A Talk with RDML Fred Kacher and CDR Doug Robb on The Naval Officer’s Guide to the Pentagon

By Dmitry Filipoff

CIMSEC had the opportunity to discuss with Rear Admiral Fred Kacher and Commander Doug Robb their new book, the Naval Officer’s Guide to the Pentagon. In this conversation they discuss what naval officers need to know when reporting to the Pentagon, how this book can serve as an excellent reference for a variety of roles, and what is unique about serving in the nation’s capital.  

The introduction notes that this is the first ever edition of this book. What motivated you to take on this project, and how do you see a need for this book?

The U.S. Naval Institute’s Blue and Gold professional series has for years provided naval professionals—officers, enlisted, civilians, and their families—with helpful guides designed to ease acclimation to life and work in the Navy. This project was borne from a similar desire to help.

Initially, USNI envisioned a slightly narrower guide designed to help naval officers bound for the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. But as we thought about which jobs young leaders from the Fleet head to when they report to the Pentagon, we realized we needed to broaden the focus. As we looked around, there seemed to be only a single relevant preparatory book—Assignment Pentagon by retired Air Force Major General Perry Smith, first published in the late 1980s. It contained valuable information, but wasn’t geared specifically to naval officers or a Navy crowd. So we set out to describe the types of things—a history of the building, how to get around it, the different staffs and assignments one may be detailed to, other government branches and organizations, and information about the area—that a junior or mid-grade naval officer coming to Washington for perhaps the first time would need to know to really make an impact soon after reporting.

Although both of us remember our first tours at the Pentagon well, we also quickly realized that we didn’t have all the answers, so we sought out people from across the service whose professional backgrounds, past experiences, writing acumen, and desire to help made them natural partners for this project. The result is an anthology of sorts where some true subject matter experts break down complex topics in a way that will be useful to Washington-bound naval officers and civilians alike.

The Pentagon is the headquarters of the massive bureaucracy that is the Department of Defense. What key organizations and processes can someone familiarize themselves with to get a sense of who the key players are and understand the regular business of the building?

The answer to this question really lies in the way we’ve organized the book. In it, we describe the different staffs within the Pentagon with which naval officers or civilians work or interact, including the Navy (OPNAV) Staff, the Secretariat, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), and the Joint Staff. Additionally, chapters describe the types of jobs one may find themselves in, whether as an action officer or helping shepherd a senior leader through their day as a member of their staff.

One chapter in particular—on the budget process—translates what is often described as an arcane or confusing system into plain English. And as we’ve observed firsthand, there’s a lot about working in the Pentagon that is different from serving on a ship or in a squadron. It can seem like business is being conducted in a foreign language. As just one small example, we include 13 pages—13 whole pages—listing the various acronyms someone working in the Pentagon will need to be familiar with. It’s emblematic of how we tried to design the content in the book to help “flatten” the learning curve for newly-reporting officers and civilians and provide a resource they’ll find useful to consult during their tour.

Nearly every job in the Pentagon or in Washington requires an understanding of organizations and actors outside of the Pentagon—the Executive Branch (e.g. the White House and National Security Council), the interagency, Congress, think tanks, and others—and we delve into those, as well.

To newcomers, entering the Pentagon can be a daunting experience. What can someone do to hit the ground running in their new role? 

For this book, we don’t anticipate many people will sit down and read it cover-to-cover—we certainly don’t expect them to. Rather, we think of it as a “ready reference” for folks to keep handy and consult when they need a quick fact or want to learn more about a particular topic or role.

For people reporting for the first time, a good place to start is Chapter 2, “Navigating the Pentagon.” This includes Frommer’s Travel Guide-like logistical details about how to plan your commute, where to enter the building, how to traverse its corridors by making sense of the building signs and naming conventions, where to eat, and where to find other services.

Over time, after you’ve settled into your office and begin to understand your role and how it fits into the broader organization and processes around you, other chapters can help accelerate your understanding and “de-code” some topics that folks before you have found important but perhaps a tad foreign when they were first encountered.

