Friday, July 03, 2020

Fullbore Friday

Back in 2013, the late, great Wayne Hughes gave me permission to publish the full text of a speech he gave that year.

To keep you company this July 4th weekend, I'll repost it here in full.

Captain Hughes; over to you.






COMMAND AND CONTROL AT THE BATTLE OF MIDWAY
AND SIX THINGS IT TOOK TO WIN
Captain Wayne Hughes, Jr.
Naval Postgraduate School
11 April 2013

Seventy-one years ago LIFE MAGAZINE told the story of Ensign George Gay, the only survivor of Torpedo Squadron EIGHT’s attack on the Japanese striking force at the Battle of Midway. His squadron’s heroism had a lifelong effect on this twelve year old boy growing up in the cornfields of Illinois.
I didn’t know the whole story then—how Gay’s commanding officer, LCDR John Waldron, broke away from rest of the Hornet air group and the deep significance his squadron’s sacrifice in making our victory possible. Personal courage was one of six critical factors—and probably the best known one—that made victory possible in the Battle of Midway on the 4th of June 1942.
Years later, in the early 1970s at Pensacola during the filming of the movie “Midway” our training carrier served as a surrogate Enterprise. At a filming of the carrier getting underway my wife, Joan, and others went down to the pier to volunteer as extras. The movie, by the way, is quite faithful to history.
Also movingly done was Herman Wouk’s vivid description of the battle in the air in War and Remembrance. Wouk’s imaginary hero, Captain “Pug” Henry, had a son, Warren, who was a dive bomber pilot who struck the Japanese carriers.
Best of all is John Lunstrom’s recently published Black Shoe Carrier Admiral. Among the many, many histories and personal accounts of the battle, Lunstrom’s stands out as the best researched, most detailed, and fairest appraisal of top-to-bottom performance on both sides.
Not long ago I wrote about Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance, including his role at Midway. His presence there added to the momentum that would make him our premier fleet commander in the Pacific. Spruance was criticized later for one thing and another, but Lundstrom framed him best: “Every time when Spruance faced the Japanese, they lost.” Here is a quotation from my own appraisal of Spruance at Midway in Nineteen-Gun Salute, a recent book covering nineteen of our greatest navy leaders:
Imagine Spruance as he walks into Nimitz’s office on 26 May 1942, only to be told that Halsey is hospitalized and Task Force 16 is his. Within minutes Spruance learns that in 48 hours he will sail to fight, with 100 percent certainty, the first naval battle of his life, outnumbered 80 ships to 26, against an enemy who has not lost a battle since 7 December 1941. Nimitz says his mission will be to take calculated risks to attack and punish the Japanese, yet without losing his own force. Spruance learns that if Yorktown’s damages at the Battle of the Coral Sea can be patched up, Fletcher will join on the very eve of battle and assume tactical command. It is a mission demanding exquisite responsibility and adaptability. “Elated,” says one historian of Spruance’s reaction to the news. If you think like Spruance, “sobered” is a better term.
But let’s cut to the chase. I will talk briefly about six things all of which were necessary for an American victory—an “incredible victory,” as Walter Lord called it. I’ve mentioned two. In covering all of them, I’ll be defending Yamamoto and Nagumo and the Japanese air wing commanders. This is just in passing, but it offends me when historians have to find feet of clay in a battle’s losers. The Japanese weren’t perfect—no battle is planned and fought error free—but all of the six things I’m going to talk about had to coalesce for us, or else the Japanese would have won and maintained their unblemished record. Midway marks the turning point of the Pacific war.
FIRST, COURAGE
The American torpedo planes were not the only ones who exhibited great courage on 4 June. One data point says more than a dozen individual stories could do. Of 233 aircraft in our three carriers, we lost 108, almost half of them. Many brave airmen also fought and survived, including Chicagoan “Butch” O’Hare, Jimmy Thach, and our own Lieutenant Dick Best who has spoken at NPS forums in the past. Human performance, including fighting to the death, is the very essence of what we glibly call command and control—not the technology of a system but the actions of men against fire.
SECOND, LEADERSHIP
I have boundless admiration for Raymond Spruance. He earned his reputation over the rest of the Pacific War, commanding at Tarawa, the Marshalls, the Marianas, the Battle of the Philippine Sea—a near-perfectly fought battle underappreciated at the time—then at Iwo Jima, and finally at the bitter, culminating Okinawa campaign in the spring of 1945. The adulation Spruance received after Midway largely came from his timely decision to launch his two air wings at the right moment to attack the Japanese carriers before they detected and struck us. It was vital that he not waffle or hesitate, but for this Monday morning quarterback who is neither caught up in the heat of the battle nor under orders to fight boldly without risking my carriers, attacking as soon as possible was a no brainer. Spruance’s greater wisdom at Midway was something he was condemned for at the time. The night after the battle he turned east away from the Japanese force he had just destroyed. Spruance was afraid Yamamoto would try to redeem the battle by sending battleships and cruisers east to catch him coming west. As it turned out that is exactly what Admiral Yamamoto did. What was a great victory could have turned into the debacle Nimitz at all costs wanted to avoid.
But the real hero of the battle is Admiral Chester Nimitz himself. He understood that only he could gather all the threads in his hands ashore at Pearl Harbor and communicate the vital information in one-way transmissions to Fletcher, Spruance, and his commander on Midway Island, and synthesize incoming messages from an assortment of submarines and sea planes on reconnaissance. Moreover, up to the moment when the Japanese carriers were located and the attacks began, Nimitz was his own tactical commander. He put Task Forces 16 and 17 where they needed to be. He gave each task force its own distinctive role. And in everything important he outwitted his very capable Japanese counterpart, Admiral Yamamoto.
Finally I want to add Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher to my honor roll. His Yorktown air wing was the best handled in the battle and who did not hesitate to turn over command to Spruance when he lost communications in his damaged carrier. Fletcher was one of the unrecognized heroes in everything that had gone before. The CNO, Admiral King, tried to get Nimitz to fire Fletcher. Nimitz resisted as long as he dared, because he saw that the Japanese navy was a seasoned fighting force in 1942, while Fletcher’s forces were green and still learning.
THIRD, LUCK
Napoleon said he wanted “lucky generals” and Branch Rickey said of baseball “luck is just the residue of good design.” We can say that Lieutenant Dick Best was a “lucky general” because he saw at the critical moment that McClusky was leading all the dive bombers against the Kaga. He broke off and with two wingmen dropped just three bombs on the Akagi to achieve two near misses and one fatal hit. Lucky? Sure. But perceptive and heroic, too. However, I’m not talking about making your luck, but about just plain chance. There is no other explanation for the fact that the critical Japanese search plane assigned to search where our forces lay silent and undetected was the only one that was delayed. If the cruiser Tone’s scout had found our ships on time then the two air fleets would have struck each other almost simultaneously and our outnumbered forces would have lost the battle.
Nor is there any explanation other than sheer luck that Wade McClusky’s and Max Leslie’s forty dive bombers, coming from different directions and different carriers, arrived over the Japanese carriers at the exact same time and fatally damaged three carriers in five minutes, at 1025 on 4 June 1942. It was not just for their courage that we remember Waldron, Lindsey, and Massey’s torpedo bombers. They had to arrive, all three squadrons, just minutes ahead of the dive bombers to draw away 41 Japanese fighters and the attention of the entire Japanese striking force and let the dive bombers attack literally unhindered. It took courage and bold leadership, but the culminating event by which we won the battle has to be one of the most fortuitous events in all naval history.
FOURTH, CODE BREAKING
Many people know now that we had broken the Japanese code. But in crypt-analysis nothing is certain and our success was part science, part art, and part Nimitz’ faith in his cryptographer team at Pearl led by Ed Layton and Joe Rochefort. As a result, Nimitz brought the Enterprise and Yorktown back from the South Pacific and patched up the damaged Yorktown just in time to play a key role in the battle. Instead of one carrier we had three. By some clever deception, the code breakers confirmed the target was Midway Island, which we promptly loaded with over one hundred aircraft—more than on any carrier—all unbeknownst to Yamamoto. Best of all, we knew to within a day or so when and where to search, find, and attack his fleet.
FIFTH, RADAR
In June 1942 we had air search radar and the Japanese did not. Therefore they had no warning of the approaching dive bombers. That made all the difference. The defending Japanese fighters in the air were all too low to intercept our dive bombers because they had no air search radar to warn them. With radar the carrier decks would not have been caught with aircraft loaded with fuel, bombs, and ammunition. Radar itself is merely a technology. It takes wise command to appreciate its value—which we did not have at Pearl Harbor on 7 December. But by the following June we were proficient in using it to control our aircraft.
SIXTH AND LAST, MIDWAY ISLAND
The sixth necessary factor I have never seen specified is the role of Midway Atoll itself. Midway served as a fourth aircraft carrier on our side, and since its location was known and it could not move, Midway Island drew a lot of attention. It is not a big place but on the fatal day it was packed with Navy, Marine and Army aircraft, including B-17 bombers. Of the approximately 115 aircraft on the island we lost almost 60% of them. They did no damage whatsoever, but by making a series of badly coordinated attacks they preoccupied Nagumo and affected his decisions. Without the distraction of Midway Island we could never have attacked his striking force successfully. The irony of Midway is this. Yamamoto didn’t care as much about taking the island as he did about drawing out and destroying the remnants of our fleet. But Nagamo became distracted, and what was intended to be the seduction of our fleet—Midway Island—ended by seducing the seducer.
WARFARE AT SEA IS STILL FAST, FURIOUS, AND FATAL
Need I say that the six things, courage, leadership, luck, cryptanalysis, radar, and the island of Midway itself were all intertwined in a single fabric? Herman Wouk pays special tribute to the valor, leadership, radar, and luck of the aviators by having Captain Henry’s son die on the third day of the battle while diving, one last time, on a crippled Japanese cruiser. He memorializes all the aviators in the three torpedo squadrons from Hornet, Enterprise, and Yorktown by naming the pilots and crewmen, both the 68 who died and 14 who lived. Ian Toll in Pacific Crucible likens our torpedo bombers to the charge of the light brigade, but that’s the image of a foolish, useless sacrifice. Lundstrom, by comparison, give the torpedo planes a heroes’ credit for opening the door for the dive bombers’ success.
What is the command and control connection? A big technology change is embodied in our unmanned aerial vehicles. There is currently a debate about the ethics of attacking with unmanned aircraft. I think if you had asked John Waldron, Gene Lindsey, Lance Massey and their torpedo squadron mates, to a man they’d have said bring on the UAVs: it is better to sacrifice enemy lives with robotic attacks than to sacrifice American aviators.
The Battle of Midway was a special turning point in the war, but it in terms of fighting it is typical of all the great naval battles of the Pacific War. Aircraft carriers were vulnerable. By the end of 1942 both sides were reduced to one operating carrier, so that both sides had to rebuild their carrier fleets in 1943. As to aircraft losses, in the five big Pacific air battles, one-third of our aircraft were lost per battle, and two-thirds were lost per battle on the Japanese side.
The US Navy hasn’t fought a sea battle since 1945. Midway was fast, furious, and decisive. Has anything changed since then? I don’t think so. In the Falklands War a big deal was made in Time and Newsweek about the ships the Royal Navy was losing in 1982. This bugged me so much I took to the lecture circuit to put the record straight. That half-dozen or so British ships were sunk was not unusual, and at the same time the defenders destroyed the cream of the Argentine air force. Argentina lost so many aircraft, more than 40% of them, they had to change their strategy. Missile battles between ships have also been just as fast and furious in modern combat as in the past.
The Battle of Midway was not an anomaly in terms of destructiveness. The anomaly was that a badly outnumbered force won a great victory against a very skillful opponent, and it took all six critical things for us to win.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Diversity Thursday

