Base Gold Stripes on Service, Not Conduct
(See J. Privler, p. 14, June 2017 Proceedings)
Chief Privler’s glass-half-empty perspective is disturbing. While the author condemns red service stripes and the rating badge as something akin to a scarlet letter, those of us with a few years in uniform regard gold service stripes and the rating badge as recognition of 12 or more consecutive years of honorable service.
Service stripes originally designated multiples of four years of service. Now they mark three. The Navy Achievement and Navy Commendation medals, once used to recognize truly superior performance at a particular event, have been repurposed as a “kiss on the cheek” for sailors departing a command. The Good Conduct Award just isn’t good enough anymore. Prior to another policy change, anyone who earned a sea- or air-warfare specialty had to be petty officer second class or above. Now we see seamen, airmen, and firemen wearing warfare pins, sometimes from multiple communities. I can’t see how anyone can understand such a broad body of knowledge with so few years of service. It takes sea time to understand a warfare specialty. We are a Sea Service, after all.
The red service stripes mark years of service. Gold indicates years of service with four consecutive Good Conduct Awards. It is not a participation trophy. Let’s not cheapen awards simply because everybody cannot, or will not, earn them. To do so disrespects those who did earn them in the past and simply appeases those who feel insecure by comparison with the former. If we treat everyone as special, no one is.
Chief Privler’s argument is based on a popular misconception. She incorrectly claims in the first paragraph that “red service stripes and rank are a way to visibly identify . . . enlisted Sailors without 12 years of good conduct.” In fact, the opposite is true: Gold service stripes and rank are a visible means of identifying Sailors with 12 years of good conduct. That is not simply semantics. If we wrongly look at red stripes as punishment instead rightly seeing gold as an award, we reach this incorrect conclusion.
A similar conclusion was reached previously by another author who looked at red stripes as a “stigma . . . in our Navy” (Nobody Asked Me, But, “There’s No Need to See Red,” December 2004 Proceedings). Red service stripes and rank insignia are neither punishment nor stigma. They simply are the standard color for these uniform items until a Sailor earns the privilege of wearing gold by achieving and maintaining minimum standards.
Gold stripes are awarded for 12 consecutive years of naval service that upholds the “minimum requirements for performance, conduct and evaluation marks for the Good Conduct Award” (United State Navy Uniform Regulations, NAVPERS 15665I, article 4232). Since 1869, these minimum requirements have included being an “‘all-around’ good Navy enlisted person, well qualified in all phases of conduct and performance” (ALNAV 025/14). That seems like a reasonable definition of good conduct, and it has served the Navy well for 148 years.
There is no need to change the requirements to earn a Navy Good Conduct Medal nor who may wear gold service stripes and chevrons. If a Sailor cannot maintain minimum requirements, he or she does not deserve the additional recognition symbolized by the gold. Although more visible, those stripes are no different from any other personal decoration a Sailor may or may not wear on the uniform; they are just more obvious.
Master Chief Quartermaster Michael G. Harrison might have said it best in his January 2005 response to that 2004 article: “There is a deeper psychology behind wearing service stripes, ribbons, rendering salutes, observing protocol, regulations, and deference. It’s all about promoting good order and discipline and instilling a sense of pride in those who choose to faithfully serve as sailors.”
We must never strive for the lowest common denominator where every participant receives the same trophy. Doing so would reward longevity over merit and serve only to inflate our already bloated awards system.
Chief Privler offers her opinions but little in the way of facts or logic. As I read this column, I thought of the institutions that offer participation trophies, where no one can be a winner. The Navy is a meritocracy, and thus one is judged on his or her merits. Gold stripes serve as a measurement tool. Promotions in the Navy are based upon sustained superior performance. Chief Privler, for example, was promoted because of her sustained superior performance. With the limited quotas for advancement, there must be standards and tiebreakers. We reward those who perform substantive, command-impact collateral duties such as community involvement and earning an academic degree and warfare pins. Should we do away with these as well?
We all have the same uniform. Some wear gold stripes, others do not. Some have not reached 12 years of good conduct service. Some wear warfare pins and sea-service ribbons, while others do not. We earn everything we display. I earned my gold stripes; I earned my warfare pin and my five sea-service ribbons; I earned my anchors. Why take any of these away so that others who did not (yet) can feel good?
Sailors wearing red stripes instead of gold stripes do not inspire humiliation, speculation, or conjecture. On my first ship we had a salty senior chief boatswain’s mate who wore red service stripes. He had six stripes! He boasted that he had been to captain’s mast 16 times and still made senior chief. He was a good leader, and we looked up to him. The red stripes didn’t matter.
