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The U.S. Naval Institute’s 121st Annual Meeting & Fifth Annapolis Seminar brought together the biographer of Admiral Spruance, the creator of Captain Queeg, and the essay contest author who saw the common threat woven through their two stories. As Tom Buell, Herman Wouk, and Lieutenant Edwards all have said, integrity and responsibility to your country are worth speaking up for.
The year 1910 was a good one for the U.S. Navy. Many on active duty still remembered our total naval victory in the Spanish-American War 12 years earlier. President Theodore Roosevelt wanted our nation’s seagoing power increased, and shipyards were bustling. The expanding Navy needed to graduate the top one-third °f the Naval Academy class of 1907 eight ntonths early.
Included in that top one-third was a 9uiet, methodical midshipman named Raymond A. Spruance. Spruance first served as a passed midshipman in the Iowa (BB-4) and the Minnesota (BB-22).2 He followed these assignments with a shore tour at General Electric, studying electronics. In May 1910, En- S|gn Spruance received orders *° report to the Connecticut (BB-18) and the notorious Captain William R. Rush.
The year 1910 would not he a good one for Ensign Spruance.
Nothing was wrong with the Connecticut. She had been commissioned only four years earlier, and at 450 feet ■n length, displacing 16,000 Ions, she was comparable to a heavily armored Arleigh Burke (DDG-5 1 )-class destroyer. Her official complement was 41 officers and 840 men.3 She was designed strictly for firepower—carrying four 12-inch, eight 8-inch, and twelve 7-inch guns—and Was serving as flagship lor Rear Admiral Seaton Schroeder, Commander-inChief, Atlantic Fleet.4
The problem was the Connecticut’s captain. A “thrusting, thick-set man of the damn-the-torpedoes school,” Captain Rush was known as an excellent ship handler and strict disciplinarian, but his crew paid the bill in unhappiness.5 It was not a good day on board the Connecticut unless the Captain said it was. One of his staff noted that “nobody who ever served with him will ever forget it. The word ‘martinet,’ which we lifted from the French language, does not adequately describe him, but it will have to serve.”6 The Captain was fastidious. His ship’s crew—both officers and men—had an inspection uniform, which was used only for the Saturday ship’s inspection. The sleeves had to hit the wrist exactly, and other measurements had to be precisely as the Captain dictated.7 Captain Rush would lay his hand on top of a man’s head. Any hair sticking up above his hand would result in extra duty for the culprit. And woe to the sailor who responded with an upset look; the Captain would award three days in the ship’s brig for “contumacious conduct.” In 1914, when Captain Rush was shot at the Battle of Vera Cruz, many of his crew prayed that the bullet would prove fatal.8
The quiet Ensign Spruance, who served in engineering, was harassed unmercifully, but a previously unseen streak of toughness emerged in his mild personality. When the Captain needed an orderly, Ensign Spruance recommended Seaman C. F. Baden from his 5th Division. The previous 5th Division officer, Ensign Foy, had given Baden low marks for professional qualifications, but Spruance rated him as outstanding. Captain Rush was unhappy with Baden as his orderly. He criticized Spruance’s choice, and implied that the ensign should have been aware of Baden’s problems. In a letter dated 19 January 1911, Ensign Spruance wrote the Captain that he desired to be unprejudiced and did not read the previous evaluation. Further, he considered himself a tougher grader than Ensign Foy and stated that Baden was “among the best men in his division.” He then relieved Baden.