We are in the middle of a national moral panic, and it is bleeding over in the the USN. Like most moral panics, it starts with an actual event that soon morphs in to something completely unrelated and unhinged. I don't think I need to provide more of an outline than; a bad cop killed a man in Minneapolis, and as a result we are pulling down statues of Teddy Roosevelt, Columbus, scraping names off of historic ships, and slashing NYC police budgets in the face of a crime wave.

Before we dive in, let's review a few things I think we need to cover first.

As regulars here keep emailing me about, we have not done many DivThu lately. I've never liked the topic, and as of late, what was already a minefield has become even more dangerous. I've dialed up the gain a bit, so it takes a strong signal to break above the background noise to justify a DivThu, at least for me. I shouldn't let the threats and deplatforming attempts get under my skin, but I wouldn't be truthful if I didn't say it was part of it too. I'll spare you the details, but if I quit DivThu 100%, I'll let the bastards win, so it is time.

As we have new readers all the time, I guess I should outline some fundamentals. DivThu is based on one thing; people should be treated equally and as individuals. Group rewards and punishments based on race, creed, color, and national origin do nothing but divide nations. Individual bias against people based on race, creed, color or national origin is a cancer that needs constant monitoring and correction when discovered. In their frustration, there are some well meaning people who cannot accept that there are differences in people and cultures, there always have been, but they won't acccept this reality and want to blame differences on direct, malicious action, always. 

