Category Archives: Interviews

Ethics & The Military Profession – A Conversation with Nate Finney and Ty Mayfield

By Christopher Nelson

This past fall, I had the chance to talk with editors Nate Finney and Ty Mayfield about their book, Redefining the Modern Military: The Intersection of Profession and Ethics.Image result for Redefining modern military

From the publisher’s description: Redefining the Modern Military expands upon and refines the ideas on the role of ethics and the profession in the 21st Century. The authors delve into whether Samuel Huntington and Morris Janowitz still ring true in the 21st century; whether training and continuing education play a role in defining a profession; and if there is a universal code of ethics required for the military as a profession.”

We talk about their book, social media and the profession, and later we dive into a conversation about Colonel “Ned Stark” (who recently was revealed to be Col. Jason Lamb) and why they think it’s bad for the military profession to write under a pseudonym.

Nelson: Thanks for joining me guys. How did the book idea come about and why this book now?

Mayfield: The book started as a conversation on social media with Dr. Pauline Shanks-Kaurin who was prepping for an ethics class when she was teaching at Pacific Lutheran University. She was just asking questions on Twitter about the profession, what it means, and who might be in the military profession.

That went around on Twitter. I was engaged in that initial conversation. Nate and I talked and the idea for something more came up so we talked with the rest of the editorial team and decided to run a series at The Strategy Bridge, trying to answer those questions. What is the profession? What is our profession and ethics, and the role of both of those things in our institutions?

We published almost 20 articles on the topic and they were all really well-received. Then, we circled back from that and began to have a conversation about if there was enough for a book and whether or not we could take this to the next step. We contacted about a dozen of the authors, ended up with 10 of them, and then picked up two more to write on very focused topics just to round out the book. They went back and expended those initial journal articles to chapter-length pieces.

Then we pitched the book and got picked up by U.S. Naval Institute Press. Here we are three years later looking at the publication of the book. This has been really interesting to see something go from a conversation on social media, to a web-based professional journal, to a hardcopy book. I think that’s the story that is really interesting about this book.

Nelson: That’s great.

Finney: I think it shows a very deliberate attempt by The Strategy Bridge to go through different mediums. We pulled a lot of our articles from social media, conversations we have on Twitter and Facebook, and people that are talking about something that’s interesting. Whether it’s us as individuals or editors at The Strategy Bridge, we’ll hit them up and say, “Hey, that would make a great article. Send it along.” That stuff happens all of the time.

The example of turning it into a series instead of a single article, and then deciding to turn it into a book, is a model that the Strategy Bridge may do from time to time as topics that are of interest to the profession continue to bubble up in conversation.

Nelson: Alright, well let’s get right into it then. An Air Force officer and an Army officer edited a book. What is your take on each of your respective services and what concerns do you have about the profession? What’s good, what’s bad? Particularly, for Ty, I know the Air Force Officer, Colonel “Ned Stark,” writing some pieces for War on the Rocks, grabbed attention with his concerns about the USAF.

Mayfield: I think the Air Force is a unique service as compared to the others. I think a big part of the profession is cultural identity, who you are as an institution. The Air Force, being the newest of those departments, I think we struggle with culture and identity a lot. There are times that you want to be very much different than the other services and focus on our specific domains, but then there is a pullback to a core professional identity that unites all of the services. I think there’s a real cultural identity conflict for the Air Force. How to be different enough to maintain your own identity, yet keep a finger on that touchstone as military professionals.

I’d like to talk about Ned Stark, later on. I think it’s a separate question altogether.

I’ll let Nate speak to the Army. The Army has done a lot of work in developing their own ethic and their professional identity, but what they have done in that process is develop an Army ethic and an Army profession. That, in some ways, I think walls them off from the other services, and it misses the larger professional identity that I think all the services should try and sort out.

The Air Force has followed that lead and it has established its own Profession of Arms Center of Excellence, which is now taking roadshow trips out to different bases and talking about the profession. It’s not theoretical, it’s more applied leadership; which is good and important, but it’s different than what the Army has done with its Center for the Army Profession and Leadership program up to this point. I think that’s a good segue back to Nate.

Nelson: Before we jump to Nate, really quick, what would you recommend to your service chief or other seniors in the Air Force? What needs to change or what would you suggest, as far the identity of your particular service? What would you do to improve the identity of the Air Force?

Mayfield: I think part of the recommendation here would actually be to model the approach off of what the Army has done, which is not, obviously, going to be something that’s particularly well-received; but I think the Army did it well. I think Dr. Don Snider’s book, The Future of the Army Profession, was the groundwork for the Army ethic and for this Army professional identity. It was the theoretical piece. It’s a big book, it’s really dense, it’s hard to approach; but the scholarship is there that laid the groundwork for the Army’s successful development and, for lack of a better word, the doctrinization of their ethic. I think that’s important and that’s probably what needs to be done in the Air Force, at some level.

Nelson: Nate, over to you. Army good and bad?

Finney: First, I’ll say I think the Army’s furthest along when it comes to developing their perspective on the profession and trying to figure out where they fit. The previous works that we use a foundation for Redefining the Modern Military are Janowitz and Huntington, in particular. They were, essentially, writing about soldiers coming out of the Korean War and World War II, but particularly the Korean War. Of course, they’re applicable to all the services, but really it was a focus on the soldiers in the Army coming out of those wars, and what it meant for land power, and its citizen soldiers.

As Ty was mentioning, Don Snider’s work of the 2000s was chartered by General Martin Dempsey (who also was kind enough to write the forward of our book) when he was the Training and Doctrine (TRADOC) commander, and then the Chief of Staff of the Army, and then the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs–all in pretty quick succession. As Ty mentioned, his focus was on the Army and he used Don Snider’s work and others to really push the profession, but also the Army ethic. He tried to convert that into a joint profession campaign on the profession and ethic when he became the Chairman. I don’t know how much it took hold. I think General Dempsey’s white paper on the profession, when he was the Chairman, is a good model for trying to have that conversation from a joint force perspective.

When it comes to the Army as a service – and what we can do better – I don’t honestly have a good answer. I think we largely get it right; we’ll never get it perfect. General Caslen, who retired out of West Point as the superintendent, really focused on character as a part of the profession and what types of characteristics our soldiers need to have to be professionals to embody that ethic.

I think from induction in West Point, then PME throughout a career, the Army does it pretty well, if a bit dry. I think General Milley and others have focused on “re-greening” the Army on what it’s like to fight large formations in a conventional conflict. Yes, there’s a tactical/technical piece to that, but I also think there’s a professional piece. Whether it’s trying to balance what we learned in Iraq and Afghanistan with where we need to go in the future and what that means for soldiers as professionals. It’s not perfect, nothing’s perfect, but I think the Army does it pretty well.

Nelson: I didn’t read Huntington until, I don’t know, maybe around the fourteen-year mark in the Navy.  Do you think expectations are too high on the first ten years of your life in the service? You’re just trying to get the basics down and you don’t even know what the profession is or what it means, so do you think our expectations are too high for younger officers to have them really truly understand? They’re maybe not even committed to the profession. They haven’t even decided to say, “I’m in this for the profession.” What are your thoughts on this?

Mayfield: I think that’s a great question and that’s exactly why we wrote this book. When you pick up Huntington at your 14-year mark, that shouldn’t be the first time you’ve thought about the profession. I was at the Army War College last year, and I’m presented with Don Snider’s book, The Future of the Army Profession at the 19th year of my career, and I’m thinking “it’s too late to start this conversation; it’s too late to start thinking about this.” But at the same time, to your point, lieutenants, company grade officers, I don’t think they have enough exposure to the profession yet, and the development to really touch those documents; Don Snider’s work, or Huntington, or Janowitz, or any of that with any meaning or connection.

That’s what we tried to do with this book, with Redefining the Modern Military, is provide something to start with, a starting point that then preps you for that conversation to pick up Huntington, preps you to pick up Don Snider’s book. So that, when you get it in your 19th year, it’s not the first time you’ve thought about your role as a professional.

We used a multi-disciplinary approach in this book, so we have officers from all the branches of the service, we have academics, we have historians, we have people who are in civil service now, we have lawyers, we have former military officers who are now civilians.

I think there’s a focus on it being company-grade officers or senior company-grade officers or junior field-grade officers. I think that’s a really important niche because those are officers who are approaching this 14-year mark we’re talking about. They’re right at this transition and I think that’s where Don Snider would argue you become a professional.

You can be a member of the profession without being a professional. I think that’s the transition you’re trying to get to. This is the point that the question you’re asking, and Don Snider uses a term, “stewards of the profession” to define this. There’s a change in your approach to service and a change in your relationship with your institution.

I think for most of us, that probably happens at the command level. When you take command, be that in the Army, as the company-grade officer, as a captain company command; or in the Air Force, if your first command opportunity as an O-4 or an O-5, that’s a pivotal moment where you have to start looking back into your organization through a command lens that focuses your institution’s requirements and your institution’s desires and future.