Finally, not one of our regulations has the goal of public shaming. Our regulations, rules, and Uniformed Code of Military Justice exist for the promotion of good order and discipline, nothing more. There is no confusion or lack of continuity in the uniform. Our traditions, even those that have been abandoned, are indeed made worthy by time, or they wouldn’t be traditions.
LCS Needs a Win
(See M. Chien, p. 10, June 2017 Proceedings)
I wholeheartedly support the cogent argument that Lieutenant Commander Chien of Joint Interagency Task Force–South presented for the deployment of the littoral combat ship (LCS) to the U.S. Southern Command (USSouthCom) area of responsibility. The LCS could indeed play an important role in supporting USSouthCom’s evolving approach to countering threat networks.
Despite our command’s successful support to interdiction efforts, we currently are seeing record narcotics seizures and increased target efficiencies. In fact, our capabilities and approaches are not keeping pace with the changing dynamics of the adaptive, globally integrated, networked threats. Trafficking of cocaine and synthetic opioids is skyrocketing. Violent extremist organizations have supported, enabled, and inspired attacks around the world. Networks, both good and bad, are ubiquitous. We no longer can afford to look at drug-related and non-drug-related threat networks in isolation. Transregional, transnational networks simply are able to outspend and, often, outsmart our current efforts. To regain the initiative, we must marshal our resources and expertise—meaning those of the military, law enforcement, intelligence, and diplomatic communities, alongside those of partner nations—through a coordinated and comprehensive network approach.
The new approach requires a fundamental change in the way we think and act about analyzing, targeting, and attacking these networks. To maximize our efforts, we must understand that they are all part of a complex and interrelated problem that requires a synchronization of all “counter” efforts—counter-drug, counter–transnational organized crime, counter–human trafficking, and counterterrorism. We see enormous potential in integrating and aligning our activities in the maritime and land domains to achieve maximum and cascading effects and bring pressure to bear against threat networks along multiple fronts. By dismantling networks that traffic in any commodity, we will be better able to execute a true counter-network approach.
Such an approach will enhance the effects of maritime interdiction by putting assets where they can have the greatest impact. The LCS would augment the U.S. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Patrol air and sea assets on which we primarily rely for maritime interdiction operations. The LCS’s ability to operate in the shallow waters of the Caribbean Sea and eastern Pacific Ocean, its long range, its on-board day/night-capable helicopters, and its ability to host a Coast Guard or other law-enforcement finishing force would provide the extra capability that the counter-network community has long needed to truly disrupt the threat networks.
Regularly employing the LCS in USSouthCom for operations and pre-deployment training would be a win-win for our Navy. It would enable further testing, experimentation, and training against meaningful missions with capable partners, all of which would contribute to improving the U.S. Navy’s lethality in the coming decades.
The Webb Controversy: What’s Right?
(See K. Wolff; A. Goldstein; M. Collins; W. Brooks, pp. 45–47, May 2017; G. Peterson, pp. 8–9, 82, June 2017 Proceedings)
In 1978, the same year Jim Webb was receiving accolades for his seminal novel of the Vietnam War—Fields of Fire—Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn delivered a speech at Harvard University’s commencement, declaring that a decline in institutional moral courage may have signaled “the beginning of the end” of Western civilization: “The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole, and separately, in each country, each government, each political party, and of course in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society.”
The following year, in November 1979, Webb picked up where Solzhenitsyn had left off, strongly asserting that the ruling groups and intellectual elite of the Navy, Marine Corps, Naval Academy, other uniformed services, and indeed Congress itself lacked the institutional moral courage to examine and debate, in an open, thoughtful, and intellectually honest way, whether the sudden decision to open the service academies to women was in the best interest of the country, the U.S. military, our society, and indeed American women themselves. In brutally honest language, Webb questioned these institutions’ unwillingness to examine the distinction between equal opportunity and equal ability, shrewdly answering his own question by observing that, in the wake of the culture wars of the late 1960s and 1970s, to do so invited a savage attack aimed not at the merits of the arguments, but at the presupposed racial, ethnic, gender, or other cultural biases of the writer himself.
Ever since, and although the debate has long since been eclipsed by the enormity of Webb’s achievements on behalf of women in the military and our country, the leadership of these institutions has reacted to Webb’s critical analysis (which had a constructive intent) in precisely the way Solzhenitsyn and Webb predicted. In a display of supreme irony, the individual who possesses the moral courage to raise troubling questions about an institution’s lack of such courage—to say without fear of consequences that the emperor wears no clothes—is vilified, marginalized, ostracized, and becomes the subject of whatever derogatory narrative the institutional elite creates to serve those ends. The recent, disgraceful failure of Navy, Naval Academy, and Alumni Association leadership to support and defend Webb against the “heckler’s veto” of his Distinguished Graduate Award is but a crowning, appalling example.
