This past winter, I realized putting up Christmas lights can be difficult. Freezing on my front porch, struggling to get my last set of festive decorations up and running, I discovered an entire string of lights would not light. How was I going to fix this problem? The answer was in my pocket. I pulled out my cell phone and went on YouTube, searched “How to fix Christmas lights,” and was able to troubleshoot my issue. Christmas was saved; Santa came down the chimney; and my house looked like Clark Griswold’s from Christmas Vacation.
Much like I used YouTube to solve my Christmas light dilemma, the Navy must use social tools to train its workforce, communicate across platforms, and market itself to new recruits. In every sailor’s pocket is a tool able to access the largest collection of knowledge in recorded human history: the internet. This is not a revolutionary concept. The Navy has a YouTube channel as well as web-based systems such as Navy Knowledge Online (NKO). While these attempts are noteworthy, neither maximizes the potential of the internet for 21st-century sailors.
A few numbers put things in perspective. Some 1.3 billion people use YouTube; almost 5 billion videos are watched every day; and the site gets more than 30 million visitors a day.1 It reaches more 18–34-year-olds than any cable network in the United States. According to Alexa Internet, YouTube is the second-most-visited website on the planet.2 YouTube has a formula for success. Mimicking its ideas could increase Navy productivity and efficiency.
I see two goals for this system overhaul. The first is improving the level of knowledge of today’s sailor; the second is reaching new recruits. I envision a system, similar to YouTube, where a sailor can find answers to questions at the lowest level. Rather than being led astray by what other sailors have heard or struggling through complicated naval instructions and unreadable technical manuals, sailors could search their problems and watch instructional tutorials to guide them toward a solution.
For example, as the career counselor of the aft main machinery room on board the USS Kearsarge (LHD-3), I explained to new and transitioning sailors the differences between the post-9/11 and Montgomery G.I. bills on multiple occasions. However, when I first became career counselor, I did not know about either program. I went to the internet and did my research. Imagine if there had been an easy-to-watch video from an experienced career counselor to guide me in helping my sailors. Not only would I have been well equipped to answer their questions, but I also could have directed my sailors to that video, and others like it, to help them achieve success.
A new Navy system where informative videos and tutorials are available would use the most important resource available to the service: the experience and wisdom of good sailors. Instead of having to spend hours reading a technical manual he doesn’t understand, a fireman could watch videos on engineering principles explained by an expert. Rather than trying to replace the mechanical seal on the distillate pump on her own, a machinist’s mate could watch an experienced, knowledgeable sailor go through the process step-by-step before attempting to do it. This idea extends to all departments on a ship and at shore duty.
The Navy should enhance the current NKO website by adding a dedicated section for videos. Within this video section there should be channels dedicated to each rate. Each channel would be managed by an experienced, knowledgeable, and technologically competent team. By keeping the system in NKO, security would be maintained, a new system would not be necessary, and sailors already would be familiar with the website. I also would move from the ancient, “keep clicking until the end” trainings that NKO employs to a more interactive way of teaching.
Next, the Navy should overhaul its YouTube channel. The average video on the Navy channel has about 3,000 views. In terms of online videos, that is nothing. Given the numbers of amazing things the Navy does on a regular basis—refuelings at sea, aircraft operations, Navy SEAL training, etc.—the numbers of views should be exponentially higher. More dynamic videos not only would help market the Navy and improve public relations, but also would be free advertising. Rather than spending millions of dollars for a “Global Force for Good” commercial during the Super Bowl, the service could make multiple videos on its YouTube channel geared specifically to new recruits. This would be cheaper and could be tailored to certain demographic groups.
For example, imagine a potential recruit is on the fence about joining the Navy. He or she is unsure how the process works, what to expect, or what rate to pursue. Rather than hoping this potential sailor takes a leap of faith and walks into a recruiting office, the Navy could put videos of the best and brightest recruiters on its YouTube channel and on the Navy website. When I joined, I had no idea what shipboard life was like. My recruiter told me all sorts of things about life in the Navy, but I never really understood what it would be like until I experienced it. Videos targeted at potential recruits ages 18–34 could improve both the knowledge of incoming sailors and the public’s perspective of the Navy. Similar to the NKO video system, a team of experienced Navy counselors and recruiters could spearhead this evolution, going ship to ship to record each rate to give new recruits a glimpse of what Navy life is like.
The price for these system changes is not high. Most sailors have smartphones with high-definition recording capability in their pockets. Making additions to YouTube is free, and changing the NKO website would not take much time or effort. It might take a while to build the library of knowledge, but it is the way of the future when it comes to teaching the next generation of sailors. The Navy should be at the tip of the spear when it comes to reaching its current and future workforce. With the right people behind the scenes, the system could change the way the Navy teaches and recruits, as well as the way the world views the Navy.
1. Danny Donchev, “37 Mind Blowing YouTube Facts, Figures and Statistics–2018,” YouTube Statistics–2018, Foretunelords.com.
2. “The Top 500 Sites on the Web,” Alexa Internet.
Mr. Osbourn is a former machinist’s mate who transitioned out of the Navy in January 2018. He currently works on submarines at Northrop Grumman’s Newport News Shipbuilding.