The term, “company man,” it’s a bureaucratic term. It refers to a bureaucracy. These two things are in tension, and this is something that Dr. Snider talks a lot about. That tension between the bureaucracy and the profession. One is focused on effects, the other is focused on efficiencies. There’s a whole list of things that are in tension between these two institutions, and I think that’s why he uses the word, “steward”, and not “company man.” He uses the word, “steward” because stewards are people who do the care and feeding of the profession and that’s our role at this level as field grade officers. We have to become stewards of our professions to make sure that we teach our subordinates and those that come after us what’s important, because if we don’t teach them what’s important and why, it will evolve over time and people will lose focus.

It’s a long answer to your question, but I think that’s why we wrote this book; so that we have a stepping stone, so we’re not at the fourteen-year mark and just throwing Huntington at you and saying, “good luck.”

Also, to get to your question about when do you become a professional, it happens differently for all of us. I don’t think we always recognize it in the moment, but then, reflectively, we can see when our outlook changed. My second time in command here, I’m seeing that even more and I’m thinking more about that, about the future of my subordinates and their impact on the service. People want to leave their mark on the unit, but if you want to leave your mark on a service, on an institution, then it’s really through mentorship and development; you have to understand that your subordinates have much more longevity than you do.

Finney: Ty alluded to the fact that a profession is not an institution, it’s the people in the institution. As you get that transition into being a steward of the profession versus focused on the technical/tactical aspects as a junior-grade officer, you should probably not hand out Huntington and say, “hey guys, you need to learn this.” Instead, mid-grade and senior leaders should probably more embody the profession for their subordinates and embody those characteristics you want to see in professionals.

I look back, and sure I didn’t read Huntington as a lieutenant, but I could look back on my battalion commander, my battalion S3, the majors in my battalion, in the interactions they had with me and the way that they treated other people, were daily inculcating that profession in myself and my fellow junior officers.

While, intellectually, you’re not beating them over the head with the foundations of the profession, I think, at least in my experience, we certainly are focused on developing those professionals from the first moment they come in.

In my opinion, unfortunately, the way it’s built into PME, both leadership and the profession piece of it, it is almost like a lobotomy. It’s just, “here read these slides,” or “read the section, we’re not really going to talk about it,” so half the folks read it, half don’t. I think it’s less that we don’t do it, and instead that we do it poorly.

Nelson: I want to jump on social media because we started this conversation with the fact that your book was hatched on Twitter. And you’re both on social media quite frequently. How’s the profession doing on social media in the civ-mil sphere? Do either of you think we have an issue with service members being partisan when it’s clear that they identify themselves as military members in their profile?

Finney: I think the social media tools certainly put us in a place where it could become dangerous if we don’t self-regulate, but the beauty of being apart of a profession are professionals, like you, reaching out to people you know saying, “Hey, Jack that’s not something you should be saying in public. You want to have that conversation one-on-one over coffee or beers, that’s fine, but don’t put it on social media.” I certainly have seen the same thing. Honestly, I saw it more when I was on Facebook than I did on Twitter, and that might be the transitory nature of Twitter.

I think what it comes down to, is that it has to be about self-regulation. It’s peers, or if required superiors, coming in and saying, “Okay, you’re not supposed to be talking like that. Here’s why.” Have a good conversation about the profession. The other piece is, and I’m seeing more and more of this on Twitter these days, are senior leaders using social media in a positive way in order to help bolster the profession and provide an example. 

Nelson: Are you worried if Twitter is trending in a bad way?

Finney: I don’t…at all. I personally think, in particular, I see a lot of great stuff coming from the Army. General Patrick Donahue, Ty knows and interacts with quite frequently, General Mick Ryan from Australia, senior leaders who are using it for more than just a PAO push where they’re just pushing their agenda. They are interacting with other human beings. They are shaping what people are reading or thinking about through what they’re posting, as well as interacting with people across the board from cadets all the way up. In order to have those professional discussions, even if it isn’t “here’s Huntington,” they’re getting to “let’s have a conversation as professionals.” That’s essentially what’s happening and what we need on social media.

Nelson: I guess what I’m alluding to is the retired admirals and generals. For example, retired admirals writing opinion pieces on political topics–like the McRaven op-ed that was published last year. There are two completely different thoughts on this. Some admirals and generals remain quiet, and urge others to do the same–some, obviously, do not. What are your thoughts?

Mayfield: Let me dip back into the social media question, and then I’ll circle and address the McRaven piece. I tend to agree with Nate on the social media piece. I think senior leaders in the military are late to the game on social media, and I think a lot of it is because they don’t understand it.

There’s always been an effort to manage the narrative of our senior leaders. That’s why they impose restrictions on their public affairs officers–who they also don’t understand or trust–and spokesmen, everything. They get talking points, everything is very scripted, and when you put a hand-held, you put a phone in a four star’s hand, and he’s got an hour to burn at the airport that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. I think it can be done well, but I think the access, immediacy, and unconstrained environment made our senior leaders uncomfortable to do it.

Social media is social, you can’t just push the thing you want, it won’t get picked up. That’s not how it works, it has to be interaction. Twitter, in particular, I think is a really good tool for those quick interactions that can fall into the realm of mentoring, and you can build relationships that last long term. I think that’s the thing General Mick Ryan out of Australia does really well, General Patrick Donahue does this really well too.

Those short interactions over time, and this falls into what Ray Kimball, one of the chapters in our book, talks about and that’s mentoring. That mentoring does not have to be done within your chain of command. Your rater may not be the right mentor for you. I think social media gives junior officers an opportunity to engage with an officer of their choice, who they want to be a mentor. It has to be a mutually agreed upon relationship.

I count General Ryan and I count General Donahue both as mentors at this point in time. I’ve had enough interactions with them. We haven’t always agreed and that’s okay. That’s the other thing we have to get to in social media, you have to figure out how to do that. How to disagree publicly with each other, with subordinates, with superiors. There’s that fine line in the profession.

To the point about the politics, I’ll just leave it at this, I think the profession must be self-policing. It’s got to be self-correcting, otherwise what you’re going to get is congressionally-mandated reporting requirements or congressionally-mandated direction on what you can and cannot do. Those limitations are an infringement on your autonomy as a professional. If you’re not self-policing, someone else will police you. That’s where we have a role to address our peers when we see this stuff. Some of them are not reconcilable, and I’m a little bit worried about that, frankly, as a professional.

We come into the service with our own ethics, and our own morals, and our own values, and we have to put all those aside. We have to assume the ethics and the morals and the values of our service, and one of those is we are an apolitical institution. There’s tension there. People have deeply-held political beliefs and we can all agree on that, but the service doesn’t. That’s the core the profession.

The McRaven piece, I didn’t read it. I just stay away from the op-ed stuff. I don’t find it of much utility and I say that getting ready to write an article, maybe an op-ed, so I recognize the tension in my own statement. To be fair, I’ve been getting ready to write this op-ed for six months because I just don’t want to do it. I’m trying to find a better way to approach the problem than meeting him on his own terms.

Nelson: What’s the op-ed on?

Mayfield: I want to talk about Ned Stark. I want to talk about why I think Ned Stark is wrong, frankly. He might have good ideas, but I think the idea is not correct. It’s not a good pitch.

I didn’t read the McRaven piece, so I’ll have to defer to Nate to answer on that, but I’m looking forward to talking about Ned Stark because I just wrote it on my white board before we sat down.

Nelson: Excellent, okay.

Finney: Let me re-attack the Admiral McRaven stuff, and then we’ll go straight to Ned Stark. I’ll let you have that one completely, Ty. Other than having read it and then you and I having some conversations over Twitter, I have no bone in that fight, so I’ll leave that to you. The McRaven retired general officer piece…

Nelson: This is not a new phenomenon, right?

Finney: No, absolutely not in any way, shape, or form. The “revolt of the admirals” and all that stuff, even earlier than that. Senior leaders who put out op-eds, for the most part, including, in my opinion, McRaven, very much weighed what they were going to say and whether they were going to say anything or whether it was going to be of a benefit to their profession and to the people that they were standing up for, versus the detriment of a retired officer playing into politics.

Whether you agree with it or not, he didn’t do it in order to harm the profession. He did it to enhance the profession and try and uphold a norm. I think that is generally the case; some obviously being more political than others. There is nothing against those in our profession, particularly those who have retired, standing up for things that they believe in the public press.

The issue is the knock-on effects to the profession and, in particular, the civ-mil relationships going forward from somebody standing up and doing something like that. I think the professionals weighing into these types of conversations weigh that very heavily, and have decided that it makes more sense for them to speak out than not; and that whatever detrimental effects will come from it, will be minor compared to whatever benefits they think that they receive.

Finney: Let’s talk about Ned Stark.

Nelson: So for background, “Ned Stark” is a pseudonym for a senior USAF Colonel (who was revealed to be Col. Jason Lamb). War on the Rocks granted him a (rare) pseudonym out of concern that his writing might endanger his professional career. He has written numerous pieces for War on the Rocks outlining issues with the Air Force. He got the attention of the Chief of the Air Force, who asked “Ned” to come work for him. So, Ty, what’s wrong with Ned Stark and his approach?

Mayfield: I read Stark’s initial piece in the Air Force Times, begrudgingly, after I see everybody talking about it. I read it, and I think what frustrates me with Ned Stark is that he doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know as a profession.

