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Commitment • . • A Focus for
By Ensign Matt A. Coleman, U. S. Navy
Personal sacrifice and self-denial ■ . . remain an inescapable part of every sailor’s life.
Devotion to duty—unbounded allegiance of men to other men and ideals—has been the lifeblood of the Navy and the nation for two centuries. But recent times have seen this commitment take on a new and dangerous connotation, that of “commitment to self.” Now, more than ever before, as the United States slumps toward military parity with the Soviet Union and Navy “people problems” move into the spotlight, those holding positions of authority and responsibility are called upon to excite a new birth of commitment. It is that commitment, and not a self-seeking, short-term contract, which will keep America’s Navy healthy for generations.
In what is a very real competition for the country’s greatest natural resource, people, the Navy’s efforts to attract quality members are inappropriately directed at preaching the worldly benefits of signing on. The ability of private industry to lure young prospects with visions of wealth and repute is much greater than the Navy’s. To be sure, capable individuals can make better money on the civilian side of the fence, the hours are more pleasing, and the hardship of long-term family separation is not a factor. If such considerations are valid criteria for occupational selection, and most would agree they are, the Navy must seek new avenues of appeal.
the appeal) which must be made in the market for competent and loyal per' sonnel. This type of advertisement is not superficial, nor does it seek to mask the grind and discipline with package wrappings of colorful foreign ports and high-level adventure. Rather, it puts the toil of men who g° to sea in its proper historical context, a most unselfish blend of honor and service and not merely an approach to satisfying numerical quotas and minimum entrance standards. The whole process moves recruiting back into the realm of selectivity. It is with this foundation that the Navy must attract its future officer and enlisted base.
General Lewis W. Walt, a commander of Marine Corps forces m Vietnam, says what he believes best portrays the element sought in the heart of all those who would opt for military service:
“First, let me warn that making the Armed Forces attractive has dangerous limitations. We learned this between World War II and the Korean War; let us not repeat our own mistakes. Battle is the most extreme form of stress. It is not won with psychedelic posters, comfy quarters, relaxed routines, civilian oriented job training, or exotic hair styles. You can offer a man a high pay scale to get him into the Armed Forces; you can t pay him enough to move him across a footbridge under fire. . . . There are a large number of men who will accept the risks of military service for what it offers them. These are the potential and actual professionals.”1 Although members of the Navy should concern themselves with tomorrow’s prospects, the immediate issue is the disposition of today’s sailor. Given a quantity of people, very possibly an insufficient and undereducated quantity, the overriding objective has been and remains “getting the job done.” Mathematically, it is a simple correlation of vocational skills and task assignment. But, more properly, the leader and his following are mutually committed to a mission—a mission of greater significance than either s personal gain. Discerning the larger purpose of the organization and
Those who do join today’s Navy for the quick technical education, travel, or simply out of indecision are often tomorrow’s attrition statistics. Those whose educational backgrounds afford them no other profitable opportunities turn their troubles into fleet maintenance and personnel problems. Neither of the two groups of people mentioned, and their numbers are large, contemplates joining the Navy on the premises of commitment and service to country. They are attracted not on these grounds but with an intensely self-serving and earthly minded attitude. Theirs is a rationale which can only foster discontent and deficiency in an organization of service. It undermines that which must be fundamental to members of the Navy—service to others. This is the core of the matter, the distinction of being a sailor. This is the claim (and
Proceeding's / August 1980
focusing less on the group composing 't are the only means of mission accomplishment. The result of their "'ork and the mission are consciously lncorporated into every exercise to establish direction and motivation. While General Walt spoke of the extraordinary requirements of men under the stress of battle, there too is a great sttess in the mundane and daily regi- tnen which is necessarily a part of every sailor’s lot. There is “something special,” to use the recruiter’s phrase, about the boatswain’s mate who has spent years chipping off rust and repainting the same deckplates. There is an almost inscrutable prompting in the mind of the boiler technician who daily crawls into his 120°, oily, humid fire room. The spirit of these professionals is not compensated materially. They do their jobs because they believe their contributions are a significant part of a greater whole. The professional sailor is committed—to his shipmates, to the Navy, and to an 'deal. The rigors of Navy life “become tolerable only when better men find themselves part of a dedicated company, which is another way of saying that service to ideals excludes pursuit of the soft life.”2
