How the BoD can sit mutely is beyond me.
Members of the US Naval Institute Board of Directors:
There is much hyperbole circulating regarding the proposed change to the Naval Institute’s mission statement and the departure of Major General Tom Wilkerson, USMC (Ret) as CEO. Although I had an initial negative reaction to the proposal, I have thus far avoided public comment in any major way. As I care deeply about the United States Naval Institute, I wanted to take the opportunity to think carefully and objectively, and consult with people whose opinion I value before reaching a conclusion and/or stating my opinion. I have done that.
First let me state that I love the Naval Institute. As a midshipman, I read the NROTC battalion’s copy of Proceedings every month. It became my wish to publish within that journal’s pages; to do so signified to me recognition among an elite group of individuals who comprised the intellectual core of my chosen vocation. I made several attempts at creating something worth reading before appearing in December, 2001 issue of Proceedings, 13 years into my career. It was a major professional milestone for me, and when I published my book, it was important that it come out of Naval Institute Press. This is where the Naval Institute lies in my own thoughts. It does not hold a similar place, in my opinion, in the lives of the current generation of Junior Officers.
Over the past fifteen years or so we have seen a drop off in our membership among junior and now mid-grade officers of the maritime services. I am sure you are aware that our demographic trends towards senior officers and the retired community. This is, literally, a death spiral for a professional organization. Under these circumstances the effort must be directed at outreach to the younger core of the profession, towards gaining legitimacy as an honest broker in the debates and discussions that lie at the center of their professional lives. Maintaining an “independent forum” is critical to this, but unfortunately the growing perception, according to conversations that I routinely have among junior officers, is that the Naval Institute has become a wardroom for active duty flags carrying water for their leadership and retired flags pushing platforms for the defense corporations that employ them. Incorporating “advocacy” into our mission statement is a mistake and would be disastrous to our membership rolls, thus I strongly oppose the proposed change to the USNI Mission Statement.
With regard to the departure of MGen Wilkerson as the CEO and Publisher of the Institute, the circumstances are troubling. From what I have gathered from online sources, General Wilkerson had proposed the creation of a stand-alone think tank that would focus on maritime security issues. This entity was to be “fire-walled”, as one of my contemporaries characterized to me, from the normal day to day activities of the Institute, preserving the independence of the open forum while also creating opportunity for creative and concentrated thought. After due consideration, I applaud and enthusiastically support this concept. Based upon my own conjecture, I surmise that the Board of Directors chose to reject this initiative in favor of integrating such activities in the form of advocacy on maritime issues into the US Naval Institute proper and that there was an agreement for a professional parting of ways with the General. As I stated earlier, I believe incorporating advocacy into USNI proper will undermine the legitimacy of the Institute as an open forum in the eyes of junior and mid-grade officers. Under these circumstances, I regret that the Board chose to disagree with General Wilkerson over this issue.
Some have told me that the key to the Naval Institute’s future lies in who is selected to lead it following General Wilkerson’s departure. I agree completely. Leadership is critical at this strategic inflexion point in the Institute’s life. This crisis over the mission of the organization has created a threat to the enviable reputation that the Institute has built one critical idea at a time since its founding in 1873. Some have suggested that what is needed at this time is a leader who can gain access and influence with the maritime service’s leadership. While I disagree with the legal reasoning that brought about the decision that CNO’s can no longer serve in an honorary capacity as a leader of the Institute, I do not believe that strengthening the relationship between USNI and the maritime service’s front offices is the answer to our prayers. I have heard that the Board’s search committee is looking for a retired three or four star officer who has left active service in the past five years. I strongly oppose such narrow search criteria. Your crisis is not with the Navy’s leadership, it is with the junior and mid-grade officers who, in their growing cynicism, refuse to participate in what they perceive to be a rapidly closing “open forum.”
I respectfully suggest that you open your search criteria to pursue a person with the characteristics of the Army’s John Nagl, who was a major creative force behind the COIN strategy and now serves as the head of the Center for New American Security. We need a young professional with an O-5/O-6 resume, possessing a strong reputation amongst the naval strategic community, who has the energy and legitimacy to promote the open forum of the Naval Institute to a generation of officers who no longer believe in this core center of our profession. In my mind names like Brian McGrath, Vic Addison and Frank Hoffman fit this description.
I feel compelled to respectfully request that you, regardless of your reaction
to my suggestion, not to select a member from the current Board’s membership to take over as CEO. While I am sure that anyone considered would be well qualified, the appointment of an individual to lead the Institute who was an active participant in the departure of MGen Wilkerson and the decision to change the mission statement will heighten the cynicism amongst the junior and mid-grade officers as well as the current membership of the Naval Institute. Such a move will have a significant negative impact upon the legitimacy of the United States Naval Institute.
Henry J. (Jerry) Hendrix II
Captain, USN (PhD)