It was the approach and the use of a pseudonym that really frustrates me because even if I agree with Ned Stark, I don’t know who he is and I don’t know how to help him change the service. His focus is on positional leadership, not relational leadership. There’s no way to have a relationship with Ned Stark. I can’t help him achieve what it is that he wants to get done, which, frankly, are things I want to get done, too.

There’s a level of hypocrisy in his use of a pseudonym that really touched a nerve with me. His own self-identification as one of these high performing officers who gets pushed along whether they’re ready or not because they have access to general officers and they have the right things in their records, and whether or not they’re ready for leadership or not, these guys are pulled through the system. He’s railing against this, stating “that’s not the way the Air Force should go,” but he’s one of them.

Frankly, I don’t understand what career risks a colonel in the United States Air Force faces. He’s a colonel, in the Air Force, it’s right at one percent of the total force, so what are we protecting Ned Stark from? What is Ned Stark protecting himself from? He’s asking the same process which built him, which he’s railing against, to continue to protect him, and I, frankly, I can’t get behind that. I was disappointed in him. Disappointed it got published, disappointed that it drew so much attention.

Nelson: What if it’s just, frankly, brilliant that his pseudonym generates this amazing amount of intrigue? In the cacophony of voices, of the many people writing about their concerns and issues with their military service, it’s this unknown colonel who breaks through to touch a nerve?

Mayfield: Here’s the question, and this was something that when I was having this conversation on Twitter, Rich Brennan actually brought up. This is his tweet, “The point isn’t the validity of the argument, but the strength of character. If the problem’s so severe, then, as a senior officer, you should be willing to stand up for what you believe in. Put something at risk to accomplish the change you want to see.”

I have a hard time buying the brilliant intrigue approach. Now, he’s got General Goldfein’s attention, so maybe your argument is that it worked. I read General Goldfein’s piece on War on the Rocks and it’s like, “Ned, I’d love to have you on my team,” and that makes me want to bang my head on a desk because Ned is already on the Chief of Staff of the Air Force’s team, he’s in the Air Force. How is he not already on the team? We can’t look Ned up in the global email address book, and start working his orders because Ned Stark is a fabrication and he’s not helping anyone.

There’s the whole piece about him essentially benefiting from the hypocrisy by being offered a job by the Chief. It doesn’t support guys, like you, who write under your own name, other Air Force officers who are focused on bettering the profession slowly but surely, versus moaning on War on the Rocks under a pseudonym. That’s not helping anyone. It’s not responsible, it’s not authentic, and it’s not professional.

Finney: It’s the incentives. You’re going to incentivize your soldiers in an adverse manner. It’s going to take away from their character, not build up their character in the profession.

Nelson: He apparently passed on the opportunity to work for the Chief of the Air Force. But do you think he would have even gotten that offer he hadn’t written the op-ed, or if he didn’t use a pseudonym?

Finney: I think it’s more on the hypocrisy of “senior leaders need to stand up and change their service for the better, but I’m going to use a pseudonym because I don’t want to stand up and do the same thing.”

Then, the arrogance of choosing Ned Stark, like “I’m sacrificing myself for the good of the service.” No, you’re not. You’re using a pseudonym.

Nelson: This is a good discussion. I think it’s a fascinating conversation.

Mayfield: I think there’s a lot of tension here. I don’t think that Ned’s Stark’s peers know who Ned Stark is. Ned Stark is setting himself apart from his peers in a way that’s going to be really hard to reconcile under his true name.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this and I’ll acknowledge that I’m on one side of this issue. I went through the same thing when I started running my own blog. I asked this question, “Do I write under a pseudonym, or do I write in my true name?” and I went to my mentors and my professors, I talked to my peers, and I decided to do it in true name which put a lot of checks on me.

To Nate’s point about the use of pseudonyms. We don’t allow the use of pseudonyms on the Strategy Bridge anymore and that was an editorial decision. We also don’t write op-eds, we don’t publish op-eds, so we get those and we send them to other outlets. We don’t publish op-eds, that’s just our position, because what we want is a fact-based, cited, academically-approached argument that removes emotion and the personal positions.

Nelson: Where were you going to publish your rebuttal to the Ned Stark’s piece? I’m sure there’s some emotion behind it, you’re very passionate about your opinion on Ned Stark.

Mayfield:  What I want to do is address it through the lens of a conversation about our profession, and about the status of it, and about us being self-policing, and it being a goal of lifelong learning and mentorship and leadership; and it’s hard to do those things from behind a curtain. I’m not saying it can’t be done, I just think there’s a better approach to it.

We started this conversation by talking about the status of our profession. I don’t think Ned Stark is advancing our profession.

Nelson: Let’s transition to the personal a little bit. I know Nate’s a father. Ty, I don’t know if you have kids or not. But neither of you shut off when you go home – the profession comes home with you. What are things, Nate, as you’re a father, character things that you instill in your children that the profession’s shaped you; and vice versa? How does your profession affect your personal life? And how does your personal life affect the profession?

Finney: That’s a good question, it’s interesting. I don’t know if the profession has affected my personal approach to life, the way that I live my life, and the way that I raise my kids, but I assume it has.

I think a better way to look at it, maybe, is by my children’s choices. My 15-year-old daughter chose to join the sea cadets program here in Hawaii. She’s always been a great kid, very smart, very respectful. She’s always wanted to be in the military; to be like her dad and be in the military. When she joined sea cadets, I could see that transformation as she started putting on the uniform, as she started understanding what being in sea cadets and being in the Navy was like. Her respect for others increased, her responsibility to get up and get things done and to focus on school work for sea cadets, and even outside of sea cadets, just getting her school work done, everything. All of that increased as she was a part of sea cadets. Part of that is her getting older, but I think part of that is being a part an organization, a team, a group of people who has certain standards, has certain expectations, and having to live up to those.

I think most of those things were there in our household. My dad was in the Navy. Got out right before I was born, but he carried that through his life. My kids have seen me go into work on Saturdays or late at night, and taking the approach that, “Hey, that’s what I do. That’s my job, that’s what I need to go do.” Deployments, same thing. This understanding of what the profession is, what living up to standards and expectations and being a part of a team is – I think all of those things come home from work. I certainly take aspects of my home life into work. Respect for others. All these things I would like to see in my daughters, I try and model those. Whether I’m good at it or not. Ty, you have any thoughts on that?

Mayfield: Yes, I think it’s an interesting question. I don’t have kids, so I have a different outlook on that; but I think what this question raises, for me, is the separation of personally-held values and beliefs from those of the institution.

We are the sum of our experiences. I grew up in a military family. I’m sure that influenced my own decisions, absolutely it did; but that’s the challenge that we face as military professionals is putting aside how we, Nate’s example, how he raises his kids. People that are under your supervision or under your leadership are not your children, they’re members of the same institution that you are.

We all agree that we want our kids to grow up and live long and full lives, but as members of the profession that’s not the outcome that we’re responsible to pursue. Sometimes, personal sacrifice is required to achieve mission accomplishment–and that’s not just us as professionals, but the potential requirement to sacrifice others who we lead as well. This is the concept of unlimited liability–it’s unique to our profession. In the end, effectiveness, mission accomplishment is what we’re charged with and that could very well come at the cost of people’s lives. It’s one of those unique aspects of our institution, and that’s a professional challenge. To acknowledge those things that you hold dear and believe, personally and to be willing to set them aside to advance the cause of your profession.

Think about Nate’s daughter’s change in behavior when putting on a uniform. The uniform is that exterior example. We act differently in civilian clothes than we do in our uniform. It changes how you walk across the parking lot. It changes how you interact with people. You can’t deny that it changes people. I’ve spent a good part of my professional career as a field-grade officer, actually, in civilian clothes, in a suit and tie; and it changes how people approach you, interact with you. Believe me, it changes things. That was a real shock for me.

I should have said our manifestation of our values and our ethic and how we approach people as professionals, so I think that’s a really important point to make. It’s a difficult transition, it’s a difficult thing to do; and the further along you go, the more you have to be very clear about what your personal desires are, what the requirements are because there are larger implications.

Nelson: Lastly, I’ll turn over to you guys for any last thoughts or words you want to say to close out our discussion.

Finney: Just to get back to the book, Ty mentioned we had many different perspectives from the team that wrote Redefining. Authors included lawyers, uniformed practitioners, folks from other countries like Sweden, Australia, the UK. The beauty of the book project was, at least for me, working with that diverse group of people and trying to weave all of those threads throughout the book. It just showed how some of the more important aspects of the profession are not just across the services, but it’s also across the national security realm.

While everybody views the profession differently, maybe it’s manifested differently in the different services in different militaries, those threads are all there. They were captured well by Huntington, Janowitz, and others, and I think as we move into the 21st Century and we’re trying to see if there’s a different character of war, and if the way we conduct conflict in the future is going to be different, does that mean our profession needs to change as well?

Nelson: Ty, closing thoughts?

Mayfield: First of all, I appreciate your time and the opportunity to discuss the profession and to talk a little bit about the book. I think it’s an important time, and this goes back to your very first question about why this book is important and why now. History tells us that the profession goes through cycles. We have a prolonged conflict, we have a peace pause, this period of reflection, introspection, and then we redevelop and redefine ourselves, and then we go forward again. It’s cyclical.

