Now in your cart (0 items) - Cart Total: $0.00

Nobody Asked Me But…TQL: "They Quit Leading"

By Lieutenant Commander Frank T. Wallace, U.S. Navy

Tailhook caused the Navy's culture and structure to become vulnerable to external pressure because of timing and embarrassment. The Navy in general and naval aviation in particular were caught with their pants down as the issue of sexual harassment was entering the vernacular of military policy makers and budget designers. The naval aviation community recognized the seriousness of the Tailhook offenses and a need for some changes. It also perceived that it had become a target for a liberal political regime bent on appeasing special-interest lobbies. Naval leadership found itself engaged in a twofront war against special-interest lobbies and bean counters’ demands for base closures and budget cuts. Unfortunately, naval leadership chose to fight this war by appeasement—not upon the traditional naval principle of always trying to do the right thing.

This tactic of appeasement helped ignite a series of changes that have directly—and negatively—changed the U.S. Navy's organizational culture. These changes include: a "don't ask, don't tell" policy; a subtle paranoia with regard to opposite-sex relations; women in combat; and kinder, gentler service academies and boot camps. These changes have hurt the morale of the F/A-18 community—and the potential success of a TQL program. Some think that any organization that can get its people to work 90-hour weeks and land on aircraft carriers at night will adjust to political and cultural changes. The changes affecting the F/A-18 squadrons' organizational design, however, adversely impact on cohesion, team unity, and effectiveness.

The goal of change should be to achieve the organization's ideal situation. It is a fact that women have the same inherent abilities to fly an F/A-18 as men. But the proper question—Does the presence of women in a combat, shipboard environment really enhance a squadron's ability to put bombs on target?—neither has been asked nor answered satisfactorily.

The issue of women in combat is illustrative of the inter-organizational fears that continued when "tradition" was removed from the Navy's core values. Tailhook was perceived inaccurately to be a tradition whereby carrier aviators would line the hallways of hotels across the globe and molest women at will. Instead of meeting these misconceptions head on, the naval leadership became reactionary, fearful even of time-honored naval traditions, and ultimately redefined the Navy's core values. Junior officers throughout the F/A-18 community witnessed radical changes to the culture of the Navy they had joined—a culture that had helped mold them into the most effective fighting force in history.

Retired Air Force Major General Jeanne M. Holm wrote that she believed: "(sexual harassment) was a manifestation of deep-seated resentment of some men at women's expanded role in the armed forces" and "the closer that women [have gotten] to combat units and missions, the greater has been the resistance." She continued that "it's time for the Navy to get on with devising more sensible personnel policies as other nations have done." But is it more sensible to follow the examples of other nations when we are the strongest fighting force in the world? Perhaps I'm old-fashioned, but my cultural norms, and those of many of my colleagues, hold that society should protect its women, not push them to the front lines of combat. To send women into combat destroys the morale of our fighting force and the sensibilities of our culture. Why should today's daughters face the harsh prospect of participating in tomorrow's military drafts and tomorrow's Vietnam?

The Navy is balanced precariously on the cusp of failure where its F/A-18 JOs are losing faith in their leaders in Washington. When naval aviation heroes such as Admiral Stanley Arthur and Commander Robert Stumpf are perceived to have been dismissed from awe-inspiring careers because of politics, true warriors no longer seem to matter in the military. When our leaders mold indoctrination sources to accommodate the individuals being indoctrinated, it engenders a perception that individuals who are unable to meet the Navy's standards or adapt to its structure need only to call their local congressmen and our leaders will bend.

Successful change never can be incorporated easily. It is perhaps most easily implemented in organizations where subordinates have complete and utter faith in their leaders and the choices that leaders make. Naval leadership must make future decisions based upon the information coming from its subordinates—and not outside influences. The leaders can start by talking straight with the troops.

For example, a senior Navy officer recently was asked about the future of per-diem changes (so-called "Smart per diem"). The question never was answered directly and three weeks later an extensive per diem change went into effect. F/A-18 JOs now must spend their own money on out-of-pocket expenses while spending valuable time away from home serving on detachments. How can senior officers be ignorant of these morale-affecting changes or fail to answer the questions head on? If the senior leadership is to regain the trust of its F/A-18 JOs, it must face them head on with these and other issues and show that senior leadership is resolved to "doing the right thing."

F/A-18 JOs truly love their country; many of us "stay Navy" to make a difference for the future. Unfortunately, many of our comrades are opting for other forms of employment. We see the failure of our leaders to do the right thing, and when combined with the erosion of retirement and medical benefits, we must conclude that they do not care. Junior officers are leaving a profession they love because they perceive that their leaders have failed to listen and act on their concerns. They are resigning in droves because they—and their position as officers—are no longer treated with the same respect of yesteryear. General Colin Powell once said, "The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded you do not care."

Strong leadership, vision, and focusing on the "team" ultimately will strengthen the organization's morale for the present. Fiscal and organizational changes must be made that will address the growing morale and retention problems in the future.

Commander Wallace is a department head with VFA-131 on board the Stennis (CVN-74). He was a Selectively Retained Graduate (flight instructor) in the A-4, and served as an F/A-18 flight instructor.

 

 
 

Conferences and Events

Defense Forum Washington 2014

Thu, 2014-12-04

Newseum - Knight Conference Center

Defense Forum Washington will take place December 4, 2014 at the Newseum - Knight Conference Center in Washington, DC.

2015 WEST Conference

Why Become a Member of the U.S. Naval Institute?

As an independent forum for over 135 years, the Naval Institute has been nurturing creative thinkers who responsibly raise their voices on matters relating to national defense.

Become a Member Renew Membership