Finally, opportunities often arise for seasoned and high-performing officers to shift offices or positions within the Pentagon, so pulling this book off the shelf could help someone learn about a new job, prepare for an interview, or execute a new assignment.

A key theme that many of the authors touch on is the importance of working well with others outside the usual naval milieu, such as those from another service, a different agency, and from other countries. Why is the ability to work across these divides so important?

It sounds clichéd but in Washington, D.C. it truly is all about relationships. Perhaps one reason for this is that the scope of issues on which people work on in Washington are so broad that no one person—whether an action officer managing a portfolio or a senior leader responsible for a large organization—can affect change on their own. As a result, having a friend or colleague to call for advice, help, support, or advocacy can be invaluable as you seek to “move your ball down the field.” 

But building those relationships and establishing trust takes a great deal of time—in fact, it often spans the entire length of one’s tour. Consequently, by starting a job having already done some preparatory reading on your new role, how your organization fits into the broader scheme, and the general processes that govern your job —in other words, the information we focus on in this book—you can start developing those relationships on Day One.

While most of the book focuses on serving at the Pentagon a significant part of it looks at roles “across the river,” where a person in uniform may be embedded within civilian staff and institutions. These can range from working at the White House, in a think tank, or with congress. What is valuable about these kinds of roles and experiences?

Just as the Pentagon could be considered the military’s “corporate headquarters,” so too is Washington, D.C. the center of all national policy- and decision-making (which extends well beyond just military matters). And so as Admiral Jim Stavridis (ret.) mentions in the book’s foreword, one of the rewarding things about service in Washington, D.C.—even for uniformed service-members—is the opportunity to work with, or even within, other organizations that impact our government and country.

Active duty personnel are assigned to the White House, National Security Council, State Department, Capitol Hill, think tanks, research organizations, and academic institutions—and are exposed to the deliberations, inner workings, and decisions that will affect the nation and, in some cases, the world. While these experiences are valuable, sending this cadre of officers back to the Fleet can not only help the Navy contribute more effectively to the interagency, but will also position these folks to take on greater responsibility in our organizations in the future.

It is noted throughout the book that a tour at the Pentagon and in the Washington D.C. area can be an especially rewarding experience. What is unique about the professional experience that can be earned through these tours?

While both of us enjoyed our first tours in the Pentagon, the reality is that like other officers we came from—and returned to—the operational Navy. One of the neat things about the United States Navy is that most warfare community career paths are designed so that officers have the opportunity to “do something different” ashore after serving at sea. As a result, working in the Pentagon and Washington, D.C. area not only provides naval officers a chance to learn how our “corporate headquarters” works, but also how the other instruments of power play a role in our country’s direction. To echo Fleet Admiral Ernest King, who once said, “Where the power is that is where the headquarters have to be,” it is important to understand how and why major decisions are made in the capital. But it is equally if not more important to take those insights back to the waterfront or flight line.

Finally, although you’ll hear an awful lot about D.C. highway traffic and Pentagon bureaucracy, the D.C. metropolitan area is also a really vibrant area with a Stanley Cup-winning hockey team, a World Series-champion baseball team, museums, restaurants, universities, great history, and some great and varied communities to live in.

Any final thoughts you would like to share?

Simply put, we wrote this book to help future young naval leaders coming to the Pentagon from the Fleet succeed and thrive. At sea, there is an old adage that leaders should leave a ship “better than they found it” and this book is our effort to do the same for those heading to the Pentagon. We hope that in helping the next generation of D.C.-bound naval leaders, we will also help build a cadre of officers who better serve the needs and interests of the naval profession. Because at the end of the day, the quality of the work and advocacy done in Pentagon directly impacts the Fleet and our Sailors where the real work of the Navy happens.

