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Nobody Asked Me But…It's A Great Time To Be At Sea

By Commander Chris Nichols, U.S. Navy

Continue to develop the SWOS continuum . The Surface Warfare Officer School (SWOS) continuum that returns seasoned officers to the same schoolhouse is the envy of our sister communities. It provides a unifying concept that allows us to shape the future, making Newport our Mecca—the surface warfare center of excellence. SWOS should continue to be staffed only with the very best, to ensure that it is plugged into the latest the fleet has to offer. To change the fleet, we must begin at the schoolhouse that supplies nearly every shipboard officer.

Embrace the tactical training strategy . Surface warriors are no longer hopelessly moribund in their ability to train themselves. Training is not relegated to a few weeks of a ship's cycle, nor is it the exclusive purview of the professional trainers. Ships whose training teams wear their green, red, or blue hats 24 hours a day—who accept responsibility for the performance of their teams—are the ships of the future. Those are the ships that are exercising tactical thought and see the day-to-day application of the tactical training strategy as the path to tactical proficiency, supreme readiness, and operational excellence.

Define our measure of effectiveness . If our measure of effectiveness is outside ourselves, we are doomed to mediocrity. How long we work in comparison to others is not as important as how effective we are in the time we have. When the ship across the pier does poorly on the latest assessment, our ship does not automatically become better. Our measure of effectiveness must reside solely within ourselves.

Cultivate our ethos . The vocal minority would have you believe that the community lives and breathes backstabbing and subterfuge. To the contrary, nothing is quite so ingrained in a SWO as the concept of teamwork. The adage of "Ship, Shipmate, Self" is a badge of honor in the community. The best of Surface Warfare can be found in the wardrooms that are tight-knit groups where camaraderie is palpable, every officer is your brother or sister, every mistake is a chance to learn—where the credo of the officers to the Sailors is "You are not put on this ship to make sure I succeed. I am put here to make sure you succeed."

Adhere to good order and discipline . The hardest part of being a leader is toeing the line. It is easier sometimes to ignore the indiscretions of others and write off to indifference adherence to military courtesy. Most of us would rather not have to deal with sexual harassment on a one-on-one basis—but we do because it's required. Most of us would prefer not to embroil ourselves in ethical and moral choices—but we do. We offer the direction, guidance, and discipline that so many joined the Navy to find. If we fail to provide that discipline, Sailors will find it elsewhere, and those places can be frightening indeed.

Live Our Core Values . Never underestimate the power of the core values. They must be scrupulously adhered to daily in order to steel oneself for the great tests of life—the true tests that require moral and ethical courage. To paraphrase a former superintendent of the Naval Academy, those tests are not always between good and evil (those are easy choices). They are often between loyalty and the truth. We must live our core values daily—and take them into the 21st century.

Study and understand the guiding principles of John Paul Jones . Practically everything we need to know about being surface warriors can be learned from John Paul Jones. "Men mean more than guns in the rating of a ship." "Every commander should keep constantly before him the great truth, that to be well obeyed, he must be perfectly esteemed." "I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast for I intend to go in harm's way." JPJ was far from perfect, yet he prevailed in every endeavor. He is heart and soul of our ethos.

Reject what does not add value . The tactical training strategy has allowed for active dissent among our most junior Sailors and officers. Encouraging that dissent in the post-event debrief increases the flow of information and allows the most junior Sailors to feel a sense of belonging. It also highlights some of the more ridiculous things we do. We must continue to speak out against the inane and the oppressive, while presenting attractive alternatives. This is how we got to 10-section duty and group sails during the TTS—through innovative thinking and unemotional presentations of the facts based on the feedback of our most junior officers and enlisted. We must continue to speak out for the things that add value—like port visits. Most of us joined to see the world, and that world is beyond the breakwater in San Diego. It's visiting France, England, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, South America. Seeing the world is what we are about.

Fight for the SWO bonus . We have finally reached parity with our fellow communities. If it is happening in the Navy, it's happening in surface line. Bonus pay throughout the Navy is not so much about hazardous duty as it is about retaining talent and skill. It is about respect —not money. It is about paying us what we are worth and recognizing how tough it is to be surface warriors. On every midwatch, every 36hour day, every sixth straight week at sea, and every contingency operation we've earned it.

The changes the community has undergone in the past four years have been sweeping—yet we have miles to go. There is pride in knowing what it takes to wear the pin. The vision of the surface line officer is an amalgamation of everything that goes into being a good human being—a total professional whose daily life is governed by the Core Values. It's a great time to be at sea.

Commander Nichols is the director of the department head curriculum at the Surface Warfare Officers School in Newport, Rhode Island. He was the commanding officer of USS Aries (DDG-54), and recently was selected from promotion to captain.

 

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