Huntington and Janowitz wrote at the end of the Korean War catastrophe. That set the stage going into Vietnam, and then we have the all-volunteer force that comes out of that. The all-volunteer force has now been at war for two decades without respite, and I think that the time is now for this introspection, this reflection to occur.

Dr. Snider’s book came out early 2000s, the ideas are foundationally sound, but the officers which are now practicing these ideas in the profession and this idea of an ethic have changed. We’ve come to the table with a new generation of officers and a new generation of enlisted personnel, all volunteers, which I think is unprecedented and extremely important; and I think the time is now for us to begin to redefine as we move into the role as stewards and leaders of our profession, to set the groundwork for what we want the profession to be going forward. That’s the answer to your question about why this book and why now.

We hope to see this book out there at ROTC programs, at commissioning programs, at company-grade officer education, and in the civilian community as well because it’s essential to our role as well as our constituents, to all those Americans represented by the Constitution. I am really excited about the book, but really I’m excited about the conversation; and I’m looking forward to the points of agreement, but most importantly, I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation. I think that’s the essential role, that’s the thing we have to do. We have to start the conversation or somebody will start it for us.

Nelson: Thanks guys, great talking with you. All the best.

Nathan K. Finney is an officer in the U.S. Army with a focus on planning and strategy. He is also a founder of three non-profits – The Strategy Bridge, the Military Writers Guild, and the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum – and has been a visiting fellow at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a term member at the Council on Foreign Relations, a Non-Resident Fellow of the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Modern War Institute at West Point. Nathan is a doctoral student in history at Duke University and holds masters degrees in Public Administration from Harvard University and the University of Kansas, as well as a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Arizona. You can find Nathan on Twitter @nkfinney.

Tyrell O. Mayfield is an officer in the U.S. Air Force and a co-founder and board member of the non-profit The Strategy Bridge. Ty has published photography and written work in a number of online forums, magazines, newspapers, and peer-reviewed journals. Ty is a graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School and the U.S. Army War College and holds masters degrees in International Relations, National Security Studies, and Strategic Art. Ty is currently writing a memoir about his time in Kabul. You can find Ty on twitter @tyrellmayfield.

Christopher Nelson is an intelligence officer stationed at the Office of Naval Intelligence in Suitland, MD. He is a graduate of the US Naval War College and the Navy’s Maritime Advanced Warfighting School. He is also a regular contributor to CIMSEC. The views here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

Featured Image: Joint-service honor guard members representing all five military services stand in front of the audience before the outdoor portion of the POW/MIA ceremony Sept. 16 at the Air Force Armament Museum. The ceremony paid tribute to those military members who have yet to return home from defending America. The event was hosted by the 46th Test Wing and featured guest speakers, honor guard procedures and a flyover by the 53rd Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

Crimes of Command in the U.S. Navy – A Conversation with Michael Junge

By Christopher Nelson

Recently, Captain Michael Junge published an interesting book on why and under what circumstances the U.S. Navy relieves commanding officers. His book, Crimes of Command, begins in 1945 and proceeds through numerous historical case studies up to the modern era. I think many people – not only those in the surface warfare community – but commanders, leaders, and sailors in other communities will find our exchange interesting.

The book is worth your time – and it is a perennial topic that deserves attention.

Nelson: Would you briefly describe what the book is about and why you wanted to write it?

Junge: In short, it’s about why the Navy removes commanding officers from command – the incidents that lead to removal, the individuals removed, and what the Navy does about the incident and the individual. But instead of a look at just one or two contemporary cases, I went back to 1945 and looked across seven decades to see what was the same and what changed.

Nelson: In the book, when referring to the process of relieving commanding officers, you talk about words like “accountability,” “culpability,” and “responsibility.” These words, you say, matter when talking about why commanding officers are relieved. Why do they matter and how do they differ?

Junge: The common usage blends all three into one – accountability. We see this with the press reports on last summer’s collisions – the Navy’s actions are referred to as accountability actions.” Most people, I think, read that line as “punitive actions” mostly because that’s what they are. But accountability isn’t about punishment – it’s about being accountable, which is to give an accounting of what happened, to explain one’s actions and thoughts and decisions. The investigations themselves are an accountability action. The investigations are supposed to determine who was responsible for the problem, what happened, who was at fault, and then determine if within that responsibility and fault there is also culpability.

Culpability is about blame – accountability is not, even if we use it as such. In investigations, when you mix culpability, blame, and accountability together end up being about finding fault and levying punishment instead of finding out what happened. That keeps us from learning from the incident and preventing future occurrences. We’ve completely lost that last part over the past few decades if we even had it to begin with. Every collision I looked at, for example, had four or five things that were the same – over seven decades.

Nelson: Later in the book, you say that as virtues, honor, courage, and commitment are not enough. How should we reexamine those virtues? Isn’t this always the challenge – the challenge of the pithy motto vs. the substantive truth, that’s what I was getting at. And it’s not that there is some truth to the motto or slogan, but rarely are they sufficient alone – yes?

Junge: Honor, courage, and commitment make for a great slogan, but will only be inculcated in the force when our leaders routinely say them and live by them. I wrote a piece for USNI Proceedings in 2013 that commented on how naval leaders rarely used those words. That hasn’t changed. If they are used it’s in prepared text and often used as a cudgel. Leaders need to exemplify virtues – we learn from their example – and if they don’t use the words we don’t really know if they believe in them. But they are a great start, and they are ours – both Navy and Marine Corps.

What I meant in the book is that honor, courage, and commitment aren’t enough for an exploration of virtues in general. For the Navy, they are an acceptable starting point. For individual officers, or for the Naval profession, we need to think deeper and far more introspectively. My latest project is looking at the naval profession and a professional ethic. My personal belief is that we don’t need, or want, an ethical code. Or if we have one it needs to be like the Pirate Code – more as guidelines than rules. There’s science behind this which is beyond our scope here, but rules make for bad virtues and worse ethics. Rules tend to remove thought and press for compliance. At one level that’s great, but compliance tends to weed out initiative and combat leaders need initiative.

Nelson: So, after studying the historical data and specific events from 1945 to 2015, what did you conclude? Why are there more commanding officers relieved today than there were fifty years ago?

Junge: Even after all the research and the writing, this is a tough one for me to encapsulate. In my dissertation defense, I made a joke at the end that the reason we remove more officers now is complicated. And it is. Every removal is a little different from the others. That makes linking details difficult. But, when you lift back a little and take a really long view, I could find some trends. Not only do we remove more commanders today, we do it for more reasons, and we have almost completely ended any sort of recovery for officers removed from command.

Chart courtesy of the author.

Without giving too much away, because I do want people to read the actual book, today’s removals come down to a couple of things – press, damage (material or emotional) to the Navy, and the commander’s chain of command. If the chain of command relationship is poor, the press gets a story, and there is some level of damage to the Navy (metal bent, people hurt, or image tarnished) then the commander is likely to go. But it’s not a direct line. Sometimes the information comes out later – we saw this with USS Shiloh last year and in one of the cases I covered, the helicopter crash in USS William P Lawrence. Neither commander was removed from command, but both careers were halted after the investigations were done and the administrative side of the Navy took over. If those incidents happened in the 1950s or 1960s, both commanding officers would have unquestionably moved forward with their careers. Whether that would be good or bad depends entirely on what those officers might have done with the knowledge gained from the investigations that challenged their leadership and individual character but we won’t know anymore. Maybe we should.

Nelson: When you started this book and after looking at the data, did anything surprise you? Did you go in with particular opinions or develop a theory that the data disproved or clarified?

Junge: When I started this I was pretty sure there were differences. One of the reasons I pulled all the data together was because in 2004 the Navy Inspector General issued a report that said, in essence, that a one percent removal rate was normal. If one percent was normal in 2004, when we had fewer than 300 ships, then we should have heard something about removing COs when we had 1000, or 3000, ships. But, we didn’t. So that there was a change wasn’t surprising.

I started off thinking that Tailhook was a major inflection point. I intended a whole chapter on the incident and investigation. In the end, the data didn’t support it – the inflection had already happened and Tailhook, especially its aftermath, was indicative of the change. I’m not minimizing the impact Tailhook had on Navy culture – we are still dealing with echoes twenty-five years later – but for the trend of removing commanders, it wasn’t a watershed. Likewise, I thought the late 1960s to early 1970s might be an inflection point – we had a rough couple years with major collisions, attacks, fires, Vietnam – but the data showed it wasn’t the turning point I expected.

It wasn’t until I plotted the information out that I saw the inflection of the early 1980s. When I saw the changes in the graph I had to go back to the research to sort out why. It was both frustrating and encouraging. It showed me I wasn’t trying to force data to fit a pre-selected answer, but it also meant leaving a lot of research behind.

Nelson: You go into some detail in your book about court-martials. Historically, why does the navy rarely take commanding officers to court martial?

Junge: The simple reason is that the Navy has a difficult time proving criminal acts by commanding officers. It’s not a new problem. When officers are taught to think for themselves and have sets and reps thinking critically, then when on a jury they are likely to take the evidence and make their own minds up. And that conclusion may run counter to what Navy leadership wants. Getting courts-martial into that real true arbiter of guilt and innocence was a major win for the post-World War II military. But, since leaders can’t control courts-martial anymore we now see this major abuse of administrative investigations, which runs counter to our own regulations on how we are supposed to handle investigations of major incidents and accidents.