RDML Fred W. Kacher, USN, is an active duty naval officer who has commanded USS Stockdale (DDG 106), Destroyer Squadron Seven and is currently in command of Expeditionary Strike Group Seven, forward deployed to the Pacific. He is the author of the Newly Commissioned Naval Officers Guide, 1st and 2nd editions, in addition to numerous articles on naval leadership and management. He has also served at the White House and in multiple tours at the Pentagon.

CDR Douglas A. Robb, USN, is an active duty surface warfare officer whose next assignment is as Executive Officer in USS Spruance (DDG 111), homeported in San Diego, California. He attended graduate school in Washington and has subsequently served three tours there, including on Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations.

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

Featured Image: The Pentagon, headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, taken from an airplane in January 2008. (David B. Gleason via Wikimedia Commons)

Call for Articles: A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority

By Dmitry Filipoff

Submissions Due: February 19, 2020
Week Dates: February 24-28, 2020
Article Length: 1000-3500 words
Submit to: Content@cimsec.org

U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gilday recently released a Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, which identifies primary lines of effort for how the U.S. Navy will look to evolve. In this time of great power competition and unprecedented technological change, the Navy will be greatly challenged to pace the evolving threat environment, and this Design seeks to meet that challenge. As the Design proclaims, “Modern naval operations are in rapid transition, demanding the integrated, multi-domain capabilities of our fleets. We will respond to this transition with urgency.”

The Design ambitiously outlines serious changes and reassessments on the course of the Navy. Among them include an assessment of the Optimized Fleet Response Plan to evaluate the Navy’s force generation model, a pledge to integrate more closely with the Marine Corps, and the creation of a Warfighting Development Campaign Plan. Additionally, the Design emphasizes how the Navy should prioritize fleet-level warfare through the regular execution of large-scale exercises, and how cyber and information warfare must become more deeply ingrained in the Navy.

CNO FRAGO 012019


Authors are encouraged to write about these lines of effort and others contained in the Design, the underlying assumptions that may need reevaluation, and how the Design could best serve to guide the evolution of the Navy. Please send all submissions to Content@cimsec.org.

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

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (Dec. 4, 2019) An MV-22B Osprey assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 165 takes off from the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8). Makin Island is conducting routine operations in the eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jeremy Laramore)

CIMSEC DC Invite: 28 Jan. Conversation with James Goldrick

Join CIMSEC’s DC chapter for an evening happy hour discussion with Rear Admiral James Goldrick, Royal Australian Navy (Ret.), former President of the Australian Naval Institute and prolific naval scholar.

RSVPs not required but appreciated at director@cimsec.org.  Guests welcome.

When: Tuesday, January 28th, 6:00-8:00pm

Where: Franklin Hall, 1358 Florida Ave NW, Washington, DC (Nearest Metro: U Street)

(Photo:  HMAS Sydney, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-26/hmas-sydney-4/6267052)

The Navy Wants To Put Its Head In The Cloud

By Christian H. Heller

The Navy is pushing toward an IT future based on cloud computing that promises enormous benefits and can set the foundation for a future force shaped by emerging technologies. The incremental adoption of cloud services by the Department of the Navy (DON), other services, and private industry already holds much promise, but the stakes are high. Getting the cloud migration right can underpin revolutionary developments like artificial intelligence and give the Navy the advantage it needs for the coming decades.

What Is the Cloud

Cloud computing is the linking of computer systems and networks over the internet. Instead of storing all information and computer programs on physical hard drives in a single site, the cloud takes advantage of spare storage and processing capacity across widespread locations. This system allows the using agency – the DON – to only pay for the services it needs without maintaining large-scale IT infrastructure in numerous areas.