Captain Rush sarcastically replied the same day: “It is very gratifying to know that the enlistment record in this case is of no value, for it indicated as aforestated, a lack of advancement in professional qualifications. ... It is requested that Baden be assigned to that duty in which he is so valuable. It is to be noted that if we could get men assigned to the particular duty for which they are most valuable it would be an ideal ship.”9
The misery continued. Three months later. Ensign Spmance submitted a written request to the Bureau of Navigation (the predecessor of the Bureau of Naval Personnel) via the Commanding Officer, requesting that he be detached from duty on board the Connecticut and assigned to the battleship Florida's precommissioning detachment. Captain Rush returned the letter to Ensign Spruance for reconsideration, stating that Spruance’s performance of duty was “generally very satisfactory and that the Commanding Officer has no wish to see him leave the ship.” If Spruance still wished to leave the ship, he should return the correspondence to the ship’s office and it would be forwarded. Rush added in pen “with regret.” Spruance was unmoved and forwarded the letter. The Bureau noted his request but took no action.10
The next conflict came six weeks later. The Connecticut, as flagship of the Atlantic Fleet, frequently hosted distinguished visitors. The sharp, well-drilled Marine guard performed the required ceremonies with enthusiasm. At one point, however, they were sent to a four- month commitment elsewhere. During this absence, Ensign Spruance was appointed Commander of the Guard and
In 1910, Spruance reported to the battleship Connecticut and endured 17 months of misery under Captain William R. Rush (inset), a notorious tyrant. The integrity Spruance showed by speaking out exemplifies the candor junior officers must display today.
was assigned an acting petty officer and several seamen. Navy enlisted men during that period did not look like Marines, did not act like Marines, and had no wish to begin doing either. Ensign Spruance faced the tough assignment of drilling them into shape.
Spruance’s leadership was challenged when several seamen missed drills. On one important day, he called the guard together and advised them to be ready to parade at any time. The acting petty officer echoed Spruance’s remarks and warned the seamen that all would parade and all must be ready. When the call came, six were absent. Ensign Spruance placed them on report. He must have been confident—the Captain regularly punished miscreants at Captain’s Mast and the case seemed clear—but Captain Rush dismissed all charges. Worse still, the following day Captain Rush sent a memo to the Executive Officer telling him to inform Spruance that Ensign Spruance himself was the guilty party and that “any similar occurrence in the future would not be overlooked.”
If Spruance was affected by this rebuke, he gave no indication. He fired back a memo defending his decision to place the seamen on report and complaining that the Captain refused to listen to his side of the incident. He asked whether the Captain intended to hold him personally responsible for the conduct of each sailor and if the Captain would refuse to punish delinquent members of the guard. The Captain returned the memo with the unoffensive endorsement, “The proper course of the Commander of the Guard to pursue is to make certain that whatever proper orders he issues should be carried out.”
Whether right or wrong, Ensign Spruance stood up to a Navy captain who was perhaps the most fearsome leader of his day. One rear admiral, reminiscing years later, wrote, “As I read the names of the great and near great, my mind jumps decades. I met Captain Rush of USS Connecticut fame. (I was scared to death of him.)”" Ensign Spruance disagreed with this tyrant twice in writing and refused the Captain’s wish that he withdraw his request for transfer. Spruance was no sycophant. He showed great integrity in communicating his ideas and recommendations despite the risk to his career.
The Importance of Integrity Today
Integrity and candor flow from the Navy’s core values of honor, courage, and commitment. Integrity is violated when a subordinate disagrees with a senior in a significant matter and yet either says what the boss wants to hear or keeps quiet and gives the impression that he has no disagreement. Loss of integrity hurts our Navy in several ways:
> Lost information flow. At the unit level, leaders benefit from daily experience. They see the quality of our personnel reflected in their work; they see the effects of too frequent deployments on their sailors’ families and morale. Countless other personal encounters shine the light of relevant, raw information directly on decisions. But even at the unit level, there is far too much for one leader to see. The observations and recommendations of subordinates are crucial to seeing the big picture. One Navy captain observed that there is not a surface captain in the Navy who has not had his career saved by a petty officer on the bridge speaking up about an “overlooked fact.”
As leaders advance, they become progressively more disassociated from the events they control. Briefing papers and slides take the place of personal encounters and experiences. The nature of bureaucracy demands it. The key to fighting this loss of information is the presence of courageous subordinates who will pass information and recommendations from the deckplates to the flag level. Subordinates must be encouraged to explain what the boss needs to hear, not what he wants to hear.
>■ Lost synergy. Dr. Steven R. Covey lists synergy—combining efforts for greater effectiveness—as one habit of highly effective people.12 In a synergistic environment, one plus one can equal three or more. The old story of the blind men, each of whom tries to describe an elephant based solely on the small part of the animal he has grasped, is illustrative. Individually, their idea of the animal was deficient. Combining their experiences through an open flow of information, however, surely would have led to a better understanding of the animal. In the same way, a diverse group of individuals candidly sharing proposed solutions to a problem can produce a report that is superior to any single member’s ideas. On the other hand, in a group of subordinates who are concerned only with what the leader wants to hear, all opinions added together still will equal just one: the leader’s own opinion.