Nelson: In fact, you threw in an anecdote in your book about Nimitz issuing letters of reprimand to the jury members on Eliot Loughlin’s court-martial. This was fascinating. What happened in that case?

Junge: In April 1945, Lieutenant Commander Charles Elliot Loughlin sank a ship without visually identifying it. The ship turned out to be a protected aid transport with 2,000 civilians aboard. Nimitz removed Loughlin from command and ordered his court-martial. The court found Loughlin guilty but only sentenced him to Secretarial Letter of Admonition. Nimitz was reportedly furious and issued letters of reprimand to the members of the court. In just answering this question I realize I never dug deep into what happened to those members – I might need to do that.   

Anyway, that was a rare case of Nimitz being angry. And in retrospect, I wonder if he was angry, or if he was protecting the court from the CNO Admiral King. There’s a story I’ve been percolating on in how Nimitz and King had differing ideas of responsibility and culpability. King was a hardliner – King could be seen as the archetype for modern culpability and punishment. There were some exceptions but he was pretty binary – screw up, get relieved. Nimitz was the opposite. Halsey put Nimitz into multiple tough spots where Halsey probably should have been removed from command – but Nimitz knew Halsey and erred on the side of that knowledge rather than get caught up in an arbitrary standard. That’s why I think those letters were out of character. But I have to temper that with the very real knowledge that Loughlin committed a war crime, was pretty blasé about it, blamed others, very likely put American prisoners of war in more danger than they already were, and might have endangered the war termination effort. Those conclusions run counter to the modern mythology around Loughlin, but are in keeping with the actual historical record.

Nelson: And if I recall, there was an XO that chose court martial rather than NJP ten or so years ago after a sailor on the ship was killed during a small boat operation. The XO was exonerated and cleared from any wrongdoing by the jury. Fleet Forces ended up putting a statement out how he disagreed with the verdict.

Junge: USS San Antonio – LCDR Sean Kearns. Sean remains one of my heroes for forcing the system to do what it says it will do. I firmly believe that Admiral Harvey stepped well outside his professional role and made his persecution of Sean a personal matter when he issued some messages and letters after the acquittal. I know among many SWOs that Harvey’s actions after the verdict really altered their opinions of him. Sean’s case is also major reason I am in favor of the Navy ending the “vessel exception” which precludes anyone assigned to a sea-going command from refusing non-judicial punishment and demanding a court-martial. Too many Navy leaders abuse this option. I know of a story where an officer was flown from his homeport to Newport, RI for non-judicial punishment, and another where an officer was flown from Guam to Norfolk for NJP. There are more cases where officers were removed from command, but kept assigned to sea duty so that they could not refuse NJP. That this even happens completely belies the intent behind the vessel exception.  

Nelson: You also talk in some detail about Admiral Rickover and the culture he fostered and how that culture affected command. Overall, how did he affect command culture?

Junge: This was my biggest surprise. If you’d talked to me before I started and asked about Rickover I’d have easily said he had nothing to do with the changes. Wow –that was wrong. I’m not sure how I could ever think that someone who served almost 30 years as a flag officer, hand selected each and every nuclear-trained officer, and personally inspected each and every nuclear ship for decades didn’t influence Navy culture. Rickover ends up with the better part of a chapter in a story I didn’t think he was even part of. But, the culture we have today is, I think, not the one he intended. Maybe.

Rickover was, and remains, an individual who brings up conflicted memories and has a conflicted legacy. Like many controversial figures, the stories about him often eclipse the reality behind them. I’ll paraphrase a student who spoke of my colleague, Milan Vego, and his writings – you have to read about Rickover because if you just reject him completely, that’s wrong – and if you just accept him at face value, that’s wrong – you have to read and think and read some more, then come to your own conclusion. I can tell you that in the professional ethic piece I am working on, I expect Rickover’s legacy to play an important part.

Nelson: If I recall, I believe you self-published this book. How was that process? Would you recommend it for other writers? What did you learn when going through this process for publication?

Junge: The process, for me, was pretty simple. Getting to the process was very difficult. We know the adage of judging a book by its cover – well there’s also a stigma of judging a book by its publisher.

Actually getting a book published through an established publisher, the conventional process, takes well over a year and is full of norms and conventions that, from the outside, seem unusual. In the same way that we wonder “how did that movie get made?” when you go through the process of publishing, you start to wonder “how did that book get published?” I have a long time friend who is a two-time New York Times bestselling author who gave me some great advice on the conventional route. Just getting the basics can take up to an hour of discussion.

I tried the conventional route but after sending dozens of emails to book agents and getting only a few responses back, all negative, I checked with a shoremate who self-published his own fiction and decided to take that route partly out of impatience, frustration, and curiosity. I’m just good enough at all the skills you need to self-publish that it worked out to be pretty easy, with one exception – publicity. I’m not good at self-promotion so even asking friends to read the book and write reviews was a challenge.

Anyway, whether I recommend the self-publication process – it depends entirely on your own goals and desires. I wanted my book read – that was my core focus. To do that I could have just posted a PDF and moved on. But, I also wanted to make a few dollars in the process – and people who pay for a book are a little more likely to read it. This book grew out of my doctoral dissertation and I have a friend who is doing the same thing – but his goals were different. His core goals are different – he’s a full-on academic and needs the credibility of an academic publishing house for his curriculum vitae. We both defended around the same time – his book comes out sometime next year. I’m happy to spend more time talking about what I learned in the process, but the best advice I can give is for authors to figure out their objectives first. That is probably the most important thing. Everything else can fall into place after that.

Nelson: I ask this question in many of my interviews, particularly of naval officers – if you had ten minutes with the CNO, and if he hadn’t read your book, what would you tell him about Crimes of Command? What would you recommend he do to change the culture if change was necessary?

Junge: I really thought about punting on this one and running the note our Staff Judge Advocate has been running about Article 88 and Article 89 of the UCMJ (contemptuous words and disrespect toward senior commissioned officers). If I had ten minutes with CNO I doubt I would get 60 seconds of speaking time. My conclusions run completely counter to Navy lore about accountability and 10 minutes isn’t enough time to change anyone’s mind. But, as I thought about it I think I would say this: “CNO, we have really got to follow our own instructions. If an instruction says ‘do this’ then we need to do it, or change the instruction. We can’t have flag officers making personal decisions about this rule or that based on short-term ideas and feelings. If the situation doesn’t fit the rule, either follow the rule with pure intent or change the rule. But we can’t just ignore it. That’s an example that leads us, as a profession, down bad roads.” I would hope that question would then lead to a conversation of leadership by example that would include everything from Boards of Inquiry to travel claims to General Military Training.

Nelson: Sir, thanks for taking the time.

Michael Junge is an active duty Navy Captain with degrees from the United States Naval Academy, United States Naval War College, the George Washington University, and Salve Regina University.  He served afloat in USS MOOSBRUGGER (DD 980), USS UNDERWOOD (FFG 36), USS WASP (LHD 1), USS THE SULLIVANS (DDG 68) and was the 14th Commanding Officer of USS WHIDBEY ISLAND (LSD 41). Ashore he served with Navy Recruiting; Assault Craft Unit FOUR; Deputy Commandant for Programs and Resources, Headquarters, Marine Corps; Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Communication Networks (N6); and with the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He has written extensively with articles appearing in the United States Naval Institute Proceedings magazine, US Naval War College’s Luce.nt, and online at Information Dissemination, War on the Rocks, Defense One, and CIMSEC. The comments and opinions here are his own.

Christopher Nelson is an intelligence officer in the United States Navy.  He is a regular contributor to CIMSEC and is a graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and the Maritime Advanced Warfighting School in Newport, Rhode Island. The questions and views here are his own.

Featured Image:  (FORT BELVOIR, Va. (May 04, 2017) Hundreds of service members at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital gathered before daybreak and celebrated their unique service cultures and bonds as one of the only two joint military medical facilities in the U.S. during a spring formation and uniform transition ceremony May 4, 2017. (Department of Defense photos by Reese Brown)

Fleet Tactics Returns – A Conversation with Authors Wayne Hughes and Bob Girrier

By Christopher Nelson

Recently I had the opportunity to correspond with CAPT Wayne Hughes, USN (Ret.) and RADM Robert Girrier, USN (Ret.) about the new edition of Fleet Tactics and Naval Operations. We get into everything from why the littorals matter to how information warfare will shape the future of naval warfare.

Nelson: Admiral Girrier, Fleet Tactics is now in its 3rd Edition. What are some of the new topics in this edition? Is there a particular section you focused on?

Girrier: Picking up where the 2nd edition left off, topics given additional emphasis in this edition are the emergence of unmanned systems (air, surface and sub-surface), artificial intelligence, and information warfare. 

The increasing value and the need for decision superiority is stressed. I did focus on the value-added of unmanned systems serving as complements to existing capabilities, and how – if properly employed – they can take us to a new level of fighting at machine speed. The process of sensing, evaluating, making decisions, and then executing is treated throughout.

Nelson: Artificial Intelligence, Information Warfare, Big Data lots of changes in the world and all of them will affect the future of warfighting. When you were tackling these topics, what were some of the books or resources you went to when trying to understand these new issues? 

