Comment & Discussion

Chief Null has it right. Those on scene almost always will know more than those up the command chain. But I might add three things for further consideration.

• When those in a command center develop an attitude that they know how things should be done on scene, best to back off. When Sailors are in trouble at sea, there are always many wise men ashore. Lose the all-knowing complex while folks in a seaway are dealing with weather, danger, and poor communications—while you are looking for a fresh cup of coffee.

• Officers-in-charge (OIC) at sea and in the small shore commands—chief warrant officers, chiefs, and senior petty officers—had better damn well be qualified. As a captain, I headed a qualification board for these folks, and 80 percent flunked. Sometime later, a prospective OIC who’d flunked approached me at a retirement for a fellow shipmate. He said that he, now qualified, grilled everyone just as I had grilled him on rules of the road. He had not been ready, by his own admission. Shorebound officers, usually not experienced Sailors, who recommend people to be in charge of small craft for tough operations could take a warning.

• There are times when it’s most effective to turn a blind eye. Once when I was in command at sea and faced with a threatened mutiny on board a trawler while we already had a seized vessel in custody, I was beset with all sorts of questions from the command center. I told the operations boss just to go to radio and ask for permission to fire warning shots. I figured that by the time they’d finished fretting in the command center and yelling for the legal staff, we’d have resolved the situation. And we had. 

I recommend the latter only very infrequently, preferably never. But as Chief Null writes, a great U.S. Coast Guard strength is the devolution of authority to on-scene command. It is best not to relinquish that.

—Captain Raymond J. Brown, U.S. Coast Guard (Retired)


Self-Discipline Underpins Effective Leadership


(See A. Konetzni, December 2017 Proceedings Today)

At the start of every semester at the U.S. Naval Academy, both officers and midshipmen assume their new leadership roles, and inevitably, at every level of the chain of command, there is a deluge of leadership visions, tenets, and “Commander’s Intent.” The Commandant of Midshipmen tells us to “be excellent to yourselves, to each other, and this institution,” while the Brigade Commander encourages us to “be the impact.” From the Battalion Commander we hear that “what you walk by is the standard,” while the Company Officer stresses “individual growth, positive social relations, and task accomplishment,” and the Company Commander emphasizes “humility, communication, tact, and accountability.” All of this, in addition to the Naval Academy’s broad and well-known mission statement, we all have memorized.  

I am confident that this “leadership trait cacophony” is the reality in the fleet as well. While it is certainly integral to have a vision and standards for leadership, it is easy to see how a midshipman (or Sailor/Marine) can get lost in this. When there is such variety of different virtues and visions stressed by individuals at differing levels of the chain of command, maxims lose their meaning. These mantras become buzzwords that are merged in the minds of midshipmen to form a picture of an idealized and impossible-to-achieve form of leadership.

I think there is a need to simplify leadership. Vice Admiral Konetzni is dead-on when he calls self-discipline “the glue that binds all leadership traits.” However, I would take this a step further and say that self-discipline is the defining leadership trait. If I can be disciplined in everything that I do—in matters of speech, thought, and action—all other virtues fall in line. This is what I tell midshipmen from 14th Company when they start to tune out speakers after they are told they must perfectly adhere to yet another facet of leadership. I have come to believe that all leadership virtues, even the Navy’s highest core values of honor, courage, and commitment, are fundamentally rooted in self-discipline. 

It is a shame that so far in my short career the Navy has been marked by examples of a lack of self-discipline, whether in taking money, favors, and gifts in the Fat Leonard corruption scandal or the sharing of pornographic images of fellow service members on social media. I challenge readers to find an aspect of leadership that does not find its root in self-discipline. I challenge my classmates in the Class of 2018 as well as all Sailors and Marines to live with the discipline that Vice Admiral Konetzni describes.

—Midshipman First Class Michael D. Walker, U.S. Navy, U.S. Naval Academy


Should Transgender Persons Serve?


(See J. Caputo, pp. 42-47, December 2017 Proceedings)

At various points in the U.S. Navy’s history, all black Sailors were considered capable only of menial labor and women of administrative work. More recently, all lesbian and gay Sailors were banned from serving at all, regardless of their capabilities as individuals or what assets they would be to the team. In hindsight, these blanket bans are considered preposterous and an utter waste of talent and resources.