In trying to "make the metrics work" they propose actions which use the same bad behavior they think they are trying to correct; they discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, or national origin. When this happens, someone has to speak up. This is 2020, not 1962. Sailors coming to boot camp today were mostly born after 911. The were in grade school when Barack Obama was elected President.

There are also bad players out there. They don't make mistakes from well meaning gestures and policies - they intentionally strive to stoke conflict. Their jobs or their entire world view are undermined if there is unity, reconciliation, and reason. They require emotion, strife, and lower brain stem grievance. When these people show up, people have to stand up or you will see your unit, service, or nation torn asunder as history shows us where this leads.

When it comes to our Navy, we have a lot to be proud of when it comes to being a merit based, inclusive organization - especially the last half-century. Since I became associated with it in the 1980s, concerns about inclusiveness and anti-discrimination have been a constant point of training, discussion and concern. As our intake is our host nation's outtake, we have to filter and adjust what our nation creates in its culture and education system as young men and women join us. As any review of demographic data will show, there are significant differences in different groups of people when it comes to educational achievement, crime rates, and desire to serve. The reasons are varied, but they are part of the entering equation. As such, our Navy and its various career paths will never "look like America" because that simply is not possible if you use balanced, fair, and objective criteria from accession to retirement with the raw material we bring in from society. The only way to do that would be to practice what you are fighting against - judge people by the superficial and useless characteristics of race, creed, color, or national origin (though, tbh, with some national origin there might be additional security interviews). We must ensure equal opportunity. All doors must be open. A close eye needs to be kept to make sure that the institution and those in power in it practice the same.

Those who say things such as "equal opportunity" and "color blind" are in some way bad are telling you one thing; they want unequal opportunity and to give preference by race. Those people are not well meaning people.

That is DivThu 101. In these delicate times, it needed to be reset. Now, back to where we started.

We are in a moral panic. As with most moral panics, it started with a legitimate complaint. In this case, the egregious killing of an unarmed African American man by the police.

Through history, moral panics grow when a legitimate issue is the spark that ignites larger mob action when the conditions are ripe for other players to throw gasoline on passions. These opportunists have grievances long-standing that they have been waiting for an opportunity to emerge that they can hijack, leverage, and pursue their agenda. These opportunists collect along the way a popular front that includes those who have legitimate concerns, a mass of a panicked herd looking for something to join to give meaning to their otherwise empty lives, and other people who just like to lash out.

These are the people you see; the popular front on the discontented.

There is also a larger mass of people who are either befuddled, unconcerned, or more likely just want to get on with their lives raising their families, making the mortgage payment, and making another day. There are organizations like that as well. They think they are doing the right thing, and when everything around them is in chaos, they want to make sure they are doing the right thing.

Regular checks are a good thing when done for the right reasons with the right people. I believe that is what led to the following;
The U.S. Navy stood up a special task force on June 30 to address the issues of racism, sexism and other destructive biases and their impact on naval readiness, the chief of naval personnel public affairs office said in a release.

“Task Force (TF) One Navy” will be led by Rear Adm. Alvin Holsey, who will report his findings to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday via the Navy’s chief of personnel, Vice Adm. John B. Nowell Jr.

“As a Navy — uniform and civilian, active and reserve — we cannot tolerate discrimination or racism of any kind. We must work to identify and eliminate individual and systemic racism within our force,” Gilday said. “That is why we are standing up Task Force One Navy, which will work to identify and remove racial barriers and improve inclusion within our Navy.”
At first read, this seems fine ... but that opening paragraph made me wish the CNO had better writers and staff on these issues, as there are some problems. Let's pull this bit out,
...racism, sexism and other destructive biases and their impact on naval readiness
Is the implication ... or worse, assumption here that our Navy suffers from racism, sexism and other destructive biases to the point it impacts readiness?

If so, why are we waiting until now to act? Did we not see it before? The policies and actions for decades did nothing? If you think there is an entering bias here, you may be right.
The task force will seek to promptly address the full spectrum of systemic racism, advocate for the needs of underserved communities, work to dismantle barriers and equalize professional development frameworks and opportunities within the Navy.
This is when it should have been sent back for staffing. Are we assuming there is "systemic racism" in the US Navy? What barriers do they see? Define "equalize professional development."

This is not going in a productive way, but this could just be poor writing.
“We must use the momentum created by these events as a catalyst for positive change. We need to have a deeper inclusion and diversity conversation in our Navy and amongst our own teams.”
That is the political speak of "don't let a good crisis go to waste."

Well meaning people, given the volume of email I've received on this, are concerned - and I think their concerns are justified.
TF One Navy will focus their efforts in recommending reforms in several key areas. These areas include:

- Recruiting/barriers to service entry
- Pre-accession mentorship frameworks/scholarship opportunities
- Diversity of talent by community/talent management
- Training/education along the service member career continuum
- Detailing/milestone job opportunities
- Fitness reporting/evaluation systems
- Promotion/advancement processes
- Military justice analysis of racial disparity
- Health care and health disparities
This is a mixed bag. Some very solid things such as health care issues based on demographics are sound - and aligned with modern, but at times controversial, scholarship on this topic.

What is bad is the following; promotions, detailing and FITREPS are a zero-sum game. How are they getting their metrics? How are they going to balance them? If my mother was from Ireland and my father African American, my wife is half-Philippina, half-Ecuadorian and our son joins the military, how do we advise him to self-identify his race/ethnicity? If he doesn't, or chooses incorrectly, with all other things being equal, will his odds of promotion differ?

Is that productive? Is that good? Would such an environment be productive or counter-productive to unit cohesiveness?

The article ends with what really should be the only thing that needs to be said on the topic by the CNO or any Navy leader;
“We must demand of each other that we treat everyone with dignity and respect. If you won’t do that, then our Navy is not the best place for you,” Gilday said. “We are one team, and we are one Navy.”
No one can disagree with this, not a soul.

Hope isn't a plan, but here's my hope; the CNO and the admirals quoted here were poorly staffed and responded with inarticulate talking points. The task force will be staffed with well meaning professionals who understand the seriousness of their assignment, don't assume the worst of their Navy, and will produce a report that all Sailors can look at and feels good about.

We'll see.

Hopefully they will have better critical thinking skills than the Sierra Club.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Smart Thinking Down Under

Had a chance to see Australia's plans for her defense budget for the next decade?

Links, my thoughts, scratch-n-sniff - all over at USNIBlog.

Come by and let me know what you think.

LSC: Underperforming Even My Expectations

As per NAVADMIN 187/20, the first four LCS; USS FREEDOM (LCS 1), USS INDEPENDENCE (LCS 2), USS FORT WORTH (LCS 3) and USS CORONADO (LCS 4) are all being decommissioned on 31 MAR 2021.

