This post is not so lovingly dedicated to Phib’s commenter Anathema, who was the central figure in the comment fest over at his place. The veracity with which he defends the flawed decision making of our gutless Naval Leadership-compels me to write this post. Please forward to him if you wish. He needs to read it.
On Friday, I spent some time reading the just released JAGMAN investigation into the so called “Enterprise XO movie night videos” incident.
Never in 30+ years in and around the Naval Service have I seen so many people get screwed over something so insignificant and so trivial. You really should read the whole thing, all 74 pages. You can cut the hypocrisy with a knife. I commented on this a few weeks ago-but the tenure of the debate since then, and the over reaction by the chain of command demands further comment.
A few words up front. I know many of the participants in these events-so it colors my view to some extent. Getting moral lectures on what should and should not be present in Naval Aviation grates me-especially when I know that many of those giving such lectures engaged in plenty of similar activities. So appeals to my better nature tend to fall on deaf ears.
In case you don’t have time to read the whole thing, here is the cliff notes version:
The XO made videos to put in front of Saturday night movie night. Contrary to what many are saying now-this always was, and has been a tradition aboard many aircraft carriers. ( They had them on Coral Sea and TR for a couple of examples of ships I served on). What is new-is the idea of someone trying to put spontaneity and some humor into these videos. Most CVN XO’s are clones of each other. They wouldn’t do it-because they lack the humor and/ or the ability to pull it off. Ambition tends to beat that out of them at an early age-and add to it the prerequisites to be even considered for Nuke XO and its clear that “free spirits” are definitely not a part of that gene pool. (and certainly won’t be in the future).
So when someone tried to put a little life into them-here is what happened:
Most of the crew probably liked them-a few well-placed female officers probably didn’t, and whined. In the middle of the cruise it was noted-but there were probably more important things to worry about like making the flight schedule and making sortie count. Now 4 years after the fact-with a new “special minority to be appeased” its time to show the greater world we “get it”. So hypocrites who should have more willingness to take care of their own, are more than willing to throw their shipmates to the wolves. Been there done that in the aftermath of Tailhook, where- there as now-good men got screwed to appease a noisy few.
The investigation backs this premise up. The PDF will not allow you to copy and quote individual sections but I would draw your attention to a couple of items.
1) The investigation was specifically not tasked to investigate who made these videos public, thus denying the opportunity to keep this inside the Navy lifelines. Kind of sad really since I be willing to bet more than a couple of beers it was someone trying to settle a grudge.
2) The investigation casts a huge net as to what is “offensive”. (Paragraph 5). Suffice it to say, what they consider to be offensive-was quite normal during my time. And is still done today-although I’m sure it is being done more quietly now.
3) The phrase “popular with the crew” is used ten times at least. The phrase ” no one complained about the videos” is also used a lot. So are the words, “so and so was not derelict in the performance of his duty”-but they were quickly disregarded in the conclusions. Oh yea-the words, “Enterprise morale was high” show up a lot too.
4). Page 24 is key. A female CDR who had a “close personal and professional relationships with a member of the CSG-12 staff” whined about the videos. Now mind you the CAPT had already discussed when and where content crossed his personal comfort line and the CSG-12 commander accepted explanations of counseling at face value.
5) And oh yes, the Enterprise was on deployment, with an old ship and still won the Battle E.
There are some very particular issues here as I see it.
Issue #1: The hoary old issue of “command presence” is at the heart of this. This question has been around since the 1970′s that I can recall if not a lot longer. For the uninitiated-basically command presence is the idea that you have to be a certain type of personality to be effective in command. Those who believe strongly in the idea tend to have little use for mitigating factors such as great piloting, ship-handling, or great skills at tactical execution. ( Also known as the now defunct holy grail of the Navy: being able to “fight the aircraft, ship or submarine”). These folks were described in an August 1984 issue of US Naval Institute proceedings. Namely, people with great “command presence”:
“When faced with quick decisions, they will opt for the status quo. He (or she) is inherently short on imagination, preferring careful analysis to brilliant insights. He is overly cautious…but will try to look the part of a traditional Naval Officer….and is usually very demanding “about looking good around the ship“. BTW -most “command presence” kind of folks are “thunderstruck” at liberty in Olangapo or Pattaya-their favorite ports are Monaco or Cannes. “Although he may not do well in combat-he will gladly die trying“.
