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Nobody Asked Me But…Is Anyone Listening?

By Commander John R. Hatten, U.S. Navy and Lieutenant Commander Ronald Horton, U.S. Navy

Proceedings and many other publications have dedicated numerous pages to quality of life in the military. Quality of life means many things to different people-time at home, job satisfaction, advancement opportunity, family medical care, and money are just a few. For those of us involved in carrier aviation, the biggest negative impact on quality of life issues, especially those involving families. is the carrier battle group workup and deployment schedule.

Forward presence is the hallmark of the U.S. Navy and the six-month deployment is vital to keeping a well-trained force where it is needed most. But we can shorten our pre-deployment workup time and maintain or improve carrier battle group readiness. Although many things have changed over the years, the basic air-wing and battlegroup workup schedule and requirements have not. We must create a process in which the best and brightest from the fleet can sit down with our senior leadership and develop a new battle-group and air-wing workup schedule. We should designate one carrier battle group from each coast as a test group. While returning from their six-month deployments, let mid-grade leaders—with realistic readiness requirements, goals, and guidance—create a new battle group and airwing workup schedule for their next deployment. This could reap a huge gain for the Navy. If nothing else, we can exploit an opportunity to view the present model from the outside and improve communication up and down the chain of command.

Inspiring leadership is a key factor in aviation officer retention. The lingering effects of Tailhook '91, coupled with a perception that flag officers are mostly concerned with politically correct solutions rather than the morally correct solutions, create a lack of faith in senior leadership. This is a continual topic of discussion among junior and mid-grade officers. These officer ranks also believe strongly that senior leadership is out of touch with the reality of day-today operations at the unit level. We must address these issues and perceptions. Admiral Carlisle H. Trost, former Chief of Naval Operations, wrote that: "Throughout history, the greatest challenge to command has been the need to reconcile the big picture held by those at the top with the detailed knowledge available only at the scene" (p. 80, February 1988 Proceedings ).

We do not pretend to be aware of the myriad of factors that go into the decision-making process of our senior leaders. But we think there is a communication gap between our mid-level and senior leadership. The age of the Internet is here. Perhaps something along the lines of Internet leadership "chat rooms" would prove useful in increasing communication. A homepage sponsored by the Chief of Naval Operations, fleet commanders-in-chief, or type commanders, where sailors throughout the fleet may ask questions or send ideas could prove useful. The Internet could provide a medium for which senior commanders could address certain issues and bulk e-mail their views to all the units in the fleet. Whatever approach is chosen to improve communications, better understanding up and down the chain of command must occur.

Many individuals have blamed the poor officer-retention rates on the pay disparity between the civilian airlines and a military career. Our leadership has determined that increasing the Aviation Career Incentive Pay (ACIP—a.k.a. "the Bonus") will solve the problem. Although partially correct, this approach will solve only the short-term problem of keeping the seats filled by aviators with less than 14 years' experience. It does not, however, address the long-term problem of increased resignations from our front-running department heads and post-command commanders. The rapidly increasing losses of highly talented mid-level leaders will result in a lower quality of senior leaders in the future. To solve this. we need to focus immediately on all issues that affect officer retention: leadership, quality of life, and job satisfaction. We advocate a pay system that pays our people commensurate with their responsibilities. An increase in ACIP only for junior officers creates a situation where junior officers make more money than their superiors. This sends a message to executive and commanding officers that our junior naval aviators are valued more than their leaders. This is wrong.

We did not join the Navy to get rich. But all of our people should receive pay commensurate with their responsibilities. While the rewards of command easily outweigh the financial shortcomings of our profession, no organization should pay its leaders considerably less than it pays its subordinates. The lack of equitable financial compensation, in conjunction with leadership, quality of life, and job satisfaction issues, will continue to drive our top performers from the Navy before their time.

We need to reengineer certain aspects of naval aviation. Many will say that bringing about change in an organization the size of the U.S. Navy is too hard; it takes too long. But we can and must change! Our senior leadership must take a chance, and try a different approach to solving today's problems while maintaining combat readiness. We must open the lines of communication throughout the ranks. This might be accomplished through the establishment of a special CNO advisory group, chaired by a vice admiral or retired admiral, and composed of our best and brightest mid-grade officers that could identify key quality-of-life issues and potential solutions that would enhance life in the Navy today. A natural by-product of empowering mid-level leaders will be an increase in quality of life, job satisfaction, and trust in senior leadership, as open lines of communication quickly spread throughout the fleet.

Nothing we have said here is new; the time to act is now. For those who think all is well—look around. Midgrade officers are voting with their feet. We are your future, and we are here to help. Give us the chance to improve some of the processes in our Navy, to help us stop the exodus.

Commander Hatten is the Executive Officer of VFA-147. Lieutenant Commander Horton is the Aide-de-Camp for the Commander-in-Chief, NORAD/United States Space Command.

 

 
 

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