a convent. Which is also why we have chaplains. Incentivize the behavior you want-and treat Sailors like grown ups. When you treat them like adults they will behave like adults. Adults in our society get to make choices;  good ones and bad ones. So long as they show up to work on time, you can't influence much else.  Do away with the myriad of personnel policies you have right now that literally encourage Sailors to date other Sailors.

And as for that Sailor dating the married woman out in town? Well that usually carries its own punishment in terms of emotional pain and suffering. Much more free learning than the Navy could ever give him.  If it spills over into his work deal with it-otherwise it's his problem to deal with, not the Navy's.

Women are here to stay, I know that. However the Navy is refusing to deal with the issue in a rational fashion. Its not a "family friendly employer" and never will be. That won't stop people who really want to fly, float or submerge from signing up. Accept it and join the 21st century. To put it more crudely: when you have a Navy where a guy can fuck another guy in the ass with our blessing-but a guy can't fuck a woman with a condom without getting axed-you lost the moral high ground a long time ago.

3) Firing should be the last resort not the first.   There is a difference between being a Department Head and being in command. And people forget that for most of the O-5's in command it is their first time in that situation. No matter what the level of experience, there are situations that they will not have seen before. You have to hope their experience has given them a basis for a sound decision. Some rise to it-some do not-and may not be destined for another command as a result. But in my reading of the 21 firings last year-it seems clear that not all of them required a person to be fired. There are other more discrete ways of dealing with many of these problems. One side effect of the zero defect mentality that is prevalent now is that even CO's are reluctant to seek advice from their bosses. Bosses it seems,  are also reluctant to listen and hold things in confidence-and judge the  commanding officer in question on the balance of total performance, as an aviator and a commander. Not to be flippant, but the 7 of 7 block on the FITREP form is also there for a reason. Certainly its a lot more humane than a public shaming and public ruination. And for the most part,  accomplishes the same objective.

Now to be clear-there are redlines that cannot be crossed. A collision at sea can usually screw up your whole day. Violating NATOPS is never a wise choice ( well, almost never). Strangling your Sailors is going too far. Getting stopped by the local constabulary and having to walk in a straight line is not a good career move. Spending money you don't have -or on things you don't have the authority to buy is never smart.  But I I guarantee you something: not one of the CO's that has been fired this year woke up in the morning and said, " Hey, I think I will trash my whole life today because I think its a good idea".  Rather,  they generally made well intentioned decisions that blew up in their faces. There are requirements and there are things for which you cannot be forgiven. However just about everyone understands that and accepts it.  ( Those that don't -well as a I said earlier you already have ways to deal with that) What they can't stand is the gray areas that were once were handled through discrete counseling and private corrections- are somehow now public property.  

In summary I will close with a observation and a bit of a sea story. The observation: There is no moral crisis in the Navy.  The average naval officer or Sailor is getting up each morning and going to work on time, pays his bills, takes care of his family, serve his country-and maybe just maybe-desires to have a good time once in a while, while doing so. Its not an unreasonable expectation on his or her part.

The sea story: I owe my life to two pilots who personally could not have been more different. One was a devout religious man, a non drinker, who hated ready room movies because they had so much sex and violence. The other ( at the time) was something of a boozehound, was paying child support to a woman who was not his wife, and  had a boisterous and sometimes profane sense of humor. However they both knew how to fly a rather large aircraft when it found itself in extremis. The Navy I grew up in had room for the both of them. 

The Navy of today should have room for all kinds of people too.


UPDATE: In rooting around to support some comments over at USNI-I found this comment I wrote back in 2010 at "I like the cut of his jib" about the abomination that is "intrusive leadership"- a term I thoroughly despise. The person who came up with it should be ashamed ( especially since I think it had its origins in the MCPON's office):


I hate that term intrusive leadership. It has lead to a whole host of abuses of our Sailors and is why the Navy has such boneheaded programs like liberty cards and curfews and all the other nonsense that has sprung up in the last decade.

Intrusive = abusive. The is a way to keep your finger on the pulse of your Sailors withoug demanding that they submit every detail of their private life to inspection. It requires a plugged in and empowered Chief's mess for one thing, and communication up and down the chain of command.

The statement: "Intrusive leaders maintain clear boundaries with their Sailors. They are neither the Sailor’s parent nor their best friend, but a professional whose job it is to foster independence while teaching the Sailor the ways of the Navy."- is redundant. That's good leadership not intrusive leadership.

Most of the current crop of Officers have not gotten past the "intrusive" part and its too the detriment of the Navy as a whole. This is just another legacy of Uncle Vern's five years of mis-mangement as CNO. 

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6 responses so far

6 Responses to “A red herring”

  1. Curtison 18 Mar 2012 at 12:06 am

    Remind me again please. Did you do CO tours with women under your command? I'm pretty sure that you did. I recall my days at that and sometimes there was quite literally NOTHING that a CO could do to stop what was bound by nature to happen. Didn't happen in my commands thank God but it was always there. A Damocles sword swaying overhead. It happened to COs I worked for and they were all toast. As XO on deployment I used every means at my disposal to make this not happen. That cute little thing did every CB at Camp Snoopy in 2 weeks despite being roomed with an LCDR. Not that they committed a wrong but because they "permitted" it to happen on their watch. None of them were relieved but their careers ended at 05. Avoiding any sort of personal indiscretion was easy enough but these days a CO gets fired because of any kind of failure by subordinates in the chain of command. Turns out, I'm not missing it at all.

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  2. Skippy-sanon 18 Mar 2012 at 1:43 am

    I was Xo then CO of one of the first mixed gender squadrons-we also had a no dating rule in effect that was later invalidiated by the lawyers (No dating in the CVBG). We knew it would not stop dating-but our hope was it force discretion. It didn't. The first steel beach picnic we had ( 4 days into the TRANSLANT?!?) was a zoo-with girls wearing makeup and jeans and all other stuff. I knew right there we had a problem.

    But what I was getting at is that a lot of the firings are things that could have been dealt with in more discrete ways-without trashing all involved. And in three cases you have clear cut malfeasance by the adjudicating officers with Harvey being the worst offender.

    And someone has to tell me why Ron Horton deserved to get fired at all.

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  3. Mauriceon 18 Mar 2012 at 10:15 pm

    Drop me a line, and I will tell you the real story behind the CG CO firing in Yokosuka last month.  It hits on a few of your points.

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  4. Far East Cynic » A serious ranton 31 Mar 2012 at 12:15 pm

    […] they are. But as I pointed out before its as much about today's environment and the lack of consistency in application of standards […]

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  5. […] to stop firing so many CO's? Instead of mucking up a screening process that is not generally broken, why not stop being so obsessed with who and what they do off duty? There are civilian laws to […]

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  6. […] goodie: 3)Want to stop firing so many CO's? Instead of mucking up a screening process that is not generally broken, why not stop being so obsessed with who and what they do off duty? There are civilian laws to […]

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