Category Archives: Interviews

At Mattis’s Side: Civil-Military Relations in the Age of Trump

By Dmitry Filipoff

CIMSEC had the opportunity to discuss with Commander Guy “Bus” Snodgrass, USN (ret.) his new book, Holding the Line: Inside Trump’s Pentagon with Secretary Mattis

The book takes readers inside the trials and successes of Defense Secretary James Mattis as he sought to transition the Defense Department toward great power competition, while also managing international tensions and uncoordinated White House policy shifts. Snodgrass reveals how civil-military relations fared under the Trump administration, how Mattis worked behind the scenes to reassure allies in spite of the president’s rhetoric, and how Mattis offered steady leadership in turbulent times. 

What made you want to write this book?

GS: A former Navy officer, I was taught early in my career the importance of passing on thoughtful lessons to those who will follow in our footsteps. 

So, I thought it was important to write this book. Consistent with the oath I took, I saw it as providing a service to the American people and those who would follow in my footsteps. I want readers to be able to share in my personal experience.

I was an eyewitness to an important, but under-documented, moment in American history, especially as it related to America’s military. I feel it’s also important to underscore the role our military plays in today’s hyper-politicized national security environment.

There’s a difference between talking out of school while on your boss’s staff or while they’re still in office. It’s quite another to reflect on the experience once they’re out of office in order to share lessons that others may benefit from.

Secretary Mattis is noteworthy for being a recently retired general who served in the top civilian position at the Defense Department. This came at a time when the White House delegated more operational authorities to DoD, and a growing perception that DoD civilians have waning influence compared to their military counterparts. How would you characterize civil-military relations under Secretary Mattis?

GS: There are several passages and chapters in the book dedicated to exploring this theme. 

Frankly, it was a challenging time for civ-mil relations. Far more junior (and active duty) military officers were expected to routinely provide direction to far more senior (and presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed) civilians. This was a construct fostered (and demanded) by retired Admiral Kevin Sweeney, Mattis’s chief of staff, and then-Rear Admiral Craig Faller, Mattis’s senior military assistant. We all worked within these confines to the best of our ability, but the minimization of civilian leaders, especially during Mattis’s first year, was a regular topic of conversation around the Pentagon. 

As with any leader, as subordinates you are expected to align with their vision and requirements to achieve mission success. In some cases, Mattis’s decision to lead in this fashion resulted in wins (the ability to move fast on issues of national and international significance), but it also reduced cohesiveness, diminished morale, and reduced the initiative of those in the lower ranks of the various OSD components.

When the president unexpectedly announced policy by tweet, whether Syria withdrawals or banning transgender people from serving, it clearly went against a core tenet of Mattis’s that was repeated throughout the book, the importance of alignment and coordination. When the president announced national security policy shifts with no warning or consultation, how did the damage manifest, and how would Mattis manage the aftermath?

GS: You are referring to Mattis’s template of working to ensure “transparency and alignment” within the Pentagon. To your point, we were caught off guard by numerous announcements, most notably the transgender ban, the creation of a Space Force, the cessation of military exercises with our South Korean allies, and the July 2018 threat in Brussels to withdraw the U.S. from NATO. 

This is akin to drawing your pistol from its holster, then blowing a hole in your own foot. 

There’s also no strategy behind these impulsive announcements. It’s not that they are staged for effect. When the president tweets a new policy shift, it tends to catch the administration off guard and, in many cases, our international allies and partners off guard as well.

The obvious danger is threefold: first, the administration is unable to coordinate, diminishing the ability to provide the president with a well-coordinated response that would better serve his policy decisions; second, allies and partners question America’s new course and wonder if America still remains the leader of choice in regions around the world; and third, our adversaries and competitors—nations like China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea—are emboldened, and seek to exploit America’s perceived weakness/retrenchment.

For his part, Mattis would field phone calls from leaders around the world seeking reassurance. He would continually assure them that “America first does not mean America alone,” and that we still understood the importance of our alliances and commitments around the globe.

The book shows there was plenty of daylight between Mattis and President Trump when it came to managing relationships with allies. How did Mattis walk the tightrope of aligning with the president while also staying true to his own longstanding views of how to work with allies and respect their contributions despite policy differences? 