Now we have another group of individuals who, as Captain Caputo points out, are the subject of “myths, stereotypes, and even lies” regarding who they are and their capacity to serve.?Let’s not repeat our mistakes.?Let’s measure all individuals willing to serve by their individual merits and capabilities. The Navy is at its best when we let all qualified people serve to their fullest potential. 

—Commander Eric Milstein, U.S. Navy (Retired), Assistant Chief Counsel, California Department of Fish and Wildlife


Can’t Kill Enough to Win? Think Again


(See D. Bolgiano and J. Taylor, pp. 18-23, December 2017; D. Scott, pp. 8-9, January 2018 Proceedings)

This thought-provoking article is certainly a good conversation starter, but it selectively chooses anecdotal evidence, such as the comments of an Iraqi special forces officer, to suggest that carpet-bombing would have been an effective tactic against insurgents in 2004 Fallujah. The piece fails to present any historical comparison to strategic counterinsurgency efforts in which massive amounts of firepower and killing were applied to the problem. Good examples of the permissive rules-of-engagement (ROE) environment that Lieutenant Colonels Bolgiano and Taylor recommend for fighting today’s wars would include Vietnam, the French Algerian War, and the Russians in Afghanistan. Interestingly, none of these was offered as evidence. Perhaps, the authors did not want to shine a spotlight on the obvious answer from history: it has been tried, and it failed.

I agree with the authors that Major Dick Winters would feel out of place with the challenges of hybrid warfare in today’s combat environs. He, after all, was trained to fight a conventional war against state actors wearing their nation’s uniform, not against insurgents hiding amid civilians. Today’s wars are not like those of Major Winters. In this comparison, the authors run afoul of one of the fundamental timeless “tenets of war” that they profess to uphold. As Clausewitz emphasizes, “The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish . . . the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature.” The authors imply that today’s wars are no different than the one Major Winters fought, and the same application of World War II force will yield the same results.

The authors offered examples including the U.S. Civil War, World War II, and Operation Desert Storm, all of which were conventional state-versus-state military conflicts. In Desert Storm, the remnants of the Iraqi Army driving mechanized armor north to Iraq is a much different tactical scenario than a white Toyota pickup truck with three insurgents inside, weaving through civilian traffic on the road connecting Baghdad to Fallujah. Are the authors proposing that U.S. aircraft strafe or bomb indiscriminately to stop the truck at the cost of many innocent lives?

Notably as well, the carnage of the Highway of Death to which they refer was deemed excessive by President George H. W. Bush and is cited as one of the reasons he called a halt to the offensive after 100 hours. The President feared that if allowed to continue, the United States would be accused of “shooting an Arab Army in the back.” General Colin Powell also cited the “turkey shoot” on the highway as one of the reasons the United States halted the war early. The historical record indicates that this example says more about the rationality of restraint than it does about the merits of a more permissive ROE.

More bombs and bullets are seldom the answer to an effective counterinsurgency. The United States learned this in Vietnam, and it often was applied well in Iraq and Afghanistan. The ideals of a just and fair United States secured a lasting peace in Europe and Asia in the months and years after World War II, and those ideals remain our best bet if we hope to secure the same results in the fight against radical elements in the Middle East. What I believe Major Winters would recognize in today’s conflicts is that being the good guys confronting evil in the world requires a sense of moral restraint—and that is certainly the better, and often more difficult, part of valor.

—Commander Daniel Dolan, U.S. Navy (Retired)


To hear Lieutenant Colones Bolgiano and Taylor tell it, we could have killed our way to victory against Islamic terrorist groups years ago. A simple and tempting solution indeed, but noticeably lacking in detail about who specifically needs to be killed to achieve this victory and how the United States should go about it. Has the United States not decimated the leadership of al Qaeda and ISIL? Have we not consistently inflicted casualties on these groups that are many multiples of our own casualties? Who else, exactly, do the authors wish to target?