That is roughly 12.5 years, 10 years, 8.5 years, and 7 years of commissioned service.

I think back to the first decade of this century, all the people who said what an embarrassment and waste this program would be - and how they were treated and their critiques were received.

It was so clear. It was predicted.

It is.

No more needs to be said but excuses.

Hat tip Chris.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

No Shipmate, You Can't Go To Church/Synagogue/Mosque/Oak Tree

When you join the military you give up a lot. Your freedom is curtailed in ways that are almost unimaginable to the civilian. We know that, we accept it.

Can there be occasions where this steps over the line? In any large organization’s response to emerging crisis, well meaning leaders can overreach or make decisions that are in a grey area between can/should/maybe/shouldn’t.

For those with access to message traffic, I will refer you to the FRAGO as outlined in DTG R 232340Z JUN 20, SUBJ/CUSFF/NAVNORTH FRAGORD 20-024.013 IN RESPONSE TO CORONAVIRUS DISEASE 2019 (COVID19).

Here is just one of many copies of Page 13s that I’ve had Sailors, officer and enlisted, send to me over the weekend that has them concerned. Read it over.


Did you catch that? Here is the meat from para 1.a.vi;
Specific Prohibited activities: Service members shall not visit/engage in the following off-installation facilities/activities: …. Include(ing) indoor religious services
Anyone who served for any length of time knows that for many of our Shipmates who adhere to their confession of choice, one of the best things for them when they are home is that they can attend proper services that – try as they can – their Navy Chaplain simply cannot meet.

As such, a plan that bans off base religious activities justified by hopes they can be handled by base chapel services simply is non-executable.

What about those who live off base, 30-45 minutes or even an hour+ from base? What if, as is happening nationwide, their house of worship follows COVID-19 safety protocols of masks and social distancing? Why is attending there prohibited?

More importantly, why are we unnecessarily forcing our Sailors to choose between the free exercise of religion and the UCMJ.

“Support and defend the Constitution…” includes;
…Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
I am not a Constitutional lawyer, and in any event, this isn’t Congress doing the prohibition. This is the Executive Branch.

Give me two lawyers and I’ll get four answers, but when you boil it down what we have is the head of the Executive Branch, the Commander in Chief, through the US Navy he leads, is telling people they cannot attend religious services off base – regardless of where they or their family reside.

So even if Sailors may not go, but in religious households, their spouse and children will go. They will then return home after services to live, eat, sleep, and socialize with that servicemember. As such, does this really decrease the COVID-19 vectors Sailors are exposed to?

No, it doesn’t. As such, what is the cost/benefit lay out for this prohibition?

In the end, I’ll tell you exactly what will happen. A non-zero percentage of Sailors will chose their relationship with their God on their own time over the Navy’s UCMJ. They will intentionally violate the P. 13 they signed. There is the damage. This policy degrades the Sailor, the Navy, and their respect for the UCMJ.

Many will follow the thinking of Algernon Sydney as outlined in his 1698 Discourses Concerning Government,
'That which is not just, is not Law; and that which is not Law, ought not to be obeyed.'
That is the cost.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Want Better Communication Coming From Our Navy? There are Solutions.

One of my great frustrations I've shared with readers here and over at Midrats is the decade-long+ retreat from the public conversation by our Navy. 

I'm not sure where it started, but it was in the last few years of the previous decade where we saw less engagement and unscripted conversations with our Sailors, the public, press, and even Congress. 

It isn't just that the military of a free republic should communicate more and be more accountable to the people, it is we need to be in the marketplace of ideas. Most citizens do not appreciate the fact we are a maritime nation and what that means. It's not their fault on balance, our educational system has been off the rails for at least two generations. Most people are mal-educated on both their nation's history and its geography.

Our Navy has a great story to tell about it's critical role in maintaining a national and global order that enables its citizens to enjoy a standard of living unknown in human history. In order to maintain that security, the citizens need to let their elected representatives know they need to make it a priority. They won't do that if they don't know what their Navy actually does.

Our senior leaders have abandoned the conversation. Is being out there unscripted risky? Sure. Is it hard? Sure. Can everyone do it well? No ... but it can be taught or those who are good at it put to the front. Anything of value has some risk, but the risks are small and the gains are essential.

Instead of engaging, we largely retreated from the public conversation and with few exceptions, been satisfied with boilerplate talking points and reactionary damage control when things go south.

How can we expect our nation to support something it does not understand or respect something it only sees while protecting itself?

It doesn't have to be this way.

A lot of people see this problem and have solutions. One of them is our friend Bryan McGrath. Bryan had an opportunity to put a solution on the tee; all Navy had to do was give a swing at it, but the fates had other ideas.

I'll let Bryan give you the details in his guest post below.

Bryan; over to you.



I have watched for a number of years the Navy act as a poor strategic communicator. Part of it is bandwidth for senior leaders, part of it is familiarity with messaging and strategy, part of it is a fear of higher headquarters, and part of it is institutional laziness. The past three years have brought the Navy’s strategic communication deficits into sharp relief, although they were there before the destroyer collisions of 2017. In early 2019, I suggested to a senior Navy official the creation of the following position, and he asked me to write him a memo about it. I still think it is a good idea. I did not arrive at this idea because of the recent spate of bad press the Navy has had. I have written and spoken on the need for effective strategic communication from the Navy for years.

Director, OPNAV Office of Strategic Alignment

The Director, OPNAV Office of Strategic Alignment (DIROSA), is an Executive Schedule, Highly Qualified Expert (HQE) who reports to the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO).

DIROSA is the CNO’s primary assistant for the alignment of strategic communications and messaging. DIROSA will:

-- Monitor, coordinate, and align the activities of the OPNAV Staff, SYSCOMS, CHINFO, OLA, FMB, the Fleets to ensure message discipline, commonality, and coherence.

-- Devise, promote, and aid in the transmission of communications products to inform the American public and its representatives as to the role of seapower in U.S. national security.

-- Coordinate and engage with Navy Secretariat, Joint Staff, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense to ensure CNO and Navy strategic communications are aligned with leadership.

-- Coordinate and engage with cognizant U.S. Marine Corps organizations to promote Integrated American Naval Power narratives, message alignment and integration.

-- Devise and institute processes to promote strategic communications alignment in the Navy, to include closer linkages among programmatics, fleet operations and exercises, and research and development.

-- Assist CNO and CHINFO with crisis response themes and activities.

-- Assist CNO and OLA with Hill strategies targeted to Navy objectives.

