Recent articles in Proceedings and other publications that are widely read throughout the Navy imply that our force is riddled with cancer. We are, according to these sources, on the verge of cataclysmic failures in leadership, management, and operational expertise. These articles bemoan the fate of the average officer and ask such pointed questions such as, "Where's the adventure?" Focusing their energy on all that is wrong with our Navy, many of these authors fail to recognize that we have made great strides in many areas. More important, they fail to acknowledge that, in spite of the recent drawdown, measures have been instituted to ensure the long-term health of future war fighters. In their haste to condemn, they have neglected to get the facts straight.
It's More Than a Job
Any organization, especially a large one, is going to experience periods of growth and decline. There will be highs and lows with regard to profits, quality, performance, and personal fulfillment. Successful organizations anticipate these changes and strive to keep performance at the highest possible level. Our Navy is no different. Even though we are a nonprofit outfit, we are stewards of the public trust, and as such, we must be held accountable. Often, we are held to a higher standard than our civilian counterparts. We should recognize this. I make no apology to any naval officer who says this standard is in some way flawed. Ultimately, our mission is to be prepared to fight and win, and that demands the devotion of every member to the team. Naval service is more than a job; it is more than a contractual obligation; it is, for lack of a better word, a calling. There is relevance in service to your country and we should direct our efforts to that ideal. There is honor in our profession and leaders must reinforce that fact by word and deed every single day.
We Can Make Our Navy Better
Realistic evaluation of the situation, followed by dedicated efforts toward improvement, is the key to successful change. I am not blind to the decreasing number of junior officers in the ranks, but retention is not the problem—recruiting in year groups 91-95 was. It is a simple process: if you bring in the right number of people and pay attention to historical retention rates, you should wind up with enough officers staying in the service. Today, for whatever reasons, we have to cope with the fact that the Navy under-accessed officers. Our senior leaders are aware of the problem and are dealing with it. We, the junior cadre, must stop the incessant complaining and instead help to make the situation better. Each of us has the opportunity to offer suggestions for meaningful change that could have a long-term impact on our Navy. It also is important to note that although the situation has been difficult, it has been a catalyst for significant improvement in quality-of-life initiatives, training revisions, and long-term planning.
Where Is the Adventure?
Look at our mission profiles. Bosnia. The Arabian Gulf. Korea. Somalia. From the Norfolk waterfront to the Sea of Japan, we are engaged. Wake up to the facts. We are more relevant than at any time in the past 50 years. Say to me that you cannot find the adventure and I'll say you have shortchanged yourself by focusing on minutiae that have little to do with what we do and who we are as a Navy.
Where is the adventure? It's on the bridge at night in the Strait of Messina; it's off the coast of Kuwait, working up as part of a joint task force exercise. Is it easy? No. Does it come at a high price in terms of work and personal commitment? Yes. And it should. On board a cruiser launching missiles or an amphibious ship launching the landing force are but two places where you can find the adventure. I have done both and I will tell you that it is there for those who want to take it.
Today, we deploy to more places and have more meaningful missions than ever before. The adventure is right in front of us. All we have to do is reach out and embrace the challenge. This point was brought home to me during a recent shipyard period. My ship was behind in the schedule, my troops needed to train, but the spaces were not ready. The crew could have used this as an excuse for inaction. We could have justified not being ready; we could have changed the schedule. Instead, they came to me with a plan for developing a mock training facility. Using sheets for bulkheads, tape on the floor, chem lights, a smoke machine, and a lot of sound-powered telephones, my damage control team developed a training facility that allowed us to be fully up to speed for our light-off assessment. We received the highest possible evaluation and we learned something: the adventure is in making your work meaningful, in rising to the challenge and overcoming obstacles. The journey is a great adventure, and it can provide a sense of accomplishment.
We junior officers must embrace our traditional roles as leaders, mentors, managers, and keepers of tradition. This is not an easy task. Indeed, it is far easier to throw up our hands and focus on the negative. For those who take the latter approach, the Navy is only a job, and not a very fulfilling one at that. For those who "get it," this profession provides opportunities for growth, excitement, and personal reward, as well as meaningful service to the nation.
Lieutenant Shaw is commanding officer of the USS Thunderbolt (PC-12).