They devote a substantial portion of their article to examples from the Civil War, World War II, and Desert Storm. But they do not discuss the key differences between these conflicts—fought against nation states with predominately uniformed armed forces—and those, such as in Afghanistan, fought against insurgent forces embedded within the civilian population of a state whose government hosts our forces. Killing our way to victory (including bombing civilians in World War II) was certainly a successful strategy in the former, when winning meant defeating entire countries united in support of their militaries. I question the efficacy of the same strategy in the latter style of conflicts, when our very presence in the conflict depends on a relationship with the host state. Do the authors suggest that we abandon cooperation and impose our will as occupiers?

In a detour meant to address the counterargument that “it is not possible to kill enough [terrorists] to make a difference,” the authors puzzlingly point to how the United States “maneuvered and exploited advantages” to defeat the Soviet Union—a strategy that involved few Soviet casualties and of course no bombing of Soviet cities. In spite of this apparent endorsement of a non-kinetic solution to conflict, the authors then proceed with a suggestion that the insurgency in Iraq would have ended in 2004 if only we had carpet-bombed Fallujah. Did the ultimate ground assault fail to kill the insurgents in Fallujah? Would the inevitably disproportionate civilian casualties of instead “flatten[ing] Fallujah” really have made the Iraqis more amenable to U.S. occupation, given that at this point we were fighting insurgents and not the Iraqi state as a whole?

The authors also identify an “overabundance of ill-trained lawyers” who misunderstand international law. While certainly some lawyers and leaders do mistake proportionality to mean that combatants must be engaged in a “fair fight,” it seems from the authors’ Fallujah example that they would abandon the actual requirement of proportionality entirely (prohibiting disproportionate civilian casualties relative to the direct military advantage anticipated). Would they also argue to abandon the bedrock law of armed conflict principle of distinction?

For better or for worse, complying with distinction and proportionality in a conflict against insurgents amid a host-state population means that the presence of civilians will constrain operations. Success will often be elusive and seldom truly complete. Admittedly, I do not have the answer for how to win these conflicts militarily. But the quick fix proposed by Colonels Bolgiano and Taylor will not result in victory.

—Captain Joshua R. Storm, U.S. Army

I appreciate Lieutenant Colonels Bolgiano’s and Taylor’s admonition to focus on killing the enemy, rather than trying to win his heart and mind. I do not, however, agree that military lawyers are obstacles to combat efficiency. While the authors justifiably praise “sage counsel such as international and operational law expert W. Hays Parks,” they express frustration with “the overabundance of ill-trained lawyers in the force” who, the authors indicate, use overly cautious legal advice to restrict efforts to fight and kill the enemy.

Contrary to the authors’ assertion, judge advocates (JAGs) do not have a magical “power of no.” JAGs advise, but commanders decide. JAGs are trained to help commanders find a legal way to accomplish their goals. If one course of action is not legal, JAGs help the commander devise another course that is. If the commander cannot achieve the goal legally, JAGs help the commander to find an alternative goal. Finally, if there is no legal alternative, it is the JAG’s job to say so.

One particular commander drove this point home. I advised him (in a noncombat situation) that he should not pursue a particular course of action because there were more proper alternatives. The commander’s response was swift and unequivocal. He pointed his finger in my face and said, “JAG, I didn’t ask you if it was proper—I asked if it was legal!” My response was equally swift and unequivocal: “Yes, sir, it is legal.”

While the commander may have been satisfied with my answer, I had to explain to my JAG betters why I didn’t push harder for the solution that I (and they) thought was the correct one. We all agreed, however, that it was the commander’s call. Ironically, the commander finally decided to pursue a “third way” that avoided any legal or administrative complications. The important point is this: He chose a legal course of action, and it was his decision, not mine.

Nobody benefits from lawyers who are merely yes-men and yes-women. I’m all for lethality, but when we fight, we fight by the rules, and we hold ourselves accountable. Overall, the authors are correct. The military wins wars by defeating the enemy, not by convincing him of the wrongfulness of his misconduct. After all, in the Department of Defense, aggression is our profession. That said, our ultimate aim is to defeat the enemy, not become the enemy.

The Miranda warnings mandated by the Supreme Court in 1966 did not, as many assumed, destroy law enforcement in the United States; police can be effective and legal at the same time. Similarly, reasonably drafted rules of engagement do not unreasonably restrict warfighting; commanders can be lethal and legal at the same time. This balance is what JAGs bring to the fight.