The points above are the kinds of things that could eventually find their way into a formal position description. Here is a more informal description of what DIROSA does:

Currently, all the strategic communications alignment in the Navy happens in the mind of the CNO, where it competes with myriad other responsibilities. DIROSA takes custody of this responsibility and manages it for the CNO. DIROSA works side-by-side with SYSCOMS/CHINFO/OLA/OPNAV 3-Stars/Fleets/USMC to monitor, manage, persuade, cajole, influence, and shape messaging and alignment.

DIROSA and staff (1 or 2 others—TBD) are like the BASF Corporation motto—“We don’t make a lot of the products you buy, we make those products better”. For DIROSA to be effective, the organization must not only provide value to the CNO…it must do so for those who could potentially see it as bureaucratically threatening. DIROSA cannot be seen as grabbing “market share” from existing organizations. There will be very little “original work” coming out of DIROSA, as doing so would almost certainly “poach” someone else in the bureaucracy’s territory, no matter how skillfully they are currently executing the function. Where DIROSA comes in is in “checking the work” to ensure that CNO approved communication themes and messages are making their way into subordinate products, and that those messages are within themselves, consistent.

Current CNO special assistants (Speechwriter, OOZ) would remain as they are and continue to do their job. There would be a significant coordination nexus among DIROSA and these functions.

Some of the things I would expect DIROSA to manage for the CNO:

  • The creation of annual communications campaigns that identify key themes and messages, assign responsibilities, and monitor outcomes.
  • The re-invigoration of the “CHINFO Speaker’s Series” wherein Flags are provided with source material and encouraged to seek out opportunities for general interest speeches. Speeches would be tracked (and potentially assigned) centrally, with Flags required to provide feedback to CNO on how the message was received and the kinds of things in which members of the public seemed interested.
  • The creation and management of an experimentation and demonstration campaign as part of the larger campaign. In this, SYSCOMs, and fleet experimentation schedules would be reviewed in advance to find opportunities to message emerging capabilities and concepts, or to make affirmative decisions NOT to message. There is currently no process in which these decisions are made in the context of a larger communications scheme.
  • Unless the Director of the Navy Staff already serves this function, DIROSA would monitor crisis management for the CNO. CHINFO and OLA would continue to do what they do, but DIROSA would ensure that we are telling the public what we want, telling the Hill what we want, and telling the 3rd Deck what we want—and that all of those messages are as consistent as we desire.
  • DIROSA would maintain a close relationship with three and four star “CAGS” throughout the fleet, reviewing material as desired and helping to provide centralized thematic inputs consistent with desired messaging goals.
  • DIROSA would provide alignment and counsel to OPNAV organizations and Fleet organizations sponsoring/overseeing trade shows and forums.
  • DIROSA would work closely with N3N5 to ensure Navy equities are represented to the “thinktank” community in DC, and that the CNO’s messages are central to those interactions.

DIROSA would—in conjunction with other CNO Special Assistants—represent the CNO in the creation/staffing of important recurring documents that come to be identified with CNO intent, such as CNOG, strategy documents, and congressional testimony.


Bryan McGrath is the Managing Director of The FerryBridge Group LLC. He counts the Navy among his clients.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

China in the Post-COVID-19 World with Dr. Oriana Skylar Mastro - on Midrats


From the alpine lakes on the Indo-Tibetan frontier to the sweltering tropics of the South China Sea, China is on the offensive in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Aggressive and persistent in her pursuit of expanding her control and influence in her near-abroad and globally, she is challenging the distracted and slothish West to keep up with her.

What are the latest moves on the global chess board?

Our guest for the full hour this Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern covering the full range of China related challenges will be Dr. Oriana Skylar Mastro.

Oriana is an assistant professor of security studies at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. In August, she will join the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University as a Center Fellow where she will continue her research on Chinese military and security policy, Asia-Pacific security issues, war termination, and coercive diplomacy. She is also a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and an inaugural Wilson Center China Fellow. Additionally she serves in the United States Air Force Reserve as a Senior China Analyst at the Pentagon. She holds a B.A. in East Asian Studies from Stanford University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Politics from Princeton University.

You can listen to the show at this link or below, but remember, if you don't already, subscribe to the podcast at Spreaker or any of the other podcast aggregators.

If you use iTunes, you can add Midrats to your podcast list simply by clicking the iTunes button at the main showpage - or you can just click here.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Fullbore Friday


Do you know who Bill Slim is? You should. Maybe this will help.
Lieutenant-General Sir William Slim, KCB, CB, DSO, MC ("Bill") is 53, burly, grey and going a bit bald. His mug is large and weatherbeaten, with a broad nose, jutting jaw, and twinkling hazel eyes. He looks like a well-to-do West Country farmer, and could be one: For he has energy and patience and, above all, the man has common sense. However, so far Slim has not farmed. He started life as a junior clerk, once he was a school teacher, and then he became the foreman of a testing gang in a Midland engineering works. For the next 30 years Slim was a soldier.
A reader sent along a recommendation of Slim's book, Defeat Into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India, 1942-1945, and reading up on the man - someone who I only read about in passing - all I could think of is, "More Slim."

Talk about a Vince Lombardi of leadership. I could do a years worth of FbF on the guy - so I'm not going to get in to any specifics. Let me just give you a few things to ponder in order to have you do some of your own research.
He began at the bottom of the ladder as a Territorial private. August 4, 1914, found him at summer camp with his regiment. The Territorials were at once embodied in the Regular Army, and Slim got his first stripe as lance-corporal. A few weeks later he was a private again; the only demotion that this Lieutenant-General has suffered.
...
Field Marshall Viscount Slim was referred to by Admiral of the Fleet Earl Mountbatten, who was Supreme Allied Commander of Southeast Asia, as "the finest general World War II produced". After the war he was head of the Imperial General Staff, Britain’s top military post, from 1948 to 1952, and was governor general of Australia from 1952 to 1960. This article is reprinted from a 1945 issue of Phoenix, the South East Asia Command magazine.
Again - not just he accomplishments on the field of battle - but his thoughts on leadership demand thought. Nothing radical or new - but they need repeating and if you want to know what makes successful people successful, listen to what got them there.

Want to be successful? Start by benchmarking the best.
Officers are there to lead

Then Slim relates at one critical point in the retreat in a jungle clearing he came across a unit which was in a bad way. "I took one look at them and thought ‘My God, they’re worse than I supposed.’ Then I saw why. I walked round the corner of that clearing and I saw officers making themselves a bivouac. They were just as exhausted as their men, but that isn’t my point. Officers are there to lead. I tell you, therefore, as officers, that you will neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep, nor smoke, nor even sit down until you have personally seen that your men have done those things. If you will do this for them, they will follow you to the end of the world. And, if you do not, I will break you."