> Lost opportunity to develop boldness in subordinates. Virtues, like muscles, require constant work to make them stronger. The ensign who dares to confront his captain will find it easier, as he becomes more senior, to confront an admiral. That same ensign, as an admiral, will find it easier to confront our top civilian leaders when they are mistaken. And that boldness will carry over into other activities. On the other hand, for the ensign who avoids it, confrontation becomes progressively more difficult, until the officer becomes useless as an advisor.
In 1924, then-Commander Spruance reported as chief of staff for another difficult leader. Vice Admiral Philip Andrews, Commander, Naval Forces Europe. On one occasion, Admiral Andrews ordered his flagship, the Pittsburgh (CA-4), to enter a highly attractive Spanish port. Commander Spruance advised him that the harbor was too shallow and the risk of grounding too great. Andrews insisted; he truly wanted to visit the port. Spruance replied that he would put his objections in writing and the Admiral could take responsibility for the likely grounding. Andrews changed his plans."
> Lost opportunity to develop trust. This type of boldness in subordinates gives superiors more confidence and allows them to focus on other matters. The first advice a captain gives an officer of the deck (OOD) at sea is “Call me if you are in doubt.” Night orders require the OOD to call in certain circumstances. If the captain believes the OOD will call, he can concentrate on other duties. What is true of the OOD is true of other billets as well. The willingness of juniors to speak up builds unit trust and efficiency.
Why Juniors Keep Silent
When a subordinate keeps quiet—described colloquially as “checking his shoeshine”—one of the following may apply:
^ The officer may reason that the senior either doesn’t need to know or already knows his opinion. An authoritarian or overly directive leadership style contributes to this type of confusion.
^ The officer may believe the senior doesn't want to receive the information. ^ The officer may fear failure—specifi- cal|y, that he will look stupid, be berated, °r be graded negatively on a fitness report because he raises issues.
^ The officer may be at fault or criminally responsible for an action that he Would prefer not to bring to his senior’s attention.
It is not always easy for a subordinate to decide when to communicate his concerns. The following recommendations are listed separately for seniors and subordinates, but it is well to note that each member of the naval service, from seaman to admiral, serves as both a subordinate and a senior.
^ Consider the importance and urgency of the confrontation. The test for importance is: Could failure to pass this information to your superior hurt him or influence his decision? If the message might be urgent and important, you must go to the boss immediately. If it is important but not urgent, it may be reported ■n the normal course of reports. In this case, do your homework and provide alternatives if you can. If your message is clearly unimportant, consider whether it needs to be reported at all. Continual confrontation over minor issues or raising unimportant facts erodes your credibility. ^ We sometimes get too wrapped up in our identity as officers. Like the fictional officer candidate Zack Mayo in “An Officer and a Gentleman,” we think we have nowhere else to go. That’s not true. Realize that your good name, integrity, and responsibility to your country are more important than advancing in a military career.
^ Tell the boss the bad news without hiding your part in it. Deception here is unlikely to fool your superior and probably will lead to a loss of confidence. He will believe either that you do not understand the part you played or that you are covering up your culpability. Either way, you will have gained nothing from your deception.
^ Nobody likes a tattletale. Hesitate to confess the sins of another unless the matter is important and the culprit refuses to report himself. Integrity is not an excuse for you to impress your boss at the expense of a shipmate.
► Act like a naval professional. When appropriate, use the chain of command. There is too much premature complaining to the Inspector General, Congress, and senior admirals about decisions made at the unit level. Your disagreement should begin as far down as practicable in the chain of command and should be stated tactfully—with acknowledgement of your duty to obey all lawful orders.
>■ Seek advice, but carefully consider the details you share, lest you put your boss on report. Be wary of taking advice from those less experienced than you. Such “counseling periods” can turn into gripe sessions, and gripe sessions have little redeeming value.