Girrier: I drew heavily from my experience standing up the navy staff’s first-ever organization dedicated to unmanned warfare systems, and how we could harness these new capabilities most effectively in step with our existing force. It was a matter of applying the emergence of new technologies to the operational realities we tackle today.

Hughes: It is a long list. Here are some recent sources that emphasis information warfare, writ large, in peace and war, at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels:

John Arquilla, Dubious Battles: Aggression, Defeat, and the International System, 1992

Patrick Beesley, Very Special Intelligence: The Story of the Admiralty’s Operational Intelligence Centre, 1939-1945, 1981

Alexander Bordetsky, Stephen Benson, and Wayne Hughes: “Hiding Comms in Plain Sight: Mesh Networking Effects Can Conceal C2 Efforts in Congested Littoral EnvironmentsSignal Magazine, June 2016

Jeffrey Cares and John Dickman, Operations Research for Unmanned Vehicles, 2016

Erik J. Dahl, Intelligence and Surprise Attack: Failure and Success from Pearl Harbor to 9/11 and Beyond, 2013

Dorothy Denning, Information Warfare and Security, 1999

Robert P. Girrier, “The Navy’s Mission for UxS,” Presentation January 2016

Robert P. Girrier, “Unmanned Systems: Enhancing Our Warfighting Capabilities Today and In the Future,” Navy Live, November 2015

Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., “A Close Look at the Operational Level of War at Sea,” Naval War College Review, 2012

Tyson B. Meadors, First Gain the Victory: Six Strategic Considerations for Naval Cyber Forces, 2015

Hy Rothstein and Barton Whaley, eds., The Art and Science of Military Deception, 2013

Peter W. Singer and August Cole, Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War, 2015

James P. Wisecup and the CNO Strategic Studies Group, The Network of Humans and Machines as the Next Capital Ship, July 2016

“Sandy” Woodward and Patrick Robinson, One Hundred Days: The Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander, 1992

Nelson: To continue with the topic of technology, in your book, you say everyone should read Elting Morison. Who was he and why should everyone read his work?

Hughes: Elting E. Morison was one of our most astute observers of U. S Navy development, especially in peacetime. He described how USS Wampanoag was designed by master shipbuilder Benjamin Isherwood and commissioned to chase down Confederate raiders and privateers. When she was commissioned in 1869 she was the fastest ship in the world, having steamed for a long distance at 23 knots during her trials. Her speed would not be exceeded by another ship for two decades. But the war was over and so she was laid up and forgotten. There is more to the story, but Morison’s description, and his respect for Navy leadership during its thin years while the nation looked to the west toward California is an early story about complex, fiscally constrained decision-making that is pertinent today.

Nelson: Before I get to the next question, I’d like to quote a paragraph in the latter part of your book about Command and Control:

“Although military leaders at the scene of action and in the chain of command may bridle at the amount of control exercised from Washington in a crisis, the record of fifty years of crisis suggests that such control will continue. Detailed oversight of localized transitory military operations, even those involving shooting, has flowed—and probably will keep flowing directly from the seat of government to the tactical commander at the scene of action—because of its enormous political content.”

Nelson: So here’s my question: Doesn’t this assume that there is connectivity between tactical commanders and naval HQ or Joint HQ during conflict? Because if they lose connectivity or if it is degraded or destroyed, what then? Is it Mission Command?

Hughes: You cite one important reason—enemy interference—but in past and present editions of Fleet Tactics two more contrasting reasons are included describing why connectivity and well-honed skills at mission command are important. In peacetime on the edge of war the HQ including the national command authority in Washington will want to keep a tight rein on the participants out of fear that some major or colonel will be a loose cannon and shoot too soon and start World War IV. But when the shooting starts, a headquarters will be saturated with too many events and if commanders who are accustomed to top-down control wait for directions from on high the orders may not arrive on time. Moreover mission command is necessary in wartime because the local commander, including the ship captain or Marine Company Commander will have a better knowledge of the local enemy and conditions. In the botched Iranian Rescue Mission, some of our helicopters already en route turned back because a dust storm rose which the local meteorologist was aware of, but the weather guessers in Washington were not.

Girrier: Fleet Tactics and Naval Operations acknowledges the reality of crisis operations short of war, and the need to wield combat power with great precision that is completely in step with national intent. At times this may be a connection from higher echelons down to the more tactical level. There are nuances in these circumstances – at the strategic and operational levels – that shift and the on-scene level won’t be aware of…can’t be aware of. 

Conversely, as circumstances deteriorate and connectivity becomes challenged, there is great value in mission command and acting on commander’s intent.  We place great value on initiative and the high quality of our commanders from the tactical to operational levels.  Traversing these levels with agility and speed is critical to combat success.

Nelson: What do you think the 21st Century missile age means for naval warfare? Numerous countries now have long range maritime weapons. Yet do you think we might see a naval war in which range is defeated  not entirely, but largely by decoys and counter C4ISR? Do we then end up in a situation with a destroyer’s Commanding Officer realizing they’ll have to use weapons when they are within visual range of an enemy combatant? 

Girrier: The 21st century missile age brings faster and longer range lethality. At the same time, the areas where we may be called to action – where influence and combat capability is needed – may draw us into the littorals. By virtue of geography, the inherent challenges of targeting, and ever-increasing countermeasures, the ability to survive in these highly lethal environments is possible – it requires great skill, a mix of awareness, speed of decision, and speed of action.

Hughes: Fighting in the missile age is also affected by the effects of clutter of all kinds in coastal waters. Offensive tactics that achieve surprise attacks at relatively short range make littoral waters different from blue waters where we must control the seas and therefore must have strong but expensive defenses.

Nelson: So that’s why the littorals matter?

Girrier: It’s where the sea meets land and where combat effects – from the sea –  can have decisive effects to larger campaigns.

Hughes: Most combat at sea has been in littoral waters for some purpose connected to the land. That has been true since Greek and Roman times and is likely to be just as true in the future. Currently the most likely locations of future battles involving our Navy, including land-sea interactions, are the Baltic, Aegean, and Eastern Mediterranean, the Persian (or “Arabian”) Gulf, the South and East China Seas, and the Yellow Sea. Since a cornerstone of Fleet Tactics was and still is “A ship’s a fool to fight a fort,” today’s naval officers must consider carefully what is meant by a “fort” today.

Nelson: How do we tackle the problem on bridging the divide between the knowledge found in tactical publications and actual operator skill?

Hughes: Achieving operator proficiency is the topic of the book. For example, we have little praise for the principles of war and instead promote the study of constants, trends, and variables over history as the way to avoid preparing to fight the last war. The missile age and the longer range of weapons and sensors have changed the tactical needed to attack effectively first at sea since combat was carrier-centric in World War II. Since our subject is Fleet Tactics the greater emphasis is on achieving tactical success as a fleet commander or commanding officer. However we do not neglect the roles of operators in a command center or CIC. The reader will learn a great deal about the evolution of the Combat Information Center and how it increased the effectiveness of radar and sonar as World War II wore on. We also illustrate by describing the remarkable tactical skills exhibited by the Israeli Navy: commanders, shooters, defenders, deceivers, and the whole crew of each ship when the Israeli navy decisively defeated the Syrian and Egyptian missile ships in the 1973 war. That said, we shy away from speculation about the skills needed in the modern American navy. Instead, we stress the need for more at-sea combat exercises to get our operators ready to fight the age of missile salvos, unmanned vehicles, and information warfare.

Girrier: I would emphasize the timelessness of the ability to “attack effectively first” – this captures it all.  The required end state. The means to achieve that end evolves. Hence the imperative to understand the constants… trends… and variables of warfare. To prevail requires study of the foregoing, plus knowing one’s own capabilities and how to employ them with the utmost degree of effectiveness. Successful leaders will master the fusion of talent plus technology.

Nelson: Could you give us an example of how a net-centric war might look in the future?

Hughes: Network centric warfare is exhibited by today’s carrier battle groups and expeditionary strike groups, both of which must radiate continuously and unfailingly to be effective in the face of an enemy who will detect the radiations and attempt a sudden surprise attack. We emphasize the need to develop the ways and means to conduct our own surprise attacks by offensive action, especially in confined waters where an enemy navy must control his own seas with warships that must radiate to protect his shipping from our almost silent, well-practiced, sneak attacks including submarine attacks. We call this network optional warfare.

Girrier: I agree with Wayne, it’s not all one or the other. The future will likely show that a mix of techniques, capabilities and competencies will be required. That warfare will exhibit hybrid characteristics and one’s agility in traversing disparate approaches will be of great value.

Nelson: You’ve both been writing and publishing for years. If you would, walk us through your writing process. How do you research a topic and bring it to print? Outline? No outline? Pen and paper or straight to the computer?

Girrier: My writing has been fueled by my direct operational experience. What did I know, when did I not know, and what did I wish I knew when I was serving in various positions throughout my career. I compile these nuggets, reflect on their merit (maybe these were things I “should have known” but didn’t place enough value on). Always compose an outline as it helps order my thoughts. Then proceed. I must say, a big part of these projects  – especially when working updates and new editions – is the very serious responsibility of preserving hard-earned lessons. The voice of experience speaking through decades of operations. To update is one thing, maintaining relevance and currency; to preserve the deepest lessons and explain them in readily understood language is perhaps the hardest element in these projects.