The General stepped down from the ammunition box and replaced his hat. The division rose as one man, and cheered him. A few weeks later, these troops were to cross the frontier river at the point Slim had led his indomitable, ragged rearguard three years before. They dug up the tank guns which the old army had buried there when they abandoned their tanks, and they used those guns to blast open the road to Mandalay.

The spirit which Slim breathed into that division, on that blue, sunny morning in Palel inspires the whole of the 14th Army. His victorious host has now marched back a thousand miles, planted its battle flags on the citadel of Mandalay and above the capitol city of Rangoon, killing 100,000 Japanese on the way. Their achievement must be attributed in large degree to the character of their Commander. Slim does not court popularity, and he hates publicity. But he inspires trust. The man cares deeply for his troops, and they are well aware that their well-being is his permanent priority. The 14th Army has never been out of his mind since that day nearly two years ago when Mountbatten appointed him to the command. Of the Mountbatten-Slim partnership history will record that it was one of the rock foundations of our Jungle Victory.

Slim talks little and swears less, but one day at Army Headquarters the roof lifted when he received a demand that mules should be installed in concrete floor stables in a training camp, well in the rear. "My men are sleeping on earth, and often on something worse. What’s good enough for British soldiers is good enough for mules of any nationality." Slim set his Army hard tasks, but none have been beyond their power. After the great battles of Imphal and Kohima, where five Japanese divisions were destroyed, Slim called on his exhausted soldiers to carry on relentless, final pursuit. "So great were the dividends that could accrue," he confesses, "that I asked for the impossible - and got it!

Slim affirms "that the fighting capacity of every unit is based upon the faith of soldiers in their leaders; that discipline begins with the officer and spreads downward from him to the soldier; that genuine comradeship in arms is achieved when all ranks do more than is required of them. ’There are no bad soldiers, only bad officers,’ is what Napoleon said, and though that great man uttered some foolish phrases, this is not one."


What has a soldier got, asks Slim, and answers it himself. "He has got his country, but that is far away. In battle, the soldier has only his sense of duty, and his sense of shame. These are the things which make men go on fighting even though terror grips their heart. Every soldier, therefore, must be instilled with pride in his unit and in himself, and to do this he must be treated with justice and respect."

Slim says that when he was in civvie street he saw men who were fathers of families cringing before a deputy-assistant-under-manager who had the power to throw them out of their jobs without any other reason than their own ill-temper or personal dislike. "That, at any rate, can’t happen in the Army," he declares. "You don’t have to cringe in the Army, though it’s true some incorrigible cringers do. In the Army you don’t have to go out to dinner with a man if you can’t stand the sight of him."
People like to make fun, Monty Python like, of British General Officers, shame though - almost all I read about are more like Slim.
From January to August 1944 a series of decisive battles was fought along the India-Burma border which resulted in the turning point for that theater of war. After two years of failure the Allies wrested the initiative from Japan and destroyed the myth of Japanese invincibility.

The Allies were successful despite a number of challenges, many self inflicted. The first challenge was to organize and resource defenses of the India-Burma border. The second challenge was to train the soldiers to fight in the jungle clad mountains that typified the area of operations. Inextricably tied to this was the challenge of moving and supplying forces in the rugged environment. Developing a feasible and acceptable plan despite the absence of a coherent theater strategy was the next challenge. This challenge was made more difficult by the complex and dysfunctional command relationships. Finally, there was the challenge of defeating an aggressive and fanatical enemy who had an unblemished record of success in the India-Burma Theater.

Fortunately, the Allies had an answer to these challenges in Lieutenant General William Slim. It was Slim who established the training program that taught the soldiers to fight in the jungle, developed the tactics and techniques to move and sustain forces in the arduous terrain, provided the leadership to overcome the dysfunctional command relationships, and unified the theater strategy. Finally, and most importantly, it was Slim who developed and executed the plan that drew in and defeated the Japanese 15th Army thereby setting the conditions for the successful re-conquest of Burma in 1945.
Fullbore.

First published FEB 2012.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Post COVID-19 China is the Old China

Since the New Year, China has provided the world a great service; she is showing herself as she is and providing a preview of what she plans to be once she is the world's premier power.

She sees herself as the hegemon. Smaller nations must show deference or there will be consequences.

Via Globe and Mail;
The Chinese government says that if Canada sets Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou free it could affect the fate of two Canadians jailed and charged with espionage by Beijing.

China has repeatedly rejected suggestions there is any connection between its detention of former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor and Canada’s arrest of Ms. Meng in December, 2018, on an extradition request from the United States.

On Wednesday, however, a top spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs linked the two matters.

Zhao Lijian was commenting on reports in the Canadian media, including The Globe and Mail, of a legal opinion that says Ottawa has the authority to intervene in Ms. Meng’s extradition case and set her free immediately.

“Such options are within the rule of law and could open up space for resolution to the situation of the two Canadians,” Mr. Zhao said, according to the official English translation of his remarks published by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
...
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, however, has repeatedly said he cannot, and will not, intervene in the Meng case. “We’re not considering that. Canada has a strong and an independent justice system. ... Anyone who is considering weakening our values or weakening the independence of our justice system doesn’t understand the importance of standing strong on our principles and our values,” he said Monday.
...
“Caving into this hostage diplomacy, I don’t think we should do that,” he said. “The credibility of Canada is on the line after we have sought support from other countries to help us out.”

The Trudeau government must continue to rally other countries to stand with Canada so “that the Chinese will stop using these bullying tactics,” he said.

Mr. Saint-Jacques said it is well known that the Minister of Justice can intervene in extradition cases but he said it is too late for that to happen now. Ottawa has to let the judicial process unfold and “of course this is very sad for the families.”
The Chinese will not stop. They have only started.

I hope all free nations will stand with Canada. With a long view, we will all find ourselves in the barrel in the future, so we might as well start the habit now of sticking together against the Bully of the East.

When The Great Pacific War that is coming concludes, we should look again at the map of "China" prior to WW1. Modify it slightly, like take what is left from "Indo-China" once you leave out Vietnam and Cambodia and call it "Canton" or somesuch ... but this might be a good idea for both the Chinese people(s) and the globe.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Shipyard Defense in Depth

There are structural shortcomings the Chinese simply cannot overcome in a long war at sea.

It all has to do with her geography and where you can build ships.

Thoughts and a little pushback against the Commandant of the Marine Corps over at USNIBlog.

Come by and ponder the long, hard slog.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

When Treaties Die

Treaties are only good if all sides abide by them. Bad actors on the world stage see treaties as something else - an opportunity to take advantage of gullible nations who are too scared to do anything.

