What Will This SecNav Do?

By Richard Danzig

This is a simple proposition, but it's often a difficult one. I saw many times in the course of John Dalton's service how he threw himself down as a bridge between civilian society and the military society, with a foot in each. When they begin to diverge, a secretary, in his efforts to hold them together, sometimes gets ripped apart. It's a difficult and substantial challenge. We saw it in the Navy and Marine Corps in the wake of Tailhook. In a variety of ways we've healed that breach, but it remains a function of the secretary to bring those larger values into the military society.

It's also the secretary's representational responsibility to convey military society's special needs and values. The secretary must argue for them, so that the military is adequately resourced, so that its warrior spirit is respected, and so that the differences between the civilian and the military world are fully recognized.

I believe also that a service secretary has a responsibility for a more abstract kind of representation; he needs to advocate and represent the future back to the present. We are all overwhelmed with the day-to-day needs of the services. It is important that somebody stand back and say: "I am trustee for the future." I need us to allocate resources, allocate our energies, and innovate in ways that stake the claim for the future at the table. So the representational function is the bridge between the society and the military, and between the future and the present.

A second function is to provide a catalyst from the outside for a rethinking of many things and a follow-through on things that might otherwise be taken for granted. Military organizations—and the Navy and the Marine Corps are epitomes of strong military organizations—have the enormous strength of an extremely developed identity, a harmonious process for promoting people within their ranks to the highest levels, and of finding ways in which the organization, as a whole, develops a viewpoint. That is excellent, and it should be cherished.

But it also runs the risk that the organization may take its signals too much internally; may, so to speak, drink its own bathwater, constantly believing what it is telling itself. By bringing in a civilian secretary from outside the system, we say to ourselves and to the organization that we're going to take a fresh look at things and that we may do them differently. There are important new prospects here, and that is something also that I care very much about.

I care about it in three contexts that I would emphasize—how we work, how we fight, and how we live. If I am emphasizing anything as Secretary of the Navy, it will be that we have the right ideas in all three respects. We know that we need to equip the people who do the work of the Navy and Marine Corps—the Sailors, Marines, the civilians, the reservists—with the resources that they must have.

With respect to how we work, we need to recognize that we, truly believing that people were our most important asset, too often have not acted in ways that follow through on that. Sailors and Marines are the great elastic variable in our budgets and in our lives. We believe that they can keep doing more and more, and they keep reinforcing that belief by their increasingly heroic efforts. But we need to manage better and to support them better. As Secretary of the Navy, I would say it is my most important priority.

We need also to recognize that we have thought out the right ideas about how we fight. ". . . From the Sea" and the notion that we are projecting power onto the littorals provide us with the right conceptual framework for a new age in which we're not fighting a major power in the open ocean, but rather attempting to influence activities on the land. But in a large number of ways that I hope to be talking about over these next couple of years, we have not yet fully followed through on that idea. We need to adapt our investments, our personnel systems, and our priorities more sharply to follow the logic of this fundamentally right concept.

In how we live, we also have the right ideas. Again, we need to go further in following through. We need to harness new technologies, to find new ways of doing business, in ways that will get us what we need to provide better lives for our Sailors, Marines, and their families while they're not at work.

Finally, a Secretary of the Navy has a third function. The fact that the Department of the Navy includes two services opens up exceptional opportunities and also particular challenges for the service secretary. One gets to see two extraordinary organizations and try and find ways of better harmonizing them.

I can only say that with Admiral Jay Johnson and General Chuck Krulak, the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant, I hope very much to build a stronger integration still and to create for all of us—and above all for Marines and Sailors—a better world.

 

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