— Lieutenant Colonel Mark R. Strickland, U.S. Air Force (Retired)

Editor’s Note: As demonstrated here, this article has generated a great deal of discussion. The authors, Lieutenant Colonels Bolgiano and Taylor, respond to some of the comments below. Because of space constraints, we are publishing part of their response here. Their full commentary can be read on the USNI Blog at .

First and foremost, we are not warmongers. To the contrary, our position is that national self-defense and true national interests must underpin any military action. Then, once committed, our military response should be swift, lethal, and overpowering. In essence we are advocates of the “Powell Doctrine,” something that seems to have been forgotten all too quickly after our victory in Gulf War I. To proceed otherwise will expose U.S. forces at the tip of the spear to unnecessary risks, second-guessing, and war without end. We ought to declare total war against all radical Islamists. This is a distinction that Prince Mohammed bin Salman—the heir apparent to the Saudi throne—intuitively understands. Proportionality does not mean that noncombatants cannot be killed, only that their deaths must be proportional to the military gain.

One judge advocate wrote to point out that one of his commanders understood the distinction between his role and his lawyer’s. Too often this is not the case. Those highlighting the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s standing rules of engagement (ROE) as reasonable—with its recurring use of the term “minimum force”—actually support our point concerning overly restrictive ROE. As W. Hays Parks has so presciently asked, “How exactly how does one use ‘minimum’ deadly force?”  The authors have been writing for years in journals such as Proceedings, Infantry Magazine, and The Army Lawyer addressing such confusing and unnecessary rules.

Under the ROE extant during much of our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, our frontline forces were hamstrung from engaging improvised explosive device (IED) emplacers and armed insurgents in Fallujah, even from providing indirect fire in support of troops in contact. Just ask Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Myers about the Battle of Ganjgal. Initial calls for artillery there were rejected by the command post because of fear of violating new ROE put in place by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander in an effort to reduce civilian casualties.  

Stories about mission-ignorant ROE interpretation by JAGs and others from the safety of the forward-operating base (FOB) or simply unrealistic and poorly thought out ROE in Iraq and Afghanistan are so numerous and prevalent throughout the services that one can only reasonably conclude that not only is there smoke here, but also real and dangerous fire. We witnessed it personally and have spent time with numerous commanders attending the Army War College who lost troops and Marines because of it.

[For more, see the USNI Blog at]


When a Career Goes Up in Flames


(See J. Liddle, pp. 48-52, January 2018 Proceedings)

Would a rag fire have endangered one of our World War II-era cruisers or destroyers? Isn’t it about time the Navy started reevaluating the ability of our “cruisers” to take some kind of battle damage? Is aluminum really a good material choice for a warship that is (ostensibly) designed and intended to go in harm’s way?

I suggest that our design leadership look back at some of the harrowing adventures of Sailormen on ships that were engaged in combat and had fires from enemy shellfire, kamikazes, and torpedoes, as well as from storage (and other human) errors. Have we designed and built ships for those situations? Would the USS Franklin (CV-13) have survived (even with the unbelievable efforts of the crew to fight the fire) if she’d been made out of aluminum? Remember the USS Belknap’s (DLG-26) encounter with the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) that essentially ruined the whole topside of the ship? Designing ships to avoid a hit is good. Building them to take one once in a while would be nice, too.

I understand the need for discipline, but the Navy has taken an officer with significant shiphandling skills (and a hard-earned interest in proper shipboard compartment accountability and damage control) and put him as far from doing any near-term good as possible without forcing him out of the Navy.

Good grief: If you’re that worried that the powers-that-be won’t think you’re taking errors on his part seriously enough, bust him a rank and put him back on a ship. I’d bet any commanding officer would treasure the experience this guy would bring to his ship. The Navy can’t afford to waste leaders, even the ones that make $23 million mistakes.

—Brent Cottingham, U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1979, design engineer


A Mistake Should Not Kill a Sailor’s Career


(See E. Heck, pp. 14-15, December 2017; D. Bolgiano, and R. Smith, p. 8, January 2018 Proceedings)

Petty Officer Third Class Heck’s “From the Deckplates” piece on young Sailors making mistakes should be read by every prospective commanding officer and command master chief. Her well-written article on the consequences of her single, yet significant error in judgment surprised me somewhat, as during my career I learned quickly that the “Navy takes care of its own.”