Russia has made a habit of ignoring or abusing treaties, such as the The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and Open Skies treaty, simply daring anyone to do anything about it. Well, the USA called their non-bluff and left.

Russia really does not seem to care.

Another case;
A Russian submarine passed through Turkey on Tuesday, in an apparent breach of the longstanding Montreux Convention. The treaty prohibits submarines from moving between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. The Russian Navy has made similar moves before, using a clause in the terms to conduct combat operations in the Mediterranean. It is becoming a pattern. If these moves go unchecked it could change the balance of power in the region, making Russia more powerful in the Mediterranean.

The submarine was photographed by Yörük Işık, a highly respected ship spotter who lives in Istanbul.
For Russia there is no disadvantage to breaking treaties because there is no downside from their point of view.

Plan accordingly.

Monday, June 22, 2020

With Carriers: Go Smaller to get Bigger?

In what will hopefully jumpstart another chapter in The Carrier Wars, our friend Jerry Hendrix has an article in National Review, “The Aircraft Carrier We Need” where he doesn’t argue that we don’t need carriers, just that we don’t need – or want – the one we’re building.

I’m in alignment with some his points, only slightly in others, and have a few points of my own that I think need to be part of the conversation.

As always, read it all, but here are a few pull quotes to get you interested.
… the Ford’s most glaring problems: It has the wrong design and is built around the wrong type and size of air wing, and it is not optimized for implementing the current National Defense Strategy, which focuses on great-power competition with Communist China and, to a lesser extent, a Putin-led Russia.
We really do not have a coherent National Defense Strategy and being that a CVN has a life of a half century, what it is “designed for” now will not exist in 20-50 years while it is still a capital ship.

This has always been the worst argument against specific platforms and it represents a line of thinking that can have bad results because you try too hard to specifically tailor a ship to your snapshot view of what is “optimized” for the challenge at hand in any specific POM cycle. That is how you get LCS and DDG-1000.

Instead, what we need are broadly flexible platforms built to be scalable if needed, fitted with a variety of known and unknown systems as the future tells us are needed at that time the need reveals itself. Flexibility and a design based on the ability to modify later are what is needed. That way, when the actual future – not the future we imagine – reveals itself, we’ll be able to adjust to it.
The Ford’s eventual design was predicated upon an assumption that the ship would operate in similar semi-permissive, low-threat environments, such as the Adriatic Sea or Arabian Gulf, staying close to enemy shores to optimize the efficacy of the carrier’s short-range (500 nautical miles) light-attack air wing, which was then dominated by the FA-18 Hornet. 

…the air wing should be designed to implement the nation’s defense strategy.
This is the real weakness. We have discussed here over the years the utter professional malpractice from short-sighted thinking that begat the 2020 airwing. People excused away the long range capability brought by organic tanking, heavy fighters, and strike aircraft. Instead, we think in terms of incredibly efficient decks of strike-fighters and their support aircraft. Much of the vulnerability of the carrier – and remember carriers have always been vulnerable because everyone is trying to kill them because they are so effective – derive from the pyrrhic victory of the Light Attack mafia against the Fighter and Attack mafia in the 1990s.

The next pull quote is a regular area of friction between Jerry and me. While we agree that unmanned aircraft will be part of the future airwing, we are at opposite ends of the UAS Overton Window. I believe we are about 1 decade away from knowing what we can actually “do” with unmanned systems so we can line up the next generation and will have a better idea of their use in 20, but Jerry thinks we know enough to make grander assumptions now. I think he is just too optimistic on the program risk, the technology risk, and the ability to do what he wants in a non-permissive EW environment.
As part of this shift, the core of the carrier’s new air wing would be 30 stealthy, heavily armed unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs), organized into three squadrons. Individual UCAVs should be capable of carrying 4,000 pounds of ordnance internally to a combat radius of at least 1,500 nautical miles without refueling. They should also feature broadband, all-aspect stealth design with a much-reduced radar cross-section (RCS). The design should also integrate an infrared-signature-reduction capability and an advanced passive sensor suite. These 30 aircraft — each armed with two 2,000-pound-class direct-attack weapons (GBU-31 JDAM) or stand-off weapons (e.g., JASSM or LRASM), four 1,000-pound-class direct-attack weapons (GBU-33 JDAMs), or up to 16 GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs
More important than UCAV right now is the replacement for the F/A-18 series of aircraft. Not only does it need to be manned, it needs the option to have a 2-seat version for strike and electronic warfare. I know I jinx it by saying it needs to lean in the direction of a heavy strike-fighter, but it needs to lean in the direction of a heavy strike-fighter.

As for the size of Jerry’s carrier – it sounds familiar for a reason;
In addition, the carrier should have at least two long-stroke, heavy catapults in the bow and one in the waist (centered on the carrier’s angled deck) in order to maintain redundancy in battle, two arresting-gear wires, and three deck-edge heavy elevators to move aircraft to and from the hangar bay. The new carrier should have the storage capacity to accommodate 1,500 tons of aviation ordnance and 1.5 million gallons of aviation fuel. Lastly, to power all this, in terms of both speed through the water and electrical-power generation, the carrier will likely need two nuclear reactors (for combat redundancy) capable of generating 240,000 shaft horsepower. The United States no longer has the capacity to build large conventional maritime steam turbines, but if it ever does, this option should be considered. Such a carrier should cost no more than $5.5 billion, about a third of the cost of the current Ford-class carrier. This effort would take, at a minimum, ten years to design and build.

Before arguing that this proposed carrier is too small, its catapults and arresting gear are too few, and its aviation-ordnance and fuel capacities are too slight, critics should pause and consider that the carrier parameters described above, with the exception of the two nuclear reactors, lie directly between those of the Midway-class carriers built during World War II and the Forrestal-class carriers built during the 1950s. Both served in the Navy until the mid 1990s and operated heavy, long-range, penetrating-strike air wings.
This is a strong selling point to me for this reason alone; one of my greatest concerns about our present fleet design is that the cult of efficiency has led us to build a lot of very big platforms that cost a lot of money because the spreadsheet tells us that is the right thing to do. At war, what this does is make any loss unacceptable as it is one thing to lose 1 of 5 of your ships in an engagement, it is another thing to lose 1 of 3. One is a bad day at sea, the other means defeat; at tactical defeat that undermines your operational plans and puts your nation at strategic risk – all to make the peacetime spreadsheet optimized.

Can we trade 3 FORD’s for 5 HENDRIX’s? Would that be the right move … not on the spreadsheet, but for where it matters … at war?

An extended war? A war of attrition? The kind of war I’ll write about later this week?

