Special - Giving Junior Officers a Voice

By Lieutenant Alex Haupt and Lieutenant Jack Walsh, U.S. Navy

The committee comprises 20 officers, O-4 and below, from varying warfare communities. It has established an executive committee that meets monthly. The discussions have covered topics ranging from iPhone apps (USNI will release its own app soon) to scholarship opportunities to article reviews to social-networking sites, and beyond.

In an effort to educate themselves on naval matters, JOs are much more inclined today to go to generic online services—such as Wikipedia or Google—to find information than to organizations such as USNI. While the ease of online searching has improved dramatically, USNI maintains its singular position of providing higher-quality, more relevant material for naval professionals. For example, if a JO were looking to understand the future of undersea warfare, he or she would not be satisfied with what might be found on generic websites. At the same time, clawing through piles of past issues of Proceedings — USNI’s flagship periodical—for the information is the last thing the JO would do, even if the wardroom had them on file—which most do not. Because the information is needed now , and in a usable format, the JO goes where it is available quickly and in a user-friendly format. Put simply, active-duty JOs (and sailors) are finding their information from other, less optimal sources.

Membership rates also provide insight into USNI’s distant relationship with the JO community. One observation and concern is that active-duty JOs represent too small a percentage of overall members. Our goal of a greater role in the broader Sea Services forum will get easier only with stronger representation within the membership.

As Lieutenant Rob McFall noted in his USNI Blog post, “How to Bring Junior Officers into the Conversation” (13 June 2011), the disconnect is often misunderstood. It is important to realize that underneath their generational differences, the JOs of today are no different from those who preceded them. McFall wrote that today’s JO is not apathetic, but simply communicates differently. JOs remain hard-working, passionate, and driven by a desire to serve their country. The conception of today’s JO as being shortsighted, less interested in professional study, and therefore uninterested in the future of the Sea Services is misinformed.

Today’s JO wants to read, think, write, blog, publish, and be heard. The NJAC is here to help USNI make those desires into realities.

In essence, the Institute will thrive if it extends its reach and communicates not just in proven formats that have served it well to date, but also in new ways that are accessible to JOs of the Digital Age. That is what will ensure that USNI remains a vibrant forum for professional discussion. By embracing new technologies the Institute can share the lessons of generations past with current division officers, department heads, and squad leaders.

USNI recently took steps to that end, and it is encouraging to see such changes. A revamped and upgraded USNI website soon will replace the current USNI.org, which for some may be challenging to navigate at times. The new website’s developers should be driven by a goal of being bookmarked on the browser of every JO in the Fleet—which it could be if it provides relevant, timely, and usable content.

Additionally, Admiral Daly recently wrote about USNI’s initiative for a Naval Wiki . This is a fantastic move in the right direction—establishing a collaborative forum for today’s naval personnel to share and discuss ideas, tactics, and strategies. Over time, it would double as a historical database.

The basic idea is not a new one: In the 20th century Proceedings was the forum for collaboration and debate on the continuously evolving nature of sea power. To its credit, USNI is now examining how that forum can thrive and be cutting-edge-relevant in the new century.

To facilitate a conversation between USNI and junior officers the NJAC has initially focused its efforts in a few select areas.

First, the committee has agreed to review the articles in Proceedings . Every month NJAC members will be asked to rate each article in the journal in terms of professional relevance to the JO readership. The purpose is to provide USNI with frank feedback on what JOs read and where their interests lie. Reviewers will have additional critiquing opportunities, too—the chance to point out issues the articles failed to address, along with offering ideas on related topics USNI could pursue. That kind of feedback will help the editorial staff understand how to better serve its audience.

Second, USNI needs to establish its website as the place for naval professionals to interact and share ideas. The site does have a presence, as noted in our earlier mention of Lieutenant McFall’s blog post. But it faces some stiff competition just now from blogs—Sailor Bob (sailorbob.com) and The Stupid Shall Be Punished (bubbleheads.blogspot.com) to name just a couple—and a number of social networking sites, such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Those and others are where today’s JOs tend to gather and collaborate. USNI must expand its reach and assert itself in the realm of cyber-collaboration to retain Proceedings ’ status as “The Independent Forum of the Sea Services.”

NJAC also will spearhead discussion on how best to recruit and retain junior officers on USNI’s membership rolls. Increased exposure to USNI is needed in wardrooms throughout the Fleet to educate JOs on membership benefits. USNI currently has an average length of membership in excess of 20 years, and more than 3,000 Golden Life Members (memberships of 50 years or more). With better representation our generation can continue the legacy of lifelong membership and provide valuable insight for decades to come.

What we have outlined here is by no means comprehensive in assessing all that can be done to encourage JO involvement in USNI. Rather, it is a solicitation for vibrant comment that will assist in the refinement of our mission. A robust NJAC will provide an even greater voice in issues that concern and affect the naval community.

With these small steps the Naval Junior-Officer Advisory Committee is optimistic that junior officers of the Sea Services will assume greater and more varied roles within USNI. Junior officers want to be a part of the conversation. We want to assume our place at the table to discuss the matters important to our profession.

Like those before us, today’s junior officers and the membership of NJAC stand committed to making the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard better, and to sustaining USNI as the premier forum for naval professionals for generations to come.

Lieutenant Haupt flies an MH-60R in Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 70 (HSM-70) out of Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida. He is a 2007 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy.

Lieutenant Walsh is assigned to the Navy Foreign Liaison Office at the Pentagon. As a submarine officer he completed five patrols on board the USS Louisiana (SSBN-743) from 2008 to 2011.

 

 
 

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