GS: Mattis continually reinforced that “there should not be one inch of daylight” between the public pronouncements from the White House and the Pentagon.

That being said, Mattis worked behind the scenes to provide his best advice to President Trump and others in the administration. He also worked closely with international leaders, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in particular, to reassure allies of America’s continued commitment to longstanding coalitions and alliances.

Secretary Mattis was considered one of the “adults in the room” who could manage Trump’s negative tendencies while also defending established policy. But as you note, after the ousters of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, and Chief Economic Adviser Gary Cohn, Mattis was essentially the last man standing. How did Mattis’s ability to deal with the White House change after these senior officials were pushed out?

GS: I dedicate an entire chapter of the book, “The New Team,” to this change in Mattis’s stature within the administration. In short, it was readily apparent that Mattis was in trouble by April 2018. National security adviser H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson both departed in relatively short order, leaving Mattis to wade into the role of running interference when disagreements in policy arose from within the White House.

In addition, the arrival of Mike Pompeo and John Bolton into their respective roles—both skilled political operatives— continued to diminish Mattis’s influence with President Trump. 

I highly recommend the book, as it provides a firsthand portrayal of how Mattis navigated his role throughout his two years within the administration.

Secretary Mattis found himself taking on a role as a senior diplomat, arguably more so than is usual for a Defense Secretary, and perhaps even a more trusted and credible diplomat than the first Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. This occurred as the administration was attempting major cuts to the State Department and slashing the ranks of career diplomats. How did Mattis advocate for diplomacy as a tool of national security, and how was his interagency relationship with the State Department in particular?

GS: Mattis made clear that he and Tillerson were joined at the hip on the importance of diplomacy. Mattis continually deferred to Tillerson on issues of diplomacy, making sure that we all understood that the DoD’s role was to ensure America’s diplomats spoke from a position of strength. 

From my perspective, Mattis and Tillerson shared very similar worldviews regarding the importance of American participation in the international community, and on the importance of strengthening—not diminishing—our longstanding alliances and partnerships. As Churchill said, “The only thing more difficult than fighting alongside your allies, is fighting without them.” 

The internal divisions within the State Department, Tillerson’s relative disconnect from his own rank and file, and the media’s relentless coverage of Tillerson’s problems at State rapidly diminished his standing with the president, reducing his ability to advocate for State’s position within the White House.

In your roles as speechwriter and communications director you became intimately familiar with Mattis’s voice and views. What was that like, and how did it shape your view of Mattis?

GS: In several chapters of the book, I bring the reader into this process: the resources we had available to better understand Mattis’s worldview, our interactions with him on a continuing basis, and how we navigated crafting speeches that would require minimal interaction on his end. At the end of the day, the best possible outcome was a speech that I would send in to Mattis, and he would pass it back with no changes, or with minimal corrections. 

The role of chief speechwriter really afforded the incomparable opportunity to study Mattis up close and personal, to understand his worldview, and to be able to “channel” his words on the national and international stage.

It was an honor to have the opportunity to serve in that capacity, and to work alongside many stellar civil servants and military members throughout the Pentagon, as well as alongside two very talented speechwriters. 

Any final thoughts to share?

GS: Only that a lot of thought and consideration went into crafting this book, to include reaching out to senior mentors for their advice early in the writing process. It was important to craft a book that was historically accurate, that presented an apolitical view of Mattis’s two years in office, and that would stand the test of time. I saw it as a continuation of my service to capture my firsthand experiences in a memoir, one where I could also share lessons learned for those that read the book, and for those that will invariably follow in our footsteps.

Guy “Bus” Snodgrass recently served as director of communications and chief speechwriter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis. A former naval aviator and F/A-18 pilot, he served as a commanding officer of a fighter squadron based in Japan, a TOPGUN instructor, and a combat pilot over the skies of Iraq as part of his twenty-year navy career. Today he is the founder and CEO of Defense Analytics, a strategic consulting and advisory firm.

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at

Featured Image: Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis briefs the press at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, June 29, 2017. (DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jette Carr)

An Artist at War – The Life of George Plante

By Christopher Nelson

I recently had the chance to correspond with Dr. Kathleen Williams about her new book, Painting War: George Plante’s Combat Art in World War II. I am personally fascinated with the intersection of art and war, and works that explore the lives of artists that were not behind a gun but who observed and captured war with their art are certainly worthwhile.

