Monday, April 02, 2012

Character & Integrity: View from the Fleet

I would like to start the week out with a guest post related to my 05MAR post, Do You Need Character and Integrity.

The author is former Commanding Officer of VAQ-135, and prior Midrats Guest CDR James H. Ware III, USN.

Tupper, over to you.

I have not seen the proposed training program, and so cannot speak to it from a position of credibility.

However, I have concerns regarding its motives and efficacy from a leader's standpoint. My concerns/observations to any proposed training program:
- why are we doing this? Is this because my leadership has been ineffective?
Has my conduct been unbecoming? Or is it because top-level leaders feel the need to show some kind of initiative in reducing Commanding Officer firings, reducing front-page news?
- why does Navy leadership think that character and integrity can be taught by powerpoint, when as any parent knows, it is formed through years of engaged parenting and by example?
- why are we modeling this training after the Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell Repeal training curriculum? DADT Repeal training was an instructional and highly organized (and effective!) brief clearly and appropriately explaining Navy policy on DADT Repeal last year. This C&I training seems to be completely different, and yet we're addressing it as if it were a Navy policy change.

There are consultants out there who see a paycheck in this and have something to sell. They hope that naval aviation will expand discussion of sensitive issues such as socializing together, poor personal behaviors, alcohol use, personal relationships/friendships, sexual tensions in the workspace so that officers and enlisted sailors will feel more comfortable to talk about these issues and get them out into the open.

The problem with this is officers are ALREADY comfortable talking about these issues, and we have been talking about them with our Chiefs, First Classes, and deckplate Sailors for decades. Before every portcall, I hold an All Hands call where I directly address every Sailor in person and explain my, and the Navy's, expectations for conduct.

Officers and Chiefs already discuss Sexual Assault, Drinking and Driving, Equal Opportunity, Sexual Harassment, Fraternization, and a dozen other "sensitive" issues with clarity and force. Breaking up into small groups to discuss case-studies simply will place another training requirement upon an already-strained, undermanned, over-tasked, overly deployed, high-OPTEMPO workforce.

If the USN is concerned about the high-level firings and misconduct of its Commanding Officers, then it should revamp its evaluation and selection process. I propose:
- evaluation (FITREP) inputs including the perspective of the Sailors who work for the Officer.
- does the Officer demonstrate integrity, on and off duty?
- does the Officer demonstrate honesty and character? Courage?
- anyone under consideration for selection as Commanding Officer should be interviewed, if not in person, then via VTC, by a panel of evaluators. The current system simply considers the opinions of a few senior personnel, and how the Officer looks on paper, in a closed-door, opaque, parochial process that smacks of cronyism. In high school, I had to interview for a job as a dishwasher. As an Officer, I was not interviewed once by the people who supposedly selected me based on a few pieces of paper in my record.

The Navy does not practice what it preaches. I have personally witnessed a peer Officer (not a Commanding Officer) commit misconduct, and was detached for cause. In his Board of Inquiry, the votes were:
3-0 in favor of Misconduct
3-0 in favor of Substandard Performance
2-1 in favor of retention on active duty

He was removed from his critical sea duty billet, deemed not good enough for that, but the Bureau of Personnel was required to retain him. In so doing, they assigned him to a posh set of shore duty orders, including flying orders (getting back in the cockpit) training junior Officers. Mind-boggling.

Any organization values what it rewards. When it rewards misconduct and substandard performance to the degree that this Officer committed, there are no negative consequences to an Officer's actions (short of him committing a capital crime). In the case I related to you, the Officer was a terminal O5 Commander anyway, and was not on track for O6. And yet he retains his job, his pay, and all his benefits. And he will be eligible to retire this summer.

Until the United States Navy synchronizes its actions with its glitzy, overpriced Power Point presentations and holds people accountable, why would we expect things to change? Until the Bureau of Personnel operates transparently and its Detailers and Placement Officers are required to support Navy policy with detailing/placement appropriate for the misconduct, why does anyone think that Character and Integrity training will make a difference?

To the junior Officer, Navy actions speak volumes -- the message is "do as I say, not as I do."

In my opinion, character, rather than taught in a classroom, comes from honorable perseverance through hardship -- not from a case-study. A quick look at the sea-counters or ITEMPO histories of any of our 3- or 4-star flags (with few exceptions) will quickly show that there aren't many leaders in DC or Millington these days that can relate to the deckplate Sailor in the fleet.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This entry from this skipper should yank every officer out of their cocoon of innocence. There is a lot of abuse and neglect of honor, courage, and commitment at the officer level. The Navy has to do a better job in selecting its future leaders and I think CDR Wares proposal is a great starting point. I hope to see it put into practice in the near future.