Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The United States Naval Institute & the Junior Officer

As my readers know, though I do take guest posts now and then - they are rare. They are rare for a reason. They have to be on something that someone else can opine better than I can. Ahem.

Well, here is a guest post worthy of your time and outlines well one of the major issues we are looking at WRT the USNI Mission Statement.

Below is a guest post from LCDR Benjamin “BJ” Armstrong, USN. He is an active duty naval helicopter pilot who is currently serving as an MH-60S Detachment Officer-in-Charge. He is a USNI member whose articles have appeared in
Proceedings, Naval History and the USNI Blog. He has been a panelist on USNI panels at the 2010 Joint Warfighting Conference as well as the 2010 USNI Naval History Conference. BJ, over to you.
In 2007 I was sitting in the Navy Lodge in Key West with my father when I learned that my first article for Proceedings had been accepted. Taking a break from our fly fishing, and getting ready for a night on Duval Street, I checked my e-mail and discovered an exciting acceptance note from then editor Bob Timberg for my “Nobody asked me but…” op-ed entitled “Who Needs Warfighting Secrets From the Boardroom?” We celebrated that night (not that we weren’t about to anyway).

I was a Lieutenant and I sent
Proceedings my manuscript with the hope that they would be interested because my subject was specific, the Navy’s graduate education policy that provided no funding for my pursuit of a master’s degree in military history but plenty of opportunities to earn a business degree for free. I had personal experience, research, and knowledge of the subject matter. However, it was a subject that in no way advocated for global seapower. It had no direct connection to America’s national security and economic prosperity. Instead, it was a specific professional subject that I thought would contribute to the advancement of our service’s professional, literary, and scientific understanding. I felt that naval officers would better understand their profession through greater historical education than through mastery of lean six sigma business modeling.

Being a part of the professional discussion was inspiring and I have continued to send manuscripts to USNI’s journals. Some have been accepted and published, others have been returned with comment from the Editorial Board or the Editors. Most of them have had a rather narrow focus, which is probably to be expected from a Lieutenant who became a Lieutenant Commander. Some of the subjects have included the use of navy helicopters in counter-terror manhunting (a professional subject), sleep deprivation and safety in the surface fleet (a scientific subject), and honoring the history of the Chief’s Mess (a literary subject). One of the reasons I felt comfortable as a junior officer sending my manuscripts to USNI was because I was aware of what has been termed “the open forum.”

The mission of the Institute made it clear that there was no single point of view that would be accepted. Any article that made a contribution to the discussion, on any professional subject, would be considered for publication.

My personal experience as a USNI author and speaker is part of my concern over the proposed change to the mission of the United States Naval Institute. I did not send my articles to the Lexington Institute, or the Heritage Foundation, or the Center for New American Security. Those organizations are advocates of specific policy. They deal in big ticket subjects of strategy and policy, which is important, but they often ignore tactical, operational, and deckplate questions that help to improve the sea services professionally. The direction that the proposed “new mission” takes the Naval Institute is toward these advocacy organizations and away from being our service’s pre-eminent professional organization, an organization which was founded by a handful of officers who were trying to improve themselves as warriors and leaders.

In the past when I’ve spoken with junior officers, and encouraged them to write for
Proceedings, I have emphasized the fact that they can and should start small. I tell them that the Naval Institute is interested in all subjects related to the Sea Services or the maritime environment, a statement backed up by the current mission statement. However, none of that will be true if the Naval Institute becomes an advocacy and lobbying group instead of the pre-eminent professional organization.

If the purpose of the Institute is to “advocate” larger policy solutions I will no longer be able to recommend that junior officers write for the journals. I wonder if I will also be less likely to write for them myself, since my areas of research and experience are not shipbuilding and acquisition or the development of large fleets.

Junior Officers were the lifeblood of the organization in the early decades of the Naval Institute. It is easy for retired senior officers to believe that their experience gives them greater insight than the junior officers who might write for
Proceedings. The great research conducted by Editorial Board Member LCDR Claude Berube on the subject of Junior Officer submission and publication in Proceedings suggests otherwise. He has concluded that involvement of JO’s and mid-grade officers has been key to successful innovation in the naval service. He wrote that:

Just as it is important that the wisdom of today’s leadership foster the dialogue and provide guidance for more junior personnel, it is equally important that junior and mid-grade officers and sailors see the Navy, Marine Corps and the world around them, to identify trends, recognize emerging challenges, and to challenge the status quo itself respectfully, logically, and in an articulate and persuasive manner.

In the first 45 years of the publication of
Proceedings, Lieutenants and Lieutenant Commanders wrote half of all the articles published and won the majority of prizes in the Institute’s essay contests. Members have already noticed that recent decades have seen a distinct change in those numbers. By changing the mission of the Naval Institute, moving away from the wide net that is cast by the current mission and focusing narrowly on advocacy for global seapower and larger policy issues, the Institute will continue to lose the participation of the sea services’ junior officers. If history is to be our guide, sacrificing these officers in order to gain greater participation of think tankers, academics, politicians and retired senior officers is likely to have a negative impact on the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard’s ability to develop innovative solutions to the challenges of the 21st century.

I find the apparent disregard for the contribution of Junior Officers and Sailors, and movement away from them in the proposed new mission, to be a serious cause for concern. It alone may be reason enough to support the mission as it stands and vote against the change.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the US Navy, or any other agency.
As a final note - though no one has complained about these posts - I am sure some of you just don't think this is important. I would offer to you that it is - it is critical. If Norman Polmar and Dr. London among the many others think it is important - then you owe it to yourself to ponder. Then ponder again.
UPDATE: Steeljaw Scribe has two posts on the subject that I highly recommend. Here and here.

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