Nelson: Kathy, thanks for joining me to discuss your new book. To begin, who was George Plante? Give us a brief biographical sketch of this man, the center of your book.

Williams: George Plante, a Scot, was born in Edinburgh in 1914. He trained as an artist at the Edinburgh College of Art and the Contempora School of Applied Arts in Berlin. On the outbreak of WWII he was working for an advertising agency in London when he took radio officer’s training and spent the next several years in the British Merchant Navy traversing the North Atlantic on oil tankers. On his many stops in New York, he cultivated American advertising contacts and developed a profound affinity for the country and its people.

He also secured the support of the War Artist’s Advisory Committee and was assigned to spend much of his time at sea painting the Battle of the Atlantic. His paintings were widely exhibited in the U.S. and became a part of the British campaign to encourage American support for the war against the Nazis. On shore leave in London after his tanker was torpedoed under him in March 1943, Plante was recruited to work for the clandestine Political Warfare Executive. He was sent to Cairo and spent the rest of the war there and in Italy producing illustrations for propaganda leaflets that were dropped over Nazi-occupied southern and eastern Europe. This propaganda effort was a joint Allied endeavor and once again Plante worked closely with American colleagues.

Photo of George Plante as radio officer

After the end of the war Plante spent the rest of his working life carving out a very successful career in advertising, for many years with the London branch of an American agency and finally with a British company. He also continued to paint for his own pleasure and had numbers of well-received shows. In the 1950s he married an American and on his retirement they moved to the States were he lived until his death in 1995, not long after becoming a U.S. citizen

Nelson: As you mentioned, he spent a deployment on a merchant vessel, operating in waters off the Gulf Coast and the East Coast of the United States. As you write in your book, U-boats were a concern for all in those waters during the early war years. Yet he was drawing and making art while working as a radio operator. How did he do this? That is, the sea changes every minute, every hour, how does an artist capture that scene – and doing so during the war?

Williams: Plante had a lifelong habit of making quick sketches of whatever he saw. He also developed his own detailed vocabulary for rapidly recording color, tone and fleeting impressions, so that when he had a chance to paint he had prompts to remind him exactly how the action had looked. Of course, it also took a fierce concentration to be able to paint on a pitching, tossing deck with the constant threat of U-boat attacks. He was greatly helped in his artistic endeavors by being relieved of many of his radio watch duties because his work in support of the British war effort was seen as extremely important.

Gouache painting of a destroyer dropping depth charges (Courtesy Ms. Williams)

Nelson: In your acknowledgments, you thank George Plante’s son, Derek, for providing you with many of George’s letters and copies of his sketches. How important were these for you when writing the book?

Williams: Plante’s letters to his Scottish wife provide the backbone of the first part of the book. Without those letters the official account of his tours at sea, his correspondence with the War Artist’s Advisory Committee, and several newspaper articles based on interviews with him would have made for a much less interesting and informative account of his work as an artist in wartime. His letters from Cairo were equally important in providing insight into the activities of an artist engaged in an Anglo-American propaganda effort against the Axis. Plante was an evocative and entertaining writer and continued to write amusing articles and letters for the rest of his life. His sketches provide the visual evidence of his immediate connection to the war and vividly illustrate what he saw and experienced.

Nelson: Was there a particular letter you found touching or that moved you more than others?

Williams: Yes, many, especially the ones from spring/summer 1943 to his wife, Evelyn, when he knew she was pregnant and he wrote “My dearest Evelyn, and Oscar or Judy.” He also wrote a charming letter from Cairo in September 1943 when his son turned one year old. He bought Derek a pair of shoes in the Mousky (the open air market) writing that “they probably won’t fit and might make him have turned-up- toes if they did. But they amused me and I think they’ll make you laugh too.” He also referred to his son as “Little Chief One-Year-Old.”

Nelson: Did he sketch in his letters?

Williams: No, none of his letters have sketches – perhaps they would not have passed the censors?

Nelson: I recall in your introduction that George Plante didn’t enjoy his wartime painting style. Why didn’t he?

Williams: In later years he disliked his wartime painting style, which he found heavy and dark and he often noted that he was glad so many of his paintings had disappeared into the Soviet Union when sent there with an exhibition after the war. Of course the dark realism of his wartime art reflected not only the style of the time but the dark subject matter.

