Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Sen. Kaine (D-VA) Puts CDR Salamander in the Senate Record

Today at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Recent United States Navy Incidents at Sea, Senator Kaine quoted a post from November 2008 based on the resignation letter from a regular reader and Junior Officer SWO who was kind enough to allow me to publish it.

To see what got the Senator and his staff's attention, I'll re-post the letter in full.


There are a multitude of reasons I am requesting to resign from active duty; in brief, I have lost faith in the direction of the Navy and I wish to pursue graduate education on my own terms.

I do not see a bright future for the Surface Navy. Our newest and projected ships are all troubling for multiple reasons. The LPD-17 class is a mess; late, over budget, incomplete and possesses questionable mission capability. LCS and DDG-1000, which were supposed to make up significant portions of our future fleet, are both struggling to get more than two hulls in the water and are having many of the same difficulties as LPD-17. These difficulties will continue to lead to a further dilution of the already limited assets we have. Our future combatants, LCS and DDG-1000, are both ridiculously under armed. Any frigate-sized combat ship whose primary weapon is a single 57mm cannon is dangerously ill-equipped. The secondary weapons systems are manned, un-stabilized .50 caliber guns. High rate of fire 57mm cannon are great, if they are secondary or tertiary weapons systems. Manned weapon systems, as we force ourselves to operate them, are inordinately manpower intensive. This is a huge flaw on a ship that is very light on bodies. Un-stabilized weapons are also of dubious use in any form of sea state. I understand the concept of adding capability to LCS with mission modules, but it is hard to temporarily install a gun on a ship. Even with a MIW package installed, the ship may have to fight. Have we learned nothing from history? Ships built to outrun anything they can not outgun generally can neither run nor fight as they are employed, will FREEDOM become known as equivalent to HOOD? DDG-1000 is another flawed concept, but at least 57mm cannon are included as a secondary weapon. In the modern littoral world the risks are simply too high to steam one of two or three multibillion dollar capital ships to do the land attack job. Any 15,000 ton ship that draws nearly 30 feet has no business being anywhere near the coastline. The ship has now been publicly justified solely because it is needed to develop the technology for CG(X). DDG-1000 will soon be nothing more than a white elephant. As part of the bigger picture, we no longer have ships that we can even pretend excel at surface warfare. We have allowed the air and submarine services to take responsibility for all of our offensive capability. We continue to develop fundamentally defensive capabilities. The fact is that in a conflict with a Russian or Chinese surface ship, our ships have no ability to credibly shoot back. Our offensive capability is limited to a helicopter or possibly a Harpoon, which is entirely unacceptable. We have entirely lost any credible offensive surface capability.

The manning for these new classes is also a concern. How these ships will have to operate and fight does not fit the current training or manning paradigm. I served as the Operations Officer on a PC. The PCs are the closest thing we have to the optimal manning construct of LCS. The administrative burden placed on the ships due to an antiquated manning system is obscene. In addition to this fact, crews are consistently put in situations where they have nothing but bad options; this limits readiness, hurts morale and is a disgrace to ORM practices. There is not the depth of talent available in optimum manning solutions, or sometimes simply the bodies, for the current manning process to work. These manning problems are directly related to future platforms and there is currently no credible solution, especially with the limited numbers of ships projected. New classes, with “optimal manning” will be consistently fighting an uphill battle. That battle will inevitably sap time, resources, and morale. That manning battle will in the long term affect the quality of people choosing to go to these ships. Will a hot running Junior Officer or Chief choose to go to a ship that may well be viewed as out of the mainstream and is known to be more work than a comparable DDG? Some may, many will not. The LCS manning models all suggest that it will be an entirely senior crew. Will they all be willing to stand watches, in port and underway that may actually be below their paygrade? What happens on the ship when the detailer who is completely unaffected sends a second class to fill a first class billet, as one up or one down is OK, a Sailor who does not have the requisite schools, ability, or maturity to fill a senior billet? What happens when there is an unanticipated loss on board? That billet needs to be filled and detailers can do nothing but activate their antiquated system and cut orders for someone coming from shore duty to arrive in six months. Even with staff and flag level involvement these issues persist. Each question I ask has been an actual issue and while I know they exist on all ships they disproportionately affect ships with smaller crews. Adding officers to the LCS manning construct to allow for a three section watch rotation, which was a listed justification at one point, leads me to believe that many of the actual manning issues to be seen have not been actively thought through. Many problems have surely been addressed, but what of those that are unanticipated? What happens when you go through a training cycle and have to demonstrate two watch sections and a fully qualified training team, especially during times when it may be physically impossible to do? One of three things will have to happen: change shipboard manning, change training and operation practices, or force the crews to deal with it. I anticipate the third option as being most likely. It is unreasonable to expect the newest and best surface assets to operate to their full potential with these manning problems. However, the system is not built to accommodate them. The crews inevitably will have to make up for institutional shortcomings with extra watch standing and extraordinary effort.