Hughes: Taking a macro perspective, my prescription for success was background in four aspects of tactics and combat: (1) Experience at sea. Combat experience at sea helps, and though my ships have only been shot at twice I think the experience of incoming rounds is better yet if you survive them. (2) Knowledge of naval history. I had the joy of teaching it as a lieutenant at the Naval Academy among a cadre of the best historians in the country. (3) Experience with operations analysis, past and present, especially with tours applying it on fleet staffs. And (4) hands-on experience with tactical development to fully exploit new technologies, both onboard ship and on fleet staffs.

Nelson: Admiral Girrier, how did you get involved with Admiral Stavridis and the USNI’s Professional Series books?

Girrier: Admiral Stavridis invited me to join him in this ongoing “professional series” project. It was both an invitation and a call to “get involved” and help make our Navy stronger. I remain deeply grateful for the opportunity. I’ve seen it as both a privilege and a duty.  Our work on the Division Officer’s Guide, Watch Officer’s Guide and Command at Sea has all been pro-bono – I see that as consistent with the mission. It’s a team effort and most recently we’ve brought aboard CAPT Jeff Heames and CDR Tom Ogden (both post CDR-Command officers) contributing to the Division Officer’s Guide and the Watch Officer’s Guide.

Nelson: Gentlemen, I want to close with two questions: What advice would you give naval officers today about how best to prepare for future conflict? And second, what’s the hardest thing the U.S. Navy must tackle to improve either as individual officers or as an organization going forward? 

Girrier: Future arms races and conflict is all about the “race for cognition.” To understand, then act, faster than the adversary. This applies at all levels of conflict. If you own decision superiority, you know when to fight, and when to parry. You must know how, when, and where to create the conditions of tactical overmatch. Cognition means knowing your systems and tactics so completely, that when it comes time to act – your execution is reflexive. This takes training and empowerment of your people, and most importantly – focus and discipline. There are only so many hours in a day, these must be one’s priorities – period.

Hughes: I worked for VADM Ike Kidd when he was Commander First Fleet in San Diego. He emphasized combat readiness if the shooting started tomorrow. Admiral Kidd was influenced by the fact that his father was killed in USS Arizona when she was sunk during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. But Ike also taught everyone to looking ahead at emerging technologies that would change tactics and combat in the future. His last duty was in overseeing the Navy’s technological development. Pertinent to what Bob says about focus and discipline, recently the surface navy suffered serious collisions with merchant ships. Navy officers today should ponder this: if our fighting ships can’t avoid big, slow ships that do not want to hit us, how well are we prepared to avoid small, very fast missiles that do?

Girrier & Hughes: The technology that surrounds us – and is available to our adversaries – must be harnessed and put to the most effective use as rapidly as possible.  Integrating these disruptive technologies challenge our existing systems, procedures, and operational techniques. We are a large and powerful force, with tremendous investment in existing capital assets – that fact can impede true innovation and the adoption of more lethal effects. Our adversaries know this, and are constantly looking at ways to defeat us. Information warfare is evolving very quickly and we must never be complacent in this regard. We must continually adapt, and do so with speed.

Nelson: This was great. Thank you, gentlemen.  

Captain Wayne Hughes, USN (Ret.) served thirty years on active duty, commanding a minesweeper, a destroyer, and a large training command. In retirement has taught, done research, and served as a Dean at the Naval Postgraduate School for over thirty years. He is a distinguished author of the US Naval Institute.

Rear Admiral Robert Girrier, USN (Ret.) is the president of Pacific Forum, a Honolulu-based nonprofit, private foreign policy research institute providing timely, informative, and innovative analysis of political, security and strategic developments in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. He is founder and managing member of StratNav/Strategic Navigation LLC, a consulting company. He is a naval leader with over thirty years’ maritime experience and extensive operations throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific, Europe and Middle East.

Christopher Nelson is a naval officer currently stationed in the Pacific. He is a regular contributor to CIMSEC. The comments and questions here are his own.

Featured Image: ATLANTIC OCEAN (Nov. 1, 2017) The guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) launches a SM-2 missile during a live-fire exercise. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Zachary Van Nuys/Released)

Learning War and The Evolution of U.S. Navy Fighting Doctrine with Author Trent Hone

By Christopher Nelson

Author Trent Hone joins us today to talk about his new book Learning War: The Evolution of Fighting Doctrine in the U.S. Navy, 1898-1945. This is a great book. And as others have noted, it’s a fine compliment to John Kuehn’s work on the Navy General Staff, Scott Mobley’s book Progressives in Navy Blue, and I would add, Albert Nofi’s To Train The Fleet For War: The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923-1940.

We talk about everything from Admiral Frank “Friday” Fletcher to “safe-to-fail” systems vs. “fail-safe” systems. And stick around to the end. Trent Hone offers some advice to the CNO on how we can build a better learning organization.

Nelson: For the readers, could you tell us briefly what your book is about?

Hone: My book investigates how the U.S. Navy of the early twentieth century learned to innovate. I explore how the Navy invented new technologies, created new tactics, and found ways to rapidly evolve its combat doctrine based on peacetime exercises and wartime experience. Today, we would describe the Navy of that era as a “learning organization.” I explain what that means and describe the mechanisms the Navy used to effectively learn and innovate. I believe there are lessons from that time that are very relevant for today’s organizations, both military and civilian.

Nelson: Why did you want to write this book?

Hone: I’ve been interested in naval tactics for a long time. I remember reading Wayne Hughes’s Fleet Tactics when it first came out in the 1980s and being fascinated (It’s a great book now on its third edition). In the 1990s, I decided to explore the Navy’s surface warfare tactics before and during World War II. I wanted to know what Admiral Husband E. Kimmel might have done if Pearl Harbor hadn’t been attacked. That research led to a series of articles on the development of Navy tactics—including a prize-winning one in the Naval War College Reviewand, ultimately, began to overlap with other work I was doing. 

I started my career as a software engineer. As I assumed positions of greater responsibility, what became most interesting to me was not the development of the software, but how teams organized to create software and do innovative work. I studied various techniques and methods to improve the teams I supervised and eventually transitioned into advising and coaching organizations to help them get better at learning and innovating. 

As I continued looking at the evolution of the Navy’s tactical doctrine in the early twentieth century, I saw patterns that resonated with today’s most-effective learning techniques. The language was quite different, and the specific processes were different, but some of the underlying principles were remarkably similar. I realized it was a story that had to be told. I describe an arc of innovative creativity that stretches back decades by charting the evolution of surface warfare tactics.

Nelson: Early in the book you talk about “fail-safe” systems and “safe to fail” systems. The latter, you say, are best for a culture that encourages innovation. With this in mind, what would you say Rickover’s submarine culture consisted of? Is he a rare exception in the case of a system that is “fail-safe” yet innovative?

Hone: I’m glad you brought this up. Alicia Juarrero’s term “safe to fail” gives us a new way to think about failure modes and how to account for them. The key difference between the two is that with “fail-safe” we attempt to anticipate possible failure modes and design ways to mitigate them. With “safe to fail,” we recognize unanticipated failure modes will occur and organize to ensure survival when they do. This has relevance to organizations because when we want to learn and innovate, we are going to fail. A “safe to fail” organization finds ways to explore new ideas and experiment with them without endangering its long-term survival. The Navy was good at that in the early twentieth century. 

I’m less familiar with Rickover’s time, but from what I understand, it would be inaccurate to describe the culture he developed as primarily “fail-safe.” Certainly, it used procedures with rigidly prescribed steps in order to prevent known failures, so in that sense it was “fail-safe.” However, he recognized that unanticipated failure modes can and will occur. Defined procedures are inadequate to account for these circumstances. Instead, it’s essential to rely on the collective skill and experience of people, so the culture integrated crewmembers together. Layers of human observation and experience became the means to identify, anticipate, and address unforeseen circumstances. In that sense, the culture has a “safe to fail” component. Things will go wrong; people will make mistakes. But trust and experience become the means to identify and resolve them. 

As it turns out, that’s the most effective way to deal with problems in complex environments. Standard procedures and automated routines free our mental capacity so that when unforeseen circumstances arise, we can quickly identify and address them. That’s what made the Combat Information Center (CIC) and its successors effective: the artful integration of standard processes, technology, and human judgment. I worry that with the increasing emphasis on automated systems, we might be taking the talents of our people too far out of the loop. There’s no substitute for human experience and skill when the unanticipated occurs. 

Nelson: What is the “edge of chaos” and why does it matter to any organization that is trying to be innovative?

Hone: The concept of the “edge of chaos” is easily misunderstood, so I’ll try to explain it succinctly. In any complex system—like a corporation or a military service—there are processes, procedures, and rules. In the language of complexity, these are called “constraints.” They channel and limit behavior. When constraints are restrictive, they inhibit the ability of people to experiment and try something new. Obviously, that’s a problem if you want to innovate. But the other end of the spectrum is problematic also. If constraints are too loose, there’s no coherence; it becomes difficult to assign cause and effect or make sense of an experiment. The “edge of chaos” is located between these two extremes. It is a space where constraints are sufficiently loose to allow room to explore new ideas and concepts but also rigid enough to focus that exploration and provide feedback on its effectiveness. 