Nelson: If not his war painting style, what style was his favorite?

Williams: He much preferred the soft colors and bright play of light in his later paintings. He particularly enjoyed painting scenery, often including old buildings, and any people were usually small and more or less incidental to the composition as a whole.

Nelson: Some of his sketches, particularly the one of a survivor on the New Zealand ship Takoa, are done with confidence – few strokes, clean lines, and the talent of a graphic illustrator. The sketch of the sailor on the Takoa reminds me of Ronald Searle’s work. Here I’m thinking about Searle’s work during his captivity in Singapore. To that point, did he work with other artists for his propaganda pieces? And did he ever comment about other contemporary artists that were working during the war that he admired?

Williams: Well, he was quite picky about the work of other artists and fairly critical. He did go to as many art shows as he could, especially in Edinburgh and London, and he did admire the work of Erik Ravilious, John Nash, and Edward Ardizzone. In Cairo he worked closely with American artist John Pike whose illustrations he found “certainly very good, sound stuff” although when he arrived in Egypt he pronounced that the work being done was generally of a “dreadfully low” standard. He also thought the work of most Americans was not nearly as efficient as that produced by the British.

Nelson: Tell us about some of the propaganda art operations he did during the war. Here I’m thinking about the one you describe focused on the Allied operations during the Italian campaign.

Williams: On his arrival in Cairo in the summer of 1943 Plante immediately began work on the propaganda campaign designed to break down Italian opposition to the Allies. Among other endeavors he illustrated a small booklet designed to emphasize the deep cultural differences between the Germans and the Italians. He was also deeply involved in illustrating pamphlets, leaflets, and news sheets aimed at the campaigns in Greece, Crete, and the Italian-controlled Dodecanese, in Yugoslavia and in Albania. Nearing the end of the war he also worked on propaganda leaflets aimed at Norway and finally, also at Allied occupied Germany.

Illustration of a German Solider attacked by two-headed eagles (Plante papers)

Nelson: He also drew maps. This is something I think many of us take for granted in the days of Google and other online mapping services and easy-to-find vector art of geographic features. What were some of the maps he drew and why did he draw them?

Williams: Late in the war Plante produced some rough sketch maps for leaflets demonstrating to occupied populations (and to German occupation troops) the steady Allied advances, both in the Battle of the Atlantic and on the European mainland.

Nelson: As an artist, what was his preferred medium? I see a large mix in the pictures in the book – ink, gouache, and oils. Was he comfortable across all mediums?

Williams: Yes, he was comfortable in all mediums. To the end of his life he seldom went anywhere without his sketchbook which he filled with drawings in pencil. He
produced more finished sketches in ink and also painted scenes in watercolor from his travels all over the world. After the war he seldom painted in gouache and most of his later work was either in watercolor or in oils. His more substantial work was almost always in oil although he produced many smaller very evocative pieces in watercolor.

Nelson: To close, what are some of your favorite drawings that he did? Why do you enjoy them?

Williams: From the wartime I love his painting of his tanker, Southern Princess, burning after being torpedoed. Otherwise I find his postwar art much more appealing, especially some of his paintings of old churches in Greece and on the French Riviera, and a wonderful series of watercolors he was commissioned to paint of Bahrain.

Nelson: Kathy, thanks so much for taking the time to discuss your new book. All the best to you.