IAs are a sore subject. They remain an issue and have not been properly addressed. I know entirely too many people who have been sent on an IA to do jobs that have no professional application to their career. The numbers, as presented, are misleading. For example, from the current SWO CO/XO Mentoring Brief available from BUPERS (April 2008 as I write this, in September) there are approximately 75 Lieutenants on an IA or GSA, which equates to just shy of 4% of the force strength. I know not all of those are my year group but I do know some from my year group have already been on an IA, are on an IA or will be on an IA. The numbers when compared to the 281 of my year group set as a goal for SWOCP takers is staggeringly higher, nearly 25%. It will not surprise me to see numbers of around that 25% when we look at final percentages of year groups that have been on an IA or GSA. It may be that my perceptions are incorrect, as I am a skeptic by nature, but it certainly still feels like the sword of Damocles is hanging over our collective head. The communication has been terrible regarding IA/GSAs, and, by the way, changing a name does not change the problem. They should have been a temporary solution for an overextended Army and State Department. I would have gone on one of those in a heartbeat. In fact I applaud the Navy for helping; but now why do they still exist? Are they permanent billets associated with Army units; that we can deal with? On the other hand are we still filling gaps that now five years down the road we should not be? To address the negative impression the GSA has been turned into a “good deal” with tag lines like: beneficial to your career, Command Billets, IA instead of a second division officer, or second department head tour, etc. It seems to have turned into an unofficial requirement. If you want to look really good at a board you need all of your qualifications and an IA. They may not be mandatory, but if they are a plus and so many people have done them now, should I volunteer to go do something way out of my line of work just to look better and be more promotable? Another issue is that it seems ridiculous to go on an IA and still be required to do a joint tour and JPME. Were these things not instituted so more senior officers have a better idea of how other services work? It looks as if we have failed to apply common sense to an arbitrary checklist. I could go on for pages regarding the IA/GSA process, but the summary is that I feel like SWOs are being sold a bad deal and are even more embittered than they would be otherwise.

The whole IA/GSA process seems to be not much more than a thorn in the side of a surface force, which requires focus on unanswered topics. We are abrogating our duty to adapt to the conflict we are in. The capability we could field for the cost of one of our average surface ships in terms of maritime counterinsurgency (MCOIN) seems to be significant. I do not get the impression that we have focused enough on this capability. It remains a tiny sideshow relegated to reserve components and collateral duties. I am a non-compliant certified boarding officer. It is a capability we have added to surface ships in a haphazard manner; the current time and training allotted is inadequate for this duty and it is only a matter of time until we kill people. I will never argue that we do not need a bluewater strategic capability, it is one of our core competencies. We are failing to adjust to current issues and the corresponding decrease in conflict intensity. MCOIN cannot remain a subset of our special forces if we are to remain a valuable asset beyond the high seas and blue water realm. As warfare becomes more asymmetric missions once reserved for special forces will need to be handled by regular commands.

If I saw the Navy as actively pursuing MCOIN or a strategic vision that actually was relevant I would be less disillusioned. I would certainly consider staying in the Navy if the Navy was going down a more logical road to include the capabilities discussed in the previous paragraph. I am forced, if I wish to continue in the Surface Navy, to follow the career checklist: Department head school, a standard first tour department head tour, then maybe I could do something interesting, pending availability. I have been told that my time on a PC will not come back to bite me, but it seems as if it is because it is clearly listed as outside the mainstream (slide seven of the previously referenced brief). I am required to do three of four division officer and department head tours in the mainstream (slide nine of the previously referenced brief). I do not want to be fighting an uphill battle for the rest of my career, which given the standard career guidance, seems to be the only way I could ever do anything that excites me. My options, assuming I successfully complete a first tour department head job, are at best limited. Based on the most recent second tour department head billet list (July 2008) 50% of available second tours are on a staff, which holds exactly zero interest for me. Less than 10% of the jobs are what I would call appealing based on what I know now, and while I have gotten my first choice for every assignment so far I am not willing to stake my future happiness on a slim probability which may not even be available.