All Sailors, regardless of rank, make mistakes. I made a serious one as an ensign while assigned to the USS America (CVA-66). But I learned from it and departed the ship a few months later as a lieutenant (junior grade) and a qualified officer of the deck (underway). After three years of active duty, I returned to civilian life but stayed in the Naval Reserve, eventually making captain and commanding four Naval Reserve detachments. On my very last day of command, I had to bring one of my Sailors to Captain’s Mast for a significant, yet relatively minor offense. It obviously was a black mark on his record and not the way I wanted to remember my last day in command. But my chiefs and officers counseled him, he did not show poor judgment again, and eventually he retired from the Naval Reserve.

There are some Sailors who don’t learn, including far too many commanding officers and command master chiefs who are relieved of their duties for major errors or behavior. But most Sailors do learn, and can be assisted by their superiors so that they can grow and prosper in their careers. I have every confidence that Petty Officer Heck will succeed in her current and future assignments. She is to be congratulated on her excellent article.

—Captain John G. McCandless, U.S. Naval Reserve (Retired)


Russia Poses a Nonacoustic Threat


(See N. Polmar and E. Whitman, pp. 26-30, October 2017 Proceedings)

This article is an excellent reminder of the potential contributions to antisubmarine warfare (ASW) from a better understanding of the ocean environment. As a former oceanographer with a specialty in bioluminescence, I found the article particularly illuminating. I note that the authors’ references are very dated and suspect the lack of recent information is because of the reduced focus on ASW by the U.S. Navy since the end of the Cold War. The authors correctly quote the belief that most Western scientists and analysts believe nonacoustic capabilities can exist only under ideal ocean and atmospheric conditions, which they state are rarely “ideal.”

As the assigned Meteorology and Oceanography (MetOc) officer on an aircraft carrier in 1988, I measured bioluminescence every underway night, along with the standard ten environmental observations taken routinely by an Operations Aerology (OA) Division. During a six-month winter deployment to the Mediterranean Sea, 106 nightly observations revealed that “ideal” conditions existed for 86 percent of the deployment (measured bioluminescence, Sea State < 4, Cloud Base > 3,000 feet, and > 1 mile slant range visibility).

Having served with surface, submarine, and aviation communities my entire career, I offer the following for consideration:

• Bioluminescence is an inherent, dominant feature of the ocean and is enhanced at night. Western Pacific areas and the Indian Ocean are very luminescent.

• Submarines are getting quieter, and the ocean is getting noisier; the contribution from nonacoustic phenomena has increased in value.

• The deployment of Fire Scout (MQ-8A) gives ships a low-cost, persistent, nighttime ASW surveillance capability.

• We have been flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) at night in combat surveillance scenarios for more than two decades; advances in optics and signal processing have been significant.

Clearly, we should improve our ability to measure and model bioluminescence in areas of interest. One suggestion is to modify the existing expendable bathythermographs (XBTs) to measure light-with-depth in addition to temperature-with-depth. In addition, we should evaluate whether two decades of using UAVs for nighttime surveillance can be applied to using Fire Scout in a nighttime ASW role for surface ships. No other naval warfare area is dominated by environmental conditions as much as is ASW. A better understanding of marine bioluminescence might just provide the tactical edge we will need at night.

—Rear Admiral Thomas Donaldson, U.S. Navy (Retired)


Nonlethal Weapons Bridge the Gap between Shouting and Shooting 


(See P. von Bleichert, November 2017, Proceedings Today)

I read with the utmost interest this article, as I firmly believe that non-lethal weapons (NLWs) provide a much-needed alternative for most of the situations in which guns, missiles, and torpedoes can’t be used because of legal, ethical, or operational constraints. In addition to enhancing self-protection while in harbor/transiting in restricted waters, or facing asymmetric harassing tactics, NLWs provide a better chance of success during maritime interdictions, maritime security operations, and all the constabulary tasks to which naval vessels are often called to contribute. However, when the authors describe some examples of NLWs, they show evidence of some of the most common misperceptions. These include the following.