Dr. Kathleen Broome Williams holds a BA from Wellesley College, an MA from Columbia University and a PhD in military history from the City University of New York. She has taught at Sophia University in Tokyo; at Florida State University in Panama; at Bronx Community College, City University of New York and also served as Deputy Executive Officer, of the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ph.D. Program in History; at Cogswell Polytechnical College in California; and since retirement she has taught part time at Holy Names University in Oakland. She spent the 2018-19 academic year at the US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland as the Class of 1957 Distinguished Chair in Naval Heritage. Her published work includes Secret Weapon: U.S. High-frequency Direction Finding in the Battle of the Atlantic (Naval Institute Press, 1996), Improbable Warriors: Women Scientists and the U.S. Navy in World War II, (Naval Institute Press, 2001) John Lyman award for best book in U.S. Naval History, NASOH, 2001; Grace Hopper: Admiral of the Cyber Sea (Naval Institute Press, 2004), John Lyman award for best biography/autobiography in U.S. Naval History, NASOH, 2004; and The Measure of a Man: My Father, the Marine Corps, and Saipan, (Naval Institute Press, 2013) as well as articles and book chapters on naval science and technology. Her new book, Painting War, also published by the Naval Institute Press, was released in May 2019. Formerly executive director of the New York Military Affairs Symposium, trustee of the Societyfor Military History, and regional coordinator for the SMH, she served on the Nominations Committee of NASOH and is now a member of the editorial advisory board of The Journal of Military History, the U.S. Naval Institute’s naval history advisory board, and Marine Corps History magazine’s editorial review board. Although born in the United States, Professor Williams was raised in Italy and England, and later spent many years in Germany, Puerto Rico, Japan, and Panama.

Christopher Nelson is an intelligence officer stationed at the Office of Naval Intelligence in Suitland, Maryland. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and the Maritime Advanced Warfighting School in Newport, Rhode Island. He is a regular contributor to the Center for International Maritime Security. The views here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Navy or the Department of Defense.

Featured Image: Photo of George Plante from cover of Beaufort and South Carolina Low Country Magazine (George Plante papers).

Sailing True North: James Stavridis on Admiralty and the Voyage of Character

By Dmitry Filipoff

CIMSEC had the opportunity to discuss with Admiral James Stavridis (ret.) his latest book, Sailing True North: Ten Admirals and the Voyage of CharacterIn this book Adm. Stavridis profiles ten historical admirals, revealing their character traits, leadership skills, and what their life accomplishments can teach modern Sailors and society. 

Q: From Fisher to Zumwalt, Rickover, and Hopper, you profile trailblazing admirals who built their legacies on innovation and reform. What can these leaders teach us about driving change into large organizations, and how to manage the risk that comes with innovating?

JS: Most of the admirals profiled in Sailing True North were innovators to one degree or another, but especially Fisher, Rickover, Zumwalt, and Hopper. As Steven Jobs of Apple said, “The difference between leaders and followers is innovation.” And it is worth observing that the innovations developed by these trailblazers were at times successful, and at other times ended in failure. But each of their stories as innovators had several common attributes. Indeed, the three key lessons for anyone seeking to move truly big organizations through successful innovation come from “the inside out.” First, building consensus from within; then obtaining committed support from outside the organization; and stubborn persistence. Achieving all of these requires an inner strength of character and deep self confidence.

Admiral Zumwalt was a “shock to the system” of the Navy and never slowed down to bring the organization along. While some of his initiatives survived his tenure (notably real progress on race relations), many of them failed – from very youthful commanding officers to beards for Sailors. I too learned the hard way that if you want to change an organization, it is necessary but not sufficient to have a big idea. When I took over at U.S. Southern Command, I wanted to change the focus of the military combatant command from a warfighting entity to an interagency structure optimized for the soft power missions of South America and the Caribbean. But I failed to build an internal consensus on the change, largely through overconfidence that my idea was so brilliant that everyone would simply fall in line. I was able to ram the changes through, but the next commander simply reversed course. So the first lesson in innovation is laying out a coherent case and building internal support.

The second key is getting outside support. When Grace Hopper wanted to bring the Navy into the computer age, she worked hard at connecting the chain of command with new technologies. She went on the road endlessly talking about computing and innovation as the keys for the Navy to move forward. Inspiring change requires not only support and buy-in within the organizational lines, but also convincing external stakeholders to move forward as well. Personally, I truly learned this while as the supreme allied commander at NATO, where we needed all 28 nations to move forward in consensus to make change – so I spent an inordinate amount of time on the road convincing European leaders to make necessary changes in our operations, from the Balkans to Afghanistan to counter-piracy.

Grace Murray Hopper, in her office in Washington DC, 1978. (Photo by Lynn Gilbert)

Third and finally, stubborn persistence is almost always necessary. The world hates change, and as a general rule, three out of four innovative ideas will fail. Taking no for an answer is not an option if you truly believe in the importance of the outcome. Admiral Sir Jackie Fisher was a deeply committed innovator, but frequently his ideas were rejected for lack of resources, professional jealousy, or fear of change. Yet he pounded away year after year and decade after decade and wrenched the Royal Navy into the 20th century – with fast capital ships, submarines, gunnery improvements, and many personnel changes. When I led the Navy’s innovation think tank, Deep Blue, in the days after 9/11, we failed on many ideas – but some vital ones emerged and changed the way the Navy fought in the Global War on Terror. 