>■ Remember your roots. Don’t hold a junior officer to your level of experience. Subordinates—especially at lower levels—must be developed. Encourage them to speak up, even when they may be wrong.
>• Consider evaluations carefully. We all appreciate people who agree with us, but as Attila the Hun might have said, “A king with chieftains who always agree with him reaps the council of mediocrity.”14 Subordinates who are different or outspoken may be valuable to your unit and the Navy for just that reason. Captain Rush recognized this fact of life and gave Spruance progressively better fitness report marks; he received a 4.0 for his special duty as Commandant of the Guard.15 His detaching fitness report was the first report of his career with straight 4.0s. Under the headings General Conduct and General Bearing, Rush wrote, “an excellent example to follow after in this respect.”16 Junior officers with candor are too valuable to lose.
► Promote the spiritual well-being of those you lead and encourage your chaplains.17 A strong moral foundation spurs integrity and candor. Supporting and attending religious services at sea and otherwise promoting the spiritual development of subordinates builds their character and benefits the naval service.18 >■ Be open to disagreement. Make certain that subordinates who dissent have opportunities to state their views and are not afraid to make their opinions known. If necessary, appoint a devil’s advocate to argue against important decisions before they are made. You need to know if you are overlooking something.
The Navy needs junior officers who
are sharp, willing to give their opinions, and more concerned about what the boss needs to know than what he wants to hear. Captain Rush recognized such an officer in Ensign Raymond Spruance and evaluated him accordingly. Ensign Spru- ance’s integrity and candor and Captain Rush’s ability to recognize its importance made both of them better leaders. Such characteristics will serve today’s leaders just as well.
'LCdr. Philip F. Queeg, USN, is the difficult captain of the fictional minesweeper USS Caine in Herman Wouk’s naval classic, The Caine Mutiny (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press  c 1951). 'Naval Academy graduates of that day served two years as passed midshipman before being commissioned as ensigns.
'Despite her official complement, the Connecticut's log shows 25 officers on board in 1911. This includes the staff of the Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet. Log, USS Connecticut 1910, National Archives, Washington, DC.
E. P. Forrestal, Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, USN: A Study in Command (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1966), p. 4.
Jack Sweetman, The Landing at Vera Cruz: 1914 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1968), p. 57. ’Matt Hensley, “Comment and Discussion," U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, November 1961, p. 115. "Sweetman, The Landing at Vera Cruz: 1914. p. 115. The letter and endorsement by Captain Rush, as well as other correspondence, are from the Naval Historical Collection, Naval War College, Newport, Rl. "'Bureau of Navigation letter of 21 April 1911 to Ens. R. A. Spruance, USN, from the Naval Historical Collection, Naval War College, Newport, Rl.
"Letter from RAdm. W. V. Combs, Commander Cruiser-Destroyer Flotilla Three, to RAdm. E. M. Eller, U.S. Navy, then Director of Naval History, dated 6 September 1966, from the Naval Historical Collection, Naval War College, Newport, RL '’Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989). "Thomas Buell, The Quiet Warrior (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1987), pp. 52-53. This incident and many others are discussed in detail in this definitive biography of Spruance.
"Wess Roberts, Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun (New York: Warner Books, 1989), p. 101.
Spruance received no consolation from his grades, because fitness reports were not disclosed to officers during that time.
"Ens. Spruance’s fitness reports are in the Naval Historical Collection, Naval War College, Newport,
Naval Regulations 1990, Section 0820a, provides that [the commanding officer shall] use all proper means to foster high morale, and to develop and strengthen the moral and spiritual well-being of the personnel under his or her command, and ensure that chaplains are provided the necessary logistic support for carrying out the command’s religious programs to provide maximum opportunity for the free exercise of religion by members of the naval service. "Legal advice that discourages such support with threats of lawsuits is greatly exaggerated. See, Maj. David W. Jonas, USMC, “Gratuitous Religious Comment,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, August 1994, p. 82.
A two-time winner in the Vincent Astor Memorial Leadership Essay Contest, Lieutenant Edwards is currently assigned as Assistant Force Judge Advocate, Commander Naval Surface Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet. He transfers this month to the Army Judge Advocate General School at Charlottesville. Virginia, for postgraduate work.