The deterioration of commitment in the Navy has roots traceable to sources Within and apart from the organization. A strong argument is made by those who would say that looking out for number one’’ has become the aphorism of society. Research illuminates the following current worker attitudes and demands:
“The primary focus of attention is on himself, rather than on some larger social group like the community, the company, or the family. He is very serious about his leisure activities. He expects to be paid well—and the less he likes his work, the better he expects to be paid for doing it. He is both super-confident and insecure. He is relatively unfazed by the threat of being fired. He wants feedback from his superiors. He cares too much about the present to wait patiently for future rewards. He is unwilling to put up with boredom, and wants his work to be stimulating. He is much less willing to conform to social conventions than his predecessors were. . . . The new values turn the ethic of self-denial upside down and place the self first . . . more than mate, family, community, company, or country.”3
The scenario, however discomforting, is one readily fitted to the men and women of the Navy. Members of military institutions have found that the attrition rate is caused by a lack of commitment and that to induce members to stay in the military, they have to be nurtured and motivated. The practice of nurturing is perhaps a takeoff point for internal sources of selfish interest. It seems that current recruiting and retention policies focus the attention of the Navy administration and the sailor on what is good for the sailor, not on how the sailor may benefit by serving the Navy. But whatever the origins of the problem, assigning blame is only productive insofar as it poses a context for solution. One might look to the American people to recreate and popularize the virtues of service and sacrifice or one might express concerns and exigencies in proper influential circles, tactfully contesting policies and legislation which simply are not adequate. In the interim, regardless of the immediate solution, the Navy must look to the intrinsic leadership of its members to breed commitment.
The birth of commitment to the organization starts in the individual who, with a clear understanding of his own service to the Navy and the Navy’s service to the United States, gives rise to a similar vital spirit among peers and subordinates. The understanding is further enhanced through education which integrates rich historical perspective with a deep moral foundation for all actions, those of the moment and in the future. Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale’s thoughts on the moral foundations of commitment among naval leaders are most creditable:
"To lead, they will face the need to be moralists, not as those who sententiously exhort men to be good, but those who elucidate what the good is. This requires first and foremost a clear idea of right and
wrong. A disciplined military life will encourage a commitment to a personal code of conduct, and from good habits a strength of character and resolve will grow. This is the solid foundation from which the good is elucidated—by action, by example and by tradition. A moralist can make conscious what lies unconscious among his followers, lifting them out of their everyday selves, into their better selves. All great men in history have relied on some measure of ethical resolution in their lives and it’s been perfected in their work and heritage.”4
It is ironic that the many technical education programs offered by the Navy, indeed on which the Navy prides itself, fail to first cultivate a strong ethical groundwork in the mind of a sailor. While the Navy will daily call upon the individual’s technical skills to meet rigorous shipboard demands, the individual must see his labor clothed in an important and meaningful undertaking. He must come to know the overwhelming significance of his personal sacrifices for others. The leader, through active reinforcement and exemplary behavior, helps his men to view service to country above selfish interests.
Personal sacrifice and self-denial for the benefit of others sound rather out of place to many in society, but they remain an inescapable part of every sailor’s life. Men who comprehend the nature of this sacrifice find the profession palatable, even desirable. The essence of service in the Navy is one of stewardship to a people, a country, and an ideal. Building commitment among members toward this end is the means naval leaders will find most effective in "getting the job done.”
'General Lewis W. Walt, USMC, Ret., America Faces Defeat (Woodbridge, CT.: Apollo Books, 1972), p. 136.
2Department of Defense, The Armed Forces Officer, FY 1975 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1975),
Florence Skelly, “Business Adjusts to the Me Decade,” Lines, Fall 1979, p- 3.
4Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale, USN Ret., “Taking Stock,” Naval War College Review, July-August 1979, p. 2.
Proceedings / August 1980