• The Active Denial System operates only on bare skin, at ranges of up to 300 yards. The current version requires a 20-foot container to house the equipment, and needs some 30 hours of warm-up before radiating. Future solid-state solutions, now under development, will be much smaller, yet with lesser range.

• Acoustic devices are very good to hail and warn, certainly not causing pain at typical naval ranges (some x100 yards). According to a maritime private security operator, the only way an acoustic device can harm a pirate is to drop the equipment on his head while he is trying to board your vessel.

• Laser dazzler is mostly used to warn off approaching boats. It could also be used (night and dusk) to cause temporary disorientation and to make it difficult to aim a weapon or drive a boat. The use against a flying aircraft is very debatable, as it could risk temporarily dazzling the pilot, with fatal consequences.

Among forgotten solutions, one could also add:

• 40-mm flash-bang grenades, or flash-no-frag (FNF) artillery rounds coupled with proximity fuzes, or high-explosive (HE) rounds with time-fuzes (air bust munitions), delivering an unmistakable message while exploding at safe range from the opponent’s craft

• Radio Frequency Boat Stopper, already operated by some foreign services’ patrol craft, with an effective range of some 50 yards against outboard engines

• Unmanned surface vehicles equipped with a combination of NLW grenade launchers, acoustic and optical hailing devices, water cannons, propeller entanglers, etc.

Finally, the very idea that a semi-civilian, semi-naval vessel such as a USNS T-AGS could oppose a Chinese warship by deploying NLWs is just naive.

—Rear Admiral Massimo Annati, Italian Navy (Retired) Chairman, European Working Group on Non-Lethal Weapons


Irish Coast Guard: A Force of Volunteers  


(See J. Dolbow, p. 91, October 2017 Proceedings)

The article includes a photo caption mentioning the Sikorsky S-92, which is in service with the Irish Coast Guard. However, the Sikorsky pictured is S-61N, a lengthened commercial version of the classic S-61 Sea King. One can tell this by the S-61 having a boat hull, tailwheel configuration landing gear, and five bladed main and tail rotors.

Otherwise an excellent issue, in particular the article on the Thresher disaster, especially the connection between the shock trials and the inspection and repair process for the silver brazed pipe joints afterward.

—Chris Dierkes, Sikorsky Aircraft




(See A. Melvin, p. 8, December 2017 Proceedings)

I WOULD BE CONCERNED if the Navy focused entirely on such a detailed mandatory educational program on rules. Rigor is good, but excessive detail can diminish respect for rules. The proposed one-mile rule could, in my view, easily cause the commanding officer (CO) to be called to the bridge when there was clearly no need. The officer of the deck should not be there if he has not the judgment to know if the CO needs to establish radio contact with a ship a mile away. His training should develop such judgment, not just knowledge of detailed rules.

His judgment also will be enhanced by reading about why collisions (or groundings) occurred when the rules were perfectly understood. Two types occur to this reader: when too much (or too little) faith is placed on electronic instruments, and when junior officers (or a helmsmen) know things are going wrong and fear to speak up.

Both categories are exemplified by the follow-the-leader 1923 grounding of seven destroyers, and also the grounding of the USS Missouri (BB-63). Suggested books to read, both from the Naval Institute Press, include Charles A. Lockwood and Hans Christian Anderson’s Tragedy at Honda and John A. Butler’s Strike Able-Peter: The Stranding and Salvage of the USS Missouri. The radio direction at Honda was not believed, and there were officers, both junior and senior, who could have spoken their concerns. In the Missouri grounding, the radar calibration was not trusted when it should have caused an alarm. Such failings occur in collisions and groundings.

The second category also brings the Missouri to mind. It caused Admiral Harold Page Smith to advise his navigator that there might come a time for him to swing a wet swab at his captain—or himself—in order to save the ship (see Strike Able-Peter, p. 188). The collision of the British battleships Victoria and Camperdown exemplifies the danger of an unapproachable or superior attitude on the part of a CO (see “Leave it at Six Cables,” July 1961 Proceedings).

Rules are necessary, but not sufficient. Deck officers must have the training that will cause them always to be cross-checking their electronic aids for fidelity and, quietly, cross-checking their COs for occasions of human error.

—David E. Martin, Golden Life Member




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