Now Hear This - What Navy Holiday?

By Commander John T. Kuehn, U.S. Navy (Retired)

Even if one accepts his argument that the Navy is intellectually lazy, the extenuating circumstances of the requirement to pursue simultaneously two land wars in Asia should give any analyst pause. These operations meant that Navy personnel were used to backfill land-power jobs and provide additional combat power ashore with Navy missiles, planes, SEALs, Seabees, and various other service members such as explosive-ordnance-disposal teams. Sailors were asked to do these things by both the Army and their own leadership, which offered more individual augmentees than was perhaps prudent. For example, one EP-3 naval flight officer, a very valuable piece of equipment indeed, was performing electronic-warfare convoy protection for trucks in Iraq, not ships. Essentially, he jammed improvised-explosive-device fuses buried along roads, rather than protecting sea lines of communication. He did his duty and earned a Bronze Star—but during the land-based conflicts of the early 21st century, these types of tasks have occupied the Navy for the most part.

Nonetheless, some strategic planning and conceptualizing has taken place in the past ten years. Contrary to what Holmes intimates, the Navy has a healthy strategic culture. In 2002 the Center for Naval Analyses was already studying at which point the shrinking Fleet should be realigned with strategic realities. This does not sound like much of a vacation. But Holmes is right that the larger Navy and the nation appear to have become serious about the new challenges only in the past five years, with the theoretical implementation of the State Department’s recommendation to pivot toward the Pacific. We had a holiday, but it has now ended. Get over it and get on with it, I say, although this process seems to have already begun.

Commander Kuehn, who holds a Ph.D. in history, is the General William Stofft Chair for Historical Research at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He served previously as a naval flight officer in EP-3s and ES-3s. His publications include A Military History of Japan: From the Age of the Samurai to the 21st Century (2014) and Agents of Innovation (2008).


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