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Farewell to the SEALs
The Navy’s elite special operating forces, the SEALs (an appropriate acronym for sea, air, and land) have always been a part of the regular Navy, but because of the changing nature of naval special operations, the operational and administrative control of SEALs has been shifted to a new unified command. It remains to be seen how successful this change will be and how far the change should go. The time may have come to decide if the U. S. Navy should continue to act as the parent service for naval-oriented special operations forces (SOFs).
SEALs are selected, trained, funded, and operated by the Navy to do naval- oriented missions that are often daring and dangerous and almost always successful. SEALs have an enviable reputation and their relationship with the rest of the Navy was considered perfectly satisfactory until the highly publicized failures of some U. S. special operations.
The failed Iranian hostage rescue in 1979 that ended with the debacle at Desert One gave the perception that the nation’s special forces were badly organized and incompetent. The growing incidence of worldwide terrorism, however, led to a greater appreciation of the need for special operations forces, which had been declining since the end of the Vietnam War. This, in turn, led to competition for SOF assets and debate on their use.
In October 1986, after considerable public debate concerning our “fragmented” SOF assets, Congress amended Title 10 of the U. S. Code to create a new unified commander. This law directed the Secretary of Defense to create for the special operations force a major force program within the Department of Defense’s five-year plan. Congress also established a four- star commander as the head of the new unified combatant command, the Commander-in-Chief, Special Operations Command (CinCSOC). This commander, currently an Army general, is in charge of all SOF worldwide, even though most SOF employment remains the responsibility of geographically oriented unified commands. A series of memorandums of understanding were drafted between the Navy fleet commanders and the new CinCSOC to work out the “care and feeding” of Navy SEALs who now report to a commander from another service who has a different way of doing business and potentially different priorities.
Some missions assigned to the SEALs by the CinCs currently are not SOF related. SEALs, for example, deploy with each amphibious ready group (ARG). Although the SEAL detachment gives the ARG a SOF capability, they also accomplish underwater demolition team (UDT) missions. Those are Navy, not joint, missions, but the Navy must depend on joint assets to get them done. Considering the enormous value of SOFs, there will be many wartime missions for them to perform. Unfortunately, there are not enough SEALs to do all these missions.
Apportioning forces to missions is one of the jobs of the CinCSOC. He must prioritize and assign his limited assets to the most important missions first. The geographic CinCs also have hard choices in distributing the limited SOF assets made available to them by CinCSOF. Some missions for which SEALs are responsible will not get done, possibly underwater demolition. But this may not be a bad thing. Sending a SEAL, trained in every element of land combat, to conduct underwater reconnaissance and search shallow waters for mines is not a rational use of the extensive, costly training that the Navy has invested in him.
Other alternatives exist. Navy explosive ordnance demolition (EOD) personnel usually are also trained divers.
In fact they have begun to do many of the jobs previously performed by the original SEAL underwater demolition team divers. The Marine Corps reconnaissance teams are also diver qualified. With some minor specialized training, they could perform beach reconnaissance. The idea of letting the Marine Corps do its own beach reconnaissance seems logical. Once the landing is made, the battalion recon teams would move forward with the rest of the Marine force. Should shallow-water mines be found, EOD divers would be responsible for clearing them.
With existing EOD and Marine Corps assets, there would be little nee for the SEALs to do missions not directly related to SOF. An EOD detachment and underwater beach recon trained Marines could be provided f°r each amphibious ready group. Even raids ashore, one of the SEALs’ speci' alities, can be done by Marines qualified for special operations.
General Alfred M. Gray, Commandant of the Marine Corps, has explicitly stated the Marines have a mission as raiders. Navy- and Marine-oriente missions should be done by forces trained, paid for, and under the opera tional and administrative control of Navy and Marine commanders. This would have three advantages:
► SEALs would be freed from many ^
missions that do not fully use their sp cial talents, meaning more SOF missions could be conducted. .
► Missions that are Navy- and Mar'ne Corps-oriented can be accomplished with forces that are under the exclusl operational and administrative contro of the Navy-Marine Corps team.
► SEALs could be more easily as- ^ signed tasks by their current parent vice, the Navy, to either the U. S- Army, or to a new uniformed service branch, the special operating forces-
Transferring forces from one serv to another is a major step, but not without precedent. The most obviouS example is the creation of the U.
Air Force from the old Army Air Forces. Transferring the SEALs to 1 Army would be much less disruptive and would simply involve moving P sonnel designated as Navy SEALS the U. S. Army.
If the primary mission of one se£ ment of a service evolves out of ^ functional area of responsibility oI service to another service, either tn ^ mission needs adjustment or a reas ment of the forces is in order. A 1 part of the mission of Navy SEAL5 land combat, a mission that is c . e more appropriate to either the Ma Corps or the Army. Marines alre;l have a sea-based raiding force in s special operations-capable amphib1® ready groups. The majority of SU are in the Army, and the SEALs already under the operational and a
ministrative control of a CinC who is an Army general. Transfer of the SEALs to the Army is clearly the appropriate choice. The Army is familiar with SOF. Its special operating forces are already accustomed to working with another service, usually the Air Force, for transportation and support. Army
SOFs also share the same operational and administrative commander with the SEALs. Army SOFs personnel recognize that SEALs are much like sea- based Rangers or Green Berets. Although the training to become a SEAL is specialized, so is that of all SOF units. The intent is not to eliminate
SEALs but to assign them to a more appropriate parent service.