Many of us intuitively understand this from our own experience. Software teams, for example, are most innovative (and generally most effective) when they’re given a clear objective and the creative freedom to determine how best to accomplish it. The objective serves as a constraint and focuses their energy. They use their initiative to explore several potential solutions, often arriving at the best combination of technologies that addresses the need. That’s why there’s been such an emphasis on moving away from rigidly detailed requirements documents; they overly constrain teams and limit their creativity. The parallels to military command, and the importance of well-written orders that foster the initiative of subordinates, are obvious. 

Nelson: What was the importance of the 1921 Destroyer Instructions?

Hone: The Atlantic Fleet’s 1921 Destroyer Instructions were important for two reasons. It was the first Navy doctrinal manual produced by a deliberately created system of learning. Immediately after World War I, the Navy was transitioning back to peacetime. Many valuable lessons had been learned during the war and officers set out to capture them. Two “colleges” were established, one in the Atlantic Fleet and another in the Pacific Fleet. They combined exercises at sea, wargames ashore, and experience from the recent war to devise new approaches. A regular correspondence was maintained between these two fleet colleges and the Naval War College. The result of their collective learning was incorporated into the Destroyer Instructions. 

The Destroyer Instructions were also important because they assumed individual commands—each destroyer squadron—would develop their own specific doctrines that reflected the strength of their ships and men. The Instructions were deliberately written to foster creativity within subordinate commands and avoid being overly prescriptive. The War Instructions of 1923 took the same approach, so Navy officers spent the interwar period exploring a variety of options for how to coordinate and employ their forces, leading to new and innovative techniques.

Nelson: Who was Admiral Frank Friday Fletcher? What were his battle instructions? And why are they an important milestone in naval history?

Hone: Frank Friday Fletcher led the intervention at Veracruz, Mexico, in April 1914 and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his conduct. In September 1914, he became commander of the Atlantic Fleet, which contained the Navy’s most modern ships. The Atlantic Fleet had been regularly conducting exercises to work out how best to operate in battle, and Fletcher continued that practice. By May 1916, he and his staff had gained enough experience to issue a set of Battle Instructions. 

Admiral Frank Friday Fletcher.

Fletcher’s Instructions marked a departure from previous approaches. He assumed battle was fundamentally uncertain and that centralized control would likely be impossible; this led him to emphasize two things. The first was the use of a plan that would outline objectives for subordinates. Fletcher wanted to encourage their individual initiative and creativity without overly constraining them. Second, Fletcher stressed the coordinated use of all weapons. Previous battle plans had emphasized battleship gunnery. Fletcher recognized that other weapons were coming into their own, particularly destroyer torpedoes. He planned to use his destroyer squadrons very aggressively. These two concepts—the use of a plan and coordinated employment of all arms—remained central to Navy tactical doctrine through World War II.  

Nelson: I enjoyed your comment about “type commanders.” You note in your book that during World War II that minor actions were neglected.  This mattered. And type commanders were born in light of these shortcomings. What were these “minor actions” and how did the type commanders address them?

Hone: The Navy’s primary focus in the interwar period (1919-1939) was a trans-Pacific campaign. It was expected to culminate in a “major action”—a large fleet battle—somewhere in the central Pacific. Accordingly, most of the fleet-level tactical doctrine focused on “major action.” Tactics for “minor actions”—engagements between smaller task forces—were left to subordinate commanders. It was assumed that these lower-level commanders would have time to develop doctrines for their forces, and, during peacetime, this assumption was largely correct. 

However, there were shortcomings. This led to the introduction of the type commands in 1930.

Type commands became responsible for identifying and capturing new tactical approaches for each various type—destroyers, cruisers, battleships, etc.—and there is evidence that new approaches were more rapidly developed after that date. The real problem, though, was the assumption that subordinate commands would be able to develop specific doctrines for their forces. 

In 1942, that process fell apart during the battles off Guadalcanal. Ships and commanders moved about too rapidly to develop cohesion. “Scratch teams” were formed and they often performed poorly, as you might expect. The Pacific Fleet addressed the problem by applying some of the same techniques used for “major tactics” to “minor tactics” and leveraging the type commands to rapidly share and disseminate lessons. 

Nelson: During World War II, how did the Fleet quickly inform commanders with updated doctrine? This is a problem throughout history, is it not? We make some assessments on what will or will not work in war, and inevitably we will be surprised. What would you recommend to a staff today on how to prepare for such things?

Hone: I love this question because when I first started my research decades ago, I thought that manuals—published doctrinal materials—would be the key to understanding tactical doctrine. I learned very quickly that’s not the case. Doctrine is a set of assumptions and mental models. The documentation provides a backdrop, but what really matters is how individuals think about problems and work together. During World War II, the Navy effectively used personal connections, like in-person conversations and conferences, to rapidly share and disseminate new ideas. There were formal means to do this (like Joseph C. Wylie being brought back from the South Pacific to help develop the CIC) but informal mechanisms were at least as important. Published doctrine tended to lag behind the information shared through these informal networks.

USS SAN FRANCISCO (CA-38) At the Mare Island Navy Yard, 20 May 1942. (Photo via Naval History and Heritage Command)

If I were making recommendations, I’d stress the importance of informal mechanisms. Staffs can easily create mountains of briefings and other documentation. What’s more difficult is creating an environment where subordinates can readily exchange information, learn together, and build on the knowledge of their colleagues. I think a staff should actively work on enabling that. It’s not just about creating space and time; it’s about introducing the appropriate constraints to enable creativity to flourish. Then, once that is in place, the staff needs to keep tabs on what’s happening. New, more effective ideas will arise. When they do, the staff needs to act quickly to exploit them and make them available to the entire command. 

Nelson: How does the size of a navy – the number of ships and sailors – affect innovation? Quick growth, during World War II, for example, and steep reductions – ship numbers from the 80s to today for instance, do these affect innovation in different ways? How?

Hone: I think both offer serious challenges. The rapid growth in World War II made it very difficult to maintain the effective culture the Navy had nurtured during the early twentieth century. Rapid “scaling” (as we call it in the software world) tends to increase centralization, reduce flexibility, and inhibit innovation. That happened to the Navy as it grew during the war. 

The challenge I see with steep reductions is overburdening. Organizations often reduce their size without an equivalent reduction in their commitments. This leads to overwork: people become spread too thin; maintenance gets delayed; and equipment is overutilized. Individuals may still be able to sustain the pace of operations, but they frequently lose the ability to experiment with new ideas. Innovation slows as a result. When commitments are reduced along with reductions in size—as with the Navy after World War I—this can be avoided. 

Nelson: Trent, to close, if you had ten minutes with the Chief of Naval Operations and he asked you what he needed to do to create a learning organization – what would you say?

Hone: I had about thirty seconds with Admiral Richardson last year when he presented me with the second-place award for his Naval History Essay Contest, and in those thirty seconds, I encouraged him to read my book. If I had ten minutes, I’d urge him to introduce a set of integrated feedback loops that couple regular experimentation regarding the nature of future war (tactics, technology, etc.) and OPNAV’s programming process. The goals would be twofold. First, officers need to be encouraged to regularly experiment to vary their tactical approaches to discover new, more effective techniques. They need to become accustomed to adjusting to unanticipated circumstances and leveraging the creativity of their commands. Second, the lessons from their experimentation need to revise and guide the Navy’s program so that force structure and procurement reflect—and ultimately anticipate—the new learning. 

We’re all familiar with the interwar Fleet Problems. What made them really powerful—what allowed them to transform the Navy—was the way they were integrated into the Navy’s planning and procurement processes. The second CNO, Admiral Robert E. Coontz, was primarily responsible for that. He created the feedback loops that allowed the Navy to not just experiment with new tactical doctrines, but to evolve force structure and war plans in light of emerging lessons. If Admiral Richardson wants “high-velocity learning,” if he wants to fully leverage the skills of the Navy’s officers, he needs to devise a set of similar mechanisms. Given the organizational changes since Coontz left office in 1923, a new set of structures and interfaces would have to be introduced. I have faith Admiral Richardson could do that, if he sets his mind to it. 

Trent Hone is an award-winning naval historian and a Managing Consultant with Excella in Arlington, VA. He is an expert on U.S. Navy tactics and doctrine. His article, “U.S. Navy Surface Battle Doctrine and Victory in the Pacific” was awarded the U.S. Naval War College’s Edward S. Miller Prize and the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Ernest M. Eller Prize. His essay, “Guadalcanal Proved Experimentation Works” earned second place in the 2017 Chief of Naval Operations Naval History Essay Contest. He regularly writes and speaks about organizational learning, doctrine, strategy, and how the three interrelate. His latest book, Learning War: The Evolution of Fighting Doctrine in the U.S. Navy, 1898–1945, was published by the U.S. Naval Institute in June 2018.

Christopher Nelson is a U.S. Naval Officer stationed at the U.S. Pacific Fleet Headquarters. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and the Maritime Advanced Warfighting School. He is a regular contributor to CIMSEC. The questions and views here are his own.

Featured Image: USS Indiana (BB-58) fires a salvo from her forward 16″/45 guns at the Kamaishi Plant of the Japan Iron Company, 250 miles north of Tokyo.