Cloud services offer many benefits to organizations which adopt them. The cloud helps to overcome physical information technology (IT) limitations, limitations on manpower, and overlapping and cumbersome small-scale contracting measures. Cloud computing is extremely cost-efficient for large organizations and reduces the organic cost of installing computer hardware and IT infrastructure. The lack of required hardware supports scalable operational requirements around the globe. Cloud services provide fast and responsive transfers of information which increases organizational flexibility. Since it connects all subordinate networks, cloud systems also support computing performance when and where it is needed while guaranteeing reliability from backups. Cloud-based networking can also support regular and timely comprehensive upgrades to security systems to better support the Navy’s cybersecurity needs.

The Navy demands extensive requirements from its cloud adoption. The naval services conduct a vast array of missions in diverse global environments. Naval platforms gather information from dozens of sensors and communications systems at any given second. Command and control networks facilitate effective fleet management and direction. The Navy can disperse its needs between organic cloud networks onboard deployed ships which then forward information to larger shore-based clouds whenever bandwidth and operations allow. For a scale comparison, the Navy collects new data equivalent to the Library of Congress – approximately 200 terabytes – every day. This number is increasing faster every year, and any cloud system must be able to accommodate the variety and velocity of this data collection.

Benefits of the Cloud

A major benefit of cloud computing for the Navy is the ability to combine disjointed information systems spread amongst various units. The integration of these networks in the cloud is necessary for the DON to harness the benefits of big data and machine learning. In effect, the transition to the cloud is the first step of many in the DON’s transition to the future of warfare and technology. This cloud infrastructure must not only be widely implemented, but optimized for data processing and proper use.

Other benefits of cloud computing for the DON are numerous. Cloud computing can allow departments to do more with less by supporting greater speed for administrative and technological processes (such as audits and inventories), all the while occupying fewer personnel. It also facilitates quicker access to and reconciliation of data between distant units which supports expeditionary operations and better coordination. These more efficient information transfers will increase commanders’ situational awareness both locally amongst squadrons or distantly between fleets.

Other militaries have already had success migrating to the cloud. The United Kingdom has implemented a “cloud-first approach” which mandates that all purchases of IT products and services must first be considered through the cloud. Private firms helped the Australian Department of Defence move various systems to the cloud, including its non-material procurement, material procurement, and other acquisition programs. This process involved linking 13 different, non-interacting systems into a transparent and interlinked procurement program accessible by all users.

Amazon Web Service (AWS), one of the largest cloud service providers in the U.S., already supports other government entities such as the intelligence community. The CIA spent $600 million migrating to the cloud in what former Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon called, “one of the best decisions we made.” AWS created its own “secret region” to support government needs across the full range of classifications, an offering which the Navy also would require. U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command saved $3.5 million in 2019 by transitioning to the cloud. Additionally, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides an example of how the Navy can benefit from cloud-based weather systems for more accurate research and forecasts.

The government has laid out four critical requirements that cloud services must meet to support operational units. Any cloud system must support all classification levels, must have a global reach, must be synced and interoperable with other government cloud initiatives, and, most importantly, must support the future needs of artificial intelligence and machine learning programs. The current steps by the Navy meet these requirements and promise substantial return on investment.

Current Steps Forward by the Navy

The DON has pursued cloud computing services over the past decade. Its Chief Information Officer (CIO) issued guidance in 2015 on the acquisition of commercial cloud services for the Navy’s various branches and commands. Some units like the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SSC) Atlantic embraced the cloud and have pushed forward under Department of Defense (DoD) instruction to accelerate cloud migration. Its pilot programs involved multiple major cloud service providers like Microsoft and Amazon.

Last year the Navy awarded $100 million for commercial cloud service contracts as a preliminary step towards future cloud adoption. Earlier last summer, the Navy completed its largest cloud migration to date. The DON migrated its Enterprise Resource Program (ERP), its financial system of record, this past August in one of the largest cloud transitions in North American history. The program, which tracks over $70 billion annually and maintains half of the DON’s financial and logistics dealings and involves 72,000 users, took ten months to complete and paved the way for future large-scale naval IT conversions. The Navy also operates one of DoD’s only two cloud computing access points to transfer high-impact unclassified data to and from the commercial cloud, a bottleneck which the Defense Innovation Unit seeks to overcome.