Inspiring change – the heart of innovation – is in the end a challenge of character. To make others leap into the unknown with you requires not only a brilliant idea, but the inner self-confidence that others admire.

Q: When it comes to Admirals Nimitz, Nelson, and also Themistocles, these leaders are remembered for earning decisive success in conflict. What can we learn from these leaders on what it takes to be a successful wartime commander?

JS: The warfighting Admirals Themistocles, Nelson, and Nimitz all faced extreme existential levels of combat – they literally carried the future of their countries on the decisions they made.

First, each was a shrewd judge of subordinates, selecting the right commanders, then giving them plenty of leeway when it came to actual combat. And each was skilled at building operational and tactical teams that could work seamlessly on the vast battlespace of the world’s oceans. Of note, Nelson’s “band of brothers” never required elaborate battle plans of detailed instructions, nor did the subordinate admirals of WWII or the galley captains of the Battle of Salamis.

Second, each of the three set the values of their nation ahead of their own agendas. In terms of their inner character, each burned with zeal for their homeland, and were willing to make extreme personal sacrifices to succeed.

Third, all were masters of the technology of the day in terms of understanding what we would call the “kill chain” in today’s world. They mastered their craft coming up and were able to use all of the combat tools at their disposal.

And finally, each of the three were strategically minded, highly aware of the interconnection of the individual battles and campaigns they led to the “larger picture” of the global conflicts each faced – Themistocles with Persia, Nelson with Bonaparte’s France, and Nimitz with the Japanese Empire.

Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson (Lemuel Francis Abbot)

All of these come from qualities of inner character, of course. To know others, you must be aware of your own inner set of values. Patriotism and a willingness to be part of something far larger than yourself is crucial, as is the discipline and diligence to master the technology of the time. And the quality of strategic thinking is one that is honed through reading, study, and practice. Each of these admirals – none of them perfect, by the way – had all four of those qualities.

Q: For Zheng He and Sir Francis Drake, these leaders traveled far from home on uncertain voyages, and their superiors afforded them a great degree of discretion to act as they saw fit. What can be learned from how these leaders skillfully managed the independence of command?

JS: Even across the great distance of centuries, both Zheng He and Drake stand out in their ability to lead into the unknown. Yet they used a very different set of tools to do so, reflecting their highly different backgrounds and character. Zheng He, a eunuch and courtier as well as a warrior, was a skilled bureaucrat who could marshall significant resources to build overwhelming fleets. His inner character was one of sacrifice and seeking to gain glory for his master, the Han emperor. Drake, on the other hand, was an angry, brutal leader who used the lash, harsh punishment, executions alongside a reward system built around theft and plunder.

What they shared in common was a driving, energetic personality; strong physical stature; and above all personal courage. To lead into extreme danger and the unknown requires inner energy and self-confidence that can be instantly intuited by a crew. Both of these admiral had those qualities in abundance.

Q: This book was not written strictly for a military audience, because as you write in the introduction, “I am also motivated by a growing sense in this postmodern era that we are witnessing the slow death of character…” Of the many qualities and virtues of these admirals, which do you think both today’s U.S. Navy and society writ large need the most? 

JS: Above all, the intertwined qualities of humility, empathy, and listening are fading in many of our leaders across the political spectrum. The relentless pounding of tweets, blogs, Instagram posts, and the deluge of transmission shortens attention spans and reduces our ability to thoughtfully process what we hear. Too many have their transmit side set to max, and their receive side turned off. Character is about quiet self-confidence which allows us to listen to our friends and our critics as well. These are vital in both the military world and civilian life. Not all of the admirals in Sailing True North were humble and empathetic, and often when they stumbled it was for a lack of humility. There is a powerful lesson in that.

