While serving on the staff of the Kitty Hawk (CV-63) Strike Group (SG), I participated in developing a continuous training plan that enabled the group to serve as a surge-ready combat force when it was called to deploy for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). During the return transit, while helping to write the post-deployment report, I reviewed what we had achieved.
The lessons we gathered from the deployment paralleled what former IBM Chairman Louis Gerstner learned in reshaping IBM to meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. Here I have selected some quotes from him, interlaced with hints and suggestions based on my experiences while assigned to the Navy's only permanently forward-deployed carrier strike group. Based in Yokosuka, Japan, the SG is tasked to prepare the Kitty Hawk and her escorts to support ongoing plans and operations in the U.S. Pacific Command (PacCom) area of responsibility (AOR) and to maintain the ability to surge combat-ready forces in support of U.S. Central Command (CentCom).
To those who have trained and deployed carrier or expeditionary SGs and their predecessors, little of this will come as a surprise. There are no quick fixes. The basics of going to sea, building teams, and training them to excel remain constant. Holding true to core competencies-while continuously adapting ways to apply the latest tactics, techniques, and procedures-is what keeps the fleet vital and creative.
"There are fundamentals that characterize successful enterprises and successful executives: They are focused. They are superb at execution. They abound with personal leadership."1
The staff recognized that the steady-strain approach to warfighting excellence was the only way to achieve and maintain success in its "base businesses": Sea Strike, Sea Shield, and Sea Basing. When the numerous no-notice contingencies and operations arose, we needed to simultaneously balance those with the many periodic certifications and inspections—which is easy to say, but hard to execute consistently.
The staff assumed that it-or one of the command's assets—always would participate in the next operation. That belief created the mind-set that the SG had to be ready to go at any time. Consequently, we continuously worked through how to get available ships and aircraft up to speed at a moment's notice. One question captured the idea best: What do we need to be ready to go to war this week?
To that end, staff officers searched the secret internet protocol router network for information on emerging missions and joint task forces. They read and distributed related orders, briefs, and the intense battle rhythm schedules of 24-hour planning and execution. This helped build a sharper perspective for the challenges presented by ongoing operations and prepared the staff for the hectic pace of combat operations. Operations department junior officers downloaded, read, and briefed the staff on the regional operational plans (OpPlans) and contingency plans (ConPlans) in the areas where the SG might be deployed. This made the entire flag watch team aware of how day-to-day operations and training fit into the larger battle scheme. In addition, the intelligence department scheduled weekly briefings as part of staff training (in port and under way) to focus the staff on threats and operational developments. Finally, staff officers contacted their counterparts on each of the other SG and fleet staffs to gather developing operational trends. They kept the lines of communication open and flowing with regular secure phone calls and e-mails.
Training time was optimized by breaking down OpPlan and ConPlan maritime tasks into discrete skill sets and then scheduling blocks in the underway schedule of events (SOE) to practice those sets during integrated SG operations. New tactics, techniques, and procedures were shared immediately with subordinate commands so they could incorporate them into underway and in-port training. To avoid letting a new idea die on the vine, the SOE was crafted to ensure adequate time, training, and personnel were provided to support development of skill sets.
Because the strike group's forces could be deployed independently to the Arabian Gulf or Western Pacific, they trained to skill sets for the PacCom and CentCom AORs during each underway period. Training switched back and forth between the two areas to stretch warfare teams and see that the best practices were evaluated in multiple scenarios. This strict emphasis on training extended to the group's staff. The staff participated in several joint task force war games each year, which usually were timed to run concurrently with SG underway periods. The pace and scope of these exercises prepared the staff to think and plan at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels while it supervised day-to-day group operations. When the SG was ordered to the Arabian Gulf for OIF, thorough preparatory training enabled it to more rapidly assess planned operations and pinpoint areas where its forces could contribute to the joint force maritime component commander mission.
"Execution is all about translating strategies into action programs and measuring the results. . . . Proper execution involves building measurable targets and holding people accountable for them."2
After reviewing all applicable publications for a specific warfare area, we devised concrete measures of effectiveness (MOEs) to quantify the SG's proficiency in executing the maritime tasks drawn from various plans. The MOEs were laid out chronologically so we could evaluate the entire skill set, from receipt of tasking, through planning, execution, casualty control, reporting procedures, and postexecution administration. The process of walking through a skill set each time—SEALs call it a "full mission profile"—gave us a unique opportunity to see our strengths and weaknesses.
Consider the following example from the Tomahawk strike training plan:
* To provide timely feedback to commanding officers, the staff drafted preformatted messages. These grade sheets placed the MOEs in chronological order; they listed the area observed, the MOEs for that area, and the command's grade.
* We sent these messages to participating ships and operational commanders by hard-copy messages at the end of each day. This enabled the subordinate commands to see how they measured up to the group's MOEs and ensured proper attention was given to particular maritime skills.
* Once the strike team had progressed beyond basic proficiency, the SG gave each command a 24-hour vulnerability window, within which no-notice drills were conducted at all hours of the day and night. On the transit to OIF, one crew less than affectionately dubbed these drills "alert shooter torture sessions." But this kind of training rapidly and effectively prepared the strike teams of each ship for the rigorous combat operations they were soon to see.
To capture the best practices and rapidly disseminate them, twice a year, after each SG deployment, we gathered the warfare commanders to review strengths and weaknesses. Lessons learned were included in the training plans for the next deployment, the next revision of the MOEs, and the Naval Warfare Development Center's lessons-learned database. In addition, the staff summarized the lessons from each deployment and briefed commands that had not deployed with us.
"Personal leadership is about visibility with all members of the institution . . . about being both strategic and operational . . . about communication, openness, and a willingness to speak often and honestly. Most of all, personal leadership is about passion."3
It is difficult to single out any one thing that enabled the strike group to remain so flexible and responsive. One factor, however, was dominant: the admirals who drove the group to achieve, permitted people to conceive and draft innovative ideas, and trusted them to execute plans once they were approved. This huge measure of trust created an intense, yet free-wheeling atmosphere among the staff's officers and chief petty officers. All ideas were welcomed, but expectations were high and good-natured ridicule of poorly thought-out concepts was the norm.
During OIF, when real-world challenges presented themselves, theKitty Hawk Strike Group's leaders considered how to turn these challenges into opportunities for the team to make its mark. In so doing, the SG became stronger; its self-confidence increased, and its eyes were opened to further opportunities. For example, the difficulty we faced in coordinating tanking to support long-range air strikes became an opportunity to surge the group's S-3B Viking squadron to 30 sorties a day and shift the air wing's focus to close air support missions in Iraq. This further enabled us to expand the E-2C Hawkeye squadron's airborne commandand-control role in coordinating close air support.
In an effort to ensure information and knowledge reached all levels, whenever possible, staff officers made their subordinate counterparts information addressees on e-mails between the SG and fleet staffs. Also, when we found innovative ways to improve training, we sought to air them in professional journals—such as Proceedings—so others could profit from our experience.
These ideas were gathered from all warfare areas; they represent the best practices used in preparing for OIF. I hope they will be helpful to current and future staff officers as they shape their strike groups into surge-ready combat forces. And I encourage them to let the rest of the fleet know what worked—and did not work—for them.
1 Louis V. Gerstner Jr., Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? (New York: Harper Collins, 2002), p. 219.
2 Gerstner, Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? p. 231.
3 Gerstner, Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? p. 236.
Commander O'Connor is the plans and exercise officer and Tomahawk missile officer for the Commander, Carrier Group Five, and the Kitty Hawk (CV-63) Strike Group.