Third Prize, Vincent Astor Memorial Leadership Essay Contest
The Naval Academy develops midshipmen for the future of the Navy and Marine Corps, but it also is important to the development of the junior officers who teach these young men and women to become leaders.
Navy officer assignments to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, are undervalued. This perception is only one element of a broader philosophy that is having a negative effect on the development of career officers. For too long, promotion boards for Navy officers have screened only the narrowest of career paths for promotion to the next rank or command milestone, without properly recognizing the need for officers to have a breadth of experience in diverse assignments throughout their careers. This overemphasis on technical and operational proficiency has come at the expense of leadership and professional development (particularly at the junior-officer level). In contrast, the Marine Corps has taken a different tack with its comprehensive use of assignments outside an officer's primary military occupational specialty. These "B-Billet" assignments, as they are known, have had a significant impact on the internal and external effectiveness of the Marine Corps.
An officer's effectiveness as a leader rests with his ability to interpret his environment and then act decisively. With the ongoing war on terrorism and the complexity of modern geopolitical operating areas, the need for more versatile officers to serve as reliable advisors and commanders has never been greater.
The unique environment at the Naval Academy offers a way to address this need. Tremendous opportunities exist at Annapolis for young officers to acquire a greater breadth of experience while putting this knowledge to practical application in the development of future leaders.
Impact of the New World Order
To appreciate the value of shore-duty assignments at the Naval Academy, one must first understand today's operational climate and the corresponding implications for force structure. In The Professional Soldier, Morris Janowitz argues that "as in the past, the future of the military profession rests on a balance between organizational stability and adaptation to rapid technological and political change." Janowitz could not have been more accurate, nor could he have fully anticipated the swiftness with which the technological and political layout of the world would change when he wrote those words in 1960. A global war on terrorism and the complex range of national security threats are forcing the U.S. military to become more adaptive without critically disrupting its organizational stability. While technological superiority favors the U.S. military, it is not sufficient alone to resolve the need for a more agile naval force.
To meet these challenges, the leaders of the naval service must maximize its human capital. In fact, the Secretary of the Navy, the Chief of Naval Operations, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps articulated this requirement in the recently published paper "Naval Power 21. . . a Naval Vision." They wrote: "Our physical platforms have no 'asset value' to the nation until manned by trained, educated, and motivated people. For this reason, people are our most valued resource. The ability of our Marines, Sailors, and Civilians to embrace and leverage the complexity and uncertainty that will characterize future crises and conflicts will be essential to mission success."
This effort should start with reassessing the career development of the officer corps. Janowitz argues that strategic thinkers of the past prepared themselves for expected requirements "not merely by following closely the prescribed career, but by their own initiative and efforts." Leadership skills and professional development are transferable commodities. The philosophy on career development must shift from creating operators to fostering an appreciation of the responsibilities of being an officer.
Considerable value should be placed on perspective-expanding tours that focus on leadership development and increased sensitivity to the political and social consequences of military force. Greater diversity of experience allows for more effective command during combat operations and increases the recognition of when military force is not required or is undesirable. Without this knowledge, the officer cannot fulfill his responsibility as a sound and impartial advisor to the nation's civilian leaders.
Benefits of Assignment at the Academy
Each year, the Naval Academy produces both newly commissioned officers and officers returning to the fleet and Fleet Marine Force with a renewed understanding of the principles of leadership and an increased aptitude for service. Most perspective-broadening military assignments—such as graduate education—have been criticized for the lack of observed fitness reports, which leaves an officer "uncompetitive" for promotion. This is not a concern at the Naval Academy, where an officer is expected to present a superb professional example every day for the 4,200 of the nation's most talented young men and women.
Although there are several possible assignments to the Naval Academy, company officers and military faculty members have the most contact time with the Brigade of Midshipmen. There are 30 companies within the Brigade consisting of approximately 140 midshipmen each. Each company is assigned a company officer to lead and mentor its midshipmen and oversee the daily activities of the first-class midshipmen (seniors) charged with leading that company. Company officers are Navy lieutenants and lieutenant commanders and Marine Corps captains and majors. On reporting to Annapolis, prospective company officers spend one year as full-time students in a rigorous thesis-based master's program sponsored by the Naval Postgraduate School. This year of dedicated study not only provides the officers with a graduate education and an increased awareness of other warfare communities, but also shapes the cohort of 16 officers into a cohesive leadership team. After that initial year, the officers receive masters of science in leadership and human resource development and are assigned one of the companies in the Brigade for the remaining two years of their tours. In addition to mentoring midshipmen in the practical application of leadership, company officers put their graduate degrees to work in the classroom teaching both fourth-class (freshmen) and second-class (juniors) midshipmen leadership courses. The theoretical leadership principles presented in the classroom and applied in the daily operation of the Brigade are taught, advised, and evaluated by the same officers. The company officers also are responsible for teaching character-development seminars with the two most junior classes in their company, and are expected to serve as officer representatives for one of the Academy's athletic teams or other extracurricular activities.