Volumes could, and perhaps will, be written on how this institutional lack of courage has come to pass, or why the failings of institutional elites stand in such stark contrast to the underlying values and loyalties of the vast majority of members. It suffices for now to suggest that a seismic, cultural shift in this country during the Vietnam era transformed the U.S. military from a profession of arms into uniformed corporations in which risk-aversion, rather than risk-taking, became the key to survival and success. Perhaps, as Solzhenitsyn warned, it truly is the beginning of the end when one consequence of such risk-aversion is that an American hero, award-winning journalist, best-selling author, U.S. Senator, and one of the greatest strategic thinkers and leaders of our time is so unjustly dishonored.
Submariners Must Prepare for War
(See M. Dobbs, pp.16–20, June 2017 Proceedings)
The author’s assertion that submarine intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, among other peacetime activities, are not useful preparation for war is off the mark. In numerous special operations on board five attack submarines, from 1958 as a junior officer fresh out of Submarine School through command in 1976, I came as close to combat as you can outside of combat itself. Submerged in unfriendly waters surrounded by potentially hostile forces, we aggressively pursued our mission to collect intelligence that was unavailable by other means. We not only tagged our Cold War adversaries, we experienced the ocean environment where the real war would be fought. Our tactics employed and honed those skills we would use in combat, often closing to firing-point procedures, without pulling the trigger. On completing 60- or 70-day patrols, our crews were ready to pursue wartime missions if called upon. Later as a squadron commander, I trained and prepared my boats to do the same.
I cannot comment on the procedures for ballistic missile submarines, because I never served on one.
The Midway Story Is Incomplete
(See W. Melbourne, pp. 62–65, June 2017 Proceedings)
I became really uncomfortable while I was wading through Lieutenant Commander Melbourne’s article (based loosely on the lessons of the U.S. Navy’s intelligence victory at Midway Island). To repeatedly note the contributions of then–Lieutenant Commander Eddie Layton without a similar tip of the hat to then-Commander Joe Rochefort’s unique and indispensable contributions stretched the author’s credibility in my eyes.
Was Commander Melbourne really trying to use Midway lessons learned to derive trenchant conclusions about today’s intelligence? Or was the author formulating his own version of the Midway story as a prelude for introducing his own vision?
Either way, not even mentioning Rochefort except in a note implies an oversimplified view of the battle and an incomplete understanding of how intelligence played a role. It diminishes the courage and acute intuitions that intelligence made to that battle and that ought be one of the really essential lessons for future intelligence missions.
Take on the Toxic Leader
(See G. Stump, pp. 22–26, June 2017 Proceedings)
Captain Stump states, “I failed in my attempts to reshape at least a half-dozen leaders. The resulting reliefs and removals of duties likely ended all hopes of upward progression for these chief petty officers through commanders.” Wow, I don’t think I ever met such a half-dozen personnel in my 27-year career, never mind in one command, who needed to be cashiered. Makes one wonder.
Realizing that I am many years away from today’s personnel problems, I thought I’d check out what the military experience with “toxic” leaders entails. Apparently it is perceived as a real problem. I found the Army has faced the issue for many years and has made a number of efforts to identify and eliminate toxic leaders. I discovered Colonel John E. Box’s 2012 Army War College Strategy Research Project titled “Toxic Leadership in the Military Profession.” He explored why there had been such a high suicide rate among the troops. Previous investigations had focused on what was wrong or missing from the victims’ lives, but there was no readily apparent thread of continuity. So the focus turned to the leadership, and anonymous surveys were conducted. The toxic leader became clearly the culprit. Or was he/she?
Box refers to a study in which “seven vital leadership attributes—integrity, empathy, emotional intelligence, vision, judgment, courage, and passion—are vital.” These are unarguably on point, but when, who, and how do we measure them? Do we assume that if a leader has these traits, he/she will be successful on the battlefield or in the air?
Box also describes a Department of Defense effort to create an Advisory Committee of General Officers (ACG). The ACG would consist of retired general officers, senior noncommissioned officers, active-duty general officers, and senior executive service civilians to coach, teach, and mentor all future brigade and battalion commanders. In addition, the military is applying a commander’s 360-degree Multi-Source Assessment Feedback tool. Control measures such as 360-degree assessments, evaluations, and command climate surveys are currently in place to help leaders see themselves and their organizations with a sense of self-awareness. Captain Stump expounds on the use of the Defense Equal Opportunity Command Survey and its attributes, but very little relative to the minefields of misuse.