In a nutshell any arguments about what CAPT Honors did or did not do are centered on this. NOT ONCE, have I heard his ship-handling, piloting skills, or ability to track details discussed as a mitigating factor. Nor it would seem is anyone asking if he could understand the concerns of the deck plate Sailor. They come back to command presence. There is no room in today’s Navy for characters-especially when “shoes” are making the judgment.
Issue #2-Nothing, even it it never violates the UCMJ, is ever in the past. Which is odd-since even the UCMJ itself has a statute of limitations. CAPT Honors-for whatever concerns were voiced about his failure as an VJ-evidently received good enough FITREPS to allow him to go on to his Deep Draft and then to subsequent CVN Command. If you are currently serving on active duty today, you should be very concerned about this, because it now means that anyone, and I do mean anyone, with an axe to grind can go back and resurrect a past decision and get it to be used against you.
Ask yourself this question? Why did this require letters of censure? A quick, ” I think you should retire” and a quiet P-4 ordering that XO movie night videos shall not be produced anymore couldn’t suffice? Of course not-not with DADT repealed and a new need to show people who cannot and will not serve, that the Navy somehow “gets it”. And why didn’t subsequent performance and accomplishment serve to mitigate any desire to punish these individuals? Because it got out in the press and embarrassed the Navy.
3) Issue #3. It is wrong to punish enlisted people for following lawful orders and telling them what they should or should not be offended at. Several of the critical paragraphs take Enterprise crew members to task for not voicing offense to things that they did not find offensive to begin with is just plain wrong. I’ll grant that officers bear responsibility and will take the heat when they decided wrong-this wholesale action to formally single out enlisted personnel, whose only crime was doing their job, is just wrong. Furthermore, by making statements that they have some sort of an obligation to whine-ensures you will have whining of the worst sort. ( Law of unintended consequences).
Issue 4-This kind of overkill, on what is essentially an isolated issue, when real negligence on behalf of our personnel and procurement leadership is overlooked, sends a signal too. Who has been fired over LCS? LPD-17? JSF?Someone did get fired over JSF-but the program is still hosed. Who is going to go back and formally censure those leaders who created the train wreck that is Naval Aviation procurement? The XO Movie Night videos got a woman offended-the latter will actually kill people. Page 55 and the “lecture given” rings hollow from guys who acquiesced to similar things in their own time -and participated in really dumb perosnnel and hardware decisions with no one holding them accountable for them. So spare me the moral outrage.
Now as I said at the begining-I’m not surprised at the way it all turned out-but I am more than a little angry and at the same time sad.
As far as I am concerned it is the natural result of the trend that many of us warned would happen when squadrons and ships were made mixed gender-namely, that unlike what the women said they wanted, “to just be treated like the men”, the real agenda was to change and destroy the culture of the Naval Aviation and ruin everything that made it fun. And it would appear they have succeeded.
There are people who say I am defending unprofessional conduct. I firmly reject that contention-now and in the future. But don’t kid yourself this is deeper task, nothing less than legislating conformity to a humorless and quite frankly, “watch your back” type of day to day environment that is not good for anyone. The a work hard, play hard environment of Naval Aviation is dead. And it’ s not coming back. Enjoy life as Black Shoes who fly airplanes. I’m glad I won’t have to join you.
Last Friday was the first day that I could truly say I no longer missed the Navy and I am glad I am retired. I am glad I served when I did and not in the one the “Throw ‘em under the bus” crowd wants to create.