An early cloud transition for logistics programs makes sense as a proven method for quick benefits. The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) upgraded its educational systems to the cloud as an early test of large-scale cloud-hosting for sensitive information. U.S. Army Logistics Activity (LOGSA), which manages 40 million different data points daily, transitioned to the cloud to implement better analytics tracking cost-saving benefits. Data-driven maintenance is an additional area where the Navy stands to benefit in the near-term from moving to cloud-based management systems. The DON also employed an early cloud transition for its Fleet and Family Readiness Division. The Navy’s GovCloud system only maintained unclassified information but demonstrated the benefits of a cloud enterprise through its maintenance of 95 websites, 10 regional content management systems, and 113 mobile phone applications, delivering more than six terabytes of data every month.

Another major goal for the Navy’s cloud evolution is to establish a digital environment for rapid software development, testing, and implementation. This “Cloud-to-Edge” (CTE) environment could be employed on either individual ships or entire strike groups and allow the navy to adapt more rapidly to changing environments. One key component of the CTE was successfully tested last year with the AEGIS system on the USS Arleigh Burke, USS Ralph Jonson, and USS Thomas Hudner which developed and deployed software updates within 24 hours.

The Bureaucracy Gets a Vote

Bureaucratic decision-making has already played a major role in the Navy’s cloud transition and will likely lead to additional changes in the future. In 2015, the Navy decided to consolidate cloud-leadership within its Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems (PEO-EI). Two years later, it divided that authority between eight functional community commands. The DON intends to pursue its primary cloud enterprise contract for 95 percent of the naval services’ needs. These eight other commands – including Navy Installations Command and Military Sealift Command – will be allowed to establish individual cloud networks for mission-specific needs and will oversee their units’ transitions and readiness for the cloud implementation. The preparation of commands and systems to migrate to the cloud will be vital in facilitating the DON’s goal of a total cloud migration by 2021.

Overlapping strategic guidance will require daft navigation by DON leaders. DOD officials issued strategic guidance in February to provide some cohesion and direction to the various cloud processes currently underway amongst the services. The Director of Naval Intelligence (DNI) issued its own Cloud Computing Strategy which, if naval intelligence units are to utilize the full assets of the intelligence community, the DON will need to adopt (at least on a select basis).

The DOD and the services have knocked heads over cloud implementation throughout this period of change. Despite the DOD’s push for an overarching, large-scale cloud under the JEDI program, individual services and departments will continue operating their multiple clouds already in place. In total, DOD already spends more than half a billion dollars on cloud technology every year, and the department will continue working on new ways to integrate service-specific clouds with DOD enterprise clouds.

Inspector General investigations and reviews by the Secretary of Defense will also likely alter the path forward for the Navy’s cloud adoption in the coming years. In October, DOD announced it awarded the JEDI contract to Microsoft. The contract has a potential period of 10 years and the total payments could range from $1 million to $10 billion. A single-source contract with such potential has sparked significant backlash from other competitors. Oracle is suing the federal government for a third time. Amazon announced a challenge soon after. The impact upon the Navy from such developments is unclear for now, though they will certainly will affect cloud developments over the coming years.


The current transition is only the latest example of the difficulties faced by the DON as it adopts major projects for the next era of warfare. Similar challenges accompany every major change in naval technology. Future administrative battles over artificial intelligence, unmanned vehicles, and advanced weapons like hypersonic missiles will inevitably ensue, but the cloud will be the link which enables their effective application. The Navy cannot afford to get it wrong.

Christian Heller is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the University of Oxford. He currently works as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, and can be followed on Twitter @hellerch.

Featured Image: MEDITERRANEAN SEA (Jan. 30, 2011) Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Jeffrey Bennett, left, and Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Joseph Camino observe the proper configuration of a high-frequency radio aboard the amphibious command ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC/JCC 20). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Felicito Rustique Jr./Released)

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.