Friday, June 19, 2020

SECNAV & CNO on TR and Captain Crozier

In place of FbF today - a rare occurrence - I offer to you the below, the best link I can find to the statement and press conference today. Worth your time and pondering.

I would ask this; watch thing not from an internal USA point of view, but from an external point of view. 


Thursday, June 18, 2020

Civ-Mil Crisis? If so, it’s on the Civ

Maybe I need to review a few things here. I’m a guy in his mid-50s who spent a little over two decades of that time on active duty. I’ve been a civilian again for over a decade. In that role, I am in an almost pure civilian occupation as one can be. 

I don’t live within commuting distance of DC. I’ve never lived in base housing. I don’t come from a military family. The closest I get is that both of my grandfathers were enlisted Sailors in WWI. My family did fight in every major American conflict back to the Indian wars in colonial Virginia and North Carolina back to the late 1600s … but that is about it. None of my siblings served. None of my children serve. My spouse does not serve. Heck, I was commissioned as a contract NROTC guy even. 

To this day I argue that much of our active duty ground forces need to be demobilized and moved back to the National Guard where they rightfully belong … so I’m no militarist. You regular readers on the front porch know this, but new readers show up every day … and the title alone will be a lighting rod.

All that being said up front, let me make my argument.

Our military comes from the great and glorious civilian diversity of our nation and a sprinkling of immigrants and foreign nationals. They serve, some for just a few short years, and then the vast majority return to the civilian world.

Though some easily excitable individuals may say otherwise, we don’t have a “military caste.” Yes, there a few multi-generational families who serve, but only a very small sub-set of that group are multi-generational career types. As is a great Southern tradition, most serve a few years on active duty and then go home – having performed their honor’s requirement. These people are actually civilians – just with a little military flavor in their CV. 

Perhaps for those civilians long in DC who are mostly exposed to the General/Flag Officer community who have been in for 30-40 years with most of the last few decades in DC have a skewed opinion because of that exposure. If so, I hope they realize that those people are not “normal” military people. That can skew anyone’s opinion. However, if that is the benchmark – that minute % of military people – that the most complaining civilians have, again, that is on them not the body of military people – but the civilians who can’t see the rarefied terrarium they exist in.

Even career military people live mostly on the civilian economy. Not all were like me and intentionally made that a priority, but most do. They raise their families in the civilian world. Their spouses and loved ones are mostly civilians.

Usually the same people who get breathless about a mythical “military caste” will also bring up the fact that the military is “too Southern, too Midwestern, too Western” or some other thinly veiled snobbish comment. My take is, “So what?” 

We are, or are supposed to be, a nation of free people who have free will. A people who when their nation is not under existential threat, do not enforce a tyrannical servitude to the state through forced labor. As such, we have a volunteer military. Different regions and cultures in our vast nation have more of a martial tradition than others – as is true in all large nations through history – as such there will not be pure balance.

Heck, as I have stated here since 2004, I wish more of “my class” (in economic/educational sense) served, but they don’t. If those in the North East or Left Coast don’t see enough of their neighbors wearing the uniform, then fix your problem – don’t assume the problem is elsewhere.

There is the critique. Those who claim a civ-mil divide reflexively imply that the problem is on the military side. Why is that? I can speak from my experience and of those I served with that I talked with about this subject for years – we get the civilian side because we live with it every day. We try to bridge that divide every time we go to a party, drive down the road, go to a parent-teacher conference; we get it.

What about the civilian side? They are the majority, those in uniform are the minority. If the minority is doing all it can to live with and in the majority culture, and in spite of their best efforts the majority still see the minority as “the other,” then the responsibility for bridging the remaining gap lies with the majority. They have the power, they have the mass, they have the ability to make the bridge complete.

Why isn’t the civilian side taking the primary responsibility here? There are a variety of reasons.

1. It is always easier to blame, “The Other.” As I’ve tried to remind uniformed people before, especially inside the rarefied air of the DC Beltway, you are dealing with long-dwell residents in the political, natsec, and think tank world who are among the most isolated, echo-chamber, and self-referential people you will ever meet. A significant portion of them, outside of college – perhaps – have never lived anywhere outside the Acela Corridor. When they have “traveled” outside the coastal states, it was visits to exotic locals such as Chicago, IL or Austin, TX … or perhaps a conference in London or Munich. On the other hand, you have lived in a half dozen states for years on end. Perhaps you even lived for years in foreign nations. You went to schools that none of their friends went to. You hold opinions on certain topics they’ve never seen a real person hold before – they’ve only read about them in books or dunked on them on twitter … and yet there you are. You see, it is you who is a strange, out of touch oddity with your worldly travels and first hand experience working for foreign governments and people for decades … not them who have spent 90% of their adult life within a 1-hr commute of Georgetown.

2. Contempt. They’ve seen the movies, they know what people with short hair, uniforms, and all that politeness with “ma’am” and “sir” are like. You don’t have them fooled.

3. Insecurity. Why should the military person get a preference in hiring for anything? They didn’t go to better schools. They didn’t do all the right internships. They haven’t done the hard work for little pay on Congressional staffs or low-rent think tanks. They talk funny, have too many kids, and have all these icky weekend habits that, and let’s be real here, are just primitive. They just show up here and jump the line in from of all of us who have been toiling for years waiting for a nice GS gig or appointment. Did they do four months with a NGO in Burkina Faso? I didn’t think so.

Of course, there are other critiques, but that’s the top-3 I’ve seen.

Can the military do more? Sure, but what, I’m not sure for the reasons outlined above. In some ways, there will always be a civ-mil divide. I’ve been out for over a decade and I still see it. Pre-COVID-19, when I found myself at large gatherings, more often than not I would find myself drifting to groups that were largely of people who had a connection to prior service. It’s kind of strange, but it’s a something that has become a running joke between Mrs. Salamander and myself. There is something about being in the military, police, fire and other such organizations that gives you a common reference point. It is hard to describe, but it is there. It isn’t a negative thing. We could stop plastering our cars with bumperstickers and wearing t-shirts that try to make us better than our non-serving neighbors – though I think most of those people are poseurs. Not all of them. You know the ones I’m talking about. That could be helpful.

For my civilian friends, maybe we can start by stopping the mantra, “Thank you for your service” every time I just want to buy a bunch of AAA batteries and an extension cord. Maybe we can get 5-minutes in to a conversation without you making some comment about PTSD issues you read about online.

Maybe start there. That would be good for me.

Finally, do we want to eliminate that gap? Perhaps no. As we have been reminded in the last month, that line between the military and the civilian world can get a bit frightening when it gets blurred. Maybe the gap, as long as it is a net positive, is something we should – if not cherish – then at least recognize as being part of the environment.