In this new century, two new specialties have emerged: the cyber-technical field and a reinvigorated group with language/cultural orientation, the foreign area officer (FAO). The FAO specialty community appears to be protected so far, but the worst of our budgetary woes are yet to come. Cyber, in the form of the Information Dominance Corps, may have already passed through the most dangerous phase of a new specialty’s life and appears to enjoy strong advocacy.
Perhaps the most important issue facing a downsizing Navy: the fate of the URL integrators. How will URL officers with integrative experience—e.g., expert in a platform community, but broadened by regional/cultural, or technical experience—fare during a drawdown and personnel cutbacks?
Our history shows that Navy leaders confronted this challenge before, and based on active and direct intervention, successfully preserved the integrators for the benefit of the larger Navy: Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King served in all three communities before he made flag. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz was a diesel expert, spoke German fluently, and was a submarine and ship captain. Fleet Admiral William Halsey was a naval attaché, ship captain, and pioneer aviator.
Decades after these icons retired, new integrators also promoted through the ranks: A ship officer, submarine officer, and Olmsted scholar by the name of Carlisle Trost rose to Chief of Naval Operations; a surface-ship officer named Elmo Zumwalt, who served in the brown-water Navy as well as in the cruiser-destroyer force, and mastered politics as well as Russian, also rose to CNO; and CNO Thomas Hayward was no narrow platform specialist, having served on surface ships, commanded planes and carriers, attained proficiency in foreign languages, and graduated from not one but two war colleges.
But preserving integrators today may be more difficult than in the past. Over several decades the personnel system has become more parochial and fragmented. Almost to the man/woman, we are now tightly attached to our platforms, programs, and communities. Armed with enhanced, computerized databases, the Navy’s various community managers can track how much time and expertise an individual officer has accumulated in a particular community.
However, there is a downside to systems that identify and propel the accomplished specialist: They may discount or even discourage the attainment of integrative skills and aptitudes, especially when a community is confronted by a drawdown and cutbacks.
It may be time now to consider a set of recommendations offered by Admiral James Stavridis, published in the Winter 2009 edition of the Naval War College Review : a system of three integrative career tracks for the URL officer. Each track would place primary value on the platform specialty, but would overtly and officially recognize the value of broader, integrative education and experience in language/culture/region, in technical fields (such as cyber), and for officers who gained multiple Navy-platform experience. With such a three-track system, as the pressure builds to cull the officer corps, to make the inevitable cutbacks, officers who had excelled in their platform but also have built an integrative capacity in broader fields will not be penalized but incentivized and recognized. In the coming drawdown, we need this “third way” to preserve integrators for the future.
Captain Hagerott is professor of the history of science and technology and military/naval history at the U.S. Naval Academy.