Obviously, leading a command manned by volunteers recruited from a different generation than mine would be a serious problem, but I doubt that falling back on an academic foundation of supposedly expert personnel managers and think-tank exhortations will ever replace the upstream selection, training, and experience of a concerned leader.
Terrorist Attack: Port of New York
(See J. Skinner, pp. 22–25, April 2017; M. D. Stotzer, p. 8, May 2017 Proceedings)
Thank you, captain skinner, for investing your time and thoughts to address the many shortfalls in security in today’s U.S. ports. First, I am a retired member of the New York Police Department (NYPD) and lived through the perilous days of 9/11 and the aftermath. Those were dark times in New York City; Washington, D.C.; and a beautiful field in Pennsylvania.
Captain Skinner has penned a professional reminder that those dark days could be revisited upon an unprepared city. I fear New York is unprepared for this type of attack. In and around the port of New York, there are no heavy capabilities to stop a containership hell-bent on visiting destruction against the “Evil Satan.” The best the city and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey could come up with would be an armed assault, dropping New York and Port Authority police department Emergency Service Unit (ESU) officers from helicopters onto the attacking ship. These men and women are highly trained, but a large commercial vessel being used as a primary weapon would be far beyond anything law enforcement could thwart. I doubt that even a SEAL platoon could stop it. There would not be enough time.
In 2006, the Naval Institute conducted a port security conference in the old Immigration Court House in lower Manhattan. That location is but a short walk from where the Twin Towers once stood and where the construction of today’s Freedom Tower was under way. In one scenario that was practiced, the fact pattern was similar to what Captain Skinner laid out. The hostile weapon was a containership that, as it entered lower New York’s waters, had a Coast Guard law detachment on board to check the vessel because this transit had originated in Pakistan. But the Coast Guard unit never reported back in after boarding. A prominent member of the NYPD was asked how his department might respond in such a case. The answer was to use an Emergency Services A Team—those ESU officers who, on a rotational basis, are held in reserve to respond to heavy arrest warrants and other urgent tactical law-enforcement emergencies. In this case, reality conflicted with the lack of capability and knowledge by NYPD’s top-level leadership. They had zero experience to attack this threat.
In the war game, the suspected containership dispatched all attempts to stop it as it increased speed and rammed a full Staten Island ferry at its Manhattan terminal during rush hour. Upon impact, a large explosive device detonated. The device had a radioactive isotope signature that, in a few short minutes, contaminated much of lower New York City, especially Wall Street, which became a hot zone. The human toll of such an attack would be horrendous. The economic impact would be felt worldwide.
There must be a program to develop tactics and methods to stop ships being used as tools for terrorists. Many experienced active and retired military members, as well as local and state law enforcement officers, have extensive waterborne-operations experience and, given the time and funding, would develop a method for stopping such attacks. These Americans, most with years of combat and extensive law enforcement experience, possess a vast set of skills and knowledge. They need to be identified and asked to serve, train, and observe the vital home water U.S. ports. Their units could be stationed at the former Navy port on Staten Island near the mouth of lower New York Bay, or at the former weapons pier at Earle, New Jersey. Both provide intimate contact with the waters of New York City and New Jersey.
A partial relaxation of the Posse Comitatus Act would allow for active special operations military personnel to work, serve, and train alongside active and retired law-enforcement officers with prior military experience. This would be a hearty beginning. A long-term goal should be the creation of an agency that would be a hybrid of U.S. active-duty military and law-enforcement officers, both active and retired, from every agency that could supply them, including volunteers. Such an agency must report to the Secretary of Defense and the governors of New York and New Jersey, and must operate with zero political appointees.
Finally, congressional oversight conducted by a yet-to-be-named congressional committee for Defense of the Home Waters would be needed to provide guidance, funding, and accountability.
It is time to start the clock to address this problem.
Preparing for the Wrong War
(See M. Dobbs, pp. 18–19, June 2017 Proceedings)
This sidebar too easily dismissed the real grounds for timidity in the submarine force early in the war—i.e., the failure of torpedoes to detonate on impact. Although I was an amphib officer (1944–45), I knew many submarine officers who told me how their skippers, at great risk, moved to within range of an enemy ship only to have the torpedoes they had fired fail to detonate. Needless to say, they were loath to risk losing their boat by trying for another shot. Submarine skippers later became more aggressive largely as the result of fixing the torpedo problem.