Company officers are active in the daily lives of every midshipman and have a tremendous impact on the professional development of these future officers. Consequently, the 16 slots available every year ought to be among the most sought-after shore assignments in the Navy and Marine Corps. The assignment gives officers unmatched leadership experience at an early point in their careers, including responsibility for 140 subordinates. These officers will be enriched in leadership experience and forge a link to the next generation of leaders. If a warfare community wants to compete for the best among this new generation, it is imperative for it to nominate its most promising officers for positions as company officers.
Military faculty members have an equally important role. Uniformed faculty members make up the entire Division of Professional Development, as well as fill instructor positions in each of the 19 major courses of study offered at the Academy. They bring fresh operational experience and invaluable practical applications from the fleet to the academic settings of the classroom and laboratory. They serve as superb models of life-long learners and technically astute officers. As instructors in the Division of Professional Development, they teach naval science, leadership, and ethics courses. In August 2003, these officers helped integrate the Navy's first network-centric teaching laboratory into the core tactics course taken by all midshipmen. This facility addresses the future of naval warfare, and it is essential that it be staffed with talented officers. Also, the elimination of the Surface Warfare Officer's School requires the Navy to send some of its best ship handlers, engineers, and combat information center officers to instructor billets at the Academy.
Professional development continues during the summer months, as military faculty and staff officers take the classroom to sea on board yard patrol craft and 44-foot sailing vessels for instruction in navigation, seamanship, and small-unit leadership. Submariners and aviators coordinate summer training efforts in Florida and Georgia, providing second-class midshipmen with their first taste of life in the fleet. Marine Corps officers on the staff and faculty run the Leatherneck program, taking first-class midshipmen aspiring to be second lieutenants to Quantico for four weeks of intense training.
The influences these officers have on the career choices of midshipmen are tremendous. For example, a midshipman's only firsthand knowledge of a particular aviation community might be the naval flight officer who taught his plebe-year chemistry class. The newly approved laser eye surgery program gives midshipmen who were not previously qualified because of eyesight requirements the opportunity to choose careers as naval aviators. This could affect the Navy's ability to fill its naval flight officer accessions from the Naval Academy. Is it not prudent for that community to send one of its best officers to represent it on the faculty or staff at the Academy?
The environment that has been established at the Naval Academy to develop midshipmen morally, mentally, and physically also provides tremendous opportunities for officer development. There are a host of lecture series and conferences that bring midshipmen and staff into contact with senior government officials, top businessmen, leaders of industry, and senior military officers. The presence of civilian faculty members affects the junior officers assigned to those academic departments as military instructors. For example, an officer assigned to the aerospace engineering program acquires much knowledge about that discipline from the senior faculty members in that department, including distinguished endowed professors such as Dr. Richard Fahey from the Goddard Space Center. Likewise, the junior officer assigned to the political science department grows from his interactions with faculty members such as retired Admiral William Crowe, former Ambassador to Great Britain and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
Reversing the Negative Perception
Active measures must be taken to reverse the long-standing stigma associated with the competitiveness of duty assignments to the Academy. People are fond of citing the "needs of the service" when determining manning priorities, but they often mistake service requirements as the immediate needs of the service. This myopic view does harm when informal norms start to dictate personnel policy at the expense of the long-term health and effectiveness of the service.
Behavior migrates to that which is rewarded. Therefore, if the services value diversity of experience, they must reward officers for their demonstrated leadership performance in such assignments. With regard to the Naval Academy, the reward must be made at both the input and the output. Only officers with superior records and leadership potential should be considered for assignment. These officers should represent all warfare communities as well as every commissioning source, to bring a diversity of perspective and experience to the institution, and hopefully leave with a better appreciation of the school's value.
As for officers rotating from duty at the Academy back to the operational forces, care should be given to stress their performance at the Academy in determining their next assignment. For instance, if a naval aviator sacrificed three years out of the cockpit to develop midshipmen, as long as his performance at the Academy exceeded standards he should be considered for his community's most prized sea-duty assignments—perhaps even over other officers that chose to stay closer to the community.
Not until such measures are taken will the naval service be able to maximize the potential of its human resources. The Naval Academy stands ready to help achieve the versatility required of our leaders.
Lieutenant DeBuse is an E-2C Hawkeye naval flight officer. He currently is a company officer at the Naval Academy.