Commander Pinney is a senior analyst for Sonaly5 Inc., and assigned to a staff detachment in the re serves that serves Commander, U. S. Naval Forces, U. S. Pacific Fleet.
Nobody asked me either, but...
By Chief Petty Officer W. G. K. Bowen, U. S. Navy
What makes a good chief?
Whenever my fellow chief petty officers (CPOs) gather, a recurring theme is heard: “The chiefs are back.” Back from where and why we left is an absorbing question. Most agree that CPO prestige and effectiveness declined during the post-Vietnam era for complex reasons. Morale and leadership in the Navy suffered as funding and sailors became scarce during the wind-down. At the same time, the Navy borrowed the first rivet-popping “management revolution” from Corporate America, on the theory that our problems would yield to persistent group-think and incessant babble.
Stunned and feeling ignored by the New Age, the Navy’s chiefs became silent onlookers. Fortunately, our instincts survived; most chiefs can still separate the inanimate things we manage from the pensive young sailor needing our talents as leader and teacher. Despite the alienation we felt in the 1970s, the chief’s community today is infused with new energy and a finer understanding of applied leadership.
But wait! Just when everyone relaxes, a more sophisticated and demanding management strain has emerged. This new beast of plodding procedure and incomprehensible language has left its Beltway lair, openly testing our battered leadership values. The warning signs are familiar: wild fluctuations in manpower and promotion plans; barrages of redundant social programs taxing our personnel services; mounds of memoranda and muddled budgetary rules.
The shore establishment receives the brunt of this assault, spearheaded by a technocratic breed with little fleet experience. Experts on the care and feeding of management, they “interface” with their peers over the “big picture” 92 while forever “prioritizing” new “bottom lines.” Premeetings, meetings, and recap meetings proliferate at all levels as the experts “strategize” and accomplish nothing. Accountability is neatly deflected.
But let me add a clarifier: I do not confuse the professional Navy “administrator” with management’s timid procrastinators. While Alexander the Great and General Ulysses S. Grant were exceptional leaders for their respective eras, they were also talented administrators. And we could learn much about clarity of purpose from studying General Grant’s wartime dispatches.
Now the threat has shifted toward the fleet, the CPO community, in particular. Management is replacing the chiefs’ quaint leadership ideals with its upscale style. “Superb managerial expertise” outweighs leadership as a preferred CPO quality. (Why we in the Navy accept this is hard to fathom, especially since Corporate America itself now downplays management talent in favor of leadership traits.)
Consider some examples of how the management fixation is undermining the proper leadership attitudes of the Navy’s chiefs. The CPO Leadership, Management, Education, and Training (LMET) course lists 17 “competencies,” or goals, for which every chief should strive. The goals are sound, but LMET actually emphasizes group problem solving over individual thought and action, all in direct conflict with the tenets expressed in the Chief’s Creed.
There are other culprits. The frequent ticket-punching rotation of division officers for the dubious reason of allowing them to obtain management experience wrecks divisional unity and undermines CPO stability. It is a major shin-bruiser for retention, counseling, and advancement programs. It has been a long time since I have heard spirited dialogue at any meeting because thoughtful, constructive dissent seems to taint the dissenter as being “not a team player. ’ ’ And I still hear chiefs grumbling about the need for “face time” and, shame on us, getting our tickets punched.
We must resurrect our traditional understanding of what a good chief lS about. The chief’s sole purpose is to pass on his wealth of experience to tn younger officer and enlisted troops- The contemporary Navy should be no different from Admiral Halsey’s in th'* regard. But when was the last time your skill as a “teacher” or “counselor” was mentioned in your annual evaluation? As our seniority increases our ignorance of important Navy Pr0L grams and insensitivity to the needs 0 our subordinates also grows. We become preoccupied with our khakiness- The Navy counselor rating would not exist today if we chiefs had been doin- our jobs ten years ago. g
My advice to my fellow chiefs is trust your instincts and never assume that some management “system” vVI take care of your troops. I still behe that the Navy’s chiefs remain the m true caretakers of commonsense letm ship. The need for such leadership l3, never been greater, for we face conv sive changes in budgets and orgamza tion that will soon present problem*, similar to those we endured in the 1 “ ^
But we are once again in danger becoming onlookers. We chiefs sho_u once again worry about the well-be ' of our troops rather than meanings titles and accolades. (Do we really need ‘CPO of the Year’ awards?) ^ remember our duty as teacher and a viser and avoid the self-indulgent W thy of the 1970s. This is our trust. heritage, and most certainly our re-sP sibility. ^
A 20-year veteran of the Navy, Chief n .rfd serving with VFW-123 on board the USS A (CV-66).