I would argue that giving officers the ability to have more options, even if outside the mainstream, would be beneficial to retention and broaden the capabilities of future commanders. Diversity is a dangerous term because we do not value career diversity. We say we value diversity and yet force our officers to stay in the mainstream to stay competitive. There is a huge difference between what we say we value and what we actually value. True diversity is variety of background and assignment. Diversity is not an Aegis division officer tour fleeting up on board, then two department head tours fleeting up on an Aegis ship, and then two tours as Executive Officer then Commanding Officer on an Aegis ship. True diversity in assignment is the opposite of that defined by the current hot-runners career path. Diversity as we define it in the Navy is nothing more than racism masquerading as an insult to the officer corps. I treat all of my Sailors exactly the same, regardless of their background or skin color; any officer worth their collar devices does the same. To suggest that I do otherwise is a denigration of my character and leadership. I do not need to come from the same socioeconomic background to tell a Sailor to stop sleeping on watch, take responsibility for their space or, on the other end of the spectrum, be their advocate at an awards board or ranking board. Diversity as practiced in the Navy means that, by the basic numbers promoted as goals for the 2037 Flag Officer pool, we will have to disproportionately promote Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Native American officers at the expense of White officers; especially given the historical retention problems among non-white officers. That is divisive, unfair, and racist. We have done away with promoting fairly and based promotion or awards on checking the boxes of what we think our Navy ought to look like.

The problem of checking the boxes, vice actually being a capable Navy exists everywhere. Lessons learned and codifications of “best practices” have led the Navy to being a force focused on the checklist as the end state vice actual capability. As one example, Afloat Training Group (ATG) does not care that a ship has a method to ensure safe navigation. The concern revolves around a ship meeting the requirements set forth in the Training Manual and the overly burdensome Training Figure of Merit computer. By failing to empower our personnel to come up with their own adequate solutions, and holding them accountable if they do not, we encourage a culture of mediocrity. Examples are everywhere around the Navy where a Sailor’s natural problem solving ability is stifled and that Sailor is forced to follow a checklist. This is a dangerous mentality that will come back to haunt us should we ever be involved in a shooting war. People are no longer being taught to operate, think, and fight within a box defined by the confluence of legal and operational requirements; they are taught to follow the checklist and if they do not they may be held accountable for inappropriate actions. We are slowly, but surely, falling into the Russian model where ships and fleets will be paralyzed because of their conditioned hesitance to act without specific guidelines and orders. We used to pride ourselves on the independence and warfighting spirit of our officers; now I have no desire for command at sea because it is not what it once was.
Command used to be a place where you could finally break free of all the stupidity you had been subjected to and do things how you wanted. Not so now. It is unconscionable that a Commanding Officer is forced to adopt generic standing orders or just tweaks the prepackaged outline provided in the pipeline. Commanding Officers are micromanaged to the point where command by negation has been killed, long gone are the days of Nimitz, Spruance and Halsey.

Above and beyond the problems I have detailed in the Navy, I want to pursue a graduate degree of my choosing; one of actual value to me. The reliance on the checklist as the end state vice a tool to get there has made its appearance in education as well. Why should I use my personal time on shore duty to get a master’s degree to remain competitive with officers whose shore duty is solely for the pursuit of a master’s degree? We have already seen the suspension of this arbitrary policy on the enlisted side and that is good. I do not want a Chief focusing on getting an associates degree so he can make Senior Chief, I want him focused on our Sailors. I am glad that requirement has been suspended. An advanced degree, no matter what it is, is now becoming the arbitrary goal among officers instead of the actual ability to think critically. I chose to avoid getting a degree that will not benefit me in the long term, aside from filling an arbitrary requirement. Instead, I will use the benefits now afforded me under the Post 9/11 GI Bill to get a degree that is useful in the civilian world.

I have fulfilled my obligation to the Navy and more. I have served on multiple deployments covering most of the world. I have experienced unique situations and have been privileged to work for and with excellent people. I have also had the privilege to lead excellent people and I have rewarded their trust in me. I have no doubt that my experiences in the Navy have made me a better and stronger person and for that I am thankful. However it is unbearable for me to remain a square peg in a Navy full of round holes. It pains me to see so many good people and possibilities wasted by our self inflicted bureaucratic ineptitude and institutional inertia. Problems of our own making are the things standing between where we are and where we need to be, yet we continue over the cliff like lemmings. Please accept my reasons for resignation in the positive spirit they were written because I honestly do care for the greater good of the Navy. The current direction of the Navy and my disillusionment with policies has led to my decision to start another life.

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