Honesty is also a character quality increasingly diminished in a world that seems to shrug off lies, half-truths, and exaggerations with a cynical comment and a knowing look. So often, we see people providing the “easy wrong” answer instead of the “hard right” one. Some of the admirals in the book played it loose with the truth from time to time, but all were at heart unafraid of the truth and wielded it with great effect at crucial moments of decision. We live in an utterly transparent world, and in the end the truth will come out. We need to pay more attention to veracity.

Lastly, I worry that in an age of accelerating technology, we are not innovating fast enough. Advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning, materials, nano-technology, and above all synthetic biology are merging. Can we move fast enough – both inside the military and in the larger civilian world – to keep up? So innovation, a deeply seated quality of character, is vital.

Q: None of the admirals in the book are by any means perfect individuals. Which of their flaws and faults did you find to be the more fascinating?

JS: The anger of Admiral Rickover fascinates me. Having encountered it personally several times (not pleasantly), I feared him. Yet his driven, intense personality also created a kind of cult of admiration among many. I entitled the chapter of the section about him, “The Master of Anger,” and I don’t know if it was something he used consciously or it was merely who he was. In today’s world, we would see many aspects of the “toxic leader” in Rickover, yet the results he delivered and the deep affection he inspired in many contradict that assessment.

Certainly Sir Francis Drake – a killer (both of his own men and victims in his raids) is a bundle of contradictions. His harsh treatment of pretty much anyone he encountered achieved a level of brutality we can only glimpse across the centuries. But he helped defeat the Spanish Armada and achieved great results for queen and country. Another very contradictory personality, with both flaws and virtues.

And Jackie Fisher’s towering ego can be maddening to encounter. He had to be the center of everything, his ideas were always right, and he brooked no interference in his schemes, ever. He must have been a wildly annoying contemporary in the admiralty. But he delivered enormous reform to the Royal Navy and did it all with a certain charm – he was a famous ballroom dancer and was in a passionate marriage.

Admiral of the Fleet John Arbuthnot “Jacky” Fisher, 1st Baron Fisher of Kilverstone (George Grantham Bain Collection)

Q: Throughout the book you relate your personal experiences, whether being a seaborne commander or an officer on staff duty in the halls of the Pentagon. You candidly reflect on past mistakes and flaws, but how did you see yourself grow as a leader over the course of your career?

JS: I started out, like many junior officers, with a lot of arrogance about my own skills. It took me a long time to find balance between self-confidence and over-confidence. My peers, especially my naval academy classmates, helped me with that. Over time, I became a better and more humble person. A big part of that was simply growing older, having children, meeting failure along the voyage, and other natural events.

Also, speaking of balance, I have struggled to find the right balance between career and family. David Brooks, in his marvelous book, The Road to Character, speaks about the difference between our “resume values” (Annapolis grad, Phd, 4-star admiral, NATO commander) and our “eulogy values” (good father, loving brother, best husband). I could do better on those eulogy values in terms of the time I devote – I remain very driven on the professional side. But that is the beauty of the human condition, right?  

In the end, we get to choose how we want to approach the world, knowing that our small voyages are so often going to end up sailing against the wind. There is immense comfort in understanding that the value of the voyage will be in seeing that beautiful ocean, and knowing that when we look at it, we see not only vast expanses of salt water, but eternity itself. That voyage for me continues, and I try hard every day to keep sailing as close to true north as I can. 

Admiral James Stavridis is an operating executive at The Carlyle Group and Chair of the Board of Counselors at McLarty Associates. A retired 4-star, he led the NATO Alliance in global operations (2009 to 2013) as Supreme Allied Commander, focused on Afghanistan, Libya, the Balkans, Syria, counter-piracy, and cyber security. Earlier, he was Commander U.S. Southern Command (2006-2009) responsible for Latin America. He has more than 50 medals, 28 from foreign nations.

In 2016, he was vetted for Vice President by Hillary Clinton and subsequently invited to Trump Tower to discuss a cabinet position in the Trump Administration.

Admiral Stavridis holds a PhD in international relations and has published nine books and hundreds of articles in leading journals. His 2012 TED talk on global security has over one million views. Admiral Stavridis is a monthly columnist for TIME Magazine and Chief International Security Analyst for NBC News, and has tens of thousands of connections on the social networks.

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at

Featured Image: Chief of Naval Operations Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz at his desk in the Navy Department. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photo #80-G-K-9334)

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.)